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When Laws Become Partisan Weapons

The political culture war briefly erupted yet again last week when Sarah Palin posted a photo of Kid Rock, Ted Nugent, and herself at the White House, mocking defeated presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s official portrait from her years as first lady.

At a guess, the eruption over the White House photo was mission accomplished for President Trump’s dinner guests. Whatever their past political and musical accomplishments, the trio seemingly exist now primarily to represent their own political tribe and to provoke the opposition. That’s a pretty easy gig given that Americans are not only increasingly alienated from each other’s politics, but also from each other’s lifestyles and cultural markers.

You don’t have to look too closely to see a disturbing lesson here in how this empowers the country’s dominant political tribes to effortlessly taunt each other by waving cultural flags—or putting the legal screws to lifestyle choices that aren’t overtly partisan.

“For the first time in surveys dating to 1992, majorities in both parties express not just unfavorable but very unfavorable views of the other party,” Pew found last summer. “And today, sizable shares of both Democrats and Republicans say the other party stirs feelings of not just frustration, but fear and anger.”

Anger? How do you get so angry at your neighbors and beer buddies over how they cast their votes?

Except that they’re not neighbors, they’re not buddies, and many members of America’s political tribes don’t just think differently, they live differently.

In the lead up to the presidential election, The Washington Post reported that surprisingly few Trump supporters knew Clinton voters, and vice versa. That seems bizarre until you read that the newspaper’s survey “also found cultural differences between Clinton voters and Trump voters, reflected in their ties to guns, gays and even hybrid vehicles,” and that “the separation here seeps into the micro level, down to the particular neighborhoods, schools, churches, restaurants and clubs that tend to attract one brand of partisan and repel the other.”

This continues a phenomenon noted by Bill Bishop, author of the 2008 book, The Big Sort. “Beginning in 1992, the percentage of people living in landslide counties began an upward, stairstep progression,” he wrote of Americans’ geographical concentration into like-minded communities. But those ideological migrants didn’t necessarily check voter registration records and pick houses in neighborhoods with critical masses of Rs or Ds. Instead, they “were reordering their lives around their values, their tastes, and their beliefs. They were clustering in communities of like-mindedness.” As it turns out, a preference for living in open spaces tends to correlate with voting Republican, while Democrats have a marked preference for walkable urban neighborhoods. Hobbies, tastes, memberships, and religious practices also take divergent paths.

As people settle into these chosen lifestyles-and-politics package deals, they tend to become more like what they’ve selected and to associate contrasting choices with the “enemy,” according to researchers.

“When cultural tastes in turn have a reciprocal effect on personal networks, such divisions are likely to be even further exaggerated, leading to a starkly divided world of latte-sipping liberals and bird-hunting conservatives,” Daniel DellaPosta, Yongren Shi, and Michael Macy of Cornell University wrote in “Why Do Liberals Drink Lattes?” a paper published in 2015 in the American Journal of Sociology.

Which is why Kid Rock, Nugent, and Palin really have to do little more than show up to get opposing tribe members all upset. They’re walking red flags to Team Blue.

The other side plays the game, too. Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer can relieve their boredom any given day by posting something to Twitter about abortion or guns. They’ll generate the usual social media storm, secure in the knowledge that there’s little risk in playing to their ideologically simpatico fans.

But taunting opponents is just good clean fun, right? It gets more dangerous when you can target people who believe the “wrong” things by sending the law after activities they tend to like and your side generally disdains. Policy choices then become a means of punishing opponents, with no other justification needed.

One of the more overt recent examples was directed not at one of the major political tribes, but at libertarians—maybe because we’re perceived as safe targets. After all, our whole shtick is that we won’t ban or restrict the things other people enjoy, so we’re unlikely to retaliate.

“What we can do is to make the environment here so unwelcoming that some will choose not to come, and some may actually leave,” in the words of a former New Hampshire Democratic state representative who actively disliked the libertarian Free State Project. She added, “One way is to pass measures that will restrict the ‘freedoms’ that they think they will find here.”

You rarely get such an overt advocacy of political targeting through legislation. But you do often see pastimes—like latte-sipping and bird-hunting—associated with political blocs. The Prius is “the most liberal car ever,” according to the Seattle Times, although Tesla has a strong following in the same circles. And former presidents and pollsters alike agree that conservatives cling—bitterly or otherwise—to their guns.

