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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 :-)

17 Oct 01:00

Finally! A Practical Use for Chainsaws!

by Harvey

[Chainsaw vs. 5 Beers at once!] (Viewer #48,813)

UPDATE: The original video was deleted, but I found another version of the same video.

You can’t stop the signal…

UPDATE: OK, you CAN stop the signal… BUT… I found the original version of the video, so this one will actually work and stay around for a while.

Send to Kindle
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.

17 Oct 14:06

Man charged with trapping, eating raccoons in apartment complex...


Animal control was probably upset that he was cutting in on their business.

Man charged with trapping, eating raccoons in apartment complex...

(Second column, 11th story, link)

16 Oct 21:04

The Pompous Prognostications Of "Permanently High Plateau" Prophets

by Tyler Durden

Submitted by Jim Quinn via The Burning Platform blog,

The talking heads will be rolled out on CNBC to assure the masses that all is well. The economy is strong. Corporate profits are awesome. The stock market will go higher. Op-eds will be written by Wall Street CEOs telling you it’s the best time to invest. Federal Reserve presidents will give speeches saying there are clear skies ahead. Obama will hold a press conference to tell you how many jobs he’s added and how low the budget deficit has gone.

We couldn’t possibly be entering phase two of our Greater Depression after a temporary lull provided by the $8 trillion pumped into the veins of Wall Street by the Fed and Obama. Could we?

1927-1933 Chart of Pompous Prognosticators
Colin J. Seymour



Chart locations are an approximate indication only

1. “We will not have any more crashes in our time.”
- John Maynard Keynes in 1927

2. “I cannot help but raise a dissenting voice to statements that we are living in a fool’s paradise, and that prosperity in this country must necessarily diminish and recede in the near future.”
- E. H. H. Simmons, President, New York Stock Exchange, January 12, 1928

“There will be no interruption of our permanent prosperity.”
- Myron E. Forbes, President, Pierce Arrow Motor Car Co., January 12, 1928

3. “No Congress of the United States ever assembled, on surveying the state of the Union, has met with a more pleasing prospect than that which appears at the present time. In the domestic field there is tranquility and contentment…and the highest record of years of prosperity. In the foreign field there is peace, the goodwill which comes from mutual understanding.”
- Calvin Coolidge December 4, 1928

4. “There may be a recession in stock prices, but not anything in the nature of a crash.”
- Irving Fisher, leading U.S. economist , New York Times, Sept. 5, 1929

5. “Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau. I do not feel there will be soon if ever a 50 or 60 point break from present levels, such as (bears) have predicted. I expect to see the stock market a good deal higher within a few months.”
- Irving Fisher, Ph.D. in economics, Oct. 17, 1929

“This crash is not going to have much effect on business.”
- Arthur Reynolds, Chairman of Continental Illinois Bank of Chicago, October 24, 1929

“There will be no repetition of the break of yesterday… I have no fear of another comparable decline.”
- Arthur W. Loasby (President of the Equitable Trust Company), quoted in NYT, Friday, October 25, 1929

“We feel that fundamentally Wall Street is sound, and that for people who can afford to pay for them outright, good stocks are cheap at these prices.”
- Goodbody and Company market-letter quoted in The New York Times, Friday, October 25, 1929

6. “This is the time to buy stocks. This is the time to recall the words of the late J. P. Morgan… that any man who is bearish on America will go broke. Within a few days there is likely to be a bear panic rather than a bull panic. Many of the low prices as a result of this hysterical selling are not likely to be reached again in many years.”
- R. W. McNeel, market analyst, as quoted in the New York Herald Tribune, October 30, 1929

“Buying of sound, seasoned issues now will not be regretted”
- E. A. Pearce market letter quoted in the New York Herald Tribune, October 30, 1929

“Some pretty intelligent people are now buying stocks… Unless we are to have a panic — which no one seriously believes, stocks have hit bottom.”
- R. W. McNeal, financial analyst in October 1929

7. “The decline is in paper values, not in tangible goods and services…America is now in the eighth year of prosperity as commercially defined. The former great periods of prosperity in America averaged eleven years. On this basis we now have three more years to go before the tailspin.”
- Stuart Chase (American economist and author), NY Herald Tribune, November 1, 1929

“Hysteria has now disappeared from Wall Street.”
- The Times of London, November 2, 1929

“The Wall Street crash doesn’t mean that there will be any general or serious business depression… For six years American business has been diverting a substantial part of its attention, its energies and its resources on the speculative game… Now that irrelevant, alien and hazardous adventure is over. Business has come home again, back to its job, providentially unscathed, sound in wind and limb, financially stronger than ever before.”
- Business Week, November 2, 1929

“…despite its severity, we believe that the slump in stock prices will prove an intermediate movement and not the precursor of a business depression such as would entail prolonged further liquidation…”
- Harvard Economic Society (HES), November 2, 1929

