Rand Paul Caters To The Insane Anti-Vaxxer Crowd

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On Monday, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a prospect for the 2016 Presidential Election, put forth his opinion on vaccinating children. It wasn’t Dr. Paul’s finest moment.

In light of the recent measles outbreak in California, Dr. Paul was asked about the disease, and the ant-vaccination movement, on Laura Ingraham’s radio show. He stated that while he felt vaccinations were a “good idea”, he felt that parents should have the option to decline them:

“I’m not arguing vaccines are a bad idea. I think they’re a good thing, but I think the parents should have some input,” he added. “The state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children and it is an issue of freedom.”

Dr. Paul noted to Ms. Ingraham in his interview that he believed vaccinations should be optional. In the same show, Ms. Ingraham stated that she didn’t believe measles was “that big of a deal“.

Later in the day, in a CNBC interview, Dr. Paul used anecdotal evidence to state that parents were justified in their skepticism:

“I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” Paul, R-Ky., said in an interview with CNBC anchor Kelly Evans.

This coincides with fellow GOP hopeful Chris Christie, who explained that while he vaccinates his children and believes they are a good thing, believes parents deserve more input:

He said that he and his wife had vaccinated their children, describing that decision as “the best expression I can give you of my opinion.” He said they believe doing so is an “important part of making sure we protect their health and the public health.”

“But,” Christie added, “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well. So that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”

Mr. Christie made greater input into vaccinations for parents part of his campaign for Governor of New Jersey in 2009.

Some of these public statements of support for anti-vaccination proponents can be explained as a matter of timing: earlier in the morning, an interview the Today Show did with President Obama made clear his thoughts on the matter: there are no reasons not to vaccinate:

“I understand that there are families that in some cases are concerned about the effect of vaccinations. The science is, you know, pretty indisputable. We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not,” the president explained.

Anti-vaccination proponents – often called “anti-vaxxers” – believe that vaccinations for many diseases once viewed as eradicated can cause mental defects, with autism being the most commonly referenced, due to the amount of mercury in the vaccinations. More fringe elements of the anti-vaxxer movement believe that the government intentionally puts mercury in vaccinations as a passive form of population control.

However, most anti-vaxxers, if I’m putting this bluntly, are not very smart. They read a few articles on Infowars, see Jenny McCarthy speak for twelve seconds, put on their finest tin-foil hats, and let loose their ridiculous, half baked ideas, just before their diatribe about chemtrails. These people are clearly cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. But what’s truly harmful is to have people like Senator Paul – a DOCTOR, for heaven’s sake! – and Governor Christie (a successful lawyer) giving oxygen to these people by enabling their nonsense.

The argument being made is that parents should have the liberty to do whatever they want with their children. However, that argument ends at my child’s body. This isn’t something like school choice, or even a voucher program that would use tax dollars in religious schools against the wishes of secular parents. Not vaccinating a child against measles puts that child’s life in danger before they even know what measles are. They also put other children at risk, particularly other children who either are not vaccinated or can’t be vaccinated due to other health concerns.

It’s one thing to argue that a parent – or even a mature minor has the right to put a child at risk if they believe the treatment is worse than the disease; I’m sympathetic to that argument to an extent. But a measles epidemic has been cut loose for the first time since “Leave It To Beaver” was being taped, and it’s affected a lot of people. Parents affected who willingly did not vaccinate their children should be held liable for the damage they have personally caused.

It’s easy to call the anti-vaxxer issue a bipartisan one – thank the “Whole Foods crowd” for that – but this is a problem that is disproportionate among hardcore, anti-government right wingers, who have been raised into a froth into believing that anything involving the government, or Barack Obama, is a bad thing. Such constant pandering – particularly by grifters like Sarah Palin and others – replaces education with nonsense because to them, these “facts” are education. Due to this, they distrust anything that goes against their worldview. “The CDC!? Liberal media fascists!” If President Obama said the sky was blue in a speech, that would be the tinder that starts a purple sky movement.

We expect “I’ve heard it causes brain damage!” to come from the wingnuts. But coming from Doctor Paul, a very intelligent man, calls into question his sincerity, his respect for the American primary voter – part of me thinks “he can’t believe that shit, can he?” – and his qualification to hold the highest office in the country.1

1 – I’m not holding Governor Christie to so strong a flame because I feel his statements, and clarifications, exhibit more nuance than those of Dr. Paul, who is no stranger to some real whoppers in his time.

