While others may be toasting the 2012 Emmy award nominees, we'll take this opportunity to tip our hat to the Ewing clan and the TV series that helped topple communism.
Original text below:
The oil-and-sex soaked TV show Dallas is back on the small screen. The unapologetically odious J.R., the unappealingly ethical Bobby and the uncontrollaby alcoholic Sue Ellen are all back, along with a new crew of young, hardbodied hotties to pull in viewers who have yet to start pulling in Social Security checks.
During its original run from 1978 to 1991, Dallas was an international cultural phenomenon with ratings higher than late-'70s interest rates. It was the most or second-most watched show in the United States for half a decade, showing up in ABBA songs and Ozzy Osbourne videos, and spinning off the megahit Knots Landing.
But Dallas' greatest impact ultimately wasn't in these United States but in communist Romania, where it helped topple the brutal Ceausescu regime.
Dallas was the last Western show allowed during the nightmarish 1980s because President Nicolae Ceausescu thought it showcased all that was wrong with capitalism. In fact, the show provided a luxuriant alternative to a communism that was forcing people to wait more than a decade to buy the most rattletrap communist-produced cars.
"I think we were directly or indirectly responsible for the fall of the [communism]," Larry Hagman told the Associated Press a decade ago. "They would see the wealthy Ewings and say, 'Hey, we don't have all this stuff.'"
After the dictator and his wife were shot on Christmas Eve 1989, the pilot episode of Dallas—with a previously censored sex scene spliced back in—was one of the first foreign shows broadcast on liberated Romanian TV.
The impact of Dallas on global worldviews reminds us that "vulgar" popular culture is every bit as important as chin-stroking political discourse in fomenting real social change.
Throwaway cultural products influence far-flung societies in ways that are impossible for anyone, even dictators, to predict or control.
That lesson is more relevant than ever in a world where movies, TV shows, and music cross borders with impunity and the free West engages the semi-free East, whether in China or Iran. If the United States is interested in spreading American values and institutions, TV shows may go a lot further than armored personnel carriers.
Like Mikhail Gorbachev, poodle haircuts, and Members Only jackets, Dallas didn't long survive the post--Cold War world it helped create. But like an uncontainable gusher in a Texas oil field, the original series left us far richer than we ever dreamed possible.
About 2.30 minutes. Produced by Meredith Bragg. Written by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch. For a fuller treatment of this topic, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/25/AR20080425031...
President Obama may end up becoming the boy who cried wolf in his “I will be outspent” fundraising campaign. Documents filed with the FEC show the Obama campaign raised $46 million in June but spent $58 million. The Romney campaign raised less but was also fiscally disciplined, raising $33 million and spending $27.5 million. The Obama campaign also has more cash on hand, $97.5 million to the Romney campaign's $22.5 million. Earlier this month, the Romney campaign said it had raised more than $100 million along with the RNC in June while the Obama campaign said it and the DNC had raised $71 million.
Where has all that spending gotten the campaigns? A CNN/Opinion Research poll at the end of May had Obama at 49 percent and Romney at 46 percent and a CNN/Opinion Research poll at the end of July had… Obama at 49 percent and Romney at 46 percent, giant douche vs. turd sandwich polling territory.
More 2012 Election Reason coverage
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1984: My 14-year-old self, interested in exploring the opinions that don't show up on the news-chat shows, is looking through the magazines stacked by the exit at Internationalist Books, a leftist bookshop on Rosemary Street. This is the freebie pile: leftovers that didn't sell while they were current, now available gratis to anyone who doesn't mind the fact that the covers have been torn off. I pick up a copy of The Nation, which I've heard of but never read before. Inside I find a two-page spread labeled "Beat the Devil," written by someone named Alexander Cockburn. The feature fascinates me: First it's talking about Jesse Jackson, but then suddenly the subject is Vanessa Williams, the Miss America who had to give up her crown when an old nude photo shoot turned up in Penthouse. "And she was not just posing with anyone," wrote Cockburn. "She was posing with another woman. I doubt even a full repudiation of Louis Farrakhan and all he stands for would have gotten Williams off the hook at that point."
From there Cockburn cycled through the subject of witch hunts -- the essence of which, he wrote, is "that the past is re-created as a guilty secret" -- before arriving back at Williams at the end. In modern witch hunts, he wrote, "verbs like 'admit,' 'confess' and 'disclose' are pressed into ever more trivial service. Mark Twain will soon 'admit' that this was not his true name. George Sand will 'disclose' her true sex. Beauty queens, recruited to a degraded and fetishistic ritual called a pageant, will be denounced for having exploited their sex on terms other than those laid down by a bunch of promoters in Atlantic City."
I had never read anything like this before. It wasn't that the article was stylish and erudite; it's that it was a stylish and erudite response to a porn shoot, a column that casually mixed culture and politics, serious analysis and jokes. The op-ed page in the daily paper wasn't like this at all. I was hooked, and I got in the habit of picking up more free copies of The Nation at the bookstore. Eventually I subscribed, mostly to read Cockburn and this other fellow, named Hitchens, who Cockburn was always arguing with. A few years later I met Cockburn for the first time at the same store. He was in town to promote his book Corruptions of Empire, and Bob Sheldon -- he owned the shop, and in three years' time he would be murdered there -- held a reception for him.
Now Cockburn is dead too: Cancer killed him last night at age 71. The Irish radical came to the United States in the early 1970s, and here he quickly became one of the two or three most talented columnists in the country. I'm not referring to his political views when I say that -- we'll get to those in a moment -- but to his literary skill. He was a very funny writer, sort of a Marxist Myles na gCopaleen, earning my admiration whether he was invoking black magic to explain George H.W. Bush's embrace of deficits ("The Keynesian coven has been a bit indiscreet in its boasting, and now the Secret Service is investigating"), expressing his disdain for Bill Clinton ("Listening to him is like having a pillow stuffed into one's mouth"), or parodying the show then known as The MacNeil-Lehrer Report. (The latter article concluded with a debate between "the Human Meat-eaters Association, who favor a free market in human flesh," and a liberal who fretted that "some human flesh available for sale to the public is maggot-ridden, improperly cut, and often incorrectly graded.") For a while in the '80s he dominated the Nation letters column, writing long responses to his angry mail -- responses that sometimes were longer than his actual column, and sometimes were as entertaining too.
His father, Claude Cockburn, was a Communist Party stalwart, and Alex was a red of one sort or another throughout his career. But after the Cold War he drifted in an anti-authoritarian direction, telling an interviewer in the mid-'90s that he was "thinking like an anarcho-syndicalist these days"; when a reader wrote to CounterPunch, the newsletter and website that Cockburn edited with Jeffrey St. Clair, to ask what the editors thought about libertarianism, St. Clair replied that "we are both anarcho-libertarians. One of us slightly more anarcho, the other slightly more libertarian." Radicals who take class seriously understand that the state is enemy territory, and Cockburn saved some of his sharpest barbs for liberals, condemning the managerial impulse that frets more about what poor people might be up to than why exactly they're poor. In the same spirit, he was a reliable foe of moral panics, denouncing the Satan scare, the child-abuse crusades, the militia panic, the war on "cults." He defended old cars, called for local control of education, and complained about the ways regulations strangled small businesses. (No, really: "A lot of the history of food regulation in this country has turned out to be a way to finish off small, quality producers by demanding they invest in whatever big ticket items the USDA happens to be in love with at the time; said love objects usually turning out to be whatever the big food processors are using. That's the reason why it's hard to get decent sausages or hams.") CounterPunch may have published its share of anti-libertarian invective, but it published several libertarians as well (including me), and Cockburn blurbed books by the libertarian writers Wendy McElroy and Robert Higgs, in the latter case announcing his wish that "liberals and even radicals felt and wrote as strongly about the Iron Heel of government power." He managed to be both a hardcore environmentalist and a global-warming skeptic, an unusual combination but one that made sense when you read him closely. The environmental campaigns that most interested Cockburn aimed to transfer power to the people affected by ecological problems: They were defenses of particular places, particular habitats, particular lungs. With climate, by contrast, the most commonly proposed solutions all seemed to concentrate power further, empowering managerial liberals and enriching whichever companies would make out best under cap and trade. Cockburn wasn't suspicious despite his politics; he was suspicious because of them.
I could reel off a bunch of topics where I disagreed with the man, from Cuba to Social Security to the science (as opposed to politics) of global warming. Still, as Anthony Gregory put it today,
Cockburn embodied the admirable concerns of leftism—good conditions for workers, anti-racism, social equality, good living standards for the masses. But he was no blind supporter of the state. Far from it. He supported gun rights, was skeptical of regulation, and favored Ron Paul over Barack Obama in 2008—with very few reservations. He was almost alone among the left in his outrage at the Clinton administration for the siege that took over seventy lives near Waco, Texas, in 1993. He did not fall for the Brown Scare tactics of the establishment left. He was very skeptical of global warming alarmism. He occasionally wrote stuff a libertarian would disagree with, of course, but most of what he wrote was more critical of the establishment, the warfare state, and even domestic leviathan than much of what you’d find almost anywhere else.
I met him once, at a peace conference hosted by the Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax County, Virginia, in the summer of 2008. The first thing I said to him was, "You're my favorite commie." He smiled and knew and did not take it the wrong way. He gave a great talk appealing to the largely libertarian crowd in which he skewered the absurdity of government recycling mandates and the Obama cult. He was always willing to associate with free-marketers and conservatives in opposition to the bipartisan empire.
Requiescat in pace, or whatever the atheist Marxist equivalent to that is.
On Tuesday the New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene will hold a public hearing on Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to ban the sale in the city of sweetened beverages greater than 16 ounces. The ban would impact drinks containing sugar or any other “caloric sweetener,” which could include everything from a 20 ounce bottle of soda sold by a food truck or cart to a soda sweetened with high fructose corn syrup sold by a fast food restaurant to an iced tea sweetened with honey sold by a baseball-park vendor. As Baylen Linnekin explains, not only does the proposed ban restrict food freedom of choice, it also rests on bad assumptions and fizzy math.View this article
In the wake of the recent attack in Colorado, it's important to remind ourselves that violence is actually in decline, as Harvard's Steven Pinker did during a 2011 interview with ReasonTV.
Here is the original text:
You are less likely to die a violent death today than at any other time in human history. In fact, violence has been on a steady decline for centuries now. That's the arresting claim made by Harvard University cognitive neuroscientist Steven Pinker in his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.
Just a couple of centuries ago, violence was pervasive. Slavery was widespread; wife and child beating an acceptable practice; heretics and witches burned at the stake; pogroms and race riots common, and warfare nearly constant. Public hangings, bear-baiting, and even cat burning were popular forms of entertainment. By examining collections of ancient skeletons and scrutinizing current day tribal societies, anthropologists have found that people were nine times more likely to be killed in tribal warfare than to die of war and genocide in even the war-torn 20th century. The murder rate in medieval Europe was 30 times higher than today.
What happened? Human nature did not change, but our institutions did, encouraging people to restrain their natural tendencies toward violence. Over the course of more than 850 pages of data and analysis, Pinker identifies a series of institutional changes that have led to decreasing levels of life-threatening violence. The rise of states 5,000 years ago dramatically reduced tribal conflict. In recent centuries, the spread of courtly manners, literacy, commerce, and democracy have reduced violence even more. Polite behavior requires self-restraint; literacy encourages empathy; commerce switches encounters from zero-sum to positive-sum gains; and democracy restrains the excesses of government.
Pinker dropped by Reason's Washington, D.C. office to talk with Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey about ideology, empathy, and why you're much less likely to get knifed in the face these days.
Approximately 9.30 minutes.
Shot and edited by Jim Epstein; additional camera Joshua Swain.
Writing in USA Today, Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch argues that media flubs in catastrophe coverage are largely self-inflicted. Excerpt:
The human impulse to make sense out of senseless horror can, when relayed by irresponsible journalists, have lethal consequences for victims of an unfolding catastrophe. Widespread news reports that Hurricane Katrina victims were opening gunfire on rescue helicopters and slitting children's throats in the Superdome slowed evacuation efforts by several crucial days. The stories, reported around the globe, were not true.
Any sudden cataclysm is bound to be shrouded in a factual fog; we can't ask reporters to have X-ray vision. But broadcast outlets especially make a difficult situation worse by trotting out an assembly line of "experts" to openly speculate based on litte or no information. [...]
So are we doomed to spread politically inflected lies about every latest tragedy? Counter-intuitively, no. The same social media that enables untruths to travel halfway around the world spent much of Friday smacking down each new clumsy speculation at its source. Perhaps burned by the Loughner excesses, people from all political persuasions urged reportorial and political restraint.
The standard model of war sees it as a fight between two sides who seek victory and, with it, an end to violence. But war has many more social functions, Christopher J. Coyne points out—economic, political, and psychological. Between them, Coyne writes in his review of the new book Useful Enemies: When Waging Wars Is More Important Than Winning Them, they offer perverse incentives to keep a bloody conflict alive.View this article
- After surrendering, James Holmes is no longer talking to investigators. His apartment was booby trapped with jars of chemicals connected to wires. (It’s not clear how or even whether these traps would actually work)
- New York City’s police commissioner claims Holmes had painted his hair red and called himself “Joker.” Joker’s hair is obviously green, but this unconfirmed report didn’t stop Fox News from running with the whole tired “Does violent entertainment make people violent?” hand-wringing.
- Other eye-rolling musings: Was Holmes a card-carrying member of comic fandom driven to a rage by The Dark Knight Rises’ less-than-stellar reviews? Tip: If you say it's too early to speculate about motives, then just don't.
- Slate’s David Weigel speculates based on accounts of the craziness going on inside the Aurora theater that another armed person inside could not have stopped the murders. A gun trainer, though, responds with a bit more knowledge of how a gun-owner with skills might have succeeded.
- It’s all cosplayers’ fault!: AMC has banned costumes and masks at their theaters.
- Stock markets dipped and the value of the euro slid after Spain's Valencia region called for financial help. The move raised fears that Spain as a whole will need a rescue. France's President Hollande is pushing a state-jobs plan that seeks to keep the lid on troubles rather than improve the economy.
- A coalition of groups including CEI, EFF and EPIC is going to court to force the Transportation Security Administration to comply with a legally required notice-and-comment rulemaking process for its "advanced imaging" scanners. The TSA was ordered to begin the process in July 2011, but has ignored the court for the past year.
- Effectively out of the running for the Republican presidential nomination, Ron Paul says "I have not made a decision" when asked whether he'll vote for likely GOP candidate, Mitt Romney. Meanwhile, Senator Rand Paul urged libertarians to continue to work within the Republican Party.
- The General Services Administration is in the spotlight once more over a spendy gathering, this time a one-day conference near Washington, D.C. that cost taxpayers almost $270,000. Attendees were given $28,000 worth of "time temperature picture frames," just because. Way to stay out of the headlines, folks!
- Getting naked at the airport to protest intrusive TSA "security" procedures is a protected act of free speech — at least for John Brennan, who stripped down at the Portland, Oregon, airport after he'd had enough of the nonsense. Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge David Rees ruled that the strip show was legitimate protest. Ummm ... John? Consider a few crunches.
- Medical professionals including a representative of the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons told the House Small Business Committee that regulatory burdens, rising malpractice costs and inadequate Medicare compensation have compromised doctors' ability to care for patients. "In 1995, Westchester Orthopedic employed one person to perform administrative tasks. By the late ’90s, they employed one per doctor."
- Red-light cameras in St. Petersburg, Florida, have captured local drivers running traffic signals at speeds up to 215 mph and taking corners at 96 mph. Critics of the cameras point out that your average civilian vehicle is hard-pressed to achieve such impressive performance.
Do you want hot links and other Reason goodies delivered to your inbox twice a day? Sign up here for Reason's morning and afternoon news updates.
Reduced, if only figuratively, to shaking the dust from their piggy banks, government financial types from California to Copenhagen have turned their eyes to that ever-elusive dream: Dragging those who have fled into the shadow economy back out into the open where they can be induced to keep the machinery of the state running just a little bit longer. Is there enough money out there to merit the taxman's interest? Almost certainly; California officials are salivating over the prospect of $7 billion in revenue, while the European Commission estimates that €2 trillion is hiding out there. Can the taxman actually collect any of that money? Well ... That's another question entirely. Left largely unasked by government officials, though, says Reason 24/7 Managing Editor J.D. Tuccille, is this: Why have so many of their subjects chosen to operate in the shadows, forsaking the protections of legal status and effectively painting large targets on their backs? Could governments be chasing away the objects of their interest with excessive attention?View this article
Your Sacramento scandal du jour: California’s State Parks Deparment has millions of dollars in surplus that they did not report to the state, even as budget cuts threatened park closures. Via The Sacramento Bee:
State Parks Director Ruth Coleman resigned this morning and her second in command has been fired after officials learned the department has been sitting on nearly $54 million in surplus money for as long as 12 years.
The moves come in the wake of a scandal, revealed by The Bee on Sunday, in which a deputy director at State Parks carried out a secret vacation buyout program for employees at department headquarters last year. That buyout cost the state more than $271,000. …
The surplus money consists of $20.3 million in the Parks and Recreation Fund, and $33.5 million in the Off Highway Vehicle Fund, which are the two primary operating funds at the agency. This money was not reported to either Finance or the State Controller's Office, in contrast to normal budgeting procedures.
The department sat on the money for unknown reasons even as it carried out, over the past year, the unprecedented closure of 70 parks to satisfy state budget cuts.
Most of those closures did not occur because nonprofits and local governments found money to take over the parks. The money could also have prevented drastic cutbacks in hours, staffing and services that have stricken nearly every park in the state over the past two years.
Hat tip to the Twitter feed at FlashReport.Org, which just added “Ha, a legislator just said to me, ‘Look on the bright side, finding $54m in hoarded money is better than finding $54m in unpaid bills.’”
The war on cameras continues in Point Marion, Pennsylvania, with a federal lawsuit filed by a man whose cell phone police confiscated. Gregory Rizer says he was at a friend’s house, filming a police officer he felt was being aggressive in his questioning of his quadriplegic friend about the whereabouts of her cousin.
The police officer, Kevin Lukart, confiscated the cellphone and Rizer was eventually charged under the state’s wiretap law, a common prosecutorial tactic against those who film police officers in states with two-party consent or other wiretapping laws. The charges were dropped by the state attorney in February (the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in 1989 and again in 2005 that police officers don ‘t have an expectation of privacy under the wiretapping law) and Rizer says in his lawsuit the memory card was missing (surprise!) when his cell phone was returned to him.
The lawsuit alleges Rizer was retaliated against by the police department, with his arrest under the wiretapping law coming after a complaint to the mayor, who is listed as a co-defendant in the lawsuit.
More Reason on the war on cameras
Pic via Carlos Miller at Photography is Not a Crime, who has more
UPDATE: A tipster points out the same officer was involved in a caught on tape incident earlier this year.
"It takes a big studio to make The Avengers, but it doesn't necessarily take a big studio to write a piece of Avengers fan fiction," says Georgetown University law professor and fan fiction advocate Rebecca Tushnet. "Big content companies largely recognize that fan activities are really good for them because they engage people."
