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31 Oct 18:25

Second Spaceship Crash In One Week: Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Suffers "In-Flight Anomaly" - Live Feed

by Tyler Durden

Possibly good news:

RT @ABC7: #SpaceShipTwo UPDATE: Rescue crew seen carrying person on stretcher to chopper

— Jim Meeker (@grumpyastronomr) October 31, 2014

Not so good news:

1 PILOT DEAD & 1 INJURED IN #SpaceShipTwo CRASH: Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo crashes in Mojave Desert - @AP

— Breaking911 (@Breaking911) October 31, 2014

The bad news:

#SpaceShipTwo has experienced an in-flight anomaly. Additional info and statement forthcoming.

— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) October 31, 2014

For the second time in a week, a vessel due to go to space has crashed. As SpaceFlightNow reports, Virgin Galactic is reporting its SpaceShipTwo suborbital rocket plane experienced an “in-flight anomaly” on a powered test flight over California’s Mojave Desert on Friday. Two pilots were believed to be aboard SpaceShipTwo, according to the scanner discussion. SpaceShipTwo test flights customarily carry two pilots.

Live Feed:

AP provides some background:

Latest update:


Kern County firefighters are responding to an aircraft down. They cannot confirm whether the aircraft is Spaceship Two.

— Jason Kotowski (@jkotowskibako) October 31, 2014

Ss2 blew up. Came down in pieces. At one of debris sites.

— (@spacecom) October 31, 2014

Back in Mojave now. Ss2 had trouble with engine burn, blew up, came down in pieces near Koehn Lake.

— (@spacecom) October 31, 2014

Saw on of crash sites. Body still in seat.

— (@spacecom) October 31, 2014



Wikipedia describes the vessel's propulsion system as:

The hybrid rocket engine design for SpaceShipTwo has been problematic and caused extensive delays to the flight test program. The original rocket motor design was based on hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB) fuel and nitrous oxide oxidizer – sometimes referred to as an N2O/HTPB engine[27][28] – from 2009–early 2014. In May 2014, the engine design was switched from a HTPB to a polyamide fuel formulation.

As KGET10 reports,

SpaceShipTwo, the Virgin Galactic space plane, has crashed east of Mojave, according to the director of the Mojave Air and Space Port Stu Witt.

Witt said a 2 p.m. news conference has been scheduled, and no further details will be available until then.

Via SpaceFlightNow,

Virgin Galactic is reporting its SpaceShipTwo suborbital rocket plane experienced an “in-flight anomaly” on a powered test flight over California’s Mojave Desert on Friday.



The anomaly apparently occurred after the space plane fired its rocket motor following a high-altitude drop from Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo mothership.


Scanner traffic from local first responders indicated wreckage from a crashed aircraft in the area. Reports say parachutes were spotted in the air.


Two pilots were believed to be aboard SpaceShipTwo, according to the scanner discussion. SpaceShipTwo test flights customarily carry two pilots.


The suborbital spacecraft was making its first powered flight since January and was testing a redesigned rocket motor.


Virgin Galactic, part of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, was aiming to complete qualification of the rocket-powered plane in time to begin space tourist flights to the edge of space next year.


Slung beneath the WhiteKnightTwo carrier plane, the spacecraft took off at 9:19 a.m. PDT (12:19 p.m. EDT; 1619 GMT) from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The takeoff was delayed more than three hours to wait for bad weather to clear the area.


The test flight was the 55th flight of the SpaceShipTwo vehicle, and the craft’s 35th free  flight. It was the fourth time SpaceShipTwo had fired up its rocket motor in flight, and the first powered mission since Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites, the craft’s builder, switched from a rubber-based propellant to a plastic-based fuel mix.

*  *  *

31 Oct 18:40

'World Misery Index' Puts U.S. Between Romania and Hungary

by Zenon Evans

Steve Hanke, co-Director of Applied Economics at the libertarian Cato Institute today released what he calls the "World Misery Index." The United States' position is not encouraging.

The Land of the Free and Home of the Brave lands itself in spot 66 (the lower the number, the worse), right between Romania and Hungary. The least miserable country in the world is Switzerland, at spot 109. Our beloved northern neighbors, Canada, beat us by 30 spots. Perhaps the only thing it ranks #1 in these days, Syria is crowned the world's most miserable country.

Hanke explains, "Every country aims to lower inflation, unemployment, and lending rates, while increasing gross domestic product (GDP) per capita." He created his ranking system "through a simple sum of the former three rates, minus year-on-year per capita GDP growth." The "largest contributing factor" to American misery is unemployment.

Earlier this year a Gallup poll found the percentage of people who feel satisfied with their level of freedom has plummeted from 91 percent to 79 percent in the last eight years. Another Gallup poll found that Americans think government itself is the biggest threat facing our nation. Reason's J.D. Tuccille suggested that people feel these ways because they're true.  He laid out several other indices: The Index of Economic Freedom, which found "the U.S. is the only country to have recorded a loss of economic freedom each of the past seven years. The overall U.S. score decline from 1995 to 2014 is 1.2 points, the fourth worst drop among advanced economies"; The Fraser Institute's Economic Freedom of the World: 2013 Annual Report gave an even harsher assessment, dropping the U.S. from 3rd to 19th in a decade; The World Press Freedom Index and the Committee to Protect Journalists have also sounded the alarm that press freedom is on the decline in this country. 

Here's Hanke's full index:

30 Oct 16:23

Eric Holder Says He Regrets Lying To A Judge And Saying A Reporter Was A 'Co-Conspirator' But The Law Made Him Do It

by Mike Masnick

So, if one disagrees with a law, they are then forced to violate that law? Particularly, if one is a government agent?

Giving a talk at the Washington Ideas Forum, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder spoke about two different (though, similarly named) journalists that the DOJ has been absolutely egregious in trying to abuse for the sake of questionable leak investigations. Regarding James Risen, the NY Times reporter who the DOJ has been pursuing and demanding he reveal sources concerning a leak (when it's clear the DOJ already knows the source and is just doing this to destroy Risen's credibility with sources), Holder says that the DOJ expects "a resolution" in the near future. That's not too surprising. Holder and the DOJ seem to realize that actually putting Risen in jail (the next step in the process) probably wouldn't go over very well.

But it's the other journalist where things get a bit dicier. That's Fox News reporter James Rosen (note the different letter from Risen). Rosen, you may recall, had his phone, email and security badge records grabbed by the government, after the DOJ told a court that Rosen wasn't a reporter, but "an aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator" in the "crime" of leaking classified information about North Korea from the State Department. It later came out that the DOJ actually pretended Rosen was involved in a bombing in its motions to the court.

Holder was asked if there was a decision during his tenure that he regretted, and he brought up the Rosen story:
Holder: I think that -- I think about the subpoena to the Fox reporter, Rosen. I think that I could have been a little more careful in looking at the language that was contained in the filing that we made with the court. He was labeled as a -- as a co-conspirator. I mean, you had to do that as a result of the statute, but there are ways in which I think that could have been done differently, done better. And that's one of the reasons why I thought the criticism that we received because of that -- and the AP matter as well -- was something that we had to act upon and why we put in place this review of our -- the way in which we interact with the media.
Except, as Julian Sanchez points out, that's completely bogus. Holder claiming they had to do that because of the statute is flat out opposites-ville. They had to do that because the statute doesn't allow them to spy on journalists. The law was designed to stop the DOJ from spying on journalists, and so the only way to break that was to lie to the court. The law in question -- 18 USC 793 is designed to only apply to the people actually committing the crime of leaking defense information -- and not to reporters.

Holder claiming that the statute effectively "forced" him into declaring Rosen a co-conspirator is ridiculous. The statute compels him not to seize Rosen's records. Holder is admitting that the DOJ lied to the court here and trying to blame the statute for that lie. That's astounding.

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30 Oct 14:25

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

by Patrick

Great book. Makes me think about bitcoin.

Don't know for how long, but you can now get your hands on Neal Stephenson's awesome Cryptonomicon for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

With this extraordinary first volume in what promises to be an epoch-making masterpiece, Neal Stephenson hacks into the secret histories of nations and the private obsessions of men, decrypting with dazzling virtuosity the forces that shaped this century.

In 1942, Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse—mathematical genius and young Captain in the U.S. Navy—is assigned to detachment 2702. It is an outfit so secret that only a handful of people know it exists, and some of those people have names like Churchill and Roosevelt. The mission of Waterhouse and Detachment 2702—commanded by Marine Raider Bobby Shaftoe-is to keep the Nazis ignorant of the fact that Allied Intelligence has cracked the enemy's fabled Enigma code. It is a game, a cryptographic chess match between Waterhouse and his German counterpart, translated into action by the gung-ho Shaftoe and his forces.

Fast-forward to the present, where Waterhouse's crypto-hacker grandson, Randy, is attempting to create a "data haven" in Southeast Asia—a place where encrypted data can be stored and exchanged free of repression and scrutiny. As governments and multinationals attack the endeavor, Randy joins forces with Shaftoe's tough-as-nails granddaughter, Amy, to secretly salvage a sunken Nazi submarine that holds the key to keeping the dream of a data haven afloat. But soon their scheme brings to light a massive conspiracy with its roots in Detachment 2702 linked to an unbreakable Nazi code called Arethusa. And it will represent the path to unimaginable riches and a future of personal and digital liberty...or to universal totalitarianism reborn.

