June 17th, 2014

Peter Suderman on the Administration's Kick-the-Can Approach to Obamacare

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The fight over verification procedures for Obamacare's health insurance subsidies is just one of the many ongoing sub-arguments about implementation of the health law.

But, writes Senior Editor Peter Suderman, it's one that highlights the administration's particular mix of arrogance and ineptitude, as well as the long-term problems with the administration's fix-it-later approach to Obamacare.

View this article.

A.M. Links: U.S. Sends Troops to Iraq, Supreme Court Considers Facebook Threats, Alabama Decriminali

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  • Annnd we're back: Hundreds of U.S. troops have been sent to Iraq "to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad," President Obama announced late Monday. Secretary of State Secretary of State John Kerry said that drone strikes on militant targets are under consideration. 
  • The U.S. Supreme Court is mulling whether threats made online must actually be serious in order for the threat-maker to go to jail, rather than merely perceived as seriously threatening by a reasonable person.
  • The Food and Drug Administration has decided to tackle the least of our nutritional worries by issuing new salt guidelines for food manufacturers. 
  • Doctors without borders without sense? A group of 129 medical professionals from 31 countries is urging the World Health Organization to more strictly regulate e-cigarettes.
  • The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals has overturned part of a state sexual misconduct law under which oral and anal sex were technically banned.
  • A transgender rights group is pressuring South Carolina to allow 16-year-old Chase Culpepper to retake his driver's license photo while wearing makeup. "The Department of Motor Vehicles should not have forced me to remove my makeup simply because my appearance does not meet their expectations of what a boy should look like," Culpepper said. 

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Sens. Wyden, Udall, Paul take to L.A. Times to Demand Real NSA Reform

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Bipartisanship actually worth supporting.Senators Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, and Rand Paul (D-Ore., D-Colo., and R-Ky., respectively) have penned a group commentary for the Los Angeles Times pushing hard for an end to National Security Agency bulk data collection and criticizing the lackluster USA Freedom Act Congress is considering instead. Acknowledging the one-year anniversary of Edward Snowden’s leaks, they write:

Dragnet surveillance was approved by a secret court that normally hears only the government's side of major cases. It had been debated only in a few secret congressional committee hearings, and many members of Congress were entirely unaware it. When laws like the Patriot Act were reauthorized, a vocal minority of senators and representatives — including the three of us — objected, but the secrecy surrounding these programs made it difficult to mobilize public support.

And yet, it was inevitable that mass surveillance and warrantless searches would eventually be exposed. When the plain text of the law differs so dramatically from how it is interpreted and applied, in effect creating a body of secret law, it simply isn't sustainable. So when the programs' existence became public last summer, huge numbers of Americans were justifiably stunned and angry at how they had been misled and by the degree to which their privacy rights had been routinely violated. Inflated claims about the program's value have burst under public scrutiny, and there is now a groundswell of public support for reform.

The senators gave details on some of their proposed reforms, many of which were stripped from the USA Freedom Act:

This package of reforms includes overhauling domestic surveillance laws to ban the bulk collection of Americans' personal information, and closing the loophole that allows intelligence agencies to deliberately read Americans' emails without a warrant. It includes reshaping the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by installing an advocate who can argue for Americans' constitutional rights when the court is considering major cases, and by requiring that significant interpretations of U.S. law and the Constitution be made public. And it would strengthen and clarify the government's authority to obtain individual records quickly in genuine emergency situations.

They believe the wording of the USA Freedom Act is vague enough to allow the bulk collection of data to continue and are declaring their opposition to the law’s passage.

Read their full op-ed here.

Highly Educated Women Are Having More Children

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Downton AbbeyDemographers have long reported that as women join the market economy and move up the income curve, they have fewer and fewer children. This appears to be changing. A new study in the Economic Journal looks at U.S. fertility trends and finds U-shaped fertility rates based on the educational levels of women. Specifically, the researchers report that highly educated American women are earning enough money to outsource child-rearing and domestic chores. Since they can earn more in the market than it costs to pay for child-rearing and housecleaning, they are choosing to have more children. How does this work? From the study:

Marketization, however, affects the price for quantity that parents face. For parents with low levels of human capital, (i.e., low income), marketization is low and thus the parents themselves engage in most of the child-raising. ...  In contrast, parents with high levels of human capital optimally outsource a major part of their child-raising, which, in turn, reduces the cost of children from the parents’ point of view. We show that this reduction can be sufficiently large to induce an increase in fertility above a certain level of human capital.

In our basic model, parental time spent on raising children decreases with parents’ human capital. This occurs because the fraction of income allocated to raising children decreases with the parents’ human capital while parental reliance on market substitutes increases with human capital...

Our model demonstrates how parents can substitute their own parenting time for market-purchased childcare. We show that highly educated women substitute a significant part of their own parenting with childcare. This enables them to have more children and work longer hours.

For more background on this phenomenon, see also my 2009, "Demographic Transition Reverses: Are the Wealthy Having More Kids?"

Scalia: Holding Public School Graduations in Church May Offend Some, But So Does 'the Playing in Pub

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The U.S. Supreme Court declined yesterday to take up the case of Elmbrook School District v. John Doe. At issue was a Milwaukee public school district's practice of holding high school graduation ceremonies in a local church. According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, that decision violated the First Amendment's stricture against the establishment of religion. "An unacceptable amount of religious endorsement and coercion occurred when the District held important civil ceremonies in the proselytizing environment of Elmbrook Church," the 7th Circuit ruled. Because the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the district's appeal, that decision by the 7th Circuit will stand.

There was, however, a dissent. Although the Supreme Court denies most cases without comment, Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, took the rare step in this case of filing a written opinion dissenting from the Court's denial. In it, Scalia made clear his sympathies were on the side of the school district and that he saw little evidence of a constitutional violation. "Some there are—many, perhaps—who are offended by public displays of religion," Scalia wrote. "I can understand that attitude: It parallels my own toward the playing in public of rock music or Stravinsky." But, he declared, "my own aversion cannot be imposed by law because of the First Amendment."

