Author Archives: Mark Draughn

Not Helping Youths In the Sex Trade

Last Friday I wrote about Elizabeth Nolan Brown’s terrific Reason magazine article on the FBI’s long involvement in policing Americans’ sex lives. In this post, I’d like to follow up on a small detail that caught my eye.

Supporters of anti-prostitution law enforcement operations often justify them as necessary to protect victims of sex trafficking, especially children. Brown’s article mentions a Department of Justice report titled Evaluation of Services for Domestic Minor Victims of Human Trafficking as an example. In particular, she references the following passage, which ends with a question that needs an answer.

Detention was also used in the belief that it protects young people and ensures their connection to services. Key informants acknowledged that this situation was not ideal but argued that young people were likely to be safer in detention than elsewhere. A public defender asked, “How else do you get them services but lock them up and force them to engage in services?”

As a libertarian, my instinctive response is “How about…nonviolently?”

Is it really necessary to send cops with guns to forcibly “help” people? And even if you think it’s necessary to coerce child victims of sex trafficking into accepting social services, can’t you do it without giving them a criminal record? State child protection agencies have the authority, if they believe there is immediate danger, to remove at-risk children who are living with their parents. I’m pretty sure they can figure out a way to take a child off the street.

That won’t work with young adults, but that doesn’t mean arresting them is the only solution. There are better alternatives. We know this because non-governmental organizations like the Sex Work Outreach Project (SWOP) don’t have arrest powers, and they’ve been doing outreach to sex workers for years.

Katherine Koster from the U.S. chapter of SWOP characterizes many of the problems facing young sex workers as basically a variation on homelessness:

The issue is that there is a very large gap in no-strings-attached resources for homeless youth. A great example of this is the lack of shelter beds for youth.

[…]

Institutions–from schools to hospitals–very commonly are not a “safe” and comfortable space for homeless, especially GLBTQ youth.

[…]

We need to be making these resources available to youth on a voluntary basis. We need to stop attaching funding for services to the criminal justice system, as is frequently the case, and start making sure funding for these core services are available to people without being arrested and locked up, without interacting with the criminal justice system.

Here in Chicago, the Young Women’s Empowerment Project spent years studying ways to help young women in the sex trade, and they had some useful observations, especially about what they call institutional violence:

First, we were surprised how many stories we heard from girls, including transgender girls, and young women, including trans women about their violent experiences at non profits and with service providers. This was upsetting because adults and social workers often tell us that seeking services will improve our lives. Yet when we do the systems set up to help us actually can make things worse. This was clear when looking at the foster care system.

[…]

Health care providers were also identified by girls as being unethical. We heard many stories from girls going to the emergency room or to a doctor and being placed in psychiatric units just because they were in the sex trade, transgender or were thought to be self injuring. 

Law enforcement authorities come in for special criticism:

There are particularly a lot of examples of police violence, coercion, and refusal to help. Police often accuse girls in the sex trade of lying or don’t believe them when they turn to the police for help. Many girls said that police sexual misconduct happens frequently while they are being arrested or questioned. […] Stories about police abuse outnumbered the stories of abuse by other systems by far.

So what are the alternatives? The YWEP has their own solution:

When leaving isn’t an option or what a girl might want, YWEP is here to encourage and facilitate safety planning, harm reduction ideas, and offer support and resources. Unlike programs that focus on exiting the sex trade—which usually exclude girls who aren’t ready, able, or wanting to exit—YWEP meets girls where they are and helps them make the next steps they choose. Empowerment means that girls are in charge of their decisions and have power over what they want to do—even if that means something different than what adults think is safe or appropriate. YWEP believes that the more often girls are in charge of the choices in their lives—whether that choice is about food, sleep, relationships, housing or the sex trade—the more power they take in their lives as a whole.

(My guess is that most members of YWEP lean liberal and progressive, but damn if that isn’t a heartwarmingly libertarian approach to helping people. They offer choices.)

The local SWOP chapter here in the Chicago area offers a variety of services, including a support group, monthly meetings, and weekly street-corner outreach events offering food, coffee, condoms, and referral to resources such as sex-worker-friendly doctors and lawyers. In winter they give out warm clothing.

Other organizations, although not focused primarily on sex workers, provide services that will nevertheless help homeless young people in the sex trade. Project Fierce Chicago, for example, has purchased a nine-bedroom house in the North Lawndale neigborhood, and they are renovating it to provide housing for 10-12 LGBTQ youths. (That may not sound like much, but with only a few hundred youth beds in Chicago, it’s going to help.)

