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Updated: 2017-04-24T00:00:00-04:00

 



Brickbat: Public Servants

2017-04-24T04:00:00-04:00

(image) Two Austin, Texas, police officers have been suspended for 20 and 10 days each for attempting to block an activist from video recording a traffic stop.




The Un-Free Speech Movement at Berkeley

2017-04-24T00:01:00-04:00

There are few prospects in life more appealing than the silence of Ann Coulter. She brings to mind what novelist Mary McCarthy said about playwright and Stalinist Lillian Hellman: "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'" If the world never suffered another emission from Coulter's toxic brain, it would be a better place. But she said she would speak at the University of California, Berkeley even though the school administration had canceled the speech she was scheduled to give April 27 at the invitation of two student groups. Faced with that challenge, the university changed its mind, sort of, proposing to let her appear May 2. All I can say is something I never thought I would: It will be a great thing for Ann Coulter to speak. UC Berkeley is an exceptional institution whose history includes the 1964-65 protests that gained fame as the Free Speech Movement. Long known as a hotbed of left-wing activism, it has lately gained attention as a place where right-wingers venture at their peril. In February, the administration abruptly called off a talk by then-Breitbart News troll Milo Yiannopoulos after protesters threw stones and firebombs and smashed windows. In all, they caused $100,000 in property damage and several injuries. The destruction came not from students intolerant of unwanted opinions, according to the university, but from masked self-styled anarchists bent on wreaking havoc. After Yiannopoulos was invited, the administration had issued a ringing statement condemning his views while defending his right to speak. It affirmed the university's commitment to "the principle of tolerance, even when it means we tolerate that which may appear to us as intolerant." The event was canceled only after it became clear that the unexpected violence might prove "lethal," as campus police said. Assistant Vice Chancellor Dan Mogulof offered a plausible excuse: "We have never seen this on the Berkeley campus. This was an unprecedented invasion." Whatever turmoil might attend Coulter's appearance, though, would not be unprecedented, and it would not be impossible to contain. With so much advance notice, the university should be able to mobilize an abundance of police resources to prevent and, if need be, suppress another riot. By deciding to deny her a venue until a time it deems suitable—September was its preference—the administration gave the strong impression that its devotion to intellectual liberty is negotiable. Its partial reversal Thursday may have been a way of avoiding the embarrassment of having Coulter show up in defiant glory. Or it may have stemmed from the greater embarrassment of letting feral troublemakers shut down any event they choose. But Coulter, noting that students will be on break May 2, has vowed to come April 27. At other public institutions, the record of tolerance is mixed. When white nationalist Richard Spencer was invited to Texas A&M, the school defended his right to free speech and deployed riot police to handle any violence—while sponsoring a well-attended counter-event. Conservative writer Heather Mac Donald's talk at UCLA went off as planned but provoked angry yelling from some in the audience, ending with her being escorted out by cops. When Spencer was invited to Auburn, the university said no—only to be overruled by a federal court. Auburn's excuse was the same one offered by UC Berkeley: It couldn't permit an event that might jeopardize safety. That policy defers to what lawyers call the "heckler's veto"—which gives those inclined to violence the privilege of silencing any speech that might upset them. State universities, being organs of government, are bound by the First Amendment. That may be why some of the worst episodes, including the one at Middlebury College when conservative writer Charles Murray was shouted down and physically attacked, have occurred at private institutions, which may ban speech they don't like. But the spirit of free inquiry ought to be upheld at any college or university worthy of the name. For an[...]



Forget Marine Le Pen: The Very Idea of Europe Is Finished [Reason Podcast]

2017-04-23T15:40:00-04:00

"We've known that when there isn't American leadership in Europe things go to hell pretty quickly and we get sucked into horrible wars whether or not we originally wanted to or not," says journalist James Kirchick, author of The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age, could hardly be more relevant. In the wake of Brexit, renewed nativism across the continent, and Putin's Russia grumbling to the East, Kirchick's thesis may well be tested in the coming years. In a wide-ranging and at-times combative conversation with Nick Gillespie, the 33-year-old Kirchick talks about why he Enlightenment values of liberalism, free enterprise, and pluralism have come under attack in the very part of the world that created them and why it's in the United States' best interest to help maintain a politically stable and economically productive European Union. He also discusses how he came to write his bombshell 2008 New Republic story bringing to light former Rep. Ron Paul's controversial and racially charged newsletters, the changing meaning of Jewish identity in post-war America, and how the failure of the Iraq War affected his views on foreign policy. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/319124230&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Jamie, thanks for talking. James Kirchick: Thanks for having me. Nick Gillespie: You write that we're on the cusp of witnessing the end of Europe as we have known it for the past seven decades, a place of peace, prosperity, stability, cooperation, democracy, and social harmony. Give a sense of what's happening in Europe and why. James Kirchick: Yeah. 1989 was this momentous year, and you can say there are maybe three narratives that came out of that. One was perpetual peace in terms of security. WE had the triumph of democracy. There was regulated capitalism and potential and ongoing economic growth. We'd assume that these three ideals had really taken ahold in Europe. I think on all three, you see that they're being seriously challenged. On the first front from security, we see Russia is coming back as a aggressive force. On the question of democracy, we have the rise of illiberal populism, or illiberal democracy, as the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, calls it. Then, on the economic question, we've had hardly any growth in the Euro-zone countries since the financial crisis of 2008. I think these three ideals that we all believed had triumphed are now being seriously challenged across the continent. Nick Gillespie: Yeah, and it's worth thinking about between '89 and '91, where the Berlin Wall was pulled down, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. It's pretty staggering to think that Europe, which had been at ... The countries in Europe had been at each other's throats for centuries. From 1945 on, there was a Cold War, and then a real thaw. You've written that the European Union is threatened by almost ten years of zero economic growth, a resurgent Russia, rising Islamic extremism, and the greatest mass movement of humanity since the late 40s. Are these issues intertwined? If so, how? James Kirchick: I think so in the sense that Europe needs to think of itself more as a geo-strategic power. This is why I'm going to talk about European integration. I'm less concerned about these sort of internal questions about how much power we give to Brussels about regulating certain business markets or what not, and the powers of the European parliament versus the commission. I see Europe is in a precariously geographic position where it's posit[...]



As Bill de Blasio Raises Cigarette Prices Again, Remember Eric Garner's Haunting Last Words

2017-04-23T10:16:00-04:00

(image) New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio hopes to use the power of government legislation and taxation to raise the floor price of a pack of cigarettes in the city from $10.50 to $13. This would make NYC the most expensive place to buy cigarettes in the country—a milestone de Blasio is apparently proud of.

"How supremely addictive this chemical is and what it does to people—we have to treat it aggressively," de Blasio said at a conference.

Of course, making cigarettes more expensive does not aggressively treat anyone's addiction—it just makes the addiction costlier to sustain. As Scott Shackford explained, such efforts drive the cigarette market underground: NYC, unsurprisingly, has the most lucrative cigarette black market in the country.

There are other costs associated with outlawing something that many people want and need. Eric Garner died at the hands of police officers who were harassing him for illegally selling loose cigarettes.

In fact, before anyone cheers the mayor's attempts to outlaw vice, they should read Garner's last words juxtaposed with de Blasio's declaration, via this haunting Facebook post.

src="https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fadam.bates.9216%2Fposts%2F10103090522734567&width=500" width="500" height="565" frameborder="0">

Hat tip: Adam Bates / Facebook




The Only Solution to the Trumps’ Conflicts of Interest: New at Reason

2017-04-23T08:30:00-04:00

(image) Ivanka Trump is a federal worker, albeit at a salary of zero. But it would make no difference if she had no job in the White House because she would still be the president's daughter and that's not going to change. Any foreign leader—or anyone else, for that matter—who wants to curry favor with President Trump can easily calculate that doing something nice for his daughter at least can't hurt. After all, she doesn't have to be a Special Adviser to the President to be a special adviser to her father, the president.

