When political arguments aren’t getting you anywhere, what can you do?

Start your own country!

Unfortunately, most of the world’s land is controlled by rapacious governments unwilling to let others experiment.

But fortunately, that still leaves oceans.

If people move 12 miles offshore (or 24 miles in the case of the U.S.), they can, in theory, live free from existing governments’ suffocating rules. People then could try new things—find better forms of government.

The idea is called seasteading. My latest video shows what offshore countries might look like.

The idea already makes some governments nervous.

This year, Chad Elwartowski and Nadia Summergirl set up a small seastead 13 miles off the coast of Thailand.

“We’re looking forward to freedom-loving people to come join us out in the open ocean,” says Chad.

Unfortunately, the Thai government wasn’t happy about it. More on what happened to Chad and Nadia’s seastead, below.

“We need a new place to experiment with new rules appropriate for modern technologies,” says Joe Quirk, who runs the Seasteading Institute. “As long as people create seasteads voluntarily and people can quit them voluntarily, you’ll have a market of competing governance providers.”

The seasteading approach avoids people trying to agree on a single set of laws.

“Seasteaders don’t have a problem with regulations per se,” says Quirk. “Humans need rules to interact. We have a problem with the monopoly over the provision and enforcement of regulations. We don’t need politicians. They’re not smart enough to make decisions for us.”

I pushed back when I interviewed him, saying some people might use lawless seasteads to do things like abuse heroin—or kids.

“We have that in our country right now,” said Quirk. “But if I move 12 miles offshore, I’m going to be so incentivized to set a better example because the world’s eyes are on me. I’ve got to convince investors to invest…convince people to move there…. (I)n such an environment, it’s going to be much more difficult to create evil islands of heroin-shooting than to create positive innovations that improve people’s lives.”

Quirk argues that the world already likes a form of seastead: cruise ships.

“Most cruise ships fly the flag of, say, Panama or Liberia, and they’re de facto self-governing. Liberia has no capacity to enforce rules on the 3,000 ships that fly its flag. So a captain is a de facto dictator. Why doesn’t he become a tyrant? Because people can choose another cruise line.”

The Seasteading Institute tries to create competing governance experiments by approaching politicians from land-based governments.

Quirk tells them: “We’ll bring our own land; we’ll float just offshore. If it succeeds, we share the prosperity. If it fails, we absorb the cost.”

There are historical parallels. Minds were opened in mainland China when the tiny island of Hong Kong showed that having fewer regulations could bring prosperity.

“China very rapidly, because of the example set by Hong Kong, started creating these special economic zones,” says Quirk.

Special economic zones are similar to seasteads because they have fewer rules.

“At least a half-billion Chinese people have exited extreme poverty by moving to these new jurisdictions,” recounts Quirk.

Unfortunately, the Chinese government did not expand such experiments to the whole country. People in power rarely want to give it up.

Seasteads could give the world experimental evidence that can’t easily be censored by land-based politicians. Chad and Nadia hoped their seastead would be the first of many.

“They thought nobody would care,” says Quirk.

They were wrong. Although they were more than 12 miles off the coast, Thailand’s politicians sent their navy to tow away the couple’s small floating island. Chad and Nadia got nervous when they saw a reconnaissance plane overhead and left their seastead just before the navy raided it. Now they are in hiding. If caught and tried in Thailand, they were told they might face the death penalty for violating Thai sovereignty.

But good for Chad and Nadia for trying.

“It’s irresponsible not to improve society by setting better examples,” says Quirk. “People with the best ideas should be given an opportunity to do that voluntarily and pay the consequences of their failures…and get the profits if they succeed.”

COPYRIGHT 2019 BY JFS PRODUCTIONS INC.
DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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2019-09-25 12:01:30

From Crouch v. Trinity Christian Center (Cal. Ct. App. Sept. 12):

Carra Crouch, at age 13, was drugged and raped by a 30-year-old employee of Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana, Inc. (TCC) while she was in Atlanta, Georgia to participate in a TCC-sponsored telethon. When Carra returned to California, she and her mother, Tawny Crouch, went to see Carra’s grandmother, Jan Crouch, who was a TCC officer and director and was responsible for overseeing the telethon. When Tawny explained to Jan Crouch what had happened to Carra in Atlanta, Jan Crouch flew into a tirade and yelled at Carra that she was stupid, it was really her fault, and she was the one who allowed it to happen. Carra was devastated.

Based on Jan Crouch’s conduct, the jury awarded Carra $2 million in damages (later remitted to $900,000) against TCC on her cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). The jury found that Jan Crouch was acting within her authority as an officer or director of TCC when she yelled at Carra. TCC appealed….

At each stage of the trial court proceedings, and again on appeal, TCC has argued that Jan Crouch’s conduct was not extreme or outrageous but was just a grandmotherly scolding or irascible behavior. According to TCC, Carra endured nothing more than insults, petty indignities, and annoyances.