Koster summarizes why this approach can help:

I think what is super-important is that 95% of the time, youth are not engaging in the sex trade because they are kidnapped from a secure home where all their needs are met. They are engaging in the sex trade because they ran away from an abusive home or foster home or were kicked our because they are GLBT, and they don’t have a place to sleep, they don’t have older people rooting for them and supporting them, they don’t have food. […]

So you don’t need to hold these kids in detention to protect them–you need to give them a safe place to stay and healthy meals, with great mentors and counselors. So meet their emotional and social and material needs, and they will be safe. You don’t need to hold them in a juvenille detention center to protect them.

This doesn’t sound hard. No, that’s not quite right…it sounds like it’s a lot of very hard work. But it doesn’t sound hard to understand. If you want to help people, you listen to them, you get to know them, you figure out what they want, and you give it to them.

And yet, we keep seeing stories like this one that I found at random:

Sure, there are a few local facilities where juvenile prostitutes can live, waiting for trial dates or transfers home, but these places are hardly ideal. They’re not designed for child sex workers—if therapy is offered, it’s certainly not tailored to the specific needs of juvenile prostitutes. More importantly, perhaps, they’re not lock-down facilities. Residents can leave. This means the girls must want to stay in a court-mandated home for delinquents (and what teenager would?) They must resist the urge to run back to their pimps—which sounds easy, until you remember that most were only selling sex because there was a pimp, with a lot of power over them, pulling the strings. Or throwing fists. Or both.

Girls living in these facilities have been known to bolt into the idling cars of pimps waiting outside—running right back into the abyss of abuse.

“These girls are so broken. They identify with the girls they work with, the pimps. [Prostitution] becomes their safe area, and they want to go back to where they feel safe,” says Susan Roske, Clark County chief deputy public defender. “We want to hang onto them, to keep them from running, and sometimes the only way to do that is in a secure environment.”

Many people running these arrest-to-rescue programs may have the best of intentions, but I think need to stop dismissing these girls’ choices as “broken” and answer an important question: Given that the girls, having experienced both, are running away from your facilities to be with abusive pimps, what does that say about the quality of your attempt to help?

If you have to arrest people and lock them up to get them to accept your help, maybe you need to rethink your approach to helping.

(Thanks to Katherine Koster at SWOP USA for her comments and for helping with some of the research for this post.)

An Alien Product Placement

The most recent Alien: Covenant trailer comes with an opening commercial for Walter, the synthetic (a.k.a. artificial person a.k.a. android) played by Michael Fassbender in the movie. Here it is:

At the end, they flash a couple of corporate logos. I naturally had to step through them. The first one is a new logo for Weyland-Yutani, which is the name of the fictional corporation (usually referred to as “The Corporation”) that has been running through all the films. The second logo, however, says “Intelligence powered by AMD.”

AMD is a real-world semiconductor manufacturer, and I gotta say, as product placements go, that’s pretty cool. (Not Mattel-hoverboard-in-Back-to-the-Future cool, but still pretty cool.)

It says something about my life that I immediately turned to my wife and commented on the absence of Hyperdyne Systems. Then we shared a brief moment of confusion between Hyperdyne Systems and Cyberdyne Systems — one is from the Alien series, the other from Terminator — before reassuring ourselves that, yes, Hyperdyne was the maker of the synthetics in the Alien series.

This is why we’re married.

in Movies

Sex, Lies, and Sex Police

I suspect my friends would be concerned if they knew just how skeptical I was about almost all prostitution-related crimes. Police say they broke up a human trafficking ring? Liars! They call everything human trafficking these days. They arrested ten pimps? Liars! They caught one prostitute in a sting and arrested the then people standing next to her. It’s a task force going after child prostitution? Liars! They arrest 50 adults for every child they “rescue,” and that’s only if you call a 16-year-old a child. It’s all lies, lies, lies.

My skepticism is even cutting into my enjoyment of fiction. I get an attitude whenever one of my shows features a human trafficking story line. It’s especially annoying on Major Crimes, because Captain Raydor’s adopted son used to be a teen street hustler, and none of the cops are saying he would have been better off in jail. (Hey Rusty, next time your mother is sweating a prostitute in the interrogation room, how about you try standing up for your fellow sex workers for once, you useless fuck!)

I probably need to adjust my perspective. Just because police (and prosecutors and politicians and rescue agencies) lie about these things all the time doesn’t mean they don’t exist. There really are human traffickers. There really are violent pimps. There really are people who sell the opportunity to rape a child. I wouldn’t want to dismiss a serious crime just because the authorities have been lying about it with such reckless abandon.

But…damn, there’s some awful things going on here.

