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Conspiracy



All Reason.com articles with the "Conspiracy" tag.



Published: Fri, 15 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Fri, 15 Dec 2017 11:25:11 -0500

 



Everything You Wanted To Know About The Volokh Conspiracy: Podcast

Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:05:00 -0500

"Intellectual honesty isn't just refraining from lying," says UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh in the newest Reason Podcast. "It's mentioning the arguments against you and explaining why you think that they're mistaken, as opposed to just omitting them, hoping that the audience isn't going to catch on." Volokh is the founder of The Volokh Conspiracy, "one of the most widely read legal blogs in the United States" [which] "has more influence in the field—and more direct impact—than most law reviews." The blog is written by mostly libertarian and libertarian-leaning law professors and court watchers, so we're excited as hell at Reason to now be hosting the Volokh Conspiracy on our website. It will remain editorially independent from Reason, though all of our readers will find much of interest and value in its content, which ranges from in-depth yet accessible glosses on the most important legal cases of the moment to disquisitions on pop culture. Volokh explained to me a few weeks ago that the blog began chafing under its home at The Washington Post partly because of that publication's paywall and partly because the newspaper would censor curse words even when they appeared in court documents that Volokh conspiracists were analyzing. When Volokh suggested Reason.com would be a good home for the blog, I instantly agreed, only adding that we would insist on publishing curse words even when they weren't strictly necessary. In a wide-ranging interview about The Volokh Conspiracy, Volokh discussed the site's aims, why he thinks the government is sometimes right to force business owners to serve customers they don't like, and his high opinion (so far) of Donald Trump's appointments to the federal judiciary. In an age of deep polarization and intellectually mendacious debates, the Volokh Conspiracy remains a straight shooter when it comes to pursuing what its contributors see as the truth. "I hope even our libertarian readers appreciate that," says Volokh, "because then they know that when we do take a view that they agree with more, that's because we really, sincerely believe it and think it's the best argument, and sometimes perhaps they see that there are some points in which conservatives, or even liberals or moderates, might be more correct than the libertarian orthodoxy." Audio production by Ian Keyser. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/368556689%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-ZGC8S&color=%23f37021&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. This is a rush transcript. Please check any quotes against audio to ensure accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Today, we're talking with Eugene Volokh. He's a UCLA law professor and perhaps better known as the proprietor of The Volokh Conspiracy, a long-running legal group blog that I am excited to announce is coming to Reason.com. After being its own site and then being perched at The Washington Post for a long time, it is now coming to Reason.com. Eugene, thanks so much for talking to us. Eugene Volokh: Thank you very much for talking to me. Gillespie: Let's talk about The Volokh Conspiracy, which is obviously the premier group legal blog on the planet, I'm willing to say. There are, I guess, certain parts of Africa and some of the 'Stan' countries, I'm not familiar with their law blogs, but I'm pretty sure that The Volokh Conspiracy is still big there, too. What is the aim of The Volokh Conspiracy, for listeners or readers of Reason who may not be fully familiar with it? Volokh: Sure. We're mostly law professors, and we blog mostly about law. We also blog about whatever we please. Part of the aim is to have fun, for us to have fun, but the way we have fun is by talking to the public and often hearin[...]



Mexican Radio in Los Angeles Crashes—And Down With It Comes An Anti-Immigrant Fable