We conclude that Jan Crouch’s behavior toward Carra was sufficiently extreme and outrageous to impose liability for IIED. Yelling at 13-year-old girl who had been drugged and raped that she was stupid and she was at fault exceeds all possible bounds of decency. By telling Carra she was at fault, Jan Crouch displayed a reckless disregard for the almost certain emotional distress Carra would, and did, suffer….

The grandmother’s behavior described in the opinion indeed seems outrageous to me; but I remain quite skeptical about the intentional-infliction-of-emotional-distress tort, in part because I think the terms “outrageous” and “exceeds all possible bounds of decency” is too vague for the law, even when it comes to civil liability and not just criminal punishment. It will be interesting to see what future cases there will be in this genre, based on family behavior that is less extreme but that some judge or jury might still find highly offensive.

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When a police officer illegally arrests a photographer for taking pictures, can she be sued for violating the Fourth Amendment’s ban on “unreasonable searches and seizures”? Yes, a federal appeals court ruled last week.

When police officers steal cash and property worth more than $225,000 while executing a search warrant, can they be sued for violating the owners’ Fourth Amendment rights? No, a different federal appeals court ruled earlier this month.

Welcome to the weird world of qualified immunity, which protects government officials from liability for outrageous conduct if a court determines that the rights they allegedly violated were not “clearly established” at the time. Exactly what that means is fuzzy, but it’s undeniable that qualified immunity lets cops off the hook for actions that would land ordinary people in jail.

In the false arrest case, Stephanie Branch, a police officer who works for Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), charged freelance photographer Avi Adelman with trespassing at a train station, even though DART policy allowed him to take pictures there. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that “no reasonable officer under these circumstances would conclude that she had authority to eject a person complying with DART policies from public property—and then arrest that person for criminal trespass when he failed to depart.”

In the case of the purloined property, suspects in an illegal gambling investigation alleged that Fresno, California, police officers seized $151,380 in cash and $125,000 in rare coins but reported only $50,000 of it, pocketing the rest. “Although the City Officers ought to have recognized that the alleged theft of Appellants’ money and rare coins was morally wrong,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled, “they did not have clear notice that it violated the Fourth Amendment.”

Courts in other cases have approved qualified immunity for cops who allegedly shot people without cause, sicced a dog on a man who was surrendering, tased a driver who was stopped for failing to buckle his seat belt, and ordered a 17-year-old boy to disrobe and masturbate so they could take pictures of his erect penis. Fifth Circuit Judge Don Willett, who was part of the panel that ruled against Officer Branch, observes that “qualified immunity smacks of unqualified impunity, letting public officials duck consequences for bad behavior—no matter how palpably unreasonable—as long as they were the first to behave badly.”

Worse, Willett noted in a 2018 case, courts often rule that a right allegedly violated by police was not “clearly established” without deciding whether their actions were unconstitutional. That approach creates a “Catch-22,” he said, because “plaintiffs must produce precedent even as fewer courts are producing precedent,” and “important constitutional questions go unanswered precisely because those questions are yet unanswered.”

University of Chicago law professor William Baude argues that qualified immunity, which the Supreme Court invented in 1982, is “unlawful,” with “shoddy foundations” in common law. Baude notes that the Court seems keen to accept cases involving qualified immunity and almost always rules in favor of police officers, encouraging lower courts to shield cops from liability under a federal law that allows people to sue them for constitutional violations.

The Court’s application of qualified immunity, Justice Sonia Sotomayor observed in a 2018 dissent joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “tells officers that they can shoot first and think later.” Justice Clarence Thomas, who does not agree with Sotomayor and Ginsburg about much else, also has urged his colleagues to reconsider the Court’s approach to qualified immunity.

Based on an analysis of nearly 1,200 federal civil rights cases and a survey of about 100 lawyers practicing in this area, UCLA law professor Joanna Schwartz concludes that abolishing qualified immunity would make litigation less costly, complicated, and time-consuming for both sides. Most important, she says, it would stop courts from sending “the troubling message to government officials that they can violate the law with impunity.”

© Copyright 2019 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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2019-09-25 03:05:03

President Donald Trump.

Many are advocating impeachment in response to President Donald Trump’s apparent attempt to use withholding of $400 million in aid funds as leverage to pressure Ukraine into investigating possible malfeasance by Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Meanwhile, critics fear that investigation and impeachment could unduly undermine confidentiality of the president’s conversations with foreign leaders and his control over foreign policy more generally. Largely overlooked in the debate so far is the fact that, if Trump did indeed try to use the aid funds as leverage, he not only engaged in improper self-dealing but also usurped Congress’ power of the purse. That’s an important constitutional issue that goes beyond Trump’s many personal flaws.