In an unremarkable hotel room, a team of officers watches the footage streaming from a hidden camera next door. A middle-aged man is making arrangements to pay a young woman for sex. Once she agrees, the squad will rush in, shouting instructions, their bulletproof vests bulging with firearms and emblazoned with police or FBI. The woman—or is she a girl?—will have her hands tied behind her back and her phone confiscated. She will sit on the bed, partially undressed, as a team of men search her room, pawing through her underwear drawer and toiletry bags, seizing any cash they find. She will eventually be fingerprinted, interrogated, and taken into police custody.

That’s the opening paragraph from Elizabeth Nolan Brown’s long-form piece in Reason magazine about the FBI’s long involvement in policing Americans’ sex lives.

The surveillance of morally suspicious women and the war on commercial sex were what took the FBI—then known as the Bureau of Investigation—from a fledgling East Coast–centric operation to a force with outposts, agents, and authority across America. With the Mann Act of 1910, also known as the White Slave Traffic Act, the bureau became responsible for ensuring no one transported women or girls across state lines for prostitution or “any other immoral purposes.”

And this paragraph about the recent Operation Cross Country X anti-trafficking initiative perfectly reveals the reasons for my skepticism (emphasis mine):

Overall, the operation identified 82 “children” engaged in prostitution, an average of about 0.88 per city, or one for every five agencies participating. All were teenagers—mostly 16- and 17-year-olds—and a number of cities where they were found made no simultaneous pimping or sex trafficking arrests. To the feds, anyone under 18 who trades sex acts for money is defined as a victim of sex trafficking, regardless of whether they have experienced abduction, violence, restraint, or threats.

The whole article is filled with details like that. It’s a terrific piece of journalism. Elizabeth Nolan Brown is a clear writer, and after several years of reporting on this subject, she has a masterful command of the facts. I highly recommend you read the whole thing.

The Rampant Anti-Americanism of our Immigration Authorities

I often deride this country’s immigration bureaucracies for lacking in American values. Both Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are intolerant of diversity, have no appreciation for privacy, and have little respect for freedom.

I get them confused all the time. As near as I can tell, the difference is that if they’re being assholes to people crossing the border, it’s CBP, but if they’re being assholes to people who are already here, it’s ICE. As a separate matter, if they’re being assholes to people they suspect of committing crimes, then HSI is probably involved. And of course if they’re being assholes in airports, it’s the TSA. Really, it’s probably all of DHS. They’re probably all assholes.

Anyway, Elizabeth Nolan Brown at Reason gave us a few good examples of ICE (or maybe HSI) being assholes in a recent post:

On September 1, 2016, “Sunny” Kimnam gave a massage and a hand-job to an undercover police informant. Since that day, she has been incarcerated, and faces likely deportation to Korea.

They aren’t the only ones who’ve been caught up in immigration after a prostitution bust:

A 2016 sting on a massage parlor in Macomb County, Michigan, that led to the arrest of five Chinese women on prostitution charges has already led to the deportation of two of the women. Two others are still in custody, awaiting trial. The fifth woman, 50-year-old Meijuan Yu, just recently plead guilty to offering prostitution and was sentenced to two years probation—deferred so that Homeland Security could immediately take her into custody and get started on deporting her back to China.

On February 9, 2017, Homeland Security Investigations teamed up with two county sheriff’s offices to raid Donah’s Massage Therapy in Winnie, Texas, as part of an undercover investigation they’d been plotting since December. Three women—Song Ja Hyun, 59, Shunyu Quan, 53, and Ying Yu Jin, 53—were arrested and charged with misdemeanor prostitution; Jin was also charged with aggravated promoting prostitution, a felony. As of earlier this week, Hyun and Jin were being held in Chambers County Jail on ICE detainers, according to ABC affiliate 12 News Now.

Sex workers are common targets for immigration authorities. Here’s an example of CBP harassing a woman they think might by involved in prostitution. And here’s another example of them blocking entry to the U.S. by a suspected male escort.

This is wrong on so many levels, but the thing that most boggles my mind, the thing that really shows the depths of depravity of our immigration authorities is that foreigners are coming here to have sex with us, and these assholes are stopping them!

What the fuck? Why the hell would they do that to us?

Hand jobs are funny, so at first glance this sounds like a funny story. Perhaps it even sounds like I’m making light of a serious situation. I’m sorry for that, but I have a serious point to make, which I’ll get to in a minute.

I don’t mean to downplay how much it sucks to be blocked from entering the country, and I know that getting deported is a disaster for many people: They get locked up, they lose their jobs, they’re separated from family and friends, and they could easily lose their personal property and pets. By the time it’s all done, they could end up in a country that they hate. Or worse, they could end up in a country that hates them. That’s terrible, and I don’t think we should be putting people through that without a damned good reason. And I don’t think minor crimes — including illegal entry — are good reasons.

