Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) rejected a White House offer on Friday to cut $150 billion in federal spending over 10 years as a part of a possible deal to raise the debt ceiling.

Now, $150 billion might sound like a large amount of money. But relative to how much money the federal government is set to spend over the next 10 years, the White House’s proposed cut is roughly equivalent to deciding you’ll eat one fewer Chipotle burrito per month for the next decade. That’s not going to pay off a maxed-out credit card.

The fact that Pelosi rejected such a comically small reduction without even giving her colleagues the chance to consider it tells you all you need to know about the state of fiscal responsibility in Washington right now.

Bloomberg reports that the White House provided House leaders with roughly $500 billion in possible budgetary offsets on Thursday night, asking that the Pelosi find $150 billion in cuts that her members would support. Both sides are continuing to negotiate in advance of a planned vote on raising budget caps and the debt limit next week. The Treasury has been using so-called “extraordinary measures” to deal with the debt limit since March, when the U.S. surpassed the current limit of $22 trillion.

It’s possible that spending cuts will be part of whatever final deal is reached, but it’s still worth stressing just how absurd a negotiating position Pelosi is taking here—if she does indeed stick to saying that $150 billion is too steep a cut.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that the federal government will spend more than $57 trillion over the next decade. A $150 billion cut amounts to less than 0.3 percent of all spending during that time. In the context of a $50,000 annual household budget, that’s like cutting about $150 per year—the cost of a single lunch each month.

That’s hardly enough to get the federal government out from under $22 trillion in debt. The CBO projects that if current policies stay in place, the government will add another $11.6 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. By 2049, the national debt will be more than one and a half times the size of the entire U.S. economy, breaking a record set during World War II. If a recession hits, those numbers could be worse.

“It’s hard to believe there is resistance to finding just $150 billion of offsets over the next decade,” comments Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “If Congressional leaders don’t like the options suggested by the administration, they should propose alternatives and additions.”

MacGuineas points out that $150 billion isn’t enough to cover the expected cost of raising the budget caps—meaning that whatever Congress passes next week is almost guaranteed to add to the deficit.

Not that Congress seems to care. There’s no political appetite for cutting spending or balancing the budget right now. That’s true for both Democrats and Republicans. The latter have finally started admitting publicly that they don’t care about deficits anymore, while the former are increasingly pushing for new entitlements that will only make existing budgetary problems worse.

But if Congress and the White House can’t agree to cut a relative pittance, there’s practically no hope that our elected officials will meaningfully address the debt crisis barrelling our way.

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2019-07-19 22:19:04

From Judge Thomas B. Smith’s decision last week in Doscher v. Apologetics Afield, Inc. (M.D. Fla.):

The Court has quoted from only three of the many childish emails [Doscher] and Livingston have exchanged. Obviously this needs to stop. Both sides need to learn that frequently the best response to immature behavior is to ignore it. Don’t react, don’t sink to the other side’s level, don’t try to fight fire with fire. There are disagreements in every case, that is what litigation is about. Most adversaries work out their disagreements while remaining calm and professional. Doscher and Livingston are admonished to discontinue this dumb conduct, work on their demeanor, and behave more maturely than they have to date. The Court hopes this rebuke will be sufficient to address the situation and on this basis, [Doscher’s] motion for sanctions is DENIED.

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From U.S. v. Class, written by Judge Thomas Griffith and joined by Judges Davis Sentelle and Sri Srinivasan:

The Supreme Court has been careful to note that “longstanding prohibitions” like “laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings” remain “presumptively lawful.” Heller I, 554 U.S. at 626, 627 n.26…. [T]he same security interests which permit regulation of firearms “in” government buildings permit regulation of firearms on the property surrounding those buildings as well…

First, though it is open to the public, the Maryland Avenue parking lot may be used during working hours only by Capitol employees with a permit. This makes the area a potential stalking ground for anyone wishing to attack congressional staff and disrupt the operations of Congress. The operation of the national legislature depends not only on the ability of members of Congress and their staff to conduct business inside the Capitol, but also on their ability to freely and safely travel to and from work. The same special security concerns that apply to the employees while in the Capitol apply when they walk to and from their cars on Capitol property.

Second, the lot is close to the Capitol and legislative office buildings. Class possessed a firearm less than 1,000 feet away from the entrance to the Capitol, and a block away from the Rayburn House Office Building. Although there is surely some outer bound on the distance Congress could extend the area of protection around the Capitol without raising Second Amendment concerns, Congress has not exceeded it here.