So how can conflicts of interest be avoided? The surest way to eliminate the potential for conflicts is to eliminate the president's power to steer benefits to anyone, argues Sheldon Richman.

View this article.




An Epidemic of Bad Epidemiology

2017-04-23T06:00:00-04:00

Getting Risk Right: Understanding the Science of Elusive Health Risks, by Geoffrey C. Kabat, Columbia University Press, 248 pages, $35 Eating bacon and ham four times a week could make asthma symptoms worse. Drinking hot coffee and tea may cause cancer of the esophagus. South Africa's minister of health warns that doggy-style sex is a major cause of stroke and cancer in men. And those claims come from the health headlines of just one December week. The media inundate us daily with studies that seem to show that modern life is increasingly risky. Most of those stories must be false, given that life expectancy for American men and women, respectively, has risen from 71.8 and 78.8 years in 1990 to 76.3 and 81.1 years now. Apparently, we are suffering through an epidemic of bad epidemiology. When it comes to separating the wheat of good public health research from the chaff of studies that are mediocre or just plain bad, Albert Einstein College of Medicine epidemiologist Geoffrey Kabat is a national treasure. "Most research findings are false or exaggerated, and the more dramatic the result, the less likely it is to be true," he declares in his excellent new book Getting Risk Right. Kabat's earlier book, 2008's Hyping Health Risks (Columbia University Press), thoroughly dismantled the prevalent medical myths that man-made chemicals, electromagnetic fields, radon, and passive smoking were significant causes of such illnesses as cancer and heart disease. His new book shows how scientific research so often goes wrong—and how hard it is for it to go right. Kabat first reminds readers that finding a correlation between phenomena X and Y does not mean that X causes Y. Nevertheless, many researchers are happy to overinterpret such findings to suggest causation. "If researchers can slip into this way of interpreting and presenting results of their studies," observes Kabat, "it becomes easier to understand how journalists, regulators, activists of various stripes, self-appointed health gurus, promoters of health-related foods and products, and the public can make the unwarranted leap that the study being reported provides evidence of a causal relationship and therefore is worthy of our interest." He offers some principles to keep in mind when evaluating studies. First and foremost is the toxicological maxim that the dose makes the poison. The more exposure to a toxin, the greater the harm. Potency matters greatly too. Often very sensitive assays show that two different compounds can bind to the same receptors in the body, but what really matters biologically is how avidly and how strongly one binds compared to the other. Another principle: Do not confuse hazard, a potential source of harm, with risk, the likelihood that the hazard will cause harm. Consider bacon. The influential International Agency for Research on Cancer declared bacon a hazard for cancer in 2015, but the agency does not make risk assessments. Eating two slices of bacon per day is calculated to increase your lifetime risk of colorectal cancer from 5 to 6 percent. Put that way, I suspect most people would choose to continue to enjoy cured pork products. Kabat also argues that an editorial bias skews the scientific literature toward publishing results suggesting harms. Such findings, he notes, get more attention from other researchers, from regulators, from journalists, and from activists. Ever since Rachel Carson's 1962 book Silent Spring wrongly linked cancer with exposures to trace amounts of pesticides, the American public has been primed to blame external causes rather than personal behaviors for their health problems. Unfortunately, as Kabat notes, the existence of an alarmed and sensitized public is all too useful to regulators and other interest groups. He quotes an honest but incautious remark in the air pollution researcher Robert Phalen's 2010 testimony to the California Air Resources Board: "It benefits us p[...]



The Only Solution to the Trumps’ Conflicts of Interest

2017-04-23T00:00:00-04:00

Pundits at CNN and other news outlets are much distressed over the report that Ivanka Trump's clothing and accessories company won trademark recognition from the government of China just as that country's president was sitting down with President Trump and the First Daughter for dinner at Mar-a-Lago. "Conflict of interest!" they protest. "Conflict of interest!" They then set off on an inquiry into how such conflicts can be prevented, an effort beset by a growing sense that nothing can be done about the problem. They are justified in that sense of futility because within the range of options they would consider acceptable, nothing can be done. Ivanka Trump is a federal worker, albeit at a salary of zero. But it would make no difference if she had no job in the White House because she would still be the president's daughter and that's not going to change. Any foreign leader—or anyone else, for that matter—who wants to curry favor with President Trump can easily calculate that doing something nice for his daughter at least can't hurt. After all, she doesn't have to be a Special Adviser to the President to be a special adviser to her father, the president. And if she is talking to her father about the country, her comments could be colored—even unconsciously—by her business interests. But even if they were not, Trump himself, who is famously a sucker for flattery and, presumably, for praise for his family, might be influenced by the kindness of strangers. So how can conflicts of interest be avoided? It would be unreasonable to demand that Ivanka Trump divest herself of her company and have no business interests: she does have rights. She no longer manages her company, but she still holds a stake, even if she has put her assets into a trust. Moreover, she also has resigned as executive vice president of the Trump Organization and sold her common stock in it. CNNMoney reported that her lawyer says that "Ivanka Trump has converted her stake in her father's company into fixed payments, which means she can't benefit from the financial performance of the Trump Organization…. At the White House, Ivanka Trump's role will be to advise her father and concentrate on issues related to women in the workplace, child care, parental leave and job training, [the lawyer] said." In another story CNNMoney reported that Ivanka's lawyer "said her client would recuse herself from certain policy matters, like trade agreements, that are specific enough to affect her line of clothing and accessories." But, as I said, this makes no difference whatever. People seeking Trump's good will might still think it advantageous to direct benefits to Trump family business interests. Even with her reduced roles, Ivanka Trump surely wants to see her company and the Trump Organization prosper. So we appear to be stuck with four to eight years of potential conflicts of interest. We'll never know if decisions coming out of the executive branch were ultimately influenced by conduct calculated to please Trump. But maybe all is not so hopeless after all. Recall that I said the pundit class knows no solution that it would regard as acceptable. That leaves open the possibility of a solution that is unacceptable to them. "Unacceptable," however, does not necessarily mean unreasonable. The heart of the potential for conflicts of interests is not the Trumps' business empire. Rather it's presidential power to steer benefits to particular interests. So the surest way to eliminate the potential for conflicts is to eliminate the president's power to steer benefits to anyone. This would include not only favors granted by executive action but also those that a president can push through Congress. Here we have an analogy with campaign finance. Those who fret over that issue don't want to understand that no one would make mega-contributions to candidates if officeholders had no favors to sell. Who sh[...]



Bernie Sanders Says Ann Coulter Has Right to Speak at Berkeley ‘Without Fear of Violence and Intimidation’

2017-04-22T19:29:00-04:00

(image) Sen. Bernie Sanders supports Ann Coulter's right to speak at the University of California-Berkeley, and told The Huffington Post that attempts to shut her down are a "sign of intellectual weakness" amongst some of her critics.

Sanders made clear that he is no fan of Coulter, but nevertheless believes students who want to hear speak deserve that opportunity.

"Obviously Ann Coulter's outrageous ― to my mind, off the wall," said Sanders. "But you know, people have a right to give their two cents-worth, give a speech, without fear of violence and intimidation."

Berkeley administrators recently cancelled Coulter's upcoming visit because they could not guarantee her safety. Protesters had threatened violence and rioting if Coulter should appear.

But giving into the protesters means succumbing to the heckler's veto—it commits the university to censoring anyone whose views displease the mob. Berkeley, thankfully, has reconsidered, and Coulter will be giving a talk.

"What are you afraid of ― her ideas?" asked Sanders, according to HuffPo. "Ask her the hard questions. Confront her intellectually. Booing people down, or intimidating people, or shutting down events, I don't think that that works in any way."

Sanders, like Robert Reich, deserves credit for taking the principled civil libertarian position that the answer to offensive speech is more speech. Howard Dean should listen to them.