Insider Trading Is Really Common. Awesome!

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A new study finds that insider trading is extremely common. CNBC Squawk Box co-anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin writes up the findings

Now, a groundbreaking new study finally puts what we've instinctively thought into hard numbers—and the truth is worse than we imagined.

A quarter of all public company deals may involve some kind of insider trading, according to the study by two professors at the Stern School of Business at New York University and one professor from McGill University. The study, perhaps the most detailed and exhaustive of its kind, examined hundreds of transactions from 1996 through the end of 2012.

Martha coverBut is all this insider trading really bad news? At Reason, we have a long history of sticking up for insider trading, even making Martha Stewart our cover girl after she got into hot water with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2003.

That's because insider trading is a victimless crime. Markets run on asymmetrical information. Stock prices bounce around because investors are always doing their best to use their own superior information for personal gain. So-called insider information is just one kind of asymmetry, and not a particularly insidious one. 

What's more, insider trading tends to make markets more efficient. Here's The Washington Post last year, taking a page from George Mason economist Henry Mannes' book: 

Markets work best when goods are priced accurately, which in the context of stocks means that firms’ stock prices should accurately reflect their strengths and weaknesses. If a firm is involved in a giant Enron-style scam, the price should be correspondingly lower. But, of course, until the Enron fiasco was unearthed, its stock price decidedly did not reflect that it was cooking the books. That wouldn’t have happened if insider trading had been legal. The many Enron insiders who knew what was going on would have sold their shares, the price would have corrected itself and disaster might have been averted.

And what this new study from Patrick Augustin of McGill University, Menachem Brenner of New York University (NYU), and Marti G. Subrahmanyam of NYU's Stern School of Business finds is that our existing laws suck at preventing insiders from cashing in, at least on certain kinds of deals. In fact, the SEC isn't even very good at preventing its own employees from engaging in trades based on special knowledge—they actually require such trades in some cases. And while enforcing insider trading laws isn't the only thing the SEC does, it's a significant chunk of the agency's $1.3 billion budget. 

I'll be on CNBC to talk about the new study today in the 1:00 p.m. hour. Tune in!

Sherlock Holmes Escapes the Grip of His Creator's Estate

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BUT WHAT ABOUT MY HOPE/CROSBY SLASHFIC? CAN I STILL PUBLISH THAT?It is legal to publish stories about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson without the permission of their creator's estate, because those characters are in the public domain. That's a straightforward reading of current copyright law, and the Seventh Circuit confirmed it yesterday, upholding a lower court's ruling that Holmes fan Leslie Klinger has the right to edit an anthology of Sherlock stories by contemporary writers.

It's a welcome decision. The argument offered by Arthur Conan Doyle's estate rested on the fact that 10 Sherlock stories were published after 1923 and therefore have not yet entered the public domain. Because those stories introduced new elements to Holmes' and Watson's fictional lives, the estate's attorneys claimed that the characters were not fully created until after 1923 and therefore aren't in the public domain after all. At a time when copyright terms are constantly being extended into the future, the estate was effectively attempting to enact a stealth extension into the past.

It was an absurd argument, and Judge Richard Posner swatted it down gracefully. His decision is embedded below.

Klinger v. Doyle Estate

Vid: Adam Carolla vs. Patent Trolls, the Government, NPR, Salon, and more!

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"There's a lot of people out there whose job it is to be offended for other people," says Adam Carolla, comedian and host of the Adam Carolla Show podcast. "They're like, 'Hey, these are opinions people disagree with!' It's like, 'Hey, United States there, buddy. It's just one big pile of opinions that people disagree with.'"

Reason TV sat down with Carolla in his Glendale warehouse/podcast studio to discuss a lawsuit he's facing from a so-called "patent troll" who claims intellectual ownership over the idea of "a system for disseminating media content representing episodes in a serialized sequence." In other words, the company claims to own the very idea of podcasting, despite never having produced a podcast itself.

Watch the video above to hear Carolla's take on patent trolls, Los Angeles (7:08), comedians being pressured to issue fake apologies (10:25), and media outlets NPR and Salon, whom he accuses of engaging in ambush interview techniques (11:45). Or, click below for the full text and downloadable versions of this video.

View this article.

Gene Healy Says 'Don't Do Stupid Stuff' Is Smart Foreign Policy Advice

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The United States paid a heavy price in the Iraq War: some 4,500 U.S. troops killed, tens of thousands more with traumatic brain injuries, hundreds of limb amputations, $1.7 trillion in direct budgetary costs so far and nearly half a trillion to come in veterans' care and disability. Given that history, perhaps there's something to be said for President Obama's latest foreign policy maxim: "don't do stupid stuff." At the very least, you wouldn't think a "first, do no harm" approach to foreign policy would prove quite so controversial. The D.C. commentariat gripes, but Gene Healy writes that it is sound, even noble, foreign policy goal, one that can help us avoid further sacrifice of American blood and treasure—even as we try to extricate ourselves from past stupidities.

View this article.

Rep. Stockman to NSA: Turn Over Metadata on ‘Lost’ IRS Emails

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The latest hairy growth on the IRS-targeting-Tea-Partiers scandal is that the federal agency apparently lost more than two years' worth of potentially incriminating emails in a single computer crash. Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) has proposed a creative solution to the problem: have the National Security Agency (NSA) release the relevant metadata.

He wrote a letter to the agency's new director, Michael Rogers, on Friday. Here's part of it:

As you probably read, the Internal Revenue Service informed the House Ways and Means Committee today they claim to "lost" all emails from former Exempt Organizations division director Lois Lerner for the period between January 2009 and April 2011.

According to chairman Camp, "The IRS claims it cannot produce emails written only to or from Lerner and outside agencies or groups, such as the White House, Treasury, Department of Justice, FEC, or Democrat offices" due to a "computer glitch."

