This week President Donald Trump summarily eliminated almost all asylum protections for Central Americans and other migrants seeking to enter the United States from the Southern border. The president’s move is legally questionable for a host of reasons, the most important being that he is attempting an end run around Congress and doing by administrative fiat what he couldn’t through normal legislative channels.

The rule, which will go into effect immediately, basically says that anyone—men, women, children, even unaccompanied minors—who pass through another country first will be ineligible for asylum at the U.S. southern border unless they first apply for and are denied asylum in the countries on the way. Migrants already in America will be exempted, even if they entered without authorization between ports of entry. But perversely, Central American migrants who listened to the administration and waited in Mexico to come in legally through an official port of entry will be out of luck.

The administration hopes this change will end the recent rush of migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—never mind that one reason for said rush is precisely that these migrants feared Trump would pull some stunt like this and wanted to get here first.

Can Trump’s new rule withstand the court challenges that have already been filed? It’s unlikely.

For starters, this is not just a rule: It is an “interim final rule” jointly issued by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. As such, it dispensed with normal rule-making niceties—minimum notice requirements, comment periods, etc. —that are typically required before a change of such magnitude.

The administration says it can do this because the country is facing a border emergency. Attorney General William Barr insists the border is “overwhelmed by the burdens associated with apprehending and processing hundreds of thousands of aliens.” But to the extent that border resources are “overwhelmed,” it is because of the administration’s zero tolerance policy. Under this approach, the administration puts everyone—even asylum seekers who pass the initial “credible fear” screening—in detention rather than releasing them to wait with their friends and family in the country while immigration courts hear their asylum claims, as previous administrations have done. So this “emergency” is of the Trump administration’s own making.

The administration has repeatedly tried to use the emergency argument to persuade Congress to close the alleged loopholes in asylum law that it claims have made America a migrant magnet (such as the 1997 Flores settlement, which requires migrant parents with kids to be released from detention within 20 days). So far, Congress hasn’t bought any of this. If Congress ain’t buying it, the courts probably won’t either. As Margaret Stock, an immigration lawyer with the Federalist Society, tells me, President Harry Truman couldn’t even persuade the Supreme Court that the Korean War was enough of an emergency to let him seize private steel mills to preempt a strike and keep wartime production going. The Trump administration’s asylum move will raise similar concerns, Stock notes.

Furthermore, the new rule will run afoul of long-standing international and American legal requirement that asylum seekers be given a due hearing. America is required to hear migrants’ cases unless they are coming through countries with whom the U.S. has a Safe Third Country Agreement. Such a country has to offer a similar level of safety, security, and due process as the United States. The only country that currently has such an agreement with America is Canada. The agreement makes it incumbent upon Canada to consider the asylum petition of migrants on its soil rather than just letting them into the United States. Only if Canada denies their petition can they apply for asylum in America.

The administration is trying to strong-arm Mexico and Guatemala into signing similar agreements, which would require these countries to offer permanent asylum to migrants rather than merely temporarily warehousing them. But even if these countries agree, U.S. courts are unlikely to be convinced that the new rule is kosher. Why? Because these countries, particularly Guatemala, aren’t “safe.”

The U.S. government’s own assessment shows that Guatemala, through which migrants from El Salvador and Honduras must pass when moving north, is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Women in Guatemala face extremely high rates of murder, and children are often targeted for sex trafficking or forced to join gangs. Things are so bad that in the past nine months, around 190,000 Guatemalans fled to neighboring countries—and about half of the Central American migrants flocking to America are in fact Guatemalans. So even under the new asylum rules and a Safe Third Country agreement with Guatemala, the administration couldn’t send fleeing Guatemalans back to their country; that would be refoulement, or a forcible return to an active danger zone, which is legally prohibited. And if America can’t send Guatemalans back to their own country because it is too dangerous, how can it send Hondurans and Salvadorans there?

Trump thinks he can make America safe by turning it into a fortress. In fact, he is creating the conditions for major continental upheavals that will turn a fake emergency into a horrendously real one. If fleeing Central American migrants are “overwhelming” America’s border to the point of a crisis, what will happen to Mexico and Guatemala, far less prosperous and stable countries, if they are forced to absorb all of them?

