June 18th, 2014

Brickbat: Arrest Me Once, Shame on You


In January, Clay County, Florida, sheriff's deputies arrested Ashley Nicole Chiasson on a charge of grand theft. She spent 28 days in jail before they figured out they were supposed to have arrested Ashley Odessa Chiasson. Then, in May, they arrested her again for attempting to pass bad checks. She spent a week in jail before they figured out they were supposed to have arrested the other Ashley Chiasson. After local media began investigating the story, and after Ashley Nicole Chiasson's attorney sent them a letter informing them she intended to sue, the sheriff's office finally arrested the right Ashley Chiasson.

Jacob Sullum on the Value of Ignorance in Preventing Warrantless Cellphone Tracking


Do you know how your cellphone works? If not, it's probably best not to find out. You can lose your constitutional rights that way.

That, says Jacob Sullum, is the implication of a recent federal appeals court decision that said the government needs a warrant to obtain cellphone location records. While the conclusion is welcome, Sullum writes, it can be reconciled with Supreme Court precedents concerning voluntarily disclosed information only by assuming that people do not understand that their cellphones are also tracking devices.

View this article.

Does TSA = Troyer Squeezing Administration?


Actor Vern Troyer, best-known for his role as "Mini-Me" in the Austin Powers movie franchise, posted this picture on his Twitter feed with the tweet "Another day another flight. #TSAstruggles."

Let's be clear: Hashtagging this sort of indignity "TSAstruggles" is being overly polite. The inspection of passengers provided by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been a colossal waste of resources and time. Additionally, the process has normalized the sort of degradation captured above.

As Bruce Schneier wrote in a 2012 debate in the pages of The Economist:

Exactly two things have made air travel safer since 9/11: reinforcing the cockpit door, and convincing passengers that they need to fight back. Everything else has been a waste of money. Add screening of checked bags and airport workers and we are done. All the rest is security theatre. If we truly want to be safer, we should return airport security to pre-9/11 levels and spend the savings on intelligence, investigation and emergency response.

The TSA's latest innovation—identifying people in airports for extra-intense scrutiny—received a withering evaluation last fall as well:

The Government Accountability Office said its investigation found that the results of the TSA program -- called Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques -- were "no better than chance." Under the program, agents identify suspicious looking people and talk to them to determine whether they pose a threat. The investigators looked at the screening program at four airports, chosen on the basis of size and other factors.

"TSA has yet to empirically demonstrate the effectiveness of the program despite spending about $900 million on it since 2007," said Steve Lord, who directed the investigation for the GAO. He said the GAO, which is the research and investigative arm of Congress, "conducts active oversight of the TSA for the Congress given their multibillion-dollar budget." He said "the behavior detection program is viewed as a key layer of aviation security."

Read more here.

But it's all a small price to pay to win the War on Terror, right? 

Reason on TSA.

Dinesh D'Souza: Obama Sees America as Global Child-Molester, Serial Killer, Rogue Elephant, or Somet


Over at Mediaite, Matt Wilstein posts and comments on a Fox News appearance by Dinesh D'Souza that left host Megyn Kelly wondering if the scandal-ridden, symposium-inducing, and super-successful documentarian and author has "jumped off the deep end."

In explaining his new film and book, America: Imagine a World Without Her, D'Souza contends that President Barack Obama believes in a perverted version of American Exceptionalism in which the United States is "exceptionally evil."

Kelly asks, "If he were anti-American, if he didn’t love his country, why would he want to be president of it?”

Here's D'Souza's response:

“If I was in a family and I believed my dad was some kind of a serial killer or a child molester, I would still love him. He would be part of my family, but I’d do everything I could to prevent him from doing evil actions.

I would think that would be good for the world and for my dad. So with Obama, he believes he’s doing the world a favor and America a favor by controlling this rogue elephant that is the United States.”

More, including video, here.

Blast from Past: In 2007's The Enemy at Home, D'Souza's widely-panned argument about the "the cultural left and its responsibility for 9/11," D'Souza notes that Abu Ghraib malefactors “Lynndie England and Charles Graner were two wretched individuals from red America who were trying to act out the fantasies of blue America.” 

The Enemy at Home, which rails against "the garbage heap of American excess," provoked a symposium at National Review in which Victor Davis Hanson, who can hardly be labeled anti-American or thinking that the U.S. is a child molester or serial killer or an evil actor, noted

D’Souza writes: “And yet these pundits on the Right are doing their best to cover up the Left’s role in 9/11.”

What does this conspiratorial charge of “cover up” mean exactly? That many of us continue to believe that al Qaeda terrorists blew up innocent Americans for a variety of perceived grievances rather than an understandable Muslim unhappiness with Britney Spears and Brokeback Mountain? But Al Qaeda did not attack New York and Washington because those on the Left, such as Bill Moyers, Robert Reich, or Sharon Stone (to quote from D’Souza’s own list of the guilty), encouraged or allowed the terrorists to commit mayhem.

No, they struck from two broader causes, apparent for much of the 1980s and 1990s....

In The Enemy at Home, D'Souza evinced strong sympathy for attitudes of Sayyid Qutb, the father of contemporary Islamism, who similarly felt disgusted by the American culture he experienced during a visit to the States in the 1940s. 

What exactly freaked out Qutb, who was executed in 1966 by Abdel Nasser for plotting to assassinate the Egyptian ruler (D'Souza says Qutb was "martyred")?

From Charles Paul Freund's discusson of Arab pop videos in 2003:

Qutb's most notorious reaction to American life was occasioned by, of all things, a church social in Greeley, Colorado, a community originally organized along utopian lines and one that had maintained a tradition of temperance and moral rigor. Qutb found it a black hole of degeneracy. He had been invited to a dance in Greeley's church basement, where the pastor was playing dance records for the congregation. At one point, the pastor lowered the lights and cued a 78-rpm version of the flirtatious but otherwise innocent tune, "Baby, It's Cold Outside," then popular because it had been used in a 1949 Esther Williams movie. Qutb was scandalized. "The dancing intensified," he wrote. "The hall swarmed with legs....Arms circled arms, lips met lips, chests met chests, and the atmosphere was full of love."

It is as a result of such encounters that Qutb's Islamism was to intensify. Oddly, the whole of the Western, liberalized world sometimes seems to have presented a sexual threat to Qutb, a threat that began aboard the ship that brought him to the U.S. There, a "drunken, semi-naked" woman knocked at his cabin door; he believed the woman could only have been sent to corrupt him by the CIA. It would be interesting to know just why women and sex represented threat and corruption to Qutb; there may be clues in his 1947 novel, Thorns, an autobiographical tale of romance and heartbreak, but the work is untranslated. In any event, two years after he returned from the U.S., Qutb joined Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, the fountainhead of modern Islamism, and became its leading theorist.

Well, home is where they have to take you in, right? Even if it's during a staged reading of The Vagina Monologues (which makes its first appearance in The Enemy at Home on page 18)? And even if it's in a country where the president's critics say he thinks of his own country as a child molester but maybe is right to because, after all, as D'Souza has written, "American culture has become increasingly trivial, vulgar, and disgusting."

Related: Why nobody ever named an anti-authoritarian revolution after Van Cliburn but they did name one after the Velvet Underground.

A.M. Links: Bombs Over Baghdad Again, Maybe; No Legal Pot in Arizona, For Now; Russia and Ukraine Di


  • you know who else bombed iraq just a little bit?President Obama is reportedly considering an aerial bombing campaign in Iraq, something the country's prime minister expressed an interest in last week.
  • An initiative to legalize marijuana won’t be on the ballot in Arizona this year—the group backing the measure has stopped collecting signatures.
  • The presidents of Russia and Ukraine discussed a ceasefire in southeastern Ukraine after a pipeline fire the Ukrainian government blamed on separatists broke out.
  • Several people were killed in a northern Nigeria venue where the World Cup was being watched.
  • Monday night’s World Cup match between the U.S. and Ghana garnered 16 million viewers, a record for soccer in the U.S.
  • The Metropolitan Opera in New York City canceled plans to simulcast The Death of Klinghoffer after concerns the opera, which depicts the 1985 hijacking of a cruise ship and the killing of an elderly Jewish man, could provoke an anti-Semitic reaction.