I am writing to request the Agency produce all metadata it has collected on all of Ms. Lerner's email accounts for the period between January 2009 and April 2011.

Tim Cushing at the technology blog Techdirt suggests that Stockman's letter likely won't yield anything, since "the NSA can't even confirm or deny its monthly water usage at its Utah data site, much less that it has metadata pertaining to Americans' communications." On the bright side, he says it's good that "this sort of thing is becoming increasingly common" as it prevents the NSA from "pretend[ing] it doesn't harvest data on American citizens." Not a bad consolation prize. 

In related news, Jay Carney's replacement, Press Secretary Josh Earnest, seems to be fitting right into the question-dodging culture. He blew off legitimate skepticism of the computer crash and turned it around on the inquiring minds. "You've never heard of a computer crashing before?" he asked reporters yesterday. "I think it's entirely reasonable. … The far-fetched skepticism expressed by some Republican members of Congress I think is not at all surprising and not particularly believable."

‘The Kronies’ Are Back, Explaining Export-Import Bank Loan Subsidies

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Remember the Kronies? This fun, deliberately horrifying parody of old Saturday morning cartoons was intended to illustrate the collusion between major corporations and the government to funnel money away from taxpayers (Read what we wrote when the Kronies debuted back in January here).

There is a new short piece out this week that explains in its own particular style how awesome (read: terrible) the Export-Import Bank is. Watch below:

Reason columnist and Mercatus Center Senior Research Fellow Veronique de Rugy laughed along, but also wondered if the increased awareness of the corporate subsidies the bank offers was a sign that Americans were paying more attention to corporate cronyism. She wrote over at the National Review:

A growing number of people are aware that Big Business often teams up with Big Government, and that it’s causing big problems. People know this and they’re sick of it — the outrage about cronyism is definitely bipartisan.

It’s an issue that has been more aggressively embraced by free-market activities in Congress and around the country, and I actually think we’re about to see a backlash against “pro-business” Republicans (George Will rightfully argues that Eric Cantor’s demise can be traced back to people being fed-up with pro-business Republicans). If this trend continues, we may end up seeing a real shift in policies.

The first big test? In September, when the Ex-Im Bank reauthorization issue comes up. It will be interesting to watch. 

Our own Nick Gillespie also argued Cantor’s collapse is tied to his support of corrupt institutions like the Export-Import Bank. Watch or read his argument here.

More Reason on the awfulness of the Export-Import Bank here.

Hillary Clinton Is Her Own Worst Enemy

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Can Hillary Clinton be defeated? As she toured the country promoting her book last week during what was widely seen as a prelude to a presidential run, top Republican politicians and donors gathered in Utah to discuss the prospects for defeating the former Secretary of State and presumed Democratic nominee.

The answer is yes, perhaps, but at least in the short term, Republicans won’t be the ones to undermine her chances. For the moment, Hillary Clinton’s worst enemy is herself—with President Obama providing a bit of backup.

As in 2008, much of the case for Clinton relies on the expectation that her candidacy is inevitable, and once she’s nominated she will be unbeatable. Since at least 2012, she’s maintained strong favorability numbers—coming in as high as 70 percent favorable—and for much of this year, polls have shown her handily besting potential GOP nominees: A CNN poll in February found her leading New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie by 16 points. A Fox News poll in March found Clinton polling far better than Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in head to head contests. Multiple polls in April and May showed Clinton above 50 percent when compared against Rand Paul.

Those sorts of poll numbers constitute an impressive display of political force. Yet they already appear to be waning, making Clinton look less and less inevitable by the day.

As she has stepped out onto the national stage with her new book and numerous media events to accompany it, her numbers have dropped noticeably. Bloomberg, which put her at 70 percent favorability in December 2012, now finds her favorability at just 52 percent, down four points from March. A Gallup poll last week put her favorability at 54 percent, a five-point drop since February.

Meanwhile, potential challengers are gaining ground. Clinton still leads Christie, Paul, and Bush, but has dropped below the 50 percent mark on all of them, according to Bloomberg. She’s weakest against Christie, despite the scandals that have plagued him throughout the year: In March she was leading him 52 to 39, but since then her edge has dwindled to 45-38.

Republicans are beginning to talk generally about how to beat Clinton, but mostly they’re dealing with their own problems right now. The GOP isn’t responsible for Clinton’s dropping favorability—Clinton is.

Her dropping favorability numbers were the inevitable result of the transition to a more political, proto-campaign mode. To that end, she’s lost ground with independents (who tend to view more politicized figures less positively), according to the most recent Gallup survey.

But to a degree, it may also reflect the way that the earliest presidential polls largely test name recognition. Clinton, as the former senator, secretary of state, and first lady, is far better known than any potential challenger. But while name recognition provides an early advantage, it’s not a platform or an agenda or an idea. Clinton has none of those things yet. Her memoir, Hard Choices, was a lengthy but essentially news-free account of her time as Secretary of State, along with some additional backstory. In an interview with NPR, she struggled and grew testy when asked about the transformation of her position on gay marriage. In interviews throughout the week, she appeared not to want to talk about why she made the decisions she made, or what she supported going forward. She only wanted to talk about who she was.

The typical presidential pitch goes like this: "Hi, I’m [insert name], and I’d like to be president because [insert reason]." Right now, Clinton, presuming she runs, only has the first part of the equation: "Hi, I’m Hillary Clinton, and I’d like to be president."

She has plenty of time to say more, of course; she hasn’t even announced her candidacy yet, although there can be little doubt that she is testing the waters. But constructing an agenda will be a difficult task for Clinton, who will inevitably feel the need to stick closely to the ideas, themes, and policies of the Obama era. The Democratic base won’t let her stray too far, and since she won’t be able to run on innovation, she’ll run on continuation instead—with, perhaps, a somewhat more hawkish foreign policy posture.

But the Obama presidency has limited appeal beyond the base. The president’s approval rating is just 44 percent, roughly where it was around the 2010 midterm when Republicans took control of the House, and it’s not likely to get better this year.

