2019-07-19 10:05:25

Here’s a story from this week that you likely won’t hear much about, what with the 24/7 cable news screamfest over the Trump-Squad wars: The White House announced that its 2019 federal deficit projection has been revised upward to the symbolic $1-trillion threshold.

To accommodate this irresponsibility, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are quietly negotiating the increase or even removal of that once-controversial artifact: the debt ceiling.

Mnuchin maintains, probably with some hyperbole, that the country faces default in September unless Congress raises the $22-trillion debt limit the country already blew through in March. (Treasury has been taking various emergency measures to patch the fiscal ship of state since then.)

Pelosi counters that in exchange for Democratic support, she wants a two-year budget deal that jacks up discretionary domestic spending. If recent history is any judge, the two will likely dance around each other for a while, then agree to spend and borrow trillions more.

Notice what is not on the table, despite a GOP administration: reining in federal spending, whether next year or next decade. What a difference a little power makes.

When a Democrat held the White House, the debt ceiling was the Republicans’ favorite tool for forcing conversations about spending caps and long-term entitlements. It dominated the national political headlines from 2011-2014.

Now, particularly under a president who won a competitive primary by trashing traditional conservative notions of trimming the welfare state, Republicans are treating the borrowing limit as a momentary irritant, to be waved off as politically necessary.

The flight from fiscal rectitude pre-dated the rise of Trump. As soon as Republicans re-took control of the Senate in November 2014, new Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said: “Let me make it clear: There will be no government shutdowns and no default on the national debt.” So much for the previous four years of political conflict.

Back then, fiscally conservative members of the Tea Party movement still had enough self-respect to call out their free-spending colleagues. In March 2015, then-Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a founding member of the recently formed, deficit-hawkish Freedom Caucus, wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed headlined: “The Republican Budget Is a Deficit Bust,” arguing, “There is no honest way to justify not paying for spending, no matter how often my fellow Republicans try.”

Less than three years later, as a power-accruing member of the Trump administration, Mulvaney declared that “We need to have new deficits.” Well, mission accomplished.

The Congressional Budget Office last month once again called the country’s long-term fiscal trajectory unsustainable, warning that any meaningful rise in interest rates could trigger a global financial crisis. We will soon top even World War II records for debt as a percentage of GDP; annual debt service will likely eclipse military spending during the next presidency, and Medicare is on pace for forced benefit cuts by as early as 2026. All this during the late stages of a near decade-long economic expansion.

So what are the deficit hawks at the Freedom Caucus doing nowadays? Criticizing co-founder (and now defector) Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) for daring to criticize Trump.

The president is certainly onto something when he says, whenever asked about the looming debt crunch, “Yeah, but I won’t be here.” Sadly, though, the rest of us will be.

And here’s where things get worse. As Mulvaney warned in 2015, Republicans from 2011 through 2014 “were gaining the moral high ground on spending,” but with new increases “we lost it, and it will be harder to regain the next time.” No one will soon believe Republicans next time they cry about President Elizabeth Warren’s mammoth new spending plans.

Americans received a telegram from that lost world of conservative deficit-hawkery on Tuesday, when former South Carolina congressman and governor Mark Sanford said he was considering a challenge to Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. “I think the Republican Party has lost its way on debt, spending and financial matters,” Sanford told the Post and Courier.

So will Sanford be the flicker that causes the GOP to reignite its sense of fiscal sanity? Bet your life savings against it. Not only are we living in a time when one of the most influential conservative media figures, Tucker Carlson, is singing the praises of Warren’s economic ideas; there’s the not-insignificant matter of Trump himself.

The Republican Party already has a primary challenger to the president who talks in every speech about debt and deficits, fiscal rectitude and long-term entitlement fixes. And Bill Weld is being outpolled by an average of more than 70 percentage points, while being outfundraised by Trump 150 to 1. There may be a place for deficit hawks in American politics, but it’s not in the Republican Party.

This article originally appeared in the L.A. Times.

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A man has admitted taking San Luis Obispo, Calif., Police Chief Deanna Cantrell’s gun after she left it in the restroom of an El Pollo Loco restaurant. Skeeter Carlos Mangan has returned the weapon. Cantrell said she removed her gun while using the restroom and left it behind when she was finished. A spokesman for the police department said he’s not aware of any disciplinary actions against Cantrell. But officials say she will be attending training on firearms safety practices, something you’d hope she would have done before becoming a police officer.

