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Published: Thu, 17 Aug 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Thu, 17 Aug 2017 21:44:15 -0400

 



School to Former Students: Shut Up About James Alex Fields' Nazi Past

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 17:00:00 -0400

When James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd of protesters, killing one and injuring 19 others, Fields' former classmates, teachers, and neighbors rushed forward with stories of a boy infatuated with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement. The one oddly discordant voice was that of Barbara Brady, a spokeswoman for Boone County (Kentucky) Schools, where Fields was a student. In what smacks of a school district striving to cover its own butt, Brady said there were never any complaints about Fields' behavior during his time in Boone County and suggested the young adults interviewed about him were merely hungry for media attention. "Now they are crawling out of the woodwork to get their 15 seconds of fame," Brady said in an email exchange with the Cincinnati Enquirer, "and say they knew something back then." And they certainly did come out. In publication after publication, those who knew Fields as a student at Cooper High School portrayed him as a quiet but anti-social boy who had long taken a liking to Naz ideology, spewing bigotry against nonwhites and glorifying Germany's actions in World War II. Former classmates at the small, predominantly white high school he attended told Vice News that Fields was fond of wearing a belt with swastikas on it, drawing swastikas all over his things, and picking (verbal) fights about race-related topics. Keegan McGrath, who roomed with Fields on a school trip to France and Germany, told the Associated Press that Fields spent the trip praising Hitler, explaining why the French were inferior to Germans, and refusing to associate with French students. Another ex-classmate said Fields would often call a Muslim female student a terrorist. Caitlin Wilson, who went to school with Fields for years, told the Enquirer that he was drawing swastikas and talking about his love for Hitler as early as middle school. Derek Weimer, a former teacher at Cooper High School, told WKRC Cincinnati that Fields was not a behavioral problem, but "it was clear. He loved Hitler and he loved the Nazi movement. They were all geniuses and, you know, the whole white supremacy thing." (At home, however, his behavior was a different story: 911-call transcripts show Fields' mother, widowed and wheelchair-bound, feared for her own safety around her son sometimes.) Weimer and several Cooper High School alums said they talked to school leaders about Fields. Brady said the district had received no such reports, from either Weimer or former students. She then used this alleged lack of official complaints as a way to discredit their accounts. "How can you trust that information now if they didn't do anything about it then?" Brady asked in the email to the Enquirer. Of course, multiple folks say they did raise flags about Fields. But beyond that, not every doodled swastika or bigoted remark from a fellow student is the kind of thing kids would report to authorities. A lack of tattling to the principal that Fields said something nice about Hitler doesn't mean he didn't say nice things about Hitler. And regardless of whether reports were made, the district may have lacked grounds to act, at least in a diciplinary manner. High school students have First Amendment rights, and we don't know if Fields' antics ever crossed the line into prohibited speech or actual misconduct. Still, this incident could serve as a good jumping-off point for exploring what roles and responsibilities school officials, teachers, classmates, and community members have (and don't have) when it comes to young people and radically racist rhetoric or extremist views. It's sad that school bureaucrats in Boone County seem more concerned with deflecting potential criticism in any way possible—even if that means casting aspersions on alumni simply for speaking out—than with fostering a fruitful discussion about how to prevent domestic terrorism.[...]



The Justice Department Wants to Know if You've Visited an Anti-Trump Resistance Site

Tue, 15 Aug 2017 11:15:00 -0400

(image) If you've visited disruptj20.org, a website that organized folks for the purpose of disrupting President Donald Trump's inauguration events in D.C., the Department of Justice (DOJ) wants to know about it.

Whether you were even in D.C. on Inauguration Day is apparently not relevant. In an effort to track down anybody who rioted or engaged in violence on that day, the Justice Department has gotten a search warrant demanding that the site's host company, DreamHost, provide records related to their investigations.

It's not unusual for law enforcement agencies try to get records about particular users of sites if they believe these users are engaged in criminal activities. And it's constitutional for them to use warrants to try to track down specific information from or about users suspected of a crime.

But according to DreamHost, the warrant the Justice Department is asking for the IP addresses of anyone who has even just visited the site. So the company announced in a blog post yesterday that it's fighting the warrant:

The request from the DOJ demands that DreamHost hand over 1.3 million visitor IP addresses—in addition to contact information, email content, and photos of thousands of people—in an effort to determine who simply visited the website. (Our customer has also been notified of the pending warrant on the account.)

