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"There is a tradition of Islam that actually values enterprise and free trade," says Mustafa Akyol, a New York Times columnist and author of Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty. "Islam was born as a very trade-friendly religion. Prophet Muhammad was a merchant himself."
Akyol says the current state of affairs in the Islamic world can lead people to feel pessimistic about its future and the prospect of a free society. But "to extrapolate this out to all Muslims and to say 'this is what Islam probably is,' would be the biggest mistake," Akyol says. "What Islam can be, and what Islam was in the past, is a different discussion."
While the historical basis for compatibility with the West exists, there are still many challenges that face the Islamic world. Akyol says a change to Islam along the lines of the Protestant Reformation isn't necessarily what's needed. "What we need is the Enlightenment...not Luther, but John Locke."
Nick Gillespie sat down with Akyol at the International Students for Liberty Conference to discuss the historical relationship between Islam and free trade, how Islamists reshaped the religion into political authoritarianism, and whether or not Islam needs a reformation or an enlightenment.
Produced by Mark McDaniel. Cameras by McDaniel, Joshua Swain, and Todd Krainin.
Click below for full text, links, and downloadable versions.
(image) Donald Trump is famously prone to conspiracy theories, but that in itself isn't unusual in the executive branch. "Indeed, there's a long history of presidents and their inner circles obsessing about malevolent cabals. What's different about Trump isn't the fact that he talks about dubious conspiracies. It's the way he talks about them."
Who am I quoting there? Why, I'm quoting myself! Yep, this is one of those Hit & Run posts where we promote a piece we published elsewhere. In this case, The New Republic asked me to write something about presidential paranoia, and I obliged with a story that hops from John Quincy Adams' obsession with Masonic plots to Richard Nixon stewing about the Jews to Donald Trump's dark speculations about the death of Antonin Scalia. What makes Trump stand out, I argue, isn't the content of his theories so much as the fact that he spouts them without regard for elite mores:
Conspiracy theories tend to be disreputable. Indeed, in most circles of respectable opinion, the very phrase conspiracy theory is used as a pejorative. So when high-level officials embrace a position considered to be taboo, they often prefer not to talk about it. John Kerry has long rejected the official story about JFK's assassination, but when Meet the Press brought up the subject in 2013, the secretary of state clammed up. "I just have a point of view," Kerry demurred. "And I'm not going to get into that."
Our new president, to the delight of his supporters, presents himself as a man unshackled by such mores of polite society. Richard Nixon may have been prone to seeing plots everywhere, but it's hard to imagine him publicly promoting a transparently phony theory tying Rafael Cruz to Lee Harvey Oswald; it's harder still to picture him backing up his claims by citing the National Enquirer. For Trump, neither the story nor the source is something to be ashamed of.
There's a strong chance, of course, that Trump doesn't actually believe the Enquirer story, and that he only brought it up because Ted Cruz happened to be his chief political foe that day. That's where his cynicism comes in. Trump doesn't just spout unsubstantiated accusations; he often drops them as quickly as he brings them up, as though it never really mattered if they were true.
The full article is here. My book on conspiracy theories is here. And the last article I wrote for The New Republic is here. It's from March of 1998, so my appearances there, like the ancient Greek calendar, appear to be based on a 19-year cycle.
2017-02-28T09:31:00-05:00President Trump promised a "historic increase in defense spending" in remarks to the National Governor's Association (NGA), suggesting concomitant cuts in non-defense spending (excluding entitlements) would cover the increase. Trump described what would be his first federal budget proposal as a "public safety and national security budget." The Trump budget is set to propose a $54 billion dollar increase (nearly 10 percent) in defense spending, to $603 billion, and a cut in non-defense discretionary spending to $462 billion, according to White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney. Mulvaney described the budget, which will be submitted to Congress next month, as an expression of Trump's campaign agenda. "It will show the president is keeping his promises and doing exactly what he said he was going to do," Mulvaney said, according to The New York Times. "We are taking his words and turning them into policies and dollars." Mulvaney's December appointment to lead OMB was hailed by budget hawks, as he had been a vocal advocate for spending cuts while a member of Congress. As recently as last summer, Mulvaney campaigned on the idea that military spending should not be exempt. "If we are going to balance the budget, then all spending needs to be scrutinized, including the Pentagon," Mulvaney wrote in a Facebook post, according to the Greenville News. Mulvaney's congressional Facebook page has since been deactivated. Mulvaney's 2016 Democratic opponent attacked him for his position on military spending cuts, saying the 2011 sequester that Mulvaney supported, which slowed down the rate of growth of military spending, meant Republicans had "gutted the military when it was needed the most." The position illustrates the difficulty any remaining budget hawks will have in resisting Trump's budget proposals or offering politically-feasible counter-proposals. Trump's proposed massive military spending increase cannot even be reasonably interpreted as an extreme first offer meant to spur negotiations, because there is little will in Congress for spending cuts of any kind, let alone those of the military. That's unfortunate, because, as Benjamin Friedman wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2011, "austerity is the best auditor." Responsible, managed cuts in military spending could improve military readiness by forcing much-needed reprioritizations. The president's proposed military spending increase is unfortunate, especially given Trump's early focus on a number of military contracts he considered overpriced. Those contracts are a kind of microcosm of the wider military budget. Increasing military spending will only make such contracts more bloated. Outside of the military, Trump appears to understand the value of spending cuts in increasing government efficiency, or at least to have a grasp on the rhetoric. "We're going to do more with less and make government lean and accountable to the people," Trump said in his NGA remarks. "The government must learn to tighten its belt, something families all across the country have had to learn to do," Trump said, "unfortunately, but they've had to learn to do it and they've done it well." As William Ruger, the Charles Koch Institute's vice president of policy and research explained at a CPAC panel this weekend, conservatives have a tendency to treat the military bureaucracy as an "honorary member of the private sector," ignoring that it was prone to the same waste and inefficiency as the rest of government. Throughout the presidential campaign, many conservatives questioned Trump's credentials. He certainly shares the blind spot of many conservatives when it comes to military spending, and seems to have helped Mulvaney develop one of his own. [...]