If there is one thing that constitutional law scholars agree on, it is that the spending power is supposed to be controlled by Congress, not the president. Even most of those who otherwise favor very broad presidential power concur. For example, few if any experts have a broader conception of presidential power over foreign affairs than John Yoo, who has argued—among other things—that the president can go so far as to start wars without congressional authorization. But Yoo nonetheless recognizes that Congress has the power to control spending on foreign and defense policy. He even contends (wrongly, in my view) that this power is enough to prevent presidential abuses of the extremely broad war powers he believes the executive is entitled to.

If Trump tried to use aid money allocated by Congress to pressure the Ukrainian government into investigating one of his major political rivals, that would be a blatant effort to use federal funds for purposes that were never authorized by Congress. The legislative branch does often give the executive the power to withhold foreign aid money until various conditions are met—such as assisting US foreign policy goals, combating corruption, or promoting development. There is a longstanding debate over how much discretion the Constitution allows Congress to delegate to the president on such matters. But, in this case, Congress never even came close to authorizing the president to use the aid money as leverage to force a foreign government to try to dig up dirt on the president’s own political opponents and their family members.

Even if you believe there is good reason to investigate Joe Biden and his son’s dealings in Ukraine (which is not clear), the proper way to do so is to use law enforcement funds properly allocated for such purposes, not use foreign aid money as leverage to get a foreign government to do it for you. You cannot investigate the possible corruption of others by engaging in corrupt self-dealing yourself.

In a recent New York Times op ed criticizing calls for impeachment over the Ukraine issue, John Yoo argues that it would undermine presidential control over foreign policy, and also reassures us  with the suggestoin that Congress could eventually get at the truth by using its spending power to  cut “intelligence, military and diplomatic funding” if the administration refuses to disclose relevant evidence.

This overlooks the fact that a potential usurpation of Congress’ spending power is precisely the point at issue. As Yoo recognizes in other contexts, Congress is entitled to control over the power of the purse, even when it comes to spending on foreign policy. And the threat to use spending cuts to incentivize  executive cooperation is only likely to be credible if the president knows that efforts to divert federal funds away from their authorized purposes will be properly investigated and punished. Otherwise, he can circumvent future spending cuts he opposes by reallocating funds Congress intended to be used for other purposes.

Given the importance of the power of the purse, Congress has every reason to review what happened here. That includes both considering the transcript of Trump’s call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky (which Trump says he will release tomorrow), and the internal whistleblower report that first attracted public attention to this issue. In a rare show of bipartisan agreement, the Senate has unanimously demanded the report’s release; Trump should comply. If there is anything that Congress has the power to investigate, it is whether the funds it allocates are actually being spent for their authorized purposes.

And if it turns out that Trump did indeed try to use these funds as leverage to dig up dirt against a political opponent, that sort of unconstitutional diversion of federal funds for personal gain is exactly the kind of abuse of power that the Founders believed impeachment should be used to curb. It is not merely a form of personal corruption, but a dangerous undermining of the constitutional separation of powers. There is obvious reason to avoid giving any one man or woman the power to use the federal treasury as a piggy bank for their own personal agendas.

It is also worth recalling the Trump administration has an extensive prior history of attempting to usurp Congress’ powers over spending. That is evident in the many cases in which both Republican and Democratic-appointed judges have struck down the president’s attempts to impose conditions on federal grants to states and localities, that were never authorized by Congress—all for the purpose of coercing them into helping enforce the administration’s immigration policies. The same pattern recurs in the litigation over Trump’s attempts to divert funds to build his border wall, despite Congress’ repeated refusal to allocate funding for that purpose. And there are plenty more examples of Trump playing fast and loose with the spending power.

Trump is not the first president to try to undermine Congress’ control over spending. Barack Obama, for example, illegally diverted funds to pay for Obamacare subsidies that were not authorized by Congress. But Trump is unusual for doing it so brazenly and so often. If he manages to get away with it, we will have created a dangerous precedent. Republicans who may support him now are unlikely to be happy when future Democratic presidents use similar tactics.

 

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2019-09-24 19:00:19

A House subcommittee hearing on the allegedly harmful effects of e-cigarettes took a bizarre turn when Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D–Mich.) asked the panel’s only pro-vaping witness, Vicki Porter, whether she was a conspiracy theorist.

Tlaib had apparently noticed Porter winking at one of the Republican participants, and thought this was possibly indicative of something nefarious. Porter patiently explained that she knew this man personally and was just saying hello.

Tlaib’s larger concern, of course, was that Porter had directly and quite pointedly challenged the tortured logic of the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee hearing. Contrary to the other participant’s assertions that vaping was bad, full stop, Porter thanked e-cigarettes for helping her to quit smoking—and reminded Congress that there were millions of other adults just like her.

“Vaping is a health miracle to me,” said Porter. “Not safe, but less harmful.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Shultz (D–Fla.) dismissed Porter’s comments, saying, “I want to confirm the testimony of Ms. Porter is anecdotal, related specifically to her opinion, and she is not a public health expert.”

Tlaib celebrated the anti-vaping witnesses for “speaking truth about this, because the long-term effects are very dangerous” before attempting to discredit Porter with the conspiracy-theorist smear.

