breaking, Headlines, News, Opinion, Reason, syndicated

Profiling and Prostitution Pre-Crime in Georgia

On July 31, an undercover cop in Columbus, Georgia, invited a 51-year-old woman into his car and offered her $5 for oral sex. When she rebuffed his offer and tried to get out, he arrested the woman for loitering for the purpose of prostitution. The woman was booked into the Muscogee County Jail, where she still remains.

Loitering for the purpose of prostitution is a controversial charge commonly used by the Columbus Police Department (CPD) to target those such as homeless women, people who’ve previously been arrested on prostitution charges, or people who don’t meet a police officer’s standard of gender conformity.

On Sunday morning, CPD officers arrested a 24-year-old homeless woman for allegedly waving at two passing cars from the side of the road. After the second car stopped and let her in, officers pulled it over. The woman, who had just been released from the county jail a few weeks prior and told them her name was the Virgin Mary, was charged with loitering for the purpose of prostitution and giving false information to police.

Last summer, 24-year-old C. Williams was arrested while sitting at a bus stop because, as Officer Jason Carden explained, Williams was carrying condoms and “dressed as a woman,” even though his records listed his sex as male. “Based off of that information, we charged him with loitering for the purpose of prostitution and took him to the Muscogee County Jail,” Carden testified in court. (Williams told the court he was wearing pink men’s clothing, not women’s clothing.) The judge handed down a sentence of 20 days in jail or a $200 fine.

In August 2016, 43-year-old former sex-worker M. Lake pleaded not guilty to loitering for purpose of prostitution after being taken in while flagging down cars at an intersection. Lake did not dispute that she flagged down an undercover officer’s car, but claims it was simply charity she sought. “I was asking him for a little bit of change, so I can get something to drink. That’s all,” Lake told the court. She accused the police of profiling her. She “had been locked up for that before,” even though she “hadn’t been in trouble for three or four years,” Lake said.

The judge told her, “the way the ordinance is written, if you were previously charged, they’re allowed to charge you again.”

Under the city statute, it’s illegal for someone “to loiter in or near any thoroughfare or place open to the public in a manner and under circumstances manifesting the purpose of committing prostitution or sodomy or manifesting the purpose of inducing, enticing, soliciting or procuring another to purchase sexual intercourse or physical intimacies in an act of prostitution or sodomy.”

It expressly says evidence of an intent to commit prostitution or sodomy includes the person being “a known prostitute, pimp or sodomist.” Other evidence may include repeatedly beckoning to, stopping, or engaging passersby in conversation; repeatedly stopping or attempting to stop passing cars “by hailing, waving of arms, or any bodily gesture.”

In other words, activity that’s perfectly legal when most of us do it is illegal when done by someone with a reputation or record.

A few years ago, college student and former sex-worker Monica Jones made headlines for fighting her arrest under Phoenix’s prohibition on “manifesting an intent to commit or solicit an act of prostitution” after she accepted a ride home from an undercover cop. The charge followed similar parameters as the Columbus law.

As an advocate for sex-worker rights with ample community support, Jones was eventually able to get the charge dropped. But most of the women arrested under these vague statutes aren’t in a position to challenge the system. They wind up in jail for days or weeks unable to make bail and waiting for their court dates. Whether they plead guilty or maintain their innocence and get convicted—the only two options among the Columbus, Georgia, cases I reviewed—they’re ordered to pay hefty fees. (The fees are many times higher than what police say these women were asking for in exchange for sexual activity.)

In March, Columbus police arrested a 32-year-old homeless woman and charged her with loitering for the purpose of prostitution. After finding a glass pipe in her pocket, they chrged her with possession of a drug-related object. After several months in jail, she pleaded guilty to the prostitution charge and was sentenced to 10 days in Muscogee County Jail with credit for time served. But she continued to be held on a $250 bond she could not pay for having the pipe.

In December 2016, CPD prosecuted a 24-year-old woman for loitering for the purpose of prostitution after she accepted a ride from an undercover cop and, when he put the moves on her, told him “If we do it, we do it for free.”

Departments across the country can also be aggressive going after prostitution before the crime:

A Village Voice investigation in 2016 found that New York City police monitor residents arrested previously for prostitution, often grabbing them on subsequent loitering for prostitution charges as they engage in normal daily activity.

“From 2012 through 2015, nearly 1,300 individuals were arrested in New York City and charged with loitering for the purposes of prostitution,” the Voice reported. “The vast majority are women. Such arrests are not the result of stings, in which undercover officers attempt to solicit sex for money. Neither are they the result of investigations that produce evidence — emails, text messages, online ads — that the women had intended to sell sex. With a loitering arrest, a woman’s crime need only exist in the arresting officer’s head.”