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2019-07-18 18:45:03

“America’s largest drug companies saturated the country with 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pain pills from 2006 through 2012 as the nation’s deadliest drug epidemic spun out of control,” The Washington Post reports, citing newly released data from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). That lead and the headline above the article (“76 Billion Opioid Pills: Newly Released Federal Data Unmasks the Epidemic”) tell a simple and familiar story: Because doctors prescribed too many pain pills, people died—”nearly 100,000″ from 2006 through 2012, according to the Post, although data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that the actual number for the drugs the Post is talking about was more like 68,000.

The reality is more complicated than the story told by the Post. It is clear that doctors, in many cases, did prescribe more pills than their patients ended up needing, since a lot of those pills were diverted to nonmedical use. But by counting all 76 billion as self-evidently problematic, the Post ignores the benefits of opioids for the millions of Americans who actually need them for pain relief—patients who are now suffering because of the crackdown encouraged by indignant and simplistic press coverage like this.

What is the right number of pills? The Post does not know, and neither does the DEA. But since misuse of prescription analgesics co-exists with undertreatment of pain, indiscriminate reductions in the total supply have predictably bad consequences for patients. That ham-handed approach also has driven nonmedical users toward black-market substitutes that are much more dangerous because their potency is inconsistent and unpredictable, which helps explain why the increase in opioid-related deaths accelerated in recent years even as the government succeeded in driving down opioid prescriptions.

It is also important to recognize that the “epidemic” described by the Post is not an increase in nonmedical use of opioids or even in “pain reliever use disorder.” According to data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the incidence of both has been essentially flat since 2002, including the period on which the Post focuses. But the number of fatalities involving prescription analgesics has increased dramatically since 2002, part of a long-term upward trend in drug-related deaths that began in 1979—17 years before the introduction of OxyContin, which the Post fingers as the main pharmacological culprit (although it also notes that OxyContin accounts for just 3 percent of the legal opioid market).

These deaths typically do not involve legitimate pain patients who accidentally got hooked on medication their doctors prescribed for them. They generally involve people with long histories of substance abuse and psychological problems who use diverted pain medication along with other drugs. CDC data indicate that more than 90 percent of deaths involving prescription analgesics also involve other drugs, most commonly heroin and illicit fentanyl. Judging from New York City data, the actual percentage may be as high as 97 percent.

The increase in deaths seems to be caused not by a general increase in the rate of misuse but by an increase in reckless consumption, including injection, higher doses, and drug mixtures. That behavior can be understood only in the context of personal, social, and economic circumstances, including whatever factors have been driving up drug-related deaths since the late 1970s.

The Post implies that there is a straightforward relationship between opioid prescription rates and opioid-related deaths. That is not true even if you focus on deaths involving pain pills. Between 2006 and 2012, the Post says, West Virginia received the most pills per capita, and “West Virginia also had the highest opioid death rate during this period,” which was still true as of 2017, according to the CDC.

But what about the other states that rank high in pills per capita? Of the top 10 states listed by the Post, the CDC has data on deaths involving prescription analgesics for seven. In addition to West Virginia, they are Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Oregon, and those are not the states with the highest death rates. Within this group, Kentucky had the highest death rate in 2017 (10.2 per 100,000), but it was still lower than the rates in Maryland (11.5) and Utah (10.8), both of which had substantially lower prescription rates.

South Carolina’s death rate (7.1 per 100,000) was lower than the death rates not only in Maryland and Utah but also in Connecticut (7.7), the District of Columbia (8.4), Maine (7.6), New Mexico (8.5), Ohio (8.4), and Rhode Island (8.8). Again, all those states had lower opioid prescription rates, in some cases much lower. The same pattern holds true for Tennessee, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Oregon, all of which had lower death rates than states where fewer opioids were prescribed. The disparity is especially striking for Oregon, where the rate of deaths involving pain pills was just 3.5 per 100,000, lower than the rates in most states, even though Oregonians received more opioid prescriptions per capita than 29 states and D.C.

The point is not that pain pill prescriptions have nothing to do with deaths involving pain pills. But other factors are clearly at work. How does Oregon manage to have such a low death rate even though it has a relatively high prescription rate? Why do Utah and Maryland, both of which have lower prescription rates, have death rates much higher than Oregon’s? The answers to such questions could point the way to policies more nuanced and effective than the blanket demand that doctors stop prescribing so many pain pills.

