A Public Service for Our Readers Regarding Federal Drug Enforcement

We are posting this as a public service and informational notice, for our cannabis using, interested, curious, or just plain liberty oriented readers and friends…

Contrary to articles such as this:

Congress Effectively Ends The Federal Ban On Medical Marijuana
HighTimes

It seems the controversial $1.1T spending bill that is preventing the U.S. government from shutting down is chock full of surprises.

As you may know, much to the dismay of marijuana activists and lovers of democracy everywhere, the bill smacked down Washington DCs referendum that legalized recreational marijuana in the nation’s capital. What you may have missed (because those shifty politicians are doing everything under the table) is that the bill also quietly, but effectively lifted the federal ban on medical marijuana.

Let us be VERY clear… NO the federal government has not legalized, or ended the federal prohibition of medical marijuana.

No, really, they didn’t, no matter what High Times says.

Manufacture, distribution, transportation, storage, sale, possession, and use, of Marijuana are all still federal crimes. Further, they are automatic disqualification on a background check, or a drug test, or a security clearance etc… etc…

They also make one a prohibited person with respect to firearms, explosives, and destructive devices.

Yes… even in Washington and Colorado. 

All they did in this omnibus appropriations bill, was to partially defund and deprioritize enforcement of federal marijuana prohibition, against medical marijuana dispensaries only (NOT grow ops, or users) in those states with medical marijuana, between January and September.

That’s it. 

Here is the actual text, of the portion  of the bill in question:

“Sec. 538. None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana. Sec. 539. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used in contravention of section 7606 (“Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research”) of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-79) by the Department of Justice or the Drug Enforcement Administration.”

There has been no real change in the law, there is just a change in the administration of a small subset of enforcement.

In fact, this action makes getting the changes we need in the law harder and less likely.

Far worse though, it furthers the toxic notion that we can just arbitrarily, capriciously, and disparately, choose to not enforce the law, when we feel like it… But then any time we change our mind we can go ahead and start enforcing it again.

This disrespects and debases the very foundation of rule of law.

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Normalizing Relations with Cuba is Long Overdue

mandela-obama-castro

Today, the White House announced that they were looking to thaw relations with Cuba for the first time since President John F. Kennedy severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in January of 1961, which preceded the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion that following April. In their statement, the White House noted that fifty years of sanctions and other actions against Cuba have failed to achieve their stated means. This seems to be inarguable; ever since those severed ties, the relationship between the United States and Cuba has been highly antagonistic, with America using its financial and political clout to install strict financial sanctions against them, largely punishing them for adopting a communist government and aligning with the Soviet Union until the latter’s dissolution.

Under the terms laid out simultaneously by the White House and Cuban President Raul Castro, US residents could travel to Cuba for tourism, and Cuba would be allowed to accept United States credit cards. President Obama has also requested Secretary of State John Kerry to begin a review of Cuba’s standing on the list State Sponsor(s) of Terrorism, and some prisoners – most notably American Alan Gross – have been exchanged.

Of course, everything is not as cut and dried as Obama simply waiving his hands and saying “make it so”. For one, most Cuban sanctions are codified in American law, per Doug Mataconis. The number one opponent is going to be Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), whose views echo those of many Cuban exiles and their family members who refuse to deal with Cuba so long as the Castro brothers are in power. Combined with Congress’s total inability to get anything done of note, there is going to be resistance before relations can be formally normalized.1 Naturally, when diplomacy is on the table, there is also a contingent of Americans – the hawks – that are not satisfied unless we’re blowing someone up.

Frankly, it’s well past time for us to normalize relations with Cuba. We had better relations with Russia – the number one antagonist in the Cold War – for a time than we did with Cuba, and all because of… what? The Cuban Missile Crisis, which we instigated with the Bay of Pigs invasion? Punishment for dealing with the Soviet Union back in the early 60s? Some assassination attempts against Presidents, by a country that we invaded? That stupid picture of noted murderer and tyrant Che Guevara being printed on T-shirts and postcards? Actually, that might be a really good reason after all…

Don’t mistake this for altruism. The intention here is definitely to line the pockets of private industry as the mandate’s stated goals of increasing internet penetration and American tourism start to take seed. There’s also the view that ending the embargo will hurt Raul and Fidel Castro as people start to realize the magic of capitalism, a view that seems to be shared by Hillary Clinton. Lastly, our request for Cuba to improve their human rights record is pretty funny, contextually speaking. But even if it’s bad for Cuba’s leaders, opening up relations with Cuba is not only the best thing for Cuba’s people, it’s the best thing for America, as well. We not only get a fertile ground for business dealings – a problem only for hard-core communists and socialists – but we look much better to the United Nations, now that it’s not just us and Israel holding out.

Ultimately, the end of the embargo, and the surety of the overall improvement to both the Cuban economy and the quality of life of its people, will prove one key point: America, and capitalism, won the Cold War, and it was a rout. The Soviet Union’s been dead for over twenty years, replaced by a plutocracy. Cuba will fundamentally change after holding out for decades purely out of spite. And other countries such as China are communist in name only. If the Cold War was a fight between American capitalism and communism, it’s over, and it was a slaughter.

1 – I would not be surprised if a Republican controlled Congress put the brakes on this for at least two years so as not to give Obama credit.

If you have any opinion on use of force, you need to watch this

If you have an opinion… any opinion or many opinions… on Michael Brown, or Eric Garner, or Tamir Rice, or police use of force in general… No matter what that opinion is, you NEED to watch this video.

Unfortunately, the speakers tone, rhythm and overall presentation, are not engaging… and that takes away from the message somewhat, simply because it reduces the impact. But the message is still there.

Really watch… really listen. It’s important.

 

Ethanol not only isn’t Green… It’s Blacker than Coal

Mother Jones Ethanol Problem Breakdown

Image credit: Mother Jones (oh… and that was 7 years ago. it’s worse now)

 

A new total environmental impact metastudy has been published, rating the environmental impact of electric cars, with results for each type of electric car and the types of power generation used to fuel them; comparing them against conventional gasoline, and ethanol fueled vehicles.

http://www.nbcnews.com/science/environment/your-all-electric-vehicle-may-not-be-so-green-study-n268961

Their basic conclusion, is that electric cars are in fact no better, and are often worse for the environment, than conventional cars (because of their manufacturing inputs, waste outputs, and the impact of electricity generation).

Of course, anyone who has been paying attention to the actual technologies and manufacture of electric cars has known this for years… They’re essential philosophical symbols, rather than any real benefit to the environment.

… but that’s a different argument for another day…

What I find most interesting though, is the conclusions and comparisons they drew between different energy sources… particularly ethanol:

“The study finds that overall, all-electric vehicles cause 86 percent more deaths from air pollution than do cars powered by regular gasoline. But if natural gas produces the electricity? Half as many deaths as gasoline cars. Wind, water or wave energy? One-quarter. Hybrids and diesel engines are also cleaner than gas. But ethanol isn’t, with 80 percent more deaths.”

… 80 percent more damage (expressed here as deaths) than regular gasoline, just direct damage, not second order effects and the like. Nearly as much as straight coal.

When you add the damage ethanol causes from starvation, increased food costs, food insecurity, and additional transportation costs, as well as damage to vehicles and distribution infrastructure… it’s FAR worse than coal.

Resource Media - Ethanol, Food or Fuel

Image Credit: Resource Media

Then there’s the subsidies it soaks up and therefore the additional tax burden it creates… Ethanol is far FAR worse than coal.

Oh and then there’s the fact that ethanol is actively preventing better greener technologies from being developed; both by consuming resources which would otherwise be more productively used, as well as directly, because the ethanol industry lobbies against competing technologies, and for mandatory ethanol use.

… And of course, that’s ignoring the damage it does to our political process, dominating the early primary process, in effect acting as a filter for presidential candidate selection.

Ethanol is quite possibly the worst fuel in common use.

Rectal Rehydration, Death by Hypothermia and “Enhanced Interrogation” of the Illegally Detained: Agency Gone Rogue or Approved by the Administration?

Did the White House approve the conduct set forth in the CIA Torture Report? Or did the CIA engage in that conduct without the approval of any political branch of government?

The question is not merely academic.

If the CIA’s conduct was not approved by elected officials who answer to the voters, then to whom does the CIA answer? If the CIA’s conduct was approved, then the voters need to know by whom so they can cast future votes with full understanding of what is at stake.

By now we have had time to digest the disturbing details in all their infamy: the rectal “feedings,” the ice baths and sleep deprivation; the death of Gul Rahman; the forced placement of body weight on broken limbs; sensory deprivation so intense it lead to self-mutilation and hallucinations; and, the mistaken identifications, false accusations and simple negligence that lead to the illegal detention of 26 human beings and “enhanced interrogation” of our own intelligence sources.

Rather I should say all of us have heard those details now except for Dick Cheney. Or at least he had not heard of them last week, when he sat down with Fox New’s Bret Baier.

As scathingly detailed by Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic, Dick Cheney is trying to have his torture cake and eat it too. When Baier asked whether it was true that “President Bush was not fully briefed on the program and deliberately kept in the dark by the CIA,” Cheney was unequivocal in his response:

The notion that … somehow the agency was operating on a rogue basis and that we weren’t being told or that the President wasn’t being told is just a flat out lie.

Later in the interview, Cheney reiterated that:

The men and women of the CIA did exactly what we wanted to have them do in terms of taking on this program.

All right then. The CIA was doing exactly what Bush and Cheney wanted when its operatives injected pureed food into the anuses of detainees. The CIA was doing exactly what Bush and Cheney wanted when its operatives left a man half-naked man chained to the floor in a frigid cell.

Only Cheney is either a coward or he does not actually know what he is talking about, because later in the interview he retreats to what appears to be an inconsistent position. As noted by Friedersdorf:

… Baier notes a particularly depraved tactic. “At one point, this report describes interrogators pureeing food of one detainee and then serving it in his anus,” he says, “something the agency called ‘rectal rehydration.’ I mean, is that torture?” (More to the point, did Bush and Cheney know about that? Is it “exactly” what they asked the CIA to do?)

“I don’t know anything about that specific instance,” Cheney said. “I can’t speak to that. … “

Cheney cannot have it both ways. If he wants to be the face of the defense for the enhanced interrogation program, he should own it. If he is not willing to own it, in all its gory particulars, then he cannot really present a meaningful defense. Either the administration approved the conduct described in the report—or the CIA acted without the approval or knowledge of the political branches tasked with overseeing that agency on the people’s behalf. That the CIA was trying to prevent future attacks is not related in any logical way to which of those things is true.