That Time a Professional Football Team Fact-Checked The New York Times

2017-04-22T15:14:00-04:00

It says something about the state of the media today—and something about how certain elements of the media are determined to stir up controversies around President Donald Trump, even where none exist—that a major newspaper found itself on the receiving end of a fact check from a professional football team this week. Here's how it happened. Players and staff of the The New England Patriots were visiting the White House on Wednesday to celebrate their victory over the Atlanta Falcons in February's Super Bowl, as is traditional for professional teams (and college teams, and Little League teams, and so on) to do in the aftermath of winning a national championship. This whole "tradition" is not so much about celebrating a championship as it is about allowing the sitting president to glom onto a bit of the local goodwill generated by championship-winning teams. (I did a bit of googling in an attempt to determine which president is the responsible for the creation of this vapid bit of White House pomp, but was unsuccessful. If anyone knows, please leave a comment so in the future we will know which POTUS deserves our scorn.) At best, it's a waste of everyone's time, the kind of event that—except perhaps on the sports pages in city where the winning team plays—deserves nothing more than a passing mention in the media. So, naturally, the national media covers it like a major event. That's why The New York Times had its sports editor, Jason Stallman, at the White House on Wednesday. After the handshakes and congratulations were finished, Stallman tweeted the following photo and commentary from the @NYTSports account: Patriots' turnout for President Obama in 2015 vs. Patriots' turnout for President Trump today: https://t.co/OxMEOqZonI pic.twitter.com/pLmJWhOw1j — NYT Sports (@NYTSports) April 19, 2017 This is, of course, an attempt to reopen the stupidest controversy of 2017: The one that erupted in the days after Trump's inauguration when aerial photos of the event were shown side-by-side with photos of the crowds at President Barack Obama's inaugurations in 2008 and 2012. Thanks to Trump's thin-skinned reaction (not helped by a silly gaffe by the White House photo staff), and the media's desire to make mountains out of any unimportant molehill that can somehow be connected to Trump, it became a week-long "scandal." This time, thankfully, we didn't have to go through that because the New England Patriots stepped in to correct the record. These photos lack context. Facts: In 2015, over 40 football staff were on the stairs. In 2017, they were seated on the South Lawn. https://t.co/iIYtV0hR6Y — New England Patriots (@Patriots) April 20, 2017 Comparable photos: The last time the #Patriots won two Super Bowls in three years, 36 players visited the White House. Today, we had 34. pic.twitter.com/Aslvf1RaXU — New England Patriots (@Patriots) April 20, 2017 Stallman later apologized and took responsibility for the whole thing, telling The Washington Post: "Bad tweet by me. Terrible tweet. I wish I could say it's complicated, but no, this one is pretty straightforward: I'm an idiot. It was my idea, it was my execution, it was my blunder. I made a decision in about four minutes that clearly warranted much more time." But not before the president took the opportunity to comment: Failing @nytimes, which has been calling me wrong for two years, just got caught in a big lie concerning New England Patriots visit to W.H. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 20, 2017 Here's the thing. Trump is right. The Times was wrong. And the public's trust of the media takes another little hit that might make it slightly less likely for someone to believe the Times the next time they are right and Trump is wrong. All of that happens because of a foolish attempt to create a controversy where there isn't one. W[...]



Protests against Socialism in Venezuela Escalate Again, Not Because of Donald Trump

2017-04-22T11:31:00-04:00

The socialist government of Venezuela has faced street protests on-and-off for more than the last three years, ever since it ramped up its crackdown on a growing opposition. Hugo Chavez, the late former president, was a popular figure in Venezuela, and among Western leftists, while the price of oil was high and giving him a cash flow he could use to buy his people's support. Eventually he died, replaced by Nicolas Maduro, an even dimmer politician than Chavez, oil prices went down, and the system, as critics had long warned, began to collapse. The government started fingerprinting supermarket shoppers back in 2014, and its policies have led to hyperinflation and increasing shortages of a whole range of household and consumer products—even beer. Voters in Venezuela handed control of the legislature to the opposition after suffering from years of socialist-inflicted economic malaise. The ruling party, which under Chavez had consolidated more and more state power under itself, has tried to make it as difficult as possible for the opposition to undo the damage created by Chavismo, finally shutting down the legislative branch altogether last month. The transformation from socialism to dictatorship should never be surprising. Make no mistake, the Venezuelan regime still has its defenders in the West. For example a recent opinion piece in Al-Jazeera by Javier Farje, who lives in London, insists that the opposition-controlled legislature had been trying to "crush every reform implemented by the Chavez government" by working to reverse laws that have sent the country into a downward economic spiral. The historical, economic, and political context of the current moment in Venezuela, however, didn't stop MSNBC's Rachel Maddow from connecting it to the revelation that Citgo, Venezuela's state-owned oil company, donated $500,000 to the Trump inaugural committee. "Today Venezuelans are enraged anew by this brand new FEC filing from the White House," Maddow told her audience this week, while a chyron read "Unrest in Venezuela Over Trump Donations." As CNBC reports, however, the filing came "a day after the latest in a series of violent demonstrations which have added to the country's rising death." The opposition movement in Venezuela called for nationwide protests earlier in the week, which were repressed by government forces. On social media, the ruling Socialist Party reveled in the fact that protesters were forced to clean themselves in a dirty river after being tear gassed by police. Last night, El Valle, one of the capital Caracas' "toughest, most violent shantytowns," according to Caracas Chronicles, saw looting of the commercial district, with a response by local security forces and the national government's paramilitary forces, and reports of gunfire throughout the night. Local media coverage of the ongoing unrest has been almost non-existent. "It can be baffling trying to piece together a sequence of events in a country with no free media," Francisco Toro wrote in Caracas Chronicles. Local prosecutors say they are investigating 11 deaths in El Valle, including eight people electrocuted while trying to break into a bakery. At least 20 people have died in unrest since April 4. Opposition leader Julio Borges, who is the head of the opposition-controlled legislature, meanwhile, has sent more than a dozen letters to banks around the world, asking them to stop funding the Venezuelan government, while Bolivia's Evo Morales, an ideological ally of the socialists in Venezuela, insists protests are an "internal conspiracy or external intervention… intended to steal Venezuelan oil." [...]



A Look Back at the Idea That Small Is Beautiful: New at Reason

2017-04-22T08:29:00-04:00

(image)

Thirty-seven years ago, Kirkpatrick Sale set out to write a comprehensive compendium of the evils of things pushed far beyond their natural "scale," coupled with pungent arguments for why these baneful developments are destructively anti-human. The result, Human Scale, weighed in at a hefty-scaled 523 pages. The present work, Human Scale Revisited, is a slimmed down and updated reissue, adding a plethora of examples of things that Sale believes have run far beyond our ability to comprehend, cope, and pay for.

The heart of Human Scale, then and now, is Sale's judgment that "to save our planet and its civilizations…we must work toward a decentralization of institutions, the devolution of power, and the dismantling of all large scale systems that have created or perpetuated the current crisis. In their place, smaller more controllable, more efficient, more sensitive, people-sized units, rooted in local environments and guided by local citizens. That is the human-scale alternative."

View this article.




Will the FDA Start Enforcing Menu-Labeling Rules? New at Reason

2017-04-22T08:00:00-04:00

(image) FDA enforcement of its absurd rules governing mandatory calorie menu labeling, passed in 2010 as part of Obamacare, is set to begin on May 5, after years of delays.

In 2015, the FDA delayed implementing the rules until December 2016, after the presidential election. At the time, The Hill speculated that a new "Republican president could choose to scrap the rule altogether."

That hasn't happened. Yet. But in December 2016 the FDA delayed enforcing the rules until May 5, 2017, which is the deadline that now looms.

The FDA interprets its menu-labeling rules as requiring mandatory calorie labeling of most foods sold by "restaurants and similar retail food establishments if they are part of a chain of 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name, offering for sale substantially the same menu items and offering for sale restaurant-type foods." Owners of more than twenty vending machines must also comply with the rules. Food policy writer Baylen Linnekin explains the many problems.

View this article.