Finally, as the owner of the Maryland Avenue lot, the government—like private property owners—has the power to regulate conduct on its property. See [Adderley] v. Florida, 385
U.S. 39, 47 (1966) (observing in the free-speech context that the government, “no less than a private owner of property, has power to preserve the property under its control for the use to which it is lawfully dedicated”); cf. Bonidy v. U.S. Postal Serv., 790 F.3d 1121, 1126 (10th Cir. 2015) (observing that when the U.S. Postal Service acts “as a proprietor rather than as a sovereign, [it] has broad discretion to govern its business operations according to the rules it deems appropriate”).

Thanks to Charles Nichols for the pointer.


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2019-07-19 22:51:58

Yesterday’s California Court of Appeal Sarno v. Bailes decision strikes me as a pretty routine libel, invasion of privacy, and anti-SLAPP case—except for the background:

Disneyland enthusiasts created unincorporated associations to socialize with each other in the park.  The social clubs were named for a Disney character or theme, and in the park, members wear clothing, etc., identifying their club.  The social clubs maintain Web pages on social media platforms.  Two of the social clubs are “The Main St. Fire 55 Social Club” (MSF) and the “White Rabbits Social Club” (WR).

Also relevant, “the social club ‘The Mermaids,'” and a 12-year-old daughter of a Mermaids member who is charmingly referred to as Little Doe (Bambi’s sister, maybe?). Unfortunately, things turn far less happiest-place-on-Earth from there …..

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Last month the Journal of the American Heart Association published a study that claimed “e-cigarette use is an independent risk factor for having had a myocardial infarction.” Based on data from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH), the researchers found that vapers were twice as likely to report heart attacks as subjects who had never smoked or vaped. In a blog post, study co-author Stanton Glantz, a longtime anti-smoking activist who directs the Center for Tobacco Research Control & Education at the University of California, San Francisco, described that finding as “more evidence that e-cigs cause heart attacks.”

But according to Brad Rodu, a tobacco researcher at the University of Louisville, most of the e-cigarette users who reported heart attacks had them before they started vaping, which makes Glantz’s causal inference logically impossible. In a July 11 letter to the journal’s editors, Rodu noted that Glantz and his co-author, Dharma Bhatta, “failed to account for detailed information in that survey on (a) when participants were first told that they had a heart attack and (b) when participants first started using e-cigarettes.”

When Rodu and University of Louisville research economist Nantaporn Plurphanswat looked at that information, they found that most of the 38 vapers who reported heart attacks “were first told that they had a heart attack many years before they first started using e-cigarettes.” In that group, “heart attacks preceded first e-cigarette use by almost a decade on average.” When Rodu and Plurphanswat ran the numbers without the subjects who started vaping after they had heart attacks, they found that “vapers were much less likely to have had a heart attack, not twice as likely.”

In their study, Bhatta and Glantz acknowledged that “we cannot infer temporality from the cross-sectional finding that e-cigarette use is associated with having had an MI,” and “it is possible that first MIs occurred before e-cigarette use.” But instead of using the information provided by the survey to address that issue, they did a secondary analysis limited to subjects who had their first heart attacks in 2007 or later. They chose that year because it was when “e-cigarettes started gaining popularity on the US market.”

Of course, that does not mean all 16 of the subjects in this sub-sample had heart attacks after they started vaping. In fact, Rodu and Plurphanswat found that it was the other way around in “more than a third” of those cases, as they noted in a follow-up letter yesterday. (They did not report the precise numbers because of limits on how PATH data can be used.) Even ignoring that crucial point, Bhatta and Glantz’s secondary analysis did not find a statistically significant association between vaping and heart attacks.

When USA Today reporter Jayne O’Donnell asked Glantz about the glaring problems with his study, he bragged about being “a for-real rocket scientist,” dismissed Rodu as a “tobacco industry apologist” because his research is supported by unrestricted grants from several tobacco companies, and claimed he and Bhatta would have found a statistically significant association if only the sample had been larger. But he conspicuously failed to address the puzzle of an effect that precedes its purported cause.

Rodu’s interest in tobacco harm reduction long predates his receipt of industry funding, which he says he felt compelled to accept because government agencies refused to fund his research on smokeless tobacco as a safer alternative to cigarettes. In an interview with O’Donnell, New York University public health professor Ray Niaura, who said he does not think a connection between vaping and heart attacks has been established, vouched for Rodu, calling him a “fastidious scientist.”

