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Published: Fri, 23 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Fri, 23 Jun 2017 16:18:15 -0400


The Fatal Flaw in the Fights Against Global Warming and Global Terrorism

Sat, 17 Jun 2017 10:00:00 -0400

Donald Trump and Al Gore would no doubt cringe at the thought that politically speaking, they are brothers from different mothers. After all, what do the Republican president and the Democratic presidential wannabe have in common besides the fact that they are both old, white, pompous dudes who live in mansions and hate Hillary Clinton? Whether they realize it or not, they both believe in the precautionary principle—the notion that even a small chance of a catastrophic event requires sweeping measures to avert it. Nor do they care about the costs of these "sweeping measures"—both in terms of money and individual liberty. Their only disagreement is about the events in question: Trump invokes this principle in his crusade against Islamist terrorism—and Gore and his fellow global warming warriors against climate change. Dick Cheney famously declared that if there was even a "1 percent chance" of another 9/11-style attack by al Qaeda, "we have to treat it as a certainty in our response." For all of Trump's criticisms of the Iraq War, he has a natural instinct for this kind of excess. No sooner did the dastardly Manchester attack occur than Trump reiterated, as he had in his inaugural address, that this "wicked ideology must be obliterated." To that end, Trump, who has never explicitly rejected pre-emptive strikes against states that harbor terrorists, has significantly escalated America's military offensive against ISIS. He has eagerly embraced—and grown—the massive surveillance state he inherited from his predecessors to snoop and spy on Americans. He rejects basic due process rights not just for enemy combatants captured in the theater of war, but even domestic terror suspects such as the New York dumpster bomber. And then there is his plan to subject prospective refugees to "extreme vetting" to ensure with 100 percent certainty that no terrorist enters the country. (Not to be outdone, incidentally, after the London Bridge attack, British Prime Minister Theresa May demanded the authority to censor and control speech on the internet and has also suggested that human rights laws be scrapped if they come in the way of fighting terrorism.) Given that the odds that Americans will perish in any terrorist attack—not just those involving Islamists—on U.S. soil is 1 in 3.6 million per year—if the trends of the last four decades are any indication, such draconian steps to avert another 9/11-style event won't make Americans substantially safer. But they will make them substantially less free. Liberals understand this when it comes to dealing with global terrorism. Al Gore himself gave a great speech in 2006 lamenting all the constitutional protections that the war on terrorism was claiming and expressed alarm that the executive branch had been conducing warrantless surveillance of telephone calls, emails and other internet communication inside America. But when it comes to global warming, Gore's ideological blind spots are more dazzling than the sun. He condemned Trump's pullout from the Paris agreement as "indefensible" and "reckless." Likewise, the ACLU, which has been heroically fighting Trump's travel ban and other constitution-busting moves, bizarrely tweeted that the withdrawal would be a "massive step back for racial justice." But the fact of the matter is that a pre-emptive strike against climate change will be no less damaging for justice, racial or otherwise. The goal of the Paris agreement was to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Centigrade by 2100. But the most optimistic assessments suggest that even if all the signatories live up to their Paris pledges, it's still a Pollyannaish assumption that won't be met. To exceed the agreement and actually meet its goal would require nothing short of the climate change equivalent of Mao's Cultural Revolution to socially engineer a complete global lifestyle shift. What will this entail? Certainly something far beyond President Obama's coal regulations, which still wiped out (along with fracking) the coal industry in West Virginia—and, along w[...]

