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Movie Review: Life: New at Reason

LifeRidley Scott’s upcoming Alien: Covenant—the sixth film devoted to the celebrated space monster—is due out on May 19. For those who want an Alien fix right now, though—who just can’t wait—please try a little harder to hold on. Despite its robust cast (featuring Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal), the rousingly titled Life is an uncalled-for Alien rip—effective in a rote way, with a few icky shocks, but probably not exactly what you seek.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before (more or less). A team of space explorers discovers a mysterious organism in a cargo of red soil from Mars. One of the crew—the traditional mush-minded science guy (Ariyon Bakare)—hails this discovery as “the first incontrovertible proof of life beyond Earth.” He also announces that “We’re going to learn so much about life.” Much more than he suspects, of course, writes Kurt Loder.

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House Delays Obamacare Repeal Vote Because There Still Isn’t Enough Support to Pass It

Repeal and re... TAX REFORMThe House was supposed to vote on the bill to partially repeal and replace Obamacare today, but now reports say the vote has been delayed. That doesn’t mean the American Health Care Act (AHCA) is done for. But its chances have always been dicey, and the last minute delay at least raises the possibility that the bill won’t ever clear the House.

Reports surfaced last night saying that House Republicans planned to rewrite the bill overnight and then vote on it today, but so far no new language has been released. And a meeting between President Trump and the House Freedom Caucus, the locus of opposition to the bill, did not produce a deal.

At this point, there’s no official word on when, or if, a vote might happen. The White House is suggesting that it is possible we could see a vote as early as tomorrow morning. It’s also possible that the GOP health care bill dies before it gets to a vote, and that the party goes back to the drawing board, or moves on to other legislative priorities.

It’s as clear as sign as we have seen yet that the bill is in real trouble, and that both GOP leadership and the White House are having trouble making the final sales pitch.

Part of the problem is that appeasing holdouts from one faction can cause yes votes to flip to no in some other faction. It’s a tricky balancing act, and it’s not clear whether Republicans will ever be able to get it right.

If Republicans had the votes to pass the bill, or some modified version of it, we would either see a vote or some sort of timetable. The fact that we have neither suggests that the votes aren’t there, and no one who wants the bill to pass has a good idea how to put them together.

In any case, the GOP repeal plan will have to wait until at least tomorrow, and possibly forever.

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State Department Misses Deadline to Manage All Emails Electronically

The State Department has failed to meet a deadline to store and manage its emails electronically as part of a 2012 directive to improve government record keeping, according to a recent Reuters report.

Before the directive, the Obama administration attempted to update government record keeping by issuing a memo in November 2011. The memo identified six areas to focus on. One of those was transitioning from paper-based management to an electronic format.

“Greater reliance on electronic communication and systems has radically increased the volume and diversity of information that agencies must manage,” the memorandum read. “With proper planning, technology can make these records less burdensome to manage and easier to use and share. But if records management policies and practices are not updated for a digital age, the surge in information could overwhelm agency systems, leading to higher costs and lost records.”

The department says it has completed the transition for all emails on its main systems, but some additional systems require further review before the department can confirm it has reached its goal.

The State Department missed the December 31 deadline despite efforts to scale back its record-keeping obligations, a document obtained by Politico in 2015 revealed. “The vast majority of working files are of short term value and should be disposed of quickly,” the department’s records officer argued in the 2012 memo. But as Politico later observed, the agency “urged streamlining the rules so that much of the routine back-and-forth of government would be beyond their reach.”

Government transparency advocates said they were not surprised at the State Department’s attempt to get out of some of the requirements. “This is an attitude a lot of agencies have taken, actually: that all they’re required to save — and all [that] a lot of them do save — is the final product,” Patrice McDermott of OpenTheGovernment.org told Politico. “All the things that document the work of government are records. … It’s important for accountability, and it’s important for history, for folks to be able to trace the development of a policy and to trace who had their hand in it. The final product isn’t enough.”

In response to complaints about the 2011 memo from the State Department and other agencies, the Obama administration issued another directive on August 24, 2012, requiring all email records—temporary and permanent alike—to be managed electronically by the end of 2016. It also requires that, by the end of 2019, all permanent electronic records be ready for eventual transfer to the National Archives.