Courts are going to have a hard time keeping a straight face listening to some of the administration’s tortuous legal rationales. So why is Trump doing this? He is grandstanding to stir up his base and keep alive the notion that America is under siege. He hopes to translate a legal loss into a political victory—asylum seekers, America, and the region be damned.

A version of this column originally appeared in The Week

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2019-07-18 15:50:43

Satoshi Nakamoto is the pseudonym of a mysterious software developer who released a white paper describing a new peer-to-peer currency called bitcoin on an obscure mailing list in 2008, then disappeared two years later.

David Marcus is a Facebook executive who was grilled in two congressional hearings this week about a new digital currency project called “Libra,” which the social media giant is billing as a less volatile version of bitcoin that can be monitored and controlled by governments.

“We are fully committed to working with regulators, here and around the world,” Marcus said on Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. “And let me be clear and unambiguous: Facebook will not offer the Libra digital currency until we have fully addressed regulators’ concerns and received appropriate approvals.”

The hearings were a useful reminder that one of the many reasons that bitcoin is a revolutionary technology with profound political consequences, and Facebook’s Libra is a payment network with some interesting properties, is that Congress can never make Satoshi Nakamoto appear on national television to be grilled by lawmakers.

Written and narrated by Jim Epstein; Graphics by Austin Bragg and Meredith Bragg.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Photo Credit: Stefani Reynolds—CNP / MEGA / Newscom

David Marcus Photo Credit: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Newscom

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U.S. sex-trafficking prosecutions have fallen since Donald Trump took office, according to a new analysis from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.

“Prosecutions for sex trafficking of children under a law used against financier Jeffrey Epstein last week are down 26.7 percent over the past fiscal year,” TRAC reports. “This is the second year in a row that prosecutions for sex trafficking of children under [federal criminal law] have fallen—a reversal of the grown trend during the Obama years.”

Federal prosecutors brought 49 percent of underage sex trafficking cases referred to them in Obama’s final full year, according to TRAC records. For the 2017 fiscal year (October 2016 through September 2017), it was 46 percent; for fiscal year 2018, it was down to 42 percent.

For October 2018 through May 2019, the rate had fallen to 39 percent.

This is not necessarily to the discredit of the Trump-era Justice Department. It’s possible that greater efforts by state and local prosecutors mean the feds feels comfortable letting them handle it. There could be a greater number of referrals overall, and simply not enough federal manpower to handle them. A greater percentage of the cases being referred to federal prosecutors could be no good, or prosecutors might feel more empowered to reject bad fits.

The ratio of federal prosecutions to convictions for sex trafficking has long been uninspiring—a sign that prosecutors were taking on too many cases that they shouldn’t have. Much of the ramp-up of “sex trafficking” prosecutions during the Obama and Biden years involved targeting a wider and wider array of conduct as sex trafficking in a way that seemed to come down hardest on sex workers.

Alternately, the recent drop in prosecution numbers and falling rate of referrals to prosecutors could signal that priorities or commitments for U.S. attorneys have been tied up elsewhere during the Trump administration. It’s possible that efforts on immigration, the Russia probe, or whatever else may be coming at the expense of prosecuting sex traffickers.

In any case, last year was hardly a low point in terms of overall number of cases prosecuted. So far, there have been 108 federal prosecutions for underage sex trafficking in fiscal year 2019. If things continue as projected, there will be about 162 total for the year, TRAC says. That’s down 27.6 percent from last year and down about 32 percent from 2014—but up 90.6 percent from a decade ago.

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2019-07-18 15:35:02

After 28 years in prison, Corey Atchison is finally a free man.

Convicted of murder in 1991, the Oklahoma native spent nearly three decades behind bars before a private investigator, Eric Cullen, took up his case. Cullen’s work had previously helped to free Atchison’s younger brother, Malcolm Scott, who was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1994. In Scott’s case, another man who had testified [against?] Scott eventually confessed to the murder before being executed for another crime. In Atchison’s, evidence emerged that the authorities had bullied witnesses into offering false testimony.

