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Profiling and Prostitution Pre-Crime in Georgia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Price of Protectionism: More Expensive Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Forced Coal Divestment Robs California Pension Fund of Revenue

Coal MineThank political ideology for California’s public employee pensions missing out on a chance to improve stock performances and make up for part of a huge problem with the chronic underfunding that puts taxpayers on the hook for billions in liabilities.

In 2015, lawmakers passed a bill subsequently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown forcing the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) to divest all of its coal investments by July 2017. And they have, for the most part.

The decision was pushed by Democratic environment-minded lawmakers wanting to “take a stand” against fossil fuel companies and against climate change, as the Sacramento Bee notes. While the move was clearly political, there wasn’t much outrage because at the time it wasn’t really a bad business decision. Coal companies were not performing well and CalPERS’ own investment report for last year determined that their coal investments were worth less than half what they paid for them.

The performance of the coal industry, however, was also political, burdened as it was by executive orders for heavy regulation put into place by President Barack Obama.

Then President Donald Trump happened. Trump has stripped away some of those executive orders, causing a resurgence in the fortunes of several of those companies. As a result, stocks are bouncing back in value. Had CalPERS hung onto them for a few more months at least, they’d have recouped more of their losses. Shares for one company alone are worth 15 times more than they were just a year ago:

CalPERS in its report said it divested shares from 14 coal companies that were worth $14.7 million when the pension fund sold them. Stocks for 13 of the 14 companies are worth more than they were a year ago when the pension fund was divesting from the industry.

The entire portfolio is worth more than $300 billion, and if this were an isolated incident it would be small potatoes and easier to forgive. But it’s not. Lawmakers frequently attempt to use CalPERS investments to make political statements of opposition. The Bee notes this year lawmakers have tried to force the pension fund to divest from companies in Turkey, from companies that help build the Dakota Pipeline, and even companies that would work on Trump’s supposed border wall.

In 2013 CalPERS sold off its investments in gun companies and has made many other divestment choices entirely based on what lawmakers and the politically influential see as socially responsible without any sort of consideration of the financial consequences.

If it were a private retirement fund, who would object? There are many funds out there folks invest in that revolve around trying to make socially responsible investments and still hammer out positive returns.

But this is a public employee pension fund, and returns are guaranteed. California taxpayers end up paying the difference when divestment leads to financial loss. Lawmakers and political activists risk the citizens’ money in order to make statements like this. And California cities have suffered tremendously due to growing pension obligations, having to cut back on services, lay off employees and even file for bankruptcy.

To its credit, CalPERS warns against these sorts of divestments, with good reason. It is not actually “responsible” to threaten the financial stability of the pension fund to make a political statement. But, as with every other poor financial decision by lawmakers, they know they aren’t the ones who have to deal with the consequences.

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ACLU Sues Louisiana Parish for Alleged Bail Extortion Scheme

Henry Ayo, a resident of East Baton Rouge Parish in Louisiana, says that when he appeared before a judge via closed-circuit television for his bail hearing on August 8, 2016, the judge did not ask him about himself or his case before she set his bail. The judge then told Ayo that, upon his release, his pre-trial supervision would be handled by a private Baton Rouge company, Rehabilitation Home Incarceration (RHI).

It took Ayo’s wife two months to gather up enough money to post his $8,000 bail, but when she did, RHI told her she would also have to pay the company another $525 before Ayo would be released, then another $225 a month while he was awaiting trial. According to a contract Ayo was required to sign, he could be sent back to jail for violating the agreement.

Ayo’s story is one of several alleged in a federal class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Southern Poverty Law Center last night. The suit accuses RHI, Louisiana state judge Trudy White, and East Baton Rouge Parish of racketeering and extortion. According to the lawsuit, the bail scheme has forced hundreds of criminal defendants to pay RHI—a company with political connections to White—to be released from jail, “effectively holding them for ransom” and violating their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

“This is predatory and illegal,” Brandon Buskey, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, said in a statement. “Rehabilitation Home Incarceration puts its own price on people’s liberty and forces them to pay up, over and over again. Worse, this could not happen without the court and the jail enabling this scam, and ignoring the rights of those charged and presumed innocent.”

