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Updated: 2017-07-25T00:00:00-04:00

 



Why Trump's 'Buy American, Hire American' Is Un-American

2017-07-24T12:45:00-04:00

In his quest to "Make America Great Again," President Trump has spent a week encouraging us all to buy products "Made in America."

That makes for a good slogan—who doesn't want to support home-grown businesses? But it's bad and incoherent policy. And it will do little or nothing to help Americans who have been put out of work by changes in technology and the economy.

For starters, it's hard to even get a clean definition of what it means for a product to be made in America. Dozens of products that carry a "made in America" tag were largely assembled or sourced outside the United States, with only a little bit of labor added within our borders. The Jeep Patriot, for instance, pushes nationalism in its very name but its transmissions are made in Japan, Germany, and Mexico.

The U.S. often has much higher labor costs than foreign countries, which means the same thing created solely in America would have an astronomical cost. According to one estimate, Apple iPads made totally in America would cost $967 a piece, or about three times today's basic price. The resulting fall in sales would cost about 67,000 manufacturing jobs.

Pushing "Made in America" comes with other costs, too. To hype his "Made in America" policy, Trump invited 50 exemplary companies to the White House for a photo op. It turns out that 21 of them received various federal, state, and local subsidies worth about $600 million. If you're taxing Peter to subsidize Paul, chances are you're not creating much real economic activity.

Pushing economic nationalism is also an affront to personal liberty and basic economics. Why shouldn't individuals be allowed to buy the products they think are best and cheapest regardless of where they come from? You might as well tell people to only "date American" or "vacation American."

Virtually all economists agree that protectionism dampens economic activity and growth by increasing prices and keeping workers and resources in sunset industries that will need more and more help to stay afloat. One study of industry-specific protectionist policies found that trying to make people "buy American" led to consumer-losses per job-saved of over half-a-million dollars.

And for all the talk Donald Trump and others have made about bringing "good-paying" manufacturing jobs back to America, the fact is that manufacturing jobs as a percentage of the work force peaked in 1943 and has declined ever since. We're truly a post-industrial nation.

There's no question that even with historically low unemployment rates, many Americans are having trouble finding good-paying, rewarding jobs in a global economy that demands constant upgrades and changes from workers. But the best way to help them is by pursuing policies that help produce the sort of economic growth that creates new jobs, new opportunities, and new wealth for all of us: Lower government spending, flatter and less distorting taxes, and less regulation.

Telling us all to "Buy American" is a cheap slogan best left on baseball caps made overseas.

Edited by Todd Krainin. Written by Nick Gillespie. Cameras by Meredith Bragg.

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The GOP Died at the Border Wall

2017-07-24T10:12:00-04:00

In President Trump's America, anti-immigration animus is fast becoming the main organizing principle of the Grand Old Party. Not fiscal responsibility. Not the free market. Anti-immigrant fever. For proof, look no further than the recent antics of two prominent Republicans: Rep. Mark Meadows (R–N.C.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.), both of whom have worked with the White House and floated plans to sacrifice traditional conservative economic principles to promote a harsh immigration agenda. Meadows told Breitbart News, the organ of immigration hawks, recently that he was prepared to shut down the government again in September if Congress' spending bill failed to fund the Great Wall of Trump. "There is nothing more critical that has to be funded than the funding for the border wall," he declared. It's stunning for Meadows to lobby for this money. He's an anti-spending warrior who helped found the House Freedom Caucus in 2015 for the express purpose of fighting rising government spending. He led the coup to depose House Speaker John Boehner two years ago after Boehner failed to cut half a billion dollars for Planned Parenthood from a bill to fund the government. Yet here is Meadows now insisting that the border wall—that will cost upwards of $20 billion—needs to be funded fully. Why? He cites two reasons: President Trump made a promise to his base, and it is essential for national security. But a limited government conservative of all people should understand that if a lawmaker's campaign promises were a sufficient justification to fund government programs, America would have gone Greece's way many times over by now (not just when the bill for America's massive unfunded entitlement state comes due!). As for the security rationale, it's not just bogus — but backwards. The Bipartisan Policy Institute's Theresa Cardinal Brown points out that a physical barrier, no matter how tall or strong or beautiful, will not deter drug cartels given that America boasts a $100 billion drug market—and that's just the annual number for the top four drugs. Cartels will find ways to go "over, under, around, or through any border infrastructure," she insists, by using drones, ultra-light planes, catapults, tunnels, submarines—and, most importantly, human mules. Mules are typically desperate foreign workers who, finding it difficult to get into the U.S., sign up with cartels to carry drugs in their body cavities in exchange for free passage to America. The more difficult America makes it for these workers to cross the border on their own, the more they will choose the cartel option. This will cause the drug and human trafficking business to become even more tightly entwined, breeding more criminality and lawlessness at the border. And all for the low, low price of $20 billion. So why build the wall? The real purpose, clearly, is the symbolism it offers the GOP's restrictionist base. However, if the austerity hawks of the party of limited government become champions of expensive and empty exercises in government spending, what leg will their party have to stand on when liberals start building bullet trains to nowhere to earn brownie points with their supporters? Clearly, Meadows doesn't care. But fiscal responsibility is not the only GOP principle that the anti-immigration fever is burning. Sen. Cotton, a rising star of the party, unveiled the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act last week. This legislation also disses the party's commitment to markets and competition—everything that Republicans have long credited for making America great. The Cotton bill would slash legal immigration in half by 2027 because he feels it's the government's duty to protect American workers from too much labor competition. So much for limiting the size and scope of government! And the claim that a smaller workforce means more plentiful and higher-paying jobs for native workers is laughable on its face. Women's participation in the labor market doubled in the latter half of the 20th cent[...]



Crooked Cops Need Tighter Restrictions, Not Financial Incentives to Invent Crimes

2017-07-24T09:01:00-04:00

In January, a Baltimore police officer planted drug evidence before activating his body camera and "finding" the probable cause he and his buddies needed to make a bust, according to the city's Office of the Public Defender. Images of the cop placing a soup can full of white capsules on the ground were captured in the 30-second buffer of the camera and then preserved after the device was officially turned on. Now prosecutors are reviewing 100 other cases in which the same trio of officers may have been up to similar shenanigans. Most news reports are treating the incident as a peek at problems in troubled Baltimore's police department. They need to look a little further afield. These Baltimore officers, and their colleagues around the country, are the same cops that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions thinks are burdened with excessive oversight. In April he vowed, "this Department of Justice will not sign consent decrees that will cost more lives by handcuffing the police instead of criminals." And just days ago, Sessions rededicated his department to working with local law enforcement on civil asset forfeiture efforts that bypass the need for criminal convictions to seize property—and also bypass state and local safeguards. Forfeited funds are split between federal and local agencies in a lucrative arrangement for everybody but the victims. "Equitable sharing" collaboration between federal and local agencies was suspended under former Attorney General Eric Holder, but the new regime is jump-starting the program Yes, Sessions promised that "the federal government will not adopt seized property unless the state or local agency involved provides information demonstrating that the seizure was justified by probable cause." But that's cold comfort if the probable cause comes from eager cops planting bags of drugs hither and yon. The evidence—not planted—suggests that police officers don't need more incentive to falsify reasons for slapping on the cuffs. Day-to-day pressures to meet arrest quotas, out-do colleagues, or spackle over errors in judgment seem to have already done the job in spades. Michael Slager, a North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer, faced accusations that he'd planted the Taser found near the body of Walter Scott, the man he killed after a traffic stop. Slager claimed Scott wrestled the Taser from him and then brandished it as a weapon. But video showed Slager picking the device up from a good distance away and moving it closer to the dead man's body. After a mistrial in his trial for murder, Slager pleaded guilty to violating Scott's civil rights. In 2014, two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies were charged with planting guns at a marijuana dispensary to justify arrests and hefty prosecutions for employees of the business. Further investigation revealed that the two were members of a police gang that described themselves—in a pamphlet—as "alpha dogs who think and act like the wolf, but never become the wolf." They competed among each other for status and seemed to plant guns as a routine tactic. Across the country, a New York City narcotics detective caught on camera in the act of planting cocaine on four men in a bar told a court that "it was common practice to fabricate drug charges against innocent people to meet arrest quotas." He said he "flaked" the bar patrons to help a buddy who was in danger of missing his target numbers. The heartland isn't immune, either. Cops in Tulsa, Oklahoma, testified that they planted drugs on suspects up to a dozen times—although they swore that they only did it to people they were absolutely certain were guilty. A police corporal kept a supply of crack cocaine in a tackle box in his car so it was available to be dropped as needed. They also stole cash found during searches, which is sort of like civil asset forfeiture, but with a very streamlined paperwork process. A handy supply of illegal drugs seems to play a common role in greasing the squeaky mechanism of legal bushwhacking. [...]



Can't Afford a Vacation? Blame the State!