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 11:22:00 -0500

"Spanish-Language Broadcasters Take a Fall," read a front-page headline in the December 3 edition of the Los Angeles Business Journal. In just the past year, according to the accompanying article, the audience share of Spanish-language radio stations in the L.A. market fell two points, from 21.6 to 19.4, while their English-language counterparts saw an increase from a 56 to 58 share. It was a "dramatic drop for several outlets that spent years at or near the top," according to the paper. One of the big factors: a "shift in preferences among younger listeners in Spanish-speaking communities for English-speaking media." The story hasn't gotten much traction outside of media circles. But it's a big one in the continued assimilation saga of Mexicans in the United States. And it's one giant chinga tu madre to anti-immigrant types who have spent the last 25 years decrying the Mexican takeover of "American" airwaves in Southern California. One of their main proofs that unassimilable, backwards Mexican culture had taken over the Southland is the continued switchover of crappy pop and adult alternative stations to Latino formats. First they flooded our schools, then they took over welfare. Now their tuba music is all over the dial, and it probably plays hidden messages about how to sacrifice gringos with an obsidian knife! But L.A. radio station owners don't flip formats because of Reconquista, but because it makes business sense. Mexicans, like all people, are consumers. And Mexicans change their tastes as well—you know, like other people. So the industry keeps evolving. This is a story I've had the advantage of growing up in. I remember a January 6, 1993, Los Angeles Times story that reverberated across the country. KLAX-FM 97.9 ("La Equis"—The X) had topped the local Arbitron ratings with a formula used by all stations in the United States for decades: genius marketing, wisecracking on-air personalities, and a hot new genre that set it apart from rivals. Except this time, the language was Español. And the music was Mexican. KLAX's victory was so unexpected that classic rock station KLSX 97.1 "expressed concern" to the Times "that some of their audience may have gotten the call letters mixed up and that those listeners may have been attributed [in the Arbitron ratings] to KLAX." It was a line repeated by Howard Stern, who saw his reign as king of the L.A. airwaves toppled by what he dismissed as "some Mexican station." (KLAX, the Times reported, responded by sending Stern "a funeral wreath with a note reading: 'Thanks for helping us remain No. 1.'") KLAX's win started a good 15 years of Spanish-language domination of the Southern California airwaves, as other stations emerged to take turns at the top. The same began to happen across the United States. Smart programmers took advantage of changing demographics, and Mexican-Americans no longer ashamed of their ethnic background (see: Linda Ronstadt recording a mariachi album in 1987) wanted to listen to genres like banda sinaloense, pasito duranguense, and rock en Español that were previously available in el Norte only live or on pirated CDs. The influence of Spanish-language radio in the United States reached its peak in 2006, when DJs from across the country set aside their rivalries and urged their respective listeners to take to the streets in support of amnesty; the resulting protest marches were the largest in American history until the Women's March earlier this year. I remember this era well. My cousins and I had all grown up with the music of our parents and liked it enough, but we never thought of it as cool. KLAX changed all that. Suddenly, my older cousins went to quinceañeras decked out in tejanas (Stetsons), silk shirts, and cintos piteados (leather belts with arabesque designs). I'll spare you the visuals of me dressed like this as a gawky 13-year-old nerd, but I can say this: All along, we primarily spoke English and listened to hip hop at home. To anti-immigrant zealots, our choice of music and dress became further proof of the M[...]



Roy Moore Sees Restoration of Voting Rights of Felons as a Plot Against Him

Fri, 01 Dec 2017 15:15:00 -0500

Part of the get-out-the-vote campaign for the special Senate election in Alabama includes a push to get felons freed from prison registered again so they can cast a ballot on December 12.

When AL.com reported on a pastor who claims to have gotten thousands of felons registered to vote before a deadline that passed earlier this week, here's how GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore responded:

The organization involved is actually a religious nonprofit involved in things like soup kitchens, adult literacy classes, and youth programs.

What's actually happening here is that Alabama, back in May, passed a law that allowed more felons to regain the right to vote after they've been released from prison. It was backed by both GOP-controlled halves of the state legislature and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Kay Ivey.

Alabama law strips voting rights from citizens convicted of felonies "of moral turpitude." But the state didn't clearly define what it meant by "moral turpitude," instead listing five offenses that specifically did not count. The new law, dubbed the Definition of Moral Turpitude Act, lists all the crimes—more than 40—that are bad enough that offenders will lose their vote. It hits all the major felonies: murder, manslaughter, rape, kidnapping, etc. (Also, "enticing a child to enter a vehicle, house, etc., for immoral purposes." Just making note of that, given the allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore.)

In short, the restoration of these felons' voting rights is not about Moore at all. It's about bringing people who have done their time and moved on with their lives back into a role as contributing members of society.

There's no reason these people shouldn't have their rights restored—no reason, at least, that isn't fundamentally bound up with a candidate or party's political concerns. Moore's tweet doesn't make a coherent argument about why these felons shouldn't have their voting rights restored. He cares only that they might vote for his opponent. This, somehow, is supposed to be an inherent outrage.




