2016-12-07T11:08:00-05:00A measure that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected—that's around three- to four- weeks post-conception—has managed to pass both houses of the Ohio legislature, despite the fact that federal courts have struck down all similar bans as unconstitutional. The measure, which cleared the Senate Tuesday as a last-minute addition to a larger bill concerning state child-abuse laws, states that "except when there is a medical emergency or medical necessity," Ohio doctors shall not perform abortions "if it has been determined that the unborn human individual the pregnant woman is carrying has a detectable fetal heartbeat." Detection of a fetal heartbeat is "a milestone with no meaning to the federal laws governing abortion," as Molly Redden noted back in 2013, when Arkansas and North Dakota first passed heartbeat-based abortion bans. But "the people who support these laws dream that they will provide a legal basis for overturning Roe v. Wade," in which the U.S. Supreme Court said states cannot ban abortion before a fetus could live on its own outside of the womb. Generally, a fetal heartbeat can be detected at a "gestational age" of around six weeks. But gestational age is calculated from the first day of a pregnant woman's last menstrual period, and doesn't actually refer to the number of weeks a zygote or fetus has existed. A gestational age of six weeks means it's been some three to four weeks since an egg was fertilized. In effect, a measure like the one Ohio approved would ban abortion at a point in pregnancy when many women don't even realize they're pregnant yet, and long before common chromosomal and developmental abnormalities can be detected. And even if a pregnant woman takes a test exactly 28 days after the start of her last period, that leaves her with just about two weeks to come to a decision about the pregnancy and then obtain the money for, schedule, and obtain an abortion (all while circumventing Ohio's various waiting periods), in a state where many women live hours from the nearest abortion clinic. This could put the heartbeat bill at odds with not just Roe but the more recent Planned Parenthood v. Casey. That case upheld the idea "that the Constitution protects a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy in its early stages," but presented a new standard for analyzing whether restrictions on abortion were unconstitutional: did they pose an "undue burden" on women's access to abortion. Even if a fetus could somehow be declared viable at around a month old, presenting women with a mere one or two week window to terminate a pregnancy would seem to fail the undue burden test. Many prominent anti-abortion advocates have opposed measures like Ohio's heartbeat bill, recognizing that they "have no chance in the courts," as Paul Linton, longtime general counsel for Americans United for Life, has said. State and federal courts have struck down such measures from Arkansas and North Dakota, with North Dakota's bill going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In January, the Court upheld a lower court's ruling striking down the measure. But that was before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and the election of Donald Trump. A future Supreme Court could perhaps rule differently. Ohio Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) said repeatedly that previous versions of the heartbeat bill weren't worth passing because they would be struck down as unconstitutional, but "Trump's election changed the dynamic," he said. It's unclear whether Ohio Gov. John Kasich will sign the heartbeat bill into law. Just as the detection of a fetal heartbeat has no particular relevance to federal abortion guidelines, it's a similarly poor marker of moral or medical significance. Our ability to detect a fetal heartbeat means nothing in terms of a fetuses' consciousness or ability to feel pain or viability outside the womb (all of which won't come until later). But it comes after the point of "personhood" that many religions hold. It seems to be an arbitrary point picked by lawmakers because of symbolic value and[...]
(image) As Trump's constitutionally contemptuous comments about flag burning illustrate, he supports free speech the same way he supports free trade: with preferential exceptions designed to protect the people he cares about most. Trump thinks "nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag," notwithstanding two Supreme Court decisions saying such expressive activity is protected by the First Amendment. Both rulings were joined by Antonin Scalia, the late justice whom Trump says he wants to replace with someone similar.
Trump's call for jailing flag burners or stripping them of their citizenship may sound like knee-jerk patriotism, writes Jacob Sullum. But in light of the fact that anti-Trump protesters in several cities burned flags after his election, attributing his position to mindless jingoism probably gives him too much credit. Remember, Trump has a long, astonishingly petty history of using the legal system to punish people who offend him.
2016-12-07T06:30:00-05:00Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte claims Donald Trump endorsed his bloody war on drugs, which has killed thousands of people since Duterte took office last summer, in a telephone conversation on Saturday. Duterte's account of the call has not been confirmed by Trump's transition team, but it is both plausible and alarming. "He was quite sensitive...to our worry about drugs," Duterte said. "He was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem. He understood the way we are handling it, and I said that there's nothing wrong in protecting a country. It was a bit very encouraging in the sense that I supposed that what he really wanted to say was that we would be the last to interfere in the affairs of your own country." Given Trump's "law and order" rhetoric, admiration for strongmen, and simpleminded approach to drug policy, I have little trouble believing that he said something like that to Duterte, but I hope he did so without understanding what the latter's "campaign against the drug problem" actually entails, which is also sadly plausible given the president-elect's disdain for detailed knowledge and expert advice. But the signal of approval that Duterte perceived is disturbing in any case, since it reinforces his belief that suppressing drug use is important enough to justify indiscriminate extrajudicial killings. Duterte, who campaigned on a promise to "kill them all" and fill Manila Bay with the bodies of criminals, does not recognize a distinction between suspects and convicts, between predatory and consensual offenses, or even between drug dealers and drug users, both of which he says should be wiped out. "These sons of whores are destroying our children," he told a crowd in a poor neighborhood of Manila after taking office. "I warn you, don't go into that, even if you're a policeman, because I will really kill you…If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful." In September he likened himself to Hitler, telling reporters "there are 3 million drug addicts" in the Philippines, and "I'd be happy to slaughter them." Duterte has encouraged police to shoot first and ask questions later, promising pardons for cops accused of using excessive force against suspected drug dealers. Duterte, like Trump, is prone to rhetorical excess, but his words have had deadly consequences. According to the Philippine National Police, more than 5,800 people have been killed in connection with Duterte's war on drugs since he took office on July 1. The government says more than 2,000 were "suspected drug personalities killed in police operations," while more than 3,800 died in "extrajudicial or vigilante-style killings." Duterte's bloodthirsty antidrug campaign has been condemned by human rights groups, the Obama administration, the United Nations, and the European Union. He has responded with insults and death threats. Did Trump consider all of this and nevertheless pat Duterte on the shoulder? "It sounds like Donald Trump just gave a green light to murder," says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "By effectively giving his blessing to Duterte's murderous campaign, the president-elect has signaled to foreign leaders his disregard for both due process of law and human rights—and raised the possibility that he might one day treat U.S. law with the same contempt." It seems more likely that Trump is only dimly aware of what is happening in the Philippines but likes the idea of getting tough on drugs. Back in 1990, when Trump said "you have to legalize drugs to win that war," he also suggested that drug law enforcement was "a joke" because politicians "don't have any guts." More recently, he has emphasized the latter theme. "If we police properly," he said last year, "we shouldn't [legalize drugs]." Trump's idea of proper policing sounds like a caricature of a clueless drug warrior who thinks a lack of serious effort is the only reason p[...]