Georgia Legislature to Consider Modest Reforms for ‘No-Knock’ Raids

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On May 28th, 2014 around 3:00 a.m. in Habersham County, Georgia a SWAT team raided a house the police believed to be occupied by Wanis Thonetheva, an alleged drug dealer. In the chaos of the raid instead were four children and up to four adults. The youngest of the children, 19 month-old “Bou Bou” Phonesavanh was burned and permanently disfigured from a flash-bang grenade which set the play pen he was sleeping in ablaze.

No drugs or contraband of any kind was found in the home. Also absent from the residence was the man they were looking for.

Bou Bou was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta where he was put into a medically induced coma. Doctors were not sure if the toddler would ever wake up but fortunately, he did.

This is not by any means, the end of the Phonesavanh family’s problems with Bou Bou’s medical expenses around $1.6 million and surgeries into adulthood. These expenses, by the way, that will not be paid by the county or the departments responsible for severely injuring this child.

In the aftermath of this botched SWAT raid, several Georgia legislators are looking to reform the use of “no-knock” raids. Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) introduced a bill he’s calling “Bou Bou’s Law” which would require a slightly higher standard for no-knock raids than required by SCOTUS. Bou Bou’s Law would require “the affidavit or testimony supporting such warrant establishes by probable cause that if an officer were to knock and announce identity and purpose before entry, such act of knocking and announcing would likely pose a significant and imminent danger to human life or imminent danger of evidence being destroyed.”

In the House, Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) introduced a similar bill which would go even further by requiring that no-knock raids be conducted between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. unless the judge issuing the warrant “expressly authorizes” another time. Tanner’s bill also requires that each department keep records of each raid which would be compiled with all the other records around the state into an annual report which would be sent to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and the Speaker of the House.

While these are laudable reforms which I would hope would pass any state legislature, these reforms do not go nearly far enough. Several of the articles I read in preparing this post had titles like “No Knock Warrants Could be a Thing of the Past.” In reading over these bills, I’m not quite that optimistic. As Jacob Sullum pointed out at Reason, its not at all clear that Bou Bou’s Law would have prevented the raid from happening. The police at the time thought their suspect was probably armed; it probably wouldn’t take much to convince a judge to issue the no-knock warrant.

As I took another look at Rep. Tanner’s bill, I saw no language that would restrict the hours of the standard knock and announce raids. His bill seems incredibly vague to my lay reading “all necessary and reasonable force may be used to effect an entry into any building or property or part thereof to execute such search warrant if, after verbal notice or an attempt in good faith to give verbal notice by the officer directed to execute the same of his or her authority and purpose”.

Its human nature to stretch and bend language in such a way that is favorable to one’s objectives. I can imagine the police “interpreting” this law to mean they could gently knock on the door at 3 a.m., speaking in a barely audible voice “Police, search warrant open up,” counting 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi, CRASH!

There is some concern by those who think that even these modest reforms put the police in unnecessary danger – police lives matter. I’m of the opinion that ALL lives matter and propose some (admittedly) radical ideas as to how and when SWAT tactics and/or police searches should be used to protect the life and liberty of all concerned:

– If the reason for a surprise raid on a residence is that the evidence could be quickly flushed down a toilet or easily destroyed by other means, then this isn’t enough reason for such a raid in the first place. A couple of ounces of any drug flushed down a toilet is not sufficient reason to put the lives of those in the residence or the police at risk.

– SWAT should not be used at all unless its an active shooter situation, a hostage situation, or credible reason to believe there will be active, armed resistance to the search. Unless there is a very real clear and present danger, leave your military grade toys at the station.

– Each and every police officer involved in the search wears a camera (preferably on the head to have a true POV). All video from the search would be made available to the suspect’s defense attorney.

– The police departments involved are responsible for any and all “collateral damage” to life and property. In the event an innocent life is taken, the individual officer(s) responsible should be treated as anyone else who takes a life. Investigation/prosecution would be conducted by an independent investigators and prosecutors.

– Absolutely no raids or searches of any kind between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. (though stakeouts and other activity which does not require interaction with the suspect(s) during these hours is permissible).

I’m sure that some if not all of these ideas are too radical for many lawmakers. If we really believe that “all lives matter”, however; these proposals should be thoughtfully considered.

If you would like to make a small donation to help pay Bou Bou’s medical expenses, go to this GoFundMe page which has raised nearly $43k so far.