The growing popularity of fan fiction, a genre in which fans create their own stories featuring characters or settings from their favorite works of popular culture, raises thorny copyright issues. "Given how broad copyright is now, it's now possible to say fan fiction is an infringing derivative work," Tushnet explains. "In order to deal with that...we now talk about fair use, which allows people to make fair, limited uses of works without permission from the copyright owner."
As a member of the Organization for Transformative Works, Tushnet works to defend fan fiction creators caught in the legal debate between protected intellectual property and fair use.
Nick Gillespie sat down with Tushnet to discuss copyright law, fan fiction, and why media companies should embrace fan-created works.
Approximately 7.34 minutes.
Interview by Nick Gillespie. Camera by Meredith Bragg and Joshua Swain. Editing by Swain.
Go to Reason.tv for downloadable versions and subscribe to ReasonTV's YouTube Channel to receive notifications when new material goes live.
France's unemployment rate is rising to ten percent and beyond, and the inflexible workforce is slow to adapt to the jobs that are available. The country's new socialist government is left to sputter about layoffs by beleaguered industries, and to threaten higher costs for companies that would dare to contemplate more of the same. Oh yes, and the government plans to put people on the state payroll with make-work jobs — essentially bribing them to not cause trouble as the economy stumbles along. The end result has all the appearances of desperate tinkerers holding together a failing machine with rolls of duct tape.
President Francois Hollande's plan for tens of thousands of state subsidized jobs will not fix France's stagnant economy but it may be enough to keep angry unions and jobless youths off the streets as layoffs mount after the summer.
Two months into his presidency, Hollande faces a gathering storm as unemployment climbs past 10 percent and threatens to jump even higher this autumn.
Worsening prospects for many jobless youths have fed frustration in the poor suburbs that ring major French cities, which saw riots in 2005. France's militant unions, alarmed by mounting factory closures, are bristling for a fight.
"My hypothesis is that after holidays there will be social upheaval because people will no longer be able to express their frustration by voting," said Dominique Reynie, head of political think tank Fondapol.
"Everything Francois Hollande has done until now has been to prepare the French for a shock in the autumn."
The big fear here is the unions, and the young, with nearly a quarter of those 18-25 unemployed. Keeping idle hands out of the streets doesn't come cheap, though.
The cost of such plans, spread over a five-year term, is more than 11 billion euros, according to estimates by the Institut de l'Entreprise business group. Hollande's camp says the expense will be recouped by rolling back Sarkozy-era tax breaks.
But the subjects of those rolled-back tax breaks may have something to say in the matter. According to the Telegraph, "The latest estate agency figures have shown large numbers of France's most well-heeled families selling up and moving to neighbouring countries."
President Hollande may have to find another roll of duct tape.
The Daily Beast's Noah Kristula-Green honors the dead in Aurora by recycling a pro-gun-control post that The Atlantic's Richard Florida wrote in the wake of last year's Tucson massacre. Florida observed that "as of July 29 of last year , Arizona became one of only three states that allows [sic] its citizens to carry concealed weapons without a permit," as if that policy had facilitated Jared Lee Loughner's shooting rampage. But why would a man bent on mass murder shrink from violating gun laws? It is hard to imagine someone like Loughner thinking, "I really want to kill a bunch of innocent people at a shopping center, but the law says I'm not allowed to carry my guns there." In any case, the numbers Florida presents to back up his thesis that strict gun laws reduce violence come from 2007, three years before Arizona abolished its carry permit requirement.
Florida looks at "firearm deaths for the 50 states plus the District of Columbia," including accidental shootings, suicides, and acts of self-defense as well as criminal homicides. That broad approach is questionable, since suicide methods may be largely interchangeable and people other than Richard Florida may consider defensive gun uses a good thing, rather than an evil to be minimized. Indeed, the violent crime rate is arguably a better measure, since it captures the deterrent effect of armed citizens on crimes other than gun homicides. In any event, of the two states that allowed people to carry guns without a permit in 2007, one, Alaska, had a relatively high firearm death rate, while the other, Vermont, had a relatively low one. D.C., which at that point had the strictest gun laws in the country (so strict that they would later be overturned by the Supreme Court on Second Amendment grounds), had the highest firearm death rate: 21.7 per 100,000, compared to 15.1 for Arizona.
Florida could not leave it at that, of course. He needed a comparison that would suggest strict gun laws save lives. Oddly, despite his ostensible interest in the rules for carrying guns, Florida did not compare states with relatively liberal "shall issue" laws to those where law enforcement officials have greater discretion to reject permit applications. (I wonder why.) Instead he focused on these three policies: "assault weapon" bans, trigger lock mandates, and "safe storage" requirements. It is utterly implausible that the first of these policies, which imposes restrictions that have little or nothing to do with a gun's killing capacity, has any measurable impact on firearm deaths. The latter two policies might conceivably affect accidents and suicides, but I can't see how they would frustrate criminals, except perhaps by making guns a little harder to steal.
Florida nevertheless finds that all three policies are correlated with lower firearm death rates. He writes that "firearm deaths are significantly lower in states with stricter gun control legislation"—an excessively broad formulation, since he has considered only three specific policies. Does this relationship also hold true for, say, prohibitions on concealed carry, handgun bans, or registration requirements? Florida's analysis does not tell us. And although Florida cautions in his third paragraph that "correlation does not imply causation," by the end of his post he is arguing that "our analysis suggests...tighter gun control laws make a difference." Since the correlation between firearm death rates and presidential election results was even stronger ("firearm-related deaths were positively associated with states that voted for McCain...and negatively associated with states that voted for Obama"), Florida's analysis also suggests that voting for Barack Obama saves people's lives.
At The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik argues that the famous Scottish economist Adam Smith would support President Barack Obama’s controversial “you didn’t build that” comments because Smith, Gopnik argues, was “a firm believer in public goods.” Writing at National Review’s The Corner, Yuval Levin pokes a few holes in Gopnik’s theory:
Gopnik is certainly right to say that Smith believed that markets were created and sustained by public policy, and that building infrastructure is an important public purpose which government should pursue. Everyone else believes that too. Obama’s assertion that his opponents disagree with that is preposterous. But as Gopnik also notes, Smith was an ardent critic of what we today would call crony capitalism. His case for the approach he lays out in The Wealth of Nations begins from a critique of the then-reigning economic approach known as mercantilism, under which each of the European powers set market rules that served the interests of a few large domestic manufacturers and trading companies that worked closely with the government—putting economic policy in the service of what they took to be the national interest, in order to advance the nation’s trading position. Smith argued that legislators should instead govern the market in the interest of the common consumer, and that the interest of that consumer would be best served by intense, open competition among producers that did not privilege large and well-connected businesses over smaller and newer rivals.
Crony capitalism—and a preference for a few large companies in each part of the economy that will function as agents of the government and be rewarded and protected accordingly—is the core of the Obama administration’s approach to the economy. It’s the essence of Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, for instance. And it is decidedly not about open competition in the service of the common consumer’s interest. You can name your new agencies consumer protection bureaus all you like, what they’re doing is making the economy more consolidated and easily manageable from the center, rejecting competitive enterprises in favor of public utilities. That’s basically the opposite of Smith’s vision.
Virginia Postrel has a sharp column at Bloomberg today. Here's an excerpt:
The states with the highest incomes also used to have the fastest-growing populations, as Americans moved to the places where they could earn the most money. Over time, that movement narrowed geographic income differences. In 1940, per-capita income in Connecticut was more than four times that in Mississippi. By 1980, Connecticut was still much richer, but the difference was only 76 percent. In the two decades after World War II, [Daniel] Shoag and [Peter] Ganong find, migration explains about a third of the convergence of average incomes across states.
But migration patterns changed after 1980. "Instead of moving to rich places, like San Francisco or New York or Boston, the population growth is happening in mid-range places like Phoenix or Florida," Shoag says. Lower-skilled people, defined as those with less than 16 years of education, are actually moving away from high-income states.
The problem isn't that they can't find "good-paying" jobs. Even people without college degrees still make more in high-income states. But that money buys less than it would elsewhere. The high cost of housing more than eats up the extra earnings a mechanic, medical-billing clerk or hairdresser can make in a place such as New York or Los Angeles....
As I have argued elsewhere, there are two competing models of successful American cities. One encourages a growing population, fosters a middle-class, family-centered lifestyle, and liberally permits new housing. It used to be the norm nationally, and it still predominates in the South and Southwest. The other favors long-term residents, attracts highly productive, work-driven people, focuses on aesthetic amenities, and makes it difficult to build. It prevails on the West Coast, in the Northeast and in picturesque cities such as Boulder, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The first model spurs income convergence, the second spurs economic segregation. Both create cities that people find desirable to live in, but they attract different sorts of residents.
You should read the rest of the article, which describes the relevant research, considers the consequences of such social sorting, and raises the possibility that "the best-educated, most-affluent, most politically influential Americans...see segregation as a feature, not a bug."
Related: "Where Incomes Are High and Prices Are Low."
Imagine playing with your toy soldiers in this: a 1/84th scale miniature model of Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound made by a team of staff model makers at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. As Senior Editor Peter Suderman reports, the Pentagon recently declassified this model of the terrorist's Abbottabad hideout.View this article
The Institute for Energy Research, a generally free market think tank that focuses on energy policy, notes that U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are down 9.1 percent below their 2007 peak. Why? The sluggish economy has reduced demand for energy; high oil prices in recent years have reduced demand for gasoline; low natural gas prices and new EPA regulations that discourage coal-powered electricity generation have led to fuel switching from high-carbon coal to lower-carbon natural gas; and more renewable fuels (hydro, bioethanol, wind, and solar) have displaced a small amount of fossil fuel consumption.
As the IER notes:
In 2011, total carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels were 5,472 million metric tons, of which 34 percent was from coal, 24 percent from natural gas, and 42 percent from petroleum. Carbon dioxide emissions from petroleum declined by 2.1 percent in 2011 as a poor economy, high oil prices, and increased use of biofuels resulted in a drop in petroleum consumption of 1.8 percent.
Carbon dioxide emissions from coal also declined, but at a higher rate than petroleum—5.8 percent— as low natural gas prices and EPA regulations have both electric generators and industrial producers switching to natural gas as their fuel of choice. Lower natural gas prices are a result of hydraulic fracturing technology that allows shale gas to be produced very economically in abundant quantities. As a result, carbon dioxide emissions from natural gas increased by 2.4 percent. Since 2006, carbon dioxide emissions from natural gas have increased by almost 12 percent.
But, because the carbon dioxide content of natural gas is about half that of coal, fuel switching from coal to natural gas for electric generation has resulted in lower carbon dioxide emissions from that sector. So, even though the demand for electricity was up in 2011 by 1.2 percent, carbon dioxide emissions from the electric generation sector were down by 4.6 percent. That trend in continuing into 2012 as coal’s share of generation continues to decline.
Due to cheap natural gas, the new EPA regs aren't costing consumers much now, but what happens when/if natural gas prices begin to rise? As the IER notes the U.S. will no longer have the option of generating electricity from coal once those plants have been shuttered or converted to natural gas generation.
The press is still asking House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), after demanding that Mitt Romney release more tax records, whether it wouldn’t also be appropriate for powerful Congressional leaders like herself to also do so. Her tactic at her weekly press briefing is to try to deflect the question by demanding media owners release their tax records. The video clip is here at Breitbart.com (apologies, I could not get it to embed).
The relevant quote: “Some people think the same standards should be held to the ownership of the news media in the country, who are writing these stories about all of this. What do you think of that?”
She seems like she’s trying to joke about it (somebody in the clip is awkwardly laughing anyway), and she doesn’t actually answer the question. Instead she tries to backtrack on whether she was “adamant” about Romney releasing his tax returns and ends with a whimper that it’s traditional for presidents and presidential candidates to release them.
Arguably, it’s also traditional for Congress members to try to hide how filthy stinking rich they also are in order to appear “close to the people,” so Pelosi is following a fine, fine tradition.
Ladies, gentlemen, and Hit & Run commenters, I give you Marshall Ramsey of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger:
In today's New York Times, University of Virginia English professor Mark Edmundson manages to get online education—which he calls "one of the most vexing issues now facing colleges and universities"—spectacularly wrong. Below, a Whitman's Sampler of a few lowlights:
Internet learning promises to make intellectual life more sterile and abstract than it already is — and also, for teachers and for students alike, far more lonely.
Doing things online makes people more lonely, eh? Tell that the members of this breast cancer support group (or this one or this one). Or the gay teenagers watching It Gets Better videos. Or Reason commenters, for that matter.
Learning at its best is a collective enterprise, something we’ve known since Socrates.
Not long ago I watched a pre-filmed online course from Yale about the New Testament. It was a very good course. The instructor was hyper-intelligent, learned and splendidly articulate. But the course wasn’t great and could never have been.
Edmundson is right that such lectures can be less-then-thrilling. (Though he conveniently forgets, as critics of online education nearly always do, that many—perhaps most—lectures in a traditional classroom environment could be described the same way.) But watching a 50-minute video of a pre-filmed lecture is quite unlikely to be the future for online education. New media offer new advantages, but it takes awhile to adapt. Have you ever seen a stage play filmed with a single stationery camera? Horrible. But only a stasist would think that meant movies "can never be great."
Online education is a one-size-fits-all endeavor. It tends to be a monologue and not a real dialogue.
Actually, most traditional classrooms contain more monologue than dialogue already. ("Anyone? anyone?"). But dozens of for-profit companies (and nonprofits) are working right now to solve that problem by offering products that make it possible for teachers to get feedback from their students in real time. Weekly quizzes, midterms, or final papers are crude tools to gauge whether anyone in the room has any idea what the teacher is talking about. A bunch of kids sitting at computers can be tested twice a day, twice an hour, or twice a minute to make sure they are following the lesson. If they're not, a human teacher can intervene—by chat, email, phone, or in person—or the program can just serve up pre-crafted remedial modules that have helped kids with similar problems in the past. Edmundson may be right that the very best, top of the line education experience should have a face-to-face component. But for an awful lot of students, an automated program may be able to offer more of a dialogue than in-person profs have the ability or inclination to do.
A real course creates intellectual joy, at least in some. I don’t think an Internet course ever will.
More Reason on online ed.
The Raw Story's Stephen Webster jumps on drug czar Gil Kerlikowske's response to a "We the People" petition urging the federal govenment to let veterans use marijuana as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder:
Gil Kerlikowske, President Barack Obama’s drug czar, claimed recently that the White House is "interested in the potential marijuana may have" in medicine—but in an odd feint, he also insisted that the drug war's Nixon-era prohibition policies are "based on science and research, not ideology or politics."
Although Webster seems to consider "Kerlikowske's admission" new and significant, the quote is actually from an October 2011 petition response that the drug czar appended to the new one. In any case, it does not signal a change in policy, or even in rhetoric. The Obama administration's official position on medical marijuana is the same as it has always been, and it is essentially unchanged from the positions taken by the Clinton and Bush administrations: We are open to the possibility that cannabis-derived pharmaceuticals might one day be approved by the FDA, after their developers jump through the usual regulatory hoops, including double-blind clinical trials. But we don't think cannabis should be exempt from this approval process, and we don't think smoking plants is good medicine. Kerlikowske's "odd feint"—eschewing "ideology or politics" in favor of "science and research"—is based on the complaint that medical marijuana advocates are demanding special treatment for their favorite plant.
Kerlikowske's predecessors drew the same distinction between smoked marijuana and FDA-approved pharmaceuticals. "There is not a shred of scientific evidence that shows that smoked marijuana is useful or needed," Clinton administration drug czar Barry McCaffrey declared back in 1996, leaving the door open to other kinds of cannabis-based medicine (although McCaffrey, like Kerlikowske, was not always so careful). A few years ago, McCaffrey said he has always been "100 percent for...medical use of marijuana, THC, or cannabinoids." Bush administration drug czar John Walters put it this way in 2007:
We believe that if there are elements of marijuana that can be applied to modern medicine, they should undergo the same FDA-approval process any other medicine goes through to make sure it's safe and effective. In absence of that approval, the Federal position is clear: the smoked form of medical marijuana is against Federal law and we will continue to enforce the law.
This position is misleading in some important ways, but there is an element of truth to it. It's true that modern medicine tends to frown on whole plants, preferring isolated chemicals, and that new drugs cannot be legally introduced in this country without years of rigorous testing. The FDA did approve a sort of marijuana-based medicine, synthetic THC capsules (Marinol), back in 1985, and it may be on the verge of approving another: Sativex, an oral cannabis extract spray. Then again, marijuana, which has been used as a medicine for thousands of years, is not exactly a new drug, and its safety is by now established well enough that the demand for additional testing, which would be prohibitively expensive for an unpatentable plant species (though not for medicines derived from it), seems obstructionist. Indeed, the government has used its monopoly on the legal supply of marijuana to block research even while proclaiming its commitment to sound science. And as Webster points out, that objective, just-the-facts pose is belied by the Obama administration's continued refusal to remove marijuana from Schedule I, a category supposedly reserved for substances with a high abuse potential that have no medical uses and cannot be consumed safely even under a doctor's supervision.
Although that classification dates from the "Nixon era," as Webster says, the federal ban on marijuana was imposed long before the Controlled Substances Act. When Congress was on the verge of approving the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which effectively banned the plant under the guise of taxation (an excuse for meddling that seems to be coming back into style), a representative of the American Medical Association unsuccessfully urged legislators to make an exception for medicinal use. Nowadays the same organization wants the government to reconsider marijuana's Schedule I status. But there is no reason to think it will, no matter how many times the drug czar concedes the medical potential of cannabinoids.
[Thanks to NORML's Paul Armentano for the tip.]
- Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both cancelled campaign events today, with the president making remarks about the shooting in lieu of a campaign speech in Florida. "If there is any take away from this, it's that life is fragile," the president said. "Our time here is limited and it's precious."
- Time puts together some details about the alleged shooter, 24-year-old James Holmes, currently in police custody. Public records don’t show him holding a concealed carry permit and he has no criminal record.
- One of the dead, Jessica Redfield, had previously been at the scene of the mall shooting in Toronto, leaving the food court before a gunman opened fire.
- One of the surviving victims, grazed by a bullet, shares his injuries and story on Reddit.
- The New York Police Department will be sending police officers to showings of Dark Knight Rises over the weekend “[a]s a precaution against copycats and to raise the comfort levels among movie patrons in the wake of the horrendous shooting in Colorado,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said in a statement. The premier of Dark Knight Rises in Paris, meanwhile, was cancelled.
- ABC News apologized for Brian Ross’ reporting that the alleged shooter Jim Holmes could’ve been a Tea Party member just because one of dozens of Jim Holmes’ in the Denver area happened to join an online Tea Party forum. "An earlier ABC News broadcast report suggested that a Jim Holmes of a Colorado Tea Party organization might be the suspect, but that report was incorrect," ABC News said in a statement. "ABC News and Brian Ross apologize for the mistake, and for disseminating that information before it was properly vetted."
European Finance ministers have approved a plan to give Spain 100 billion euros in an attempt to recapitalize Spanish banks. The move is an attempt to avoid a bailout of the Spanish government. The bailout of Spanish banks was praised by Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund:
The implementation of these measures will contribute to significantly strengthen Spain's financial system, an essential step in restoring growth and prosperity in the country.