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The Secret History of the Videophone


By the year 2001, phones like this will be common.

When I was a boy, I was puzzled by a page in the World Book Encyclopedia. The entry for "Telephone" included a sequence of 14 photos of phones through the years, ending with a videophone—one of those great near-future science-fiction concepts that I couldn't wait for someone to create in the real world, like the hovercar or the space colony. And there, next to that picture of the videophone of tomorrow, was the word "1970."

This was the 1977 edition of the encyclopedia. Apparently, the phone of the future already existed. So why didn't anybody I knew have one?

Matt Novak delves into that dead end of tech history in great post at Gizmodo. Here's an excerpt:

The videophone is one of those technologies that more or less snuck up on us. Promises that one day you'd not only be able to hear but see a person through your telephone are nearly as old as the telephone itself. The videophone spent nearly a century as every bit as much a "technology of the future" as the flying car and the jetpack. We were always this close to making our picturephone dreams come true. And then we did, in a way no one expected.

We live in a Chester Gould world, not a Stanley Kubrick world.Communications companies, sci-fi authors, and popular futurists assured half a dozen generations of Americans that the videophone would soon be a reality at their homes, in their offices, and even in public places like airports or on the street next to those old fashioned payphones that only carried voices. The 1920s would see earnest prognosticators heralding videophone as being just over the horizon. The Germans even successfully tried a primitive public videophone service in the late 1930s, only to have it shuttered by the Nazis in 1940. An influx of cash for consumer goods and communications infrastructure during American postwar development in the 1950s would again make the videophone feel so close to reality. But despite commercial availability of the videophone in various iterations since the '70s, it never broke out of its very small niche. And then, one day, it was everywhere.

We were promised and were expecting the videophone to arrive as a standalone device—an appliance like a TV or a toaster or a blender that was dedicated to one purpose: Allowing us to see and hear the person we were talking to from any distance. Instead, we got videophone technology as part of our desktops, our tablets, and our phones. Rather than a dedicated machine, the videophone snuck in through the back door by attaching itself to nearly every multimedia gadget in our lives.

This is, among other things, a useful lesson in the limits of planning, and in the way innovation depends on a mix of trial, error, and serendipity. Bell correctly saw that this technology was possible, but it failed completely to anticipate whether anyone actually wanted a stand-alone picturephone enough to pay for it. "Service was expensive (about $169 per month, or almost $1000 adjusted for inflation) and by 1973 Bell only had 100 subscribers in the entire United States," Novak notes. "By 1977, that number had dwindled to just nine." For 12,000 bucks a year, you could call eight people. What's the opposite of a network effect?

It was a costly misstep—one of the many failures you'll find in the ongoing churn of the marketplace, though this one's lifespan perhaps was extended by the fact that Bell Labs had a government-protected monopoly for a parent company. Skype and FaceTime, by contrast, were free add-ons to technologies that had been developed without much thought for their picturephone possibilities. The future always gets here, but not always through the door you were expecting.

[Via Rob MacDougall, whose own book on telephone history is reviewed in the upcoming August/September issue of Reason. MacDougall also tweets his favorite videophone photo.]

Jacob Sullum on Washington's Legal Marijuana Mess


Seattle Hempfest, a three-day gathering of cannabis activists, entrepreneurs, and consumers, bills itself as the world's largest pot "protestival." But last year's Hempfest, which attracted about 200,000 people to three waterfront parks on the third weekend in August, was also a victory party. The previous November, 56 percent of Washington voters had approved I-502, an initiative that made it legal for adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, which if all went as planned they would eventually be able to buy at state-licensed stores.

But not everyone at Hempfest was quite so pleased with I-502, which had created bitter divisions within the marijuana reform movement, writes Jacob Sullum. "It's not legal yet," warned Douglas Hiatt, a Seattle criminal defense attorney and longtime cannabis activist, in a profane and angry speech. "We've got to be able to grow it. We've got to be able to sell it freely. We've got to keep it in the hands of patients with no taxes...We've got to really legalize it for everyone, every way they need it...Tell the politicians to stop fuckin' around and get it done!"

Unfortunately, legalization in Washington seems to be replacing something resembling a free market—the largely unregulated medical marijuana business—with something closer to Soviet-style central planning, argues Sullum.

View this article.

Nick Gillespie on the Great Ebook War Between Amazon and Hachette


A number of high-profile writers such as James Patterson and Malcolm Gladwell and publishers have accused the online bookseller Amazon of acting like Vladimir Putin and the Mafia. Why? Because in negotiations with international conglomerate Hachette, it's pushing a e-book sales model that would keep prices lower than what publishers think you should pay.

There's no question that Amazon is playing hardball: It's made it harder for customers to buy Hachette books and it's not offering discounts. Then again, just a couple of years ago, Hachette and four other major publishers settled a suit about fixing prices with Apple specifically to screw Amazon.

Nick Gillespie argues that whatever else we can say about the ongoing (and confidential) negotiations between Amazon and Hachette that will likely set industry-wide patterns, Amazon has always been solid on serving its shoppers first.

This fight between self-evidently evil Amazon and kind-hearted, literature-loving Hachette isn’t about the future of civilization itself.... It’s really about how much readers are going to be asked to pay for titles coming out of big publishing companies. Amazon’s track record on that score is pretty damn great: It always wants the price to be lower. That sucks for publishers and authors, and maybe even for Amazon’s bottom line. But it’s worked pretty nicely for readers so far.

View this article.

Iraq Civil War = Global Recession?


Iraq oilGlobal oil prices spike whenever excess global crude production capacity falls below 2 to 3 million barrels per day. The possibility that Iraqi oil supplies (3.3 million barrels per day) could be disrupted by its unfolding civil war has already pushed up the prices of West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) and Brent North Sea oil. Dramatic oil price increases are associated with global economic slowdowns. So some analysts worry that further disruption in Iraq could drive prices above $120 per barrel and tip the world economy into recession. Yo-yoing Libyan oil production is also not helping to calm petroleum markets. Looking further into the future, political turmoil in other oil-producing countries such as Nigeria, Venezuela, and South Sudan does not bode well for oil price stability.

Oil costing more than $120 per barrel would likely boost gasoline prices in the U.S. above $4 per gallon. Currently, U.S. gasoline prices are near a six-year seasonal high of $3.686 per gallon.

The Internet Is Not a Safe Space


Last week, Washington Post columnist George Will was roundly excoriated for suggesting that victimhood conferred a privileged status on college campuses. Around the same time this was happening, long-time lefty writer and activist Yasmin Nair was saying roughly the same thing on Twitter.

"Everyone's got a fucking trauma boo-boo, and we're all expected to kiss the damn thing," Nair tweeted. "Here's my challenge to the 'Left' 'feminists': Can you organise one panel anywhere where subject of rape does NOT require revelation of same? It's @ the point where I refuse to sit on a fucking panel to talk about 'social justice' because, I HAVE TO CONFESS to be considered legit."

Nair's comments were tangentially related to Al Jazeera journalist Sarah Kendzior. Kendzior set off an inter-leftist Internet flash battle by insisting that linking to her public tweet about getting rape threats was tantamount to encouraging rape threats against her.

Folks across the ideological spectrum pushed back, noting that by Kendzior's logic we should avoid drawing attention to any women writing on sensitive topics. But the more people objected, the higher the rhetorical stakes escalated. Before long, to write critically about Kendzior at all—even in response to unfair and slanderous accusations on her part—was to "endanger her life."