Brad’s Beer Review: Stone Delicious IPA

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A Stone IPA? Brad’s going to follow up brewpubs in Shanghai, coffee milk stout, Gose, and beer from the oldest brewery in the world with an IPA from Stone? Hardly seems special, you wonder…

No, I wouldn’t review just any San Diego IPA. There is something special about this IPA from Stone. What makes it special? What it lacks.

Stone Delicious IPA is a gluten-reduced beer. In recent years, brewers have learned that a specific clarifying agent happens to break down gluten, to the point where any typical gluten test will show a negative result. This allows them to brew a beer using gluten-containing grains and most gluten-sensitive people can drink it with no ill effects. The way the additive works coupled with the natural lawyer-aversion of most American companies means that they won’t market this beer as “gluten-free”, but it’s about as close as you’ll get. How close? Well, they lab-test every single batch and you can check the lab results here.

In the old days (i.e. more than ~3 years ago), gluten-free beers were terrible. They brewed them with alternate grains like sorghum or rice syrup, they didn’t really taste like beer, and generally they failed in the market. Brewers today, such as Widmer’s Omission brand, are hoping to change that.
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So why do I care? A few reasons.

First, I’m somewhat sensitive to the needs of the gluten-sensitive. My son is on a gluten-free diet, and while I’m not exactly going to be giving a 5-year-old any Delicious IPA, it does make me curious. In addition, I have a coworker who several years ago started getting pretty heavily into beer and homebrewing. At roughly the same time, he started having some significant health problems, and discovered that he was gluten-intolerant. He put the brewing equipment in storage, and stopped drinking beer. I haz a sad.

Second, I’m frankly curious myself. I hadn’t tried the Omission beers, but when I heard that Stone was doing a gluten-reduced IPA, I figured I should try it and review it. I drink a lot of Stone beer. I drink a lot of IPA. I know what Stone-produced IPA typically tastes like. I figured that if anyone was going to be able to determine if the gluten-reduction process made a meaningful difference to the taste or character of the beer, I could do so.

So here we go. What’s the verdict?

  • Stats: 7.7% ABV, 80 IBU. Color not listed.
  • Aroma: A lot of citrus hops. Not so much orange as maybe grapefruit. You know, that sort of subtler smell that gives rise to the idea that the fruit you’re about to eat is REALLY bitter? Yeah, that’s what I’m getting here.
  • Appearance: Pale, slightly hazy. Generally not uncommon for very hoppy ales. Nice white head, dissipates fairly quickly. Even with the nucleation sites etched into the bottom of the Sierra Nevada glass here, the head doesn’t self-sustain as much as I’d expect. Perhaps this is due to the broken-down gluten?
  • Flavor: Nice solid hop flavor, and this is definitely fitting the mold of a very crisp, dry West Coast IPA. Bitterness takes a place right on the front of the stage, with malt waiting in the wings. If I had to critique this beer, I’d say that it should have a little bit more malt and body to be able to stand up to the bitterness level they’re going for here. It just seems to be missing something in the malt character. Reminder — I love massively bitter, hoppy IPAs. But there has to be enough malt to form a backbone in these beers, and this one is missing it.
  • Mouthfeel: Light body, and while I am criticizing the malt, I wouldn’t call this thin or watery. It’s not like the many session IPAs that are lacking in that department. I’d like a little more body, but if they’d added malt flavor and kept the body where it is, I wouldn’t have a problem. That said, there are no flaws either, such as astringency.
  • Overall Impression: The beer is well-brewed. I expect nothing less from Stone. There are no detectable flaws. But I don’t love it. There are better IPAs out there, including Stone’s normal IPA.

I say there are better IPAs out there. But are there better gluten-reduced IPAs? If I had a gluten intolerance that kept me from drinking the others, I would be VERY happy with this beer.

More importantly, I can say that this beer, for my stylistic critiques, tastes like Stone beer. If you gave this to me and didn’t tell me it was gluten-reduced, I wouldn’t be able to tell. This isn’t some sorghum-based monstrosity. This isn’t some “almost-beer”. This is beer. For people who can’t consume with gluten, to drink a beer like this isn’t missing out on a thing.

Brandon Duncan May Do 25 to Life for Singing About a Gang

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In 2013, San Diego experienced a rash of shootings.

Brandon Duncan is a San Diego musician. He has no criminal record. He is not alleged to have pulled the trigger, to have been present, to know who was present, or even to have known contemporaneously that the shootings had occurred. He is not alleged to have masterminded the murders, paid anyone to commit them, or otherwise aided in their commission.

