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Penn Law Prof. Amy Wax on Her Controversial ‘Return to Cultural Norms’ Editorial

One professor expressed her opinion on what cultural norms have to do with societal problems. You can guess what happened next.

Samantha Harris writes:

University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax argued in an editorial that many of the problems plaguing American society—opioid abuse, unemployment, inner-city violence—can be traced to “the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture.”

Wax and her co-author suggested the “re-embrace” of cultural norms such as education, marriage before children, and respect for authority by Americans would “significantly reduce society’s pathologies.”

The firestorm that followed the editorial’s publication culminated in 33 members of the Penn Law faculty publicly denouncing Wax in an open letter published in The Daily Pennsylvanian. The professors did not engage Wax’s arguments on the merits, but instead spoke of their concern for an ideal educational experience in which people “respect one another without bias or stereotype.”

The letter concluded with a thinly veiled invitation to students to report Wax or anyone else who doesn’t toe the company line when it comes to matters of diversity: “To our students, we say the following: If your experience at Penn Law falls substantially short of this ideal, something has gone wrong, and we want to know about it.”

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Penn Law Prof. Amy Wax on Her Controversial ‘Return to Cultural Norms’ Editorial

University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax argued in an editorial that many of the problems plaguing American society—opioid abuse, unemployment, inner-city violence—can be traced to “the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture.”

Wax and her co-author suggested the “re-embrace” of cultural norms such as education, marriage before children, and respect for authority by Americans would “significantly reduce society’s pathologies.”

The firestorm that followed the editorial’s publication culminated in 33 members of the Penn Law faculty publicly denouncing Wax in an open letter published in The Daily Pennsylvanian. The professors did not engage Wax’s arguments on the merits, but instead spoke of their concern for an ideal educational experience in which people “respect one another without bias or stereotype.”

The letter concluded with a thinly veiled invitation to students to report Wax or anyone else who doesn’t toe the company line when it comes to matters of diversity: “To our students, we say the following: If your experience at Penn Law falls substantially short of this ideal, something has gone wrong, and we want to know about it.”

Wax told me she viewed the letter’s closing line as “an invitation to squeal and complain.” She said “the invitation feeds into and reinforces the current mode of shutting down controversial speech, which is to evoke hurt feelings or offense.” Wax also said that in the wake of the open letter, Penn Law students have been discussing “establishing their own complaint committee to which students can tattle when a professor or fellow student says something they don’t like”—an institution one student called the “Stasi Committee.”

Sadly, this kind of committee is par for the course on campus nowadays—while Penn does not currently have a formal bias reporting system, a recent report by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE, where I work) found that hundreds of colleges and universities around the country maintain formal bias reporting systems, most of which actively solicit reports of offensive but protected speech from students and faculty.

In our conversation, Wax also lamented the effect this rat-out-your-neighbor atmosphere is having on campus, noting that “lately students have been complaining to me about peer pressure, name-calling and intimidation on the part of other students,” and about “the oppressive atmosphere of political correctness.” Although Penn has strong free-speech protections in place, “most students are fairly cynical about the readiness of the university to defend them from censure or sanction if they say ‘the wrong thing,'” she told me.

There has been one silver lining for Wax: support has poured in from people around the country. She has received quiet whispers of support at Penn, but the real show of support “has come from ordinary citizens, from the forgotten man, and many have been quite thoughtful and intelligent. I have learned—although I already knew—the progressive professoriat really is despised by a good part of the citizenry. People believe that the elite academy is destroying our country, and what’s good about it.”

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Houston’s Anarchic Zoning Laws are an Affront to Sim City

Recently Almighty God smote the city of Houston as punishment for its pathetic lack of zoning laws. I am an expert in zoning laws, having spent roughly 4,000 hours playing Sim City in high school instead of losing my virginity.

Going forward, Houston can either embrace zoning and place itself in the steady hands of technocrats who designate where bodegas, trailer parks and whatnot go, or it can stick with the present organic model, letting a bunch of mouth-breathing humans organize the city from the bottom up.

I know what Sim City would do.

In Sim City, as you will recall, you arrange your city with zones: industrial, commercial, residential, and (as of Sim City 4), agricultural. Zones helpfully organize the activity of their denizens until eventually you get bored and level the whole city by summoning a rampaging robot spider. Remember?

In the case of Houston, the city was not attacked by rampaging Kaiju, but rather by a hurricane. It also has the most lax zoning laws of any major city in America. Coincidence?

One school of thought proposes that raging torrents don’t really care whether or not your buildings have been zoned for stripmalls or duplexes. Our Nick Gillespie seems to think the federal government’s plan to encourage development in flood zones by offering cheap flood insurance somehow contributed to people living in flood zones.

Some folks are saying a lack of dedicated wetlands lead to overflow, which sounds plausible, although my colleague Christian Britschgi disputes it. I don’t know a lot about wetland permeability—wetlands did not factor into Sim City 2000.

What I do know is that Houston’s anarchic zoning laws are an affront to the universe.

Some of the images of Houston’s zoning abdication I’m about to show are graphic–particularly if you have a degree in Urban Planning. They represent the maniacal chaos Middle American wiles can unleash if not properly restrained by technocrats. You might want to grab a drink first.

Observe:

That’s right—a house next to a roller coaster! Why not just mix toothpaste and orange juice together in a big jug, Houston? You sicken me.

Or this:

Now that is just insane. A skyscraper next to a one-story house?! I have never seen a more flagrant disregard for shadow regulations. Without technocrats this is what you get: a bunch of shadows choking your daisies. Also worth pointing out here that the Tower of Babel was a zoning violation. Think about it.

