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Updated: 2017-06-28T00:00:00-04:00

 



Remy: People Will Die!

2017-06-28T15:05:00-04:00

Remy channels his inner Elizabeth Warren to vilify the other side.

Written and performed by Remy
Music mastered by Ben Karlstrom
Video by Meredith Bragg

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LYRICS:

People need kidneys, it's sad but decreed
yet this Senator's hoarding one more than she needs
I offer this bill and I hope you'll vote "aye"
Unless, of course, you just want PEOPLE TO DIE!

Traffic deaths have many crying with fear
Over 30,000 people are dying each year
this modest change I propose must be applied
Unless, of course, you just want PEOPLE TO DIE!

Alcohol deaths are exceeding comparisons
Black people, white people, Native Americans
We need to ban alcohol, it can't be denied
Unless, of course, you just want PEOPLE TO DIE!

Murders are bad. They have no defenders
yet many are committed by repeat offenders
I say lifetime in prison, whatever the crime
unless, of course, you want PEOPLE TO DIE!

So I don't have a bill, or a groan to detail
I just need a short clip for my donor email
Tim THERE'S BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS! YOU WANT PEOPLE TO DIE!
That good? Cool. Tim, dinner at five? Yeah.

These car deaths I mentioned are terrible stuff
It just doesn't seem that one seatbelt's enough
Either vote for my act so that fewer will cry
Unless, of course, you just want PEOPLE TO DIE!

The carbs. The container. We cannot ignore
Whipped cream's killing more people than ever before
This bill would be passed and be ratified
if those people there didn't want PEOPLE TO DIE!

Why not weigh all the costs, the effects, the results
Empathize with each other as if we were adults
Use our brains to craft arguments--not vilify
See that freedom's a trade-off--YOU WANT PEOPLE TO DIE!

(image)



The Coward's Veto: Dyke Marches, Trump, Muslims, and Cop Shootings

2017-06-28T12:00:00-04:00

You might not think lesbian activists and supporters of Donald Trump's travel ban have anything in common. But that's where you would be wrong, my friend. Over the weekend, cities around the country hosted annual gay pride parades. Chicago also held the Dyke March, which is for those who find your everyday gay pride parade too plain-vanilla. The Dyke March is a "more inclusive, more social justice-oriented" event. Or so they claim. This year it turned out to be something rather different, when a few participants showed up carrying the Jewish Star of David flag. "It was a flag from my congregation which celebrates my queer, Jewish identity," Laurel Grauer told a Chicago publication. Dyke March organizers kicked them out—ostensibly because the march was pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist. Grauer says she was told to leave because other marchers found her flag "triggering" and it "made them feel unsafe." There's a lot of that going around these days. Students at Notre Dame recently protested a speech by Vice President Mike Pence because they claimed that his presence made them feel unsafe. Oberlin students likewise objected to an appearance by conservative scholar Christina Hoff Sommers. Students at Georgetown tried to prevent Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson from speaking at their graduation for the same reason. At Santa Clara college, students rejected a charter application by Turning Point USA because the group—which supports "fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government" supposedly made them feel unsafe, too. In all of these cases, it's important to note one salient fact: Objectively speaking, nobody was actually unsafe. None of the flag-carriers at the march, and none of the speakers, presented any threat to the safety of anyone. They made no verbal threats. They brandished no weapons. They assaulted nobody. Thus the claim of feeling unsafe was one of two things. If it was sincere, then it was baseless and irrational—as baseless and irrational as the fear expressed by someone who claims to feel unsafe in the presence of the color blue. Or the claim was insincere—a way of trying to justify an ignoble desire to silence someone simply because of a political disagreement. Conservatives might be tempted to look down their noses at such behavior. But they have their own problem with it, exemplified by President Trump's travel ban. The ban originally applied to people from seven countries: Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. As Cato Institute immigration expert Alex Nowrasteh pointed out back in February, "foreigners from those seven nations have killed zero Americans in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and the end of 2015. Six Iranians, six Sudanese, two Somalis, two Iraqis, and one Yemeni have been convicted of attempting or carrying out terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Zero Libyans or Syrians have been convicted of planning a terrorist attack on U.S. soil during that time period." Indeed, the odds of being killed by a foreign terrorist—from any country, never mind those seven—are more than 45,000 to 1 (and they're 138 million to 1 for illegal-immigrant terrorists). Americans are four times more likely to die from a heat wave, 74 times more likely to die by suffocation, 125 times more likely to die by gunshot, and 6,428 times more likely to die from heart disease than from the act of a foreign-born terrorist. Heck, Americans are 50 times more likely to die from motorcycle accidents. A rational federal policy aimed at protecting American lives would ban all motorcycles long before it got around to banning entry from the listed countries. The difference, of course, is that Americans are not rational about their safety. People don't sit around arguing about the best way to prevent suffocation, even though it presents a far greater threat than terrorism, which people argue about all the time. King-sized comforters don't make them "feel unsafe," but Muslims and swarthy Middle Eastern men do. Now, that fear is one of two things. Eit[...]



Why Government Schools Fail

2017-06-28T03:02:00-04:00

Every year, almost every industry improves. We get more choices—usually better choices, for less money. "But of all the products we make and the services we provide, there's one that stands out as an exception," according to the Cato Institute's Andrew Coulson. "One activity in which excellence doesn't spawn countless imitators or spread on a massive scale: schooling." Why not? What can be done about it? These questions are asked and often answered by Coulson's new PBS TV series School Inc. It's a wonderful three hours, reaching back years to America's first experiments in education and traveling the world to look at schools in Chile, England, Sweden, India and Korea. In Korea, top teachers make millions. Why haven't American schools improved? The education establishment says, "We don't have enough money!" But American schools spend more per student than other countries. Spending tripled during Coulson's lifetime and class sizes dropped. But test scores stay flat. "Schools adopted all sorts of new technologies, from projectors to personal computers to 'smart' whiteboards," says Coulson. "None of these inventions improved outcomes ... Educational quality has been stuck in the era of disco and leisure suits for 40 years, while the rest of the world has passed it by." The main reason for that is that most schools are controlled by government. Government is a monopoly, and monopolies resist change. Actually, most of us resist change. We don't want to give up the way we've always done things. Certainly, few of us want to work harder, or differently. We get set in our ways. But when there is competition, we can't get away with that. If we don't adopt better ways of doing things, we go out of business. That forces innovation. But government-run schools never go out of business. Principals, school boards and teachers—especially union teachers—have little incentive to try anything new. One of the documentary's illustrations of this might be familiar because the story was also told in the movie Stand and Deliver. In that film, actor Edward James Olmos played math teacher Jaime Escalante. Escalante taught at California's Garfield High School. The student body was, and is, composed of some of the most "disadvantaged" students in America. Yet more Garfield High students passed advanced placement calculus tests than did students from Beverly Hills High. Escalante was the reason. He was simply a better teacher. Coulson interviewed some of his former students, who said, "Escalante worked as if his life depended on the success of his students." The results were beyond belief ... literally. His students did so well on the state calculus test that authorities accused them of cheating. They made them take the test again. The students aced the test the second time. What made Escalante a better teacher? One student tells Coulson, "He built a relationship with each student, knew them by name, knew their story... Students didn't want to disappoint him." The movie made Escalante famous, but he didn't change. He kept teaching at Garfield, telling students that even though they were poor, "With enough drive and hard work, the sky is the limit." "The lessons I learned from Jaime, I apply them every day," a former student told Coulson. "With my children I talk about Jaime and about ganas—desire. Nothing's for free. You have to work really hard if you want to achieve anything." Stand and Deliver has a happy ending, but what happened in real life was no fairy tale. Coulson says, "In any other field, we might expect this combination of success, scalability, and publicity to have catapulted Escalante to the top of his profession and spread his teaching model across the country." That isn't what happened. Garfield's union teachers resented Escalante's fame and work ethic. A former Garfield student who now is a teacher told Coulson, "The problem was that Escalante's classes were big... He was setting a precedent, giving the message to the administrator: 'If Escalante can do it, why[...]



Trump's Travel Ban Is Legal but Dumb

2017-06-28T00:01:00-04:00

This week the Supreme Court unblocked most aspects of President Trump's executive order limiting entry into the United States, signaling that the restrictions are likely to be upheld. That makes sense, because the reasons that two federal appeals court offered for upholding injunctions against Trump's order are unpersuasive. But the fact that Trump's policy is legal does not make it smart. The original version of Trump's order was issued in great haste a week after he took office, and it showed. The 90-day ban on entry by citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) applied to current visa holders, including people working and studying in the United States, and legal permanent residents, who were barred from returning home after traveling abroad. Adding to the confusion, the travel ban took effect immediately, stranding residents and visitors in mid-trip without notice. The result was dismay and disorder at airports around the world as officials, travelers, and lawyers grappled with the new policy. After the order was blocked by the courts, Trump issued a revised version on March 6, clarifying that the travel ban did not apply to legal permanent residents, who have a right to due process when the government tries to prevent their re-entry, or to current visa holders, whose hosts may have standing to sue. Notably, the order issued by the Supreme Court on Monday says that while the case is pending the travel ban should not be enforced against visa applicants or would-be refugees with a "bona fide relationship" to Americans, such as relatives, students accepted by U.S. universities, employees hired by U.S. companies, or lecturers booked to speak here. The revised order also eliminated Iraq from the list of targeted countries and excised language favoring religious minorities from the section imposing a 120-day moratorium on admission of refugees. Critics cited that preference as evidence that the order was motivated by anti-Muslim bias. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit nevertheless concluded that the March 6 order "in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination." The context that the court deemed relevant consisted mostly of statements made by Trump or his surrogates before and after the election, including his support for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." But that is not the policy Trump actually tried to implement, and relying on his campaign comments to conclude that his executive order is a "Muslim ban" in disguise leads to strange results. The plaintiffs conceded, for example, that if Hillary Clinton had been elected president and issued exactly the same executive order, it "could be constitutional." The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit relied on a different rationale when it upheld an injunction against Trump's order, saying he exceeded his statutory authority because he did not make an evidence-based determination that admitting the people he wants to exclude would be "detrimental to the interests of the United States." But that was really just another way of saying that Trump's policy, which is supposedly aimed at protecting Americans from terrorists, is half-baked and empirically unsound. That much is true. Since 1975, no terrorist from any of the countries covered by the travel ban has killed anyone in the United States, and the odds of being killed by a refugee are infinitesimal. In any case, it has never been clear why a travel ban was necessary for Trump to deliver the "extreme vetting" he promised. Even the "total and complete" Muslim ban he originally proposed was supposed to last only as long as it took to "figure out what is going on," which according to his executive orders means three months. Trump has been president for more than five months. By his own account, he could have made any necessary improvements in traveler screening by now. His failure to do so provides further evi[...]