That information could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution's First Amendment. That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone's mind.

DreamHost also argues that the overbroad demand violates the Fourth Amendment's requirement that search warrants identify specifically what the government wants to seize. The government appears to be essentially demanding all of DreamHost's data about disruptj20.org, including everything that connects to the site or originates from the site. It's a fishing expedition to see if the feds can connect anybody to the site with any of the actual violence that took place Inauguration Day.

Ken "Popehat" White, a former federal prosecutor, warns that this type of search indicates an overt hostility toward anti-government protests:

The government has made no effort whatsoever to limit the warrant to actual evidence of any particular crime. If you visited the site, if you left a message, they want to know who and where you are—whether or not you did anything but watch TV on inauguration day. This is chilling, particularly when it comes from an administration that has expressed so much overt hostility to protesters, so relentlessly conflated all protesters with those who break the law, and so deliberately framed America as being at war with the administration's domestic enemies.

There will be a hearing on the Justice Department's motion to compel DreamHost to comply with the warrant on Friday.




Autistic Teen Takes Center Stage on Netflix’s Atypical

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Atypical. Available now on Netflix. Marlon. NBC. Wednesday, August 17, 9 p.m. Great false myths about television, No. 12,092: that for decades, The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet and Leave it to Beaver and their two-WASP-kids-and-a-picket fence suburban utopia were the only templates for portrayal of the American family. Actually, one of television's first sitcoms, The Goldbergs, which debuted in 1949, was set in a Jewish tenement in the Bronx. And in 1957, a quarter-century before his freakout over TV drama's first gay son in Dynasty, John Forsythe was already learning the challenges of single parenting in Bachelor Father, raising an orphaned niece. That said, in the past few years, sitcoms have been aggressively expanding their range in the past few years with shows like Blackish (in which an affluent black family simultaneously embraces and struggles against the bougie temptation) and Speechless (in which a non-speaking kid with muscular dystrophy is not merely present—which itself would be a first—but the star). The trend continues, not altogether successfully, this week, with Netflix's Atypical, which chronicles the coming-of-age of an autistic teenager, and Marlon, a raucous account of a divorced couple trying to keep their family together. Autistic characters are nothing new on TV. There was young Max Braverman on NBC's Parenthood, who once asked his parents with genuine curiosity, "Why do all the other kids hate me? Is it because I'm weird?" Or homicide detective Sonya Cross of FX's The Bridge, who apologized when her questioning brought a murder victim's wife to tears: "Am I not showing empathy?" But Atypical is the first time in which autism and its effects have been at a show's center instead of its periphery. Keir Gilchrist (so good as the emotionally whipsawed gay son on United States of Tara, and even better here) as the autistic Sam, trying to negotiate the emotional shoals of adolescence without a chart or even a clue. Unable to spot social cues, Sam needs advice; unable to comprehend sarcasm or irony, he turns to a website called HowToTalkToHos.com for advice. Aurally striking words like "twat" trigger his tendency to get caught in an endless loop of repetition. Each new disaster triggers a new round of mindlessly brutal cruelty from his schoolmates. After watching a bit of this, you'll stop wondering at Sam's odd obsession with Antarctica, a place that, he notes, gets less than four inches of rain a year and is technically a desert. "That's why I like it," he explains in his low-key narration. "It's not what it looks like." Sam's social malfunctions fly through his family like psychological shrapnel, leaving collateral casualties everywhere. His mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Revenge), her own emotional flesh flayed away after years of nursing his wounds ("Every time the phone rings, I jump; every time") cannot even begin to calculate the potential damage to her son of a romance gone wrong. His father (Michael Rapaport, Prison Break) broods that his incomprehension of Sam's problems is regarded by the rest of the family as indifference. And the hip cynicism of his younger sister (the extremely talented newcomer Brigette Lundy-Paine) masks a growing rage that literally makes her want to scream. Created and written by Robia Rashid, known mostly for her popular but lightweight sitcom How I Met Your Mother, Atypical in some ways has the heart of an after-school special, with lots of earnest explanatory dialogue tossed around Sam's therapist, parents, and their friends. But her wise choice to expend as much effort on the characterizations of family members as on Sam himself has expanded the show from a fundraising infomercial to something much more wrenching and complex, a reflection on the high cost of defending the defenseless in a cold world. If Atypical is extraordinary, Marlon is—well, ordinary. Supposedly a loosely fictionalized version of his own domestic life, it stars Marlon Wayans as a divorced dad who spends most of his time in a pillow-an[...]