Enforcement Looms of FDA's Menu Labeling Regulations

2017-04-22T08:00:00-04:00

FDA enforcement of its absurd rules governing mandatory calorie menu labeling, passed in 2010 as part of Obamacare, is set to begin on May 5, after years of delays. In 2015, the FDA delayed implementing the rules until December 2016, after the presidential election. At the time, The Hill speculated that a new "Republican president could choose to scrap the rule altogether." That hasn't happened. Yet. But in December 2016 the FDA delayed enforcing the rules until May 5, 2017, which is the deadline that now looms. The FDA interprets its menu-labeling rules as requiring mandatory calorie labeling of most foods sold by "restaurants and similar retail food establishments if they are part of a chain of 20 or more locations, doing business under the same name, offering for sale substantially the same menu items and offering for sale restaurant-type foods." Owners of more than twenty vending machines must also comply with the rules. The rules would be a disaster. They'll cost at least $1 billion. And if they're grounded in science, that science is shoddy. The purpose of menu-labeling rules in general is to help consumers make smarter (read: lower-calorie) choices. But the very premise that mandatory menu labeling accomplishes this is flawed. Research demonstrates that menu labeling doesn't improve consumer food choices. That's something I first noted here in 2011, and which subsequent reports have also shown (see, for example, here, here, here, and here). So can the rules be stopped? Yes. Congress could act by repealing or amending the menu-labeling rules. Or food sellers whose First Amendment rights would be violated by rules that compel speech for no constitutionally supported reason could ask a court to halt implementation of the rules. Or the FDA could delay the rules from taking effect. Each of these is possible. But how likely are these outcomes? While the clock is ticking, furious efforts are underway to halt the rules. Earlier this year, Congress introduced a bill supported by the American Pizza Community, an advocacy group that includes pizza companies like Domino's and Pizza Hut. The bill, the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, would exempt most pizza-delivery companies and delay implementation of the menu-labeling rules by at least two years. A comparable bill passed out of the House last year but died in the Senate. While pizza makers are working in Congress, two other groups that oppose the law, the National Grocers Association and National Association of Convenience Stores, petitioned the FDA this month in an effort to delay or halt implementation of the rules. The petitioners argue compliance with the "unworkable" rules is impossible; that the costs of complying are exorbitant and far exceed FDA estimates; that the FDA exceeded its authority in adopting the rules; that the rules run afoul of the First Amendment; and that the rules are "inconsistent with the [Trump] Administration's agenda to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens on business." Pushing back against these efforts is the voice of the restaurant industry—the National Restaurant Association—a staunch supporter of the FDA menu-labeling rules. That stance might surprise some—if for no other reason than that it's got some basis beyond rent-seeking. "With more and more states adopting their own menu-labeling rules, the National Restaurant Association... sought a shield against this death by 1,000 cuts by pushing for one uniform national menu-labeling rule," I explained in a 2013 column. Will one or more of the aforementioned approaches succeed in stymying the rules from taking effect on May 5? Repeal seems like something Congress won't stomach. Consider that the GOP's ham-fisted attempts to repeal, replace, or [...]



The Decentralist

2017-04-22T06:00:00-04:00

Human Scale Revisited: A New Look at the Classic Case for the Decentralist Future, by Kirkpatrick Sale, Chelsea Green, 359 pages, $24.95 Thirty-seven years ago, Kirkpatrick Sale set out to write a comprehensive compendium of the evils of things pushed far beyond their natural "scale," coupled with pungent arguments for why these baneful developments are destructively anti-human. The result, Human Scale, weighed in at a hefty-scaled 523 pages. The present work, Human Scale Revisited, is a slimmed down and updated reissue, adding a plethora of examples of things that Sale believes have run far beyond our ability to comprehend, cope, and pay for. Sale is an independent journalist whose ideological proclivities are difficult to characterize. Depending on the passage, he can appear as a Bill McKibben environmentalist, a Peter Kropotkin anarchist, a Wendell Berry communitarian, an Albert Jay Nock libertarian, and, now and then, a crypto-authoritarian. His other volumes range from SDS, the definitive history of Students for a Democratic Society, to Rebels Against the Future, a defense of the Luddite anti-industrial movement in England. His most recent cause has been to put forth the case for secession ("harmony through division") as a way to protect human communities whose values are threatened by rampaging bigness. The heart of Human Scale, then and now, is Sale's judgment that "to save our planet and its civilizations…we must work toward a decentralization of institutions, the devolution of power, and the dismantling of all large scale systems that have created or perpetuated the current crisis. In their place, smaller more controllable, more efficient, more sensitive, people-sized units, rooted in local environments and guided by local citizens. That is the human-scale alternative." Sale builds his case on what he calls the Beanstalk Principle: "For every animal, object, institution, or system, there is an optimal limit beyond which it ought not to grow." He ransacks history and human experience for supportive examples, many of them compelling. Among the thinkers he favorably cites are Aristotle, Lewis Mumford, Arnold Toynbee, Alexis de Tocqueville, Robert Putnam, Thomas Jefferson, and Sale's mentor, the late Austrian economist Leopold Kohr. Of particular interest is Sale's no-holds-barred attack on governments grown too big, too costly, too corrupt, too invasive, and too prytanogenic—a Sale-coined Greek neologism meaning "damage caused by the state." "Guided by a liberal mania that government is able to solve all problems," he writes, "Washington's reach extends into virtually every nook of the society; where it does not control, it influences, where it does not dictate by virtue of law, it persuades by reason of power.…Beyond a modest size a government cannot be expected to perform optimally, and the larger it gets the more likely it is that it will be increasingly inefficient, autocratic, wasteful, corrupt and harmful." What is remarkable about this broadside is that Sale has been since college a man of the left. He has published in Mother Jones and The Nation (and also The American Conservative). But unlike the followers of, say, Bernie Sanders, to whom government in control is ever the solution, Sale is clear-eyed about what that would mean and wants no part of it. Indeed, he is even moved to observe that "the ascendancy and triumph of Donald Trump in the 2016 election was only the most recent demonstration of the antipathy to government that runs deep in America beyond the reach of all the do-gooding boosters and the high-pressure media to alter or cure." Big Socialism sucks, but Sale is equally scornful of Big Capitalism. As it has developed in practic[...]



The Commission on Presidential Debate's 15 Percent Polling Criterion Must Go, Argues Lawsuit from Gary Johnson

2017-04-21T22:10:00-04:00

Electoral politics is like a market, argues Bruce Fein, the lawyer for Gary Johnson (the 2012 and 2016 Libertarian Party candidate for president) and other plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit against the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), the Republican and Democratic Parties, and 2012 major party candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The collusive behavior of those defendants against the L.P. and other third parties to keep them out of the electoral politics market amounts to a violation of antitrust law. Fein argued that point, and others, in an hearing this morning at the D.C. Court of Appeals. He appeared before a three-judge panel of Judges Janice Brown, Laurence Silberman, and Cornelia Pillard. (Johnson's loss in district court was reported on last August, and more details about the plaintiffs arguments were explained when the case was filed in 2015.) The CPD itself has officials who brag that its debates are the Super Bowl of politics, so Fein speculates on the value of appearing in it in terms of the value of commercial time bought during a Super Bowl broadcast, estimating that the injurious actions of the CPD and its two-party pals cost his clients up to a possible billion dollars. "When you run for president you have commercial objectives," Fein said in a phone interview this morning after the hearing, giving examples of manipulating the minimum wage, permitting or not permitting pipelines, raising or cutting taxes. And they are trying to actuate those commercial objectives through government action. "If the objective has a commercial goal, then the process by which you get into government or get government to enact economic changes should be subject to antitrust law," Fein says. As argued in Fein's appeals brief, "the concerted actions of Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney and the CPD were intended to cripple or destroy competition in the multi-billion dollar business of campaigning for the presidency....This was to be accomplished by limiting public information about credible presidential candidates through an exclusionary 15% national polling criterion for participation in presidential debates, i.e., an output limitation agreement." The full list of plaintiffs Fein represents in this case also includes Gary Johnson 2012, Inc.; Libertarian National Committee; James P. Gray; Green Party of the United States; Jill Stein; Jill Stein for President; and Cheri Honkala. Fein noted that the CPD's 15 percent criteria (adopted in 2000, and no non-major-party candidate has met it since then, which Fein thinks is exactly the point) remains ill-defined, amounting to a "we know it when we see it standard" impossible to objectively interpret. For example, why shouldn't it apply to face-to-face polls in which a third party candidate was compared only to the incumbent? The appeals brief insists that the polls by which Romney qualified generally pitted him only against Obama. His clients, Fein says, would prefer a truly cut and dried objective criteria: being on enough state ballots to literally win an electoral college majority. That would have resulted in 2016 in four such candidates on the CPD debate stage, "not an unwieldy number." "The other side claims we are arguing for an absolute right for any candidate to participate, which is a misrepresentation." Fein found many aspects of the District Court opinion from Judge Rosemary Collyer dismissing their case troublesome, including what he calls a "catch-22." What's that catch? That Collyer thinks that Johnson and the other parties had no standing to sue the CPD and its co-defendants, since the injury wasn't caused by the criteria imposed by the defendants, but rather by their failure to poll [...]