The State Department contends that it is still working hard to meet its goal, per the Reuters report. When that will be, exactly, is unclear.

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GOP Health Care Bill in Limbo, Man Identified in London Attack, KeystoneXL Pipeline May Get Approval Soon: P.M. Links

  • Paul RyanPresident Donald Trump has failed to get Republicans in the Congressional Freedom Caucus to guarantee support for his preferred replacement for the Affordable Care Act. The vote has been delayed.
  • Israeli police have arrested a suspect they believe is responsible for calling in countless bomb threats to Jewish community centers. The man is a dual American-Israeli citizen and is himself Jewish.
  • British police have identified the man they claim is responsible for killing three in London before getting killed himself by police. His name is Khalid Masood, 52. He was British-born and had a criminal record, but authorities said they had no intelligence that he had been planning a terrorist attack. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility.
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) says the Democrats are going to attempt to filibuster Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
  • Arkansas has expanded where citizens may carry concealed weapons to places like college campuses and sports arenas.
  • The State Department will reportedly approve the permits needed by Monday to build the KeystoneXL oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

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Biggest Cause of Cancer? Just Plain Old Bad Luck

CancerCellsKrishnaCreationsA new article in Science is reporting that most cancers in people are the result random copying errors that occur when cells in the body divide. Applying some sophisticated mathematics to the question of how the mutations that lead to cancers are produced, Johns Hopkins University cancer researchers Cristian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein, sought to figure out what causes 32 different types of cancers. The press release accompanying the report notes that when the two researchers looked “across all 32 cancer types studied, the researchers estimate that 66 percent of cancer mutations result from copying errors, 29 percent can be attributed to lifestyle or environmental factors, and the remaining 5 percent are inherited.”

Additionally, they calculated how big a role random errors played for various types of cancers. For example, when critical mutations in pancreatic cancers are added together, 77 percent of them are due to random DNA copying errors, 18 percent to environmental factors, such as smoking, and the remaining 5 percent to heredity. For prostate, brain or bone cancers, more than 95 percent of the mutations that lead to malignancy are due to random copying errors. However, environment does play a big role in lung cancer in which 65 percent of all the mutations are mostly due to smoking, and 35 percent are due to DNA copying errors. Inherited factors are not known to play a role in lung cancers.

The risk of cancer goes up with age. People over age 65 account for 60 percent of newly diagnosed malignancies and 70 percent of all cancer deaths. Why? Because their bodies have experienced many more cell divisions and thus have had greater chances for the sort of random genetic errors that lead to cancer to occur.

Given that Americans face a lifetime risk of around 40 percent of suffering from cancer, what can be done? The researchers note: “Early detection and intervention can prevent many cancer deaths. Detecting cancers earlier, while they are still curable, can save lives regardless of what caused the mutation. We believe that more research to find better ways to detect cancers earlier is urgently needed.”

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Biggest Cause of Cancer? Just Plain Old Bad Luck

CancerCellsKrishnaCreationsA new article in Science is reporting that the most cancers in people are the result random copying errors that occur when cells in the body divide. Applying some sophisticated mathematics to the question of how the mutations that lead to cancers are produced, Johns Hopkins University cancer researchers Cristian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein, sought to figure out what causes 32 different types of cancers. The press release accompanying the report notes that when the two researchers looked “across all 32 cancer types studied, the researchers estimate that 66 percent of cancer mutations result from copying errors, 29 percent can be attributed to lifestyle or environmental factors, and the remaining 5 percent are inherited.”

Additionally, they calculated how big a role random errors played for various types of cancers. For example, when critical mutations in pancreatic cancers are added together, 77 percent of them are due to random DNA copying errors, 18 percent to environmental factors, such as smoking, and the remaining 5 percent to heredity. For prostate, brain or bone cancers, more than 95 percent of the mutations that lead to malignancy are due to random copying errors. However, environment does play a big role in lung cancer in which 65 percent of all the mutations are mostly due to smoking, and 35 percent are due to DNA copying errors. Inherited factors are not known to play a role in lung cancers.

The risk of cancer goes up with age. People over age 65 account for 60 percent of newly diagnosed malignancies and 70 percent of all cancer deaths. Why? Because their bodies have experienced many more cell divisions and thus have had greater chances for the sort of random genetic errors that lead to cancer to occur.

