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Brickbat: The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

CalendarIn Great Britain, patients are supposed to wait no more than two weeks to see a cancer specialist after being referred by their doctor. But the National Health Service reports more than 100,000 people waited more than two weeks last year, and more than 25,000 had to wait more than 62 days, the official target, to actually start cancer treatment.

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Injection Facilities a Bold Remedy for Overdose Deaths

Needle exchangeAddiction to opioids is hazardous to your health. To most people, this may sound like an obvious and inescapable reality. If your chief priority is staying cool, the thinking goes, you don’t move to Phoenix. If you really want to stay alive, you don’t use heroin.

But humans have created innumerable places in Phoenix where it’s possible to minimize personal contact with searing heat. Humans have also created places where it’s possible to inject opioids at relatively low risk.

Heroin users have long been susceptible to life-threatening diseases such as AIDS and hepatitis, which are spread through shared syringes. In recent years, those who use heroin or prescription opioids have also faced an increasingly common and more immediate peril: sudden death from overdose.

In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died of overdoses involving these drugs—nearly triple the number in 2002. That growing epidemic is one reason that life expectancy among whites actually declined last year.

It’s not hard to figure out why opioid dependence can lead to the morgue. Users may overdose because their heroin has been adulterated with other, more powerful drugs. They may combine opioids with alcohol or sedatives, aggravating the risk. They often shoot up alone or with other users, meaning they may have no one who can help them if things go wrong.

The best way to reduce the toll is dissuading people from opioid use. But some people are drawn to intoxicating substances, and once they become dependent, they find it hard to abstain even if they would like to—which many don’t. So the question becomes how to prevent inveterate users from dying.

Not everyone thinks this objective is commendable. In the 1990s, drug users were contracting and dying of AIDS (and infecting their sexual partners) after shooting up with dirty syringes. But a lot of people, including President Bill Clinton, resisted efforts to expand access to clean needles. Like giving condoms to teens, this was seen as a false solution that would only encourage people to engage in risky behavior.

Wrong. Making sterile needles available, it turned out, averted disease and saved lives without generating more addiction. Let drug users get the means to protect themselves, and many of them will take it. Self-destructiveness is not necessarily their goal.

A comparable approach can avert overdose deaths. One tool is naloxone, a drug that quickly neutralizes the effects of opioids, reversing overdoses. Emergency rooms keep it on hand. Ambulances carry it. Some police departments equip officers with supplies.

Another solution is coming to King County, Washington, which includes Seattle: safe injection facilities where people dependent on drugs can use them in clean conditions, without fear of arrest, under the supervision of health care workers. Those users who are ready to go straight will also get help finding treatment.

Though it’s never been done in the United States, it’s a well-tested idea. The Drug Policy Alliance says these sites have been opened in some 100 cities around the world.

They have spread because they work. Insite, which operates a venue in Vancouver, just over the Canadian border from Seattle, says 3 million injections have taken place there. Nearly 5,000 overdoses have been reversed, without a single overdose death.

A review in the medical journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found these facilities have been effective in fostering safer practices and reducing overdoses. Contrary to fears, they have not served to “increase drug injecting, drug trafficking or crime in the surrounding environments.”

Aside from the benefits to drug users, there are benefits to everyone else. The safe injection sites succeeded in curtailing public drug use and the presence of syringes left on the street. They save cities money for emergency medical care.

But obstacles abound. Washington state Sen. Mark Miloscia, a Republican who opposes the Seattle initiative, told The Washington Post, “Saving lives is about getting people off heroin and not tolerating it.”

Actually, saving the maximum number of lives involves a mix of remedies. One is educating people about the perils of addiction. Another is furnishing treatment to those who want it. Clean living is healthy.

Clean living doesn’t appeal to some people, though, and safe injection sites may keep them alive long enough for them to change their ways. Even the most incorrigible opioid users are not beyond help. But dead ones are, and there are more of those every day.

© Copyright 2017 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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Forget Reagan: Trump’s Tax Plan Is More Like George W. Bush

Still at it. ||| ReasonIn the run-up to today’s big White House tax-reform announcement, the question among many analysts was: Would President Donald Trump’s ideas look more like Ronald Reagan in 1981 (when he and a bipartisan congressional majority cut rates) or 1986, when they simplified the code? While Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, flanked by National Economic Director Gary Cohn, bragged that the administration’s plan was both “the biggest tax cut” and the “largest tax reform” in U.S. history—1981 and 1986 at the same time, only more!—the more apt and less comforting historical precedent might be the guy who Trump never tires of bashing: George W. Bush.

The second President Bush pushed through tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, each of which passed with fewer than the 60 Senate votes required by an amendment to the 1974 Congressional Budget Act that demanding a supermajority for any piece of legislation seen as worsening the federal deficit 10-plus years down the road. How did the Bush cuts pass with only 58 and 51 votes, respectively? By including sunset provisions right at that 10-year mark. You can’t be accused of affecting the year-11 deficit if you die at age 10!

In word and deed, President Trump appears poised to follow down Bush’s path of temporary tax reform through budget reconciliation; i.e., passing it on a party-line, simple-majority vote. “I hope [Democrats] don’t stand in the way,” Mnuchin said at the press conference. “And I hope we see many Democrats who cross the aisle and support this. Having said that, if they don’t, we are prepared to look at the reconciliation process.” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) echoed the sentiment: “We want to look at every avenue, but we think reconciliation is the preferred process, we think that’s the most logical process to bring tax reform through,” Ryan told reporters Wednesday.

There are exactly two ways you can sidestep the 60-vote rule. The first is to make sure the tax changes project to being deficit-neutral a decade from now. Given that Trump’s campaign tax-reform framework, upon which today’s announcement was largely based, had previously produced revenue estimates from conservative outfits showing a decrease of around $3.5 trillion over 10 years, it’s damn near impossible to imagine the Congressional Budget Office or the Joint Committee on Taxation (Congress’s go-to economic projection shops) torturing those 13-figure numbers out of existence, no matter how “dynamic” their scoring.

Worsening those prospects—though arguably making the policy world a better place—the Mnuchin/Cohn duo swatted away one of the main proposed revenue-generators of 2017 tax reform: Paul Ryan’s treasured and troublesomeborder adjustment tax,” a tariff by any other name that the speaker was counting on to offset the revenue hits by $1 trillion.

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, no fan of either taxes or tariffs, told me last week that he was in favor of the Border Adjustment Tax as the price for getting a $2.5 trillion tax cut. Without it? “There are two options to that,” Norquist said. “You could have a smaller tax cut, not get rid of the death tax, not take the individual rates down or the corporate rates down as much. But you have to find a trillion dollars in less tax-cutting. Or you could have a tax that replaced it, some tax somewhere else. I’m not sure there’s one that’s an improvement.”

Well, Mnuchin and Cohn did include a big revenue generator in today’s press conference, in the form of eliminating the federal tax deductions that Americans can take on their state and local taxes, a change that the Washington Post says “could save more than $1 trillion over 10 years.” This idea, which makes intuitive sense, would nonetheless be heavily disruptive to those of us who live in high-tax states. And not just in thos Democratic-bubble strongholds like New York, California, and Illinois—according to this WalletHub analysis, vying for worst American state/local tax burden are the deep red states of Nebraska and Iowa (ranked 50th and 43rd out of 51, respectively), plus the Trump swing states of Michigan (44th) and Ohio (45th). That’s five Republican senators right there, at a time when the GOP advantage in the Senate is just 52-48. If this provision passes, I’ll eat my baseball glove. (And then move to Nevada.)

Steve Mnuchin can say that the tax cut “will pay for itself,” but it is extraordinarily unlikely that any reputable governmental economic-projection outfit will agree. So what was that Option #2, Mr. Norquist?

“I’d have to give up on permanence, and make it temporary,” he said. The problem with that: “Going to temporary means that people can’t plan. And you won’t get the economic benefit of reforms if people think they disappear in a few years.”

It is true that some of Bush’s tax cuts were eventually made permanent, and that Trump’s people are clearly hoping to press whatever advantage they have now to maybe achieve that or other tax-code goals later. But it’s also true that, coupled with his other commitments, Trump is setting himself up to mimic one of the signature aspects of a presidency he disdains. Taxcut-and-spend is back, baby, and with it any last claim that the Republican Party is serious about confronting the national debt.

There is plenty to like about the tax-reform bullet points distributed by the White House. A 15 percent corporate tax rate is one helluva lot better than 35, and could conceivably spur the kind of growth America has not seen this whole grim century. The Alternative Minimum Tax, among other intended hatchet victims, does not deserve our sympathy. And though it’s getting much less play, the switch to a “territorial” tax system—meaning, you pay taxes on what you earn here, not what you earn abroad—is a welcome and long-overdue change in a global outlier of a tax policy. (“We want any American company that makes money in Germany to be able to bring it back easily and not be punished for bringing it back,” Norquist said. “That’s the way the rest of the world operates, it’s not how we operate.”)

I predict...pain. ||| AEI/ReasonBut even if the economy responds to temporary tax cuts and aggressive regulatory rollbacks with a historic growth spurt (looming trade war be damned), that will not make up for the fact that President Trump has no demonstrated interest in cutting back the biggest drivers of federal spending: Social Security, Medicare, defense, and interest on the debt. His first proposed budget, a political nonstarter, only manages to keep spending flat by proposing agency cuts that Congress will never agree to. His infrastructure plan, as an opening bid, promised Democrats they could spend around $200 million of federal money (still not nearly enough for the Chuck Schumers of the world). He is so far operating a more interventionist foreign policy than he campaigned on. At a time of unprecedentedly worrisome debt overhangs and entitlement bubbles, Trump has steered an all-too-willing GOP into fiscal fantasyland.

Few politicians win elections by bumming out voters with the realities of trade-offs. As the late, great economist James Buchanan wrote midway through the Reagan presidency:

“The attractiveness of financing spending by debt issue to the elected politicians should be obvious. Borrowing allows spending to be made that will yield immediate political payoffs without the incurring of any immediate political cost.”

What’s more, Buchanan warned, “the replacement of current tax financing by government borrowing has the effect of reducing the ‘perceived price’ of government goods and services,” with the result that taxpayers “increase their demands for such goods and services.”

It was for this reason that Buchanan favored balanced budget amendments rather than an endless series of tax cuts. If voters knew how much their government actually cost, he reasoned, they might finally get serious about restraining it. As his former colleague Tyler Cowen put it in The New York Times in March 2011, Buchanan “argued that deficit spending would evolve into a permanent disconnect between spending and revenue, precisely because it brings short-term gains. We end up institutionalizing irresponsibility in the federal government.”