That means targeting some pastimes and products disproportionately inconveniences political opponents, while leaving allies relatively unscathed.

That may largely explain the eternal push from Team Blue for ever-greater restrictions on firearms even though, despite a blip last year, violent crime rates remain far lower than they were 20 years ago. There’s ample evidence that gun restrictions that do get passed are overwhelmingly ignored. So there’s little justification for expending political capital on a pointless goal—unless the real targets are not so much guns or the crimes committed with them but the conservatives who own them at a rate almost double that of liberals.

Likewise, a weird spate of state-by-state restrictions on the direct sale of cars to consumers by Tesla captured headlines, and questions about “why?” Then MarketWatch put together a map in 2014 showing that “nearly twice as many blue states as red states allow Tesla Motors Inc. to sell its cars directly to customers.” So, Team Red lawmakers have oddly deep concerns about the direct-sales model? Or are they just trying to stick it to political opponents via restrictions on a car that has become a status symbol for moneyed liberals?

And what to make of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ interest in reviving marijuana prohibition at a time when state after state is legalizing the stuff for medical and recreational use? Does he really believe that “many lives are stake“? Or does he anticipate political gain in going after a substance that he sees as favored primarily by his political opponents?

That politics and policy can be weaponized is no secret. Former President Obama openly urged his supporters to “punish our enemies” and the current president reportedly began assembling an enemies list even before winning the recent election. Wisconsin prosecutors repeatedly raided political opponents’ homes as an exercise in intimidation in recent years. They perhaps took their lead from the not-so friendly tax collectors at the Internal Revenue Service, who have a long history as political hit men.

Now that lifestyle and political affiliation correlate so closely, it’s awfully easy to taunt the “enemy” by waving a few cultural banners in their faces—or by putting legislation to partisan use. Why run afoul of protections for free speech, thought, and assembly when you can just torment people by piling restrictions on the things they enjoy in life? You can camouflage the targeting as a policy dispute, even though your teammates nudge-and-wink understand that it’s all about sticking it to the latte-sippers or bitter clingers.

Weaponized law. How can that go wrong?—except in every conceivable way.

The tribes and their lifestyle and cultural differences appear to be here to stay. But if they can’t learn to play nicely even when they’ve voluntarily separated themselves, maybe it’s time to clean up the political landscape by minimizing the role of law and law enforcement in people’s lives. A little cultural flag-waving is just fine, but it emphasizes very real tribal divisions that raise the stakes in policy disagreements. Law is too dangerous a tool to leave in the hands of opposing tribes who just want to use it to bludgeon one another.

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No, North Korea Isn’t “Super-Mighty”

North Korea is feeling threatened, so it has threatened back.

“In the case of our super-mighty preemptive strike being launched,” the isolated regime’s state-run media warned Thursday, it will hit the “U.S. mainland and reduce them to ashes.”

The phrasing is classic Pyongyang, the bizarre mix of childish bluster and lethal armament that throws normal foreign policy strategy out the window. This same announcement from any other nuclear power would mean the start of World War III, but from North Korea, it’s mostly business as usual.

What isn’t business as usual is the international response to this latest round of provocation. U.S. surveillance planes are reportedly on alert for another North Korean nuclear test, as are Chinese bombers. Vice President Pence told Pyongyang the American “sword is ready,” and, after some miscommunication, Japan’s Self-Defense Force began joint exercises Monday with the USS Carl Vinson in waters off the Korean peninsula.

And though defense officials have denied a recent report of imminent U.S. invasion, there’s no denying the feeling that U.S.-North Korea tensions are escalating. As ever with North Korea’s unique circumstances, the prudent course for the United States may be debatable, but de-escalation of those tensions is not.

An American strike on North Korea would be, in a word, disastrous. As Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Wednesday, war “would be bad for the Korean Peninsula. It would be bad for China. It would be bad for Japan, be bad for South Korea. It would be the end of North Korea.”

Even in the best-case scenario—a tidy overthrow of the Kim Jong Un regime that doesn’t take South Korea down with it and liberates a grateful population—the entire region would be thrown into long-term chaos. A new Korean war would easily cost America $1 trillion and produce one million casualties, Gen. Gary Luck, formerly a commander of U.S. troops in South Korea, estimated.