By Trump's Logic, His Foot-Dragging on 'Extreme Vetting' Endangers Us All

Tue, 13 Jun 2017 09:15:00 -0400

By upholding another injunction against President Trump's travel ban yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reinforced the impression that his attempts to protect Americans from terrorism have been stymied by unaccountable judges. The appeals court ruled that Trump's executive order exceeded his statutory authority because he did not make an evidence-based determination that admitting the people he wants to exclude would be "detrimental to the interests of the United States." Yet the same ruling eliminated the administration's last excuse for failing to impose the "extreme vetting" that Trump has been promising since his campaign. When Trump issued his first executive order restricting entry into the country on January 27, he presented it as a temporary measure aimed at facilitating better screening procedures. "We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days," he said on Facebook. White House Press Secetary Sean Spicer likewise emphasized that the whole point was to "make sure that the people who are coming in are vetted properly." According to the order itself, the 90-day ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries and the 120-day ban on refugees were supposed to give the administration time to "ensure that adequate standards are established to prevent infiltration by foreign terrorists or criminals." That was 137 days ago. The first order instructed the secretary of homeland security, in consultation with the secretary of state and the director of national intelligence, to "immediately conduct a review to determine the information needed from any country to adjudicate any visa, admission, or other benefit under the [Immigration and Nationality Act] in order to determine that the individual seeking the benefit is who the individual claims to be and is not a security or public-safety threat." Although courts prevented the traveler and refugee bans from taking effect, the administration was still free to work on that review. Instead it focused on revising the executive order to address some of the concerns raised by critics and the courts. The revised order, published on March 6, reiterated that the administration wants to "improve the screening and vetting protocols and procedures associated with the visa-issuance process and the [refugee program]." At that point there was no legal barrier to such improvements. That remained true until March 15, when Derrick Watson, a federal judge in Hawaii, issued a temporary restraining order (later converted into a preliminary injunction) that not only blocked the bans on travelers and refugees but impeded the internal review mandated by the order. Yesterday the 9th Circuit overturned the latter aspect of the injunction, saying Watson had overreached. "Although other unenjoined sections of [the executive order] permit interagency coordination to review vetting procedures," the appeals court said, "the district court nonetheless abused its discretion in enjoining the inward-facing tasks of Sections 2 and 6." The upshot is that the administration is once again perfectly free to develop better screening procedures for travelers and refugees. But instead it is focused on convincing the Supreme Court to overturn the injunctions against the executive order. Even allowing for the inhibiting impact of Watson's injunction, Trump has done remarkably little to improve admission standards he claims are dangerously lax. The New York Times notes that "the rules for admitting people from the six countries covered by the latest travel ban [who were also covered by the previous ban] have remained almost entirely unchanged." Trump has argued that courts are endangering national security by blocking his travel ban. "Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril," he tweeted in response to a February 3 ruling that blocked the original executive order. "If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!" The next [...]

Theresa May and Rodrigo Duterte Both Find 'Human Rights' Annoyingly Inconvenient

Wed, 07 Jun 2017 12:40:00 -0400

Here's U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, one of the world's most respected leaders, talking about what she will to do to keep her country safe: I'm clear: if human rights laws get in the way of tackling extremism and terrorism, we will change those laws to keep British people safe. — Theresa May (@theresa_may) June 6, 2017 And here's Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, one of the world's least respected leaders, talking about what he will do to keep his country safe: "My mouth has no due process,'' Duterte said in a nationally televised speech on August 7th...Duterte has warned drug peddlers to surrender themselves or face summary execution. "My order is shoot to kill you," he said on August 6th. "I don't care about human rights, you'd better believe me." src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> There are, of course, huge differences between May's approach to anti-terror measures and Duterte's approach to the war on drugs. Let me say that one more time for the kids in the back: I am not claiming direct moral equivalence between Rodrigo Duterte and Theresa May. I am, however, noting a troubling similarity between their approaches to one important matter. May is proposing using existing legal mechanisms to "derogate" or depart from the parts of the European Convention on Human Rights which prohibit arbitrary detention of individuals by the state. This requires a declaration of a state of emergency, martial law, or some other action that indicates the "life of the nation" is threatened. She is likely considering such a move. By contrast, Duterte's legal theory seems to be "Fuck it, I do what I want." He is likely going to do whatever the hell he wants. (In case you're wondering how Duterte handles Islamic terrorism, here's a hint from today's news: "When I say crush them, you have to destroy everything including lives.") But here's where they both end up: Human rights and due process are all well and good until they get in the way of something politicians or law enforcement deem a priority, at which point they become negotiable. And that argument is troublingly familiar: For a domestic example, recall the "No Fly, No Buy" bill pushed by Democrats (and backed by Donald Trump), which was yet another proposal to deny basic rights to people simply for being under suspicion of affiliation to terror. In her remarks immediately after the attacks, May clearly already had this particular infringement of due process on her wishlist, saying, "if we need to increase the length of custodial sentences for terrorist-related offences—even apparently less serious offences—that is what we will do." (Note that May increasingly lumps terrorism, typically used to described violent actions, in with extremism, a much broader term which can refer to systems of beliefs.) It is now a standard part of political posturing to signal seriousness about security by indicating that you are willing to violate human rights, as commonly understood by the community of nations. This is not going to end well.[...]