Curiously, writing in defense of Kendzior did no such thing, even in high-profile publications such as Newsweek. Nor did Kendzior's feminist allies object much when Newsweek published a private email in which another female journalist (and Kendzior critic) wrote of being raped. The implication seems to be that there are two standards: one for people writing about rape in an approved way, and one for those on the wrong side of the Twitter mob.

The message, as Freddie de Boer* wrote, is that only some women "deserve" the protection of feminism. Those who fail to fall in line with the left-feminist consensus du jour are branded "bad feminists or, ludicrously, actually misogynists."

The message of this Twitter mob is that feminism means women are not free to form their own opinions, not about the right language to discuss rape and rape threats, not about the public nature of public tweets, not about how to honestly criticize others in a productive way.

De Boer called these attitudes "palpably sexist" in their assumption that women have an obligation to hold any particular viewpoint. But this is what good "male allies" do these days: accept whichever feminist narrative implies the most oppression and then swoop in to parrot the terms and save the day. Nevermind those of us who both consider ourselves feminists and reject prevailing progressive victimhood narratives. Dissenting opinions won't do. Dissenting opinions are violence.

"The mob wants to ensure that a certain experience gives you full control over the language," de Boer wrote. But it's not merely that—there's a trending leftist contingent that wants to ensure certain experiences give you full control over the world.

Hence: the transformation of the trigger warning. What started as a mainstay of feminist blogs and women's studies departments has bubbled over into mainstream academia and pop culture. At colleges from Rhode Island to California, students have been pushing for such warnings on course syllabi (some potentially triggering texts cited have been The Great Gatsby and Mrs. Dalloway). Outside of college campuses, some have called for trigger warnings on news articles and other media. 

When trigger warnings first gained traction, advocates had milder ambitions. On early feminist blogs, a trigger warning may appear atop posts about sexual assault or—more frequently in my memory—eating disorders and self harm. Because these blogs operated as tiny, tight-knit communities, norms like the trigger warning seemed reasonable—an easy way to cater to those who wanted to participate in feminist spaces but not frequently revisit particular types of trauma or potentially bad influences. As was often said, these were "safe spaces," carved out by and for feminists to talk to one another openly and semi-privately.

But Twitter is not a safe space (nor a semi-private one). The Internet is not a safe space. And college campuses are meant to prepare students for the world at large. Because the world at large is not a feminist blog comments section, attempting to apply the norms of one to it just doesn't work—nor should it. There's simply no way we can take into account all the ways individuals in society can be traumatized and all the factors that may be triggering.

Because this is the case, some triggers and traumas wind up getting a lot of attention while others are hardly mentioned. Why am I not surprised that people mostly worry over triggering memories of sexual abuse and rape, rather than memories of war and combat?

Old, sexist ideas about men and women's comparative levels of emotionality and resiliency are alive and well in trigger culture. And this is perhaps the most insidious effect of all this excessive empathy.

In the push to legitimize feelings of residual trauma, some have made this trauma both central to the mission of feminism and unassailable when proffered as explanation. And this—what Nair referred to as the "constant drumbeat of trauma"—has an infantilizing effect on perceptions of women, the discourse around them, and the discourse around sexual harassment and assault in general.  

The drumbeat of trauma drowns out cultural and systemic issues, encouraging instead a focus on merely reaffirming that people are hurt and scared. It mistakes acknowledgement and accommodation of this hurt—without question, and in the right language—as progress.

But slapping a trigger warning on a book of film doesn't change its content, nor the culture that inspired it. Journalists asking permission before linking to someone's public comments is nice—but it doesn't mean Redditors or 4chan will.

Attempting to inoculate each other from triggers is an ultimately misguided proposition. It merely hides the ugliness and insensitivity of the world at large—an ugliness and insensitivity we all must face squarely if we ever hope to destroy it.

(* de Boer is a good friend of mine.)

High School Suspended, Expelled Graduating Senior for Harming Gym Teacher's Reputation; Student Now


expelled for an internet commentA high school student in Roger, Minnesota, is suing the school district and the local police chief after he was suspended, then expelled, for a sarcastic comment posted to the Internet from his home. KARE 11, the NBC affiliate in Minneapolis, explains:

[Reid] Sagehorn found himself in the headlines in January of 2014 when he was named in a message on a website called "Roger Confessions' that asked whether he made out with a female physical education teacher at Rogers High School. When he responded with what he calls a sarcastic post that read "Actually Yeah", a Rogers parent saw the post and called principal Roman Pierskalla, who called Sagehorn down to speak with him and a Rogers Police Officer.

Sagehorn was suspended for five days for causing damage to a teacher's reputation.Eventually that suspension was extended another five days, and then morphed into an expulsion. Sagehorn and his attorneys maintain that the post was done out of school, did nothing to disrupt school activities, or constitute a threat to the teacher or her reputation.

The case looks like an example of school districts placing the interests of teachers ahead of that of students. A recent landmark decision in California tackled a more systematic manifestation of this kind of misprioritization—generous tenure rules. In the case of Vergara v. California the Superior Court of California agreed with students who sued a number of California education agencies, arguing that liberal tenure privileges denied them their state constitutionally guaranteed right to an education.

The state appealed the decision and the court's ruling was stayed, but the case could become a major step in disabusing government of the notion that public school systems are jobs programs for teachers rather than an educational service for students. The apparent bizarre decision-making highlighted in the Minnesota lawsuit provides another example of that dangerous notion in action.

Mom Hires Craigslist Driver for 9-Year-Old Son, Gets Thrown in Jail


free-range kidsA mom in suburban Atlanta was looking for a way to get her son to Florida to visit his grandma. So she hired a driver she found on Craigslist advertising a rideshare. 

When the driver learned his intended co-pilot was only 9 years old, he called the cops and the mom was arrested. Now she's in jail, unable to care for her son, for the crime of failing to supervise her son closely enough. Seems totally counter-productive, doesn't it?

Until three years ago she could have simply put him on an Amtrak train. Children as young as 8 could ride as unaccompanied minors. But then Amtrak suddenly changed its policy and now kids have to be 13 to ride alone! When asked why it had added a full five years to its minimum traveling age, Amtrak replied that this was not in response to any incident whatsoever, but merely out of "an abundance of caution."

Run whenever you hear that phrase.

That "abundance of caution" means that, across the country, children like this 9-year-old boy in Atlanta are no longer unable to take the train to grandma. Or to visit a divorced mom or dad. Or to get from any point A to point B on our national taxpayer-subsidized train service unless their parents can afford the time and extra money it now takes to travel with them.

So it's not surprising that a mom would turn to Craigslist in desperation. Not all of us have friends with cars who are driving to exactly where we want our kids to go. Trusting a stranger may sound bizarre, but a sub-optimal parenting choice does not make this mom a criminal. It makes her a desperate mom without a lot of options, who made a decision she thought would work for her family. And it looks like it would have—the guy she picked obviously had a strong sense of responsibility toward children—if the driver hadn't turned her in.

On the other hand, the driver himself had cause for worry. Any male driving an unrelated minor across state lines could easily be taken for a predator.

The long and short of it is this: We are not allowed to trust our kids to travel, we are not allowed to trust strangers, and strangers aren't allowed to trust us. The government must always intervene.

This could have been a simple (maybe even fun!) roadtrip. In a less fear-crazed world, that boy could be hanging out with his grandma by now. And his mom wouldn't be hanging out in a jail cell.