Brace yourself for this next one:

A strip club next to a Dillard’s?! The whole point of Dillard’s is to act as a consumer trap from which captive husbands cannot escape. When properly zoned, Dillard’s is a place where dads patiently wander around holding their wives’ purses. In the city of Houston & Gomorrah, men get loose with those purses and spend their wives’ money on questionable lunch buffets and lap dances with Brandi.

A lack of rigorous zoning inevitably leads to new businesses popping up all over the place like spores. In a tightly-regulated city, you need to purchase property to start a coffee shop. Absent commercial zoning, you could sling coffee right out of your garage. In fact all sorts of people would concoct side hustles out of their homes if they could. You could conceivably buy cupcakes, fresh vegetables, coffee, or even foot massages without leaving the giant shadow encompassing your block.

Need I even bring up factories? Here you are in this nice suburban home, and all of a sudden a giant smokestack sprouts like a mushroom next door to you where your neighbor, Chuck, used to live before he ran off with Brandi. Factories, of course, don’t want to live way out on cheap land near industrial parks and highways, they want to live next door to you. You need zoning to protect you.

Let’s touch on some counter arguments the nutjobs are going to lob at me. Yes, occasionally zoning gets away from overeager technocrats and becomes an ominous tool to isolate minorities. Cities in California used to aggressively regulate the location of laundromats, because most laundromats were owned by Chinese people. During the White Flight of the ’60s, cities used zoning to intentionally drive up land prices to keep black people out of particular neighborhoods.

I can assure you that today we don’t use zoning to jerk around races. We use it to jerk around poor people. Many cities use minimum lot sizes to keep unwanted riff-raff out of rich neighborhoods. By requiring lots to be twice as big as you can afford, bureaucrats relegate the poor to their pre-planned, multi-dwelling, slummy part of town.

Again, not racist, merely classist.

In summation, if you loose the bonds of zoning, the result is pandemonium, disorganized coffee distribution, roller coasters, hurricanes, and shadows. It’s jumbled enough to scare off a rampaging spider robot.

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Disjointed Coughs Out Some Tired Dope Humor

Television critic Glenn Garvin views Netflix’s marijuana dispensary comedy Disjointed and did not find himself having a contact high:

Dopers so wrecked they can’t talk. Dopers so wrecked they can’t move. Dopers so wrecked they use the Heimlich maneuver to make each other exhale dope smoke rings. (Okay, that one’s new, at least for the first five seconds.) Basically, there’s not a gag in Disjointed that wouldn’t have fit into—or worn itself out as quickly as—a Cheech and Chong sketch or an early 1970s give-me-another-brownie flick like The Groove Tube.

But even back then, the driving force of cannabis comedy—hey, man, they’re smoking weed right there on the screen, my parents would be so freaked—lasted about as long as the pizza you ordered to counter the munchies. These days, with reefer madness reduced to reefer eccentricity (one in five Americans lives in states where it’s pretty easy to find a legal joint), the potency is even slighter. If Disjointed were actually dope, it would be growing-along-the-river skankweed.

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Disjointed Coughs Out Some Tired Dope Humor

Disjointed. Available now on Netflix.

Way back when, my college newspaper ran a review of a Cheech and Chong show under a headline that qualified as remarkably confessional for the time: “Dope Humor Has Its Limits.” I don’t know if we’ve got to make royalty payments to whatever youthful copy editor wrote that headline, but I can’t think of a single other thing to say about Netflix’s new sitcom Disjointed.

Dopers so wrecked they can’t talk. Dopers so wrecked they can’t move. Dopers so wrecked they use the Heimlich maneuver to make each other exhale dope smoke rings. (Okay, that one’s new, at least for the first five seconds.) Basically, there’s not a gag in Disjointed that wouldn’t have fit into—or worn itself out as quickly as—a Cheech and Chong sketch or an early 1970s give-me-another-brownie flick like The Groove Tube.

But even back then, the driving force of cannabis comedy—hey, man, they’re smoking weed right there on the screen, my parents would be so freaked—lasted about as long as the pizza you ordered to counter the munchies. These days, with reefer madness reduced to reefer eccentricity (one in five Americans lives in states where it’s pretty easy to find a legal joint), the potency is even slighter. If Disjointed were actually dope, it would be growing-along-the-river skankweed.

The wispy premise of Disjointed is that its dope-addled characters get wasted under the pretense of working in a Southern California medical-marijuana dispensary. Kathy Bates plays Ruth Whitefeather Feldman, the senescent hippie owner, who says she’s preaching “the gospel of marijuana: the miraculous plant that has the power to heal the sick, calm the afflicted, and usher in a golden age of people of people not being such dicks all the time.”

Mostly, she’s just oversampling her own product, with occasional timeouts to bicker with her son Travis (Aaron Moten, The Night Of), an MBA with more secular motives: “Petty soon, somebody is going to become the Walmart of cannabis. Why not us?”

Then there are employees: Jenny (Elizabeth Ho, Melissa & Joey), who introduces herself in one of the clinic’s Internet ads as “your tokin’ Asian,” whose tiger mom thinks she’s a surgeon; Olivia (Elizabeth Alderfer, Game Day), a refugee from a meth-blighted midwestern town who harbors secret doubts about the benignity of drugs; and Carter (Tone Bell, Truth Be Told), who has a secret of his own, one not usually associated with comedy.

If the substance of Disjointed seems straight out of 1972, so does its structure. It’s less a sitcom than a muddled series of stream-of-semi-consciousness sketches, punctuated by cut-ins of the clinic’s commercials, kind of a stoner version of Laugh-In. Though for you 1980s connoisseurs, there’s a running gag in which Jennie speaks Chinese to her mother—that’s it, no jokes, no punch lines, just the sound of Chinese—to the uproarious delight of the canned laugh track that’s been appended to the show. Not since John Hughes foreshadowed every appearance of a Chinese character named Long Duck Dong with the crashing sound of a gong in 1984’s Sixteen Candles has a producer or director deemed Asian ethnicity so innately amusing.