Nevertheless, Duncan may wind up doing 25 years to life for the shootings.

The reason?

Sales of an album Duncan made in 2012 may have benefitted from a surge in gang stature and respect in the wake of the shootings.

Duncan apparently creates music about gang activities. As Kevin Boyd reports at IJ Review, the lyrics include one line about holding a gun with no safety and another about a full clip making someone’s top disappear. The tracks can be heard here.

In any case, creating music about violence and criminal activity is not illegal. That is Constitutional Law 101. The First Amendment protects freedom of expression, including violent content in music, literature, art, media, video games, etc.

Mario Puzo could not do 25-to-life if an upsurge in Mafia violence caused a renewed interest in his Godfather novels. He could not do 25-to-life even if prosecutors alleged that his books glamorized organized crime, thereby contributing to an increase in such activity.

That California does not attempt to prosecute authors like Puzo invites speculation that the state is discriminating against certain content and certain genres of art and its creators. Italian-American authors writing fiction novels about Mafia violence are acceptable. African-American musicians creating rap music about street gang violence are not.

Whether or not such speculation is justified, prosecutors claim that Duncan is not merely a musician creating unsavory content. They allege that Duncan is actually a member of a gang based in Lincoln Park, California.

Of course, it is also not illegal to belong to a gang.

That too is Constitutional Law 101. The freedoms of assembly and expression necessarily entail the right to free association. The State of California can neither prohibit Duncan from associating with the people of his choosing, nor punish him for doing so.

But there is yet another dot to connect. Duncan is being charged under a California penal statute purporting to make it a crime to “benefit from” the illegal activities of a “criminal street gang” in which one “actively participates:”

…[A]ny person who actively participates in any criminal street gang…, with knowledge that its members engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity…, and who willfully promotes, furthers, assists, or benefits from any felonious criminal conduct by members of that gang is guilty of conspiracy to commit that felony and may be punished as specified in subdivision (a) of Section 182.

According to NBC San Diego, prosecutors explain their theory of this offense as follows:

“If you are a documented gang member, and you benefit from or promote the activities of the gang, you can be held responsible for crimes the gang commits,” the district attorney said.

To be found guilty, prosecutors must prove the suspects are active gang members, that they had “general” knowledge of the gang’s activity and that they profited, assisted or benefited from the activities. The suspects do not have to be directly involved with the crime to be found guilty.

Those benefits could be economic, like album sales, or intangible, like respect, the district attorney argues.

Prosecutors are apparently presenting the aforementioned music lyrics, plus social media pictures, to demonstrate Duncan’s membership in the Lincoln Park gang. They further argue that the sales of his 2012 album benefitted from the 2013 shootings.

Duncan’s defense attorney, Brian Watkins argues that the songs are just artistic expression, and that while Duncan has associated with some members of the gang because he grew up in the same area, he is not himself a member. In an interview with NBC San Diego, Watkins had this to say:

“I mean, to imprison someone for 25 years to life because of artistic expression is something not even the worst communist regimes have done…”

The DA’s office counters that the law was passed by the voters and found constitutional by California’s Supreme Court. That decision was People v. Johnson (2013), wherein the Court analyzed ways in which Section 182.5 diverges from the traditional crime of conspiracy:

[T]raditional conspiracy requires both the specific intent to agree, and specific intent to commit a target crime. … A 182.5 conspiracy does not require any prior agreement among the conspirators to promote, further, or assist in the commission of a particular target crime.

The Court seemingly reassures itself that the intent requirement is replaced with a requirement of “active and knowing gang participa[tion] … with the … intent to promote, further, or assist in the commission of a felony by other gang members.” However, just two paragraphs later, the Court concedes that:

[S]ection 182.5 brings within its ambit not only a gang member who promotes, furthers, or assists in the commission of a felony. It also embraces an active and knowing participant who merely benefits from the crime’s commission, even if he or she did not promote, further, or assist in the commission of that particular substantive offense.

So Section 182.5 dispenses with the traditional intent requirement, replaces it with a requirement that the defendant have been an active and knowing participant in the gang (but not the crime), and then punishes the defendant for receiving any benefit, however intangible, from a crime committed by other members of the gang.

That sure sounds like doing 25 years to life for one’s unsavory associations.

Long-standing criminal statutes already address racketeering, commission of or participation in, conspiracy to commit, or aiding and abetting a crime. What is the need for this particular statute other than to prosecute someone who cannot be demonstrated to have violated those traditional criminal statutes?