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

Another Obama Policy Failure: Canada Approves New Oil Pipeline to Pacific Coast


Canada conflict oilPresident Hamlet, I mean, Obama has been dithering for years over the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline that would transport nearly 1 million barrels of Canadian oilsands petroleum from Alberta to American refineries on the Gulf Coast. Several State Department environmental analyses have found that the pipeline is sufficiently safe and would have only a minor effect on the greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to man-made global warming. Nevertheless, the president has decisively decided not to decide as he tries to avoid alienating either labor unions who favor construction of the pipeline or green activists who don't.

Since 97 percent of Canada's oil exports now go to the U.S., environmental activists fondly hoped that blocking U.S. approval of the Keystone pipeline would force Canadian oil companies to keep the oilsands crude in the ground. Fat chance. Today, the Associated Press is reporting that the Canadian government has approved a new pipeline that will transport more than 500,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta to the Canadian west coast. That oil will be loaded onto 220 tankers per year and shipped to China.

From the AP:

Canada's government on Tuesday approved a controversial pipeline proposal that would bring oil to the Pacific Coast for shipment to Asia, a major step in the country's efforts to diversify its oil exports if it can overcome fierce opposition from environmental and aboriginal groups.

Approval for Enbridge's Northern Gateway project was expected as Canada needs infrastructure in place to export its growing oil sands production. The project's importance has only grown since the U.S. delayed a decision on TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline that would take oil from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The northern Alberta region has the world's third largest oil reserves, with 170 billion barrels of proven reserves.

Enbridge's pipeline would transport 525,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta's oil sands to the Pacific to deliver oil to Asia, mainly energy-hungry China. About 220 large oil tankers a year would visit the Pacific coast town of Kitimat and opponents fear pipeline leaks and a potential tanker spill on the pristine Pacific coast.

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said Canada's national interest makes the pipelines essential.

Way to go Mr. President!

For more background, see my article, "Obama's Devious Dithering Over the Keystone Pipeline."

Disclosure: Back in 2011, I went on a junket to report on the development of Alberta oil sands. My travel expenses were covered by the American Petroleum Institute. The API did not ask for nor did it have any editorial control over my reporting of this trip or, for that matter, any other reporting that I do. For more background, see my articles, "The Man-Made Miracle of Oil from Sand," and "Conflict Oil or Canadian Oil?"

WikiLeaks to Release 'Very Important Secret Document' Tomorrow


"Tomorrow we will release a very important secret document," announced WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson earlier today.

Hrafnsson was participating in a press conference with Julian Assange, the founder of the information-leaking media organization. Tomorrow marks two years that Assange has been confined within the Ecuadorian embassy in London, which is surrounded at all hours by police.

Hrafnsson hinted that tomorrow's leak will be significant to "international negotiations" but said that he couldn't give any more details.

Assange added that "there are 50 countries involved" in tomorrow's disclosure.

Assange spoke on a range of topics, criticizing the U.S. government and, in particular, President Barack Obama:

Obama should start to reflect on what [his] legacy will be after two presidential terms. It must be at odds with a former professor of constitutional law to have a legacy that involves the construction of extra-judicial kill lists of individuals including American citizens [and] a legacy of being the president who conducted more Espionage Act investigations against journalists … than all previous presidents combined going back to 1917. ...

It is against the stated principles of the United States and I believe the values supported by its people, to have a four-year criminal investigation against a publisher. The ongoing existence of that investigation produces a chilling effect, not just on internet based publishers, but all publishers.

Questioned about his own legacy and why he hasn't produced a groundbreaking leak in several years, Assange said, "I think the best answer to that question was given by the author of Catch-22 when it was put to him that he hadn't eclipsed his novel, and the response of course is, well, neither has anyone else."

John Stossel Welcomes Our Robot Overlords


Ray Kurzweil—inventor of things like machines that turn text into speech—has popularized the idea that we are rapidly approaching "the singularity," the point at which machines not only think for themselves but develop intellectually faster than humans. Scientists say that soon machines will be too smart and self-motivated for us to predict.

This future sounds unsettling, but it's not much use just hoping machines stay dumber than we, argues John Stossel. As with so many innovations in the past, handing off tasks to machines may make our lives better by freeing us up to focus on activities that we enjoy more. 

View this article.

Video: The Medical Conflict of Interest Mania: Dr. Thomas Stossel on Physician Regulation


The Medical Conflict of Interest Mania: Dr. Thomas Stossel on Physician Regulation is the latest video from Reason TV. Watch above or click on the link below for video, full text, supporting links, downloadable versions, and more Reason TV clips.

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Why Selectively Quoting Orwell's 'Objectively Pro-Fascist' Line Matters


Monday night, in a combative episode of The Independents, I kind of jumped down the throat of former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton after he attempted to transplant George Orwell's famous WWII-era line that "Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist" onto the 2014 debate over whether the U.S. should have gone to war against the murderous regime of Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Orwell, I shot back, later repudiated his line, and rightly so. Bolton asked for a citation. I'll provide that and more below the whole contentious interview (which you can also read about over at Mediaite):

The first important thing about Orwell's quote, which comes from a Partisan Review polemic worth reading in full, is that it was written in August 1942—a time when Nazi Germany and its allies occupied all of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, plus almost all of northwest Africa and most of Asia's eastern shore. There had been times since the onset of Hitler's aggressively expansionist war that England felt surrounded, besieged, and alone. If ever there was a context in which one could plausibly make the claim that pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist, it would be early 1940s England.

Sure, this one's great, but ... |||Which brings us to the second important part of Orwell's quote. Those people fond of deploying it in a modern context either use and adapt the five-word phrase, "_________ is objectively pro-Fascist," or excerpt these three sentences from Orwell's essay:

Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other.

Our selective Orwell fans almost never quote the very next sentence. Which is: "Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one." In other words, England vs. the Axis in 1942 was nobody's war of choice.

Since the end of World War II, America has never once been in a situation even remotely like England's in the early 1940s. Paradoxically, this helps explain why U.S. interventionists of all stripes lean so heavily on the rhetorical crutch of 1938-42 geopolitics: "Munich," "Neville Chamberlain," "appeasement," "objectively pro-fascist," and so on. They seek to cloak their arguments in the unearned virtue of opposing Adolf Hitler, portray their political opponents as actively working for the enemy, and above all remove the foreign policy crisis du jour from the realm of elective debate. Because if we're up against Hitler 2.0, there is no choice, except between teams "With us" and "Against us," and the only real question is where, exactly, to draw the red line beyond which the U.S. must use force in order to maintain "credibility."

... so's THIS one! |||This interventionist Godwinning is all around you, every day. In today's Wall Street Journal, former vice president Dick Cheney writes that "appeasing our enemies" and "abandoning our allies" are "hallmarks" of the "Obama doctrine." In today's Washington Post, Michael Doran and Max Boot write:

The idea that the United States, a nation bent on defending democracy and safeguarding stability, shares a common interest with the Islamic Republic of Iran, a revolutionary theocracy that is the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism in the world, is as fanciful as the notion that Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler could work together for the good of Europe.

The Orwell line works not only as useful (if historically illiterate) analogy, but also as a sharp turn of phrase designed to place its targets on the defensive. But the third and most important thing about that quote is that Orwell himself repudiated it, in an essay he wrote while England was still at war with Hitler, albeit in the much more optimistic season of December 1944.

The top half of the piece is a lament for the piss-poor quality of political argumentation in contemporary England. Excerpt:

Nobody is searching for the truth, everybody is putting forward a 'case' with complete disregard for fairness or accuracy, and the most plainly obvious facts can be ignored by those who don't want to see them. The same propaganda tricks are to be found almost everywhere. It would take many pages of this paper merely to classify them, but here I draw attention to one very widespread controversial habit – disregard of an opponent’s motives. The key-word here is 'objectively'.

We are told that it is only people's objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort, are 'objectively' aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once.