The producer in question is Chuck Lorre, the mastermind of The Big Bang Theory, Mom, and Two and a Half Men, whose association with Disjointed is as inexplicable as quantum physics after a bong full of Maui Wowie. “Back in the day, marijuana was a cause,” says Ruth. “Now it’s just a commodity.” Marijuana humor, too.

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Putin Warns: Don’t Push North Korea Into ‘Dead End’

Russian President Vladimir Putin has rejected a proposal by South Korea’s president, Moon Jae In, to deal with North Korea’s latest missile tests by cutting off the country’s oil supplies.

“We should not act out of emotions and push North Korea into a dead end,” Putin told reporters at a joint press conference with Moon. “We must act with calm and avoid steps that could raise tensions.”

He is not wrong. But Moscow’s inability or unwillingness to pursue its own diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang have rendered Putin’s calls for a political solution toothless.

Putin also met with Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday, and he declared afterward that Abe and he “decisively condemned” North Korea’s missile tests.

Russia and Japan have been engaged in a different diplomatic effort, aiming to end their World War 2 hostilities. (The fighting stopped in 1945, but the two nations never formally reached a peace.) In addition to discussing a peace treaty, Putin and Abe talked about joint economic activities in the disputed Northern Territories, Japanese islands captured by Soviet forces at the end of World War 2.

Meanwhile, Admiral Scott Swift, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, claimed this week that America’s North Korean strategy of sanctions and diplomacy has worked so far.

“I say it has worked because we are not at war,” he told The Washington Post, insisting the U.S. had not foreclosed on diplomacy even as “all options are on the table.”

That’s all well and good, but the U.S.’s best move may be not to play. Every other country in the six-party talks with North Korea that collapsed in 2009—South Korea, Russia, Japan, and China—should have more incentive to pursue a diplomatic solution than the United States does. Their stake in regional security and stability is much bigger than America’s.

But the U.S. made itself a guarantor of global security after World War 2, effectively taking responsibility for those regional stakes. Were North Korea to launch a nuclear warhead at an American ally or outpost, the U.S. is still capable of the “assured destruction” portion of the “mutually assured destruction” policy that kept the Cold War free of nuclear strikes. That’s not so for the countries in the region.

Returning the responsibility for regional security to regional actors would be a much more powerful alternative to sanctions, military exercises, and other sorts of pressure that can only make armed conflict more likely.

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California Tries To Fix Housing Affordability Crisis By Making Housing More Expensive

“California is in a housing shortage due to decades of underproduction of housing at all income levels,” says state Sen. Scott Wiener (D–San Francisco).

It’s hard to argue with that. California is producing about 100,000 too few housing units a year, resulting in median home prices of $500,000—double the national average. About 1.5 million households in the state spend over 50 percent of their income on rent.

Unfortunately, Weiner’s proposed solution will only drive up the costs of housing still further.

Back in December, Weiner introduced S.B. 35, a bill that would create a state-level permitting process for new multifamily housing developments, preempting much of the discretion that local governments have in greenlighting or denying new developments.

If you’re familiar with the NIMBYism and red tape that characterizes local housing regulation in California, that may not sound like such a bad thing. But then you see the bill’s details.

For example, developers going through the state approval process will have to pay a prevailing (that is, union) wage. In an August 2017 study, the California Building Industry Association estimated that such a requirement would increase the average labor costs for residential construction by 89 percent, adding $84,000 to the cost of a new single-family home.

Estimates vary for prevailing wages’ impact on the cost of multi-family developments. A 2014 study conducted by the State of California found that affordable housing project costs were 11 percent higher for projects paying prevailing wages. A similar study in New York, conducted by the city’s Independent Budget Office, found that prevailing wages increased project costs by 13 percent.

“If you try to shove prevailing wage on top of a project, those properties are only going to become more unreachable for working families,” says Tom Scott, executive director of the California branch of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Scott is also skeptical that there is any real liberalization in S.B. 35, saying that “I don’t see it streamlining or reforming a single regulation.”

Indeed, the requirements for projects going through the supposedly streamlined state approval process are incredibly burdensome.

The developments must include subsidized affordable housing offering below-market rents. They must conform to local government density standards, must be an urban in-fill site, and must comply with a host of environmental regulations. Nor could these projects develop or redevelop any sites that have had any tenant occupants within the last 10 years.

There is nothing inherently wrong with state laws that scale back local regulations. (For some examples, see Reason’s coverage of minimum wage and bag ban preemption laws.) The goal, after all, is individual control, not local control. But given S.B. 35’s heavy regulatory burden, the bill doesn’t curb local regulation so much as it layers on some new state regs that will drive housing costs still higher. That hardly seems like the best way to address a housing crisis.

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Trump, Pelosi, and Schumer Are Besties: The Case Against Bad Bipartisanship

This morning the House voted to pass a package that granted $15 billion in Hurricane Harvey aid, raised the debt ceiling, and funded the federal government for the next three months. It was a blow to fiscal restraint and hurls the can down the freeway yet again on important long-term questions about borrowing and spending. The deal was the product of an unlikely collaboration between House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.), Rep. Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.), and President Donald Trump. The vote was 316-90.

On Wednesday, in a speech at a refinery in North Dakota, Trump has this to say about the meetings where the deal was hammered out:

I had a great bipartisan meeting with Democrat and Republican leaders in Congress, and I’m committed to working with both parties to deliver for our wonderful, wonderful citizens. It’s about time. We had a great meeting with Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and the whole Republican leadership group. And I’ll tell you what, we walked out of there—Mitch and Paul, and everybody, Kevin—and we walked out and everybody was happy. Not too happy—because you can never be too happy—but they were happy enough.