There are a handful of politicians on Capitol Hill, many from the Tea Party wave beginning in 2010, who are aware of Buchanan’s work, and even campaigned on openly confronting fiscal illusions and realistic tradeoffs. Some of those politicians, such as Rand Paul and Mike Lee, are among the razor-thin GOP majority in the Senate. It will be interesting to see how they react to the near-term scrums over government shutdowns, border-wall financing, emergency supplemental requests, and massive tax cuts.

As for Trump, he was already going into his presidency with a chance of topping even the flagrantly irresponsible Barack Obama in creating new debt. The economy, and American pocketbooks (outside of New York and California, anyway), might get a temporary sugar high, and here’s hoping they do. But the long-term fiscal picture is arguably bleaker today than it was yesterday. Trump, whatever his many flaws, was supposed to at least provide a sharp break from politics as usual. With his Bush-style tax cuts and Obama-like spending, however, he is instead giving us more of what has made the 21st century so disappointing in the first place.

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ESPN Will Get Better, or Fail Trying

ESPN, which has lost millions of subscribers in recent years, announced it would be laying off 100 employees, mostly on-air talent, as The Hollywood Reporter reports—they are not the first big layoffs at the sports network, but represent ESPN’s continuing efforts to respond to increased competitive pressure as fortress cable’s hold on Americans’ viewing habits continues to weaken.

ESPN makes the majority of its money—two thirds of its revenue in 2013—on carriage fees. If you have a cable or satellite package with ESPN on it, the network gets a cut of your monthly bill whether you watch or not. The rest comes from advertising.

In 2015, cable companies lost 1.1 million subscribers, four times the number they lost in 2014. Last year, 1.8 million people cut the cord. According to Disney, which owns ESPN, the network lost 3 million subscribers in 2015, and is down to 92 million from 99 million at the end of 2013. Competing cable networks don’t always benefit—in February Fox Sports 1 lost even more subscribers than ESPN, and from a smaller base.

Nevertheless, ESPN has the kind of long-term contracts for broadcasting rights other cable sports networks aren’t saddled with. It spends more on content a year, $7.3 billion, than Netflix, which spends $5 billion. It’s spending $166 million a year through 2036 on the ACC alone. According to Motley Fool, ESPN last year had $33.27 billion in long-term broadcast rights contract obligations for MLB, the NBA, the NFL, and the college football playoffs.

ESPN has been successful for a long time, and according to Disney revenue and operating income for its cable networks still rose three percent in the first three quarters of 2016, as Motley Fool reported, a slowdown from previous years. ESPN enjoyed the benefits of being the first network to do what it did—dedicate its broadcasts entirely* to sports—and the benefits of the cable monopolies.

Almost since its inception, the cable industry has been regulated at the local, state, and federal level. As a 1984 Cato report explained, federal regulations brought the cable industry to a near halt between 1966 and 1975. After courts and bureaucrats started rolling back these regulations, local governments stepped in with new regulations and controls. Clint Bolick noted in the 1984 report the danger posed by local regulation and franchising prompted by the fallacious idea that cable was a natural monopoly. Such predictions of natural monopoly formation, Bolick explained, tended to be self-fulfilling prophecies because of the government intervention they yield.

By 2005, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) was concerned in the other direction, spending several years trying to combat the rising cable prices enabled by local government franchise regulations and the expansive bundles that came with them—George W. Bush’s FCC wanted to force cable companies to offer more a la carte choices, but in the end, as Peter Suderman noted in 2015, it was market forces, and the internet in particular, that yielded the “great cable unbundling.”

ESPN’s broadcasting rights binge may have been a response to those trends. Actual games are the currency of sports broadcasting. But ratings are down in many sports too. NFL ratings fell 9 percent last year (ESPN is paying $1.9 billion a year for the broadcasting rights to Monday Night Football through 2021). Major league has seen some ratings improvements after years of decline.

At the same time as going all-in on being the home of broadcast sports, ESPN has moved away from the idea of all-sports coverage. Its own public editor reported of regular complaints about the network’s foray into politics (generally of a specific left-wing variety). “Like it or not, ESPN isn’t sticking to sports,” Jim Brady wrote earlier this month. He repeated his assertion that disentangling sports and politics was a “fool’s errand” while acknowledging that looking back at the last twenty years of ESPN’s flagship news show Sports Center it was “noticeable how little politics and culture intruded into the tsunami of highlights and witty banter that once marked that show.”

Brady continued: “That was reflective of the overall newsier focus ESPN had in those days.” Perhaps there’s a connection between ESPN moving away from content that made it unique—high-energy sports news—in favor of political rehashed rehash available at all kinds of other outlets on the internet and other platforms and the problem of viewership loss. Nevertheless, such effects are on the margins compared to the broader structural problems.

In the end, ESPN is subject to competitive pressures, and as the internet breaks down various government-constructed barriers to entry, those pressures will increase. ESPN came on the air nearly 38 years ago. If it can continue to adapt, it can continue. A little bit of creative destruction could go a long way, an exciting prospect for an arguably stale network.

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Why LSD Trips Last Forever, What Happens When You Inject Psilocybin

The world’s leading researchers of psychedelic drugs met in Oakland, Calif., this past weekend at Psychedelic Science 2017, sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Science (MAPS). I attended for for a story I’m working on about MDMA-assisted therapy, and thought I’d share some items from my notebook.

Why do LSD trips last so long? Psilocybin and MDMA are both active in the body for two to three hours when administered in tens of milligrams. LSD, meanwhile, is administered in micrograms (1 mcg is .001 mg) and yet the drug experience can exceed eight hours.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Dave Nichols, a medicinal chemist who’s been studying psychedelics for decades, shared some new research that explains why. Imagine a carnivorous pitcher plant. That’s the 5-HT2B serotonin receptor. Lysergic acid diethylamide, LSD, is a fly. Instead of attaching to the top of the receptor, the LSD molecule gets pulled inside and the top of the receptor closes around it. Basically, LSD trips last forever because the drug gets trapped in a brain cage. (Nichols’ team published their findings in January. You can read more about them here.)

What happens when you inject psilocybin? The psilocybin-assisted therapy study conducted by Johns Hopkins University–which found that moderate and high doses of psilocybin, in conjunction with psychotherapy, reduced anxiety and depression in cancer patients–used gel caps as the method of administration. Most recreational users just eat the mushrooms or brew them into tea. Over in Europe, however, researchers have experimented with intravenous administration. Apparently, it’s like “rocketing [someone] out of a cannon”; the come-up takes place over roughly a minute, rather than half an hour. Well, duh. Except, at a Q&A later in the day, Nichols revealed LSD doesn’t work any quicker when administered via IV. It truly is the Good Friday mass of psychedelic drugs.

Prohibition makes this kind of research stupidly expensive: The Imperial College of London pays 1,500 British Pounds per dose of UK Home Office-approved psilocybin, according to researcher Leor Roseman, who noted that street prices are a fraction of that. (The ICL is currently doing a ton of interesting psychedlelic research right now.)

I’m not sure how easy it is to obtain isolated psilocybin on the black market, but the mushrooms themselves grow on cow shit and dead plant matter. Stateside, dried psilocybin shrooms go for about $5-$10 per gram, according to various mycophile message boards and my own independent research. The most common (and cheapest) strains contain about .6 mg of psilocybin per gram of dry weight, and more exotic (read: expensive) strains have as much as 1.6 mg per gram. The Home Office essentially charged the ICL a penalty for studying a drug that should never have been banned. This kind of oblique research penalty is not unique to psilocybin, or to the UK. Cannabis researchers in the U.S. have to buy their bud from NIDA’s monopoly operation, and it is not quality stuff.

Psychedelic researchers are cautiously optimistic about Scott Gottlieb at FDA: Gottlieb, Trump’s nominee for head of the Food and Drug Administration, has said he’d like to speed up the drug approval process, perhaps using more flexible clinical trial designs.

What does this mean for MAPS, currently sponsoring clinical trials for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy? MAPS clinical sites recently completed stage two trials, and the group is now negotiating stage three protocols with the FDA. All they really need is for the agency to treat them like it would any other sponsor of a new drug application. That may sound like a small ask, but the FDA’s history with psychedelic researchers is replete with periods of capricious obstructionism. The agency environment changed in the mid 2000s, leading to the current research boon. MAPS Founder Rick Doblin expressed optimism that things will continue apace under Gottlieb.

Placing a marker: MDMA will beat marijuana out of schedule I: The FDA-approval timeline MAPS shared with conference attendees has MDMA getting moved from schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act to schedule II sometime around 2021. It would then be available by prescription. I’ll be looking at the specifics of that process in an upcoming feature, but for now, let’s say everything breaks MAPS’ way, and MDMA is a legal prescription drug in 2021. Is marijuana still federally prohibited? I’m betting it is.

Even though marijuana and MDMA are both misclassified as inherently dangerous and therapeutically useless, pot law reform has always looked closest to the ground. But FDA will not reschedule whole-plant marijuana without clinical trials. (MAPS is currently sponsoring such a trial, though it won’t be completed by 2021.) That leaves Congress and the amending of the Controlled Substances Act. I would love to be wrong, but if the glacial pace of federal sentencing reform has taught me anything, it’s that Congress creates new criminal penalties quickly and casually, but moves like a crippled sloth when reducing or eliminating existing ones.

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New Trump Tax Cut Plan, Trump National Monument Review, ‘Net Neutrality’ Roll Back Begins: P.M. Links

  • The Trump administration announced a new tax cut plan. President Trump signed an executive order to review what he terms the “egregious abuse” of national monuments designation by his predecessors.
  • FCC Chairman Ajit Pai began the process of rolling back so-called net neutrality regulations.
  • Barack Obama will give his first Wall Street-backed post-presidential speech, getting paid $400,000 to speak at a healthcare conference sponsored by Cantor Fitzgerald.
  • Pope Francis gives a surprise TED talk.
  • UC-Berkeley cancels the Ann Coulter speech again.
  • The NFL built a fake art museum in front of the art museum in Philadelphia for its 2017 Draft event.
  • Despite claims made in a new study, there were probably no humans in California 100,000 years ago.