The lawsuit is the latest in a string of legal actions across the country—in Georgia, Mississippi, Massachusetts, Alabama, Texas, Illinois, and California—challenging what civil libertarians say amount to debtors’ prisons, where defendants are stuck behind bars simply because they cannot afford to pay.

According to the Louisiana lawsuit, defendants’ monthly payments to RHI typically last 90 days but sometimes run indefinitely, until the resolution of their case. Defendants may also be billed for ankle bracelets and mandatory classes.

RHI is the only approved vendor for pre-trial supervision in White’s court, the 19th Judicial District Court of Louisiana, although there is no formal contract between the court and RHI, the suit says. White has referred roughly 300 defendants to RHI over the last two years. The suit also says the sheriff and warden of East County Parish enforce a policy of not releasing arrestees without permission from RHI.

The owners of RHI—Cleve Dunn Sr. and his family—are politically connected to White, according to an investigation by the local TV channel WAFB. Cleve Dunn Jr. served as the chairperson of White’s 2014 re-election campaign committee, and the campaign also paid Dunn Sr. for marketing services.

RHI did not respond to a request for comment. Judge White’s office declined to comment.

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Local Governments Spend Big On Lobbyists

 Corrupt man in a suit putting euro banknotes into his pocket. Local governments are spending taxpayers’ money to lobby for more power over taxpayers.

The Texas Municipal League, for example, collects tax-funded dues from 1,153 cities. This year alone, the league has employed or contracted with 13 registered lobbyists, who have campaigned for cities’ power to impose everything from Airbnb restrictions to property tax increases.

Last year, Arizona’s professional regulatory boards—funded through a mix of taxes and licensing fees—spent roughly $1 million on professional lobbyists, who helped scuttle occupational licensing reform in the state.

“The challenge with taxpayers funding lobbyists is that they’re being forced to pay for services that typically run contrary to their interests,” says Chuck DeVore, vice president of the Texas Public Policy Institute. These lobbyists, he says, “invariably lobby for bigger government, more borrowing, higher spending, and more regulation.”

Local governments and government agencies have become the predominant spender of lobbying dollars in several states. California’s local government entities—from cities to school boards—spent $23.4 million hiring lobbyists during the first two quarters of 2017, more than any other sector. In Washington state, local governments spent $2.5 million lobbying state officials in 2013, the latest year for which I have comprehensive data. That’s more than the $2.1 million that came from the business community, or the $1.9 million spent by unions.

During the 2015 Texas legislative session, over half of the 1,741 registered lobbyists in the state were working in some capacity for local government entities. Local governments spent $16 million on lobbying the same year.

The growing pot of federal and state dollars up for grabs can make these expenditures a profitable investment, says DeVore. “For every dollar spent on lobbying the higher-level entity, there are hundreds and hundreds of dollars at stake,” he says.

In many states, the size of that investment is growing.

In Nevada local governments spent $3.75 million on lobbying this year, a 13 percent increase from the previous state legislative session.

In 2016, Minnesota’s local governments increased their spending on lobbyists by 6 percent over the previous year, even as overall lobbying expenditures fell in the state by 3 percent.

“Lobby for local government aid so they can pay for a lobbyist for more local government aid,” one frustrated Minnesota lawmaker complained to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Tepid efforts have been made to reform the practice of tax-funded lobbying.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey banned state agencies under his control from hiring outside lobbyists in 2016, saying the practice was “unnecessary and unjust.” The legislature codified that move this year.

Eleven states have implemented similar restrictions on state bodies, such as regulatory boards and public universities, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But no states restrict local governments from hiring lobbyists, or from spending tax money on representative associations. A 2015 Texas bill that would have done that failed without ever making it to a floor vote, as did a similar 2008 California bill, put forward by DeVore himself while he was still a state Assemblyman.

There is of course nothing inherently wrong with spending on lobbyists to influence legislation. Private interest groups using voluntary contributions to make their case directly to legislators is an integral part of the democratic process. But when those funds come from compulsory taxes and are being spent by government entities, the equation changes.