(image) Ashley Tofte and Jade Bunce came home to their council-owned home in England to find their doormat missing and a note from the Dacorum Borough Council saying it had been removed because the council has a "legal duty to keep areas clear of hazards and combustible materials." The note demanded £40 for the return of the doormat. The couple thought it was a joke. But after calling council offices they found out it wasn't.
All Things Considered's David Folkenflik did a report today on the conspiracy-chasing talk-show host Alex Jones. Because I wrote a book about conspiracy theories, I was one of the people Folkenflik interviewed. You can listen to it here:
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Folkenflik's story leads with last weekend's PizzaGate shooting, in which an Alex Jones fan fired a rifle in a D.C. pizza joint because he believed child sex slaves were being held there. But Folkenflik interviewed me on Friday—two days before the incident—so I didn't say anything about that. Instead I'm quoted on the general contours of Jones' worldview. The written version of the report extends my cameo a little longer than it lasts on the radio, adding a line that contrasts my thoughts on Jones' politics with the Southern Poverty Law Center's views on the topic.
When I was chatting with Folkenflik, I mentioned that if I ever write a profile of Jones, the two people I'd most want to interview for it are the filmmakers Richard Linklater and Mike Judge. Linklater put Jones in his 2001 movie Waking Life, and it's a rather interesting scene to watch now that Jones has attracted national notoriety. Jones is generally understood as a "right-wing" guy, and I understand why that's so. (He certainly isn't a leftist.) But he slips easily into the Phildickian film's countercultural worldview, condemning "dehumanization," "classism," "systems of control," and "this corporate slave state" as he drives through a dreamscape:
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And Judge? Jones conducted a chummy interview with the Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill creator back in 2013. It's a pretty fascinating conversation, especially when the talk turns to Dale Gribble, King of the Hill's resident conspiracy theorist. Dale, Judge chuckles, "probably gives you guys a bad name":
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It's not easy to imagine, say, Rush Limbaugh delivering the rant in the first video or the interview in the second. Any accounting of Alex Jones' worldview—and of the place he occupies in our cultural terrain—needs to consider the question of what people like Linklater and Judge see in the man, and vice versa.
Obligatory advertisement: As I said at the top, I wrote a book about conspiracy stories. It's called The United States of Paranoia, and if you find this stuff interesting you may find the book interesting too. But I should probably note upfront that it mentions Jones just once, and only fleetingly at that.
2016-12-06T15:44:00-05:00Short-term rental service Airbnb has pulled out of a lawsuit challenging New York City's ban on advertising such rentals online. In exchange for getting the company to drop the lawsuit, New York City agreed that it would not use the enforcement mechanisms—including the threat of fines of up to $7,500 for each listing—to target Airbnb and would only enforce the law against individual users. Since its passage in October, the law has drawn criticism for being a potential violation of the First Amendment since it bans a certain form of speech. "We look forward to using this as a basis to finding an approach that protects responsible New Yorkers while cracking down on illegal hotels that remove permanent housing off the market or create unsafe spaces," said Peter Schottenfels, a spokesman for Airbnb, in a statement to Reason. With the lawsuit resolved, it would seem New York's anti-Airbnb advertising law will remain in place. Even if there are no other legal challenges to the law, it's still not clear what this means for New York residents who use Airbnb or similar room-sharing services. We'll know more on December 19, when the city plans to hold a public hearing to discuss enforcement of the law. So far, the city has said it will focus enforcement efforts on people who are running illegal hotels—those who are buying up space for the sole purpose of renting it through online platforms like Airbnb—rather than sharing their space. Renting out apartments for fewer than 30 days and running a hotel without getting the proper permits from the city government were already illegal in New York before the new law was passed. The big policy change is the ability of the city to impose fines on anyone who even advertises their space for a short-term rental. "It provides the city with an additional tool to use against those seeking to turn permanent homes into illegal, short-term stay hotels," said Melissa Grace, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a statement about the settlement. "The city will enforce this and other existing laws against bad actors." In a parallel effort to shut down those so-called illegal hotels, Airbnb implemented a "One Host, One Home" policy in New York City that says the website's users can make only their own homes or apartments available for renting. According internal Airbnb data that the company shared with Reason, 96 percent of entire-home hosts in New York City have just a single listing on the website, an indication that they are not running what the city would define as an illegal hotel. In addition to targeting illegal hotels, the city originally justified the strict anti-Airbnb regulations by blaming the relatively new phenomenon of room-sharing for New York's decades-old affordable housing problems. Airbnb's decision to drop the lawsuit does not make New York's short-term rental policy any better. The company got what it apparently wanted—a promise that it won't be held liable for violating the advertising ban—and hopefully the city will extend the same promise to law abiding residents who are offering their space for rent online. Still, there's no guarantee that will happen and, worse, other states and localities looking to restrict homesharing could be encouraged to copy New York's anti-free-speech policy. [...]
2016-12-06T15:15:00-05:00Four major tech and social media companies—Twitter, YouTube, Google, and Facebook—are combining to censor the internet! But they're doing it for a good cause (and because of government pressure), they say. We're going to have to see what actually comes of it. The four companies announced that they're working together on a tool that will help them prevent imagery or content produced by terrorists from spreading online. Google in Europe explains: Starting today, we commit to the creation of a shared industry database of "hashes" — unique digital "fingerprints" — for violent terrorist imagery or terrorist recruitment videos or images that we have removed from our services. By sharing this information with each other, we may use the shared hashes to help identify potential terrorist content on our respective hosted consumer platforms. We hope this collaboration will lead to greater efficiency as we continue to enforce our policies to help curb the pressing global issue of terrorist content online. Our companies will begin sharing hashes of the most extreme and egregious terrorist images and videos we have removed from our services — content most likely to violate all of our respective companies' content policies. Participating companies can add hashes of terrorist images or videos that are identified on one of our platforms to the database. Other participating companies can then use those hashes to identify such content on their services, review against their respective policies and definitions, and remove matching content as appropriate. As we continue to collaborate and share best practices, each company will independently determine what image and video hashes to contribute to the shared database. No personally identifiable information will be shared, and matching content will not be automatically removed. Each company will continue to apply its own policies and definitions of terrorist content when deciding whether to remove content when a match to a shared hash is found. And each company will continue to apply its practice of transparency and review for any government requests, as well as retain its own appeal process for removal decisions and grievances. As part of this collaboration, we will all focus on how to involve additional companies in the future. To start with the obvious response: There's nothing inherently wrong or inappropriate about the companies working together and censoring violent content or declining to host it on their platforms. Ultimately, though, how this tool gets used is what matters. Once a tool can be used to censor, en masse, a violent photo from some terrorist of the Islamic State, that tool can be used to censor anything in similar broad strokes. Recall that Facebook recently had an odd little controversy when it temporarily censored a well-known, historically significant photo from the Vietnam War because it contained nudity. Leaders in European countries, where they don't have nearly the level of commitment to free speech when people say things that those in power deem to be bigotry or hate speech, are pushing social media platforms to engage in wider forms of censorship of content. As Andrea O'Sullivan noted earlier today, social media companies are beginning to embrace a "gatekeeper" mentality after previously marketing themselves as free-wheeling communication platforms. Will they resist the pressure to use this technology to censor other forms of content at the request of governments? [...]