2017-07-24T07:33:00-04:00

Your sweet summer getaway is just around the corner—if you can afford one. But however you get to and from your favorite vacation spot, the government is there to take a cut. If you're a road tripper, you'll pay a tax on gasoline that accounts for almost 19 percent of the price of refilling your tank. Even more annoyingly, a quarter of that money is diverted from relevant tasks like highway maintenance to other projects, including turtle bridges and bike lanes. Repaving the roads is low on the priority list, but at least you can experience first-hand what driving in the Soviet Union must have been like. If you fly, Washington will get you too. A ticket from New York to Paris in September on the French airline XL costs a total of $541. Some $401, or 74 percent, goes to taxes and fees. These can include a passenger facility charge (up to $18 per passage), a federal excise tax (7.5 percent of your airfare), $5.60 per one-way trip for the "September 11 security fee," up to $200 in U.S. and international departure and arrival fees, and more. If you're flying domestically you'll pay fewer fees (yay), but your ticket will be more expensive than it could be (boo) because of protectionist laws banning foreign airlines from accommodating travel within the United States. According to the Mercatus Center's travel guru, Gary Leff, "The largest domestic airlines are lobbying aggressively to stop foreign airlines like Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar from expanding their U.S. flights, and from being allowed to charge low prices." The rationale for government intervention here is that it "protects American jobs." Of course, that ignores the new jobs that could be created if these foreign companies were allowed to set up shop in the United States—not to mention the benefits that flow to American consumers when they get to choose from more carriers and price points. Getting where you're going can take longer than it should, thanks to long security lines and an antiquated government-managed air traffic control system that stacks delays on top of delays. Other countries have privatized their systems and seen spectacular results, but not us. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has also made it harder for most of us to adjust our plans in the face of such delays. For decades, the only way to catch a lift on a private jet with open seats was to check for postings to a physical billboard. Not surprisingly, this limited the number of people with access to that option considerably. But when the company Flytenow put this data on an online platform, the FAA showed its gratitude for the money it could save passengers and pilots alike by shutting Flytenow down. The fun continues even after you've arrived, since many state and local governments are also running interference. Don't expect to be able to grab an Uber or a Lyft in places such as Atlanta and Boston, which ban ride-sharing companies from picking up passengers. While some of these laws are only loosely enforced, many airports now spend a great deal of effort punishing rogue ride givers. According to The Wall Street Journal, "Miami airport police issued 4,000 citations to ride-sharing drivers over the past several years, each with a $1,010 fine." Home-sharing services, too, are being targeted. Last year, Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law to impose fines in the state of up to $7,500 "per advertisement of an 'illegal unit' on home sharing sites like Airbnb, which is likely to mean a fine for anyone who advertises short-term accommodations," Leff wrote at View from the Wing. The result, of course, is higher costs for visitors. Unfortunately, cities such as San Diego and San Francisco are considering doing the same. The governmental meddling doesn't end when you reach your destination. Some places won't let you drink or dance anywhere near a beach. Others ban food trucks, gambling, the consumption of soda from oversized cups, and/or smoking in public spaces. The bottom line is that you[...]



The Surprisingly Long History of Private Space Exploration

2017-07-23T06:00:00-04:00

The Long Space Age: The Economic Origins of Space Exploration from Colonial America to the Cold War, by Alexander MacDonald, Yale University Press, 272 pages, $35 Sixty years ago, the Soviets launched Sputnik and, with it, the space race. For Americans who grew up since then, the exploration of space has always been linked closely with the government. Private space companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin may have had successes, but they still arouse skepticism from people who cannot imagine anyone other than NASA or its foreign rivals sending people to the cosmos. But in The Long Space Age, the NASA historian and economist Alexander MacDonald uncovers a rich, multi-century history of privately funded space exploration. In the long view, the age of government-funded space travel may be a just a temporary detour from an older tradition. In the beginning, the exploration of space took place from here on Earth, with the astronomical observatories of the late 18th through mid-20th centuries. These were funded by subscriptions from local community boosters, by donations from wealthy patrons, and only occasionally by the government. The resources devoted to these projects were equivalent to those of many modern space missions, often as much as a billion current dollars. The feds did fund some successful projects, such as the Naval Observatory and the Smithsonian. But there were also many failures, including a national astronomical observatory proposed by President John Quincy Adams, an amateur astronomer, who warned of the dangers of falling behind the Russians' large telescope. (Think of that as the first space race.) Congress batted down the idea, with members arguing that this was not a federal responsibility. Space rockets, similarly, were at first a mostly private enterprise. MacDonald recovers the largely forgotten history of Robert Goddard, the American inventor of the liquid rocket, whose work was funded by the Guggenheim Foundation and others. Similarly, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, later absorbed by NASA, started as a student rocket project in the 1930s in an arroyo near the California Institute of Technology. Not until the 1940s was most rocket science conducted on the government's dime. Why did private funders pay for telescopes and rockets? Often, it wasn't about the science so much as the signaling. For example, Charles Yerkes—notorious for monopolizing streetcars in Chicago by means both fair and foul—helped finance the Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin to signal his fundamental beneficence and to rehabilitate himself in the public eye. Any revised perception of Yerkes' character didn't last long, but the facility itself did, and a great many discoveries were later made there. This motive hasn't disappeared in the age of NASA. The Apollo missions signaled that our space technology was superior to that of the Soviets, a goal that remains a driving force behind publicly funded human spaceflight. For many in Washington it doesn't matter much whether we have actual space accomplishments, as long as we maintain the appearance that we are on our way to achieving things in space. For philanthropists and subscribers to private telescopes, the aim was to signal that their town or college was ahead of its competitors in science and technology. The science itself often took a back seat: It was always easier to raise money to build a monumental observatory with a donor's name on it than to endow astronomers to actually use it for new discoveries. And the subscription model frustrated the scientists, who had to give up observation time to the subscribers who had paid money for the privilege of looking at planets through telescopes. The modern equivalent of that comes when planetary scientists have to divert mission resources—power, mass, bandwidth, money—from scientific instruments to cameras on space probes, so the taxpaying public can view gorgeous pictures. The last great private telescope was [...]



Shake Your Head at Italy's Crappy New Food Laws

2017-07-22T08:00:00-04:00

Italy is home to some of the best and most memorable meals I've ever eaten. I first visited in 1994, after graduating from college, and have returned on several occasions. Some of my fondest memories are of sampling wonderful street food in Milan, drinking and dining al fresco amid the lights at night in Rome, and enjoying the amazing aromas of wonderful cooking foods that practically permeate the country. That's why I'm disheartened to learn that Italy is increasingly cracking down on its food culture—including, specifically, the aforementioned Milanese street food, drinking and dining outdoors in Rome, and the grand aromas of the country's food. Earlier this month, Milan banned food trucks from the city. Also in July, reports The Local, Rome imposed a series of bans on food and alcohol. The Roman law prohibits grocers and other stores from selling alcohol after 10 p.m. and bars people from drinking alcohol from a glass in public at that same time. It also prohibits all alcohol consumption outdoors after midnight, and cuts off all alcohol sales after 2 a.m. Rome has also joined other Italian cities—notably Florence—in prohibiting picnicking at popular historic sites. The first Saturday the alcohol ban was in place, Roman police issued more than three dozen tickets, which cost about $200 a pop. Many Romans are aghast. "It limits our freedom as a business, and our free choice as responsible adults to be able to drink after 2 a.m.," the owners of Redrum, a restaurant and bar, told The Local. "[It is] a curfew which recalls decidedly sad periods of our history." At least one U.S. publication doesn't see the big deal. Food & Wine—a magazine devoted to celebrating some of the specific things Rome has banned: food and wine—apparently doesn't see the big deal with the Roman law. "Truthfully, it doesn't sound like the law should be difficult to abide," writes F&W's Elisabeth Sherman. "You'll still be able to enjoy Rome with respect, and a glass of wine in your hand, at least until two in the morning. By then, you should be in bed anyway." This isn't all Italy's getting wrong. This month, the country's highest court ruled that restaurants that serve frozen food to customers without declaring so on their menus are guilty of civil fraud. A restaurateur who'd disputed the charges was fined more than $2,000. "Even the mere availability of frozen food, if not identified as such on the menu, constitutes attempted commercial fraud," said the ruling. (Canned tomatoes are apparently still acceptable.) In April, the same court ruled, the New York Post reports, that "cooking stinky food—like rich pasta sauces and fish—too close to neighbors" constitutes a crime. The court, in upholding a couple's fine of more than $2,000, declared cooking food that produces aromas which are subjectively "beyond the limits of tolerability" amounts to "olfactory molestation." A creeping food xenophobia also appears to be taking hold in the country. Last year, Florence imposed restrictions on so-called "foreign" food from being sold in the historic city center. Fair Verona barred "ethnic" foods. This year, Venice banned new fast food outlets, focusing in part on kebab shops, in order to preserve Italian "decorum and traditions." Add to these recent crackdowns the country's ban on cultivating GMO crops and the creeping takeover of the food sector by the mafia, and Italy's future as a culinary titan would seem to be in jeopardy. It was only last summer that I wrote here about a new food law Italy had gotten right. In that case, Italy took action to combat food waste by rolling back complex government recordkeeping requirements and rules barring food from being shared. But one good law can't stand up to heaps of awful ones, which seems to be about all that's cooking in Italy these days. [...]



Reefer Madness at The New York Times

2017-07-22T06:00:00-04:00

"The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana," The New York Times declared in an editorial published on July 27, 2014. That week, the paper ran a series of essays fleshing out the case for legalization, including a piece in which editorial writer Brent Staples exposed the ugly roots of pot prohibition. "The federal law that makes possession of marijuana a crime has its origins in legislation that was passed in an atmosphere of hysteria during the 1930s and that was firmly rooted in prejudices against Mexican immigrants and African-Americans, who were associated with marijuana use at the time," Staples wrote. He mentioned "sensationalistic newspaper articles" that tied marijuana to "murder and mayhem" and "depicted pushers hovering by the schoolhouse door turning children into 'addicts.'" He did not mention that many such stories appeared in The New York Times. In the context of the era, when papers across the country were running news reports with headlines like "Evil Mexican Plants That Drive You Insane" (Richmond Times-Dispatch) and "Smoking Weed Turns Mexicans to Wild Beasts" (Cheyenne State Leader), the Gray Lady's marijuana coverage during the first few decades of the 20th century was not especially egregious. But to modern eyes, it is remarkably naive, alarmist, and racist. There were occasional bursts of skepticism, but in general the paper eagerly echoed the fantastical fearmongering of anti-drug crusaders such as Harry J. Anslinger, who ran the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) from 1930 to 1962. The path the Times traveled from promoter to opponent of pot prohibition parallels the journey of Americans generally, most of whom supported legalization by the time the paper's editorial board came around on the issue. In both cases, the single most powerful explanation for the reversal is growing familiarity with marijuana, which discredited the government's claims about its hazards. Since exotic intoxicants tend to be scarier than the ones you and your friends use, it is not surprising that fear of marijuana receded as direct or indirect experience with it became a normal part of adolescence and young adulthood. Conversely, people are much more inclined to accept outlandish claims about drugs they have never personally encountered. In that respect, the supposedly sophisticated and empirically grounded journalists employed by The News York Times are no different from their fellow citizens. 'Mexican, Crazed by Marihuana, Runs Amuck With Butcher Knife' On the face of it, the fact that marijuana seemed exotic to Americans at the turn of the 20th century is puzzling, since it was a common ingredient in patent medicines during the 19th century. Elixirs containing cannabis were sold as treatments for a wide range of maladies, including coughs, colds, corns, cholera, and consumption. An 1857 letter to what was then known as the New-York Daily Times even recommended "Cannabis Indica, the East Indian hemp, known most widely as Hesheesh," as "a sure counteractive to the poison of rabies." The letter cited "that famous benefactor to medical science," Irish physician William O'Shaughnessy, who encountered cannabis as a folk cure in India and introduced it as a medicine to Europeans in the early 1840s. By 1876, a Times story (reprinted from The Boston Globe) was describing cannabis as a medicine that "has been used by the faculty here with great success in cases of dropsy." But that was cannabis, a.k.a. Indian hemp. The first reference to "the Marihuana" in the Times, in a 1901 story with a Mexico City dateline, described it as "a harmless-looking plant" that "sends its victims running amuck when they awaken from the long, deathlike sleep it produces." The origin of the word marijuana (also spelled marihuana and mariguana) is uncertain. A quarter-century after the term first appeared in the Times, the paper's Latin American correspondent specu[...]