This, in short, is Clinton’s problem: Her inevitability is predicated on her name recognition and popularity. But she’s lost popularity as she’s become more political, and she has little room to propose a vision or agenda that would break free of today’s politics. So she’s setting up a campaign in which she runs on her name and experience alone—but the political Clinton without an agenda is no match for the statesperson whose popularity soared.

She’s running against herself. And right now, it looks more than a little like she’s losing.

Nick Gillespie asks: Will Anybody Really Miss Eric Cantor?

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Will anybody really miss Eric Cantor, asks Nick Gillespie:

Probably not. Despite (or maybe because of) his position in the House Republican leadership and the historic nature of his primary loss, there was virtually nothing remarkable about him as a politician or a policymaker. The Republicans have dozens or hundreds or thousands more just like him. He’s like a Dorito corn chip in those old Jay Leno ads: They’ll make more.

Cantor exemplifies what Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) just denounced as a “Chamber of Commerce”-style GOP legislator, “the same-old, same-old,” standard-issue Republican who has brought the party to a historically low level of self-identification among voters.

View this article.

IRS Admits to Losing Records for Six More Employees

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Late last week, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which has been under investigation for singling out conservative tax exempt groups for special scrutiny, informed the House Ways and Means Committee it could not provide an unknown emails sent to and from Lois Lerner, the head of the IRS tax exempt office, between 2009 and 2011—the most important time period for the investigation.

Lerner’s computer had crashed, and her hard drive failed, the IRS said, meaning that although the agency could reconstruct parts of her correspondence using other emails obtained internally, it could not provide emails sent to and from outside agencies and offices like, for example, the White House.

The explanation was awfully, suspiciously convenient—especially since it happened just 10 days after the Ways and Means Committee sent its first letter to the IRS asking for information about its investigations into non-profit groups.

At minimum, the crashed-computer excuse suggested a lax and unaccountable approach to record keeping that the IRS would almost certainly not tolerate in individuals, much less in a large corporate environment where email retention requirements have grown increasingly strict.

But the explanation was technically plausible. The IRS email storage protocols appear to have limited the size of employee inboxes, meaning that most backups were kept on individual hard drives. If Lerner’s hard drive crashed, the emails stored on it could be unrecoverable.

Lerner’s emails, however, are not the only records the IRS now says it cannot produce. The tax collection agency, which previously promised full disclosure of email and other records, has informed the Ways and Means Committee that it cannot submit records for six other IRS employees who were involved in targeting conservative groups, according to a press release issued today. 

"One of those figures is Nikole Flax, who served as Chief of Staff to Steve Miller, who at the time of the targeting was Deputy Commissioner and would later serve as Acting Commissioner of the IRS – a position from which he was fired for his role in the targeting of conservative groups," the release says. "The timeframe for which Ms. Flax’s communications are purportedly unrecoverable covers when the Washington, DC office wrote and directed the Cincinnati field office to send abusive questionnaires, including inappropriate demands for donor information, to conservative groups."

Flax was a frequent visitor to the White House, according to visitor logs.

It’s unclear how the IRS lost the records associated with these additional employees, but the investigating committee says that the IRS has known that the records were lost for months—at least since February—yet despite the ongoing investigation did not inform committee members until much later.

The very best case here is that IRS record-keeping protocols were deeply negligent, and that the agency hid the fact of its negligence from investigators for months. No matter what happened, further investigation is warranted.

And that’s what House Republicans have begun pushing for. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany, Jr. (R-La.) are calling for an independent prosecutor to investigate the case further. 

Crazy School Expels Little Boy for Holding Piece of Paper Like a Gun

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PaperThank goodness administrators at Manhattan's mega-fancy Lang School saw fit to expel would-be psychopath Asher Palmer, an 8-year-old with a deranged obsession: rolling pieces of paper into vaguely gun-like shapes.

The New York Post chronicled how Principal Micaela Bracamonte forestalled a kid with a completely harmless paper roll from mowing down his classmates in a hail of imaginary bullets:

As far as the toy gun is concerned, [Bracamonte] said Asher, a first-year student, made it out of a piece of paper after discussing military weapons with his dad. His teachers told him not to point it at anyone, and he obeyed for a while.

The school claimed Asher also said he'd "kill" a girl in a separate incident—a typical argument between youngsters. While her son may have made the threat, Spadone said, people use the word "kill" all the time, and it shouldn't be taken literally....

In her June 12 email to the boy's teachers and psychologist, obtained by The Post, Bracamonte said, "I don't see it tenable at this stage that Asher receive a warning for the specific behavior we've agreed on targeting—i.e. use of pretend guns on fellow students and mention of killing."

She added that the boy "had a concrete plan for killing [a female student] that he would not retract after discussion with our psych staff...that he was physically and verbally aggressive at a whole new level only last week...He might well present a risk to the emotional and possibly (though remotely so) physical safety and well-being of his classmates."

It's not clear whether his "concrete plan" was anything beyond jokingly threatening to kill the girl. In any case, the principal did invite Palmer to come back after taking a year off:

She recommended that Asher be home-schooled next year and expressed the hope that in the future, "he can return to school...I heartily hope that Lang will be one of the schools you consider at that point."

No doubt she does. Lang charges a steep tuition fee, and Palmer's parents have already shelled out $120,000 for his five-month education there.

On paper, the Lang School is equipped to deal with kids who have problems communicating appropriately. From its website:

The Lang School is a progressive, independent K-12 school for high potential and gifted children with ADHD, dyslexia, Asperger's Syndrome, anxiety, sensory processing challenges or, simply, underachievement. 

Palmer has ADHD. His parents enrolled him at Lang in hopes that the staff there would work on his issues. They even paid for one-on-one tutoring at the school.