Given that Americans face a lifetime risk of around 40 percent of suffering from cancer, what can be done? The researchers note: “Early detection and intervention can prevent many cancer deaths. Detecting cancers earlier, while they are still curable, can save lives regardless of what caused the mutation. We believe that more research to find better ways to detect cancers earlier is urgently needed.”

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Let’s Talk About Trump’s Labor Nominee Giving a Generous Plea Deal to a Billionaire Sex Offender

Former U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, President Donald Trump’s nominee for labor secretary, came under fire yesterday for a lenient non-prosecution agreement he and billionaire Jeffrey Epstein signed in 2007 in a case where the latter was facing charges for trafficking (and then having sex with) underage females.

Acosta was asked about the deal during yesterday’s confirmation with the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee. More specifically, he was asked why Epstein, who was investigated by the Justice Department and several Florida law enforcement agencies, received only a 13-month county jail sentence, during which he spent nights in the clink but was allowed to work from home during the day. (He was also required to register as a sex offender.) Had the billionaire been tried and convicted for allegedly transporting more than 40 underage girls for sex, he would’ve faced a life sentence in federal prison.

“At the end of the day, based on the evidence, professionals within a prosecutor’s office decide that a plea—that guarantees that someone goes to jail, that guarantees that someone register generally and that guarantees other outcomes—is a good thing,” Acosta told the committee.

Reporting from the Washington Post and Newsweek suggests there are several reasons why Acosta sought a lighter sentence than he likely would’ve obtained had he taken Epstein to trial and won:

  1. In a 2011 letter obtained by the Post, Acosta wrote that Epstein’s legal team–including Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr–“investigated individual prosecutors and their families, looking for personal peccadilloes that may provide a basis for disqualification.” (Dershowitz denied this to the Post.)
  2. Conchita Sarnoff, who wrote a book about the Epstein case, told the Post that Acosta told her “he felt incapable of going up against those eight powerful attorneys. He felt his career was at stake.” (Dershowitz agrees that Acosta was “outlawyered.”)
  3. Newsweek, meanwhile, reports that Acosta was “mentored” by Starr while the former was a neophyte lawyer at the firm Kirkland & Ellis. An unnamed prosecutor told the magazine that Starr’s addition to Epstein’s defense “was key to Acosta’s decision to [put] the kibosh on the federal prosecution.”
  4. Included in documents that were unsealed during an ongoing civil suit against Epstein is an email from one of Epstein’s attorneys to Acosta that reads, “Please do whatever you can to keep this from becoming public.” (“This” being the plea agreement.)

All of these claims could be true! It is entirely possible that Epstein had so much legal firepower that Acosta felt the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District of Florida couldn’t compete; that Epstein’s legal team was interested in doing to one or more members of Acosta’s team what O.J. Simpson’s attorneys (of which Dershowitz was one) did to LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman (which is to say, reveal them to be hypocrites who selectively uphold the law and frequently violate it); that Acosta’s team didn’t have the evidence necessary to win at trial; that he saw a secret plea deal as a way to avoid losing the case and/or getting raked over the coals for folding; and that Acosta’s relationship with Starr greased the skids for said deal.

And those are all good reasons for committee members to have pushed Acosta, because this case is indeed strange. Federal prosecutors love sending people to prison. Former Gov. Bob McDonnell accepted $177,000 in bribes to hock a nutritional supplement, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Virginia wanted to send him to prison for at least 10 years. Paying teens for sex is objectively worse than that. Of course people want to know why Epstein got off easy.

But the hearing was also a missed opportunity to question Acosta about all the people he did send to prison while a U.S. Attorney. In 2007, the year Epstein snagged that sweet non-prosecution deal, Acosta’s office secured prison stints for 795 drug offenders. Out of those 795 people, only 36 received a sentence shorter than Epstein’s; the average sentence for federal drug offenders in the Southern District of Florida was seven-and-a-half years. (And no, they didn’t get to serve their sentences one night at a time while spending their days in a mansion.)

In light of those numbers, I’d love to know if Acosta believes slinging weed or meth to make rent is worse than renting several dozen teenagers for sex. Or, if he still believes that the old mandatory minimums for crack-cocaine are fair. None of those questions pertain to the work he’d be doing at the Department of Labor, but then, the Epstein case doesn’t either.