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Meet the Civil Rights Lawyer Shaking Up the Race for Philadelphia District Attorney

Larry Krasner, a long-time Philadelphia civil rights and criminal defense attorney, isn’t your usual candidate for district attorney, but then, the race to be the city’s top prosecutor has been anything but usual.

It started when Philadelphia D.A. Seth Williams—under the grim cloud of a federal corruption investigation—announced in February he wouldn’t seek reelection. Since then, the sudden race to replace him has taken a remarkably reform-minded turn. Krasner is one of seven Democratic candidates vying for their party’s nomination on May 16 to be Philadelphia district attorney. All of them are opponents of the death penalty, favor marijuana decriminalization, and echo the criticisms and concerns of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The landscape of the race changed yet again on Tuesday when the “Philadelphia Justice and Public Safety PAC,” an outside spending group affiliated with liberal mega-donor George Soros, announced it was purchasing $300,000 in TV ads to support Krasner.

The cash will put him on a competitive footing with Michael Untermeyer, a former prosecutor and the only other candidate in the race purchasing serious ad time on television. It’s also the first time in Philadelphia history that a super PAC has waded into the race for district attorney. In a statement, Whitney Tymas, the treasurer of the PAC, said it is supporting Krasner “because of his commitment to public safety and criminal justice reform.” Tymas was also chairman of the group that spent money to successfully unseat Joe Arpaio, the infamous Maricopa County sheriff.

If successful, Krasner would be the latest of more than a dozen candidates backed by Soros money to win prosecutor elections over the last two years. Several of those candidates have already made national headlines, such as Aramis Ayala, a Florida state’s attorney who was removed from a case by state governor Rick Scott after refusing to seek the death penalty against a defendant.

The race also comes at a time when Philadelphia is in the midst of an experiment to tweak its policing and pre-trial practices to keep low-level offenders out of jail. As part of $3.5 grant from the MacArthur Foundation awarded last year, Philadelphia has reduced its jail population by 12 percent since last April.

Reason spoke to Krasner over the phone about civil asset forfeiture, marijuana, the death penalty, and how he would use his discretion as a prosecutor. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

REASON: You don’t usually see civil rights attorneys running for D.A. What led you to run?

KRASNER: I’ve been practicing in the criminal courts, as well as doing civil rights matters, for 30 years. Basically since 1987 I’ve seen the district attorney’s office on a steady march in the wrong direction, and I’m sick of it. I watched who was running this time and waited for someone else to jump in who would know the right direction, and it didn’t happen. I decided enough is enough. Someone has to state the obvious to this collection of people who are beating their chests and talking about putting people in jail for longer periods of time. I just feel like we have to fundamentally change the direction of criminal justice in Philadelphia and elsewhere.

REASON: A lot of experts and pundits are coming around to this idea that, to make real and significant changes to the prison population, it has to involve the front end of the criminal justice system, where prosecutors have an enormous amount of power. How would you use your discretion as district attorney to move things in, as you say, a different direction?

KRASNER: It’s hard to summarize it simply, but in general there’s a complete misallocation of resources, which is done for political reasons. Essentially we are not safer, and our society is less just. Classically, the conservative law enforcement community has told us, as Clint Eastwood might, that you have to give up your rights for safety. That is nonsense. Fundamentally it is the respect for individual rights that make us safer, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the stomping of rights alienates communities that are heavily affected by crime. It drives a wedge between police and the good law-abiding people who live in those communities. Police can’t get the information they need to address the crimes, and the situation intensifies. It becomes more dangerous for the people who live in those neighborhoods. It becomes more dangerous police who are forced to carry out those law enforcement policies that are themselves violations of the Constitution. That whole either-or mentality is wrong. The fact is you get more safety through justice. That has been missing from the dialogue around what it means to be a proper D.A. in Philadelphia for as long as I can imagine.

How would I use my discretion? First of all, I would not seek the death penalty. In Pennsylvania it’s never really imposed. There hasn’t been a person put to death against his will since 1962, and yet it costs approximately $2 million a year just to keep nearly 200 people on death row, rather than serving out a life without parole among the general population. The expense of having death penalty trials is incredibly high. It consumes huge amounts of court time, and there are studies indicating it’s cost over $1 billion since the 1970s to this theoretical death penalty available that’s never carried out. Where should that money be? It should be in the dismal public education system that Philadelphia has. It should be in drug rehabilitation, rather than criminalizing addiction, which is a medical condition. It should be funding proper community policing. It should be in funding a larger homicide unit—Philadelphia’s unit is dwindling. It should be in a lot of places, rather than in what is essentially a fraudulent policy designed to advance the career of district attorneys who want to governor or mayor.

Another way I would exercise my discretion is choosing, whenever I can, not to seek mandatory sentences that I feel are unjust. Many of them are. Mandatory sentences are nothing but the legislature trying to take power away from judges who are closest to the case, who consider all the particularities of the defendant and the crime when coming to a sentence. I find that unacceptable. Our sentencing guidelines, both federal and state in general, are obviously too high and frequently ill-informed.

In terms of discretion, cash bail presents another issue. Philadelphia is a very diverse city. It has an 80 percent Democratic registration. It has the highest level of poverty of the 10 largest cities in the U.S. And yet, with all of that going on, we have people remaining in county jail four times as long as other cities. A large factor in that is many people sit in jail because they’re poor and can’t afford a pretty moderate amount of bail that a middle-class person could. It tends to force guilty pleas from people who are serving sentences from the moment they’re arrested. For obvious reasons, they’re eager to get out and are willing to accept a guilty plea, even if they’re not guilty, just to do that. The studies are very clear that people who sit in jail instead of being able to exit are far more likely to be convicted, and not because they’re guilty, but because they’re poor. Another aspect of a cash bail in Philadelphia that is offensive is that, even if you’re found not guilty of everything, the city keeps 30 percent of the bail money you pay. I find that bizarre. To me, that’s simply picking the pockets of the poor.

The district attorney also has a bully pulpit and the ability to reject certain charges. As it stands now, two district attorneys ago we had Lynne Abraham, who basically thought that marijuana was the equivalent of heroin. Our last D.A. had a more constructive attitude, but that still turned into multiple court appearances and taking money out of the pockets of people. That’s all unnecessary. It’s just a tremendous waste of resources to take people who are doing nothing more than smoking marijuana, arresting them, giving them a bail hearing, giving them a bunch of court dates, and forcing them to watch a video. That’s all silly in a state that has already approved the medical use of marijuana, while there is a wave across the country moving in the direction of legalization for recreational use. A prosecutor can simply say I’m not going to prosecute possession or use of small amounts of marijuana at all, so don’t bring me your arrests. You can arrest them if you want, but I won’t charge them. I’d rather have that police power go to investigating gun crimes, homicides, and the 6 percent of criminal that commit 50 percent of the crimes.

REASON: In Harris County, Texas, the district attorney announced she would no longer charge small marijuana possession cases. She got a lot of pushback from a neighboring D.A., who said, “I swore an oath to follow the law—all the laws, as written by the Texas Legislature. I don’t get to pick and choose which laws I enforce.” You seem to take the opposite view on prosecutorial discretion.

KRASNER: It’s pretty obvious to me that the other prosecutor in Texas is completely unaware of what prosecutorial discretion means, and he should have covered that in his first year of law school. It’s not complicated. A prosecutor does have the discretion to decline to prosecute nearly all, if not all, offenses. We’re talking about an intelligent decision not to waste resources on an offense that frankly was largely prosecuted for political purposes since the 1960s. I’m with the Harris County D.A.

REASON: A federal judge recently certified a class-action lawsuit challenging Philadelphia’s civil asset forfeiture program. Part of that lawsuit argues the city’s system is unconstitutional because district attorney office salaries are paid in part by asset forfeiture revenue. How would your office approach asset forfeiture?

KRASNER: There’s huge problems with it. I think we can all agrees that if you raid Pablo Escobar’s house and you find seven cars, a mountain of kilos and a couple of skeletons in the closet, we know where the giant house and the cars came from. It is an instrument and proceed of crime, and forfeiture of that is appropriate. I don’t have any problem with that, but that’s not the problem with Philadelphia’s asset forfeiture.

Philadelphia’s asset forfeiture system has been one where, if a grandkid is caught selling a bag of crack coming out of grandma’s house, the D.A.’s office is going to try and take that house. They’re going to try and take that house even if the grandma is old and infirm and broke. Part of the reason is because they’re directly benefiting from it. It’s appalling. You have a direct financial incentive to take property away from people, and unfortunately a large number of people who get swept up are people who are innocent or unaware. Ironically, the person most in charge of that system is running for D.A. as a Republican. Her name is Beth Grossman.

My remedy to this would be fairly sweeping, but most importantly, that money should never go into the D.A.’s fund. It should go into a general fund of sorts, or it should never be done in the first place. It does not belong to the police or the district attorney’s office. It belongs to the taxpayer.

REASON: If you were elected district attorney, you would be coming from a different side of our adversarial system of criminal justice. Do you think your mindset would have to change at all?

KRASNER: I didn’t come out of law school to be a defense lawyer, I came out of law school to be a lawyer. I don’t see it as that much different, because it’s the prosecutor’s job to seek justice. It’s the defense’s job to zealously advocate for the defendant. But you’re still required to present valid evidence. You’re not allowed to perpetrate a fraud, and I’ve honored that during my career. In my view, they both seek justice, they just do it in different ways. I think the experience of being a defense lawyer for 30 years is better than being a prosecutor for 30 years, and of the reasons is I’ve been talking to defendants for 30 years.

Honestly, being a criminal defense lawyer is like fighting a war with your fingernails, and being a prosecutor is like fighting a war with tanks and airplanes, because you have all the resources of the state—all the money, the team of investigators, the entire police department. Having pushed the giant boulder up the hill all these years, pushing it back down down doesn’t sound to me like it would be a terribly difficult thing to do.

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Trump’s Tax Plan: Lower Tax Rates, Fewer Tax Breaks

MnuchinUnder President Donald Trump’s proposed tax reforms, individuals and corporations would see lower tax rates, and the number of tax brackets would be reduced, but the reforms would also eliminate most other deductions beyond the standard deduction, charitable contributions, and deductions for mortgage interest.

The standard deduction would be doubled, corporate income taxes would drop to 15 percent, and Trump wants to repeal the alternative minimum tax and the estate tax (a.k.a. death tax). The information available right now is basic. So basic, in fact, that I can toss up an image of the one-page release handed out to journalists who attended the White House rollout, courtesy of Lachlan Markay of The Daily Beast:

Press release

There will be plenty to analyze, so stay tuned. One potential point of contention: It would eliminate deductions people claim for paying state and local income taxes, which could impact people who live in states like California and New York. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said it wasn’t the federal government’s job to “subsidize” these states.