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Want to make money giving out diet tips? In Florida, you’ll have to get a bachelor’s degree and a state license to tell people how to eat better. A federal judge has upheld the Sunshine State’s occupational licensing program that censors diet coaching by those who are not officially deemed dieticians.

The case, brought by the liberty-loving and oppressive-occupational-license-fighting lawyers of the Institute for Justice, revolved around the work of Heather Kokesch Del Castillo of Fort Walton Beach. Del Castillo was applying her training from an unaccredited online holistic health program, offering six-month coaching programs to clients for pay. But she is not a licensed dietician in Florida, and when the state found out about her work, they accused Del Castillo of practicing dietetics without a license and threatened her with hundreds of dollars in fines if she didn’t stop.

With the help of the Institute for Justice, Del Castillo fought back, arguing in court that this licensing demand violated her First Amendment rights to free speech. Unfortunately for her, Judge M. Casey Rogers of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida disagreed and tossed her case. Rogers concluded that current court precedents have determined that it’s not an unconstitutional abridgment of free speech rights to require an occupational license to earn a living talking about certain issues, “so long as any inhibition of that right is merely the incidental effect of observing an otherwise legitimate regulation.”

Rogers turned to a court ruling from Locke v. Shore, another case from Florida from 2011 in which a federal court ruled that it’s legal for the state to require that interior designers get licensed to legally practice their craft.

Lawyers from the Institute for Justice argued that subsequent court rulings have weakened Locke, particularly a Supreme Court ruling from 2018, NIFLA v. Becerra, that addressed whether California could require pregnancy centers to carry notices indicating whether or not they were licensed and, if they were licensed, requiring the centers to post notices informing women of the availability of free or low-cost services, including abortions. The Supreme Court ruled that these speech demands were unconstitutional. In the writing of the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas noted, “Speech is not unprotected merely because it is uttered by ‘professionals.’ This Court has ‘been reluctant to mark off new categories of speech for diminished constitutional protection.'”

Rodgers didn’t find that argument applicable here. Florida wasn’t telling Del Castillo what she could or could not say or what she must or must not say. She could give all sorts of nutrition advice out for free. But in order to earn a living giving advice, she needed to get a license, and Florida made the case that there are valid public health reasons for having such a law. Rodgers wrote, “Notably, it is, at the very least, reasonably conceivable that the unlicensed practice of dietetics could lead to improper dietary advice from unqualified individuals, which in turn could harm the public.”

The combination of rulings creates a bit of an odd outcome. Florida can require that Del Castillo get the appropriate degree and pay the appropriate licensing fees in order to legally give out nutritional advice, but it’s not clear that they could tell her what kind of nutritional advice she could give. There might be no difference between the advice she gives now and the advice she might give with a degree and an occupational license. A diploma and a license won’t actually prevent Del Castillo from giving out “improper dietary advice.” Heaven knows the government itself often gets nutritional advice completely wrong.

Lawyers from the Institute for Justice expressed dismay at yesterday’s ruling and promised to appeal.

“The court held that talking with a person about their diet isn’t speech, it’s the ‘conduct’ of practicing dietetics,” said I.J. Attorney Ari Bargil. “The Supreme Court has squarely rejected that sort of labeling game. Giving advice on what an adult should buy at the grocery store is speech, and the First Amendment protects it.”

Read the full ruling here. Read more about efforts to try to censor “unlicensed” public health and nutrition advice here.

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2019-07-18 21:15:59

Rightwing icon and firebrand radio host Rush Limbaugh once cared about reining in the federal deficit and the national debt, but not anymore. On his radio show Wednesday, Limbaugh characterized talk of national financial insolvency as unfounded worrying and a dead issue:

Caller: In 2019, there’s gonna be a $1 trillion deficit. Trump doesn’t really care about that. He’s not really a fiscal conservative. We have to acknowledge that Trump has been cruelly used.

Limbaugh: Nobody is a fiscal conservative anymore. All this talk about concern for the deficit and the budget has been bogus for as long as it’s been around.

That’s not true for actual fiscal conservatives of various party identifications, even if it’s true of Limbaugh, and Trump, and most congressional Republicans. In fact, a prospective Republican challenge to Trump could be coming from former South Carolina Republican Governor Mark Sanford, who said on CNN that he’s considering primarying his party’s leader because of the deficit.