“Local governments already have lobbyists—they’re called elected officials,” says DeVore. “Going that extra step and paying lobbyists tens of millions of dollars to try to influence government is just wrong. It’s a misuse of government resources, and its patently unfair to taxpayers.”

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Stossel: NYC Government Traumatizes Gun Owners [New at Reason]

If you have a gun, don’t fly out of New York with it! Almost every week, New York City arrests someone who brings a gun to the airport–even when the person has a gun license from their state, notifies authorities about the gun and follows TSA procedures for flying with it. John Stossel interviews people who were arrested and confronts the assistant district attorney who prosecutes them.

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Stossel: NYC Government Traumatizes Gun Owners

If you have a gun, don’t fly out of New York with it! Almost every week, New York City arrests someone who brings a gun to the airport–even when the person has a gun license from their state, notifies authorities about the gun and follows TSA procedures for flying with it. John Stossel interviews people who were arrested and confronts the assistant district attorney who prosecutes them.

In its battle against guns, New York City traumatizes law-abiding gun owners who pass through New York and its airports with guns. One man was even arrested for traveling with an empty magazine.

Bills have been filed in both chambers of Congress to make gun permits valid in all states, which would prevent cases like these.

Stossel interviews Patricia Jordan and Avi Wolf, who were arrested at the airport. Patricia had tried to declare her gun, which was unloaded and in a TSA-approved case. Avi was trying to declare an empty gun magazine–essentially a piece of metal with a spring in it.

For their effort they spent a day in jail. They were threatened with three years and six months in jail–the mandatory minimum for having a gun in New York. They spent months worrying about how to beat the charge. Each spent more than $15,000 in legal bills.

Eventually the government let them off with a violation–”public disorder.”

Stossel says: Give me a break. He confronts the Queens District Attorney’s office that prosecutes such cases.

Produced by Maxim Lott. Edited by Joshua Swain.

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Colorado Cops Say Sex With Teens OK So Long as There’s No Sexting

In what his local newspaper is calling an “ironic legal twist,” Ronald Lee Love faces a felony child sexual-exploitation charge for exchanging explicit text-messages with someone with whom it would have been legal for him to have had sex.

Love, who lives in Mesa County, Colorado, began corresponding last summer when he was 25 with a 15-year-old girl who lives in New England. It’s unclear how they met. But according to Love’s arrest affidavit, he explicitly insisted that their relationship remain digital because he believed physical activity was illegal.

“We have to keep us on the down low til ur 18,” Love texted, suggesting that otherwise their relationship could “screw [his] life up.”

In Colorado, however, the age of consent is 15, so long as a sexual partner is not 10 or more years older. Young adults through age 27 may legally have sex with older teenagers in certain circumstances. Whether you think this is appropriate or not, the state of Colorado has decided that it is. Yet authorities in this same state have decided someone “inducing” a person under 18 to flash them is a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and lifetime state supervision.

Recieving or possessing sexually-oriented images of someone under age 18, meanwhile, is a felony punishable by one to six years per offense—even if a minor sends them unsolicited and regardless of whether the person possessing the images is themselves a minor or just a few years older.

For young adults in Colorado, simply receiving a dirty picture from someone they can legally have sex with could turn them into serious sex criminals.

Mesa County sheriff’s deputies arrested Love in March on three counts of sexual exploitation of a child and four counts of promoting obscenity to a minor—a rap package that could amount to 13 to 39 years in prison. The county has held him without bond ever since.

Prosecutors this week announced Love agreed to a plea deal of one count of sexual exploitation of a child.

Local authorities defended their position that sexting is worse than actual sex, contending that even if there is no indication a person intends to share or distribute such images—they could, some day. While a real-life sexual liaison might be a one-or limited-time thing, the teen sending Love her photo could “potentially come back to haunt this girl 30 years from now,” said Mesa County District Attorney District Attorney Dan Rubinstein.