Trump's Travel Ban Is Security Theater

Wed, 07 Jun 2017 00:01:00 -0400

Donald Trump is starting to sound like a critic of his own administration. "The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.," he tweeted on Monday, referring to the executive order currently before the Supreme Court. It was Trump, not the Justice Department, who decided to issue that revised order, based on the reasonable expectation that it would be easier to defend in court. And contrary to Trump's claim that his "smart, vigilant and tough" policy provides "an extra level of safety," there is little reason to think either version of the travel ban would reduce the average American's already tiny risk of being killed by a terrorist. Trump's original order, issued on January 27, imposed a 90-day ban on travel to the United States by citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. It suspended admission of refugees for 120 days, indefinitely for Syrians. The revised order, issued on March 6 after the first version was blocked by the courts, removed Iraq from the list of targeted countries and eliminated the distinction between Syrians and other refugees. Two other changes were more legally significant. The revised order clarified that the travel ban does not apply to lawful permanent residents, who according to the Supreme Court have a right to due process when the government tries to exclude them, or current visa holders, whose American hosts might have standing to sue. Trump's lawyers also excised a preference for refugees from religious minorities (typically Christians), which critics cited as evidence of unconstitutional anti-Muslim bias. Trump, who approved those changes, now says they were a mistake. "The Justice Dept. should ask for an expedited hearing of the watered down Travel Ban before the Supreme Court," he tweeted on Monday, "& seek much tougher version!" That comment misconstrues the roles of the Justice Department, which is defending Trump's order, not rewriting it, and the Supreme Court, which can only review the order as it stands. And if Trump plans to revive the original ban after the second one passes muster, he will only prolong the litigation he claims is endangering national security. That claim is highly implausible. Trump says he picked the seven (now six) countries covered by the travel ban because they were on a list of nations excluded from the visa waiver program as sponsors of terrorism or havens for terrorists. But people from those countries seem to pose a much smaller terrorist threat than people from countries that were omitted from the order. Based on his count of domestic plots and attacks by foreign-born terrorists from 1975 through 2015, Cato Institute immigration analyst Alex Nowrasteh reports that 19 perpetrators came from Saudi Arabia, 14 from Pakistan, 11 from Egypt, and 11 from Cuba. Their combined death toll was 2,537. During the same period, Nowrasteh found, six foreign-born terrorists came from Iran, six from Sudan, two from Somalia, and one from Yemen. None came from Libya or Syria. The combined death toll for terrorists from those six countries was zero. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sociologist Charles Kurzman compiled information on Muslims who carried out or were accused of planning domestic attacks last year. Most (12 out of 23) were American-born converts. Just two, both Somalis who were shot and killed during nonfatal knife attacks, came from a country on Trump's list or had parents who did. Even if the list made sense, it is hard to imagine how the "extreme vetting" Trump promises could identify future terrorists. As an internal Department of Homeland Security report noted last March, "most foreign-born, US-based violent extremists likely radicalized several years after their entry to the United States, limiting the ability of screening and vetting officials to prevent their entry." The travel ban is security theater, designed to loo[...]

The Progressive Left Devours Its Own [Reason Podcast]

Mon, 05 Jun 2017 16:15:00 -0400

"What we're witnessing now is the progressive left eating its own," says Reason's Nick Gillespie. "They've gotten everything they want in terms of political correctness from the right, and now they're going after Bernie Sanders' supporters."

On today's podcast, Gillespie joins Andrew Heaton, Katherine Mangu-Ward, and Matt Welch to discuss topics in the news, including the responses to the London terrorist attack; the Trump administration's decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord; the fallout from Bill Maher's use of the n-word; Kathy Griffin's picture with Trump's severed, bloodied head (and claim that he had successfully destroyed her career); and the meltdown at Evergreen State College after activists asked white students and faculty to leave campus for the school's annual "Day of Absence."

"The incident at Evergreen is a perfect example of how a lack of understanding of the difference between negative liberty and positive liberty puts you into a weird political place," says Mangu-Ward. "'I should be allowed to do what I want as long as I don't hurt other people,' is not the same thing as saying, 'other people have to do what I want.'"

Produced by Ian Keyser.

Mentioned in the podcast

Reason Science Correspondent Ron Bailey on why the Paris Agreement was never a "treaty"

Nick Gillespie's Q&A with Bjorn Lomborg on why the U.S. was right to withdraw.