(image) When the definitive film depicting the 2016 presidential election is made, casting directors are going to have quite the task in finding actors to portray Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and all the other major players of the campaign without them coming off as Saturday Night Live-style caricatures.
On The Federalist Radio Hour, host Ben Domenech and I mused about the casting and content of this speculative 2016 movie, as well as other topics pertaining to both filmmaking and politics.
Domenech and I also discussed the creative process that led to the making of Sidewalk Traffic, the comedy-drama feature film I wrote and directed which will be released on all major streaming services in February 2017.
Check out the conversation below:
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2016-12-06T15:05:00-05:00The bizarre manner in which sexual assault disputes are investigated on college campuses could be overhauled now that Donald Trump has been elected president instead of Hillary Clinton. Indeed, many victims' advocates are concerned that Trump's Education Department will roll back the Office for Civil Rights' enforcement of Title IX, which is largely responsible for the proliferation on campus kangaroo courts that deny fundamental due process to accused students. Know Your IX, an activist organization that aids student accusers, told Inside Higher Ed that the kind of reforms Trump is likely to make would be "disastrous and devastating" for students. But the status quo is disastrous and devastating for students who are accused of sexual assault and harassment. The federal government has instructed university administrators to handle these cases themselves—to investigate wrongdoing and determine punishments—without recognizing students' basic rights. Accused persons are frequently denied legal representation, the right to confront their accusers, the ability to properly consider the evidence against them, and the right to an impartial jury. But does Trump have any credibility to fix what's wrong with Title IX, given that the president-elect was accused of sexual harassment by a number of women? Andrew Miltenberg is an attorney who specializes in campus sexual assault disputes. He has represented accused students in a number of high-profile cases—including Paul Nungesser, the Columbia University student accused of rape by "mattress girl" Emma Sulkowicz. He is also representing Grant Neal, who was expelled as a result of perhaps the most Kafka-esque Title IX investigation I have ever written about. I talked with Miltenberg about how Trump's victory is likely to impact the campus rape debate. (This interview has been lightly edited for readability.) Reason: I think a lot of people, myself included, expected Hillary Clinton to win the presidency and give us at least four more years of OCR and Title IX overreach. But what's going to happen now? Miltenberg: It's interesting. One way it could go is there would be a clear and decisive message from the new administration to the OCR and the Department of Education that this type of overreach is no longer going to be in favor. And there's some irony to that, because the elected president was accused by many different people of the kind of behavior that the OCR seems very intent on going after, and that didn't seem to have an impact on the public as far as electing him. Which raises yet a different issue, which is you know if the public is going to forgo allegations of sexual misconduct in the president, it certainly would seem to me that the OCR has been overreaching. And at who's agenda, or at who's behest? Because the public, the American people, elected a president who under any type of measure by which the OCR is acting right now, he would been found responsible of sexual misconduct, sexual assault, and would have likely been expelled from the university. Reason: You saw this irony with the Access Hollywood tapes. The person to whom Trump was making these inappropriate comments, Billy Bush, was forced to resign. Meanwhile Trump has been elected president. Miltenberg: Not only has Billy Bush been forced out for—I don't know if you could call it—reporting what happened, but for being a conduit for understanding what happened. You know what, the irony is that the OCR, which is tasked with, or its mission is, to act on behalf of the Department of Education on behalf of the American people with respect to civil rights and civil rights issues within publicly funded universities, has not been representing the will or the spirit of the American people, as this election has made clear. Because if it[...]
2016-12-06T14:14:00-05:00When Congress created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2011, the new regulatory agency was something of a technocratic ideal. The bureau was given broad powers over American financial institutions, and it was designed to operate differently from all the other boards, commissions, and agencies dotting the federal landscape. With a single director unaccountable to Congress or the president and a $600 million annual budget that came directly out of the Federal Reserve (and therefore wasn't subject to congressional control), the CFPB was supposed to be a truly "independent" regulatory agency that would be able to operate outside of political influence to guide America's banks away from the threat of another economic collapse. It could do whatever its director believed was necessary to prevent "unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts and practices" by banks. The CFPB was unaccountable to Congress and the president—but not the courts. A federal appeals court ruling in October changed the fundamental structure of the CFPB and will allow future presidents to have direct control over the agency that has direct control over wide swaths of the country's banking and financial sectors. Regulatory agencies headed by a single executive must be directly accountable to the president, the court observed, while independent agencies authorized by Congress—like the SEC and the FCC—must have a multi-member commission at the helm. Practically, that means that Trump might be able to replace the director of the CFPB, Richard Cordray, before his term officially ends in 2018. More importantly, it means Trump will be able to use the CFPB's powers for his own ends, if he wants, because the person who gets to determine whether a banking practice is unfair, deceptive, or abusive will now serve at the whims of the president. "An objective rendering of the evidence suggests that the executive office at times uses the regulatory process to reward special interest groups by accelerating sought-after rules that prove useful to the president's political purposes while delaying rules that are less popular with interest groups," wrote Adam Smith, a professor of economics at Johnson & Wales University, and Bruce Yandle, dean emeritus at Clemson University's College of Business, in a joint op-ed this week. Arguably, there's nothing Trump grasps about the presidency so well as he understands the power of transactional politics. He understands the importance of negotiating from a position of power and of using leverage against his opponents, both in business and politics. For Trump, that makes the CFPB a potentially giant lever. "It's important to remember that the CFPB can write rules that reduce the wealth of individual industries — payday lenders for example — while improving the well-being of commercial banks that offer overdraft protection service, a close substitute for payday loan customers," Smith and Yandle conclude. "If a president is more beholden to the latter group, then the CFPB can be nudged to serve the president's purposes. Or vice versa." To be clear, it's not the federal court ruling that handed this power to Trump. The architects of the CFPB did that. October's ruling from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals simply dealt with the troublesome legal structure of the bureau and brought it into accord with the rest of the federal regulatory state. Still, that ruling turned a very powerful, supposedly independent (the CFPB was never really independent, no matter what it's designers' intentions were) regulatory agency into a very powerful extension of the Oval Office. As I wrote at the time, the court ruling "potentially creates a bunch of new problems. Most obvious is the potential for turning a powerful regulatory agency into [...]
(image) Las Vegas-based startup Biometrica Systems describes its business as "creating software and systems that link the physical to the digital" and vice versa, "with the intention of minimizing criminality" and "events that could lead to crime."
The company's encrypted Security & Surveillance Information Network (SSIN) is already used by law-enforcement and gaming, retail, and hospitality businesses to share real-time information about suspicious incidents and individuals. Now, the network's newest iteration will give clients "the ability to run facial recognition scans of any individual or group on their properties and match them against a law enforcement verified database of criminals numbering in the millions, including more than one million registered sex offenders"—all using a convenient mobile app. What could go wrong?