The Washington Post reports that

District Judge Sharon Holmes found that his case was marred by a “fundamental miscarriage of justice,” according to people who were in the courtroom and local reports….

“Corey was arrested three months before his daughter was born; this is the first time he’s been able to have some real contact with her and the same with his 10-year-old grandson,” his lawyer Joseph Norwood told The Washington Post. “I’m very proud to have vindicated them and reunited them.”

One might have expected Atchison to express bitterness. (If I had been wrongly imprisoned for nearly 30 years of my life, I would be plotting some kind of elaborate revenge, Count of Monte Cristo–style.) But Atchison told the press that he felt “blessed” and held no grudges. “Life’s too short,” he said.

Indeed, life is too short. And Atchison’s life is 30 years shorter, because overzealous authorities stole that time from him.

I can’t help but think about this travesty of justice in the context of the current national freakout many on the right are having with respect to “Big Tech,” globalization, automation, and the supposed sins of the free market. To grapple with these issues, these conservatives are racing to embrace nationalism and “declare independence from neoliberalism, from libertarianism, from what they call classical liberalism…from the set of ideas that sees the atomic individual, the free and equal individual, as the only thing that matters in politics.” That’s how author Yoram Hazony explained it during his remarks at the National Conservatism Conference in Washington, D.C., this week. (See my colleague Stephanie Slade’s excellent writeup of the event.) Other speakers at the conference explicitly singled out private companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook as bigger threats to individual liberty than big government. Libertarians, the new nationalists say, are fools for caring more about the latter threat than the former.

For the likes of Steven Crowder and Dennis Prager, perhaps the threat of YouTube censorship really is the most serious tyranny they face. Many other Americans have different problems. Neither Google nor Amazon nor any social media company even existed when the government sent Atchison to prison for for 28 years. Who knows if one day Twitter would have shadowbanned Eric Garner, killed by the cops because he was selling loose cigarettes? On Tuesday, the Justice Department announced that none of the officers responsible would face charges. The only person who went to prison in the Garner case was Ramsey Orta—a friend of Garner’s who managed to record his final moments.

Giving more power to the government is probably not an appealing agenda for the family of Daniel Shaver, whose killer—Officer Philip Mitchell Brailsford—will receive $2,500 a month because he allegedly got PTSD for shooting the unarmed man in a hotel hallway. Nor would it please the Lowthers, who spent $300,000 trying to stop Child Protective Services from abducting their children based on a mendacious lie.

Our critics—be they nationalist conservatives or progressive liberals—say we libertarians are monomaniacally focused on reducing the size of government. But that’s because we recognize that government has more power than any other institution to kill people, deport their relatives, kidnap their children, and destroy their livelihoods. If you’re not at serious risk of suffering one of those calamities, you possess a level of privilege many of your fellow Americans do not.

That doesn’t mean you are forbidden from complaining about bias or mistreatment at the hands of private organizations such as tech companies and the mainstream media. I’m frequently critical of both myself. But you should be really, really wary of supporting robust federal intervention into these problems, when the likely result will be to give government authorities more resources for oppressing everyone.

The next time someone says that there’s no bigger threat to Americans’ liberties than Big Tech, remember Corey Atchison.

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You’re probably old enough to remember a time when conservatives opposed the idea that it was the federal government’s job to solve most problems. A time when they thought that individuals, families, and community groups, not politicians, were responsible for building a good life and a good society. A time when they believed that government power should be devolved whenever possible to the state and local level, away from the bloated behemoth in Washington.

The several hundred attendees of this week’s National Conservatism conference have a different vision for American politics. The event brought together a variety of speakers to discuss and defend, in explicit terms, the need for a new nationalism.

As the Hudson Institute’s Chris DeMuth put it, “our claim is that the government has abdicated basic responsibilities and broken trust with large numbers of our fellow citizens.” It has done this by allowing a globalized economy to emerge and U.S. manufacturing supremacy to be lost; by not “securing our borders” or ensuring that immigrants are sufficiently assimilated into the culture; by either turning a blind eye to or actively encouraging the erosion of traditional Christian values. 