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A.M. Links: Trump’s Approval Rating Drops to 38%, White House Reaches Out to Democrats on Tax Reform, China Backs New Sanctions on North Korea

  • President Donald Trump’s approval rating has dropped to 38 percent in a new poll.
  • The Trump administration is “quietly courting a few dozen House Democrats on tax reform.”
  • “The average temperature in the United States has risen rapidly and drastically since 1980, and recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1,500 years, according to a sweeping federal climate change report awaiting approval by the Trump administration.”
  • The remains of a 9/11 victim in New York City have been identified almost 16 years after the attack on the World Trade Center.
  • Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi says his country will support the new sanctions imposed on North Korea by the U.N. Security Council.
  • If North Korea attacks South Korea, “a majority of Americans favor deploying U.S. troops.”

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Innovation Drives the Small Manufacturing Boom—If It Can Survive Regulatory Meddling: New at Reason

Entrepreneurs’ efforts are wildly creative—but so are government officials’ destructive policies.

J.D. Tuccille writes:

Contrary to the claims of certain politicians, lots of stuff is still made in the United States. Enough stuff that it hit a new peak in output as of the first quarter of this year, in fact. Even more surprising is that, despite the automation that reduces costs and makes much domestic production possible, there’s even some growth in manufacturing jobs (though the numbers remain far below their past heights). That small resurgence in jobs may be because of the recent boom in small, urban-based manufacturers.

It’s an encouraging trend, but don’t get too attached to those new businesses and their employees. Regulators are busy trying to kill them off.

“The renewal of manufacturing is not an abstract economic issue: It is very much an urban issue,” the Massachusetts Institute of Technology trumpeted in 2014.

“Because of changes in technology and consumer tastes, smaller-scale manufacturing is making a comeback in urban areas around the country,” NPR’s Marketplace added just a few weeks ago.

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Brickbat: Land of the Free

ArrestedDavino Watson was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, denied a lawyer and held for almost three and a half years as a deportable alien before someone figured out that his claim of being a U.S. citizen was true. Then, he was released half a country away from his home in New York. Now, a federal appellate court has ruled he isn’t eligible for any compensation for that because the statute of limitations for filing a claim expired while he was still in ICE custody and denied a lawyer.

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Innovation Drives the Small Manufacturing Boom—If It Can Survive Regulatory Meddling

Contrary to the claims of certain politicians, lots of stuff is still made in the United States. Enough stuff that it hit a new peak in output as of the first quarter of this year, in fact. Even more surprising is that, despite the automation that reduces costs and makes much domestic production possible, there’s even some growth in manufacturing jobs (though the numbers remain far below their past heights). That small resurgence in jobs may be because of the recent boom in small, urban-based manufacturers.

It’s an encouraging trend, but don’t get too attached to those new businesses and their employees. Regulators are busy trying to kill them off.

“The renewal of manufacturing is not an abstract economic issue: It is very much an urban issue,” the Massachusetts Institute of Technology trumpeted in 2014.

“Because of changes in technology and consumer tastes, smaller-scale manufacturing is making a comeback in urban areas around the country,” NPR’s Marketplace added just a few weeks ago.

Technologies like 3D-printing allow companies to produce small runs of automotive parts, custom truck bodies, and the like. Crowdfunding lets small businesses simultaneously raise capital and reduce costs to produce American-made clothing and gear at reasonable prices. And targeted production makes it possible to serve niche markets that might have gone overlooked in years past. It’s innovation across the board, generally based in cities that had been losing old-style industry, but which still offer easy access to people, transportation, and resources.

But warning signs of trouble to come were already there in the 2014 MIT article. “Can new manufacturing fit in with the ongoing evolution of cities, and if so, how?” it asked.

The problem—and it’s a big problem—is that cities are centers of creativity not just in generating new ideas for serving markets, but also in developing shackles for hobbling economic activity. The entrepreneurs creating new manufacturing businesses work in close proximity to people “evolving” the cities in which they live in more highly regulated directions that raise costs, impose hurdles, and choke off opportunities for creating jobs and prosperity.

“The biggest single drag on U.S. manufacturing has been the decades-long encroachment of the regulatory state—with an army today of 300,000 regulators and an annual budget of $60 billion,” Mark P. Mills of Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science noted in a report issued in June of this year by the Manhattan Institute. “Complying with regulations costs manufacturers an average of $20,000 per employee per year, twice as great a burden as for other businesses. For the smallest manufacturers (i.e., those with fewer than 50 employees), that annual cost is $35,000 per employee per year. In surveys, America’s manufacturers routinely rank regulatory burdens as the top impediment to growth; a large majority also say that regulatory burdens are higher in America than in other nations.”

