Filter | only charts

A Double Standard for the Poor?

Robert VerBruggen - April 17, 2015

In recent years, states have been making efforts to police the behavior of welfare recipients  drug-testing them, trying to stop them from buying steak, etc. Many across the political spectrum (including yours truly) regard these efforts with deep suspicion: Micromanaging the lives of the poor is a dubious endeavor, and in many cases there's little evidence the targeted behaviors are a big problem anyway.

Some on the left, though, are throwing in a more problematic talking point. Here it is in the Washington Post today:

We rarely make similar demands of other recipients of government aid. We don't drug-test farmers who receive agriculture subsidies (lest they think about plowing while high!). We don't require Pell Grant recipients to prove that they're pursuing a degree that will get them a real job one day (sorry, no poetry!). We don't require wealthy families who cash in on the home mortgage interest deduction to prove that they don't use their homes as brothels (because surely someone out there does this).

True. But we also don't require welfare recipients to farm, show they're making satisfactory academic progress at a participating college, or take out mortgages, which are things we require of people who get the other perks. So the Post's next sentence  "The strings that we attach to government aid are attached uniquely for the poor"  isn't quite right. Yes, each aid program has a unique goal and its own set of strings, but they all have strings, and many exist for the sole purpose of encouraging a specific behavior the government likes. Further, many of the Post's examples merely highlight the tradeoffs we face in making the rules stricter — strict rules can save money, but they can also be absurd or expensive to enforce. (For the record, I'd endorse stricter Pell Grant restrictions but not routine prostitution inspections.)

One might plausibly say that, since the goal of welfare is to lift people out of poverty and (ideally) into self-sufficiency, we should make sure welfare recipients aren't doing things that are likely to keep them poor. You might disagree; I tend to as well. But this is not somehow wildly out of step with the measures we take with other government subsidies. It is not unusual for a subsidy to be a reward for a desired behavior  available only to those who do what the government wants, to the government's satisfaction.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

Growing Up in the Shadow of Wealth

Candice Odgers, The Conversation - April 17, 2015

One of New York City's newest luxury apartment buildings recently started accepting applications for low-income renters who will use a controversial "poor door" — a separate entrance from their wealthier neighbors who pay the full monthly rate.

Meanwhile, in Great Britain, some apartment buildings also require rich and poor residents to use separate entrances. A resident of one such building recently told the Daily Mirror she has "...never felt poorer in my life because of the way we're kept apart."

As this controversy illustrates, mixing the rich and poor sounds simple in theory, but can raise a number of complications. And the problem isn't limited to which door people enter. While economically mixed communities can offer safety, better living conditions and better schools, a growing body of research suggests they can also adversely affect low-income residents.

A Study of Contrasts
Mixed-income housing has become a key aspect of public housing policy in both the US and the UK. In many cities, the towering, crumbling project complexes of the 1960s and 1970s  areas of highly concentrated crime and poverty  have been demolished and replaced by mixed-income developments, where poorer residents live in close proximity to wealthier tenants. Over the past 20 years, upwards of $6 billion has been allocated for developing mixed-income housing through the US Housing and Urban Development's HOPE VI (Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere) program.

But what's the impact of growing up on the poorer end of the spectrum?

In a recent study, my colleagues and I tested whether low-income children would benefit from living alongside more affluent neighbors.

We analyzed data from 1,600 children in urban and suburban areas of England and Wales, following the children and their families from birth to age 12. We conducted intensive home assessments, surveyed teachers and neighbors, and collected census information and parent reports. We also used Google Street View images to gauge neighborhood conditions within a half-mile radius of each child's home.

We found that low-income boys living alongside more affluent neighbors engaged in more antisocial behavior than their low-income peers who lived in concentrated poverty. The behaviors included lying, cheating, stealing and fighting. (For low-income girls, growing up alongside more affluent neighbors had no effect on behavior.)

Other researchers have arrived at similar results. University of Texas sociologist Robert Crosnoe tested how thousands of low-income children across the United States fared when attending schools with students of varying economic backgrounds.

He found that when low-income students attended schools with more students from middle- and high-income families, they did worse in math and science and experienced more mental health problems. Low-income minority children fared even worse while enrolled in schools with wealthier peers.

A Remedy That Comes With Costs
Without an experimental study, it's impossible to say that exposure to more affluent neighbors or peers caused low-income children to fare worse.

Beginning in 1994, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development's Moving to Opportunity Study has tried to overcome the problem of a lack of an experimental study by randomly assigning housing vouchers that allowed families to move out of high-poverty neighborhoods.

The long-term evaluation of this experiment tells a similar story. Ten to fifteen years later, boys in families that were offered the housing vouchers suffered from higher rates of mental health problems and engaged in more antisocial behavior. In contrast, girls given the chance to move out of their high-poverty neighborhoods reported improved mental health and increased feelings of safety.

Criminologists offer one explanation for these findings: in mixed-income communities, there are greater opportunities for certain types of crime (such as theft), as high-value targets are more visible. However, a more widely held belief is that individuals who occupy lower positions in a community suffer due to unfavorable upward social comparisons. They're also often discriminated against  judged and treated poorly by those further up the social ladder. This can result in poorer health and antisocial behavior among low-income residents.

The story for girls has been more complicated. There's some evidence that low-income girls may not be as strongly influenced by neighborhood factors as they spend more time at home and less time in the community than boys do. They're often more closely monitored by their parents.

These findings do not mean that economically mixed neighborhoods are a bad thing for boys, or that the rich and poor should live apart. Economically mixed communities may be rightfully viewed as a socially just remedy to growing inequalities.

However, the findings do remind us of the need to check our hopeful assumptions about mixed-income communities against objective data, and that additional supports may be needed for low-income children to thrive in these settings. At the very least, economically mixed communities should include shared physical spaces that foster a sense of belonging among residents, versus separate entrances for the poor.

We know that growing up in poverty is toxic for children; but entering through the "poor door" may also exact a toll.

Candice Odgers is an associate professor of public policy and psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. She received funding from the William T. Grant Foundation, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Economic and Social Research Council and Google to support the completion of this work. 
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

All Pay Raises Are Not Created Equal

Brian Brenberg - April 16, 2015

Protestors in over 100 U.S. cities gathered yesterday to call for a $15 federal minimum wage. Already this year, 14 states and several major cities, including Chicago, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle, have increased their minimum wage. Meanwhile, a tighter labor market driven by stronger economic growth has led several companies, including Walmart and McDonald's, to promise wage increases for hundreds of thousands of employees.

On the surface, both scenarios look like a win for workers. But dig a little deeper and you'll find that not all pay raises are created equal. Rising wages driven by a growing economy mean more opportunity for both businesses and job seekers. But when politics is behind a pay increase, nobody wins unless someone else loses.

Some of the minimum-wage increases we have seen this year have been relatively small. For example, Washington indexes its minimum wage to a cost-of-living index, and so the minimum wage increased by only 1.6 percent. Because the increase is so small, it's unlikely to make a big difference to most workers, and it's unlikely to reduce employment much in the short term, since it may be more costly for businesses to substitute technology for labor than it is to just pay higher wages.

But not all of this year's minimum-wage increases were so mild. For example, when fully implemented, San Francisco will increase its minimum wage by $3.95, nearly a 36 percent increase. This dramatic increase has caused small businesses and local restaurants to either decrease their workforces, increase menu prices, or exit the market entirely. It's the outcome most economic research would predict: a large increase in the minimum wage reduces employment opportunities among the least skilled and reduces hiring rates.

The fact that smaller businesses have been disproportionately affected is predictable, as larger firms have the resources and flexibility to cope with a sudden increase in input costs. This also helps explain why many large businesses are vocal supporters of higher mandated minimum wages, since it eliminates their smaller competitors. Increasing inequality between small and large firms is probably not the effect minimum-wage proponents were aiming for.

Compare these cases of politically driven wage increases to what's happening with Walmart and McDonald's.

In February, Walmart announced it would increase its starting hourly wage to $9 an hour and raise the hourly wage of all current workers to $10 an hour by next year, affecting the wages of 500,000 workers. This action was voluntary and a result of real business needs. As the economy grows, competition for workers intensifies, which means Walmart must offer competitive wages or risk losing existing and potential employees to rivals. Even though Walmart has a market capitalization of $260 billion and is the largest private employer in the United States, it cannot escape competitive forces.

The same holds true for McDonald's, the nation's third-largest private employer. On April 1, McDonald's promised it would pay each of its 90,000 workers in company-owned restaurants at least $1 more than the locally mandated minimum wage. In recent years, McDonald's has struggled with low employee morale and customer dissatisfaction. Paying higher wages is one part of the company's attempt to retain and attract employees, improve service, and win back customers in the face of growing competitive threats from Chick-fil-a, Shake Shack, Chipotle, and others.

In a growing economy where market forces drive higher wages, both employers and job seekers can win. Employers see a chance to expand their business and offer higher wages to retain and attract the talent they need. As a result, opportunities for workers multiply, putting them in a position to negotiate better compensation. Unlike the acrimonious minimum-wage debates of recent years, there's no pitting business against labor. And there's none of the negative employment effects we see with the minimum wage.

For too long, the wage debate in the United States has been about taking from one side and giving to the other. That's what's bound to happen when an economy grows slowly, which has been the case in the United States for the better part of seven years. But pay is beginning to rise all over the country, not because of political pressure, but because businesses see opportunity. If our policymakers are really fans of higher wages, the best thing they can do is get out of the way.

Jared Pincin is an assistant professor of economics and Brian Brenberg is chair of the Business and Finance Program at the King's College in New York City. 

Returning to the Exurbs

Teresa Wiltz, Stateline - April 16, 2015

Dawsonville, Ga. — Winding up Route 400, a good 40 minutes' north of Atlanta's traffic-snarled freeways, are miles of farmhouses, interspersed with mobile homes, McMansions and thrift shops. Here, too, is Dawson County's biggest draw: The North Georgia Premium Outlets, where tourists hunt for bargains at Burberry, Armani and Restoration Hardware.

Despite the designer outlets, the vibe is decidedly rural Americana. Tractors chug the roads. Masonic symbols emblazon the county government building. It's a "small town feel" that Ginny Tarver says drew her to the area from Naples, Florida, to get married and work as an executive  assistant in the county building.

Dawson is one of the fastest growing counties in Georgia and reflects a demographic shift in the nation: a return to exurbia. New census data show that for the first time since 2010, the outermost suburban counties are growing faster than urban counties and close-in suburbs, according to analysis by the Brookings Institution. People are moving back to the exurbs, some for jobs, others for bigger and more affordable homes in a more wide-open space.

"Once the economy improved, exurbs started growing," said Joel Kotkin, presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University. "Basically, the recession did not revolutionize human beings. As they get older, they want to own something and they want to do it with some degree of privacy. If they can do it closer to work, they do it, but the vast majority of jobs aren't in the cities."

A decade ago, the exurbs were the hot thing in real estate. Between 2005 and 2006, the peak growth period for exurbs, urban counties lost over 1.3 million people as people left for the far reaches in surrounding counties.

Young professionals in search of more affordable housing gravitated there, lured by sprawling subdivisions. Exurbs gained about 146,000 new residents through domestic migration, according to William Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who analyzed the new Census Bureau population estimates for counties and metro areas, which were released on March 26.

But when the housing bubble popped, so did the population growth in the outer ring suburbs. Easy credit disappeared while gasoline prices skyrocketed, making lengthy commutes unattractive. People, particularly young people, couldn't afford to move, and so they didn't, Frey said.

"There was overbuilding in the suburbs and exurbs" before the housing bubble collapsed, Frey said. "That was one extreme. Then we saw the other extreme, when everything stopped in the exurbs."

But now, exurbia is showing signs of rejuvenation, Frey said. "People are able to qualify for (mortgage loans for) homes; they're willing to take on the risk of a mortgage. Developers see that. It's a matter of supply and demand."

Migrating Millennials
The U.S. has always been a nation of movers. For decades, about one in five people moved over a one year period, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Today, about one in nine moves each year.

Typically, young adults age 18 to 34 are the ones loading the U-Haul trucks, according to the census. But the Great Recession, which technically ended in 2009, stalled life transitions for many millennials who found themselves shut out of the job market and stuck in their parents' basements, Frey said. Without stable job prospects and saddled with student loans, many young adults delayed marriage and parenthood. Buying a house became a dream deferred.