The Never-Ending Search for Foreign Subversives

Thu, 02 Nov 2017 14:45:00 -0400

Four days after Donald Trump was elected president, thousands of people turned out for an anti-Trump march in New York City. That in itself isn't so surprising: There were a ton of anti-Trump protests last November, and New York hosted a bunch of them. But this one, BuzzFeed reports, had been called by BlackMatters, a "Russia-linked" group, and therefore it feeds easily into a broader narrative about alien forces subverting American politics. If this protest was indeed arranged by Russian agents, that's a notable story. But that broader narrative is overblown and dangerous—a paranoid tale that scapegoats Russia for America's domestic divisions, and that is already being used to call for curbs on speech. Two things are striking about this New York protest. The first is that it was directed against Donald Trump. That undercuts the notion, popular in some circles, that Trump and Putin are joined at the hip; it supports the idea, popular in other circles, that Moscow is less interested in backing any particular American faction than in accentuating America's divisions in general. (Whether it actually is accentuating those divisions is a separate question, which we'll get to below.) The other striking thing about the march is that it wasn't a flop. The last time I wrote about one of these "Russia-linked" protests, the event drew approximately four people. Other demonstrations have been either equally miniscule or just slightly larger; there's no sign that they were any bigger than the protests organized by homegrown supporters of the same causes. (Impressed that a "few dozen" people may have gone to a Russia-linked rally for Texas secession? Lone Star separatists were able to attract a "few hundred" to an event in the '90s, when Moscow was Washington's pal and presumably wasn't promoting Texit.) So getting thousands to show up at an anti-Trump protest is far better than these troll accounts usually did. But note how they did it: They scheduled it amid a bunch of other protests for the same cause. On top of that, they did it under a name—"BlackMatters"—that's easy to mistake for the name of another group. So a cheap Russian knockoff of Black Lives Matter was able to draw people to a cheap Russian knockoff of an anti-Trump protest, held a month the same city was seeing copious anti-Trump protest anyway. This is what "success" looked like: not opening or even widening a division in American society, but camouflaging yourself as a cause that people already supported. They found a crowd and rushed to stand in front of it. It is certainly possible that we'll later learn Moscow was able to exploit this rally in some unsavory way. (For all I know it was filled with spies trying to recruit sources—though of course, they could do that at any other rally too.) But based on what we know now, this doesn't look like successful subversion; it looks like successful mimicry. Yet so many reactions to stories like this reverse cause and effect, blaming Russia for tensions that in fact grew organically in the United States. The more careful pundits will throw in a to-be-sure statement mentioning that Americans were already fighting each other before any foreign trolls came along, but they'll still insinuate that anyone who dissents from the centrist consensus is a Kremlin dupe. Here's Tim Morris of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, for example: If Russia's objective was to sow discord, doubt, and disruption into the 2016 U.S. elections, undermine our democratic system, and inflame political differences, you really have to hand it to them. Mission accomplished.... Not that the Russians should get all the credit, of course. Americans have been doing our part with gerrymandered political districts, polarized media, and confirmation bias biospheres. All the Russians had to do was to direct a few robots and release a few trolls into our social media air ducts to make us all go a little crazier. He doesn't offer any evidence that a substantial number of people bec[...]



Behold the Work of Russia's Evil Advertising Geniuses

Wed, 01 Nov 2017 17:00:00 -0400

Today members of the House Intelligence Committee released some of the election-related ads placed on Facebook and Instagram by accounts linked to the Russian government. The sampling published by Politico seems inconsistent with the way politicians and journalists generally portray "Russian disinformation," which they describe as a plot to "reshape U.S. politics" and undermine our electoral process by sophisticated operatives who know how to manipulate American voters. In fact, the ads are so lame that I initially thought the Politico story was a prank.

Here is an October 2016 Facebook ad placed by "Army of Jesus":

(image) According to Politico, the ad, which targeted "people age 18 to 65+ interested in Christianity, Jesus, God, Ron Paul and media personalities such as Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and Mike Savage, among other topics," generated 71 impressions and 14 clicks.

This April 2016 Instagram ad, aimed at "people ages 13 to 65+ who are interested in the tea party or Donald Trump," did much better, generating 108,433 impressions and 857 clicks, although it is not at all clear how it might have influenced the election:

(image) Politico also has an August 2016 Instagram ad, aimed at "people ages 18 to 65+ interested in military veterans, including those from the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars," suggesting that Clinton is insensitive to the grief of Gold Star families. It generated 17,654 impressions and 517 clicks.

An anti-Clinton, anti-establishment, pro-secession ad placed by "Heart of Texas" in October 2016, aimed at people who liked that Facebook group, generated 16,168 impressions and 2,342 clicks. A March 2016 ad sponsored by the Facebook group LGBT United featured a "Buff Bernie" coloring book, "full of very attractive doodles of Bernie Sanders in muscle poses." Aimed at people who liked LGBT United, it generated 848 impressions and 54 clicks.

(image) In addition to these crude and clumsy efforts, The New York Times has noted a hoax that anyone familiar with American politics would recognize as utterly implausible, language on the DCLeaks website that described Clinton as "President of the Democratic Party" and referred to her "electional staff," and a tweet promoting the website that said, "These guys show hidden truth about Hillary Clinton, George Soros and other leaders of the US." Such misfires suggest that the ability of Russian propagandists to destroy American democracy may have been exaggerated.




Social Media Executives Echo Politicians' Hysteria About 'Russian Disinformation'