“I think we’re walking out way toward the most predictable financial crisis in the history of our nation,” Sanford told anchor Alisyn Camerota. “If you look at the numbers in terms of debt and deficit, we’re having zero conversation on that very front. I think the Republican party, which I’ve been a part for a long time, has abandoned its conversation even on the importance of financial reality. And so, I’m just struck by if nobody says something, we’re going to wait for the next presidential election cycle on where we go next as a country on debt, spending, and the deficits that are accruing.”

Limbaugh, meanwhile, was one of Obama’s foremost critics on issues of excessive spending. In December 2009, he blamed the former Democratic president for the sky-high deficit, telling viewers that Obama was a “coward” without the “gonads” to fess up to it. Here he is in 2012 responding to a story that Obama was a responsible spender who was concerned about government debt:

They are admitting that big spending is a huge problem. In pointing to this piece, “Hey, it isn’t me, it isn’t me,” they are admitting, they are accepting the premise, if you will, the Tea Party premise, our premise, that Obama’s spending is reckless, that it’s dangerous, that it is destroying the future of your kids and grandkids. That’s why the Tea Party exists. People know that this is happening. They know they’ve never seen spending like this. They know they’ve never seen indebtedness racked up this fast. They know it instinctively. That’s why the Tea Party came into existence.

Now? Rush says stuff like this:

How many years have people tried to scare everybody about [the deficit]? How many years, how many decades have politicians tried to scare us about the deficit, the national debt, (Sen. Jim Sasser pronunciation) “the dafycit,” any number of things? Yet here we’re still here, and the great jaws of the deficit have not bitten off our heads and chewed them up and spit them out.

It is particularly noteworthy that he would abandon that position under a president who campaigned on the promise to reduce spending, only to sign exorbitantly expensive defense bills and debt ceiling hikes within the first year of his tenure. Parts of that would have troubled Rush when a Democrat was in office. So would a report like the one published by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), in which it estimates that the national debt is careening toward “unprecedented levels.”

But 2019 Limbaugh says that conversation is now moot, and actually always has been moot. Some people might call that hypocrisy. Limbaugh would probably call it a smart pivot. If principles don’t pay, pandering certainly does.

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The city of San Francisco will abandon a controversial plan to ask residents whether they wanted to tax tech startups going public for the first time.

The so-called “IPO Tax” (that’s shorthand for “initial public offering”) was slated to go on the city’s ballot in November, but city officials pulled that proposal this week. Instead, a more generic tax on business revenue will be put in front of voters later this year. Both are attempts by the city government to capture a portion of the one-time windfalls that can occur when tech startups based in the city—think Uber, Pinterest, and other so-called “unicorns”—hit the stock market for the first time.

City Supervisor Gordon Mar, who sponsored the proposal, told Recode earlier this year that the 1.5 percent tax would net $50 million annually for city services. That money would provide for “shared prosperity,” he said, suggesting that it could be put towards affordable housing projects in the famously expensive Bay Area real estate market.

But the proposal was never really a tax on IPOs at all. Instead, it would have hiked an existing city tax on stock-based compensation, meaning that all businesses who pay employees and executives with stocks would have been subject to the levy. Calling it an “IPO tax” was never anything more than clever marketing by city officials.

Ultimately, the city’s besieged business community won out. For now.

Mar’s spokesman told The Wall Street Journal that removing the tax from the November ballot was only a temporary setback and that Mar intends to have a similar measure ready for the 2020 ballot.

It’s likely true that we haven’t seen the last of city-level efforts to hit tech companies with new, higher taxes. Indeed, last month’s announcement of the “IPO tax” was cheered by progressive commentators as a productive way to eat the newly rich of the tech world.

But San Francisco would be wise to leave the IPO tax in the trash can. For one thing, the city should look to its own history for a lesson. Tech companies dominate modern San Francisco because the city cut taxes to lure them there in the first place. Sure, some of the big ones might stick around now that they’re established, but there is nothing that guarantees the next round of startups will set up shop in the Bay. Capital is highly mobile, and small tech firms—almost by definition—have the ability to locate anywhere. “Firms already hampered by the high cost of operations here will have another reason to expand or relocate elsewhere,” the San Francisco Chronicle‘s editorial board wrote in May.

Second, the tax wouldn’t have done much to fix the city’s housing and inequality issues. Solving that will require repealing loads of zoning codes and regulations so that more housing can be built. As Reason‘s Christian Britschgi has reported, San Francisco has held up the development of new apartment buildings for reasons as absurd as where shadows from the structure will fall.