Thanks, Obama! Trump Is Expanding Your Effort to Imprison Leakers!

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 16:45:00 -0400

(image) Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced today that the Department of Justice has tripled the number of investigations into unauthorized leaks of government information and will be examining their rules for subpoenaing journalists.

The press conference lacked details—after complaining about leakers and saying that the power of the press to report is not unlimited, Sessions declined to answer any reporters' questions. But Sessions and his department clearly want both leakers and journalists to know that they are actively trying to hunt down sources of information. Sessions said he fully intends to prosecute any he can find.

In other words, Sessions is continuing a war that began before he took office. Nothing he said today is all that different from how the federal government under President Barack Obama treated unauthorized leaks other than the expansion of the effort.

Obama's Department of Justice aggressively pursued leaks, invoked the Espionage Act to prosecute people, snooped on the press, and even threatened journalists with prison to try to make them give up sources. The department eventually changed its policies after the revelation that it had been surveilling journalists to try to track down leakers. But those policies can be changed back, and that may be what Sessions intends to do.

Obama famously campaigned on transparency but his administration provided anything but that. Federal agencies took years to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests. Such a paucity of information practically requires reporters to depend on leaks in order to get information.

To many media outlets' credit, reports on today's press conference have contextualized the news by including this Obama-era history. While the ramping up of leak investigations is certainly worth acknowledging—and definitely worth worrying about—journalists are not pretending this is some new development stemming exclusively from the Trump administration's problems. Apparently, the media have a good memory about past administrations' authoritarian tendencies when those tendencies directly affect their work.

Bringing up Obama here isn't "Whataboutism." It's about recognizing that we've been on this slippery slide for years. The government has been demanding the authority to decide what information the public is allowed to know, and it frequently defaults to secrecy instead of openness. Sessions and Trump are being more open and aggressive about attitudes that already existed. (Sessions actually criticized the Obama administration for not being aggressive enough against leakers, even though Obama set records for such prosecutions.)

When an administration decries all these leaks as threats to national security but what we actually learn from them is important for us to know, we should think carefully about the tendency to defer to the government about what should be publicly disclosed.