Glantz, it’s fair to say, is a bit less fastidious. He has been slamming e-cigarettes as an evil tobacco industry plot for years, and he has repeatedly tried to cast doubt on the indisputable fact that they are much less hazardous than the conventional kind. “E-cigarettes should not be promoted or prescribed as a less risky alternative to combustible cigarettes,” Bhatta and Glantz write, “and should not be recommended for smoking cessation among people with or at risk of myocardial infarction.”

That conclusion is based on a study that considered only one of the risks posed by smoking and even then managed to imply equivalence only by ignoring obviously relevant information. “The main findings from the Bhatta-Glantz study are false and invalid,” Rodu and Plurphanswat write in their July 11 letter to JAHA. “Their analysis was an indefensible breach of any reasonable standard for research on association or causation.”

In their July 18 letter, they add: “Their inclusion of a secondary analysis is evidence that Bhatta and Glantz knew that many current e-cigarette users had a heart attack before they started vaping. The results of their secondary analysis confirm that their study results are false and invalid.” They conclude by urging the journal’s editors “to take appropriate action on this article, including retraction.”

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2019-07-19 21:30:57

Plastic straws are now an issue in the 2020 campaign, and on this narrow policy question, President Donald Trump is the pro-freedom candidate.

Yesterday, the president’s re-election campaign rolled out brand new Trump-themed plastic straws that are guaranteed to irritate environmentalists.

“Liberal paper straws don’t work. STAND WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP and buy your pack of recyclable straws today,” reads the sales pitch for the straws on Trump’s 2020 campaign website. Despite a 10-pack going for a whopping $15, the merchandise appears to have already sold out.

Trump spoke out on the issue today.

“I do think we have bigger problems…[but] you know, it’s interesting about plastic straws. You have a little straw, but what about the plates, the wrappers & everything else that are much bigger and made of the same material?” Trump said when asked by a reporter whether he supported banning plastic straws.

Opponents of straw bans can’t afford to be choosy with their allies, but it is sad to see plastic straws—once a noble symbol of resistance to government tyranny—being appropriated to re-elect a president who thinks the Bill of Rights is just one more invoice he doesn’t have to pay.

Trump is not wrong to point out, in his own meandering way, that straws are a small portion of overall plastic consumption. Data from litter surveys and beach cleanups find that straws are far outpaced by things like candy wrappers, cups, and cigarette filters.

When Starbucks stopped topping some of their drinks with their traditional cup-and-lid combo, they ended up replacing them with strawless lids that used more plastic.

Trump’s campaign is also correct in pointing out that “liberal paper straws” are a poor substitute given their propensity to dissolve in drinks or crumple when being poked through lids. These deficiencies are why plastic straws replaced paper ones to begin with.

However, the Trump campaign, while being good on straws, also lends credence to another bogus environmental panic by advertising their Trump-themed straws as “BPA free.”

BPA, short for Bisphenol A, is a chemical often found in plastics. A number of studies raised some concerns that its presence in food packaging could be hazardous to human health, which in turn fanned alarmist calls to ban the chemical or boycott products that contain it.

Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority have found that at current levels of exposure, BPA poses no health risk to consumers.

The plastic straw is a helpful and cheap drinking utensil that has been unfairly maligned as an environmental menace. Keeping them legal should be a matter of sound science, not an attempt to win another battle in a toxic culture war.

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J.M. Davis Arms Museum building.

Located near Tulsa on Route 66, the J.M. Davis Arms and Historical Museum amazes and overwhelms. With 12,000 firearms on display, it offers the largest collection of guns you can see at any museum.

But it’s not just a firearms museum. Boasting 50,000 total artifacts, the Davis Museum has plenty to engage the members of your party who aren’t interested in guns. For example, there are 1,200(!) beer steins, plus 19th century parlor musical instruments, a large collection of saddlery and riding gear, and lots of displays about outlaws and lawmen.

The museum building is owned by the State of Oklahoma, so there is no admissions charge. A voluntary donation of $5 per individual or $10 per family is encouraged. The museum is in Claremore, Oklahoma, a small town that is now part of the Tulsa metropolitan area. Parking is free and extensive.

The Davis Museum displays the largest collection of beer steins in the western hemisphere. (Rose City Art).