How the FAA Killed Uber for Planes

2017-06-27T08:30:00-04:00

Private flight has long been a luxury limited largely to the über-rich or super dedicated. Unless you have the deep pockets or connections to buy or rent your own small plane, plus a pay for a pilot, fuel costs, insurance, and hangar fees, you will be stuck in the chicken coop of crammed commercial flights with the rest of us peasants for all your flying needs. But what if it didn't have to be that way? What if you could purchase an empty seat on a private flight that was going where you needed to go anyway for a majorly discounted price? This was, for a glorious and brief period of time, made possible by a promising new crop of startups dedicated to bringing flight-sharing to the masses. Dubbed "the Uber of the skies," startups like Flytenow and AirPooler aimed to connect pilots whose private flights were not yet filled to passengers eager to reach their destinations without suffering the horrors of commercial air travel. Founded in 2013, the services were a great win-win for both parties: Pilots no longer had to simply eat the cost of empty seats on each trip, and passengers got to enjoy the thrill of small-scale flight for a very affordable price. For the first time, it seemed like consumers would have a real inexpensive alternative to the hell of economy class travel. That is, until the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) caught wind of all this innovation and decided to quash it once and for all. In a sneaky bid to shut down this kind of arrangement, the FAA decided to expansively interpret its own definition of a "common carriage" operator so that non-commercial small-scale pilots using these services would be legally put on the same level as the big boy commercial flights—with the same expensive regulatory and licensing requirements. The FAA knew that small services like Flytenow and AirPooler simply could not keep up with these requirements, and thus effectively shut them down. Flytenow valiantly challenged the FAA's capricious actions in court all the way up to the Supremes; but unfortunately, the Supreme Court declined to take up the case in January of this year, effectively upholding the lower courts' siding with the FAA. My Mercatus Center colleague Christopher Koopman recently released a study analyzing the sad saga of flight-sharing's destruction at the hands of the FAA. It is an amazing tale of regulatory overreach and targeted statutory interpretation that seems to have been undertaken for little reason beyond FAA antipathy to non-commercial cost-sharing arrangements. And unfortunately for all of us non-millionaires out there, this agency bias ultimately leaves the public bereft of an encouraging new development in transportation. To understand the current brouhaha surrounding the legal status of flight-sharing services, you have to know a little bit about the FAA's historical approach to non-commercial flights. Services like Flytenow and AirPooler are really only a new evolution of long-standing practices among amateur pilots. For around as long as small scale flight has existed, pilots would leave messages on airport bulletin boards advertising their upcoming flight plans. Other pilots who needed to get to the same destination could hitch a ride and help defray the cost of the unused seats. This kind of cost-sharing arrangement made the relatively expensive hobby of amateur flight a lot more reasonable for all parties involved, and was explicitly authorized in the federal code, albeit with a considerable set of limitations. Chief among these caveats was that flight-sharing pilots could not seek to profit from flights, but rather merely offset the costs. This was good enough for the pilots' needs, and the convention became a critical and fiercely defended element of private flight. Flytenow and AirPooler are merely digitized versions of this practice, which allow pilots and passengers to connect and contract for mutually-beneficial air travel. America's aviation regulators have l[...]



Stalin Edges Out Putin in Russian Poll on Greatest Figure in World History

2017-06-27T07:00:00-04:00

As a student at a British university in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was struck by the nu-mber of Marxist students and professors I encountered. (That British universities remain a hotbed of leftism was confirmed recently, when large numbers of British university students turned out to vote for Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party in the recent general election.) As someone born behind the Iron Curtain, I found the intellectuals' attachment to Marxism puzzling and sometimes, like when I was told that the people of Eastern Europe "betrayed" Marx's ideas, objectionable. Later I realized that ideology, like religion, can form a core of personal identity and changing that identity is almost impossible. That appeared to be especially true of my university professors, who spent most of their professional lives promoting Marxism. Few people, I suspect, have the time and the energy to evaluate their core beliefs in the face of new evidence, and the courage to embrace ideas they spent their entire lives despising. In any case, coming to terms with one's own delusions is a difficult task that is not limited to individuals alone. Entire nations can remain beholden to some very strange ideas. In a recent poll conducted by the Levada Centre in Moscow, "Russians were asked to pick the ten greatest individuals of all time." They "have picked Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin as the greatest figure in history… beating President Vladimir Putin into joint second alongside poet Alexander Pushkin." A similar poll conducted in 2016, found "a gradual improvement in perceptions of Stalin." In that survey, "40 percent of Russians thought the Stalin era brought 'more good than bad,' up from 27 percent in 2012." In January 2015, The New York Times reported, "a majority of Russians (52 percent) said Stalin 'probably' or 'definitely' played a positive role in the [history of the] country." Depending on how you count it, Stalin might have been responsible for as many as 15 million deaths. And, he was not even Russian! After the collapse of communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russians never undertook the kind soul-searching that the Germans undertook after the fall of the Third Reich—a task that was made all the more difficult by positive comments about Stalin made by the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, closure of the Soviet archives and state control of the media. I think that coming to terms with the past in Russia is even more difficult than elsewhere. Generations of Russians have toiled to build communism. Hundreds of millions of people have lived and died fulfilling idiotic production quotas and repeating equally idiotic mantras about a better tomorrow that never came. And to what avail? By the time when it collapsed, the Soviet Union was worse than a failure. It was a joke. I think that it is this sense of national humiliation that is at the root of the Stalin nostalgia. The Russians may have been poor and miserable, but at least, back during the Cold War, the world respected and feared them. To reject Stalin and the Soviet Union is tantamount to recognizing that Russia's economic backwardness and millions of needlessly extinguished lives cannot be blamed on others. It amounts to no less than taking ownership of Russia's own mistakes and humiliations. That takes strength, courage and introspection that few people—be they Russians or not—possess. [...]



Otto Warmbier’s Deadly Ordeal Is No Reason to Restrict Travel to North Korea

2017-06-27T00:01:00-04:00

It would have been a good story to tell if Otto Warmbier had successfully made off with that North Korean propaganda poster. It could have been the sort of low-reward, high-risk tale that defines many a good yarn years after the fact. Getting caught and killed by the thuggish regime he was trying to tweak thoroughly ruined the story, but gambling against that danger is what would have made it worth telling. And now the Trump administration is considering heading off any future such misadventures by banning Americans from traveling to North Korea. For our own good, it claims. But the difference between adventure and stupid prank is often just the outcome—and that outcome is never a sure thing. When Spanish spy Ali Bey el Abbassi and, later, British explorer Richard Burton posed as Muslim pilgrims to visit Mecca, they risked their lives to satisfy their curiosity about a place they were forbidden to enter. Had they been caught, their efforts might have made them the forgotten stars of the 19th-century equivalent of beheading videos rather than celebrated authors and adventurers. Then there was Ewart S. Grogan, a college student who took a break from his studies to walk, with his friend, Arthur H. Sharp, from South Africa to Egypt—largely so Grogan could impress a girl. Along the way they risked disease and cannibals, hunted lions (and sometimes brutally abused the locals in the unthinking way of Victorian-era British aristocrats). "The amusement of the whole thing is that a youth from Cambridge during his vacation should have succeeded in doing that which the ponderous explorers of the world have failed to accomplish," Cecil Rhodes wrote in a letter published as an introduction to the inevitable resulting book. Let's just say that, at any step of the way, the epic traverse of Africa could have ended in any number of sticky ways—or just on the point of a very sharp stick. We could also consider Theodore Roosevelt's impressive post-presidential Amazonian exploration, chronicled in Candice Millard's River of Doubt. The company was plagued by starvation, poor planning, dangerous wildlife, medical emergencies, and faced the possibility of massacre by an Indian tribe that had to be persuaded of benign intentions. Arguably, the whole scheme was rooted in a disappointed politician's elaborate suicide attempt—one that ultimately spared him, but cost the lives of others. It also substantially expanded knowledge of the region. Or how about the nine-day flight around the world of Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager on a single tank of fuel? That adventure earned everybody involved trophies, fame, and the display of their aircraft, Voyager, at the Smithsonian Institution. But it could have ended with extensive searches and a greasy patch drifting on the surface of the ocean, or a trail of debris down the side of a hill somewhere. Is any given activity a stupid conceit or a grand adventure? It's all in whether it ends up as a thrilling tale or a wince-inducing cautionary one. Surviving a journey with a manuscript in hand usually yields a different assessment than returning from it in a box. Was the risk worth the reward? That's really going to depend on whose yardstick we use. Adrenaline junkies and people driven by burning curiosity are likely to offer very different answers than those who see every sharp corner as a peril in need of a good cushion. Trekking through wilderness, climbing into experimental aircraft, violating taboos, and taunting tyrants all offer upsides and downsides that lend themselves only to subjective assessment. Which is to say, there's no objective answer to such questions and, therefore, there can't possibly be a one-size-fits-all policy that makes any sense beyond stuffing one set of values down the throats of dissenters. "Travel propaganda lures far too many people to North Korea," insists House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Roy[...]