Mr. Mercedes and Comrade Detective Breathe Life into Cop Genre Shows

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 15:01:00 -0400

Comrade Detective. Available now on Amazon Prime. Mr. Mercedes. AT&T's Audience channel. Wednesday, August 9, 9 p.m. TV has been riffing on cops for close to seven decades now, going back to the days when half the Nielsen families in America gathered around their black-and-white tubes once a week to watch Dragnet's Joe Friday smack around all the usual suspects, and sometimes you wonder what's left to say. And then you see a couple of shows like Mr. Mercedes and Comrade Detective and you realize that even two decades of CSIs and Law & Orders can't kill this genre. Both Mr. Mercedes, an adaptation of Stephen King's 2014 novel on AT&T's Audience channel—available only the company's ATT U-verse and DirecTV systems—and Amazon Prime's gloriously nutball Comrade Detective are reimaginations (or, in Comrade Detective's case, maybe a hallucination) of the genre's past. Mr. Mercedes updates the much-honored hardboiled noir detectives of the 1940s. Comrade Detective, on the other hand, is a double-barreled satire of two forms that sharply declined in popularity at the end of the 1980s: the cop buddy show, and communism. King in recent years has been interested in recreating the pulp detective fiction he read as kid, most notably in a trilogy of novels about a retired homicide cop named Bill Hodges who is haunted by a big case he failed to solve. Mr. Mercedes was the first of the three books, and Audience assembled a high-powered team to bring it to the screen. The show is written and produced by David E. Kelley, the creator of a long string of intelligent and entertaining legal dramas from L.A. Law to Boston Legal. The cast includes Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges), Mary Louise Parker (Weeds), and Kelly Lynch (Drugstore Cowboy). Gleeson plays Hodges, whose national origin has been slightly tweaked (he's now said to have moved to the United States from Ireland as an adolescent, a concession to Gleeson's irrepressible accent) but otherwise remains King's sharply etched post-modern version of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. His drinking isn't done in alluring dive bars but on the couch in front of his TV and ends not with him trading rounds of bons cynique with his fellow gumshoes but passed out behind a barricade of beer cans. His gut is huge, his prostate shot, and the closest thing in his life to a sultry blonde in his life is a matronly next-door neighbor who demands he gaze upon the nude selfie on her cell phone: "I'm your only option—you're not an attractive man!" What awakens Hodges from the stupor of his life is a series of messages from the one who got away: a crazed motorist who rammed a stolen Mercedes into a crowd waiting in the parking lot for a job fair to open. Sixteen were killed, and many more maimed. But Hodges, the lead investigator on the case, never sniffed out even the faintest clue about the killer's identity or motive, and finally the cops chalked it up to a senseless incident of road rage. Now, two years later, the killer is taunting Hodges with e-mailed slaughter-porn videos of the massacre. The detective has no idea where they're coming from, but we know: wormy little geek-on-demand computer tech Brady Heartsfield (Harry Treadaway, the wan Victor Frankenstein of Showtime's Penny Dreadful). By day, Brady is bullied by the fascist manager of the big-box electronics store where he works; by night, he hides out from his predatory mother (played by Lynch) in the dim basement of the home they share, a lair suffused with oedipal musk and the eerie glow of a dozen computer monitors. (There is nothing faint about the echo of Norman Bates here.) The tingle of the parking-lot carnage long gone, Brady is looking to kill again, but this time the murder weapon will be not a stolen car but the victim's own hand. The question is whether Hodges and his makeshift team of damaged assistants (including Parker as the jittery sister of one of Brady's victims and Moonlight's Jharrel Jerome as a neighborhood hacker) can sto[...]



Cryptic Murder Miniseries The Sinner Captivates

Fri, 28 Jul 2017 15:15:00 -0400

The Sinner. USA. Wednesday, August 2, 10 p.m. The first question any viewer is going to ask about the cable network USA's new crime drama The Sinner is, "How are they possibly going to string this thing out for eight episodes?" A murder is committed, its perpetrator captured, and her voluntary and unambiguous confession obtained, all in the first five minutes. Even allowing for a couple of arty German-expressionist dream sequences to cryptically express her remorse and perhaps a big dance number for the warden and guards as she enters prison, what's left to fill out the remaining seven and a half hours? The second question, a few minutes later, is, "Are you kidding—how can we possibly get to the bottom of this in just eight episodes?" For The Sinner quickly morphs into the least forthright crime drama, an opaque and intriguingly inverted tale in which crime and punishment are difficult to tell apart. Jessica Biel (7th Heaven) plays the killer, Cora Tannetti, a seemingly happy young wife and mother who, during a family picnic, inexplicably lunges across the lakefront beach to hack a total stranger to death with a paring knife. Not only are there dozens of witnesses to identify her and testify she acted without provocation, she immediately admits it and refuses to even see a lawyer. The extraordinary open-and-shutness of the crime confounds Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman, Independence Day), the botany-obsessed homicide detective assigned to the case. Surveying a wilting forest across the lake from the crime scene, he pronounces it "an ecosystem out of balance," a summation of his view of the ecology of the murder as much as that of the woods. The situation quickly goes from out of balance to out of control as even the simplest questions Ambrose asks go unanswered. Nonetheless, tantalizing evidence emerges that Cora's past is not the clean slate her friends and family believe: There are allusions not only to a childhood in bondage to religious guilt, but a sinister sexual entanglement in more recent times. Even more directly tied to the case are hints that the murder victim—a young doctor—not only recognized Cora but perhaps even welcomed her attack. These halting disclosures leads to funhouse-mirror scenes in which the homicide detective is trampling Miranda rules and browbeating a lawyerless suspect in search of evidence to prove to her innocent, while she evades and obstructs justice to protect her guilty plea. That role reversal may not even be the The Sinner's most captivating. Biel's artful performance as Cora makes her into a warm, winning protagonist who is also an inveterate liar. She lies incessantly, about the incidental and the important alike, even when her inventions will easily be detected. Only when Ambrose pleads in frustration that a few truthful answers could win back her old life does her response carry a chilly ring of truth: "What makes you think I want my life back?" Her pursuer-savior Ambrose, meanwhile, has his own problematic relationship with the truth. He's in danger of being undone by the web of deception he's spun around his tawdry sex life. The detective's prescription for an ailing rubber plant he sees at the local hospital—"It needs more light than it's getting" —applies to nearly everything and everybody in The Sinner. The Sinner, very loosely based on a book by German novelist Petra Hammesfahr, was created and largely written by Derek Simonds, running his own show for the first time after spending some time on the writing staffs of various forgettable miniseries. From the two episodes of The Sinner made available for review, he seems to have an adroit touch, weaving the show's many flashbacks into a dark tapestry of vengeance and remorse. "I never thought I would have a normal life," Cora tells her husband at one point. Luckily for us, she didn't.[...]