Cheney’s tactic throughout the interview is to avoid being pressed on this issue by: 1) extolling the praises of the CIA for doing exactly as Cheney and Bush wanted ; 2) denying knowledge of any of the troubling accusations contained in the torture report; and, 3) then getting emotional and bringing up 9/11.

Consider the following examples.

Baier asks Cheney whether Bush was comfortable with leaving a man chained to the ceiling in a diaper to urinate and defecate on himself. Cheney responds:

I have no idea. I never heard of any such thing.

If Cheney does not know the details, why is he giving interviews? Why should anyone take his word about any of it? That is the topic at hand, sir!

Baier raises the issue of Gul Rahman, who died of hypothermia shackled naked from the waist down to a freezing cement floor in a frigid cell:

Three thousand Americans died on 9/11 because of what these guys did. And I have no sympathy for them.

There is a missing link in the logic here. Even if we assume there are people so bad that we can sleep with unfettered consciences while our CIA tortures them to death, what is the evidence Gul Rahman was one of them?

Rahman was not captured on a battlefield, like enemy combatants of yore. To the contrary, Associated Press reporting states that:

Rahman had driven from Peshawar, Pakistan, in the northwest frontier to Islamabad for a medical checkup. He was staying with Baheer, an old friend, when U.S. agents and Pakistani security forces stormed the house and took both men, two guards and a cook into custody.

In fact, in addition to this Gul Rahman, who died in CIA custody, the CIA apparently kept a different Gul Rahman in isolation for a month because its operatives were confused about which Gul Rahman was the target (page 133/499 of the Committee report).

At least 26 people were found to have been improperly detained. Two of our own intelligence sources were subjected to enhanced interrogation. Tortured detainees gave information that falsely implicated others. One man provided false intelligence under torture that was used in Colin Powell’s address to the UN in advance of the Iraq War.

Dick Cheney is not troubled by these details.

On Meet the Press this past Sunday, he gave yet another interview, in which he disavows any problems with the detention of innocent people. He also disavows any qualms over the death of Gul Rahman, despite appearing to agree that the wrong Gul Rahman ended up frozen to death:

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you, what do you say to Gul Rahman, what do you say to Sulaiman Abdula, what do you say to Khalid al-Masri? All three of these folks were detained, they had these interrogation techniques used on them. They eventually were found to be innocent. They were released, no apologies, nothing. What do we owe them?

DICK CHENEY: Well—

CHUCK TODD: I mean, let me go to Gul Rahman. He was chained to the wall of his cell, doused with water, froze to death in C.I.A. custody. And it turned out it was a case of mistaken identity.

DICK CHENEY: —Right. But the problem I had is with the folks that we did release that end up back on the battlefield. …

CHUCK TODD: 25% of the detainees though, 25% turned out to be innocent. They were released.

DICK CHENEY: Where are you going to draw the line, Chuck? How are—

CHUCK TODD: Well, I’m asking you.

DICK CHENEY: —you going to know?

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD: Is that too high? You’re okay with that margin for error?

DICK CHENEY: I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective. And our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States.

But Cheney did not offer any evidence that “enhanced interrogation” prevented other attacks. He cited without elaboration to the “West Coast” “Second Wave” plot. But that claim was debunked in the CIA Torture Report based on information provided to the Committee by the CIA itself. If the Torture Report is wrong or incomplete on this issue, Cheney needed to tell us why.

Baier challenged him by repeating a claim made on the floor of the U.S. Senate by Mark Udall that the classified Panetta Review found no “direct linkage” between enhanced interrogation techniques and thwarting any attacks. As chronicled by Friedersdorf:

Here is Cheney’s actual retort:

“Well, I don’t know where he was on 9/11, but he wasn’t in the bunker.”

That is a non-answer.

A U.S. Senator who has seen the documents said on the floor of the U.S. Senate that Leon Panetta found no direct link between enhanced interrogation and thwarted attacks—and Dick Cheney’s response is, “Well he wasn’t in the bunker with us?”

The American people deserve more.

Their defenders deserve more.

What is lost in Cheney’s chest pounding is a meaningful reflection on why, beyond principles, civilized nations disavow torture. It is done for the same practical reasons that, for thousands of years, enemies have agreed to return bodies, to ensure last rites, to grant quick deaths or to refrain from persecuting surviving family members.

Because they want to make sure their own people get the same consideration.

What have we done for so little gain?

Repost: It’s not about Elites or Idiots

Reposting something I wrote back in 2011, because it’s come up again recently in social media… and because it remains true and relevant today.

Over the past few years, there has been a constant drumbeat from “progressives” (and even some non-lefties) that conservative anti-elitism is effectively “anti-science”, “anti-education”, “pro-stupidity” etc…

This is partially in response to the fact that many conservatives use the terms “elitist” or “the elite” (in the political and social context, not in the context of achievement… though that distinction is lost on leftists) as a pejorative.

Their basic comment comes down to “Well, if you don’t want intelligent, well educated people running things who would you rather run them, idiots?”

Thus, completely missing the point.

Conservatives and libertarians aren’t against smart well educated people; in fact many of us ARE smart, well educated people.

…We’re against people who want to run things.

This idea is so utterly foreign to the leftist mind, that they literally cannot conceive it, or believe it.

You see, to a conservative or libertarian, it’s inherently obvious… axiomatic even:

The world runs better, when everyone runs their own lives, and their own business, with as little interference as possible; save that which is absolutely necessary for the common good, or to prevent harm to others.

No government official or lawmaker can know more about your life, or your business, than you do; therefore, they cannot run your life or you business as well as you can.

No matter how smart, or well educated they may be, and no matter how many of them there are, they will always be working with less information then you have. Their information will always be less current. They will always have less experience in dealing with the conditions unique to your life and your business.

Since no-one can run your life as well as you can, no-one should.


Note: Economists call the idea that if you’re just “smart enough” “well educated enough” etc… you can make everything run right, the “perfect information fallacy”. If you could have perfect information (that is all information about all conditions and factors that could possibly effect the outcome of a decision) and perfect reason (that is, the ability to analyze all factors correctly at all times), then you could make perfect decisions. However, it is impossible to have perfect information in a complex system (never mind perfect reason) thus all decisions will necessarily be imperfect. This is the primary reason why communism or socialism… or in fact any kind of “managed economy” could never possibly work on a large scale; even if every person participating in that economy were a perfect communist, acting only for the benefit of the collective.

To a leftist, that is simply ridiculous… Impossible even. Someone has to be running things. It simply cannot be any other way.

You have to understand, leftists fundamentally and fully believe, that nothing (or at least nothing good) can possibly happen, without “someone running things”. No matter how “free” or “unregulated” something may appear to be, in reality, there is always someone behind it, really in control, and making sure it goes the way they want it to; favoring some parties and punishing others, exploiting some for the benefit of others.

Note: Conversely, this also means that whenever anything happens, it’s because of the person in charge. Everything good that happens is to their credit, and everything bad that happens is their fault.

It’s called the “daddy” philosophy of government (or more formally, paternalism, or paternalistic government).

As with all leftist ideas, the basic principle of the daddy government is based on what children learn during kindergarten. All money, power, control, and guidance comes from “the people in charge”, like your daddy, or your teachers.

Daddy has authority, and money. From that money, he gives you your food, housing, education, medical care etc… With that authority, he sets rules, rewards you with things when you do well at what he says you should do well at; and punishes you for doing badly, for doing things he doesn’t want you to do, or for not doing the things he thinks you should do.

When you need something, daddy makes sure you get it. When you want something, you ask daddy, and if he thinks you should have it, he gives it to you.

Daddy enforces “fairness”. Daddy makes sure you share, and play well with others. Daddy protects you from the bad people hurting you, or taking advantage of you. When things are bad, daddy will make them all better.

I should note, some people prefer to call this the “mommy” philosophy of government… which may be closer to appropriate, given most leftists have no idea what a father is , or what they are good for anyway.

When you’re five years old, daddy controls the entire world; and there’s nothing daddy can’t do.

Leftists have never really advanced in economic, social, or moral maturity beyond that point. They believe that the world continues to work that way as you grow up; only instead of daddy, or “teacher”, the one in charge is “government”.

In fact, they not only believe it’s the way it should work, they believe it simply IS the way it works, and there can be no other possible way.

Since there is no other possible way, and someone has to be controlling things; it’s absolutely critical that we get the smartest, best educated, most “elite” people to be in charge. If you’re against that, it must be because you want someone in charge who is going to favor you.

Or rather, because they have such a low opinion of the “common man”, they believe that “the people” themselves are idiots, being deceived by the people who secretly want to control everything. The people who want to control everything have convinced the “common man” of the lie of the “free market”, and of “equal opportunity” and “the American dream”. They’re all just lies the secret controllers tell the “common man”, so that the controllers can rig things to favor themselves, and their cronies. Those people are anti-elitist, anti education, pro-stupidity, and want idiots to run things, because they can then secretly control the idiots for their own benefit.

Note the assumption there that anyone who is smart and well educated MUST know that the leftists are right; therefore anyone who disagrees with them is either stupid, or evil.

This isn’t some far out conspiracy theory by the way; this is exactly what leftists think was behind the Bush presidency. Not only do they freely and publicly admit it, they write books and make movies about it.

They completely miss the point.

They don’t understand that conservatives and libertarians have a completely different idea about what government is, and what it should do.

They don’t understand…

We don’t want idiots running things….

We don’t want ANYONE running things.

Brad’s Beer Review: The Boxing Cat Brewery, Shanghai, China

The Boxing Cat Beer Sampler

First, my apologies for last week. I was on a family vacation, and although I did sneak away to visit Figueroa Mountain’s tasting room in Los Olivos, CA, it turns out that our WiFi was spotty and I was just having too much damn fun to try to fight through that and post the review. I do have pictures and tasting notes, so perhaps I’ll get to that in a future review.

Once I returned home, I unpacked my vacation luggage, packed my work luggage, and was back out the door to the airport in a matter of hours. Many, many more hours later, I arrived in China, and so I plan to make up for last week’s lack of a review by going big. High-quality American-style craft beer in China? I heard about this, but didn’t believe it, and had to check it out. I visited the Boxing Cat Brewery in Shanghai.
The Boxing Cat Brewery
You see, China is what we typically refer to as a “beer desert.” Over here, typically you find mass-market lagers, and occasionally traditional German style beers. It can be possible to find other offerings, but quality is typically hit-or-miss as the novelty of craft beer tends to overwhelm quality when you have less-discerning palates of customers unaccustomed to craft beer. So I’ll admit that my hopes were not all that high, despite the glowing reviews I’d read online. I’ve been burned too many times by that. But, nevertheless, I’m here for a weekend without wife or kids, so I might as well give it a shot, right?

