… is from pages 27-28 of James Piereson’s 2014 monograph, The Inequality Hoax:
Piketty implies that reductions in taxes over the past three decades have allowed the rich to accumulate money while avoiding paying their fair share of taxes. Nothing could be further from the truth. As income taxes and capital-gains taxes were reduced in the United States beginning in the 1980s, the share of federal taxes paid by “the rich” steadily went up. From 1980 to 2010, as the top 1 percent increased their share of before-tax income from 9 percent to 15 percent, their share of the individual income tax soared from 17 percent to 39 percent of the total paid. Their share of total federal taxes more than doubled during a period when the highest marginal tax rate was cut in half, from 70 percent to 35.5 percent. The wealthy, in short, are already paying more than their fair share of taxes, and the growth in their wealth and incomes has had nothing to do with tax avoidance or deflecting the tax burden to the middle class.
Following news of the death of a British man in Macedonia from Ebola, RTL reports that 60 people are locked inside a Department of Medical and Social Coordination (DASS) building in Cergy-Pontoise (on the northeast edge of Paris) following Ebola-like symptoms in 4 people.
— RTL France (@RTLFrance) October 9, 2014
The premises of the DASS in Cergy-Pontoise (Val-d'Oise) is currently curly. Authorities suspect an Ebola case and locked sixty people.
An attending physician on the premises has been warning noting troubling symptoms in four people who had returned from Guinea.
Specific first aid arrived on the scene there for over an hour, a perimeter was set up and a crisis enabled prefecture.
Workforce of UAS equipped accordingly are expected on site a moment's notice.
A building of the DASS of Cergy -Pontoise , near Paris , was cordoned off tonight after the unrest in the premises of a person who may be from Guinea and features similar to those of Ebola like symptoms, a- was learned from sources.
The building, owned by the General Council , was completed " to carry out checks ," said the prefect of the Val- d'Oise , Jean -Luc Nevache . Besides the person who feels unwell a second person had flu-like symptoms , said Dr. Nevache , evoking a simple measure of "precaution" .
According to RTL , the authorities shut sixty in total. A security perimeter has been established .
It appears the reach of this deadly disease is growing..
* * *
And then there's this...
— RT (@RT_com) October 9, 2014
I've got a new piece up at The Week imploring progressives to think about what they're really risking when they rush to criminalize free expression. Some of the social justice left seem to believe that people "hide behind the First Amendment" because they love gay slurs and upskirt photos. Even more astonishingly, they think that broad laws criminalizing speech and expression could never be used in ways they don't intend.
The shortsightedness with which the social-justice left embraces hate speech laws and other restrictions on free expression can only be chalked up to an extreme hubris, a belief that not only are they on the right side of history culturally and morally but that politically, things will never change either. Which seems unlikely. Ten years ago Karl Rove envisioned — and people (my young self included) legitimately feared — a "permanent Republican majority" built largely on socially-conservative concerns like opposition to same-sex marriage. LOL. Now even Michele Bachmann finds fighting marriage equality "boring" and the most compelling conservative candidate is the one calling for criminal justice reform instead of "traditional marriage."
Some see the takeaway here as progressivism having "won." But I think it's more realistically illustrative of the fickle nature of public opinion and party platforms. No, I don't see U.S. society going backward on things like gay rights. But look at the anti-abortion movement. Feminists thought they had abortion access locked in — and in fact, the country continues to trend in favor of abortion rights — but a loud, persistent, and passionate anti-abortion minority has managed to get more laws restricting abortion passed in the past few years than in the decades before.
When you're winning the culture wars, it tends to radicalize and mobilize the opposition. Even if U.S. society as a whole continues to become more liberal or libertarian, we'll still face folks who believe in the need for more authoritarianism, less gender equality, and less tolerance. Some of them will inevitably go into politics, law enforcement, and education. Some will become legislators. Prosecutors. Judges. City council members. School administrators. Police officers. Professors. And some will inevitably have wildly different conceptions of what constitutes "hate" or "obscenity" or "civility" than you or I may.
(...) It's not just a formal deference or fetishistic attachment to the Constitution that leads libertarians to push for very narrowly-written and interpreted speech restrictions. It's because this framework provides a means for free speech to be meaningful without regard to fickle cultural norms or prevailing political power.
Read the whole thing here. But might I suggest not reading the comments?
Assume the following dire scenario: You become infected with Ebola and are quarantined by U.S. medical officials. A promising new experimental drug is in the works, but it hasn't yet received final approval. You want to try the drug but the authorities won't let you. Do you have a constitutional right to try to preserve your life by taking the experimental drug? Most Americans would probably say yes. But according to a prominent federal court, the answer is no.