Democrats Accuse Republicans of Mass Murder

2017-06-26T16:00:00-04:00

So the Democrats, after opposing Donald Trump in the 2016 election partly out of what they claimed was concern about his incivility and coarseness, are now pursuing a debate about health care legislation in Washington by characterizing the Republicans who disagree with them about policy details as mass murderers. Think that's an exaggeration? Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party's 2016 presidential candidate who remains among its most prominent and mainstream voices, tweeted Friday: "If Republicans pass this bill, they're the death party." Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) tweeted, "I've read the Republican 'health care' bill. This is blood money. They're paying for tax cuts with American lives." Ezra Levin, an influential Washington organizer of the resistance to Trump, tweeted Sunday, "TrumpCare will kill tens of thousands of working class people, and with the savings it cuts taxes for billionaires." This line of argument carries a powerful emotional charge. It isn't, though, a particularly useful, constructive, or clear-minded way to think or talk about writing laws. To start with, there's the Washington-centric misconception that the killers are the congressmen. Disregarded are any other actors who play roles in our health care system. If federal politicians are murderers for adjusting health care laws, what about all the state-level politicians who failed to enact Mitt Romney-style comprehensive coverage in their own states before Obamacare? Were they also murderers for failing to act? What about doctors and hospitals who refuse to treat non-emergency patients who are uninsured and can't pay? The system could probably treat more people if doctors, nurses, and medical-device and drug-company executives earned less money. Does that make every BMW-driving surgeon a murderer? Is every individual American a murderer who spends any discretionary income on movies or trips to Disney World rather than charitable donations earmarked for uncompensated care to his local hospital? It may well be that as a moral matter, voluntarily paying for a poor person's health care is a superior use of money than driving a fancy car or taking an expensive vacation. But an individual's choice to consume rather than donate doesn't make that individual a murderer, or even a killer. Neither does a congressman's decision not to compel the individual, by taxing him, to do so. The failure of Democrats to recognize this signals a fundamental confusion. There's also a false certainty in the claim that higher taxes for more health insurance will translate into extended lives. Some of the more honest Democrats acknowledge this if one listens to them carefully. Even Sen. Bernie Sanders, for example, in repeating an exaggerated claim that TrumpCare would cause 28,000 unnecessary deaths, conceded, "Nobody, obviously, knows exactly what would happen." Obviously. The "Harvard" study—really more of a blog post by one Harvard professor, two non-Harvard medical students, and two scholars at a liberal think-tank—that Sanders and Clinton cite is more nuanced than they claim. It mentions two studies—"outlier results"—raising doubts about whether insurance coverage translated into better health. It concedes, accurately, "insurance is a necessary but not sufficient factor to receive quality health care." Ironically, its model for projecting what it calls "excess deaths" is based entirely on extrapolation from "analyses of the Massachusetts health reform." Again, that is a state-level reform of the sort that might have spread organically and successfully if President Obama and the Democrats in Congress hadn't decided to impose it nationally. Democratic accusations about additional deaths are often made without any price tag attached. Assume, for the moment, that Democrats are right that money should be taken away from higher earners and redistributed [...]



LSD Microdosing: The New Silicon Valley Productivity Hack

2017-06-26T14:21:00-04:00

Tech entrepreneur George Burke consumes a tiny amount of LSD (about a tenth of a typical dose) every morning before he goes to work.

He says "microdosing" subtly improves his cognitive functioning.

"I notice that my brain seems to be able to solve problems a little bit better than...before," says Burke, who runs a startup called Fuel that helps its clients custom tailor their diets to their unique genetic makeups.

The use of psychedelics as productivity and creativity hacks is deeply rooted in Silicon Valley culture. Burke was partly inspired to go public about his drug use by the late Steve Jobs, who told his biographer Walter Isaacson, "[t]aking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life."

"People have to actually have to step up and state what they've been doing," says Burke.

Reason spoke with Burke and with James Fadiman, a scientist researching the effects of microdosing.

Watch the full video above.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera Alex Manning. Additional graphics by Meredith Bragg. Music by Kai Engel and Broke for Free.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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(image)



The Fleeting Glory of Trump Magazine

2017-06-25T06:00:00-04:00

TRUMP: The Complete Collection, edited by Denis Kitchen, Dark Horse Books, 184 pages, $29.99 Trump—the title of which, I feel compelled to point out, has nothing to do with the current POTUS—was an illustrated satirical magazine edited by Mad founder Harvey Kurtzman and published by Playboy's Hugh Hefner. Both men were young, very ambitious, and perhaps a little too idealistic. Thanks partly to a storm of unforeseen business woes that almost destroyed the Playboy empire and partly to Kurtzman and Hefner's generosity toward their contributors, the publication lasted for only two issues, one released in 1956 and the other in 1957. The result, on display in a new collection edited and annotated by Denis Kitchen, was a tragic might-have-been. Kurtzman is best known for founding Mad, which started out as a full-color comic book satirizing other comics. As one of only two staff editors at the EC Comics company, Kurtzman was expected to write every word of the titles he edited; prior to Mad he ran the imprint's war titles, which often featured anti-war messages. Thanks to his obsessive determination to get all his facts straight, he routinely fell into "research holes." Mad was supposed to be a relatively easy job for him, but he soon started obsessing over it too, especially as he started to run out of comic characters to spoof and began to expand his targets into the worlds of film, TV, advertising, and literature. Mad was a surprise hit, and it soon attracted attention from outside the marginalized, lowbrow comics world, with Kurtzman becoming a cause célèbre among humorists of all kinds. This, combined with a new industry-wide self-censorship policy (known as the Comics Code) that was threatening EC Comics' very existence, convinced Kurtzman to ask his publisher, William Gaines, to convert Mad from a kiddie comic to an adult humor magazine. Gaines agreed, and Mad became not just more popular than ever but, eventually, a cultural institution. All this sudden and unexpected attention went to Kurtzman's head, and he soon began making outrageous demands that the publisher wouldn't have agreed to under any circumstances, such as 51 percent ownership of Gaines' own company. But Kurtzman thought he had an ace in the hole: Hugh Hefner. Like most men of that era, Kurtzman was fascinated by Playboy, with its unprecedented mixture of pornography, high-end production values, and intellectual aspirations (or pretensions, take your pick). And Hefner, who had been an unsuccessful cartoonist, was equally fascinated by what Kurtzman was doing with Mad, specifically in the way he would deconstruct—in a very pre-postmodernist fashion—his targets. Kurtzman's commercial purpose was simply to mine humor from his subjects, but if in so doing he also revealed some heaping doses of hypocrisy and greed behind the mass media's messages, then so much the better. (It should be noted here that Kurtzman's parents were Communists. While he never shared their political beliefs, he certainly was raised to view American culture with a cynical eye.) This approach appealed to Hefner's own self-image as an observant Hip Outsider, and the two men were soon conspiring with each other to create a satirical publication that would put all others to shame, sparing no expense in the process. Content-wise, Trump wasn't much different than the early "adult" version of Mad that Kurtzman had only just started at EC. Kurtzman also took the cream of EC's stable of artists with him, primarily the incomparable threesome of Will Elder, Jack Davis, and Wally Wood, as well as a young Al Jaffee. (Wood quickly returned to Mad when he learned he wasn't allowed to work for both publications, while Davis and Jaffee were welcomed back after Trump folded. Jaffee still works there 60 years later.) What separated Trump from [...]



The Illusory Savings From Cutting Medicaid

2017-06-25T00:00:00-04:00

When economists talk in their sleep, they say, "There is no such thing as a free lunch." This axiom is drilled into them from day one of their undergraduate education and never leaves their minds. Any economist who tried to deny it would find herself suddenly choking in pain and unable to speak. What it means is that if the government does something that costs money, some human somewhere will bear the expense. "Free" public schools, "free" parks, and "free" roads all have to be paid for by the citizenry. Collectively, we can't get something for nothing. This useful insight has long been offered as an objection to costly government programs. But it applies as well to measures that extract savings from costly government programs. In their replacement of Obamacare, congressional Republicans promise to achieve greater frugality in Medicaid, which helps low-income Americans, without inflicting more hardship. The melancholy truth: Not gonna happen. Last year, total spending for Medicaid amounted to $533 billion. Nearly two-thirds of the funds come from the federal government, and the rest comes from the states. Some 69 million people are covered by it, up from 54 million in 2012. The expansion was intentional. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Washington signed on to cover 100 percent of the cost of expanded coverage at the outset, with its share falling to 90 percent from 2020 on. The health care plan offered by Senate Republicans, like the one passed by the House, would reverse the trend by giving states a certain amount per Medicaid recipient or a block grant for a fixed amount. Either way, the federal contribution would steadily shrink compared with what it would do under the ACA. Under the House plan, the federal savings would amount to $880 billion over a decade. The Senate bill is supposed to wring out even more. Supporters say Medicaid enrollees would be better off because states would be free to redesign their programs to make them more efficient and responsive to beneficiaries. But remember that fundamental economic proposition. Just as you can't get something for nothing, you generally can't get more for less. The House changes, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, would reduce the number of people on Medicaid by 14 million by 2026. Many people who now have coverage would lose it, and many who would have become eligible would be turned away. States could always protect the vulnerable by boosting their contribution to make up for the lost federal funds. But that would mean requiring their taxpayers to foot the bill. Republicans say the changes would be positive because Medicaid coverage is often useless. House Speaker Paul Ryan claims that "more and more doctors just won't take Medicaid." In fact, 69 percent of physicians currently accept new Medicaid patients, and the percentage has been stable for decades. It's lower than for privately insured patients, because Medicaid provides doctors with lower reimbursements, but budget cuts would probably exacerbate that malady. Some recipients would get cut off under the GOP plans, and some would get less coverage. That—surprise!—would leave them worse off, because comprehensive health insurance is a good thing to have. Medicaid coverage, reports the Kaiser Family Foundation, is proven to ensure "earlier detection of health and developmental problems in children, earlier diagnosis of cancer, diabetes, and other chronic conditions in adults, and earlier detection of mental illness in people of all ages." Cutting back Medicaid coverage would save taxpayers some cash, but only by taking it from others. The reduction would raise costs for low-income people and most likely degrade their health. It would also increase the financial load on hospitals, which treat a lot of pe[...]