2017-02-28T08:00:00-05:00Judging from yesterday's oral arguments in Packingham v. North Carolina, the Supreme Court seems inclined to overturn that state's law banning sex offenders from Facebook, Twitter, and other "commercial social networking Web sites." Robert Montgomery, a lawyer from the North Carolina Attorney General's Office, had a hard time persuading the justices that the law—which covers a wide range of sites accessible to minors and applies to all registered sex offenders, whether or not their crimes involved children or the internet—passes muster under the First Amendment. The case was brought by Lester Packingham, who in 2002, at the age of 21, pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a minor. A first-time offender, he received a sentence of 10 to 12 months, after which he served two years of probation and was required to register as a sex offender for 10 years. Six years after Packingham's conviction, the North Carolina legislature passed a law that made it a Class I felony, punishable by up to a year in jail, for a registered sex offender to "access" any commercial website open to minors that facilitates social introductions, allows users to create web pages or profiles that include personal information, and enables users to communicate with each other. Packingham was caught violating the law in 2010, when he beat a traffic ticket and celebrated the event with an exultant Facebook post: Man God is Good! How about I got so much favor they dismiss the ticket before court even started. No fine, No court costs, no nothing spent….Praise be to GOD, WOW! Thanks JESUS! Trying to explain how punishing such innocent (and religious!) speech can be consistent with the First Amendment, Montgomery likened North Carolina's law to state bans on politicking within 100 feet of a polling place, which the Court upheld in the 1992 case Burson v. Freeman. "I think that does not help you at all," Justice Anthony Kennedy said, provoking laughter from the audience. "If you cite Burson, I think you lose." Justice Elena Kagan briefly seemed to be helping Montgomery, only to drive Kennedy's point home. "I agree with you," she told Montgomery. "That's your closest case....It's the only case that I know of where we've permitted a prophylactic rule where we've said not all conduct will have these dangerous effects, but we don't exactly know how to separate out the dangerous speech from the not-dangerous speech....That is like one out of a zillion First Amendment cases that we've decided in our history. And as Justice Kennedy says, there are many reasons to think it's distinguishable from this one." Justice Stephen Breyer was equally discouraging. "The State has a reason?" he said. "Yeah, it does. Does it limit free speech? Dramatically. Are there other, less restrictive ways of doing it? We're not sure, but we think probably, as you've mentioned some. OK. End of case, right?" Kagan emphasized the extent of the law's interference with political speech, noting that it prevents sex offenders from following the president, members of Congress, and other elected officials on Twitter or Facebook. "This has become a crucially important channel of political communication," she said. "And a person couldn't go onto those sites and find out what these members of our government are thinking or saying or doing....These sites have become embedded in our culture as ways to communicate and ways to exercise our constitutional rights." The law clearly covers social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and it arguably applies even to ubiquitous services such as Google and Amazon, which are not primarily social networking sites but seem to meet the statutory definition. Although Montgomery claimed news sources such as nytimes.com are not covered, they might be if they let readers register and create profiles for commenting. "Even if The New York Times is not included," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, "the point is that these people a[...]
(image) Libertarian author and thinker Jerome Tuccille died on February 16, aged 80.
His son, J.D., writes:
In a real way, it was failure that drove my father's success—failure to achieve his original goals was the prod that drove continued effort and accomplishment throughout his life.
Just weeks before he died on February 16, my father finished writing his last book. It's a history of the Bonus Army, military veterans who demanded cash payment of benefits promised to them for their service in The World War (the only one at the time, since politicians had yet to air the sequel). They were brutally dispersed by troops and tanks commanded by General Douglas MacArthur, who was honing the skills he'd apply to more deserving targets in the Pacific a little later in his career. I doubt my old man would have been motivated to labor on that book through the complications of the multiple myeloma eating away at him if he'd achieved his life-long goal of a major bestseller and felt comfortable resting on his laurels.
His writing career started with politics; magazine articles, newspaper op-eds, and the books Radical Libertarianism (1970) and It Usually Begins With Ayn Rand (1971) made his name. But politics damn near broke him. He never expected his 1974 run for governor of New York as the Libertarian candidate to end in electoral victory, but he hoped that his candidacy would win enough votes to gain permanent ballot status for the party. He failed in that goal—and in efforts to continue to earn a living amidst the demands of the election. Breaking with the political preoccupations that had driven him for the previous half-decade, he put on a suit and bluffed his way into a meeting with a Merrill Lynch branch manager by implying that he was a potential big-money client. That he had, instead, a big need for money and had bullshitted his way in the door impressed the guy and landed him a job.
2017-02-28T07:00:00-05:00In comments to reporters yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions provided more reason to worry that a crackdown on state-licensed marijuana businesses is in the offing. "I'm definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana," said Sessions, an old-fashioned drug warrior who thinks "good people don't smoke marijuana." While states "can pass the laws they choose," he added, "I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not." Sessions gave little indication of the extent to which he plans to enforce that law, except to say that "we're going to look at it...and try to adopt responsible policies." But he expressed sympathy for states such as Nebraska that complain about an influx of marijuana from states where it is legal and worried about rising potency. "Current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we're seeing real violence around that," he said. "Experts are telling me there's more violence around marijuana than one would think, and there's big money involved." While it sounded like Sessions was harking back to Harry Anslinger's "reefer madness" campaign against marijuana by blaming violence on the pharmacological effects of super-potent pot, it seems the attorney general is more worried about the "big money involved" in the marijuana trade. "You can't sue somebody for a drug debt," he said. "The only way to get your money is through strong-arm tactics, and violence tends to follow that." If Sessions' main concern is the violence that occurs when marijuana suppliers have no legal way to resolve disputes, of course, he should welcome the peace brought by legalization. "By talking about marijuana and violence," observes Marijuana Majority Chairman Tom Angell, "the attorney general is inadvertently articulating the strongest argument that exists for legalization, which is that it allows regulated markets in a way that prohibition does not. The only connection between marijuana and violence is the one that exists when illegal sellers battle it out for profits in the black market." Assuming that Sessions' plans include "greater enforcement" of the federal ban on marijuana, as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggested last week, it could take several forms. Sessions could easily disavow the Justice Department's policy of prosecutorial forbearance, which was laid out in a 2013 memo from James Cole, then the deputy attorney general. But even without renouncing the Cole memo, Sessions could seriously disrupt or cripple the cannabis industry in states such as Colorado and Washington by taking a broader view of the federal "enforcement priorities" Cole listed. Those priorities include preventing violence and interstate smuggling, both issues that Sessions raised yesterday. The priorities also include preventing distribution to minors and minimizing "adverse public health consequences related to marijuana use," a potentially unlimited license for federal meddling. Yesterday Sessions also alluded to those rationales for intervention. "Most of you probably know I don't think America is going to be a better place when more people of all ages, and particularly young people, start smoking pot," he said. "I believe it's an unhealthy practice." During his confirmation hearing last month, Sessions conceded that enforcing the federal ban on marijuana is "a problem of resources for the federal government" and said "some" of Cole's criteria "are truly valuable in evaluating cases." But he added that "the criticism I think that was legitimate is that they may not have been followed." In fact, that was the theme of the April 2016 Senate hearing at which Sessions said "the Department of Justice needs to be clear" that "marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized." The title of the hear[...]