Soaking tech startups won’t fix that.

Kerry Jackson, a fellow with the free-market Pacific Research Institute, calls the IPO tax “outrageous and extortionate.”

“When politicians see wealth being created in the private sector,” Jackson writes, “they always find a way to get their hands on the dollars, though they never earned a cent of the income.”

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2019-07-18 20:40:07

There are many, many ways a concerned American could respond to the repulsively racist and nativist “Send her back!” chant at President Donald Trump’s rally last night in Greenville, N.C., during which the crowd cheered for the forceful removal from the U.S. of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D–Minn.), a Somali-born American citizen.

Joy Behar of The View, who is in many ways a professional journalist, somehow managed to articulate one of the least informed responses.

The ladies of The View started their show today by unanimously expressing contempt for the behavior at Trump’s rally. Then Behar asks, “Why can’t he be brought up on charges of hate speech? Why can’t he be sued by the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] for hate speech? I don’t get it. How does he get away with this?”

In the clip, available here at The Hill, you can nearly hear co-host Sunny Hostin start to explain something about hate speech, but then co-host Megan McCain introduces a new clip.

For the benefit of Behar and other Americans asking themselves the same question, here is why Trump cannot be brought up on charges of hate speech:

  • “Hate speech” is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Yelling for Omar to go back to Somalia (or to be forcibly sent to Somalia) is gross, but falls under free speech protections as an opinion.
  • In the event we did have laws against “hate speech,” they’d be enforced by the government, not by the ACLU. Given that Trump runs the branch of government that would enforce such laws, and that he regularly declares the media to be the “enemy of the people,” we should be reassured, not upset, that there is no law against “hate speech.”
  • The ACLU opposes laws against hate speech. In the free speech position paper on their site, the ACLU explains that “we should not give the government the power to decide which opinions are hateful, for history has taught us that government is more apt to use this power to prosecute minorities than to protect them. As one federal judge has put it, tolerating hateful speech is ‘the best protection we have against any Nazi-type regime in this country.'”

And an aside to Joe Concha and The Hill: When somebody like Behar says something obviously inaccurate like this, feel free to use your platform and your journalism skills to help her understand how the First Amendment works. After all, it’s why you and I have jobs.

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So the Connecticut Appellate Court held Tuesday in Doe v. Cochran, by a 4-3 vote; you can read the majority and the dissent. Courts are split on this question (and its analogs), as pp. 11-12 of the dissent note. The majority notes that its opinion is limited, though it’s not clear whether the limitations (e.g., to exclusive romantic partners)will remain tenable in future decisions:

[T]he duty that we recognize today … extends only to identifiable third parties who are engaged in an exclusive romantic relationship with a patient at the time of testing and, therefore, may foreseeably be exposed to any STD that a physician fails to diagnose or properly report. And the physician fully satisfies that third-party duty simply by treating the patient according to the prevailing standard of care and accurately informing the patient of the relevant test results. Whether there are other, broader circumstances under which a physician may be held to owe a duty of care to a nonpatient third party who foreseeably contracts an infectious disease as a result of the physician’s negligence is a question that we need not resolve today.

I think the majority is generally right: To quote the Restatement (Third) of Torts:

An actor ordinarily has a duty to exercise reasonable care when the actor’s conduct creates a risk of physical harm.

A doctor’s telling the patient that the patient has tested negative for a sexually transmitted disease creates a risk of physical harm to the patient’s sexual partners—it increases the likelihood that the patient will have sex with them, or will have sex with them without proper protection. (The STD here was herpes, which can be spread even if the man wears a condom, but apparently condom use does decrease the risk; also, herpes medication apparently reduces the risk of spreading the virus as well.) And the risk to the third party is certainly foreseeable.

If the doctor or the doctor’s employees acted unreasonably—for instance (as alleged in this case), the doctor “misread [the] lab report,” or the doctor “misinformed his staff member,” or “the staff member misinformed [the patient]”—then they should be held liable. That’s not some special new legal duty; it’s just the basic duty that all of us have to act reasonably when our actions create a risk of physical harm to others.

The Restatement does note that, “In exceptional cases, when an articulated countervailing principle or policy warrants denying or limiting liability in a particular class of cases, a court may decide that the defendant has no duty or that the ordinary duty of reasonable care requires modification.” That’s why, for instance, most courts have adopted various so-called “no-duty” or “limited-duty” rules, such as the rule in most states that a social host who serves alcohol to guests can’t be liable to third parties who are injured when the guests drive drunk. But I don’t see a basis for imposing such a limitation here.