Instead, we just got outrage, which is the obvious response to both the deal Epstein got and Acosta calling that deal a “good thing.” But what happened to Epstein is not normal, and focusing on the one who got away keeps us from asking if the ones who don’t are getting screwed.

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Philadelphia Says Soda Tax Revenue Exceeded Projections in February, While Pepsi Stops Offering Two Liter Bottles, Six-Packs

Philadelphia’s Department of Revenue says it collected $6.4 million from the city’s new soda tax in February, and says that’s more than the $5.9 million it projected. Last year the city collected $5.9 million on a projection of $2.3 million. City officials said their projections were conservative because they weren’t sure how long it would take for various businesses to comply with the tax, which is required to be paid at the distributor level.

While the city was still optimistic last month that it would meet its annual projection of $91 million, that would require monthly revenue of $7.87 million for the remainder of the year. Mayor Jim Kenney initially claimed the tax could bring in $400 million over five years when he proposed a three cent an ounce tax. The tax that passed was half as large, at one and half cents an ounce, although at $91 million for the first year the projections haven’t been cut in half. The projections seem particularly unrealistic given long term trends in soda sales, which have been down for more than a decade, hitting a 30-year-low in 2016.

Soda companies, which are challenging the Philadelphia tax in court, also say sales are down in the city, which anyone living here should be able to confirm. Pepsi said this week it would stop distributing two-liter bottles and six packs to stores in Philadelphia because of the effect the tax has had on sales. “Because of the Philly Beverage Tax, people are buying far fewer taxed beverages,” Pepsi wrote in a letter to store owners, as ABC 6 reported, “particularly those in larger package sizes because they now cost so much more.” Pepsi previously laid off dozens of workers in Philadelphia-area plants due to the tax.

The city uses Pepsi’s opposition to a tax that obviously harms it as a reason to dismiss any of the company’s complaints. “Pepsi’s reasoning for their layoffs and for no longer distributing certain beverage sizes is all self-reported by a company that is actively fighting to overturn the beverage tax in court,” a city spokesperson said according to ABC 6. Pepsi says its sales are down 40 percent in the city and up 10 to 15 percent outside the city.

Kinney credited his ability to get a soda tax passed when his predecessor, as well as mayors in other cities, failed to do so, by framing it as an effort to raise revenue for specific proposals (public funding for things like universal pre-K and parks in particular) as opposed to an effort to incentivize healthier choices, as it had often been framed previously. That framing just adds another level of deception. While vice taxes are loathsome tools of social control, at least their nature as taxes whose revenue declines in the long term as consumers alter habits to avoid the tax, is incorporated into the proposal—it’s the whole point. Not so here, where the city promises to fund all kinds of things with the new tax, without taking into account that revenues will by design decline, and in fact denying that reality all together. The city wants to get around the problem by borrowing $300 million before the revenue is in to fund the projects it insisted the soda tax would pay for, and blames the ongoing lawsuit, set to go to trial next month and to which state representatives from both major parties have signed on with amicus briefs, for slowing down that process of borrowing money based on rosy revenue projections.

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Poor White Americans Are Dying of Despair

BaileyWelchAs perfect storm of woes have hit poor American whites with high school or less educations and they are dying as a result. This is the sobering conclusion of new analysis by Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton. The new Brookings Institution paper extends their 2015 findings that mortality rates for mid-life Americans have been increasing since the turn of the millennium. In their earlier work, they refused to speculate about why the death rate among poor middle-aged whites was rising. In their new work, they are no longer reticent: Many poor white Americans are dying of despair.

How bad is it? Consider that in 1999, the mortality rate for whites age 25-29 with a high school education or less (LEHS) was 146 per 100,000. By 2015 that had increased to 266 per 100,000. For those age 45-49, the rate had increased from 491 in 1999 to 620 per 100,000 in 2015. Meanwhile mortality rates for all age groups of blacks and hispanics continued to fall during that period. Among whites, the mortality gap between those with a college degree and those without widened. For example, Case and Deaton report: “The mortality rate for men with less than a BA aged 50-54, for example, increased from 762 per 100,000 to 867 between 1998 and 2015, while for men with a BA or more education, mortality fell from 349 to 243.”