A breathtaking tour de force, and Neal Stephenson's most accomplished and affecting work to date, Cryptonomicon is profound and prophetic, hypnotic and hyper-driven, as it leaps forward and back between World War II and the World Wide Web, hinting all the while at a dark day-after-tomorrow. It is a work of great art, thought and creative daring; the product of a truly iconoclastic imagination working with white-hot intensity.
30 Oct 02:59

20-Year CBS News Veteran Details Massive Censorship And Propaganda In Mainstream Media

by Tyler Durden

Submitted by Mike Krieger of Liberty Blitzkrieg blog,

Journalists should be dark, funny, mean people. It’s appropriate for their antagonistic, adversarial role.


– Matt Taibbi, in this New York Magazine article


Reporters on the ground aren’t necessarily ideological, Attkisson says, but the major network news decisions get made by a handful of New York execs who read the same papers and think the same thoughts.


Often they dream up stories beforehand and turn the reporters into “casting agents,” told “we need to find someone who will say . . .” that a given policy is good or bad. “We’re asked to create a reality that fits their New York image of what they believe,” she writes.


– From the excellent New York Post article: Ex-CBS reporter’s book reveals how liberal media protects Obama

Earlier this week, I published a piece titled, Former CBS Reporter Accuses Government of Secretly Planting Classified Docs on Her Computer, which I thought was incredible in its own right, yet the information in that post seems almost trite compared to the flood of information Attkisson has revealed to the New York Post’s Kyle Smith.

The following excerpts from the piece will confirm all of your worst suspicions about mainstream media:

Sharyl Attkisson is an unreasonable woman. Important people have told her so.


When the longtime CBS reporter asked for details about reinforcements sent to the Benghazi compound during the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack, White House national security spokesman Tommy Vietor replied, “I give up, Sharyl . . . I’ll work with more reasonable folks that follow up, I guess.”


Another White House flack, Eric Schultz, didn’t like being pressed for answers about the Fast and Furious scandal in which American agents directed guns into the arms of Mexican drug lords. “Goddammit, Sharyl!” he screamed at her. “The Washington Post is reasonable, the LA Times is reasonable, The New York Times is reasonable. You’re the only one who’s not reasonable!”

Interesting, because as Matt Taibbi notes in the quote at the top, investigative journalists are not supposed to be reasonable. I digress…

In nearly 20 years at CBS News, she has done many stories attacking Republicans and corporate America, and she points out that TV news, being reluctant to offend its advertisers, has become more and more skittish about, for instance, stories questioning pharmaceutical companies or car manufacturers.


Working on a piece that raised questions about the American Red Cross disaster response, she says a boss told her, “We must do nothing to upset our corporate partners . . . until the stock splits.” (Parent company Viacom and CBS split in 2006).


Reporters on the ground aren’t necessarily ideological, Attkisson says, but the major network news decisions get made by a handful of New York execs who read the same papers and think the same thoughts.


Often they dream up stories beforehand and turn the reporters into “casting agents,” told “we need to find someone who will say . . .” that a given policy is good or bad. “We’re asked to create a reality that fits their New York image of what they believe,” she writes.


Reporting on the many green-energy firms such as Solyndra that went belly-up after burning through hundreds of millions in Washington handouts, Attkisson ran into increasing difficulty getting her stories on the air. A colleague told her about the following exchange: “[The stories] are pretty significant,” said a news exec. “Maybe we should be airing some of them on the ‘Evening News?’ ” Replied the program’s chief Pat Shevlin, “What’s the matter, don’t you support green energy?”


Says Attkisson: That’s like saying you’re anti-medicine if you point out pharmaceutical company fraud.


One of her bosses had a rule that conservative analysts must always be labeled conservatives, but liberal analysts were simply “analysts.” “And if a conservative analyst’s opinion really rubbed the supervisor the wrong way,” says Attkisson, “she might rewrite the script to label him a ‘right-wing’ analyst.”


In mid-October 2012, with the presidential election coming up, Attkisson says CBS suddenly lost interest in airing her reporting on the Benghazi attacks. “The light switch turns off,” she writes. “Most of my Benghazi stories from that point on would be reported not on television, but on the Web.”


Two expressions that became especially popular with CBS News brass, she says, were “incremental” and “piling on.” These are code for “excuses for stories they really don’t want, even as we observe that developments on stories they like are aired in the tiniest of increments.”


Hey, kids, we found two more Americans who say they like their ObamaCare! Let’s do a lengthy segment.


When the White House didn’t like her reporting, it would make clear where the real power lay. A flack would send a blistering e-mail to her boss, David Rhodes, CBS News’ president — and Rhodes’s brother Ben, a top national security advisor to President Obama.

I had no idea that the President of CBS News’ brother was a top national security advisor to President Obama, did you?

Attkisson, who received an Emmy and the Edward R. Murrow award for her trailblazing work on the story, says she made top CBS brass “incensed” when she appeared on Laura Ingraham’s radio show and mentioned that Obama administration officials called her up to literally scream at her while she was working the story.


One angry CBS exec called to tell Attkisson that Ingraham is “extremely, extremely far right” and that Attkisson shouldn’t appear on her show anymore. Attkisson was puzzled, noting that CBS reporters aren’t barred from appearing on lefty MSNBC shows.


No interview with Holder aired but “after that weekend e-mail exchange, nothing is the same at work,” Attkisson writes. “The Evening News” began killing her stories on Fast and Furious, with one producer telling Attkisson, “You’ve reported everything. There’s really nothing left to say.”


Sensing the political waters had become too treacherous, Attkisson did what she thought was an easy sell on a school-lunch fraud story that “CBS This Morning” “enthusiastically accepted,” she says, and was racing to get on air, when suddenly “the light switch went off . . . we couldn’t figure out what they saw as a political angle to this story.”


The story had nothing to do with Michelle Obama, but Attkisson figures that the first lady’s association with school lunches, and/or her friendship with “CBS This Morning” host Gayle King, might have had something to do with execs now telling her the story “wasn’t interesting to their audience, after all.”

The who charade is completely incestuous.

Meanwhile, she says, though no one confronted her directly, a “whisper campaign” began; “If I offered a story on pretty much any legitimate controversy involving government, instead of being considered a good journalistic watchdog, I was anti-Obama.”


Yet it was Attkisson who broke the story that the Bush administration had once run a gun-walking program similar to Fast and Furious, called Wide Receiver. She did dozens of tough-minded stories on Bush’s FDA, the TARP program and contractors such as Halliburton. She once inspired a seven-minute segment on “The Rachel Maddow Show” with her reporting on the suspicious charity of a Republican congressman, Steve Buyer.

All I have to say is thank you CBS, or should I say SeeBS. Thank you for being so horrible at reporting that you have opened an enormous gap for myself and countless others in alternative media to fill. I genuinely couldn’t have done it without your incompetence.


30 Oct 12:30

Here's Yet Another Reason to Abolish the Income Tax and IRS: Civil Asset Forfeiture Abuse

by Sheldon Richman

For some time now we’ve lived with the scourge of civil asset forfeiture, under which the police can seize a person’s property on the mere suspicion it was used in a crime and without having to charge the owner with an offense. Since the authorities have no burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the burden of proving innocence falls on the hapless citizen who wishes to recover his property.

Amazingly, people describe as free a society that features this outrage.

Now it comes to light that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) does something similar. The New York Times reports that the IRS seizes bank accounts of people whose only offense is routinely to make deposits of less than $10,000. If you do this enough times, the IRS may suspect you are trying to avoid the requirement that deposits of $10,000 or more be reported by the bank. The IRS keeps the money, but the depositors need not be charged with a crime.

You read that right. The government demands notification whenever a bank customer deposits $10,000 or more. If you are merely suspected of avoiding that requirement, it can cost you big time.

Welcome to the land of the free.

“Using a law designed to catch drug traffickers, racketeers and terrorists by tracking their cash,” the Times’ Shaila Dewan writes, “the government has gone after run-of-the-mill business owners and wage earners without so much as an allegation that they have committed serious crimes. The government can take the money without ever filing a criminal complaint, and the owners are left to prove they are innocent. Many give up.”

Dewan tells the story of a restaurateur who learned this the hard way:

For almost 40 years, Carole Hinders has dished out Mexican specialties at her modest cash-only restaurant. For just as long, she deposited the earnings at a small bank branch a block away — until last year, when two tax agents knocked on her door and informed her that they had seized her checking account, almost $33,000.

The Internal Revenue Service agents did not accuse Ms. Hinders of money laundering or cheating on her taxes — in fact, she has not been charged with any crime. Instead, the money was seized solely because she had deposited less than $10,000 at a time, which they viewed as an attempt to avoid triggering a required government report.

“Who takes your money before they prove that you’ve done anything wrong with it?” Hinders asks. “The federal government does,” the article replies.

Three brothers who own a company had $447,000 seized under this power, while a man saving for his daughters’ education lost $66,000. He settled and got all but $21,000 back.

When the Times asked the IRS about this, the agency “announced that it would curtail the practice, focusing instead on cases where the money is believed to have been acquired illegally or seizure is deemed justified by ‘exceptional circumstances.’”