Well, as it turns out, I have been VERY pleasantly surprised by the result. Part of this starts with the key personnel and concept. If you want American beer and food, you start with an American brewer and chef. The brewer hails from the Pacific Northwest–certainly no beer desert–and the chef has comprised a menu that by concept spans “the I-10 corridor” bringing in food from the Southeast, New Orleans, Texas, the Southwest and California.

From walking in the door, you can tell that this place is aimed at visitors and expats, as the hosts and wait staff have solid English skills. While I honestly enjoy the challenge of walking into a restaurant over here and trying to communicate well enough to get a beer and a meal–it can be quite entertaining on both sides–it’s a lot more relaxing when I don’t have to do so.

When I arrived they were having a private party on their first and third floors, so sadly I didn’t get an option to see in detail or take any pictures of the bar area. I dined on the second floor, a scene which could have been taken out of any brewpub in America. Exposed brickwork, dark stained wood everywhere, visible “open” designed ceiling with exposed ductwork and beams. The lighting was a bit low, a bit lower than I’m used to in a brewpub, but not completely out of sorts. Some of the nicer brewpubs I’ve been to in the US are a little less well-lit, and this fits about in line with those. I quite honestly could have easily forgotten I was in China. It felt like a slice of home.

I ordered the beer sampler first, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Cuisine-wise, they have a menu that again could have come out of any brew pub in America. I ordered an appetizer of deep-fried mac and cheese balls. They brought me four beautiful golden-brown bread-crumb battered delights, containing gooey cheese and macaroni, served atop a deliciously seasoned ranch sauce with a side of BBQ sauce. Yes, “deep fried mac and cheese” lived up to be exactly as decadent as it sounds! I followed that up with a pulled pork sandwich full of tender well-dressed pork, a nice side salad with bleu cheese, and cole slaw. The cole slaw was a bit light on flavor, lacking either the mayonnaise base or the vinegar hit of traditional slaw styles, but overall the sandwich and salad were spot-on. Again, they don’t just “emulate” American cuisine here–they’re serving real American food.

But hey, that’s just a start. I haven’t even addressed the beer yet!
The Boxing Cat Beer Sampler

The Boxing Cat has six beers on tap, mixed between their standbys and seasonal/rotating creations. Shown here, left to right, are:

  1. Right Hook Helles: 4.5%
  2. Contender Extra Pale Ale: 4.9%
  3. Standing 8 Pilsner: 4.9%
  4. Suckerpunch Pale Ale: 5.5%
  5. Rye IPA: 6.1%
  6. Winterweight Stout: 6.5%

While this seems like a bit of a lighter menu, their “next up” on the board were two very strong DIPAs coming in at about 9% and 10%, respectively, so the moderate ABV choices in front of me were merely an accident of the calendar.

In general, my analysis is that the beers on this list all tasted basically exactly how they were supposed to. Again, that’s what you’d expect, right? Well, I’ve found that brewpub quality is all over the map, and many local brewpubs in “beer desert” towns in the US don’t have the attention to detail and quality control that the market enforces in highly discerning locales. I was very pleased to find that these beers were all of excellent quality. From a technical level, I found no glaring flaws or off flavors. The beers not only were fine exemplars of their style, but they were delicious.

Two of the six, however, were very unique.

First was the Rye IPA. Now, I love rye. I’ve homebrewed Rye IPA, Rye Pale Ale, Rye Blonde Ale, even Roggenbier. This beer had a much more aggressive rye note than I’m used to in the Rye IPA/Pale Ale genre in the US. Upon asking the waiter (and having the host text the head brewer), I found that the grist for this beer is 30% Rye. That certainly explained it! Now, this is not a criticism of the beer. After all, when I finished my sampler, I followed it up with a pint of the Rye IPA. But it was certainly unexpected.

Even more unexpected was the Winterweight Stout. One whiff of it, followed up with a taste to confirm, resulted in a bit of internal dialog. “Mint? Mint?! Really? Is that f*****g mint?” Now, my incredulity was a bit over the top, as it was *obviously* mint. That’s right, this is a mint chocolate stout. I’ve heard of such things from a few forward-thinking American craft breweries, but I’d never encountered one of these in the wild. It’s surprising, then, that I have to fly to China for my first mint stout. How did it taste? Absolutely freaking delicious. One of my fond memories as a child was eating Andes after-dinner mints, and this was the 6.5% ABV stout version of that. I liked it so much that I might adapt this recipe with my milk stout recipe and brew a mint chocolate milk stout when I get back home!

If I had to make one critique of the Boxing Cat, it’s that the service was not quite as attentive as I’m used to. While I highly appreciated the host going the extra mile to text the head brewer and ask the question about the Rye IPA, I will say that the wait staff was not very proactive about noticing an empty plate and sampler tray sitting in front of me. I had to flag them down to order the sandwich and another beer. However, it was a very busy Friday night, so I’ll happily let that one slide.

All in all, I was absolutely impressed by the Boxing Cat Brewery. This was a meal and a group of beers that would be home in any city in America. They even push the envelope on their beer with the heavy hand of Rye and the mint chocolate stout, and managed to hit a high level of execution on both. I’ll head out today to go try my hand again at fighting through the language barrier to find some authentic local cuisine, but I have to thank Boxing Cat for giving me a slice of America while here on the road, and for providing the local residents an accurate example of American brewpub flavor, rather than the mere inauthentic approximation I expected.

Highly recommended. In the “beer desert” that is China, this place is a positive oasis.

The Senate Torture Report Will Change Nothing

I realize this is from Abu Ghraib, but at this point, does it matter?

I realize this is from Abu Ghraib, but at this point, does it matter?

The recently released report on CIA-authorized torture of detainees and prisoners includes everything we’ve known about our tortu– *ahem*, enhanced interrogation techniques of people at places like Guantanamo Bay, and then some. Featuring gruesome descriptions of waterboarding, beatings and “rectal feeding” – I didn’t know you could feed someone through their asshole1 – I’m not sure if the most shocking thing is the descriptino of what happened, or the fact that the reports we got – 600 out of 6,000 pages, and heavily redacted – is just the tip of the iceberg. Simply put, between this and the ongoing protests over the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, it’s not a good month so far for the government at virtually any level.

One would expect, after hearing “we’re not torturing people”, then seeing a report blatantly state that we’re definitely torturing people, that this would spur Congress to action, and if they wanted to drag their asses, the American people would spur them on, right?

If only it was that easy. Nothing will happen as a result of this. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised, as I write this on Tuesday night, if this was completely out of the news by the time the weekend comes. There are numerous reasons why I believe this disgusting report will ultimately blow over.

The release of this report wasn’t about policy. It was payback. – While Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was in front of cameras, accusing the CIA of lying to the President, the Senate, and just about everyone else it came across, all I could do was remember back to March, when she was going after the CIA for improperly accessing Senate computers as the Senate Intelligence Committee was preparing its report of detention and interrogation policies. The release of this report – the last chance to do so, by the SIC’s outgoing chairperson before Republicans take over the Senate – is a giant “fuck you” to John Brennan and the rest of the CIA. It’s a political receipt. At no point did transparency for the sake of improving our standing in the world and with our country’s citizens come into play, no matter how it’s spun.

Also, for all of Feinstein’s grandstanding, it should be noted that she’s probably the National Security Agency’s biggest cheerleader, and is perfectly fine with government agencies spying on ordinary Americans.

No one wants to set the precedent of trying major political figures – President Obama – who campaigned on transparency, fixing clandestine government actions, and ending wars – backed off of going hard after Bush Administration officials who started most of our torture programs after 9/11. He kept that limp-wristed, wishy-washy tack yesterday, praising the “patriots” who protected America after the attacks. Of course Obama doesn’t want to look back; if we decide to look back at his own Presidency in eight years, chances are very good that his two wars in Iraq and Syria, as well as his actions in Libya, would not survive scrutiny. In fact, if one looks back, the only President I can find who wasn’t guilty of either a war crime or a domestic action that could bring a death sentence is Carter. If we were to start trying major political figures, especially with a partisan bent, at what point do we cross the line from righteousness to Nixonian? No matter how much we want blood – a sardonic statement, given the circumstances – the political cost is too great.

It’s this reality that the ACLU’s Anthony Romero concedes to in his NYT Op-Ed stating that we should pardon Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others guilty of torturing or overseeing said torture. Romero’s intentions are noble – partly to shame Obama, partly to allow some the authority to talk without fear of retribution, and partly to further stain the names of Cheney and others – if not satisfying. We’re still prosecuting low-level Nazis 70 years after World War II, and we’re expected to pardon people who tortured people within the past ten years?

We’ve done this for years – Here is a brief summary of what our government is capable of: Operation Condor, Japanese-American Internment, Project ARTICHOKE, MKUltra, COINTELPRO, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, the My Lai massacre, Iran-Contra, and more political overthrows than I can count… and that’s just since World War II. Shoving hummus up someone’s ass doesn’t even make the top five of that list, and that’s before I get to the Trail of Tears.

Most damningly…

Most Americans don’t give a shit – This is the most depressing part. I expect conservatives to beat the “kill the raghead!” drum, but it’s the liberals I’m most disappointed in. Outside of the Glenn Greenwald/Edward Snowden crowd2, there’s not much noise because everyone’s too busy with other issues. Today, it’s mostly the deaths of Garner, Brown, Tamir Rice and others that are starting to cause overreactions. Most liberals who are making noise about this are forgetting everything that’s happened since January 20th of 2009, preferring to put 100% of the blame on Bush and his people. In short, when it’s not a convenient partisan talking point, it’s a “they” problem, not a “we” problem, with “they” being those unfortunate enough to be threatened with their families being raped. Put simply, the only people that really care are the sadists, and those that cater to them. While it’s fun to watch Andrea Tantaros have a meltdown on national TV, it’s important to remember that her views are shared by almost half the country. And then we wonder why ISIL is beheading Americans.

I love America, but I’ve never been more ashamed of my country. It’s depressing to know that despite pretty clear indications of war crimes, no one will go to jail for it except those that reported it in the first place, no policy will change as a result of the torture report, and there’s a strong chance that by this time next week we’ll all be talking about the “War on Christmas” or some other made-up bullshit. We are too ill-informed, too shallow, and too lazy for any other result to come about from this.

2 – This is your friendly reminder that while the architects of torture since 9/11 still walk free, Edward Snowden is in Russia, John Kiriakou is in prison, Chelsea Manning is in prison, and Wikileaks’ Julian Assange is being held at the Ecuadorian Embassey in the United Kingdom on trumped up sexual assault charges

Torture and Denial

torture

If the tiny percentage of the torture documents that were released yesterday should give us a clue about anything, it should be the degree to which the federal government officials and politicians lie to cover their own asses. Those of us who called for the documents to be released were admonished that in releasing them, U.S. troops and diplomats will be put in greater danger. Of course if these “enhanced interrogation” techniques aren’t really “torture,” then it seems to me that those who are fearful of the release should have nothing to worry about (one can’t have it both ways). Why not prove to the world that everything going on at Gitmo and the various black sites are on the up-and-up?