In 2007 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against a group of terminally ill cancer patients who were suing the FDA in order to gain access to experimental drugs that had the potential to save their lives. According to the D.C. Circuit's ruling in Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs v. Eschenbach, however, nothing in the Constitution protects "a fundamental right of access for the terminally ill to experimental drugs."
Writing in dissent, Judge Judith Ann Rogers, joined by Chief Judge Douglas Ginsburg, attacked the majority’s "startling" decision and its "stunning misunderstanding of the stakes" involved for the terminally ill. "To deny the constitutional importance of the right to life and to attempt to preserve life is to move from judicial modesty to judicial abdication, as well as confusion," Rogers and Ginsburg declared.
Despite the strength of that dissent and the many failings of the majority opinion, however, the Supreme Court refused to take the case on appeal. The D.C. Circuit's ruling remains on the books.
For Reason's ongoing coverage of the Ebola outbreak, see here.
On January 27, 2009, Denver cops pounded on the door of a home that used to be a drug den and brothel. Not having kept their information current, the cops didn't know the house was now occupied by Daniel Martinez Jr. (pictured) and his family. They also "had no warrant, no application for a warrant, nothing," as the family's attorney later described the scene. The officers rushed inside and roughed up the residents, including shoving a 16-year-old boy's head through a window and and dealing out a generous dollop of beatings and bodyslamming.
Then they realized they'd fucked up. So they trumped up charges against the family.
Fortunately, a jury saw through the cops' bullshit and found Nathan Martinez and Daniel Martinez III not guilty of misdemeanor assault charges. Subsequently, the district attorney saw the light and abandoned the case against Daniel Martinez Jr. and Jonathan Martinez.
Now the Martinez family is getting some payback after suing the cops and their employers.
From Kirk Mitchell at The Denver Post:
A Denver jury on Friday awarded $1.8 million to a family after a wrongful prosecution case in which police officers executed a warrantless raid on a home previously occupied by drug dealers and prostitutes.
The lawsuit was filed in 2011 against the city and county of Denver and four police officers. Claims against the city later were dropped in a summary judgment.
A jury of 10 awarded various amounts to the four family members based on different amounts of damages attributed to the four officers. The jury awarded a total of $1.25 million of punitive damages collectively to the family.
The family also alleged excessive force, but the jury in the lawsuit couldn't come to a decision on that allegation. The ultimate payout, if it survives the officers' promised appeals, could add up to $3 million including interest and attorney's fee.
Perhaps, in the interests of keeping its population satisfied that government is busy and working hard for the nation's good, India has unveiled a real-time dashboard to monitor how many government workers are in attendance at any moment...
click image for fully real-time-updating version...
One question - if India can do this, why can't America?
Danger! Danger! Man with a weapon spotted near school!
According to insideHalton.com, the Oakville, Canada, man was armed with a kitchen knife and on the hunt—for dandelions:
A 65-year-old in search of dandelions for a recipe caused an Oakville public school to be put in a hold and secure late Monday afternoon.
The incident occurred shortly before 3 p.m. when the male was spotted walking with a small kitchen knife along the Pilgrim Wood Public School fence line, near Third Line and Upper Middle Road West.
The dogs were called out to search for this galumphing gourmet, and because no threat is too small to be treated like a nuclear attack, the schools remained "in a hold and secure" till 3:45 p.m. Buses were also temporarily suspended.
Afterward, the salad hunter (perhaps he's even a salad shooter!) was advised by the police on the "optics" of "walking around with a weapon in public."
If a "small kitchen knife" is that terrifying, imagine seeing someone walking around with a ladle (you could get beaned). Or a large spatula. Wielding a spatula in public is akin to threatening children with being lifted off the sidewalk and flipped head first into the street.
No one is safe when senior citizens start wandering around in search of free greens. No one.
Daniel J. Ikenson
Last week the U.S. government settled a long-running trade dispute with Brazil, winning taxpayers the privilege of continuing to subsidize America’s wealthy cotton farmers in exchange for our commitment to subsidize Brazilian cotton farmers, as well. That’s right! We get to pay U.S. cotton farming businesses to overproduce, export, and suppress global prices to the detriment of Brazilian (and other countries’) cotton farmers provided that we compensate the Brazilians to the tune of $300 million.