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2019-07-18 19:35:06

Five congenitally deaf couples have agreed to allow their embryos to be edited by Russian biologist Denis Rebrikov, who will use CRISPR to correct the defective GJB2 genes that are responsible for their hearing loss. Since both would-be parents harbor two copies of the gene, their children would necessarily also be deaf.

So far as is known, CRISPR gene-editing of human embryos has only been done by Chinese biophysicist He Jiankui. He announced the birth in November of two girls whose genomes he had edited using CRISPR with the goal of making them immune to the HIV/AIDS virus. He was widely denounced for conducting an unethical and risky treatment. Some of the condemnations were justified: The technique’s safety is unknown and the babies’ parents likely were not provided with enough information to give truly informed consent. Despite being reproached for ethical lapses, He has reportedly been approached quietly by several fertility clinics that are interested in offering gene-editing services to their clients.

Since the hearing loss versions of the GJB2 gene are recessive, Rebrikov aims to use CRISPR to correct one version of the GJB2 genes, thus enabling the gene-edited child to hear. Earlier this month, researchers at Harvard using CRISPR successfully edited a mouse gene associated with hearing loss.

One of the chief safety concerns with CRISPR is the possibility of off-target mutations that could result in unintended harms to gene-edited babies. In other words, there is the risk of editing a gene you don’t intend to, producing results you also don’t intend. However, performing the edit at the one-cell stage enables reproductive clinicians to excise and test cells taken at a later stage of embryonic development to make sure the edit has been properly made and that no dangerous off-target mutations have occurred.

Many of He’s critics point out that there are now effective ways to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS—including a possible vaccine—without resorting to gene-editing. Similarly, it is possible to correct hearing loss through the use of a cochlear implant device. It is worth noting that, in the United States, the cochlear implant devices and associated treatments can cost up to $100,000. Although gene-editing would obviously involve additional costs, the price of one cycle of IVF treatments is around $8,000 in Russia and about $12,000 in the U.S.

Hearing loss is not a fatal disease and obviously many deaf folks live happy and fulfilling lives. So should Rebrikov be allowed to proceed with his gene-editing plans? Assuming adequate safety precautions are in place and that parents clearly understand the risks and benefits from the proposed treatments, the answer is yes.

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2019-07-18 17:50:03

The progressive bastion of Berkeley, California, is eager to make its laws as inclusive as possible by eliminating gendered terms from its books.

On Tuesday, the city council passed an ordinance that instructs city staff to “degenderize” its municipal code. Instead of using “he” or “she,” the city’s laws will now reference a gender-neutral “they” or use formal titles like “director” and “councilmember.”

“Gender-neutral language creates a lot of room to acknowledge that it’s not just men running the country,” Councilmember Rigel Robinson, the ordinance’s sponsor, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Robinson’s bill further smashes the patriarchy by offering gender-neutral replacements for common terms found in the city’s code. “Manhole” will now be “maintenance hole.” Ombudsman is to be replaced with “investigating official.” “Sororities” and “Fraternities” are to be referred to as “Collegiate Greek system residence.”

You can see the whole list here.

If you find yourself in the city jail, you might have to pay a “bonds-person,” not a “bondsman,” to get out. Instead of waiting six months to a year for city approval to build that “granny flat” in your backyard, you can now spend the same amount of time wondering when permits for your “accessory dwelling unit” will come through.

Berkeley’s push for gender neutrality isn’t offensive or wrong. But it is kind of silly. Few people deploy words like “manhole” or “ombudsman” as exclusively male terms, even if they are technically gendered. Replacing them with terms people don’t use doesn’t make the city’s laws more inclusive, but it might just make them less intelligible to the general public.

Like it or not, English is a gendered language. Trying to change that in one fell swoop often results in clunky and imprecise phrasing. Microsoft Word’s gender bias spell check feature runs into this problem by suggesting users replace words like “landlord” and “girlfriend” with “property owner” and “partner.”

It’s also not like Berkeley officials don’t have other, more pressing problems. The city has some of the highest home prices in the nation, and, as a result, its homeless population has more than doubled in the last two years. 

If city politicians really wanted to make Berkeley more inclusive, they should start by blocking fewer housing projects. Doing so might result in fewer homeless people sleeping on top of “maintenance holes” at night.

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