Of course then there’s the argument: “The Bush administration/CIA/Senate did not know nor approve some of these techniques…”

Ah, the good old “plausible deniability” excuse. The people in charge can’t be held responsible because some underlings decided to go all Jack Bauer on the detainees.

no evil

Of course then there is the ass-coverer-in-chief President Obama responding to the report:

Today’s report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence details one element of our nation’s response to 9/11—the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, which I formally ended on one of my first days in office. The report documents a troubling program involving enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects in secret facilities outside the United States, and it reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national security interests […] That is why I will continue to use my authority as President to make sure we never resort to those methods again.

President Obama is trying to convince the world that torture is a thing of the past which occurred when George W. Bush was president. Obama, we are to believe, ended torture on one of his first days in office. We are supposed to forget that he was also supposed to close Guantanamo Bay and that he has a secret kill list which sometimes includes American citizens (killing people without any sort of due process with a drone is morally superior to torture, you see).

Beyond this, President Obama is also misleading the world about no longer torturing detainees at the now infamous island prison which he promised to close. As The Intercept reports:

Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a 43-year old Syrian national, was among the six Guantanamo Bay prisoners freed last week and transferred to Uruguay after spending 13 years in U.S. detention. He had been cleared for release since 2009, yet the husband and father of three found himself imprisoned several years longer in circumstances characterized by indefinite detention, humiliation and inhumane treatment.

In response to what they saw as their increasingly desperate conditions, Dhiab and many other Guantanamo detainees repeatedly sought to employ the only means of resistance left available to them: refusing food. “We have given up the very things which are important: food and drink,” Dhiab stated last year, describing his motivations and those of his other hunger-striking prisoners. “And we have done so to get answers to our questions: What is our guilt and what is our crime?”

I suppose President Obama can use weasel words about not using torture to interrogate detainees but clearly torture is being used for other such things as force-feeding. Skipping ahead a little, the article continues:

While military officials may be able to casually characterize the force-feeding of such prisoners as some kind of innocuous guard-detainee interaction, they are correct that many others in the United States and around the world would likely not have the same reaction to such footage.

So far, the actual videos remain classified. At the end of The Intercept article a video was posted to show what is difficult to convey in words. The video (below) is a re-creation of what this force-feeding looks like.

Does this look like torture to you?

No?

Suppose it was American soldiers subjected to this treatment as well as what was detailed in the torture report? Would you still consider these techniques as “enhanced” but not torture? Suppose it was your own son?

Even if you think that it is permissible to treat actual terrorists this way, we should all agree that keeping individuals who haven’t been charged (again, this includes American citizens) or who have been cleared of any wrong doing should not be treated this way and should be returned to their homes.

We the people have the right to know what is being done in our name. The rest of the world needs to know that not all of us approve of what is being done in our name.

Community Conservatism: Healthcare Under Fire

The "A"CA - Good for Elites, Bad for the Middle Class

The “A”CA – Good for Elites, Bad for the Middle Class

Contain the Cost of Healthcare and Preserve Options for the Middle Class

This is an issue that requires a bit of an introduction. We believe it is very important to recognize that our healthcare system is both incredible in its productivity and humanity…and very much broken. The middle and lower class see healthcare is a pressing concern because the cost to maintain insurance is getting high enough that it is forcing some serious and uncomfortable decisions onto struggling families who have to balance their budgets. The CBO estimates that, by the year 2045, the average American family will spend nearly 20% of its take-home pay on health insurance (about what they currently spend on their mortgage!). At the same time, unfunded liabilities to cover the cost of government-backed health programs like Medicare and Medicaid will soon account for 100% of all estimated tax revenue taken by the government. This is obviously an enormous problem. One that threatens to destroy our economy, cripple our access to quality care, and generally make us miserable in the not so distant future.

There are many theories for how we might go about solving this problem, but few of them have been fleshed out enough to back with the force of legislation. Prior to the bastardized half-breed of state-driven insurance mandates and taxes that is now commonly known as the Affordable Care Act, there were two competing visions for the future of healthcare in American. On the left, you had advocates for a single-payer state-run healthcare system as is common throughout the European Union and in Canada, among other places. On the right, you had advocates for transparency in healthcare service charges, tort reform, and interstate insurance commerce. The left’s concept would immediately be recognized by the American public as a massive tax hike. The right’s concept is a series of piecemeal, small-scale ideas that don’t sound like they can really fix the problem of out-of-control healthcare costs on their own.
The healthcare system has costs far beyond the basic ones associated with providing care directly. There are costs associated with:

• Medical Research and Development (and government regulation thereof)
o The research has basic costs
o The government heavily regulates how this research must proceed to get drugs and equipment to market
o The government research institutions try to assist in a wide variety of areas and this unfocused mandate yields inefficiencies
• Malpractice Insurance
o Private practice doctors report that something like half of their profits go straight to malpractice coverage because malpractice lawsuits now routinely go for huge payouts and the insurer must cover the cost
• Hospital Administration
o Here again, there are basic administration costs for running any healthcare business
o And then there are bloated government regulations that require record-keeping that rarely makes sense and is exceedingly expensive, while forcing administrators to retain fleets of expensive lawyers
• The Actual Medical Care
o Even here, there are basic costs…and then there are costs associated with doctors padding their bills to bilk the insurance companies (or at least to force them to pay out as much as they possibly can)
o And further, there is the cost of unpaid medical care given to people who are not insured and cannot pay
o And, ironically, there is the added cost of the government’s drive to get us to see our doctors more regularly (preventive care), which has yet to show any evidence of reducing expensive and undesirable health outcomes
• Insurance Company Administration
o And then we have the insurers – who are, themselves, heavily regulated by the government, and are also guilty of padding their bottom lines, and perhaps of paying out more than they should when doctors are overbilling
• American Status as Cost Sponge
o What I mean here – the US is doing most of the work to lead the way on new medical breakthroughs because countries running on single-payer systems or depending on US financial assistance to function cannot afford to do high end medical research – the result is that all of the world comes here to advance medical science (at great cost to our government research institutions), but we in the U.S. pay higher prices for all of the beneficial new drugs and technology they produce, because other places around the world can’t pay enough for big pharma and big med-tech to break even without us being charged far more

The ACA does, to its credit, recognize many of the places where profiteering, waste and excessive spending are occurring, but the liberal answer to each spending sore spot is the heavy hand of more regulation. Rather than just propose a series of bills the way we’ve done elsewhere in this series, we will explain what the ACA does about each sore spot and the risks that method poses vs. what the conservative counter should be. We’ll use the same bullets from above to organize our plan.

A) Medical R&D Costs

The ACA doesn’t specifically address medical research in a major way, other than to levy a medical device tax and make matters worse for research, but the common answer on the left is to move the cost out of the private sector and into increased government spending on the issue. This way, private sector companies can charge less for the drugs and technology they produce and the actual cost of the work can be spread among the taxpayers less obviously. The conservative approach would include carefully relaxing certain regulations on big pharma and big med-tech regarding the cumbersome and lengthy process to get from experimental drug to approved market-ready drug or experimental medical device to sales and reduce the scope and cost of the FDA. It would also include a restructuring of the NIH, CDC and other government health researchers to significantly narrow their focuses and cut the sugar out of their research diets. And finally, the GOP approach should include a repeal of the medical device tax in the ACA.

B) Medical Malpractice

The ACA doesn’t even tackle the cost of malpractice insurance for private practitioners or legal counsel for hospitals – one of its most disappointing failures, but one that is understandable, considering that the Federal Legislature can’t really regulate state civil courts). The left has, traditionally, completely ignored the increasing need for tort reform. Unfortunately, so has the right. Every once in a while, you’ll hear a Republican talk about the need for it, but they tend to be economists, rather than politicians with any clout. The GOP must act now to enact stiff limits on settlement amounts in medical malpractice cases in the states. We recognize that medical mistakes are always extremely damaging and life-altering (or ending) for their victims. We also recognize that the legal system shouldn’t be a lotto-draw for someone looking to get even with a doctor or make a quick killing after a mistake. The GOP should also enact “loser pays” laws for all civil matters, including medical malpractice. Unfortunately, these are generally matters reserved for the states, and the GOP must spearhead the effort at the state level to address them.

C) Hospital Administration and Record-Keeping

The ACA likely made these costs much worse, I’m afraid, by changing medical billing codes to a ludicrous, byzantine array of unrecognizable codes and further regulating how this information is to be collected. The GOP should move to vastly simplify medical insurance/incident/billing codes, and take a more holistic approach to auditing hospital financial and medical records.

D) Medical Fees and Insurance Models

As we know, the ACA attempts to decrease the number of people who are uninsured and thus to lower the liabilities for hospitals who must treat all patients, whether or not they are insured, by requiring that everyone get health insurance and taxing you if you do not. On top of this, the ACA requires all businesses of a certain size (more than 50 full time employees) to offer health insurance or pay massive fees. The ACA requires that children under the age of 26 be allowed to remain covered by their parents. And it requires that insurance companies never reject someone who has a pre-existing condition. And finally, the ACA requires that those plans cover a huge range of medical services in an attempt to capture all of the potential costs. The theory was that young, healthy people were going uninsured to avoid paying for it when they felt invincible at rates high enough to balance out all of the people who’d been rejected for preexisting conditions. The mandate-driven approach has proved to be a spectacular failure. Many are choosing to pay the tax – especially the healthy – many more are finding that their plans are far too expensive and have huge deductibles as insurance companies look for ways to shield themselves from the increased cost of covering high risk people. And, of course, if the government is forcing the insurers to cover everyone, many insurers will drop out of the marketplace, and that is exactly what is happening.