Veronique de Rugy, Reason columnist and senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University, had a quick initial response:

I am glad to see that the president seems committed to his campaign promise of lowering the corporate income tax rate to 15 percent. He is correct to want to do without being constraint by the fake concept of revenue neutrality. First, deficit neutrality should be achieved through spending cuts rather than revenue increases. Second, experiences around the world have shown that a reduction of the corporate rate pays for itself. Canada and England have dramatically cut their rates and their revenue to GDP have stayed the same. Also, we know that the payoff in term of economic growth will be huge.

I am not too crazy about the president’s plan to increase the standard deduction. While it will indeed simplify filing one’s taxes for many, I think it is a problem to exclude more people from the tax rolls.

Cutting the capital gain tax rate is good and so is his proposal to end many deductions. Plus ending the death tax and the AMT is excellent. I like the individual tax reform based on what I have seen but where are the spending cuts?

“Where are the spending cuts?” is going to likely be a refrain we’ll be hearing a lot from both libertarian and small government conservatives who otherwise have positive feelings about these changes.

As to whether these reforms have a chance to get anywhere, reporters asked Mnuchin whether Trump was going to release his tax returns. Mnuchin’s response: he has “no intention.” While there shouldn’t be a relationship between tax reform and Trump’s lack of transparency, it seems clear that his opponents will attempt to use his secrecy as a way of trying to block these changes.

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End the Ed? Rep. Massie Says Department of Education’s Days Could Be Numbered

In the days leading up to Betsy DeVos‘ confirmation to head the U.S. Department of Education, staffers for U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) were fielding dozens of calls every day from people urging the representative to vote against her nomination.

Of course that was impossible. Confirmation votes take place in the Senate, not the House, where Massie is a member.

Still, Massie says he was moved to action. On the same day—at nearly the exact same moment, thanks to text messages with Sen. Rand Paul, Massie says—DeVos got confirmed by the Senate, Massie deposited into the hopper on the floor of the House a one-sentence-long bill calling for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education.

Now, when they receive complaints about DeVos, Massie’s staff informs callers that the congressman is trying to get her fired.

“I’ve got nothing against DeVos,” says Massie. “It’s really that I want to eliminate her position.”

In remarks delivered Wednesday at a forum hosted by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, Massie admitted that his bill has a “slim chance” of passing Congress in its current, terse form. He hopes the bill will “start a discussion” and believes there’s a good chance of passing something that eliminates portions of the Department of Education or otherwise trim the department’s budget or role in American education.

Eliminating the department’s 4,500 Washington-based employees would save more than $400 million annually in government overhead costs, something that might find some favor with lawmakers struggling to grapple with the federal government’s dire financial situation.

And then there’s the man in the White House. President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed a new executive order directing the Department of Education to review its own activities and determine if it has overstepped its authority, as The Washington Post and others have reported. Trump and DeVos also have talked about plans to eliminate Title II funding for teacher and administrator training along with cutting other aspects of the department’s budget.

“We may have a president, for the first time since Reagan, who would actually sign this bill if it shows up at his desk,” says Massie. “I think there is a reason to take it seriously.”

Catherine Brown, vice president for education policy at the Center for American Progress, disagrees.

“It’s one sentence,” said Brown, who also spoke Wednesday at Cato’s event. “In my view it’s not a serious proposal. It would take much more than one sentence to dismantle this agency.”

It’s true that a one-sentence bill does not allow for much detail about how the various functions of the Department of Education would be offloaded to other departments or handed down to the states. Practically, those details would have to be worked out during the legislative process, Massie says.

There are likely three directions things could go, if the bill gets far enough for that debate to happen.

Some programs in the Department of Education could be shifted to other parts of the government. Student loan programs could run through the Treasury, or job training programs could be moved into the Department of Labor, in the same way that school lunch programs are already run by the Department of Agriculture, for example.

Brown says that would mean a lot of shuffling around and extra spending on moving trucks, but would not yield much budgetary savings.

A second option would be block granting those programs down to the states, essentially letting each state decide whether it wants to prioritize, say, higher education subsidies or pre-K programs. That would allow for state-level experimentation, Massie says, letting state governments find new and better ways to hand out student aid dollars that would flow from the federal level.

But states make mistakes. Brown pointed out that Texas had placed caps on special needs programs for more than a decade, as part of an effort to reduce the cost of educating special needs students in Texas public schools. The state Senate voted earlier this month to remove those caps, but some students might have gone through nearly their whole K-12 education without access to programs that other special needs students have, she says.

Of course the federal government can make mistakes too. Do you trust Betsy DeVos or Donald Trump more than you trust local officials or state-level ones? A federal Department of Education (or the lack of it) is no guarantee of good policy, and officials have to take responsibility for their actions whether the federal government is involved or not.

The third option, Massie maintains, would be to stick to the basic approach that his bill uses. Let states do the revenue raising and the spending on their own. As for the federal employees working in the department? Let them find jobs in the private sector.

That may sound cold, Massie admits. “But at the end of the day when you cut government spending, you are going to have to cut government jobs.”

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Why He’s Rejecting Net Neutrality Rules (New at Reason)

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans today to roll back net neutrality rules put in place by the Obama administration in 2015.

The FCC currently regulates Internet service providers (ISPs) under Title II regulations that essentially treat the internet as a public utility similar to the old phone monopoly. Proponents of net neutrality and the invocation of Title II regulations say that such oversight is necessary to ensure that the Internet remains “open” and ISPs don’t block sites or degrade offerings by rivals. Long a critic of Title II regulations, which were invoked after the FCC lost two court battles to regulate the Internet, Pai describes them as “a panoply of heavy-handed economic regulations that were developed in the Great Depression to handle Ma Bell.”

Scrapping these rules, Pai told Reason’s Nick Gillespie, won’t harm consumers or the public interest because there was no reason for them in the first place. The rationales were mere “phantoms that were conjured up by people who wanted the FCC for political reasons to overregulate the internet,” Pai told Gillespie. “We were not living in a digital dystopia in the years leading up to 2015.”

If left in place, however, the Title II rules could harm the commercial internet, which Pai described as “one of the most incredible free market innovations in history.”

Credit: David Becker / ZUMA Press / Splash News/Newscom

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Why He’s Rejecting Net Neutrality Rules

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans today to roll back net neutrality rules put in place by the Obama administration in 2015.

The FCC currently regulates Internet service providers (ISPs) under Title II regulations that essentially treat the internet as a public utility similar to the old phone monopoly. Proponents of net neutrality and the invocation of Title II regulations say that such oversight is necessary to ensure that the Internet remains “open” and ISPs don’t block sites or degrade offerings by rivals. Long a critic of Title II regulations, which were invoked after the FCC lost two court battles to regulate the Internet, Pai describes them as “a panoply of heavy-handed economic regulations that were developed in the Great Depression to handle Ma Bell.”

Scrapping these rules, Pai told Reason’s Nick Gillespie, won’t harm consumers or the public interest because there was no reason for them in the first place. The rationales were mere “phantoms that were conjured up by people who wanted the FCC for political reasons to overregulate the internet,” Pai told Gillespie. “We were not living in a digital dystopia in the years leading up to 2015.”

If left in place, however, the Title II rules could harm the commercial internet, which Pai described as “one of the most incredible free market innovations in history.”

“Companies like Google and Facebook and Netflix became household names precisely because we didn’t have the government micromanaging how the internet would operate,” said Pai, who noted that the Clinton-era decision not to regulate the Internet like a phone utility or a broadcast network was one of the most important factors in the rise of our new economy.

Pai also pushed back against claims that he’s a right-wing radical who’s “fucking things up.”

“[I ascribe to] the very radical, right-wing position that the Clinton administration basically got it right when it came to digital infrastructure.”

During the interview, Pai also shared his views on topics including privacy, Donald Trump, obscenity, universal service, and more.

Edited by Mark McDaniel. Cameras by McDaniel and Meredith Bragg. Music by Revolution Void.

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This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.

Nick Gillespie: Hi I’m Nick Gillespie with Reason and today we are talking with Ajit Pai. He’s the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC, which oversees the licensing of radio and television stations, creates ownership roles for certain types of media companies, polices broadcast radio and television for indecency, and over the past few years has tried to enforce controversial rules that will maintain a free and open internet, sometimes called net neutrality. Ajit, thanks for talking to us.

Ajit Pai: Nick, great to be with you again.

Nick Gillespie: You are repealing Title II rules, explain what that will do and what you hope to accomplish with that.

Ajit Pai: Well, as you pointed out, Title II involves the panoply of heavy-handed economic regulations that were developed in the Great Depression to handle Ma Bell, the telephone monopoly of the 1930s. My previous colleagues imposed those rules on the internet, one of the most dynamic systems we’ve ever known. Earlier I proposed to my fellow commissioners at the FCC to repeal those Title II regulations. Going forward, my hope is that in a more free market, light touch environment, we can figure out what the right regulatory framework is to preserve those core protections of a free and open internet that have existed prior to 2015 when on a party-line vote, the FCC adopted these net neutrality regulations.

Nick Gillespie: To get into it a little bit, there was a free and open internet in 2015, there’s kind of one now too or nothing much has changed. What was the pressing cause that people said, you know, “The internet is being shut down, it’s being taken over. It’s being warped in ways for particular business or political interest.” What was the proximate cause for pushing for this new type of regulation, which was much bigger and much broader than anything before?

Ajit Pai: There was none. We were not living in a digital dystopia in the years leading up to 2015. By contrast, actually, the commercialization of the internet in the 1990s up to 2015 represented I think the … one of the most incredible free market innovations in history. With light touch regulation, broadband providers spent 1.5 trillion dollars on infrastructure. Companies like Google and Facebook and Netflix became household names precisely because we didn’t have the government micromanaging how the internet would operate. That Clinton era framework is something I think served us well and going forward I hope it continues to serve us well.

Nick Gillespie: So, what is something … Pulling back Title II, what is something that an ISP or an internet company can do that they wouldn’t be able to do as easily under Title II.

Ajit Pai: Well, nothing in my view because if you look at the record that the FCC had on the books in 2015, internet service providers were not willy nilly blocking traffic and throttling traffic. To the contrary, these were all phantoms that were conjured up by people who wanted the FCC for political reasons to over-regulate the internet. Going forward, if we go back to the rules as they were previously, we are not going to see this parade of horribles that we are sure to hear about in the next coming weeks.