CaseDeatonMoratalityBrookings

What is killing poor less educated whites? Deaths from despair are largely increasing due drug overdoses, suicides, and alcoholic-related liver mortality. In addition, Case and Deaton note that declines in heart disease and cancer have also slowed considerably. They suggest that increases in obesity and diabetes can also account for some the increase in mortality among whites. Although Case and Deaton don’t mention it, the incidence of cancer is associated with obesity.

They report that this increase in mortality among less educated American whites began in the southwest, where it was centered in 2000, and then spread first to Appalachia, Florida and the west coast by the mid-2000s, and is now country-wide. It is now both an urban and a rural epidemic.

So why are less educated whites poisoning themselves to death with drugs, alcohol and sugar? They outline a process of cumulative deprivation beginning after the 1970s that is rooted in the steady deterioration in job opportunities for people with low education. Men with less economic prospects became less marriageable resulting in single-motherhood becomingthe norm. Declining economic opportunities also coincided with the erosion of traditional community structures that provided meaning and stabilty for many poor folks. Case and Deaton cite data suggesting that “half of the men who are out of the labor force are taking pain medication, and two thirds of those take prescription painkiller, such as opioids.”

Case and Deaton assert that reversing this increase in white working class mortality will not be easy, but suggest that one first step toward ameliorating this sad situation would be to rein in the proliferation of opioid prescriptions.

For more background on these trends see my article “Stuck” in which I visit McDowell County, WV from which my father’s family hails.

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Trump Can’t Stop Marijuana Legalization: New at Reason

“The Trump administration can slow down marijuana legalization, but they can’t stop it,” says Reason senior editor Jacob Sullum.

Trump already endorsed medical marijuana on the campaign trail, and said that states should be free to legalize it, but his appointment of old school drug warrior Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General is cause for concern.

“First of all, the federal government doesn’t have the power to force states to make marijuana legal again,” explains Sullum. While the Trump administration could sue to knock down state regulations, that would simply leave behind a legal but unregulated market. According to Sullum, the feds don’t have the manpower to crack down on the local level, and there’s very little upside for the administration to roll back legalization. “They can create a lot of chaos, but ultimately they’re not going to reverse legalization and bring back prohibition.”

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Trump Can’t Stop Marijuana Legalization

“The Trump administration can slow down marijuana legalization, but they can’t stop it,” says Reason senior editor Jacob Sullum.

Trump already endorsed medical marijuana on the campaign trail, and said that states should be free to legalize it, but his appointment of old school drug warrior Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General is cause for concern.

“First of all, the federal government doesn’t have the power to force states to make marijuana legal again,” explains Sullum. While the Trump administration could sue to knock down state regulations, that would simply leave behind a legal but unregulated market. According to Sullum, the feds don’t have the manpower to crack down on the local level, and there’s very little upside for the administration to roll back legalization. “They can create a lot of chaos, but ultimately they’re not going to reverse legalization and bring back prohibition.”

Produced by Austin Bragg and Meredith Bragg
Edited by Austin Bragg

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Reason is the planet’s leading source of news, politics, and culture from a libertarian perspective. Go to reason.com for a point of view you won’t get from legacy media and old left-right opinion magazines.

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Will the Prospect of Taking Trump Down Ruin Chances for Surveillance Reform?

NunesIt looks like whatever House Intel Committee Chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California) might have been attempting to accomplish yesterday when he held a press conference to reveal some post-election surveillance of Trump’s transition team may have backfired.

Nunes, a Trump ally, was clearly attempting to draw attention to the argument that the intelligence community was violating the privacy of the incoming Trump administration in its data and information collection. He said the information he had received showed that the surveillance and data collection of Trump team communications was “incidental,” meaning they likely were not surveillance targets themselves.

But Nunes running to the press and not actually informing the rest of his peers in the House Committee first subsequently made the story about Nunes and what he was trying to accomplish instead. Trump’s critics, both on the left and the right, worry that Nunes’ behavior is an attempt to interfere with a congressional investigation of any possible ties between Trump and the Russian government and whether anything possibly illegal has happened. Was this all about trying to help Trump? Trump himself immediately jumped on Nunes’ comments in a Time interview to defend his wiretap conspiracy tweets, which at least suggests some interesting timing. Nunes has since apologized to his Democratic counterparts in the House for not telling them first before going to the press.