Wed, 01 Nov 2017 14:05:00 -0400

Yesterday representatives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter testified before a Senate subcommittee about online "Russian disinformation," sounding a note of alarm that echoed legislators' concerns and therefore grossly exaggerated the threat. "When it comes to the 2016 election," said Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch, "the foreign interference we saw is reprehensible and outrageous and opened a new battleground for our company, our industry, and our society. That foreign actors, hiding behind fake accounts, abused our platform and other internet services to try to sow division and discord—and to try to undermine our election process—is an assault on democracy, and it violates all of our values." The idea that Russian ads on Facebook, Russian tweets on Twitter, and Russian videos on YouTube "undermine our election process" and constitute "an assault on democracy" (let alone that such propaganda "violates all of our values") is hard to take seriously given what we know about the nature and scale of this operation. Social media platforms have every right to insist that users follow their terms of service, which in Facebook's case ban phony source descriptions (falsely identifying a Russian's posts as an American's, for example). But the expectation that Facebook, Twitter, and Google will police political discourse to minimize "Russian influence" is not just impractical but, if backed by the threat of legislation, contrary to the First Amendment. It is important to keep in mind that we are not talking about direct interference with the election process (by hacking computers that tally votes, say). We are talking about efforts to persuade people—or, as seems to have been more common, reinforce their pre-existing opinions—through words and images. Although some of these messages can fairly be described as "disinformation" (such as a fake letter posted on Twitter supposedly documenting a $150 million contribution to Hillary Clinton's campaign by the conservative Bradley Foundation), some (such as reports about police shootings) were entirely accurate, while others were expressions of opinion on subjects such as racism, LGBT issues, immigration, and gun rights. Except for the fact that the messages appear to have been sponsored by the Russian government, there was nothing especially sinister or insidious about them. Cases of broken English and awkward phrasing aside, they were indistinguishable from the mixture of facts, lies, and blather that constitutes good, old-fashioned, American-produced political discourse. So when The New York Times reports that Russian-sponsored "political ads and other content" (including videos from the government-sponsored news outlet RT) "were meant to sow discord or chaos," it is either being hysterical or ascribing absurdly unrealistic ambitions to the Russian government. Our social and political order is not one viral video or inflammatory tweet away from catastrophic collapse. Russian participation in the online U.S. political debate looks even less scary when you consider how tiny its footprint seems to be. On Monday a Times headline proclaimed that "Russian Influence Reached 126 Million Through Facebook Alone," which sounds impressive unless you realize that an ad can "reach" people without being noticed or read, let alone persuading anyone. What the headline really meant, as the Times explained in its report on yesterday's hearing, is that "more than 126 million users potentially saw inflammatory political ads bought by a Kremlin-linked company, the Internet Research Agency." Yes, and since the post you are reading is available on the internet, it could potentially be seen by 3.6 billion people. No doubt Vladimir Putin would love to determine the outcome of presidential elections by spending $100,000 on Facebook ads. It is far less clear that he (or anyone else) has the power to do that, no matter how big the ad buy. As Brian Doherty noted here [...]



The Close Encounters Man

Wed, 01 Nov 2017 12:00:00 -0400

J. Allen Hynek had his first science fiction short story published before turning 15. Though he grew up to be a scientist, not a writer, his life was defined by the sometimes razor-thin boundary between fact and fiction.

He helped develop the Hubble Telescope, but Hynek is best known for his role in the Air Force's decadeslong investigation into unidentified flying objects, during which he created a four-tier classification system of "close encounters."

In The Close Encounters Man (Dey Street), biographer Mark O'Connell presents Hynek as a "rational person looking at an irrational subject."

The cases he investigated ranged from the mundane to the outrageous—in one, a Wisconsin farmer reported meeting alien visitors who made him pancakes—to the truly unexplainable. Before his death in 1986, the naturally skeptical Hynek admitted to having personally witnessed two UFOs, saying he came to believe not all sightings were fakes, tricks, misidentified aircraft, or "swamp gas."

Steven Spielberg borrowed heavily from one of Hynek's books about the UFO investigations in his 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (an encounter with an extraterrestrial being, according to Hynek's system), and a whole subgenre of sci-fi owes a debt to Hynek's real-life work.

Was there a shadowy government conspiracy to hide the truth, as many of those stories allege? "You can cover up knowledge and you can cover up ignorance," O'Connell quotes Hynek as saying. "I think there was much more of the latter than of the former."