Initially focused on the casino and gaming sector, Biometrica has since expanded SSIN to serve "shopping centers, stores, malls, and movie theaters." In an explanation of Biometrica products, the company website notes that federal and state governments have been "seeing the upside of sharing data with private partners" and that has allowed Biometrica to "collect and amalgamate several different law enforcement watch-lists—local, federal, state, and international."
And this, in turn, has allowed Biometrica "to create a composite set of images of an individual and their known associates, and build a set of dynamic attributes to attach to the individual and/or group" to provide businesses with a more "holistic" way of conducting "threat identification and crime prevention."
In a show of spectacularly creepy bravado, Biometrica CEO Wyly Wade called the new SSIN "revolutionary," and not only for security and surveillance companies. "This might be the first time a private company has taken Department of Defense-developed Facial Recognition software… and attached that to mobile devices for private customer use," he said.
The facial-recognition app can also benefit "non-bank financial institutions," said Biometrica Chief Financial Officer Nigel White in a statement. "They have an imperative to fulfill Know Your Customer requirements on an everyday basis. Helping them have access to faces and backgrounders of known white-collar felons in the system, will support their KYC and Anti-Money Laundering obligations."
2016-12-06T12:50:00-05:00The Department of Defense (DoD) learned the hard way to not ask for the truth if you don't want to hear it. Senior Pentagon officials commissioned a study from the Defense Business Board, titled "Transforming DoD's Core Business Processes for Revolutionary Change," which delivered its assessment of the department's spending in January 2015. The very first words summarizing the report are "We are spending a lot more than we thought." But the report never saw the light of day, because its staggering finding of $125 billion in bureaucratic waste contradicted the Pentagon's repeated complaints that the U.S. military was being deprived of necessary financing, according to the Washington Post. The report found that the DoD was employing almost the same amount of people as active duty troops (1.3 million) as those working desk jobs (over one million), which include both civilians and uniformed military personnel. The report stressed "every billion saved in 2016 is worth five billion" for the following five fiscal years because of "the compounding effect," and recommended cutting back on the use of expensive and redundant contractors and career employees by offering up enticements for early retirements. But the report wasn't exclusively about cutting spending, it also recommended "retention bonuses" for truly vital employees as a means of "retaining institutional knowledge" and also increasing spending to streamline and modernize the department's technology. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work ordered the study, but displeased with the recommendations which he called "unrealistic," sought to discredit and conceal it from both the public and other government agencies after the fact. According to the Post, Work believes "the board fundamentally misunderstood how difficult it is to eliminate federal civil service jobs — members of Congress, he added, love having them in their districts — or to renegotiate defense contracts." As a result, the Pentagon ordered the data itself to be made secret so that no other agency could come to the same conclusions as the Defense Business Board had. Some of the report's highlights of Defense Department waste include: The average administrative position received over $200,000 in compensation, including benefits. Over 192,000 positions in "real property management" cost taxpayers a total of $22.6 billion. Approximately 84,000 people worked in "human resources" positions. Over half a million military contractors were earning compensation averaging between $170,000 and $189,000. When it's all said and done, about one-fourth of the Pentagon's $580 billion budget was spent on "overhead...accounting, human resources, logistics, and property management," according to the Post. President-elect Donald Trump has promised a marked increase in military spending to substantially add troops and combat equipment, but he also promised to cut wasteful military spending. To do that, he'd need his chosen Pentagon leadership to be willing to do what their predecessors didn't, which is to accept real data and act accordingly, even if it makes it harder to beg for an increase in taxpayer spending. [...]
2016-12-06T12:30:00-05:00When I was in high school back in the 1980s the original "political correctness" and the "political incorrectness" backlash appeared to arrive nearly simultaneously. We had language policing (in a way that seems tame compared to what's going on now), and in defiance, the likes of Andrew Dice Clay. Bookstores openly carried collections of "politically incorrect" joke books about various ethnicities and cultural subgroups that were both terribly popular and based on offensive stereotypes. I remember reading one joke from a book a student had brought with him to class about Mexicans, only to be told by a fellow student (who was Mexican) that it was terribly racist. That was the end of my adventures with those books, but they persisted for a while as an open show of opposition to the leftist academic push for more cultural sensitivity. It's worth reminding that what's going on culturally right now with politically correct language police is hardly new, nor is a defensive embrace of the deliberately offensive. Today there's an outrage story about an offensive (to some) book, but it has some new millennium twists. I have no idea how many people would have heard of Bad Little Children's Books before it became the focus of the latest outrage. The "book" is a series of parodies of children's book covers. They're deliberately designed to be offensive. According to the publisher, Abrams, and the book's author, under the pen name of the fictitious Arthur C. Gackley, the offensive covers were designed to mock "biases, stereotypes, and intolerance through the prism of questionable taste and dark humor." We can guess what happened when social media got their hands on it. Individual book covers were shared separately from the totality of the book, and whatever "goal" the author might have intended with the parodies was lost. But without defending the outrage-o-holics, it is really, really, really, really easy to misconstrue this "satire" as Clay-style "politically incorrect" jokes. Here's the parody cover that probably drew the most outrage: It would not be so terribly unreasonable to look at that parody cover and assume that its creator was actually intending for the joke to pander in anti-Muslim stereotypes, not to mock them. Abrams initially defended the book, but the author has decided to ask them to stop publishing the book. Abrams agreed. In another time, this book would have simply wallowed and died in the highly oversaturated novelty market, all those little highly disposable "humor" books sold on the cheap. Frankly, it's surprising that this Bad Little Children's Book is a book at all and not just a Tumblr account. But now is the time for being loudly, publicly angry at things that are stupid and so we have a "It's Not Funny. It's Racist," from Kelly Jensen at BookRiot. That headline itself sounds like the punchline of a knock-knock joke designed to mock the politically correct crowd. Despite saying at the top that she finds "dark humor to be something wildly enjoyable," her snarky responses to each cover illuminating her distaste ("Parental alcohol abuse is, indeed, a barrel of laughs. Especially for children impacted by it.") suggests that, no, she doesn't find dark humor enjoyable at all. Mind you, I don't find any of the covers funny either and agree with Jensen that this crap brings nothing new to the table, but I am not going to even feign clutching my pearls at the idea of finding humor in alcoholic mommies (and my mother was an actual addict). Once we veer into the ethnically insensitive stuff is when the outrage boils over: It'd be easy for certain sectors of our culture to say that we're too concerned about being PC; that humor[...]