The IMF was in the news today after an unsympathetic letter from Peter Doyle, a senior economist at the organization, ended up finding its way to CNN. The letter criticizes past and present Managing Directors and outlines the incompetence of an organization that many are hoping will help Europe recover from the euro-crisis. Doyle explains in the letter that he is, “ashamed to have had any association with the Fund at all".
Spain’s IBEX 35 has not responded well to the bailout announcement taking a hit of over five percent.
Over at Business Insider Simone Foxman explains why the attempt at recapitalization has failed to reassure investors:
One of the most concerning pieces of that bailout plan is the fact that Spain—and not a collective of EU countries and organizations—will be liable for the loans made by Europe's bailout funds to Spanish banks as part of this program.
Investors had hoped that the bailout would act to separate stress on the Spanish government from stress on its troubled banks, as Spain has a manageable public debt burden at 68.5 percent of GDP at the end of 2011.
While the new loan won't officially factor into Spain's debt-to-GDP ratio and it has very flexible terms, the fact that EU leaders are adding to the stress on a troubled country rather than absorbing the stress as a collective whole signals that there has been little change in EU leaders' crisis ideology.
The fact Spain is alone with this bailout and will not be able to rely on countries like Germany for shared liability is understandably worrying to investors, as is the announcement from the Spanish government that Spain will not see economic growth until at least 2014.
Even were the bailout of Spanish banks to work confidence in Spanish banks has collapsed and would be unlikely to recover to previous levels. A Gallup poll released today indicates that only 19 percent of Spanish adults has faith in Spanish financial institutions or banks, down from 53 percent in 2005.
To sum up: an institutionally incompetent organization is praising a bailout of distrusted banks that has failed to reassure the markets in a country where youth unemployment is over 50 percent, protests against 'austerity' continue, and we might see growth in 2014.
I doubt that many readers of H&R are worried, but the answer is: Not at all likely. Here's some of the latest data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
The proportion of homicide incidents involving two victims has increased slightly from 2.7% in 1980 to 3.7% in 2008.
Homicide incidents involving three or more victims have also increased during this same period, but have remained less than 1% of all homicides each year.
For 2008 (the latest data available from BJS) the figures for all multiple victim homicides were:
- 3.7% involved two victims
- 0.5% involved three victims
- 0.2% involved four victims
- 0.1% involved five or more victims.
In addition, overall U.S. homicide rates have been falling in recent years:
- The homicide rate doubled from the early 1960s to the late 1970s, increasing from 4.6 per 100,000 U.S. residents in 1962 to 9.7 per 100,000 by 1979.
- In 1980 the rate peaked at 10.2 per 100,000 and subsequently fell to 7.9 per 100,000 in 1984.
- The rate rose again in the late 1980s and early 1990s to another peak in 1991 of 9.8 per 100,000.
- The homicide rate declined sharply from 9.3 homicides per 100,000 in 1992 to 4.8 homicides per 100,000 in 2010.
Here's a chart of the longer term trend of the U.S. homicide rate:
That being said, condolences to the families and friends of the people murdered in Aurora and hope for the speedy and complete recovery of the wounded.
First Vallejo, then Stockton, then Mammoth Lakes, and now San Bernardino and soon possibly Compton. As Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach told Bloomberg News, the bankruptcy dominoes are starting to fall. As Steven Greenhut reports, one California city after another—following a decade-long spree of ramping up public-employee pay and pension benefits, as well as redevelopment debt—are becoming insolvent.View this article
We have--and good!--a culture where people have the ways and means to blather about whatever is going on, and plenty of free time to so, and to reach everyone on earth who might care. Why, many of us are even paid to do so. And such blathering--also good!--tries to pretend it's relevant.
Hence the collection (which will grow) that Matt Welch blogged below of wild speculation regarding the horrible murders in Aurora Colorado last night. And as CNN's Piers Morgan is leading the way (with Salman Rushdie following), there will be attempts to use the nightmarish event to plump for stricter laws, of some sort (often unspecified), to restrict people's ability to possess or carry weapons, since it was someone carrying a weapon that committed the crime.
But turning the (still) very rare criminal and evil uses of guns to indiscriminately harm innocents into a reason for policy change doesn't work that well in America any more, and it shouldn't, and it likely won't now.
As I wrote after the last big newsmaking American mass shooting, the one by Jared Laughner that wounded Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), and not much has changed:
Americans’ attitudes toward gun laws have shifted since the mid-’90s, when Congress passed the now-expired “assault weapon” ban and the Brady Act. Brady instituted federal background checks for every potential gun buyer....At the start of the 1990s, according to Gallup polls, 78 percent of Americans wanted stricter gun control. By 2009 that number had fallen to a historical low of 44 percent. As Americans’ attitudes have shifted, even Democrats have mostly avoided trying to expand gun control at the national level....
There is no consistent association between gun crimes and easy access to guns or the right to carry. Crimes such as Loughner’s are so bizarre and rare that there is no sense in trying to craft laws aimed at preventing them. Despite constantly expanding gun ownership—the number of new firearms entering American possession averages around 4 million a year—and expanded rights to legally carry weapons, the last two decades have seen a 41 percent decline in violent crime rates. Since the 2004 expiration of the "assault weapon" ban, murder rates are down 15 percent. Many pundits have tried to explain Loughner’s crimes by citing Arizona’s “loose” gun laws, including the lack of permit requirement for concealed or open carry. It's true that Loughner exercised his right to carry without a permit, but he would doubtless have carried the gun even if he was violating the law doing so...
A CBS poll two weeks after the massacre found that 51 percent of Americans still think gun laws should either stay the same or be loosened. That was down from 58 percent in March 2009 but still above 2002 levels, when 56 percent of respondents in another CBS poll supported tighter gun control.
Americans understand that even strange people should be able to own weapons, and not just for deer hunting. The very rare crimes of very unusual Americans should not dictate how everyone's right to self-defense is managed, and even in the wake of tragedy that is fortunately unlikely to change
A concomitant wave of blathering won't be about gun laws, but about motives--finding out exactly what made accused shooter James Holmes do it, so that we can either decry or attempt to squash such influences on other lives, or target gun restrictions somehow on such folk.
Why did Holmes, presuming he is the guilty party, do it? Because he wanted to. Whatever other influences we may discover in his background--his leisure interests, politics, philosophy, family (his mom wasn't surprised at all) don't explain it, as assuredly thousands/millions of other young men will share such interests or rough background. The endless and unmanageable mystery of the individual's power and choice to do evil is what's at play, and there aren't many explanations of that of policy relevance.
What are some of the seemingly policy-relevant aspects of this story? Colorado in general has very liberal (in a pro-Second Amendment sense) concealed carry laws, though the particular spot, a Cinemark Theater, apparently bars non-law enforcement from bringing in guns. Whether Holmes knew this and chose that site for his murders deliberately is something we don't know yet.
Guns are still very, very dangerous. The vast, vast, vast majority of people who have them still use them safely, and in many cases to protect innocent life. They aren't disappearing from the Earth, and evil people's choices to use them can't be meaningfully curtailed.
Trying to "turn tragedy into politics" feels gross, because the deaths and the grief for the living are real and terrible and demand respect--and in reality, except for the news and commentary chatter today, this is unlikely to turn into politics, for reasons stated above. If I weren't a professional writer about the Second Amendment (in my 2008 book Gun Control on Trial) on record as believing in the right to bear arms, I wouldn't dream of weighing in at all. The White House is being circumspect as well, saying the crime is not changing Obama's general attitude about gun possession.
If you want to keep up on a well-curated collection of ongoing links about actual news as it arises regarding the Aurora shooting, Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic is doing a good job of that on Twitter. Zerohedge has a long (but incomplete) list of mass gun murders in the past couple of decades. Bureau of Justice Statistics on gun crime (plummeted enormously since 1993).
Our sympathies go out to the victims and families in Aurora, CO.
This is yet another horrific reminder that guns enable mass killings.
Although that sounds like an argument for a comprehensive ban on firearms, the Brady Campaign instead recommends that you respond to the murders in Aurora by signing a petition:
The horrendous shooting in Aurora, CO is yet another tragic reminder that we have a national problem of easy availability of guns in this country.
Sign our petition to demand Congress address this problem:
I believe that dangerous people should not have guns and call on all candidates to address the issue of gun violence in America
I will not vote for, or support, any candidate for elected office who will not sign the following "Statement Of Principle Against Arming Dangerous People":
I believe that these people should not be able to buy, own, or carry a gun anywhere in our nation:
• Convicted felons
• Convicted domestic abusers
• People found to be dangerously mentally ill
Federal law already prohibits gun possession by felons, people convicted of misdemeanors involving domestic violence, and people "committed to a mental institution" or "adjudicated as a mental defective." I gather that the Brady Campaign wants to expand the last category to include people deemed "dangerous," though not dangerous enough to be committed, by a mental health professional. And if "terrorists" are not already covered by the "felon" category, that must mean they have not attempted or committed any crimes yet but nevertheless lose their Second Amendment rights based on a hunch, presumably extrapolated from their opinions or affiliations, that they might commit crimes in the future. Leaving aside the point that people bent on committing mass murder probably don't worry much about violating gun laws, I see problems with both of these proposals, since they are based on unreliable predictions of future behavior rather than a demonstrated propensity for violence.
In any event, there is no evidence that the man arrested for the Aurora shootings, James Holmes, falls into any of these categories. The Wall Street Journal reports that Holmes "has no criminal record and doesn’t appear to have links to extremist or terrorist group." As is often the case with gun controllers, the Brady Campaign's response to this crime is a non sequitur.
Undeterred by how wrong they got the Columbine shootings 13 years ago, or how disgustingly politicized they turned Jared Loughner's 2011 rampage, the humans who work for and talk with journalistic outlets are again rushing to speculative judgment about Jim Holmes, the suspected Batman murderer in Aurora, Colorado. Some examples:
* ABC News reporter Brian Ross points a tentative finger at the Tea Party:
"There's a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado, page on the Colorado Tea Party site as well, talking about him joining the Tea Party last year....Now, we don't know if this is the same Jim Holmes. But it's Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado."
(Stat-nerd Nate Silver cautions: "Per my math, there are ~25 people named James Holmes in Denver metro. So careful unless you have info specifically IDing alleged shooter.")
* Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) blames the opponents of Judeo-Christian theology:
During a radio interview on The Heritage Foundation's "Istook Live!" show, Gohmert was asked why he believes such senseless acts of violence take place. Gohmert responded by talking about the weakening of Christian values in the country.
"Some of us happen to believe that when our founders talked about guarding our virtue and freedom, that that was important," he said. "Whether it's John Adams saying our Constitution was made only for moral and religious people ... Ben Franklin, only a virtuous people are capable of freedom, as nations become corrupt and vicious they have more need of masters. We have been at war with the very pillars, the very foundation of this country."
"You know what really gets me, as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and then some senseless crazy act of a derelict takes place."
* Northeastern University criminologist Jack Levin makes a clinical diagnosis and blames bullying:
Levin theorized the gunman was "chronically depressed," likely having suffered some type of recent loss — perhaps a job or a relationship — and had become isolated. [...]
"We don't know enough about him to be sure, but my guess is he's kind of like a bullied youngster who feels humiliated and ignored and decides he can be important by taking many lives, so he becomes a big-shot celebrity," Levin said.
Will update as (unfortunately) necessary.
teenage psychopaths get inspired by [video games] and want to make it real.
UPDATE 2: The Daily Mail suspects Occupy Wall Street:
one private investigator has said that Holmes may have been part of Occupy Wall Street's most violent faction Occupy Black Bloc.
Bill Warner told how the Batman movie portrays the OWS crowd in a negative vein, leading him to believe that may have been a cause behind gunman's rage.
Groping for shape and substance in the long shadow of The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises is an unexpected disappointment, writes Kurt Loder. Nolan, a director of rare intelligence and logistical skill who’s completely at home in the blockbuster idiom, stages some exciting scenes here (especially an earth-ripping attack on a packed football stadium); but most of the requisite battles and automotive chases feel recycled—we’ve seen them before, and better-organized, in TDK. The Dark Knight Rises is a peculiarly dispiriting film.View this article
- A gunman threw a smoke bomb into a theater in Colorado before starting to shoot. He killed at least 12 and injured 40 at a midnight premiere of the new Batman movie. A three month old was among the injured and some of the moviegoers thought the smoke bomb and gunfire were part of the special effects.
- CCTV video has been released of the person suspected to be the suicide bomber in an attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria on Wednesday. A fake U.S. drivers license was also found.
- Syria’s national security chief becomes the fourth senior official to be a casualty of yesterday’s suicide attack in Damascus.
- A new report shows Barack Obama has spent 412 hours in economic meetings during his presidency. But he’s played 100 rounds of golf, which is about 600 hours.
- A recent poll shows Gary Johnson pulling 13 percent of support in New Mexico, shrinking Obama’s lead in the state to just four points.
- Astronomers have observed a 10.7 billion year old galaxy that shouldn’t exist based on prevailing galactic formation theories.
Don’t forget to sign up for Reason’s daily AM/PM updates for more content.
Reason.TV: "How the Government Makes You Fat: Gary Taubes on Obesity, Carbs and Bad Science
The difference between Romney's office and Obama's, writes Chip Bok, is just a matter of moving around some vowels.View this article
Very depressing analysis from Peter Thiel--investor in immortality, nanotech, seasteading, and libertarian politics--about our immediate technological horizons. Especially grim for those of who read too much Robert Anton Wilson in the early 1980s and began beliving in a "jumping Jesus" phenomenon in which our knowledge and mastery of the world would begin doubling in quicker and shorter increments, and whose retirement plans thus depended on the allegedly around-the-corner world of endless techno-wizardry that make energy production and matter manipulation as cheap as a value meal.
Thiel was debating Google's Eric Schmidt at the "Fortune Brainstorm Tech" conference in Aspen the other day. Thiel is making a dog-that-didn't-bark argument, basically saying that if there were rich horizons for technological progress, shouldn't Schmidt's Google be using its huge cash piles to explore them?
I'm Libertarian, I think [technological stagnation is] because the government has outlawed technology...I think we've basically outlawed everything having to do with the world of stuff, and the only thing you're allowed to do is in the world of bits. And that's why we've had a lot of progress in computers and finance. Those were the two areas where there was enormous innovation in the last 40 years. It looks like finance is in the process of getting outlawed....
[Google]has 30, 40, 50 billion in cash. It has no idea how to invest that money in technology effectively. So, it prefers getting zero percent interest from Mr. Bernanke, effectively the cash sort of gets burned away over time through inflation, because there are no ideas that Google has how to spend money....
if we're living in an accelerating technological world, and you have zero percent interest rates in the background, you should be able to invest all of your money in things that will return it many times over, and the fact that you're out of ideas, maybe it's a political problem, the government has outlawed things. But, it still is a problem....
the intellectually honest thing to do would be to say that Google is no longer a technology company, that it's basically ‑‑ it's a search engine. The search technology was developed a decade ago. It's a bet that there will be no one else who will come up with a better search technology. So, you invest in Google, because you're betting against technological innovation in search. And it's like a bank that generates enormous cash flows every year, but you can't issue a dividend, because the day you take that $30 billion and send it back to people you're admitting that you're no longer a technology company. That's why Microsoft can't return its money. That's why all these companies are building up hordes of cash, because they don't know what to do with it, but they don't want to admit they're no longer tech companies.
Technologists and business analysts who can poke holes in Thiel's pessimism, please do. Schmidt didn't do a very good job at that, in my reading.
Link via Marginal Revolution.
A New York Times/CBS News survey finds that Americans have a slightly lower opinion of the Supreme Court than they did before it upheld most of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including its individual health insurance mandate (redefined as a tax), on June 28. Or maybe not. The share of respondents who approved of the job the Court is doing fell from 44 percent last month to 41 percent this month, while the share expressing disapproval rose from 36 percent to 41 percent. The poll's statistical margin of error is three percentage points, however, and the Times notes that "shifts in results between polls over time...have a larger sampling error." So even though this apparent shift is highlighted in the headline and the lead of the paper's story about the survey, we probably should not read too much into it, especially since more respondents approved of the health care decision than disapproved of it (46 percent vs. 41 percent). The latter breakdown is rather startling, given that just last month another New York Times/CBS News poll found that "two-thirds of Americans hope that the court overturns some or all of the 2010 health care law."
Despite the fact that supporters of upholding the law now outnumber opponents, 53 percent of respondents said the Court's decision to do so was "mainly based on the justices's personal or political views," while only 31 percent thought it was "mainly based on legal analysis." As for the content of that analysis, 55 percent deemed the "shared responsibility payment" imposed on people who fail to obtain government-approved medical coverage "more of a penalty" (which is not surprising, since that's what the law calls it and since the poll question described the payment as a "fine"), while only 34 percent considered it "more of a tax." Counterintuitively, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to call it a tax, even though that label was the basis for the Court's decision, which was decidedly less popular among Republicans than among Democrats. Possibly Republicans hate taxes so much that they feel the term expresses more disapproval than a mere penalty. (Mitt Romney, by contrast, said after the decision that he considered the payment a penalty, only to reverse himself two days later, saying he felt bound by the Court's nomenclature.) Finally, 53 percent of respondents said they did not know enough about John Roberts, who wrote the health care decision and has been chief justice since 2005, to form an impression of him. Another 20 percent were undecided.
To recap: Americans wanted the Supreme Court to overturn ObamaCare, and they're glad it didn't. The Court is less popular (maybe) than before the health care ruling, which most respondents thought was driven by personal preferences or ideology rather than legal analysis, although a plurality though it was correct. At the same time, most rejected the rationale for upholding the individual mandate, even as the respondents overwhelmingly declined to express an opinion about the justice who came up with it. Although these wildly shifting and seemingly contradictory opinions are bewildering at first blush, I have a theory that could explain them: The views expressed in polls, which demand that people pass judgment on matters about which they may know next to nothing, are not necessarily well informed or well considered.
The new poll results are here.
It seems like it's been a while since the Department of Justice — so busy making terrorist plots and then stopping them, selling guns to cartels, and shutting down medical marijuana clinics— took some time to focus on what's really important, pornography. They haven't done that a lot during Obama's tenure (they've been mostly focusing on stamping out child pornography for some weirdly sensible reason). However, The Daily Caller is reporting that there are whispers of a Mitt Romney presidency that would involve some George Bush/ John Ashcroft-style crackdowns* on those weirder quirks that adults sometimes enjoy in their privacy of their homes.
Back in debate season, both Gingrich, Santorum, (no surprise there) and Romney expressed support for federal obscenity prosecutions to the organization Morality in Media. They all also signed the group's anti-porn pledge. Now former DOJ official Patrick Trueman:
who proudly participated in federal pornography prosecutions during their “heyday” in the late 1980s and early 1990s, told The Daily Caller that Mitt Romney’s campaign assured him that Romney would “vigorously” prosecute pornographers if elected president.
Trueman, the president of Morality in Media, contacted the Romney campaign earlier this year about the “untreated pandemic” of Internet pornography. “They got back to us right away,” he said.
Bob Flores, another former Justice Department official who prosecuted pornographers, accompanied Trueman to an hour-long meeting with Romney foreign and legal policy director Alex Wong, Trueman said.
“Wong assured us that Romney is very concerned with this, and that if he’s elected these laws will be enforced,” Trueman told TheDC. ”They promised to vigorously enforce federal adult obscenity laws.”