There’s a misconception that bipartisanship is a good in and of itself—that hands joined across the aisle are a sign that better natures have prevailed, that common sense policy is being implemented, or that petty grievances have been set aside.

That’s virtually never true and this week’s bizarre new BFFs are a perfect illustration of why.

Much of the motivation for this particular deal seems to have been spite, not harmony: Trump’s desire to root the troublesome remnants of fiscal conservatism on the Hill—the Tea Party/Freedom Caucus types who still hold a bit of Majority Leader Paul Ryan’s heart and attention. Trump’s comments notwithstanding Ryan (R–Wisc.) and other GOP congressional leaders were unceremoniously cut out of the negotiations, after offering a plan that made at least some nod to fiscal discipline, however small.

What’s worse: To the extent that today’s deal was driven by a common understanding between parties, it’s a wrongheaded, economically illiterate populist one—the belief that ever-increasing debt-funded spending on both a permanent and emergency basis can solve America’s fiscal and economic problems.

This everybody-gets-everything strategy for dealing with partisan conflict is common, and appears all levels of government. You get money for your stuff, I get money for my stuff, and we’ll worry about where the money is coming from later. This is just as true in city council meetings where bike paths are exchanged for zoning exceptions, as it is on Capitol Hill.

Listen, good bipartisanship is good. I like it as much as the next guy when politicians work together to do things I like. But the arc of bipartisanship is long and it bends toward more spending. As I’ve said before: If everyone on the Hill is happy, you probably shouldn’t be. This goes double if everyone on the Hill except the people to committed to fiscal discipline are happy.

Perhaps people of both major parties can come together and agree on this point: There’s something deeply unnatural about the idea of Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer getting along, and it’s not going to end well.

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Jurors’ Rights Pamphleteer Says Prosecutors Twisted the Law to Silence Him

Keith Wood, the Michigan activist who was convicted of jury tampering last June for handing out pamphlets about jurors’ rights near the Mecosta County courthouse, argues in an appeal filed this week that local officials who disagreed with the ideas he was promoting violated his First Amendment rights by misreading state law. Although Wood was convicted of trying to improperly “influence the decision of a juror in any case,” he says, no one who received a flyer from him qualified for that description.

On November 24, 2015, the day that Wood distributed pamphlets he had ordered from the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA), the only case pending at the courthouse involved Andy Yoder, a local man who was accused of illegally filling a wetland on his own property. Wood testified that he had taken an interest in Yoder’s case and knew it had been scheduled for a possible trial but did not realize no other cases were pending that day. Wood said he did not discuss the case with anyone, merely offering the FIJA pamphlet to passers-by without knowing who among them had been summoned for jury duty. The pamphlet argues that jurors have a right and a duty to judge the law as well as the facts, a position that has deep historical roots but remains controversial, especially among judges and prosecutors.

Since Yoder ended up pleading guilty, no jury was ever chosen to hear his case. Prosecutors argued that every prospective juror nevertheless qualified as a juror in Yoder’s case, and they identified two who had received FIJA pamphlets. Wood’s lawyer, David Kallman, says that’s a clear misinterpretation of the statute.

Kallman cites a 2015 case in which the Michigan Supreme Court said “a jury is not a jury until it is sworn” and a 1961 case in which the same court ruled that a prospective juror did not qualify as a juror entitled to worker’s compensation for an injury. He notes that in 1955, when Michigan’s jury tampering statute was adopted, Black’s Law Dictionary defined juror as “one member of a jury” and defined jury as “a certain number of men, selected according to law, and sworn to inquire of certain matters of fact, and declare the truth upon evidence to be laid before them.”

Kallman contrasts the jury tampering statute with Michigan’s juror bribery statute, which explicitly includes “any person summoned as a juror.” The latter law immediately precedes the former. “It is obvious that the legislature intended the juror bribery statute (MCL 750.120) to encompass every person summoned as a juror,” Kallman writes, “but it did not intend the general jury tampering statute (MCL 750.120a) to be so broad as to include every person summoned.” He also points to the jury instruction originally proposed by the prosecution, which included as the first element of jury tampering “that [name juror involved] was a juror in the case of [name case in which juror sat].” Neither of the pamphlet recipients identified by the prosecution ever sat in Yoder’s case.

“In short,” Kallman says, “Mr. Wood was charged with tampering with a jury that did not exist. There is no such crime in Michigan. On the day in question, Mr. Wood had no interaction with a single person who was a ‘juror in any case.’ Indeed, no jury was selected, empaneled, or sworn on the day in question.”

Kallman argues that the interpretation of the jury tampering statute proposed by the prosecution and endorsed by the trial court “has now made a substantial amount of constitutionally protected speech a criminal offense.” For example, “if Mr. Wood had started handing out pamphlets to the summoned potential jurors after the Court released them on the day in question, under the Trial Court’s redefinition, he could still be charged with jury tampering because they were still summoned for that month.” Counting anyone who receives a jury duty notice in the mail as a juror renders the law void for vagueness, Kallman argues, since people could not reasonably be expected to understand that a conversation with such a person might be deemed a crime.

Such a broad and vague prohibition invites discriminatory enforcement, Kallman says, and that is exactly what happened in Wood’s case: The judge who ordered his arrest and the prosecutors who pursued charges against him (which included a felony obstruction of justice charge that was later dismissed) were offended by the notion that jurors should vote their conscience, even if that means acquitting a technically guilty defendant. Mecosta County Prosecutor Brian Thiede said the FIJA pamphlet is dangerous because “we would have a lawless nation if people were to vote their conscience.” Kallman notes that Thiede “even went so far as to say that if people are exposed to the content of the brochure, it would create a lawless nation where terrorists and clinic bombers could potentially go free.”