Nick Gillespie: With Title II or under the Open Internet Order, it was also partly, it was going to be done on a case by case basis, right? As opposed to saying here is exactly what you have to comply with as an ISP or as an internet entity. Which throws in … For me when I was reading this I was kind of worried about that because isn’t the idea of a rule of law is that you set standard playing rules for everybody and then let people innovate? As opposed to saying, I mean it seems to me that it was almost setting something up with Uber it’s like, oh well Uber, I’m a city I don’t like what you’re doing to my taxi cab company so I’m going to go hammer you, even though they’re technically breaking any laws.

Ajit Pai: This is one of those pernicious features from an administrative perspective of the Title II order. One was the preemptive declaration that every single internet service provider from the big ones down to Main Street Broadband, which is an ISP in Cannon Falls, Minnesota with four customers. All of you or any competitive monopoles per se we’re going to regulate you as such. The other piece of it was, as you put it, that general conduct standard where the agency said, “Well in case we didn’t overregulate you enough, on a case by case basis, we’re going to think about any particular business practice that you might seen inauspicious to us and we’re going to declare it, whether or not it’s going to be permitted.” I think what you saw was the agency then sticking its toes into the water with respect to free data, in which we prohibit cell phone companies from offering consumers data for free, exempt from data caps.

Nick Gillespie: Well and let’s talk about that because this was always the example. When people talk about net neutrality or an open internet, you conjure up the idea of I have Time Warner, which is now Spectrum I guess, and I want to go to reason.com on Spectrum but it’s blocked or I can’t get there or it won’t load and it’s because the people there don’t like Reason, they don’t like our politics or maybe our competitors have bought some kind of thing to kind of block us. That’s, that’s what people worry about. That kind of stuff is not happening.

Ajit Pai: It does not happen now.

Nick Gillespie: Yeah. Then what is the, what are the other fears of a blocked internet.

Ajit Pai: Well I think some of what the advocates of these Title II regulations are interested in is prohibiting any company, any internet service provider from offering consumers data in a way that they think is somehow anti competitive.

Nick Gillespie: This comes down to things like T-Mobile, Verizon-

Ajit Pai: Exactly.

Nick Gillespie: has a version,k these zero rated plans where if you’re listening on your phone through your service, say it’s T-Mobile and you can listen to whatever you want on Spotify it doesn’t count against your monthly data cap.

Ajit Pai: Right.

Nick Gillespie: And that that’s a bad thing.

Ajit Pai: Exactly. If you look at the hysteria surrounding T-Mobile’s binge-on and music freedom offerings, I mean this is simply allowing consumers to consume all kinds of video from a variety of providers or music from a variety of providers exempt from those data limits. Anyone who meets T-Mobile’s technical specifications can be a part of the program. And yet even that pro-competitive, pro-consumer offering was seen as a great violation of net neutrality and I think it just betrays the fact that these are people who want regulation for the sake of regulation not to benefit consumers.

Nick Gillespie: Can you dilate a little bit on that? Net neutrality is only, as a concept is only what? About 10 to 15 years old. It appeared in an article in I think 2005.

Ajit Pai: Right.

Nick Gillespie: A law review article. But what do people say when you … You’re saying look, T-Mobile is going to let you listen to as much music as you want from any service that signs up for that and if your preferred service isn’t on that then the data you save by listening to Spotify or Pandora or something you can use that data for your own service that you want. Where do they advance arguments that that is somehow harming the public interest?

Ajit Pai: They claim that it is harming the public interest by disadvantaging music providers or video providers who can’t be a part of that system.

Nick Gillespie: Yeah.

Ajit Pai: But that simply hasn’t proven to be the case. I think it drives more from an impulse to want to regulate the internet at all costs and deem every single internet service provider per se evil and anti-competitive and that’s just not the way they are.l

Nick Gillespie: And it’s almost as if with pushing Title II on people, you’re trying to get back to the idea that, of course everybody hated the phone company, Lilly Tomlin the comedian built her career by being a nasty telephone operator, a customer service rep, who was completely unresponsive and her tagline was, “We’re from the phone company and we don’t have to anything.” She would give people raspberries over the phone but you’re-

Ajit Pai: The funny thing about that is because it’s precisely because the phone company was a slow moving monopolist. That’s exactly the point we’re trying to make. These rules, Title II rules were designed to regulate Ma Bell, and the promise with Ma Bell, the deal with the government was, we’ll give you a monopoly as long as you give universal service to the country. As a result, for decades, we didn’t see innovation in the network we didn’t see innovation in phones and it’s when you have a competitive marketplace and you let go of that impulse to regulate everything preemptively, that you finally get to see more of a competitive environment.

Nick Gillespie: Yeah, this is also something that I suspect a lot of people kind of don’t understand or take for granted of, you know, the phone that you were using in 1950 and 1980 was basically the same.

Ajit Pai: Right.

Nick Gillespie: We’re not even using the same phones we were using 10 years ago. I mean, it’s fully different technology, wide range of services and what not.

Ajit Pai: Oh, and it’s incredible when you think about it. I mean, 20 years ago we were talking about AOL sending CD-ROMs in the mail, 56K modems. I mean to go from that to a discussion about how do we incentivize the deployment of gigabit fiber in inner city Detroit I mean, this is a … We’ve come leaps and bounds and it hasn’t been because of preemptive regulation from the 1930s, it was because of that entrepreneurial spirit.

Nick Gillespie: Well, you’re appointment and certainly the Title II announcement makes it only more controversial. You’ve already been very controversial in an administration that has had a lot of controversy. Gizmodo recently ran an article titled, “Everything Ajit Pai Has Fucked Up in the Last Three Months.” That was kind of on the soft side of the headlines. Critics seem to be especially worried that you’re overly friendly or you will be to business interests. What is your general philosophy? Because you’re not an anarchist, you’re not going in to blow up the FCC. What’s your general philosophy about the role the FCC should be playing in the 21st century?

Ajit Pai: Well I think the very radical, right wing position that the Clinton administration basically got it right when it came to digital infrastructure, that you want to take a light touch approach and look regulators can take one of two basic philosophies. You can preemptively regulate and say, “We anticipate there are going to be major market failures everywhere so why even bother taking a look at what the marketplace facts are, let’s just regulate it as if it’s all going to be anti competitive monopoly. The other perspective is let things develop organically and if you see any competitive conduct from a company or companies then you take targeted action to address that problem. I am firmly in the second camp because there are serious and unintended consequences, some consequences are intended I guess, to preemptive regulation. We’re seeing some of that now with investment decreasing, with innovation in terms of business plans that are decreasing. Mother may I is not the right way you want to incentivize digital companies in this economy.

Nick Gillespie: You have made recent actions that would allow ISPs or there have been recent actions to allow ISPs to collect dues and sell data from users the same way that companies such as Google and Facebook already do and have been doing for a while. You support that move, a lot of privacy advocates don’t. What are they missing in your analysis?

Ajit Pai: My position is pretty simple. Whenever consumers go online, they have a uniform expectation of privacy. That means that they expect whatever company is handling their sensitive information whether it’s a so called Edge provider or a content provider or their internet service provider to handle that information with care. Prior to 2015, the federal trade commission applied a uniform system of regulations to anyone in the internet economy to handle that information. With Title II the FCC stripped the FTC of jurisdiction over privacy and all I’m simply saying is we need to return to that consistent and comprehensive framework. Consumers deserve to be protected regardless of the company that holds their information.

Nick Gillespie: And the idea is also that one assumes that if the ISP is selling the data the benefits will come back to the users right, on some level.

Ajit Pai: That’s one of the ways the internet has developed is that for non sensitive information, consumers generally have understood that there is more of an opt out approach in exchange for the sharing of that information, they get lower prices or better services and the like and that’s simply how the internet was worked in the last couple of years.

Nick Gillespie: With the abandonment of Tittle II then the FCC has jurisdiction to regulate these types of practices?

Ajit Pai: That’s correct if we repeal Title II then we would take away what’s called the common courier classification for internet service providers then the federal trade commission ultimately we anticipate would be able to regulate-

Nick Gillespie: You have talked about using the FTC rather than the FCC to adjudicate various other claims in terms of concentration of ISP ownership and things like that. Why are you looking … It’s an odd thing for a newly minted chairman of an agency to say, “You know what, I want some other agency to do this work for me.” What’s going on there?

Ajit Pai: What’s going on is simply that we have a competition authority on the beat, we have a consumer protection authority with expertise and that is a federal trade commission and they have long jurisdiction over both the antitrust side of the equation and the consumer protection in terms of the privacy side of the equation. By stripping them of that authority two years ago the FCC didn’t automatically grant itself that expertise or that long standing set of precedence, we simply started making it up on our own. I think you saw the results for themselves that the privacy regulations of the FCC conjured up. Number on completely asymmetric and number two ignore the way the internet works in terms of encrypted traffic and the like. I would rather return that to the agency with expertise in these issue and that’s I think better for consumers too.

Nick Gillespie: Do you worry, I mentioned I was part of Time Warner, it’s now Spectrum. There have been a number of major mergers among ISPs. At what point, how do you adjudicate that to say, “You know what, there’s too much market concentration here.” Or is it that it’s not the amount of … It’s not the concentration of a particular ISP but rather … What are the other factors that would go into to say this is a competitive marketplace even if there are only two or three companies there?

Ajit Pai: Well there are two different approaches that I take so first with respect with any transaction that’s presented to us, we apply the FCC, the public interest standard and so we have to determine would the consummation of this transaction be good for consumers and for competition. If it is then we approve it, if it’s not then we see, okay there are conditions that are narrowly tailored that could help us make it in the public interest. If there aren’t then we simply disapprove it. The second major piece in the puzzle and something I’ve been very active on and something which notably the press has ignored has been getting more competition into the market place. Revising and removing regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment. Ultimately, the best way to solve the problem surrounding net neutrality or any of these other consumer protection issues is to get more companies using a variety of technologies to deploy infrastructure everywhere in The United States.

From my perspective I could care less whether it’s a cable company, a telephone company, a wireless company, a satellite or an upstart, Google and Facebook and what not who are experimenting. I want them all to compete.