However, a lot of immigration hawks don’t care that they’re putting these people through hell. They’re immigrants, and they either entered illegally or committed a crime while here (or so ICE says), so who gives a shit what happens to them, right? They have no rights that an immigration cop is bound to respect.

Given that attitude, maybe I need to try another argument. Which brings me back to hand jobs. And to the serious point I need to make: Deporting “Sunny” Kimnam is undoubtedly bad for her. But it’s also bad for all us Americans who will no longer be able to get hand jobs from her. We are suffering too.

I know, hand jobs are funny…but it’s not just about hand jobs. Immigrants, including illegal immigrants, do a lot of jobs for us Americans. They farm our food, or catch it at sea. They plant forests, care for them, and cut them into timber. They build and maintain buildings, and care for the grounds around them. They make our clothes, prepare our food, and clean our houses. They help us around the office and sell our products. They do a lot of things. And yes, some of them do sex work. But the thing is, they are working for us, and taking them away takes away the benefits of the things they do.

Immigrants aren’t just a labor force, however. They are also, by the millions, our customers. By their employment they earn money, and by spending that money, they employ us. They are part of our rich and diverse economy. They are working with us to improve all our lives. Taking them away takes away the benefits of trading with them.

Even more than that, immigrants, including illegal immigrants, are members of our families — husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, parents. They are our neighbors. They are important members of our communities. They are our friends and our lovers. Taking them away takes away takes away their friendship, their care, and their love.

The folks running our immigration authorities may think the lives of illegal immigrants deserve no respect. They may think illegal immigrants deserve the harm that comes to them when they are deported. But we are their fellow Americans, and we goddamned well deserve respect. Every time they remove someone, we lose all the benefits of having that person in our lives, and the fact that they got laws passed to make the removal legal does nothing to reduce the loss.

They are harming us, their fellow Americans. Which makes them about as anti-American as you can get.

The State of the Union in 2017

I got bored writing about the State of the Union addresses a few years ago — Obama was the same thing every year — but maybe the new guy will be more interesting. Let’s see what Donald Trump had to say in his State of the Union Address. I’m just going to think out loud a bit here. I warn you now: It’s not going anywhere important.

(I’m really tired of hearing why this isn’t the State of the Union Address, so I’m resisting calling it his address to a joint session of Congress. They are all just big political speeches that get a lot of coverage.)

Transcript by the failing New York Times. Applause notes and Times fact checking omitted, reformatted for readability:

I am here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength, and it is a message deeply delivered from my heart.

It’s always nice when a speaker inserts the subtext of his speech directly into the speech.

Then, in 2016, the earth shifted beneath our feet. The rebellion started as a quiet protest, spoken by families of all colors and creeds, families who just wanted a fair shot for their children, and a fair hearing for their concerns.

Here we go again. He’s reliving his election glory…

But then the quiet voices became a loud chorus, as thousands of citizens now spoke out together, from cities small and large, all across our country.

Finally, the chorus became an earthquake, and the people turned out by the tens of millions, and they were all united by one very simple, but crucial demand, that America must put its own citizens first, because only then can we truly make America great again.

Okay, we get it, we get it. You won, Donald. Now what.

Above all else, we will keep our promises to the American people.

[Note to self: Insert list of everything Trump has lied about and all the promises he has failed to keep.]

Thank you. It’s been a little over a month since my inauguration, and I want to take this moment to update the nation on the progress I’ve made in keeping those promises. Since my election, Ford, Fiat-Chrysler, General Motors, Sprint, Softbank, Lockheed, Intel, Walmart and many others have announced that they will invest billions and billions of dollars in the United States and will create tens of thousands of new American jobs. The stock market has gained almost $3 trillion in value since the election on Nov. 8, a record.

And you’re going to take credit for all of that, aren’t you?

We have undertaken a historic effort to massively reduce job-crushing regulations, creating a deregulation task force inside of every government agency and we’re imposing a new rule which mandates that for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated.

That’s nice as an abstract idea, but the 2-for-1 rule will just encourage bureaucrats to game the system. And it only works if there’s some kind of accountability when regulatory bodies don’t comply with your silly rule.

We’re going to stop the regulations that threaten the future and livelihood of our great coal miners. We have cleared the way for the construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines thereby creating tens of thousands of jobs.

Jobs. Politicians always have to make everything about jobs. The benefit of building oil pipelines is getting to transport oil more efficiently. Jobs are part of the cost of building oil pipelines.