In the immediate aftermath of the recession, the number of young adults packing up and moving declined, according to the Census.

During that time, demand for suburban houses was low and they weren't being built, Frey said. Meanwhile, cities grew. Between 2010 and 2013, the average annual growth rate for cities nearly doubled the rate of the previous decade, he said. During that time, cities with more than 250,000 people saw their populations increase more than 1 percent a year. The fastest growing were Washington, D.C., Denver, Seattle, Austin and Charlotte, North Carolina. Demographers declared the exurbs dead.

But between 2013 and 2014, core urban communities lost 363,000 people overall, as migration increased to suburban and exurban counties, according to Frey.

The small but significant growth of the exurbs indicates that the housing market may be rebounding, Frey said. "People said millennials wanted to live in cities, close to cool jazz clubs. But young people might have settled in a city because they had no place to go." Frey said. "It's too soon to say how much of this is changing preferences — and how much of it is the economy."

The Lure of the Exurbs
The return of the exurbs comes as no surprise to Joel Garreau, who wrote about the rise of the new urban centers in his 1991 book, "Edge City: Life on the New Frontier."

"What you saw before the crash is now coming back with a vengeance after the crash. This is not a blip," said Garreau, the professor of law, culture and values at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. "The core question for states is, ‘What's the future of my town or my city?' "

Historically, where we choose to live is driven by the technological advancements of the day, according to Garreau, from the advent of boats, to railroads, to jet planes to the World Wide Web. With cellphones, WiFi and, workers no longer need to be confined to one place. Professionals with certain skills could work and live where they wanted — and the world would come to them in the guise of a brown UPS truck.

But to call these rural hot spots "exurban," Garreau said, is missing the point. As he sees it, today's urban exiles aren't looking for a lengthy commute from the far suburbs to a downtown office. They're seasoned professionals with big incomes who've grown tired of the urban rat race, he said. They're looking to completely eradicate the notion of commuting to work and toiling from 9 to 5. Rich greenery and wide-open vistas are a must.

But not just any exurb will do.

"We can find places that are fabulous and have mountains and streams and we can get anything delivered to us," he said. "But we're still craving community. The places that are good for face to face contact will thrive. The ones that won't will die. You've got to create a place that will give you a reason to get out from behind your computer screen and interact with real life, flesh and blood human beings."

Case in point: Santa Fe, New Mexico, a remote town of about 70,000 that became the darling of urban expats in the early parts of the last century, thanks to its beautiful mountain vistas and pueblo-style architecture. Artists (such as Georgia O'Keefe) and nuclear scientists alike came for a visit and decided they never wanted to leave. Today, Santa Fe is a foodie haven, home to a world-class opera, a booming arts scene and quirky shops. Other exurban outposts looking to establish themselves could learn from this "Santa Fe effect," Garreau said. "You've got to give them a reason to stay."

Mike Berg, chairman of the Dawson County Board of Commissioners, said he's very aware of this. Research commissioned by the county found that Dawson's population would nearly quadruple over the next 20 years, from about 22,000 now to 100,000. To comfortably accommodate such an explosion, the county has to strengthen its infrastructure, especially when it comes to ensuring its water supply. (Georgia has been in a protracted water battle with neighboring Florida.)

To safeguard the county's future, Berg said, "We've got to make sure we have amenities that folks enjoy."  The county is unusual in that its tax base is heavily reliant on sales taxes rather than home property taxes. Several years ago, the county, along with four other local counties, was awarded a $38 million federal grant to expand fiber optics communications in the region, Berg said. Faster Internet helps businesses in the area — and appeals to telecommuters.

"The exurban group doesn't necessarily need a high-paying job or to feel like they're part of a massive community," Berg said. "They look to pockets like ours that have the amenities they need, but they're not as closed in."

When Tarver moved to Georgia to be with her husband, they never considered living in Atlanta. "We didn't want that hustly-bustly life," Tarver, 47, said. The exurbs suit her just fine. "When I drive to work, I don't have any stop signs," she said. "It's the prettiest drive."

This piece originally appeared at Stateline, where Teresa Wiltz is a senior staff writer.

Chuck Marr - April 14, 2015

The House is expected to consider a bill this week to repeal the federal estate tax on inherited wealth. This proposal would significantly increase budget deficits, widen wealth inequality, and benefit only the wealthiest Americans. And it comes just after House and Senate Republicans approved budgets that would make $5 trillion in budget cuts over ten years, with more than two-thirds of the cuts coming from programs focused on Americans with low or modest incomes.

Only the estates of the wealthiest 2 of every 1,000 people who die will owe the estate tax in 2015 under current law, largely because of its very generous tax-free exemption levels. The estate tax's reach is limited to the biggest estates.

Under repeal, the roughly 5,400 estates that would otherwise owe any tax in 2016 would get a tax cut averaging more than $3 million apiece, Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) data show. The estimated 320 estates worth at least $50 million would receive tax windfalls averaging more than $20 million each.

The repeal bill also would leave in place a loophole in the capital-gains tax. Consider estates that are worth more than $100 million. More than half of their assets are in the form of unrealized — and untaxed — capital gains. Normally, capital gains are taxed when they are realized, but those who inherit these assets are given a "stepped-up basis," meaning that they are taxed only on gains that occur after the original owner died — and the gains that occurred earlier are never taxed at all. With estate tax repeal, wealthy individuals would be able to pass such assets along to succeeding generations without the gains ever having been subject to any tax.

The repeal bill is part of a long push by a well-organized, well-financed lobby to cut taxes on the wealthiest estates. Over the past two decades, policymakers have increased the amount of an estate that's exempt from the tax from $650,000 in 2001 to $5.43 million per individual (and $10.86 million per married couple), and cut the top tax rate from 55 percent to 40 percent.

And the effective rate of the tax — the portion of the value of a taxable estate that is actually paid in tax — is much lower than the top rate. The few estates that are taxable at all paid taxes equal to 16.6 percent of the estates' value, on average, in 2013. That's because of the high exemption level, coupled with provisions to protect farmers and small businesses and complex estate-planning methods that many wealthy estates use to reduce their tax liability.

Still, the estate tax is an important source of revenue for the federal government, raising funds for essential programs from health care to education to national defense. Repealing the tax would cost $269 billion in lost revenues from 2016 to 2025, according to JCT. The House legislation doesn't offset this cost; it just adds it to the deficit.

The estate-tax repeal proposal comes just after House and Senate Republicans passed budget resolutions that would make it harder for low-income people to secure adequate food for their families, for working-class children to afford to go to college, and for millions of Americans to afford to go to the doctor.

The proposed estate-tax repeal and the proposed budget cuts also come at a time when income and wealth in America have grown increasingly concentrated at the top. The wealthiest 0.1 percent of families — the main beneficiaries of estate-tax repeal — saw their share of the nation's wealth jump from 7 percent to 22 percent between 1978 and 2012. Large inheritances play a significant role in this wealth concentration, as they account for about 40 percent of all household wealth.

Estate-tax opponents have relied on two unsound arguments to make their case.

First, they argue that the estate tax threatens family-owned small businesses and small farms. But due to the generous exemptions already in law, only roughly 20 small businesses and small-farm estates in the entire United States owed any estate tax in 2013, according to the Tax Policy Center.

Second, estate-tax opponents argue that the estate tax hurts the economy. Yet the evidence indicates that the estate tax is economically sound. Rather, it is repealing the tax that would likely affect the economy adversely over time, because repeal would increase the deficit and thereby reduce the pool of saving available for private investment. (This would occur because a larger share of the nation's saving would have to go to finance the enlarged deficit.) Research also underscores that repeal would likely lead some wealthy heirs to work less.

Policymakers should reject legislation that would swell deficits and deepen inequality while providing no benefit to the vast majority of Americans.

Chuck Marr is the director of federal tax policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Chris Christie Takes On Entitlements

Michael Tanner - April 14, 2015

New Jersey governor and putative Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie will deliver a speech in New Hampshire today in which he will set out, according to his aides, a "detailed proposal to address our long-term entitlements crisis." The speech may or may not jump start Christie's stalled presidential campaign, but if it forces other candidates to address the issue, he will have already done the country an enormous favor.

The national debt has dropped out of the headlines recently, in part because the deficit has been declining. It was just six years ago that the federal budget deficit topped $1.4 trillion. This year, the Congressional Budget Office projects it will be just $486 billion.

But the reprieve is purely temporary. Starting as early as next year, the deficit will begin to rise once more. Within a decade, we will again experience annual shortfalls of $1 trillion or more.

All this profligacy adds up. If rising annual budget deficits represent year-to-year fiscal irresponsibility, the cumulative total of that irresponsibility is the federal debt, which has now reached almost $18.2 trillion. By 2025, the debt is expected to approach $27 trillion. After that it only gets worse.

Driving this debt is the massive growth of entitlement spending. Thanks in large part to sequestration, both defense and domestic discretionary spending are down. Domestic discretionary spending, in fact, accounts for just 15 percent of all federal spending. That represents just 3 percent of GDP, a historic low.

The simple truth is that there is no way to address America's debt problem without reforming entitlements, notably Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and our newest entitlement program, Obamacare. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid alone account for 46 percent of federal spending today, a portion that will only grow larger in the future. And while the spending for Obamacare has just begun, it too will soon consume an ever larger portion of the federal budget.

Social Security will run a $69 billion cash-flow deficit this year, a shortfall that will grow every year into the future. Altogether, Social Security is facing future shortfalls worth almost $25 trillion. The so-called Trust Fund is simply an accounting measure, specifying how much money the federal government owes the program out of general revenues, not an actual asset than can be used to pay benefits. At the same time, Social Security taxes are already so high that most young people will receive a rate of return far below historic market returns.

Medicare is in even worse financial shape. Even under the most optimistic scenarios, Medicare's future shortfall will approach $48 trillion. And if health inflation returns to previous levels, Medicare's long-term costs could be far higher.

Medicaid's financial problems are measured somewhat differently since the federal portion is funded entirely from general revenues. Nonetheless, the program will cost the federal governments almost $350 billion this year, and an additional $150 billion at the state level. Moreover, program costs are rising rapidly. Federal Medicaid costs are estimated more than double to $576 billion by 2025.

If one took a proper accounting of America's unfunded entitlement liabilities, our real debt is not $18 trillion, but an astounding $90.5 trillion. That's getting uncomfortably close to our being Greece.

Yet so far, Republicans have been surprisingly muted on the issue. Rand Paul has offered a five-year balanced-budget plan. Marco Rubio has written about Social Security reform. Jeb Bush has called for raising the retirement age and means-testing programs. Ted Cruz supports personal accounts for Social Security and raising the eligibility age for Medicare. And Scott Walker says vaguely that "long term, there's got to be some sort of entitlement reform." But no one yet has stepped up to make the issue their own.

Christie first came to national prominence because of his willingness to stand up to the public-employee unions and demand reforms to New Jersey state pensions. Reforming entitlements will take a similar willingness to fight powerful special interests. That makes it a natural fit for the pugnacious New Jersey governor and his blunt speaking style.

But it is also a crucial issue for the future of our country, one that all the candidates should be talking about a lot more. If Christie's speech is the opening salvo in a national debate about how to stem the coming tsunami of red ink, our children and grandchildren will thank him -- no matter what it means for his political future.

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

Wind Costs More Than You Think

Randy Simmons, The Conversation - April 13, 2015

As consumers, we pay for electricity twice: once through our monthly electricity bill and a second time through taxes that finance massive subsidies for inefficient wind and other energy producers.

Most cost estimates for wind power disregard the heavy burden of these subsidies on US taxpayers. But if Americans realized the full cost of generating energy from wind power, they would be less willing to foot the bill — because it's more than most people think.

Over the past 35 years, wind energy — which supplied just 4.4% of US electricity in 2014 — has received $30 billion in federal subsidies and grants. These subsidies shield people from the uncomfortable truth of just how much wind power actually costs and transfer money from average taxpayers to wealthy wind farm owners, many of which are units of foreign companies.

Financial advisory firm Lazard puts the cost of generating a megawatt-hour of electricity from wind at a range of $37 to $81. In reality, the true price tag is significantly higher.