Nick Gillespie: Talk about some … When you talk about it’s regulatory barriers but it’s also physical ones. Because you’re talking about the ability to actually string wires or cable or transmission towers. Get into the weeds a little bit. I think one of the things that is difficult about a lot of digital policies that we just take it for granted and it’s magic, it just we flip the switch it turns on but it’s built on real stuff.

Ajit Pai: Building a broadband network is really hard and I’ve seen it for myself when you’re trenching fiber and you have to dig up a road or when you’re trying to attach equipment to utility poles or when you’re trying to sight a gateway earth station for a satellite broadband company. It’s really hard work. It’s expensive, it’s difficult to find people to do it and in some cases there are significant regulatory barriers. For example one of the biggest cost elements to building a broadband network is top get access to utility poles in a timely way and in a cheap way. I was visiting with Rocket Fiber for instance. A start up ISP in Detroit which had issues with The City of Detroit getting cost effective access and timely access to the utility poles. In some cases the city was asking for rates that were simply prohibitive and if you can’t afford those pole attachments as they’re called, you’re never going to build the network and so that’s one of the things we’ve identified actively.

It’s set up a broadband deployment advisory committee which we met just last week for the first time to identify things like that. Pole attachment problems, problems getting access to a conduit that lays in they ground and the like. Those are the nitty gritty things that they FCC has the power to do and would ultimately benefit consumers in terms of competitive choice. Unfortunately more sexy, high profile issues like Title II seem to occupy all the oxygen.

Nick Gillespie: Well, let’s talk about sexy issues in decency fines and what not. The FCC is in charge of … I say this as somebody, everything I watch either comes over a computer screen or it’s cable and then pops up on a TV. I don’t know the last time I actually watched an over the air broadcast. But the FCC levies fines on indecency, when are we going to stop doing that? Isn’t that just insane at this point to even have a category of law which is kind of getting where they say, “This is indecent because it was broadcast over the air on a TV that maybe nobody is watching anymore but we’re going to make sure that some station pays hundreds of thousands of dollars potentially for airing a fleeting obsanity.

Ajit Pai: That’s ultimately a decision that congress has to make with the guidance of the supreme court. So long as section 14-64 which is the law on the books that requires us to prohibit obscene, indecent and profane content over the airwaves so long as that remains-

Nick Gillespie: In other words HBO will never be able to be broadcast.

Ajit Pai: Yeah.

Nick Gillespie: It will always be cable only?

Ajit Pai: Game Of Thrones I suspect will not be seen in reruns on a broadcast network anytime soon. We were duty bound at the FCC to administer at best what we can within the confines of the constitutional decisions of The Supreme Court. Obviously I’m just a couple months on the job so we’re trying to figure out the right way forward but this is one of the consumer offer-

Nick Gillespie: Is that something that you can minimize or can you make it … Can you de-prioritize it or say now we’re going after all the smut peddlers on ABC.

Ajit Pai: The practical matter, the agency has limited resources so we can’t go after every single case and every single area under our jurisdiction but if there’s a targeted case that-

Nick Gillespie: Would you have kept pushing on the Janet Jackson nipple gate case?

Ajit Pai: That’s a good question. It’s been a long time. That case happened before I got there and so I think in some cases that litigation has gone for many many years and-

Nick Gillespie: Yeah and the Bono and what the these are like … The government isn’t in enough debt so we could always wait for these guys to keep. In congressional testimony in March, you were asked whether you agreed with Donald Trump that the press is the enemy of the people. You replied in part, “I believe that every American enjoys the first amendment protections guaranteed by the constitution.” That response angered activists. Why do you think it angered them?

Ajit Pai: Well I think one reason it angered them is because they are going to oppose anything I say or do. If I say that the sky is blue they will complain that Ajit Pai rejects the diversity if colors in the sky and denies the existence of clouds. Another piece of it is I think is that there is a very strong political debate in this country about the role of the news media. I understand that. There’s a debate about fake news in particular. I don’t want to get into that political debate because that’s frankly above my pay grade as an agency head. What I do believe in however is that under the first amendment journalists do an important job in informing your local communities about news and other issuse of the day and I’ve spoken consistently about the importance of First Amendment freedoms and the freedom of the press.

Nick Gillespie: I’m getting the sense that you don’t believe in the First Amendment whatsoever. That’s just what I’m hearing.

Ajit Pai: The other curious thing about it is that the same people who are criticizing me for that have nary a word to say about the lack of free speech on college campuses, the censoring of freedom of the speech over the internet in foreign countries. I think you have to be consistent when it comes to-

Nick Gillespie: Actually what I particularly liked about your answer and I say this a journalist, that you said every American enjoys First Amendment protections because the minute that we only start giving them to so called journalists then we’re … The press is being licensed by the government so-

Ajit Pai: Absolutely and then it becomes animal farming. All journalists are equal but some are more equal than others and then the government shouldn’t be in the business of figuring out who that is.

Nick Gillespie: Do you worry though at all about the president’s statements? Back when he was running he talked about loosening up libel law so he could sue the New York Times, he’s made a lot of statements along that line to Jeff Bezos who’s both the owner of Amazon but the owner of The Washington Post as well, does that talk frighten you at all?

Ajit Pai: Well I think that the president has made a number of statements that reflect what he considers to be his view of the news media and how they have covered him. Obviously the news media has been critical of him, he’s been critical of them, that’s the classic First Amendment debate. You can introduce an idea and if people don’t like it they can say they don’t and a number of people have.

Nick Gillespie: Do you interact much with president Trump and what’s the nature of that kind of communication?

Ajit Pai: I’ve met him on several times, I interviewed with him when he was president elect in January-

Nick Gillespie: Did you go up to Trump Tower?

Ajit Pai: I did yes.

Nick Gillespie: Did you get the taco bowl?

Ajit Pai: I did not get the taco bowl but do you remember walking into … On the way into his office you walk in this hallway, all of a sudden had a feeling, I thought wow I’ve been here before I’ve seen it. I realized that is the hallway where the apprentice contestants go after they’ve been fired.

Nick Gillespie: Oh really?

Ajit Pai: Unfortunately it ended up a little better for me-

Nick Gillespie: given a three minute summation of why they got fired.

Ajit Pai: Exactly but the second time I met him was in the White House.

Nick Gillespie: Has he articulated any kind of broad vision for what he wants you to be doing at the FCC?

Ajit Pai: Generally speaking he said keep doing what you’re doing in terms of prioritizing infrastructure investment and making sure that we get this part of the economy moving again, it’s one sixth of the national economy and we think that … I’m glad that he agrees that rules of the road that are light touched that incentivize investment and innovation are ultimately better for everybody in this country.

Nick Gillespie: Obviously one of the things from … He’s a man of many moods and of many contradictions but he’s generally pro deregulation and like you’re saying light touch, yeah so is a touch of cronyism in him or playing with local and say governments to get certain types of inducements which is something that the cable industry certainly historically has done. Do you feel like there is a way forward that will minimize the historical baggage of cable operators being so indebted to local governments for monopoly contracts? Can we get out of that finally into a world of internet connectivity and I guess all media connectivity that is finally a true … More of an open plain field?

Ajit Pai: Absolutely and this is one of the things I prioritize during my time at the commission just making sure that we have objective upfront rules of the road that prevent anybody from gaming the system. Arbitrage I think is just poison to those of us who believe firmly in the power of a free market. Several years ago for instance I led the charge against one Fortune 5OO company gaming our small business program to get 3.3 billion dollars and taxpayer credits-

Nick Gillespie: What company was that?

Ajit Pai: It was Dish corporation that was participating in the spectrum auction using small business as essentially Shell’s bid in the auction because Shell has got bidding credits. Similarly I’ve consistently said that I want there to be state-wide franchising for internet service providers and video operators and the likes that companies don’t have to go jurisdiction by jurisdiction and essentially do a lot of goodies as the price of getting a monopoly license to serve that particular area. That’s the worst of all worlds for consumers because then you don’t get competitive choice and you are paying out in terms of greater taxes

Nick Gillespie: What about one of the things that you’ve been criticized for is saying that the FCC doesn’t have the right to cap the rates that prisons charge prisoners. Talk about that a little bit. Because from the outside on some level you’re in prison and you’re getting ripped off by the phone company. Where were you? Where is your thinking on all of that?

Ajit Pai: This is one of the most misunderstood issues. There are two possibilities when it comes to a phone call made from a prisoner, one is that it is a phone call that is entirely within one state and one is the phone call that crosses state boundaries interstate. With respect to intrastate phone calls, the law of the communication act is crystal clear the FCC doesn’t have the jurisdiction. In any of the areas we regulate we simply don’t have intrastate jurisdiction over rates pretty clear so there it’s just a legal dispute. With respect to interstate rates, I put a plan on the table several years ago that would have lowered rates dramatically in prisons and jails across this country and was based on the evidence that was in the record.

Unfortunately my colleagues disagreed with me and what’s notable is the DC circuit, the court of appeals here in Washington stayed my colleague’s decision four separate times. That tells you something. When the court of appeals here is saying, “We don’t think the evidence in the record is sufficient to justify the rates that the FCC ultimately picked that seems to be a signal that we should have done something different and that’s something different I believe was my proposal. If we’d adopted it four years ago, these rates would have been lowered for prisoners everywhere in the country right now.

Nick Gillespie: Do you think prisoners should pay rates based on the severity of their crimes?

Ajit Pai: Absolutely not.

Nick Gillespie: I’m joking.

Ajit Pai: Consumer is consumer and people who are incarcerated deserve to have as much of a functioning marketplace as anybody else. I’ve consistently said this is not a normal market, they don’t have choice and that’s why … It’s unusual for someone who believes in free market as I do to put on the table a prescriptive regulation system, that’s exactly what I did because I recognized the prisoners don’t have it the way we do.

Nick Gillespie: What about universal service? It came up previous in our conversation, all of the early utility models and certainly for phone service and telecommunications it’s all … And for the post office for that matter based on this idea of universal service. There are certain elements or ideas that you’ve talked about where you seem to be pulling away from that or it doesn’t seem to have the same purchase that it once did. Is universal service … Should it be something that needs to be rethought?

Ajit Pai: Well I firmly believe in the promise of universal service. I grew up in a part of rural Kansas that is all too often on the wrong side of the digital divide and so I’ve made it a priority of the FCC to make sure that anybody in this country who wants internet access in particular should be able to get it. Every one of my actions that I’ve taken is been oriented around that, creating this broadband deployment advisory committee, streamlining the rules for wireless and wire line infrastructure which we just did last week, making sure that we promote 4G LTE in all parts of this county so you don’t have massive dead spots. These are all geared toward making sure that whether you live in Ottawa, Kansas or in Washington DC you have connectivity if you want to take advantage of it.