“The rising economic tide has swallowed entire regions,” said pro-Israel activist David Brog. The result, according to Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance, has been “family decline, childhood trauma, opioid abuse, community decline, decline of the manufacturing sector and all the sense of dignity and purpose and meaning that comes along with it.” And the answer to these problems, under the new nationalist view, is for conservatives to shed their aversion to big government. “We should care about a whole host of public goods,” Vance concluded, “and actually be willing to use politics and political power to accomplish those goods.”

Practically speaking, the nationalist agenda is largely focused on the need for a federal “industrial policy.” For Breitbart‘s John Carney, that means tariffs, and lots of them. Americans need to be willing to pay higher prices to protect the jobs of their fellow citizens, according to Brog. For American Affairs founder Julius Krein, “protectionism is not sufficient….It’s not radical enough.” The Manhattan Institute’s Oren Cass laid out a plan involving research and development subsidies, infrastructure investments, preferential tax rates for favored firms, punitive taxes on companies that move jobs overseas, “trade enforcement” to make other countries play according to our rules, and more. “We should have a National Institutes of Manufacturing just as we have a National Institutes of Health,” he said. 

What do all of these proposals—and the many others offered at the conference, from censoring porn to cracking down on opioids to preventing trans girls from playing on girls’ sports teams—have in common? There is a tendency among the new nationalists to frame their movement as standing in opposition to supranationalism. Yoram Hazony, author of The Virtue of Nationalism, laments in particular what he sees as a push toward a homogenous “new world order” in which umbrella institutions such as the European Union and the United Nations override the rightful sovereignty of states. 

Yet the true object of the nationalists’ ire is much closer to home: They cannot abide individual Americans making social and economic choices they do not like. For consumers, the question might be whether to buy foreign or domestic. For a business owner, it might be where to open a factory. For a parent, it might be whether or not to attend drag queen story hour at the local library. Regardless, the new nationalists have decided not only that there is a right answer from a moral perspective but that government should force you to choose correctly.

“Today we declare independence,” Hazony said, “from neoliberalism, from libertarianism, from what they call classical liberalism. From the set of ideas that sees the atomic individual, the free and equal individual, as the only thing that matters in politics.”

For Cass, Vance, Hazony, and the others, the situation is binary: We can either accept a moral relativism in which no outcome is better than any other as long as it was freely chosen, or we can acknowledge that our society faces problems and embrace federal efforts to fix them.

That choice is a false one. When it comes to solving problems, there are numberless alternatives to government interference. They begin with individual initiative and personal responsibility, but they need not end there. Once upon a time, conservatives understood as a canard the progressive maxim that “government is simply the name for things we do together.” Private actors do things together every day, via churches, charities, neighborhood groups, businesses, professional associations, and other civil society organizations (to say nothing of family and friends).

This point was drawn out during the conference by the ultraconservative Notre Dame political scientist Patrick Deneen, the only person I heard voice any unease with the national conservative project. In American history, he noted, “the emphasis of [nationalism] was the explicit and desired and in many ways successful aim to weaken the more local, regional, neighborhood, and particular forms of identity within the nation—those identifications that had been the hallmark of the American political/cultural experience.” According to Deneen, nationalism was the progressive idea that we should put “the national need before the sectional or personal advantage” and “that local government should cede its activities to the national government.” In this moment, he said, “it seems natural for conservative to rally around the idea of the nation. But we should always be wary of simply occupying the ground recently vacated by progressives.”

Alas, Deneen went on to support virtually all the same policy prescriptions as everyone else at the conference. Anti-individualism seems to be the unifying theory of the ascendant political right. If government infringements on personal liberty are the price of achieving good outcomes, conservatives are more than happy to pay it.

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2019-07-18 14:35:01

Dennis Prager, the right-leaning radio host and pundit who runs the widely successful nonprofit PragerU, testified Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution. His subject was Google’s alleged censorship of conservatives.