France Election Preview: Terrorism, Socialism, Nationalist Socialism, and the Prospects for Economic Liberalization

2017-04-21T18:26:00-04:00

The attack on a police bus on the Champs-Elysee in Paris yesterday, which killed two police officers and for which ISIS claimed responsibility, came while France's presidential candidates were participating in their last televised forum, and President Trump said today that he thought the attack would help the National Front's Marine Le Pen. "She's the strongest on borders and she's the strongest on what's been going on in France," Trump told the AP. "Whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism, and whoever is the toughest at the borders, will do well in the election." After the police attack, Le Pen called for the expulsion of all foreigners on terror watch lists. The suspected gunman in yesterday's attack, Karim Cheufri, is a French national who was questioned in February for allegedly making threats to kill police officers. Meanwhile, the center-right François Fillon, once the frontrunner before a scandal over a no-show job for his wife yielded calls for him to drop out, said "Islamic totalitarianism" ought to be the next president's top priority. François Hollande declared a war on terror after multiple coordinated ISIS-linked terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015 killed 130 people. The French government followed up with warrantless raids, house arrests, limits on freedom of speech and assembly, and other security measures. The 2015 attacks helped the National Front outperform its polling in the first round of regional elections, but by the second round, a month after the attacks, the bounce appeared to have faded. Voters go to the polls Sunday for the first round and in early May for the second round—four candidates are polling at about 20 percent; Emmanuel Macron, Le Pen, Fillon, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon. And in fact, both Le Pen and Mélenchon, a former Socialist who created his own party and has been called the "French Bernie Sanders," support French withdrawal from the European Union and euro as well as more protectionism, and even closing the border to refugees and banning the veil. "This is a very good example like Hayek used to say, where extremes actually join together," Emmanuel Martin, a French economist involved with libertarian MOOC Ecole de la Liberté, told Reason earlier this week. "Mélenchon-LePen, their program is 90 percent the same." Martin, who also describes himself as a libertarian rocker, even has a song about the tendency for such confluence in what we call the far right and the far left. "Mélenchon is the new Robespierre," Martin explained, referring to the French revolutionary leader associated with the Reign of Terror, "and to some extent he's very much like Bernie Sanders, but I think he's more evil… They both share this total illusion of democratic socialism, which to me is a complete oxymoron, and to any libertarian obviously." While terror attacks in France grab more headlines, the country has long-standing economic problems caused by too many labor regulations, too much centralization, and a lack of accountability in government. President Hollande's tough talk and concomitant actions on the war on terror failed to shore up support in the face of his failure to execute on economic reform. The former economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, who was one of the architects of Hollande's belated turn away from socialism and attempt at some labor deregulation and other economic reforms, now has the highest polling average, at 23.6 percent. "He's trying to gather so many different people, that it's very difficult to find something solid, something really, he's just a basic politician, he's trying to please everyone," Martin explained. "And his speeches are complet[...]



Trump Looks to France, Gender Changes Daily at Harvard: P.M. Links

2017-04-21T16:29:00-04:00




Should You Be Compensated for Your Medical Waste?

2017-04-21T16:00:00-04:00

The right answer is: No. Why bring this issue up? HBO will be showing a movie based on the 2010 bestseller The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks tomorrow starring Oprah Winfrey. In 1951, black Baltimorean Henrietta Lacks had surgery to remove a cervical cancer tumor. Her physician took some cells from the tumor which he turned into the first immortal line human cell line. The HeLa cell line has been subsequently used in thousands of biomedical research projects. Lacks died later that year of her cancer, and her family was not told about the HeLa cell line. One of the central themes of the book was whether or not Lacks' physician should have asked for consent and provided compensation for the use of her cells. Spurred by the controversy engendered by the book, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed revisions to the Common Rule that protects people who volunteer for federally funded research studies. The proposed revisions would have substantially increased the burden on researchers with regard to obtaining consent from patients for the subsequent use of their medical wastes, uh, biospecimens. I am happy to report that in their op/ed, "Science Needs Your Cells," in today's New York Times two bioethicists agree with me that such requirements are largely useless and would substantially slow down medical progress. From the op/ed: First, no one is taking biospecimens from patients' bodies without their permission. Patients have consented to the clinical procedure as important to their medical care. What harm could come from using leftover materials, which would otherwise be thrown away, for research? Perhaps we should be concerned about risks to a patient's privacy, but that is why we remove the identifying information. Although researchers have shown that it is possible to "de-anonymize" specimens — using clues to link them back to individuals — there have been no reports of anyone doing this for nefarious reasons. And even if there were, the answer would be to sanction the culprit through fines or criminal charges, not to make it harder for researchers to get these samples in the first place. What is left, then, is our claim to autonomy: Many of us intuitively feel we should be able to control how biospecimens derived from our bodies are used. But leftover biospecimens are just medical waste to most of us, as we lack the expertise to imbue them with scientific value. Nor have we done anything to make them valuable, other than being born with a particular genetic variant or afflicted with a particular malignancy. This is why calls to pay patients are misplaced. In addition, unlike HeLa, in which one patient's biospecimens led to dramatic advancements, most developments come from studying materials from many patients — each biospecimen contributes only marginally to the result. These relatively weak claims to control and compensation do not justify the demands more restrictions would place on biospecimen research. Hindering this research is worrisome because its benefits are so great. Among many examples, they include the identification of mutations in tumors (lung, skin and others) that can be targeted with drugs that markedly improve quality of life and survival. Requiring consent might not seem like a big deal. But it is. Consent might require tracking patients down later, whenever a study is proposed, which can be difficult or impossible. Alternately, it might involve asking patients to agree generally to any future research at the time blood is drawn or a biopsy is taken. Either way, it can be a costly, bureaucratic headache. Whi[...]