There is likely a very noncontroversial explanation for the data collection that implicates nobody in particular and helps inform Americans about how federal surveillance actually works if people are willing to—for however briefly—set aside their feelings about Trump. Folks may recall that prior to taking office, Trump and his transition team decided to start contacting and communicating with world leaders. In all likelihood the National Security Agency (NSA) had active permission to engage in surveillance of such people. It’s not necessarily an indicator of a criminal investigation; it’s the business of international intelligence.

So members of Trump’s team may have ended up dragged into “incidental” surveillance because of the people they were talking to. As such, what happened with Trump’s folks is a perfect opportunity for Americans to understand how “incidental” surveillance of citizens’ works, what happened to the data, and the inherit risks of this level of collection for all of our privacy so at least we’re all informed about how all of this works.

Privacy and civil liberties activists are calling for reforms to surveillance authorities in order to reduce the likelihood that private data or communications get retained and exposed the way it might have happened with Trump’s team.

Also of interest: Nunes has said that actually, some of the names in these reports were still “masked” (redacted), but he was able to tell who the reports were talking about based on the context. In the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about mass collection of data from Americans’ phone and online communications, government officials (all the way up to President Barack Obama himself) attempted to assure people that nobody was reading through all of our emails or listening in to all of our phone calls. But they were collecting loads of metadata (where and who we were communicating with, for how long, when and how frequently, et cetera), and experiments have shown that enough metadata is available out there to extrapolate a lot about our private behavior.

But as long as this is a fight only over the behavior of Trump and his team, it’s going to be tough to have a discussion or call for reform of these tools. As I noted yesterday, even vocal Democratic critics of the extent of federal surveillance are using all this to try to attack Trump’s administration as potentially breaking the law even knowing full well that’s not necessarily what the information collection means.

Mind you, it could very well be that Nunes is indeed trying to taint an investigation and that the Trump team might have been involved in some unseemly, even illegal behavior. That he’s doing a terrible job at it probably says more about Nunes’ poor political savvy than anything else. I’m not here to assist in defending Trump (not that he needs me to). I’m here to warn about the politically driven false choices tainting the debate. What the two “sides” in this fight are presenting to the public are not contradictory claims, and I’m going to keep trying to hammer that through. It’s possible that Trump and/or his allies are involved in corrupt or illegal dealings with a foreign country and that it’s normal and expected for our federal intelligence agencies to be using surveillance tools to get at the truth. It’s also possible that the intelligence community is abusing access to surveillance data and leaking information for the deliberate purpose of discrediting and hamstringing the Trump administration. And this administration is—like it or not—legally and democratically in charge of the executive branch of the government.

If Trump’s foes are fine with data collected by surveillance possibly being abused to discredit him, that doesn’t bode well for the possibility of ratcheting back the surveillance of all the rest of us.

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Neil Gorsuch Vows to ‘Respect’ Supreme Court Precedent. That Does Not Mean He Will Always Uphold Precedent.

Neil Gorsuch has survived his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee and now, barring some unforeseen (and unlikely) disaster, he is well on his way to being confirmed as the next associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Gorsuch was interrogated for two full days by the 11 Republicans and nine Democrats of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Regrettably, just like most other recent SCOTUS nominees, Gorsuch mostly dodged the biggest questions, refusing to express his own legal views on most subjects that might conceivably come before him as a judge, including the propriety of various Supreme Court precedents.

What that meant was that almost every time that Gorsuch was asked about a hot-button legal issue—such as the constitutionality of abortion or the legality of gay marriage—he fell back on the same well-rehearsed answer. That issue has been decided by a “precedent of the Supreme Court,” Gorsuch said again and again, and was therefore “due all the weight of a precedent of the Supreme Court.”

What does that mean? Consider the 2009 Senate confirmation hearings of Sonia Sotomayor. She too was repeatedly asked about hot-button legal issues, particularly when it came to her views on the Supreme Court’s 2008 Second Amendment decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. And her answers were also consistent. Heller is an “established” Supreme Court precedent, Sotomayor repeatedly told the Senate Judiciary Committee, and she “accepted” it.