Moments before, Tlaib had asserted secondhand smoke was “worse than directly smoking cigarettes.” This, of course, is not true—indeed, it’s utterly ludicrous. Who is the conspiracy theorist again?

For more on Tlaib’s fact-free anti-vape agenda, read the Reason Foundation’s Guy Bentley.

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  • Mixed-ish. ABC. Tuesday, September 24, 9 p.m.
  • Emergence. ABC. Tuesday, September 24, 10 p.m.
  • Stumptown. ABC. Wednesday, September 25, 10 p.m.
  • Evil. CBS. Thursday, September 26, 10 p.m.

In the onslaught of stupidity, cupidity and (to anyone who watches it long enough) hyperacidity that is the 2019 broadcast TV season, there’s a brief ceasefire for the next few days.

Four intensely watchable pilots make their debuts in mid-week. In each case, their survivability ranges from questionable to doubtful. But you might as well watch while you’ve got the chance; trust me, the season isn’t going to burst into vivid Technicolor life like The Wizard Of Oz. (And—spoiler alert—no houses get dropped onto witches’ heads, either.)

The best single hour of the fall season is ABC’s Stumptown, a hyperviolent noir which starts with a victim escaping from her kidnappers with not-doctor-recommended usages of a fire extinguisher, a seatbelt and her teeth. It only gets progressively more deranged from there.

Based on a rough-and-tumble comic book of the same name, the sly, pulpy Stumptown features Cobie Smulders (Friends from College) as Dex Parios, back in her hometown of Portland after five tours in Afghanistan.

Once a decorated military intelligence officer, Parios is a PTSD burnout who’s sardonic, drunken, and mostly at the end of her rope. Her main forms of recreation are random hookups and losing her disability check shooting craps at an Indian casino.

About the only thing tethering Parios to the real world is her need to somehow provide for a younger brother who has Down Syndrome (Cole Sibus, A&E’s Born This Way). That’s why she takes a fishy private investigator gig hunting down the missing teenage daughter of the casino owner, and immediately the fists, lead and even cars start flying.

Like any good noir detective, Parios has a past pockmarked with tragedy, a welter of withered relationships and a nasty co-dependence with the local cops, capably played by the admiring Michael Ealy (The Following) and the disdainful Camryn Manheim (The Practice).

Between the intricately staged violence and Smulders’ wonderfully wisecracking, knuckle-busting performance, the Stumptown pilot is an intense experience—so much so that it’s hard to believe the rest of the series can hold up to the same standard. How many errant teenagers are out there? Well … okay, but how many are worth driving your car off a bridge for? How often is a fire extinguisher going to be at the right place at the right time to bash somebody’s head in with it? How many guys’ shirts can Parios rip from their six-pack abs before there’s a shortage?

The problem with ABC’s otherwise entertaining Emergence is similar: How many airline catastrophes can reveal vast, cosmic and hopelessly confusing conspiracies before everybody goes back to taking the train? Count ’em up: ABC’s Lost. Fox’s Fringe. NBC’s Manifest. Airliners have become the Grassy Knoll of conspiracy TV.

Emergence follows a now-familiar pattern: In a weather-beaten seaside town on a remote Long Island promontory, there’s a short power failure, followed by a weird Northern Lights-type display and then, of course, a plane crash on the beach.

When town police chief Jo Evans (Allison Tolman of the TV version of Fargo) arrives at the crash site, she finds a little girl (Alexa Swinton, Billions) with no memory of anything, including her own name, but too unscathed to have emerged from the smoldering plane wreck.

Even more mysterious: the flock of NTSB investigators who show up within minutes of the crash demanding custody of the girl and threatening to arrest Evans’ officers when they don’t hand her over. “NTSB doesn’t have arrest authority,” replies the chief in a wintry voice. “I do.” But she has no answer to the little girl’s warning: “If I remember, I’ll have to go away.”

Emergence‘s pilot is a pleasantly spooky hour, with some not-all-that-faint echoes of Netflix’s Stranger Things. It’s aided immeasurably by the casting of Tolman as a size-16 protagonist who is neither a vixen or a superhero, just a good cop with decent human instincts.

But you can practically hear space aliens whispering in the background of the Emergence soundtrack of time travel and alternate universes to come. Ultimately, Emergence is likely to be an exercise in nostalgia for the Golden Age of air travel, when you worried about your luggage getting lost rather than being sucked through a hole in the time-space continuum.

There was a lot of optimism about CBS’ new crime drama Evil because its production team is led by Robert and Michelle King, who created three of this century’s most intelligent television shows—law-and-politics drama The Good Wife, its spinoff The Good Fight and BrainDead, a splendidly contemptuous vision of American politics in which Washington is taken over by brain-eating parasites. (No, not a reality show.)

Evil, unfortunately for its Nielsen points if not for viewers, takes a more cerebral approach that lacks the snap, crackle and pop of the other King shows. It’s a sort of X-Files in which investigators are troubled by metaphysical questions of morality rather than drooling bug-eyed monsters.