This represents a waste of resources that could be better spent by taxpayers themselves. Even the supposed environmental gains of relying more on wind power are dubious because of its unreliability — it doesn't always blow — meaning a stable backup power source must always be online to take over during periods of calm.

But at the same time, the subsidies make the US energy infrastructure more tenuous because the artificially cheap electricity prices push more reliable producers — including those needed as backup — out of the market. As we rely more on wind for our power and its inherent unreliability, the risk of blackouts grows. If that happens, the costs will really soar.

Where the Subsidies Go
Many people may be familiar with Warren Buffet's claim that federal policies are the only reason to build wind farms in the US, but few realize how many of the companies that benefit most are foreign. The Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University found that, as of 2010, 84% of total clean-energy grants awarded by the federal government went to foreign-owned wind companies.

More generally, the beneficiaries of federal renewable energy policies tend to be large companies, not individual taxpayers or small businesses. The top five recipients of federal grants and tax credits since 2000 are: Iberdrola, NextEra Energy, NRG Energy, Southern Company and Summit Power, all of which have received more than $1 billion in federal benefits.

Iberdrola Renewables alone, a unit of a Spanish utility, has collected $2.2 billion in federal grants and allocated tax credits over the past 15 years. That's equivalent to about 6.7% of the parent company's 2014 revenue of $33 billion (in current US dollars).

President Obama's proposed 2016 budget would permanently extend the biggest federal subsidy for wind power, the Production Tax Credit (PTC), ensuring that large foreign companies continue to reap most of the taxpayer-funded benefits for wind. The PTC is a federal subsidy that pays wind farm owners $23 per megawatt-hour through the first ten years of a turbine's operation. The credit expired at the end of 2013, but Congress extended it so that all projects under construction by the end of 2014 are eligible.

In all, Congress has enacted 82 policies, overseen by nine different agencies, to support wind power.

I explained in December why Congress shouldn't revive the PTC, which expired at the end of 2014. In this article, I'm adding up the true cost of wind power in the US, including the impact of the PTC and other subsidies and mandates. It's part of a study I'm doing of other energy sources including solar, natural gas, and coal to determine how much each one actually cost us when all factors are considered.


Tallying the True Costs of Wind
Depending on which factors are included, estimates for the cost of wind power vary wildly. Lazard claims the cost of wind power ranges from $37 to $81 per megawatt-hour, while Michael Giberson at the Center for Energy Commerce at Texas Tech University suggests it’s closer to $149. Our analysis in an upcoming report explores this wide gap in cost estimates, finding that most studies underestimate the genuine cost of wind because they overlook key factors.

All estimates for wind power include the cost of purchasing capital and paying for operations and maintenance (O&M) of wind turbines. For the studies we examined, capital costs ranged from $48 to $88 per megawatt-hour, while O&M costs ranged from $9.8 to $21 per megawatt-hour.

Many estimates, however, don't include costs related to the inherent unreliability of wind power and government subsidies and mandates. Since we can't ensure the wind always blows, or how strongly, coal and natural gas plants must be kept on as backup to compensate when it's calm. This is known as baseload cycling, and its cost ranges from $2 to $23 per megawatt-hour.

This also reduces the environmental friendliness of wind power. Because a coal-fired or natural gas power plant must be kept online in case there's no wind, two plants are running to do the job of one. These plants create carbon emissions, reducing the environmental benefits of wind. The amount by which emissions reductions are offset by baseload cycling ranges from 20% to 50%, according to a modeling study by two professors at Carnegie Mellon University.

While the backup plants are necessary to ensure the grid's reliability, their ability to operate is threatened by wind subsidies. The federal dollars encourage wind farm owners to produce power even when prices are low, flooding the market with cheap electricity. That pushes prices down even further and makes it harder for more reliable producers, such as nuclear plants, that don't get hefty subsidies to stay in business.

For example, the Kewaunee Nuclear Plant in Wisconsin and the Yankee Nuclear Plant in Vermont both switched off their reactors in 2013. Dominion Energy, which owned both plants, blamed the artificially low prices caused by the PTC as one of the reasons for the shutdown.

As more reliable sources drop off and wind power takes their place, consumers are left with an electrical infrastructure that is less reliable and less capable of meeting demand.

Lost in Transmission
Another factor often overlooked is the extra cost of transmission. Many of America's wind-rich areas are remote and the turbines are often planted in open fields, far from major cities. That means new transmission lines must be built to carry electricity to consumers. The cost of building new transmission lines ranges from $15 to $27 per megawatt-hour.

In 2013, Texas completed its Competitive Renewable Energy Zone project, adding over 3,600 miles of transmission lines to remote wind farms, costing state taxpayers $7 billion.

Although transmission infrastructure may be considered a fixed cost that will reduce future transmission costs for wind power, these costs will likely remain important. Today's wind farms are built in areas with prime wind resources. If we continue to subsidize wind power, producers will eventually expand to sub-prime locations that may be even further from population centers. This would feed demand for additional transmission projects to transport electricity from remote wind farms to cities.

The Final Bill Comes To ...
Finally, federal subsidies and state mandates also add significantly to the cost, even as many estimates claim these incentives actually reduce the cost of wind energy. In fact, they add to it as American taxpayers are forced to foot the bill. According to Giberson, federal and state policies add an average of $23 per megawatt-hour to the cost of wind power.

That includes the impact of state mandates, which end up increasing the cost of electricity on consumer power bills. California is one of the most aggressive in pushing so-called Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), requiring the state to consume 33% of its electricity from renewables by 2020. Overall electricity prices in states with RPS are 38% higher than those without, according to the Institute for Energy Research, a non-profit research group that promotes free markets.

The best estimate available for the total cost of wind power is $149 per megawatt-hour, taken from Giberson's 2013 report.

It is difficult to quantify some factors of the cost of wind power, such as the cost of state policies. Giberson's estimate, however, includes the most relevant factors in attempting to measure the true cost of producing electricity from wind power. In future reports, Strata will explore the true cost of producing electricity from solar, coal, and natural gas. Until those reports are completed, it is difficult to accurately compare the true cost of wind to other technologies, as true cost studies have not yet been completed.

Blowing in the Wind
The high costs of federal subsidies and state mandates for wind power have not paid off for the American public. According to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, wind energy receives a higher percentage of federal subsidies than any other type of energy while generating a very small percentage of the nation's electricity.

In 2010 the wind energy sector received 42% of total federal subsidies while producing only 2% of the nation's total electricity. By comparison, coal receives 10% of all subsidies and generates 45% and nuclear is about even at about 20%.

But policymakers at the federal and state level, unfortunately, have decided that the American people will have renewable energy, no matter how high the costs. As a result, taxpayers will be stuck paying the cost of subsidies to wealthy wind producers.

Meanwhile, electricity consumers will be forced to purchase the more expensive power that results from state-level mandates for renewable energy production. Although such policies may be well intended, the real results will be limited freedom, reduced prosperity and an increasingly unreliable power supply.

Randy Simmons is professor of political economy at Utah State University. He receives funding from the US Department of Energy (grant has been completed and there is no current funding) and Strata, a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization, of which he is president and director of research. 
Megan Hansen, a Strata policy analyst, co-authored this article.

TThe Conversationhis article has been updated with a corrected figure for wind power's current share of US electricity generation. It also clarifies the range of cost estimates from Lazard.

Death Sentences for Drug Crimes

Andrew Gargano - April 13, 2015

An Indonesian court last Monday rejected the appeal of two Australian nationals on death row for drug offenses, exhausting the duo's final effort to avoid the country's next firing-squad execution, which is slated for this year. While the ruling brings to light the extreme measures some nations take to punish drug offenders, it also calls attention to the involvement of the U.S. government and the United Nations, both of which are indirectly supporting these efforts through their attempts to prosecute the War on Drugs internationally.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were arrested in 2005 on drug-trafficking charges for leading a plot to smuggle heroin out of Indonesia. The other seven members of the drug ring, which has become known as the Bali Nine, were more fortunate and narrowly evaded death sentences. While Indonesia underwent a four-year capital-punishment hiatus in 2008, it resumed executions in 2013, with the most recent round -- six drug offenders -- held this past January. Although January's executions elicited an international outcry, with both Brazil and the Netherlands recalling their ambassadors from Jakarta, Indonesian president Joko Widodo has remained steadfast on capital punishment for drug criminals.

In fact, 33 countries have capital drug laws. Most of these laws are never used, but some countries execute drug criminals regularly. In Malaysia, for example, there were 648 drug offenders on death row in September 2012. Many legal experts have argued that these policies violate international law, citing the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which limits death sentences to the "most serious crimes," and U.N. committee rulings that suggest drug offenses do not qualify under this criterion.

Despite widespread awareness of these laws, both the U.S. and the U.N. continue to provide counter-narcotics support to countries that execute drug offenders. The DEA has spent roughly $400 million each year for the past four years on international drug enforcement, some of which has ended up in these countries.

The U.S. has sponsored drug-control operations in Indonesia since at least 2005, according to a cable obtained by Wikileaks. In 2011, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration opened its Jakarta Country Office in order to provide "wide-ranging support that includes training, technical assistance, equipment, and infrastructure." Then, in 2012, the U.S. expanded its support and "funded the construction of administrative offices, classrooms, and barracks for training counter narcotics officers." In 2013, the Department of State spent $450,000 on its counter-narcotics program in Indonesia. The DEA also holds a field office in Kuala Lumpur, where the taxpayer-funded agency trains Malaysian law-enforcement officers and shares intelligence.

While U.S. aid to countries with capital drug laws is reproachable at best, it pales in comparison to the involvement of the U.N. in the Middle East, where capital drug laws are invoked regularly. Last year, Iran executed 367 people for drug-related crimes. In 2011, the country executed 540 — these were more than 80 percent of its total documented executions. The executions are not just reserved for adult offenders, either. Last April, a 17-year-old from Afghanistan, Jannat Mir, was hanged in Iran after being caught smuggling heroin across the border.

The human-rights advocacy group Reprieve has directly linked millions of dollars in international funding to drug arrests that result in executions. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has for years financially supported the counter-narcotics programs that the country uses to arrest, prosecute, and then execute drug offenders. While some countries, such as Denmark and Ireland, have acknowledged the deadly link and cut off funding to the UNODC, others have not yet done so.

Moreover, the UNODC recently established a five-year, multimillion-dollar aid deal to continue this support. And since the UNODC is financed through member-country donations, European taxpayers are footing the bill for this costly and inhumane attempt at global drug enforcement.

The U.N.'s mission is to uphold international law and support human rights, but in continuing to offer this funding to Iran, it has chosen to ignore both. This must change. And while the U.S. slowly begins to reform the criminal-justice system at home, it should do so overseas as well.

Andrew Gargano is an editorial assistant at Young Voices, a policy project of the international nonprofit Students For Liberty.

Automatic (IRA) for the People

Daniel Biss, Weekly Wonk - April 9, 2015

When it comes to building a financially secure retirement, Americans are facing a crisis.

2013 study by the National Institute on Retirement Security found that working Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 have between $6.8 and $14 trillion less than they would need to retire at age 67 without incurring a significant lifestyle change.

With households facing such stark shortfalls, it is unsurprising that adequate retirement is one of our biggest national economic concerns. According to Gallup, 59 percent are anxious about having enough money for retirement.

This means that as a nation, we have three choices: abandon all hope of future generations retiring in our 60s, expect to absorb a drastic financial upheaval upon retirement, or dramatically improve our retirement security mechanisms.

Many jobs are physically or emotionally demanding enough to make working well past the age of 70 simply unreasonable. "Drastic lifestyle change" can, for many, literally mean being forced to choose between medication and food.  This crisis is a genuinely terrifying situation, and one that clearly calls for us to explore options behind door number three.

How can we effectively improve our retirement security mechanisms? One way is to address the lack of access to workplace plans. Barely half of private sector workers have access to an employer-based retirement plan, and the data are very clear that workers without access to a plan at work are enormously unlikely to save for retirement.

In Illinois, we recently passed the Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program. Under the new law, workers whose employers don't offer any plan (and have at least 25 employees and have existed for at least two years) will be automatically enrolled with a 3% payroll deduction in a Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA). They can opt out if they don't want to participate, or change their contribution rate if they like. The funds will be pooled together and a private firm will manage the assets with oversight from a board chaired by the state treasurer (and also includes the state comptroller and four gubernatorial appointees who must also be approved by the state Senate).