Yulia Tymoshenko Warned Us About Paul Manafort Years Ago

Tue, 31 Oct 2017 06:48:00 -0400

Yulia Tymoshenko warned us about Paul Manafort years ago. In a civil complaint, the former Ukrainian prime minister accused Manafort—who would go on to chair Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign—of conspiring with Ukrainian and Russian partners to launder dirty money through "a labyrinth of shell companies" in the U.S. These companies, it claims, "were solely used for purposes of furthering the unlawful objectives" of people like Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian businessman indicted in 2009 for U.S. racketeering and money laundering, and Russian crime boss Semyon Mogilevich, who made the FBI's "Most Wanted" list for suspected fraud, racketeering, and money laundering. Documents filed in the civil action reveal many similar allegations to those Manafort and Gates are now facing at the hands of U.S. Department of Justice special prosecutor Robert Mueller. On Monday, a federal grand jury indicted the former Trump-campaign chairman and Rick Gates, a Manafort business associate, for conspiracy to launder money, making false statements, failing to register as an agent of foreign principal, and failing to file reports on foreign bank accounts. (For a detailed breakdown of the charges, see Popehat.) They pleaded not guilty Monday afternoon. The DOJ indictment accuses Manafort and Gates of "extensive lobbying" in the U.S. on behalf of Ukrainian interests and "in connection with the roll out of a report concerning the Tymoshenko trial commissioned by the Government of Ukraine." Manafort and Gates paid $4 million to law firm Skadden Arps to monitor and report on the Tymoshenko proceedings, ostensibly on behalf of an "independent" European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (which they had helped set up), the indictment says. And it claims that "between at least 2006 and 2015, Manafort and Gates acted as unregistered agents of the Government of Ukraine, the Party of Regions (a Ukrainian political party whose leader Victor Yanukovych was President from 2010 to 2014), Yanukovych, and the Opposition Bloc (a successor to the Party of Regions that formed in 2014 when Yanukovych fled to Russia), generating "tens of millions of dollars in income as a result" and "launder[ing] the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts." The work was done through Davis Manafort Partners (DMP), which Manafort co-founded in 2005, and DMP International (DMI), founded in Manafort and his wife Kathleen in 2011. Rick Gates worked for both entities Through these agencies, Manafort and Gates helped propel Viktor Yanukovych to the Ukrainian presidency and oversaw a "watchdog" report on the prosecution of his opposition. Tymoshenko, who served as prime minster from 2007 through 2010, was not just an enemy of Tanukovych's but also of Firtash and Mogilevich. In an agreement with Russia, she helped cut Firtash's company out as a profitable middleman in natural-gas deals between the two countries. Tymoshenko's suit against Firtash and unnamed Yanukovych officials was first filed in U.S. court in April 2011, when Yanukovych was still president. Later amended complaints were eventually filed—the second in November 2014, after Yanukovych had been forced to flee Ukraine amid protests over his administration's corruption and thuggery—and also named Manafort and his partners at CMZ Ventures. The suit accused Manafort, Firtash, and the other defendants of financing politically motivated and "unlawful investigations and prosecutions of Tymoshenko" and her associates through secret payments to Yanukovich and others in his administration or control. Their money-laundering and shell-company scheme "was the proximate cause of Tymoshenko's damages, since it provided the necessary funds to make the unlawful payments to the Ukraine prosecutors and other corrupt administration officials," the complaint alleges. Documents show that in Decembe[...]



For Heaven's Sake, Just Release the Rest of the JFK Files

Fri, 27 Oct 2017 10:30:00 -0400

Yesterday the government was supposed to declassify its final files on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. That was the deadline set by the JFK Records Act of 1992, but there was an escape hatch: The president had the power to withhold some of the documents on national security grounds. After much vacillating, Donald Trump decided at the last minute to keep some files classified.

A day later, he's still vacillating. The president is "unhappy" about what happened, according to CNN:

(image) President Donald Trump wanted more of the documents related to President John F. Kennedy's assassination released. But when the final requests from government agencies hit his desk on Thursday, there wasn't enough time to go through the hundreds of records the agencies wanted to keep secret, two US officials said.

As the deadline ticked away, Trump was confronted with a choice: release all of the 3,100 records without any redactions, or accept the redactions of intelligence and law enforcement agencies and release 2,800 of those documents.

Trump agreed to the second option, while also requiring agencies to conduct a secondary review of the information they believed should be redacted within 180 days. But Trump was still miffed by his decision. "He was unhappy with the level of redactions," a White House official said, adding that Trump believed the agencies were "not meeting the spirit of the law."

If this is actually true, it should put to rest any Trumpian fears that the "deep state" is trying to depose him. What intelligence agency would want to get rid of a president so easily manipulated?

You don't need to buy any of the conspiracy theories about John F. Kennedy's death to see that this is a historically significant event that still has several open questions around it, especially with regard to Lee Harvey Oswald's trip to Mexico City shortly before the shooting. And you don't need to be personally interested in the topic to be appalled that the feds are still suppressing information about an incident that took place more than half a century ago. (No, I don't buy the halfhearted excuse that the withheld files may include relatively recent documents added to the stockpile in the 1990s. Even if you think those should still be classified, they aren't all that's still classified. For example: Jefferson Morley, author of a new biography of former CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton, notes that Angleton's secret Senate testimony from 1975 is among the missing material.)

The deadline for the remaining documents to be reviewed is April 26, 2018. Maybe we'll see more material after that, but I'm not optimistic. If the agencies involved can drag their feet for this long, they can drag them for another six months. In the disappointed words of Gerald Posner, one of the better-known advocates of the lone-assassin theory: "They have only had 25 years to get ready."




Listen to Jesse Walker Talk About the JFK Files on SiriusXM Insight at 2 pm ET

Thu, 26 Oct 2017 13:37:00 -0400

(image) Today, the National Archives and Records Administration released a giant new cache of previously withheld government files pertaining to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Since today also marks a return guest-hosting engagement for me on SiriusXM Insight channel 121's Tell Me Everything With John Fugelsang, I am bringing on Reason's own Jesse Walker, author of the acclaimed The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory, to place the JFK conspiracies into historical context.