Trueman said he would like for Romney to speak publicly about cracking down on porn, but believes Romney avoids the subject because he “saw that Rick Santorum got beat up in the mainstream press for being so forthright.”
“With respect to Romney, I believe him,” said Trueman, “but I’d like to make sure he means it.”
Trueman said convictions for distributing porn that displays group sex, simulated rape, incest, psuedo child porn, violence or unusual fetishes — such as “scat” porn — are relatively easy. But, he said, “unless it’s just waist-up nudity of women’s breasts it probably can be found obscene somewhere in the country.”
Noted Raw Story back in February, it wasn't just campaign whispers to placate social cons, Romney specifically supports obscenity laws:
Romney told the group it was “imperative that we cultivate the promotion of fundamental family values.”
“This can be accomplished with increased parental involvement and enhanced supervision of our children,” he said in a statement.
“It includes strict enforcement of our nation’s obscenity laws, as well as the promotion of parental software controls that guard our children from Internet pornography.”
Huffington Post also reported that Romney said in 2007 he would require all new computers to have a porn filter.
Generally, Romney is not known for that sort of culture warring, that was more Santorum and his last gasp of Christian Conservatism. And:
Despite those tough words, Romney's campaign has taken campaign cash from the head of a company that produces hard-core pornography. And gay porn filmmaker Michael Lucas, who has endorsed Romney, told the Daily Caller, “I don’t see any danger coming from Romney when it comes to porn. It’s just not there."
Huffpo also suggests that the desire to lure Ron Paul supporters over to the Romney camp might mean that playing the moral crusader too much would alienate the libertarian-leaning. It's clear that the economy is what's on voters' minds.
But that's not to say Romney's DOJ wouldn't butt into adults' business. After all, they can. Stanley vs. Georgia (1969) struck down state restrictions on private pornography possession, but then came the the pain-in-the-ass vagueness of Miller. vs. California (1973) which specified the three-prong test for determining whether material is obscene or not; this provoked many exciting opportunities for "know it when I see it" jokes , and for much chin-scratching about the absurdly subjective test that is "community standards."
From a small government standpoint, it's pretty damn logical that if the DOJ is doing anything about obscene materials, it should be doing something about child porn and that's it. Anything else is stepping on free speech. And Romney sounds politely okay with that. But even with the economy a priority, Americans still button their shirts all the way to the top when asked about morality. Gallup noted in a May poll that only 31 percent of respondents were okay with porn.
[*Addendum: link added.]
In early 1990s issues of his comic book Eightball, Daniel Clowes regularly savaged the pretensions and hypocrisies of high art. In his estimation, art school was a scam where washed-up hacks dispensed expensive affirmation to lazy and inept strivers. Art critics were boobs and blowhards. Galleries and museums rewarded hype, novelty, and speculation over craftsmanship and authentic expression. The world of high art, Clowes suggested in multiple stories, was silly, shallow, venal, and blind to actual talent. Nearly 20 years later, the world of high art finally got its revenge—by giving Clowes a museum show of his own. Greg Beato reviews both the show and Clowes’ pioneering career as a comics creator.View this article
- Major banks in Norway and Sweden, a region that has largely remained immune to Europe's economic woes, warn that their countries are being dragged into the continent-wide morass. Relatively stable Canada is becoming a major beneficiary of the financial crisis.
- Jobless claims increased by 34,000 to 386,000 last week, a larger number than ... wait for it ... expected.
- Gary Johnson is polling at 13 percent in New Mexico, maintaining his double digit numbers and pulling about equally from voters who would support Obama or Romney in a two-way matchup.
- Britain will deploy an extra 1,200 troops for the 2012 London Olymic games — bringing the total to 17,000 — after a private security contractor failed to recruit enough guards for the event.
- California restaurants happily find ways around the state's new foie gras ban, by selling it on federal property, distributing it as a "free" side dish, cooking livers brought in by customers or just ignoring the stupid law. The ban remains in effect while a challenge proceeds through the courts.
- Charles Ray brought suit against the Chatham County, Georgia sheriff, after deputies deactivated a device that modulates his Tourette's syndrome and beat him as "a form of amusement" when he lost control of his physical and verbal actions.
- A spiral galaxy formed just three billion years after the Big Bang, scientists discovered. That's earlier than was thought possible, but apparently occurred because of unique circumstances.
Do you want hot links and other Reason goodies delivered to your inbox twice a day? Sign up here for Reason's morning and afternoon news updates.
That's the question posed by this Salon article. Excerpt:
In Colorado alone, 40 dispensaries — all in compliance with state and local law — have already been shut down this year.
The surprising about-face has inspired former supporters in Colorado to try to legalize the drug outright. They managed to get a proposition to that effect on the ballot this November, and [...] there are...warning signs that many of these same voters won't pull the lever for Obama in a crucial swing state.
"The element that nobody's really talking about is what I call the Gary Johnson effect," says Denver Democratic political consultant Rick Ridder.
Some testimony from spurned lovers:
"I volunteered for his campaign, primarily because he said he was going to respect state marijuana laws," says Josh Kappel, a Denver attorney who works at Sensible Colorado, a marijuana reform group at the forefront of the legalization effort. [...]
Wanda James, a Democratic fundraiser who bundled $100,000 for Obama’s 2008 campaign while serving on his national finance committee, runs an edible marijuana business in the state. She is so outraged at the White House that she "won't raise a dime" for his reelection.
"There's a number of major donors that have felt that way — people who've given over a million dollars," she told me. [...]
Johnson registered at 7 percent support in a recent Public Policy Polling survey of the state.
I have been encouraging progressives to torture Democrats over the drug war for a while now.
Link via Gary Johnson's Twitter feed.
Eugenia Williamson in the Boston Phoenix in her confused mess of a feature called "Attack of the Hipster Conservatives" is alarmed that not all young people she marks as "hip" are standard modern American liberals.
She is confused about political terminology--she starts off saying "laissez-faire liberal" (which would have to mean libertarian) when she means modern statist liberal, saying that one of her French characters confuses people who expect him to be the former when he reveals he's actually a "conservative libertarian." It's also unclear exactly what that means, except that the author is going to continue to conflate those two (overlapping in some respects, but distinct) categories of conservative and libertarian.
She then gets shocked by "two floppy-haired fellows in skinny jeans and tight plaid shirts [who] were talking about how wrong it was to build a mosque near Ground Zero," a conservative stance (for some) with no libertarianism in it.
The whip-sawing category errors don't stop. Willamson compains that Urban Outfitters is selling (mostly ironic) Mitt Romney t-shirts (the kind-of conservative GOP presidential candidate) and then talks about Vice magazine "characterizing libertarianism as the natural result of disillusionment with the two-party system," then in an article with the word "conservative" in the headline says "in every urban enclave in every blue state contains a small, barely visible contingent of libertarians who move, undetected, in liberal social circles. Undetected, that is, until the veneer of consensus slips away."
The article goes on to interview various people of libertarianish or conservative or pro-Romney beliefs explaining that, in a plaint I'm sure will ring true to any person of free market sympathies in a modern liberal world, they really just prefer not talking about politics with people who they like who like them but who disagree profoundly on political matters. (There could be an actually insightful and perhaps even touching piece of journalism to be written on this topic, but it would require more effort and understanding than Williamson brings to bear.) One of her subjects, Zachery Caceres, identifies as a "progressive libertarian," far from "conservative" of course. (Not to be obtuse, what Williamson clearly is trying to get at is "people who value free markets strongly and probably don't believe in a lot of government wealth redistribution can look or act 'cool' too." But her terminological confusion isn't helping reader comprehension or making any better a case for the idea that this trend story with its usual small handful of examples exemplifies anything coherent or meaningful.)
And the key statement about all this "politics vs. cultural signifier" theme, from David Benedetti, the tattooed and ear-plugged atheist Ron Paul fan who doesn't want to go to Tea Party gatherings, is: "I'm more comfortable with my friends, period. That definitely trumps any politics."
Williamson then wraps up with a beat that shows she does, or should, understand she's conflating some very different things in her story, when she quotes a liberal pal of Benedetti's saying that if Benedetti
was a social conservative, "that would be a deal-breaker. The fact that he identifies with those people is unattractive enough, but I could not be friends with someone that thinks same-sex couples shouldn't have the right to marry."
My Reason colleague J.D. Tuccille, who once lived in Boston Phoenix territory, remembers that "the Boston-Cambridge yuppie axis more libertarian-friendly than you might expect when I lived there in the early to mid '90s. Libertarian-ish Bill Weld was governor... Harvey Silverglate, the former Mass. ACLU head and still-prominent civil libertarian gave a speech at BU Lawcalling on physicians to refuse medical services to politicians who overregulate medicine. And I distinctly remember a marketing person at ZDNet, who was trying to organize a debate over Internet regulation, screaming in frustration across the office, "Goddamnit. Is anybody here NOT a libertarian?"
What the Phoenix is noting with alarm, confusion, and incomprehension is a real phenomenon, especially in an age when the only national political figure with bona fides about civil liberties, peace, and not locking people up for their consumption choices is an old Republican congressman and presidential candidate of libertarian philosophy, Ron Paul, subject of my new book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.
The existence of Paul and his fans vexes those tied to old liberal/Democratic Party loyalties while the old Republican is better on a wide range of issues of supposed importance to modern liberals than is President Obama.
While issues of the propriety of largely unregulated markets and income redistribution programs will continue to keep many (likely most) progressives from shifting libertarian, Paul's campaign has proven that old prejudices about the supposed social and even intellectual barriers between left and libertarian are shifting in many cases, as much as it pisses off the Suicide Girls.
Those like Williamson and her readers confused by the libertarian/conservative distinction should read, from Reason's July issue, "Fusionism Revisited" in which our own Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie on the libertarian side debate conservative Jonah Goldberg and Ann Coulter.
So as everybody jumps down Mitt Romney’s throat for not releasing more than a couple of years’ worth of tax returns, McClatchy finds Congress members reluctant to provide even their most recent records:
Rep. Nancy Pelosi was emphatic. Mitt Romney’s refusal to release more than two years of his personal tax returns, she said, makes him unfit to win confirmation as a member of the president’s Cabinet, let alone to hold the high office himself.
Sen. Harry Reid went farther: Romney’s refusal to make public more of his tax records makes him unfit to be a dogcatcher.
They do not, however, think that standard of transparency should apply to them. The two Democratic leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives are among hundreds of senators and representatives from both parties who refused to release their tax records. Just 17 out of the 535 members of Congress released their most recent tax forms or provided some similar documentation of their tax liabilities in response to requests from McClatchy over the last three months. Another 19 replied that they wouldn’t release the information, and the remainder never responded to the query.
Congress members have to file disclosure reports, but the information lacks much of the detail provided by tax records. Nevertheless, when challenged, Congress members scurried quickly to the familiar “No, it’s different with us because …” excuse used to try to wriggle out of a hypocritical position that exists for the purpose of achieving political points rather than taking an actual moral or ethical stand:
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, also has harangued Romney for refusing to release more tax returns, calling it a “penchant for secrecy.”
All three refused repeated requests from McClatchy to release their own returns, requests that started before the flap over Romney’s records.
Pelosi aides refused, saying she’s disclosed all that Congress requires.
“The leader has filed a complete financial disclosure report as required by law that includes financial holdings, transactions and other personal information,” Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said. “There has been no question about where Leader Pelosi and Democrats stand on tax policy: We must extend the middle-class tax cuts and end tax breaks for millionaires and use the revenues to pay down the deficit.”
Challenged at a recent news conference to release hers, Wasserman Schultz said she wouldn’t because she wasn’t running for president. “I file full financial disclosure required under the law,” she said.
So Romney isn’t breaking any laws, but he should release more tax records because of transparency, but Congress members shouldn’t because the law doesn’t require it? Romney was critcized when he complained that the tax records would be used for opposition research, but it’s fairly apparent now it’s the only reason people want to see them.
Muslims in Murfeesboro, Tennessee have been trying to build a mosque for years. A structure is finally up, they wanted to be able to use it by the time Ramadan starts, at sundown today, but they won't be able to. What happened? The Muslims got a lesson in just how literally true it is that you need the government to build something on your own property in this country. The trouble started as soon as the plans became public, with opponents of the planned mosque showing up to a public hearing at the local county commission in June 2010. The Tennessean reported:
Plans for a new Islamic center south of Murfreesboro have some residents denouncing the Muslim religion and others calling the dispute one of the ugliest displays of religious intolerance in the county's history.
Questions of whether the public was given adequate notice about the proposed mosque and community center off Bradyville Pike quickly turned into attacks on the Muslim faith during the public comment portion of Thursday's Rutherford County Commission meeting.
The county commission couldn’t do anything about it but not because the notion that they could is ridiculous. Back to The Tennessean:
The county's zoning resolution, approved in 1984, grants property owners a use by right to build religious institutions, houses and farms outside city limits.MORE »
That means the developer does not need to seek a zone change for the land and go through public hearings at the planning commission and the county commission. The developer of a religious institution only needs to seek site plan approval to ensure the project will adhere to rules for building setbacks, parking, landscaping and other requirements.
County Commissioner Mike Sparks said the Islamic Center is too big not to examine it in more detail. It may require a turn lane on Bradyville Pike.
"That will be a dangerous intersection, no doubt," Sparks said. "I feel like the planning commission dropped the ball. I never knew this was coming up.
At America's borders, north and south, agents stand ready to protect this great nation from all kinds of threats. Terrorists, explosives, drugs, and...chocolate eggs.
Brandon Loo and Christopher Sweeney were on a trip to Vancouver when they decided to bring home some treats for friends and family.
They bought Kinder Eggs. The chocolate eggs, which aren't available in America, come with a toy inside....
When they got to the border, the guards began searching the car and soon found the eggs.
"He said, 'Are you aware kinder eggs are illegal in the United States and carry a $2,500 fine per egg?' And I actually laughed," Sweeney said.
Reason has been on the Kinder Egg ban beat for a while now, reporting on a similar incident last year in which a Ms. Bird tried to bring an egg across the border and ran afoul of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's 1997 ruling declaring the toys an unacceptable choking hazard. The candy also violates a Food and Drug Administration rule against “nonnutritive items” in food.
Loo and Sweeney were lucky—they managed to sweet talk their way out of the candy fine after a mere two and a half hours in detention.
For many Americans, Mormons are scary, or weird, or at least not the sort of folk you’d want marrying your first lady. Last year a Gallup poll found that 22 percent of the country would not support a Mormon candidate for president. MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell claimed in early April that Mormonism “was created by a guy in upstate New York in 1830 when he got caught having sex with the maid and explained to his wife that God told him to do it.” Newt Gingrich had to fire his Iowa political director for describing rival candidate Mitt Romney’s religion as “the cult of Mormon.” Texas Gov. Rick Perry had to do some public squirming when a prominent Baptist backer, the Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress, announced that Romney is “not a Christian” and that Mormonism “has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.”
But as Senior Editor Jesse Walker explains, all of this obscures something important: By historical standards, Mormonism enjoys an amazing level of acceptance in America today. The Republican Party, an organization whose first presidential platform denounced Mormon polygamy as a “relic of barbarism” comparable to slavery, is about to nominate a Mormon bishop as its presidential candidate. And while you can still hear strange conspiracy theories about the church today, we are a long way from the 19th century, when the popular perception of the faith featured a wild mélange of mind control, assassinations, secret sexual lodges, and plots to subvert the republic.View this article
"The government can come along and, with all the best intentions, cause enormous problems" says Gary Taubes, a science writer and author most recently of Why We Get Fat And What To Do About It .
Reason.tv's Zach Weissmueller talked with Taubes about his controversial work in the world of nutrition and epidemiology, including Taubes' hypothesis that carbohydrates, not dietary fat, overeating, or lack of physcial activity, are the primary factor causing obesity. Other topics include the inability of governments and large informational institutions such as the American Heart Association to adapt to new information, the mess of bad legislation and bad science that Taubes believes led to America's obesity problem, and why many libertarians seem to love the Paleo Diet .
Taubes' work has unsurprisingly invited criticism from scientists, government officials and journalists, even in the pages of Reason Magazine, where he went back and forth with Reason contributor Michael Fumento. Read below and decide for yourself who, if anyone, is right:
Fumento on Taubes - http://reason.com/archives/2003/03/01/big-fat-fake
Taubes' response - http://reason.com/archives/2003/03/01/an-exercise-in-vitriol-rather
Fumento's rebuttal - http://reason.com/archives/2003/03/01/gary-taubes-tries-to-overwhelm
Approximately 9:30. Interview and Editing by Zach Weissmueller. Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to ReasonTV's YouTube Channel to receive notifications when new material goes live.
Three years ago someone hacked or leaked a cache of embarrassing emails and other documents from climate researchers associated with the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Angiia. The leaked documents exposed less-than-scientifically-objective efforts by like-minded researchers to avoid compliance with freedom-of-information inquiries and to prevent rival researchers who were less-than-convinced of imminent climate catastrophe from getting published in scientific journals. Dubbed "Climategate," the leaks revealed a seemy side of climate reaserch to the public. Now the BBC is reporting:
A police inquiry into the "ClimateGate" affair did not identify any suspects and cost more than £84,000 in expenses and overtime, police have said.
Norfolk Police announced on Tuesday they had stopped a probe into the theft of emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.
They have now revealed the "complex" inquiry spread to "most continents", but has not identified a suspect.
Under law, police have until November to bring criminal proceedings....
Under the Computer Misuse Act 1990, police had a three-year time limit in which to investigate the offence.
Senior investigating officer Det Ch Supt Julian Gregory said, regardless of this legislation, police would have ended the investigation because they had no "real prospect of finding the culprit".
Police said the theft was "sophisticated and orchestrated" and the offender had used a method common in unlawful activity of creating a false trail and using proxy servers throughout the world....
[Gregory] said there was no evidence the offence was committed by a government, an individual or an organisation with commercial interests.
The chief fallout from this fiasco, as I noted back in 2009:
In their zeal to marginalize and stifle their critics, this insular band of climate researchers has damaged the very science they sought to defend. We all now are the losers.
Unfortunately, that remains true.
I'm happy to see TV/film/stage scribe Aaron Sorkin make it onto Alex Pareene's hack list. Here's the opener:
Aaron Sorkin is why people hate liberals. He's a smug, condescending know-it-all who isn't as smart as he thinks he is. His feints toward open-mindedness are transparently phony, he mistakes his opinion for common sense, and he's preachy. Sorkin has spent years fueling the delusional self-regard of well-educated liberals. He might be more responsible than anyone else for the anti-democratic "everyone would agree with us if they weren't all so stupid" attitude of the contemporary progressive movement. And age is not improving him.
More moments worth quoting:
• "His characters always say exactly, precisely what they mean, at all times. There's no subtext, no irony, nothing ever left unspoken in his dialogue. His characters don't even get to be sarcastic without someone asking them if they're being sarcastic. Everyone alternates between speechifying, quipping and dumbly setting up other people's quips. It's exhausting."