This program accomplishes three critical goals. First, it creates a workplace-based savings program for many workers who currently lack access. Second, it enrolls employees by default, which means that participation rates and consumer satisfaction will be higher. Finally, it creates a large pool of savers, with a competitive bid process to ensure that fees will be kept low.

All this plan asks of employers is to give employees the opportunity to opt out and to conduct the payroll deduction. In other words, it costs businesses — not to mention government — nothing.

That's why this concept has received plaudits from economists and policy wonks from across the ideological spectrum. Illinois' plan is modeled on a proposal that was supported in the 2008 presidential campaign by both our then-Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain.

Given the depth of the problem, the high level of public concern, and the broad support for the Secure Choice concept, one might assume that passing this law was easy. But it wasn't — and states across the country looking to follow Illinois' lead are facing battles of their own.

In Illinois, we fought this battle for years before finally succeeding by the skin of our teeth. Other states have tried, and while many (including California, Oregon, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and others) have made significant progress, none has yet passed a law that actually creates a Secure Choice program. And notwithstanding President Obama's continued support for retirement savings initiatives, through legislative proposals and the executive action creating the myRA initiative, Congress doesn't seem any closer to passing major legislation on the problem of access to workplace savings plans than they did six years ago.

Why all this resistance to a bipartisan effort to help Americans save for retirement? Advocates and public officials (myself included) still have work to do to make stronger connections for the public between our legislative efforts and citizens' concerns about retirement. We also need to continue to build a more politically powerful and diverse coalition of partners in this process, because we face some strong opposition. Many in the financial sector view the creation of a new savings program (even one whose assets are privately managed) as competition, while some employer groups object to being responsible for deducting an IRA contribution from an employee's paycheck and forwarding it to the fund manager.

In spite of these difficulties, the path Illinois took offers a few instructive lessons for success in other states. Persistence in making Secure Choice a priority is one.  During the summer and fall of an election year, when most people who participate in the political process were focused on campaigns, other advocates and I drove across the state multiple times, meeting with any legislator who would see us. We were also willing to listen to the opinions and concerns of anyone who was willing to speak with us, and, in many cases, to amend the bill so as to address those concerns. The bill was amended 17 times before it passed, and each of those amendments responded to a point that someone raised in these conversations.

Many of those discussions also brought on board a new legislator or interest group. We were also able to grow our coalition strategically by persuading some previously neutral or nominally supportive entities to be more engaged and start devoting time to meeting with legislators. Simultaneously, we were able to convince some opponents to take a neutral position.

Finally, we benefited from a tremendous amount of that most important of qualities: luck. The Senate had to vote on the legislation twice, and in each instance we had no votes to spare. While we were still working to pass Secure Choice, a statewide advisory referendum recommending an increase in the minimum wage passed overwhelmingly in November 2014. Because of a complex interplay between discussions happening at the state level and in the City of Chicago, it became clear that we'd be unable to pass a state-level minimum wage increase, but support for the measure gave us a clear mandate to pursue other pathways to economic opportunity for low-wage workers — like Secure Choice.

This context gave Secure Choice significant momentum and helped facilitate its passage in the month following the election. This was wonderful news for the millions of Illinois workers who currently lack access to workplace-based retirement plans — certainly cause for celebration. At the same time, we can't lose sight of the role of good fortune in this outcome or ignore the concessions required to build consensus (remember the 17 amendments?).

In order to parlay this very meaningful Illinois success into national action that can truly repair our country's broken retirement security system, we're going to need to establish a game plan that relies less on luck. In fact, we're going to need to establish a game plan that makes success inevitable.

I think the ingredient we're missing right now is a strong political discourse that connects policy interventions to the deep anxiety Americans feel about retirement. When the majority of citizens have a deep and abiding concern about an economic issue, that issue is like tinder waiting to be ignited. And once ignited, it will necessarily be a part of a national agenda, and hopefully on the path to national resolution.

For instance, health care has been on the agenda of national political leaders for the better part of a century, and during much of that time opinion surveys have demonstrated that Americans strongly supported reform. However, it wasn't until the 1991 U.S. Senate election of Harris Wofford that elected leaders, media elites, and the public were all speaking about the issue in the same language with the same sense of urgency. This sudden — indeed, abrupt — transformation had a huge impact on the political and policy dialogue for years to come.

All the ingredients are in place for retirement security to undergo the same rapid transformation — and once it does so, there is no limit to the amount of good we can do for our fellow citizens. Access to a dignified retirement is a core component of a middle-class life, and right now we're falling between $6.8 trillion and $14 trillion short. It's time to create the conditions to solve this problem once and for all.

Daniel Biss represents the 9th district in the Illinois State Senate. He was the lead sponsor of the Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program. This piece originally appeared in the New America Foundation's Weekly Wonk.

A Police Shooting and a Taser

Robert VerBruggen - April 8, 2015

A disturbing video, which you can see in full here, shows a white North Charleston, S.C., police officer shooting a black man in the back as he runs away. The officer has been charged with murder.

Apparently the officer pulled the man over for a broken taillight, and a foot pursuit and a struggle ensued. (The man had a family-court warrant.) The video begins after that, as the man makes a final break for it.

What is clear from the video is that the officer shot the man in the back as he fled. What's less clear is what was going on with the officer's Taser. The officer has claimed the man "took my Taser," but the video shows something falling to the ground behind the officer as the man runs, another object on the ground in front of him, the officer going back to pick something up later, and then the officer dropping something near the body. Some have suggested the officer was planting the Taser.

What's especially odd is that there are wires extending from the officer to the man as the man runs away, which I've captured in a rough GIF animation below. (Look closely at the area below and to the left of the officer's arms.) The officer certainly isn't acting as if he's been Tased, and hasn't claimed that he was, but the path the wires take -- from the officer's arms/shoulders toward the man's body -- is perplexing, because the officer is holding his pistol, not his Taser, and many believe the Taser was on the ground by this point. It's possible the wires draped over the officer's shoulder somehow as the weapon fell, but the wires don't seem to extend toward either of the objects on the ground.

[Update: Another possibility that occurred to me after repeated viewings is that the wires got caught on the officer's belt or gun when the Taser fell, and he grabbed them as he drew the gun.]

To be clear, I am not presenting this as any sort of evidence that the shooting was justified, but I do think it's important to discover and carefully consider all the facts, including the location of the Taser, a weapon capable of incapacitating an officer, at this point of the video. (Some Tasers can fire more than once, or be applied directly to someone's body after being fired.) Under Supreme Court precedent, it is unconstitutional for a state to allow officers to kill someone just for trying to get away, but lethal force can be justified against a fleeing suspect if the officer has "probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others." It appears that South Carolina doesn't impose a stricter standard than that.

From the video, it looks unlikely that the officer's conduct met that standard -- even if the man was making off with the Taser, his goal was almost certainly just to escape -- but the legal issues are complicated and there's a lot that is murky in the video.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

Upon Further Review: Inside the Police Failure to
Stop Darren Sharper's Rape Spree

Miller & Gabrielson, ProPublica, and Vargas & Simerman, New Orleans Advocate - April 8, 2015

New Orleans — It was 5:06 a.m. on a Tuesday in September 2013 when sex crimes Detective Derrick Williams caught the call. It came from the hospital. It was a distraught woman. She was saying she had been raped.

She told Williams a familiar story of French Quarter trespass: She'd hit the clubs the night before, she said. Drank a lot. Met a man. Went to his house. And awoke the next morning to find him on top of her, naked. But she told Williams she had never said yes to sex.

Williams typed up a brief report. He labeled the incident a rape. But Case No. I-31494-13 wasn't quite ordinary. The accuser was a former cheerleader for the New Orleans Saints. And the alleged rapist was Darren Sharper, a hero of the Saints' 2009 Super Bowl team, former Pro Bowl player and broadcast analyst for the league's television network.

News of the Sept. 23, 2013 incident quickly shot up the ranks. New Orleans' police superintendent and top prosecutor were briefed. In the weeks that followed, police records show that Williams gathered evidence. He got a warrant to collect a sample of Sharper's DNA. It matched a swab taken from the woman's body. Witnesses told of seeing Sharper with the intoxicated woman at a club, and later at his condo. Video footage confirmed Sharper and the woman had been together.

It wasn't enough for the district attorney's office. This was a "heater" — police shorthand for a high profile case. Prosecutors were hesitant to move too quickly on a local football hero with deep pockets and savvy lawyers, according to two individuals with knowledge of the investigation. They held off on an arrest warrant.

"If his name was John Brown, he would have been in jail," one criminal justice official with knowledge of the case said. "If a woman says, 'He's the guy that raped me,' and you have corroborating evidence to show they were together and she went to the hospital and she can identify him, that guy goes to jail."

Sharper did not — and continued an unchecked crime spree that ended only with his arrest in Los Angeles last year after sexually assaulting four women in 24 hours. In March, Sharper owned up to his savagery. He agreed to plead guilty or no contest to raping or attempting to rape nine women in four states. The pending deal allows his possible release after serving half of a 20-year sentence — a strikingly light punishment that has drawn widespread criticism.

Sharper's rampage of druggings and rapes could have been prevented, according to a two-month investigation by ProPublica and The New Orleans Advocate based on police records in five states, hundreds of pages of court documents and dozens of interviews across the country.

Nine women reported being raped or drugged by Sharper to four different agencies before his January 2014 capture. But police and prosecutors along the way failed to investigate fully the women's allegations. They made no arrests. Some victims and eyewitnesses felt their claims were downplayed. Corroborating evidence, including DNA matches and video surveillance, was minimized or put on hold.

Perhaps most critically, police did not inquire into Sharper's history. Had they done so, they would have detected a chilling predatory pattern that strongly bolstered the women's accounts.

Sharper typically chose victims who were white women in their early 20s, records show. He picked them up in pairs at nightclubs, and took them home to his hotel or residence. Sharper had drinks with them, sometimes lacing drinks he gave the women with drugs that rendered them unconscious.

The ProPublica and Advocate investigation thus reveals wider problems in the prosecution of sexual assaults in America. More than 20 years after Congress and state legislatures reformed laws to put more rapists in prison, police and prosecutors do not take full advantage of the tools at their disposal.

One key part of the change was to make it easier to use a suspect's history of sexual assaults at trial. But prosecutors and police often do not seek out other possible victims. One recent assessment called the reform effort "a failure."

The FBI also created a database to contain detailed case descriptions to help police capture serial rapists who operate across state lines. But it is seldom used. Of 79,770 rapes reported to police in 2013, only 240 cases were entered into the database — 0.3 percent.

Today, studies show that only about one in three victims report sexual assaults in the first place. Of those reports, Department of Justice statistics show, less than 40 percent result in an arrest, a far lower figure than for other major crimes such as murder or aggravated assault.

"We do an abysmal job of investigating and prosecuting rape," said Kim Lonsway, the research director for End Violence Against Women International, a leading police training organization. "There are failures at all levels."

To be sure, deep-seated societal attitudes make rape uniquely difficult to prosecute. Victims are ashamed or afraid to report it. Police and prosecutors can be reluctant to pursue it. Cases involving drugs and alcohol can turn on whether victims consented to sex, adding to the complexity.

And each of the cases involving Sharper, taken in isolation, presented prosecutors with hurdles. In secretly recorded phone calls with his victims, Sharper didn't make incriminating statements. He moved fast, in one city one day and in another the next. He drugged many of his victims with powerful amnesiacs, resulting in cloudy or even non-existent memories.

But taken as a whole, the Sharper case underscores American law enforcement's trouble with solving rape cases: Investigations are often cursory, sometimes incompetent, frequently done in ignorance of the suspect's past sex assault history.

Sharper's victims suffered the failures most. With Sharper, they encountered a man practiced in defense and deception. With police and prosecutors, they found deference toward the accused, and what often felt like disbelief concerning their claims.

ProPublica and The New Orleans Advocate contacted five of Sharper's alleged victims. Except for brief interviews with two women, none wanted to discuss the allegations. And none wanted their names used.

"It's pretty black and white," one woman said about the police. "They didn't do their job."

A Football Career of 'Calculated Risks'
Sharper worked hard to become "Sharp," the football player, ladies' man and on-air analyst.