Ken White at Popehat reached out to the San Diego District Attorney’s office and reports that:

* The DA’s theory is that Duncan promoted the gang by writing rap music about gang activity, and that he received an “intangible benefit” — their words — by his music becoming more credible or popular. The DA did not present any evidence that the gang’s crimes had any impact on album sales.

* The DA tried to show that Duncan was a member of the gang by some photos of him with gang members throwing gang signs. But they asserted that his rap music also showed that he participated in the gang, one of the elements of the offense.

* The DA’s theory is that when a gang commits a crime all members of the gang automatically benefit for purposes of Section 182.5. That theory, if accepted, would effectively eliminate one of the elements of the crime so that the DA would no longer need to prove that any individual gang member “willfully promotes, furthers, assists, or benefits from” the criminal activity.

In short, based at least on reports of their stance at the prelim, the DA seems to be saying that Duncan violated the statute by being a member of the gang and by rapping about the gang.

In the meantime, Duncan said on an interview with CNN that the studio is his “canvas” and that he would love to continue to make music, but:

“[T]hese people have you scared to do anything around here.”

Brad’s Beer Review: Weihenstephaner Vitus

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I’m not going for cutting-edge, today. That said, even though this is a beer that is about as traditional as they come–as is the brewery that created it–it’s a beer that I’ll bet most drinkers have overlooked on the shelf. Many liquor stores don’t even put this beer in the craft section; they relegate it to the “imports.”

I’m speaking, of course, of Weihenstephaner, the oldest brewery in the world.
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I had the good fortune to visit the brewery in Freising when overseas on business in Oct 2013**. While my schedule was compact and I could only visit for a very late dinner and beers, and couldn’t take a tour, it was very nice. Should you find yourself in Munich, Freising is very near the Munich airport and it’s easy to get to the brewery from the hotels. Making it to Weihenstephaner is a necessary pilgrimage for the devoted beer fan, and I highly recommend it if you can make it happen.
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The beer of the day is the Weihenstephaner Vitus, which they describe as a weizenbock. Based on the style guidelines* and my review below, it’s a little bit questionable whether the beer fits the style. But I’m not going to hold a brewery which predates the Magna Carta to a set of style guidelines that are at most a few decades old.

I had this beer at the brewery, and enjoyed it. Yet like any normal beer fan, I came back to the US and went right back to IPAs. I haven’t bought this beer since, until I saw it and picked it up on a whim. And wow, I’m glad I did!

  • Stats: 7.7% ABV, 17 IBU. Color not listed.
  • Aroma: Bready, with a yeasty aroma and a hint of clove, and maybe a very slight banana. For the ABV, you don’t pick up any whiff of the alcohol content of the beer. Very nice.
  • Appearance: Pours hazy and light in color. Definitely more of a strong hefeweizen in appearance than a bock due to the light color. White head with good retention.
  • Flavor: Here I get more of the banana than I pick up in the nose, and less of the clove. It’s a silky-smooth soft beer. Again, tastes more like a strong hefeweizen than a weizenbock, but I’m not complaining. It’s delicious. There’s something about beers from this region (I think partly the very soft water) that really makes them different than almost any other hefeweizen I’ve ever had.
  • Mouthfeel: I’ll have to use the same descriptor a second time. This is a silky-smooth beer. It’s medium-bodied, and there’s enough carbonation in there that you can feel the bubbles dancing on your taste buds. And yet again, there’s no hint of the strength.
  • Overall Impression: It’s a beautiful beer. Every element just comes together perfectly. There’s not a thing missing from this beer, nor anything unnecessary. You don’t survive as a brewery for nearly a millennium without knowing what you’re doing. Of course, 974 years is plenty of time to perfect a recipe! In a world where we as craft beer drinkers are always looking for the new, a beer like this reminds us that there really wasn’t anything wrong with the old.

All in all, overlooking Weihenstephaner when you go to the beer store is a mistake. Yes, I’m a beer geek. Yes, I like seeking out the sexy new releases and actively look for the breweries who are doing something new and different. I’m certainly not going to stop doing that. But every once in a while, going back to the traditional is worth it.

One note that I will make here, before I leave you. Beer is a perishable item. Beer shipped from Germany is no exception. This advice is true of any store, but particularly true of imports. Choose a beer store with high stock turnover. Hefeweizen (like IPA) is best drank young. If you buy a bottle that’s been sitting on the shelf for 4 months, chances are it won’t live up to the review I just wrote!
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