And I’ve issued a new directive that new American pipelines be made with American steel.

Why not use the most cost effective steel for the pipeline, regardless of where it comes from? Isn’t it important to spend wisely?

We have withdrawn the United States from the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Sigh. The TPP had problems, but it would probably have produced a net benefit, and it would have help connect the United States to the Asian markets.

To protect our citizens, I have directed the Department of Justice to form a task force on reducing violent crime. I have further ordered the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice, along with the Department of State and the director of national intelligence, to coordinate an aggressive strategy to dismantle the criminal cartels that have spread all across our nation.

Oooh, you created a task force! And coordinated a strategy! I’ll bet the criminals are quaking in their boots now!

To any in Congress who do not believe we should enforce our laws, I would ask you this one question: What would you say to the American family that loses their jobs, their income or their loved one because America refused to uphold its laws and defend its borders?

What would you say to the thousands of American families that lose parents, brothers, and sisters, along with their income, you deported them for no good reason?

As promised, I directed the Department of Defense to develop a plan to demolish and destroy ISIS, a network of lawless savages that have slaughtered Muslims and Christians, and men, women and children of all faiths and all beliefs. We will work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet.

Aspirations and goals are not a plan, plans are not operations, and operations are not victory.

Tonight, as I outline the next steps we must take as a country, we must honestly acknowledge the circumstances we inherited. Ninety-four million Americans are out of the labor force.

That’s a suspicious number. “Out of the labor force” typically refers to everyone over the age of 16 who doesn’t have a job. That includes unemployed people, but it also including students, non-working spouses, retirees, the disabled, and anyone else who doesn’t have a job. Many of these people are not working because the don’t want to. That’s not necessarily an economic problem (although the situation gets more complicated if they are receiving welfare transfer payments).

This is why we usually focus on the unemployment rate — those are people who want a job but can’t get one, and that’s always bad. However, since the unemployment rate recovered a few years ago, a lot of Obama critics have chosen to focus on labor force participation which is just over 62%, the lowest it’s been in 30 years or so, but not that much lower than the highs of 67% in the 1990s.

We’ve lost more than one-fourth of our manufacturing jobs since Nafta was approved, and we’ve lost 60,000 factories since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.

Manufacturing jobs have been declining as a percentage of the work force since World War II. Yet we manufacture more stuff than ever before. We’ve gotten really efficient at it, so it doesn’t take as many people. There’s no place to bring those jobs back from.

Our trade deficit in goods with the world last year was nearly $800 billion.

It’s deceptive to talk about goods while omitting the trade in services. And either way, trade deficits by themselves aren’t bad for the economy.

But to accomplish our goals at home and abroad, we must restart the engine of the American economy, making it easier for companies to do business in the United States and much, much harder for companies to leave our country.

It will be harder to attract companies to do business here if they know they’ll have a hard time leaving. Also, attracting companies here will raise our trade deficit, if you’re the kind of person who worries about such things…

Right now, American companies are taxed at one of the highest rates anywhere in the world. My economic team is developing historic tax reform that will reduce the tax rate on our companies so they can compete and thrive anywhere and with anyone.

It will be a big, big cut.

I actually agree with cutting a lot of business taxes, but that money is going to have to come from somewhere else if you don’t want to run the national debt way up.

At the same time, we will provide massive tax relief for the middle class. We must create a level playing field for American companies and our workers — have to do it.

If you’re going to reduce taxes on the middle class, you’re going to have to raise taxes for someone else. The poor don’t have anything to tax, so does that mean you’re going to tax the crap out of the rich?

(In theory, Trump could also be planning to reduce spending, but that’s not the direction he’s going in the rest of this speech.)

The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, warned that “the abandonment of the protective policy by the American government will produce want and ruin among our people.”

Republicans have a long history of craven protectionism.

I am not going to let America and its great companies and workers be taken — advantage of us any longer. They have taken advantage of our country no longer. I am going to bring back millions of jobs.

Nope. There’s nowhere to bring them back from.

Another Republican president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, initiated the last truly great national infrastructure program: the building of the interstate highway system. The time has come for a new program of national rebuilding.

This is probably true. The construction industry and its political supporters has been exaggerating the scope of the problem for decades, but we really are going to need to do a lot of rebuilding over the next 10 or 20 years.

To launch our national rebuilding, I will be asking Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure of the United States, financed through both public and private capital, creating millions of new jobs.

This effort will be guided by two core principles: Buy American and hire American.

Because God forbid a government project should actually buy from the lowest bidder that meets specifications, which is what you’d do if you thought infrastructure was important. But no. It’s always about jobs with politicians.