A Timeline of Marijuana in The New York Times

2017-07-22T06:00:00-04:00

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Vampires and Spies Dominate Frothy Fun Television Choices

2017-07-21T15:01:00-04:00

Declassified: Untold Stories of American Spies. CNN. Saturday, July 22, 9 p.m. Midnight, Texas. NBC. Monday, July 24, 10 p.m. It's the time of the television year, safely past the May upfronts where all of next season's advertising is sold and just before the big promotional push for the fall shows begins, when all the TV bosses flee for a few weeks to Malibu or the Hamptons or wherever it is that wealthy, imperious swine go to exchange tips on the most satisfying ways to whip the household help. And while the cat's away, the junior programmers will play, unleashing hordes of vampires, spies and what-have-you who would never see the airwaves if the grownups were around. The result is usually shows that are kind of fun if not necessarily any good. Which is a pretty fair summary of the week's premieres: NBC's pleasingly trashy spook opera Midnight, Texas; and the CNN spy documentary Declassified: Untold Stories of American Spies, which is either a carefully coded revelation about American espionage or mammothly incompetent documentary filmmaking, take your pick. Midnight, Texas, is based on a series of books by Charlaine Harris, who authored the vampire novels that became HBO's epic True Blood. But if you're expecting a True Blood clone, you're going to be wildly disappointed; the two series of books are completely different. True Blood was about life in a creepy little Louisiana town populated mostly by vampires, werewolves, and telepathic fairies. Whereas Midnight, Texas, is about a creepy little Texas town populated mostly by vampires, werewolves, and telepathic gypsy psychics. So, we're on, like, different sides of the moon here, or at least different sides of the Sabine River. Actually, the major difference in the two is the absence this time around of executive producer Alan Ball, who picked up one of the True Blood novels to pass the time after showing up early for a dentist's appointment and somehow divined in its pulpy goth confusion a tool with which to slice and dice culture, theology, sexuality, identity politics, and gender migration. Whereas Midnight, Texas, is about biting people. Just as the mind-reading waitress Sookie Stackhouse turned the ignition key in True Blood, ghost-whispering medium Manfred (François Arnaud, The Borgias) sets off the sparks in Midnight, Texas. Manfred's act is mostly fake, though he does occasionally hook up with a real spirit, almost always with disastrous results. Under pursuit by somebody he conned, he heads for tiny middle-of-nowhere Midnight, a place his grandmother—she's dead, but still full of the bad ideas that got her killed—tells him would make a good hideout. It turns out Grandma wasn't the first one to have the idea. Most of Midnight's population share allergies to garlic, wolfsbane, and silver bullets. The preacher (Yul Vazquez, Captain Phillips) gets a bit growly during full moons. The nightshift clerk at the pawnshop (Peter Mensah, True Blood) is friendly, but never seems to be around during the daytime. And then there's that mysterious shopkeeper Fiji (Parisa Fitz-Henley, Luke Cage). "Some people say she's a witch," a local cop warns Manfred. "Or a lesbian." Even the town cat has a lot more on his mind than mice. Midnight's unusual demographics are due in part to its metaphysical geography. "The veil between the living and the dead is awful thin here," one local explains to Manfred. (Go ahead, insert your own George Bush/Ted Cruz punchline here.) Not only that, they turn out to be an unruly lot, popping the veil at the slightest provocation, to drip (no, you don't want to know what) on the carpet, introduce their pet demons, and so forth. Add to that the problems with the town's non-metabolically-challenged citizens, who include a motorcycle gang whose comportment can be deduced by its name, Sons of Lucifer, and an overachieving prof[...]



Gutting of Oversight Bill Puts Kibosh on Police Reform in California

2017-07-21T00:30:00-04:00

There are two rules of thumb to keep in mind when following the California legislature. First, lawmakers love to prattle about pie-in-the-sky issues, such as halting global warming, but steadfastly avoid tackling nuts-and-bolts issues (pension liabilities, infrastructure repairs) that cry out for attention but run up against powerful special-interest groups. Second, you always know it's a cop-out when legislators promise to "study" something. The gutting of a police-reform bill last week combined both of those realities. Assembly Bill 284 had little chance of passage because it dealt with an actual problem and was getting pushback from some muscular lobbies. Instead of killing the measure and getting a bad rap among their minority constituents, legislators turned it into a meaningless study bill. The bill was introduced by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) following an incident captured on a disturbing video. Last July, Sacramento police tried to run over a knife-wielding, mentally ill man with their police cruiser, then fired 18 shots and killed him. The city in February settled a lawsuit with the man's family for $719,000, but the district attorney cleared the officers of wrongdoing. Police said the man was a danger to the neighborhood. Obviously, several "use of force" incidents have been in the news, so the Sacramento situation wasn't unusual. What was unusual is that a legislator proposed something substantive in response. The legislation would have created statewide teams to investigate officer-involved shootings. This would provide outside involvement in the currently incestuous oversight system. The revised bill now merely requires the state Department of Justice to produce a report of times officers shoot people or when people shoot them. Let's deal with a few little-discussed realities. No matter how egregious any killing appears, officers are cleared by their own departments and district attorneys, who work closely with the same police departments they oversee. In the rare instance they do prosecute an officer, a jury will side with the cop. Police unions shield even the worst officers, who always claim their lives were in danger. I've covered a number of these cases, and the result is usually the same. Here are some more realities. Liberals see these police killings through an entirely racial lens. There is, of course, a strong racial element to many of them, but most of the ones I've covered have had white people as the victims. It's more a policing problem that centers on an insular paramilitary culture that downplays the value of "civilian" lives. Conservatives—you know, the folks who prattle about government overreach—instinctively side with the government's agents. Would they be OK with letting the IRS or the Environmental Protection Agency or the California Air Resources Board investigate themselves when there are accusations of abusive behavior? Should we always side with government because, well, it's responsible for protecting us and its employees often have tough jobs? The gutting of AB284 also reminds us of this reality: Union-allied Democrats are as hostile to police reforms as Republicans. Democratic state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, for instance, opposed the bill in its original state but backed it after it was watered down into meaninglessness. I'm glad that civil-rights groups spoke out at the Capitol against the amended version. Perhaps they will realize that there's virtually no chance any substantive police reform will move forward, even with Democratic legislative dominance. Whenever there's a troubling incident, we're faced with a false choice. We can trust the process or get upset that the officers don't face criminal sentences. But there is a third option. We can analyze current policies, training, job protections and[...]



Be Worried About the Future of Free Expression

2017-07-21T00:15:00-04:00

"Ads That Perpetuate Gender Stereotypes Will Be Banned in U.K., but Not in the Good Ol' USA!" reads a recent headline on the website Jezebel. Yay to the good ol' USA for continuing to value the fundamental right of free expression, you might say. Or maybe not. Why would a feminist—or anyone, for that matter—celebrate the idea of empowering bureaucrats to decide how we talk about gender stereotypes? Because these days, foundational values mean increasingly little to those who believe hearing something disagreeable is the worst thing that could happen to them. Sometimes you need a censor, this Jezebel writer points out, because nefarious conglomerates like "Big Yogurt" have been "targeting women for decades." She, and the British, apparently, don't believe that women have the capacity to make consumer choices or the inner strength to ignore ads peddling probiotic yogurts. This is why the U.K. Committee of Advertising Practice (and, boy, it takes a lot of willpower not to use the cliche "Orwellian" to describe a group that hits it on the nose with this kind of ferocity) is such a smart idea. It will ban, among others, commercials in which family members "create a mess, while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up," ones that suggest that "an activity is inappropriate for a girl because it is stereotypically associated with boys, or vice versa," and ones in which "a man tries and fails to perform simple parental or household tasks." If you believe this kind of thing is the bailiwick of the state, it's unlikely you have much use for the Constitution. I'm not trying to pick on this one writer. Acceptance of speech restrictions is a growing problem among millennials and Democrats. For them, opaque notions of "fairness" and "tolerance" have risen to overpower freedom of expression in importance. You can see it with TV personalities like Chris Cuomo, former Democratic Party presidential hopeful Howard Dean, mayors of big cities and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It is Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) arguing for hecklers' vetoes in public university systems. It's major political candidates arguing that open discourse gives "aid and comfort" to our enemies. If it's not Big Yogurt, it's Big Oil or Big Somethingorother. Democrats have for years campaigned to overturn the First Amendment and ban political speech because of "fairness." This position and its justifications all run on the very same ideological fuel. Believe it or not, though, allowing the state to ban documentaries is a bigger threat to the First Amendment than President Donald Trump's tweets mocking CNN. It's about authoritarians like Laura Beth Nielsen, a professor of sociology at Northwestern University and research professor at the American Bar Foundation, who argues in favor of censorship in a major newspaper like Los Angeles Times. She claims that hate speech should be restricted, and that "Racist hate speech has been linked to cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and requires complex coping strategies." Nearly every censor in the history of mankind has argued that speech should be curbed to balance out some harmful consequence. And nearly every censor in history, sooner or later, kept expanding the definition of harm until the rights of their political opponents were shut down. You can see where this is going by checking out Europe. Dismiss slippery slope arguments if you like, but in Germany, where hate speech has been banned, police have raided the homes of 36 people accused of posting "illegal content." A law was passed last month in Germany that says social media companies could face fines of millions of dollars for failure to remove hate speech within 24 hours. When debates about immigration are a[...]