Katja Herbers, lately one of the naked but soulless (or maybe I’ve got that reversed) robots on Westworld, plays forensic psychologist Kristen Bouchard. A frequent prosecution witness against serial killers, she attacks their insanity defenses after administering tests that aren’t exactly subtle. (“True or false: I like the sound of a woman screaming.”)

While pursuing her latest target, a knife-wielder named Orson who has chopped up three families, Bouchard bumps into a couple of men who, she assumes, are defense witnesses coaching up the defendant. To her surprise, they turn out to be Catholic Church investigators who suspect Orson is possessed by a demon.

Many of the symptoms that the Church team associates with demons—say, shouting curses and threats in Latin—are easily faked. Other facts, though, leave Bouchard nonplused. How would Orson know details about her marriage, including her growing estrangement for her absentee husband?

At the same time, she starts having luridly detailed and sexually disturbing nightmares featuring Orson’s purported demon. And as Bouchard’s befuddlement grows, she gets a surprise: an offer to join the church team as a professional skeptic, to be matched against the true-believer investigator David Acosta (Mike Colter, who had a recurring role as a Chicago gang leader on The Good Wife), a priest in training.

“Possession looks a lot like insanity,” Acosta concedes. “And insanity looks a lot like possession. I need someone to help me distinguish between the two.”

Herbers and Colter play well off one another as Evil prowls the borders between science and religion, determinism and morality. And complicating their search is that they both believe in the existence of non-supernatural evil, of “people out there who do bad things and encourage others to do bad things, for the sheer pleasure of it,” as Acosta puts it.

Though Evil manages some truly unnerving moments, particularly the scenes with the lascivious demon, it’s more about ideas than the pea-soup-vomiting stuff audiences usually expect from stories about demons and exorcism. In post-Kardashian America, it may be too late to convince viewers that evil is more than a matter of table manners.

Like Evil, ABC’s Mixed-ish seems redolent of an earlier television time—but in this case, it was inevitable. Mixed-ish is the third franchise in the Black-ish empire that executive producer Kenya Barris launched in 2014. And perhaps Barris (or somebody; the show credits list nine executive producers) has recaptured some of the magic of his original work.

Black-ish started out as light-hearted commentary on the cultural conflicts in homes of the black bourgeoise, and most of the white characters were clueless and bumbling. But in the past couple of years, many of them have devolved to malicious racism. (The change may not be ideological. Barris’ life has been a bumpy one recently; he left his production contract with ABC behind for Netflix last year, and he recently filed for divorce from his wife Rania, upon whom Black-ish character Rainbow Johnson is based.)

Meanwhile, the second franchise—Grown-ish, in which the family’s teenage daughter goes off to college, was so insipidly derivative that ABC demoted it to its kiddie network Freeform, where the audience is too young to have seen the John Hughes films from which it was ripped off.

Mixed-ish has a much fresher feel than the other shows. It’s a prequel to Black-ish, with young stage actress Arica Himmel playing an adolescent version of Rainbow Johnson, who grew up in a racially mixed family in a rural commune.

As the show opens in the summer of 1985, the commune has just been shut down and the family has moved into to the suburban home of Rainbow’s wealthy white grandfather. It’s full of new experiences for the three siblings: Television. Flush toilets. The Second Amendment. (Grandpa, a Reagan Republican, has decreed a constitutional right to bear squirt guns.)

Not everything in Mixed-ish is high-spirited, though. The most startling thing to the kids is not consumerist technology but the rigid identity-politics concept of race, which didn’t exist on the commune. The mixed-race Johnson kids are neither white nor black, in the views of their schoolmates and even some members of their long-estranged families.

“They’re black and white,” Rainbow’s mom pleads with one particularly strident member of her family. “Don’t make them choose sides.” The kids, though, are quick to sense which way the winds are blowing. When Rainbow says the kids should remain above racial definitions, her younger sister retorts: “I think there couldn’t be a whiter thing to say.” Faintly, on the soundtrack, you can hear Cher singing, “Half-breed, how I learned to hate the word… .”

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2019-09-24 21:30:13

On Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) rolled out his plan for a wealth tax on families whose net worth exceeds $32 million. The purpose of the tax is two-fold: raise revenue for the senator’s high-spending domestic agenda, and eliminate supposedly unjust concentrations of private wealth.

That would include anyone worth more than $1 billion, according to Sanders, who tweeted out The New York Times coverage of his proposal with the caption “billionaires should not exist.”

Sanders’ wealth tax ranges from a 1 percent yearly tax on net wealth above $32 million held by a married couple ($16 million for a single person) to an 8 percent tax on a married couple’s wealth that exceeds $10 billion ($5 billion for a single person).

This would supposedly raise $4.5 trillion over 10 years, which would then be spent on Sanders’ $2.5 trillion housing proposal, universal childcare, and a portion of his $32 trillion Medicare For All plan.