Tonight, I am also calling on this Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare with reforms that expand choice, increase access, lower costs and at the same time provide better health care.

What? No ponies?

The way to make health insurance available to everyone is to lower the cost of health insurance, and that is what we are going to do.

This is Trump all over. (And, really, most politicians.) Expand choice, increase access, lower costs, provide better health care…all great ideas. But how? Aspirational statements are not a plan.

Obamacare premiums nationwide have increased by double and triple digits. As an example, Arizona went up 116 percent last year alone. Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky just said Obamacare is failing in his state, the state of Kentucky, and it’s unsustainable and collapsing.

One third of the counties have only one insurer, and they’re losing them fast, they are losing them so fast. They’re leaving. And many Americans have no choice at all. There’s no choice left. Remember when you were told that you could keep your doctor and keep your plan? We now know that all of those promises have been totally broken. Obamacare is collapsing, and we must act decisively to protect all Americans.

Yes, Obamacare has some real problems and may be collapsing into a death spiral (indicators are murky), but how will your plan be better? The American healthcare system is gigantic, expensive, and politically connected. It’s going to be really hard to fix. Just saying you want something better is not enough.

Here are the principles that should guide Congress as we move to create a better health care system for all Americans.

Oh, well maybe I spoke too soon…

First, we should ensure that Americans with pre-existing conditions have access to coverage and that we have a stable transition for Americans currently enrolled in the health care exchanges.

That’s just another aspirational statement.

Secondly, we should help Americans purchase their own coverage, through the use of tax credits and expanded health savings accounts, but it must be the plan they want, not the plan forced on them by our government.

Okay, that’s actually part of a plan. I could even get behind some of these ideas.

Thirdly, we should give our state governors the resources and flexibility they need with Medicaid to make sure no one is left out.

Another aspirational statement. Although I guess it is nice of him to mention a plan for poor people since tweaking taxes only helps people with a decent income.

Fourth, we should implement legal reforms that protect patients and doctors from unnecessary costs that drive up the price of insurance and work to bring down the artificially high price of drugs and bring them down immediately.

Not sure what that means. Tort reform? Drug manufacturer immunity?

And finally, the time has come to give Americans the freedom to purchase health insurance across state lines which will create a truly competitive national marketplace that will bring costs way down and provide far better care. So important.

Another idea I can get behind. Not a huge deal, but a step in the right direction if implemented properly. But then we go off into a fantasy world…

Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed. Every problem can be solved. And every hurting family can find healing and hope. Our citizens deserve this, and so much more, so why not join forces and finally get the job done and get it done right?

On this and so many other things, Democrats and Republicans should get together and unite for the good of our country and for the good of the American people.

My administration wants to work with members of both parties to make child care accessible and affordable, to help ensure new parents that they have paid family leave to invest in women’s health, and to promote clean air and clean water, and to rebuild our military and our infrastructure.

[…]

If we slash the restraints, not just at the F.D.A. but across our government, then we will be blessed with far more miracles just like Megan.

Eliminating unnecessary government restrictions is a nice idea in theory.

In fact, our children will grow up in a nation of miracles. But to achieve this future, we must enrich the mind — and the souls — of every American child. Education is the civil rights issue of our time.

I am calling upon members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children.

Broadly speaking, I’m in favor of school choice, but most school funding comes from the states, so it seems like this should be a state initiative. Just get the federal government out of the way. Maybe impose a few standards to head off corrupt bullshit.

But to create this future, we must work with — not against — not against — the men and women of law enforcement. We must build bridges of cooperation and trust, not drive the wedge of disunity and it’s — really, it’s what it is, division. It’s pure, unadulterated division. We have to unify.

Great, what do you propose that law enforcement does to earn back the trust they’ve lost?

Police and sheriffs are members of our community. They’re friends and neighbors

— Then they should goddamned well act like it! Stop riding the streets like an occupying army. Stop the violent raids for drugs. In fact, stop arresting people for victimless crimes. Stop throwing young men in jail when they belong in school. Stop harassing citizens with fines and jail for minor violations. None of my friends and neighbors do shit like that. Come back when you’ve cleaned up your act — consistently punishing bad cops would be a nice start — and we’ll talk.

And we must support the victims of crime. I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American victims. The office is called Voice, Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement. We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media and silenced by special interests.

I’m all in favor of better crime data, but how exactly does tracking immigrant crimes help the victims? It sounds like just a cheap shot to demonize illegal immigrants. Frankly, it’s kind of a creepy thing to do.