Also scheduled to join are libertarian-leaning GOP strategist and communications pro Liz Mair (Reason archive here), to discuss the retirement announcement by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona); and the great journalist Nancy Rommelmann (Reason archive), to talk about the ever-expanding fallout from the Harvey Weinstein/Bill O'Reilly sexual harassment/assault scandals.

You can call in to heckle at 877 974-7487.




Ye Olde Ikea Sex Traffickers

Mon, 23 Oct 2017 06:00:00 -0400

We are in the midst of a massive mommy moral panic. Across the country, mothers are writing breathless accounts on Facebook of how sex traffickers nearly snatched their children at Target/Ikea/the grocery store. While at Sam's Club, one such post explains, "a man came up to us and asked if the empty cart nearby was ours.…He was an African American with a shaved head.…It seemed like an innocent encounter." Innocent, that is, until the mom and kids headed to Walmart and there was the guy again, "feverishly texting on his phone but not taking his eye off my daughter." It could only mean one thing, she wrote: "I have absolutely NO doubt that that man is a trafficker looking for young girls to steal and sell." And I have absolutely no doubt that she's wrong. This is what security expert Bruce Schneier has dubbed a "movie plot threat"—a narrative that looks suspiciously like what you'd see at the Cineplex. The more "movie plot" a situation seems, the less likely it is to be real. But it sells. A Facebook post by Diandra Toyos went wildly viral after she said she and her kids were followed by two men at Ikea. "I had a bad feeling," she wrote. Fortunately, she "managed to lose them." Which, frankly, is what one does at Ikea, even with people one is trying not to lose. Nonetheless, the post ricocheted through the media. CBS told viewers that while experts found the scenario unlikely, "that doesn't mean Toyos didn't have reason to be concerned." Actually, it does. When yet another post from another mom took off in Denver, local news outlets had to run stories reassuring parents that there had been no legitimate sex trafficking reports in the area. The Littleton Independent also informed people that an earlier story about a man "kidnapping" a child in front of the local library turned out to be about a guy moving a stroller out of the way so he could get to his car. David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, says parents always worry about their kids. But more and more, that primal fear "gets paired with the fact that we live in a very heterogeneous society, where we encounter lots of people whose behavior and motives we can't read, we can't identify with." It's a big case of fear of The Other. Had Finkelhor heard of a single case where a child was taken from a parent in public and forced into the sex trade? No. Because it's not happening. Actual traffickers build relationships with the young people they go on to exploit, usually troubled or runaway teens. No one is spiriting 2-year-olds from Target. These Facebook posts about fiends snatching innocent children are eerily reminiscent of an older, more pernicious scare: a corrosive lie called the "blood libel," in which Jews during medieval times were said to be killing Christian children and using their blood to make matzah. But while the blood libels were directed against a single group, medieval scholar Emily Rose points out, the Facebook posts aren't, though they often mention men of a different ethnic background than the writer. In that sense, today's stories are more like generic stranger danger. But then Rose describes the most famous blood libel of all: the 1475 abduction and murder of a young Italian boy, Simon of Trent. A Jew was accused of killing him for his blood. It was not the first such story, but this one spread like wildfire thanks to a brand new social medium: print. Posters and poems disseminated the allegations; Trent became a pilgrimage destination. "So Simon goes viral," Rose explains, and now everyone "wants their own." Across the continent, people started claiming that a Christian child had been murdered by a Jew in their town, too. "Most of these kids didn't even exist," Rose says, "and if they did exist, they weren't killed." But that didn't stop the stor[...]