Having said all of that, we do not think that every idea in the ACA is bad and we do not think it is necessarily the best approach to wholesale repeal it at this point. We believe that there should be a national program to provide everyone with catastrophic insurance (to protect hospitals for huge unpaid bills, and patients from bills that ruin them financially). We also believe “guaranteed issue” and the clause extending coverage to children under the age of 26 are popular because they are necessary. We even believe the idea of a national health insurance marketplace is a very good one (we wouldn’t have the government running it, we’d set up a cooperation between the various health insurance providers and let a private company maintain the marketplace). Here is what a conservative plan would look like:

• Repeal the individual and employer mandates
• Require all Americans to buy catastrophic coverage plans the same way we require them to buy at least minimal collision insurance if they drive
• Nationalize the healthcare market (no more state insurance networks; this is not simply “selling across state lines”, this is true nationalization) and allow insurers to offer a la carte supplemental coverage – if you need coverage for prenatal care, you buy it; if you need coverage for prescription drugs, you buy it, etc.
• Require healthcare providers (private doctors and hospitals and clinics) to publicly announce their price points on a government-managed website for all of their procedures to allow consumers to price compare instead of being blind to the cost – market awareness frequently leads to market efficiency
• Require insurers to similarly announce what they’ll pay out for given procedures (in an attempt to prevent the sort of “doctor charges way too much to max out what the insurer will pay out” games we previously mentioned)
• Give tax credits to people who buy preventive care packages and repeal the Cadillac tax
• Enact the Ryan/Wyden plan for Medicare

E) Insurance Company Administration

The ACA includes a bunch of downright frightening top-down controls in an attempt to reign in insurance payouts for Medicare (because retired people are expensive, health wise, and paid for on the government dime), including but not limited to yet another in a long line of ill-advised price-fixing schemes promulgated by the left. They keep trying to fix the market to their liking and it keeps going spectacularly wrong and cause misery every time. This time, I’m referring to the Independent Payment Advisory Board. While I would stop short of calling it a ‘death panel’, there is excellent reason to fear this entity and its impact on the end of life process. IPAB will basically regulate insurance company payouts to Medicare by fiat, which will cause doctors and hospitals to begin to refuse to perform certain procedures, leading to a downward spiral in the quality of care for the elderly. We saw a glimpse of this with the VA – where aging WWII and Korean War veterans were being denied access to treatments and redirected to hospice care in some cases. The left sees the IPAB as a way to end insurance company inefficiency and doesn’t understand why this process should lead inexorably to premature death in some cases, but we have many examples – starting with the British National Health Service. The conservative answer to insurance company bloat and overpayment is, as noted above, to improve price transparency and let the customers straighten out the market. We would also add that government could play a role here with some far less heavy-handed regulations on payouts based on the going market rate for the service, once the service itself is priced publicly. Data is power – market data leads to a powerful market. Either way, the IPAB must be dismantled as soon as possible.

We’ve laid out many proposals here that attempt to make healthcare decisions less costly and stressful for the middle class, but rest assured, we’ve barely scratched the surface. We are hoping that this will start a dialogue among conservatives as to what sort of healthcare platform GOP Congressmen should build heading into 2016.

No Publius in the Alabama Senate Press Room

Del MarshDel Marsh, R-Anniston, president pro tempore of the Alabama Senate, has asked the Alabama Press Association to assist Senate staff “in determining a proper definition of what constitutes a journalist meriting access to the press room.” Senator Marsh only wants real “journalists” in the press rooms. The others—“partisan political blogs and shady fly-by-night websites offering purposely skewed and inaccurate interpretations of hard news events”—can “sit in the public gallery and blog about what they see” from there.

One wonders, if the access in the gallery is commensurate with the access in the press room, what difference does it make? On the other hand, if the access is not commensurate, then why is Senator Marsh seeking to relegate some of his citizens to second class access based on a distinction even he cannot articulate?

Luckily for him—and the Alabama Press Association—the U.S. Supreme Court has already made it simple to determine who possesses the freedom of the press.

Everyone.

“The press” refers not to a group of people, but to the action of publication itself. Thus, “freedom of the press” protects not a privileged group of actors, but the action of conveying information and ideas, wherever that action is undertaken, by whatever means and whatever person. The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized as much:

The press, in its historic connotation, comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.

Lovell v. City of Griffin, 303 U.S. 444, 452 (1938) (protecting Jehovah’s Witness’s right to distribute religious leaflets door-to-door without a license).

The administration of a constitutional newsman’s privilege would present practical and conceptual difficulties of a high order. Sooner or later, it would be necessary to define those categories of newsmen who qualified for the privilege, a questionable procedure in light of the traditional doctrine that liberty of the press is the right of the lonely pamphleteer who uses carbon paper or a mimeograph just as much as of the large metropolitan publisher who utilizes the latest photocomposition methods. Freedom of the press is a “fundamental personal right“… The informative function asserted by representatives of the organized press … is also performed by lecturers, political pollsters, novelists, academic researchers, and dramatists.

Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 703-05 (1972) (emphasis added, internal citations removed) (like every other citizen, a reporter can be called to answer before grand jury).

[T]he purpose of the Constitution was not to erect the press into a privileged institution, but to protect all persons in their right to print what they will as well as to utter it. “[T]he liberty of the press is no greater and no less than the liberty of every subject of the Queen,” and, in the United States, it is no greater than the liberty of every citizen of the Republic.

Pennekamp v. Florida, 328 U.S. 331, 364 (1946) (emphasis added, internal citations removed) (Frankfurter, J., concurring).

Is it too idealistic to think that something called a “press room” should be open to all the people who possess the “freedom of the press,” which is to say everyone?

Perhaps.

Surely, the general public cannot demand admission to White House press briefings. And Marsh would say he is not proposing to restrict the act of publishing, but rather the act of entering the press room. The former is a constitutional right; the latter (Marsh would argue) is a special privilege.

The distinction is not without meaning, as Doug Mataconis has comprehensively explained. Just as federal and state governments can grant special privileges for religious beliefs without running afoul of the First Amendment, so too can they grant extra-Constitutional privileges, such as testimonial shield laws, to only certain members of the media.

When expanding protection, legislatures are entitled to draw lines that might not be permissible in the case of abridgements.

*     *     *

Because press shield legislation would extend immunities to the press beyond what the First Amendment has been held to require, it probably does not violate the Constitution to confine those immunities to a subset of entities entitled to protection under the Press Clause.

Michael W. McConnell, Reconsidering Citizens United as a Press Clause Case, 123 Yale L. J. 266 (Nov. 2013).

Marsh might seek to characterize his proposal, not as an infringement upon freedom of the press, but a special perk akin to a media shield law for favored groups in their exercise of that right. That might be constitutional.

But it is also bad policy.

Its practical unworkability is evidenced by other efforts to establish criteria for the receipt of such special perks. Such criteria inevitably focus on the regularity and primacy of the journalistic activity to that individual or entity and whether that activity constitutes a business endeavor for financial gain or livelihood.

As former Circuit Judge for the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and Director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School Michael W. McConnell has observed, those standards risk excluding publications like The National Review, The Weekly Standard, Slate and Newsweek, which are sometimes kept afloat by donors rather than profits. They risk excluding the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian, and the American Bar Association, which engage in journalism as secondary to other endeavors. And they risk excluding authors, documentary filmmakers, and pamphleteers, who do not follow any predetermined cycle to their publishing.

Senator Marsh would do well to remember, also, what Doug Mataconis observed:

[I]t was a bunch of bloggers who discovered that the memos that CBS News relied upon to support its story about George W. Bush supposedly ducking out early on his National Guard commitments were forgeries. That report, you’ll recall, came out at the height of the 2004 re-election campaign and threatened to have a major impact on the election. Instead [thanks to those bloggers], it ended up having a major impact on the careers of several CBS News employees, including a man who had been anchoring the CBS Evening News for more than 20 years. For reasons like that, it’s important that we make sure that shield laws don’t end up being something that only cover members of what essentially amounts to a protected cartel while bloggers and free-lancers are left out.

Under Senator Marsh’s approach, “real” journalists like Dan Rather would no doubt gain admission to the Alabama legislature’s press rooms. What about the bloggers who uncovered the problems with Rather’s documents?

PubliusIt is not always clear, based on mainstream status, who is the partisan, shady, fly-by-night imposter “offering purposely skewed and inaccurate interpretations of hard news events” and who is engaged in real journalism. Senator Marsh should reconsider his efforts to impose press credentialing standards that Thomas Paine, Publius, and the Federal Farmer would be unable to satisfy.

 

 

_________________________________

Lady Liberty image via The Montgomery Advertiser. Publius image from FeedBooks.com.

This Advice Could Save Your Life and Preserve Your Liberty

garner

The fact that the police can get away with killing an individual who presented no threat to anyone with the whole incident caught on camera is quite disturbing. A grand jury decided not to indict a NYPD officer by the name of Daniel Pantaleo who used a choke-hold banned by his own department which resulted in the death of Eric Garner. Unlike the incident in Ferguson which contained conflicting testimony and forensics which support Darren Wilson’s version of the event, this event in New York was caught on video from at least two different camera angles (and available on YouTube for the whole world to see). This seems pretty cut and dry at least for an indictment.

So how is it that almost any accused individual brought before a grand jury is indicted unless the accused individual happens to wear a government issued costume? Are grand juries really that biased toward the police? After reading a few dozen comments on threads responding to the grand jury decision, I’m afraid the answer is yes (if you want to lose all hope for humanity, read the comment section to any article of consequence). I reach this conclusion because these are the sort of people who serve on juries and decide that it’s perfectly okay for the police to kill someone if the suspect had any criminal record of any kind, resisted in any way, or even “disrespected” the police on the scene.

The truth is that reforming the way police do things is going to take time as changing people’s attitudes is going to take time. There are things that we as individuals can do here and now so that we don’t become victims of the police, however. Many of these perfect, law abiding specimens of humanity who like to share their wisdom with the rest of us on the internet say that if Eric Garner hadn’t resisted (at all) he would never have been put in the choke hold that contributed or caused his death. On this point, I grudgingly have to agree.

I don’t say this because I believe the use of force against Garner was appropriate but because far too many people do (and juries are composed of people who aren’t always very reasonable).

One common thread in many of these viral videos where the police overreact is that the individual either resists (however mildly), makes a sudden move, or is perceived as being armed [1]. The worst thing you can do is give the cops a reason to use force and an excuse for jurors who will normally give the police the benefit of the doubt a reason to doubt.

So how does one increase one’s odds of surviving an encounter with an overzealous cop? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Before you end your session on the internet today, watch Flex Your Rights’ “10 Rules for Dealing With Police.” I have the entire series and a summary of the rules posted here. If you know how you can respectfully but firmly assert your constitutional rights before the next time you are confronted by the police, you will have advantages most people do not and you will reduce the chances that the encounter will escalate to violence.

2. Act as if the encounter is being recorded and your actions will be scrutinized in front of a judge, jury, and/or the general public. For better or worse, cameras have become ubiquitous, so the chances the encounter is being recorded increase everyday. Use this to your advantage. Better yet, if you have a camera phone, record the encounter yourself. Recording the police in public is legal almost everywhere in the U.S. Follow this link to be sure of the specific legalities of your state. Once you have the camera rolling, follow the aforementioned “10 rules” and be the kind of person a judge, jury, and the general public would be sympathetic toward. If you act like a jerk or are disrespectful in any way (regardless of how the cop acts) this could all backfire.