Finally, to keep America safe, we must provide the men and women of the United States military with the tools they need to prevent war — if they must — they have to fight and they only have to win.

I am sending Congress a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the defense sequester and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.

It would be nice to get some details about this military build-up.

We strongly support NATO, an alliance forged through the bonds of two world wars, that dethroned fascism and a Cold War and defeated communism. But our partners must meet their financial obligations.

Or what? We can’t actually withdraw our support without risking the safety of Europe, which would risk our own safety.

Think of the marvels we could achieve if we simply set free the dreams of our people. Cures to the illnesses that have always plagued us are not too much to hope. American footprints on distant worlds are not too big a dream. Millions lifted from welfare to work is not too much to expect. And streets where mothers are safe from fear — schools where children learn in peace, and jobs where Americans prosper and grow — are not too much to ask.

When we have all of this, we will have made America greater than ever before, for all Americans. This is our vision. This is our mission. But we can only get there together. We are one people, with one destiny.

We all bleed the same blood. We all salute the same great American flag. And we are all made by the same God.

When we fulfill this vision, when we celebrate our 250 years of glorious freedom, we will look back on tonight as when this new chapter of American greatness began. The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us. We just need the courage to share the dreams that fill our hearts, the bravery to express the hopes that stir our souls, and the confidence to turn those hopes and those dreams into action.

The calls to setting free the dreams of our people are nice, but the “one people…one destiny” stuff is a little scary. What if we don’t all have the same dreams? I worry about this kind of thing. It tends to devolve into national greatness bullshit, where our nation’s leaders expect us to sacrifice to fulfill their grand visions instead of pursuing our own petty goals like having happy families that live in nice homes.

(Sigh, I seem to have edited out all the parts of the speech where he wants to ramp up the war on drugs, but yeah, he’s a drug warrior.)

Still, it’s not as self aggrandizing, authoritarian, bigoted, or batshit crazy as it could have been. In fact, it sounds kind of mainstream Republican (except for the anti-immigrant stuff). I guess that counts as a win these days.

Four Ways President Trump Can Ruin Things

I expect the Trump presidency to be a disaster. And given what we’ve seen so far, I think there are four possible areas where Trump is likely to ruin things. They break down into short-term ruin, medium-term ruin, and long-term ruin, plus a wildcard.

We’ve already seen activity in the short-term area of ruin: Immigration. This is a policy area where the President has a lot of power to set changes in motion without help from Congress. Look how much turmoil we’ve gone through just from the executive order implementing Trump’s Muslim ban, despite the fact that the courts have been tearing it apart. It’s hard to tell for sure, because some of these things might just be getting more news coverage than they did under the previous administration, but Trump also seems to have encouraged the jackbooted thugs at Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be more aggressive about catching and detaining illegal immigrants. Instead of focusing on deporting illegal immigrants who cause trouble, ICE seems to be running up their numbers by catching anyone they can, breaking up families and deporting people to dangerous parts of the world regardless of their individual qualities.

There are a lot of moving parts to our international trade policies, many of which would require cooperation from Congress to change, so I think this is where it will take Trump longest to do damage. Trump’s view of international trade is distorted, ignorant, and dangerous. He sees imports as a disaster, he sees our trading partners as our enemies, and he has no respect for the right to trade freely. At the very least, restrictions on imports will harm American consumers by raising prices and reducing the quantity and variety of goods available. The restrictions will also harm American industries that use imported goods as production inputs. It will get even worse if our trading partners respond with restrictions of their own, blocking our exports and throwing us into a trade war. And once we and our trading partners no longer receive the mutual benefits of trade, there’s a lot less stopping us from getting into a shooting war.

In between those two scenarios lies the medium-term ruin of national healthcare. As with trade policy, Trump needs Congress to make big changes here, but the Republicans seem eager to join in, so the damage is likely to come much faster. One of the biggest concerns about Obamacare was that it was making major changes to the market structure of a very large and very import industry. Mistakes could destroy important capabilities and hurt innocent people. As it turns out, the Democrats did a reasonably good job of putting together Obamacare: It hasn’t been as successful and popular as its supporters hoped, and its long-term viability was up in the air even before the election, but it wasn’t the instant gigantic disaster it could have been. But now Trump and the Republicans are talking about repealing it, and that has all of the same problems as implementing Obamacare: It’s another major change to a very large and very import industry where mistakes could destroy important capabilities and hurt innocent people, and this time the people doing it seem a lot less prepared and a lot more likely to introduce frightening levels of uncertainty.