• "Sorkin fit the broad details of Mark Zuckerberg's life and Facebook's founding into the only sort of story he is interested in and able to tell. It's well and good to say Sorkin's sole responsibility is to entertain, but I think an obnoxious little Sorkin analogue character would probably look askance at some Hollywood screenwriter who took such liberties with the truth in the service of disposable entertainment. (On the other hand, the moral responsibilities of an artist dealing with real-world material is maybe the sort of question too thorny for Sorkin's paper-thin characters to dispense with in a quick Act 3 speech.)"
• "'He humiliated congressional candidates on my network,' she says at Sam Waterston, as if that were a thing someone who owned a cable news network would be mad about."
• "A dumb girl (dumb girls are this show's primary villains) asks what makes America the greatest country in the world, which is the sort of question asked only by Sean Hannity, and Daniels says that it's not: not just because of our poor infant mortality rate but also (and much more importantly) because as a society we no longer revere 'great men.' This is the same idiotic nostalgia that inspires your typical David Brooks column."
ProPublica's Dafna Linzer reports that the White House has asked the Justice Department to review the commutation petition of Clarence Aaron, a 43-year-old who is serving multiple life sentences for helping connect a cocaine dealer with a supplier in the early 1990s, when he was Louisiana college student with a clean record. The case received renewed attention after Linzer revealed that President George W. Bush probably would have freed Aaron if the pardon attorney, Ronald L. Rodgers, had fully disclosed several relevant facts, including support for commutation from the judge who sentenced Aaron and the U.S. attorney for the district in which he was tried. In addition to reconsidering Aaron's petition, Linzer says, the Obama administration is commissioning a review of its clemency process that will ask, among other things, whether it is racially biased. An analysis by Linzer and Jennifer LaFleur found that "white applicants were four times more likely to receive presidential mercy than minorities."
According to two unnamed "government officials," the Justice Department is looking to replace Rodgers, which seems appropriate given his role in the Aaron case but would not address the fundamental dysfunction of the pardon attorney's office, where backlogs, cursory reviews, and a strong bias against granting petitions combine to prevent the proper exercise of the president's clemency powers. When he was White House counsel, Gregory Craig pushed the idea of establishing an independent board to evaluate clemency petitions, removing the function from the Justice Department. Although Craig is gone, Linzer says, that proposal still has advocates within the administration, including Deputy White House Counsel Caroline Cheng; Tonya Robinson, who advises Obama on justice issues; and Brian Levine, Vice President Joe Biden's domestic policy adviser.
In addition to dangling the possibility of reform, Linzer's sources suggest that Obama, who has commuted exactly one sentence so far while rejecting thousands of petitions, will finally use his clemency power in a serious way after the election in November. "There will be 76 days between the election and inauguration for the president to exercise his power," said one anonymous official. If Obama is re-elected, will he feel free to remedy the draconian sentences he used to condemn, or will he still worry about spending political capital on the issue, thereby jeopardizing other items on his agenda? Rather than implausibly hope that Obama the drug warrior will become Obama the reformer in a second term, perhaps those of us who are interested in ameliorating the injustice caused by the war on drugs should hope he loses the election, in which case he might use his last few months in office to accomplish some good.
It seems that one of Mitt Romney's top surrogates, John Sununu, recently gave us a guided tour of the life cycle of a political gaffe. First, he wished that President Barack Obama "would learn how to be an American," and then he amended the comment with a "what-I-really-meant-was" clarification, and finally, he surrendered, as they almost always do, by saying, "I made a mistake."
But did he? You don't have to be a birth certificate conspiracy kook to ponder the question. After all, writes David Harsanyi, we're no longer debating whether government should just be huge or whether it should be ginormous anymore. We're not really wrangling over what levels of debt or spending are acceptable. The president's central case rests on the idea that individuals should view government as society's moral center, the engine of prosperity, and the arbiter of fairness. Traditionally speaking, that's not a very American notion.View this article
On Friday while trying to paint himself as the candidate of “working together,” President Barack Obama said “if you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that.” His defenders were quick to point out that “that” referred to roads and bridges, or to the American system in general. He misspoke, they said, like when the president said “the private sector is doing fine” (walking back the comment despite having it defended).
Mitt Romney, of course, is sticking to the literal interpretation, that the president was telling businesses they didn’t build their businesses. Kind of like the Obama campaign is sticking to the literal interpretation of Mitt Romney’s relationship with Bain after 1999. Kind of, but not quite. Mitt Romney’s relationship with Bain after 1999 was legally nuanced but not out the ordinary. Barack Obama’s comments were grammatically “nuanced” but also out of the ordinary. Most people wouldn’t construct their thought the way the president did, and less than four months out the sitting president should know better than to leave low hanging fruit, anyway.
Yesterday, in the course of attacking the president for his poor choice of words, Romney said to business owners :“there are a lot of people in government who help us and allow us to have an economy that works and allow entrepreneurs and business leaders of various kinds to start businesses and create jobs. We all recognize that. It’s an important thing.” Before that, he referred to “[t]he people that provide roads, the fire, and the police. A lot of people help, but let me ask you this, did you build your business?”
At Talking Points Memo, Benjy Sarlin writes: “Without the misleading idea that Obama was telling business owners they don’t deserve any credit for their success, it’s just two guys touting the benefits of the federal highway system.”
That Mitt Romney believes in the government’s power to create jobs and “fix” the economy too shouldn’t surprise anyone paying attention. This is a Republican candidate who was for the 2009 stimulus before he was against it and hasn’t shown any indication he doesn’t believe in government spending.
Romney’s acknowledgement that he agrees with the basic premise put forth by President Obama is more evidence that the two candidates are a lot less different than they’re trying to appear on the campaign trail. The back and forth between apologists of team blue and team red suggests they’re okay going along with that.
In Charlottesville, Va. (where I spend most of my time) a jury just found Philip Cobbs not guilty of marijuana possession. As the superb local weekly The Hook reports:
Cobbs, a 54-year-old who takes care of his elderly mother, was arrested last summer after a marijuana eradication helicopter flew over his southeastern Albemarle home and spotted two pot plants near his house. A team of approximately 10 law enforcement agents drove up bearing semi-automatic weapons and confiscated the illegal plants. A month later, he received a summons to court.
His case was taken up by the Albemarle-based Rutherford Institute, which focuses on Constitutional issues. Cobb was convicted of possession in October, and appealed the case.
"I feel like justice finally was done," said Cobbs after a seven-person jury deliberated for about two hours– including a dinner of Domino's pizza–July 18.
Two plants and ten officers? Really? Evidently aware of the inherent stupidity of the case, the local prosecutor feared jury nullification. The Hook reports how he attempted to forestall that problem:
Before the jury was selected, prosecutor Matthew Quatrara read the opening paragraph of a New York Times Paul Butler op-ed calling for jury nullification: "If you are ever on a jury in a marijuana case, I recommend that you vote 'not guilty'– even if you think the defendant actually smoked pot, or sold it to another consenting adult. As a juror, you have this power under the Bill of Rights; if you exercise it, you become part of a proud tradition of American jurors who helped make our laws fairer."
That, instructed Quatrara, would not be the proper attitude for those chosen to serve on the jury.
Nevertheless, the judge and prosecutor had a tough time actually seating a jury in this case. The Hook interviewed several people who had been cut from the jury pool on the grounds that they disapproved of criminalizing marijuana use:
"I think this whole thing is a waste of time," said Richard Merkel, a psychiatrist and potential juror in today's marijuana possession trial against an Albemarle County man.
Merkel was among five people struck from the first group of 13 - all because they had a problem with this country's criminalization of people using marijuana.
Aware that this attitude is growing among citizens, the judge ordered up a larger than usual jury pool:
This isn't the first time Albemarle has had trouble seating a jury in a pot case. Judge Cheryl Higgins, who, during a break, chatted with a visiting gaggle of Rutherford Institute interns told them, "The last marijuana case we tried, we couldn't even seat a jury because they were so biased against the marijuana laws."
In any case, the jury decided to let Cobbs go on the grounds that while the plants may have been on his property there was reasonable doubt that he had "dominion" over them and so did not "possess" them.
Another potential juror, University of Virginia psychologist Douglas DeGood, was struck from service because said he would not be comfortable convicting someone of marijuana possession. He added:
"Pragmatically, I don't think it's an efficient use of the legal system."
You think? And I would like to think that there was just a little bit of jury nullification.
A nice piece of food desert debunkery, in the form of a gentle, evocative essay about the role played by the corner liquor store in one Hispanic neighborhood in East Los Angeles:
No one seemed to be looking for radicchio or wheat germ. People go to liquor stores because they need something small and simple, and they need it fast. In Mexico, the equivalent institution is the tiendita, the little corner store that sells things like milk, soda, and snack foods. It’s a way of life. Sure, people buy liquor at a liquor store in East L.A. but it’s just as often where you go when you forgot that can of jalapeños, or you need sliced white bread for a sandwich, or you need that gallon of milk.
And some spot-on analysis of how a lot of reporting about obesity, poverty, and food deserts misses the point:
A lot of reporters writing about East L.A. seem to consider the residents there to be both more ignorant than they really are and more knowledgeable than they really are. On the one hand, you hear people talk as if the residents of East L.A. fail to grasp that a homemade stewed beef taco is healthier and cheaper than a burger and fries. Well, East Angelenos get it—they don’t have a choice but to get it. They have to make food at home simply in order to save money. On the other hand, you hear people talk as if the only thing stopping residents of East L.A. from eating tofu and steamed kale for dinner is an overabundance of Yoo-Hoo chocolate drinks. That’s of course not the case either.
Lots more Reason on food deserts.
Media apologists might be trying to get all post-modernist about President Barack Obama's justifiably infamous "you didn't build that" rap, but not Obama's former employee, the current Democratic nominee for Teddy Kennedy's old Senate seat:
"I think the basic notion is right. Nobody got rich on their own. Nobody. People worked hard, they buil[t] a business, God bless, but they moved their goods on roads the rest of us helped build, they hired employees the rest of us helped educate, they plugged into a power grid the rest of us helped build," she said.
"The rest of us made those investments because we wanted businesses to flourish, we wanted them to grow, we wanted them to create opportunity for all of us. That's what we do together. We get richer as a country when we make those investments." [...]
Warren called government investments "a good thing," charging that, "the Republican vision of the future is just to continue to make cuts and not to make those investments."
Note here how all government spending is equated to roads, public education, and electrical power, which–despite massive spending increases–account for a very small fraction of federal spending. You could (and should!) lop the federal budget in half without touching these line items.
Note, too, how increased government spending has not noticeably improved the very areas of service Warren names. K-12 results are flat over 40 years despite more than doubling per-pupil spending. The electricity grid is inefficient, wasteful, and expensive. The latest federal transportation bill continues squandering money without building or maintaining anything near highway capacity, and is best described as "pathetic." We are getting much less return on our "investment," while being asked to pony up more.
Above all, Warren's comments underline that mainstream Democratic thinking in 2012, from the president down to his apologists, includes the following three prongs:
1) Successful people are insufficiently grateful to government,
and should therefore be expected to give it more of their
2) Government spending helps the economy.
3) You can't do great things without government.
Think #3 is an exaggeration? Post-modernize this:
"Every single great idea that has marked the 21st century, the 20th century and the 19th century has required government vision and government incentive," [Vice President Joseph Biden] said. "In the middle of the Civil War you had a guy named Lincoln paying people $16,000 for every 40 miles of track they laid across the continental United States....No private enterprise would have done that for another 35 years."
Two other White House quotes worth remembering. First up, President Obama, in February 2009:
"The only measure of my success as president when people look back five years from now or nine years from now is going to be did I get this economy fixed," Obama told CNN. "I'm going to be judged on did we pull ourselves out of recession."
And here's Joe Biden in September 2009, on the Recovery Act, "If it fails, I'm dead."
The United States has been mostly governed by Obama/Biden/Warren economics for 42 consistently disappointing months. If nothing else, I guess you have to give them credit for sticking to their principles.
Outsourcing is a fact of life in the modern age, unless you live in North Korea, which is fortunate in having no private jobs to be moved. Relentless, unforgiving competition drives companies to locate where they have the best chance to survive and prosper.
Sensible leaders understand corporate mobility and make their peace with it. But in the U.S., writes Steve Chapman, each of the major party presidential candidates is pretending that outsourcing is a grotesque abuse that occurs only because of his opponent's heartless irresponsibility.View this article
- The State Department’s newest counterterrorism project, “Viral Peace,” aims to troll extremists on the internet to discourage others from being radicalized. The project’s seed money budget is in the thousands of dollars.
- Family members of three Americans killed in drone strikes in Yemen filed a federal lawsuit against top officials at the CIA and the Pentagon, including Leon Panetta.
- John McCain strongly condemned political attacks against Huma Abedin, a top aide to Hillary Clinton. Michele Bachmann has led a charge questioning whether Abedin is influencing State Department policy in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood, because she is Muslim? "These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis and no merit. And they need to stop now," McCain said.
- Justice Antonin Scalia denied a falling out with Chief Justice John Roberts over last month’s ObamaCare ruling.
- The lone Republican on Philadelphia’s elections commission alleges a wide range of voter fraud in May’s primary election, including “[p]eople voting twice, voting by non-citizens who are not eligible to vote, to people voting who are not registered to vote, to people voting in parties other than their own,” in a report released yesterday.
- Kim Jung Un was given the title of marshall, the highest rank in the army, after he sacked the army chief in a move to consolidate power. Though the new Kim speaks in public much more often than his dead father, no reforms are expected and North Korea remains a totalitarian hell-hole.
- There are bronies in the military.
Don’t forget to sign up for Reason’s daily AM/PM updates for more content.
Reason.TV: "How Washington Learned to Love Video Games"
I then proceed to waste more time than I should visiting a number of sites I track on a regular basis: Arts & Letters Daily, that smart aggregator run by the Chronicle of Higher Education; Jim Coudal’s coudal.com, another aggregator, one with a fond eye for the eccentric; and Tavi Gevinson’s wonderful rookiemag.com, which is aimed at clever teen girls but resonates beyond its target demo. (I love the “Ask a Grown Man” video feature, in which guys like Jon Hamm and Paul Rudd address pressing teen-girl concerns.) I’m also partial to Tom Sutpen’s If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger blog, a vast collection of vintage photos from the worlds of showbiz and crime, among others, which is altogether engrossing; and another excellent blog—davidthompson.typepad.com—run by a Brit (I think) of a libertarian bent, who posts links to various Internet oddities every Friday and spends the rest of the week very amusingly eviscerating the editorial windbags at The Guardian and other deserving fonts of political spew. [...]
About midday, I’ll venture outside to deal with whatever errands have accumulated. Along the way, I always pass a Korean deli outside of which the latest editions of the New York Post and the Daily News are stacked. I’ll briefly peruse the headlines for stories I’ve already seen online, then move along. Like a lot of people, I have a romantic conception of newspapering. Years ago, living in Europe, I worked for a tabloid that was very near its own printing plant, and at night, after work, I’d sometimes go over to watch the new edition come pouring out of the huge presses. It was a tremendously exciting world to feel a part of. So I love newspapers. But I haven’t felt the need to actually buy one in years. Which I agree is kind of sad.
AVC: When I interviewed Vince Morris last year, he said, “I believe the only way stand-up comedy can have the same kind of cachet and power that it did when [Johnny] Carson was around would be if Oprah spotlighted stand-ups.”
DC: Yeah, but then she’d have to have—don’t forget Jim McCauley, man. Jim McCauley picked all the comics. I hope he doesn’t get left out of the story, because when you were doing stand-up back then, and you heard he was in the room, everybody’s asshole tightened up. [Laughs.] It was like, “Oh my God!” Because he was the guy who picked whoever was on The Tonight Show. People auditioned for McCauley. That’s all you heard: “Man, I’ve seen McCauley 10 times, and he won’t let me on.” Jim McCauley this and Jim McCauley that. He was the gatekeeper to what comic got on. So if Oprah did it, she’d better have somebody picking somebody funny, especially new people, because a lot of times, they’ll pick guys—even Comedy Central—they’ll have their regular old spotlight specials or whatever they’re called, where you know it’s not a main guy, and you look at the special and go, “This guy’s not ready for a special!”
To make it nowadays, you have to be like Kevin Hart or Louis C.K. or somebody, where you can do an hour on HBO or Comedy Central that’s so killer that you can’t be denied. That’s the only way that that can happen. Or you have to be like Dane Cook, who just works it so hard that, the next thing you know, you’re doing 2,000-seaters and people are like, “Who the fuck is that guy?”
In our era, the violations of the Rule of Law have become most troublesome when the government breaks its own laws. Prosecute Roger Clemens for lying to Congress? What about all the lies Congress tells? Prosecute John Edwards for cheating? What about all the cheating in Congress when it enacts laws it hasn't read? Bring the troops home from the Middle East? What about all the innocents killed secretly by the president using CIA drones? Can't find a way to justify Obamacare under the Constitution? Why not call it what its proponents insisted it isn't—a tax?
We live in perilous times. The president acts above the Rule of Law and fights his own wars. Congress acts below the Rule of Law by letting the president do whatever he can get away with. And this summer, writes Judge Andrew Napolitano, the Supreme Court rewrote the Rule of Law.View this article
California Rep. Sam Farr (D), along with familiar anti-drug war friends Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) have teamed up to push the Truth in Trials Act (H.R. 6134) through the House of Representatives. The Act, a version of which was previously attempted in 2003, would protect medical marijuana patients by counteracting Gonzales vs. Raich (2005) in allowing state legality of the drug to be offered as evidence.
This might save some folks from federal prosecution if they live in a state where the drug is legal. It would also be generally contrary to the Obama administration's habit of cracking down on clinics in California, Colorado, Montana, and Michigan, and would be a nice step in drug policy humanitarianism and sanity.
State-licensed medical marijuana users would be given the right to provide an "affirmative defense" in the case of a federal prosecution. This effectively allows them to prove that their actions, while illegal at the federal level, were in fact protected under state law.
"Any person facing prosecution or a proceeding for any marijuana-related offense under any federal law shall have the right to introduce evidence demonstrating that the marijuana-related activities for which the person stands accused were performed in compliance with state law regarding the medical use of marijuana, or that the property which is subject to a proceeding was possessed in compliance with state law regarding the medical use of marijuana," the bill reads.
The legislation also lays out specific language stating that cannabis plants grown legally under state law may not be seized. Under the legislation, marijuana and other property confiscated in the process of a prosecution must also be maintained -- not destroyed -- and returned to the defendant if they are able to prove it was for a use accepted by the state.
Much like prior legislative attecmpts that saw Frank and Paul team up (including a June 2011 effort to try and federally legalize marijuana and let states decide pot policy for themselves), this doesn't seem likely to pass. Nor did it in 2009, when Frank and Paul also tried. But it's still a hell of an effort, and a reminder that Paul is going to be missed all too soon. And so is this most peculiar sight of both sides of the aisle working together to make the state less powerful.
Reason on drug policy.
New York's Empire State Development Corporation has enlisted the Oscar®-caliber talents of Robert De Niro to provide voiceover for a new commercial claiming the state is back in business. Over scenes of the kind of businesses (energy "highways," high-tech "centers") we now know for sure can only be built by government, the weight-gain pioneer with a whopping 94 screen credits intones:
There’s a new New York, one that’s working to attract business and create jobs…nurture start ups and small businesses, reduce tax burdens and provide the lowest middle class tax rate in 58 years. Once again, New York State is a place where innovation meets determination, and where businesses lead the world. The new New York works for business; find out how it can work for yours.