Movie Review: Dunkirk

2017-07-21T00:01:00-04:00

There are a few familiar faces blinking through the tumult of Dunkirk: Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh, even teen-pop singer Harry Styles (who's very good in his first film role, as a young soldier). But their performances aren't the point. The movie's true star is its writer and director, Christopher Nolan, whose commitment to thunderous widescreen action and smashing IMAX cinematography is a wonder to behold. In recounting the famous story of how more than 300,000 British and Allied troops were desperately evacuated off a French beach as the German army bore down on them in the spring of 1940, Nolan has produced a radical distillation of the traditional war movie. The picture is a loosely linked procession of incident and imagery; dialogue is minimal and there's virtually no exposition. (You might want to read up on the Dunkirk story before seeing the film.) What we get instead is a tale roughly unfurled in three battle arenas: land, sea and sky. On the beach at Dunkerque, a town in the north of France, we see long lines of trapped soldiers awaiting salvation, their faces registering the numbed incomprehension of young men facing extinction before their lives have really gotten underway. Naval destroyers anchored offshore are ready to rescue these soldiers, but can't get close enough to do so because of the shallow waters; smaller boats would be required to ferry the men out to the ships. Back in England, less than 50 miles across the Channel, a flotilla of some 800 civilian craft are being requisitioned for this purpose, and Nolan puts us aboard one of these boats—a motor-yacht owned by a tweedy gentleman named Dawson (Rylance), who's already cutting through the waves on his way to Dunkirk accompanied two teenagers, one of them his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney). Meanwhile, high above, two RAF pilots (Tom Hardy and Jack Lowdon) are doing sensational pirouettes across the sky in pursuit of the Luftwaffe planes that are attacking the men on the beach below. (At one point we learn that the best way to determine when an outgoing tide has turned is when all the waterlogged corpses start washing back toward shore.) The movie derives its unusual power in large part from its blunt style. There isn't much in the way of a formal story. Things just happen—we're not always certain exactly what or why, but then that, presumably, is how war would be. At the very beginning, German leaflets flutter down on puzzled soldiers like ominous autumn leaves ("You Are Surrounded"). As bombers howl overhead, a line of explosions marches up the beach practically into our lap. A soldier floating in an oil slick that's just been ignited by a crashing plane faces a choice of whether to die by drowning or burning. A shell-shocked soldier (Cillian Murphy) who's been marooned by a U-boat attack is picked up by Dawson's boat—and is horrified to learn that his rescuer isn't headed home to England, but back to Dunkirk. Throughout all of this—throughout every single minute of all of this—Hans Zimmer's astonishingly apocalyptic score, with its bare-nerve string-wringing and drunken-giant synth-rumbles, sets a new standard for sonic overkill—and then overkills it. I mean this in a good way—without Zimmer's music, the picture would be substantially diminished. What we have here is a new kind of war movie, made by a gifted and already much-admired director. I don't think it's Nolan's best film, because Nolan is also the guy who directed The Dark Knight, which is a much better film. The Dark Knight—like Memento and Inception, among other Nolan pictures—adheres to old-school touchstones like narrative and personality. Dunkirk has no interest in either of those things, which is okay—this is a movie that communicates the disloca[...]



What Nancy MacLean Gets Wrong About James Buchanan

2017-07-20T21:00:00-04:00

The board of education in Brown v. Board of Education—the 1954 Supreme Court decision that desegregated American public schools—was located in Topeka, Kansas, a city that was overwhelmingly white. Brown overturned a policy set by a majority, and it was right to do so: School segregation is just as wrong when it is imposed democratically as it is when it is imposed by suppressing the black vote. So the strangest thing about Democracy in Chains—a book that contains many, many strange claims—may be how its author, the Duke historian Nancy MacLean, treats Brown. On one hand, she believes that those who want to bind majorities with preset constitutional rules are up to something sinister. Her chief villain on this score is James Buchanan, an economist and political philosopher who argued that government actors ought to be subject to built-in structural constraints. On the other hand, MacLean clearly thinks Brown was correctly decided. Indeed, she accuses Buchanan of working to undermine the ruling. MacLean seems not to notice Brown is itself an example of the phenomenon MacLean is denouncing: a Constitution being used to overrule a democratic outcome in the name of protecting a minority. It's an awkward start for a baroque conspiracy story, and it signals what a mess the book will be. The historian has little to no evidence for her history. She invents some when necessary, and will at times just make assertions to suit her narrative, mustering neither real nor phony evidence to back them up. Many of her factual and interpretive errors have already been covered elsewhere, in venues ranging from Vox to The Washington Post. Rather than get lost in the weeds of covering every false statement or misleadingly gerrymandered quotation in this book, I want to focus here on the core claims that it gets wrong: MacLean fundamentally misunderstands Buchanan's intellectual project, treating his theories about politics as an apologia for the wealthy and powerful. This gives short shrift to a serious body of thought, and it fails to see that his arguments can indict the wealthy as much as anyone else. She tries to tie Buchanan's work to the segregationist order in the South, even implying that his ideas arose from a desire to preserve it. She essentially invents links along the way. She paints Buchanan as an important influence on Augusto Pinochet's repressive dictatorship in Chile. Not only does her evidence fail to support this, but she misses an important piece of counterevidence: a 1981 speech, delivered in Chile, in which Buchanan condemned dictatorial rule. And finally, though Buchanan was neither an orthodox libertarian nor a central influence on the libertarian movement, she puts him at the heart of a Charles Koch–driven conspiracy to impose a radical libertarian agenda on the United States. In the process, she manages to misread both Buchanan and Koch in telling ways. Public Choice, Private Greed? Buchanan won the Nobel Prize in 1986 for his role in founding the "public choice" school of economics. This school's key idea, to quote the Nobel committee, was to seek "explanations for political behavior that resemble those used to analyze behavior on markets." The result was a body of work in which politicians and bureaucrats, no less than entrepreneurs and investors, often "act out of self-interest," driven not just by a vision of the common good but by a desire for votes or bigger budgets. MacLean, by contrast, treats public choice as little more than an effort to question the good-heartedness of public servants. Its conclusions, she insists, have "no true research—no facts—to support them" and are rooted in "projecting unseemly motives onto strangers about whom they knew nothing." She t[...]



Stossel: Save the Rhinos!

2017-07-20T09:30:00-04:00

Poachers massacre rhinos for their horns. Some are carved into ornaments. Some are ground up and sold as medicine. Just one can sell for as much as $300,000.

Entrepreneur Matt Markus co-founded the company Pembient to save rhinos. His plan is to 3D-print fake rhino horns that are indistinguishable from the real thing. He will then flood the market with the cheap fakes, and drive the price so low that poachers have no reason to kill rhinos.

Markus says: "When things are abundant, people don't kill, fight, or steal."

Free markets are often the best way of protecting the environment. South Africa once tried something similar by legalizing rhino farming and the sale of horns within the country. The rhino population quadrupled in just two decades.

But in 2008, South Africa banned sales of rhino horn again. Poaching shot up.

Now outlets like BBC say "the rhino could be extinct within 10 years."

Sounds like an emergency. One would think that the people who want to preserve wildlife would love Markus's idea to save rhinos.

But they hate his idea. Watch the video to see John Stossel confront a representative of the Humane Society about its opposition to Markus's plan.

Produced by Maxim Lott. Edited by Josh Swain.

Horn Maker documentary footage from Juliette Marquis / Horn Maker, LLC. More info at hornmaker.org

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Curbing Traffic Stops Would Save Lives

2017-07-20T00:15:00-04:00

Last weekend, in the wee hours of the night, Chicago police stopped a car carrying four people. When officers approached it, they saw a passenger holding a gun. The outcome was a familiar one: an 18-year-old man was shot by police. Too often, traffic stops lead to tragedy. Philando Castile was shot to death in his car by a police officer in Minnesota. Last week, a mistrial was declared for a University of Cincinnati officer prosecuted for killing 43-year-old Samuel DuBose, whose car had a missing front license plate. Sandra Bland, yanked out of her car by a Texas state trooper after allegedly failing to signal a lane change, died in jail. All three victims were black. Cops are also at risk. In March, a police officer died in a shootout with a passenger who ran from a car that had been pulled over in Tecumseh, Okla. In June, a police lieutenant was fatally gunned down after a stop in Newport, Arkansas. When an officer stops and approaches a vehicle, both the cop and the driver are vulnerable. Any wrong move or misjudgment can turn the encounter deadly. "Traffic stops and domestic violence are the highest-risk calls—you have no idea what you're walking into," John Gnagey, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, told the Orlando Sentinel in 2010. Even when motorists get off unharmed, the experience can be frightening, infuriating or humiliating. Stops breed fear and distrust of law enforcement, particularly among minorities. So why do cops rely so much on the practice? Enforcing traffic laws is a large share of what they do. Ignoring motorists who drive too fast or ignore signals could foster chaos on the road. But there are other ways to combat bad driving. University of California, Berkeley law professor Christopher Kutz points out that police in France do traffic stops at less than one-third the rate that American cops do. In England and Wales, it's one-fourth. The obvious alternative is using cameras. Speeders and red-light runners can be detected and ticketed by electronic means. Upon paying the fine, says Kutz, the offenders could be required to show that they are licensed and insured. I've gotten citations from red-light and speed cameras, and while I resented the fines, I was grateful that I wasn't detained on the roadside by an armed officer. The time I got a mere warning for (barely) failing to come to a complete stop on an empty suburban street after midnight was considerably less pleasant. Being a gray-haired white male, I've been pulled over only three times in my adult life. Castile, 32, had been through that experience 49 times—and "was rarely ticketed for the reason he was stopped," according to the StarTribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Joel Anderson, an African-American reporter for BuzzFeed, said on Twitter last month that he's been stopped more than 30 times since he started driving—including five times for seatbelt violations when he was wearing his seatbelt. Traffic stops are often an excuse for cops to search a car for drugs and guns. Curtailing police reliance on this pretext would free motorists from being dragooned to "consent" to searches for which the cops lack probable cause. True, the change would let criminals operate at less risk. But hassling the innocent to catch the guilty is an abuse of our constitutional principles. In Illinois last year, police conducted 2.17 million traffic stops. Just 8,938 yielded contraband—one bust for every 242 stops. The rare instances when police find evidence of a crime, Kutz told me, "don't justify the enormous social costs of widespread police interventions." This is an extremely inefficient way of detecting drug and gun crimes. It's also o[...]