Some background. Ten years ago, in a case brought by Brazil, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body ruled that the United States was exceeding its subsidy allowances for domestic cotton farmers and that it should bring its practices into compliance with the relevant WTO agreements. After delays and half-baked U.S. efforts to comply, Brazil sought and received permission from the WTO to retaliate (or, in WTO parlance, to “withdraw concessions” because opening one’s own market in a world of mercantilist reciprocity is, perversely, considered a cost or concession). Under the threat of such retaliation, instead of bringing its cotton subsidies into WTO compliance, the U.S. government agreed to pay $147 million per year to Brazilian farmers so that it could continue subsidizing U.S. farmers beyond agreed limits. That arrangement prevailed for a few years until the funds were cut during the budget sequester earlier this year – an event that triggered a renewed threat of retaliation from Brazil, which now has been averted on account of last week’s $300 million settlement.
The Peterson Institute’s Gary Hufbauer characterized the agreement as a “good deal” because it ends the specter of soured bilateral relations, which $800 million of targeted retaliation against U.S. exporters and intellectual property holders would likely produce, for a reasonable price of $300 million “spread widely across the US population, around 90 cents a person.” In Hufbauer’s opinion:
Money damages, paid in this way, are much fairer, and do not destroy the benefits of international commerce, unlike concentrated retaliation against firms that had nothing to do with the original dispute. The WTO system is only designed to authorize such retaliation, but the US-Brazil settlement points the way towards a better way of satisfying breaches of WTO obligations.
While I share Hufbauer’s desire to avoid retaliation and soured relations, his rationale for endorsing the settlement seems a bit strained. If the settlement is justifiable because the costs are spread across 300-plus million Americans, then Hufbauer can probably lend his support to most subsidies, tariffs, and other forms of protectionism, which endure because the concentrated benefits accruing to the favor-seekers are paid through costs imposed, often imperceptibly, on a diffuse base of unorganized consumers or taxpayers. Does the smallness or the imperceptibility of the costs make it right? No, but it makes it easy to get away with, which is why I think it’s pennywise and pound foolish to endorse such outcomes. There are all sorts of federal subsidies to industries and tariffs on goods that may be small or imperceptible as a cost on a standalone basis at the individual level. But when aggregated across programs, the costs to individuals become more significant. It’s death by 10,000 cuts.
Hufbauer implies that $0.90 per American is not an unreasonable amount. Does he have a threshold per-person cost above which he would consider the burden unjustified? As it stands now, the cost to taxpayers is well in excess of the $0.90 – a figure that accounts only for the subsidies to the Brazilians. We know that the U.S. subsidies are approximately $800 million in excess of allowance, which means that the violating portion of taxpayer subsidies to cotton producers amounts to $2.40 per American. For the “right” to spend that $2.40 per American, each American must spend $0.90 for a total of $3.30 each. So, instead of saving $2.40 per American by bringing subsidies into compliance, taxpayers are in the red by $3.30 each – a $5.70 reversal. But, of course, the real cost to Americans is not the excess subsidies plus the cost of subsidizing Brazilians, but the overall cost of cotton subsidies, which were close to $2 billion per year for the period 1995-2012, or over $6.00 per American per year during that period. But why should Americans be forced to support wealthy U.S. cotton farmers in the first place?
Hufbauer’s point is that money damages spread over a broad base of payers is more fair than targeted retaliation, which would impose those costs on a few innocent U.S. industries and IP holders, and he writes that “the WTO system is only designed to authorize” such retaliation. But I think Hufbauer is selling the system short. Compliance with the rules is preferable to both targeted retaliation and damages spread across a broad base, and the WTO system is designed to encourage such compliance without imposing on national sovereignty.
First of all, retaliatory trade measures are something most governments prefer to avoid because trade restrictions hurt businesses and consumers in the country imposing them. But the purpose of permitting a WTO member to withdraw concessions in response to another Member’s violations and persistent non-compliance is, ultimately, to encourage compliance by bringing otherwise dormant domestic pressures to bear on the offending government. The threat of retaliation along with publication of a target list essentially broadens the dispute by creating more stakeholders – specifically, domestic stakeholders with an interest in compliance. In 2002, when the United States imposed restrictions on steel imports from most countries, which were found to violate the WTO Safeguards Agreement, the EU’s retaliation list included products known to be important to organized lobbies or states with particular relevance to congressional and presidential electoral outcomes – products such as citrus, textiles, and motorcycles. The credible threat of retaliation against these and other industries created a powerful political constituency encouraging compliance with the WTO ruling by ending the steel restrictions, which also brought U.S. producers and consumers the benefits of lower steel prices.