The Legal Aid Society of New York wound up filing a lawsuit on behalf of eight women who had been targeted, challenging the state’s loitering for the purposes of prostitution statute on the grounds that it is “based solely on a police officer’s subjective determination that the activity ‘was for the purpose’ of prostitution.”

Perhaps it’s time for legal aid groups to take a look at prostitution policing in Columbus.

Read More on Reason

breaking, Headlines, News, Opinion, Reason, syndicated

The Administrative State Strikes Back: Federal Climate Change Draft Report Leaked

BestThermmometerMeryllDreamstimeA draft version of the U.S. Global Change Research Program Climate Science Special Report has been leaked to The New York Times.

Notwithstanding the Times‘ alarmist headline suggesting “drastic” climate impacts on the U.S., a glance through the 545-page report finds that it is essentially an aggregation of climate change studies that support the scientific consensus that man-made global warming is occurring.

According to the report, the global annual average temperature has increased by more than 1.6°F (0.9°C) from 1880 to 2015; the average annual temperature of the contiguous U.S. has increased by about 1.2°F (0.7°C) between 1901 and 2015. Climate models project increases of at least 2.5°F (1.4°C) over the next few decades, which means that recent record-setting years in the U.S. will be relatively “common” in the near future.

The report concurs with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s conclusion that it is “extremely likely that most of the global mean temperature increase since 1951 was caused by human influence on the climate.” The report also finds that extremely cold days in the U.S. have become fewer while the number of extremely hot days has increased. In addition, extreme percipitation events have become more common in the U.S. The report notes that there is still considerable controversy among researchers when it comes to future trends in hurricane frequency and intensity.

Politicians, like most people, don’t want to hear bad news that appears to contradict their views. The saga of how the the first National Climate Assessment fared under the George W. Bush administration is cautionary tale. Basically, Bush administration officials edited the report in ways that suggested greater uncertainty about scientific findings than the researchers who put together the report thought were warranted. That effort backfired when the administration’s artful editing was leaked to and reported by the media.

The new report states that “it does not include an assessment of the literature on climate change mitigation, adaptation, economic valuation, or societal responses, nor does it include policy recommendations.” This appears to be accurate, though the report does note that “significant reductions in global CO2 emissions relative to present-day emission rates” would be needed to meet the Paris Agreement on Climate Change’s goal of limiting future warming to below 2°C.

Scientific data can identify a problem, but they do not tell policy makers the right way to handle a problem. Maybe the best thing to do is to let emissions increase while growing the economy as fast possible, so as to create the wealth and technologies that will enable future generations to deal with whatever problems climate change may generate. Or perhaps more research needs to be directed toward developing cheap low-carbon energy technologies.

The report was no doubt leaked by someone with an agenda, and I don’t blame anyone in the Trump administration who thinks a shadow science group of Obama leftovers is trying to thwart what it perceives as the president’s climate and energy policies. In any case, since that the draft report is available to anyone with an internet connection, it would be ridiculous for officials to try to “suppress” it now.

Read More on Reason

breaking, Headlines, News, Opinion, Reason, syndicated

The Price of Protectionism: More Expensive Beer

Protectionist trade policies being considered in Washington could increase the cost of aluminum. American breweries say that means you’ll end up paying more for a can of beer.

In a letter to the president sent last week, some of the country’s most prominent breweries, soda companies, and aluminum can manufacturers said they are worried about new tariffs on aluminum imports reportedly being considered by the White House. “Import restrictions or tariffs” on the types of aluminum alloys used to make cans “will add hundreds of millions in costs for companies in the food and beverage industry and will detrimentally affect over 82,000 American manufacturing jobs in industries that rely on these products,” the CEOs wrote.

Beyond the immediate consequences of imposing tariffs on imported aluminum, they warn, any restrictions or tariffs could spur other countries to take retaliatory actions against American products. That would limit opportunities for American businesses to sell goods in other countries. Shortsighted trade policies could end up hurting one industry in an attempt to help another.

The letter is a preemptive strike, since the administration has yet to announce any formal plans to restrict aluminum imports or to slap tariffs on them.

A memorandum signed in April by President Donald Trump instructed the Department of Commerce to investigate “the effects on national security of aluminum imports.” The White House said at the time that it was concerned about whether American aluminum manufacturers could supply enough of the stuff in the event of a major war. (Aluminum is used to make shell casings and many other tools of modern war—hence the language about “national security.”) But the move corresponds with a White House push to protect American jobs from competition overseas. China is one of the largest exporters of aluminum to the United States, so a move to make aluminum imports more expensive would also strike a blow against a country that Trump often vilifies for its trade policies.