He and his brother, Jamie, also a future NFL player, were raised in a middle-class family in Richmond, Va. They were football stars at suburban Hermitage High School.

Jamie wound up at the University of Virginia. Darren decided to go to the College of William and Mary — a school known more for academics. Its football team competed in a second tier football conference.

Sharper chose the school because he wanted to play quarterback. But when he got there, the head coach made a fateful decision. He wanted Darren Sharper on defense. At 6 feet 2, 210 pounds, Sharper excelled as a safety. By his junior year, he was drawing interest from NFL scouts who coveted his rare ability to get his hands on passes he either batted away or intercepted.

The Green Bay Packers chose him with the 60th pick in the 1997 draft. The first year, he didn't start. But he had an impact, running back two interceptions and a fumble recovery for touchdowns. The Packers made it to the Super Bowl, but lost to the Broncos.

Sharper broke out during the 2000 season. That year, he led the NFL with nine interceptions and earned his first of two selections to the Associated Press All-Pro First Team. The next year, he signed a six-year, $30 million contract extension.

Over eight years with the Packers, and four more with the Minnesota Vikings, Sharper never lost his nose for the ball. His ability to break up plays was Hall of Fame-caliber.

"He was just really good at being able to read what the receivers and quarterbacks were doing, and he would jump routes," said Scott McGarrahan, a retired NFL safety and one of Sharper's teammates on the Packers. "It was calculated risks."

He also flattened wide receivers. He earned a reputation as one of the hardest-hitting safeties in football. He once acknowledged that his early tackles would be deemed illegal under later NFL rules designed to prevent concussions.

"Guys are now getting flagged and fined for hits that were legal when I first came into the league," Sharper said in a 2012 interview with Ebony magazine.

Despite the on-field ferocity, Sharper was invariably described by fellow players and friends as polite, courteous and kind. He had a charity for kids. He took an interest in women's issues. He briefly dated actress and former model Gabrielle Union, a rape victim who became an outspoken advocate. He raised money for breast cancer. The NFL as an institution embraced him, and he was selected to appear in a league book, NFL Dads Dedicated to Daughters, designed to raise awareness of battered women. In the book's photo, he draped an arm around his daughter.

"My daughter makes me mindful of how women are treated: undervalued and exploited," he wrote. "Which is why I feel compelled to take advantage of this opportunity to speak up about domestic violence."

Sharper remained guarded about his personal life. He was close to his family, especially his brother, Jamie. But he seemed to have few close friends.

"Be courteous to all, but intimate with few; and let those be well-tried before you give them your confidence," he said in one tweet.

What Sharper did have over the years was women — lots of them. He sponsored parties and charity events with suggestive names, such as "One Night Stand." He and his friends were regulars at night clubs in Miami, with five to 10 women sitting at their table.

By 2009, Sharper's career looked to be winding down. The Saints signed him to a one-year, $1.2 million contract.

It turned out to be a miracle year — for both Sharper and the Saints. Sharper stormed through the season, his best ever, tying for the NFL lead with nine interceptions. He broke the NFL's single-season record for most yards in interception returns, and he scored three of the Saints defense's five touchdowns that regular season.

His performance helped lift the Saints to their first Super Bowl victory — less than five years after Hurricane Katrina had decimated New Orleans. The Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17. After 13 years in the NFL, Sharper finally got his Super Bowl ring.

He had also found a new home. New Orleans fans loved the "Sharper Shake," the bombastic, shoulder-wriggling shuffle he performed after a big play. They loved how he hit. And they loved his looks.

On Twitter, Instagram and elsewhere online, female fans gushed about his dimples and speculated about his bedroom prowess. One page on an anonymous blog called Kiss 'n Tale drew more than 5,000 comments about Sharper and his purported sexual talents.


On a squad later plagued by scandals involving Vicodin pills that went missing from the team's medical supplies and allegations of bounties for on-field hits, Sharper was considered one of the good guys.

"He was a perfect gentleman. He was an older player. He never gave us any trouble," one former Saints official said.

Sharper's football career essentially ended after the Super Bowl. He injured himself during the offseason and played nine lackluster games in the Saints' 2010 campaign.

He played his last game for the Saints on January 8, 2011.

'In Rape, the Victim Is the Case'
Two months later, at 10:12 a.m. on March 18, 2011, Miami Beach police got a call from the rape crisis unit in Miami's sprawling Jackson Memorial Hospital. Two women had arrived that morning asking for rape examinations. Officer Alejandro Fernandez was dispatched to interview them.

Fernandez was new to the job: he'd been sworn in as a probationary police officer a month earlier. When he arrived, Fernandez interviewed two college students from the University of Georgia in Athens. They told the following story, according to police records.

The two girls had spent spring break in Miami. The night before, they had wound up at Mansion, a 40,000-square foot nightclub in south Miami Beach that pulsed nightly. A glitterati capital — neon, urgent — Mansion drew Jay-Z and Prince, Britney Spears and P. Diddy.

There, they met Wascar Payano, a promoter who knew a mutual friend. After a night at the club, Payano suggested that the three women accompany him to visit another friend: Darren Sharper.

The women agreed, and stepped into the world of NFL offseason parties.

The NFL season ends in February with the Super Bowl. Afterwards, many players head to condos and homes in party cities accustomed to accommodating the rich and famous — Miami Beach, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

There, at popping, gleaming nightclubs, pro players take up seats at VIP tables, dropping $15,000 to $25,000 a night to buy drinks, food and exclusive access. Women in search of a sexual encounter with an NFL player make their way to the same clubs.

For the players, the arrangement offers easy access to women. And for some women, it offers the chance of thrill sex, bragging rights, maybe long-term romance.

Darren Sharper was a regular on the scene. Beginning in the late 2000s, Sharper met a lot of women through Payano, who was well connected in Miami Beach. In an interview, Payano said it was not difficult work.

"He was handsome and famous," Payano said. "He liked women."

Sharper was also a gambler who bet on baseball and basketball games. Sharper wagered as much as $25,000 a week placing offshore bets. Sharper needed the money, Payano said. His retirement from the NFL had seen his salary drop from more than $1 million a year to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Sharper, who had flown friends on vacations to Europe and the Caribbean, now insisted on splitting checks.

He saw gambling as a way to try to maintain his nightclub lifestyle.

"He was afraid he'd go broke," Payano said. "He'd seen it happen to other NFL players."

As detailed in a 2014 Sports Illustrated article, Payano had his own history of allegations of trouble with women. While attending the University of Miami in 2009, he had been arrested after allegedly spitting on a woman during a confrontation. Police dropped the case, and no charges were filed. Payano, a wounded Iraq veteran, maintained his innocence.

The experience of being accused gave Payano an appreciation for the danger that faced an NFL player: A woman with an axe to grind, or a desire to extort money, could make life difficult for the player, his reputation and his team.

"A lot of women don't tell the truth," Payano said.

After a night of drinking and dancing, Payano and the women went back to Sharper's condo.

The women and Payano met Sharper at his $6.7 million, 3,500 square-foot apartment. Its 20th floor windows were filled with stunning views of the Atlantic and the surrounding city. Two heavyset men were in the back, along with Jamie Sharper, the records show.

Payano and one of the women went into a nearby room. The other two women, exhausted from their night of partying, fell asleep on couches in the living room, the police records show.

Later that evening, according to police reports, one of the women in the living room awoke to find a man attempting to put his penis into her mouth. She pushed the man away, but awoke later to find the man trying to lift up her dress.

Upset, the woman woke her friend. She then woke Payano and her other friend from the bedroom. The women told Payano and their friend what had happened. Both women said they discovered that their underwear had been removed during the night.

Payano took the two women to the hospital on the morning of March 18, records show.

There, the two women underwent a rape kit – a forensic examination that typically lasts from two to four hours. The exam includes a full body inspection where a nurse searches for bodily fluids that may contain samples of an attacker's DNA. There is a toxicological exam, which attempts to determine whether drugs are present. And there is an examination for evidence of bruising or other damage that may indicate assault.

It can be an emotionally draining procedure – but not one that can ultimately determine whether a rape has occurred. At best, the rape kit can add evidence to a case.

The women decided to contact Miami Beach police. When Fernandez, the young officer, arrived at the hospital, he spoke with the nurse. The nurse, he wrote in his police report, told him that she "did not find any evidence" of a sexual assault. But in an interview with CBS News last year, the nurse said that she "would never say that, that's not my role."

Fernandez also reported that the victim identified the man who assaulted her as either "Darren or Jamie" Sharper – perhaps an indication of confusion.

But Payano said that Jamie was never mentioned by either victim, nor involved in the case.

 Fernandez's report contains no mention of an effort to contact Darren Sharper. Nor are there signs that he attempted to collect evidence from Sharper's apartment. He never referred the case to Miami Beach's criminal investigations unit for further investigation. He never contacted prosecutors to determine whether probable cause existed.

Perhaps most important, there is no sign that Fernandez sent the women's rape kits to a lab for a more detailed examination. The failure to promptly test rape kits is a longstanding national problem that has hampered investigations for years. The federal government estimates there is a current backlog of hundreds of thousands of such kits sitting unexamined in police stations and testing labs.

Fernandez did consult with his superiors. And five days after the incident, he closed the case, records show. It was not labeled a crime. It sits in Miami Beach records as a "miscellaneous incident."

Miami Beach police would not be interviewed or respond to written questions. In a brief email, Detective Ernesto Rodriguez, a department spokesman, defended the agency's actions. Efforts to reach Fernandez through the Miami Beach police union were unsuccessful.

"The women involved never said that they were sexually assaulted, nor was there any physical evidence," Rodriguez wrote. "The officers consulted with a detective, and based on the lack of evidence of a crime, they all concluded that no further action could be taken by the department."

Anne Munch, a former prosecutor who worked on the Kobe Bryant rape trial in Colorado, is one of the country's leading experts in the investigation of sexual assaults, providing advice to the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice and police departments interested in improving their investigative techniques.

At ProPublica's request, Munch agreed to review the public records released by law enforcement agencies in conjunction with the Sharper investigation. While not complete, the files provide a glimpse into police activity in some jurisdictions.

In general, the cases displayed many of the characteristics that make rape investigations so confounding, she said. Women who are assaulted often have fragmentary or conflicting memories — a direct result of the trauma of the event. Police must take special care in interviewing victims by understanding that uncertain recollections are common. Investigating officers need to seek corroboration from witnesses and confidants, not just rape kits.

"In rape, the victim is the case," Munch said.

Munch, as a result, questioned whether the Miami Beach department did a complete investigation. She noted that investigators should always attempt to contact the suspect before closing the investigation. There is no sign of such an attempt by the Miami Beach police. The rape kits performed were put to no immediate use. And records show no efforts to speak with witnesses from the night in the condo.

"One of the priorities in these cases, given what we know about sex offenders, is that it's typically not a he said, she said situation," she said.

"It's he said, they said."

'She's On the Potion'
It was after midnight on Sept. 23, 2013, and Tony Stafford was relaxing at a club inside Jax Brewery, an imposing, crenellated building overlooking the Mississippi, once the South's largest brewery. It had been a good night for Stafford, who was managing partner at a bar on nearby Bourbon Street. The Saints had beaten the Arizona Cardinals earlier in the day. Stafford had decided to treat his staff to drinks.

It was around 2 a.m. when he saw a woman he knew stumbling through the crowded club in a daze. To Stafford, the woman, a former Saints cheerleader, looked like she was sleepwalking.

Stafford became alarmed. He saw Sharper, whom he also knew, sitting in a corner with a hat pulled low, eying the woman. Stafford went up to him and asked about the woman.

Stafford said Sharper told him the woman was okay. He was taking her back to his apartment about a mile away. "She's on the potion. She's ready," he told Stafford. Sharper then took the woman's hand and walked out.

The remark chilled Stafford.

He wasn't going home with a woman, Stafford said in a recent interview, "he was going home with a zombie."

Concerned, Stafford called another old friend: a deputy sheriff, Brandon Licciardi, who hung out with Sharper. He convinced Licciardi to check on the woman's welfare. Licciardi told Stafford that he'd gone to Sharper's condo. He'd caught a glimpse of the woman lying flat in Sharper's bed.

Another woman was in the apartment as well, along with a Sharper friend, according to an account Licciardi later gave authorities.