Are Terrible State Alcohol Laws on the Way Out?

2017-06-24T08:00:00-04:00

Alcohol regulations in this country could improve dramatically if more state courts would reject bald economic protectionism as a valid basis for lawmaking. That's the conclusion of a new study published last week by the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington, D.C. The new study, Could Economic Liberty Litigation 'Free the Booze'?, uses the hook of a recent South Carolina court case to suggest—hopefully—that we may be seeing the dawn of a new period of much-needed state alcohol deregulation. The lawsuit in question concerned section 61-6-140 of South Carolina's Alcohol Beverage Control Act, which stated that "[n]o more than three retail dealer licenses may be issued to one licensee[.]" The case involved national alcohol beverage superstore Total Wine, which owns three locations in South Carolina but was rebuffed by the state in its efforts to open a fourth. Total Wine sued to overturn the South Carolina law. The state, the court found, "offer[ed] economic protectionism as the sole justification of this extreme business regulation." The court determined the state's "only justification for these provisions is that they support small businesses." Thankfully, the court was unwilling to accept that justification. "The record does not contain any evidence of the alleged safety concerns incumbent in regulating liquor sales in this way," the court ruled. "Without any other supportable police power justification present, economic protectionism for a certain class of retailers is not a constitutionally sound basis for regulating liquor sales." The court rightly concluded that "'it's just liquor'... is not a legitimate basis for regulation." While it may seem trite for a court to conclude this, the truth is that in the seven-dozen years since the end of alcohol Prohibition in this country, courts have held time and again that the mere fact a law regulates liquor has indeed been a sufficient basis for that regulation. But that view began to change after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 2005 case that Michigan, New York, and other states cannot discriminate against out-of-state alcohol sellers. (Alas, I discussed "a new Michigan law that bars out-of-state retailers from shipping wine into the state" earlier this year.) More recently, in 2014, a federal court overturned Florida's inane ban on 64-ounce beer growlers. The message: federal courts have acknowledged that "it's just liquor" may no longer be a sufficient constitutional basis for lawmaking. But state courts have been mostly loath to overturn alcohol laws within their borders, choosing instead to defer to state lawmakers for whom cronyism and protectionism are legitimate bases for lawmaking. "From Virginia's food-beverage ratio law, which arbitrarily mandates how much booze versus food a restaurant can sell, to Indiana's cold beer law, which only allows liquor stores (but not gas stations or grocery stores) to sell refrigerated beer, the examples are legion," the R Street report notes. That's why the South Carolina decision is such a big deal. "Nearly every state in the country has oppressive alcohol laws that could be ripe for judicial review, and using a litigation-based model allows reformers to circumvent cronyist state legislatures that are often bent on protecting the status quo," said study author Jarrett Dieterle, a fellow at the R Street Institute and editor of DrinksReform.org, in an email to me last week. "If this model of targeting irrational alcohol regulations through economic liberty litigation takes hold in other states, it could upend the booze world as we know it," Dieterle tells me. "The examples of protectionist alcohol laws across the country are legion and this could be one method of clearing away the antiquated post-Prohib[...]



God and Man at the FBI

2017-06-24T06:00:00-04:00

The FBI and Religion: Faith and National Security Before and After 9/11, edited by Sylvester A. Johnson and Steven Weitzman. University of California Press, 376 pages, $29.95 Ever since FBI Director James Comey staggered into the spotlight during last year's presidential campaign, critics have been comparing him to the most infamous man ever to hold Comey's job. "I think this is sort of a flashback to the days of J. Edgar Hoover," the journalist turned academic Sanford Ungar told The New York Times last October. "I don't mean to smear Comey, and it may be an unfair comparison. But Hoover would weigh in on issues without warning or expectation." Comey's comments about the Hillary Clinton email investigation do highlight how a law enforcement agency can improperly influence public opinion. But there are some pretty big differences between his behavior and that of his predecessor. For one thing, his actions last year were public, a fact that triggered a national debate over their propriety and eventually led the Justice Department's inspector general to launch an investigation of how his agency handled its probe of Hillary Clinton's emails. For another, that probe was a legitimate criminal investigation. Hoover's FBI, by contrast, secretly monitored the non-criminal personal and political conduct of U.S. citizens. Among them: first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy, Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and syndicated columnist Joseph Alsop. Hoover even ordered his agents to conduct a content analysis of Walt Kelly's comic strip Pogo to ascertain whether one of the strip's animal characters, based on the FBI director, portrayed him in a positive or derogatory light. The information acquired in these surveillance expeditions was maintained in closed FBI files, and much of it was used to advance Hoover's political agenda through leaks to favored reporters, governors, members of Congress, and the White House—on the strict condition that the recipient not disclose the FBI's assistance. The scope of Hoover's abuses did not become widely known until the unprecedented hearings conducted by the so-called Church Committee in 1975–76. It has been advanced since then through a mixture of journalism, scholarship, and Freedom of Information Act requests. Now a new book, edited by Sylvester Johnson of Northwestern University and Steven Weitzman of the University of Pennsylvania, adds another dimension to our understanding by recounting the bureau's long history involving religious activists and institutions. The FBI and Religion contains 15 essays written by theologians, historians, and political scientists; the ground it covers stretches from the bureau's birth during the Progressive Era through the current war on terror. It is based on extensive reading of the secondary literature on the FBI, supplemented at times by research of relevant and accessible FBI records. Most of the chapters focus on the government's surveillance of religious leaders and institutions, with bureau officials often equating moral advocacy of peace or racial justice with threats to the nation's security. Targets include the Church of God in Christ during World War I, the Moorish Science Temple of America from the 1920s through the 1960s, the Nation of Islam and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the 1950s and '60s, the Branch Davidians during the Waco siege of 1993, and militant Muslims following 9/11. Other essays assess how, during Hoover's tenure, FBI officials employed religious rhetoric to influence public attitudes about suspected subversives. (Hoover himself regularly used religious rhetoric in his public speech[...]



Gawker Documentary Fails to Make Case for Publishing Sex Tape

2017-06-23T15:00:00-04:00

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press. Available now on Netflix. I'm afraid that merely to disclose the subject of the Netflix documentary Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press is about—the dire threat to the First Amendment posed by a jury's decision that a website did not have a right to show a stolen video of professional wrestler Hulk Hogan's penis in action—is to give away the entire plot: Yes, this is the latest and greatest chapter in the news media's eternal proclamation of martyrdom at the hands of prigs and fascists. And yes, it rises to such an awesome level of whining self-aggrandization that it threatens to spoil the good name of hogwash. So, spoiler alert. The case that's the subject of Nobody Speak is possibly the most fascinating and least significant in the three-century history of media litigation. It's full of depraved sex, villainous intrigue, and lurid betrayals. But its ultimate contribution to legal canon was not exactly epic. As longtime media lawyer Charles Glasser (an interview of whom would have been a welcome addition to Nobody Speak) wrote after the verdict, the case's lesson was simple: "Don't publish secretly-made sex tapes." The story begins in 2012, when celebrity wrestler Hogan (nom de real life: Terry Bollea) got an unusual gesture of friendship from his best pal, radio shock-jock Bubba the Love Sponge: Hey, wanna sleep with my wife? Hogan knew this was a frequent recreational activity of Bubba (nom de non-perv world: Todd Alan Clem) and the busty Mrs. Sponge and had previously declined to participate But this time, down on his luck—and wallet—after a series of business reverses and an expensive divorce, he agreed. What Hogan didn't know was that the Sponges routinely and secretly taped these marital guest appearances. (After the case blew up, Bubba claimed Hogan knew all about the taping, but he wouldn't repeat it under oath during the trial.) That might not have mattered except that a copy of the recording, apparently stolen by one of Bubba's employees, found its way into the hands of the scabby gossip website Gawker. Founded in 2002, Gawker regularly trafficked in sex tapes and such scoops as the grooming of Republican senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell's pubic hair. Founder Nick Denton, the British journalist who built Gawker into the centerpiece of a $200 million online media empire, routinely defended his celebrity-bullying scandal sheet as a champion of truth and democracy in a world of lickspittle mainstream media. "Everybody knows what usually appears, certainly, in the establishment media bears little resemblance to what's really going on," he says in Nobody Speak. Speaking truth to Bristol Palin and Justin Beiber! Gawker posted a chunk of the tape; Hogan's attorney asked it be taken down, and when Gawker refused, filed a breach of privacy lawsuit. What followed was a series of potboiler plot twists: Another sex tape, with racist remarks by Hogan that would get him booted out of pro wrestling; intimations that Gawker, wittingly or not, was acting as a stalking horse for blackmailers; an FBI sting against a sex-tape broker; and a series of legal stratagems by Hogan's attorneys that the Gawker legal team considered inexplicably stupid but which turned out to be brilliant. The real stupidity occurred on the Gawker side of the courtroom, none so lethally damaging as the swaggering arrogance of the site's former editor, A.J. Daulerio, who wrote the story accompanying the Hogan sex tape. During his testimony, Daulerio insisted that images of boinking celebrities are always newsworthy. Always? wondered Hogan's attorney. Well, maybe not if the celebrity was a child, Daulerio conceded dismissively. Under what [...]