(image) Zambia sees Zimbabwe's economic missteps as South Africa looks to repeat them.
Marian Tupy writes:
Two weeks ago I wrote about the plight of Zimbabwe following Robert Mugabe's expropriation of commercial farms and the economic meltdown that followed. I also noted that the South African government was thinking about introducing a similar, and equally self-defeating, policy in South Africa. While South Africa remains in the clutches of self-declared communists, who appear to have no understanding of the importance of property rights, Zambia has learned appropriate lessons from its past flirtation with socialism.
Between 1964 and 1991, Zambia was run by Kenneth Kaunda, a socialist who nationalized much of the economy—with predictable consequences. During his time in office, Zambian GDP per person shrunk by 34 percent. In relatively well-run Botswana next door, it rose by 786 percent. Since the early 1990s, however, Zambia has grown much more politically and economically free. The economy rebounded. Since Kaunda left office, Zambian incomes have risen by 65 percent—almost double the world average.
(image) The Prosser, Washington, school system has placed a teacher on leave after she posted on Facebook that people should report illegal aliens to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The teacher, who was not named, posted the evening before the Day Without Immigrants protests.
2017-02-27T21:59:00-05:00Tune into Red Eye with Tom Shillue tonight at 3 A.M. ET on the Fox News Channel, where we'll be joined by ombudsman Andy Levy, wisecracker Jimmy Failla, entertainment reporter Jill Dobson and madman Michael Malice. Scheduled topics include the trainwreck that was the Oscars, President Trump causing righteous outrage over his defiling of a steak with ketchup, and a gym that encourages marijuana consumption while working out. Tune in or set your DVRs for ridiculously late-night shenanigans, and as an added bonus, click below to watch the Facebook Live interview I did with Shillue, who appears in Sidewalk Traffic—a feature film I wrote and directed—which will be released on iTunes, Amazon, and all major VOD outlets tomorrow! src="https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FRedEye%2Fvideos%2F10154505124763237%2F&show_text=0&width=560" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> [...]
2017-02-27T19:20:00-05:00Marine Le Pen of the anti-immigration, pro-welfare state National Front, is improving her standing in some French presidential polls—she is expected based on her polling performance so far to make it through the first round of elections, while a corruption scandal that rocked the candidacy of Republican candidate Francois Fillon has reduced his lead in head-to-head polling with Le Pen to a 12 points. In the most recent poll of the most likely run-off scenario, Fillon topped Le Pen 56 to 44. Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie, made it into the run-off against the incumbent Jacques Chirac, where the challenger was trounced 82 percent to 18 percent. In the first round, Chirac led with 20 percent and Le Pen finished second with 17 percent. Chirac received nearly 20 million additional votes in the second round, while Le Pen gained only 700,000. Polling in the 2017 election suggests Fillon, or whoever else makes it into the second round with Le Pen, cannot expect support as broad as Chirac received. Some French leaders are warning that a Le Pen win is far from impossible. She has a 27.7 percent chance of winning according to prediction markets aggregator ElectionBettingOdds.com—within the range of Trump's chances of winning during much of the 2016 campaign. "I think Madame Le Pen could be elected," Jean-Pierre Raffarin, a former Republican prime minister, warned this month according to Euractiv, while another former prime minister, Socialist Manuel Valls, who ran unsuccessfully for the Socialist nomination for president this year, said it was dangerous to assume Le Pen could not win. Le Pen has mixed a nationalist, Euroskeptic, Islamophobic and anti-immigration message with promises of increased social and welfare spending to expand the National Front's appeal, particularly relative to her most likely second-round opponent, Fillon, who is campaigning on much needed civil and government services cuts as well as labor market deregulation. The Socialist Francois Hollande's presidency failed in large part under the weight of unsuccessful efforts to get French government spending under control and to remove barriers to economic growth. Socialist voters, The Independent columnist Satyajit Das suggests, faced with the run-off choice of Le Pen and Fillon or a center-left candidate (the Socialist Benoit Hamon is not expected to make it into the second round in most scenarios), may choose Le Pen at a higher rate than French pundits are willing to admit. The center-left candidate, Emmanuel Macron, a former investment banker and founder of the En Marche! party, is, like Fillon, is also running on labor reforms and tax cuts, two policies critical to improving France's economy but not popular with Socialist voters. Le Pen has not been shy in trying to align herself with Donald Trump and with Brexit (she supports a French withdrawal from the European Union), and launched her campaign earlier this month with the slogan "France First." In response to Macron rising in the polls, she has adopted a Trump-like attack on the French media, accusing it of campaigning "hysterically" for Macron. Last year she praised Russia President Vladimir Putin as a real leader and called the EU the real enemy, and earlier this year she denied that Russia invaded Crimea, which is under the control of Russia but recognized by most of the international community as still being part of Ukraine. [...]
It's the Monday after the Oscars (which were pretty awful) and the Monday after the Conservative Political Action Conference or CPAC (also awful). And it's the Monday before President Trump's first address to Congress (you know where this is headed...).