We should not be comforted. First, it took a query from the country’s most prominent newspaper before the IRS said a word. And second, why should we trust the IRS? The next time a seizure is exposed, an IRS official can plead “exceptional circumstances.”

How long will Americans quietly suffer such outrages? They seem to have no idea that the country was founded by colonists who were sick of arbitrary rule by tyrants who saw them as mere subjects to be looted and humiliated.

In the past, when advocates of big government called for an income tax, opponents warned that the government would become “inquisitorial.” How right they were. The tax rationalized the creation of the IRS, which to carry out its nefarious work must have access to all of our personal financial information. Nothing can escape its view if it is to do its job.

That’s the mandate Congress has given the IRS, and that’s why it does the ugly things it does. Congress could stop it by repealing some laws. But don’t hold your breath.

All taxation is robbery, but the income tax is the most egregious form of all because of this invasion of privacy. Modest reforms will not be enough. Only uprooting the tax system and abolishing the evil IRS will do.

This article originally appeared at the Future of Freedom Foundation.

17 Oct 19:48

Orphaned Baby Rhino Seems To Think He's A Fuzzy Little Lamb

by Sarah Barness
This orphaned rhino has made an unexpected friend.

Gertjie (aka Little G) is apparently bosom buddies with a lamb named Lammie. The two play together at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center, an organization that rehabilitates orphaned and injured animals.

The rhino seems to mimic the lamb's prancing as the two frolic happily on the grounds of their South African home.

Gertjie did not come from such happy beginnings, however. He was brought to the HESC after being found next to his dead mother, a victim of poachers.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, poaching has increased dramatically in the past few years, and hundreds of African rhinos are killed every year for their horns.

Fortunately, Gertjie has been thriving under the care of his human keepers, who have posted footage online to document his journey. These YouTube videos have helped make Gertjie an Internet star; they've also raised awareness about rhino poaching.

Now, watch Gertjie and Lammie run off into the sunset. Ah, bliss. Adorable, adorable bliss.

H/T Tastefully Offensive

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29 Oct 19:40

Hackers Breached White House Network... And Some Other Country Told The US About It

by Mike Masnick
So, there's a story in the Washington Post that's getting a bit of attention about how Russian hackers apparently breached a White House computer network (an unclassified network, so not as troubling as it could have been). And that story is kind of interesting, but it seems like the bigger deal is this:
U.S. officials were alerted to the breach by an ally, sources said.
Wait a second. After all we've been told about the brilliant minds at the NSA/US Cyber Command and their "cybersecurity" skills -- it seems immensely troubling that (1) the US didn't catch this themselves and (2) that some other country did catch it. So, uh, just why is some "ally" monitoring the White House's network?

As for the rest of the report, as the Washington Post notes, this isn't even that big of a deal. Foreign state hackers are always going to try to breach US government computers, and sometimes they're going to succeed. That's the nature of the beast. But, it does seem profoundly odd that it was discovered by some other country.

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29 Oct 15:59

The True Nature of the State

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

I challenge anyone to justify, or even to excuse, such an abuse of power.  (HT a dear and wise and passionate friend.)

Words normally do not escape me, but I can find none that adequately convey the anger and sense of injustice that course through me when I read of seizures such as this one.  Best to let the matter speak for itself, which it surely does to anyone this side of Frank Underwood in decency and civility.  Fortunately, the great Institute for Justice is on the case.

If it weren’t so appalling and dangerous, the conclusion – drawn by many (especially by those who consider themselves to be gentle and liberal) – that the same institution that performs inexcusable aggressions such as this one is fit and trustworthy enough to oversee and ‘correct’ the market would be amusing.

27 Oct 12:42

Guidelines On Who Might Be Suspicious: Too Nervous? Too Calm? Blending In? Standing Out? It's All Suspicious

by Mike Masnick
The ACLU FOIA'd up some guidelines for Amtrak staff concerning how they judge whether or not passengers are "suspicious" in terms of being "indicative of criminal activity" and the list seems fairly broad:
  • Unusual nervousness of traveler
  • Unusual calmness or straight ahead stare
  • Looking around while making telephone call(s)
  • Position among passengers disembarking (ahead of, or lagging behind passengers)
  • Carrying little or no luggage
  • Purchase of tickets in cash
  • Purchase tickets immediately prior to boarding
Radley Balko takes this list and then compares it to a list put together by James Bovard concerning what the courts have said is conduct that shows "reasonable suspicion" for law enforcement to dig deeper:
  • Being the first person off a plane
  • Being the last person off a plane
  • Someone authorities believe has tried to blend in to the middle of exiting passengers
  • Booking a nonstop flight
  • Booking a flight with a layover
  • Traveling alone
  • Traveling with a companion
  • People who appear nervous
  • People who appear “too calm”
  • Merely flying to or from a city known to be a major thoroughfare in the drug pipeline
The message is pretty clear: everyone is a suspect. And anything you might do to look not like a suspect is also suspicious. In fact, you're going to be pretty hard pressed not to look suspicious under these kinds of rules, which is kind of the point.

Part of the problem is the myth out there that there's a legitimate ability to spot "suspicious" people. Sure, there are some extreme cases where people act strange before committing a criminal act, but the idea that you can scan a group of people and spot the people planning out some sort of criminal activity is a concept greatly exaggerated (often by Hollywood), but it inevitably leads to this situation where law enforcement can more or less pick and choose when they suddenly think you're "acting suspicious."

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24 Oct 20:48

Yardarm will tell dispatchers when and where police fire guns

by Sean Buckley
With the exception of maybe old Andy Taylor, most police officers in the United States carry a firearm as part of their standard equipment. Wouldn't it be nice to know when those sidearms are drawn, and why? A Silicon Valley startup called Yardarm...
24 Oct 21:54

Pot Prohibitionists Invent Marijuana Deaths, Scientifically

by Jacob Sullum

In a Washington Post commentary published on Monday, Joseph Perrone claims "a handful of deaths in Denver were tied to edible marijuana use this year." That's true, if by "handful" you mean two and if by "tied" you mean attributed by pot prohibitionists.

Perrone is referring to Levy Thamba Pongi, a visiting 19-year-old college student who jumped off a Denver hotel balcony after eating a pot cookie on March 11, and Kristine Kirk, whose husband allegedly murdered her on April 14 after eating cannabis candy. Perrone thus exaggerates the number of deaths and blames them on marijuana through post hoc, ergo propter hoc reasoning. This in an essay about  "the junk 'science' behind the marijuana legalization movement," written by the chief science officer at an organization called the Center for Accountability in Science. I guess if you say "science" enough, you needn't worry about being scientific.

The day after Perrone's essay appeared, Ron Schwerzler, an opponent of Oregon's legalization initiative, claimed at a debate that "there have been five infant children deaths in Colorado that have picked up those drugs," referring to marijuana edibles. The actual number, as Schwerzler was forced to admit the following day, is zero. "I really need to retract that statement because I can't back it up," he said. Like Perrone, Schwerzler is a man of science: director of medical services at an addiction treatment center in Eugene.

[Thanks to Judith Posch for the Oregonian link.]

24 Oct 19:22

More Than One Perspective

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

Here’s another letter to my new correspondent from New Jersey:

Dear Mr. Sloan:

I appreciate your correspondence.  Thank you for it.

You ask if I agree that, because successful entrepreneurs “such as [Jeff] Bezos … benefit disproportionately” from government-supplied infrastructure, these entrepreneurs should be taxed at rates higher than those levied on “regular people.”

I don’t agree.  My reasons are many, not the least of which is that I doubt that successful entrepreneurs benefit disproportionately from government-supplied infrastructure.  Looking at the non-farm U.S. economy over the years 1948-2001, Yale economist William Nordhaus calculates that successful innovators capture only about two percent of the value to society of their innovations.  The other 98 percent of the value of these innovations is, as Nordhaus says, “passed on to consumers rather than captured by producers.”*

If this calculation is even only remotely accurate, then three points about taxes suggest themselves: (1) it’s unwise to raise taxes on - that is, to discourage - activities that generate such huge net benefits for society; (2) successful entrepreneurs already, through market competition, contribute to society nearly all (98 percent) of the value of their successful innovations; and (3) those who enjoy disproportionate benefits from whatever entrepreneurial innovations are made possible by government-supplied infrastructure are, thus, arguably the general public rather than the successful entrepreneurs.

It’s true that Jeff Bezos would be less wealthy today if there were no roads, airports, and other infrastructure to enable Amazon to serve consumers.  But it’s also true that consumers would be less wealthy today not only if there were no roads, airports, and other infrastructure to enable Amazon to serve consumers, but also if Jeff Bezos had instead chosen to become, say, a poet or a civil servant rather than an entrepreneur.  Mr. Bezos had to take positive, risky steps to gain his increased wealth; in contrast, consumers did nothing for their increased wealth other than enjoy it when Mr. Bezos offered it to them.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* William D. Nordhaus, “Schumpeterian Profits in the American Economy: Theory and Measurement” (April 2004).


A different, but complementary, point was made to me by e-mail yesterday by a Cafe patron.  I quote him here with his kind permission:

One could effectively argue that the value of the infrastructure only exists because businesses and entrepreneurs make use of it; without them, it might as well be a fallow field.