Sharper had pushed him back. "Dude, I got this," Sharper told Licciardi, according to the transcript of Licciardi's interview with investigators. "Y'all go home. Everything's fine. ... I'mma bring her home."

Licciardi said he heard the deadbolt click behind him as he left.

The next morning, the woman called Stafford in tears. She had awoken to find Sharper on top of her, naked, records show. She didn't know what had happened. Stafford said he convinced her to go to the hospital for a rape kit exam.

A short while later, Stafford got a call from Detective Williams. The sex crimes unit detective wanted to interview him.

The unit was not held in high esteem. In the wake of killings by police after Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Department of Justice had investigated the New Orleans police department for civil rights violations. Among the problems uncovered: "under-enforcement and under-investigation of violence against women." In 2013, a federal judge signed a consent decree ordering widespread reforms. They included 17 specific mandates to fix the department's shoddy handling of sexual-assault reports.

But later investigations would not show much progress. One report by the New Orleans inspector general found that police had mis-categorized nearly half of forcible rapes as "miscellaneous incidents" or "unfounded." The effect was to lower the rate of sexual assaults reported to the FBI.

Another investigation found that five detectives had failed to document follow-up investigation in the vast majority of reported sex crimes assigned to them.

One of those detectives: Derrick Williams.

Williams joined the New Orleans police department in 1996, spending some of his time in the juvenile division. He transferred to the sex crimes unit on a temporary basis, but wound up staying, said Eric Hessler, a police union lawyer representing the detective.

Stafford had doubts about Williams. He found the detective hostile. Williams, he said in an interview, emphasized that the woman had retained a civil lawyer — which Stafford took as a slur meaning that his friend was just seeking money.

Stafford grew angry and upset. He got up to leave. He told Williams that he had more information about the case. But months would pass before he felt comfortable disclosing more details to investigators outside the department.

"It didn't feel like they were really investigating a crime," Stafford said of the initial police response. "(It felt) like they were only going through the motions."

Williams also questioned the second woman who had been in Sharper's condo. The woman had been raped by Sharper. But she found Williams rude, and decided not to tell him anything, she later told authorities. She revealed details about the attack to district attorney's investigators only after Sharper's arrest in Los Angeles.

Williams did pursue the trail, at least at first,. He tried to interview Sharper, but was blocked by Sharper's attorney. He got a warrant allowing police to obtain a DNA sample from the former Saint. Sharper came to police headquarters with his attorney for a mouth swab. And on Nov. 4, six weeks after the night at Jax, the Louisiana State Police lab reported that Sharper's DNA matched DNA found on the woman.

Hessler, the lawyer for Williams, denied that the detective ever insinuated the former cheerleader was seeking money. Hessler said Williams had done his best to build a case.

By early November, Williams had a victim willing to testify; eyewitness accounts confirming parts of her story; video tracking her wobbly entrance into the condo; and physical evidence implicating Sharper.

What he didn't have was police brass or a prosecutor willing to approve an arrest warrant. Not that they weren't interested in the case. Hessler said that New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and former New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas received regular briefings and monitored the investigation.

The high-level input did not help, Hessler said.

"It would help if they would dedicate the resources to you. It would help if they would dedicate support, time and everything else that's needed to solve it," Hessler said. "It doesn't help to have 10 people screaming in your ear, telling different things for you to do every day of the week."

Hessler said that Williams was not detached to investigate Sharper full time until after Los Angeles police made their arrest.

"This detective should've been allowed to focus solely and primarily on these allegations, and he was not," Hessler said.

Another criminal justice official with knowledge of the case said top officials were micromanaging Williams, demanding a bulletproof case before they would sign off on Sharper's arrest.

"The D.A.'s position and the administration's position was, because this was a high-profile case, we want to make sure we do this the right way. It was mainly because of the celebrity-ness," the official said. "You can't go in there half-cocked hoping you can scare them into pleading guilty or something. You only get one bite at the apple."

A New Orleans police spokesman declined to discuss the case, saying that Cannizzaro's office had asked to handle all questions pertaining to the case. Cannizzaro declined to be interviewed or respond to written questions from ProPublica and the New Orleans Advocate. Serpas, now retired, also declined requests for an interview.

Studies have shown that both police and prosecutors tend to look "downstream" in rape cases. That means their decisions are strongly influenced by whether they believe that a jury is likely to convict the suspect.

Jurors are more likely to convict in a case where a stranger uses force to rape a victim with a spotless background — sometimes referred to as a "righteous victim."

But such cases are the exception. Most rapes are between acquaintances. Most do not involve violence. And many involve victims perceived to have put themselves at risk: drinking at a bar or going home with strangers.

Many rapes come down to a single, difficult-to-prove issue: consent. Jurors are traditionally hesitant to convict when one person testifies to hearing yes, while the other person swears to saying no.

"There's a reluctance to label someone a rapist without very compelling evidence that the person is, in fact, a rapist," said Cassia Spohn, an Arizona State University professor who has studied the prosecution of rape cases for decades.

Still, Williams might have strengthened his case if he had taken one additional step. A call to police in Miami Beach, which Sharper listed as his permanent address, would have turned up Sharper's name in connection with the 2011 spring break incident.

Munch, the rape expert, said such inquiries are among the most important aspects of any investigation. Studies have shown that rapists have frequently committed prior sexual assault offenses. Such history can help support a new victim's case.

The details of the New Orleans case were eerily similar to the Miami incident. Women in both cases who were young, white and blond. Women who had passed out at Sharper's residence — either from alcohol or drugs. Women in both cases who woke to a sexual assault.

But Williams never made the call.

And Sharper was already on the move.

More Women, More Drugs, Little Action
A month after allegedly raping the former cheerleader in New Orleans, Sharper was in Los Angeles to appear as an analyst for an NFL Network broadcast.

On the night of Oct. 30, 2013, he walked into Bootsy Bellows, a small nightclub that marks the end of the sprawl of bars along the Sunset Strip. There, a friend introduced him to two women. After the club closed, Sharper invited the women to an afterparty.

On the way, Sharper told the women he had to stop by his hotel to "pick up something," according to court records. He invited the women to his suite, where he gave both shots of Patron XO Cafe, a coffee-flavored tequila.

Both women blacked out within minutes of consuming the shots. Police said the drinks were spiked with zolpidem, the generic name for popular sleep aid Ambien, as well as morphine.

One woman awoke at 8:30 a.m. She was naked, and Sharper was astride her. The second woman woke up on a couch, and interrupted the pair in Sharper's bedroom. The women fled. They took a cab home.

Some eight days later, at 5:30 p.m., one of the women and her mother walked into the North Hollywood substation of the Los Angeles Police Department. The intake officer dutifully checked off the criteria that the department uses to screen cases. No serious injury. No specific modus operandi. No fingerprints or other evidence.

The check boxes combined to make the case a low priority.

Detective John Macchiarella didn't begin his investigation until two weeks after the woman filed the complaint, according to court documents. Once engaged, Macchiarella had the victim place a "pretext call" in hopes of eliciting incriminating information from Sharper. Police monitored the call, but did not issue an arrest warrant.

After that, there is little sign of action. Macchiarella did not attempt to interview Sharper. Nor did he obtain a sample of his DNA.

Most crucially, there is no indication that he tried to contact agencies in the other places where Sharper had lived.

If he had, of course, he might have learned of Miami Beach's closed case. Or more importantly, that Sharper was under active investigation in New Orleans. By the time Macchiarella started his investigation, Williams had already received the report matching Sharper's DNA to a sample found on the woman's body.

Without other evidence to corroborate the women's stories, Macchiarella's investigation stalled out.

Macchiarella did not respond to requests for comment. The Los Angeles Police Department would not comment.

The backgrounds of the accuser and the accused in rape cases were central in the grassroots movement to improve sexual assault laws two decades ago. In 1991, William Kennedy Smith, nephew of former Sen. Ted Kennedy, was accused of raping a young woman in Palm Beach. After his arrest, three women alleged that Smith had raped them in previously unreported cases. A judge forbade the women's testimony. Smith was acquitted.

In response to public anger over rape cases that appeared to favor the accused, then-Rep. Susan Molinari pushed a new law through Congress in 1994 that made it easier for prosecutors to introduce a defendant's history of sexual assault in cases involving sexual assault and child molestation.

The law was unusual. In American jurisprudence, a suspect's criminal history is not ordinarily allowed as evidence. The logic is simple: Jurors are supposed to weigh the evidence of a specific incident. Introducing a pattern of conduct might bias jurors to find the accused guilty.

Over time, research has emerged that supports the idea that in rape, the criminal history of the accused is relevant. One oft-cited study showed that rapists had committed a median of three rapes.

The International Association of Police Chiefs, the country's most influential police organization, recommends that detectives try to find previous victims. Police training organizations emphasize the importance of seeking such information in every case.

Nonetheless, the federal law, and similar versions adopted by states, remains controversial. Scholars decry it as an overreach that deprives the accused of the right to a fair trial. Some state top courts have overturned such laws as being unconstitutional. A 2013 review of the reform effort called it "a failure."

Another investigative tool sits largely unused. In the 1970s, a Los Angeles police detective trying to solve a case involving a serial killer had found himself reduced to looking through newspaper clippings. He proposed a solution to the FBI in the form of a database, the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, or ViCAP.

Police agencies can enter detailed case information into the database allowing other law enforcement officials the ability to search for similarities to their own case.

But police departments and prosecutors have been slow to adapt, thus the 0.3 percent of case that ever get entered into the database.

Yet another underused option in rape investigations is the FBI's Combined DNA Index System, or CoDIS. Famed for its utility in solving cold cases, the database allows police to enter DNA from criminal suspects in search of a match to other crimes. Women's advocates say that police do not use the system enough in rape cases.

In the absence of any communication with each other, the New Orleans and Los Angeles investigations continued on parallel tracks. Neither produced any results. And neither stopped Sharper.

He had moved on to a new hunt.

'You Know I Was Passed Out!'
On Nov. 20, 2013, Sharper flew into Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix at about 9 p.m. to meet a friend: a 21-year-old, dark-haired senior at Arizona State University with whom he had previously been intimate.

The woman took Sharper home to her apartment, where she lived with another female Arizona State student. Sharper, the young woman and a girlfriend who lived down the hall, decided to hit the nightclub scene.

Police records detail what ensued: At one bar, Sharper's friend got sick and vomited on the table. Sharper, the woman, and her friend returned to the apartment. The group had to carry her inside. Her roommate helped carry the stricken woman to her room, changed her into her pajamas and left her passed out in bed.

By the apartment's kitchen, Sharper was still ready to party. He'd stripped down to his boxers and had prepared what he called "Frat Shots" for the women. He insisted they drink. One woman downed a shot. Another drank half, and put the drink aside.

The effects were unexpected. The young woman who took the full shot was unconscious within minutes. The roommate and Sharper arranged her on a nearby couch. The sole remaining conscious woman then retired to her bedroom and locked the door. She called her boyfriend in Louisiana. Upon lying down, she "was dizzy and had lost control of her motor functions and her muscles felt weak," according to the police report.

Her boyfriend suggested she open a window for fresh air, but she couldn't muster enough force to slide the glass. The boyfriend said splashing water on her face might help. She walked out of her bedroom, heading to a sink in a shared bathroom. Then she stopped. She saw Sharper naked, thrusting into the body of the woman who had passed out on the couch. She would tell police she couldn't see whether her friend was conscious, or if she was witnessing a sex act.

The woman continued to the sink, wetted her face and hurried back to her bedroom. She remained on the phone with her boyfriend and relayed what she'd just witnessed. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door she had left open upon returning.

Sharper stood in front of her in his boxer shorts. He wanted to explain that he and the woman he'd been assaulting had "something going on," records show. Sharper said he'd talk about it in the morning.

The next morning, all three women confronted Sharper, who told them he had no memory of the previous night. By noon, he had left the apartment.

The three women then went to a local hospital, where two of them received rape kit examinations. One exam showed minor injuries to the victim consistent with intercourse. Detective Kevin Mace, who had served on the sex crimes unit for just over a year, was called in.

At 1:28 a.m. on Friday, November 22, 10 Tempe police officers searched the apartment. They collected drink bottles, used plastic cups from a trash can, a rug, couch cushions and clothing, the case file shows. One of the discarded cups still held remnants of a drink that Sharper mixed. Officers also found a broken pink pill.