Mills refers to regulatory challenges that are daunting to manufacturers doing business anywhere in the United States. So long as they’re in place, keeping the manufacturing sector healthy, let alone growing it, will be an uphill battle for American entrepreneurs.

But matters are even worse for the small manufacturers who have been fighting to bring jobs and innovation to American cities. Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg examined the recent decline in American mobility for a Wall Street Journal article. They found that the bitter urban-rural cultural divide and unwillingness to leave behind support networks and social services play a role, as does occupational licensing, but another major problem is found in high housing costs resulting from restrictive regulations. “While small-town home prices have only modestly recovered from the housing market meltdown, years of restrictive land-use regulations have driven up prices in metropolitan areas to the point where it is difficult for all but the most highly educated professionals to move.” That’s a problem for everybody. “This drop in mobility is not only keeping rural residents from climbing a ladder to better livelihoods, it is choking off the labor supply for employers in areas where jobs are plentiful.”

And too many cities seem determined to make the problem worse.

“Many of these production jobs pay around $10 to $15 an hour,” Marketplace notes in its piece about new manufacturers. That means these jobs may not keep up with living costs driven sky-high by urban red tape. They may also fall afoul of the national campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour—a campaign that is already killing jobs in Seattle. With some employers already reducing or delaying hiring in that city after the minimum wage hike, it seems likely that the costs imposed by the law could smother some new businesses, and prevent others from ever opening their doors.

Unless they can move beyond the law’s reach, that is. Many manufacturing start-ups are locating not in major urban centers, but in smaller cities in the Midwest and the South, points out urbanist Joel Kotkin. “The reasons for this shift vary, from strict environmental laws in Northern cities, as well as stronger unions, and cheaper land elsewhere.”

Separately, Kotkin’s Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University has torn into California officials for urban land-use policies that raise costs in overregulated cities. “In recent decades, land use policies have generally included ‘urban containment’ strategies that impose ‘urban growth boundaries’ and related policies that significantly restrict or even prohibit new suburban detached housing tracts from being built on greenfield land.”

So smaller cities remain something of a haven from the costs and regulatory fervor that make larger cities relatively unwelcoming to start-up manufacturers. These businesses can’t escape the high national regulatory burden examined by Mills for the Manhattan Institute paper—not without following other businesses overseas, anyway. But they can still escape locally imposed costs by avoiding big cities in favor of smaller ones that aren’t so eager to regulate every activity. Smaller cities, incidentally, are more culturally and economically accessible to rural residents who would be best-served by moving where the jobs are.

Sure enough, the small manufacturers profiled by Marketplace are located in Duluth, Minnesota, with a population of 86,000 and a below-average cost of living. But if Minnesota wants to hold on to those businesses, officials might want to loosen up, regulation-wise, and improve the state’s small business environment (ranked #47 by the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, and graded an overall C by Thumbtack).

The recent trend toward flexible, innovative small manufacturers driven by creative practices and new technology is a wonder to behold. It’s evidence of the continuing health of the entrepreneurial spirit. To succeed, that drive to create needs only willing customers—and a reprieve from regulators’ equally innovative efforts to meddle and destroy.

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Trump Deserves Some Credit for Stock Market Gains: New at Reason

In an era of political polarization, here’s one item that’s rapidly emerging as a rare bipartisan consensus: President Trump doesn’t deserve credit for the stock market boom since his election.

“Can we thank Trump for the stock market boom? Short answer, no,” a scholar at the center-right American Enterprise Institute, Desmond Lachman, wrote in a piece published by Newsweek.

The pollster to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and to President Obama, Joel Benenson, tweeted: “Truth about @realDonaldTrump’s ‘record’ stock mkt: he inherited from @BarackObama 2nd longest bull mkt in history.”

But as with most items on which there is rare bipartisan consensus, writes Ira Stoll, this one deserves a skeptical look.

View this article.

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