23 Oct 22:48

Smart People Listen To Radiohead, Dumb People Listen To Beyoncé, Study Finds

by Tyler Durden

Now you can substantiate to today’s generation why that '60s and '70s era’s music was objectively "better," as JPMorgan's CIO Michael Cembalest has previously noted, and furthermore, researchers also found that popular music has gotten a lot louder (as SAT scores have plunged.. hhmm?) However, as Consequence of Sound notes, a software application writer by the name of Virgil Griffith has charted musical tastes based on the average SAT scores of various college institutions... and the results are.. interesting. Bob Dylan, The Shins, Radiohead, and Counting Crows are the favorite bands of smart people. Meanwhile, Lil Wayne, Beyoncé, The Used, and gospel music comes in at the lower end of the spectrum — or, as Griffith puts it, is music for dumb people.

Via Consequence of Sound blog,


Among other interesting revelations from the Griffith’s chart: Smart people prefer John Mayer over Pink Floyd; rock titans like Tool, System of a Down, and Pearl Jam fall right in the middle — so, music for average people?; and people still listen to Switchfoot.




*  *  *

Of course, correlation is not causation but...


As JPMorgan's Michael Cembalest has previously noted, there has been a “progressive homogenization of the musical discourse”, a process which has resulted in music becoming blander and louder.

Bring those classic rock and R&B playlists back


Now you can substantiate to today’s generation why that era’s music was objectively “better”.


The Million Song Dataset is a database of western popular music produced from 1955 to 2010. As described in Scientific Reports (affiliated with the publication Scientific American), researchers developed algorithms to see what has changed over time, focusing on three variables: timbre, pitch and loudness. Timbre is a proxy for texture and tone quality, terms which reflect the variety and richness of a given sound. Higher levels of timbre most often result from diverse instrumentation (more than one instrument playing the same note). Pitch refers to the tonal structure of a song: how the chords progress, and the diversity of transitions between chords. Since the 1960’s, timbral variety has been steadily declining, and chord transitions have become narrower and more predictable.

The researchers also found that popular music has gotten a lot louder. The median recorded loudness value of songs by year is shown in the second chart. One illustrative example: in 2008, Metallica fans complained that the Guitar Hero version of its recent album sounded better than it did on CD. As reported in Rolling Stone, the CD version was re-mastered at too high a decibel level, part of the Loudness Wars affecting popular music.


Overall, the researchers concluded that there has been a “progressive homogenization of the musical discourse”, a process which has resulted in music becoming blander and louder. This might seem like a reactionary point of view for an adult to write, but the data does seem to back me up on this. All of that being said, I do like that Method Man-Mary J. Blige duet.

*  *  *

So now you know...

23 Oct 23:56

Google Vs The Entire Newspaper Industry: And The Winner Is...

by Tyler Durden

As Brookings notes, "overall the economic devastation would be difficult to exaggerate," with regard the shift from print to online journalism - as the following chart sums up in all its devastating reality... it's a new world.

"...putting newspapers online has not remotely restored their profitability..."


"Now, however, in the first years of the 21st century, accelerating technological transformation has undermined the business models that kept American news media afloat, raising the possibility that the great institutions on which we have depended for news of the world around us may not survive."


Source: Brookings

24 Oct 15:06

Ebola: The Upshot of Liberia's Western Aid Curse

by Shikha Dalmia

When an Ebola-afflicted man collapsed in Nigeria’s Lagos airport, Nigerian authorities didn’t call the Western aid Ebolahotline demanding mulah and manpower. They hunkered down and took aggressive steps to prevent the contagion from spreading.

By contrast, Liberia started holding press conferences and calling Western aid organizations when it belatedly detected the disease. The outcome? Ebola is raging through this sad, sad country, attacking over 300 people last week alone.

What’s the difference between Liberia and Nigeria? Liberia is among the most indebted nations in Africa, I note in my column at The Week, and Nigeria is the least. It’s capital Monrovia is crawling with NGOs and the U.N. is already spending $500 million to maintain a peacekeeping force. In other words, as one African writer pointed out: “The virus has managed to escape from a country that has one of the largest concentration of 'helpers' in the world.”

 With Western aid like this, do developing countries really need drones and bombs?

Go here to read the whole thing.

24 Oct 11:08

Why The FDA Ban On Providing Health Reports Based On Personal Genomes Won't Work

by Glyn Moody

When the first human genome was sequenced -- that is, when most of the 3 billion base-pairs that go to make up our DNA were elucidated -- as part of the Human Genome Project, around $3 billion was spent. Today, the cost of sequencing is falling even faster than Moore's Law, which means everyone could have their genome sequenced soon, if they wished (and maybe even if they don't....). By analyzing the DNA, and looking at the gene variants found there, it is possible to spot predispositions to certain diseases or medical conditions, potentially allowing lifestyle changes or treatment that reduce the risk. The well-known personal genomics company 23andMe was offering this kind of service, at least on a small scale. But that stopped at the end of last year, as the company explains:

We no longer offer our health-related genetic reports to new customers to comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's directive to discontinue new consumer access during our regulatory review process.

At this time, we do not know the timeline as to which health reports might be available in the future or when they might be available.
According to an article in MIT Technology Review, here's what had happened:
in November 2013, the Food and Drug Administration had cracked down on 23andMe. The direct-to-consumer gene testing company's popular DNA health reports and slick TV ads were illegal, it said, since they'd never been cleared by the agency.
But as that same article goes on to explain in detail, users of 23andMe are having no difficulty in getting around that ban on obtaining health-related analyses of their genomes, using third-party sites like Promethease:
Promethease was created by a tiny, two-man company run as a side project by Greg Lennon, a geneticist based in Maryland, and Mike Cariaso, a computer programmer. It works by comparing a person's DNA data with entries in SNPedia, a sprawling public wiki on human genetics that the pair created eight years ago and run with the help of a few dozen volunteer editors. Lennon says Promethease is being used to build as many as 500 gene reports a day.
That kind of analysis is possible because, once sequenced, DNA is essentially just digital data: very easy to upload and compare against biomedical databases storing information as digital files. Even though they are not currently allowed to analyze it, companies like 23andMe still provide customers with access to the raw genomic data, which can then be sent to services like Promethease for a basic report drawing on its DNA database.

This raises an interesting question: given that the information on SNPedia is drawn from public databases, can the FDA stop people using it to circumvent the ban on 23andMe? According to MIT Technology Review, the FDA believes the answers is "yes", but that just won't work in practice. Even if the FDA manages to shut down all the services like Promethease, it would be easy to write a program that searches the main public biomedical databases for exactly the same kind of information about particular gene variants found in somebody's genome. The software could be shared freely as open source, making it impossible to prevent people from obtaining the program and carrying out such searches independently on their own computers.

It's true that there are good reasons why the FDA might be concerned about members of the public being given medical analyses of their genome in inappropriate ways. For a start, the results are generally probabilistic, rather than definite predictions; that makes them hard for non-experts to interpret. And when it isn't about probabilities -- if it is certain that you will develop a disease, possibly a devastating one -- there's a strong argument that counselling needs to be made available when that information is given to the person affected.

Still, regardless of the extent to which the FDA's actions are understandable, trying to stop people comparing their DNA with publicly-available information is futile. As the copyright industry has learned the hard way, once data is digital, it is essentially uncontrollable. The best thing to do is to accept that fact and move on. In this case, that means the FDA should encourage companies offering analysis to do a good job, not block them completely.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

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23 Oct 20:49

Dallas Hospital Where Ebola Hit Sees 53 Percent Drop in ER Visits


I guess that's one way to reduce frivolous ER visits...

The Dallas hospital at the center of the nation's first Ebola cases says emergency room visits have plunged 53%.

According to the Associated Press, the other metrics for Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas have nosedived, as well. This includes 21% fewer daily patient visits and a 25% drop in revenue for the first 20 days of October. 

Outside of Dallas, Ebola's global economic impact remains unclear. The World Bank estimates that by the end of 2015, Ebola may cost up to $32.6 billion if "the epidemic spreads into neighboring countries." 

23 Oct 17:25

FBI Director Says Congress Will Fix Phone Encryption 'Problem;' Congress Says 'Bite Us'

by Tim Cushing

James Comey's pleas that something must be done for the [potentially-molested] children of the United States seem to be falling on mostly deaf ears. Mostly. After realizing that there's nothing in current laws that compels Google and Apple to punch law enforcement-sized holes in their default encryption, Comey has decided to be the change he wishes to force in others.

Having set the stage with a Greek chorus comprised of law enforcement officials chanting "iPhones are for pedophiles," Comey is now making overtures to legislators, targeting an already-suspect law for further rewriting: CALEA, or the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. As it stands now, the law specifically does NOT require service providers to decrypt data or even provide law enforcement with the means for decryption. Up until this point, the FBI's director seemed to consider Congressional support a foregone conclusion.