Italics mine. So what's Orwell's problem with the formulation? That it conflates motive with outcome, and blinds the speaker to potentially important truths:

This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people's motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions. For there are occasions when even the most misguided person can see the results of what he is doing. Here is a crude but quite possible illustration. A pacifist is working in some job which gives him access to important military information, and is approached by a German secret agent. In those circumstances his subjective feelings do make a difference. If he is subjectively pro-Nazi he will sell his country, and if he isn't, he won't.

Doubt. |||That distinction between "motives" and "results" is crucial, particularly for the John Boltons of the world. After all, the man (like many GOP hawks) is focused like a laser beam on beating back the pernicious designs of Iran. Yet it's hard to avoid the conclusion that U.S. military intervention in Iraq has vastly strengthened Tehran's hands. Is John Bolton "objectively pro-Mullah"? I would never level such an accusation, in part because I take all of Orwell seriously.

And don't just take my hippie word for it: Eugene Volokh, to cite one person more interventionist than me, wrote approvingly of Orwell's later reconsideration in both 2002 and2009. If it's truth you seek, you will not use "objectively pro-Fascist" to describe someone who doesn't share your enthusiasm for launching a U.S. war of choice. And call me a crazy optimist, but I still believe that there are occasions when even the most misguided person can learn from the lousy results of their actions.

In Defense of Hillary Clinton’s Lackluster Response on Gay Marriage


"When did you stop beating your constituency?"Not to beat a quote into the ground that is no doubt going to be beaten all the way into the earth's core and through the other side by the time 2016 comes around, but: What difference, at this point, does it make when exactly Hillary Clinton became a supporter of same-sex marriage recognition?

For the unaware, Clinton participated in a mostly friendly interview with Terry Gross at NPR that got a little tense once Gross tried to pin Clinton down on when she "evolved" to support gay marriage, wondering if perhaps the former secretary of state had essentially actually believed in gay marriage recognition for a while, but couldn't declare her support because it was a politically problematic position for a very long time. From the transcripts of the interview:

GROSS: So you mentioned that you believe in state-by-state for gay marriage, but it's the Supreme Court, too. The Supreme Court struck down part of DOMA - the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented the federal government from recognizing gay marriage. That part is now struck down. And DOMA was actually signed by your husband when he was president. In spite of the fact that he signed it, were you glad at this point that the Supreme Court struck some of it down?

CLINTON: Of course. And, you know, again, let's - we are living at a time when this extraordinary change is occurring and I'm proud of our country. I'm proud of the people who had been on the frontlines of advocacy, but in 1993, that was not the case and there was a very concerted effort in the Congress to, you know, make it even more difficult and greater discrimination. And what DOMA did is at least allow the states to act. It wasn't going yet to be recognized by the federal government, but at the state level there was the opportunity. And my husband, you know, was the first to say that, you know, the political circumstances, the threats that were trying to be alleviated by the passage of DOMA thankfully were no longer so preeminent and we could keep moving forward, and that's what we're doing.

GROSS: So just to clarify - just one more question on this - would you say your view evolved since the '90s or that the American public evolved allowing you to state your real view?

CLINTON: I think I'm an American. (Laughing) And I think we have all evolved and it's been one of the fastest most sweeping transformations.

GROSS: No, I understand, but a lot of people already believed in it back the '90s. A lot of people already supported gay marriage.

CLINTON: But not - to be fair, Terry, not that many. Yes, were there activists who were ahead of their time? Well, that was true in every human rights and civil rights movement, but the vast majority of Americans were just waking up to this issue and beginning to, you know, think about it and grasp it for the first time. And, you know, think about their neighbor down the street who deserved to have the same rights as they did or their son or their daughter. It has been an extraordinarily fast - by historic terms - social, political and legal transformation. And we ought to celebrate that instead of plowing old ground, where in fact a lot of people, the vast majority of people, have been moving forward - maybe slowly, maybe tentatively, maybe not as quickly and extensively as many would have hoped, but nevertheless we are at a point now where equality, including marriage equality, in our country, is solidly established.

This went back and forth for a bit, with Gross trying to pin Clinton down to saying whether she actually "evolved" or whether she couldn't say so. Clinton kept pointing out that America as a whole has evolved (and rather quickly) on gay marriage and said that it's not true that she held her tongue on gay marriage because of political considerations.

Clinton could no doubt have handled the situation better (Peter Suderman took note yesterday of Clinton's struggles to campaign on her record rather than just her identity), and her awkward responses drew analysis. Nate Silver over at FiveThirtyEight, in his own particular style, analyzed exit poll data and determined that women with Clinton's background had reached majority support for gay marriage all the way back in the early '90s, during the time when her husband was president and signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Clinton declared her support for gay marriage recognition in 2013, after President Barack Obama's "evolution," all of which happened after polls began showing consistent majority support for same-sex marriage recognition by all Americans. Essentially, Silver is saying that Clinton was an outlier among her own peers if she truly didn't support same-sex marriage until recently.  

Andrew Sullivan, infamously no fan of the Clintons, is actually friendlier than I expected him to be when asked if he could see himself supporting her as a candidate, though he hits the same point as Suderman that she doesn't seem to be actually offering a sense of what she'd do as president and hits back at progressives who want to portray her as some sort of important ally or savior on gay issues. That attitude is a little amusing given that he notably gave President Barack Obama a pass in his Newsweek piece when the president declared support for gay marriage recognition once the polls made it clear it was politically safe to do so.

I dread the idea that any upcoming election could revolve around who supported gay marriage first and when and whether they were sincere. The idea that American politicians are actually "leaders," especially on cultural issues, is a persistent myth. There are very few "pioneers" among politicians on gay issues beyond those who are actually gay. The rest have, like Clinton and Obama, been playing catch up with the polls. They always have been and they always will.

Clinton was also criticized for declaring support for a state-by-state march toward gay marriage recognition by those who worship at the altar of centralized authority. Most gay activist groups are pushing for a Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, hence all the federal lawsuits in the wake of the DOMA ruling trying to push for a new review.

But anybody who thinks that the Supreme Court is some sort of "leader" on civil rights issues is as misguided as anybody who thinks similarly about politicians. Yes, DOMA was a response to gay marriage recognition movements by some states, but does anybody actually, seriously believe DOMA would have been struck down if it had come before the Supreme Court, say, a year after its passing, regardless of the court's makeup? Does anybody really think that the increase in the number of states legalizing recognition was irrelevant to the court's decision?

Since so many of these new federal rulings supporting gay marriage recognition invoke the Supreme Court's Loving v. Virginia decision banning laws against mixed-race marriages, a reminder: That ruling came years after many states began striking down the laws on their own and three years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (also after previous Supreme Court rulings upheld anti-miscegenation laws). The Supreme Court doesn't lead either. To the extent that the Supreme Court makes rulings that expand liberty, they've done so following significant cultural pushes likewise. They may not acknowledge these pushes in their rulings, but it's remarkably foolish to think that these smaller victories don't have huge influences on these decisions.

The details of how or when or how sincere Clinton's positions on gay marriage are in the now is not particularly compelling (he says, after 1,200 words). It's only an indicator that, yes, Hillary Clinton is a politician, and we already knew that. There is nothing particular special or noteworthy for her failure to lead the way. That's not what politicians are for. Clinton has given us 99 reasons not to vote for her, but this ain't one.

The High Cost of Cheap Health Insurance


Here’s what the Obama administration wants you to know about health insurance premiums under Obamacare: On average, people who selected subsidized insurance plans through the federally-run insurance exchange paid $82 a month, out of their own pockets, for health insurance. People who selected "silver" health plans—the most popular tier of coverage offered in the exchange—paid less: $69 per month, on average. Almost 70 percent of the people who signed up for subsidized plans through the federal exchanges are paying less than $100.

Those are the average premium prices that the Obama administration highlights in a press release touting a new government report on Obamacare and health premiums.

But there are several things to remember about those figures.