Police Roadblocks Are Rights-Free Zones In Madison County, Mississippi

2017-06-23T10:00:00-04:00

CANTON, Miss. — The sheriff's deputy has his hand around Khadafy Manning's neck. Manning, a 35-year-old black man, is standing rod straight, or at least as straight as someone with a debilitating spinal injury can, with his hands cuffed behind his back, dressed in his underwear, asking why he is being humiliated in his own living room. "Officer, please. Why are you handling me like this?" "Because you ain't acting right," the deputy responds. It was 7 in the morning on June 26, 2016, and the scene was caught on video. Filming the encounter was Khadafy's quick-thinking wife, Quinnetta Thomas. According to Thomas and Manning, six deputies from the Madison County Sheriff's Department (MCSD) barged into their apartment without a warrant and demanded they sign a false witness statement about an alleged robbery at their neighbor's house. Manning, who walks with a cane due to a chronic nerve condition, came hobbling out of the bedroom, said he had rights and didn't have to sign anything. It's at that point, Thomas says, that the deputies got angry and she reached for the camera. The roughly one-minute-long video Thomas recorded is now part of a pile of evidence in a sweeping class-action civil rights lawsuit filed against the MCSD in May by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi and the New York law firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. The lawsuit alleges the county has subjected its citizens to more than a decade of brazenly illegal and discriminatory policing—unconstitutional roadblocks that only appear in black neighborhoods, warrantless home invasions, and aggressive "jump out" squads that target young black men doing nothing more than walking down the street. Essentially, the ACLU is arguing that Madison County police have turned black and minority neighborhoods into places where the Bill of Rights no longer applies. "What is shocking about the case is the degree of constant constitutional intrusion and how long that high degree of intrusion has been permitted," says Paloma Wu, an attorney for the ACLU of Mississippi. "We're absolutely convinced that this is a program that has existed for more than a decade, if not decades. It outlives any single deputy or sheriff. This, we think, absolutely rises to the level of a policy to target black people for unconstitutional searches and seizures through a variety of means." Interviews with local activists and longtime residents in Madison County reveal a community that feels under siege in their own houses and day-to-day lives, a county government that has been willfully indifferent to those concerns for generations, and a place where whether you have basic rights against police abuse comes down to what side of the county you live in, what side of the tracks you're on, and whether you're willing to speak out. The lawsuit also comes at a time when, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the U.S. Justice Department is less willing to second-guess local police. It is currently reviewing Obama-era consent decrees between the federal government and police departments that were found to be violating citizens' rights. If the Justice Department pulls back from its oversight role, it will be up to civil rights watchdog groups and the courts to police the police. How the ACLU lawsuit against Madison County fares could be a bellwether for police reform during the Trump administration. 'Unsafe in Our Own Home' Nearly a year after her encounter with the Madison County Sheriff's Department, Thomas, 29, sits in her family's living room in Canton—a small town of under 15,000 people about 30 minutes north of the state capital of Jackson—reliving the scene. She has just returned from cosm[...]



California Lawmakers Spend More, Avoid Reform

2017-06-23T00:30:00-04:00

Legislators in California announced a budget deal last week that spends a record $125 billion in the general fund. But most interesting isn't what's in the deal, but what isn't. There's plenty of new spending, of course, but not so much that it outpaces the rate of inflation. There are controversial "trailer" bills that attempt to change the rules in an ongoing recall election and take away power from elected members of the Board of Equalization, the state's tax board. Missing are any attempts at serious reform of existing government programs or ways to stretch the already hefty tax dollars Californians send to Sacramento. The budget's authors talk quite a lot about funding important priorities, especially the public-education programs that consume an awe-inspiring 43 percent of the general fund. Yet Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and the Democrat-dominated Legislature refuse to confront the main reason such programs typically are so costly and ineffective: public-sector unions. These unions are so powerful that they stifle cost-saving reforms in every conceivable area of government – from the prison system to policing to transportation programs to the public school and college systems. Union work rules don't allow for experimentation and creativity, or even the firing of poorly performing employees. The state is thus left with just one approach: throwing more money at the problem. This is why every year's budget kerfuffle centers on figuring out ways to come up with more money to spend in the exact same ways. The only difference this year is, because of Democratic supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature, the state now plans to spend more than ever. What else would you expect, given that the minority party has no power to thwart such efforts? The investigative news site CALmatters provides perhaps the best example of the disconnect between higher spending and better outcomes, noting in a June 18 report that there's no evidence the tens of billions of dollars the state has pumped into failing schools under its new public education system have done much of anything to help the most disadvantaged students. The investigation found "the biggest districts with the greatest clusters of needy children found limited success with the policy's goal: to close the achievement gap between these students and their more privileged peers. Instead, test scores in most of those districts show the gap is growing." The same is true for myriad programs, but as the single largest chunk of the budget, any failures in the K-14 education system certainly have the deepest financial ramifications. As I reported recently for the California Policy Center, while voters in the Los Angeles Unified School District and elsewhere are supporting candidates who back expanded access to charter schools for poor children, state legislators are backing legislation pushed by the California Teachers' Association that would make it much harder for locals to start such schools. Charters operate with less funding than comparable school districts, yet often (but not always, of course) show remarkable progress in closing the achievement gaps that aren't being closed by truckloads of new state spending. Think of it this way: If a system is failing, there's little chance that giving the same agencies more money to do things in the same way will yield significantly different results. It's obvious, but not to legislators or Gov. Brown. The budget deal also includes a provision that lets the state borrow $6 billion from a short-term investment fund to pay down some of California's growing pension debt. It's another example of the state's money-dumping approa[...]



What If Donald Trump Doesn't Sink the Republican Party?

2017-06-23T00:15:00-04:00

What if Republican voters who don't particularly like President Donald Trump are also able to compartmentalize their votes? What if they dislike Democrats more than they do the president? What if, rather than being punished for Trump's unpopularity, local candidates are rewarded for their moderation? This would be a disaster for Democrats. And Tuesday's runoff election in Georgia's 6th District shows that it might be possible. Now, had Jon Ossoff come out ahead of Karen Handel, the coverage would have painted this as a game-changing moment: a referendum on conservatism itself, a harbinger of a coming liberal wave and a rejection of Trump's disastrous presidency. It would have illustrated that Democrats had figured out how to flip those suburban and affluent Republicans who aren't crazy about the president. Perhaps some of that will still play out during the midterms because one race (or even four) doesn't tell us everything we need to know. Every district is unique. Still, there are definitely ominous signs for Democrats. You can try and grasp at moral victories, of course, as I saw a number of liberal pundits on cable television trying to do yesterday. You can tell yourself that Ossoff had come closer than any Democrat ever in the 6th District. But there are numerous problems with this optimism. For one, there won't be many red districts where the president is less popular. Democrats are going to have to flip some of these seats to win back a majority. Second, it's difficult to imagine how the environment could be any worse for the GOP (though that, too, is possible). Moreover, Ossoff spent a record $23.6 million on a House race, yet Handel outran not only him but also Trump. This last point is mentioned as often as the others, yet it's probably the most important. Trump's approval rating in the 6th District is equal to the national approval rating of 35 percent, which is to say exceptionally low for a Republican area. He had won the district by less than 2 percentage points back in November. According to a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll, the majority of Republicans surveyed (55 percent) said, "expressing their opinion on Trump wasn't a factor in their decision-making" for the special election. It's true that neither Ossoff nor Handel mentioned the president much during the race—which, in itself, bolsters the theory that Trump might not be as consequential in these races as Democrats hope. But the race was nationalized. Its implications were national. The coverage was national. The parties treated the race as one that would have national implications. Certainly, the money that poured into the race was national. One imagines that every Georgia Republican who went to the polls understood what this race meant for the future of the parties. When you nationalize races, Republicans will take more than the president into account. We already know that an electorate can be happy with a president and dislike his party. Why can't the reverse be true? President Barack Obama, for example, carried healthy approval ratings for the majority of his presidency, yet voters decimated his party over six years. What if there's a faction of Republican voters who don't like Trump but still don't like Obama's policies? As high as Trump's unpopular ratings remain, and as constant a theme in the media as it is, elections are still a choice. For instance, Congress's low ratings as an institution are a mirage. Despite what you may have heard, it is actually one of the most popular institutions in America. Everyone loves his or her members of Congress. They just hate yours. Handel will likely be i[...]



Movie Review: The Big Sick

2017-06-23T00:00:00-04:00

The Big Sick boldly stretches the parameters of romantic comedy. The movie is romantic, and it's very funny; but it also reaches out into unexpected areas of marital love, immigrant families, even life-threatening disease The premise might seem farfetched: Pakistani standup comic almost finds happiness with white-girl grad student and then almost loses her but then—whew!—doesn't. But the movie has the tang and specificity of real life. It was written by its star, Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley), and his wife (and onetime podcast and Meltdown partner), Emily V. Gordon, and it tells the tale of how they met, and how things went really wrong for them before finally going right. It's probably not a lot like any story of this sort that you've heard before—which is of course part of what makes it such a great film. The picture opens in a Chicago comedy club. Kumail is up onstage and Emily (played with maximum adorability by Zoe Kazan) is sitting in the audience with friends, commenting a little too loudly on Kumail's act. One thing leads to another and they wind up going back to his place together. Personal details are shared. He drives for Uber to make ends meet. She was a goth in high school, nickname "Beetlejuice" (there are photos). Snuggled in front of a TV, they start making out midway through Night of the Living Dead, then go to bed. Things look good. But Kumail has another life outside of comedy world, one that's centered on his parents (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shrof). They brought him to America when he was a kid, and they still honor old ways. As observant Muslims, they want their son to grow a beard, assent to an arranged marriage (mom keeps an endless procession of suitable young women "dropping by"), and adhere to the Muslim prayer regimen. (Kumail goes down to their basement to pray – or says he does. Actually, he's a non-believer, and he just watches videos.) Kumail loves his folks, but the cultural pressure they exert is wearing. "Why did we move here," he asks them, "if we just live like we were back there?" Meanwhile, Emily wants Kumail to meet her parents, and she wants to meet his. Then she learns that he hasn't yet dared to tell his folks about her, and she blows up. "I can't lose my family," he says hopelessly. "Can you imagine a world in which we end up together?" she says. And that seems to be that. Here, director Michael Showalter—a longtime Nanjiani comedy colleague—gracefully negotiates a serious left turn in the story. Kumail has reluctantly moved on from Emily—but then he gets a call one night that she's in the hospital with a mysterious disease. When he arrives at her bedside, doctors tell him they're going to put her into an induced coma until they can figure out what the problem is—and suddenly we lose Zoe Kazan for most of the rest of the movie. This is a sizeable setback. Fortunately, Emily is soon replaced by her parents, Terry (Ray Romano) and Beth (Holly Hunter), who fly in from North Carolina and soon deepen the story with new tones of regret and devotion. Kumail doesn't quite connect with these two at first—his funny-man deadpan is hard to read. (When Terry asks him how he feels about 9/11, Kumail says, "It was a tragedy. I mean, we lost 19 of our best guys.") Eventually, though, being smart and good-hearted people, they do bond, and Kumail learns that Terry and Beth are having troubles in their own relationship. Love is tough, Terry says—"that's why they call it love." Nanjiani lets a perfectly timed moment pass and then says, "I don't really get that." I can't recall Hunter or Romano ever being mor[...]