“I promise you, one day you will say, first they came after conservatives, and I said nothing,” opined Prager, invoking the famous post-Holocaust era poem by Martin Niemöller. “And then they came after me—and there was no one left to speak up for me.”

YouTube—Google’s video-sharing subsidiary—houses PragerU free of charge. The nonprofit has more than 2.2 million subscribers there, and its YouTube videos receive more than a billion views a year, according to Prager, who concurrently says the tech giant is censoring him.

To back that up, he cites YouTube’s decision to restrict approximately 20 percent of his online 5-minute video shorts on the grounds that they contain mature content—thus hiding those videos from the approximately 1.5 percent of users who elect for restricted control. Karan Bhatia, formerly a conservative political operative and now Google’s vice president for government affairs and public policy, testified that the approach allows users and institutions to filter out content with adult themes.

Prager begs to differ. “Of course we know why,” he said during Tuesday’s hearing. “Because they come from a conservative perspective.”

Unfortunately for this argument, Google records show that the Huffington Post, Vox, Buzzfeed, NowThis, and The Daily Show all have much larger swaths of content restricted under YouTube’s policy. Seventy-one percent of videos from The Young Turks—a leftist channel—are blocked, dwarfing PragerU’s share:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas), who chaired the hearing, pressed Bhatia on Prager’s restricted videos. “Among those that are censored include a video on the Ten Commandments,” Cruz said. “Another one censored includes a video on the history of the nation of Israel. The restrictions are purportedly for blocking things like pornography, but apparently in YouTube’s world, talking about the Ten Commandments and the nation of Israel is comparable and should be blocked.”

“Respectfully, senator, that’s not right,” replied Bhatia, explaining that those videos contained mature topics—murder, rape, etc. He reiterated that they are still visible to the “98.5 percent” of YouTube users who do not opt for restricted mode.

That falls far short of censorship. Would Cruz prefer that the choice to hide certain bits of content—an option provided by a private company—be taken away from free-thinking individuals and institutions?

Ironically, Cruz does support censorship—when it fits within his ideological wheelhouse. “If someone uses [Google or YouTube] to commit slander, or to transmit classified material, or to traffic guns or drugs, far too often Google is off the hook,” he said in his opening statement. As such, he suggested amending Section 230 to make social media sites criminally and civilly liable for every post published on those platforms. Cruz is casting himself as a defender of free speech, but the actual policy change that he’s proposing would give tech giants an incentive to suppress more speech.

Cruz also accused Google of heavily weighing its search results toward liberal perspectives. “Google’s control over what people hear, read, watch, and say is unprecedented,” the senator said. “When we search on Google, we see only the web pages Google decides we should see.”

Google News may well skew left: A study by the media company AllSides found that approximately 65 percent of the company’s search engine results come from left-leaning sources. (Full disclosure: I used to work at AllSides.) But that doesn’t mean the platform is rigged against any one ideological standpoint. Its results can be explained by the company’s popularity algorithm—which, true to its name, showcases the most popular results—as well as the fact that there are more liberal sources available for the parsing. What the government would do to rectify this remains unclear.

Cruz and his conservative cohort also fail to reckon with the fact that right-leaning media conglomerates are often masters of using online algorithms—the very ones they lament—to their advantage. Francesca Tripodi, a sociologist at James Madison University, gave an example of that when she testified that Fox News is 6.7 times more likely to use “AOC”—the moniker for socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.)—as a search engine optimization tag than the liberal outlet MSNBC, “thereby increasing the probability that searching for the phrase will link audiences to conservative news coverage of a liberal politician.”

Tripodi adeptly unmasked the root of the problem among right-leaning lawmakers. “Privately-held corporations, like Facebook, Google, and Twitter, are not the new public square. They are sophisticated advertising firms designed to profit from the data we provide to them,” she testified.

“Simply put, if content is readily available, it is not being suppressed,” Tripodi continued. “What conservatives who are arguing censorship are frustrated with is not the constitutional right to free speech, but is actually a grievance against a free market economy.”