When Business Emulates Politics

2017-07-20T00:00:00-04:00

For many years now, a multitude of politicians have made lofty promises, fudged the truth and denied a variety of allegations. Sadly, this seems to have become the norm. But what should we do when businesspeople join this political game, cynically peddling influence to boost their egos rather than peddling products to boost their bottom lines? An institutional change to make this practice unacceptable among lawmakers would take many years and lots of manpower; however, the increasing occurrence of business executives acting like elected officials is a new-enough trend that it could be cut off before it becomes ingrained. Take the CEO of British-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever, whose actions mirror those of a politician. For years, Paul Polman touted his vision for an innovative way of doing business, relying heavily on buzzwords like "sustainability" and "long-term thinking," much like a candidate on the campaign trail. Now, he's looking to cement his legacy, as you might expect a lawmaker to—by attaching his influence to protectionist policies. Polman's legacy would not simply be for show, like many lame-duck presidents' final decrees. He has publicly urged the British government to protect companies from outside bids, a concept at odds with competitive market ideals and basic economic fairness. This is self-interest. It comes after the much smaller American Kraft Heinz Co.'s audacious bid for Unilever in February. In fact, Polman wants to go as far as removing the shareholders' power to dispose of their assets, in "the interests of the stakeholders." Any economist will tell you that it's better for resources invested in weak or sluggish businesses to be freed up for more productive uses. This switch often occurs through an outside party stepping in against the weaker company's desires. Other times, the takeover is averted through political methods. Economic protectionism is making a comeback, and unfortunately, Polman's public complaints could create momentum for politicians to step in. Already, British Prime Minster Theresa May's conservatives want the U.K. to "require a bid to be paused to allow greater scrutiny," an unnecessary and counterproductive interference sure to do more harm than good. Polman's complaints must also be viewed in another context: his long crusade for "sustainability," a noble idea that provides cover for political meddling. Generally, if CEOs want to thump their chests to demonstrate their progressive bona fides, that's their right. It's up to shareholders and board members to decide whether that's the type of business they want to run. The danger comes when the rhetoric of businessmen begins to mirror the kinds of vague populist appeals that have long been used to undermine competitive markets. Tellingly, Polman's high-minded rhetoric is at odds with some of Unilever's behavior in recent years. In 2011, Unilever was fined 104 million euros for colluding with Procter & Gamble on the price of washing detergent. The company claimed they were working together for environmental reasons. But Unilever was again flagged for collusion earlier this year when The Competition Commission of South African recommended it be prosecuted for agreeing not to compete with another company over margarine and edible oils. These actions don't align with the kinds of national protection Polman proposes for businesses. Unilever has also been heavily criticized for dramatically increasing fees on local partners in countries like India and South Africa—which, one could argue, is exactly the type of short-term mindset Polman rails against. The pressure to collect more fees may have been due in part [...]



Elon Musk Can't Sell His Teslas in Texas

2017-07-19T15:05:00-04:00

"It makes no sense that an American manufactured vehicle would be so challenging to get," says Tesla owner Matt Holm. "You have to jump through so many hoops." When Elon Musk launched the first Tesla sports car in 2008, he didn't just set out to create a mass market for electric vehicles; Musk wanted to disrupt the entire auto industry by cutting out the dealership middleman and selling his cars directly to consumers. Tesla's sales approach has resonated with customers who want a more interactive car buying experience. Holm, a realtor based in Austin, Texas is one of those Tesla converts. He spends a lot of time on the road driving clients in his Model S. He loves the fact that his vehicle doesn't need much maintenance and can be charged overnight in his garage. But when Matt went to purchase his Tesla, he couldn't just walk into a store and buy one. "I actually had to go online, configure it, and order it sight unseen," says Holm. "It was like I was a spy or something getting some James-Bond car delivered." Unlike the big car companies, Tesla doesn't have a network of independent dealerships that sell its cars. The company runs its own showrooms, but in Texas—along with Connecticut, Michigan, Louisiana, Utah, and West Virginia—the government makes it illegal to walk into a Tesla store and buy a car. Tesla employees at these showrooms aren't even allowed to give pricing information or to direct customers to the company's website. Test drives require a special permit from the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. Almost every state has some sort of restriction on directly purchasing cars from manufacturers. The purpose of these franchise laws, which date to the 1930s, is to prevent car buyers from cutting out the middlemen—a big political constituency. The Lone Star State has nearly 1,300 franchised car dealerships employing about 100,000 people. The National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) has repeatedly argued that the current system of franchised dealers is necessary to protect consumers and ensure fair competition. In a speech before the Automotive Press Association last October, NADA chairman Jeff Carlson stated that consumers preferred the dealership sales model and that dealership networks were "the best, most efficient, and most pro-consumer way of selling new cars and trucks." But if car buyers really preferred going through third-party dealers, why do they need government protection? Car manufacturers have tried to sell straight to consumers prior to Tesla. In the late 1990s, Ford attempted to circumvent the dealerships in Texas by starting its own stores and selling used cars through their own company website. The Texas Department of Transportation ruled that this violated the state's franchise laws and ordered Ford to shut down operations. Ford was also hit with a $1.7 million state fine. The following year, then Texas Governor George W. Bush signed a law that strengthened protections for the dealership cartel. Now Musk is taking his own shot at selling direct to consumers. According to figures from the Texas Ethics Commission, Tesla has spent over $1.2 million on Texas lobbyists in the last five years as part of an effort to eliminate the direct sales ban. Rep. Jason Isaac, a Republican state legislator from Dripping Springs, Texas, introduced a bill in the 2017 legislative session that would get rid of car dealership rules. "It's truly not a free-market approach," says Isaac. "What my bill basically says is that a manufacturer of an automobile can sell direct to the consumer if they want to." But Isaac has come up against the the politically connected Texas Auto D[...]



Can a Governor Save Rural Regions? Should He?

2017-07-19T12:00:00-04:00

When the final days of the Virginia gubernatorial contest arrive and you find yourself hurling vases at the television because you're sick of snarling attack ads, just remember: The candidates offered much substance back in summer. Republican Ed Gillespie has laid out extensive policy proposals on taxes and the opioid crisis, for example. Yesterday, Democrat Ralph Northam unveiled his plan for economic growth in rural Virginia. You can understand why he did. While the crescent from Northern Virginia through Richmond and over to Hampton Roads holds the bulk of the state's vote, rural areas will be key to the GOP effort, and if Northam can make inroads there, he could sew up the contest by October and coast to victory. And you can understand why his plan would appeal to voters in the rural southwest, what with the decline of the coal industry and so on. Still, it's worth digging a little deeper into Northam's plan and the premises behind it. "When I travel around the commonwealth," Northam writes, "I hear a lot of folks say they're from rural Virginia, but not enough who say they've stayed in rural Virginia. And that's what we need to fix." It is? Why? One possible reason: There is intrinsic value in keeping the region populated. But that doesn't seem very plausible. If anything, you could argue that, environmentally speaking, it might be better to keep some swaths of the state unpopulated. A more plausible explanation is that the government should help the residents of Southwest Virginia. But are they better off staying there? If they can improve their economic circumstances by moving to urban areas, then why not let them? Of course, some people in Southwest Virginia might want to improve their economic circumstances and still stay put. But is it the state's job to ensure they can? And if the answer is yes, then what does that imply about, say, struggling economic sectors? Should the state help people stay in fading industries as well as fading regions? If not, why not? The other day The Washington Post reported on the federal flood insurance program, which has racked up $25 billion in debt. The story cited a $56,000 house in Baton Rouge that, thanks to repeated floods, has run up almost $429,000 in claims. Another house, in Mississippi, is valued at $90,000 and has collected more than $600,000 in claims. Critics of the program say it encourages people to stay in place when what they really need to do is move. The point could apply to more than just flood plains. Northam also says the "top concern" he hears from large manufacturers and economic developers is "whether we have the skilled workforce necessary to grow and attract new jobs and industries." To address that concern, he wants to create "flexible, business-oriented workforce training programs across the commonwealth" that can teach people the "unique skillset(s)" that are "oftentimes required to meet that company's needs." Northam isn't suggesting anything we haven't heard many times before. But the idea does raise two questions—one practical and the other philosophical. The practical question is whether skill-specific training will help workers as much as it's cut out to. The New York Times recently noted a new study in the Journal of Human Resources that suggests technological and other changes often leave skill-trained workers behind—and rather than retrain them, employers often let them go and bring in new talent. As one of the authors of the research put it, the real need is "for more general cognitive skills that give workers the ability to adapt to new circumstances and new jobs." That[...]



How Capitalism Saved the Bees

2017-07-19T06:00:00-04:00

You've heard the story: Honeybees are disappearing. Beginning in 2006, beekeepers began reporting mysteriously large losses to their honeybee hives over the winter. The bees weren't just dying—they were abandoning their hives altogether. The strange phenomenon, dubbed colony collapse disorder, soon became widespread. Ever since, beekeepers have reported higher-than-normal honeybee deaths, raising concerns about a coming silent spring. The media swiftly declared disaster. Time called it a "bee-pocalypse"; Quartz went with "beemageddon." By 2013, National Public Radio was declaring "a crisis point for crops" and a Time cover was foretelling "a world without bees." A share of the blame has gone to everything from genetically modified crops, pesticides, and global warming to cellphones and high-voltage electric transmission lines. The Obama administration created a task force to develop a "national strategy" to promote honeybees and other pollinators, calling for $82 million in federal funding to address pollinator health and enhance 7 million acres of land. This year both Cheerios and Patagonia have rolled out save-the-bees campaigns; the latter is circulating a petition calling on the feds to "protect honeybee populations" by imposing stricter regulations on pesticide use. A threat to honeybees should certainly raise concerns. They pollinate a wide variety of important food crops—about a third of what we eat—and add about $15 billion in annual value to the economy, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And beekeepers are still reporting above-average bee deaths. In 2016, U.S. beekeepers lost 44 percent of their colonies over the previous year, the second-highest annual loss reported in the past decade. But here's what you might not have heard. Despite the increased mortality rates, there has been no downward trend in the total number of honeybee colonies in the United States over the past 10 years. Indeed, there are more honeybee colonies in the country today than when colony collapse disorder began. Beekeepers have proven incredibly adept at responding to this challenge. Thanks to a robust market for pollination services, they have addressed the increasing mortality rates by rapidly rebuilding their hives, and they have done so with virtually no economic effects passed on to consumers. It's a remarkable story of adaptation and resilience, and the media has almost entirely ignored it. The Bee Business The chief reason commercial beekeeping exists is to help plants have sex. Some crops, such as corn and wheat, can rely on the wind to transfer pollen from stamen to pistil. But others, including a variety of fruits and nuts, need assistance. And since farmers can't always depend solely on bats, birds, and other wild pollinators to get the job done, they turn to honeybees for help with artificial insemination. Unleashed by the thousands, the bees improve the quality and quantity of the farms' yields; in return, the plants provide nectar, which the bees use to produce honey. Honeybees are essentially livestock. Their owners breed them, rear them, and provide proper nutrition and veterinary care to them. Unlike bumblebees and wasps, honeybees are not native to North America; the primary commercial species, the European honeybee, is thought to have been introduced by English settlers in the 17th century. Commercial beekeepers are migratory. They truck their hives across the country in tractor trailers on a journey to "follow the bloom," stacking their hives on semis and moving at night while the bees are at rest. Most [...]