Video of the student takeover at Evergreen State College

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Photo credit: Los Angeles Daily News/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Theresa May’s Call for Internet Censorship Isn't Limited to Fighting Terrorism

Mon, 05 Jun 2017 15:25:00 -0400

You'd think Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg himself was the driver of the van that plowed into pedestrians on London Bridge Saturday, the way U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is talking about the attack. He isn't, but everybody across the world, not just in the United Kingdom, needs to pay close attention to how May wants to respond to the assault. May believes the problem is you and your silly insistence that you be permitted to speak your mind and to look at whatever you want on the internet. And she means to stop you. And her attitude toward government control of internet speech is shared by President Donald Trump (and Hillary Clinton), so what she's trying to sell isn't isolated to her own citizenry. In a speech in the wake of this weekend's attack, May called flat-out for government authority to censor and control what people can see and access on the internet: We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed—yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide. We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements to regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremist and terrorism planning. Note that May appears to be trying to narrowly pitch a regulatory regime that focuses entirely on censoring speech by terrorists. One might argue that even America's First Amendment would not protect such speech, since such communications involve planning violence against others. But May and the Tories really want to propose much broader censorship of the internet, and they know it. May is using fear of terrorism to sell government control over private online speech. The Tories' manifesto for the upcoming election makes it pretty clear they're looking to control communication on the internet in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with fighting terrorism. BuzzFeed took note: The proposals—dotted around the manifesto document—are varied. There are many measures designed to make it easier to do business online but it's a different, more social conservative approach when it comes to social networks. Legislation would be introduced to protect the public from abuse and offensive material online, while everyone would have the right to wipe material that was posted when they were under 18. Internet companies would also be asked to help promote counter-extremism narratives—potentially echoing the government's Prevent programme. There would be new rules requiring companies to make it ever harder for people to access pornography and violent images, with all content creators forced to justify their policies to the government. The manifesto doesn't seem to acknowledge a difference between speech and activity, Buzzfeed adds: "It should be as unacceptable to bully online as it is in the playground, as difficult to groom a young child on the internet as it is in a community, as hard for children to access violent and degrading pornography online as it is in the high street, and as difficult to commit a crime digitally as it is physically." New laws will be introduced to implement these rules, forcing internet companies such as Facebook to abide by the rulings of a regulator or face sanctions: "We will introduce a sanctions regime to ensure compliance, giving regulators the ability to fine or prosecute those companies that fail in their legal duties, and to order the removal of content where it clearly breaches UK law." The United Kingdom already has some very heavy content-based censorship of pornography that presumes to police what sorts of sexual fantasies are acceptable among its populace. Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown has written repeatedly about the British government's nannying tendencies in trying suppress pornography. In a manner similar to this censorship push, May and the British government sold the Investigatory Powers Act—also known as the Snooper's Charter—to the public as[...]

Reacting to London Attack, Trump Says Travel Ban Is Tough and Smart. He's Half Right.

Mon, 05 Jun 2017 08:15:00 -0400

Reacting to the terrorist attack in London on Saturday night, Donald Trump tweeted that "we need to be smart, vigilant and tough," "stop being politically correct," and "get down to the business of security for our people." But the only concrete policy he mentioned was his temporary ban on visitors from six Muslim-majority countries, which is unlikely to make the already tiny risk of dying in a terrorist attack any smaller. "We need the courts to give us back our rights," the president said on Saturday, meaning he wants the Supreme Court to lift the preliminary injunction against his executive order. "We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!" We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 3, 2017 If that is Trump's aim, the focus of his travel ban is rather puzzling. The executive order covers six countries (down from seven in the original version): Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Since 1975 no one in the United States has died in an attack by a terrorist from any of those countries, although there have been less serious incidents, including two nonfatal knife attacks last year by people with Somali backgrounds, both of whom were killed in the midst of their assaults. From 1975 through 2015, according to a count by Cato Institute immigration analyst Alex Nowrasteh, six Iranians, six Sudanese, two Somalis, and one Yemini were "convicted of attempting or carrying out terrorist attacks on U.S. soil." Continuing the administration's pattern of ignoring relevant evidence, Trump's order mentions just one of those cases, involving "a native of Somalia who had been brought to the United States as a child refugee and later became a naturalized United States citizen." As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit noted when it upheld the injunction against the travel ban, the order "does not include any examples of individuals from Iran, Libya, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen committing terrorism-related offenses in the United States." But according to Nowrasteh, there are at least 13 such cases involving people from Iran, Sudan, and Yemen. Even if Trump had included all the relevant examples, the case for targeting these six countries would be weak, since citizens of other countries account for a much larger share of terrorist plots, attacks, and casualties in the United States. From 1975 through 2015, Nowrasteh found, 19 foreign-born terrorists came from Saudi Arabia, 14 came from Pakistan, 11 came from Egypt, and 11 more came from Cuba. Their combined death toll was 2,537. During the same period, six foreign-born terrorists came from Iran, six from Sudan, two from Somalia, and one from Yemen. Zero came from Libya or Syria. The combined death toll for terrorists from those six countries was zero. Nor is it clear how Trump's plan, which calls for the development of improved vetting procedures during the three months when citizens of the six countries would be forbidden to enter the United States, can reasonably be expected to catch the tiny percentage prone to terrorism. As an internal Department of Homeland Security report prepared last March notes, "most foreign-born, US-based violent extremists likely radicalized several years after their entry to the United States, limiting the ability of screening and vetting officials to prevent their entry because of national security concerns." In the one relevant case cited by Trump's executive order, for instance, better vetting would have made no difference, since the offender entered the country as a child. In a declaration cited by the 4th Circuit, 10 former national security, foreign policy, and intelligence officials (mostly from Democratic administrations) said "there is no national security purpose for a total bar on entry for aliens" from the seven countries name[...]