The museum’s collection was donated in 1969 by J.M. Davis, a businessman and long-serving mayor of Claremore. Starting in the late 1920s, Davis had displayed his growing firearms collection at his hotel and coffee shop, enticing travelers on Route 66, which ran from Chicago to Los Angeles.

The museum reflects the time period when Davis was doing his collecting. It is incredibly deep for 19th and 20th century American and European firearms up through about 1969. The eighteenth century has some representation, and there are some guns from the seventeenth century, and even a Chinese hand cannon from 1350. But where the museum excels is from 1800 onward. The World War I era is particularly strong.

Over a hundred rows of firearms are on display.

With well over 100 rows of displays, the Davis Museum takes a while to visit if you’re going to look carefully at everything.

The majority of firearms exhibits are pegboard hangings, grouped by manufacturer, nationality, or type. So, for example, you can study large collections of Harrington & Richardson handguns, Mauser rifles, or Spanish handguns.

The Davis Museum isn’t the only place where you can see a lot of Winchesters or Remingtons, but for American manufacturers that are no longer in business, and haven’t been for decades, the Davis Museum may be the best place to view their products.

The signage and text on many of the manufacturer-grouped displays is sparse. It could be enhanced with more information about what a particular manufacturer or series of models contributed to the evolution and use of firearms.

Some of the most interesting displays focus on particular types of forgotten arms. Some of these, such as blunderbusses, were popular during their glory days. Others were obscure; for example, in “folding trigger” handguns, the trigger could be flipped forward and upward, thus reducing the risk of accidental discharge in a time before trigger guards became near-universal.

The quantity of firearms curiousa is larger than I’ve ever seen in any other museum. There excellent displays of disguised guns, miniature guns, and “suicide specials” (inexpensive, small, and not necessarily well-made handguns commonly carried for self-defense in the late 19th century). There’s also a “cemetery gun”—a tripwire-activated swivel gun used to deter grave robbers in England in the early 19th century.

If you want to focus on the mainstream, you can peruse the rifles and shotguns that were sold en masse via the mail-order catalogues of Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Ward. Not to mention flare pistols, toy/cap guns, and boys’ .22 rifles (very popular in the first half of the 20th century).

As the signage explains, firearms can be used for good or ill, depending on the user. This is reinforced by displays on guns used by lawmen and outlaws, including three handguns owned by the notorious 1930s bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd.

The staff is friendly and enthusiastic. If you on Route 66, the Davis Museum is worth a stop. And if you have a high interest in firearms and their history, the Davis Museum merits a trip on its own.

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2019-07-19 21:00:04

A judge has revoked a search warrant that the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) illegally obtained to monitor a journalist’s phone. With the warrant’s recension, officers must also destroy all evidence obtained from its use.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Rochelle East ruled that the warrant violated California’s Shield Law, which protects journalists from being held in contempt when they refuse to name a source. The law also excludes related items from being subject to search warrants.

The reporter, Bryan Carmody, drew the fury of the SFPD earlier this year when he disseminated a leaked police report surrounding the February death of Jeff Adachi, the city’s former public defender. (The document said that Adachi had been with a woman who wasn’t his wife in an apartment filled with “cannabis gummies” and “empty bottles of alcohol,” among other embarrassing details. The rather salacious and irrelevant contents raised suspicions that a faction of the SFPD was looking for retribution against Adachi, who was known for relentlessly criticizing the police.)

Subsequently, officers obtained a warrant to monitor Carmody’s phone for “subscriber information, call detail records, SMS usage, mobile data usage and cell tower data” from February 22 until February 23, as well as further “remote monitoring” on the phone “day or night.” In May, after Carmody declined to provide his source, armed officers barged into his apartment with sledgehammers and raided his apartment, taking the electronic equipment that Carmody uses to run his news operation. The warrant used for that search currently remains intact, though it likely also violated California’s Shield Law. Carmody’s attorney, Tom Burke, is engaged in a legal battle to quash that one, too.

East says the cops did not inform her that Carmody was a journalist when they requested the wiretap warrant. In Thursday’s hearing, the police sergeant who obtained the warrant reportedly testified that he was unaware of Carmody’s line of work. (It’s worth noting that the journalist maintained a police press pass for 16 years.) Police Chief William Scott blamed his staff in May for failing to identify Carmody’s profession, eliciting the ire of the San Francisco Police Officers’ Association, who said it was Scott that nefariously neglected to note his status as a journalist.