Princeton-Trained Computer Scientists Are Building a New Internet That Brings Privacy and Property Rights to Cyberspace

2017-06-22T13:13:00-04:00

Muneeb Ali and Ryan Shea are the co-founders of Blockstack, a project to rebuild the internet using blockchain technology so that individuals can reclaim direct control over their own identities, contacts, and data. The goal is to bring the property rights we enjoy in the physical world to cyberspace. These two Princeton-trained computer scientists—Ali completed his Ph.D. last month with a speciality in distributed systems—believe that today's internet is fundamentally broken. Users are forced to trust companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook to maintain our online identities and personal information. They store our files in giant data centers that are increasingly vulnerable to hackers. And the Snowden leaks revealed that the National Security Agency has strong armed these tech giants into handing over users' personal data without bothering to obtain court-issued warrants. "Google has this saying, 'don't be evil,'" says Ali. "Maybe a company shouldn't be powerful enough that they're sitting there thinking, 'should I be evil or not?'" So how does Blockstack propose to alter cloud computing, which has bought enormous efficiencies to the tech sector? Ali and Shea say they've worked out a way to break up internet data centers into virtual storage lockers that are fully encrypted, so individual users are the only ones who hold the keys to their own data. "If you're a Dropbox engineer, you can go through my files today," says Ali. "But if I use Dropbox through Blockstack, they have no visibility into the data at all." This new decentralized architecture is possible thanks to the invention of a new type of distributed database called a "blockchain," which was introduced to the world in 2008 as a component of the peer-to-peer digital currency bitcoin. The blockchain was designed as a decentralized system for keeping track of who owns what bitcoin, but in the last nine years an entire industry has emerged that all about integrating the blockchain into everything from real estate markets to driverless car technology. Shea describes the blockchain as a virtual "whitepages the community maintains together," which "anyone can add to" but "nobody controls"—a record that doesn't require a central entity to guarantee its veracity. This shared white pages lists the location of each users' encrypted data lockers. Essential online functions that can be moved to the blockchain include registering unique identities and keeping track of each users' personal contacts. On this new internet, applications like Facebook and Twitter will still exist, but they'll have far less power and responsibility. "At Blockstack, we're enabling small, open-source groups to grow and compete with the large players," says Shea. What will the Blockstack internet mean for Silicon Valley? Shea predicts a new wave of tech firms will emerge. "I believe this will create a much larger economy and a lot more prosperity for everyone." --- Written, shot, produced, and edited by Jim Epstein. Hosted by Nick Gillespie. Additional camera by Kevin Alexander. Common Consensus by The Franks, Creative Commons Attribution license. Mario Bava Sleeps In a Little Later Than He Expected To by Chris Zabriskie, Creative Commons Attribution license. Talvihorros by the Blue Cathedral, Creative Commons Attribution license. What True Self, Feels Bogus, Let's Watch Jason X by Chris Zabriskie, Creative Commons Attribution license. Canon in D Major by Kevin MacLeod, Creative Commons Attribution license. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to[...]



The Dalai Lama Is the Latest Speaker to Cause a Campus Freakout

2017-06-22T13:00:00-04:00

"UCSD is a place for students to cultivate their minds and and enrich their knowledge. Currently, the various actions undertaken by the university have contravened the spirit of respect, tolerance, equality, and earnestness—the ethos upon which the university is built." What reads like a standard complaint from campus activists actually contains a surprising twist. Rather than the usual hullabaloo over Charles Murray, Ann Coulter, and Milo Yiannopoulos, the subject of student ire this Saturday at University of California, San Diego, was none other than the Dalai Lama. Despite the similarity in rhetoric, the protesters weren't liberals offended by a provocative right-wing speaker, but Chinese students—the passage above is from the Chinese Students and Scholars Association—who see the Tibetan spiritual leader as a separatist political figure who threatens their culture and governance. When the planned commencement address was announced this winter, it drew anger from many Chinese students, who comprise about 14 percent of the student body. Outraged Facebook comments criticized the choice as too divisive, a characterization that flies in the face of the the Dalai Lama's cuddly western image as an exiled martyr. "The Dalai Lama spent his whole life trying to separate Tibet from the mainland of China, regardless of how much privilege and freedom the government offered the people of Tibet," wrote Chinese-American undergrad Ruixuan Wang in an op-ed for the student newspaper, The Guardian. "His conflict with our government caused property loss, deaths of innocent people, and panic among the general public––even though he claims that he advocates for a nonviolent revolution." The students are right: Those values are proclaimed by UCSD, and almost every university, in some form. And when speakers come under fire on campuses across the country, students often jump to these stated core values as justification for the idea that they need protection because their treasured learning environments are being sullied by offensive ideas. The Dalai Lama's language is clearly not meant to incite controversy, and rhetoric centered around world peace is far from incendiary. But college administrators have proven, time and time again, that they're willing to concede to the demands of disgruntled or offended students. If all 14 percent of the Chinese student body were offended, would that be a significant enough number for the administration to take action? When speakers like Charles Murray come to other campuses, disgruntled students likely make up similarly small numbers––the vast majority remain apathetic. So does administrative action hinge on the number of offended students or the content of a speaker's message? The administrators ultimately chose not to act, and the Dalai Lama gave a thoroughly predictable speech about the value of working together as "one human family" to achieve lasting peace. "You have the opportunity and also the responsibility to create a better world, a happier world. No longer violence. No longer this huge division"—an ironic message, given that his appearance itself was divisive. [...]



When Cops Lie

2017-06-22T06:00:00-04:00

David Andrews was at work when the police arrived to arrest him. It was November 28, 2012, and the officers—municipal cops in Stowe, a township near Pittsburgh—told the 51-year-old transmission repair analyst that he was being detained on child predator charges. They accused him of stalking. Trying to lure a child into a motor vehicle. Corruption of a minor. "I thought I was going to get sick and throw up right there," he later said. The ordeal that followed would eventually lead to a court decision with serious implications for how cops can establish probable cause and when they can face civil suits for lying. But Andrews, an Air Force veteran with no prior criminal record, wasn't thinking about any of that in November 2012. He was horrified that police believed he would harm a child and terrified of what might happen next. The Case Falls Apart Three days prior to Andrews' arrest, a 911 dispatcher had received a call from a 15-year-old girl. She had been walking down the sidewalk, the teen said, when a dark-haired white man in his mid-thirties approached her. He was driving a red, four-door sedan with a Pennsylvania license plate containing the letters ACG. The man asked her if she wanted a ride. She said no. He demanded that she get into the car. When she told him she would call the police if he didn't leave her alone, the man sped off. The next day, the girl and her mother thought they spotted the car again. They followed it into a nearby parking lot—that of Andrews' employer—and wrote down information about the vehicle: a red, three-door Saturn coupe with plates that read JDG4817. They then went directly to the police station and handed their new data to Officer Robert Sciulli. He ran a background check that connected the car to David Andrews. He pulled up Andrews' license plate image and showed the girl a photo array—a lineup of possible perpetrators. The girl picked out Andrews' picture. After the girl and her mother left the station, Sciulli headed to the parking lot himself. Details about the harasser's car, hair, age, and plate didn't match up with the initial 911 call, but Sciulli went forward anyway on the strength of the photo array identification. On November 28, Sciulli wrote an affidavit of probable cause stating that the girl had described the perpetrator—the man who tried to lure her into his car—"as a middle aged white male with dark hair with streaks of gray." He wrote that she had "identified the plate as JDG4817, PA tag" from the get-go. He wrote that she had identified the same red car "again" on the second day, when she and her mother followed it to Andrews' employer. In other words, Sciulli lied. There were doubts about the charges from the moment of Andrews' arrest. The arresting officer, who was not Sciulli, seemed confused about the discrepancies in how the vehicle was described. "From the side," the officer said, according to a sworn deposition Andrews would later give, "it does not match the description." Nevertheless, Andrews was cuffed, brought before a local magistrate, and sent to Allegheny County Jail. When his case made local television news, the anchors branded him a predator; the television report credited the girl's mother for getting "David Andrews off the street." He spent three days locked up before he could post a $5,000 bond. Andrews then hired defense attorney Thomas Farrell, who quickly saw something wasn't right. As he investigated Andrews' case, he called the police dispatcher who took the girl's emergency call. [...]