Last week, FBI director James Comey suggested that encryption "threatens to lead all of us to a very dark place" and suggested that if Apple and Google don't remove default encryption from iOS and Android then "Congress might have to force this on companies."
Now, Congress members are firing back at Comey, reminding him that Congress doesn't have to do shit.
"To FBI Director Comey and the Admin on criticisms of legitimate businesses using encryption: you reap what you sow," California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa tweeted. "The FBI and Justice Department must be more accountable—tough sell for them to now ask the American people for more surveillance power."
Rep. Zoe Lofgren estimates Comey's legislative "fix" has a "zero percent" chance of passing. This tepid statement is the warmest response Comey's received so far.
“It's going to be a tough fight for sure,” Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the Patriot Act’s original author, told The Hill in a statement.
Of course, in this anti-surveillance climate, there aren't too many representatives willing to openly support toxic rewrites like the one Comey desires. But give it a few more years and anything's possible. This is the time to start watching upcoming bills closely. It's not completely unheard of for unpopular legislation to be tacked onto other bills whose popularity (or complete mundanity) gives them a higher chance of passing.

Comey also still seems to think that it's simply a matter of wording. He's done all he can to portray the encrypted future as a nightmarish world where child abusers, drug dealers and terrorists run amok while law enforcement fumbles around in the dark. This clumsy propaganda machine has done little to soften up the public or its representatives. Now, he's shifting gears, pretending that it's not a "backdoor" he's seeking, but rather some sort of magical doggie door for law enforcement.
“We want to use the front door with clarity and transparency,” he said.
How that word picture converts to real life remains to be seen. Comey doesn't seem to have any idea but believes the answer runs through an amended CALEA. The good news is that no one's in any hurry to help him out. The FBI (and much of law enforcement) is so used to getting what they want (as well as being completely absent when it's time to reap what's been sown) with minimal resistance that this pushback has forced them to think on their feet -- something they're clearly not comfortable doing. Between talk of "golden keys" and the hilarious assumption that Congress would simply do as it's told, the FBI's anti-encryption fit-pitching is looking more ridiculous by the moment.

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23 Oct 11:24

Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

… is from page 284 of the eminent Harvard historian Richard Pipes’s wonderful 1999 volume, Property and Freedom (footnote excluded):

The trend of modern times appears to indicate that citizens of democracies are willing heedlessly to surrender their freedoms to purchase social equality (along with economic security), apparently oblivious of the consequences.  And the consequences are that their ability to hold on to and use what they earn and own, to hire and fire at will, to enter freely into contracts, and even to speak their mind is steadily being eroded by governments bent on redistributing private assets and subordinating individual rights to group rights.  The entire concept of the welfare state as it has evolved in the second half of the twentieth century is incompatible with individual liberty, for it allows various groups with common needs to combine and claim the right to satisfy them at the expense of society at large, in the process steadily enhancing the power of the state which acts on their behalf.

Yes.  And, again, this obliviousness to the freedom-crushing features of the obsession with economic inequality and ‘redistribution’ has as part of its foundation the strange “Progressive” notion that the desire to keep what one owns and has earned is illiberal, ungenerous, anachronistic, and greedy, while the desire to take what others own and have earned is liberal, generous, enlightened, and selfless.  As I say, it’s a strange notion, but one that – because it is repeated so often in so many ways and in so many different venues – strikes most people today as being not only normal but right.

21 Oct 19:41

Tuesday Humor?: 0.1% "Problems"

by Tyler Durden

Presented with no comment...



Source: The Burning Platform

20 Oct 04:47

Visualization: The Elements According to Relative Abundance (1970)

by David Pescovitz

An excellent graphic from 1970 by Santa Clara University chemistry professor William F. Sheehan (RIP). (via Clifford Pickover)

21 Oct 18:44

UK Government Would Like To Put Internet Trolls In Jail For Two Years

by Mike Masnick
The war on free speech continues. Andy Przybylski points us to the news that the UK's Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, is apparently really upset about internet trolls, and thinks they should be jailed for up to two years. He's pushing to extend an existing law -- which we've ridiculed in the past -- which allows for jailing trolls up to six months. Grayling thinks the threat of even longer sentences would suddenly make people nice online.
"These internet trolls are cowards who are poisoning our national life. No-one would permit such venom in person, so there should be no place for it on social media," Grayling said.

"That is why we are determined to quadruple the current six-month sentence."
The article also quotes a lawyer claiming -- apparently with total seriousness -- "There is a public interest in having people put away for a long time. It is putting someone in fear of their life and fear of physical harm."

No one denies that trolls can be abusive and harassing -- to the point of seriously upsetting some people's lives. But putting people in jail for being assholes? That crosses over a line. Grayling also has an interesting definition of cruelty:
"This is a law to combat cruelty – and marks our determination to take a stand against a baying cyber-mob. We must send out a clear message: if you troll you risk being behind bars for two years."
Of course, some people would argue that jailing people for two years for being jerks is actually pretty damn cruel as well. Perhaps the response should be to put Grayling in jail for his own cruelty...

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21 Oct 17:38

Sex, Spice, and Small-Town Texas Justice: The Purple Zone Raid

by Anthony L. Fisher

On the morning of May 7, 2014, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) launched Project Synergy Phase II, a national "day of raids" in 29 states, with the goal of taking down purveyors of synthetic drugs who funnel their proceeds to Middle Eastern terrorist organizations.

DEA Raid on The Purple Zone

The Purple Zone, a smoke shop in Alpine, Texas, owned by 29-year-old Ilana Lipsen, was the target of one of these raids. This particular raid was so heavy handed and its aftermath so clumsily handled by law enforcement that it drew national attention as a symbol of police militarization and the vagaries of laws pertaining to drug "analogues." Analogues are chemicals that are not prohibited but are similar enough to controlled substances that they become illegal depending on who interprets the data.

Even worse, The Purple Zone and its owner may have been targeted because of the personal vendetta of a single prosecutor. 

A Safe Little Town, Filled With Cops

Alpine, Texas has a population of a little more than 5,000 residents. It is quite literally in the middle of nowhere, more than 200 miles from El Paso, home to the nearest major airport, and 75 miles from Mexico. Because of the town's proximity to the border, it is classified as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), which along with the relative isolation, makes it an attractive home to a great many in law enforcement, including members of federal agencies such the DEA and the Border Patrol. Sul Ross State University, the town's signature institution, hosts a law enforcement academy.

Alpine evokes the Texas libertarian ethos of a quiet, safe town where you can expect to be left alone. It's what draws both bohemian artists as well as culturally conservative folks. How one feels about Ilana Lipsen and The Purple Zone represents the schism between the two camps. 

"You either love me or you hate me," says Lipsen. "I've received anti-Semitic hate emails. I've been told to 'go back to Jew York.' I've had people come in my store and tell me it was 'fucked up" and that I was poisoning the youth of the town—even though I have a big sign that says '18 and Over' and I have an ID scanner. The bars here in Alpine don't have ID scanners, but I do!" 

Originally from Houston, Lipsen arrived in Alpine in 2003, when she enrolled at Sul Ross University to pursue her interest in Arabian horses by studying equine science. Though she would leave school before graduating, she still loved the wide-open spaces of Alpine and decided to make it her home, purchasing a ranch for her horses and going into business for herself. 

After antique furniture and pet supplies failed to keep her balance sheet in the black, she wracked her brain thinking about what was missing from the marketplace of this West Texas railroad town. The answer she came up with was sex toys and smoking accessories. And it worked. She called her store The Purple Zone, which thrives to this day thanks to a loyal, mostly college-aged consumer base interested in hookahs, vaporizing, and e-cigarattes.

Raids and Chemical Analogues

In March 2012, "10-12 men came in, SWAT team style" to the Purple Zone, Lipsen recalls. They told her she was not under arrest, but cuffed her and threw her in the back of a police van while they searched her store, seized personal property including computers, a cell phone, and hard drives. They also took numerous packets of what Lipsen sells as potpourri in the incense section of the store, adorned with the colorful brand names such as "Dr. Feelgood," "Scooby Snax" and "Bomb! Marley." 

Brewster County District Attorney Rod Ponton insists these items are "spice," or synthetic cannabanoids. But Lipsen notes, "You can buy these products online or in any gas station or smoke shop in Texas." She says that she throws out anyone who insinuates these products are used for anything other than making your house smell good. 

Eight months after the 2012 raid, police returned to arrest Lipsen and her mother, Rosa (who is not an owner or an employee of the store, but frequently visits to help clean the store and tend to her daughter's many pets) on felony charges of "possession and distribution of a controlled substance." 

Though the the Alpine PD and the DEA would make many undercover purchases at the Purple Zone over the next two years, lab tests turned up no controlled substances except for "MAN-2201," "XLR-11," and "PB-22," all of which were legal in Texas at the time of the raid. In fact, they would only become illegal in January 2013 when the federal government's Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act, signed by President Obama in July 2012, went into effect. 

The DEA insists the Controlled Substance Analogue Enforcement Act of 1986 affords them the power to prosecute possession of these substances because they are "similar to controlled substances." It is this enforcement of "analogues" that landed Lipsen with a felony indictment for products she believed to be legal. 

That wasn't just her opinion. Lipsen spends thousands of dollars having all the products she sells lab-tested for controlled substances and has the documentation to prove it. Prosecutor Ponton also knows how expensive drug testing can be. In March 2014, he went before the Brewster County Board of Commissioners, pleading for thousands of dollars of funds for additional testing on the seized potpourri packets but was refused out of hand.

Out of resources but intent on proving Ilana Lipsen's criminality, he would find a willing partner in the DEA, an agency without his office's budget limitations. 