Should British Security Have Known Enough About Abedi's Threat to Prevent the Manchester Bombing?

Wed, 31 May 2017 08:15:00 -0400

After Salman Abedi murdered 22 people outside a concert in Manchester earlier this month, disquieting reports indicated the government was already aware that Abedi was a serious terror threat. The UK Telegraph reported that "security services missed five opportunities to stop" him. Did they really, in a sense that advocates of a non-police-state should respect? The Telegraph report insists that "authorities were informed of the danger posed by Abedi on at least five separate occasions in the five years prior to the attack on Monday night," including calls to an anti-terrorism hotline reporting that Abedi said to friends "being a suicide bomber was OK." Friends claimed they called in warnings on him five years ago, and again last year. The Telegraph refers to the failure of such reports to lead to, one presumes, preventing Abedi from committing his crime as "apparent lapses." "The Home Secretary conceded that Abedi was known the intelligence services," they reported. An unnamed source insisted his own family reported him as "dangerous." And he traveled frequently to Libya—as free citizens who have not yet been arrested or convicted of a crime can do—where he may have been "trained in bombmaking." His father had been part of a Libyan radical army. Part of the Telegraph's report claimed that a mosque Abedi attended, Didsbury Mosque, reported him to a government anti-radicalism program, though this week the BBC reports that that apparently wasn't true. True or false, are the range of things the government supposedly "knew" as an overall entity about Abedi enough to trigger the sort of police action that could reasonably have been expected to prevent Abedi's heinous crime? Such action, it seems, would have either constituted preventive detention or the sort of one-agent-one-suspect tailing that perhaps could have seen him picking up the suicide vest before he used it. The gap between "had knowledge he had a possible tendency to commit an act of terror" and the Telegraph's language of "opportunity to stop" is huge, and in that gap lie most of the human rights and rightful expectation of restrictions on police ability to roust or apprehend those who have not yet committed any crimes that constitute the expected relations between citizen and authority in modern Western civilization. According to one survey last year done for a British Channel 4 documentary, there could be as many as 100,000 British Muslims who live in areas with high Muslim population who at least "sympathize" with suicide bombers, a subtly different point than believing personally being one was OK, but a figure that should at least hint at the general huge gap between an attitude like Abedi apparently expressed and actually acting on it (even though he was in the end one of the vanishingly tiny percentage of western Muslims who actually did commit the atrocity of suicide bombing). Being "known" to have some risk of terror, like for example being on the U.S. terror watch list, is a quality that as many as a million people might share, according to the U.S. government. It simply can't in and of itself mark a person to be physically surveilled in all their actions to make sure they don't, say, manufacture a backpack bomb and walk to a crowded public place. And the more people get "known" to have some sympathies or connections or links to terror, via more and more surveillance and call lines and more and more sucking up of fearful information on more and more people, the less useful that information is for the sort of policing that's supposed to guarantee no one ever commits sudden public mass murder. As Scott Shackford reported in our March issue, the U.K. had already been strengthening and codifying its power to surveill its citizens, including: create a "technical capability notice" giving U.K. officials the authority to demand changes to these products. And one of th[...]