A best-case scenario isn’t even close to probable. If the U.S. takes up the North Korean offer of war, we risk war with China and North Korean nuclear, chemical, and biological strikes on U.S. troops stationed in and civilians living in South Korea. Post-regime change and an easy acceptance of American occupation by a desperate and ruthlessly brainwashed population is highly unlikely. South Korea may not prove a willing or able partner in the nation-building efforts that would follow.

Realistic assessments of a strike on North Korea are in short supply in Washington. Graham followed his grim account with a hearty recommendation for war, recklessly advising President Trump to prepare for a preemptive invasion. That is foolish and dangerous advice, but hardly unexpected from a senator who never saw a war he didn’t like.

Though tensions may be rising, no North Korean strike on the United States is imminent. North Korea is not capable of executing any attack on the American mainland, let alone instantaneously reducing our country “to ashes.”

Pyongyang has yet to produce an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of carrying a nuclear warhead across the Pacific Ocean, let alone a warhead that could survive the trip. (The military parade organized to honor North Korea’s founding president this month included what appeared to be ICBMs, but there is no evidence those are functional—or even real. This is, after all, a nation prone to expanding its navy via Photoshop.) The medium-range missile test shot into the Sea of Japan back in February, for example, traveled about 300 miles. To hit California, a North Korean missile would have to go more than 18 times that distance.

In addition to this technological inadequacy, the showboating that is a consistent feature of North Korean military development means a surprise strike is extremely unlikely. Pyongyang will publicly test its missiles as it makes them. As the Kim regime has said, the point of being a nuclear power is for the world to know you’re a nuclear power. The United States will not be surprised by a North Korean ICBM.

That timeline gives us options. Stooping to the level of North Korean bluster about preemptive strikes and ready swords is both unnecessary and reckless. It means President Trump should tune out the bad advice of the Lindsey Graham wing of the Washington establishment. It means North Korea isn’t anywhere near as “super-mighty” as it claims to be, and the United States must not let ourselves be swept into an inevitably disastrous war.

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France’s Malaise Will Continue No Matter Who Wins the Presidential Election: New at Reason

Does it even matter who wins the second round of France’s presidential election?

Marian Tupy writes:

Whatever the final outcome of the French presidential election, the actual consequences for France will likely be less dramatic than many people hope or fear. Emmanuel Macron is a political novice, who enjoys support of the French political establishment only in so far as it is necessary to beat Marine Le Pen. His political party is a year old and it is unlikely that Macron’s personal appeal, such as it is, will translate into a parliamentary majority. Let’s not forget that Macron was the first choice of just 24 percent of the French electorate.

If Macron does become president, he will likely face a Parliament constituted of political parties that owe him zero loyalty. The French Parliament will be elected in June and the center-right Republicans, the National Front of Marine Le Pen, and an assortment of socialists and communists, are likely to be abundantly represented as well.

Traditionally, French presidents have found it impossible to push through reforms even when they had parliamentary majorities (e.g., Alain Juppe’s and Jacques Chirac’s attempt to reform the French welfare system in 1995). Unlike his predecessors, Macron will be left alone to face the fury of special interests, such as the powerful public sector unions. That is not a recipe for a successful administration.

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New College Crime Bill Deputizes Professors as Campus Security, Further Federalizes Campus Rape Investigations, and Adds Huge Fines for Schools That Don’t Comply

Under a bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. Senate, a vast new array of higher-education employees—including all staff and faculty at some schools—would be designated as campus security authorities. The bill would also impose new penalties on colleges and universities for failure to comply with a range of staffing, surveying, training, and outreach demands, which could cost schools millions upon an initial violation.

The bill—sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dean Heller (R-Nevada), Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), Marco Rubio (R-Florida), and Mark Warner (D-Virginia)—aims to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965, specifically the section colloquially known as the Clery Act. In a press release announcing their “Campus Accountability and Safety Act” (CASA), the senators invoke the Title IX, the federal rule prohibiting sex-discrimination in education, and a need to place “higher incentives on all universities … to empower student survivors and hold perpetrators accountable.”

If CASA passes, expect to see campus crime numbers—of all sorts—skyrocket. One of the more bizarre provisions of the bill stipulates that “each individual at an institution of higher education who is designated as a higher education responsible employee… shall be considered a campus security authority.”