Trump Is Recycling Old Real Estate Marketing Gimmicks in Hopes of Reviving the Obamacare Repeal Bill

2017-04-21T15:28:00-04:00

Early yesterday, The Washington Post's Robert Costa reported that a senior White House official said that a vote on the House bill to partially repeal and replace Obamacare was just days away. New legislative language based on a tentative deal struck between conservative moderate factions would circulate over the weekend, and a vote would be held on Wednesday of next week. But Republican leaders in Congress immediately cast doubt on the notion. "There is no legislative text and therefore no agreement to do a whip count on," a GOP aide told Politico. The White House's claim that a vote was in the works was bunk—misinformation spread to the media in hopes of generating momentum on a bill that remains stalled. This is how the Trump administration tends to work. It substitutes empty hype for real achievement, hoping that no one will be able to tell the difference. It's a marketing gimmick, not governance—and it's an old tactic from Trump, who employed it as a real estate developer. This isn't the first time something like this has happened with the health care bill. In January, Trump said that an Obamacare replacement was "very much formulated down to the final strokes" and that the plan would provide "insurance for everybody," and would have "lower numbers, lower deductibles." House Republicans didn't release a bill for almost a month and a half. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that under the GOP plan, 14 million fewer people would have coverage the following year alone, a figure that would rise to 24 million after a decade. (A leaked document indicated the White House's own internal estimates put the total loss even higher.) Trump's January description of the plan was all empty bluster. Something similar, meanwhile, appears to have happened again today. A senior White House official—again unnamed—told CNBC that the Senate Budget Committee was working on health care legislation in hopes that it could be sent out today or tomorrow. That's an odd claim, because the Senate Budget Committee wouldn't be the ones to draw up legislation. In fact, according to Jonathan Swan of Axios, it appears that the Senate committee was just reviewing language for technical reasons. The Trump administration is trying to build momentum where little or none exists by manufacturing the appearance of energy and activity. Trump used this same sort of deception before he became involved in politics. As Carlos Lozada wrote in a 2015 Washington Post review of Trump's books, Trump has long believed that the way to create interest in a project is to trick people into believing that it is already in the works: In [The Art of the Deal], Trump, then 41, explains the power of psychology and deception — he calls it "bravado" or "truthful hyperbole" — in his early real estate acquisitions. Before he was a brand name, he had to convince people that he was worth their time. It was small things here and there. Like asking his architect to gussy up the sketches for a hotel so it seemed like they spent huge sums on the plans, boosting interest in his proposal. Or having a construction crew drive machinery back and forth on a site in Atlantic City so that the visiting board of directors would be duped into thinking the work was far along. "If necessary," he instructed a supervisor, "have the bulldozers dig up dirt on one side of the site and dump it on the other." "I play to people's fantasies," Trump explains. ". . .­­ It's an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion." Perception is reality, he writes, and achi[...]



Justice Dept.’s Threatening Letter to Sanctuary Cities Is Less Than It Seems, and That’s Good

2017-04-21T15:15:00-04:00

The Department of Justice has sent threatening letters to eight American cities and one county warning them that they face having their federal grants withheld because of their behavior as "sanctuary cities"—but it's not exactly how it might appear. President Donald Trump famously campaigned on a promise to eject illegal immigrants and to go after the cities that were protecting them. This has in turn prompted a massive effort by pro-immigration forces in major cities to resist the federal government's deportation efforts. So let's be very clear what's going on, because both sides have good political reason to overemphasize what's happening in order to appeal to their voting bases: These letters are not demanding that police and municipal governments assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in rounding up illegal immigrants subject to deportation orders. The federal government cannot force cities to help them enforce immigration laws. It's important to understand that, just as they can't force cities to enforce the federal ban on marijuana possession or consumption. In both cases, federal officials can (and frequently do) go into these cities and enforce these laws themselves. Through the use of detainer requests, ICE can ask police, prisons, and jails to hold immigrants they believe are subject to deportation orders, but these are requests. There is, however, a federal immigration regulation that this small group of cities may be violating. Federal regulations forbid any state or local government from prohibiting its employees from communicating with the feds about any person's immigration status. So, for example, if a local police officer arrests somebody he knows is an immigrant in the United States illegally, he cannot be prohibited from passing that information along to ICE. The targets of these letters are cities—New Orleans, Miami, Chicago (and Cook County), Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, New York City, Sacramento (California)—that have policies or ordinances that prohibit this communication. An inspector general's report written back when Barack Obama was president determined these cities may be out of compliance with the law. The Justice Department is ordering them to make sure they are following this one code if they want to keep getting grants. The regulation also doesn't require the local governments even keep track of the residency status of people living within their boundaries. "Sanctuary cities" get their identities partly because officials simply refuse to determine whether the people who live there are legal residents of the United States during interactions or arrests. So even those rules won't change. But in the event local law enforcement officers actually do know the immigration status of a citizen, the city or county can't stop him from communicating that information to the feds. The Justice Department put out a short press release announcing the demand that the affected cities and county prove their compliance with the law. There's a bit of "editorializing" in the press release: Additionally, many of these jurisdictions are also crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime. The number of murders in Chicago has skyrocketed, rising more than 50 percent from the 2015 levels. New York City continues to see gang murder after gang murder, the predictable consequence of the city's "soft on crime" stance. And just several weeks ago in California's Bay Area, after a raid captured 11 MS-13 members on charges including murder, extortion and drug[...]



Stellar Adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale Comes to Hulu: New at Reason

2017-04-21T15:00:00-04:00

(image) When The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood's account of a totalitarian takeover of America by a religious cult that reduces women to breeding stock, first appeared in 1985, it was instantly acclaimed as a feminist 1984 that exposed the misogyny not only of evangelical Christianity but of men in general. In short order, Atwood's novel was adapted to stage productions, radio plays, a ballet, an opera, and a messy Volker Schlöndorff film starring Natasha Richardson and Faye Dunaway.

But the precise nature of Atwood's message was always a little more slippery than feminist critics let on. The Handmaid's Tale was written while Atwood was living in what was then still known as West Berlin, closely studying what was happening on the other side of the wall, and many of the novel's totalitarian devices (particularly self-criticism sessions in which women rip their own psyches to shreds at a brainwashing factory suggestively called the Red Center) are drawn from the playbook not of the Westboro Baptist Church but the Marxist regimes of the day. And the rigid class system of The Handmaid's Tale, in which some groups of women (particularly wives, daughters and concubines of male leaders) were treated much better than male laborers seemed to mock male chauvinism less that the Soviet system of nomenklatura privilege.

Then there are the anti-porn rants of the government apparatchiks in The Handmaid's Tale and their conflation of sex with rape, which sound suspiciously like the rhetoric of 1980s feminist groups like Take Back the Night. Was Atwood really stroking feminists, or needling them?

That ambiguity remains in the latest and, by far, best incarnation of The Handmaid's Tale, the 10-hour miniseries that Hulu unveils this week. Television critic Glenn Garvin takes a look at the allegorical fable along with NBC's new sitcom, Great News.

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The Handmaid’s Tale Lands an Excellent Adaptation

2017-04-21T15:00:00-04:00

Great News. NBC. Tuesday, April 25, 9 p.m. The Handmaid's Tale. Hulu. Available Wednesday, April 26. When The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood's account of a totalitarian takeover of America by a religious cult that reduces women to breeding stock, first appeared in 1985, it was instantly acclaimed as a feminist 1984 that exposed the misogyny not only of evangelical Christianity but of men in general. In short order, Atwood's novel was adapted to stage productions, radio plays, a ballet, an opera, and a messy Volker Schlöndorff film starring Natasha Richardson and Faye Dunaway. But the precise nature of Atwood's message was always a little more slippery than feminist critics let on. The Handmaid's Tale was written while Atwood was living in what was then still known as West Berlin, closely studying what was happening on the other side of the wall, and many of the novel's totalitarian devices (particularly self-criticism sessions in which women rip their own psyches to shreds at a brainwashing factory suggestively called the Red Center) are drawn from the playbook not of the Westboro Baptist Church but the Marxist regimes of the day. And the rigid class system of The Handmaid's Tale, in which some groups of women (particularly wives, daughters, and concubines of male leaders) were treated much better than male laborers seemed to mock male chauvinism less that the Soviet system of nomenklatura privilege. Then there are the anti-porn rants of the government apparatchiks in The Handmaid's Tale and their conflation of sex with rape, which sound suspiciously like the rhetoric of 1980s feminist groups like Take Back the Night. Was Atwood really stroking feminists, or needling them? That ambiguity remains in the latest and, by far, best incarnation of The Handmaid's Tale, the 10-hour miniseries that Hulu unveils this week. Though the three episodes Hulu made available for review lean somewhat more heavily on the tensions of resistance to a powerful totalitarian state, the show still seems to be firing potshots at targets all along the ideological and cultural spectrums. Certainly the feminist element is still strongly present. Elisabeth Moss of Mad Men stars as Offred—a contraction of the phrase "of Fred," connoting her status as the indentured sexual surrogate of Frederick Waterford (Josesph Fiennes), a high-ranking member of the ruling class of Gilead, the theocracy that has replaced the United States. What, exactly, led to the creation of Gilead remains largely untold, though there are references to a mass assassination of the U.S. Senate and vast toxic waste spills. (Whether the latter were contributors to or results of the government's collapse is unclear.) What is certain is that the new regime has imposed a strict caste system that is particularly brutal toward women. With female sterility rampant in the wake of the environmental catastrophes, the few women like Offred who are still capable of bearing children have been designated "handmaids," assigned to powerful men ("commanders") for a monthly session of joyless, clinical sex aimed solely at reproduction. However demeaning, the breeding is less hazardous than the ferocious jealousies of the wives of commanders, the domestic-servant Marthas, and even other handmaids, who are encouraged to spy on one another. One of the most horrifying scenes in The Handmaid's Tale is a Dante-esque tableau of handmaids chanting "Whose fault? Her fault!" at a gang-rape victim. Missteps are fatal: Either slowly,[...]