Vampires and Spies Dominate Frothy Fun Television Choices

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 15:01:00 -0400

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



'Humans of Freedom Fest': Portraits from the Largest Annual Gathering of Libertarians

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 19:56:00 -0400

Editor's note: FreedomFest, held every July in Las Vegas, is the largest annual gathering of libertarians in the country. Today is the first day of the four-day long conference, which is being headlined in its 10th year by William Shatner, John Stossel, Greg Gutfeld, and others. Taking inspiration from the site Humans of New York, Reason is happy to offer Humans of FreedomFest, a series of portraits and brief interviews with various attendees. This is the first installment.

Victor the SnakeMannn

(image)

"This hand and this tattoo is in more pictures with celebrities than anybody else's hand or tattoo. I've got the most famous GOP tattoo."

Are you the black sheep of the family?

"Oh yeah. My dad was a Marine and a Democrat. And he was one of those guys who voted because of my mom, so his vote wouldn't be canceled out. I've been a conservative and a hippie for most of my life."

Jaden Stubbs and Roy Lee Stubbs

(image)

"My dad couldn't make it to this year's [FreedomFest], so I came with [my cousin's Jaden's] family. I earned my money so I could come."—Roy Lee (above, right)

You earned your money so you could come?

"I work. I do a little bit of flooring. Construction. I'm helping pay for gas. Paying for food."

"Our parents teach us to be individuals."—Jaden

Nick Cooper

(image)

What is your most controversial opinion?

"Among the general public? Eliminating the Federal Reserve. Among libertarians? I'm not a huge open-borders guy. There's a joke that if you get five libertarians in a room, you'll get 10 opinions."




Coming Thursday: "Stossel on Reason," New Video Collaboration with the Legend!

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 15:45:00 -0400

I'm excited to announce that tomorrow we will debut "Stossel on Reason," a collaboration with the libertarian news legend John Stossel. Stossel will be providing weekly documentary segments, video op-eds, and interviews and more for our website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel. The first video is a look at how enterprising conservationists are trying to save rhinos from poachers by bio-engineering and 3D-printing replicas of the animal's sought-after horns.

Over the years, Stossel has been effusive in explanation of how encountering Reason changed his way of thinking. For instance, in his book Give Me a Break, he says that he spent time looking at right-wing and left-wing magazines before finding Reason during the Virginia Postrel years. "It was a revelation," he writes. "Here were writers who analyzed the benefits of free markets that I witnessed as a reporter. They called themselves libertarians, and their slogan was 'Free Minds and Free Markets.' I wasn't exactly sure what that meant, but what they wrote sure made sense."

Here's the "sizzle reel" that the Stossel crew put together. Make sure to come back tomorrow—and to check your Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter feeds—for the very first "Stossel on Reason" collaboration.

src="https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FJohnStossel%2Fvideos%2F10154503996736621%2F&show_text=0&width=560" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">




The Price of Press Bias

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 15:00:00 -0400

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



McCain and the Trump-Russia Dossier: What Did He Know, and When?