Nick Gillespie is joined by Reason magazine Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward and Features Reporter Eric Boehm to talk the politics of awards shows, whether the Democratic Party will find a pulse again, what CPAC was like, and what to watch for in Trump's big speech.
Produced by Mark McDaniel.
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2017-02-27T17:15:00-05:00I had already prepared myself for the disappointment of La La Land beating out Moonlight for the Academy Award for best movie. I saw both movies and thought Moonlight was superior in all the ways that matter to me—strong characters, powerful storytelling, and emotional impact. But Hollywood loves itself above all things, and I was prepared for another Crash versus Brokeback Mountain train wreck. When La La Land was initially declared the winner, I simply shrugged and started shutting everything down for the night. It was only by circumstance that I powered down my computer first and still had the television on when the mistake was revealed. It was a happy surprise to me that Moonlight won, and I just wanted to take a moment to recommend anybody who identifies as a libertarian to go so the movie if they haven't yet. If I were to describe a movie as being about a young gay black man coming of age in an extremely poor Miami neighborhood surrounded by drug culture, violence, and bullies, it may be a natural inclination to expect something very preachy and full of "Something must be done about this!" messages. That's not Moonlight. What makes Moonlight work is that it's almost the exact opposite. It throws the viewer into the life of young protagonist Chiron and has the confidence to let us come to terms with the combination of awfulness and hopefulness of his experiences. It's a deeply personal story informed by the real world experiences of the two men behind it. What does this have to do with libertarianism? Government institutions are shown as failing Chiron, and there's no effort to present these systems as part of the solution. School does nothing to protect him. And when he finally acts out in frustration when the violent bullying becomes too much, he finds the criminal justice system ready to come crashing down on him. There is no lecturing about this institutional failure. It's presented as a lived-in experience. The story of Moonlight trusts the viewer to understand its deeper meaning. It's not complicated, but it is subtle. That the time jump between teen Chiron and adult Chiron includes a prison stint is handled almost like an aside. But the movie is far from hopeless, and it's not a tragedy. This is not Brokeback Mountain recast in an urban setting during the crack epidemic. It's challenging and at times very difficult to watch play out (particularly if you were, for disclosure's sake, a gay man who also grew up dirt poor in Florida and had a mother with drug issues), but Chiron does find a path that suggests a way toward personal happiness even as it embeds him further into a life operating through some shadowy options (I'm trying not to spoil too much). Consider Moonlight to be the film equivalent of the personal stories Reason shares about those who have been granted mercy from harsh mandatory minimum sentences. When we look at the cruelty of the drug war, the use of police in schools, and the failures of prohibition and their disparate impact on minorities, it's easy to want throw out data and just hope that makes an impression. Moonlight attaches it all to a story and invites the audience to live through the consequences of this harsh dynamic partly created by government officials (at the demand of their constituencies) without judging them and putting them on the defensive. The movie illustrates a fight for self-determination and personal happiness in a harsh environment where authority is stacked against the protagonist—something every libertarian should be able to identify with. [...]
(image) Self-driving vehicles will be safer than human-driven vehicles (if they are not, people won't ride in them). Consider that data show that the the installation of Tesla's autopilot system makes its cars 40 percent less likely to crash than they were previously. So the company is now bundling cheaper liability insurance with its sales prices in some overseas markets. While the advent of self-driving cars will significantly reduce their number, accidents will nevertheless still occur. In such cases, who should be responsible for the damages incurred? Riders should not be since they would have no control over the vehicle. In fact, future self-driving vehicles will not have passenger-accessbile controls like steering wheels or brakes.
In his new law review article, "Automated Driving and Product Liability," University of South Carolina law professor Bryant Walker Smith foresees a "shift from a compensation regime for conventional driving that is largely premised on vehicular negligence to a compensation regime for automated driving that increasingly implicates product liability." Since the "driver" of the vehicle will be the software and hardware installed by the manufacturer, Smith argues that automakers will be held liable in the case of accidents. In fact, Volvo, Google, and Daimler have all already stated that they would accept liability if their technologies are at fault. In addition, self-driving cars will have fewer and less destructive accidents than human-driven cars currently do, so the overall liability costs will less than they are now.
Ultimately, Smith persuasively argues that liability issues are not likely to slow down the introduction of self-driving vehicles.
I recently appeared on C-SPAN's Washington Journal program to discuss why more and more schools are hiring police officers to handle school discipline—an insidious problem that Reason's Tyler Koteskey and I wrote about for the March 2017 issue of Reason magazine.
You can watch the interview below.
The program, which was taped live, permits listeners to call in and ask questions or make comments—most of which were supportive of my argument that cops in schools are a threat to the constitutional rights of kids.
The final caller's comment, unfortunately, has been cut from the version of the interview available below. That's a shame, because she said something rather clever: she suggested that if schools are going to employ police officers, perhaps they should also be required to employ lawyers to provide legal counsel to students.