His plan is similar to a wealth tax proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) earlier this year, which would tax fortunes that exceed $50 million.

Despite the ambitious aims of Sanders’ wealth tax proposal, there are good reasons to doubt that it will bring in nearly as much revenue as he is projecting, let alone that it will abolish billionaires.

For starters, the difficulty in valuing the wealth held by the rich on a year-to-year basis would make a wealth tax hard and expensive to administer compared to other forms of taxation.

“The uber wealthy tend to have very hard-to-value assets. They own more than publicly-traded stock, such as real estate holdings, trusts, and business ownership interests,” wrote Nicole Kaeding and Kyle Pomerleau for the Tax Foundation in January, when evaluating Warren’s wealth tax proposal. “It is difficult to value these assets on an ongoing basis. Imagine a large privately-held company—its value could change almost daily. How would the tax handle these fluctuations?”

The current estate tax, a one-time wealth tax on inheritance, is already a headache for the Internal Revenue Service to administer, Kaeding and Pomerleau point out. The administration of a yearly wealth tax would be even more difficult.

Politically expedient or economically necessary carve-outs and loopholes will also reduce the revenue one can expect a wealth tax to generate, says Chris Edwards, a tax policy scholar with the Cato Institute.

“If they were passed into law there would be all kinds of exemptions and exceptions like farmland. Rich people would move their wealth to those exempted areas and the government wouldn’t raise that much money,” he says.

This, adds Edwards, is exactly what happened in the 12 European countries that adopted wealth taxes. Revenue was disappointing, raking in on average about .2 percent of GDP. In the U.S. context that would work out to be a little under $40 billion a year, or about 10 percent of what Sanders is claiming his wealth tax will generate.

All but three of the European countries that adopted a wealth tax have since repealed it, citing low revenues, high administration costs, burdensome effects on entrepreneurship, and capital flight.

Sanders has a few ideas on how to make administration easier and prevent the rich from evading his wealth tax, including a “national wealth registry,” a 100 percent audit rate for billionaires, and a 40-60 percent tax on wealthy emigrants.

Fewer exemptions, however, means a wealth tax will have harsher economic effects, says Edwards.

“The left-wingers have this idea that most wealth is gold bars underneath the mattresses of rich people,” Edwards observes. “Most wealth is actually active business assets. It’s the value of the assets that are actively producing and employing people in production.”

Taxing these business assets would, in turn, mean less capital investment, argues Edwards, and therefore fewer jobs or lower wages for the workers who would have otherwise been made more productive by that capital investment.

The innumerate problems with a wealth tax, coupled with the fact that much easier means exist for the government to shake down the wealthy, suggests that Sanders’ proposal is less about policy and more about signaling.

That is something Reason‘s Peter Suderman argued in a recent video, observing that “the wealth tax is best understood, not as a revenue raiser, but as a symbolic declaration of opposition to the existence of outsized wealth, regardless of how it was obtained.”

 

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) has announced a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, after accusations swelled that Trump leveraged his political power to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden—the current Democratic frontrunner in the 2020 presidential election.

“The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the Constitution,” she said.

As Reason‘s Peter Suderman has pointed out, while the allegations have yet to be fully substantiated, the mounting evidence appears to be unfavorable to the president. Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, flip-flopped on national television, initially denying, but then admitting to urging Zelensky to carry out the opposition research on Biden and his family. What’s more, Trump brought up the request eight times on a July call with the Ukranian president. And just days prior to that conversation, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney reportedly withheld $400 million in military aid from the Ukraine at Trump’s behest.

The president has no lawful power to refuse funds that Congress has allocated. Yet it seems that Trump may have moved to cut off support for Ukraine—illegally—in hopes that he could prompt that country to conduct political opposition research.

Trump said Monday that he withheld the funds because of “corruption” in the country. He contradicted that messaging on Tuesday, telling the United Nations that he kept the money over frustrations with Europe’s lack of monetary support.

Pelosi’s about-face on impeachment represents a major shift for the congresswoman, who up until this point has maintained that such proceedings would have disastrous political consequences for Democrats. And she isn’t the only one to have a change of heart. Many liberal lawmakers who once opposed the idea have reversed course in light of the new information, with those legislators now topping 150 out of 235. The House Speaker will move to create a special committee to investigate the matter.

Trump has leveled similar accusations against Biden. He alleges that the former vice president refused to give Ukraine funding in order to help his son, Hunter, although it’s worth noting that Trump has not yet been able to furnish proof to support that claim. In 2016, Biden threatened to withhold $1 billion in U.S. aid if a prosecutor—who had been accused of corruption by multiple international agencies—was not removed from office. Some in Trump’s circle allege that the former vice president did so in order to shield his son from investigations pertaining to his role on the board of a Ukrainian gas company that was mired in scandal.