Government Hype Helps Terrorists

Wed, 31 May 2017 00:01:00 -0400

John Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, seems to be moonlighting as a publicist for ISIS. How else to explain his fearmongering warnings about terrorism on Fox News last Friday? "I was telling Steve on the way in here," Kelly said, referring to Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy, "if he knew what I know about terrorism, he'd never leave the house in the morning." Kelly's remarks, which seemed designed to put a damper on everyone's plans for Memorial Day weekend, complemented the efforts of terrorists, who aim to provoke an emotional response that grossly exaggerates the threat they pose. "It's everywhere," Kelly said. "It's constant….It can happen almost here anytime." He probably meant it can happen here almost anytime, but you get the idea: The threat of terrorism is so severe and pervasive that it's foolhardy to venture past your front doorstep. Contrary to Kelly's claims, terrorism is not everywhere, and it is not constant. It is a rare event that is much less likely to kill you than myriad hazards that somehow do not deter us from leaving our homes in the morning. From 1970 through 2016, according to numbers from the Global Terrorism Database, terrorist attacks killed 3,662 people in the United States. Nearly 3,000 of those deaths, 82 percent of the total, resulted from the attacks of September 11, 2001. Counting 9/11, the average is 78 deaths a year, which makes the annual risk of dying in a terrorist attack within the United States 1 in 4.2 million for a random American. The lifetime risk, based on a life expectancy of 78.8 years, is roughly 1 in 53,000. Those risks pale beside many we face every day without being paralyzed by fear. If Steve Doocy is looking for reasons to stay home, he should worry less about a terrorist attack and more about a car crash, which according to the National Safety Council is about 465 times as likely to kill him. The odds that Doocy will be killed by assault with a firearm, drowning, or exposure to excessive natural heat are, respectively, 143, 45, and three times as high as the odds that he will be murdered by a terrorist. Not that taking Kelly's advice by cowering in his home will necessarily save Doocy. He still might fall down the stairs, a kind of mishap that each year kills nearly 30 times as many Americans as terrorists do. Some risks are smaller than the chance of dying in a terrorist attack. Based on terrorism deaths since 1970, you are less likely to be killed by lightning, a dog, or stinging insects. But that is true only if we include the 9/11 attacks, which were highly unusual and are unlikely to be repeated, in the calculations. If we limit the analysis to the years 2002 through 2016, the annual risk of dying in a terrorist attack is about 1 in 25 million, while the lifetime risk is 1 in 317,000. By that measure, lightning is twice as dangerous as terrorists. Why does Kelly seem determined to make us worry about terrorism far more than is rational? Perhaps because his budget depends on an inordinate fear of terrorism. In a 2014 Cato Institute policy analysis, John Mueller and Mark Stewart estimated that annual counterterrorism spending by federal, state, and local governments had risen by $75 billion since 9/11. Applying the usual standards for assessing the cost-effectiveness of regulations, they found that the additional spending could be justified only if it saved something like 11,000 lives a year. That is not remotely plausible, but Kelly is doing his best to convince us otherwise by magnifying the terrorist threat and alluding to secret knowledge of attacks averted. "The good news for us in America," he said on Fox News, "is we have amazing people protecting us every day." He mentioned several agencies, but his own got top billing. © Copyright 2017 by Creators Syndicate Inc.[...]

DHS Chief Sows More Terrorism Fears to Kick Off Your Holiday Weekend

Fri, 26 May 2017 17:40:00 -0400

As you're gassing up for your Memorial Day weekend trip, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly wants to remind you that the world is trying to kill you.

It's all part of his apparent plan to try to get Americans to support the men and women of the DHS (and the domestic security apparatus) by trying to convince us that we would all be dead without them. Kelly appeared on Fox & Friends this morning to tell us all that it's possible we would "never leave the house in the morning" if we knew what he knew about terrorism.

Fox posted a brief clip on Twitter:

Yes, if you listened carefully, you'll have heard Kelly say "It can happen, almost here, at any time." This has been Kelly's shtick after taking over leadership of the DHS. I took note of it back in April in a speech he gave that was deliberately structured to make Americans feel as though our country was under siege in order to justify unthinking compliance with anything DHS demands of us.

Speaking of those DHS demands, note that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is cranking up airport searches yet again. This time, allegedly because everybody tries to cram everything into their carry-on bags, security teams at several airports are ordering passengers to take more out of their bags than just their laptops—other electronics, books, and other clutter—so they can allegedly scan more effectively. So prepare for that if you're flying anywhere for the weekend.

Perhaps Kelly could tell us what he knows about terrorism and we could decide for ourselves whether to be scared. But given that Americans actually are not at significant risk of being killed by terrorists, and given the fact that many homegrown terror plots that the FBI disrupts are actually helped along by the FBI itself, he might not like the fact that we might not be spending the three-day weekend under our beds hoping the DHS will keep us safe.

The Fifth Column Branches Out to Sirius XM POTUS!

Fri, 26 May 2017 11:05:00 -0400

(image) Some news: The Fifth Column, the 13-month-old, occasionally bleary-eyed politics/media/bad-accents podcast co-hosted by Kmele Foster, Michael C. Moynihan and myself, is expanding to Sirius XM's POTUS (stands for "Politics of the United States") channel, beginning this weekend. You can find POTUS, which bills itself as "Non-Partisan Political Talk," at number 124 on your channel-thingie. The hour-long broadcasts will sometimes be edited versions of the longer podcasts, bonus interview sessions, or live call-in shows. Here's how we're described on the site:

From their enclave in midtown Manhattan, hosts Michael Moynihan, Matt Welch, and Kmele Foster dissect the news, interrogate guests, and question just about everything. The topics are broad, the insights are deep, and the jokes are off color.