Nick Gillespie: Well and let’s talk a bit about last fall you released a digital empowerment agenda that outlined four main areas of the action gigabit opportunity zones, mobile broadband for world America removing regulatory boundary or boundaries to broadband roll out and promote entrepreneurship and innovation. Is that the framework for your chairmanship?

Ajit Pai: Absolutely, I outlined it in September of last year precisely because I did not want the fate of it to be decide based on what partly happened to control the FCC in January.

Nick Gillespie: Lets run through these real quick and get a sense of the gigabit opportunities Anjit, I think you mentioned something about Detroit is that one of … Is that what you are talking about?

Ajit Pai: Well, so the idea here was we could take a geographic area. It could be a small as an inner city block or as large as a rural county and so long as the income of the people in that area was 75% or less of the national median, then we would extend tax incentives to internet service providers to build up broadband in those areas. We would additionally relieve the payroll side taxes for employers who want to build business in those areas and that … The thought there was this is a way to build on Secretary Jack Kemp’s idea for empowerment zones in 1980s and 1990s. They create the digital opportunities in these areas so that we don’t leave talent simply withering on the vine

Nick Gillespie: Are they in place anywhere and do you have good evidence of that because I know Kemp’s empowerment zones it turned out a lot of the economics analysis show that they really didn’t do very much?

Ajit Pai: It’s not in place now because congress has to authorize it. We’re working with members of congress and the administration to incorporate and to a part of an infrastructure build.

Nick Gillespie: Do you think is super high speed bandwidth or a broadband, is that a type of thing where if you build it they will come?

Ajit Pai: I think it is and it doesn’t necessarily have to be gigabit it’s a design scale up to a gigabit but I do believe that there is entrepreneurship out there. Just a few weeks ago I was in Youngstown Detroit and Cleveland and Pittsburgh. I got to see these entrepreneurs who are building digital companies in areas that would have never thought of as being havens for entrepreneurship.

Nick Gillespie: Yeah one of your points is also to provide entrepreneurship and innovation so what kinds of stuff are they doing there? What is capable … What is possible when you have really good broadband deployment?

Ajit Pai: Just to give you one example when I was in Cincinnati outlining this idea about a digital empowering agenda, I visited a company called ChoreMaster and what they essentially do is create an online application that allows parents to interact with their kids and get their kids to do chores in a really fun way. It’s something that I personally take interest in since I have young kids but that company explicitly told me that they set up shop Over The Orion neighborhood of Cincinnati because they had Cincinnati bills gigabit service to their facility and that was critical for them because they need to do very high bandwidth intensive analytics and the like and that’s one of the things we see all-

Nick Gillespie: Over the Orion always considered one of the worst neighborhoods in the country not just Cincinnati’s.

Ajit Pai: Exactly and its coming back for this reason.

Nick Gillespie: What about mobile broadband for rural America, how does that play out? You said you grow up in a isolated town in the middle of Kansas so, how do you promote that?

Ajit Pai: Few different ways number one is more wisely spending the federal subsidies that the FCC oversees and we did that past February. Right now we spend billions of dollars every year to try to promote mobile broadband but it doesn’t necessarily go to the rural areas that need it the most. An anonymous vote which is something that’s pretty remarkable in Washington, we got across the finish line and a revision to our 4.5 billion dollar plan to make sure that that money is spent to build out 4G LTE in parts of the country that don’t currently have it. Another piece of it involved requiring wireless carriers to build out more fully to the areas that are covered by their licenses. Right now for example, for certain wireless licenses you only have to build out to 66% of that geographic territory. You are given an exclusive use of those public airwaves and so it seemed to me we should increase that percentage just say 90 or 95% to make sure that the public benefits from that.

Nick Gillespie: Then also removing regulatory burdens to broadband role outs. Part of that is the stuff like the utility poles and the conduits under-

Ajit Pai: Yes streamlining access to utility poles making dig once the national policy of the land. If you have a federally funded transportation project and you are digging up the road, why outlay the conduit, the pipe in the ground that allows any company big or small incumbent or competitor to have access to that pipe. Different ideas like that that would be simply preserving the public interest and advancing broadband deployment at the same time.

Nick Gillespie: I think we agree that all of the bad things that the pro net neutrality forces have said will happen. They haven’t come to pass yet but after the repeal of title two, if they do come to pass will you revisit the decision?

Ajit Pai: I’ve consistently said that if we see bad behavior in the market place, we will take the action within our authority and I will work with my partners at the federal trade commission, Department of Justice in elsewhere so that they can take action but to make sure that that conduct is addressed.

Nick Gillespie: With bad conduct would clearly mean something like blocking particular sites. What about allowing fast lengths for certain types of … Where somebody can pay more to have a quicker deployment of their content is that good behavior or bad as far as you are concerned?

Ajit Pai: It depends of the nature of the arrangement. You can envision some pro competitive arrangements like that. For example if you are a healthcare provider and you are trying to synthesize data quickly with respect to some of patients who are monitoring remotely, that traffic might be important to you, you would think then simply sending an email. Conversely you can imagine some anti-competitive arrangement as well. It’s a highly fact intensive inquiry that any regulator would have to examine.

Nick Gillespie: Final question for you chairman Pai how would you know if your tenure is a success? What are the bench marks for that?

Ajit Pai: I think the benchmarks are going to be whether a broadband is more fully deployed throughout the country or whether more Americans are taking advantage of it, whether our digital economy is healthier in a few years than it is today, those are some of the milestones so to speak that I’ll be looking for. Ultimately the proofs is going to be in the pudding. I have confidence that the market based light touch regulatory approach is going to be beneficial for the American people and I am committed to delivering on that agenda in the time to come.

Nick Gillespie: All right well we will leave it there thanks so much for talking to us.

Ajit Pai: Nick it’s great to be back with you.

Nick Gillespie: We’ve been talking with the chairman of the FCC Ajit Pai for Reason TV I’m Nick Gillespie.

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Left and Right Street Mobs Rain on Portland Parade

Antifa in crisisThe kick-off parade of Portland’s annual Rose Festival was cancelled yesterday thanks to escalating threats from left-wing Antifa and Pro-Trump militia types who over the past few days have been swapping promises of violent street confrontations at the event.

Thus, yet another aspect of American public life has succumb to the self-reinforcing provocateur tactics of extremist fringe groups.

The drama centers around the inclusion of the Multnomah County Republican Party (MCRP) in the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade, which begins the city’s Rose Festival.

Trouble began when Antifa leftist activists—acting under the monikers Direct Action Alliance and Oregon Students Empowered—created Facebook events which promised to confront the MCRP for the usual charges of hate mongering and fascism normalizing.

For the uninitiated, Antifa—short for anti-fascism—is a loose connection of anarcho-communists groups who seek to undermine the oppressive capitalist system we all toil under, mostly through blocking traffic and setting garbage cans on fire. These groups were part of the recent Berkeley brawl, and also showed up to smash Starbucks windows in DC on inauguration day.

The group said they were going to show up in force to protect minorities, including and limited to their LGBTQ+, Muslim, Latinx, Black and Native neighbors from harassment and intimidation.

For the record, it’s hard to think of a more embattled and despised minority than Portland-area Republicans.

James Buchal, chairman of the MCRP, said that the group was certainly concerned about threats from Antifa groups —which included promises on social media that Republican marchers would be “stabbed to death”—but said he was still saddened by the cancelling of the parade.

“Its a tradition,” he says of the parade. “We march, the Democrats march, even the Greens now march.” He noted that the MCRP had marched in every Avenue of the Roses parade without incident since he has been chairman.

Not helping the MCRP any was the promise from Joey Gibson—of the Facebook page Patriot Prayer—to also march in the 82nd Avenue of Roses parade as a means of protecting Portland Republicans.

Gibson released a video on Patriot Prayer’s page Monday in which he ranted about his plans to confront any masked Antifa who dared to not show their face on the day, blending a professed support for free speech with grade-school level taunts.

“There’s going to be a bunch of us going down on Saturday. You know the place, you know the time,” he said in the video. “If you want to hurt us and you want to kill us, well the real men will be down there, and we’ll be waiting.”

The same day this video came out, an anonymous email was sent from an Antifa sympathizer to parade organizers saying that if the MRCP were allowed to march “we will have two hundred or more people rush into the parade, into the middle, and drag and push those people out” adding that “you have seen the power we have downtown and that the police cannot stop us.”

The email also promises that protestors will only use non-violent methods (which you think would exclude pushing and dragging).

That email proved the final straw for parade organizers who said in a Tuesday announcement that “following threats of violence during the Parade by multiple groups planning to demonstrate at the event, we can no longer guarantee the safety of our community and have made the difficult decision to cancel the Parade.”

The Direct Action Alliance sent out a press release expressing disappointment that the parade had been cancelled while still defending their actions saying “no Portland child will see a march in support of this fascist regime go unopposed.”

Joey Gibson also released a video bemoaning the cancellation of the parade to a soundtrack of sad music. “These kids are extremely selfish,” he said in reference to Antifa. “They don’t care about other people, they don’t care about their community.”

What is perhaps most interesting about this sad little episode is that both Antifa and Joey Gibson’s Patriot Prayer crowd framed their actions as some sort of defense of the parade and the Portland community.

Yet the only thing preventing the parade from going off without a hitch was the actions and threats of these two groups. Both were all too happy to sandbag a pretty innocuous parade for the purposes of political posturing and YouTube views.

Hopefully one day, Portlanders can again plan an event (with a handful of Republicans included!) where the only chance of cancelation comes from the very credible threat of rain.

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Hot Girls Wanted: Exploiting Sex Workers in the Name of Exposing Porn Exploitation?

Actress and porn-skeptic Rashida Jones has followed up her controversial 2015 documentary Hot Girls Wanted with a six-part docu-series on the same theme. The Netflix-original show—Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On—was released last week, earning high-profile coverage from entertainment and women’s media and mostly glowing reviews. Yet in their rush to expose exploitation in adult entertainment, were Hot Girls Wanted producers indifferent to their own impact? In the past few days alone, a host of porn performers and producers have come forward with allegations of unethical practices, from using sex workers’ images in the series without their consent to lying to them about the nature of the series and Jones’ involvement in it.