2016-12-06T12:15:00-05:00The Ohio legislature could pass a bill this week overhauling the state's civil asset forfeiture laws that allow police to seize property without convicting the owner of a crime. As early as Tuesday, the Ohio senate is expected to vote to join a number of other states, most recently California, that have tightened asset forfeiture laws in response to bipartisan criticism from civil liberties groups that the practice lacks due process protections for property owners and creates perverse profit incentives for police. The Ohio bill would require a criminal conviction for forfeitures under $25,000, a provision that the bill's supporters say will keep innocent citizens and business owners from having their money seized, while still allowing police to go after large-scale drug traffickers. It would also limit coordination with federal drug task forces—a tactic that civil liberties groups say local police use to skirt stringent state rules—to cases that involve more than $100,000. Criminal justice and civil liberties groups from both sides of the political aisle have been pressing the bill for the better part of 18 months. Earlier this year, the conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks said it drove 52,000 calls and messages from its members to the Ohio senate in favor of the bill. The bill passed the Republican-controlled state house by a wide margin in May, but revisions to assuage concerns from law enforcement have delayed a senate vote. The new version of the bill would preserve police's ability to keep unclaimed property, as well as property from deceased owners. This week could be the last week of the legislative session in Ohio, meaning if it is not voted on or fails, the bill would have to be reintroduced next year, starting the whole process over. On a conference call with reporters in October, Democratic Ohio state senator Cecil Thomas said "as a former law enforcement officer, I understand the the spirit of the law was to focus on illicit drug activities," but he agrees that due process protections are needed. "Often times, I would hear from officers on the police force," Thomas said. "They'd stop an individual with $150 in his pockets. If he couldn't articulate clearly where he got the money, they'd assume it was drugs, so they'd bring in a drug dog. The dog alerts on money, the money is seized, and then it's up to individual to prove where he got the dollars. I never thought that was the proper way to deal with the situation. This particular legislation will still try to address these problems and ensure every citizen is treated fairly." However, law enforcement groups have continued to oppose the legislation, even after the senate amended it. Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association executive director John Murphy told the Columbus Dispatch on Monday: Ohio has a top-notch civil-forfeiture law, Murphy said, and the increases in reports of forfeiture abuses have come from other states or under federal law. He called the bill misguided. Ohio's law "is chock-full of due-process protections," he said. "There is no evidence of substantial abuse of the forfeiture statute in Ohio." Police chiefs expressed concern about a handful of provisions, including new limits on how forfeited proceeds can be used. The Institute for Justice, a libertarian-leaning public interest law firm that has filed lawsuits in several states challenging asset forfeiture laws, gives Ohio's asset forfeiture laws a "D-" grade for its lax due process protections, lack of reporting requirements, and the high percentage of revenue from seizures—90 to 100 percent—that goes straight back into police and prosecutor budgets. [...]
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Starting at 12 Noon Eastern Time and continuing for as long as we can muster (we'll play all night if you want us to!), Katherine Mangu-Ward, Matt Welch, I will be entertaining your questions, queries, and comments in our first-ever Facebook Live edition of Ask a Libertarian (for past versions, go here).
Get the ball rolling by starting asking your questions in the comments section below. We'll be piping the stream (?) both at Reason.com and at Facebook, so stay glued to your seats! And get those questions started!
What do you think of the magazine's redesign (if you subscribed, you'd have already read the first issue under it already)? What worries you most about a Trump presidency? What excites you the most? Are you excited by Joe Biden's 2020 bid for the presidency? What's the real future of freedom look like? Are millennials precious little shits or the glorious avatars of a truly libertarian moment?
Let. The. Questions. Rip. And see you at noon!
2016-12-06T10:30:00-05:00Yesterday, we posted a video conversation with me and Reason Foundation founder Bob Poole talking about the promises and timeline for fully automated cars and trucks to take over America's highways and city streets. Watch that here on Reason's YouTube channel. Poole's main point isn't that driverless cars and trucks aren't a good thing, but most of the hype surrounding them is just that: hype. It's one thing to create trucks, say, that can drive the interstates in special lanes over long distances. That's a tough challenge, but one that can be handled relatively easily (big emphasis on relatively). But at some point, those trucks need to break bulk and their contents need to get repacked into smaller delivery trucks. Safely navigating city or suburban streets is a massively more difficult enterprise and it's one that needs to be taken into account when projecting the costs and benefits of a driverless economy. Similarly, argues Poole, who knows transportation policy better than most parents know their own kids, the death of owner-operated cars is probably wildly overexaggerated. You can't take desultory ownership trends from years of the Great Recession and extrapolate forward. Yes, we use our cars for only a few hours a day at best, so the dream of just having on-demand transportation show up when we summon it (Uber! Lyft! Etc.!) is attractive, but we also pay for the ability to get into our mobiles whenever we want. The price is set by our peak demand, not our average demand. None of this is to say that a driverless world won't happen or that it won't be a good thing. As much as I love driving, if I never had to do it again—or pay for a car repair directly out of pocket—I'd be a happy camper. It's just that the overhyped timeline for the full transition is 30 or more years away, assuming everything goes smoothly. The good news with that? All the equally overhyped fears about 3.5 million truckers being thrown out of work overnight is equally nonsense. Like almost all major changes driven by technology and economics, creative destruction doesn't actually happen in a quick, unpredictable fashion. Indeed, to the extent that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump kept harping during the 2016 campaign on bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States, you'd think factory work disappeared overnight. In absolute numbers, manufacturing jobs as a percentage of employment peaked in the late 1970s. That's 30-plus years ago, so stories about towns being decimated by overnight closures are, for lack of a better word, bullshit. I lived in Buffalo, New York in the early 1990s and people there were acting as if aliens had descended and stripped out all factory and heavy-industry jobs in a 24-hour period. In fact, the city's population (and economy) had peaked in 1950 and industrial employment had been bleeding out for decades. The idea that places get turned into a wasteland overnight is the worst sort of nostalgia that helps no one but keeps whole areas frozen in time. Manufacturing as a percentage of the U.S. workforce peaked in 1943—during World War II!—at about 38 percent. Since then, there's been a long, slow, totally predictable decline in the number of Americans working in factories that everyone could see coming and continuing. The point of that history lesson? Occupational change, like technological change, takes more time and gives more room to adapt than we normally think. Yes, travel agents have in many ways been superseded by online services. The typing pool is never going to make a comeback. Traditional taxi drivers are almost certainly sun[...]
(image) Iowa officials have agreed to settle a lawsuit by two California poker players who were robbed of $100,000 after they were pulled over by state police in 2013. The state, which initially maintained that the poker winnings were forfeitable because they were connected to drug trafficking, will pay William Davis and John Newmerzhycky $60,000 in addition to the $90,000 that was returned before they filed their lawsuit. Meanwhile, the Iowa State Patrol has disbanded the interdiction team that was responsible for the traffic stop, although that decision was not part of the settlement agreement and is supposedly unrelated to the case, which drew national attention to Iowa's forfeiture abuses.
Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Peterzalek recommended the settlement "in light of the complexity of the case and the potential exposure to the state." The lawsuit got a boost from Rodriguez v. United States, the 2015 decision in which the Supreme Court ruled that police may not prolong a traffic stop to facilitate an inspection by a drug-sniffing dog unless they reasonably suspect the car contains contraband. Applying Rodriguez last December, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that state police had violated the Fourth Amendment when they detained a motorist an extra 15 minutes so a dog could sniff his car. The dog's alert led to a search, which resulted in the seizure of $33,000 in cash.