Fast-forward one year later to the case of McDonald v. City of Chicago. Sotomayor is now a sitting justice of the Supreme Court and she joined the dissenting opinion filed in that case by Justice Stephen Breyer, in which Breyer asserted that “the Framers did not write the Second Amendment in order to protect a private right of armed self-defense.” That statement is the exact opposite of what the Court held in Heller.

In sum, giving “weight” or “respect” or “acceptance” to “established” precedent is not the same thing as upholding and affirming that precedent. As Neil Gorsuch himself noted this week, the law of precedent has always included the option of overturning precedent in an appropriate case.

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Do a Jewish Teenager’s Bomb Threats Against Jews Count As Hate Crimes?

Today Israeli police revealed the arrest of a Jewish teenager in connection with bogus bomb threats that have rattled Jewish communities across the United States in recent months. The unnamed 19-year-old, who was identified with help from the FBI, is a dual citizen of Israel and the United States who lives in the Ashkelon area. “Investigating hate crimes is a top priority for the FBI,” a bureau spokeswoman said, “and we will continue to work to make sure all races and religions feel safe in their communities and in their places of worship.”

If the reference to “hate crimes” strikes you as strange in the context of a Jew’s threats against fellow Jews, that is probably because you are under the impression that hate crimes are defined by hate. Not so. Under federal law, a person who injures or attempts to injure someone “because of” the victim’s “actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin” is guilty of a hate crime, regardless of his motive. The definition includes, for example, people who assault coreligionists based on doctrinal disagreements, as in the case of the Amish beard cutters.

The motives of the Israeli-American bomb threat suspect, whom police blame for dozens of frightening phone calls received by JCCs and other Jewish institutions in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand, remain mysterious. Maybe he is a chaos-loving prankster. Maybe he is a self-hating Jew. Maybe he is a Trump-hating Jew, deliberately reinforcing the claim that the president’s election has encouraged a rise in anti-Semitic speech and acts. As far has the federal hate crime statute goes, it does not matter, although the last possibility would lend credibility to Trump’s widely derided suggestion that the aim of the bomb threats might be “to make people…look bad.”

Then again, since there were no actual bombs, the phone calls may not qualify as attempts to cause “bodily injury,” which “does not include solely emotional or psychological harm to the victim.” Other federal laws, such as 18 USC 875 (threatening interstate communications) and 18 USC 2333b (terrorist threats), would seem to be a closer fit.

It’s not clear whether the suspect will be extradited. Although the effects of his alleged crimes were felt mainly in the United States, the communications were initiated in Israel. Ha’aretz reports that “police are accusing the suspect of extortion through threats and of false reporting sowing panic.” The newspaper says “investigators are attempting to determine if he actually received money in connection with any of the threats attributed to him.”

According to the Israeli police, “The investigation began in several countries simultaneously after dozens of threatening calls were received at public places, events, synagogues and community buildings that caused panic and disrupted events and activities in various organizations.” The police says the suspect used “advanced camouflage technologies” to disguise the source of his calls, which he made over the internet using a voice-distorting device and other people’s WiFi connections.

Ha’aretz quotes one of the calls: “It’s a C-4 bomb with a lot of shrapnel, surrounded by a bag….In a short time, a large number of Jews are going to be slaughtered. Their heads are going to [sic] blown off from the shrapnel. There’s a lot of shrapnel. There’s going to be a bloodbath that’s going to take place in a short time. I think I told you enough. I must go.”

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Don’t Let Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders Kill Tax Day: New at Reason

SandersThe deadline for filing federal income tax returns is approaching fast. While this is understandably a frustrating time for many, it’s also the one time during which many taxpayers are confronted with just how much of their earnings are captured by the government. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), think that is one time too many. They want the Internal Revenue Service to prepare tax returns on behalf of taxpayers instead of leaving it as an individual responsibility.

This idea is pitched as a “simplification.” And, to be fair, the complexity of our tax code is undeniable. It results in tax-compliance costs that can reach nearly $1 trillion annually, according to my colleague Jason Fichtner. However, the solution to this complexity isn’t to add to the opacity of the system and make the cost of government even less visible to those picking up the tab. There’s already too much of that, writes Veronique de Rugy.

View this article.

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