At a press conference today, Biden criticized the president and accused him of abusing his office for personal gain. “We have a president who believes there is no limit to his power,” Biden said. “We have a president who believes he can do anything and get away with it. We have a president who believes he is above the law.”

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2019-09-24 20:50:54

Media outlets, following the lead of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), continue to blame recent cases of severe respiratory illnesses among vapers on “vaping” and “e-cigarettes” in general, falsely implying a link to legal nicotine products. This misinformation is fostering public confusion that may lead to more disease and death, both from smoking and from the black-market products that have been implicated in the lung disease cases.

Based on the available information, the overwhelming majority of patients with respiratory illnesses had used black-market cannabis products. While a small percentage of patients say they vaped only nicotine, they may be reluctant to admit illegal drug use, and they may not know what they actually vaped if they purchased cartridges on the black market. If nicotine products are involved in any of these cases, it is almost certainly because of additives or contaminants in counterfeit cartridges or e-fluid, since legal e-cigarettes have been in wide use for years without reports like these.

That’s what we know. But it is not, by and large, what we are hearing from the media. Yesterday I was invited to discuss vaping on AirTalk, the long-running show produced by KPCC, the NPR station in Pasadena, California. To his credit, the host, Larry Mantle, noted the concerns that banning e-cigarettes in general, or flavored e-cigarettes in particular, will drive vapers back to smoking or encourage people to use “adulterated vape solutions” that “might be more dangerous” than commercially available e-cigarettes such as Juul. But the way he framed the segment illustrates the misleading and dangerous conflation of black-market products with the legal vaping industry:

We begin this hour with a conversation on vaping and e-cigarettes. The news from the Centers for Disease Control is that there are nearly 400 [530, according to the CDC’s latest count] confirmed and probable cases of lung disease associated with e-cigarette product use or vaping….Additionally, there have been six [now seven, per the CDC] deaths that have been confirmed….In the wake of those deaths and the CDC recommendation that Americans stop using vape products, that they stop vaping until more is understood about the causes of the lung illness and the deaths associated [with it], we have seen states consider bans on flavored vaping products.

Contrary to the implication, the official justification for those state bans, as well as the nationwide ban on flavored e-cigarettes that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to impose, is the increase in underage vaping, not the lung disease scare. During the radio show I emphasized that the respiratory illnesses are actually associated with black-market products, and black-market THC vapes in particular. But that did not stop the other guest, San Francisco surgeon John Maa, from claiming that “e-cigarettes could be more dangerous than traditional cigarettes if you develop one of these fatal lung illnesses.”

Even when news outlets focus on the hazards of black-market vapes, they are weirdly reluctant to forthrightly state what we know about their prevalence in the lung disease cases. The Washington Post, in a story headlined “Potential Culprits in Mystery Lung Illnesses: Black-Market Vaping Products,” reports that “many sick patients said they bought vape products containing THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, on the black market.” Not until the 22nd paragraph do readers learn that “most people used e-cigarette products containing THC, many of them illicit products” (emphasis added).

Even “most people” is an understatement. In states where the products used have been reported, the share of patients who admitted vaping THC ranges from 83 percent to 100 percent. And while “some people reported using only nicotine products,” the Post says, Jennifer Layden, Illinois’s state epidemiologist, noted…that there is often ‘hesitancy about sharing information’ if patients used illicit products.”

Notwithstanding that evidence, a recent Morning Consult poll found that 58 percent of respondents, based on what they had “seen, read, or heard on the news lately,” believed people had “died from lung disease” caused by “ecigs, such as Juul,” compared to 34 percent who said the cases involved “marijuana or THC e-cigs.” The CDC is fostering such confusion by continuing to issue vague warnings.

“Until we know more,” the CDC says, “if you are concerned about these specific health risks, CDC recommends that you consider refraining from using e-cigarette or vaping products.” It adds that “anyone who uses an e-cigarette or vaping product should not buy these products (e.g., e-cigarette or vaping products with THC or CBD oils) off the street, and should not modify or add any substances to these products that are not intended by the manufacturer.” But the main thrust of the CDC’s message is that vaping, no matter the product, is potentially deadly.

The impact of that message was illustrated by “Arthur in Pasadena,” a KPCC caller who had switched from smoking to vaping. “Hearing everything in the news around these mysterious deaths is [more than] a little bit concerning,” he said. To assuage his anxiety, Arthur said, he’d like to see “more comprehensive studies with definitive findings” regarding “the black-market products that allegedly are making people die” and “the commercially available and seemingly safe products” that might “make you die in a few years.”

The relevant question for Arthur is whether e-cigarettes are a less hazardous alternative to conventional cigarettes. And on that point, as much as vaping opponents like John Maa might try to muddy the truth, there is no serious scientific dispute: Vaping, because it delivers nicotine without tobacco or combustion, is much less dangerous than smoking.