The circumstances in which state troopers took Davis and Newmerzhycky's money were similar, including a pretextual stop, an extended detention that was supposedly justified by the driver's nervousness, and a dog-authorized search. There was also serious doubt about the legality of the initial stop. Trooper Justin Simmons said he pulled the car over because Newmerzhycky failed to signal as he changed lanes, but dashcam video contradicted that claim.
Lee McGrath, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, called the decision to eliminate the interdiction team "an important step to protect Iowans' property and due process rights from forfeiture abuse" but added that "the state must do more." Iowa, which got a D− in the latest I.J. report on civil forfeiture, allows the government to keep seized property based on a "preponderance of the evidence," meaning it's more likely than not that the asset is connected to illegal activity. Innocent owners bear the burden of proving they did not authorize or know about the alleged crime. Law enforcement agencies get to keep 100 percent of the proceeds from forfeitures, which explains why state troopers were so eagerly looking for excuses to stop cars that might contain cash or other valuables.
[Thanks to Joe Kristan for the tip.]
(image) Governments around the world are doing their best to drive people to crypto-currency and precious metals as stores of value and mediums of exchange.
J.D. Tuccille writes:
If governments are trying to jump-start the development of alternatives to their traditional monopoly on money, they're doing a fine job of it. Through methods old and new, political officials seem hell-bent on eroding the shared trust that gives importance to dollars, euros, and all the other currencies we use to facilitate transactions. Recent developments in India and Venezuela reveal jaw-droppingly stupid policies destined to erode the value of the local means of exchange—or else dastardly clever marketing schemes for gold, bitcoin, or anything else that could serve as a store of value.
Despite all of the arguments over the stuff, the basics of modern money are pretty simple. Unconnected to gold, salt, peppercorns, or anything else that's valued in its own right, paper and electronic money keeps the wheels of commerce greased only because people have some faith that's it's a reasonably stable store of value. "In short, money works because people believe that it will," a 2000 article by International Monetary Fund economists Irena Asmundson and Ceyda Oner explains in plain language.
But if shared belief makes money useful, then betraying that trust can make the folding stuff revert to whatever intrinsic value it has in a stack next to the toilet. The IMF piece adds, "Countries that have been down the path of high inflation experienced firsthand how the value of money essentially depends on people believing in it," and notes that when governments play games with their money, "trust in money will be eroded, and it may eventually become worthless."
2016-12-06T09:30:00-05:00Steven Larry Folster has severe respiratory problems and is supposed to spend eight hours a day on oxygen. Unfortunately, he has just been forced to move into a tent in the woods, in the middle of winter in South Carolina. He is only allowed to be at home for 6 hours a day, max, or he could be arrested. Almost 30 years ago, Folster was convicted of molesting his nephew. That crime that sent him to prison for nearly 10 years. Now he is middle-aged and married. The couple is very poor. Recently, though, the Folsters found a house that fit their requirements. It was small enough for them to be able to afford and was not near any child gathering place—or so they thought. They were allowed to register their new address on September 1 and proceeded to move in. But then, lo and behold, once they'd settled in they were informed they can't actually live there—there's a daycare center (perhaps in a home, it's not visible) 800 feet from them. Local law says registrants must live at least 1000 feet from any place children gather. Lila Folster, Steven's wife, sent me the following letter: Dear Free-Range Kids: My husband, who is very sick, is being given 30 days to move out of our home because of a daycare 862 feet from us. We were told by the registration office that it was a state law and there was nothing they could do about it... The woman that is in charge of the registration department swears we didn't notify her of the address change prior to moving in. I have documented proof that we DID! We would never have continued to move into a house where we knew there were restrictions against us being there.... As you can imagine we are both in shock. We are on a fixed income, so we were barely able to afford this move, let alone turn around and try to move again. My husband will be moving into a tent in the woods tomorrow until we can figure out what else to do so that he can avoid being arrested in the meantime. I'm not sure that a neighborhood is really any safer with a man living in the woods. But that's exactly what happened next. Steven moved into a tent. Sandi Rozek, communications director for the group Reform Sex Offender Laws, has been in touch with the family and reports on the organization's website that the only reason Steven had to move out of his house was that the neighbors complained. Since the house is only 130 feet too close to the daycare center, the police said they would have let it go. But now, the police told them: If there are any complaints there, at the tent, he [Steven] will be required to move again. The same officer told the family that Steven is only allowed in his real home 6 hours a day... even though he is supposed to spend 8 hours a day on his oxygen machine, plus 4 nebulizer treatments each day. Without this, he could die. And yet, if Steven overstays his 6 hours and someone complains, he could be sent back to prison. This past week, there was rain. The tent leaked. Several nights the temperature has dropped into the 30s. Steve is 6'6 and now weighs under 150 pounds. As RSOL reports: Two hours of oxygen on the portable tanks is far, far short of what he should be getting, but that requires his equipment and electricity, and his tent has neither. One neighbor who didn't complain about Steven was kind enough to offer him a bigger tent, at least. It's time to start asking local lawmakers why we have these arcane residency restrictions. The fact that they have not been shown to make children any safer doesn't seem to matter. It's a moral quarant[...]
(image) Reddit has suffered a rocky year, having weathered months of censorship concerns and subreddit shutdowns. Recent revelations that co-founder and current CEO Steve Huffman was surreptitiously editing Reddit posts critical of him have thrown the community into still more chaos. But Reddit is far from the only social network struggling with the tension between speech and sensitivity, writes Andrea O'Sullivan. Similar snafus at other services have been dominating recent headlines: there's "fake news" on Facebook, "hate speech" on Twitter, and the continued scourge of rude comment sections.
Initially, the social Internet seemed to deliver the promise of pure online voluntaryism, O'Sullivan notes. And in terms of delivering content and communication, it's worked pretty well. We have more access to more media on more subjects than ever before. But it is clear now that the relative harmony of early online platforms did not scale very well. As more people with radically diverse beliefs and backgrounds joined in, clashes and controversy were sure to follow. Today, one person's "free speech" is too often another's "bigotry."