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First, Mississippi gubernatorial candidate and state Rep. Robert Foster refused to have a female reporter accompany him on a campaign trip, an otherwise standard practice. Not to be outdone, his competitor Bill Waller Jr., the former chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court, stated that he would not spend any time alone with a woman (who is not his wife) in a personal or professional setting. According to CNN, here’s Waller’s murky statement:

“I just think it’s common sense. I just think in this day and time that appearances are important … transparency’s important. And I think that people need to have the comfort of what’s going on in government between employees and people. And there’s a lot of social issues out there about that,” Waller told the news outlet on Monday. He said his goal “is to not make it an issue so that everyone’s comfortable with the surroundings and we can go about our business.”


Waller told Mississippi Today that in his 22 years serving on the state Supreme Court, he never found himself alone with a female colleague.

This reasoning was similar to the one that Robert Foster had provided:

“I trust myself completely, but I don’t trust the perception that the world puts on people when they see things and they don’t ask the questions, they don’t look to find out the truth. Perception is reality in this world, and I don’t want to give anybody the opinion that I’m doing something that I should not be doing,” he said.

Given Waller’s statement that this has been his practice for many years, even the most creative minds won’t be able to blame this one on #MeToo (they might still try with Foster, though). So how are we to understand these men’s attitudes? Here are some possibilities:

  • While they would deny this as the reason, these men don’t trust themselves not to misbehave around women. This should make them look bad to voters.
  • Their wives don’t trust these guys around women. Voters may want to inquire why that is, and the reasons may well end up looking bad to voters.
  • These men don’t trust women not to behave inappropriately toward them. Any women. This should make said men look bad to voters.
  • These men don’t trust how journalists would present such interactions and/or they don’t trust the public in how it would view Important Men spending any time alone with women. In other words, these candidates don’t trust voters with something fairly basic. Why should voters trust them with much more important things?

If I was a voter in Mississippi, I would feel either 1) suspicious or 2) fairly insulted and stereotyped by now. I expect that individuals in that state are no less able to form judgments about human relationships than individuals anywhere else, even if their politicians apparently hold them in lower regard than I do. The exclusion of women from the same professional opportunities as men is a long-standing problem. Occasionally men express concerns about “what will people say” as a reason not to provide mentorship in a number of settings. This only becomes the reality if we let it become self-fulfilling–meaning, if interactions between one man and one woman are treated as inherently suspect.

Whenever I hear of stories like in Mississippi, or in fact ones where men did misbehave, I am reminded of how somehow none of this was a problem during my clerkship year. As it happened, I clerked for a Southern male judge (Judge Morris S. Arnold of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit) who had an all-female crew of three year-long clerks, one permanent clerk, and one administrative assistant. The fact that it was all women that year was coincidental, and most years it was a mix of genders, including with male majorities.

Never once did I think my judge acted inappropriately toward me. None of my co-clerks ever reported anything to me, either. Sometimes several of us spoke to him in chambers, and other times it was just one of us. Neither did that ever feel uncomfortable nor did anyone else think it was strange.

I have yet to meet anyone who speaks ill of Judge Arnold for any reason. He had (and I believe still has) a happy marriage with a lovely wife. If he could pull off healthy professional relationships with all his female employees in Arkansas over a decade ago, these Mississippi gentlemen could surely give it a shot in 2019.

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2019-07-18 13:30:02

Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) is catching a lot of flak for demanding that the Senate actually debate an open-ended extension of the September 11 Victims Compensation Fund.

On Wednesday afternoon, Paul objected to when Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D–N.Y.) attempted to pass the bill by unanimous consent—an expedited process that does not require each senator to record his or her vote.

“Any new spending that we are approaching, any new program that’s going to have the longevity of 70, 80 years, should be offset by cutting spending that’s less valuable,” said Paul on the Senate floor. “We need to at the very least have this debate. I will be offering up an amendment if this bill should come to the floor, but until then I will object.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R–Utah) also opposed passing the bill by unanimous consent.