8. “… a serious depression seems improbable; [we expect] recovery of business next spring, with further improvement in the fall.”
- HES, November 10, 1929

“The end of the decline of the Stock Market will probably not be long, only a few more days at most.”
- Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics at Yale University, November 14, 1929

“In most of the cities and towns of this country, this Wall Street panic will have no effect.”
- Paul Block (President of the Block newspaper chain), editorial, November 15, 1929

“Financial storm definitely passed.”
- Bernard Baruch, cablegram to Winston Churchill, November 15, 1929

9. “I see nothing in the present situation that is either menacing or warrants pessimism… I have every confidence that there will be a revival of activity in the spring, and that during this coming year the country will make steady progress.”
- Andrew W. Mellon, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury December 31, 1929

“I am convinced that through these measures we have reestablished confidence.”
- Herbert Hoover, December 1929

“[1930 will be] a splendid employment year.”
- U.S. Dept. of Labor, New Year’s Forecast, December 1929

10. “For the immediate future, at least, the outlook (stocks) is bright.”
- Irving Fisher, Ph.D. in Economics, in early 1930

11. “…there are indications that the severest phase of the recession is over…”
- Harvard Economic Society (HES) Jan 18, 1930

12. “There is nothing in the situation to be disturbed about.”
- Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, Feb 1930

13. “The spring of 1930 marks the end of a period of grave concern… American business is steadily coming back to a normal level of prosperity.”
- Julius Barnes, head of Hoover’s National Business Survey Conference, Mar 16, 1930

“… the outlook continues favorable…”
- HES Mar 29, 1930

14. “… the outlook is favorable…”
- HES Apr 19, 1930

15. “While the crash only took place six months ago, I am convinced we have now passed through the worst — and with continued unity of effort we shall rapidly recover. There has been no significant bank or industrial failure. That danger, too, is safely behind us.”
- Herbert Hoover, President of the United States, May 1, 1930

“…by May or June the spring recovery forecast in our letters of last December and November should clearly be apparent…”
- HES May 17, 1930

“Gentleman, you have come sixty days too late. The depression is over.”
- Herbert Hoover, responding to a delegation requesting a public works program to help speed the recovery, June 1930

16. “… irregular and conflicting movements of business should soon give way to a sustained recovery…”
- HES June 28, 1930

17. “… the present depression has about spent its force…”
- HES, Aug 30, 1930

18. “We are now near the end of the declining phase of the depression.”
- HES Nov 15, 1930

19. “Stabilization at [present] levels is clearly possible.”
- HES Oct 31, 1931

20. “All safe deposit boxes in banks or financial institutions have been sealed… and may only be opened in the presence of an agent of the I.R.S.”
- President F.D. Roosevelt, 1933

16 Oct 21:15

Dems Represent Wealthiest House Districts...

Dems Represent Wealthiest House Districts...

(Second column, 6th story, link)

16 Oct 16:08

How Does This Still Happen? Southern Oregon U. Students Not Allowed to Distribute Constitutions

by Robby Soave

SOUSouthern Oregon University administrators told students that they couldn't freely distribute copies of the Constitution out in the open, on public university property. Officials tried to usher the students indoors, to the preposterously unconstitutional "free speech zone" where political activity is deemed permissible.

The students, who wish to start a Students for Concealed Carry chapter at the university, recorded their interactions with various officials. The footage was published by Campus Reform. One telling exchange with an administrator who defended the free speech zone:

"Clearly there is a number of reasons why [the free speech zone] exists. I think we need to look at all those, good, bad, and indifferent. It's not just abut the free speech of students. When you open it up to free speech that means anyone, anywhere can come on and do that and that might create some other challenges for this campus that we are not prepared to manage."

My goodness, what is he afraid of? It's a public university: Anyone, anywhere should be able to walk onto the campus and express opinions!

The students wisely asserted their First Amendment right to canvass wherever they want. The administrators, on the other hand, seemingly made an effort not to address the fundamental free speech argument—and have decided not to take any disciplinary action against the students—which leads me to believe that they were well aware they would lose. Is the point of college merely to trick teenagers into thinking their rights are nonexistent?

A reminder: When colleges push this, the Foundation for Individual Rights eviscerates them.

Hat tip: Fox News

15 Oct 17:19

How ObamaCare's Victories Count Against It In Sissel v. HHS

by Michael F. Cannon

Michael F. Cannon

Randy Barnett has an excellent post at the Volokh Conspiracy about his recent amicus brief requesting the D.C. Circuit grant en banc review of Sissel v. HHS. (Sound familiar?Sissel challenges the constitutionality of ObamaCare’s individual mandate – which the Supreme Court ruled could only be constitutional if imposed under Congress’ taxing power – on the grounds that this, ahem, tax originated in the Senate rather than the House, as the Constitution’s Origination Clause requires.