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A 24-year-old inmate was found unresponsive at a Bexar County, Texas, jail Thursday morning. The prisoner, Leon Julius Casey, had been booked for possessing less than a gram of a controlled substance.

Casey’s death is the most recent in a string of recent fatalities at the Bexar County Jail. Janice Dotson-Stephens, 61, died in December of last year after being held there for 5 months on $300 bond following her arrest for misdemeanor criminal trespassing. She lost 136 pounds while in custody.

Jack Michael Ule, 63, died in April at the same facility. Like Dotson-Stephens, he was booked on a misdemeanor trespassing charge; like Dotson-Stephens, he had been diagnosed with a mental illness. Ule was also homeless, and would have likely been released had he been able to pay a $50 fee toward bond.

“In my opinion, [Ule] should not have been in jail,” Sheriff Javier Salazar told the local ABC affiliate. “The Adult Detention Center should not be used to house the mentally ill or those who simply cannot afford to pay their way out.”

Fatalities in U.S. prisons came to the forefront of mainstream conversation with the death of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old woman who was stopped by a police officer over a routine traffic violation. She was found dead in a Waller County, Texas jail.

Bland’s end sparked national outrage, particularly around the overincarceration of petty crimes. At least 4,980 prisoners died in 2014, the latest year for which we have data. That was up 3 percent from 2013. The U.S. has experienced a 500 percent increase in its prison and jail population over the last 40 years.

The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office says it will conduct an investigation into Casey’s death.

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2019-07-19 19:45:06

This week, libertarian-leaning Rep. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.) and progressive Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D–Oregon) introduced a bill that would cut federal spending on airports in exchange for letting those airports raise the fees they charge passengers.

These fees, known as Passenger Facility Charges (PFCs), can be used to finance the expansion of passenger terminals, something the federal government’s main airport grant program doesn’t pay for. Allowing airports to raise more money for terminal expansion, the thinking goes, will let more airlines offer more flights, raising service levels and lowering ticket prices.

Since 2000, the maximum PFC an airport can charge has been capped at $4.50 per boarding, the purchasing power of which has been whittled away by inflation. The Airports Council International–North America, a trade group, estimated in 2017 that the country’s airports will need $100 billion in infrastructure improvements over a five-year period.

Massie and Blumenauer’s bill would help airports fund those improvements by lifting the PFC cap.

Large airports that raise their fees above $4.50 would have to return all funding they get from the feds’ Airport Improvement Program (AIP). The bill would also cut funding for AIP grants, currently a $3.3 billion program, by $400 million a year.

“Simply put, we want to deregulate the airports,” says Massie, telling Reason that getting rid of the PFC cap is a way to fund infrastructure “without raising taxes and not having the federal government make local decisions.”

The bill’s biggest opponent is the airline industry, which argues that airports have plenty of money and that higher PFCs will mean higher ticket prices.

In a May blog post, Airlines for America argued that removing the cap on PFCs would raise prices for travelers, causing a depressing ripple effect throughout the economy. Airports, the industry association argues, have some $14.5 billion in cash reserves that they can spend on infrastructure without raising PFCs.

That latter point is misleading, replies Bob Poole, director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation (which publishes this website).

“Prudent management says [airports] have to have reserves,” Poole says. That ensures “they can pay their debt service in a recession when there’s less air service and they’re not making as much on parking charges and rental car fees.”

Far from raising ticket costs, uncapping PFCs would likely be a net win for passengers’ budgets. The revenue from PFCs have “opened up a number of airports to be able to do large-scale expansion of terminals,” Poole notes. “The ultra-low-cost carriers like Allegiant and Spirit and Frontier have been able to get increasing amounts of gate space.”

Big airlines oppose removing caps on PFCs, Poole argues, precisely because it would bring in more revenue that airports could then spend on adding gate space for their competitors.

Massie had introduced an identical PFC cap bill in 2017 with Rep. Peter DeFazio (D–Oregon), but that effort proved unsuccessful. With DeFazio now chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Massie thinks his bill stands a much better chance of success.

A handful of conservative groups have opposed lifting the cap on PFCs, including Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and the National Taxpayers Union, claiming that it is effectively an tax increase.

Massie argues that PFCs are basically the platonic ideal of a user fee, saying “the money does not go to the government. It goes directly to the airports.”

“Airports are in need of investment. The president has talked about trying to get $1 trillion for infrastructure investment,” says Massie. “This is the single easiest way to get that money.”

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