Under federal code, higher education responsible employees are those required to report sexual misconduct to campus Title IX staff, even if the victim/confessor doesn’t want to report the incident. But federal law is vague about who exactly falls into this category, leaving schools to develop their own more specific—and expansive—definitions. At some schools, all faculty and staff have been given responsible-employee status; many have expanded it to include all professors, or all people working with student athletics and extracurriculars.

What does it mean if each of these folks is designated as a “campus security authority?” It’s unclear how much effect it would have on day-to-day campus policy. But for purposes of an institution’s annual security report, this change would be a big deal. Under federal law, colleges and universities receiving any federal funding must report annually on the numbers of sexual violence and misconduct incidents reported to campus security authorities or local police each year, along with numbers on a range of other incidents, from murder to burglary to hate crimes. CASA would expand sex-offense reporting requirements to include non-identifying details about each incident (such as whether the victim reported the incident to a Title IX coordinator, whether they sought disciplinary action against the accused, the number of accused found guilty, and whether force or weapons were involved).

But more importantly, campus incidents are currently only included on annual security reports if they were reported to local police or campus security authorities—a category which has traditionally meant the campus police department. By drastically expanding the number of people defined as campus security authorities, we drastically expand the category of incidents included in annual security reports. Now we aren’t just talking about incidents in which victims wanted to get authorities involved, or in which the offense was serious enough to warrant police attention regardless; any time a student confides in a professor, coach, drama director, resident adviser, etc., about something that could potentially be an offense—a verbally abusive romantic partner, a dorm-mate who shared an offensive web video, a classmate who made a disparaging remark about trans people, a sexual encounter fuzzily remembered—the listener would be obligated to report it to campus administrators for inclusion on the annual crime report.

It’s a surefire way to discourage students from talking to faculty and staff about their personal lives at all and/or artificially ramp up federal stats on campus crime data.

The 2017 CASA is a redux of a stalled 2014-2015 bill, sponsored by several of its current Congressional champions. Then, as now, the bill was touted as a way to protect and ensure justice for victims of campus sexual assault. But the only discernible way it supposedly did so was by drastically increasing the federal government’s control over campus sexual misconduct policies and the scope of their demands for universities in this regard, levying heavy fines on colleges that didn’t comply.

Hans Bader, an attorney with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, noted that with an initial non-compliance penalty of up to 1 percent of an institution’s operating budget, “that [initial offense] would be a whopping $42 million for Harvard alone, since its budget is $4.2 billion.” Slate’s Emily Yoffe pointed out at the time that the “legislation would, among other things, require all colleges provide a confidential adviser to guide victims through the entire process of bringing an accusation while no guidance or assistance is mandated for the accused.”

Both criticisms hold true for the 2017 bill. While it does include a few nods to the rights of students accused of sexual misconduct—most notably, a requirement that both accusers and the accused have a right to call witnesses and provide evidence during campus disciplinary proceedings—it does not provide student defendants with the same access to a special coordinator as accusers have. Under CASA, schools must designate a number of sexual assault response coordinators (the precise number depends on school size) that have “protection under State law to provide privileged communication” and can hear complaints from victims, counsel them on options, and walk them through the campus reporting and disciplinary process, including brokering any conflicts between the student and Title IX officials or other campus administrators.

And under CASA 2.0, educational institutions could—at the Secretary of the Department of Education’s discretion—still be charged up to one percent of their operating budgets for failing to comply with a host of requirements, from signing official memorandums of agreement with all local law-enforcement agencies to displaying information on school websites in a certain way, subjecting staff to fed-approved training modules, and documenting all info related to sexual-misconduct investigations in the correct manner, then submitting this data (in a very particular format) to the federal government. Even if schools manage to avoid fines, the cost of complying with all the new regulations will certainly rack up administrative costs (which are then passed on to students).

In addition, penalties for failing to meet specific sub-requirements of the bill can also be imposed, including a fine of $150,000 per month that an institution fails to submit an annual survey on student sexual-assault experiences. The opt-in student survey, to be developed by the Department of Education in conjunction with the Department of Justice, would ask questions regarding student experiences with rape and sexual misconduct and use the results of this (anonymous, non-scientific) poll to publish a national report on sexual violence by school and campus.

CASA would also mandate that any faculty or staff who might receive sexual-assault reports must undergo new training—to be developed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions—on the definition of various sex offenses, the definition of consent and “the affect that drugs or alcohol may have on an individual’s ability to consent,” “the neurobiology of trauma,” “cultural awareness,” and “sexual assault dynamics.”

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