What could be the problem with a major Hollywood star talking up the benefits of low taxes and a pro-business public climate?
Well for one, a public agency with any variant of the word "Development" in its title is like a country with the word "Democratic" in its title: In practice it does the opposite of what it says.
At CEI's Open Market blog, Matt Patterson lists some other problems with the new New York:
Really, who is De Niro kidding? After admitting (tacitly, at any rate) in the aforementioned commercial that decades of left-wing tax-and-spend policies have driven New York industry into the ditch, has the gall to pretend to Milton Friedman-esque pronouncements on the benefits of low tax rates. Is this a policy prescription he picked up from his wide ranging experience campaigning/advocating for such free-market luminaries as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama?
Bobby D. and NYS have some nerve. In fact, New York ranks 50th – that’s dead last — in CEI’s “Big Labor vs. Taxpayers Index,” with a 24.2 percent total union density, and a whopping 70.5 percent public-sector unionization rate. No wonder: New York is a state that tolerates — nay, encourages — forced unionization. Hey Bobby, go ask one of those “start ups” New York is intent on ”nurturing” how good it is for business to allow unions access to the company coffers.
But, you say, unionization rates and labor policy are only part a state’s larger economic picture. True enough. According to the Mercatus Center’s “Freedom in the 50 States,“ which “comprehensively ranks the American states on their public policies that affect individual freedoms in the economic, social, and personal spheres,” New York is — gasp! — dead last.
I think it's uncharitable of Patterson to call De Niro the " star of such classic motion pictures as Analyze That, The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, Meet the Fockers, and Shark Tale." But I have to admit that in this ad De Niro does seem to be doing what he's been doing more or less steadily since Jackie Brown wrapped: phoning it in. (By contrast, Al Pacino, De Niro's Italian-American neo-realist counterpart from the seventies, continues to give his all to even the most hilariously crappy material and is always worth watching, as either an actor or a special effect. These days he's the North Dakota to De Niro's Empire State.)
Read it and weep, you fearful declinists! Via the San Jose Mercury News:
With his most public cheerleading yet for California's bullet train, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday signed the $8 billion bill to kick off high-speed rail construction and showed no sign he was worried about voters' increasing skepticism for the rail line.
Calling naysayers "NIMBYs," "fearful men," and "declinists,'' the governor celebrated a project that he first signed a bill to study 30 years ago.
Declinists? Really? Is that supposed to be an insult? Is that the best he can come up with?
Apparently spent the whole day signing this thing, speaking in both Los Angeles and San Francisco, but oddly, not at the actual places in the Central Valley where the first leg will be built (and the only leg that this funding actually covers):
Despite the governor's enthusiasm, high-speed rail has become increasingly unpopular around the state, and polls show a majority of voters now oppose the plan largely because of its record costs and uncertain prospects for completion. Brown, who was silent publicly when the Legislature debated his bullet train plan two weeks ago, now needs Californians back on board but said Wednesday he wasn't concerned by the polls.
"You have to take the bull by the horns and start spending and investing in things that make sense,'' Brown said Wednesday.
His choice of words for the project's opponents showed the governor wasn't concerned about winning over critics just yet.
One of those critics, Larry Klein, a Palo Alto councilman and chair of the city's high-speed rail committee, was unfazed by Brown's barbs.
"I'm not going to get into a name-calling contest with the governor. That doesn't get us anywhere,'' said Klein, who was not at the signing ceremony. "This doesn't change anything. It's still a boondoggle and a fiasco.''
The Mercury News also points out the press release put out from the governor’s office focused on the additional regional light rail money that helped get the bullet train past the state Senate (by a single vote).
While Brown held nothing back in his remarks on high-speed rail in San Francisco, a press release about his signature was much less candid. It began by saying the bill will "create thousands of new jobs in California by modernizing regional transportation systems" before mentioning high-speed rail.
The press release went into detail on local projects that will benefit from the funds, and how many jobs will be created, without ever detailing the particulars of the high-speed rail project.
I’m going to guess it’s because they have absolutely no idea how they’re actually going to pay for the train past Fresno or Bakersfield.
In totally unrelated news, Compton is now talking about bankruptcy. Pessimistic declinists, the lot of them!
A new Fox News poll shows 30% of voters preferring Condoleezza Rice to be Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick. That number is the same whether looking at all voters or just Republicans. Behind her in the poll was Marco Rubio, the choice of 19 percent of Republicans and 12 percent of voters overall. Chris Christie rounds out the top three with 8 percent of support. A hypothetical Obama/Biden-Romney/Rice match up is tied at 46 percent. The poll has President Obama’s approval rating at 47 percent, with 50 percent of voters saying he deserves to be re-elected.
But could that level of support for Condoleezza Rice by voters sink her chances to be Romney’s pick? As Peter Suderman noted when suggesting Mitt Romney could be his own running mate, the candidate doesn’t appear to like to share the limelight with staffers. Matthew Feeney pointed out earlier today that Condoleezza Rice doesn’t appear on the most recently reported veep list, and even the inclusion of Marco Rubio could just be a diversionary tactic, excluding the choice of almost half of Republicans in this latest Fox News poll. But when Mitt Romney was the first choice of only at most a third of Republicans in the first place, maybe he assumes Republicans will just come around to whoever he chooses as his running as well anyway?
announced it was informing users who appeared to be being targeted by state-sponsored hackers, today unveiled a new face blurring technology for YouTube, which it owns. Amanda Conway, a YouTube policy analyst, explained on the video service’s blog:Google, which last month
According to the international human rights organization WITNESS’ Cameras Everywhere report, “No video-sharing site or hardware manufacturer currently offers users the option to blur faces or protect identity.”
YouTube is excited to be among the first.
Today we're launching face blurring - a new tool that allows you to obscure faces within videos with the click of a button.
Whether you want to share sensitive protest footage without exposing the faces of the activists involved, or share the winning point in your 8-year-old’s basketball game without broadcasting the children’s faces to the world, our face blurring technology is a first step towards providing visual anonymity for video on YouTube.
The tool allows the user to blur whatever faces they want in the video they’ve uploaded and then, as a safeguard against government attempts to seize original unaltered video, gives the user the option to delete the original video.
At Google’s Public Policy blog, the company’s vice president for global communications and policy, Victoria Grand, explained the importance of anonymity in so-called citizen reporting and even suggested additional precautions for activists using YouTube to post video of protests and human rights abuses, including assessing the risk posed by posting the video itself, to consider information that could be used against the user or other subjects on the video, and to remember some countries are so shitty even purchasing a SIM card can get you on a government track list.
A Google engineer last month proposed an error message that would inform the end-user access to a website was being blocked by local law or government sanction.
The Senate, meanwhile, is holding hearings about facial recognition technology.
Patrick Trueman, president of Morality in Media, thinks my column mocking his demand that the Federal Communications Commission protect his "right to decency" was "hysterical"—and not in a good way. Trueman argues that "liberty simply does not, and cannot, exist without moral restraint," which in turn requires government restraint on liberty, such as the FCC's rules about the content of broadcast programming. More liberty, in other words, requires less liberty.
In case you don't buy that counterintuitive claim, Trueman also compares airing things that offend him to burglary. He says hearing Cher curse on a music awards show or catching a glimpse of Charlotte Ross' butt on NYPD Blue is like finding an intruder "standing in our living rooms when we get home, shouting the f-word or taking their clothes off." I perceive an important distinction here that seems to elude Trueman: While the noisy or naked stranger in the living room has violated someone's property rights by entering his home without permission, Cher and Charlotte Ross appear only by invitation. That is, you will not hear or see them unless you 1) buy a television set, 2) turn it on, and 3) tune in to a particular program at a particular time. Neither the Billboard Music Awards nor NYPD Blue is forcibly thrust upon anyone.
Because TV viewers can be offended by what they hear or see only after they voluntarily assume that risk, the Supreme Court's invocation of "the right to be left alone" in FCC v. Pacifica Foundation, the 1978 decision that upheld the ban on broadcast indecency, never made much sense. It makes even less sense now that people commonly face exactly the same risk from other media (cable, satellite, Internet) that, according to the Court, could not be subject to similar content regulation without violating the First Amendment. Trueman offers no justification for this puzzling constitutional distinction. Instead he doubles down on the notion that the government is protecting our "right to be left alone" when it punishes broadcasters for "patently offensive" references to "sexual or excretory activities or organs." To firm up that argument, he quotes Justice Louis Brandeis' famous dissent from the Court's 1928 decision in Olmstead v. U.S., which rejected a Fourth Amendment challenge to warrantless wiretapping. Brandeis observed that the Fourth and Fifth amendments "conferred, as against the government, the right to be let alone—the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men" (emphasis added). Somehow Trueman reads this plea for freedom from government intrusion as a justification for government restrictions on what people are permitted to watch in the privacy of their living rooms.
For Trueman, the bottom line is that "some television content should be available and acceptable to all, including families, but if the government cannot regulate indecent content on broadcast television, it will not be." As the father of three girls, two of whom are young enough that my wife and I still restrict their TV consumption, I am sympathetic to the first part of that statement, but I know the second part is simply not true. Most of the programs that we let our daughters watch do not come from broadcast channels, and in deciding what is appropriate for our kids, we do not rely at all on the FCC's regulations; we do the regulating. Our daughters are not allowed to watch the FCC-approved Family Guy, for instance, but they are allowed to watch Phineas and Ferb, which appears on a cable channel that is not subject to the FCC's rules. As long as there is a demand for kid-friendly entertainment, there will be a supply, and there are more such options today than ever before, no thanks to the FCC. So why abuse logic, freedom, and the Constitution to maintain an arbitrary distinction that serves no useful purpose?
So what’s on the ballot for California residents come November? Lots of stuff! Lots of awkwardly written stuff designed to look and sound as reasonable as possible but hiding all sorts of little secret incentives and surprises! So for Californians, here’s a guide to what every commercial you will be watching in October that isn’t about President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will be about:
Who Doesn’t Love Reading About Tax Initiatives?
Political insiders are watching the battles between Prop. 30 and Prop. 38, "competing” tax measures (scare quotes because both could pass and both could fail). Proposition 30 is Jerry Brown’s well-publicized baby, temporarily (should I have used scare quotes there, too?) raising sales taxes and income taxes over $250,000 to make up the billions of education funding that will be cut if Prop. 30 isn’t passed.
Proposition 38, by California civil rights lawyer Molly Munger, would raise income taxes on anybody earning more than $7,300 a year for 12 years. The actual rate slides based on income, starting at .4 percent and maxing out at 2.2 percent for those earning more than $2.5 million to pay for education and reduce the state’s debt.
Brown supporters have started a committee to oppose Munger’s plan, called Stop the Middle Class Tax Hike -- No on Prop. 38, which is funny because Prop. 30 has a sales tax increase. According to The Sacramento Bee, Brown’s proposition is currently polling better than Munger’s, likely because of the difference in who is affected by the income tax increases.
Getting much less attention is Proposition 39, the “Clean Energy Jobs Act” (scare quotes because … well, you can figure it out). The bill would change how companies in California who have presences in other states calculate their tax burdens. The changes would benefit companies who are based primarily in California but do business in other states, but would penalize businesses based outside California that do business within the state. Its proponents seem to think the initiative would encourage more businesses to locate within the state rather than encourage more businesses to just stop doing business with California altogether.
The bill gets its name because it would also dedicate half a billion dollars from the money the tax change raises to fund green energy projects and would create a state bureaucracy to oversee the distribution of the money. The promise of yet more bureaucracy is what killed the proposed cigarette tax increase in June (though there’s now a recount going on), so we’ll see how that goes.MORE »
- Tax hikes on the wealthy may make political hay, but they could also cost up to 710,000 jobs that won't be created, warns Ernst & Young. In a study, the accounting firm says the hikes would hit not just individuals, but also pass-through small businesses that employ half the private sector.
- Ron Paul got his last licks in at Ben Bernanke, prompting the Fed Chairman to complain that an audit of Federal Reserve Bank monetary policy would be a "nightmare scenario."
- Australia's government wants expanded powers to spy on people online, including the ability to force companies to create backdoors for easier snooping.
- Officers who have shot unarmed people, driven drunk and harassed minorities have all been fired by the Portland, Oregon, Police Department — only to be reinstated after the union complained to arbitrators.
- Preston Bates, the 23-year-old head of a new libertarian super PAC that has already affected the outcome of a congressional primary, drunkenly described himself as an anarchist to cops who approached him after he backed his car into an iron fence near the University of Louisville. Brings back memories, really ...
- Sex sessions of up to three hours are typical of southern dumpling squid, says researcher Amanda Franklin, of the University of Melbourne in Australia. Her boyfriend should probably just throw in the towel.
Do you want hot links and other Reason goodies delivered to your inbox twice a day? Sign up here for Reason's morning and afternoon news updates.
Not long ago, the American Civil Liberties Union pried from the United States government the momentous news that the feds are actually informing recipients of national security letters that they have a legal right to challenge the letters' demands for private information and their don't-tell-anybody insistence on secrecy. That sounds small, but it was progress, especially for those people unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of a letter that threatens dire consequences if they so much as seek advice. Now, though, the government is suing a telephone company that made use of its recourse. The feds say the delay in disclosure from a legal challenge constitutes "interference with the United States' sovereign interests." And besides, say the feds, the court has no authority to declare gag orders associated with national security letters unconstitutional. So there.
Because of the gag order, the phone company in question, which is represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, can't identify itself. But through some sleuthing, the Wall Street Journal determined that the company in question is probably Credo, which used to be known as Working Assets, a firm that diverts some of its take to lefty causes, and which has opposed other parts of the Patriot Act in the past. Whether Credo or another company, though, the firm at the center of the current case has anonymously entered into a high-profile fight. Reports the Journal:
NSLs generally seek financial, phone and Internet records but don't request information about the content of emails, texts or phone calls. According to a Justice Department report, the FBI sent 192,499 such requests between 2003 and 2006. The vast majority go uncontested.
In the challenge playing out in California, the company is fighting the letters on constitutional grounds. It is arguing, among other things, that the gag orders associated with most of these letters improperly restrain speech without a judge's authorization.
Congress amended the Patriot Act in 2006 to provide a channel for challenging national security letters — something that hadn't actually existed before. As mentioned above, the ACLU won from the feds the concession that people had to be informed that possibility of a challenge exists. But the federal government now argues that failing to release the demanded information while challenging a letter "interferes with the United States' vindication of its sovereign interests in law enforcement, counterintelligence, and protecting national security." That's news to the author of the amendment, says the Journal.
Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who crafted the 2006 amendment, said the law means that people who challenge a letter don't need to provide the information sought by the government until the court orders them to do so.
The phone company in the case is challenging the NSL and the gag order both. As the EFF phrases the issue:
[O]ne of the core constitutional issues (already recognized by one federal appeals court) is that it turns the First Amendment's procedural prior restraint doctrine on its head by allowing the FBI to issue a never-ending prior restraint on its own, then requiring the recipient service provider to undertake a legal challenge. Another fundamental problem with the NSL statutes is that courts are all but written out of any part of the process: the FBI can issue demands for records and gag provisions without court authorization, and recipient telecommunications and financial companies have no way to determine whether and how the government might be overreaching or otherwise abusing its authority. Not surprisingly, given these significant structural barriers, legal challenges are extraordinarily rare.
The First Amendment issues, going beyond objections to a specific letter, seem to stick in the Justice Department's craw. The feds are prepared, it appears, for letter-by-letter arguments — but not for challenges to the whole system of secretive NSLs. The feds response? They claim that they're beyond the reach of the court.
In a related statute, 18 U.S.C. 3511, Congress provided for judicial review of NSLs. Petitioner has availed itself of that judicial review mechanism to challenge the request for information in the NSL it received as well as the nondisclosure requirement. Section 3511 is a limited waiver of sovereign immunity that permits petitioner to seek only the modification or invalidation of the individual NSL it received, so there is no warrant or jurisdiction for broader relief, such as facial invalidation of the NSL statutes.
If the Justice Department's argument prevails, that means the constitutionality of the gag orders has to be challenged through some other means — what other means when you're under the duress of a super-secret gag order isn't clear. As Orin Kerr of the George Washington University Law School told the Journal, "I would say this is a puzzling argument. There has to be a way to challenge the constitutionality of the law."
Well ... You'd hope so.
The morning after Salvatore Marchese left his mother’s house for a session of outpatient treatment for his heroin addiction, he was found slumped behind the wheel of her car, dead of an overdose. He apparently hadn’t been alone: His wallet was missing and the car’s passenger seat was left in a reclined position. But whoever was with him when he was using drugs was long gone by the time the police arrived.
When Patty DiRenzo learned what happened to her son, she wondered: “How could somebody leave somebody to die?”
One reason is, someone calling for help could have been arrested under most state's laws. But:
Eight states have passed laws since 2007 that give people limited immunity on drug possession charges if they seek medical help for an overdose. A similar proposal is being considered in the District of Columbia but faces uncertain prospects because of opposition from police and prosecutors.
“It’s really common sense — just to make it easier for people to call 911 by addressing what people have said is sort of their single-greatest fear in delaying or not calling 911 at all,” said Meghan Ralston, harm reduction coordinator of the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York-based nonprofit that works to change current drug policies.
The measures have encountered resistance from some police officials and law-and-order legislators, who say the proposals are tantamount to get-out-of-jail-free cards, condone drug use, and could prevent police from investigating illicit drug dealing or juvenile drug use....
Initial findings from University of Washington researchers found that 88 percent of opiate users surveyed in the state, which passed an immunity law in 2010, would now be more likely to call 911 in an overdose...
Rhode Island, Illinois, Florida, Colorado and New York have passed laws in the past two years, joining Connecticut, Washington and New Mexico. The bills differ in some respects, but generally shield from prosecution a person who is in possession of a small quantity of drugs and who seeks medical aid after an overdose.
The U.S. Attorney's office is frightened of these laws, natch, and for reasons as absurd and indefensible as laws against drug use itself:
Testifying at a D.C. Council hearing, Patricia Riley, a lawyer with the U.S. Attorney’s office, said there was nothing in the bill to prevent someone facing arrest from swallowing a pocketful of drugs and reporting an overdose — and in turn avoiding prosecution. She said she envisioned cases in which a person who surreptitiously administered drugs to a stranger or acquaintance, causing an overdose, might go free or that someone overdosing on PCP might not be held accountable for “atrocious crimes” committed before the person sought medical attention.
At the Cato Institute’s blog, Ilya Shapiro and Trevor Burrus run down what’s at stake in Arkansas Game & Fish Commission v. United States, which the Supreme Court will hear this fall. As they explain, the case centers on property damage caused by a federal flood control project. Under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, when the government takes private property for a public use, the payment of just compensation is required. So the question here is whether this federal flooding resulted in a Fifth Amendment taking. According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, no taking occurred because the flooding was only temporary in nature. Shapiro and Burrus offer a different view:
We argue that the length of time of the government’s physical invasion of property should not be used to determine whether a taking occurred, but rather only for calculating how much damage the taking caused. We further argue that the Federal Circuit’s focus on the “intent” of the government action—whether the flooding resulted from a “permanent or temporary policy”—is likewise irrelevant to whether a taking occurred. Instead, the inquiry should be whether the government caused permanent damage and, if so, how much. The lower court erroneously created a rule—that so long as it might be “temporary,” no government flooding can be remedied under the Fifth Amendment—that runs afoul of a constitutional provision meant to compensate property owners for government intrusions on their land.