One is that they’re incomplete. The data released by the administration doesn’t account for premiums in the 14 states that ran their own exchanges this year.

Another is that those averages conceal an awful lot of variation. Even with the federally run exchange covering the majority of states, Obamacare varies quite a bit from state to state. Out of pocket insurance costs in Mississippi averaged about $23 a month, but came in at $148 in New Jersey. About a third of people buying subsidized coverage through the federal marketplace were paying more than $100. And the report focuses on the majority of participating individuals who bought subsidized coverage: 14 percent of people who selected plans in the federal exchange through the end of open enrollment got no tax credits at all.

That’s another thing to remember: The administration’s premium averages are based on out-of-pocket costs after the law’s tax credits and subsidies are factored in. Those subsidies end up offsetting quite a bit of the cost of insurance under Obamacare. But if you strip away the subsidies, individual market health insurance has, on average, become significantly more expensive in the wake of Obamacare, according to a newly published analysis by the Manhattan Institute.

Relying on a 3,137 county comparison of the five cheapest individual plans available prior to Obamacare with the five cheapest plans through the exchanges, the study by health policy fellow Yevgeniy Feyman found that, on average, premiums were up 49 percent under Obamacare. Again, that’s an average, and it masks some variation—in New York, which had unusually restrictive, badly designed health insurance market rules prior to Obamacare, premiums are actually down quite a bit—but it indicates that the overall trend for unsubsidized premiums is up.

The difference, then, is being made up by federal subsidies. According to the administration’s report, those subsidies are carrying 76 percent of the total cost of subsidized insurance plans selected in the federal exchange. The out-of-pocket average is $82. But the actual average premium price, without subsidies, is $346.

To the extent that insurance is relatively cheap, it’s because taxpayers are footing a big chunk of the bill. Obamacare didn’t reduce the price of insurance; if anything it raised it—and then used tax revenues to cover the difference.

That’s frequently how subsidies work—they lower the out-of-pocket price tag, but, by separating consumers from meaningful price signals, they also distort markets in ways that drive up the overall cost, leaving the public to pick up the ever-growing tab.

There’s already evidence that this is happening with Obamacare. As the Los Angeles Times reports today, "while the generous subsidies helped consumers, they also risk inflating the new health law’s price tag in its first year." If premiums and subsidy levels in the state-run exchanges that were left out of the report generally match up with the federal government, then the Times estimates that the total for subsidies this year could run as high as $16.5 billion—significantly more than the roughly $10 billion estimated by the Congressional Budget Office.

The Obama administration wants everyone to know how cheap insurance is under Obamacare. But they don’t really want people to think about how expensive it is to keep it that way.

Can Someone Just Invent an 'I Consent to Sex' iPhone App Already?


ConsentOver at Slate, Amanda Hess came to the defense of legislation—currently under consideration by the California State Assembly—that would pressure colleges to police their students' sexual activities.

California Senate Bill 967 would force state universities to strictly define consensual sex between students as an "affirmative, unambiguous, and conscious decision." It would also clarify that "lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent," and that the person "initiating the sexual activity" is responsible for obtaining consent.

This legislatively-enforced definition of consent is much needed, wrote Hess:

This standard improves on the old "no means no" model in a number of ways. A partner who is asleep or passed out can’t say "no." Neither can a partner who’s frozen in shock or fear when an encounter escalates into an assault. Victims who are threatened with sexual assault aren’t always equipped to respond in rape prevention talking points. Just like with any other violent physical assault, many victims respond by shutting down, going silent, or laying motionless, hoping not to anger their attackers further, or disassociating from the attacks as an attempt at self-preservation. Also, consenting to sex one time doesn’t mean consenting to sex any other time. And consenting to one act (like vaginal intercourse) doesn’t imply consent for all other acts (like anal sex). Having sex with a person who is lying limply on a bed is not consensual, unless that person happens to be really, really into that—but that’s a situation that requires a conversation, not an assumption.

So are affirmative consent laws a good idea? If they are broad enough to include nonverbal cues, I think so. If we can admit that enthusiastic consent is often communicated in body language or knowing looks, then we must also accept that the lack of consent doesn’t always manifest itself in a shouted "no" or "stop," either. It shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of the uninterested party to speak up during a sexual encounter. If you think it’s easy for a person to just say no, then why would it be so hard for his or her partner to just ask?

My only substantial quibble with this definition is the "person initiating" clause. Is it always so clear that one person is initiating sex with another? Isn't the decision to have sex sometimes mutually arrived at by both parties?

Setting that aside, maybe it's a good idea for the California legislature to broaden the parameters of sexual assault. Maybe "only yes means yes" is a better standard than "no means no," and it is desirable for cultural attitudes about consensual sex to shift in that direction.

But why on earth should that involve universities? Rape is a crime, not an academic offense. I'm open to the argument that the criminal justice system should navigate sexual assault cases differently, but I don't accept that there should be some extralegal method of punishing accused rapists where the burden of proof is lower, due process is nonexistent, and he said/she said is often an automatic loss for the accused. The punishments are not as severe as they are under the normal justice system, sure, but expulsion is still a harsh sentence (synonymous with the loss of thousands of dollars toward a now unobtainable degree), given the conviction process is handled by people totally unequipped to fairly judge such matters.

The legislature is telling state universities to more aggressively involve themselves in their students' sex lives. Given administrators' track records, there is little reason to think that either victims or the accused will be well served by such mandate.

Ultimately, I'm counting on the free market to work its magic and provide a sensible and convenient method of demonstrating mutual consent. Several writers have suggested an iPhone app that allows users to clearly consent to sex—maybe they would have to input a password and then touch phones, or something?—would do the trick.

Consensual sex? There's an app for that. One day soon. Hopefully.

Oklahoma Governor's Republican Primary Challengers Both Support Legalizing Marijuana


ok oklahomaCampaigns are underway in Oklahoma to get two initiatives, one legalizing marijuana and the other legalizing just medical marijuana, on the ballot in November. In the meantime, Gov. Mary Fallin is facing two challengers in the Republican primary, set for next Tuesday. One is a criminal defense attorney who ran specifically to draw attention to the legalization of marijuana. The other is described as libertarian-leaning. The Associated Press reports:

While it is an unusual issue to highlight in such a conservative state, criminal defense attorney Chad Moody—known around Oklahoma City as "The Drug Lawyer"—and computer network operator Dax Ewbank, a libertarian-leaning Republican from Guthrie, both said they support the full legalization of cannabis…

"It's not appropriate to be imprisoning people and perpetuating police powers through the drug war," said Ewbank, a 38-year-old father of seven known for openly carrying his firearm at campaign events.

Ewbank has spent just $3,300 on his campaign so far and Moody has not filed a spending report; Fallin has raised $3 million. Fallin is expected to win*.

On the Democrat side, there is no primary. State Rep. Joe Dorman (District 65) is the candidate for governor. Dorman doesn't mention marijuana on his website, and a call to his office confirmed that he would not be taking a stance on either the legalization of marijuana or medical marijuana in Oklahoma and does not expect to do so between now and election day.

Meanwhile another Democrat, State Sen. Constance Johnson (District 48), is pushing for the legalization of marijuana as a religious issue. She reportedly said Genesis 1:29 would be the "basis" for her campaign to legalize marijuana in the state. "God created this wonderful, miraculous plant and we know that is has been vilified for the last 100 years, and it's time to change that in Oklahoma," she was quoted as saying.

*So was Eric Cantor.

Hillary Clinton Equates Gun Control Opponents With Terrorists


During a CNN "town hall" yesterday, Hillary Clinton said she was disappointed that Congress did not pass new gun control legislation following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December 2012. "I believe that we need a more thoughtful conversation," said the former secretary of state and presumptive presidential candidate. "We cannot let a minority of people—and that's what it is, it is a minority of people—hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people." Evidently Clinton's idea of a more thoughtful conversation about gun control involves equating disagreement with terrorism while claiming some opinions are so dangerous that "we cannot let" people hold them.