James Altucher Found Himself by Losing Everything

2017-04-21T14:18:00-04:00

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James Altucher has rebounded from personal catastrophe so many times in his 49 years, it's hard to imagine a more qualified evangelist for personal reinvention. During the dot-com boom of the 1990s, Altucher made millions designing corporate websites, only to squander it all on gambling and a string of disastrous investments. "I was probably losing about a million [dollars] a week for an entire summer," he tells Reason's Nick Gillespie. "I just made every stupid decision in the book."

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Boujee, Bougie, Bourgie: Who's Appropriating Whose Culture? An Answer in 12 Songs

2017-04-21T13:45:00-04:00

In order to empower "a culture of controversy prevention," administrators at American University (AU) prohibited the school's Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity from calling its badminton fundraiser "Bad(minton) and Boujee," a pun on the popular Migos song "Bad and Boujee." AU officials told the frat that them using the word boujee might be seen as "appropriating culture." "Which culture?" asks Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post. "Latin? French? Marxist? Urban hip-hop? Maybe their own?" Administrators weren't clear. But as Rampell notes, the term boujee comes from the Latin "burgus," which described a castle or fortified town. This evolved into the French "bourgeois," for people who live in town rather than the countryside. Town dwellers were more likely to engage in commerce and craftsmanship, and so rose over time to achieve middle-class incomes. That's why Karl Marx later used the term to derisively refer to the class that upheld capitalism. Over time, "bourgeois" morphed into a more generic description of middle-class (and eventually upper-middle-class) materialism and obsession with respectability. More recently, "bourgeois" was shortened to the colloquial "bourgie ," alternately spelled "bougie" or "boujee," used disdainfully to describe upper-middle-class or high-end tastes (driving your Prius to Trader Joe's after yoga class, for example). The "boujee" variation is common when referring to middle-class or upwardly mobile blacks, as in the Migos song. That's hardly this spelling's exclusive usage, though, as is evident from its entries in the crowd-sourced slang glossary Urban Dictionary. So, in a way, "boujee" is indeed an appropriation — or rather an appropriation of an appropriation of an appropriation. That's how language works. It's fluid, evolving, constantly taking from other tongues, dialects and usages. Did administrators really consider all this? Probably not, considering their refusal to articulate who was appropriating what from whom and emphasis on "controversy prevention." More likely, they just heard "frat event named after rap song" and decided to act out of that bureaucratic favorite, an abundance of caution. As Freddie de Boer notes on Facebook, the AU situation nicely illustrates how students, regardless of their ideology, "are powerless in the face of a relentless pink police state that renders every unruly impulse anodyne and unchallenging through an architecture of limitless conflict avoidance. Neither the black bloc nor the alt right can possibly defeat the army of chief litigation officers who have machined the controversy-avoidance mechanism to perfection." But back to bourgie. Google defines it as "exhibiting qualities attributed to the middle class, especially pretentiousness or conventionality." Yet the term is used differently in different subcultures—the people and milieu that Ke$ha calls bougie are different than those that the guys of Migos do, to keep in the musical vein. And they're both shades off from the "Bourgie, Bourgie" folks sung about by Gladys Knight and the Pips in their 1980 disco hit, or those conjured in The Submarines 2008 indie-pop "You, Me and the Bourgeoisie," or Discobitch's 2009 "C'est Beau La Bourgeoisie," or Jacques Brel's 1962 "Les Bourgeois," or Prince's 2013 "Da Bourgeoisie." I've heard white Midwesterners use bougie to describe anything associated with hipsters/liberals/The Coastal Elite, and liberal coastal hipsters use it [...]



Scientists' March on Washington: New at Reason

2017-04-21T13:30:00-04:00

(image) In the flush of excitement after the post-inaugural Women's March on Washington, someone in a Reddit conversation suggested, "There needs to be a Scientists' March on Washington." Sensing that a march on Washington might sound too aggressively partisan, the organizers have now renamed the event the March for Science. That march will take place tomorrow, on Earth Day, which the coordinators somehow figured would be the perfect nonpartisan date on which to muster tens of thousands of scientists and their comrades on the National Mall.

The event's mission statement proclaims that the marchers "unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest." Setting aside the fact that the march was conceived in the immediate wake of the decidedly partisan and specifically anti-Trump Women's March on Washington, how credible are these claims to non-partisanship?

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Scientists’ March on Washington

2017-04-21T13:30:00-04:00

In the flush of excitement after the post-inaugural Women's March on Washington, someone in a Reddit conversation suggested, "There needs to be a Scientists' March on Washington." Sensing that a march on Washington might sound too aggressively partisan, the organizers have now renamed the event the March for Science. That march will take place tomorrow, on Earth Day, which the coordinators somehow figured would be the perfect nonpartisan date on which to muster tens of thousands of scientists and their comrades on the National Mall. "We face a possible future where people not only ignore scientific evidence, but seek to eliminate it entirely," warns the march's mission statement. "Staying silent is a luxury that we can no longer afford. We must stand together and support science." From whom do the marchers hope to defend science? Certainly not the American public: Most Americans are fairly strong supporters of the scientific enterprise. An October 2016 Pew Research Center poll reported, "Three-quarters of Americans (76%) have either a great deal (21%) or a fair amount of confidence (55%) in scientists, generally, to act in the public interest." The General Social Survey notes that public confidence in scientists stands out among the most stable of about 13 institutions rated in the GSS survey since the mid-1970s. (For what it's worth, the GSS reports only 8 percent of the public say that they have a great deal of confidence in the press, but at least that's higher than the 6 percent who say the same about Congress.) The mission statement also declares, "The application of science to policy is not a partisan issue. Anti-science agendas and policies have been advanced by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and they harm everyone—without exception." I thoroughly endorse that sentiment. But why didn't the scientific community march when the Obama administration blocked over-the-counter access to emergency contraception to women under age 17? Or dawdled for years over the approval of genetically enhanced salmon? Or tried to kill off the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility? Or halted the development of direct-to-consumer genetic testing? One problem is that many of the marchers apparently believe that scientific evidence necessarily implies the adoption of certain policies. This ignores the always salient issue of trade-offs. For example, acknowledging that man-made global warming could become a significant problem does not mean that the only "scientific" policy response must be the immediate deployment of the current versions of solar and wind power. The mission statement proclaims that the marchers "unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest." Setting aside the fact that the march was conceived in the immediate wake of the decidedly partisan and specifically anti-Trump Women's March on Washington, how credible are these claims to non-partisanship? As it happens, I received an email on Thursday from the publicist for Shaughnessy Naughton, who is a chemist, a cancer researcher, and the founder of the activist group 314 Action. Naughton's group is one of the March's 170 partner organizations. 314 Action's political action committee is recruiting scientists, engineers, and other technologis[...]



Heath Care Automation Could Save Premature Babies, But the FDA Is in the Way: New at Reason

2017-04-21T13:00:00-04:00

In an age of self-driving cars and 400-ton airplanes that can land themselves in blinding fog, it makes no sense that hospitalized patients are surrounded by lifesaving machinery that can be activated only by a person pressing a button or turning a knob, writes Columbia University neonatologist Tom Hooven.