Read the rest here.
Pacific Standard is reporting the results of two recent psychological studies that looked at how thoughts of mortality affected believers and non-believers. Both studies reported that reminders of death boosted religiosity among believers. That's not too surprising since the big payoff of religious belief for a lot of folks is the comfort that they will be rewarded with an eternity of heavenly bliss beyond the grave. As Pacific Standard explains it:
Both papers provide evidence that reminders of death increase the religiosity of believers. This supports one of the basic tenets of Terror Management Theory, a school of thought built on the insights of the late anthropologist Ernest Becker.
According to TMT, a basic function of religion is to provide a buffer against death-related anxiety. It does this, primarily, by promising believers an ongoing existence that transcends earthly mortality. So it’s no surprise that both sets of researchers found a link between thoughts of mortality and increased devotion.
More intriguingly, one of the new studies suggested that thinking about death causes non-believers to waver a bit in their non-beliefs. In that first study, Foxhole Atheism, Revisited, Oxford University psychologist Jonathan Jong and his colleagues report the results of experiments in which thoughts of death are provoked in believers and non-believers:
When primed with death, participants explicitly defended their own religious worldview, such that self-described Christians were more condent that supernatural religious entities exist, while non-religious participants were more conﬁdent that they do not.
OK. So dread of dying makes your beliefs stronger. Ah, but Jong went on to test participants for implicit beliefs using a word association test. As Pacific Standard reports:
But using an implicit association test, he found that after thinking about death, nonbelievers “wavered from their disbelief.” Specifically, 71 students from the University of Otago in New Zealand were presented with a series of 20 nouns, which they were instructed to categorize as “real” or “imaginary” as quickly as possible.
Jong reports that “while believers strengthened their beliefs, non-believers wavered from their disbelief” after thinking about their own mortality. Specifically, they were slower to label such concepts as “God” and “heaven” as imaginary.
In other words, when death was on their minds, “believers more readily judged religious concepts as real,” he writes, “while non-believers found it more difficult to judge religious concepts as imaginary.”
Frankly, that interpretation seems to be a bit of stretch. The second study, Exploring the Existential Function of Religion, by University of Missouri psychologist Kenneth Vail and his colleagues found:
Building on research suggesting one primary function of religion is the management of death awareness, the present research explored how supernatural beliefs are influenced by the awareness of death, for whom, and how individuals’ extant beliefs determine which god(s), if any, are eligible to fulfill that function. In Study 1, death reminders had no effect among Atheists, but enhanced Christians’ religiosity, belief in a higher power, and belief in God/Jesus and enhanced denial of Allah and Buddha. Similarly, death reminders increased Muslims’ religiosity and belief in a higher power, and led to greater belief in Allah and denial of God/Jesus and Buddha (Study 2). Finally, in Study 3, death reminders motivated Agnostics to increase their religiosity, belief in a higher power, and their faith in God/Jesus, Buddha, and Allah. The studies tested three potential theoretical explanations and were consistent with terror management theory’s worldview defense hypothesis.
With regard to atheists, Pacific Standard reports that Vail's research found:
...in a separate experiment, the notion of death did not increase atheists’ very low levels of religiosity or belief in a higher power.
In Vail’s view, this suggests people who strongly reject religious belief find other ways of dealing with “the psychological problem of death,” such as devoting themselves to some secular cause that will endure beyond their lifetimes.
However, there is another way for a non-believer to cope with thoughts of death -- anticipating the advent of techno-enabled immortality right here on earth, a.k.a., the Singularity. And in only 20 years, explains inventor and author of The Singularity is Near Ray Kurzweil in The Sun:
WE are living through the most exciting period of human history.
Computer technology and our understanding of genes — our body’s software programs — are accelerating at an incredible rate.
I and many other scientists now believe that in around 20 years we will have the means to reprogramme our bodies’ stone-age software so we can halt, then reverse, ageing. Then nano-technology will let us live for ever....
Within 25 years we will be able to do an Olympic sprint for 15 minutes without taking a breath, or go scuba-diving for four hours without oxygen.
Heart-attack victims — who haven’t taken advantage of widely available bionic hearts — will calmly drive to the doctors for a minor operation as their blood bots keep them alive.
Nanotechnology will extend our mental capacities to such an extent we will be able to write books within minutes.
If we want to go into virtual-reality mode, nanobots will shut down brain signals and take us wherever we want to go. Virtual sex will become commonplace. And in our daily lives, hologram-like figures will pop up in our brain to explain what is happening.
Bring it on, I say. However, metaphysician Stephen Cave argues in his new book, Immortality, that living forever might well turn out to be a bum deal. Nevertheless, as I concluded in my review of Cave's book:
Since I need more time to contemplate the upsides and the downsides of eternal life, I will happily accept any legitimate offer for a dramatically extended and healthy lifespan.
Take a look at Reason TV's mini-doco on the Singularity University founded by Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis.
Here's the thing about state budgets right now: They're in sorry shape. They can't afford their Medicaid bills, which were on the rise even before the recession blew up the case load, nor their public employee obligations. And that's just if you look on the headline numbers.
As The New York Times notes, the state budget situation is actually worse than it looks. Although nearly all are required to balance their budgets each cycle, they've managed to avoid doing so by relying on budget gimmicks:
While almost all states are required by law to balance their budgets each year, the report said that many have relied on gimmicks and nonrecurring revenues in recent years to mask the continuing imbalance between the revenues they take in and the expenses they face — and that lax accounting systems allow them to do so.
The report focused on California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Virginia, and found that all have relied on some gimmicks in recent years.
California borrowed money several times over the past decade to generate budget cash.New York delayed paying income tax refunds one year to push the costs into the next year and raided several state funds that were supposed to be dedicated to other uses. New Jersey borrowed against the money it received from its share of the tobacco settlement and, along with Virginia, failed to make all of the required payments to its pension funds.
Desperate budget officials often see public pension funds as an almost irresistible pool of money. One common way of “borrowing” pension money is not to make each year’s “annual required contribution,” the amount actuaries calculate must be set aside to cover future payments. Despite its name, there is usually no enforceable law requiring that it be paid.
As a result, the report found that from 2007 to 2011, state and local governments shortchanged their pension plans by more than $50 billion — an amount that has nothing to do with the market losses of 2008, which caused even more harm.
That's an important point. It's become common practice to wave off concerns about state budgets by noting that their distressed because of the economic crisis. But the economic crisis only exacerbated the deep-rooted fiscal problems that already existed in a lot of states.
What do you do when everybody's claiming your president said something, and you just know he didn't really say it, but all the video and all the audio and all the transcripts show that he did say it?
This is the dilemma faced by supporters of President Obama in the long wake of last week's "You didn't build that" speech.
The president's supporters have a multipronged counterargument: Either he didn't make those comments or they were taken out of context or even if they are in context they don't matter because we should be reading between the lines.
Here is the paragraph in which Obama calls out successful entrepreneurs:
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
That last line is pretty good evidence that Obama was still running with the Choom Gang in the 1990s, because he doesn't seem to have noticed that Al Gore walked into years of mockery over his expansive claims about the invention of the worldwide cybertubes. But let's not read between the lines. Obama's comment, in context and out of context, is stunningly ill-advised for a president sitting on the worst economy since World War II.
But at TPM, David Taintor calls "You didn't build that" a "canard" that was cooked up by rightwing bloggers and belatedly adopted by Mitt Romney's campaign:
Friday evening, it was a paragraph in President Obama’s speech at Roanoke Fire Station #1 in Virginia. By Tuesday, it was a full-fledged fundraising line for the Romney campaign.
But that wasn’t because the Romney campaign’s opposition research shop immediately seized on the president’s remarks. In fact, it would be three-and-a-half days before the Romney campaign itself made any mention of them. In the interim, what transpired was a textbook case of how a distortion can emerge from right-wing online media, get laundered by Fox News, and go mainstream as a major line of attack by the Republican nominee for President.
Reason alumnus Dave Weigel says the real culprit is the president's rambling, and he speculates about missing clauses:
It's a rough-hewn clone of Elizabeth Warren's famed YouTube spiel about how business owners owed much to infrastructure and regulators. But this version is a bit of a ramble, [and] you can tell, because Obama never repeated this riff. And the looseness suggests that Obama left out a sentence or a clause. "Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that." Did he mean that you, small businessman, didn't build the roads and bridges? And if he didn't, is it politically offensive to suggest that businesses are built by more than sweat, blood, and John Galt quotes? Maybe, and yes.
I remain in awe of Dave's dogged and enterprising journalism, but I don't believe he can "tell" when the president is saying one thing but apparently meaning something else. I'm also not clear on what Dave's getting at by selectively boldfacing the sentences "Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that." You could just as easily prove the opposite by boldfacing "If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen." Either way, there's no prettying up these lines. Exactly who is playing context games here?
A commenter on Emily Ekins' post last night goes even further, condemning the "intellectual dishonesty it takes to believe that's what he said." So I'll bite: What should we believe he said, other than what he in fact said?
The popularization of Derridaian post-modernism since the 1990s has generally been a lot of fun, turning mainstream Americans into sharp observers of signs and meaning who are sure that either there's nothing outside the text or everything is outside the text or both. But at some point it helps to look at that thing above the subtext, which is generally known as "the text." Up to this point the presidential election has been Obama vs. Obama Junior. With "You didn't build that," which his campaign has made no effort to clarify or redirect, the president has drawn a line in the sand.
There is no nebulousness here. Beyond the paragraph quoted above, Obama calls government spending "the investments that grow our economy." He ridicules the tendency of Americans to brag about being hard workers with a variant of "So's your old man." ("Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.") He instinctively names "a great teacher" when looking for somebody to credit for causing success in the working world. The president has boldly presented his view on how an economy works. His supporters should give him the respect of taking his words seriously.
As conservative chatterer Rush Limbaugh was perceptive enough to discover yesterday, Bane—the name of the super-strong monster in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming superhero flick, The Dark Knight Rises—sounds suspiciously similar to Bain Capital, a financial services firm co-founded by Mitt Romney in 1984.
As Limbaugh pointed out:
“Do you think that it is accidental, that the name of the really vicious, fire-breathing, four-eyed, whatever-it-is villain in this movie is named Bane?”
When writers first created the character of Bane in January 1993, they wanted a name that would inspire terror. Plus, they obviously knew that 19 years later, Romney would run for the American presidency. So they had to set in motion a sequence of events whereby a movie adaptation of their comic would emerge in 2005, with the series culminating in the summer before the 2012 election.
The decision to name the villain Bane was and is a transparent effort to discredit and villanize Romney in the eyes of the American people by linking him with the likes of a brutal, hulking leviathan luchadore. This may very well be the most brilliant PR move of the last century, fated to determine the outcome of the most important election of our lifetimes.
More on Romney's bane at Bain here.
Now wait just a second, Reason contributor Shikha Dalmia. Maybe bankruptcy isn’t the answer to Detroit’s economic woes. Maybe it’s zombies.
Enter Z World Detroit, the latest and possibly greatest scheme to save the Motor City. The concept, developed by entrepreneur Mark Siwak, sort of sounds like the end result from a Cheech and Chong brainstorming session. Take a 200-acre plot of Detroit’s abandoned warehouses and neighborhoods. Now turn it in to apocalyptic amusement park, where visitors stay overnight to fight the zombies–or turn into one. Says Siwak:
People look at [Detroit’s abandonded buildings] and see a problem. A huge liability. But we think that’s looking at it the wrong way. This is actually an opportunity we would like to take an advantage of. We want to embrace what’s left behind and turn it to something unique and spectacular.
The group admits that they still have work to go, in terms of locating an ideal site, refining the specifics of the actual game, not to mention questions of eminent domain (what happens when the one guy who doesn’t want to leave his home is now living in the middle of a zombie takeover?). Nevertheless, it’s certainly a creative attempt to get people—both living and undead—back to the city. As the Z World Detroit team puts it, “who doesn’t want to live through at least one night in the zombie apocalypse?”
For more on the zombie uprising, check out Z World Detroit's video below:
The Smithsonian American Art Museum's exhibit, The Art of Video Games, is the latest sign that official Washington has finally learned to love Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, and their digital spawn. A mere two decades ago, members of the nascent gaming industry were hauled before Congress and publicly scolded for promoting violence, sexism, racism, and even crimes against humanity. As Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) stated in his opening remarks at a 1993 hearing, "Instead of enriching a child's mind, these games teach a child to enjoy inflicting torture."
But then a funny thing happened: As video games became ever more popular, brutal, and artistic, violent crime in America was declining precipitously. As parental and legislative panic over violence—both real and imagined—subsided, the gaming industry blossomed into the multibillion dollar business it is today.
The video game hysteria of the 1990s followed a predictable cycle, explains University of Southern California sociologist Karen Sternheimer: "Ever since the first nickelodeon [movie theater] opened there are people who were afraid of the impact of popular culture and tried to regulate them right away."
And just like film, rock music, and comic books before them, video games are no longer merely tolerated, but embraced by Washington, from the formation of a new congressional caucus to the placement of campaign ads on XBox games to the entombing of a Commodore 64 behind plexiglass at the Smithsonian.
"This exhibition could not have happened at any other point in history than right now," declares Smithsonian curator Chris Melissinos. "For the first time we have gamers raising gamers. I believe, from this point forward, you are going to see a greater more rapid appropriation and acceptance of video games as anything from art to a worthwhile pursuit."
Roughly 5:30 minutes.
Produced by Meredith Bragg and Nick Gillespie, who narrates. Camera by Paul Detrick, Tracy Oppenheimer, and Bragg.
The Art of Video Games exhibition is on display from March 16, 2012 through September 30, 2012.
Over the weekend New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg condemned critics of the NYPD's "stop and frisk" program, under which police detained supposedly suspicious people, overwhelmingly black and Hispanic, for questioning and/or pat-downs a record 684,330 times last year. "They sit there, and they pontificate and they complain," Bloomberg told reporters after speaking at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral in Queens on Sunday, referring to the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU). "Our police officers put their lives on the line every single day." The implication—that respecting civil liberties endangers officers' lives and is therefore a luxury they cannot afford—is not exactly reassuring, especially coming from a man who implicitly concedes that the "reasonable suspicion" police are supposed to have when they stop someone is no more than a legal fiction used to justify a more or less random dragnet whose main value is not crime detection or weapon confiscation but deterrence.
Writing in The New York Times, the Manhattan Institute's Heather Mac Donald likewise defends the stop-and-frisk strategy based on its purported effectiveness. Since the early 1990s, she says, crime has declined faster in New York than in other big cities, and "only New York's policing revolution, which began in 1994 and seeks to prevent crime before it happens, explains the distinction." Mac Donald admits that "being stopped when you are innocent is an infuriating, humiliating experience" and suggests that "New York’s officers need to better explain to stop subjects why they were accosted." (Toward that end, the NYPD plans to supply its officers with "informational cards" that "provide a written description of the legal authority for such stops and a list of common reasons individuals are stopped by the police.") Mac Donald even allows that "if a more powerful method of deterring crime is developed, the N.Y.P.D. should and would adopt it." But "for now," she says, the NYPD should stick with the "assertive style of policing" that has allowed "New York’s most vulnerable residents" to "enjoy a freedom from assault unknown in any other big city."
Bloomberg and Mac Donald both seem to think a policing strategy is justified if it reduces crime, but surely that is not the end of the analysis. One can imagine "a more powerful method of deterring crime" that even Mac Donald would reject because it entailed unacceptable violations of civil liberties: omnipresent, 1984-style surveillance, say, or summary execution of suspicious characters. Even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that stop and frisk is a crucial part of a "policing revolution" that is largely responsible for the big decline in crime the city has seen since 1994, that does not make it legal. In a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of innocent people stopped by the NYPD, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) argues that New York cops routinely violate the Fourth Amendment by detaining and searching people without the "reasonable suspicion" the Supreme Court has said is necessary. The NYCLU's numbers support that argument, showing that stops, which are supposedly justified by a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, result in a summons or arrest (including trumped-up pot busts) in just one out of 10 cases, while searches, supposedly justified by a reasonable suspicion that the target is armed, almost never turn up a weapon. In short, New York cops' suspicions do not seem very reasonable.
Routinely subjecting innocent people to the "infuriating, humiliating experience" of being stopped, interrogated, and frisked for no good reason may indeed have some deterrent value, as Bloomberg and Mac Donald claim. But that does not mean the practice is just or constitutional. As U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin emphasized in certifying the CCR class action, "suspicionless stops should never occur." It would be nice if the mayor of our largest city, who has admirably defended the religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment, at least paid lip service to the Fourth. Instead he displays what Scheindlen called a "cavalier attitude towards the prospect of a 'widespread practice of suspicionless stops,'" reflecting "a deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers' most fundamental constitutional rights."
The Obama Labor Department has issued a fact sheet that says free internships are only legal if the employer derives “no immediate advantage” from the intern.The bureaucrats say they will crack down on companies that don’t pay, but that’s a terrible thing to do. Unpaid internships are great, writes John Stossel. They are win-win. They let young people experiment with careers, and figure out what they’d like and what they’re good at. They help employers produce better things and recruit new employees.
Polls show that Americans support raising the minimum wage. Most probably also support limits on unpaid internships. American politicians think they “protect” workers by limiting employers’ (and workers’) choices and giving handouts to the unemployed. They're wrong.View this article
Chuck Schumer outdid himself on the nonsense front on the Senate floor this week, when he said:
I believe there ought to be limits because the First Amendment is not absolute. No amendment is absolute. You can’t scream ‘fire’ falsely in a crowded theater. We have libel laws. We have anti-pornography laws. All of those are limits on the First Amendment. Well, what could be more important than the wellspring of our democracy? And certain limits on First Amendment rights that if left unfettered, destroy the equality — any semblance of equality in our democracy — of course would be allowed by the Constitution. And the new theorists on the Supreme Court who don’t believe that, I am not sure where their motivation comes from, but they are just so wrong. They are just so wrong.
The comments are just the latest in the whipped up hysteria over Citizens United, which relaxes restrictions on political speech during election seasons. As Nick Gillespie noted, the Citizens United decision has helped several candidates mount credible challenges to long-time incumbents. Opponents of Citizens United actually point to that fact as problematic. The incumbency rate in Congress is usually in the mid-to-high 90s. Between 2000 and 2008 the incumbency rate was between 94 and 98 percent. In 2010, the first post-Citizens United federal election, the incumbency rate slipped to 85 percent, the lowest in more than 40 years. While partisans who don’t like the particular flavor of the challengers who won in 2010 might complain of a systemic problem, they are conflating their own political desires with the health of the political system.
High incumbency rates are signifiers of a broken political process. And it’s not corporate money or campaign donations that help keep incumbency rates high. Through earmarks and other legislative means, members of Congress can direct federal funds to their districts. The longer they’re in office, the better they get at bringing funds to their district, the more likely constituents are to vote to re-elect their representative whether they agree with his politics or not, simply because the legislator brings home the bacon. Taxpayer money in politics seems a lot more corrosive than corporate money. Politicians have effectively unlimited access to use taxpayer money in order to enrich themselves and ingratiate themselves with their constituents. All corporate money and campaign donations can do is persuade you through speech to vote for someone or other; taxpayer money can be used to incentivize voters to vote a certain way.