Sun, 16 Jul 2017 13:15:00 -0400

Did John McCain and a controversial D.C. lobbying group conspire to get the infamous "pee dossier" into the hands of the press? A lawsuit making its way through court in the UK hopes to determine just what role the senator and his associates had in making the lurid dossier public. New filings in the lawsuit, obtained by McClatchy, detail how David Kramer—employed by the nonprofit and purportedly non-political McCain Institute—acted as a representative of McCain in the Arizona senator's dealings on sensitive intelligence measures. It also reveals that McCain was one of a just few people with whom the dossier's author, ex-British spy Christopher Steele, shared a copy of his final findings. So how did they get from there to publication in Buzzfeed? One possible—and intriguing—pathway lies with Orion Strategies, a group known for using the media and the McCain machinery to lobby on behalf of foreign governments. While the Steele suit doesn't mention Orion, a closer look at the two-man lobbying shop showcases too-close-for-comfort ties to many principal players in the dossier's leak and a long history of influencing McCain policy and press coverage when it comes to Russia-related issues. By now we know the basics behind the dubious document: it was prepared by Steele in December, largely from work done between June and November 2016 for Fusion GPS, a D.C.-based political consulting firm. Fusion was paid first by anti-Trump Republicans and later by Hillary Clinton supporters to produce evidence of Trump's alleged financial and political ties to Russia. In January 2017, a leaked copy of the dossier was published by Buzzfeed, under the editorial direction of Ben Smith. Smith said the document was obtained by reporter Ken Bensinger and vociferously defended Buzzfeed's decision to run a document it called "not just unconfirmed" but also inclusive of "clear" errors. "This was a real story about a real document that was really being passed around between the very top officials of this country," Smith said on Meet the Press. It was McCain who gave the FBI the dossier, in December. It alleges the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin to "hack" the U.S. election. "The Russian regime had been behind the leak of embarrassing email messages emanating from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), to the Wikileaks platform," and as a result Trump had agreed to "sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue," the dossier claimed. It also claimed Trump had personally commissioned a "golden showers" show from Russian sex workers. A federal investigation was reportedly underway before McCain handed over the dossier, but his copy was a more complete version than the one obtained earlier by U.S. intelligence agencies. McCain said he turned over the document out of civic duty. "I received that information from a credible source and I thought the only thing for me to do would be to give to the FBI," he told Fox News in January. Having it and doing nothing "would be a breach of my oath of office." Yet McCain's well-known feud with Trump, his longtime advocacy against Russia, and a possible personal beef with the firm behind the dossier—Fusion was also paid by Russia to push for the repeal of sanctions authored by McCain as part of the Magnitsky Act—provide reason to suspect altruism may not have been McCain's sole motive. It was "late summer/August 2016" when Steele began briefing reporters on his research, according to a recent document filed by Steele and his company, Orbis Business Intelligence Limited, in response to the lawsuit Aleksei Gubarev filed against them. Gubarev, a Russian venture capitalist, claims he and his companies (Webzilla BV, Webzilla Limited, and XBT Holding S.A.) were falsely identified as part of the DNC hacking operation in[...]