Dropping the BAT Is Key to Passing Tax Reform This Year

2017-06-22T00:00:00-04:00

House Speaker Paul Ryan just made his pitch to the country about tax reform. He wants it, and he wants it before the end of 2017 because, as he said in his prepared remarks, "we cannot let this once-in-a-generation moment slip by." That's all well and good, except that the main factor holding up tax reform is the speaker's insistence that the United States adopt a distortive and unfair border adjustment tax to pay for the reform. In the best of circumstances, fundamental tax reform is difficult, but now it seems even harder, thanks to Ryan's refusal to move away from a proposed 20 percent tax on imports while giving a free ride to exporters. The whole point of fundamental reform is to cut taxes and grow the economy. Though the rest of the Republican tax plan is pro-growth, according to scores of the plan, the border adjustment tax wouldn't create any growth. Its only purpose would be to raise revenue, as Republicans are apparently once again refusing to pay for tax reform with spending cuts. Though the speaker tried not mentioning the border adjustment tax, his speech made clear his commitment to his blueprint as originally proposed, which includes the BAT. Concocted by economists in the comfort of the frictionless world of an academic paper, it would allegedly raise $100 billion per year from importers and consumers while handing out more subsidies to giant companies such as Boeing and General Electric. If you think it reeks of the export mercantilism that plagues Washington, you're right, and that's hard to square with Ryan's talking point about the need to turn away from granting tax favors to special interests. The plan is also sold as a way to undermine tax competition by putting an end to tax avoidance—the legal way companies structure their operations to send as little money to Uncle Sam as possible. This may not sound too bad when the tax rate is 20 percent or 15 percent. It's a terrible idea, however, when the rate is raised to 30 percent or more by lawmakers who desperately need revenue to mitigate their inevitable failure to reform entitlement spending. Those pushing for the plan also have the notion that the adjustment of the dollar resulting from the tax's implementation would compensate for the added tax burden. As a currency trader noted recently, building "an intergenerational tax reform based on the assumption of what the (foreign exchange) market will do is a laughable notion." If you think it sounds very risky and distortive, you're right. The result is a measure that has divided the business community, the Republican caucus and the free market policy world. And it has little chance of getting out of the House, let alone passing the Senate. Yet Ryan and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady continue to hang on to the divisive measure. In a new twist, they're now hoping they can fool the opposition by phasing in the tax over several years, as if implementing a bad idea slowly makes it any better. As Stan Veuger of the American Enterprise Institute recently observed, we shouldn't count on a phase-in improving it. The phase-in would be more distortive and increase the trade deficit for the first five or six years without increasing whatever little chances exist of reaching whatever currency adjustment would be necessary to offset the tax pain for importers. If anything, the prospect of trade deficit growth makes it even less politically acceptable to the Trump administration, which is already opposed to it. Finally[...]



It's OK if Entrepreneurs Like Jeff Bezos Are 'Stingy'

2017-06-21T00:15:00-04:00

Thursday, right before Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced he'd acquire Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, he tweeted a "request for ideas" for "philanthropy strategy." If you have suggestions about "helping people in the here and now... reply to this tweet." Here's my reply: Don't do it, Jeff! I understand why you asked. Giving well isn't easy. Charities often squander donations. Cancer Fund of America gave less than 5 percent of donations to charity. When I confronted its owner, James Reynolds, he blithely said, "True, if they give it to the telemarketer, they get 85-90 percent." Charity-rating services try to separate good charities from bad, but they get conned, too. Measuring "charitable work" is hard. How should the CEO's first-class hotel expenses be classified? Some charities perpetuate dependency—rewarding passivity rather than effort. Some perpetuate poverty—destroying local businesses by forcing them to compete with "free." Still, Jeff Bezos, you have $80 freakin' billion. Isn't it your moral duty to give more? No. I know, you've been called "stingy." A Slate article sneered that lemonade stands donate more. Like much of what is in Slate, that wasn't true. You've given millions to various causes, including our alma mater. (Dumb—Princeton doesn't need the money.) Still, you give less than .1 percent of your wealth. Stingy as that sounds, I say that's good—because you are not a normal person. I give to charity. But I'm just a reporter. I don't create wealth like you do. You employ more than 300,000 people. Amazon saves everyone time and money. You created that from nothing. I bet soon you will find ways to improve food distribution, and your Blue Origin rockets will make space travel practical. Already, you are more efficient than NASA. There's no doubt that you are a wealth creator. So was Ted Turner. Nineteen years ago, the billionaire told me it was "appalling" how cheap rich people are. "I saw A Christmas Carol," said Turner. "I assumed everybody with a lot of money gave it away, because they didn't want to be Scrooge! ... We should shame rich people into giving." Shortly afterward, he announced that he would donate $1 billion to the U.N. The press cheered. But wait, the U.N. is famous for waste! It spends millions on bureaucracy, coddling dictators, sucking up to celebrity ambassadors, etc. I assume the U.N. squandered much of Turner's gift. But Turner the entrepreneur created Turner Broadcasting, CNN and more. Today his companies employ thousands of people. So I asked him, "Since the U.N. wastes money, while you have unique business skills, don't you and, say, Bill Gates, do more for the world by growing your companies?" Turner didn't buy it. "What are you beating on me about? This is why people don't like newsmen... I'm walking off the set." And he did. Today, Bill Gates spends his time giving money away. He's conscientious about it. He experiments, funding what works—dropping what doesn't. He uses his business skills to save lives. Good for him. But Gates was unusually skilled at bringing people better software. Had he continued at Microsoft, I bet he would have done even more for the world. After the movie The Social Network portrayed Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg as selfish, Zuckerberg gave $100 million to Newark's schools. But the problem with Newark's schools wasn't money—Newark schools spend more per student than most private schools. The problem is unionization and government monopoly. Zuckerberg[...]



The NRA Shuns a Second Amendment Martyr

2017-06-21T00:01:00-04:00

Philando Castile did what you are supposed to do if you have a concealed-carry permit and get pulled over by police: He let the officer know he had a gun. Had Castile been less forthcoming, he would still be alive. Last Friday a Minnesota jury acquitted the cop who killed Castile of second-degree manslaughter, demonstrating once again how hard it is to hold police accountable when they use unnecessary force. The verdict also sends a chilling message to gun owners, since Castile is dead because he exercised his constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Jeronimo Yanez, an officer employed by the St. Anthony, Minnesota, police department, stopped Castile around 9 p.m. on July 6 in Falcon Heights, a suburb of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The official reason was a nonfunctioning brake light. The actual reason, according to Yanez, was that Castile resembled a suspect in a convenience store robbery that had happened four days before in the same neighborhood. The full extent of the resemblance was that Castile, like the suspect, was black, wore glasses and dreadlocks, and had a "wide-set nose." Castile, a 32-year-old cafeteria manager, had nothing to do with the robbery. But in Yanez's mind, Castile posed a threat. The traffic stop began politely but turned deadly within a minute. Audio and video of the encounter show that Yanez asked for Castile's proof of insurance and driver's license. After Castile handed over his insurance card, he calmly informed Yanez, "Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me." Yanez interrupted him, saying, "OK, don't reach for it, then." Castile and his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, repeatedly assured the officer that Castile was not reaching for the weapon. But by now Yanez was in full panic mode. "Don't pull it out!" he screamed, immediately drawing his weapon and firing seven rounds into the car, heedless of Reynolds and her 4-year-old daughter, who was in the backseat. Mortally wounded, Castile moaned and said, "I wasn't reaching for it." Reynolds, who drew nationwide attention to the shooting by reporting it via Facebook Live immediately afterward, has consistently said Castile was reaching for his wallet to retrieve his driver's license, per Yanez's instructions. Yanez initially said he thought Castile was reaching for his gun; later he claimed to have seen Castile pulling out the pistol, which was found inside a front pocket on the right side of the dead man's shorts. Yanez clearly acted out of fear. The question is whether that fear was reasonable in the circumstances and whether deadly force was the only way to address it. Jeffrey Noble, an expert on police procedure, testified that Yanez's actions were "objectively unreasonable." The officer had "absolutely no reason" to view Castile as a robbery suspect, Noble said, and could have mitigated the threat he perceived by telling Castile to put his hands on the dashboard or stepping back from the car window. If Castile planned to shoot Yanez, why would he announce that he had a firearm? That disclosure was obviously aimed at avoiding trouble but had the opposite effect because Yanez was not thinking clearly. Officers like Yanez, who is leaving his department under a "voluntary separation agreement," pose a clear and present danger to law-abiding gun owners. Yet the National Rifle Association (NRA) has been curiously reticent about the case. A day after the shoo[...]



Capitalism Should Be Our Weapon of Choice in Cuba

2017-06-20T14:26:00-04:00

Engagement or embargo? That is the question not just in Cuba but also in places like Iran, Russia, and China. Should we trade, or should we withhold our trade in hopes of changing the behavior of other nations? Which will have more impact?

For over half a century, we have had an embargo with Cuba. Not only did the Castros survive it, but they milked it for everything it was worth. As the only source of information on the island for decades, they stoked the nationalism of those Cubans who remained in Cuba to blame America for any of their shortages, instead of the true culprit: socialism.

The embargo did nothing to defeat Castro—absolutely nothing. It is possible it kept him in power longer because of the ability the embargo gave him to further control his people.

President Obama and I agreed on very little, but his slight opening with Cuba was one of those areas. Since his decision to allow more travel and commerce with Cuba, Americans are visiting in record numbers and on their trips they are displaying the greatness of American capitalism: wealth. Every dollar left in the hands of cab drivers, hotel workers, waitresses, and valets is a show of what awaits Cubans if they reject socialism.

We can't spread democracy through force, as we have shown time and again in our recent foreign policy. But we can model capitalism to the world, export it through our people and goods, and win the debate without one bullet being fired.

When I was a kid, my family was virulently anti-communist. We still are. We were opposed to the opening of "Red" China and all that entailed. We were wrong. China may still have aspects of socialism, but no one can argue it isn't more capitalist and freer than before we opened diplomatic relations and trade.

Instead of hiding our capitalism behind a failed embargo, we should tear down the walls of trade restriction and open up travel and trade even more. Instead of allowing the socialists to continue their propaganda unopposed, we should have sufficient confidence in capitalism to let them go head to head.