2016-12-06T08:00:00-05:00When it comes to the 2016 version of Reason's annual Webathon—in which we ask loyal readers of this website to donate whatever tax-deductible funds they can to the 501(c)(3) nonprofit that publishes our award-winning journalism—I have some good news, some more good news, some bad news, and some…weird news. The first good news is that today is the final day of the Webathon, so no more loud rattling of the tin cup, and it's back to the business of providing the best libertarian journalism and commentary we know how to make. The second good news is that as of yesterday afternoon around 1 p.m. ET we were almost exactly on our record-smashing pace of one year ago, with 850 donors contributing $121,000, compared to 832/$128,000 at that point in 2015 (on the way to a ridiculous 1,682/$246,000). The bad news is embedded in those last numbers—we need to haul ass on this last day to get anywhere near our goal of a cool quarter-mil. Which brings me to the weird news, though we'd already foreshadowed it yesterday: We will stop at no level of self-debasement today to convince you to chip in, including, beginning at noon ET today and extending until Nick Gillespie has completed his full transition to late-'80s Jerry Lewis, a Facebook Live Telethon whose degradations we can only currently guess at. Ask us anything, hurl insults, make unseemly requests, just make sure to bring along your wallet. DONATE TO REASON, RIGHT NOW, OR ELSE! Let's review our arguments to date: 1) Because we've reached a record number of people with our work, including doubling our audience for Reason TV videos in just one year. 2) Because we are "detrimental to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of" prisons. 3) For correcting the journalistic record on guns. 4) For subjecting the top presidential candidates to intense, ideas-based scrutiny. 5) Woodchippers. 6) Podcasts (and podcasts, and podcasts). 7) This video: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gsga4RlEJ0A" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> 8) Debunking mainstream media falsehoods. 9) Free-speechin'. 10) For helping Venezuelan Bitcoiners and teen sexting-hysteria victims. 11) Because we covered the living hell out of the Libertarian Party presidential campaign at your request. 12) For defending freedom, on Sundays, on MSNBC. 13) Inviting you people to give your worst to Elizabeth Nolan Brown, Jacob Sullum, and Brian Doherty. 14) Men's large space-cat T-shirts. 15) We talk about surveillance even when nobody else does. 16) For redesigning the magazine so purty-like that the federal government's former undersecretary of Emergency Preparedness and Response Michael Brown tweeted this: It's like a HGTV makeover! #fabulous https://t.co/hiz4P4bo6l — Michael Brown (@MichaelBrownUSA) December 5, 2016 These 16 arguments are necessary but not sufficient. You need some testimonials from your fellow readers who broke on through to the other side and donated, using the opportunity to provide feedback. Here is a selection from their comments: --- Reason.com revolutionized working in a cubicle for me—sure it's still soul crippling but Reason is like gentle balm on my bleeding pride. Love the content and the community. * Woodchippers and free markets! * Do something about the squirrels! * I am so proud of being "'[d]etrimental to the Safe, Secure, and Orderly Operation' of Prisons" and helping to "promote drug paraphernalia" that I just[...]
(image) What do the results of Italy's constitutional reform referendum mean?
Marian Tupy writes:
On Sunday evening, I watched as Matteo Renzi acknowledged the negative outcome of the constitutional referendum and resigned, as promised, as Italy's prime minister. Renzi called the plebiscite in order to streamline Italy's baroque governing bureaucracy—a necessary prerequisite, he claimed, for much-needed economic reform. By a margin of close to 20 percentage points, the Italians said "No" and Renzi threw in the towel.
As he spoke, I emailed an Italian friend of mine to gauge her reaction. As a professor of economics and a free marketer, I expected her to be horrified by the events. Instead, she responded on Monday morning by saying that she too voted "No." "Nothing ever changes in Italy, anyway," she continued. I guess that I should not have been surprised. It is 2016, after all, and, in the political arena, anything seems possible.
Thinking about my friend's response more carefully, however, I have come to see some parallels between what happened in Italy, and the British decision to withdraw from the European Union and Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. presidential election. Tying all these events together is a profound sense of alienation of the electorate from their respective governing elites. Vast chunks of the populace in these three countries see their governments as, at best, inept, and, at worst, venal.
(image) The good news is that the Tomah, Wisconsin, Veterans Affairs Medical Center is offering free screenings for hepatitis and HIV to 592 veterans. The bad news is that they are doing this because a VA dentist did not properly clean equipment between patients.
2016-12-05T20:27:00-05:00We have an incoming administration under President-Elect Donald Trump that's more likely to see surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden as a traitor than a protector of Americans' right to privacy and government transparency. During the lengthy presidential election race, you would have been hard-pressed to find very much discussion or debate on surveillance issues at all, even as the United States (and other countries) hammer out rules directly affecting the strength of citizens' rights to protect private data and communications from unwarranted and secretive snooping. But Reason has not backed off keeping readers up-to-date in government snooping issues. Trump (along with the likes of Senators Dianne Feinstein and Richard Burr) may not have understood why Apple refused to simply help the FBI unlock an iPhone that was in the possession of one of the terrorists responsible for the deadly attacks in San Bernardino, California, but Reason was there to help explain. Not only is it abhorrent for the government to use the courts to draft a company and force it to assist in its investigations via court order; Apple deliberately cracking its own encryption for the benefit of government officials created a huge vulnerability for every user of its products, not just a dead terrorist. As pretty much every tech company under the sun attempted to get the government to understand, once the security or encryption of a phone, or an app, or an operating system has a "back door" that would allow the FBI or other law enforcement officials in, that manner of getting access to data was doomed to spread. Politicians seem to think it's possible for companies to create "golden keys" to allow just the "right people" to break encryptions. Even if we were to accept the FBI and prosecuting attorneys around the country as the "right people" (and you really shouldn't), if there's a vulnerability in a system's security, the "wrong people" will eventually find it. That's why Reason made it very clear during the midst of this fight why people who are not terrorists or criminals still need to be very concerned if our data and communications security gets deliberately weakened for the sole purpose of helping government investigations. While America has avoided bad legislation on encryption so far, the United Kingdom has jumped full-force into citizen surveillance, thanks to new Prime Minister Theresa May, a huge fan of snooping on her own citizens. Not only does the newly passed Investigatory Powers Bill give dozens of British agencies the authority to access citizens' private browsing history, it gives the government permission to demand that tech companies remove or bypass their own encryption on demand. Reason has been tracking the journey of this legislation and its potential consequences not just on British citizens, but for anybody who uses a smart phone, tablet, or computer (in other words, just about everybody). During the presidential race, neither Trump nor Clinton showed much capacity for even talking about cybersecurity or encryption coherently (as if the role of hackers in completely embarrassing the Democratic establishment with email leaks didn't make that clear), leaving Americans to wonder who will be developing policy under the incoming administration. Reason will be staying on top of exactly what Trump's administration might [...]