3. Don’t make any sudden moves and keep your hands visible at all times. If you are pulled over keep your hands on the steering wheel and turn on the dome light if its dark out. When the cop asks for your license and registration, say something like “My license is in my wallet” and very slowly reach for it and hand it over. Then say “My insurance card and registration is in the glove box” then slowly open the glove box and retrieve the documentation. Better yet, have the documentation ready before the cop comes to your window; its less movement and you know you will be asked to produce these items anyway. Had this man followed similar advice, he might not have been shot by a South Carolina State trooper.

4. Understand that you are NOT in control. If the police have decided to put cuffs on you and/or arrest you, do not physically resist, attack, or run. If you do, the results will not end in your favor. Whatever injustice has befallen you will not be settled until later. Also, keep your mouth shut and only speak of the event with your attorney.

Its my hope that these cases which have scandalized us all will lead to better understanding of how we can peacefully resist the growing police state. Its not my intention to blame the victims such as Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Kelly Thomas and countless others but to do my part in not creating new victims of overzealous cops afraid of their own shadows.

[1] Its become a pet peeve of mine seeing headlines that state that the police shoot an “unarmed” man. For one, unarmed does not mean harmless. Also, its probably safe to say that most of the time when the cops shoot an unarmed person, it was unclear if s/he was armed at the time. While we can and should scrutinize the police when they use force, we cannot expect them to have perfect knowledge in real time.

Government Spending Has Been Flat The Past 5 Years. No, Really!

Revenue and Spending 2000-2019 (estimated)

Back in 2011, I looked at some CBO projections, and said that the country was in dire straits financially. Spending seemed to be on an absolute tear, and revenue–even if it lived up to wildly optimistic projections–wasn’t going to come close to keeping up.

Essentially, the CBO projections pointed to spending occurring at absolutely unprecedented levels, and relied on completely unrealistic projections of economic growth to [not quite even] pay for it. At the time, I said:

Even with those assumptions, where does spending fall historically? Even at these rosy projections, it never falls under 22% of GDP (on par with the highest spending the country has seen since WWII), and those rosy projections came in January 2010. A year later, in January 2011, the CBO outlook got worse. It now shows spending never falling under 23% of GDP during the decade 2011-2020. Historically, spending has not exceeded 23% of GDP for a single year between 1946 and 2008.

Where has revenue been over the last few decades? Well, for the years 1991-2000, during which time we suffered one mild recession followed by the tech bubble, total government revenue averaged 18.75% of GDP. For the years 2001-2010, where we dealt with the tech bubble collapse followed by the subprime bubble and then crash, total government revenue averaged 17.07% of GDP. A sizeable drop, to be sure (the worst spots being 2009 & 2010, where the financial crash slammed revenue below 15% of GDP). But fundamentally not that far out of line with historical precedent.

Now, I hadn’t gone back to look at the numbers since then. So I was very surprised to read a Cato post suggesting that spending was stagnant and was sitting at a mere 20.3% of GDP, not the 23%+ area that the CBO was projecting. As Daniel Mitchell from Cato puts it (emphasis added):

Here are some specific numbers culled from the OMB data and CBO data. In fiscal year 2009, the federal government spent about $3.52 trillion. In fiscal year 2014 (which ended on September 30), the federal government spent about $3.50 trillion.

In other words, there’s been no growth in nominal government spending over the past five years. It hasn’t received nearly as much attention as it deserves, but there’s been a spending freeze in Washington.

I was frankly shocked. So I ended up going straight to the OMB data (note: it’s an .xls file) to confirm.
Revenue and Spending 2000-2019 (estimated)
Looks pretty legit. Spending was pushing well above 23% GDP for a few years due to the economic meltdown, the stimulus, and the continuing effects of global war.

What’s interesting, and I pulled this out of the graphic for clarity (go download the original source data if you want to confirm) is that this is NOMINAL spending. Considering there has been inflation since 2009, it’s actually fair to say that spending has decreased in real dollars over the last 5 years.

Spending is well below the CBO projections from 2010 that I used in my previous post. And frankly, revenue is WELL below their projections as well. But the spending restraint is sufficient to keep both spending as a percentage of GDP and deficits as a percentage of GDP in reasonable territory.

Now, there are always devils in the details. Mitchell points out a few in his post at Cato, and has even more to say on the subject here. But either way you slice it, the fiscal meltdown that many (including me 3 1/2 years ago) were predicting hasn’t come to pass.

Some on the left will credit Obama (even though they’ve never seen spending they didn’t like). Some on the right will credit the Tea Party (even though they spent the 8 years prior to Obama spending like a Kardashian wedding).

As for me, I’m just going to say that I’m glad my predictions–based on CBO projections–didn’t come to pass.

Community Conservatism – Choosing Education that Works

MortarBoard

Making Education Work for the Middle Class

A) Simplify the Department of Education by Block Granting Most of its Budget to the States

Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Herman Cain all tried appealing to conservatives in the primaries in 2012 with the simple-minded proposal that we should simply abolish entire Federal departments. There is a certain libertarian appeal toward deleting expensive and useless departments with good-sounding mandates but bad results. We get that. But the public – the conservative public – rejected such notions and elected the guy that wanted to streamline the government and increase state power in an attempt to make government work properly, rather than giving up on government entirely. We believe most in the middle class want to see their government achieve results, rather than gambling that the results will happen naturally without government interference. We believe the GOP must embrace the notion of governing. One way to do that, is to let the states make decisions about education policy by handing them the money and reducing the role of the Federal department to that of balance sheet management and effectiveness monitor with a mandate to make sure that state programs are producing results and striking state policies that fail. We recognize that much of the spending is already block granted to the states – we are proposing to further shrink the Federal budget and return that money to the states with fewer restrictions on how it is spent.

B) Pass Federal Legislation Protecting the Right of Parents to Choose Homeschooling

There is a move afoot in some states to ban homeschooling – we have seen the same sort of movement in the EU and elsewhere in the developed world and it has led to some frightening limitations on liberty that no one should wish to see replicated in the US. The middle class, in particular, is interested in new and innovative education solutions including massive open online courses (MOOCs) at all educational levels and a variety of other homeschooling models – let’s get on the right side of history and liberty before we find ourselves unable to act decisively.

C) Incentivize States to Enact School Choice Laws

It is not within the appropriate jurisdiction of the Federal legislature to mandate open school choice, in our opinion, but we can encourage the states to accept that school choice is in high demand by the lower and middle classes by increasing federal awards to states that back successful public charter, public magnet, private, parochial and homeschooling alternatives monetarily and favor successful schools over bad ones in the distribution of education budgets, and by giving states bonuses that are efficient with their education funds (generate better performance to dollar ratios).

D) Back Trade Schools, MOOCs and Private Colleges with Oversight

One of the biggest problems with the alternatives to public colleges that prevent employers from giving much value to job applicants who obtain certifications and technical degrees from private technical schools, MOOCs and trade schools is that it’s the wild west for these colleges and they are under no obligation to provide a useful and quality education. Take a note here – because you will rarely see us asking for more federal regulation, but this is one such case. The Federal Government must promote alternatives to expensive public colleges to help ameliorate the growing higher education bubble and keep young people out of debt (and, in so doing, grow the future middle class). In order for us to break our addiction to student loans, we must empower high school kids to choose high school and college curricula that lead to technical certifications and trades, and we can’t do that until we can guarantee that our private and technical/trade colleges meet basic standards of educational value that will convince employers to hire people certified and degreed by such institutions. The standards need not be identical to the public system, but quality assurance should be required.

E) Encourage States to Enact Reforms that Limit Public Degrees that Do Not Produce

Here again, it would be beyond the scope of Congress to start outlawing college degree programs that do not produce expected revenue that justifies their existence – what we can do, however, is increase the available federal assistance for students who are majoring in a STEM, manufacturing, or technical field (and any other degree program with a solid history of wealth creation), decrease federal assistance for less productive or overrepresented majors, and tie interest rates to risk (a risky degree like puppetry or cultural studies should come with much higher interest rates than a STEM degree). Federal student loans should be treated like the investment they were billed to be, not like a pipeline of money that students may use and abuse to heart’s content. College degrees should improve the US economy, not burden it.

F) Pass a Law Requiring a Government Census of College Degree performance and Making Info Available Online

Openness and transparency in financial outcomes and expenditures usually has the immediate impact of change the demand for products based on rational financial decision-making. College degrees are a bit more emotional than the average investment opportunity, so having good data on which degrees are good investments and which are not will not stop bad degrees from existing, but I believe it will alter the number of students falling for them (because it will cause parents to deny their children’s requests to attend expensive colleges in order to study something that has a poor earning potential, along with making some students think twice about choosing bad or, at least, over-saturated, degrees). So require the department of education to conduct a census of colleges and universities and their various degree programs and report information such as the default rate on student loans for each school, each degree program and each combination of the two, the graduation rate, the employment numbers, and the net earnings of students (per capita) by degree program at each school. If a college degree is an investment, we should know what the investment is worth.

G) Pass a Law Guaranteeing the Right of Refusal to Parents

One more thing that Congress cannot tackle directly, but must move to address in what ways it can is ‘Common Core’. The concept of a Federally mandated curriculum is not compatible with liberty and the GOP should move to guarantee the right of all families to refuse to participate in common core and choose a different standard. This won’t help parents who are currently stuck in public schools and don’t have a viable alternative, but as GOP governors work on the problem of school choice, it will be crucial that alternative programs have the right to opt out of common core and use different teaching methods and standards.

Education is a state problem for the most part, as it should be, and in spite of efforts by leftists to nationalize and further institutionalize learning – but that doesn’t mean the legislature can’t take certain steps to lead on education policy and encourage the states to be bold and innovative o their own. Middle class families are aching for a better way forward for their children ad Congress should show that this is a priority for them as well.

The Republican Traveling Interstate Electoral Paradox and Clown Show

While I have no interest in Jeb Bush as president… really I think very few people do… he’s absolutely correct on the ideological problem Republicans face.

From The Hill:

“Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made the case for a more centrist Republican Party on Monday night, saying a nominee should “lose the primary to win the general without violating your principles.”

Bush’s apparent strategy not to try to appeal to the most conservative elements of the party contrasts to some degree with Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, where some questioned whether he tacked too far to the right in the primary, hurting his ability to get back toward the center for the general election.

Bush laid out policy positions that could be controversial among the conservative base.”

Unfortunately, we have the example of 2012 and Mitt Romney to show us both side of this problem INCREDIBLY clearly.