The Project Synergy Phase II Raid

On the morning of Wednesday, May 7, 2014 Project Synergy Phase II came to Alpine. Led by the DEA and armed with a Brewster County search warrant (which Ponton had requested), officers from the Border Patrol, the Department of Homeland Security, the Brewster County Sheriff's Office, and the Alpine PD broke down the front door of The Purple Zone with their weapons drawn, turned all the security cameras against the wall, and tore the place to pieces. 

All to raid a head shop.

Nicholas Branson, a geology student at Sul Ross University who rents an apartment from Lipsen in a neighboring house, returned from a trip into town to find agents searching his home. He pointed out that the two buildings had different addresses, both clearly marked. Branson told the Big Bend Courier, "When I told them this was my house, they said, 'Well, that's the price you pay for choosing to live where you live.'" When he asked to see a search warrant, he claims a rifle-bearing DEA agent replied, "What are you, a fucking lawyer?"

The agents seized all of Branson's hard drives, as well as a shotgun given to him by his grandfather. They also took what they called "suspected mushrooms," which he says is a bag of frankincense he kept with some of his geological collection. Still, as a college student, he's rightfully terrified at the prospect of a drug charge. Branson told the Big Bend Courier, "If I get indicted I lose my Pell grant, my scholarship money, my student loan money. If they charge me I will lose everything I have been working for the last five years." A warrant would eventually be issued, hours after the raid began.

After finding his home upended by body armor-clad agents of the state, Branson saw Lipsen's sister, Arielle, arguing with Leticia Carrillo, the Alpine PD's liaison with the PD. According to Ilana, Arielle told Carrillo they should be chasing cartels and human traffickers rather than harassing her sister. 

Then, a large male DEA agent told Arielle to stop raising her voice and leave the premises. Arielle replied "What are you going to do, shoot me?" The agent then put her under arrest. According to Branson and the Lipsens, after being thrown, Arielle's leg flew up and inadvertently struck the agent in the shin, after which the agent pinned her to the ground with the butt of his rifle. 

The DEA did not respond to our requests for comment, but Laila Rico, a representative from the DEA's El Paso office, told the Alpine Avalanche, "If you don't do what you're asked to do, that's what you're going to run into." Rico also says Arielle kicked the officer and was thrown to the ground in the process of being taken into custody. 

The store was searched for several hours, by which time Tom Cochran, owner of Big Bend Screen Printing and an acquaintance of Ilana Lipsen's, came to the scene and started taking photographs. 

Arielle Lipsen

Cochran posted his photos of the scene, as well as a rectangular-shaped injury on Arielle Lipsen's neck, to his Facebook page. The DEA called the injury on Arielle's neck "a scrape" and denied that it could have possibly come from the agent's rifle.

When it was all said and done, Arielle was indicted for assaulting a federal officer and Ilana was indicted for "receiving ammunition while under indictment," a federal charge so rarely enforced in a state with as many guns as Texas that Ilana's lawyer, a well-known Texas defense attorney, told me he had never heard of it. Lipsen says the ammunition in question was given to her by a friend, the box of which included a receipt dated after her state indictment following the 2012 raid.

As a Texas rancher, Lipsen has always owned firearms to protect her horses and other animals from predators. The cruelest irony of the ammunition indictment is that no products seized from the 2014 raid turned up any controlled substances or even analogues of controlled subtances; they were all herbs and tobacco alternatives. Had Lipsen not been under indictment for the questionable analogue charges from the 2012 raid, there would have been nothing to indict her for following the 2014 raid. 

After learning that she had been swept up in a terrorist-hunting, Obama administration dragnet, Lipsen was incredulous. She speculated that her Turkish ethnic background, her affection for Arabian horses, and the fact that she buys a lot of her electronic cigarettes from China made her suspicious to the feds. Still, as a Jewish woman and self-professed supporter of Israel, she hardly fit the profile of a financial supporter of Islamist terrorism. 

Lipsen suspects that the relentless harassment from law enforcement stems from an encounter dating back to when she first arrived in the town as an 18 year-old college freshman. 

"I was introduced by a mutual acquaintance to a man who had Arabian horses."

The man was Rod Ponton, then an attorney in private practice. 

"He had invited me to meet his horses at his house, and possibly work with them. I thought, 'Great! A job opportunity.'" She says that after sharing a bottle of wine with him, "one thing led to another and I was involved sexually with him."

Though Ponton offered to give his horses to her as a gift, Lipsen says she was "disgusted with herself" and declined to have any further involvement with Ponton or his horses after that. She claims to have seen Ponton drive slowly past her house "almost like he was stalking me." 

Drawing a line from her brief fling with the man now intent on putting her in prison, a man who in a 2013 court motion referred to her "singular incorrigibility" and accused her of "poisoning the youth of the town," Lipsen says, "That was so many years ago. I didn't think that not calling someone back would get me into all this trouble." 

The Optics of the Aftermath

Lipsen was set to sit in jail for months when her court-appointed attorney presented her with a most unusual bond document. As requested by U.S. Attorney Jay Miller, the federal magistrate on the case hand wrote additional conditions for her release:

"Will request Tom Cochran retract his blog on Facebook. Will provide a letter of apology to both local newspapers in Alpine, TX, advising DEA had a legitimate reason to execute a warrant at her business. Will advise newspaper A warrant was not executed at her business because she was Jewish, owned Arabian horses, is of Turkish decent or because she visited Chinese websites. Will advise media (KWest 9 news) that her sister, Arrielle Lipsen, was not beaten by agents carrying/using a M16 rifle, and her sister instigated/assaulted agents."

Ilana Lipsen bond document

Faced with the prospect of spending months in jail until her trial, Lipsen signed the written retraction, which the Brewster County Sheriff's Department promptly posted to its Facebook page with the message, "Due to the incredible amount of disinformation being spread through the internet we have decided to publish this letter. We hope this answers some of the questions citizens may have regarding the DEA and all law enforcement in Brewster County."

The Border Patrol's local union followed suit, adding that its members voted to boycott Tom Cochran's screen printing business. "We hope our brothers and sisters in law enforcement in the Big Bend area will join us in our stance against this business, owned by a purveyor of misinformation, and misleading photographs," read the union's statement.

For his part, Cochran says he was visited by Ponton, who called the photos "inaccurate" and implored him to take them down, to which Cochran says he replied: "They can't be inaccurate, they're photos." Cochran thinks what law enforcement really objects to is how ridiculous it looks for a tiny smokeshop to be stormed by a paramilitary force. "They looked like thugs. That's what they didn't like."

Bryon Garrison, editor of The Big Bend Courier, described the town's reaction to the raid this way: "Shock. Why is this being done? Who would be stupid enough to have illegal drugs when they've already been raided?" 

Ponton declined to be interviewed, saying he would not make any public statement about the case. An earlier press release from his office states that "assertions previously made in this matter by Ilana Lipsen or Tom Cochran are not true." He added that products previously seized from The Purple Zone "tested positive for 'Spice,' a derivative of methamphetamine." To add flourish, he offered this unverified anecdote:

"('Spice' has) caused numerous Big Bend area residents to have severe reactions, they have gone to the emergency room, one man hallucinated, stole a Ford Ranchero, then flipped it, killing himself. This illegal drug is worse than meth, similar to cocaine, meth or heroin." 

Ponton was not yet finished in his efforts to control the narrative of the case. Scot Erin Briggs, then a reporter for the Alpine Avalanche, wrote an article called "Long Arm of Law Reaches into New Territory," published eight days after the raid. The article includes quotes from the DEA, Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson, and information provided by Ponton. It also includes detailed research into the legality of synthetic drugs and makes clear that the Lipsens have their side of the story and law enforcement has theirs. In other words, it is serious, inquiring journalism. Ponton was not pleased with the balance. 

According to Briggs, Ponton visited her at the Avalanche's office saying "I'm not here to threaten you." He added that local law enforcement did not appreciate the article and "we don't consider [the Lipsens] a credible source." He also scolded her for not grasping how bad "spice" is. Briggs offered to have Ponton write a letter to the editor, which she promised to publish. Ponton declined and told her that he had contacted the paper's owner. 

Shortly thereafter, Briggs says the paper's owner told her that while her facts were sound, "her tone was all wrong." The Avalanche, like all of its affiliated papers, runs a tag line that reads "Thank a veteran, member of armed services or law enforcement every day."

A followup article published with Briggs' byline, "Women Arraigned in Drug Raid Case," presented only law enforcement's side of the story. It featured a quote from the DEA's Laila Rico boasting "It was a good day for us" and using Lipsen's "apology" letter as evidence that "DEA acted professionally at all times." Rico hoped that the letter would receive "the same attention you gave (the Lipsens') misleading statements and that of the Facebook account of Tom Cochran." The sole quote from Ilana Lipsen was taken from the letter she was forced to sign under duress in order to secure her release from jail. 

Briggs says she barely had a hand in writing the followup article and asked that her byline be removed (it was not). After that, she says she had to run everything she wrote by the paper's owner and lawyer, a process so convoluted and frustrating that after three months she decided to leave her position as managing editor. 