I am not sure how Clinton plans to implement this new opinion control policy. As for gun control, she says she wants "background checks that work." If she means background checks that block gun purchases by people with no disqualifying criminal or psychiatric records (a description that fits the perpetrators of almost all mass shootings, including the Sandy Hook massacre), she might as well wish for a unicorn. If she means background checks that strip harmless people of their Second Amendment rights based on irrational criteria, that much surely could be achieved.

Clinton, by the way, twice referred to mass shooters with "automatic" weapons, meaning she does not understand the difference between semi-automatic firearms and machine guns, even after eight years as first lady in an administration that supported a highly contentious "assault weapon" ban and eight years as a senator who supported further restrictions. Her confusion on that point, which President Obama seems to share, in itself would be enough reason to take her advice about gun policy with a grain of salt.

Chicago Offers Citizens $100 to Tattle on Cigarette Tax Cheats. For the Children!


Public Domain

To hear the Windy City's public health department tell it, a new program that encourages residents to tattle on untaxed cigarettes sales is a virtuous attempt to protect the children. The program, which launched on Monday, will give $100 to each person who sings like a canary, but only if their tip results in the conviction of a retailer who is selling cigarettes without tacking on the required state, city, or county taxes.

But it's not about the money! It's about the kids, according to the city's health department commissioner, who says that "kids are the most price-sensitive consumers." Her logic:

If you lower the price of cigarettes, more kids will be able to afford it and purchase it.

The program, which also encourages people to report places that sell single cigarettes, is really about recouping some of that $7 million that Mayor Rahm Emanuel said his 50-cent tax increase on the sales of Chicago cigs would bring in.

The increase, implemented in January, earned Chicago the honor of having the priciest pack of sticks in the nation. Combining the federal, state, city, and county taxes, the total comes out to a whopping $7.17 per pack in money for the government. When you add in the how much producers and retailers charge to make a small profit, you're looking at about $12 a pack.

Emanuel and his city council are probably realizing what New York and Minnesota have already found out: raising the price of cigarettes only fuels the black market for them. According to the Tax Foundation, some 56.9 percent of cigarettes consumed in New York are smuggled in from other states.

Being surrounded by states that have significantly lower prices doesn't help the problem, either. As shown in a chart prepared by the foundation, Illinois is bordered by three states that have an outflow of smuggled cigarettes, while Illinois has an inflow of smuggled smokes, of course.

The Chicago city council should really read up on its mobster history. You would think a city that gave us the notorious, liquor-smuggling Al Capone would know a few things about tax evasion.

Iraq Requests U.S. Airstrikes, Patent Office Won’t Renew ‘Redskins’ Name, ‘Bitcoin Bowl’ Comes to Co


  • Iraq has formally requested that the U.S. launch airstrikes against the insurgents in the country, but President Obama isn't so sure about that tactic anymore.
  • The White House intends to try Ahmed Abu Khattala, who allegedly led the 2012 Benghazi attack, as a civilian in the U.S. court system.  
  • The Federal Reserve today lowered its projection for economic growth this year from 3 percent to between 2.1 percent and 2.3 percent.
  • The Patent and Trademark Office is cancelling six trademarks associated with the Washington Redskins football team, saying that the name is "disparaging to Native Americans."
  • Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) (Bipartisanship! Whoo!) want to raise the federal gas and diesel taxes by 12 cents
  • For the next four years, the collegiate football bowl game in St. Petersburg, Florida, will be known as the Bitcoin Bowl—which, if nothing else, sounds better than its previous names: The Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl and The magicJack Bowl. 

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Zenon Evans Says Julian Assange Is Still Changing the World Two Years After Being Cornered


Happy anniversary, Julian Assange. Well, it's not happy per se, but tomorrow marks two years that he has spent stuck in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, which is surrounded at all hours by police. It is a good day to look back on the accomplishments of his information-leaking organization and reflect on how large an impact Assange has had and continues to have on issues of government, journalism, and whistle-blowing. Zenon Evans contends that perhaps the most meaningful and liberating revelation from WikiLeaks is that individuals who believes in freedom of information can wield a surprising amount of power for change, even if they're cornered, imprisoned, or forced into exiled by the authorities that react against them.

View this article.

Help Us, Mr. Police Officer! It’s a Man Selling Children’s Books!


Apparently not the location of a British sit-com titled "The Vicar's Knickers" or what have you.In the town of Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, some citizens had a bit of a—what? Yes, there's a town in Tennessee called Soddy-Daisy. Read up about it here. It's okay, I had the same reaction. (If everybody else already knew about this place, please just humor me.)

Anyway, in this town of Soddy-Daisy (I literally cannot stop saying "Soddy-Daisy"), citizens have been tormented by the scourge of a recent college graduate trying to earn money by selling children's books door to door. Fortunately, the police have put a stop to one Armando Navo, whom NewsChannel 9 in Tennessee took great pains to explain for some reason (and show, complete with his license plate number), is from Texas:

A door to door salesman is causing uproar in Soddy Daisy.  That salesman, a 23-year-old from Texas, has now lost his right to do business in the Soddy Daisy city limits. 

"It seemed unprofessional for us.  Instead of asking for the parents or people that were home, he was talking to children. He was approaching children and asking if he knew of any other houses in the neighborhood that had kids living there," said Nate Mayo.

Mayo was at a family barbecue and saw the stranger talking to children who live in the neighborhood.

"I actually went out to the front yard and I asked him if he could leave, we weren't interested in buying anything, and he was very pushy towards me, and he wouldn't take no for an answer," said Mayo.

NewsChannel 9 journalist Jerry Askin actually tracked Navo down, and he apologized if he came off as pushy. What he was doing, though, was perfectly legal it seems. He even had a license from the city of Soddy-Daisy to do business in town. But no longer: According to Askin's report, the police department has revoked Navo's license, and Askin was not able to get an explanation as to how, exactly, the police were able to do so.

The company Navo sells books for, Southwestern Advantage, posted a response to the story under NewsChannel9's report, complete with a link to Navo's Facebook page. The page shows pictures of him with happy families and kids enjoying the books he's sold them. But apparently not in Soddy-Daisy.

(Hat tip to Echo)

Bobby Jindal Pulls Louisiana Out of Common Core, Is Obviously Running for President


JindalEarlier today, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced that he was unilaterally withdrawing his state from participation in Common Core. Jindal was once a proponent of the national education standards, but the federal government's heavy-handed way of promoting them has made him wary, he said.

Via Politico:

"We’re very alarmed about choice and local control of curriculum being taken away from our parents and educators," he said at a press conference. "If other states want to allow the federal government to dictate to them, they have every right to make that choice."

The standards were developed back in 2009 by the National Governors Association, and they initially drew support from many Republican governors, including Jindal, New Jersey's Chris Christie, Florida's Jeb Bush, and Wisconsin's Scott Walker. But the more people hear about the standards, the less they like them—unless you ask them in an outright misleading way, as the Cato Institute's Neal McCluskey notes in a hilarious post, "Common Core Survey: You'll Love the Pufferfish!."

Common Core is especially unpopular among the conservative grassroots, given that the federal government is vigorously pushing it and has incentivized states to adopt it in exchange for grant money. The controversy has made Common Core an important political issue heading into the 2014 and 2016 election cycles, and it's going to be very difficult for Core-supportive candidates to survive in the more competitive Republican primaries.

Given that, Jindal's shifting perspective on Common Core is probably an indicator that he is going to run. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a major Core backer, knocked Jindal's defection from the cause as a transparently political move:

"Gov. Jindal was a passionate supporter before he was against it," Duncan said. "In that situation it was about politics. It’s not about education. That’s part of the problem."