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2017-02-27T16:10:00-05:00Foreign aid has traditionally taken the form of in-kind assistance: sending meals or medicine, helping build houses or schools, and so on. This can lead to all kinds of unfortunate side effects, as when free food from abroad undercuts local farmers. There is also a recurring mismatch between what the planners in aid agencies think a community needs and what the people on the ground actually want. And so a small group of forward-looking aid workers has embraced a cheaper, more flexible, and less paternalistic approach: Just send people cash instead. The leading player here is GiveDirectly, a U.S.-based charity buoyed by the rise of mobile payments, which have made it much easier to send people money without passing through political or bureaucratic middlemen. The group has been sending conditionless cash aid to East Africa for several years, with encouraging results. It is now preparing an ambitious experiment in a universal basic income. In this setup, everyone in several Kenyan villages, not just the neediest citizens, will be eligible to get money. (I reported on this privately funded experiment back in December, and you can read that story for an outline of the plan.) Now The New York Times has published a dispatch from the first village to get the funds. Here's an excerpt: The villagers had seen Western aid groups come through before, sure, but nearly all of them brought stuff, not money. And because many of these organizations were religious, their gifts came with moral impositions; I was told that one declined to help a young mother whose child was born out of wedlock, for example. With little sense of who would get what and how and from whom and why, rumors blossomed. One villager heard that GiveDirectly would kidnap children. Some thought that the organization was aligned with the Illuminati, or that it would blight the village with giant snakes, or that it performed blood magic. Others heard that the money was coming from Obama himself. But the confusion faded that unseasonably cool morning in October, when a GiveDirectly team returned to explain themselves during a town meeting. Nearly all of the village's 220 people crowded into a blue-and-white tent placed near the school building, watching nervously as 13 strangers, a few of them white, sat on plastic chairs opposite them. Lydia Tala, a Kenyan GiveDirectly staff member, got up to address the group in Dholuo. She spoke at a deliberate pace, awaiting a hum and a nod from the crowd before she moved on: These visitors are from GiveDirectly. GiveDirectly is a nongovernmental organization that is not affiliated with any political party. GiveDirectly is based in the United States. GiveDirectly works with mobile phones. Each person must have his or her own mobile phone, and they must keep their PIN secret. Nobody must involve themselves in criminal activity or terrorism. This went on for nearly two hours. The children were growing restless. Finally, Tala passed the microphone to her colleague, Brian Ouma. "People of the village," he said, "are you happy?" "We are!" they cried in unison. Then he laid out the particulars. "Every registered person will receive 2,280 shillings"—about $22—"each and every month. You hear me?" The audience gasped and burst into wild applause. "Every person we register here will receive the money, I said—2,280 shillings! Every month. This money, you will get for the next 12 years. How many years?" "Twelve years!" To read the rest, go here. To see some testimonials from the villagers, go here. And stay tuned—I've been writing a feature for Reason on the long, messy history of the basic-in[...]
(image) President Donald Trump has always claimed his business acumen would make him the greatest job creator in American history, but his immigration policies—including his controversial travel ban of visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries—are already negatively affecting U.S. business interests.
The travel app Hopper reported a 17 percent drop in searches for flights to the U.S. from 122 countries in the week after the travel ban was put into effect compared to the weeks prior, according to The New York Times, which also notes several other travel search websites and agencies reporting similarly stark drops in interest in travel to the U.S. However, the Chicago Tribune notes that searches for travel to the U.S. from Russia have jumped 88 percent in the past month.
According to the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis, tourism-related spending in the U.S. was over $1.7 billion trillion in 2016, and the loosely-defined tourism industry accounted for over 7.7 million. To be clear, much of that tourism spending comes from Americans traveling domestically, but the drop in foreign travel searches—already being referred to as the "Trump Slump" by Travel Weekly, will not only affect tourism to the tune of billions of dollars in lost revenue, but is also be an impediment to U.S. and international businesses. The Global Business Assocation reported a $185 million loss for business travel bookings in just the first week after Trump's travel ban was announced.
Trump talked his way into the White House by promising not only unprecedented economic growth but impenetrable security at our borders and airports. Judging by this admittedly small sample size of data, his goals may very well be jeopardized by the overbroad nature of his policies.
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2017-02-27T13:10:00-05:00News over the weekend that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is furious about leaks to the press led to some social media amusement by the politically attentive, because what happened during his private meeting with his own staff was also immediately leaked to the press. There were leaks about the effort to fight leaks. On Sunday Politico reported that Spicer (accompanied by White House lawyers) brought in his staff and had them dump out their phones and tech devices—both those from work and personally owned—for inspection to find out if they're responsible for leaks. And there's also the matter of the tools they're using to communicate with: There, he explicitly warned staffers that using texting apps like Confide — an encrypted and screenshot-protected messaging app that automatically deletes texts after they are sent — and Signal, another encrypted messaging system, was a violation of the Presidential Records Act, according to multiple sources in the room. The phone checks included whatever electronics staffers were carrying when they were summoned to the unexpected follow-up meeting, including government-issued and personal cellphones. Spicer also warned the group of more problems if news of the phone checks and the meeting about leaks was leaked to the media. It's not the first time that warnings about leaks have promptly leaked. The State Department's legal office issued a four-page memo warning of the dangers of leaks, and that memo was immediately posted by The Washington Post. So a good chunk of coverage of this incident is of the "Ha! Ha! They can't stop the leaks!" variety. In general, the leakiness of President Donald Trump's administration is a good thing. The public will have a better sense of what they're up to. President Barack Obama's administration unleashed pages upon pages upon pages of new regulations and expanded executive branch authority without a lot of media attention unless there were legal challenges. The Trump administration is not even going to be able to sneeze without a reporter offering a Kleenex. But we do not want to ignore Spicer's warning about how secretive, encrypted communications within the White House are a violation of federal law, because it does have potential implications. A government with staffers who use encrypted communication methods to leak information to the press is also a government with staffers who use encrypted communications methods to keep important discussions out of the hands of the press and the public as well. It's important to recall that the origins of the Hillary Clinton private email server scandal were rooted in concerns that State Department employees were using these secret backchannels to protect their communications from Freedom of Information Act requests. So we end up in an awkward space where the lack of communication discipline can lead to two wildly divergent results—all at the same time: Information that the White House wants to keep private can get leaked to the press; but information the press and public should have the right to know about gets concealed. It's also worth noting, since I pointed this out with Clinton during the campaign, Trump has publicly taken a very dim view on citizens' rights to privacy via encryption. When Apple resisted the FBI's legal demands that the company weaken its own security systems so that the feds could attempt to break into the phone of one of the San Bernardino terrorists, Trump took the FBI's side and called for a boycott of Apple. This leak issue is an interesting i[...]
(image) Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld a Maryland gun control law that bans "assault weapons" and detachable large-capacity magazines, holding that the Second Amendment offers no impediment to such legislation.
Among the judges who joined the 4th Circuit's 10-4 decision in this case, Kolbe v. Hogan, was a highly respected legal conservative named Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III.
What led a respected conservative judge to uphold a sweeping gun control law? In addition to joining the majority opinion, Wilkinson filed a separate concurrence in which he explained his thinking. According to Wilkinson, the matter boiled down to the core principle of judicial deference. "It is altogether fair," Wilkinson wrote, "to argue that the assault weapons here should be less regulated, but that is for the people of Maryland (and the Virginias and the Carolinas) to decide."