The bill, H.R. 1327, would extend the life of the Victims Compensation Fund to 2090. (The fund is currently set to stop accepting claims by the end of next year.) It would also do away with any limited appropriations for the fund, instead paying out however much is necessary to cover eligible claims through 2092.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill would cost $10.2 billion over the next decade.

The first 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund operated from 2001 to 2003, and awarded $7 billion to the families of the 2,880 people killed in the attacks on that day, plus another 2,680 who were injured.

In 2011 the fund was renewed and expanded to cover anyone injured during the rescue and recovery efforts at the targeted World Trade Center, as well as those in proximity to the attacks who were injured or came down with other health problems, including cancer.

Since 2011, the fund has since given out $5.2 billion to nearly 29,000 claimants.

Despite Paul’s objections, the permanent extension of the victim’s fund will almost certainly pass. The Senate’s reauthorization measure currently has 73 co-sponsors, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (D–Ky.) has said he will put it to a vote before the August recess.

On Fox News, former Daily Show host and 9/11 first responder champion Jon Stewart accused Paul of “fiscal responsibility virtue signaling,” saying the Kentucky senator’s current concerns about the deficit were hypocritical in light of his support for 2017’s tax cuts.

Stewart was not alone in this line of criticism.

These condemnations skate over Paul’s rather reasonable position that the Senate should actually debate the bill and consider fiscal offsets before approving nearly a century’s worth of effectively unlimited spending.

Rep. Justin Amash (I–Mich.) made this same point last week when explaining why he voted against the victim fund’s extension in the House:

And while it’s true that Paul voted for a deficit-increasing tax cut, he has also consistently introduced legislation to cut spending across the board. Just last month, the Senate rejected a budget plan authored by Paul that would have cut federal spending by $183 billion in the coming fiscal year.

Libertarian-leaning folks like Paul want less spending, lower taxes, and smaller deficits. The senator has a record of supporting all three policies, even though the rest of Congress seems only able to muster support for one.


President Donald Trump’s attacks on “Squad” member Rep. Ilhan Omar (D–Minn.) escalated markedly Wednesday night at a North Carolina rally. Trump went on an extended rant against the congresswoman, declaring that she “looks down with contempt on the hardworking Americans, saying ‘ignorance is pervasive in many parts of this country.'” He also said that “Omar has a history of launching vicious anti-Semitic screeds.”

The president’s riff sparked a chant of “send her back” from the crowd, which Trump did not discourage.

Both right and left condemned the crowd’s behavior on Twitter:

Omar herself responded Wednesday night, tweeting a quote from poet Maya Angelou.


The House voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s “Cadillac tax” on high-end health plans by a commanding 419–6 vote. That measure, passed as part of the initial Obamacare legislation, imposed a 40 percent tax on employer-sponsored insurance plans worth $11,200 for individuals and $30,100 for families. It was scheduled to go into effect in 2022.

Both unions and businesses opposed the tax, as it raised the cost of providing fringe health benefits to employees.

Free marketeers are split on the tax. Many view it as just another way the government makes health care coverage more expensive. But some libertarians have offered tentative support for it. By taxing wages but not health benefits, they argue, the current tax code encourages an expensive, inefficient system of employer-sponsored insurance coverage. The “Cadillac tax” amounts to a partial rollback of this distortionary tax policy, the thinking goes.

Libertarian-leaning Rep. Justin Amash (I–Mich.) voted against the tax’s repeal.


  • 20 candidates have qualified for CNN’s upcoming Democratic primary debate, including for the first time Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
  • FaceApp—a smartphone application that adds years and beards to users’ selfies—was innocent fun for about a week. Now it’s facing a deluge of privacy concerns.
  • Prosecutors have dropped sexual assault charges against actor Kevin Spacey.
  • The House has killed a renegade attempt to impeach Trump, sponsored by Rep. Al Green (D–Texas).
  • The White House and Congress are reportedly getting closer to a budget deal.
  • More kids in the U.S. and Britain would rather be YouTubers than astronauts.
  • Demands for the resignation of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló have grown louder. The governor was recently revealed to have made sexist comments in a group chat with other politicians.