But try as he might, Ponton could not control the narrative for long. After being initially published by the Big Bend Courier, and covered extensively by Reason's Brian Doherty, actor Wil Wheaton posted Lipsen's document to his Tumblr account. The bizarre conditions of her release gained national attention, including that of Washington Post free speech blogger and constitutional lawyer, Eugene Volokh, who wrote:

"This seems to me clearly unconstitutional: It's an order compelling speech, on threat of imprisonment, which would itself normally be a First Amendment violation; but on top of that, it was issued without a trial, and thus without any final factual findings supporting its validity. I'm aware that, once someone is convicted, courts have considerable latitude to impose speech restrictions as a condition of parole or probation, and might even be able to impose speech compulsions. But that is after someone's guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal trial. The defendant here hasn't been convicted of anything; she continues to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

And courts have held (quite rightly, I think) that the government has quite limited powers to restrict defendants' speech as a condition of bail. The proper purposes of bail conditions are to assure the defendant's presence at trial, to prevent the defendant from attacking witnesses or victims, and to prevent the defendant from committing further while released; any speech restrictions must therefore be tied to those purposes."

The Vagaries of Prosecuting the War on Drugs

The Purple Zone case is a microcosm for a number of things wrong with the prosecution of the war on drugs.

First, the arbitrary enforcement chemical analogues means that a person can be in possession of a product they believe to be perfectly legal, only to be charged with a felony depending on who is interpreting the chemical makeup of the substance.

As Lipsen points out, some of the packets seized by law enforcement can be found for sale in gas stations across Texas, as well as on the Internet. But in Alpine, "spice" carries a similar connotation to "bath salts," where unverified anecdotes of people doing crazy, violent things have led to unscientific pronouncements such as "worse than meth." Lipsen says, "People come into my store and ask 'Can I smoke this?' or 'Will this get me really high?' I tell them, 'You need to get out of my store.'"

Second, given how small a community Alpine is, and how well-acquainted law enforcement is with the store and its owner, there was no obvious justification for a militarized raid on The Purple Zone, to say nothing of the warrantless search of Nick Branson's apartment. With no reason to suspect an ambush or violent resistance, the agents came braced for battle and ransacked the premises until they were done.

"They came in and made this a violent situation when they didn't have to," says Tom Cochran. "That's why I took the pictures. We need to have a discussion about this. There's no need for a militarized raid on a smoke shop."

Third, when taking into account the bond conditions compelling an apology from Ilana Lispen, the Border Patrol union and Brewster County Sheriff's Office's publishing Lipsen's coerced letter (which may have been against DOJ guidelines), and Rod Ponton's strong-arming of the Alpine Avalanche's reporting, law enforcement's attempts to control the public's perception of the case can be generously described as ethically questionable.

Of her reporting on the raid, Scot Erin Briggs laments, "The job of a local paper is to get at the truth the best we can, not be the voice of those in power."

Finally, there is a problem with how easy it was for a local prosecutor to glom onto the DEA's resources. The warrant to search The Purple Zone came from the locals, yet the feds were in charge of the raid. Briggs reported speaking with a former Brewster County attorney who said it was "highly unusual for the federal government to cooperate on a warrant with the district attorney." As Briggs pointed out, "It seemed like a strange use of taxpayer funds to have a HIDTA task force as part of the raid. We have access to these funds because we are close to the border, [but] the funds were never intended to raid the local head shop."

The DEA was supposedly hunting for drug-dealing, money-laundering terrorist supporters, but instead appears to have been roped into one district attorney's personal crusade against a woman who jilted him years earlier.

Nobody Can Fight the Government Forever

In September, Lipsen pled guilty to first-degree felony manufacture, delivery, and possession of a controlled substance. The substances in question were the chemicals found in packets from the 2012 raid, which were not illegal in Texas at the time.  In exchange for her plea, the charges against her mother were dropped, and all federal charges stemming from the 2014 raid against her and her sister were dismissed without prejudice.

The deal includes a deferred adjudication, meaning that the case goes away without a conviction if Lipsen stays out of trouble for 10 years. However, if she violates any of the terms of her probation, she could be subject to the "full range" of punishment, which could be anywhere from 5 years to life in prison.

Why would Lipsen plead guilty to selling controlled substances that were not, in fact, controlled substances at the time of her arrest? Perhaps to save her mother and sister from prison, perhaps to avoid prison, perhaps because her legal bills are in the tens of thousands and growing by the day. Perhaps because she just wants to move on with her life.  

Lipsen is selling The Purple Zone and moving back to Houston, where she will own open another store specializing in vaping accessories. Referring to Alpine, Ilana says, "I love this town. It's beautiful. I have a lot of friends here. But it's become toxic. I never wanted to aggravate anybody. I don't do this for fun. This isn't a hobby, this is how I support myself. This is how I live."

Pointing out the polarized opinions of Lipsen and The Purple Zone among the Alpine populace, Bryon Garrison of the Big Bend Courier says, "Any freedom-loving person needs to ask, could this happen to me, if I was unpopular? That shouldn't cause a bias, as far as your freedom is concerned."

He adds, "Nobody has the ability to fight the government for too long." 

Reason TV contacted the Drug Enforcement Administration's El Paso Bureau, the Alpine Police Department, the Brewster County Sheriff's Department, and the National Border Patrol Council Local 2509 for comment. In each case, calls and emails went unreturned. Management at the Alpine Avalanche offered no comment.

About 10 minutes.

Written and Produced by Anthony L. Fisher. Camera by Todd Kranin. Additional camera by Fisher. Additional graphics by Meredith Bragg. 

Music: "Wet Socks" by Jahzzar (

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21 Oct 14:03

This app will help kids cheat on math tests

by Sonali Kohli

H/T Gpscruise

Don't bother; there's an app for that.

“Show your work” has long been the math teacher’s mantra. Making students write down each step of a math problem prevents them from merely flipping to the back of their textbook to source the correct answer. But there’s a new shortcut to math problems that gets around that constraint: a free app that solves a math problem and shows the user all the steps. All a student has to do is aim the camera toward the question.

The camera captures the equation, solves it, and the user has the option to look at the steps. The app, called PhotoMath, is free for iOS and Windows phones, and will likely be available on Android in early 2015, according to its website. On the one hand it’s a useful tool for students who need a nudge in the right direction. On the other hand, it isn’t a stretch to envision kids sneaking a phone into the classroom on test day, turning the app into a high-tech crib sheet.

The app uses text recognition technology to find the components of the expression, combined with a human-like problem solving capability, explained the company’s founder Jurica Cerovec at the TechCrunch Disrupt Europe event in London. The app can currently help students in solving relatively simple equations and fractions.

MicroBlink, the company behind the app, envisions it as a math aid for kids who don’t have access to a tutor or to individualized attention at schools, or for parents who need help advising their kids on math homework. A company spokesperson told Quartz its intention isn’t for the app to be used as a cheating device.

Eventually, MicroBlink wants to apply the technology to PDF scanning, online banking, and anything that needs to be read and analyzed. In the meantime, children without access to tutors or close classroom supervision will have an automated math aid—or an easy way to cut corners.

20 Oct 21:52

CIA Warned Obama that Funding Rebels Doesn’t Work … But Obama Decided to Fund Syrian Rebels ANYWAY For Cynical Political Gain

by George Washington

Painting by Anthony Freda.


We’ve pointed out for years that arming the Syrian and Libyan rebels to topple leaders we don’t like is a really stupid idea.

It turns out that the CIA agrees with us.

The New York Times reports:

The Central Intelligence Agency has run guns to insurgencies across the world during its 67-year history — from Angola to Nicaragua to Cuba [to Syria].




An internal C.I.A. study has found that it rarely works.


The still-classified review, one of several C.I.A. studies commissioned in 2012 and 2013 in the midst of the Obama administration’s protracted debate about whether to wade into the Syrian civil war, concluded that many past attempts by the agency to arm foreign forces covertly had a minimal impact on the long-term outcome of a conflict. They were even less effective, the report found, when the militias fought without any direct American support on the ground.




The findings of the study, described in recent weeks by current and former American government officials, were presented in the White House Situation Room and led to deep skepticism among some senior Obama administration officials about the wisdom of arming and training members of a fractured Syrian opposition.




One of the things that Obama wanted to know was: Did this ever work?” said one former senior administration official who participated in the debate and spoke anonymously because he was discussing a classified report. The C.I.A. report, he said, “was pretty dour in its conclusions.




Mr. Obama made a veiled reference to the C.I.A. study in an interview with The New Yorker published this year. Speaking about the dispute over whether he should have armed the rebels earlier, Mr. Obama told the magazine: “Very early in this process, I actually asked the C.I.A. to analyze examples of America financing and supplying arms to an insurgency in a country that actually worked out well. And they couldn’t come up with much.”




Last month, Mr. Obama said he would redouble American efforts by having the Pentagon participate in arming and training rebel forces.

Dan Froomkin – an investigative journalist with the Washington Post, HuffPost and now First Look (and a Democrat) – slams Obama for deciding to arm Syrian rebels even after the CIA told him it wouldn’t work, in an article entitled “Obama Knew Arming Rebels Was Useless,  But Did It Anyway“:

He knew better, but he did it anyway.




Bush at least thought the war in Iraq would do some good.