In order to win in the primaries, you generally have to appeal to strongly motivated partisans, and fundraisers. In order to get their support, you generally have to stake out stronger ideological positions, which appeal to single states or regions, than much of “the center” is comfortable with, on a national basis. The positions that appeal to Floridians, don’t necessarily appeal to Pennsylvanians, or Iowans, or Ohioans.

An aside: Of course, in reality, there is no such thing as a political “center”, or an “independent”. These are polite fictions and rhetorical constructs, adopted by the media, and by people who either don’t understand their own political positions, or are trying to convince people of something (including themselves). 

While both major parties have this problem, and prior to the 90s democrats generally suffered from it worse than Republicans; since Bush the elder, the reverse has generally been true.

I think in part it’s because Democrats got smarter, and more cynical… while at the same time, Republicans seemingly got stupider (politically that is)… and also more cynical but in a less politically useful way.

Bush the Elder failed to win reelection, because 40% of the country thought he was too conservative, and 40% of the country thought he was too liberal. When presented with an “alternative” in Ross Perot, whom both liberals and conservatives, and “independents”, were able to project their aspirations on; Bush lost just enough more support than Clinton, that Clinton was able to squeak a plurality victory in.

We repeated the same charade with Romney and Obama in 2012 (and in fact McCain and Obama in 2008).

Obama didn’t win re-election because of increasing or even maintaining democrat and “centrist” support (he actually lost some)… He won reelection because a very large portion of the right decided to stay home rather than vote for Romney, whom they considered a closet liberal.

In 2012, there were honestly millions of people in this country, who opposed Obama and everything he stood for, but somehow convinced themselves that:

“it’s better if Obama stays in power and we fight against him, and the country gets even worse so that everyone will know how bad liberals are, and next time we can get a “REAL CONSERVATIVE”; because if we elect Romney, he’ll be just as bad as Obama, and harder to fight against”.

If you don’t believe that people could be that silly… just ask a hard right “conservative”, or a “tea party” supporter (or for that matter, a liberal who voted for the “green” party, because Obama wasn’t liberal enough).

Meanwhile, the media and the left very effectively painted Romney as a radical right wing nut job… so successfully, that they seemingly actually believed their own BS…

I’m not sure if they just completely ignored the facts that Romney had almost no actual conservative support prior to the general, that his actual stated positions were relatively “moderate”, and that there were YEARS worth of articles, editorials, fox news opinion pieces, and general conservative HATE of Romney…

…Or if somehow they convinced themselves that all that was a psyop against them, to slip manchurian ultraconservative Romney in under their noses?

…’cuz seriously… the Republican party, and conservative media, are not that smart, that competent, or anywhere NEAR that unified and coordinated.

…If they were, they could actually have elected a president.

The Republican primary process has been an absurd clown show the last two electoral cycles.

On what planet, would Michele Bachmann ever be taken seriously as a national candidate? Because it certainly isn’t this one.

How about Mike Huckabee?

Or Rick Santorum?

… And yet, these clowns were able to make a decent enough showing in the primaries to be taken seriously, because they had small but passionate single issue followings, who donated sufficient money to keep their nutjob single issue panderers on the campaign trail.

After 8 years of Obama and the Dems in congress finding new and interesting ways of getting the country to hate them, one would generally assume a Republican presidential LOCK for 2016.

The only way it won’t be, is if they screw up really badly in congress in the next two years (a significant possibility)…

… Or if they end up with another clown show primary process, from which they attempt to pick the least offensive clown as their candidate.

Climate Change… The New Inquistion

I was searching for something else, and I came across this piece I wrote back in 2007…

…And perhaps unsurprisingly, not much has changed today, except that now catastrophists are saying EVERYTHING is proof of climate change.

Climate change can apparently do anything whatsoever, including mutually exclusive and contradictory things, because “science”.

It’s absolutely unfalsifiable.

I decide to republish it here, to point out, that while the science against the catastrophists has only accumulated and strengthened; their stridency and grasping demands have only increased.

I say again, the concept of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, except in the case of localized micro-climates, holds absolutely no scientific water.

Honest scientists will tell you the same thing if pressed (and if their funding doesn’t depend on it), but the agenda politics of todays science (admittedly on both sides of the political spectrum, but generally on different subjects), prevents real, honest, science from occurring anymore; or from being reported if and when it is (the record of suppressing science which disproves catastrophic anthropogenic climate change is long and shameless at this point).

The mere language used by catastrophists against those who seek to use actual science rather than sociopolitical ideological faith, calling us “deniers” in an attempt to paint an equivalence with holocaust deniers, should make it clear that their concern is not truth.

The honest numbers are simple.

Global temperatures have risen an average of less than 1 degree centigrade since measurements started being taken (“adjusted measurements”, which have been conclusively proven to be inaccurate and possibly deliberately manipulated say it may be as much as 1.8 degrees, but that is the absolute maximum).

There is no “sudden and precipitous increase”. There is no hockey stick. It was a lie, and even many of the climate change people have admitted it. The ice caps aren’t melting, in fact in most areas they are thickening slightly. The sea level isn’t rising any more than it would have naturally.

Oh and in case you didn’t know… Polar bears are excellent swimmers.

More damning to the catastrophists faith; even by their own admission, there has been NO rise (and there may in fact have been a slight decline) in global average temperatures, SINCE 1996.

Since temperature recordings have begun, volcanic eruptions have put more carbon into the atmosphere, and caused more temperature change, than all of human industry and activity since the beginning of the human race; but it wasn’t by increasing temperatures with carbon, it was by decreasing them with dust in the air… much of which was in fact carbon particulates.

The world has been far colder than today at times when there was far more carbon in the atmosphere; even without more dust. The world has been far warmer than today with far less carbon in the air, even WITH more dust.

The amount of anthropogenic carbon dioxide and carbon particulates in the atmosphere are FAR less than one half of one percent of total carbon dioxide, and far less than one half of one percent of total carbon particulates (the vast majority of CO2 is released by soil, rotting vegetation, oceanic microorganisms, and seafloor offgassing. The vast majority of particulates, are released by forest fires, and volcanic activity ). Considering how small a percentage of our atmospheric carbon and carbon compounds (between 0.03 and 0.06 percent. Not between 3% and 6%, 3 one hundredths of a percent), that amount is completely insignificant to global climate change.

This is not to say they don’t effect local microclimates, they certainly do. But in those local microclimates, these concentrations are literally hundreds to thousands of times higher.

These levels of anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere are not a temperature driver, or a climate forcing.

In fact, historical records show that overall CO2 levels (which, remember, human inputs make up only a tiny fraction of) TRAIL global climate change by anywhere from a few hundred years, to a few thousand.

All currently existing GLOBAL climate change can be fully and scientifically explained by natural endothermic cycles (atmospheric oceanic interaction combined with volcanic and other geothermal activity, and large particulate emissions such as forest fires, plus natural greenhouse component and other climate forcing component emissions), and the fluctuation in output of the sun (because earth is an exothermic system). The suns output has varied greatly over the course of human history (and of course long before), and periods of warming and cooling have tracked right along with that output.

Models using average sunspot activity as an indicator of solar thermal forcing, have proven to be accurate within a few percentage points at predicting historical temperatures.

Some models (those used by catastrophists) predict that there may be FUTURE global climate change based on a theory that human generated carbon inputs, even though they are far lower than historical levels which did NOT cause these things to happen, will somehow cause the entire climate system to change the way it has always functioned.

These models are ridiculous on their face. The way you test a model is to run if forwards and backwards without adjustment, and see if it can accurately predict what actually happened in the past, using the data from further back in the past; then verifying against actual future results over time.

None of the models that predict significant global climate change due to human carbon inputs, come anywhere close to predicting the historical record.

They always consistently overestimate warming by SEVERAL HUNDRED PERCENT, as in estimating 4 to 8 times the actual warming.

And NONE of them came anywhere close to predicting the variability of the historical record, always showing a consistent warming trend over time, even for CENTURIES that had a significant cooling trend.

The models were not made to predict the actual climate… they were specifically made to predict massive warming, no matter the input. And that’s what they do, as non-catastrophists have proven, running data which any rational model should predict steady or cooling temperatures through the models… and they STILL predicted significant warming.

I leave it up to you to decide whether the models were just designed badly, or whether the distortion was intentional. Either way, these models cannot be trusted, and decisions should certainly not be made based on them.

The climate IS changing, and has since the moment the earth formed a climate. As near as we can tell (through ice core samples and the like) there has never been a period of more than 200 years without at least a 1 degree change in global average temperatures.

The climate will continue to change on its own, and no NORMAL human activity will change global climate significantly one way or the other… unless it’s something that actually would kill us all (which would by definition not be normal… Incredibly massive particulate pollution over a high percentage of the earths surface – including the oceans – would do it. It would initially trigger warming from trapped thermal radiation, followed by extremely rapid cooling from blocking out the sun, and then a sudden ice age; and likely kill all crops and food animals in the process, along with at least 80% of humanity in the first two years, if not more, and ultimately followed by mass global extinction).

That isn’t to say we shouldn’t attempt to develop better sources of energy, we should. We aren’t going to “run out” of oil… ever in fact; a basic understanding of economics would show that. But, eventually hydrocarbon fuels are going to get more and more expensive as time goes on, and petroleum fueled combustion engines are relatively inefficient, and do contribute significantly to micro climate pollution.

In many ways, doing things greener IS in fact better. Saving energy is generally a very good thing. Not polluting is generally a good thing. When it isn’t, is when it destroys economies, prevents job growth, reduces food production, increases food prices, and all the other ways that forced greenism (I won’t even call it environmentalism, because it isn’t doing the environment much good), causes pain, suffering, misery, and general reductions in peoples health, quality of life, standard of living, and basic liberties.

“Climate change” isn’t about the environment… It’s about giving financial and political control to anti-western, anti-capitalists…. Or just the cynical opportunists who would use peoples good intentions and fears to increase their own power.

It’s about punishing those rich capitalist nations and people, for not being poor socialists… Or just for “not doing things the RIGHT way”…. whatever that particular person or group happens to think the “right” way is.

It isn’t science, it’s a pseudo-scientific sociopolitical ideological movement, and near religion. The adherents don’t need any proof, because they have faith; and any who challenge that faith must be burned as heretics in their new inquisition.

Police should wear body cameras to protect themselves when they’re accused of wrongdoing

camera

President Obama has just proposed $263 million for police body cameras in an effort to improve police relations in the communities they serve. My co-contributor at United Liberty Matthew Hurtt argues that this is an overreaction and cautions that this is “further federalizing local law enforcement.” To this, I have to respectfully disagree.