Loving Animals to Death: Rules to 'Protect' Animals Often Put Them At Risk

2017-07-19T00:01:00-04:00

We need to sell more rhino horns, quickly. That may be the only way to save rhinos from extinction. Today, rhinos vanish because poachers kill them for their horns. Businesses turn their horns into ornaments or quack health potions. Some horns sell for $300,000. No wonder poachers risk their lives for one. How do you fight an incentive that strong? Flood the market! That's a solution suggested by Matthew Markus. Markus's biotech company can make artificial rhino horn in a laboratory that's virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. Put enough of that lab-grown horn on the market and supply and demand will bring the price way down. Then poachers won't risk getting killed trying to steal real rhino horn. "One way to devalue something is to create a lot of it," said Markus. "When things are abundant, people don't kill." South Africa tried a mild version of this solution once. For 20 years, they made it legal to own rhinos and sell their horns. Poaching dropped because legal rhino farming took away the poachers' incentive. Rhino farmers bred rhinos and protected them. Once in a while, they'd put rhinos to sleep with tranquilizer darts and saw off their horns. The horns grow back. The rhino population quadrupled. Win-win. But animal welfare activists are never happy with any solution that involves profiting from nature. South Africa banned sales of rhino horn again. Poaching rose 9,000 percent from 2007 to 2014, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Now South Africa is considering legalization again, but they will have to fight the NGOs. Some, like Humane Society International, even oppose sale of that artificial horn. They asked the U.S. government to block a shipment of a sample of rhino DNA that might have created better artificial horn. I confronted the Humane Society's spokeswoman about that. Our interview will be one of the first videos for my new project: "Stossel on Reason." I will post videos weekly on Facebook, Twitter and Reason TV. We start this week. In this first story, the Humane Society's Masha Kalinina passionately argues against re-legalizing rhino farming and the sale of artificial horn. "This is dangerous! Absolutely dangerous for rhinos and their survival," she says. "This is greenwashing an illegal activity... The problem is that people still see animals as commodities, natural resources for their use!" Yes. And why is that a problem? I eat eggs and chicken, and I drink milk. More chickens and cows are alive because people like me pay for them or what they produce. Kalinina replied: "Are we really going to farm every single animal on this planet so we can continue endlessly supplying this bloodlust and thirst of people to consume wildlife products?" Give me a break. Farming isn't "bloodlust." South African farmer John Hume says each of his 1,500 rhinos has 12 acres of land in which to run around. Every two years he trims their horns. That procedure is painless enough that even environmental groups perform it on wild rhinos to discourage poachers. The Humane Society claims legalization won't stop poaching. Kalinina points out that elephant ivory trading was once made partly legal, and it "started up a new carving industry in China." Demand increased when supply increased, she said. But that was hardly real legalization. Just a few one-off sales were allowed. To really bring down the price, you'd need a consistent supply of cheap horns. Artificial horn could provide that. The Humane Society rejects that solution. Instead, they run ads that say rhino horn is not good medicine. It'[...]



Do You Have a Right to Follow the President on Twitter?

2017-07-19T00:01:00-04:00

It will surprise no one familiar with Donald Trump's attitude toward criticism that people who make negative comments about him on Twitter may find their access to his account blocked. If Trump were an ordinary Twitter user, he would be well within his rights to shun anyone who offends him. But Trump is no ordinary Twitter user. He is the president of the United States, and he regularly uses his @realDonaldTrump account—which has 34 million followers, about 15 million more than the official @POTUS account—for presidential purposes. A federal lawsuit filed last week argues that Trump's current use of the Twitter account he established in 2009 makes it a "designated public forum," meaning that banishing people from it based on the opinions they express violates the First Amendment. The idea that you have a constitutional right to follow the president on Twitter is not as silly as it might seem. If the White House let visitors to its website post comments and used a filter to block criticism while allowing praise, that would pretty clearly violate the right to freedom of speech. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which filed the Twitter lawsuit on behalf of itself and seven Trump critics blocked by his account, argues that the president's viewpoint discrimination on the social media platform is analogous. The institute's beef is not with Twitter, a private company that is not constrained by the First Amendment, but with the president and his staff. If Trump used his Twitter account primarily to discuss golf, real estate, or his grandchildren, his criteria for granting access to it would not raise constitutional issues. But Trump uses his Twitter account primarily to discuss work-related subjects such as appointments, executive orders, international affairs, policy initiatives, and press coverage of his administration. Trump's tweets, some of which are posted by White House aides, routinely make news. Sometimes they announce major decisions, such as the appointment of a new FBI director, before any other source. The @realDonaldTrump profile lists his location as Washington, D.C., describes him as the "45th President of the United States of America," and displays official White House photos. The White House social media director describes @realDonaldTrump, along with @POTUS and @WhiteHouse, as a way of "communicating directly with you, the American people!" Trump's press secretary says his tweets are "official statements by the President of the United States." The National Archives and Records Administration agrees, meaning the tweets must be preserved along with other official records. Except for those specifically banned, Trump's Twitter account is open to all, and according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek "a typical Trump tweet" generates "20,000 or so replies." As a result, says the Knight First Amendment Institute, the @realDonaldTrump account has become "an important public forum for speech by, to, and about the President." Twitter users banned by Trump are largely excluded from that forum. They cannot follow him, see his tweets while logged onto Twitter, reply to them, debate other commenters, send direct messages to him, use Twitter's search function to locate specific Trump tweets, or see which accounts follow the president or are followed by him. Banned users can still see the president's tweets if they log out of Twitter, and they can evade the restrictions by creating new accounts under pseudonyms, although they run the risk of being banned a[...]



The Price of Press Bias

2017-07-18T15:00:00-04:00

How seriously should one take President Trump's complaints about the press? About $37.06 a year seriously, to be precise. Trump tweeted earlier this week: "With all of its phony unnamed sources & highly slanted & even fraudulent reporting, #Fake News is DISTORTING DEMOCRACY in our country!" The most sinister interpretation of Trump's attacks on the press is that they are an effort to undermine public confidence in one of the few independent institutions that could challenge his grip on power. Trump's Republican Party controls Congress. Conservative-leaning justices hold four of nine Supreme Court seats. The Democratic Party is in disarray. That leaves the press—with the possible exception of the quasi-permanent federal bureaucracy—as the most formidable obstacle to whatever Trump wants to get done. The most charitable interpretation of Trump's complaint is that, even if he may be exaggerating or painting with an excessively broad brush, he's nonetheless performing a valuable service by highlighting a genuine problem. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between. But Trump is right about the "highly slanted" part. I can say that as someone who has been documenting bias at The New York Times in items for my Smartertimes.com website now for 17 years. How can I quantify the cost of press bias so precisely—$37.06 a year? That's the amount my property taxes increased after the City of Boston voted to approve a tax surcharge. The slanted coverage came from the local National Public Radio affiliate, WGBH, which aired an indefensible piece that quoted two people in favor of the tax increase but not a single person who opposed it. Now, one might argue that the press is just serving its audience of left-leaning Boston-area voters. The voters approved the tax increase in 2016 with about 74 percent in favor. But it's a bit of a "which came first, the chicken or the egg" type of question. Are WGBH and the Boston Globe liberal because the citizens of Boston are? Or do the people of Boston lean left because the press is feeding them a diet of slanted information on which to make their judgments? The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between. The new property tax bill from the city, admirable in its transparency, has a line that itemizes the amount of the "community preservation act" surcharge. It's a line that didn't exist on last year's tax bill. The line is labeled "community preservation act," but I prefer to think of it as a "media bias" tax. For $37.06, I could buy a pair of shoes for one of my children, make a donation to WGBH, or hire a local teenager to mow the lawn or shovel snow off my driveway. Instead, the money will go to local politicians for spending on their pet projects. It's rare that the cost of press bias is as clear, and the consequence of it as direct, as with this property tax increase. But the price we pay is there, in every doctor's bill and every health insurance bill, every electric bill, every estimated tax payment, every payroll tax deduction, every sales tax imposed on every purchase at every store or restaurant. When the press tilts in favor of higher taxes and more regulation, against energy exploration, and for more government spending, democracy is indeed, as Trump accurately observes, distorted. The true cost, on annual basis, is probably well more than my $37.06 tax increase. The First Amendment wisely prevents Congress from making any laws to address this problem. But President Trump is free to complain. And the rest of [...]