He was incredibly wrong, mind you. He was both delusional — and actively manipulated by neocons like Dick Cheney (who believe the application of American power is always and inherently a good thing). He intentionally misled the public about his real reasons for going to war (the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were an excuse, not a reason; there were no Iraqi weapons of mass destruction). His eventual goal was both unachievable (a sudden flowering of pro-Western democracy in the Middle East) and perverse (American control of Iraqi oil fields). His methods (firing all the Baathists; trying to install a corrupt puppet) were spectacularly misguided. Much of the rest of his presidency was consumed with sectarian warfare in Iraq and new lies to  cover up the old ones at home. And the end result was a massive human rights catastrophe, including torture of U.S. detainees, a refugee crisis, mass casualties, social disorder and – finally – the Islamic State.


Bush also certainly saw – and exploited — the political upside of being a war president.


But [at least Bush] didn’t let loose the dogs of war simply because his political operatives told him it would poll well.

In response to embarrassment caused by the revelation that Obama agreed to arm the Syrian rebels after the CIA warned him it wouldn’t do any good, the U.S. military is now saying they won’t work with the Syrian rebels.

Specifically, General Allen – the head of America’s anti-ISIS campaign – now says that the administration now has no plans to ever coordinate with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) or any other of the existing rebel factions. He says they’ll only work with a new coalition of “moderate” rebels.

Sadly, there aren’t any moderate rebels in Syria (and see this).

Virtually all of the arms – and humanitarian aid – end up in the hands of the most brutal terrorists.


21 Oct 10:58

High-Level NSA Official Tied To Husband's Private Signals Intelligence Business, Has A Second Business That Owns A Plane

by Tim Cushing
Buzzfeed's Aram Roston has uncovered more evidence linking the NSA's SIGINT (signals intelligence) director to a number of private contractors known to do business with the US government -- perhaps even the agency itself.

Roston previously exposed the close ties between Teresa Shea's position and her husband James' employer, DRS Signal Solutions, a company focused on "SIGINT systems." Not only that, but business records indicated that James Shea apparently runs Telic Networks, another SIGINT-focused business operating out of their hometown (Ellicott City, Maryland).

Needless to say, neither Teresa Shea, her husband, her husband's employer, nor the NSA itself have offered anything in the way of comments on this suspicious-looking arrangement. The NSA did offer some boilerplate about "robust internal controls," but simultaneously stiff-armed Buzzfeed's request for Teresa Shea's financial disclosure statements, citing the National Security Act of 1959. (This citation is also agency boilerplate, or at least was until Jason Leopold challenged it with a lawsuit. This move forced former NSA head Keith Alexander's financial disclosure statements out of its hands. In light of this recent decision, it appears Shea's statements will be released as well.)

This all looked conflicted enough, but Roston has uncovered more suspicious-looking information.
Yet another company, apparently focused on the office and electronics business, is based at the Shea residence on that well-tended lot.

This company is called Oplnet LLC.

Teresa Shea, who has been at the NSA since 1984, is the company’s resident agent.

The company’s articles of organization, signed by Teresa Shea, show that the firm was established in 1999 primarily “to buy, sell, rent and lease office and electronic equipment and related goods and services.” An attorney who also signed the document, Alan Engel, said he couldn’t comment on client matters.
Roston and Buzzfeed were unable to come up with any hard evidence linking Teresa Shea's home business with federal contracts, but it did uncover a very interesting purchase.
Records show Oplnet does own a six-seat airplane, as well a condominium property with an assessed value of $275,000 in the resort town of Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Flight records for this aircraft show it has made a majority of its landings at three airports -- one of them being Ft. Meade, Maryland, home of the NSA. It is not uncommon for people who own their own planes to actually set up a company to own that plane for a variety of legal and tax reasons -- and it's possible that's what's happened here -- though it is notable that James Shea has a pilot's license, while Teresa does not.

Perhaps it's indicative of nothing at all, other than the overwhelming gravitational pull of the Beltway. But then, there's this timeline.

1984 - Teresa Shea joins the NSA as an engineer working in SIGINT issues.

1990 - James Shea sets up Sigtek, Inc., which goes on to receive "hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts with the federal government, according to a federal contracting database."

1999 - Teresa Shea registers Oplnet, using their home address.

2000 - James Shea sells Sigtek, Inc. for $20 million to a British firm, while remaining listed as President of the company.

2007 - James Shea sets up Telic Networks, his newest SIGINT-focused company. This too is "based" at the Sheas' shared home address.

2010 - Teresa Shea is promoted to Director of SIGINT. Nearly simultaneously, James Shea is named vice president of major SIGINT contractor DRS Signal Solutions.

Much of the Sheas' shared success hinges on SIGINT -- both the government's expansion of dragnet surveillance and simultaneous growth of SIGINT-focused contractors. Maybe there's nothing to this, but the silence from everyone involved seems to indicate there's at least the "appearance of impropriety," if not flat-out misconduct and abuse of power.

More will be known when (and always appended when dealing with the NSA, if) Shea's financial disclosure documents are released. At the very least, they'll at least confirm the information Buzzfeed has dug up and prevent the NSA from boilerplating this whole situation into non-existence. The NSA is taking a second look at Keith Alexander's post-NSA activities. If it's willing to go that far, it's willing to dig up dirt on lower-level officials. You can't be too careful in the intelligence business these days, not with the eyes of legislators, activists and a whole bunch of pissed-off Americans watching your every move.

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20 Oct 15:45

Pay Attention, Must DO!

by Marc

Sorry for the lack of posts. I have been a bit busy and was travelling for business last week. (more to follow on that) Hit me up in the comments if you have questions on below please.

Some of my friends (hi Rob) and my wife (hi honey) know that I’ve been obsessing over this a bit…actually a lot.

With apologies to both of you (and thank you for entertaining my madness), but I simply can’t believe how good this is and can’t stop thinking about it.

Every now and then you cook something and you simply say “holy shit, did I just make that??” Reluctantly, because its strange, I’m willing to proclaim that this is THE FINEST PIECE OF MEAT I HAVE EVER PREPARED IN MY LIFE. There, I said it! Do I have your attention now?

Let’s do this. So what is it you say? Here’s the recipe and background:

BO Ssam

Now here some tips from yours truly. Stick with kosher salt, DO NOT use regular salt. The basting is fun, but I don’t think necessary. You don’t need as much brown sugar at the end as suggested, just make sure you cover evenly where possible.

I actually concocted my own fermented bean chili paste.

I will just post some pics…get ready to drool!

Look at that nice bark…


It just can not get any simpler than this.

If you want…forget about most of the recipe.

Buy yourself a good quality pork shoulder. (Whole Foods has significantly better quality than the supermarket and it’s still very affordable at around $3.29 a pound.

For 2 pounds rub 1 table spoon salt and 1 table spoon sugar all over it, cover and in the fridge for 6 hours up to 24. Preheat your oven to 300 when you’re ready. Pour of the juices and put in a oven safe cooking dish in the oven. it will be ready when it falls apart. Baste with juices after an hour if you like…don’t think that is even necessary. When done remove from oven and turn oven to 500. Take 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and spread evenly over the top. Back in the oven and remove when it has the color YOU like.

BE HAPPY….and promise me you will try this :-)

18 Oct 11:37

Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

… is from page 164 of Ludwig von Mises‘s 1951 essay “Profit and Loss,” as reprinted in the 2008 Liberty Fund edition of Mises’s 1952 collection, Planning for Freedom:

All the arguments advanced in favor of income equalization within a country can with the same justification or lack of justification also be advanced in favor of world equalization.  An American worker has no better title to claim the savings of the American capitalist than has any foreigner.  That a man has earned profits by serving the consumers and has not entirely consumed his funds but ploughed back the greater part of them into industrial equipment does not give anybody a valid title to expropriate this capital for his own benefit.  But if one maintains the opinion to the contrary, there is certainly no reason to ascribe to anybody a better right to expropriate than to anybody else.  There is no reason to assert that only Americans have the right to expropriate other Americans.

17 Oct 18:02

LA Cops' Claim That All Cars Are Under Investigation Challenged in License Plate Camera Tussle

by J.D. Tuccille

Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department refused to release data about what license plates police cameras had captured on the grounds that every single car seen is under investigation. All of them. And a judge bought that argument.

Now, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU of Southern California are looking to the California Court of Appeal for a dose of sanity (yes, that strikes me as a Hail Mary pass, too) and a ruling that the public has a right to know how many people's movements are being monitored by the police, whether deliberately or through incidental data gathering.

That information can hit the creepy level very quickly, as the Minneapolis Star-Tribune discovered two years ago. After press inquiries, the police revealed a list of dates and places a reporter's car had been, and even the routes followed by the city's mayor.

I'm guessing it was that second point that spurred Minnesota legislation to limit access to license plate data, as well as how long it can be held.

Boston police stopped using license plate scanners entirely after they inadvertently data-dumped tracking information on 68,000 vehicles to the Boston Globe. The incident revealed that the cops weren't actually putting the data to good use (they kept recording the same stolen vehicles without following up) and were perhaps less than ideal stewards of sensitive material.

Who knows? Maybe LA cops are better than their colleagues elsewhere at using and protecting the information they gather on people's movements.


Patrick Hannaford noted yesterday that some police departments are getting squirrelly about revealing what license plate data they've gathered.