But that sort of protectionism makes everyone less well off in the long run, for little benefit to American workers.

American companies produce more than 96 billion aluminum cans every year in 52 different plants scattered across 23 states, according to the Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI). The type of aluminum they use—called “cansheet” in the industry—is manufactured by combining recycled aluminum and other scrap medals with newly smelted aluminum made from bauxite. Although bauxite is available in the United States, there is nowhere near enough of it to satisfy domestic demand. Even if every available smelter were to run at full capacity, the U.S. would still have to import more than 80 percent of its aluminum supply, the CMI says.

It’s cheaper to mine bauxite elsewhere in the world, process it into aluminum, and bring it to the United States to make cans. So that’s exactly what happens. Making it more expensive to import aluminum will disrupt that global supply, forcing adjustments that add to the cost of production but don’t really do much to protect American jobs. That bauxite-mining and aluminum-smelting work will mostly continue to be done elsewhere, due to the simple fact that American demand for aluminum outpaces domestic supply.

And if it is more expensive to make aluminum cans, then it’s more expensive to sell anything that comes in an aluminum can.

“If there are duties on aluminum coming to this country, it will obviously get passed on to us and the customer,” Tim Weiner, a senior commodity risk manager at Molson Coors Brewing Company, said at an industry conference in Chicago last week, according to Bloomberg. “Our prices will go up.”

The White House was originally expected to release its aluminum trade policy in mid-June, but the report has been delayed. Now, CNN reports, it is expected to be released before the end of the summer.

Read More on Reason

breaking, Headlines, News, Opinion, Reason, syndicated

A New Tax Is No Solution to New York’s ‘Summer of Hell’

Car interior 7 trainNew York City’s subway system is a hot mess right now. Each month some 70,000 trains are delayed, compared to 28,000 per month five years ago. On-time rates for trains have plummeted, from 86 percent in 2012 to 65 percent today.

The city’s commuters have also suffered through track fires, train derailments, claustrophobic waits aboard broken trains, and even sewage spewing from station ceilings. No wonder Gov. Andrew Cuomo has dubbed this the “summer of hell.”

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio thinks he has a plan to fix it: a new tax on high income earners. “We are asking the wealthiest in our city to chip in a little extra to help move our transit system into the 21st century,” he said Monday.

De Blasio’s plan would increase taxes on individuals earning $500,000—and joint filers earning $1 million—from the current 3.88 percent to 4.41 percent. This is projected to bring in $800 million a year for the city’s transit system.

Given its performance problems, few would question the idea that the subways—overseen by the state’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority—are in desperate need of improvements. But there are a number of reasons to suspect this new tax is not the solution de Blasio claims.

For one thing, about $250 million collected by the new tax—almost a third of projected revenues—would not go even go to repairing the system or expanding capacity. That money would instead be spent reducing subway fares for 800,000 low-income New Yorkers. Given that overcrowding is one of the chief culprits for the system’s delays, it seems perverse to try to expand ridership before fixing the other problems.

Another reason to be skeptical of the mayor’s plan: In that past, growth in MTA-dedicated tax revenue—which has doubled in real terms since the 1980s—has mostly been eaten up by growing employee benefit costs. In 2005, the MTA was spending 23 percent of its employee costs on health and retirement benefits; in 2017, those benefits made up 30 percent of employment expenses.

A July 2017 report by the conservative Manhattan Institute found that these cost increases were enough to consume the entirety of new revenues from a 2009 state payroll tax passed to shore up the MTA’s budget. All told, the agency owes $18.5 billion in future pension liabilities.

What new revenue is not taken up by employee benefits would likely be swallowed by the increasing costs of the MTA’s debt. In the 1980s MTA was virtually debt free. Today it has nearly $40 billion in outstanding debt, the interest payments on which cost $2.5 billion a year.

Says the Manhattan Institute: “absent control of costs, particularly employee-benefits costs, history indicates that the MTA will spend much of any new revenues allocated to it on increased operating spending and on servicing debt, not on adequate improvements to subway, bus, and commuter-rail service for New Yorkers.”

What exactly an adequate fix would be for the MTA and the deteriorating subway system it oversees is outside the scope of this blog post, but it might start with the constant political burden-shifting that arises when a subway system is owned by the city but managed by the state. Until that’s addressed, no new tax haul is likely to be spent well.

Read More on Reason