A new low for FBI fearmongering? The FBI is warning people that rideshare drivers may be trying to abduct their kids. The agency reports that there is a “trend” of “criminal actors using rideshare vehicles to abduct minor victims.”

To normal people, a “trend” means something that happens with some frequency. And yet the FBI offers no data to suggest that abductions by Uber, Lyft, or other rideshare drivers are actually widespread. Instead, the agency offers three “illustrative examples”—only two of which actually involve alleged criminal activity by drivers. And only one of these potentially criminal cases took place in the United States.

One of the three “illustrative examples” involved a minor who merely used a rideshare service to go meet an unrelated predator. The driver in this scenario had nothing to do with the alleged crime.

Another of the examples given involves a driver in Mexico who allegedly drove off with a child in the backseat after the child’s father got out at a flower stand. (The child “found a way to call his mother and provided his location,” the FBI says.)

In only one of the three examples is a U.S. rideshare driver accused of trying to abduct someone. “In April 2022, a 16-year-old boy requested a rideshare trip from Portland, Oregon, to Rockport, Texas,” the FBI says. “During his ride, the rideshare driver offered him a drink and the boy later woke up inside of a home in Sinton, Texas, approximately 20 miles in the opposite direction of Rockport. The boy walked to a nearby home and called for help. Law enforcement later arrested the rideshare driver.”

I’m mighty suspicious of a “trend” for which a federal agency can produce no data and only one relevant example. (And the FBI doesn’t even have the details right on that one—the boy was coming from Portland, Texas, not Portland, Oregon.) One or a few criminal drivers does not constitute a “trend.”

The Biden administration and Democratic politicians more broadly have been critical of rideshare services and backed proposals to make drivers be classified as employees rather than independent contractors. Could this bogus FBI warning be some sort of anti-rideshare messaging, designed to support the idea that drivers need tighter regulation?

The FBI says it’s a “public service announcement,” stating that “although this is a rare occurrence, the FBI is providing notification due to the high impact of such events.”

But it sure seems like standard law enforcement fearmongering, designed to keep people scared in order to justify big budgets for fighting crime.


FREE MINDS

More on learning loss and school closures. Earlier this week, the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report showed significant declines in student math and reading scores. The Atlantic writer Derek Thompson attempts to answer the big question: How much of this learning loss related to school shutdown orders?

I’ll begin to answer this extremely fraught question by stating the obvious: School closures were not the sole pandemic disruption to kids’ lives that might explain a decline in achievement. Students also suffered from sick and absent teachers, the death or severe illness of parents and other family members, and just a general loss of focus during a stressful period.

Several mainstream news organizations took pains to say that the latest NAEP study offered only murky evidence that school closures were the biggest culprit. For example, Texas opened its schools relatively early but still saw declines in math scores in line with the national average. California opened its schools relatively late, and its students’ scores declined less than the national average….

But other studies have established a clearer connection between school closures and learning loss. A 2022 paper published by the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research concluded that the shift to remote or hybrid school during the pandemic “had profound consequences for student achievement.” Using testing data from more than 2 million students in 10,000 schools across the country, a team of researchers from CALDER, the Northwest Evaluation Association, Harvard, and Dartmouth College found that learning gaps in math “did not widen in areas that remained in-person.” But they found that, especially in high-poverty areas, students lost more ground the longer they were remote. “If the achievement losses become permanent,” they wrote in their conclusion, “there will be major implications for future earnings, racial equity and income inequality.”

A 2022 Ohio State University study of declines in student achievement from March 2020 to spring 2021 came to a similar conclusion.

More here.

“Liberal and Democrats who want to be, not just the party of government, but the coalition of Government-That-Actually-Works, need to be honest students of policies that didn’t actually work. And the report card on school closures is not pretty,” Thompson tweeted. But he’s also optimistic: “The pandemic—the deaths, the stress, the disruptions, and the school closures—clearly set kids back and extended achievement gaps. But some of those gaps are closing fast.”


FREE MARKETS

Germany plans to legalize marijuana. German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said Germany was going to become Europe’s “most liberal cannabis legalization project” (woohoo!) and also its “most tightly regulated market” (oh).

It seems American states aren’t alone in thinking they can somehow topple a widespread and deeply established black market by keeping an iron-tight grip on legal sales. But as we’ve seen, setting up too many rules—or taxes—for legal cannabis sales and consumption can keep people buying and selling illegally. And without decriminalization broadly, the same old drug war harms will accumulate.

Under Germany’s new plan, “cannabis and THC will no longer be classified as narcotics,” reports The Washington Post. “The substances will be able to be produced, supplied and distributed to people 18 or older, within a licensed and government-regulated environment — including specialist shops and, ‘if necessary,’ pharmacies. Adults can possess 20 to 30 grams of recreational cannabis, both in private and in public.”


QUICK HITS

• Three New Orleans men are now free after decades in prison following wrongful convictions for a murder now suspected to have been committed by a New Orleans cop.

• “The media did not trick voters into disliking inflation,” notes Eric Levitz at New York magazine, tackling the weird strain in American punditry that purports to protect democracy by denouncing voter priorities and Democrats who “attribute the electorate’s (arguably) misplaced priorities to the failings of the mainstream media.”

• Today in ridiculous pop culture moments: A Taylor Swift music video showed the word fat on a scale Swift stepped on, in what was obviously meant as a critique of unrealistic standards for female stars and Swift’s own struggles with body acceptance. Now, the video on Apple Music no longer shows the word fat, after people accused Swift of fatphobia.

• The parents of Erik Cantu—the 17-year-old San Antonio boy shot by former San Antonio Police officer James Brennand—are calling for attempted murder charges as their son fights for his life. The officer already faces two counts of aggravated assault.

• “Is Christian nationalism growing or declining? Both,” reads a recent Washington Post headline. And yet…the percentage of people who say the federal government should declare the U.S. a Christian nation has gone from nearly 29 percent in 2017 to 19.3 percent in 2022.

• “The United States on Wednesday imposed a slew of new sanctions against Iranian officials involved in the ongoing crackdown on nationwide protests in Iran – the latest US response to Tehran’s efforts to quash outrage after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini,” reports CNN.

• What is a family? Ask a zoning official.

• “Fund managers who handle retirement accounts through the EBSA are being told to consider climate change and other environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in their decisions,” notes Reason‘s Eric Boehm. “It illustrates how deeply the Biden administration has embedded ‘controversial, unrelated progressive causes into the regulatory process,'” Competitive Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Wayne Crews tells Boehm.





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