Given all that, Lang seems like an ideal place for a kid like Palmer, rolled papers and all. Of course, Bracamonte had one other reason to boot him:

[Palmer's mother Melina Spadone] was incensed that Principal Micaela Bracamonte told other staffers in an email that Asher "had a model for physically aggressive behavior in his immediate family."

Spadone thinks Bracamonte was referring to her husband because he served in the military during the Kuwait war. If that was the reason for the comment, she said, "I find it offensive and inappropriate."

A paranoid lookalike weapons charge with some guilt-by-association thrown in? Imagine spending $120,000 on tuition for the privilege of having your kid endure that.

Er, lock him up and throw away the key—before he points the paper at anyone else!

Hat tip: The Daily Caller.

WTF FBI? Agency Has Huge List of Twitter Slang (and Some of It's Fake)

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A few years ago there was a gag going around the Internet warning parents that if their kids use acronyms like "LOL" and "OMG" they're actually speaking in Satanic code, professing faith in "Lucifer our Lord" and commanding "Onward, murder God." Well, "with the advent of Twitter and other social media venues, the use of shorthand and acronyms has exploded." EXPLODED?! Sounds dangerous! So the FBI has compiled a similarly ridiculous and substantially longer list of Internet slang that parents "should find useful in your work or for keeping up with your children and/or grandchildren."

According to documents retrieved on Friday in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by MuckRock's Jason "FOI Geek" Smathers, the FBI's Directorate of Intelligence Research Support Unit created an "extensive—but far from exhaustive—list of shorthand and acronyms used on Twitter and other social media venues."

It's bizarre that the FBI compiled an 83-page, 2,800-entry dictionary of slang terms that are mostly already on Urban Dictionary. What's even weirder is that a sizeable chunk of the acronyms have probably never been used or, at least, not to an extent that they warrant FBI research. Try memorizing, saying out-loud, or figuring out a situation in which you would ever use these highlights:

  • ALOTBSOL, "Always look on the bright side of life"
  • BTDTGTTAWIO, "been there, done that, got the T-shirt and wore it out"
  • EOTWAWKI, "end of the world as we know it"
  • HCDAJFU, "He could do a job for us"
  • IITYWTMWYBMAD, "If I tell you what that means will you buy me a drink?"
  • IOKIYAR, "It's okay if you're a Republican"
  • LFBBEG, "Looking for big bad evil guy"
  • KTBSPA, "Keep the backstreet pride alive"
  • PMIGBOM, "Put mind in gear before opening mouth"

Is Uber Undermining New York City's Taxi Medallion Racket?

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Andrew Murstein (right), with his father Alvin. |||"The taxi business is as strong as it's ever been, despite Uber, because people in major cities will still go and stick their hands in the air," Andrew Murstein, the CEO of Medallion Financial told Bloomberg Businessweek in February. "Uber is nothing more than a terrific black car company."

The investors who've been hammering Medallion Financial's stock may see things differently.

Medallion Financial (ticker symbol: TAXI) is the only publicly traded company that owns a large portfolio of New York City taxi medallions, which are the city-issued permits that drivers are required to rent or own in order to operate a yellow cab. Murstein's grandfather and the company's founder, Leon Murstein, purchased his first medallion from the city in 1937 for $10; today a medallion sells for as much as $1.31 million. Since 1980, the price of a medallion has risen more than 1,000 percent, far outpacing the gold market or practically any other type of investment.

Now, thanks to Uber, Gotham's medallion boom may finally be over. Medallion Financial's share price is off about 33 percent from its record high last November, and in the past year, the company's stock is down 13.73 percent. In yesterday's trading, share prices fell over 6%.

Medallion Financial Corp.'s stock price over 6 months. |||

As many observers of Gotham's cab business have noted, Uber's having a bigger impact on livery car service companies that serve the outer boroughs than on yellow cabs, which predominate in Manhattan. But Uber isn't only competing with the yellow taxi industry for passengers; it's also competing for drivers. There are 13,437 taxi medallions in New York City, and about 58 percent of them are "fleet" medallions, meaning they can be bought and sold by a company liked Medallion Financial. According to one industry insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Uber has made it harder for garages to attract new drivers to rent these fleet medallions, which cost (along with a car) about $114 per shift.

Also, Medallion Financial's share price reflects long-term expectations for the industry. On top of its portfolio, the company owns a bank that issues loans to drivers to buy their own "independent" medallions, which sold last year for $967,000 on average. These are generally 25-year loans, so in other words drivers are being asked to take a quarter-century bet worth almost a million dollars that yellow cabs can withstand the Uber threat. If drivers aren't feeling nervous, lenders are: Over the past 9 months, according to my source, some of the leading credit unions that regularly issue medallion loans have tightened standards, demanding 25 percent down payments when 10 percent used to suffice. Inevitably, higher down payments will disqualify certain borrowers, leading to a slack in demand, a fall in prices, and a downgrade of Medallion Financial's credit rating.

Of course, there are many other factors that could explain Medallion Financial's recent plunge. And over the last five years, the company's stock is still up around 70 percent. Either way, as I argued last week in The Daily Beast, taxi cartels are ultimately doomed.

Harry Reid Won’t Go To a Redskins Game Till They Change Their Name—What About the Nevada Rebels? The

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hi how are ya?Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) rejected an invitation by the president of the Washington Redskins to come to a home game, an attempt to ease tensions, and in a letter to him said the name of the team was offensive and "disparaged the American people." The owner of the Redskins has vowed not to change the name of Washington's football team, even as the demand to change the name becomes the cause du jour for Washington liberals.

Reid, who rarely misses an opportunity to crassly demonize his political opponents, should know all about being offensive to the American people. As a senior senator who knows how to bring home the proverbial bacon, Reid's got quite a few things named after him, including a research facility at the University of Nevada–Las Vegas. Why isn't Harry Reid and the grievance train he came in on offended that he has a facility named after him at a school that uses a caricature of a Confederate soldier, the "Rebel," as its mascot?* Have symbols of the Confederacy stopped being offensive? Is the ego stroke that comes from having a facility named after him strong enough to inhibit his urge to be offended? Is Reid uninterested in picking a fight with a popular local institution where he has to keep winning elections?