Mace called the victims later that day to find out if any took prescription drugs; all said no.

Detectives received the rape kit evidence and exam report on November 25. "The examiner's diagnosis was as follows: sexual assault by history, minor physical injuries by exam, crime lab results pending, Mace wrote. Results did not conflict with the victims' statements. Nor did they seal a conviction.

Mace did not document how he interpreted the results, or if they had any effect on the investigation. The detective declined interview requests for this story.

Tempe police continued to move. Seven officers worked the case. They got clothing and DNA samples from the women. They interviewed the boyfriend who had received the call during the alleged rape.

One victim met Detective Brad Breckow at Tempe Police Department headquarters four days after the assault, a little after 6:30 p.m. on the Monday before Thanksgiving 2013.

She'd been corresponding with Sharper by voicemail and text message. They were supposed to talk on the phone that evening.

Breckow prepared the victim for the conversation, one he now would be recording. Police have a script for these exchanges, named pretext calls, which have become common in sex assault investigations. The aim is to see if the accused will admit to misconduct.

Several different statements were printed out and placed before the victim. Among them: "Why did you take my clothes off? You know I was passed out."

She dialed Sharper at 6:48 p.m., and he picked up. But he complained his phone battery was low and said he'd call back. Which he did, from a blocked number.

The victim set out to press Sharper on details. Sharper had already vaguely apologized without acknowledging what he had done. "Apologize for what?" is scrawled across the top of Breckow's handwritten notes.

Once on the phone, the woman was angry. But Sharper was nimble, never discussing specifics. He said they needed to move forward as friends. He'd been "fucked up," as intoxicated as anyone that night. The victim struggled to direct the conversation.

Perhaps exasperated, she told Sharper "he had probably done something like this before," according to Breckow's notes describing the call.

"That (is) ridiculous," Sharper replied.

Actually, it was dead on. By the time of the Tempe rape, Sharper had refined his technique of drugging and raping women.

Date rape drugs have long been a popular topic in media reports. But far and away the most common drug used in sexual assaults is alcohol — and it's astonishingly effective.

Alcohol can cause blackouts, rendering victims unable to remember. It's easy to get. And it can devastate a victim's credibility. A woman may tell police she had two beers at a party. But if her attacker spiked the drink with additional alcohol, and tests come back showing a high blood alcohol level, it's difficult to convince a jury that the woman isn't lying.

"Not only do perpetrators get what they wanted, but they discredit the witness, too," said Robert Hoffman, a New York toxicologist. "The whole thing is planned, thought out and executed, like any other crime."

Sharper, however, had crossed into the more rarefied world of prescription drugs. Only about 4 percent of rapes involve such pharmacological agents, according to one study. Among the more exotic ones are Rohypnol, or roofies, which are banned in the U.S., and GHB, which is tightly controlled. Both drugs cause amnesia, and they are quickly expelled from the body, making them difficult to detect.

Sharper's drugs of choice were more familiar. Police charged that he used some combination of zolpidem, the active ingredient in Ambien; benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax; and drugs like Quaaludes and MDMA, or molly, both illegal party drugs.

Experts are not sure what motivates sex offenders to use such drugs. Some believe that such rapists are more like serial killers — interested in the thrill of the chase, and the capture of their prey. Whatever the motive or the satisfactions, the calculation is simple: Women with no memory make poor witnesses.

"The lack of memory is a huge barrier to coming forward and a huge barrier to getting a proper police response," said Trinka Porrata, a former Los Angeles Police Department street narcotics squad supervisor who is now president of Project GHB, a national date rape drug awareness group. "There's also a problem at the prosecution phase."

Tempe police had strong suspicions that Sharper had used drugs on the victims. They sent away samples of the victims' hair for testing — Ambien can be detected there long after it has been flushed from the body.

Munch, the rape investigations expert, praised the work done by Tempe police in the initial stages. "They do a good job on focusing on the perpetrator's conduct. They are focusing on what he did," she said.

But despite the evidence they gathered in the initial weeks, the investigation slowed. Between Dec. 13, 2013 and Jan. 17, 2014, the Tempe case log contains only two entries. Crucial evidence — such as the pill found in the room and samples from the drink mixed by Sharper — sat untested in a Tempe police storage locker.

And once again, the Arizona detectives did not look into Sharper's background in other cities. In fact, the department deemed that such evidence was not worth gathering — despite a state law designed to make it easier to use a suspect's history in rape cases.

"In a trial setting, it is highly unlikely that a 'series' of events in different jurisdictions would be made known to a jury that is deciding guilt or innocence on a single event," said department spokesman Lt. Michael Pooley.

The delays and decisions gave Sharper the freedom to return to California — and his stalking ground.

An Arrest Warrant at Last
Sharper's spree of sexual violence peaked in January 2014, according to police and court records.

After attending a party on Jan. 14, 2014 at the Roosevelt Hotel to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Sports Illustrated Magazine's Swimsuit Edition, two women decided to go to Bootsy Bellows — the club on the Sunset Strip where Sharper had met his previous victims.

There, one woman started talking to Sharper. When the two realized they were headed to the same afterparty, Sharper and the women decided to share a ride. Sharper said he first had to pick up something from his hotel, the landmark Century Plaza in Century City.

Once inside the lobby of the gleaming, curved hotel, they went to Sharper's room. Both women crowded into the bathroom. When they exited, Sharper greeted them with two mixed drinks he described as vodka and cranberry juice.

The women said they didn't want anything. Sharper insisted. The drinks tasted strange to both women. Within 10 minutes, they were both unconscious.

The women woke up the next morning at 9 a.m. One felt pain and burning in her vagina. They left without seeing Sharper. After talking later that day, the women decided to go to the Santa Monica Rape Crisis Center. They walked into the center at midnight.

The next day, they made their report to the Los Angeles Police Department's Westside police station. This time, the officer taking the report noted that Sharper's attacks featured a modus operandi.

Macchiarella, the detective who caught the first Los Angeles case, also got the second. Alarm bells went off. A judge issued an arrest warrant.

It was too late. After Sharper raped the women in Los Angeles, he flew into Las Vegas on Jan. 15, 2014. There, he met up with two women and a male companion. All went to Sharper's room. Sharper mixed drinks for them, and they all blacked out.

When the women woke up, one remembered that she had woken during the night to find Sharper naked on top of her. The other felt as though she had had sex, but had no memory of it.

The man awoke in the hotel lobby, with no memory of how he arrived there. Both women went to a local hospital and received rape kit examinations, reports show.

Sharper had now drugged and raped four women within 24 hours. He flew back to Los Angeles.

He was arrested at his hotel at 3 p.m. on Jan. 17, 2014.

A few hours later, the news dropped: At 1 a.m. Pacific Time, Jan. 18, 2014, TMZ reported that Sharper had been arrested in Los Angeles on rape charges.

Law enforcement agencies across the country began scrambling.

Over the next year, police and prosecutors finally started talking to each other. They turned up new victims. They got arrests warrants for previous ones. And a portrait of Sharper emerged from the investigations as a calculated and methodical serial rapist.

In Miami, a woman came forward after the news broke to report that Sharper had raped her in 2012. She told police she needed to "clear her conscience." Prosecutors said there was "no reason to doubt the credibility of the victim in this matter, especially given the apparent conduct of the subject as documented by other police agencies," records show. But the Miami Dade State Attorney's office decided not to file charges.

Miami Beach police also decided not to re-open the 2011 case involving the two University of Georgia women. The women's rape kits had been destroyed.

Rodriguez, the agency's spokesman, said the department had recently contacted the victim in the 2011 case. She told the agency that she did not consider herself to have been sexually assaulted, Rodriguez said.

"We have no crime to investigate," Rodriguez said.

In Arizona, Tempe stepped up the pace of their investigation. For the next two months, investigators recorded a new development every two days on average. They collected victim medical records, got a warrant for Sharper's cell phone records, and obtained lab results which showed Sharper's DNA on one victim's leggings. On March 11, an Arizona grand jury returned an arrest warrant for Sharper.

It was served to him in the Los Angeles County jail.

Tempe police officials said their investigation was "both comprehensive and complex."

In New Orleans, the case exploded. Within days of Sharper's arrest, the New Orleans District Attorney's office assigned one of their crack investigators to the case. The FBI threw two agents into the mix to chase a multi-state drug angle.

Investigators soon discovered that Williams had been duped during the initial investigation.

In the fall, Williams had interviewed Licciardi, the man who had gone to Sharper's home to check on the cheerleader's welfare. At the time, Licciardi portrayed himself as a fellow cop who had tried to help out.

But Licciardi was not what he seemed, authorities concluded. James O'Hern, the newly assigned investigator, and the FBI found evidence suggesting that Licciardi was actually Sharper's connection to New Orleans' seamy side.

Licciardi had befriended Sharper in 2010, when the two met at the opening of a Bourbon Street bar. Sharper was the celebrity guest. Licciardi provided security. Over the next several years, the two grew close.

Licciardi allegedly trafficked in drugs, worked for a gambling operation collecting marks, and sent out text messages bragging about beating his girlfriend until she was unable to walk, according to court testimony. Licciardi grew so out of control that his estranged mother confided to a friend, "We have raised a monster," according to court testimony.

Sharper gambled heavily in Louisiana, as he had in Florida. Licciardi helped Sharper place bets with an offshore gambling outfit.

Licciardi also served as Sharper's source for women and drugs, according to court documents. He is accused of delivering some victims to Sharper after drugging them first with Ambien, Xanax, Valium, MDMA or some combination.

In fact, Licciardi left out a crucial detail in describing his valorous efforts to check up on the cheerleader. He had actually delivered the woman to Sharper and had helped Sharper drug her, authorities charged in court documents.

"Licciardi treats women as if they are nothing or of no value," one former girlfriend told investigators, according to court testimony.

Licciardi has denied all charges. He remains in jail awaiting trial.

Investigators got a better understanding of Licciardi's role once they examined his phone. There, they found a video and a photo sent by Sharper of the former cheerleader that he allegedly assaulted, naked and passed out.

When police later showed her the video, she identified herself and broke down in tears.

Over the course of the next several months, New Orleans used the contents of Licciardi's phone, as well as testimony from eyewitnesses, to track down other alleged victims.

In one case, Sharper and Licciardi had teamed up to drug a woman at the Super Bowl festivities held in New Orleans in February 2013, according to court documents and people with knowledge of the case. Licciardi allegedly raped the woman at Sharper's condo after meeting her at a pre-Super Bowl party at Jax.

In another case, Licciardi had sex with a woman, then turned her over to Sharper, according to interviews and official documents. The two men had rented adjacent rooms at a New Orleans hotel, across the street from Sharper's condo. Sharper sent Licciardi a text message: "We need an hour in here."

In December 2014, the New Orleans District Attorney's office and federal prosecutors indicted Sharper, Licciardi and another alleged accomplice, Erik Nuñez.

Sharper was charged with drugging women and then raping three of them. Nuñez was accused of raping two of the same women. Licciardi was charged with rape, drugging and sex trafficking. A federal indictment charged Sharper and Licciardi in a conspiracy to drug women for rape, dating back to 2010.

Nuñez, who only faces state charges, has pleaded innocent to the allegations made against him.

News of the additional victims left Williams, the original detective on the Sharper case, sputtering with anger. After Licciardi spilled details of Sharper's attacks to the New Orleans District Attorney's investigator O'Hern, Williams scolded him for not revealing more during their initial interview.

 "I'm a cop, and I'm pissed off, cause you knew a lot of this information the first time you came and spoke to me. We could have gotten a lot of this out of the way," Williams said, according to a transcript of the interview.

"Whatever truths that need to come out, shit done hit the fan at this point," Williams told Licciardi.

Williams was right. The case moved into the battleground of courtrooms in four states.

Sharper hired top-flight Los Angeles attorneys Blair Berk and Leonard Levine to lead the defense. During pre-trial hearings, Sharper's legal team attacked the women's stories.

One victim in Los Angeles had initially lied about the presence of another witness, defense documents said. In Arizona, one woman had prior consensual sex with Sharper. In Nevada, one of the victims told friends about her sexual encounter with Sharper, making no mention of sexual assault.

But in the end, as evidence mounted, the Sharper team decided to cut a deal. Sharper agreed to plead guilty or no contest to charges in Louisiana, Arizona, California and Nevada, as well as federal drug charges.