Kallman says Thiede “attempted to characterize the content in the pamphlet as a veritable Jedi mind trick, containing a message so powerful, so compelling, and so convincing, that no citizen who reads it will be capable of ever rendering a guilty verdict again.” He calls that argument “patently absurd.” In any case, “it is absolutely clear that it was the content and message that Mr. Wood was spreading that caused the State to silence him.”

The trial judge, Kimberly Booher, nevertheless dismissed Wood’s First Amendment argument out of hand, saying testimony suggested he was trying to influence jurors in a trial he thought would happen that day. “The Trial Court cited nothing in support of its personal opinion that Mr. Wood’s conduct was not protected by the First Amendment,” Kallman writes. “The Trial Court’s complete lack of First Amendment analysis is very troubling.”

Kallman says he has been unable to identify any other Michigan case in which a defendant was convicted of jury tampering merely for distributing pamphlets on a public sidewalk. “State officials in this case unconstitutionally abused the power of the State to arrest and charge Mr. Wood with crimes in order to harass, intimidate, and silence him and because they disagree with the content of his message,” he writes. “By prosecuting Mr. Wood, the State engaged in nothing less than suppression of protected free speech.”

Wood, a former pastor and father of seven, was sentenced in July to eight weekends in jail, plus $545 in fines, 120 hours of community service, and six months of probation. He is free pending his appeal.

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Sheriff Forced to Pay After Ordering Raid on Blogger Who Criticized Him

Has a bullying Louisiana sheriff learned his lesson about abusing power? The targets of an illegitimate and unconstitutional 2016 raid he ordered think he has. Yet Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter has received no formal discipline for his conduct.

Larpenter has reached a settlement in the civil suit filed against him by Jennifer and Wayne Anderson, whose home was raided by Larpenter’s deputies in 2016 after Jennifer blogged critically about the sheriff.

“I think the sheriff’s finally learned that he can’t bully people and violate people’s constitutional rights,” Wayne, a Houma police officer, told local station WWLTV. “In our case, he stepped on the wrong people’s constitutional rights because we knew our rights. Hopefully, he thinks twice the next time he gets his feelings hurt.”

The trouble stems from Jennifer’s pseudonymous blog, ExposeDAT, which billed itself as the area’s “Underground Watchdog” and was critical of Terrebonne Parish leadership, including Larpenter. Among other things, the blog questioned the business relationship between Larpenter, Parish President Gordon Dove, and Tony Alford, an insurance agent and a commissioner on the Terrebonne Parish Levee and Conservation District Board. Alford filed a defamation complaint.

Under Louisiana’s defamation statute, the crime is defined as “the malicious publication or expression in any manner, to anyone other than the party defamed, of anything which tends to expose any person to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or to deprive him of the benefit of public confidence or social intercourse; or to expose the memory of one deceased to hatred, contempt or ridicule; or to injure any person, corporation, or association of persons in his or their business or occupation.” But the Louisiana Supreme Court has declared this statute unconstitutionally broad when applied to public figures—like Larpenter, Dove, or Alford.

Nonetheless, after warrants issued to Facebook and AT&T linked ExposeDAT to the Anderson household, the sheriff obtained search warrants for the couple’s home and computer and for the ExposeDAT Facebook account. Terrebonne Parish deputies raided their home, seizing two computers and five cellphones (including one computer and some phones that belonged to the Anderson children).

State District Judge Randall Bethancourt, who issued the search warrants, told WWLTV he had no problem letting law-enforcement “take a look-see at these computers that might have defamatory statements on them.”

The Andersons quickly filed a suit in federal court, asking it to stop police from searching the family’s computers and to declare the raid and seizure unconstitutional. This week, the Andersons settled with Larpenter out of court in an undisclosed agreement.

Per the terms of the settlement, the Andersons can’t say much about what went down. But in a statement, their attorney declared the agreement “a victory for citizens’ right to be critical of their elected officials without fear of retribution” and said it’s “reassuring to see that the Sheriff has decided to take responsibility for what he did to the Anderson’s, and compensate them for the harm they suffered due to his actions.”

U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk officially dismissed the case on Thursday, but he said he retains the right to open it again if the settlement’s terms aren’t met in a reasonable time period.

In an earlier ruling, Africk opined that “Jennifer Anderson’s speech [on ExposeDAT] falls squarely within the four corners of the First Amendment.” Larventer’s actions, Africk wrote, send a message that “if you speak ill of the sheriff of your parish, then the sheriff will direct his law enforcement resources toward forcibly entering your home and taking your belongings under the guise of a criminal investigation.” This “would certainly chill anyone…from engaging in similar constitutionally protected speech in the future.”

Meanwhile, Louisiana’s 5th Circuit Court of Appeal declared there was insufficient probable cause for the warrants and declared the subsequent searches unconstitutional.

Larpenter remains head of law enforcement in Terrebonne Parish.

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New York Mayor to Property Owners: Drop Dead

It shouldn’t come as surprise that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who campaigned on fighting income inequality and wants to tax the rich to pay for public transit improvements, has a fairly dim view of private property rights. But “dim” is apparently a bit of an understatement. De Blasio flat out does not believe in the right to private property.

That’s highlighted in its starkest terms in a New York piece out this week. Here is de Blasio’s response when asked about efforts to fight income inequality:

What’s been hardest is the way our legal system is structured to favor private property. I think people all over this city, of every background, would like to have the city government be able to determine which building goes where, how high it will be, who gets to live in it, what the rent will be. I think there’s a socialistic impulse, which I hear every day, in every kind of community, that they would like things to be planned in accordance to their needs. And I would, too. Unfortunately, what stands in the way of that is hundreds of years of history that have elevated property rights and wealth to the point that that’s the reality that calls the tune on a lot of development….