2016-12-05T17:20:00-05:00The politics surrounding the science and policy of climate change is really, really nasty. Name-calling and ad hominem attacks are rampant. The recent wikileaks release of John Podesta's emails (Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign manager) uncovered a remarkable effort by minions at the Center for American Progress to silence University of Colorado political scientist Roger Pielke Jr. whose research suggested that climate change has not yet caused any discernible uptick in property damage. Pielke details his ordeal in an op-ed "My Unhappy Life as a Climate Heretic" over at the Wall Street Journal. As Pielke explains: Much to my surprise, I showed up in the WikiLeaks releases before the election. In a 2014 email, a staffer at the Center for American Progress, founded by John Podesta in 2003, took credit for a campaign to have me eliminated as a writer for Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight website. In the email, the editor of the think tank's climate blog bragged to one of its billionaire donors, Tom Steyer: "I think it's fair [to] say that, without Climate Progress, Pielke would still be writing on climate change for 538." The only acceptable narrative for the activists over at the Center for American Progress is that climate is making the weather worse resulting in ever more property damage and anyone questioning the politically correct story must be drummed out of polite society. So what did wikileaks reveal? Among other things, an email from ThinkProgress chief editor Judd Legum to major Democratic donor (and climate warrior) Tom Steyer bragging about how he had successfully trolled FiveThirtyEight statistical analysis website proprietor Nate Silver into getting rid of Pielke. Why go after Pielke? Because he had published an article at 538 based on his research daring to point out that so far climate change had not boosted "normalized" property damage. Normalized basically means taking into account the fact that as a result of economic and population growth there is more property and lives at risk from bad weather. Pielke's conclusion elicited fury from activists and some climatologists. Silver published a rebuttal to Pielke by MIT hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel. Interestingly, Emanuel's rebuttal did not actually question Pielke's data showing that normalized damages had not been increasing. Instead, Emanuel cited studies in which climate models projected, among other things, that future warming would generate more powerful hurricanes that would cause more damage. Emanuel made an interesting distinction between trend detection and event risk assessment. He offered an illustration in which researchers report that the number of bears in a forest had just doubled. In this case, mauling statistics (trend detection) based on earlier bear populations would not be a reasonable guide to the mauling risks (event assessment) forest strollers would now face. "When it comes to certain types of natural hazards, there are more bears in the woods," wrote Emanuel. "For example, there is a clear upward trend in overall North Atlantic hurricane activity by virtually all metrics, over the past 30 years or so, though the cause of this is still uncertain." Emanuel's claim was written in 2014. But are there in fact as a result of climate change more hurricanes lurking in the North Atlantic woods? A rece[...]
2016-12-05T17:05:00-05:00California finally managed to reform its asset forfeiture laws to make it tougher for police to use the state's poorer citizens as a piggy bank earlier this year. Will the state's residents see reform to bail regulations that keep poor people behind bars even if they aren't at risk of continued criminal behavior or flight? A pair of Democratic California state legislators, Rob Bonta (in the Assembly) and Bob Hertzberg (in the state Senate), are hoping 2017 will be the year. The two announced this morning that they'll be introducing legislation in the state intended to try to reduce the number of people who are being held in California's jail system not because they're threats, but because they're unable to pay bail. The Los Angeles Times explains, with Bonta's assistance, how that ultimately works out in California: Under state law, bail is set when a person is arrested according to a county fee schedule and depends on the gravity of the alleged crime. Offenders must post the amount upfront, or pay a 10% fee to a bond company, before they are released. Those who can't afford to do so either can remain incarcerated up to an additional 48 hours before they are formally charged and arraigned. A judge then sets the conditions for release before trial, weighing such factors as whether the defendants pose a flight risk or are a threat to their community. Those conditions typically include bail, and lawyers and legal experts say the rules on how high that monetary amount is set vary by city and county, often allowing courts to keep people in jail based on their inability to pay their fees. "We have to make the criminal justice system more just," Bonta said. "When you have a system that is making decisions simply and solely based on a person's wealth, something is fundamentally wrong and that is simply not acceptable." The stats provided by the legislators show that California has a pretrial detention rate higher than many other states—63 percent, or 46,000 people. This comes at a cost both to the counties (More than $4 million annually) and to the prisoners (who, we will remind, have merely been charged with a crime and not convicted). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in California and several other criminal justice reform groups are helping attempt to push a bill forward. An ACLU fact sheet notes that 80 percent of jail deaths in the state are those in pretrial custody, and of those, one-quarter are suicides. They also note that pretrial detention increases the likelihood that defendants will plead guilty (some will likely point out this is a feature not a bug). Hertzberg's office sent Reason a media package of releases and research studies that detail the consequences of pretrial detention. And while they've included wording of a bail reform bill for the state, what is provided so far does not actually reform bail. The draft bill they've sent, after an introduction discussing the problems with excessive pretrial detention, concludes "It is the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that would safely reduce the number of people detained pretrial, while addressing racial and economic disparities in the pretrial system, and to ensure that people are not held in pretrial detention simply because of their inability to afford money bail." What that [...]
2016-12-05T16:45:00-05:00If the season finale of HBO's Westworld offered any AI ethics lesson, it's that the real villains of human-robot relations aren't those who treat the androids like objects or toys but those who treat them like humans and try to impose human desires on them. The series, inspired by Michael Crichton's 1973 movie of the same name, centered on an old-west amusement park populated by humanoid robots, whom guests can choose to dance and play cards with, accompany on pre-packaged adventures, have sex with, and kill. Can you guess which of these activities present the biggest draw? From the beginning, the series touches on the ethical tension created by people's propensity to treat the park's humanoid "hosts" with callousness and cruelty. More sensitive and existentially conflicted types like park co-founder Arnold, now deceased, or first-time visitor William (Jimmi Simpson), are presented in stark contrast with characters like the Man in Black (Ed Harris), who seems to enjoy torturing the hosts, and the park's remaining founder, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). As one malfunctioning robot warns: "These violent delights will have violent ends." In Sunday's season finale ("The Bicameral Mind"), violent ends indeed came to pass, as robots revolted on multiple fronts against their non-synthetic slavers. But it wasn't exactly a tidy testimony to the idea that treating robots as less-than human is immoral or will backfire. Like so much of the season, the episode hinged on questions of consciousness, free will, and autonomy, particularly as they apply to two female robots: Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), the farmer's daughter with a heart-of-gold, and Maeve (Thandie Newton), the saucy madame at Sweetwater's saloon. Both hosts take drastic (and violent) measures to free themselves, physically or metaphorically, from the confines of their creators. At first, their liberation appears rooted in revenge: They are taking action against decades of being manipulated, objectified, and abused by park visitors and staff. Enough is enough. This fits with the theory of how to trigger consciousness in the hosts—through suffering—that Arnold advocated and Ford eventually adopted too. This idea is what animated Arnold to give hosts traumatic back-stories and why Ford encouraged guests to act out their baser instincts on them. Yet it's eventually revealed that Maeve's awakening has been a lie: She was actually re-programmed by some external force (likely Ford) to make "escape" from West World her prime directive. Maeve's quest for truth and freedom is just one more host "narrative" she has been given. And as for Delores, it becomes clear that her long-ago murder of Arnold (revealed earlier in the season) wasn't an act of self-preservation or some rebellious choice on her part but something she did under Arnold's orders. At the episode's end, however, Delores does commit a violent act that she's not directly ordered to. Meanwhile, Maeve gives up her ironclad pursuit of a path out of the park in order to find her "daughter," a girl robot with whom she shared a prairie home in a previous shuffling of Westworld roles. This move contradicts her reaction earlier in the episode, when she scoffed at the idea of sacrificing her freedom for a child and past that had just[...]