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled against Sissel. The panel’s rationale was that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was not the sort of “Bill[] for raising revenue” that is subject to the Origination Clause, because the purpose of the PPACA is to expand health insurance coverage, not to raise revenue. Barnett explains why this reasoning is nutty. Under the Sissel panel’s ruling, no bills would ever be considered revenue measures because all revenue measures ultimately serve some other purpose.  The panel’s interpretation would therefore effectively write the Origination Clause out of the Constitution. Barnett argues instead that the courts must recognize the PPACA as a revenue measure subject to the Origination Clause because the Supreme Court held the taxing power is the only way Congress could have constitutionally enacted that law’s individual mandate.

A shorter way to describe Barnett’s argument is that he turns ObamaCare supporters’ own victory against them: “You say the individual mandate is constitutional only as a tax? Fine. Then it’s subject to the Origination Clause.”

Barnett again corners the D.C. Circuit with another sauce-for-the-gander argument on the procedural question of whether that court should grant en banc review of its panel decision in Sissel:

Of course, en banc review is rarely granted by the DC Circuit, but given that it recently granted the government’s motion for en banc review of the statutory interpretation case of Halbig v. Burwell presumably because of the importance of the ACA, the case for correcting a mistaken constitutional interpretation is even more important, especially as the panel’s reasoning has the effect of completely gutting the Origination Clause from the Constitution…

Or, the shorter version: “You guys think Halbig is worthy of en banc review? Fine. If the Sissel panel erred, the downside is even greater.”

We’ll see whether the D.C. Circuit thinks the Constitution is as worthy of its protection as ObamaCare.

(Cross-posted at my comment-friendly blog, Darwin’s Fool.)

15 Oct 19:52

5 US Bills Straight Out Of Atlas Shrugged

by Tyler Durden

Submitted by Simon Black via Sovereign Man blog,

“John Galt is Prometheus who changed his mind. After centuries of being torn by vultures in payment for having brought to men the fire of the gods, he broke his chains—and he withdrew his fire—until the day when men withdraw their vultures.”

Sick of the overbearing regulation, taxation, and entitlement mentality in society—in the book Atlas Shrugged, John Galt went to one entrepreneur after another to convince them that they just didn’t need to put up with it anymore.

They didn’t need to keep propping up a system that was trying to destroy them. Where’s the point in continuing to feed a parasitic system?

So one by one, these innovators and producers simply closed up shop, deciding to just “shrug” and abandon what they were providing thanklessly to the looters.

Today many companies are doing the same. They may not be abandoning their businesses altogether, but they are moving them out of the hands of the parasites by moving their tax bases abroad.

In Ayn Rand’s book, the Economic Planning Bureau dealt with this by legislating that no businesses could leave: “[a]ll the manufacturing establishments of the country, of any size and nature, were forbidden to move from their present locations, except when granted a special permission to do so.”

In real life today, we have a string of policies being proposed to similarly discourage companies from leaving, or failing that, to try to claw as much money as possible from them first.

First, take the H.R. 5278: No Federal Contracts for Corporate Deserters Act, which bars federal contracts for American companies that have gone overseas for tax purposes.

Then take the H.R. 5549: Pay What You Owe Before You Go Act, which seeks the seizure of unrepatriated corporate revenue.

Even the language used by these bill’s supporters is eerily similar to the novel, as politicians call for corporations to pay their “fair share” and bemoan that Americans have to “pick up the tax burden inverted companies shrug off.”

At the time, Rand might have thought that she was writing about an extreme, fictional society. But it seems that the Land of the Free is eager to exceed even her worst expectations.

When she wrote about the “Economic Emergency Law”, which forbade any discrimination “for any reason whatever against any person in any matter involving his livelihood”, she was likely thinking about criteria such as race, gender, and age.

She might have even considered they would try to prevent employers from making judgments based on a person’s ability, though I’m sure she would not have even imagined what politicians have actually come up with in the US.

Try the S. 1972/ H.R. 3972: Fair Employment Opportunity Act that proposed to prohibit discrimination according to a person’s history of unemployment.

Or even worse, the S. 1837: Equal Employment for All Act that would have prohibited employers from even looking at prospective employee’s credit ratings.

The literary similarities don’t just stop with corporations either. Compare the fictional Project Soybean, designed to “recondition” people’s dietary habits to the actual H.R. 4904: Vegetables Are Really Important Eating Tools for You (VARIETY).

Tell me, which one sounds more ludicrous to you?

With each new piece of legislation being proposed in the Land of the Free, Atlas Shrugged seems to be ever more prophetic.

While even the most terrifying elements of the book are coming true, so are the reactions.

People and companies are leaving, refusing the put up with the looting of their efforts any longer.

Despite politicians’ desperate attempts to stop it, Atlas is already shrugging.

15 Oct 16:30

Obama cancels fundraising trip...