For that matter, what about Las Vegas' Triple-A minor league baseball team? They're named the 51s, a reference to the government site Area 51 in Nevada. Their mascot is an alien, playing on the idea that the government is hiding the truth from Americans. Shouldn't Harry be offended? After all, he has lamented that the notion the government could lie or mislead the people makes his job (read: pushing his agenda) harder.

* Yes, in the 1970s the school officially disassociated the "Rebels" label from the Confederacy. Yet the school's "Hey Reb" mascot, created in 1983, wears a gray-colored hat and sports a mustache that looks kind of Confederate to me. He's still a rebel, anyway, so for Harry Reid the "independent mountain man" might as well be a Tea Party anarchist.

When the NRA Opposed Open Carry

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In my column last week, I noted that the National Rifle Association had backed away from criticism of the open carry movement in response to objections from Second Amendment activists. Despite differences over tactics, said Chris Cox, the NRA's chief lobbyist, "the National Rifle Association supports open carry…unequivocally." One reason some critics view the NRA as insufficiently zealous in protecting gun rights is that the organization, contrary to its current reputation, has a history of accommodating demands for gun control. Back in 1967, for instance, the NRA supported the Mulford Act, which banned open carrying of loaded firearms in California. The law, a response to the Black Panthers' conspicuous exercise of the right to armed self-defense, also was supported by Gov. Ronald Reagan, whom the NRA endorsed for president in 1980 as a reliable defender of the Second Amendment.

Charles Nichols of California Right to Carry recently shared with me two constituent letters in which Assemblyman Don Mulford (R-Oakland), chief sponsor of California's open-carry ban, noted the NRA's support for his bill. "I am sure you are aware that I am very grateful to the National Rifle Association for its help in makng my gun control bill, AB 1591, a workable piece of legislation, yet protecting the Constitutional rights of citizens," Mulford says in a letter dated June 15, 1967. "The bill enjoyed the full support of the National Rifle Association," he says in another letter with the same date. "I must disagree with you that present laws have given excellent coverage in this field," he adds. "If this were true, we would not have armed bands of citizens frightening school children, invading courts, invading police departments, invading the halls of the Legislature, with loaded weapons." Or as Mulford put it in a 1989 interview, "Don't forget in those days...you had the Black Panthers running around with loaded guns in the streets and a number of other acts of violence or near violence."

According to Mulford, then, openly carrying a gun is an "act of violence or near violence." Apparently Reagan and the NRA agreed.

Bulletproof Whiteboards Could Soon Be Mandatory in Delaware Classrooms

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free-range kidsHard on the heels of the $1,000 security blankets that made news last week—essentially bullet-resistant yoga mats school kids can wrap around themselves in the event a crazed gunman bursts into the school but politely gives the teacher time to lug these things out of the closet—comes this new "school safety" bill being floated in Delaware:

Whenever a new school building is constructed or a major renovation undertaken...the construction or renovation must include...bullet resistant white boards in each classroom.

Yup, shields. Why study Sparta when you can experience the magic of ancient Greek defensive techniques for yourself?

The language in the bill is unclear: Is Delaware talking about just one whiteboard per classroom that a teacher can grab to save herself? (She'd probably have to change districts afterwards.)

whiteboard

Or is the state suggesting one board per child? If so, does anyone know if kids can actually hoist these things up? They look heavy. And at 18" by 20", they seem to be about the size of a CandyLand game. If a child holds it over her heart, doesn't that leave her head or stomach exposed? Or at least her legs?

On Amazon, the first shield that comes up costs $400—about the price of a laptop. Provide a classroom's worth, and that's $12,000. Add a couple more classrooms and you could pay for a part-time art teacher. Or a librarian. Or even a statistics class to explain the fact that, though indisputably horrific, school shootings are so rare and random that preparing for them with a stack of Magic Marker–friendly bullet deflectors is like investing in tarantula-proofing: A lot of work and money for a dubious bump in public safety.

Sounds like Delaware is either friends with the bulletproof white board industry (such as it is) or so hysterical with fear that any solution sounds pretty good. Even when it's pretty bad.

For more stories like this one, check out Lenore Skenazy's Free-Range Kids blog.

Science Speculates: Schizophrenia Still Very Confusing: Hm, Demons, Maybe? Can You Prove It

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Real Clear Science reports from the field of schizophrenia research and speculation (which, if you've dug into it, you'll maybe understand why this sort of explanation seems as valid as many others):

IS SCHIZOPHRENIA CAUSED by demons? A Turkish researcher seems to think so, and his article on the topic was just published in the Journal of Religion and Health, a scientific journal owned by Springer, a German-based publishing company.

The first two-thirds of M. Kemal Irmak's paper, "Schizophrenia or Possession?", read normally enough....And then you arrive at this little doozy:

"One approach to this hallucination problem is to consider the possibility of a demonic world."

.....You're first treated to a background on all things demonic (boldness added to emphasize the absurdity):

In our region, demons are believed to be intelligent and unseen creatures that occupy a parallel world to that of mankind. In many aspects of their world, they are very similar to us. They marry, have children, and die. The life span, however, is far greater than ours (Ashour 1989). Through their powers of flying and invisibility, they are the chief component in occult activities. The ability to possess and take over the minds and bodies of humans is also a power which the demons have utilized greatly over the centuries (Littlewood 2004; Gadit and Callanan 2006; Ally and Laher 2008). Most scholars accept that demons can possess people and can take up physical space within a human’s body (Asch 1985). They possess people for many reasons. Sometimes it is because they have been hurt accidentally, but possession may also occur because of love (Ashour 1989; Philips 1997). When the demon enters the human body, they settle in the control center of the body–brain.