Millennials Stare Down Looming Midlife in Friends from College

Fri, 14 Jul 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Friends from College. Available now on Netflix. Nothing jingles at the box office like that first intimation of generational mortality. From the wistful yuppies in The Big Chill mourning the loss of their Woodstockian certainty that property is theft to the crushed Gen-Xers of St. Elmo's Fire who've just realized that the baby boomers already said, thought, did, ate, drank, smoked and fornicated everything worthwhile, age-demographic genocide is one of Hollywood's best loved themes. And now time's up for the millennials, who with Netflix's new series Friends from College get to marvel at the squalid failure of their lives while weeping with nostalgia for 9/11, the dot-com bubble and all the other deliciously dope days of their youth. But as clichés go, you could do a lot worse than Friends from College. It mostly avoids portentous "Voice of a Generation" claptrap and sticks to a character-driven story of six college pals who for 20 years have clung to a dysfunctional friendship that's less a lifeboat than a pocketful of lead weights. If the tagline for The Big Chill was, "In a cold world, you need your friends to keep you warm," Friends from College's might be, "You need your friends to remind you that, though the world has grown, you're still the same shallow, emotionally stunted dork you were as a teenager." At the center of the phalanx of six pushing-40 Harvard alumni is Ethan (Keegan-Michael Key, Key and Peele), a novelist whose work is wildly popular with critics and ruthlessly shunned by readers. His move to New York with his wife and fellow alum Lisa (Cobie Smulders, How I Met Your Mother), a former ACLU lawyer who has just jumped ship to the corporate dark side, reunites the circle of friends—but also threatens to surface some damaging secrets in a group that imagines it has none. The most threatening is Ethan's long-running but totally clandestine affair with upper-crust interior designer Sam (Annie Parisse, Vinyl), which predates even his marriage. Almost as complicated is Ethan's relationship with another member of the group, Max (Fred Savage, The Wonder Years), who doubles as his agent. Their friendship has, until now, kept Max from saying what he really thinks of Ethan's flock of literary awards: "You won a ton of shit that one's ever heard of." He advises Ethan to give on writing the Great American Novel and turn to young-adult books. Specifically: "Vampires with cancer. They live forever, they die forever!" Rounding out the group are Marianne, (Jae Suh Park, The Mindy Project) an aspiring actress who has just hit the apogee of her career with a role in a waaaaaay off-Broadway (specifically, in a high-school gym) reverse-gender production of A Streetcar Named Desire, and Nick (Nat Faxon, Married), a trust-fund playboy whose major concern in life is the impending demise of the C-word. "When they came for 'retard,'" I said, 'that's okay,'" he broods over a drink. "When they came for 'that's so gay,' I said nothing. But you gotta draw the line—you can't take away 'cunt'!" Superficially, the interactions among these characters often concern the here and now, particularly the concerns of impending middle age from infertility to infidelity. But often they seemed to be literally continuing arguments from sophomore year, as when one yells, out of the blue, "You are such a Kantian!" during an argument over a dead rabbit. (Don't ask.) And nearly always they seem to take place within harsh emotional and intellectual parameters established 20 years earlier. Sighs Sam's exasperated husband, who didn't go to Harvard, after one dinner: "Every time you get together with them, you all become a bunch of little bitches, all this sniping and shoving." And the petty backbiting has taken a toll over the decades, among other thin[...]



Game of Thrones: Libertarian Edition

Thu, 13 Jul 2017 14:20:00 -0400

As HBO's blockbuster series Game of Thrones returns for its seventh season, Reason offers its own freedom-filled parody. A libertarian paradise north of the wall? What's happened to Westeros' social security trust fund? Should it take low-income Dothraki four years to get a hair-braiding license? Watch!

Written and produced by Austin Bragg, Meredith Bragg, and Andrew Heaton. Shot and edited by Bragg and Bragg. Starring Andrew Heaton, Austin Bragg, and Remy.

About 6 minutes.

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Salvation Will Have You Hoping for the World’s End

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Salvation. CBS. Wednesday, July 12, 9 p.m. In one of the first scenes of Salvation, an astrophysicist whose giant hydrocephalic brain is second only to that of Neil deGrasse Tyson is trying to explain to a bunch of dumb-cluck MIT students and professors that a meteor could hit the earth like at any second because even a cyclopean intelligence like his own doesn't know where every single meteor is all the time. "There have been at least five mass-extinction events in the last few hundred million years, people!" he shouts into the glassy-eyed faces of the bovine MIT fools. "Five!" What's interesting about this—and, honestly, just about the only thing interesting about Salvation—is the show's conceit that Americans would be dumbfounded at the suggestion of a meteor striking the Earth. Tales of planetary fender-benders have been sci-fi bestsellers since a couple of rogue planets came our way in 1933's When Worlds Collide. (Spoiler alert: there was a sequel called After Worlds Collide.) Hollywood alone has generated at least a dozen pictures in which inauspicious encounters with random space crap have variously left Earth battered by quakes and tidal waves (1998's Deep Impact), under attack by homicidal vending machines (1986's Maximum Overdrive), being devoured by hungry plants (1963's Day Of The Triffids), or besieged by zombies who can be vanquished only by locked-and-loaded Valley Girls (1984's Night Of The Comet). In the most terrifying of all, 1958's The Blob, a puddle of meteorite gloop threatened to destroy Burt Bacharach's career before it even began. That gloop would be a towering dramatic presence if it came crashing into Salvation, the latest and least summer popcorn series from CBS. Insufficiently inane to be funny, way too sloppy and foolish to qualify as tense, it's a grimmest foretelling ever of the way the world ends: not with a bang or a whimper, just a strangling snore. As usual in big-bang apocalypse tales, a lone scientist—in this case a nerdy MIT grad student named Liam Cole who's mapping the entire universe so people will stop running out of gas on their way to Ursa Minor—blunders onto the track of a meteor hot-rodding its way in from Jupiter, six months off. Cole is reluctant to get involved with a lot of save-the-world-and-whatnot because he doesn't want to be distracted from porking this smoking little sci-fi writer chick he recently picked up (Jacqueline Byers, Roadie). Nerdporn, by the way, is quite common in Salvation, with hot girls constantly flopping down to be ravished, their heads spinning—whether in lustful ardor or despair that the human race is worth saving, I could never quite tell—at pickup lines like, "When two celestial bodies cross paths, it can change their trajectories forever." Eventually, though, Cole teams with astrophysicist-tech zillionaire Darius Tanz (Santiago Cabrera, Big Little Lies), a Randian madman who believes the entire human race can be reconstituted from 160 survivors of the impending collision. They, naturally, will escape in rockets manufactured by one of his companies at a very reasonable price. Their chief adversary is slithery Department of Defense official Harris Edwards (Ian Anthony Dale, Hawaii Five-O), whose bearing suggests a credibility unseen in military affairs since Saddam Hussein's spokesman Comical Ali was doing daily briefings in Baghdad. Wavering someplace between the two sides is Grace Barrows, a Pentagon press spokesman who would really love to help keep the Earth from being blasted into space confetti, you know, but it's just so exhausting being a single mom and all. It seems the Defense Department has known all along about the meteor. And even though all its rockets keep blowing up on [...]