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2019-07-18 08:00:54

It’s illegal to allow poison ivy to grow in New York City. But when residents complained about patch of the plant growing on Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) property that was spilling over onto a sidewalk, the city’s response was to put up a sign warning people about the plant.  After a local media site ran a story about the problem, the MTA finally agreed to remove the poison ivy patch.

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2019-07-18 04:01:47

When he testified before Congress last week, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell made an interesting comment: “We don’t have any basis or any evidence for calling this a hot labor market.” He added that “to call something hot, you need to see some heat.” Come again? The unemployment rate is 3.7 percent, and this is somehow a lukewarm market?

An inability to perceive this alleged lukewarmness of the labor market may be explained by the fact that the main metrics we use to report the health of the labor market—this 3.7 percent unemployment rate—captures only one aspect of the employment story.

That said, whatever this metric implies, it probably makes most governments around the world drool with envy. Many African countries face unemployment rates of 20 percent or above. The rate in Greece is 17.6 percent. The French unemployment rate stands at 8.7 percent. In Italy, it’s 9.9 percent. The Euro Area unemployment rate is 7.5 percent, and that’s its lowest rate since 2008. Sweden is at 6.8 percent. Australia is 5.2 percent, and in Canada, it’s 5.5 percent.

Yet, according to the website Trading Economics, the low U.S. rate isn’t really unique. The United Kingdom has a 3.8 percent unemployment rate. Germany has a 3.1 percent rate in spite of suffering through a bout of slow growth. Japan’s rate is a mere 2.4 percent. Singapore is at 2.2 percent, while Qatar has a reportedly minuscule rate of 0.10 percent.

The problem with the headline unemployment rate produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)—called the “U-3 rate”—is that it only counts people who aren’t working but want to work, defined as having made an effort over the past four weeks to find a job and being available to start a job.

The BLS does publish other unemployment metrics. There’s the “discouraged worker” unemployment rate (U-4), which includes job-wanters who, while they haven’t searched for employment in the past month because of economic reasons (e.g., believing that they don’t have the training for the available jobs), have actively pursued employment in the last year. Then there’s the U-5 rate, including those who similarly haven’t looked for work because of “non-economic reasons,” such as caring for family members or lacking transportation.

But BLS estimates don’t count people who have full-time jobs and who would like to work more hours or switch jobs. It doesn’t account for some important nuances, like an older population. That’s why many economists, from the University of Maryland’s John Haltiwanger and Katharine Abraham to Dartmouth College’s David Blanchflower to the University of Stirling’s David Bell in the U.K. to economists at the Dallas Fed, are all coming up with new metrics.

My colleague Michael Farren is pushing for new metrics that would give a more accurate picture of the labor market, too. Originally designed by economist Scott Winship in a paper for the Mercatus Center, Farren embraces the idea and is doing the hard work to make the case for a metric to government officials and journalists. He calls it the Comprehensive Jobless Rate (CJR). It’s comprehensive because it counts all adults who say they want jobs, regardless of whether they are or aren’t actively looking for work.

Farren tells me, “The comprehensive jobless rate could be referred to as the ‘U-5b’ because conceptually, it falls between the U-5 and U-6 unemployment rates. (U-6 adds in people who are working in part-time jobs but want full-time employment. But the U-6 metric is less useful as a measure of joblessness because it conflates ‘unemployment’ with ‘underemployment’ by counting part-time workers as if they didn’t have a job at all.)”

The CJR (or U-5b) uses the same BLS data but counts people who otherwise fall through the cracks of the official BLS unemployment measures: those who gave up looking for work more than 12 months ago or are currently unavailable to take a job but are still actively searching for future work opportunities (like graduating students). It’s not intended as a replacement for the other unemployment measures; rather, it’s useful as a benchmark to better understand the unemployment metrics and fact-check politically motivated exaggerations.

The CJR is about 3.3 percent higher, on average, than the headline unemployment rate. But don’t feel too bad about that because this higher CJR hit an all-time low last April at 6.5 percent! Whether that’s a hot market or not, I’ll let you be the judge.


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