The federal government has already “federalized” local police if by federalization he means providing military grade toys at a discount. I don’t quite understand how providing tools which can actually protect the public such as body cameras “further” federalizes the police. As long as these departments receive these toys, the public damn well has the right to review in HD quality video and audio how these toys are being used (along with the normal police activities).

The following post was originally published on 8/18/2014 @ United Liberty

 

It sems that there is at least one area of agreement (with caveats) between some in law enforcement and some civil libertarians: cops should wear body cameras. The how, when, and where is still a question for all concerned but at least there seems to be some agreement on the broad outlines.

PoliceOne.com‘s editor-in-chief Doug Wyllie argues that police departments should embrace the idea of body mounted cameras on almost every police officer. Wyllie writes:

In the week following the officer-involved shooting in Ferguson (Mo.), many have asked me for a comment and/or my commentary on the matter. My reply has generally been, “What, precisely, might that comment be? We know very little detail regarding the incident itself, so any ‘analysis’ on my part would be tantamount to irresponsible speculation. Further, analysis of the rioting and looting (and police response to same) would be redundant — we’ve got reams of columns on crowd control tactics and strategies.”

One thing, however, merits mention in this space. It’s directly related to the first thought that came to my mind when news of this tragedy broke: “Man, I hope that officer was wearing a body camera.”

By now, we can correctly surmise that he was not, and it’s a reasonable contention that if he had been wearing a body camera — and that video was examined by agency leadership and released responsibly to the public — Ferguson would probably have been spared the violence and unrest.

Wyllie anticipated that there would be some cops, departments, and PoliceOne members who would disagree with this notion. From there he offered 3 reasons why the upsides outweigh the downsides:

1. Officers’ fears about “Big Brother” are crushed by good, sound policy collaboratively created by all stakeholders — administrators, police unions, civil rights groups, local lawmakers, and others. Citizens’ fears about Fourth Amendment issues — for victims, witnesses, and other uninvolved persons — are similarly crushed by that same policy.

I must interject here. We have street cameras on just about every major intersection in every major city in America. If its good enough to place you and I under constant surveillance, its good enough for the police. The police should also be reminded that they do indeed work for us. Any time the police are on duty and in public, there is a chance that they are being watched by the public. They do not have a right to privacy when they interact with the pubic. This is especially true when the actions of the police have the potential to take freedom or life away from individuals concerned.

Wyllie continues with his other 2 points:

2. Concerns over budgeting for the investment in new gear (and training for same) are quelled by the statistical data suggesting that the outlay in cash is far less than the cost of settling frivolous (and baseless) lawsuits over alleged officer misconduct when no such misconduct occurred.

3. Any argument alleging that “the technology just isn’t there yet” is flat out false. Five years ago, such a statement may have held some water, but companies like TASER International, Digital Ally, L-3 Mobile Vision, and VIEVU now offer rugged, patrol-ready products with high-definition recording capabilities in light, wearable form factors.

Doug Wyllie sees the writing on the wall; he points out that the White House petition for the “Mike Brown Law” which says “all state, county, and local police [should be required] to wear a camera” already passed 100k signatures. Wyllie is probably correct arguing that there would be fewer misconduct lawsuits with the cameras. One PoliceOne member added:

Personally I look forward to being able to show the jury exactly what the POS I arrested was doing, saying and what he looked like when I arrested him; rather than the cleaned up chap in a borrowed suit that the defense brought to court.

I think its also fair to say that cops would be discouraged from being involved with any misconduct in the first place. If we lived in a world where everyone involved in a police encounter is being recorded, everyone involved has every reason to be on his or her best behavior.

Another posted:

I’m all for body cameras. Yet, when they go against what people want them to say, it will be: “The police fixed the cameras.”

To this concern I have two answers. First the technology is already available to determine if a video has been tampered with. If the video shows the video at the 5:07:29 minute mark and then it suddenly skips to the 8:10:12 minute mark, most people are going to understand that there is some missing footage. The second answer is to policy of how, when, and where body cameras will be used.

Will cameras solve all questions of misconduct? Of course not. Cameras certainly have their limitations. But having a video of an event presented to a jury is certainly better than relying solely on conflicting eyewitness testimony.

Point of clarification: One person who commented on the Face Book link mentioned “And audio might be nice.” I assumed Doug Wyllie meant that audio should be part of the video recording as well. After re-reading his article, I realize that he never mentioned anything about audio. Perhaps this too will become a very important part of the debate. It’s my position that audio should be included. Video alone might be helpful in very clear cut cases but distort the meaning of what the viewer sees in other cases.

Oath Keepers Protect St. Louis Until Being Disbanded By The Police They Effectively Replaced

Oath-keeper-patch-in-english

In response to the looting that has damaged numerous businesses in Ferguson, MO since last Monday’s announceemnt that former police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for killing Michael Brown, a group called the Oath Keepers descended onto Ferguson to protect businesses from being damaged or destroyed by rioters, oftentimes by setting up armed sentries on rooftops. Over the long weekend, St. Louis County’s police officers demanded that the group disperse.

Threatened with arrest for operating without a license, the volunteers argued but eventually left their positions early Saturday, Rhodes said.

“We are going to go back as protesters,” Rhodes said Saturday afternoon.

(…)

“We thought they were going to do it right this time,” Rhodes said of government response to the grand jury decision released Monday in the Michael Brown case. “But when Monday rolled around and they didn’t park the National Guard at these businesses, that’s when we said we have got to do something.

“Historically, the government almost always fails to protect people,” he added.

The Oath Keepers were started in 2009 as a militia-like force that advocates military and law enforcement personnel disobey orders that are in violation of the Constitution of the United States. Despite accusations of racism, they were started in 2009 by a Mexican-American, Stewart Rhodes, who graduated from Yale Law School and once worked for Ron Paul. They have dodged criticism for years and are regarded by some as extremists or domestic terrorists, though they maintain a 30,000 strong member base and are highly regarded among libertarian parts of the Tea Party movement.

I am personally sceptical of the Oath Keepers because I feel their tin-foil, Alex Jones-like views on the government are extreme to say the very least. Any group that gains traction due to the election of one man and finds common cause with the birther movement tends to draw scrutiny. With that said, I find it very hard to blame anyone locally for being very happy to see them. Whatever one’s views on Michael Brown’s killing – I was very dim on the “no indictment” ruling – the fact is that St. Louis County has handled the entire situation in Ferguson and surrounding areas in an illegal, borderline evil fashion. They instigated an already edgy populace from moment one, turning military-grade weapons on the citizens they “police” in a method of crowd control so poorly conceived it raised legitimate questions as to whether or not the police were intentionally trying to rile their citizens.

As the grand jury’s announcement approached, the mistakes continued. It was announced at 8PM CST, with advance warning and a preemptive call for National Guard support. They gunned for a fight, prepared for a fight, and then stoked a fight. Since then, the overly militarized police, and the actual military, guarded the police station but left local businesses to burn. After blaming the failure to indict a man who shot at an unarmed teenager twelve times on social media, they proceeded to protect their own stuff while totally abandoning any pretense of protecting anyone locally. The failures of the Ferguson and St. Louis County police departments are so legion, so flagrant, and so damaging that multiple people involved in them should never hold jobs in authority again. Their treatment of those doing their job for them only exemplifies what has been a clown car.

In light of that, is it any wonder that the Oath Keepers – at heart, an anti-government organization that is convinced martial law is imminent – would show up? This isn’t just why they were conceived; it proves all of their fears, all of their statements, and all of their actions to be legitimate, or at the very least to have a degree of truth to them. “The government is against the people!” isn’t just the cry of a guy who failed Western Civ; in this case, it’s a provable fact. The police in this area have shown more effort in going after football players than they have in any form of police work.

In striking down the Oath Keepers, the local authorities might have made them more powerful than they could ever imagine. I expect membership to spike, hard.

Do Rich High School Dropouts Do “As Well” As Poor College Grads?

Poor Grads & Rich Dropouts

That’s the claim of Matt O’Brien at Washington Post’s Wonkblog, in a post titled (unsurprisingly), “Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong.” His main point:

Even poor kids who do everything right don’t do much better than rich kids who do everything wrong. Advantages and disadvantages, in other words, tend to perpetuate themselves. You can see that in the above chart, based on a new paper from Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill, presented at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s annual conference, which is underway.

Specifically, rich high school dropouts remain in the top about as much as poor college grads stay stuck in the bottom — 14 versus 16 percent, respectively. Not only that, but these low-income strivers are just as likely to end up in the bottom as these wealthy ne’er-do-wells. Some meritocracy.

So the anger is that some rich dropouts still succeed and make it to the top, and some poor college grads remain on the bottom. Or, to annotate a graph as O’Brien did:

Poor Grads & Rich Dropouts

This, however, is a terrible analysis.

First and foremost, it doesn’t live up to his title. Poor kids who do everything right do quite a bit better than rich kids who do “everything” wrong. Only 20% of rich kids who don’t graduate high school make it into the top 40% of income earners. 41% of poor college grads make it into those upper quintiles. Almost 70% of poor college grads make it into the top 60% of income earners. Only 49% of rich HS dropouts do so. The other half of rich high school dropouts end up in the bottom two quintiles, as you’d expect from high school dropouts.

Now, nobody will argue that poor kids don’t have an uphill battle from day 1. And nobody will argue that rich kids have a multitude of advantages in front of them. Their path to success is easier. There are many reasons for this, and I’m not going to go into them here, but suffice to say that I agree with the simple premise that it’s harder to succeed when you start out poor.

But what the graph that O’Brien uses to prove his point is actually proving that putting your nose to the grindstone, pushing yourself to enter and complete college, is important whether you’re rich or you’re poor. If rich HS dropouts were successful at a higher rate than poor college grads, I might agree with this analysis. But they’re not. Poor college grads do measurably better than rich HS dropouts.

Yes, some poor college grads still end up on the bottom, and some rich HS dropouts still succeed. But how many, and why? Compare the above chart with the below (also from the Reeves/Sawhill paper):

Overall mobility

Social Mobility Matrix, US Overall

In this chart, you can see that the bottom quintile–60% of them, in fact–stayed in the bottom two quintiles. Only 23% made it to the top two quintiles. And the top quintile–56% of them–remained in the top two quintiles. Only 25% fell to the bottom two quintiles. So overall, completely outside of any educational data whatsoever, the bottom remained on the bottom and the top remained on the top.

But if you’re poor, and you graduate college, you flip the script. Your odds are very good to go from the bottom quintile to middle class or better. And if you’re rich but don’t graduate college, your odds are better that you’re going to end up in lower middle class or worse. It won’t hold true for everyone, as there are strong cultural factors in play. But those cultural factors are not overwhelming. Demography DOES NOT equal destiny.

That’s meritocracy.

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