David Abrams, a professor of social and behavioral sciences at New York University, estimates that if every smoker in the United States switched to vaping, it would prevent as many as 7 million smoking-related deaths. No wonder former FDA head Scott Gottlieb described e-cigarettes as “a tremendous public health opportunity.” By portraying e-cigarettes as public health hazard, the CDC is doing a serious disservice to former smokers like Arthur and current smokers who might otherwise follow his example.

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Robert Hunter, the main lyricist for the Grateful Dead, has died at age 78 of so-far undisclosed causes. Rolling Stone has a decent summation of his life and career.

Hunter’s words were unusual and revelatory for “pop music” and formed a folk philosophy for a large generation of Deadheads who didn’t merely enjoy the band’s music, but made traveling around with them a modern way to emulate America’s grand and troubled tradition of traveling frontier seekers, sometimes helping themselves and the places they traveled, sometimes harming them.

But a certain patriotic vision animated it all. As quoted in a book review on a history of the Dead from Reason back in 2003:

Hunter….found distasteful the fealty to Moscow and Peking (as it was called back then) widespread among prominent ’60s revolutionaries. That fealty, he thought, was why that aspect of the ’60s faded away while the Dead kept on truckin’. “We honor American culture, and what we find good in it,” Hunter said of the Dead. And he knew American culture from many perspectives. As a member of the National Guard, Hunter had been called up to keep order during the 1965 Watts riots.

As Jerry Garcia, Hunter’s old friend and the man who composed music to and sang his lyrics, added, “Our trip was never to go out and change the world. I mean, what would we change it to? Whatever we did would probably be worse than the way it is now.” Why, Garcia asked, “enter this closed society and make an effort to liberalize it when that’s never been its function? Why not leave and go somewhere else?” Hunter was able to take a bemused delight in the country that, as he personified it, “shook the hand of P.T. Barnum and Charlie Chan” and that “lived in a silver mine, but called it Beggar’s Tomb.”

The psychedelic experience that helped launch the Dead as a worldwide phenomenon, was, in an irony Hunter pointed out, pushed along by the U.S. government itself. Hunter once said that the U.S. government “created me…and [Ken] Kesey and the Acid Tests,” since Hunter and Kesey were first exposed to powerful psychedelics as volunteers in government military research in the early ’60s.

In one of their most iconic songs, Hunter wrote of the mysteriously inspirational “Uncle John’s Band” that “their walls are built of cannonballs/their motto is ‘don’t tread on me.'”

The America summed up by that image−rugged, ornery, jealous of its liberty−shows what made Hunter’s songs of enduring interest to those fascinated by the meaning and accomplishments of the American experiment in liberty, in the vices and virtues of an anarchistic American frontier. Despite what the cliched image of a doped-out Deadhead might suggest, Hunter dealt with vice and dissolution with a reasonably brutal honesty—anything that felt like a joyous celebration of decadence is rare in his writing. “Casey Jones, you better watch your speed.”

Hunter’s work, unusual for a career writer of popular song, was also not very heavily focused on romantic love, and his most indelible essaying of the topic, “Scarlet Begonias,” is mostly about how men should realize that the endless quest for new women to win might not be serving those men well. Rather, by Hunter’s constant references to an imagined and mythical old frontier in general, his technique of making modern tall tales and fables out of sometimes warped versions of his, the band’s, or his generation’s own experiences and attitudes, his lyrics became a genuine continuation of the American folklore he drew on.

The historical streams of pre-existing folklore and musical style that fed into his songs such as “Cumberland Blues,” “Casey Jones,” “Jack Straw,” and “Dire Wolf” reveal Hunter and the Dead’s role in the eternal chain of folk music in a modern context. For American kids of the past 50 years for whom talk of “balling the jack” or “a buck dancer’s choice” don’t mark the music as arisen from their own intimate and folksy experience but as something exotic, strange, alien—Hunter’s vivid, complicated, character-filled lyrics sold back to a certain generation of weird Americans a lost and mysterious version of their own country.

His songs will undoubtedly continue to be sung for a long, long time to come, and to impart means of understanding and coping with the exigencies of many of his themes—many uncommon in pop lyrics—of work, responsibility, fate, death, nature, and music itself. Hunter, in combination with his composing partner Garcia and the machinery of touring and recording the band built around their songs, created a semi-coherent artistic universe where the same characters might meet and interact, helping and cheating each other back and forth, a world that’s all difficult and ornery frontier as seen with a God’s-eye view, of what seems a largely Godless universe.

It’s a place for stoic men to struggle with necessity and destiny and the entrapping bonds of character—a world, as Garcia once described it, “where the laws are falling apart and every person is the sheriff and the outlaw.” It’s an America that is rough, challenging, but exciting, adventurous, and well worth living in, and Hunter and the band that sang his songs helped make it all those things.

Hunter wrote in one of his most dazzling lyrics, “Terrapin Station,” that, “The storyteller makes no choice/Soon you will not hear his voice/His job is to shed light and not to master,” a gorgeous and wise summation of his own contributions, and that of the band that sang his songs. We no longer hear his voice. But of course we still do, and always will.

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