Look, if I had my druthers, the city government would determine every single plot of land, how development would proceed. And there would be very stringent requirements around income levels and rents. That’s a world I’d love to see, and I think what we have, in this city at least, are people who would love to have the New Deal back, on one level. They’d love to have a very, very powerful government, including a federal government, involved in directly addressing their day-to-day reality.

Reason editor Katherine Mangu-Ward called de Blasio a perfect Ayn Rand villain for good cause, people!

There are no doubt a number of people in urban environments who want exactly what de Blasio says. But what they really want is to control what other people do with their property, to make them match their vision of what their community should look like. And since no two people actually agree on what every single piece of property should look like, the decision-making role would actually fall to the government and de Blasio. That is clearly what he wants: He tries to sell it by invoking the “needs” of the “community,” but government officials ultimately get to decide what those needs are and how to meet them.

How does that work out in real life? Terribly, of course! Government officials are no more pure of heart than those wealthy property owners. In fact, they are often the wealthiest of property owners. When government takes control of property development, it’s the poor and downtrodden who very frequently take it on the chin. Government control over property inherently creates a dynamic where the most influential and powerful constituencies decide what happens. It’s a recipe for collusion between government and developers, and also for NIMBY behavior that keeps the poor from having access to housing and cheap retail and services.

When government doesn’t respect private property, you get situations like the one in Pleasant Hill in Charlestown, Indiana. There the mayor stands accused of colluding with developers to drive working-class citizens and retirees out of their homes so that the properties can be razed to build something bigger. The town has reportedly abused the code enforcement rules to saddle these people with fines and essentially force them to sell their homes. Imagine if the mayor could just decide to boot all these people out because he wants to build something bigger and better. That’s the society De Blasio is openly calling for.

Or come on over here to California, where wealthy homeowners abuse environmental regulations to stop more housing from being built. Basically, they’re using the government’s control over development to keep “undesirable” people—read: poor people or minorities—out of their neighborhoods. And they’re not afraid to vote against politicians who don’t cooperate. An environment where elected officials have control over property development is an environment that favors entrenched, established interests. It certainly would not help de Blasio’s alleged fight against income inequality.

Unsurprisingly, cities like New York and Los Angeles—the ones with the tightest controls on property development—are the ones that struggle to build affordable housing. The problem isn’t property rights; it’s rules that drive up the cost of building homes. Why would anybody build for low-income people if regulations make it impossible to do so and still make money?

For a look at the real explanations why New York has a housing crisis, check out real estate attorney Joshua Stein’s article in the upcoming November issue of Reason, which will start hitting the stands next week. Spoiler: Mindsets like de Blasio’s are the cause of the problem, not the solution.

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Once Dovish-Sounding Trump Getting Very Bad Foreign Policy Advice

President Trump increasingly sounds like his national security advisor, H.R. McMaster. And that isn’t good.

Bonnie Kristian writes:

In April of 2016, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd published a piece entitled, “Donald the Dove, Hillary the Hawk.” For all his reality TV machismo, Dowd argued, Trump was in some ways a more dovish candidate than Hillary Clinton.

“The prime example of commander-in-chief judgment Trump offers is the fact that, like Obama, he thought the invasion of Iraq was a stupid idea,” Dowd wrote. “He can sound belligerent, of course, saying that he would bomb the expletive-deleted out of ISIS and that he would think up new and imaginative ways to torture terrorists and kill their families. But he says that in most cases he would rather do the art of the deal than shock and awe.”

Dowd built her case on a foundation of campaign- and pre-campaign-era comments from Trump pairing his personal “militarism” with pledges to eschew the interventionist missteps of recent history. The United States will “pursue a new foreign policy that finally learns from the mistakes of the past,” Trump said before taking office. “We will stop looking to topple regimes and overthrow governments, folks. Our goal is stability, not chaos.”

“Unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct,” stated then-candidate Trump. “A superpower understands that caution and restraint are really truly signs of strength.”

Since Trump took office, Dowd’s headline has become infamous and laughable. While Hillary remains a hawk, Donald is most definitely not governing like a dove or even, to use his own recent phrase, a subscriber of “principled realism.” On the contrary, he has maintained or escalated all the reckless interventionism of his predecessors.

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Once Dovish-Sounding Trump Getting Very Bad Foreign Policy Advice

In April of 2016, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd published a piece entitled, “Donald the Dove, Hillary the Hawk.” For all his reality TV machismo, Dowd argued, Trump was in some ways a more dovish candidate than Hillary Clinton.

“The prime example of commander-in-chief judgment Trump offers is the fact that, like Obama, he thought the invasion of Iraq was a stupid idea,” Dowd wrote. “He can sound belligerent, of course, saying that he would bomb the expletive-deleted out of ISIS and that he would think up new and imaginative ways to torture terrorists and kill their families. But he says that in most cases he would rather do the art of the deal than shock and awe.”

Dowd built her case on a foundation of campaign- and pre-campaign-era comments from Trump pairing his personal “militarism” with pledges to eschew the interventionist missteps of recent history. The United States will “pursue a new foreign policy that finally learns from the mistakes of the past,” Trump said before taking office. “We will stop looking to topple regimes and overthrow governments, folks. Our goal is stability, not chaos.”

“Unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct,” stated then-candidate Trump. “A superpower understands that caution and restraint are really truly signs of strength.”

Since Trump took office, Dowd’s headline has become infamous and laughable. While Hillary remains a hawk, Donald is most definitely not governing like a dove or even, to use his own recent phrase, a subscriber of “principled realism.” On the contrary, he has maintained or escalated all the reckless interventionism of his predecessors.