In exchange, he would receive a 20 year prison sentence, but be eligible for release in nine years. He would register as a sex offender. And he would be on probation for life.

The deal provoked widespread anger. Sharper had been facing life in prison if convicted of aggravated rape charges.

"I was definitely shocked," said Ebony Tucker, executive director of the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault. "It's hard to excuse how someone who's raped nine women that we know of in four states is only going to serve nine years in prison."

On the morning of March 23, Darren Sharper walked into a windowless courtroom in downtown Los Angeles in a gray, pinstripe suit. Judge Michael Pastor reviewed the deal with Sharper.

Looking down, Pastor asked: "Are you entering each plea freely and voluntarily?"

"Yes sir," Sharper responded.

"Do you realize that this is a final answer?" Pastor asked.

"Yes sir," Sharper answered.

Suddenly, it was easy to see.

The women had been right.

Sharper was a rapist.

This story originally appeared at ProPublica and was co-published with the New Orleans Advocate and Sports IllustratedProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom; sign up for their newsletterThe Advocate, Louisiana's largest daily newspaper, publishes in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette. For the latest sports news, scores and analysis, go to


Fix Our International Tax Laws

Claire Buchan Parker - April 8, 2015

Friday's jobs report made one thing clear -- the economy doesn't have the strength that our companies need and workers deserve. Fewer jobs were created in March than had been created in February, and 2015 has generally marked a slowdown for the recovery.

But there's more to this story, an overarching issue that will continue to hold us back regardless of jobs numbers this quarter or next: As our economy becomes more and more intertwined with those beyond our shores, our antiquated international tax laws are putting U.S.-based companies at a major disadvantage. A recent Senate Finance Committee hearing examined the problem.

Two facts illustrate a sobering reality: (1) American companies face the highest statutory tax rate among OECD countries; and (2) the United States is the only G8 country whose globally engaged companies must pay taxes twice on overseas earnings. When companies pay taxes in a foreign country and then bring their earnings home, they still must pay the U.S. tax, though they are given a credit for the amount they paid abroad. In addition to imposing an unfair level of taxation, this system encourages companies to leave their earnings overseas rather than bringing them home. 

It's a hard truth that casts a shadow over whatever positive indicators our economy might rack up: The U.S. can't reach its full economic potential with a tax code that was constructed before the Digital Age and is particularly onerous in the way it treats globally engaged companies. Permanent, comprehensive reform that lowers rates and modernizes our international system will unlock more than just foreign earnings stranded outside our borders. It will unlock the long-term investment that American businesses and workers are waiting for.

The time to act is now and Congress holds the key.

Claire Buchan Parker is the Spokeswoman for the LIFT America Coalition. Let's Invest for Tomorrow (LIFT) America is a coalition of U.S.-headquartered companies, trade associations and economic stakeholders representing industries that are critical to the American economy.

Mitch McConnell Takes On the EPA

Thomas K. Lindsay - April 7, 2015

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has come out swinging against the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to limit carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants. In a letter to the National Governors Association, McConnell writes of his "serious legal and policy concerns" with "this deeply misguided plan." He is not alone. To date, 32 states have expressed opposition to the CPP. McConnell's letter may look to inspire more to go and do likewise.

McConnell charges the EPA with "attempting to compel states to do more themselves than what the agency would be authorized to do on its own." The Clean Air Act -- the law the EPA says authorizes the CPP -- does empower the agency to require states to enhance the efficiency of their power plants. But McConnell argues that the EPA's interpretation "overreach[es]." McConnell states that the CPP would now require states to "switch electricity generating sources," build "new generation and transmission," and "reduce demand." None of this is authorized by the Clean Air Act.

In addition to violating the law, McConnell writes, the CPP "would impose the greatest hardship on low-income families, including those with a fixed income and those dependent on Social Security." Citing a recent report issued by National Economic Research Associates, McConnell claims that the CPP will spark "double-digit electricity rate increases" in 43 states, with a total national cost of "nearly $479 billion over 15 years."

Does EPA's stated purpose -- to combat global climate change through shutting down coal-fired power plants -- justify this move? McConnell labels such an effort "largely symbolic" so long as other nations are not doing the same. "Even then," he adds, "the EPA admits that the 'climate' benefits of the CPP cannot be quantified." Moreover, the EPA has "refused to estimate the impact [the CPP] would have on global temperatures or sea levels."

Convinced that the courts will "likely strike down" the CPP, McConnell next asks why "the EPA is asking states at this time to propose their own compliance plans in the first place." His answer is troubling: "The EPA's deadlines were very likely designed to force states to develop and submit implementation plans before the courts can decide on the legality of the CPP." McConnell may have in mind the damage that could be done to any court challenge to the CPP if a number of states are already complying and therewith implicitly granting the CPP’s legitimacy. Therefore, his admonition to states is to "just say no" to the plan's request that states submit State Implementation Plans (SIPs).

If states decline to submit SIPs, the EPA's "only recourse" will be to craft its own plan for each nonparticipant. McConnell reminds states that, under the Tenth Amendment, the EPA "has no authority" to sue nonparticipating states or to "withhold federal funds" from them. The Supreme Court's recent NFIB v. Sebelius (Obamacare) decision, which relied heavily on the 1992 case New York v. U.S., confirmed that the federal government cannot force states to participate in federal regulatory schemes.

But might not the EPA, if it imposes its own plan on nonparticipating states, wreak more havoc than would occur had states handled the matter themselves? McConnell finds it "difficult to see" how an EPA-imposed plan "could be any worse" than what would result from its request that states impose plans on themselves. Why? The first section or "Building Block" of the CPP, which is "most likely within the agency's authority," costs $17.6 billion -- a "fraction" of the $479 billion cost of the full plan that the EPA "is counting on states to impose on themselves."

Most dangerous of all, according to the majority leader, is the precedent that state submission to federal plans would establish, "allowing the EPA to wrest control of a state's energy policy if they or any other federal agency becomes dissatisfied" with a state's progress on reducing emissions. A state's submission of an SIP, in the view of the EPA, provides the agency with "broad new authority to control the state's energy future."

Is McConnell's salvo simply a partisan move? Those who think so will be hard-pressed to explain why no less than Harvard law professor -- and liberal icon -- Laurence Tribe, whom McConnell cites in the letter, goes even further in his condemnation of the CPP, labeling it "constitutionally reckless." Tribe argues that the CPP would "usurp the prerogatives of the States, Congress, and the Federal Courts -- all at once." Tribe went further still in his testimony before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in March: "EPA's proposal impermissibly trenches on state authority over intrastate energy regulation in a way that in unprecedented under the CAA [Clean Air Act] and raises serious questions under the Tenth Amendment and long-settled principles of federalism. ... In short, the [CPP] poses the most serious invasion of federalism principles in the history of the CAA."

Will more states jump on the anti-CPP bandwagon as a result of McConnell's call? This is already happening here in Texas, where the legislature has filed six measures opposing the CPP. The bill most in line with McConnell's aims is the No SIP bill, under which no Texas state agency may "finally adopt a rule or submit a state implementation plan [SIP] to comply with the [CPP] ... if those federal rules give the Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate a person, entity, or activity that it did not regulate on January 1, 2015."

It is not difficult to understand Texas's opposition to the CPP. According to one study, the CPP would impose "by far, greater economic harm" on Texas "than any other state," raising the average Texas household's electricity and gas bills "by more than 54 percent by 2020." In real dollars, the average Texas household's annual power and gas bills would rise by $1,060 as a result of the CPP.

Despite the CPP's destructive impact on the Lone Star State, it is unclear whether the "No SIP" bill will pass this session. Some here, although they oppose the Clean Power Plan and federal overreach generally, believe the best strategy is to wait and see. This stance stems from the belief that the CPP's transparent unconstitutionality will bring about its ultimate demise in the Supreme Court in a few years. But proponents of the "No SIP" bill worry that the wait-and-see crowd's confidence that time is on the side of the states and their citizens is misplaced. At this writing, coal-fired power plants are already shutting down or moving out of the country merely as a result of the EPA's proposing the rule. Even if the Supreme Court should strike down the CPP in the future, it will be too late: The EPA's overriding purpose -- decimating coal power -- will already largely have been accomplished.

Thomas K. Lindsay directs the Centers for Tenth Amendment Action and Higher Education at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and is editor of He was deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities under George W. Bush.

IMF Reformers Hold Congress in Contempt

James M. Roberts - April 6, 2015

What's the appropriate role of the International Monetary Fund? It's a question that goes all the way back to the Bretton Woods conference of 1944, during which the IMF was created.

The liberal/progressive view from Europe, pushed by John Maynard Keynes and others, envisioned the IMF as a sort of global Treasury Department/Federal Reserve Bank. IMF member countries could pursue expansionary tax-and-spend social welfare programs, and the IMF would be there with endless (and morally hazardous) bailouts when those policies failed to produce the hoped-for results. A New Deal for the world, indeed.

Fortunately for the later prosperity of the world, the more conservative approach of the U.S. delegation prevailed. The IMF was confined to a more limited role as a kind of mega-private-sector bank to spur economic development. It would insist that loans to member governments be repaid, and that those loans come with conditions. Governments would have to adopt fiscally conservative and sustainable economic policies before they could borrow any new funds.

Yet the fight between Keynesians and fiscal conservatives was never truly settled. In fact, it's still going on.

In 2010, President Obama supported a set of changes in the way the IMF operates. Although it contains some useful adjustments to voting rights so that IMF governance matches 21st century realities, the "reform package" -- which requires congressional approval -- would reduce U.S. control over tens of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars that, in the current system, have been reserved for IMF lending only in emergencies.

If Congress approves the reforms, the funds will be available via the regular IMF lending procedures, and U.S. presidents will not be able to stop morally hazardous bailout loans to countries (e.g., Greece) whose governments have spent too much.

Last year, the Obama administration made several 11th-hour attempts to pressure Congress into accepting the package by attaching it to must-pass legislation (e.g., on the debt ceiling last winter, on emergency aid to Ukraine last spring, and most recently on appropriations in December). Fortunately, congressional conservatives stood their ground, and those attempts failed.

Now proponents of the package are getting downright cranky. In January, former Clinton administration Treasury official Ted Truman, now at the Petersen Institute for International Economics, penned a scathing indictment of anyone who would dare to second-guess the wisdom of Washington's mandarin class in their desire to steer more funding to the IMF.

Although adjustments to voting shares could be done apart from the changes conservatives object to, Truman is unwilling even to entertain the idea that his side might compromise. For him, it's all or nothing. And for the first time since debate over the reform package began, Truman reports -- approvingly -- that discussions are underway at the IMF to move forward without the United States. The upshot: Washington could lose its veto power at the global lender.

Truman intends his shocking report to be the wake-up call that coerces Congress into approving the reforms. But what Truman is really revealing is the contempt -- for Congress, for the Constitution, and for the American people -- that IMF-reform advocates have for their opponents.

Just as courageous American conservatives demanded in 1944, the heirs of their philosophical tradition in Congress today should tell the IMF to go back to the drawing board before giving their assent. They should insist that the IMF revise its reform package, be content with the ample lending resources it already has, and focus on giving better policy advice to get its member countries back on the path to greater economic freedom.

James M. Roberts is a research fellow for economic freedom and growth in the Center for Trade and Economics at the Heritage Foundation (

Robert VerBruggen - April 5, 2015

That may sound like a silly question. Of course there are times police officers need to use force -- to defend themselves, to stop others from getting hurt, to effect arrests. But as the Associated Press reports, in the 2014 General Social Survey, only 70 percent of whites, 42 percent of blacks, and 38 percent of Hispanics said they could even "imagine" a situation in which an officer should strike an adult male.

As it happens, the GSS has been asking this question for decades now. Here's how the responses have changed; there's been an uptick in "no" answers, but not as much of one as you might expect:

What's funny is that the numbers shift dramatically when the question specifies that the citizen is physically attacking the officer. Apparently this is outside the realm of what a substantial proportion of the population can imagine (chart starts at '76 because the question wasn't asked of everyone before that):

I'm not sure there are any deep lessons about policing here, but this does serve as a warning to those relying on survey questions that ask people to invent their own scenarios. Evidently Americans are not very imaginative.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

Blog Archives