Blood for Oil

Thu, 19 Oct 2017 06:00:00 -0400

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann, Doubleday, 352 pages, $28.95 For more than a decade, members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma were quietly, systematically slaughtered for their oil money. In Killers of the Flower Moon, journalist David Grann describes how Congress made the Osage dependent on whites who could gain from their deaths and how leading Oklahomans conspired to perpetrate and cover up mass murder. He shows how a federal agent struck a blow against the killers, but he also reveals that the murders took place over a longer period of time, and claimed far more victims, than the government investigation suggested. It is, as Grann told one interviewer, a story of how "a system rooted in racism, done under the pretense of enlightenment," produced a "criminal enterprise that had been sanctioned by the U.S. government." As Grann's narrative begins, the Osage people—who twice had been forced to relocate, once from their traditional land in present-day Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, and once from the Kansas territory the U.S. government had promised would be their permanent home—were reaping their reward for settling in a portion of north-central Oklahoma that no one else wanted. They had secured the rights not just to the soil but to the minerals beneath it. That poor, rocky land sat on top of oil. By the 1920s, the oil boom was making the Osage people immensely wealthy. The year 1923 alone brought in over $30 million in royalties (more than $400 million* today). As one magazine writer put it at the time, "Every time a new well is drilled the Indians are that much richer.…The Osage Indians are becoming so rich that something will have to be done about it." Something was done about it. Under the guise of protecting the Osage from their money for their own good—white man's burden, don't you know—Congress in 1921 passed a law requiring Osage individuals to be appointed white male guardians until they could prove that they were competent. In practice, the greater the percentage of Osage blood one had, the more difficult it was to prove competence. And the whites who controlled the purse strings had a strong incentive to collude to rob and defraud their dependents. They also had an incentive to murder. An Osage individual's headright claim to oil revenues passed on to his or her legal heir, regardless of blood quantum or tribal affiliation. The first section of Grann's book is aptly titled "The Marked Woman." Mollie Burkhart was literally the last woman standing in her Osage family after her mother was poisoned, one sister was shot, and another sister was killed in an explosion. With each death, the headrights and the wealth they represented accumulated. Mollie herself would be attacked—white doctors in on the conspiracy professed to give the diabetic woman insulin while actually injecting her with poison—but ultimately was saved. The experience she had of mysterious death after mysterious death in her family, and her justified sense that she herself was being hunted, offer a taste of the terror endured by the Osage. Grann quotes the historian Louis F. Burns: "I don't know of a single Osage family which didn't lose at least one family member because of the head rights." Mollie's story also underscores the insidiously personal long-term betrayal represented by the killings. She would eventually learn that the white man she believed to be her loving husband and the caring father of her children was, in fact, acting on a scheme concocted by his powerful cattleman uncle, William "King of the Osage Hills" Hale, to infiltrate her family, murder its members, and inherit their oil revenues. The murderers didn't limit themselves to killing the Osage. Knowing they could[...]



Latest Russia Conspiracy Theory: Facebook Pages Are Culture Hacks Meant to 'Harvest Rage'

Tue, 10 Oct 2017 14:16:00 -0400

(image) It has come to this: The latest reporting on Russia's attempts to "interfere" with the U.S. presidential election focuses on Facebook groups that posted content created by Americans.

This, The New York Times breathlessly reports, represented an effort to "Reshape U.S. Politics."

What are the Russians accused of this time?

"The Russian pages—with names like 'Being Patriotic,' 'Secured Borders' and 'Blacktivist'—cribbed complaints about federal agents from one conservative website, and a gauzy article about a veteran who became an entrepreneur from People magazine," the Times informs us. "They took descriptions and videos of police beatings from genuine YouTube and Facebook accounts and reposted them, sometimes lightly edited for maximum effect."

So in essence, they did what a lot of Facebook pages do: Repost content that fits the theme of the page.

The Times describes this as "harvesting American rage," but that seems grossly overstated. These pages—which the site has removed—were not unlike countless other politically oriented pages on Facebook. Since virtually anyone can start a Facebook page, and since the Russian pages reportedly suffered from broken English, it's hard to imagine them having any real influence rather than being merely another interchangeable part of the online echo chamber.

The wide range of ideological opinion represented by the Facebook pages (which included material that highlighted police brutality and discrimination against Muslims, in addition to standard right-wing fare) also undercuts the idea that Russian efforts (or these efforts, at least) were directed toward a particular outcome.

"This is cultural hacking," Jonathan Albright, research director of Columbia University's Tow Center for Digital Journalism, told the Times. "They are using systems that were already set up by these platforms to increase engagement. They're feeding outrage—and it's easy to do, because outrage and emotion is how people share."

Maybe that's the aim. But that's also their right. The right to free speech, perhaps contrary to popular belief, is not limited to U.S. citizens. Anyone can (or should be) able to participate in America's marketplace of ideas.

Are Russians trying to breed chaos by stoking certain segments of America's political debates? Guess what: Free speech means our debates are always chaotic. That makes them stronger. Suppressing speech because Russians may have amplified it, on the other hand, undermines our culture of free speech and has the potential to be a lot more harmful than any Facebook page could possibly be.