Do Americans Have a Right to Know If Their Government Is Incompetent?

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 13:20:00 -0400

A new report put together by the staff of the Senate's Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs warns of an "avalanche" of leaks from President Donald Trump's administration. The report contends these leaks are threats to our country's safety and security, but we should be very wary about accepting such assertions given how little evidence the report provides. From Inauguration Day to May 25, the report notes, at least 125 stories have appeared in the news that are sourced from "leaked information potentially damaging national security." That's about a leak a day. The authors calculate this is seven times higher than the number of similar leaks in the early months of George W. Bush and Barack Obama's administrations. The report also argues that many of the leaks present Trump in a "harsh light" and were obviously intended to make him look bad, which was not the case for most early leaks under Bush and Obama. The implication is that people within the intelligence apparatus want to undermine Trump so much that they're willing to compromise national security. The report concludes: President Trump and his administration have faced apparent leaks on nearly a daily basis, potentially imperiling national security at a time of growing threats at home and abroad. The commander-in-chief needs to be able to effectively manage U.S. security, intelligence operations and foreign relations without worrying that his most private meetings, calls and deliberations will be outed for the entire world to see. As matter of establishing a baseline of "shared facts" that everybody can agree upon here—it's obviously true that more people working within the Trump administration are willing to leak information to the press that makes the White House look bad than previous administrations. Clearly there are people within the intelligence community and in other positions of prominence who are deeply concerned about the behavior of Trump and his staff. Whether or not their fears are justified, it would be stupid to pretend that the number of unauthorized leaks hasn't gone up. But it would also be stupid to blindly accept the assertion that these leaks all have the potential to damage national security. The report does not go through any of these news stories to detail what American interest is threatened by the leak of confidential information. It merely argues that the threat exists because the disclosures violate the law. At one point the report even says that the justifications people often use for leaks—that they're bringing to light illegal behavior or bad policies—don't have any legal foundation. This is often true, which is why Edward Snowden is hiding in Russia rather than arguing his case in the American courts. But the implication is that the government should punish leakers even when they provide valuable, vital information to the public. As if to undercut the report's argument, the appendix lists all the headlines, media outlets, and bylines of the news stories written from these leaks. Do these sound like stories that threaten national security, or are these stories that provide information Americans should know about their government's or president's behavior? "More immigration measures weighed" – Washington Post "Trump had heated exchange with Australian PM, talked 'tough hombres' with Mexican leader" – CNN "Justice Dept. warned Trump team about Flynn's contacts with Russia" – Associated Press "DHS report casts doubt on need for Trump travel ban" – Washington Post "Chaotic Yemen raid still reverberates for president" – Washington Post "Justice Dept. is weighing prosecution of Assange" – New York Times "NSA feared hacking too[...]