In Wilkinson's view, if the federal courts enter the business of invalidating democratically enacted gun control measures such as the ones at issue here, the end result will be to "empower the judiciary and leave Congress, the Executive, state legislatures, and everyone else on the sidelines." As far as Wilkinson is concerned, the federal courts "are not impaneled to add indefinitely to the growing list of subjects on which the states of our Union and the citizens of our country no longer have any meaningful say."
Wilkinson's concurrence offers the classic argument for judicial deference, or judicial restraint: If you don't like what your lawmakers have done, take your complaint to the ballot box, not to the courthouse. For decades this was a dominant view among legal conservatives. Indeed, as recently as twenty years ago, Wilkinson's ode to judicial minimalism would have placed him squarely within the mainstream of conservative legal thought, even though it arose in the context of a Second Amendment case.
But the times are changing. Judicial deference is no longer quite as popular among legal conservatives as it once was, and this particular case helps to illustrate why. After all, doesn't the Second Amendment itself suggest that there are some subjects on which democratic majorities should not have any meaningful say? Doesn't the Constitution place certain rights beyond the reach of lawmakers, and isn't it sometimes the job of the federal courts to enforce those constitutional limits and strike down overreaching legislation, even when such judicial action requires the courts to act in an anti-democratic fashion?
As a principled advocate of judicial deference, Wilkinson effectively answers no to such queries. The big question going forward is how many legal conservatives are still willing to side with Wilkinson.
2017-02-27T12:30:00-05:00A few years ago, Marc Pepitone was arrested at a park in Bolingbrook, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, for walking his dog there. The problem was not the dog; it was Pepitone, who in 1999 was convicted of sexually assaulting a child, a crime for which he received a six-year prison sentence. A law enacted more than a decade later made it a crime for sex offenders like Pepitone to be present in "a park, forest preserve, bikeway, trail, or conservation area under the jurisdiction of the State or a unit of local government." Pepitone said he was unaware of that retroactive rule, but that did not matter: He was convicted of a Class A misdemeanor and sentenced to 24 months of conditional discharge, 100 hours of public service, and $400 in fines and costs. This month a state appeals court overturned Pepitone's conviction after concluding that the law he broke "is unconstitutional on its face because it bears no reasonable relationship to protecting the public." The decision by the Third District Appellate Court of Illinois is unusual because courts generally defer to legislators' judgments about the best way to protect the public from sex offenders, no matter how dubious the judgment. The ruling is especially striking because the appeals court concluded that the park ban fails the "rational basis" test, a very permissive standard of judicial review. "To satisfy this test," the Illinois Supreme Court has said, "a statute need only bear a rational relationship to the purpose the legislature sought to accomplish in enacting the statute." That means "a statute will be upheld if it 'bears a reasonable relationship to a public interest to be served, and the means adopted are a reasonable method of accomplishing the desired objective.'" Two other Illinois appeals courts have concluded that banning sex offenders from public parks makes enough sense to satisfy this requirement. "By keeping sex offenders who have committed offenses against children away from areas where children are present (e.g., school property and parks)," the First District said in a 2012 case, "the legislature could have rationally sought to avoid giving certain offenders the opportunity to reoffend." The Fifth District adopted the same reasoning last year. But the Third District argues that the rational basis test (which applies in this case because Pepitone made a substantive due process claim but did not argue that the park ban affects a "fundamental liberty interest") requires more than such an "incomplete and truncated" analysis. "While we acknowledge that under the rational basis test, '[a] statute need not be the best means of accomplishing the stated objective' and '[i]f there is any conceivable set of facts that show a rational basis for the statute, the statute will be upheld,'" the court says, "we also recognize that '[a]lthough this standard of review is quite deferential, it is not 'toothless.'" The appeals court emphasizes the "overly broad sweep" of the law challenged by Pepitone, which imposes "an outright ban on all individuals with certain sex offense convictions from public park buildings and public park property without any requirement that anyone—particularly a child—be actually, or even probably, present." Because the law does not require any unlawful intent, it criminalizes "a wide swath of innocent conduct," including not only dog walking but "attending concerts, picnics, rallies, and Chicago Bears games at Soldier Field; or expeditions to the Field Museum, the Shedd A[...]
(image) Everything's going to be more or less OK.
A. Barton Hinkle writes:
"Our Miserable 21st Century" is the headline on a recent piece in Commentary, not to mention a pretty good summation of the general mood these days. Economic malaise, an opioid crisis, climate change, spiking crime rates in major cities, a political atmosphere that's about as chummy as a prison riot...
Nobody should dismiss these grim signs of impending societal collapse, or the many others that, while equally important, have not yet received sufficient attention. (I refer of course to the use of "concerning" as an adjective—as in "The president's behavior is very concerning"—along with the appalling, yet apparently proliferating, belief that "to include" is a suitable replacement for "including." It isn't.)
At the same time, it is possible to make too much of our current troubles. A little perspective is in order.
One way to regain that perspective is to spend a few minutes on HumanProgress.org, which tracks the generally meliorating conditions of human existence over the short, medium, and long term. It is filled with data showing how much better things today are than they once were: Hundreds of millions of people have climbed out of poverty. Literacy rates are rising, the gender wage gap is shrinking, child mortality is falling. Air travel is both cheaper and far less dangerous, food is more plentiful, malaria deaths have plunged, and on and on.