Once the groundwork for demons is laid, Irmak expounds on the link between schizophrenia and possession:

There exist similarities between the clinical symptoms of schizophrenia and demonic possession. Common symptoms in schizophrenia and demonic possession such as hallucinations and delusions may be a result of the fact that demons in the vicinity of the brain may form the symptoms of schizophrenia... 

Those similarities do exist! Real Clear Science asked the editor of the journal about this curious article; Dr. Curtis Hart responded, "The article was published in hopes that it would provoke discussion," he said. "The Journal does not agree that demons are a real entity."

The same publisher, Springer, as Real Clear Science points out, "recently made headlines by withdrawing 16 gibberish papers spotted by an independent computer scientist. The nonsense papers were created with a computer program, SciGen."

I wrote on how the science of mental illness isn't quite advanced enough to be of much use in court back in 2007, in "You Can't See Why on an fMRI."

The New York Times, For One, Does Not Welcome Our New Robot Servants

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RobotSure, robots make life easier. And despite occasional accidents, they generally make factory work safer, by cutting down on the man-hours required to do dangerous tasks. But what happens when they all start killing us? That's what The New York Times would like to know.

In a recent article titled "As Robotics Advances, Worries of Killer Robots Rise" (seriously), the NYT warns that social fears about robot-on-human killings are increasing and that "experts" believe factory robots pose a mounting risk to the people they work alongside.

These experts were all out to lunch, apparently, since the paper didn't bother to track any of them down—or anyone at all who is freaked out about the mechanical menace. The best the article can manage is a quote from an expert explaining why people might be irrationally afraid of robots:

"It's the fear of robots," said Bryant Walker Smith, a fellow at the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School who studies driverless cars. "There's something scarier about a machine malfunctioning and taking away control from somebody."

Panicking yet? If not, check out this handy infographic provided by the Times, which depicts—in painstaking detail—the 33 robot-caused workplace deaths in the U.S. over the last 30 years.

Factory robots are hardly the only reason the NYT thinks you should fear the future:

But the robots whose generation is being born today collaborate with humans and travel freely in open environments where people live and work. They are products of the declining cost of sensors and improved artificial intelligence algorithms in areas such as machine vision. Google's newest driverless car, for instance, is completely automated, without a steering wheel or a brake pedal.

Along with the new, free-roaming robots come new safety concerns. People worry about what happens if a robot spins out of control, or the first time a driverless car kills someone.

People might worry about that (again, the article doesn't take note of anyone who does), but as Reason's Ronald Bailey has written, recent evidence suggests that they would be generally wrong. In fact, the Times recently reported on two studies that found self-driving cars would greatly increase passenger safety.

Perhaps, "As Robotics Advances, Unfounded Worries of Killer Robots Still Reported By Newspaper" would have been a more accurate headline.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown on Obesity and Discrimination in the E.U.

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Can employers legally discriminate against the obese? That's the question currently before the top court in the European Union. At the heart of the issue is whether obesity is to be considered a disability under the E.U.'s Employment Equality Directive, which protects people against employment discrimination based on religion, sexual orientation, age, or disability status.

The case comes to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) from Denmark, where 350-pound child caretaker Karsten Kaltoft says he was fired from his position for being too fat. But the court's decision could reverberate far beyond the Karloft's particular fate. If the ECJ labels obesity a disability, it would be be binding throughout the European Union. Elizabeth Nolan Brown explores potential ramifications of redefining obesity this way. 

View this article.

U.S. Captures Alleged Benghazi Ringleader, GM Recalls All the Cars, Lost Ayn Rand Novel to Be Publis

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  • Well, at least it doesn't call them a cult.The United States has captured the alleged ringleader of the violent attack that killed four at the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The guy's name is Ahmed Abu Khatallah, and U.S. forces and law enforcement personnel snatched him on Sunday on the outskirts of Benghazi. He is being transported to the United States.
  • The militant group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has targeted the Iraqi city of Baguba, which is less than 40 miles north of Baghdad.
  • Joe Biden talked with Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff about reports that the United States had spied on her. He says he "reassured" her that the government had made "real changes" to its surveillance rules, which will come as a surprise to anybody who has actually been paying attention, what with it not really being all that true.
  • Today is the 20th anniversary of the infamous O.J. Simpson white Bronco chase, when authorities tried to get the former football player to surrender to charges that he murdered his ex-wife and a friend.
  • General Motors has recalled millions more cars. Are there any GM cars left out there that haven't been recalled yet? Is it too soon to start recalling the 2015 models?
  • A lost Ayn Rand novel, titled Ideal and written in 1934, is going to be published next summer by Penguin Random House.

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Exploring the Borderland of Libertarianism and Cool Tech with the Free State Project

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Forbes tech writer Kashmir Hill hangs out with members of the libertarian diaspora of the Free State Project (FSP) in New Hampshire and finds—no surprise to regular readers of Reason—that many of them are early adopters and innovators with cutting edge state-defying technologies.

Excerpts:

I discovered that this isolated group has fully adopted Bitcoin, and that it’s extremely enthusiastic about other “freedom-enhancing” technologies such as 3D-printers and encryption. Everyone I met in the Project owned Bitcoin and was willing to accept it for goods and services. Of the couple thousand people living there, at least seven own 3D-printers. Though the idea originally was to get a critical mass to influence the political process, many in the movement now feel that the freedoms they want may be better realized through technology that routes around the government rather than engaging it directly.....

The Free Staters are into Bitcoin:

Erik Voorhees, a Bitcoin entrepreneur who recently made headlines for settling a suit with the SEC over selling shares in Bitcoin businesses for Bitcoin, moved to New Hampshire in May 2011 to join the Free State Project. It was there that he first heard about Bitcoin after someone posted about it in the Free State Facebook group. “Very few Free Staters knew about about it at that point. They don’t like using government money, but they were more into gold and silver than virtual currency,” he says. “I went down the rabbit hole and couldn’t stop talking about it, and then warmed other Free Staters up to it.” Voorhees notes that Roger Ver, a Bitcoin entrepreneur who lives in Tokyo, was also an early signer of the Free State petition, and bought Bitcoin ads on Free Talk Live, a libertarian radio station associated with the project.