The Great James Buchanan Conspiracy

Sun, 01 Oct 2017 12:00:00 -0400

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America, by Nancy MacLean, Viking, 334 pages, $28 The board of education in Brown v. Board of Education—the 1954 Supreme Court decision that desegregated American public schools—was located in Topeka, Kansas, a city that was overwhelmingly white. Brown overturned a policy set by a majority, and it was right to do so: School segregation is just as wrong when it is imposed democratically as it is when it is imposed by suppressing the black vote. So the strangest thing about Democracy in Chains—a book that contains many, many strange claims—may be how its author, the Duke historian Nancy MacLean, treats Brown. On one hand, she believes that those who want to bind majorities with preset constitutional rules are up to something sinister. Her chief villain on this score is James Buchanan, an economist and political philosopher who argued that government actors ought to be subject to built-in structural constraints. On the other hand, MacLean clearly thinks Brown was correctly decided. Indeed, she accuses Buchanan of working to undermine the ruling. MacLean seems not to notice Brown is itself an example of the phenomenon MacLean is denouncing: a Constitution being used to overrule a democratic outcome in the name of protecting a minority. It's an awkward start for a baroque conspiracy story, and it signals what a mess the book will be. The historian has little to no evidence for her history. She invents some when necessary, and will at times just make assertions to suit her narrative, mustering neither real nor phony evidence to back them up. Many of her factual and interpretive errors have already been covered elsewhere, in venues ranging from Vox to The Washington Post. Rather than get lost in the weeds of covering every false statement or misleadingly gerrymandered quotation in this book, I want to focus here on the core claims that it gets wrong: MacLean fundamentally misunderstands Buchanan's intellectual project, treating his theories about politics as an apologia for the wealthy and powerful. This gives short shrift to a serious body of thought, and it fails to see that his arguments can indict the wealthy as much as anyone else. She tries to tie Buchanan's work to the segregationist order in the South, even implying that his ideas arose from a desire to preserve it. She essentially invents links along the way. She paints Buchanan as an important influence on Augusto Pinochet's repressive dictatorship in Chile. Not only does her evidence fail to support this, but she misses an important piece of counterevidence: a 1981 speech, delivered in Chile, in which Buchanan condemned dictatorial rule. And finally, though Buchanan was neither an orthodox libertarian nor a central influence on the libertarian movement, she puts him at the heart of a Charles Koch–driven conspiracy to impose a radical libertarian agenda on the United States. In the process, she manages to misread both Buchanan and Koch in telling ways. Public Choice, Private Greed? Buchanan won the Nobel Prize in 1986 for his role in founding the "public choice" school of economics. This school's key idea, to quote the Nobel committee, was to seek "explanations for political behavior that resemble those used to analyze behavior on markets." The result was a body of work in which politicians and bureaucrats, no less than entrepreneurs and investors, often "act out of self-interest," driven not just by a vision of the common good but by a desire for votes or bigger budgets. MacLean, by contrast, treats public choice as little more than an effort to question the good-heartedness of public servants. Its conclusions, she insists, have "no[...]



How Ron Paul Gets the NFL 'Take the Knee' Controversy Wrong

Thu, 28 Sep 2017 12:30:00 -0400

Ron Paul appeared on Alex Jones's InfoWars to weigh in on the controversy that has the nation pointlessly aggrieved: some football players aren't happy with how often police kill black men and choose to express this by kneeling rather than standing when the national anthem is played before football games. Paul, the former Republican congressman (and two-time Republican, and one-time Libertarian, presidential candidate) seemed to see other things worth being angry about in the kneeling NFLers behavior and in the team owners' tolerating it, for various unconvincing and poorly expressed reasons. President Donald Trump has chosen to cynically and idiotically fan the flames of this phony controversy, dividing the nation roughly between those who either agree that cops violently misbehave too often or that Americans should be able to peacefully and symbolically express that opinion during the national anthem at a football game, and those who think public and presidential pressure should force everyone to "show respect for the flag" in one proscribed ritual way. Matt Welch masterfully parsed out nearly all the issues relevant to the libertarian perspective about this dumb controversy at Reason earlier this week. Among his conclusions were that it would be great to get government money and giveaways and crony treatment out of sports, and that it's a healthy thing for free Americans to react to presidential dudgeon by doing the opposite of what (he claims) he wanted. (Trump, the political imp of the perverse, likely would have been disappointed if everyone had obeyed his command to rise for the anthem.) On his show, Alex Jones, a popularizer of the idea that the U.S. government conducts baroque and sinister conspiracies with maddening regularity and for tyrannical ends, now seems more worried that "white people" and America are being criticized. Paul, fortunately given the shadow of racist comments that appeared under his name (but were not, he insists, written by him) decades ago in newsletters he issued, doesn't directly rise to that bait, moving forward as if it wasn't even said. But Paul apparently, for reasons he never specifies or makes clear in this interview, finds the display of kneeling by football players to be a distasteful example of a modern right-populist bogeyman, "cultural Marxism," an (often seen as conspiratorial) movement to overturn all traditional western values in order to soften our underbelly to accept totalitarian communism, through means unspecified. The Ron Paul who created a stir for a message of small government, sound money, and liberty in his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns nearly entirely avoided this kind of cranky right-wing talk. I never heard him claim the free choices of any American to express an anti-government opinion in any context was something to be upset about in any way. (I witnessed dozens of hours of his political speeches while researching my 2012 book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.) Being a politician seemed to bring out the best in him, a real rarity. When seeking a national audience as a presidential candidate, the need to appeal outside his pre-existing constituency containing many whose anti-statism had a right-populist streak gave him room to paint a wide and sympathetic vision of liberty, one with no place for griping about "cultural Marxism" or that some people are freely choosing to not embrace those old-time western family values. That Ron Paul left right-wing culture war nonsense entirely behind, speaking instead of the human tragedies of military empire, the dangers of federal management of the money supply, the stupidity and evil of restricting our free choi[...]