2017-02-27T11:56:00-05:00At Townhall.com, sex-crime victims' advocate and author Liz Crokin accuses the mainstream media of "ignoring Trump's sex trafficking busts." In Crokin's reality, "authorities have arrested an unprecedented number of sexual predators involved in child sex trafficking rings in the United States" since Donald Trump took office on January 20. "There have been a staggering 1,500-plus arrests in one short month; compare that to less than 400 sex trafficking-related arrests in 2014 according to the FBI," Crokin writes. This is, as Trump would put it, "fake news." Every part of it. For starters, the 2014 data she links to is far from a complete account of U.S. sex-trafficking arrests that year. It reflects incomplete state-level arrest numbers from just 26 U.S. states, Guam, and the Virgin Islands. It does not include all state sex-trafficking arrests, by far, nor does it include any sex trafficking arrests by federal agencies such as the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which make thousands of sex trafficking arrests annually (though far fewer trafficking indictments and convictions). The idea that there have been "an unprecedented number" of sex traffickers arrested since Trump took office has similarly little basis in reality, and there's zero truth to the claim of law-enforcement busting up child sex-trafficking rings. Meanwhile, many of the arrests Crokin includes in her tally—arrests that include mostly women selling sex and men trying to engage in consensual adult prostitution—are part of annual sting operations, were the result of investigations n the works long before Trump took office, and/or had absolutely nothing to do with federal law-enforcement directives or activities. (That is, when we can check Crokin's sources; two of the pages she links to as evidence can't be found.) Here are the arrests that Croklin credits as Donald Trump-brokered busts of pedophile trafficking rings: 478 people arrested in a statewide California sting that included zero sex-trafficking arrests, according to a press release from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. One-hundred and forty-two men were arrested for attempting to pay consenting adult women for sexual activity. Thirty-six men were arrested for pimping. The rest of those arrested—300 in total—were women taken in on prostitution charges or people in trouble for charges unrelated to commercial sexual activity. 178 men arrested in Texas for soliciting prostitution from an undercover cop posing as a consenting adult sex worker. The stings were part of a nationwide "Johns Suppression Initiative" organized annually by Cook County, Illinois, Sheriff Tom Dart. Four "pimps" and 12 people arrested on unspecified charges during a month-long Detroit operation concluded two days after Trump took office. 11 people arrested as part of a "five-month cyber-sting operation led by the Spotsylvania Sheriff's Office Child Exploitation Unit in partnership with the Northern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force." The sting—a To Catch a Predator-style operation involving police posing online as a 13-year-old into older men—began in October 2016 and ended in early February. As evidence of these arrests that Crokin doesn't think are being covered in the mainstream media, she links to news reports on ABC, NBC, and CBS news affiliates, describing events also covered widely by other media in their respective states or region[...]
2017-02-27T10:10:00-05:00The big news from the Oscars last night was the snafu at the evening's end, when the presenters accidentally announced the wrong winner for Best Picture. But the night before that, at the Saturday ceremony where they handed out honorary Oscars, another moment worth noting slipped by: An Oscar statuette went to the man who directed the only movie in U.S. history to be banned for reasons other than obscenity or national security. The filmmaker in question was Frederick Wiseman, and the film that was prohibited is Titicut Follies, a 1967 documentary about an asylum for the criminally insane. The state of Massachusetts suppressed the picture on the grounds that by exposing the inmates' miserable conditions, Wiseman was violating the prisoners' privacy. Many of Wiseman's best-known pictures look at life in intensely bureaucratic or hierarchical institutions—besides Titicut Follies, there's High School, Hospital, Basic Training, Juvenile Court, and Welfare, among others—but he has also covered topics ranging from a small town in Maine to a department store. I interviewed him for Reason when Titicut turned 40, and we discussed both his free speech case and the career it kicked off. Here's an excerpt: Reason: There's a recent trend toward documentaries in which the filmmaker makes himself a part of the action. Obviously that's very different from your style. Sicko and Hospital are both about American health care, but their approaches are just poles apart. Wiseman: Well, I haven't seen Sicko, but generally speaking I'm not a fan of Michael Moore's. Reason: How come? Wiseman: I think he's an entertainer. I don't think he's interested in complexity. I'm not against the filmmaker appearing in a film. I think some of the greatest documentaries I've ever seen have been made by a filmmaker who's present in the film. I don't know if you've seen any movies by Marcel Ophuls—The Sorrow and the Pity or Hotel Terminus. Ophuls is a great filmmaker because he's a great interviewer and he has a very sharp and analytical mind. In the case of Michael Moore, I don't see any particular filmmaking skills, and I think his point of view is extremely simplistic and self-serving. One of my goals is always to deal with the ambiguity and complexity that I find in any subject. Even the simplest human act can be subject to multiple interpretations or have multiple causes. In Titicut Follies, for example, there are scenes where you see a guard or a doctor or a social worker being cruel to an inmate. But there are other situations where they're being kind. Some of them are both kind and cruel, if not simultaneously then serially. Reason: You've said Titicut Follies is more didactic than your later films. Are there sequences you wish you had done differently? Wiseman: Yeah. The best example is the forced feeding. I show too heavy an editorial hand in that sequence. Instead of intercutting it with the guy being made up for his funeral, it would have been better if I'd shown the forced feeding as a separate sequence, and then had some intervening sequences, and then shown him being made up for his burial later and cutting it in such a way that you recognize that it's the same person. I think the way I did it forces the issue of whether the guy is treated better in death than in life. Whereas if I did it the way I just described, the viewer could have come to that conclusion instead of having i[...]
2017-02-27T09:38:00-05:00Two panels on Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) dramatically underscore the tensions over foreign policy among conservatives in the Donald Trump era. The first was conversation on foreign policy realism sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute (CKI) and the second was a panel on "China's expansion." There were a number of other panels and addresses related to foreign policy during the conservative conference, mostly focused on threats abroad, like North Korea, China, and Russia, and threats at home (from abroad), but rarely advocating constraint. (Disclosure: Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website, receives support from CKI and David Koch sits on its board of trustees). Addressing the main hall earlier in the day on Friday, John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, defined a conservative foreign policy as one that addressed "foreign threats and ideologies and protecting American interests around the world." The phrase "American interests" (or "national security interests") in that statement, and statements like it, is doing a lot of work in the definition because it remains mostly undefined and therefore malleable to whatever particular agenda whoever is using it wants to advance. At the CKI conversation, where American Conservative's Daniel McCarthy interviewed CKI Vice President of Research & Policy William Ruger, Ruger explained that within the context of foreign policy realism, national interests are "narrowly defined," largely around territorial integrity. Ruger also explained that there wasn't really such a thing as conservative foreign policy. Instead, "there are foreign policies that fit for a time, a place, a threat environment that make sense to secure a state." Ruger highlighted the compatibility between foreign policy realism and conservatism, saying that contemporary foreign policy suffered from Friedrich Hayek's knowledge problem and and ignored constraints like human nature, balance of power, geography, and even unknown unknowns, relying instead on a hubris exemplified by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albrights's statement that the U.S. stands taller and can "see further" than other countries (it can't). "Conservatives should recognize those things," Ruger told the audience. "because they're fundamentally a part of realism and conservative principles." Ruger stressed that "isolationism and the foreign policy of the Weekly Standard" were not the only options. "There are many options between those two." Ruger also rejected the idea that realist foreign policy was isolationist, pointing out that it relied on free trade, because of the understanding that economic power is tied to military power, and that realism would also "suggest certain views about grand strategy—the use of military power to secure our ends—but it does not say that we have to stick our head in the hands." "The United States should stand up in its diplomacy and rhetoric for values of democracy and liberties," Ruger added. It should not, he explained, seek out monsters abroad to slay, pointing out that America's founders recognized that foreign policies of meddling had the effect of threatening the experiment of liberty at home, in part by "giving up the advantages of the new world [and the constraint of geography] by getting embroiled in the old." War, the found[...]