Let's see what Cubans will choose when they come face to face with iPhones, modern cars, and tourists with fistfuls of dollars buying Cuban services and goods.

I don't fear the government of Cuba. I don't fear competition between capitalism and socialism. End the embargo now and capitalism, like the endless waves that lap the Cuban shore, will erode the weak grasp of socialism, day by day, until freedom comes to Cuba—not with a beach landing of troops, but in the realization that poverty and socialism are, in fact, synonyms.

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College Students No Longer Think 'Freedom Is a Big Deal'

2017-06-20T11:13:00-04:00

"For the first time, a growing number of young people actually think freedom isn't a big deal," says sociologist Frank Furedi, who's an emeritus professor at the University of Kent and author of the new book, What Happened to the University: a sociological exploration of its infantilisation.

The university was once a place where students valued free speech and risk taking, but today "a very illiberal ethos has become institutionalized," says Furedi. "In many respects, it's easier to speak about controversial subjects outside the university...It's a historic role reversal."

Furedi sat down with Reason's Nick Gillespie to talk about the roots of this intellectual shift on campus—and how to fix it.

Edited by Mark McDaniel. Cameras by Jim Epstein and Kevin Alexander. Music by Bensound.

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Cindy McCain: Crony Philanthropist

2017-06-20T09:40:00-04:00

After "aggressively courting" her for the role, President Donald Trump has reportedly nabbed Cindy McCain to serve in his State Department as an ambassador-at-large for human rights. She would almost certainly concentrate on sex trafficking, which has been the main focus of her recent advocacy—and on which she has a track record of spreading misinformation, promoting policies that make prostitution more dangerous, and partnering with people who use human trafficking as a cover for all sorts of rights-violating behavior. And this is just one of myriad red flags that the beer empress and senator's wife isn't quite as consistent or staunch a humanitarian as she's made out to be. It turns out the "freedom, democracy, and human rights" institute launched by Cindy and Sen. John McCain is supported by large donations from entities known for persistent rights violations, including Saudi Arabia, a U.S. defense contractor selling smart bombs to the Saudis, and a Moroccan mining company occupying land in Northwest Africa. In fact, examining McCain's philanthropic record reveals a long history of personal abuse of nonprofit resources, shady connections, and shoddy work. For years, McCain has been playing the role of crony philanthropist, and now she is poised to bring her dubious advocacy to the highest levels of government. Friends in Authoritarian Places McCain has been lauded for her work on human trafficking—appearing on numerous panels and giving high-profile interviews on the topic. But she didn't pick up the issue until 2013, when she suddenly emerged as a fully formed crusader against sexual exploitation. The bulk of Cindy McCain's anti-exploitation efforts are channeled through the Arizona government's Human Trafficking Task Force, which she co-chairs, and the McCain Institute for International Leadership, where she is chair of the Human Trafficking Advisory Council as well as one of the institute's most visible spokespeople. Housed within the Arizona State University (ASU) system, the McCain Institute was launched in 2012 with $8.7 million left over from the McCain/Palin presidential campaign fund. (The McCains also set up the McCain Institute Foundation to collect donations for the institute and pass them on to ASU in $500,000 annual increments.) Upon its launch, ASU President Michael Crow said the McCain Institute would be "guided by the values that have animated the career of Senator McCain—a commitment to sustaining America's global leadership role, promoting freedom, democracy and human rights, as well as maintaining a strong, smart national defense." Publicly, the institute's biggest issues are combatting "modern slavery," addressing human rights abuses abroad, using technology to solve humanitarian problems, and pushing a vague pro-development and democracy agenda globally in order to promote peace. In practice, this often looks like advocating for U.S. action in Syria and tougher penalties for prostitution while helping develop new digital surveillance technology and facilitate international business relationships. "I don't think very many people have the same kind of access around the world that McCain has. When you mention his name, you do get top-tier people wanting to be associated and be helpful." —McCain Institute Executive Director Kurt Volker The McCain Institute's top donors include a pleth[...]



Does Classical Liberalism Have a Chance in South Africa?

2017-06-20T07:00:00-04:00

Last week, the Cato Institute hosted a policy forum with Herman Mashaba, a self-made millionaire businessman and libertarian, who serves as the executive mayor of South Africa's largest city, Johannesburg. Reason interviewed him shortly after Mashaba's political party, the Democratic Alliance, unseated the African National Congress in a number of South African metropolitan areas during the 2016 local elections. Since then, Mashaba has made some progress in tackling corruption and failing public service delivery in Johannesburg, but he has his work cut out for him. Over the last 23 years, South Africa has been run by a tripartite alliance consisting of African nationalists (the African National Congress), communists (the South African Communist Party) and trade unionists (the Congress of South African Trade Unions). Since 1994, the government has done some good. Millions of houses, for example, have been built and either given or sold (at a heavy discount) to poor Africans. Drinking water and electricity were delivered to shantytowns and far-flung rural areas. Being a relatively rich country, South Africa could afford to finance public works out of the general tax revenue. In normal countries, people buy houses (including piped water and electricity) with the money they earn in the market place. Providing jobs to the populace, alas, is something that governments in general and South African government in particular are very bad at doing. The country is in a recession and the overall unemployment rate is 36 percent. Close to 50 percent of South Africans between the ages of 15 and 34 are unemployed. In the last 23 years, incomes per person rose by about 1 percent per year. In neighboring Botswana, they rose (cumulatively) by over 80 percent. Over the same time period, life expectancy in Botswana rose by 7 years. It declined by 5 years in South Africa. Both countries were hard hit by HIV/AIDS, but whereas the government of Botswana did everything it could to stop the spread of the disease, the government of South Africa denied the link between HIV and AIDS and actively hindered the distribution of anti-retroviral drugs. (It does not help that South Africa also has eighth highest homicide rate in the world.) The bad news, unfortunately, does not end there. The World Economic Forum in Davos has ranked South Africa's healthcare as 132nd out of 144 countries surveyed. The country's Corruption Perception Index ranking fell from 21st in 1994 to 62nd in 2015. And, according to The Economist, South Africa's education system is "one of the worst in the world." It is, perhaps, unsurprising that the ANC-led government is increasingly unpopular, with much of its remaining support coming from rural areas, where the least educated and most traditional people live. The question on everyone's mind, therefore, is: What will the ANC do before the next general election in 2019? Will it observe South Africa's democratic Constitution, freedom of the press, and the independence of the courts and of the Electoral Commission? If so, it will almost certainly be defeated and have to retreat into opposition. A break-up of the tripartite alliance, which is held together by political patronage, would be certain to follow. Or, will the ANC-led tripartite alliance opt for the "Zimbabwe option" and attempt to steal the 2[...]



Florida Changes Harsh Sentencing Law, Too Late for Many Inmates

2017-06-20T06:00:00-04:00

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In 1999, the state of Florida reinstated strict mandatory minimum sentences to crack down on opioid abuse. Thereafter, illegally possessing just 28 oxycodone pills could put a person away for no less than 15 years on a trafficking charge. The effort has been an abject failure.

In 2014, the Florida legislature tweaked the law in response to concerns that the tough sentences were mostly ensnaring low-level offenders. It now takes roughly 50 oxycodone pills to trigger a 15-year mandatory minimum.

But the reform was not retroactive. As a result, hundreds of inmates who were sentenced before the changes are serving far more time than they should be, and the state Department of Corrections is saddled with an aging prison population.

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Mueller Probe Could Set the Stage For Hillary’s 2020 Return

2017-06-19T16:00:00-04:00

Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election is both a preview of Hillary Clinton's 2020 presidential campaign and a re-run of the insider-trading litigation of the past decade. It's a preview of the 2020 presidential campaign, because blaming the outcome of the election on illegal Russian interference takes the blame off Clinton for losing. Clinton can already point out that she won the popular vote in 2016. If her electoral vote loss was the result of foreign interference—rather than, say, a poorly managed campaign, or a candidate who couldn't connect with out-of-work coal miners, or the wrong substantive message—then perhaps a 2020 replay, without foreign interference, might yield a different outcome. It's the difference between, "you had your shot fair and square, now move aside and let the next person have their turn," and "we never even really got a chance to see what would have happened if we had had a fair election that hadn't been subject to illegal Russian manipulation." She wouldn't be the first presidential candidate to need multiple chances to win. Reagan lost in 1976 and won in 1980. Nixon lost in 1960 but won in 1968. Hillary Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, is out with a children's book titled "She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed The World." Though the "nevertheless, she persisted" phrase comes from Sen. Mitch McConnell's description of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, it could easily be adopted by Hillary Clinton as an informal slogan for a third presidential run. It's not unreasonable that it would take three tries, rather than two, to be the first woman president. In some ways, having done it before might even help. She starts with a large donor list and high name recognition. Trying again would underscore Clinton's personality strengths—doggedness, her ability to bounce back from setbacks like her husband's impeachment and her own 2008 loss to Barack Obama. Some might raise age as an issue, but Clinton is younger than Trump. For a sense of how the Clinton 2020 reasoning and the Mueller investigation are related, keep an eye on the timing. If the probe delivers results long enough before the 2020 primary season for Clinton to get a campaign in gear, watch out. If findings don't emerge until later, then they won't be much use to her. As for the insider trading investigations, some of the key characters are the same. Mueller and James Comey both led the FBI as it pursued the insider trading investigations. Preet Bharara, who as the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan led the insider trading charge, attended the recent Comey hearing on Capitol Hill and has been avidly commenting about the whole thing on Twitter. As with insider trading, unauthorized leaks to the press about the investigations are an issue. As with insider trading, there's a risk of operating the whole thing backward—starting with targets and theories, then proceeding to evidence gathering. In the insider trading cases, it was rich hedge fund managers who were targeted by prosecutors who had already decided that insider trading was widespread. In the Russia probe, it is the president and his circle of advisers who are being targeted by prosecutors who have already decided that Russia improperly influenced [...]