This Poconos Property Manager Helped My Family Keep Our Vacation Home—Until Pennsylvania Shut Her Down

2017-07-18T09:30:00-04:00

Arrowhead Lake is an idyllic little community in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains. For my family, it's the perfect vacation spot. We swim and canoe at the lake, hike and pick berries, roast marshmallows, and dance at the summer bonfires held at the community's main pavilion. It feels like a much-needed break from the fast pace of modern life, and we always come home feeling renewed and refreshed. We love it so much that after a few years vacationing there as renters, we decided to buy a home in the community. In order to swing this financially, we have to rent the place out when we are not there, like many vacation homeowners do. Initially, we were having trouble making that work. We even thought—to our great disappointment—that we might have to sell the house because the numbers were not adding up. That's when we found property manager Sally Ladd, who already managed a few other vacation rentals in Arrowhead Lake and came highly recommended by other owners. We met with and interviewed Sally and were tremendously impressed with her, so we hired her to manage our property. Almost immediately, things turned around for us financially. Sally's background in digital marketing made her very skilled at advertising our property, and we started to get more rentals than we had before. Sally also had a great sense of what types of little improvements—some decorative touches here, a fresh coat of paint there—would make our property more attractive to renters. The place was finally paying for itself, and we couldn't have been happier. Then, on February 24, 2017, my husband and I received the following email from Sally: Dear Property Management Client, It is with great regret that I must inform you that as of April 1, 2017, I will no longer be able to provide property management services for your vacation rental home. In early January I was contacted by the State of Pennsylvania and informed that a complaint had been filed against my company for managing properties without a real estate license....I need to begin the process of deactivating your property listings on my accounts, dissolving my company and completing all rentals in progress. It turns out that in Pennsylvania, anyone who wants to act as a property manager—even just for short-term vacation rentals—has to be a real estate broker licensed by the state. To get this license, Ladd would have to take 300 hours of approved instruction, pass two exams, and spend three years working as an apprentice under an already-licensed broker. Faced with these burdensome requirements, Ladd—who is 61 years old—felt she had no choice but to shut down her small business. My husband and I were upset—things had been going so well! Given that I am not only a vacation homeowner but also someone active in the liberty movement, the wheels in my head started turning pretty quickly. During the summer between college and law school, I worked as an intern at the economic liberty litigation firm Institute for Justice, and this seemed like exactly the kind of case that might interest them. So after dashing off an email to a friend saying that Pennsylvania had "fucked with the wrong libertarian," I contacted the institute. With their help, today Sally Ladd and I filed a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Real Estate Commission and the Pennsylvania Department of State, seeking relief from the law—the Real Estate Licensing and Registration Act, 63 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 455.101—that mad[...]



Medical Researchers Are Steps From Legalizing Ecstasy. Here's How They Did It.

2017-07-18T08:30:00-04:00

In January 1967, roughly 20,000 young people gathered at Golden Gate Park for the Human Be-In, a kind of outdoor conference for hippie counterculture. The event introduced the word "psychedelic" to the American mainstream, and the psychedelic evangelist Timothy Leary to San Francisco. California and Nevada had banned LSD a year earlier, following New York, which banned it in 1965. Leary, a psychologist who'd recently been canned from his faculty gig at Harvard for sharing psychedelic drugs with undergraduates, believed there was no longer any point in negotiating with the powers that be. His message was blunt: "Drop out of high school, drop out of college, drop out of graduate school." The Man—mostly government, but also society and authority figures of all kinds—was attempting to eradicate psychedelic drugs and the liberation they bestowed. That required a proportionately rebellious response: "Turn on, tune in, drop out." Students around the country heard Leary's words, and many did as he exhorted. The Man heard him, too, and doubled down on its efforts to bury the psychedelic drug era under a mound of criminal sanctions and red tape. Within a few years, psychedelic drugs were completely regulated out of recreational settings, then therapeutic settings, and finally research settings. Fifty years and a few months later, at a Marriott hotel 14 miles from Golden Gate Park, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) hosted nearly 3,000 researchers, students, and enthusiasts for Psychedelic Science 2017, a six-day conference on what's being done to turn illegal psychedelic drugs into legal pharmaceutical products. Once again, the avatars of psychedelic culture had gathered to compare notes, share their experiences, and talk strategy. This time, the message was different: Stay in school. Apply for research grants. Design clinical trials. Show your work. Evangelize, yes, but with a new audience in mind—not the counterculture, but the Man himself. "Regulators, governments, health economists, health systems, insurers, health-care professionals, and—most importantly—patients," said George Goldsmith, the former CEO of McKinsey & Company's TomorrowLab, and an advocate for the kind of therapeutic innovation psychedelic researchers are hoping to achieve. "That's the next community that actually needs to be engaged here." Sitting onstage next to Goldsmith was Thomas Insel, a psychiatrist and former director of the National Institute of Mental Health. Insel, who's spent a lot of time in recent years bemoaning the paucity of effective psychiatric drugs, was blunter still. "I would encourage you to be more Catholic than the Pope. You've got to be more rigorous than the people working in the pharmaceutical industry studying more traditional compounds that aren't controlled [substances]." One adverse patient reaction for which clinical investigators were not prepared, he argued, could "poison the well." "I know you don't want to hear that," he added. "But it's really easy to mess things up." Today's psychedelic drug community is fiercely committed to avoiding a repeat of the 1960s culture wars, in no small part because their tie-dyed predecessors lost. Insel and Goldsmith, while not psychedelic researchers themselves, reflect the current movement's willingness to work with more staid actors in the field of medicine. At the Human Be-In, where Leary delivered his fiery exhortation,[...]



Net Neutrality Supporters Should Actually Hate the Regulations They're Endorsing

2017-07-18T08:00:00-04:00

If you went on the internet at all last week, you could not help but miss some of the web's most popular websites publicizing their campaigns that defend the Obama-era telecommunications regulation known as the Open Internet Order (OIO). Last Wednesday, tech heavyweights like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and even Pornhub held a "Day of Action" to support the controversial FCC rules. The websites bombarded users with blog posts encouraging folks to contact their representatives and popup messages bemoaning the future of a slow and tiered internet. But ironically, these websites' stated goals are in direct contradiction of the regulations that they ostensibly support. Simply stated, the OIO does not in fact secure the principles of "net neutrality" like so many of these websites implied to their users. In fact, the OIO may have the adverse effect of actively discouraging the principles of net neutrality through a loophole that would exempt motivated Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from OIO regulations. This cannot be emphasized enough: The OIO allows and encourages ISP filtering, a huge no-no in the world of net neutrality. This is a point that my Mercatus Center colleague Brent Skorup has made since shortly after the OIO rules were first introduced in February of 2015. It's a bit of a nuanced argument, and one that would not be immediately obvious to anyone who does not closely read all FCC reports and related court cases as a profession. But as the general public is whipped into a veritable frenzy to defend the OIO rules or risk Internet catastrophe, it's a critical fact to hammer home in the debate. To understand just how muddled the discussion surrounding "net neutrality" and the OIO has become, we need to know a bit about: 1) how the concept of net neutrality developed and what it means; and 2) the political pressures and compromises that were made in the run-up to the introduction of the OIO. First, the definition of "net neutrality" is incredibly hazy. You could almost say that more people agree that net neutrality is a good thing than can agree on any particular definition. The concept was first laid out by law professor Tim Wu in his seminal 2002 article, "A Proposal for Network Neutrality." Wu lays out hypothetical scenarios where ISPs block or throttle access to content for reasons ranging from cost to anti-competitive activities. His article attempts to distinguish content differentiation that he finds reasonable and should be allowed from those that he finds unjustifiable and should be prohibited. The article generated a fair bit of controversy even under this more limited framework—critics responded by pointing out some benefits of non-neutral Internet arrangements—but it was at least a relatively narrow and understood topic. From there, the concept of "net neutrality" morphed into something that was both utopian and unworkable. If you type the phrase into Google, the top definition provided is the "principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites." Yet this definition stands in sharp contradiction to the vision outlined by Wu, who noted that "a total ban on network discrimination, of course, would be counterproductive." This kind of extreme understanding of net neutrality has been dismissed by early Interne[...]



40 Ways the World Is Getting Better

2017-07-18T07:00:00-04:00

One of the reasons for starting Human Progress in 2013 was to allow the users of the website to see the multitude of ways in which the state of humanity was improving. While most people already know that we live longer and earn higher incomes than our ancestors, many people fail to appreciate that the story of human progress is truly multidimensional, including (in alphabetical order) increases in charitable contributions, improved communications, improving business environment and economic freedom, better access to education and cheap energy, a cleaner environment, more food, greater gender equality, improved governance (on average), better health, improved housing, an overall rise in human freedom, progress in labor (fewer work hours and fewer on-the-job injuries), more leisure time, falling prices of most natural resources, increased tourism, cheaper and safer transportation, declining violence and, as mentioned, growing wealth. Our website allows users to access over 1,100 datasets and millions of data points related to all of the above areas of progress and much more. So, as a shameless plug for our website, we have compiled a random list of 40 ways in which the world is getting better, giving all of us, I hope, grounds for optimism about the future. More people than ever own a personal computer In just over a decade, it has become substantially easier to start a business More people than ever have access to sound money For children aged 7 and under, the expected average years of schooling has never been higher Global coal consumption is trending downward, thus easing CO2 emissions Chlorofluorocarbon consumption has reached an all-time low Wheat yields for U.S. agriculture have never been higher Internet access in schools has substantially increased On average, freedom of the press has never been higher Access to improved sanitation facilities has sky-rocketed The size of new U.S. homes increases every year Global labor productivity has shot up over the last six decades The aerospace industry adds billions of dollars of value to economy Tourism accounts for a growing share of world GDP Sales revenue for U.S. manufacturing firms continues to grow More people than ever are traveling by air Support for gay marriage in the U.S. has grown greatly The percent of people living in extreme poverty has never been lower There are more cellular subscriptions than people Less regulation of credit, labor, and business has increased economic freedom Youth literacy has reached an all-time high U.S. energy consumption has decreased The price of common food items has declined Globally, the number of women in the labor force has never been higher The world is becoming more innovative with each year More children than ever are being vaccinated for polio In Europe, ovarian cancer death rates are at an all-time low In the developing world, share of people living in slums is decreasing The amount of time women spend on laundry has dropped significantly The global satellite industry revenue increases by billions every year Tourism increases as travel becomes easier Car ownership rates have hit an all-time high Execution rates in the U.S. have hit an all-time low U.S. families are adopting new technology at a quicker pace than before Internet use has sky-rocketed There are fewer undernourished people than ever before The amount of work-related injuries has n[...]