Trump has threatened preventive military action against North Korea and even Venezuela. He launched the first U.S. strikes against Syrian government targets and is said to be considering drone strikes in the Philippines. His August speech on Afghanistan pledged perpetual war and nation-building under another name.He is adamant about hiking military spending to pay for new, unjustified misadventures abroad, despite the Pentagon’s unaudited books and long record of abundant waste.

Candidate Trump asked good foreign policy questions; President Trump has not given good answers.Realism and stability are nowhere to be found. What happened? Whither Trump’s positive instincts, however inconsistent, against aggression?

In his Afghanistan speech, Trump explained his reversal as a mature response to his discovering the realities of the presidency. The more probable explanation is less flattering: Trump is heeding the advice of his top advisers.

These are establishment figures who have a more conventional approach to foreign policy. They are comfortable with the post-9/11 status quo of counterproductive interventions into the political affairs of chaotic, Middle Eastern, African, and East Asian countries. Where Trump once asked good questions, too many of his advisers have no such curiosity.

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster is key in this dynamic. Trump once critiqued nation-building. McMaster has endorsed “state-building in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.” Now, while claiming to reject them, Trump is making nation-building commitments.

Trump once expressed dismay at the length of U.S. military interventions. McMaster has championed “U.S. commitment over time” in Korea as a model of long-term occupation to be followed in the Mideast. Now, Trump has rejected his “original instinct… to pull out” of Afghanistan in favor of permanent commitment in pursuit of unachievable goals.

At one time Trump advocated fresh diplomatic engagement with North Korea. McMaster has hyped it as a threat that cannot be overstated and has threatened preventive war. Trump has now pivoted to talking of preventive “fire and fury,” a military reaction to Pyongyang’s all-too-common saber rattling.

The president clearly retains a special regard for military advisers, and McMaster’s record and reputation—not to mention his display of the sort of rugged, movie-military bearing Trump is said to prefer in his administration—has made him a favored voice in the White House. Whatever his personal merits, it is clear McMaster’s foreign policy ideas do not align with the better impulses, the inclinations toward realism, Trump showed as a candidate.

Trump’s activist foreign policy lurch is substantial and may have done irreversible damage to U.S. interests already. It is difficult to believe the situation in North Korea, in particular, would have escalated so quickly had Trump not abandoned diplomacy in favor of a juvenile tit for tat with Kim Jong-un.

We are only eight months into this presidency, and Trump has already shown himself more than willing to shake up his White House staff. If he is serious about principled realism—not this doubling down on the failed status quo of the last decade and a half—it may not be too late.

“To a very considerable extent, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, preferred candidate of the establishment, because he advertised himself as just the guy disgruntled Americans could count on to drain [the Washington] swamp,” notes military historian Ret. Col. Andrew Bacevich at The American Conservative. This is a project that must centrally include a serious rethink of U.S. foreign policy. If Trump is serious about making good on that promise, if he is “really intent on draining that swamp—if he genuinely seeks to ‘Make America Great Again’—then he would extricate the United States from war.”

The first step in that long journey would be getting input from advisers who agree.

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The Freakout Over Politically Incorrect Punk

In September 1984, the widely read punk zine Maximum Rocknroll published its review of Victim in Pain, the debut album by the New York City band Agnostic Front.

“I’m approaching this band with caution,” the reviewer warned. “Unfortunately, much of the narrow-mindedness, fanatical nationalism, and violence that has destroyed the New York punk scene seems to have revolved around AGNOSTIC FRONT.”

The author of that review was Maximum Rocknroll founder and editor Tim Yohannan, a 40-something ex-Yippie who thought that punk music should march in lockstep with left-wing politics. As Ray Farrell, a punk veteran who worked at the independent record label SST (run by Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn), told Steven Blush, author of American Hardcore: A Tribal History, “there was an ideological development at Maximum RockNRoll, making everything move towards a Socialist bent.”

In effect, Yohannan appointed himself as the grand inquisitor of the punk rock thought police, scouring the scene for any signs of deviation from the left-wing script. “If it’s just ‘good sounding’ music you want,” he admonished readers in the March 1985 issue, “then punk is no alternative at all. For me, what makes punk different is the intelligence and commitment behind it.”

Agnostic Front quickly became one of Yohannan’s primary targets. As he asserted in one 1984 issue, “the N.Y. Skins apparently have embraced the British National Front’s racist and nationalist attitudes.” Yohannan rarely missed the opportunity to depict the band’s members as the equivalent of goose-stepping goons.

Now one of those band members, Agnostic Front singer Roger Miret, is out with a gripping new memoir that tells his side of the story.

“A writer for this crappy but influential fanzine, Maximumrocknroll, started talking shit about us and calling us a bunch of fascist skinheads,” Miret writes in My Riot: Agnostic Front, Grits, Guts & Glory (co-written with Jon Wiederhorn). “The crazy thing about Timmy calling me a fascist is that I was an immigrant Latino kid dating a Jewish girl, and she never accused me of being a Nazi sympathizer.”

Born in Cuba in 1964, Miret came to the U.S. as a young child after his parents fled the Castro regime. He grew up rough in “the slums of New Jersey towns like Passaic and Paterson.” From there he found his way to Manhattan, where the loud, fast sounds of bands like the Stimulators, the Bad Brains, and Reagan Youth were blaring out of clubs like Max’s Kansas City, A7, and CBGB. After hanging around the scene for a couple of years, Miret joined Agnostic Front in 1983.

Agnostic Front has “never put down any other races or ethnicities,” Miret writes in his memoir. “From the start we welcomed anyone who wanted to be a part of what we were doing. I was Cuban for Christ’s sake—far from the image of the blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan Übermensch.” Miret has nothing but contempt for those “privileged, politically correct” punks that slandered his name.