2017-02-27T08:31:00-05:00There was one moment during Colorado State University-Pueblo's investigation into sophomore Grant Neal—an athlete accused, and eventually expelled, for sexually assaulting his girlfriend—that made Neal realized he was about to be railroaded. Neal's girlfriend, Jane Doe, never accused him of wrongdoing, and famously stated, "I'm fine and I wasn't raped." But CSU-Pueblo initiated an inquiry into their forbidden relationship, which violated an informal rule about physical trainers dating athletes. The university prohibited them from contacting one another during the course of the investigation, but Doe paid little heed to the no-contact order and sent Neal several supportive messages. Neal, though, was worried her messages could get him in even more trouble, so he promptly informed Roosevelt Wilson, the university official charged with investigating the matter under Title IX—the federal state prohibiting sex-based inequality at institutions of higher education. "it really hit me after the second meeting I had with the Title IX officer, Roosevelt Wilson," Neal recalled during an interview with Reason. Neal asked Wilson what he should do about the fact that Doe was still texting him. "I said, well, she's snapchatted me, what do you want me to do? He told me to open [the snapchat messages] and take a screenshot and send them to him, so I did that," he said. This turned out to be bad advice. "[Roosevelt's] email response back to me was, you could be potentially be in complication with your no contact order for opening the snapchats that she sent you," said Neal. In other words, the man in charge of investigating whether Neal had raped a woman—a woman who emphatically stated that Neal had not done so—first told Neal to open emails from his girlfriend, and later told him he could be disciplined for opening them. "That's when I immediately knew," said Neal. "That's when I really knew that the situation was above my control." This was just one of many injustices perpetrated against Neal by his university. After denying Neal any meaningful way to demonstrate his innocence, CSU-Pueblo effectively ended his career, cancelling out his scholarships and opportunities to play football and pursue a wrestling career. "One day I woke up and I had all my dreams in front of me and I was doing very well academically and on the football field, and then I just got a wrestling scholarship, and for that to be yanked away from me for no justifiable reason… that's hard to cope with," said Neal. More than a year after being expelled, Neal has finally achieved a victory of sorts: a magistrate ruled just last week that his pending lawsuit against CSU-Pueblo should not be dismissed. Neal has filed suit against the university and its board of regents, as well as the federal Education Department. His lawsuit argues that CSU-Pueblo violated his due process rights, in part because of Title IX guidance from the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights. The magistrate was not persuaded that OCR was to blame for Neal's situation and recommended dismissing his complaint against the feds. But the magistrate left room for him to amend this aspect of his lawsuit, and left intact his due process case against CSU-Pueblo. When it comes to sexual assault allegations on college campuses, there are two sides to eve[...]
2017-02-27T07:30:00-05:00Two years ago today, during his appearance at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference, Donald Trump said states should be free to legalize marijuana, but he also said, "I think it's bad, and I feel strongly about it." He added, "They've got a lot of problems going on right now in Colorado, some big problems." Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who opposed legalization in 2012, disagrees with Trump's impression of the consequences. The president, whose press secretary last week predicted "greater enforcement" of the federal ban on marijuana in the eight states that have legalized the drug for recreational use, may be interested in what Hickenlooper had to say in an interview with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press yesterday: Todd: If this were put on a ballot today, I know you opposed it before, but if it were put on a ballot today, would you now support it? Hickenlooper: Well, I'm getting close. I mean, I don't think I'm quite there yet, but we have made a lot of progress. We didn't see a spike in teenage use. If anything, it's come down in the last year. And we're getting anecdotal reports of less drug dealers. I mean, if you get rid of that black market, you've got tax revenues to deal with, the addictions, and some of the unintended consequences of legalized marijuana, maybe this system is better than what was admittedly a pretty bad system to begin with. Hickenlooper's views on legalization have been evolving since 2014 based on what has actually happened in Colorado, which suggests the "big problems" that Trump perceived in 2015 may have been exaggerated by the prohibitionists who were feeding him information. Even if legalization were a disaster in Colorado, of course, that would not mean the federal government should try to stop it. The federalist approach Trump has said he favors allows a process of trial and error from which other states can learn. According to Hickenlooper, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, prior to his confirmation, told Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) that marijuana enforcement "wasn't worth rising to the top and becoming a priority." That assurance is consistent with Sessions' vague comments on the subject during a confirmation hearing last month but seems to be at odds with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's statement last week. If Sessions does try to shut down state-licensed marijuana businesses in Colorado, it sounds like Hickenlooper is ready for a fight. "Our voters passed [legalization] 55-45," he told Todd. "It's in our constitution. I took a solemn oath to support our constitution....The states have a sovereignty just like the Indian tribes have a sovereignty, and just like the federal government does." Asked if he questions whether "it's clear that the federal government could stop you," Hickenlooper replied, "Exactly. I don't think it is." [...]
(image) A federal jury has awarded Jillian and Andrew Beck $1.6 million after the Becks sued the Las Cruces, New Mexico, police department. The jury found that an officer had used excessive force against Jillian Beck when he threw her down and slammed her face into rocks, breaking her nose and wrist, and unlawfully arrested Andrew when he tried to help his wife. The officers had responded to a dispute between the Becks and a neighbor.