Several adult-film workers involved with the series claim they were mislead about who was behind the project. The original movie’s moralizing, breathless, and often biased take on the porn industry made it anathema among adult entertainers, and these workers say they would not have participated in the series had they known it was from Rashida Jones or other producers of the original.

“A few people in the adult industry have expressed disappointment in my facilitating their involvement in the Netflix docu-series project,” author and porn performer Tyler Knight wrote in an Instagram post earlier this week. They were mainly upset that he did not “disclose the involvement of Rashida Jones.” But Knight claims he didn’t know that Jones was at all involved—in fact, he had specifically been told otherwise.

I asked members [of] the production several times. The producers lied. Flat out.

And “it was under this false pretense that they sought access to people and productions, from the top-level directors to new talent, who would otherwise have declined had they been informed,” Knight wrote.

Porn producer and performer Jay Taylor concurred with Knight. “They lied about the nature of the project to get us to sign releases,” Taylor told me Tuesday on Twitter. “We ASKED if it was HGW, and they swore up and down it wasn’t.”

“They said it wasn’t even going to be hot girls wanted,” chimed in porn star Gia Paige. “They just know how turned off we all were by that so it was a ploy.”

“To our studio they said, ‘it doesn’t have a name yet'” said the folks at lesbian porn company Filly Films yesterday. “Wondering if they knew the whole time?”

I reached out to Herzog & Company, the group behind Hot Girls Wanted Turned On, for a comment but have not heard back. My outreach to series producers Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus was also unsuccessful, as were attempts to communicate with the @HotGirlsWanted Twitter account. On Tuesday, I was able to reach the person listed on Hot Girls Wanted website as the official contact. But while he had worked on the documentary he was not affiliated with the current series, and repeatedly demanded to know what why I was “trying to get all investigative.”

The image claims first surfaced on Twitter last weekend, when someone shared a screenshot from the series with users @effy_elizabeth (“Effs”) and @_AutumnKayy. It showed both womens’ faces visible in episode six, though neither had been part of the production. The footage was from a short clip they had posted with the video-streaming app Periscope. “Uh y’all better get royalties if that is real,” one Twitter user responded. “It is real,” Effs replied, “we weren’t even told it was happening.”

When Effs and Autumn reached out to @HotGirlsWanted via Twitter, the account responded: “Hi, yes, happy to discuss further. We can put you in touch with our production company so they can explain fair use.”

That the content falls under copyright law’s “fair use” doctrine is probably correct—it was posted publicly to Periscope, and the portion used in Hot Girls Wanted was short. And while courts are instructed to considered “whether the use could cause substantial harm if it were to become widespread,” this refers to effect on “the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work”—not personal harm to the content’s creators.

But whether Hot Girls Wanted using sex workers images without their consent is legal, the ethical issues should give us pause. Porn and all sorts of sex work are still very much stigmatized, as HGW acknowledges (and demonstrates). Outing someone as a porn performer isn’t like outing someone as an accountant or baker, unfortunately. And that’s effectively what HGW did: out these women. The clip may have been short, but it’s now part of a high-profile Netflix series which people around the world can watch (and pause on, screenshot, etc.).

Surely the producers of a documentary about sex work and technology must understand how someone might feel comfortable “outing” themselves in front of a limited audience on Periscope (or a private cam site) but hesitate to be featured in a celebrity-produced mini-series streaming on a popular global entertainment platform? How the seasoned, celebrity producers of a film about the exploitation of young women in adult-entertainment at the hands of older, savvier players in the industry should at least check ask adult performers before blasting their photos out everywhere in service of filmmakers message? But according to Effs and Autumn, Hot Girls Wanted producers never so much as told them their images were in the series.

Another performer, Gia Paige, told Vocativ’s Tracy Clark-Flory that she had originally agreed to appear in the series but grew uncomfortable with producers pressing her to talk about her family and withdrew from the project. According to Paige and her ex-fiance, who did appear in the series, producers told Paige they would not use her footage in the series. They did—even showing her real name on screen.

While these might seem harmless mistakes to some, sex workers say that revealing their true identities puts them at risk of everything from future workplace discrimination to attracting the attention of stalkers or abusive exes. Filmmakers using footage of sex workers should strive to seek consent above and beyond what is required by law, and consider other sources when they can’t get it (as several sex workers pointed out on Twitter, there are tons of porn performers and cam girls out there who would be happy to reach wide audiences). Failing to do so speaks ill of any producers, but it’s especially unconscionable from producers who pride themselves on being feminist-minded, stress the importance of ethical porn consumption, and suggest that their project is meant to help combat exploitation in the adult-entertainment industry.

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Audit: University of California Overpaid Administrators, Hid $175 Million Dollars in Secret Fund

NapolitanoThe University of California’s administration kept millions of dollars in a secret fund even as it sought permission from the Board of Regents, and approval from the public, to raise tuition. It also overpaid employees who were already handsomely compensated, and provided them expensive perks.

An information system manager, for instance, could make $258,000 at the university, even though other state agencies would only pay someone $150,000 to do that job.

This is all according to a state audit of UC’s finances. UC President Janet Napolitano is prepared to comply with the audit’s recommendations, though she disputes the characterization of the $175 million as a secret fund, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Ten staffers in the Office of the President were paid a combined $700,000 more than their counterparts in other state agencies. And that’s not all:

On benefits, the Office of the President provided a regular retirement plan but also offered its executives a retirement savings account into which the office contributes up to 5% of the executives’ salaries—about $2.5 million over the past five years, the audit found.

“The Office of the President also spent more than $2 million for its staff’s business meetings and entertainment expenses over the past five years—a benefit that the State does not offer to its employees except in limited circumstances,” the audit said.

The audit also said the Office of the President reimbursed questionable travel expenses, including a ticket for a theater performance and limousine services. One person spent $350 per night on hotel rooms, which is above the allowable standard for other state agencies.

Keep in mind that UC’s Board of Regents voted last year to raise tuition 2.5 percent for the first time in six years.

“It’s outrageous and unjust to force tuition hikes on students while the UC hides secret funds, and I call for the tuition decision to come back before the Board of Regents for reconsideration and reversal,” said California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who serves as a regent, in a statement.

He’s right. A private university can charges as much as it wants and spend all its money on lavish perks for employees if it really wants to, but the UC system is supported by the taxpayers of California. It’s ridiculous to ask students to cough up even more dough to attend a public university when the university is secretly ferreting away funds, overpaying its top administrators, and misleading its Board of Regents.

This story is outrageous. It’s also a reminder that when universities complain about being starved for cash, they are lying. (Recall that the UC system was unwilling to sell even its palatial, unused chancellor’s mansion.) Education is getting more expensive, in California and elsewhere, because of administrative bloat. Universities have made a conscious decision to hire more administrators, and pay them six-figure salaries, even as faculty wages have largely stagnated.

The result is students being bossed around by an ever-growing bevy of bureaucrats—and paying more for the privilege.

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Lawsuit Aims to Force Catholic Hospitals Perform Transgender-Related Surgeries

SurgeryThe American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) definitely wants us all to see a lawsuit against a Catholic hospital in the Sacramento area in California as a clear-cut case of anti-transgender discrimination. The reality is a whole lot more complicated, and the ACLU’s behavior here is pretty troubling for anybody who values religious freedom and freedom of association.

Evan Michael Minton, 35, had decided to pursue surgery as part of the physical transition to living as a man. He turned to the Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Carmichael to get a hysterectomy, a necessary part of the transition process. According to the lawsuit, the hospital chain canceled the procedure abruptly the day before it was scheduled to happen.

The Medical Center is a Catholic facility and operates in accordance to Catholic doctrine. In this case, the hospital does not permit or perform elective sterilization procedures due to the church’s position on birth control. This is not a total ban; sometimes hysterectomies are medically necessary. But the church and hospital sees Minton’s pursuit as elective and voluntary and declined to participate.

So to be clear here, the hospital does not normally perform hysterectomies. This is not an anti-transgender position. The Catholic Church’s general opposition to voluntary birth control procedures is what’s at issue here. So when an ACLU attorney tells the Sacramento Bee that the denial is a “clear-cut case of discrimination,” that’s quite far from the truth. California’s anti-discrimination law does cover gender expression as part of “sex” in its definition, but is this sex discrimination if this hospital doesn’t perform elective hysterectomies on anybody?

Furthermore, according to the response from a hospital, they followed up their rejection by actually helping Minton secure a new hospital to get the hysterectomy done. A spokesperson told the Bee, “We understand how important this surgery is for transgender individuals, and were happy to provide Mr. Minton and his surgeon the use of another Dignity Health hospital for his surgery within a few days.”

This is far from a case where a transgender person is being cruelly turned away or being mocked or told that his transgender identity is fake or a lie or any number of anti-transgender attitudes. Minton did get his surgery from another hospital, and his doctor got emergency privileges there, again with the help of Dignity Health officials.

To be clear, though, the Conference of Catholic Bishops does oppose the inclusion of gender identity in health care discrimination laws and does not support surgically altering a person’s sex. The way Dignity Health handled this conflict facilitated Minton’s transition without having to compromise the hospital’s religious values. Everybody got what they wanted out of this.

Nevertheless, Minton and the ACLU are suing because of how the rejection made Minton feel. And the ACLU is deliberately trying to present this as part of a concerted effort to diminish discrimination protections against transgender people.

That’s obviously not what’s happening here, but the ACLU has already got Catholic hospitals in their crosshairs for reluctance to induce abortions in emergency cases. It’s just another weapon use to target them.

One does not have to be a Catholic, oppose abortions, or oppose transgender surgical changes to be deeply concerned that an organization devoted to civil liberties wants to use government force to try to make a hospital perform procedures its operators object to and even find deeply reprehensible.

Supporters of attempting to force the Catholic hospitals into practices that violate the members’ religious beliefs tend to point out that they receive tax dollars, which really implicates the size of government and its overwhelming control over our lives.

Even if we were to say that it’s acceptable for religious freedom and freedom of association to be compromised if the alternative is some form of widespread harm to individuals, that’s not even the case here. Minton got the procedure he needed. The organization he is suing even helped him.

This is not a case about preserving civil liberties. This is a case about using government force to order people around and making them perform or host procedures to which they have moral objections, even when the marketplace provides alternatives.

This is the kind of behavior that actually helps feed the backlash. Letting transgender people use whichever public restroom that fits them requires others to do absolutely nothing but leave them alone and mind their own business. Forcing others to actually participate in the process of gender transition or face government sanctions is something else entirely.

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