Tune in Saturday, May 27, at 11 a.m. ET; and Sunday, May 28, at 1 a.m. ET & again at 3 p.m.

You can listen to an expanded version of what you'll hear there right the hell here. Recorded on Wednesday morning, this show is perhaps blissfully free of all things Bodyslamgate, and instead focuses on the Manchester terrorist attack, debates over "root causes," President Donald Trump's Mideast swing, commemorative drug paraphernalia, #MAGA-hashtag Twitter feeds, the mesmerizing lure of Jewish holidays, and the even more tempting prospects of shotgunning Negro Modelos in the morning. It's all here:

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In addition to LISTENING TO US ON SIRIUS XM POTUS CHANNEL 124, you can fulfill your bonus Fifth Column needs at iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play,, @wethefifth, and Facebook.

Don't Be Terrorized: U.K. Edition

Tue, 23 May 2017 18:30:00 -0400

(image) First, condolences to those who lost friends and family last night as a result of the terrorist bombing in Manchester, U.K. According to the latest reports, at least 22 people are dead and 59 were injured in attack. The brutal thugs who run ISIS are claiming credit for the murders.

The British government defines terrorism as "the use of violence for political ends," including "any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public, or any section of the public, in fear." While it's hard not to be fearful in the aftermath of an attack, especially in our era of wall-to-wall media coverage, knowing just how severe a threat terrorism poses to people's safety might help keep that fear at bay.

According to The Telegraph's comprehensive analysis, 90 people died in Britain between 2000 and 2015 as a result of terrorism. The Telegraph notes that more than 1,000 people were killed by terrorists in the U.K. during the prior 15-year period—basically a reduction of 90 percent. That decline can be attributed to the abatement of IRA terrorism after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and the inclusion of 271 deaths from the Libyan bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988.

Given that the U.K.'s population is 65 million, that means that the chance of being killed by a terrorist between 2000 and 2015 was less than 1 in 700,000. For perspective, in those same 15 years 42,000 Britons died in automobile accidents. Indeed, more Britons die annually from drowning in their bathtubs. Even if ISIS' current campaign marks a riskier period for Britain, it will have a long way to go before terror deaths exceed the rates experienced by the U.K. during the last 30 years of the 20th century.

Of course, most of us do not fear car crashes and bathtub drownings as such; they are everyday background risks that barely register in the media. The malevolent intentions that motivate murders, and especially those caused by terrorist bombings and vehicle rampages, heighten our sense of vulnerability even if a risk is objectively small.

But with risks this low, those of us who live in western democracies should continue to forthrightly live our lives as though terrorism doesn't exist. We ultimately vanquish terrorism when we refuse to be terrorized.

Again, condolences for the lost lives and best wishes for the speedy convalesence of those injured by the attack in Manchester.

Bonus link: "September 11: Remembering the Lives and Liberties Lost 15 Years Ago."

Explosion at Manchester Arena After Ariana Grande Concert Kills at Least 22

Mon, 22 May 2017 20:17:00 -0400

An explosion or possibly explosions tore through the foyer of the Manchester Arena as an Ariana Grande concert was ending tonight in England. [UPDATE: The Guardian is now reporting that the Arena insists the explosion happened "outside the venue in a public space."]


BBC and The Guardian are both featuring constantly updated feeds with latest news from the scene, including harrowing eyewitness reports. The current number of confirmed dead is 19, with around 50 others injured, according to the Greater Manchester Police.

There is no hard confirmation of cause or responsibility for the explosion at time of posting, though the BBC reports that "North West Counter Terrorism Unit is treating the incident in Manchester as a possible terrorist incident."

UPDATE: Police have reported a controlled demolition of a nearby suspect device in Cathedral Gardens. Said suspect device now reported as abandoned clothing by Manchester police.

UPDATE at 10:05 p.m. Eastern Time: At a brief press conference, a representative from Manchester's police confirmed much of what has been reported. The explosion occurred at the end of the concert. The toll stands at 19 dead and 50 injured. They are considering the explosion to be a terrorist attack for now.

UPDATE at 12:05 p.m. eastern, May 23: The explosion (which may have involved a "nail bomb" that spread metal shrapnel) was caused by what is now thought to have been a lone suicide bomber, and ISIS is claiming responsibility, including a threat that "what comes next will be more severe." The Washington Post is reporting via unnamed U.S. officials that the killer was named Salman Abedi. The headline has also been amended to reflect new developments.