Was Jindal's move a sincere change of heart or cynical political calculation? Probably the latter, but who cares? It is preferable for politicians to be flip-floppers as long as they are flipping in the direction of greater local autonomy and personal liberty.

The Core standards may not be as evil as some opponents claim, but there is very little that supporters can offer as evidence that this reform was worth adopting. On the other hand, there are many good reasons to be fearful of Common Core: Its implementation will be obscenely expensive for taxpayers, it contributes to the creeping nationalization of local education decisions, and amounts to crony capitalism for some very largely coroporate education interests.

Latest Data Shows Spike in Prices of Food, Oil, and More


Consumers were hit hard by a range of price increases last month, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Here are some highlights from the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which tracks the changes in costs of household goods:

  • The food index rose 0.5 percent in May after increasing 0.4 percent in each of the three previous months.
  • The index for food at home increased 0.7 percent, its largest increase since July 2011.
  • The gasoline index rose 0.7 percent.
  • The index for all items less food and energy increased 0.3 percent in May after increasing 0.2 percent in March and April.
  • The rent index rose 0.3 percent and the index for owners' equivalent rent increased 0.2 percent.
  • The medical care index increased 0.3 percent in May, as the index for prescription drugs rose 0.7 percent.
  • The index for airline fares rose sharply in May; its 5.8 percent increase was the largest since July 1999.

"Economists … expected consumer prices to rise only 0.2 percent," Reuters notes, compared to the actual 0.4 percent increase.

The Associated Press states that the index for all items less food and energy, also known as core inflation, made "the biggest one-month gain since August 2011. Over the past 12 months, core prices are up 2 percent."

The price of meat, poultry, fish and eggs (a subset of the food index) shot up by 1.4 percent in May. The Weather Channel explains that "the price increases in meat can be directly tied back to the cumulative impact of the drought in California and Texas as well as the drought that hit the corn belt in 2012 and the blizzard … that hit South Dakota in October." Likewise, a drought in Brazil contributed to the boost in coffee prices.

Economist John Schoen writes for NBC that this may not warrant too much concern:

Despite the attention paid to gasoline prices, for example, they make up a relatively small portion (about 5 percent, on average) of the typical household budget. But they have an outsized impact on consumer spending because many people tend to tighten their budgets when they see pump prices jump.

The reason economists and the folks at the Fed are less interested in food and energy is that the prices of those two commodities are usually pretty volatile—jumping up and down month to month, much more than other goods and services. Those ups and downs eventually wash out of the system.

The outlook on oil is not as optimistic. The BLS's energy data do not take into account this month's instability in oil-rich Iraq. Although gas is already at "a six-year seasonal high,"  according to Bloomberg, disruptions to Iraq's oil flow "may boost pump prices by 10 cents a gallon at a time when they normally drop."

And, for what it's worth, some members of Congress aren't doing anything to reduce gas prices. Instead, Sens.  Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) today unveiled a plan to hike the federal gas and diesel taxes by 12 cents

The Federal Reserve just concluded a two day meeting, during which it dropped projected economic growth in the U.S. this year from 3 percent to between 2.1 percent and 2.3 percent

After the meeting, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said, "Recent readings on, for example, the CPI index have been a bit on the high side," but "the recent evidence that we've seen, abstracting from the noise, suggests that we are moving back gradually, over time, toward our 2 percent objective."

Former Drug Czar Likens Legal Marijuana Merchants to Afghan Warlords


John P. Walters, George W. Bush's drug czar, provides further evidence of prohibitionists' intellectual bankruptcy: an essay in Politico that supposedly explains "Why Libertarians Are Wrong About Drugs." His argument is persuasive as long as you accept two false premises:

1. Drug use is drug abuse.

"There is ample experience that a drug user harms not only himself, but also many others," Walters writes. "The association between drug use and social and economic failure, domestic violence, pernicious parenting and criminal acts while under the influence is grounds for prohibition even if we accept no responsibility for what the drug user does to himself. The drug user's freedom to consume costs his community not only their safety, but also their liberty."

According to Walters, all illegal drug use, regardless of dose, administration method, or context, harms both the user and other people. As I show in my book Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use, that absolutist position flies in the face of everyday experience as well as research on patterns of drug consumption. The vast majority of illegal drug users, like the vast majority of drinkers, do not inflict any serious harm on themselves or others.

2. Drugs cause addiction, and addiction is slavery.

"Libertarians have yet to grasp just how much drug abuse undermines individual freedom and erodes the very core of the libertarian ideal," Walters writes. "If an essential predicate of libertarian society is the willing, rational actor, capable of weighing and understanding consequences, what's left when this condition is absent?"

As I argue in Saying Yes, addiction is not a chemical compulsion; it is a pattern of behavior affected by many factors other than the drug itself, including the user's personality, tastes, preferences, intentions, and environment. This much is obvious to most people (and maybe even to Walters) when it comes to alcohol; it is equally true of the intoxicants that are currently illegal.

Contrary to Walters' description, addicts do not lose all volition. They respond to incentives, as demonstrated by Carl Hart's research with heavy crack and methamphetamine users; they modify their behavior as circumstances change, as demonstrated by Vietnam veterans who gave up heroin when they returned to the United States; and they quit or cut back when they have a strong enough reason to do so, as demonstrated by every former smoker and every reckless drunk who learned to consume alcohol responsibly. Even if the possibility of addiction were an adequate justification for prohibition, the laws Walters is defending, which allow alcohol while banning many substances that are less commonly used to excess, still would make no sense.

These myths have been familiar themes of prohibitionist propaganda in the United States for at least a century. Walters also employs a slightly newer rhetorical trick, posing a series of supposedly baffling questions about how the currently illegal drugs would be distributed if prohibition were repealed, as if Americans have no experience with legal intoxicant markets. "Management of production and distribution, some envision, could be commercial," he writes. "What could go wrong? Think Afghan warlord with a lobbying arm and a marketing department."

I am currently visiting Denver, where I have met a bunch of very nice people who make a living in Colorado's newly legal marijuana industry. Except for an occasional beard, not one of them resembled an Afghan warlord. Even if the current crop of mom-and-pop operations eventually gives way to much bigger businesses, the appropriate analogy will be Anheuser-Busch, or maybe Walmart, not the Taliban.

Walters is so confused about what is going on in Colorado that he presents it as an alternative to commercial production and distribution. "Perhaps, as with marijuana in Colorado," he says, "the state itself will run the show." The state is "run[ning] the show" in Colorado only in the sense that it is laying down rules for private businesses to follow, just as it does with every other industry. Some of those rules are unreasonably restrictive, if not downright silly, but regulation is not the same as a government-run monopoly.  

Speaking of silly, Walters claims "there is evidence that, in some places, suicide bombers, youth warriors, child sex slaves and even manual laborers are given drugs to keep them captive." What does that have to do with the question of whether the government should use force to prevent free adults from consuming drugs that John Walters does not like?

Tonight on The Independents: Obama Plummets, Cheney Vomits, Geraldo Pontificates, Plus Reds


Whose vitriol will be read by Fox Human Resources Director Bernie Maxsmith on tonight's episode of of The Independents (Fox Business Network, 9 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. PT)? Well, that's the point: You have to tune in to find out.

Party Panel tonight is Wall Street lawyer-turned comedian Paul Mecurio, and Breitbart.com columnist Lisa De Pasquale, who will talk about President Barack Obama's sinking poll numbers, Dick Cheney's stinking op-ed, the Patent Office's trademark ruling against the Redskins, and the growing popularity of the World Cup. Fox News mustache-legend Geraldo Rivera will give his idiosyncratic take on Iraq, Jason Riley will talk about his new book Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make it Harder for Blacks to Succeed, and Nina Teicholz will talk about her new book, The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.

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.