They are into 3D printing:

 I also saw my first 3D-printed gun that weekend. A member of the Free State movement, Bill Domenico, printed the second-ever Liberator after Defense Distributed’s Cody Wilson first made it a reality in Texas last year. Domenico, an electrical engineer, has lived in New Hampshire for 30 years, and joined the Free State Project in 2008. He has a 3D printer that he built himself as well as a commercial one. He has printed two guns with it so far, but only for himself. “It would be illegal for me to print guns for other people,” he says. “I haven’t used it heavily beyond that. Lately, I’ve been making memorabilia for PorcFest: Liberator earrings and porcupine trinkets.”

And lasers as a means to communicate with fellow citizens:

Bill Domenico says another popular technology within the movement is the “Green Beam,” a laser projector he built for campaigning for Ron Paul that now gets used to warn people about police checkpoints or to stage public protests, as when “Bearcat Equals Tyranny” and “ City Council Sucks” were projected on a building in Concord. 

Indeed, if a cool tech is opposed by the state and helps route around its restrictions, libertarians are natural early adopters.

See our December 2013 issue, our most recent exploration of the libertarian implications of cool tech, and the state's often rearguard actions against it.

My reporting from 2004 on the roots of the FSP.

Mother Thought Mentally Disabled Daughter Was Being Kidnapped, But It Was Cops

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mall copishThe family of a mentally disabled woman is suing Wal-Mart and the police department of Livonia, Michigan for an incident two years ago when police wrongly accused the woman of shoplifting. The Detroit Free Press reports:

Wendy Kozma was wrapping up her workday with a client when she got a mind-numbing phone call from her mentally impaired daughter: "Mom, this man is trying to take me from Wal-Mart."

Kozma feared the worst: a kidnapping.

Within minutes, she would learn what was really happening. Her 25-year-old daughter, Jodi, who has the mental capacity of an 8-year-old, was being questioned for shoplifting at a Livonia, Mich., Wal-Mart. Jodi Kozma was suspected of stealing hair ties and hiding them in her waistband and purse during a shopping trip with her grandmother, records show.

The hair ties had been bought earlier and Jodi had a receipt for them. A "bulge" in her waistband was her cellphone. Nevertheless, four police officers were dispatched "in a SWAT-like approach, parking the cruisers on the sidewalk directly in front of the store doors," according to the police report, which said police "muscled Jodi to the ground" and then handcuffed her. Jodi's grandmother, who was with her at the Wal-Mart, said she tried to explain to security that the hair pins had been purchased but that they wouldn't listen—a surveillance camera operator said she saw Jodi picking up hair pieces and hiding them under her waistband.

Kozma says her daughter was raised to trust cops. "If she were ever lost or stranded, we always taught her to turn and look for police." She told the Free Press. All of that has been completely destroyed." The Livonia Police Department released a statement insisting Kozma's claims were unfounded and that police "used the minimal amount of force necessary to gain control and handcuff her."

The family is seeking an unspecified amount in damages. You can watch the video surveillance footage, which as a very poor angle of the actual encounter with police, below:

Tonight on The Independents: Benghazi Suspect Nabbed, Hillary Dodges NSA, Rep. Thomas Massi

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Film critic. |||It only took a few hours after the administration announced the commando-capture of suspected Benghazi mastermind Ahmed Abu Khattala for Media Matters for America, citing this New York Times article, to declare that "Captured Alleged Benghazi Ringleader Was Reportedly Responding To The Anti-Islam Video," a headline that was then greeted with cheers of Susan Rice vindicated! from the progressive Twittersphere. But was she? On tonight's episode of of The Independents (Fox Business Network, 9 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. PT), Daily Beast national security reporter Eli Lake, who has done some of the best reporting there is on the deadly Sept. 11, 2012 attacks, will be on to break down the mechanics and meaning of this most unusual case. Lake will also discuss some of the latest violent chaos and diplomatic machinations in Iraq.

Hillary Clinton is making television interviews, have you heard about that? Tonight the 2016 presidential front-runner blinked hard at Greta van Susteren's tough questioning about surveillance and the 4th Amendment, added new plots to her Benghazi timeline, and said, re: gun rights, that "we cannot let a minority of people...hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people." On to react are Party Panelists Jedediah Bila (Fox News contributor) and David Angelo (comedian), who will also weigh in on Tony Gwynn-inspired calls to more strictly regulate or even ban smokeless tobacco, and also this recent comment from First Lady Michelle Obama:

"Before coming to the White House, I struggled, as a working parent with a traveling, busy husband, to figure out how to feed my kids healthy, and I didn't get it right," she explained [...].

"I thought to myself, if a Princeton and Harvard-educated professional woman doesn't know how to adequately feed her kids, then what are other parents going through who don't have access to the information I have?" she recalled.

Her personal struggle helped her launch her mission to address childhood obesity, she explains, especially passing a law requiring schools to provide healthier meals for kids.

The First Lady recommended that schools make decisions for children because their parents struggle to feed their children well. 

"It's so important for our schools to make the hard calls for our kids, because parents are struggling enough at home," she said[.]

Is today a day ending in "d-a-y"? Then former drug czar John Walters has uttered something idiotic about keeping drugs illegal, this one with a Reason-tastic twist: "Why Libertarians Are Wrong About Drugs." This shall be discussed. So, too, will the ongoing GOP House leadership fight in the wake of Rep. Eric Cantor's shocking primary defeat, with Liberty Movement superstar Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky) giving the blow-by-blow. And we'll also mark the 20th anniversary of a very special day in the world of sports.

Sexy aftershow begins on foxbusiness.com/independents a few beats after 10. Follow The Independents on Facebook at facebook.com/IndependentsFBN, follow on Twitter @ independentsFBN, tweet during the show & we'll use the best of ‘em. Click on this page for more video of past segments.