Trump To Muslim World: Peace Only Possible "if your Nations Drive Out the Terrorists and Extremists"

Sun, 21 May 2017 15:50:00 -0400

President Donald Trump's speech in Saudi Arabia was in many ways window-dressing to a new, $110-billion arms deal with one of the most repressive regimes on the planet. But his 30-minute talk, televised widely through the Arab and Muslim worlds, is an interesting statement that's worth spending serious time with. If Candidate Trump was openly scornful of Islam, often denouncing it as an inherently violent religion, he's singing a different tune now, saying he's not interested in how countries conduct their internal affairs as long as they don't export terrorists. America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens. We are not here to lecture—we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership—based on shared interests and values—to pursue a better future for us all. Beyond in the rejection of what he would call a globalist worldview, Trump seems to be signaling a return to a non-humanitarian dimension to U.S. foreign policy. The problem is that he specifically justified his ineffective bombing of a Syrian airstrip on humanitarian grounds (that the Assad government had used prohibited chemical weapons on innocent civilians). More important, while he sounded somewhat non-interventionist as a candidate at times, he also pledged to "bomb the shit" out of Muslim terrorists in the Middle East and Afghanistan, a promise he has shown signs of keeping, even beyond Syria. It's worth pointing out, too, that even when the U.S. government has embraced or eschewed humanitarian motivations for foreign policy, it has never been constrained by such declarations. To pretend, for instance, that Bill Clinton's various interventions and actions were motivated by humanitarian concerns rather than vulgar domestic politics requires a suspension of disbelief beyond that of the most-devoted fan of Starlight Express or Cop Rock. Yet from a libertarian perspective at least, it's good to hear a president rhetorically lay out a foreign policy that is basically limited to defending American interests rather than saving the world (how many countries and innocent people must die to prove America is virtuous?). Same, too, with getting overly involved with the internal workings of foreign countries. America should always be a place of refuge for people fleeing tyranny and oppression, and our government can and should exert influence to liberalize and open-up repressive hellholes. But the past 15 years of U.S. interventions (and if we're being honest, most of our overseas adventuring before that) have clearly failed. Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson's campaign may have floundered due to some misstatements about the Syrian civil war, but he was right in saying the United States should use trade, cultural exchange, and diplomacy to affect other countries. We simply don't have the knowledge or resources to bully or beat the world into our shape. Military intervention, regime change, and all the rest should be last resorts and exceptionally rare. The nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children. It is a choice between two futures—and it is a choice America CANNOT make for you. A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. Drive. Them. Out. DRIVE THEM OUT of your places of worship. DRIVE THEM OUT of your communities. DRIVE THEM OUT of your holy land, and DRIVE THEM OUT OF THIS EARTH. For our part, America is committed to adjustin[...]

FBI's James Comey Calls Wikileaks "Intelligence Porn," Dares To Define Journalism

Wed, 03 May 2017 13:25:00 -0400

(image) FBI Director James Comey is talking with the Senate Judiciary Committee about his bureau's investigation of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Among the highlights? Comey's indignant attacks on Edward Snowden and Wikileaks:

Comey differentiated between WikiLeaks, an "important focus" of investigations, and legitimate news sources.

"It crosses a line when it moves from being about educating a public intelligence porn, just pushing out information…just to damage the United States," later adding, "There's nothing that even smells journalist about some of this content."

Comey said the focus of investigations would almost always fall on leakers during legitimate investigations.

Comey's comments on Wikileaks call to mind CIA head Mike Pompeo's attacks on the organization just a couple of weeks ago. "We can no longer allow [Julian] Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us," Pompeo declared in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now."

Let's be clear: No official should be in the business of defining journalism (and thus implicitly sanctioning government action against whistleblowers and other leakers). But it's especially hilarious when the head of the FBI, an agency that has a long history of patently illegal and typically ineffective subterfuge, gets on his high horse about what's legit media and what's not. In a four-year stretch, for instance, the FBI authorized criminal activity by confidential informants over 22,000 times. It's especially dark, too, when the FBI director is serving a president who has gone above and beyond in singling out specific individuals (such as Amazon's Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post), calling for the "loosening" of libel laws regarding public figures and elected officials, and generally declaring war on the press. That Donald Trump is publicly at odds with Comey over the latter's refusal to recommend charges against Hillary Clinton only makes the spectacle even more bizarre.

Obviously, it's too much to ask U.S. officials to embrace Wikileaks and other sources that reveal the inner workings of the government, but there's no question that Wikileaks has forced transparency in ways that have greatly benefited the public.

Here's the livestream of the Senate's questioning of Comey:

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