My patients with pulmonary hypertension are often attached to a respirator with adjustable oxygen settings. The respirator sits inches below the monitor that indicates how much oxygen is in the blood. But the two machines can't communicate with each other. If they could, it would be possible to increase the flow of oxygen automatically the moment a crisis is detected.

In 2009, engineers developed just this kind of closed-loop respirator and introduced it in several hospitals as part of a feasibility study. It increased the time premature babies spent at a safe oxygen level by more than two hours per day. But no biotechnology company has marketed the idea.

There are other examples of automated systems with unrealized potential to save lives, and not just in the neonatal ICU. Software that scans an ECG for subtle heartbeat variability can identify patterns – undetectable to the human eye – that indicate an elevated risk of heart attack. Hospital beds that play audible feedback during an emergency promote more effective CPR. Yet patients are not benefiting because neither of these tools has been commercialized.

Why haven't these innovations attracted the industry backing necessary to make them widely available?

View this article.




Premature Babies Are Struggling to Breathe. Why Are Regulators Dragging Their Feet?

2017-04-21T13:00:00-04:00

As a neonatologist, I worry about patients with pulmonary hypertension. This unforgiving disease, sometimes seen after premature birth, can end with sudden death from constricting blood vessels in the lungs. One minute a baby in the neonatal ICU may be sleeping comfortably; moments later, doctors and nurses are giving chest compressions and rescue medications. A pulmonary hypertension crisis, as these frightening episodes are called, starts with a drop in the blood oxygen level. That drop triggers a monitor to beep. It's up to the nurse to hear the sound, come to the bedside and take action. The first and most effective step in stopping a pulmonary hypertension crisis is simple: Give oxygen. But a nurse caring for another patient might be delayed for 30 seconds, and the loss of that time can lead to brain injury or death. In an age of self-driving cars and 400-ton airplanes that can land themselves in blinding fog, it makes no sense that hospitalized patients are surrounded by lifesaving machinery that can be activated only by a person pressing a button or turning a knob. Modern transportation augments human judgment and reaction times with a computer's superior ability to continuously respond to dozens of fluctuating variables. Yet in medicine, safety remains stubbornly reliant on human intervention. FDA regulation impedes innovation My patients with pulmonary hypertension are often attached to a respirator with adjustable oxygen settings. The respirator sits inches below the monitor that indicates how much oxygen is in the blood. But the two machines can't communicate with each other. If they could, it would be possible to increase the flow of oxygen automatically the moment a crisis is detected. In 2009, engineers developed just this kind of closed-loop respirator and introduced it in several hospitals as part of a feasibility study. It increased the time premature babies spent at a safe oxygen level by more than two hours per day. But no biotechnology company has marketed the idea. There are other examples of automated systems with unrealized potential to save lives, and not just in the neonatal ICU. Software that scans an ECG for subtle heartbeat variability can identify patterns—undetectable to the human eye—that indicate an elevated risk of heart attack. Hospital beds that play audible feedback during an emergency promote more effective CPR. Yet patients are not benefiting because neither of these tools has been commercialized. Why haven't these innovations attracted the industry backing necessary to make them widely available? One reason is that the process of getting FDA approval for new devices—particularly those deemed "life-sustaining"—is often even more complicated and expensive than getting approval for drugs. In the Journal of Public Economics, Harvard Business School professor Ariel Dora Stern recently described how FDA hurdles discourage companies from investing in innovation. Often, the more profitable strategy is to wait for someone else to spend the time and money required to get approval for a new device, and then enter the market later with something similar that will face less scrutiny. Dr. Stern estimates that regulatory obstacles add an average of US$6.7 million to the cost of introducing a new medical device. For a company developing an ICU monitor, fo[...]



Bill O'Reilly: The Kennedy Conspiracy Years

2017-04-21T12:30:00-04:00

As we await the next stage of Bill O'Reilly's career—RT host? FCC commissioner? down-on-his-luck high-school basketball coach?—let's set the Wayback Machine for 1979 and check out one of the fallen Fox star's earlier incarnations. Before he was the Joe Pyne of cable news, before he was the tantrum-prone anchor of a syndicated tabloid show, O'Reilly was a twentysomething baby-boomer with a moptop of '70s hair and a yen to do investigative journalism. In 1979, when JFK assassinology was arguably at its peak, he tackled the death of John F. Kennedy in a report for a TV station in Connecticut. In the clip below, O'Reilly focuses on one of the odder byways of the JFK theories: the so-called "umbrella man" who raised a parasol shortly before the president was shot.

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After the station re-aired that in 2013, an anchor there posted an item promoting it online. "Look for our Carter-era disco inspired logo, the size of the tape cassette recorder Bill carried with him, his powder blue bell bottom pants, and the copious chest hair he showed off to the viewers," he advised, adding: "Hey, it was the '70s." As for the actual theory explored in the report, he described it as "fascinating yet somewhat bizarre."

There is, for the record, a non-conspiratorial explanation for the umbrella man; Errol Morris covers that here. O'Reilly returned to the JFK assassination during his tenure on Inside Edition; you can watch that happen here. More recently, O'Reilly wrote—or at least put his name on—a book called Killing Kennedy; I haven't read it, but a text search at Amazon reveals that the word "umbrella" doesn't appear in it.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. And I suppose I should take this opportunity to promote my book on the history of American conspiracy theories, right? Check that out here.)




If President Trump’s War on the Press Starts with WikiLeaks, Who Will Rise to Assange’s Defense?

2017-04-21T12:15:00-04:00

If a vague, politically malleable concept of "hate speech" is all it takes for some Americans to surrender their First Amendment rights to speak out, will the possibility of the prosecution of WikiLeaks be all it takes for some Americans to turn their backs on the free press? CIA Director Mike Pompeo warned last week that neither WikiLeaks nor its founder Julian Assange were safe from what Pompeo believes to be "justice" for the media outlet's role in leaking classified or private information and communications to the public. If the sources who have talked to CNN are telling the truth, Pompeo's threats aren't just bluster: The Department of Justice is mulling over whether to charge Assange with some sort of criminal behavior. And Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Thursday that the Justice Department will "seek to put some people in jail" over leaks. President Barack Obama's administration famously went after leakers. But they knew to target the people who actually leaked to the press, not the press itself. CNN notes that the Justice Department under Obama did mull over how to possibly get at Assange and WikiLeaks but couldn't figure out a way to do so without implicating other media outlets that also ran leaked classified information. Under Donald Trump's administration, they seem to be less interested in that sort of distinction and are leaning heavily on the idea that Assange is a foreigner and doesn't get the "protection" of the First Amendment. That's not how the First Amendment works or is written and the American Civil Liberties Union is raising alarms at what the administration is considering: Ben Wizner, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, argued that US prosecution of Assange sets a dangerous precedent. "Never in the history of this country has a publisher been prosecuted for presenting truthful information to the public," Wizner told CNN. "Any prosecution of WikiLeaks for publishing government secrets would set a dangerous precedent that the Trump administration would surely use to target other news organizations." A lot of people who supported Hillary Clinton are furious with WikiLeaks these days and blame it and Assange for contributing to her defeat by publishing hacked emails from her campaign. Some even believe Assange is a willing stooge for the Russian government. As such, because some people don't like the consequences of what WikiLeaks has done, they seem more than fine with the idea that they should not have the same protections as media outlets they see as more "mainstream." Note some of the tweets at the bottom of this San Diego Union-Tribune piece. I think I'm most fascinated with the dueling concepts that Assange isn't protected by the First Amendment because he's a foreigner, but he's also a "traitor," even though he's not a U.S. citizen. Allow the government to decide what is a real media outlet and what counts as journalism will only lead to bad places. It is the ultimate example of a slippery slope that decimates the concept of what a "free press" is. Sessions subsequently on CNN refused to rule out the possibility that other media outlets could also face prosecutions for publishing leaked information. People who think WikiLeaks and Assange are b[...]