Unlike some punk acts, Agnostic Front never offered any sort of coherent political message. But the band did sometimes express right-of-center views in their songs and interviews. Their 1986 track “Public Assistance,” for example, was a harsh attack on the welfare state. Sample lyric: “Uncle Sam takes half my pay so you can live for free.”

Miret didn’t write those lyrics. He outsourced the job to Peter Steele, the leader of the Brooklyn metal act Carnivore, who would later go on to fame as the frontman for goth-rockers Type O Negative. But Miret stands firmly behind the sentiment. “I was a minority kid whose mom was on welfare and I saw all the time how other people in our neighborhood abused the system,” he writes in My Riot. “Public assistance was designed to help people better their lives and move on, not to enable the families that used it. Those are the people the song was aimed at.”

Miret and his bandmates also voiced support for President Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy. “We have to stop Communist aggression,” guitarist Vinnie Stigma told the zine Guillotine in a 1984 interview. “I think [Reagan] has guts,” Miret later added. Statements like that definitely ruffled a few mohawks.

Did Agnostic Front sometimes promote conservative or right-wing opinions? Yes. But were they fascists? Nazis? Not unless those terms are drained of all meaning and used to smear any right-leaning point of view.

“To say Agnostic Front were a bunch of Nazis in a skinhead gang was ridiculous. I was there, and no one united NYHC [New York hardcore] like Roger Miret,” Youth of Today guitarist John Porcelly once told the journalist Tony Rettman. “I used to tell Tim Yohannan what great guys [Agnostic Front] were. He would never believe me.”

The freakout over Agnostic Front’s politically incorrect punk came to a head when Miret, Stigma, and bassist Rob Kabula agreed to be interviewed for Maximum Rocknroll’s January 1985 issue by punker Dave Scott.

Scott sent his questions by mail and the band mailed back their answers. But Yohannan thought the interview was too friendly, so he sent a batch of his own questions, focusing on the “disturbing aspects to these nice guys’ philosophies” and “their admittedly nationalistic outlook.” Miret, Stigma, and Kabula replied again.

Yohannan then edited the whole correspondence together, littering the Q&A with a final round of his own commentary. He literally gave himself the last word on his most contentious exchanges with the band.

It was an ugly and heavy-handed piece of work. Yohannan revealed his own intellectual insecurities by doing everything in his power to stack the deck in his favor. He clearly did not trust his own subscribers to read the original interviews and then make up their minds for themselves. Even left-wing punks were embarrassed by his performance.

Regrettably, echoes of Yohannan’s approach can still be heard today. When Tony Rettman’s great oral history, NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980–1990, was published in 2014, New Yorker critic Kelefa Sanneh took a cheap shot at Agnostic Front that came straight from the Maximum Rocknroll playbook. “Agnostic Front all but dared listeners to assume the worst, and Yohannan wasn’t the only one who did,” Sanneh wrote. “Agnostic Front shows attracted a certain number of white-power partisans, and the band occasionally had to pause, mid-set, to censure an audience member for Sieg-Heiling in the pit.”

I’ve been attending punk, hardcore, and metal shows since the age of 12, and I’ve encountered white-power partisans in a variety of locations, including performances by the multi-racial ska punks the Mighty Mighty Bosstones; the multi-racial post-hardcore group Orange 9MM; the multi-racial rap-rockers Rage Against the Machine; and the multi-racial death metal outfit Suffocation. None of those bands “dared listeners to assume the worst,” and yet the Nazi wannabes still showed up. The reason they showed up is because racist thugs don’t care what band happens to be playing on a given night. They come out to cause trouble.

One particular experience comes to mind. Around 1994 the great New York City hardcore punk band Murphy’s Law played a show in Tampa, Florida. Much like Agnostic Front, the members of Murphy’s Law had had their names dragged through the mud by Maximum Rocknroll back in the 1980s.

I saw a whole lot of neo-Nazi boneheads at that show. What happened? The members of Murphy’s Law got into a massive fight with the racists and sent several of them to the hospital. Then the band finished playing its set. In the pages of My Riot, Miret recounts similar anti-fascist exploits at Agnostic Front shows. New York hardcore may not have been sufficiently left-wing for the likes of Maximum Rocknroll, but that didn’t stop New York hardcore musicians from being antifa before antifa was cool.

Today Agnostic Front’s debut album is justly recognized as a genre landmark. When Victim in Pain turned 25 in 2009, The Village Voice said it “deserves to be ranked within a stage dive’s distance of Velvet Underground and Ramones classics on any list of important and influential New York records.”

Speaking of the Ramones, their guitarist, Johnny Ramone, liked to describe himself as a “Nixon Republican.” According to the scolds at Maximum Rocknroll, that means Johnny fails the punk rock ideological purity test. But if a founding member and principal songwriter for one of the greatest punk bands of all time can’t pass the test, doesn’t that prove that the test itself is total bullshit?

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Libertarian Comedian Dave Smith on the Alt-Right, Christopher Cantwell, and How the Left ‘Went Off the Rails’

New York comedian Dave Smith says he “became a libertarian through the Ron Paul movement. “He challenged all of my preconceived notions about what government was [and]…inspired me to read all of these people, like Rothbard, Mises, and Friedman.”

Smith, 34, is a regular on the New York City stand up circuit and hosts two popular podcasts on the GaS Digital Network, Legion of Skanks and Part of the Problem. On September 11, he’ll release his first comedy special, Libertas, which will be available for download here. You can watch teaser clips of the special here and here.

Smith sat down with Reason’s Nick Gillespie to talk about how Trump manipulates the left, why the media’s reaction to the Syria bombing was “the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” how to turn millennials libertarian, and his decision to have alt-right lightning rod and “racist shock jock” Christopher Cantwell as a recent guest on his podcast.

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