Not only are Chuck Schumer’s deeply flawed ideas blatantly self-serving, they’re the same fragile “woe is me” attitude politicians often take when people say things they disagree with. Let’s take a step into the way back machine, courtesy of this 1999 Washington Post article:
When asked at a news conference in May what he thought… [about a website mocking him for his alleged past cocaine use and otherwise making fun at his expense], [George W.] Bush let loose, saying it was produced by a "garbage man" and suggesting that "there ought to be limits to freedom"--a line Bush's online critics have vowed to never let the world forget.
In case you missed it, liberals forgot. All it took was some hope and change. Bush’s lawyers were keen to point out they weren’t trying to silence the creator of the website (gwbush.com for those who remember the Internet heyday of the late 90s). It wasn’t even a First Amendment issue in their minds:
Bush attorney Benjamin L. Ginsberg, asked to discuss the First Amendment implications of the governor's FEC complaint, raised his voice in irritation: "How is it a First Amendment issue? It is NOT a First Amendment issue."
Ginsberg said the goal was not to shut Exley down. Because Exley's site at one point urged voters to "Just say no to a former cocaine user for president," he clearly was advocating Bush's defeat and must be regulated as a political campaign committee, Ginsberg said. "The idea behind this is, if he's going to act like a political committee, he should have to reveal his funding," he said.
Or: he should have to reveal his funding because he is saying mean things about the powerful man trying to be president. Just like Chuck Schumer and every other politician targeted by people tired of their policies, the Bush team’s first instinct was to restrict the free speech rights of their opponents, using campaign finance laws written by politicians to protect politicians. Of course, no politician would ever suggest restricting their own free speech, even though they often spew some of the most ridiculous and destructive garbage there is out there, willfully obfuscating issues and conflating legal concepts. Look no further than the Schumer quote at the top for proof.
More Reason on campaign finance.
YouGov have released a poll that indicates that forty percent of registered voters do not think that Romney’s choice of VP is an important factor in how they plan to vote. Only nineteen percent think Romney’s VP pick is “very important”. Among Republicans only twenty five percent think the VP pick is “very important”. This poll comes to quite different findings to a CBS poll that shows that Romney’s choice of running mate is a major factor in how they will vote.
Regardless of how important voters might think the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee is, the candidates that they seem to think are leading the way is baffling.
Over half of Republicans polled by YouGov said that they were not sure who Romney would pick as a running mate. However, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Condoleezza Rice are the two candidates that Republicans who believe that they are sure think are the most likely to be picked.
Recently Rice has been fading as a potential VP pick. She has never held an elected office, and is too close to the Bush years for the Romney campaign. Reuters reported on Monday that there is a new top list of candidates:
Romney's short list of potential running mates is believed to include a host of leading Republicans, including Ohio Senator Rob Portman, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.
Although Reuters included Rubio on the list reports are indicating that Rubio is unlikely to be picked for the VP slot and may not have ever been seriously considered. One of Rubio’s main appeals, the effect he would have on Hispanic voters, is exaggerated. Politico reported that Obama has the support of seventy percent of the Hispanics, a lead that a Hispanic Republican VP nominee would be incapable of reducing significantly.
What is revealing, and slightly worrying, is that Republicans seem to think that Rice is the most qualified of the possible candidates.
Even Sarah Palin had (somehow) been elected to an office before her memorable VP campaign. Only three percent of Republicans think that Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) is qualified to be the VP pick. Quite what qualities the Republicans want in their VP nominee remains a mystery.
Colleges have an obligation to protect students, employees and visitors in an era when acts of domestic terrorism have captured headlines, said [Steve] Johnson. Concerns about campus violence have spiked, he said, since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado and the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings in which 33 people died.
Columbine caught the attention of educational institutions nationwide, Johnson said, serving as a 9/11 to campuses everywhere. "And Virginia Tech was the second 9/11."
Although Johnson said he can't imagine how "words on (a) sign would make a person unsafe," he did say protest signs could be used as weapons.
"It has nothing to do with what was printed on those objects," he said, "but what those objects could be used for."
Know who else is a horrible outsourcer? You. Chances are you have moved at least once in your life. If so, you took work away from your local grocer, hairdresser, and plumber and outsourced it to somebody else. What kind of evil, greedy monster are you?
Well. If we can save some jobs by stopping outsourcing at the U.S. border, writes A. Barton Hinkle, then just imagine how many more jobs we could save by forbidding companies to move jobs between states. And if Obama and Romney really want to create jobs, then they should propose a ban on interstate trucking – and maybe in-state trucking, too. Wall off the cities and make the inhabitants fend for themselves. That will keep ’em busy.View this article
Apparently, when you suddenly jack up taxes on your wealthiest citizens (a proposed 75 percent rate on every Euro earned over 1 million, and an increase in the highest tax bracket from 41 percent to 45 percent), your wealthiest citizens look for friendlier countries to park and earn their money. Reports The Telegraph (UK): "Looming tax hikes by France's new socialist government have triggered an exodus of the Gallic super-rich to 'wealth-friendly' nations like Britain and Switzerland." Details:
Alexander Kraft, head of Sotheby's Realty, France, said: "The result of the presidential election has had a real impact on our sales. "Now a large number of wealthy French families are leaving the country as a direct result of the proposals of the new government." [...]
Gilles Martin, a Swiss tax consultant, reported the same trend. "Since the socialists came to power in France, I have been deluged with inquiries from rich French people who would rather pay their tax in Switzerland," he told Switzerland's 20 Minutes newspaper.
This squares with my anecdotal experience in France a couple of weeks back, when notary publics were reportedly swamped with French changing their wills and other financial contracts. Meanwhile, les rosbif are all, bienvenue!
Prime minister David Cameron angered the French last month when he said he would "roll out the red carpet" to wealthy French citizens and firms who wanted move out and pay their taxes in Britain.
He told the B20 business summit in Mexico in June: "I think it's wrong to have a completely uncompetitive top rate of tax.
"If the French go ahead with a 75 per cent top rate of tax we will roll out the red carpet and welcome more French businesses to Britain and they can pay tax in Britain and pay for our health service and schools and everything else."
Link via the Twitter feed of "Old Whig."
Forty years after the Watergate break-in, historian Athan Theoharis reviews a new book that rebuts the traditional portrait of Watergate whistleblower Mark Felt, a.k.a. "Deep Throat," as a principled official who leaked information because he was concerned over the lawlessness of the Nixon White House. Felt's actions, Theoharis writes, were a self-interested product of the FBI's lawless political culture. But the ironic result of his leaks was to breach the wall of secrecy that had shrouded the bureau's illegal operations from public scrutiny.View this article
- A bomb planted by the Taliban destroyed 22 NATO tankers en route to coalition forces in northern Afghanistan.
- The United Nations is set to a vote on another Syria resolution as early as today, though it doesn’t look like Russia will drop its objections. Syria's defense minister, meanwhile, was killed in a suicide bombing this morning, according to the state media. Assad's brother-in-law, a feared deputy defense minister, was also killed.
- A district court judge ruled against seven attorneys general suing to block a federal requirement employer coverage include contraceptives, certain sterilization procedures and abortion-inducing drugs. The judge said the plaintiffs could not show “immediate harm,” (because the feds delayed when the requirement comes into effect) and so didn’t have standing to sue.
- A laid off steelworker hired for an anti-Romney ad by Priorities USA called President Obama a jerk and a panty waist. He also called Romney an asshole. The life-long Democrat says he won’t be voting for the first time since 1971 because he’s lost faith in politicians. Probably shouldn’t have had any faith in them the first place. At least he got paid!
- Chuck Schumer parroted George Bush's "limits to freedom," saying in a speech on the Senate floor that there were limits to the freedoms of the First Amendment and that not restricting political speech via campaign finance laws was “just so wrong.”
- Jim DeMint says he has enough votes in the Senate to sink the treaty of the Law of the Sea, signed in 1994 but not yet ratified by the Senate. John Kerry disagrees.
- An Iranian vice president blamed the West for a drought in the southern part of the country, calling it part of a “soft war.” Should we blame the Midwestern drought on the Mideast?
Don’t forget to sign up for Reason’s daily AM/PM updates for more content.
Reason.TV: "Sen. Tom Coburn: How Both Parties Bankrupted America"
Last week the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. It was the 33rd such vote taken by the House and, since Democrats control the Senate, no more likely to be successful than the first 32. But the day before the vote, Senior Editor Jacob Sullum reports, the House Ways and Means Committee heard testimony that highlighted another, more promising way to override the health care law: Americans can refuse to comply with its command that they obtain government-approved medical coverage, which the Supreme Court has deemed a mere suggestion even though it is essential to the legislation's goals. Furthermore, Sullum says, if Obamacare objectors take a simple precaution, they can opt out without paying the prescribed penalty.View this article
In a campaign stump speech in Roanoke, Virginia last Friday, President Obama clearly revealed that he believes individual success in this country is largely driven by luck and other people, rather than hard work, ingenuity, or productivity. (The speech is similar to a 2011 speech by Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, condemning individualism.)
Obama's claim is in stark contrast with what most of the public thinks. Since polls first began asking about this, upwards of 60 percent of Americans believe hard work matters more than lucky breaks, inheritance, or connections in determining success and wealth.
Obama declared: “If you’ve been successful you didn’t get there on your own.” He reasons, “I’m always struck by people who think ‘well, it must be because I was just so smart’. There are a lot of smart people out there! ‘It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.’ Let me tell you something—there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there!”
To be clear, Obama does concede that individuals matter, but he says their choices are less important than what others do for them.
The president’s reasoning might be described in the academic literature as one with a “low internal locus of control,” assuming that luck and environment matter most. For instance, a student who did poorly on a test would assume the test was too difficult, or the teacher was incompetent; if this student did well she would conclude the test was too easy or she was lucky.
An individual with a “high internal locus of control” believes she can influence her success. If she did poorly on a school test, she may conclude that she did not study hard enough, if she did well, she would attribute this to good study habits. Clearly both environment and choice matter, but what someone believes matters most reveals a great deal about how they perceive the economic system more generally.
Survey researchers have used various survey questions to gauge whether Americans’ tend to place the explanation for their success internally or externally.
A striking difference emerges between Americans and Western and Northern Europeans.
For instance 63 percent of Americans believe that hard work usually brings a better life compared to 37 percent of the French, 45 percent of the Dutch, and 46 percent of Norwegians. Only 14 percent of Americans primarily believe that success is more a matter of luck and connections, compared to a third of the French, Dutch, and Norwegians. Britons and Germans find themselves in between these groups and Americans.
For more than half a century, survey researchers have explored Americans' beliefs about the relationship between hard work, productivity, luck, inheritance, connections and wealth and success. Data from the General Social Survey demonstrate Americans’ beliefs have changed little over time, and that they still believe hard work matters most.
A query of the Roper Center’s collection of surveys bolsters the General Social Survey’s results. Many differently worded surveys over the past half century, as shown in the timeline below, demonstrate that clear majorities still believe in the pillar of the American Dream: that hard work matters most.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post included an ambiguous quotation from President Obama later explained by Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith. This quote has been removed to avoid further confusion.
The always dependable Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic noted weeks ago that CNN's early July report that no innocent Pakistanis have been killed by U.S. drones in 2012 cannot be fully trusted. Now, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism confirms that at the very least, this is not something that can be reported with any certainty, so journalistic ethics demand a little less certainty than this handy chart.
The July 4 CNN report from security analyst Peter Bergen used the following:
Bergen, who works for the New America Foundation, who have done some good work in cataloging strikes, reported:
Over a third of these strikes have reportedly targeted members of the Taliban, with at least 10 of the strikes killing senior Taliban commanders, as well as hundreds of lower-level fighters.
The United States' aggressive drone campaign in Pakistan slowed considerably in 2011. There were 70 drone strikes in the tribal regions that year, down from 118 in 2010, which saw the peak number of strikes since the program began.
But, writes the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Bergen is grasping at straws because there are things about which he is just not certain:
Up to July 16 for example, between three and 27 civilians have been reported killed in Pakistan this year, out of 148 – 220 deaths. Some were actively defined as civilians by news organisations including Reuters and AFP. But these are not necessarily the only civilian deaths. Ambivalent reports might sometimes refer only to ‘people’ or ‘local tribesmen’ killed. More research is needed. And of the remaining alleged militants killed, we have so far been able to name just 13 individuals
ergen’s claim of zero reported civilian casualties this year is therefore factually inaccurate.
To be so categoric is also problematic. The Bureau’s own data shows that of at least 2,500 people killed by the CIA in Pakistan since 2004, we publicly only know the identities of around 500. Most of the others were reported to be alleged militants by local and international media. We can say no more than that.
It is not just in NAF’s 2012 data that credible reports of civilian deaths have been missed or ignored. NAF’s Pakistan data also contains many other inaccuracies. A number of confirmed strikes are omitted, for instance, and its overall estimates of those killed are significantly below even the CIA’s own count. The consequence is a skewed picture of drone activity which continues to inform many opinion-makers.
This aversion to a simple "we don't know" is not uncommon. And Bergen still claims that he was accurate in his graph. But, writes the Bureau, the NAF is slow on their updates of information, so much so that their estimate of the total number of individuals killed in Pakistan drone strikes "400 below the CIA’s own numbers." Basically, says the Bureau, the NAF offers useful snapshots, but a misleading entire picture of the whole of operations. Their full refuting of Bergen is well worth reading, because it at least casts serious doubt on his narrative and the narrative of nearly flawless terrorist-hunting intelligence.
Undoubtedly strikes in Pakistan are becoming less frequent, but that is not the same thing as being dead-certain that the only people killed are militants. When we know that any male of military age is posthumously declared a militant, and simply considering the history of fuzziness in realingve drone strike details, it seems dubious indeed to trust such hopeful-sounding analysis as zero innocents dead.
Meanwhile, a security writer for The New York Times recently noted that in spite of all the critiques that drones receive, compared to the warfare tactics of not so very long ago, they are very humanitarian and very accurate. The Times quotes a the former deputy security chief for the CIA, Henry A. Crumpton, ending the article with a quote:
“Look at the firebombing of Dresden, and compare what we’re doing today,” Mr. Crumpton said. “The public’s expectations have been raised dramatically around the world, and that’s good news.”
That is both a really good point, and a really dangerous one. Yes, ideally (and mostly in actuality) the public tolerance for bloodshed is getting lower and lower. Iraq's body count of maybe 100,000 is bad, but it killed fewer than 10,000 Americans and it took eight long years.
Vietnam killed 60,000 Americans and something like two million Vietnamese over the course of about a decade. And World War II killed 60 million in six years. But in that case, the good side was the side that firebombed Dresden and killed 35,000+ civilians in two days.
Would the public tolerate that today? It's nice to think not, but the reputation of World War II as a just cause remains. And the sins of the Allies — Dresden, Hiroshima, the Japanese Internment, Operation Keelhaul, and the fact of the good guys having included Josef Stalin — is not exactly the first thing taught in the history books. Yes, drones are "better" but there's something disturbing about the way people approach that issue — often it's Obama apologists, refusing to give to the truth about their guy. And drones aren't exactly unpopular with the left or right.
Maybe in a few years, the violation of sovereignty and the 3, 10 or 20-odd percent innocents casualty rates of drones will be as shocking and strange as Dresden and other tragedies now seem to millennials. Or, if the cause seems worthy enough, maybe the public would, with no so much difficulty, be convinced that scores of thousands dead in an afternoon is acceptable if it's really "necessary." Regardless, to critique drones now, even while admitting they're some kind of improvement over all of previous human history, is the only moral thing to do if you have qualms with the program.
If there's a starker statement of philosophy — repulsive, Borg-like philosophy — than that offered up by President Barack Obama during a stump speech on July 13, in Roanoke, Virginia, I have yet to see it. Basically, in the course of the usual round of chest-beating and opponent-slagging, Obama ridiculed the idea that individuals can claim credit for their successes, and instead touted collective effort — with the government taking the lead, of course. As you might expect of a politician more concerned with reelection than accuracy, his chosen examples weren't as supportive of his case as his speechwriters intended.
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. (Applause.)
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.
That "fire service" reference comes courtesy of Obama's speechifying outside a Roanoke fire station, I'm sure that the idea of a non-government fire department seemed ridiculous to whoever crafted that speech, but a few minutes with Google might have saved the president the embarrassment of using such an inappropriate example. I don't know about Roanoke, but the last time I was in Annapolis, Maryland, the walls of buildings in the old part of town still bore 19th century metal badges indicating the fire service that protected that property. For about 150 years, in continental Europe, Britain and the United States, such badges commonly indicated specific fire companies, or the insurance companies that would compensate responding volunteer fire brigades. The system had flaws, as does any, but not to the extent that was claimed when clever politicians turned fire protection into a "modern" government service — and, along with police departments, later joined by other municipal agencies, rich sources of lucrative patronage jobs (PDF).
As for the Internet ... Are we still humoring people who pretend that the modern Internet, with multimedia browsers, world-spanning commercial opportunities and unparallelled opportunities for free expression is a triumph of government planning? Government might have created standards for connecting computers from different organizations, but, as Robert David Graham of Errata Security writes:
What’s important about the Internet is that the OSI standard failed. It’s not the standard of today’s Internet. The government backed the wrong horse, so to speak. Instead, today’s Internet is based on TCP/IP -- a networking standard the government tried to kill off.
Most people concede that government played a major role, but as a participant in something that was happening anyway. Some commenters, such as Peter G. Klein, argue that the government's early involvement pushed the evolution of the technology behind the Internet in unfortunate directions. What's clear, though, is that what we value about the Internet, such as streaming video, vast quantities of free porn, easy shopping, sharing of data and the like are private developments by innovators and entrepreneurs.
True, it could be said to any of the entrepreneurs who built innovation upon innovation, "you didn’t get there on your own." But that could be said of anybody who wasn't raised by wolves, though even then, the wild doggies deserve their due. That's because healthy societies are the result of voluntary, collaborative efforts that build on what has already been developed. People enrich themselves and others by cutting deals with others or by picking up the baton from those who have gone before — that doesn't entail some formless, endless obligation to the collective, embodied, of course, by the nearest politicians with their hands out.
"You’re not on your own, we’re in this together," says Obama. Well ... Sort of. We all work at things that complement each other, simply because we won't get rewarded if nobody has any need for what we're doing. To the extent that government officials manage to properly perform jobs involving the maintenance of infrastructure that other people use while keeping the bridges to nowhere to a minimum ... That's great! They paved the roads without screwing up! But they get paid for that, just like the phone company and the gas company, and Sprint doesn't constantly insist we kiss its executives' asses because our phones work from day to day.
There's something deeply disturbing in the world-view of those who would minimize the achievements of those who pursued the ideas, took the risks, invested the time and money and made things happen. And it's no more encouraging to hear such people claim individual achievements as the property of the amorphous collective led, always, by themselves. The only value in such pronouncements is the warning they offer to those of us who seek something with a bit more promise for anybody with a hint of self-respect and a whisper of inspiration.