Finally, there’s the wildcard: Foreign policy. I don’t know much about foreign policy, but I’m pretty sure Donald Trump doesn’t know much either. For example, he seems to be under the impression that the United States’s defense of NATO countries is a money-making proposition rather than being an important part of our national security strategy. Trump is also famous for off-the-cuff remarks that have foreign policy implications. I don’t trust him to protect our interests from our enemies, and I really don’t trust him to preserve our strategic friendships. He’s also talked about building up our conventional and nuclear forces. So it feels like anything could happen.

Of course, Trump has his big address to Congress today, so God only knows what else he’ll add to this list.

A Few Random Thoughts About Sanctuary Cities

I never really gave much thought to sanctuary cities before, but the more I hear about them these days, the more I like them.

First of all, it’s always nice to see someone stick their finger in the eye of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Second, immigration law is federal law, and if the feds want it enforced they can damned well do it themselves. I’m still pissed off that the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act required employers to check employees’ citizenship status (i.e. “showing their papers”) and fill out an I-9 form to get a job, thus drafting all the nation’s Human Resources staff into doing ICE’s job for them. I certainly don’t think that cities and towns should be spending time and money investigating people’s citizenship status if they don’t want to. And if ICE agents are too slow to investigate someone’s citizenship status themselves, they shouldn’t be trying to dragoon local jails into holding people while they figure it out. If they want to hold someone, they should do it themselves.

Third, immigration opponents love to ask “If you think illegal immigrants are okay, then why don’t you let them to move in with you?” Well, that’s pretty much what sanctuary cities are doing, so what the heck is the problem? By definition, sanctuary cities protect illegal immigrants who live there. Residents of sanctuary cities are saying, in effect, that they like the immigrants in their community, illegal or not, and want them to stay. It’s the distant anti-immigrant busybodies who aren’t welcome.

Ashton Kutcher’s Unusual Confession

So, yesterday Ashton Kutcher testified before Congress about modern-day slavery. This isn’t quite as crazy as it sounds — unlike those idiotic situations where an actor testifies before congress after playing a role related to the subject of his testimony, Kutcher actually founded a company, Thorn, that is involved in the fight against sex trafficking — but it’s still pretty weird.

For one thing, Kutcher is routinely ridiculed by sex work activists, who accuse him of helping police to catch and jail adult consensual sex workers. As Elizabeth Nolan Brown points out, his congressional testimony has numbers which suggest he’s still doing that:

According to Kutcher’s testimony before Sen. John McCain and other U.S. lawmakers, the app—funded by the McCain Foundation—has helped save more than 6,000 U.S. sex-trafficking victims, including 2,000 minors, in the past 12 months.

These numbers wildly outpace the average number of new criminal investigations into sex trafficking opened in the U.S. each year or average number of victims identified by U.S. law enforcement. …

The report also notes that in government fiscal-year 2015, the FBI identified around 672 adult and child victims of sex or labor trafficking. The FBI opened 802 human-trafficking investigations (resulting in 453 convictions) that year, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) opened 1,034 sex- or labor-trafficking investigations (and got 51 sex-trafficking convictions). In addition, Uniform Crime Reporting data from the states indicates that 744 investigations into state-level sex-trafficking offenses were opened in 2015.

There’s almost certainly overlap between the FBI and state investigations. But even if we count all cases separately, we’re looking at a total of 2,580 investigations into sex or labor trafficking—5,725 less cases than Thorn allegedly helped identify in a one-year period.

This suggests that Kutcher is counting something other than child sex trafficking to boost his stats.

Considering the data we do have on state and federal human trafficking cases, the only way the numbers from Kutcher’s group could make sense is if a) they’re counting every red-flag ad Spotlight identifies, regardless of whether these tips are ultimately deemed worthwhile enough to prompt a criminal investigation, or b) they’re counting cases of consensual prostitution between adults and lumping all adult sex workers identified into the “adult trafficking victim” numbers.

What really caught my attention, however, was this statement of his:

“I’ve seen video content of a child that’s the same age as mine being raped by an American man that was a sex tourist in Cambodia. This child was so conditioned by her environment that she thought she was engaging in play.”

Kutcher’s children are two or three years old,  so unlike so much of the grandstanding over “sex trafficking” these days, that truly is a sad and disgusting crime, and someone should probably go to jail for it. And assuming the video was explicit, it’s also a piece of true child pornography.

It’s not often that you see a major Hollywood celebrity like Ashton Kutcher confess to viewing child pornography. In front of Congress. On television.

To be clear, no matter how much I disagree with some of the things anti-prostitution activists like Kutcher do in the name of fighting “sex trafficking,” I’m against prosecuting them for non-prurient viewing of video of the crime that they are fighting.

Still, that’s something you don’t see every day.

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