A Rogues' Gallery of Bad Forensics Labs

2017-07-18T06:30:00-04:00

Despite improvements in DNA matching and reliability, forensics labs across the country still continue to train and monitor technicians improperly, resulting in shoddy work and tainted cases. Austin, Texas The Austin Police Department's DNA lab closed last June after state officials discovered it had been using outdated statistical methods for years, which may have led it to overstate its confidence in DNA matches. New, more reliable methods were established in 2010 and eventually adopted by every accredited DNA lab in the country—except Austin's. "One would think it would have been picked up," Lynn Garcia, general counsel for the Texas Forensic Science Commission, told the Austin American-Statesman. There were other problems as well, including freezer failures. It will cost $7–$14 million to review the roughly 4,000 cases suspected to be impacted by the lab's substandard performance. Broward County, Florida The Broward County Sheriff's Office crime lab temporarily suspended some of its DNA testing last July. Accreditors found it had been using faulty procedures that could misidentify inconclusive results as positive matches. Local public defenders and DNA experts had filed an official complaint with the American Society of Crime Lab Directors (ASCLD), claiming the lab was using incomplete or mixed DNA evidence. "The DNA identification process used in the crime lab and relied upon by your office is tantamount to junk science," Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein wrote in a scathing letter to the state attorney. "Your office should immediately halt the use of DNA mixture results generated by the crime lab in all pending criminal prosecutions to prevent wrongful and unjust convictions." After an investigation by the ASCLD reached similar conclusions and the group threatened to strip the lab's accreditation, the sheriff's office vowed to adopt more stringent procedures. Houston, Texas The Harris County District Attorney's Office sent letters to local defense attorneys in 2014 notifying them that a Houston DNA lab technician had tampered with official evidence, possibly affecting up to 185 criminal cases, 51 of them murders. It was the latest in a string of scandals for the local forensics laboratory. The Houston cops' DNA testing lab had already been closed twice—once in 2002 and again in 2008—for "serious management, employee and structural problems," the Houston Chronicle reported, "including a leaky roof that for years dripped water on stored evidence." In 2005, a probe by an independent investigator found still more problems. According to the Chronicle, the lab had bumbled along for 15 years "as employees failed proficiency tests, botched analyses and taught themselves scientific technique by reading books at home." DNA testing later overturned three wrongful convictions resulting from the gross mismanagement of the Houston lab. Prince George's County, Maryland Prince George's County police suspended a DNA lab employee in April and launched an audit of the facility. "The ongoing county review uncovered neglected DNA profiles that should have been entered into a national database, lags in notifying investigators of DNA profile matches and the use of outdated methods to calculate the individuality of profiles," The Washington Post reports. According to that paper, the county began the investigation [...]



DNA Evidence Frees the Innocent

2017-07-18T06:00:00-04:00

Sir Alec Jeffreys didn't know what awaited him when he entered his lab in Leicester, England, on September 10, 1984. "My life changed on Monday morning at 9:05 a.m.," he later told an interviewer at the University of Leicester. "In science, it is unusual to have such a 'eureka' moment." But the discovery he made that day in the science of DNA would turn criminal justice on its head. The first genetic fingerprint was discovered "purely by accident," says Jeffreys. He and his team were studying the evolution of mammalian globin genes when they discovered repetitive DNA sequences spread through the genomes of almost all the species they tested. Further examination showed that they were present in most mammals and that the patterns appeared to be different in each animal. Thinking that these might act as markers that would help pinpoint the genes responsible for particular traits, they set up an experiment to look for them in human beings. In September 1984, the experiment revealed several markers in the human genome, which appeared to be passed down through families and unique to each individual. The team first published its findings in 1985; a second article that year concluded the probability of two individuals having the same DNA fingerprint was less than one in 33 billion. The researchers realized immediately that their discovery would have radical implication for at least two areas: criminal investigations and paternity cases. DNA evidence quickly found its way into American courtrooms, but the technology wasn't always used responsibly. It was soon challenged in court, a charge led by defense attorneys Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld. The pair went on to found the Innocence Project, which is most famous for using DNA evidence to exonerate 350 people who were convicted of crimes they didn't commit. Their challenges to the early use of DNA fingerprinting in criminal trials encouraged labs to be more modest and precise in their claims, but it also sowed seeds of doubt about the accuracy of the techniques, and about the criminal justice system more broadly. The First Criminal Case In November 1983, the body of 15-year-old Lydia Mann was found in the village of Narborough, England. She had been raped and strangled. The crime sparked a major investigation but went unsolved. Three years later, in July 1986, a similar crime occurred in the neighboring village of Enderby, where another 15-year-old, Dawn Ashworth, was found beaten, raped, and strangled. This time investigators had a suspect: Richard Buckland, a 17-year-old who worked in the kitchen of a local mental hospital. Buckland had a very low I.Q. Upon questioning, he confessed to Ashworth's murder but not to Mann's. So investigators asked Jeffreys—who was in the spotlight after helping settle a paternity dispute in a high-profile immigration case the previous year—to compare Buckland's DNA with a sample taken from the Mann crime scene, which he did in September 1986. The results showed that the samples did not match. Surprised and unsure how to proceed, police asked Jeffreys to test Buckland's sample against material from the Ashworth investigation, the crime to which he had confessed. The tests showed that the two crime-scene samples matched each other, but neither one matched Buckland, shocking not only the police but also Jeffrey[...]



Men as Likely To Be Harassed Online as Women

2017-07-18T05:00:00-04:00

A new study released by the Pew Research Center supports what some of us have argued all along about online harassment: that it affects men as much as women and that the problem should not be framed as a gender issue—or defined so broadly as to chill legitimate criticism. If anything, the study says, men tend to get more online abuse than women, including serious abuse such as physical threats (though women are, predictably, more likely to be sexually harassed). However, when people are asked about free speech vs. safety on the internet, women are more likely to come down on the side of the latter. Thus, it is very likely future efforts at speech regulation will continue to be cast as "feminist" initiatives. Online harassment has become something of a cause célèbre in the last three years. It has been explored (and deplored) in numerous media reports; it has attracted the attention of politicians and even of the United Nations. A basic premise of these discussions has been that women, especially outspoken women, are specifically and maliciously targeted for hate, abuse, and threats; many feminists have claimed internet misogyny is the civil rights issue of our time. The Pew survey of over 4,000 American internet users over 18 conducted in January challenges those contentions. Forty four percent of the men and 37 percent of the women said that at some point, they had experienced at least one of the behaviors the study classified as harassment. Most of this abuse involved offensive name-calling and being embarrassed on purpose. However, 12 percent of men and 8 percent of women said they'd been the target of a physical threat; 6 percent of men and 8 percent of women said they had been stalked; 8 percent of men and 7 percent of women they had experienced "sustained harassment"; and 4 percent of men and 8 percent of women said they had been sexually harassed. Men and women under 30, who are the most likely to spend a lot of time online, are, unsurprisingly, the most likely to experience all kinds of online abuse, including its more severe forms. It's true that women who been targets of online abuse were more than twice as likely as men to describe their last such experience as extremely or very upsetting (35 percent vs. 16 percent). But, interestingly, there was no gender gap in actual negative effects of online harassment, be it mental stress, problems with friends and family, romantic problems, reputational damage, or trouble at work. Twelve percent of both male and female victims—or about 5 percent of all respondents—said that online harassment had made them fear for their or their loved ones' safety. One percent, with no gender difference, had been victims of doxing—the unwanted disclosure of their personal data online, ranging from real names for those who post under pseudonyms to place of work or home address. Few will be surprised to learn that women under 30 were substantially more likely than their male peers—53 percent vs. 37 percent—to report receiving unsolicited sexually explicit images. But in a more counterintuitive finding, men in that age group were more likely than women—14 percent vs. 10 percent—to say that explicit images of them had been shared online without their consent. (For those 30 and older, the figure was 5 percent fo[...]



Tired of High Health Care Costs? Look at Misbehaving Dentists and the Licenses That Enable Them

2017-07-18T00:01:00-04:00

With memories of a certain scene from Marathon Man fading, it's likely that most Americans have a pretty positive view of dentists. They keep our choppers in decent working order despite a wide range of neglect and abuse of the pearly whites. But there is a darker side of the profession, which has developed a reputation for playing hardball in protecting its licensed practitioners from potential competition. It's an object lesson in the dangers of occupational licensing—a demonstration that letting any industry coopt the coercive power of government does little to help consumers, while protecting the paychecks and prerogatives of the licensed few. "Lawmakers from Maine to Alaska see a different side of dentists and their lobby, the American Dental Association, describing a political force so unified, so relentless and so thoroughly woven into American communities that its clout rivals that of the gun lobby," the Washington Post reported earlier this month. You know reporters are troubled by bad behavior when they compare it to "the gun lobby"—culturally parochial modern journalists' equivalent of invoking the devil. But what they report is truly troubling. The Post adds, "Critics say the ADA has worked to scuttle competition that could improve access to dental care in underserved areas and make routine checkups and fillings more affordable." The article goes on to detail efforts by organized dentists to intimidate lawmakers who consider allowing competition by dental therapists—non-dentist practitioners who can offer basic dental care at lower cost than dentists. It also discusses battles waged by the Federal Trade Commission against state dental boards—regulatory bodies run, as is the case with most licensing bodies, by and for the benefit of existing practitioners in the industry they oversee. "The Federal Trade Commission today announced a consent order settling charges brought in September 2003 that the South Carolina State Board of Dentistry unlawfully restrained competition in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act by adopting a rule that required a dentist to examine every child before a dental hygienist could provide preventive care—such as cleanings—in schools," the FTC announced in 2007. "Today, the Supreme Court affirmed the Federal Trade Commission's position in recognizing that a state may not give private market participants unsupervised authority to suppress competition even if they act through a formally designated 'state agency'," the FTC reported in 2015. Yes, the scare quotes around "state agency" are original to the FTC press release—perhaps an acknowledgment by a federal regulatory body of the regulatory capture of the state body by the people it regulates, and its operation on their behalf (whether there's an implied lesson in there about all regulatory bodies I leave to readers' imaginations). So it's clear that dental licensing bodies function to protect dentists from competition, to the point that they've even had their hands slapped by the U.S. Supreme Court for their behavior. Is there any counter-balancing benefit to be had from licensing dentists? Not really, was the conclusion of a study performed by Morris M. Kleiner and Robert T. Kudrle, of the University of Minnesota and published in 199[...]