In the cotton case, instead of achieving compliance and reducing burdens on U.S. taxpayers, the targets of Brazilian retaliation managed to get themselves out of harm’s way, but at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. Any leverage to compel the U.S. government to do the right thing and rein in the cotton subsidies has been spent. Hufbauer’s outlook differs:
Brazil’s agreement to drop its WTO case against US cotton subsidies (specifically an export credit program known as GSM-102) and not to launch a new case expires at the same time that the US Agricultural Act of 2014 expires in 2018. What this means is that the US Congress in 2018 will face pressure not to renew a subsidy program that enriches a few already rich American farmers.
The problem with that logic is that the same “pressure” existed this year, before Congress passed the farm bill. Yet, the Agricultural Act of 2014 includes the same offensive provisions for cotton. Moreover, what incentives exist for Congress “not to renew a subsidy program that enriches a few already rich American farmers” if the price of buying four more years of peace is a comparably reasonable $0.90 per person?”
Settlements like these may appease the primary governments involved in the dispute, but they leave unresolved the original sins, which impose a lot of collateral damage on a variety of interests. In that regard, settlements are failures.
Finally, if the cotton settlement and the tobacco settlement (the latter is described by Bill Watson here today) – which both, essentially, release the United States from its WTO commitments in exchange for some form of payment to the complainant – are portrayed as trade policy successes, it will be just a matter of time before WTO adjudication devolves into a claims court before descending into irrelevance.
… is from page 38 of Steve Landsburg’s insightful 1997 book, Fair Play (original emphasis; link added):
A few years ago I published a book called The Armchair Economist in which I argued that bipartisanship in Congress should be treated as a violation of antitrust law. We don’t allow the presidents of United and American Airlines to conspire against the public; why should we allow the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties to conspire? I got a note back from a copy editor asking whether there wasn’t actually a key difference, in the sense that the airline presidents are conspiring to break laws, while the politicians are conspiring to make laws. I wrote back, asking if he had any historical evidence as to which of these activities was more likely to be harmful. My guess is that making laws is on average worse than breaking them.
(Of course, by “laws” Steve here means “legislation” – for the state makes, not law, but legislation.)
THE AEROPHONE.Yes, now we move on to the aerophone. The true worry of the moralists at the NY Times. For the aerophone, you see, can make voices louder. Fear the innovation:
Something ought to be done to Mr. EDISON, and there is a growing conviction that it had better be done with a hemp rope. Mr. EDISON has invented too many things, and almost without exception they are things of the most deleterious character. He has been addicted to electricity for many years, and it is not very long ago that he became notorious for having discovered a new force, though he has since kept it care- fully concealed, either upon his person or elsewhere. Recently he invented the phone- graph, a machine that catches the lightest whisper of conversation and stores it up, so that at any future time it can be brought out, to the confusion of the original speaker. This machine will eventually destroy all confidence between man and man, and render more dangerous than ever woman's want of confidence in woman. No man can feel sure that wherever he may be there is not a concealed phonograph remorseless gathering up his remarks and ready to reproduce them at some future date. Who will be willing, even in the bosom of his family, to express any but most innocuous and colorless views and what woman when calling on a female friend, and waiting for the latter to make her appearance in the drawing-room, will dare to express her opinion of the wretched taste displayed in the furniture, or the hideous appearance of the family photographs ? In the days of persecution and it was said, though with poetical exaggeration, that the walls had ears.
Thanks to Mr. Edison's perverted ingenuity, this has not only become a literal truth, but every shelf, closet, or floor may now have its concealed phonographic ears. No young man will venture to carry on a private conversation with a young lady, lest he should be filling a secret phonograph with evidence that, in a breach of promise suit, would secure an immediate verdict against him, and our very small-boys will fear to express themselves with childish freedom, lest the phonograph should report them as having used the name of "gosh," or as having to "bust the snoot" of the long-suffering governess. The phonograph was, at the time of its invention, the most terrible example of depraved ingenuity which the world had seen; but Mr. EDISON has since reached a still more conspicuous peak of scientific infamy by inventing the aerophone--an instrument far more devastating in its effects and fraught with the destruction of human society.
The aerophone is apparently a modification of the phonograph. In fact, it is a phonograph which converts whispers into roars. If, for example, you mention, within hearing of the aerophone, that you regard Mr. HAYES as the; greatest and best man that America has yet produced, that atrocious instrument may overwhelm you with shame by repeating your remark in a tone that can be heard no less than four miles. Mr. EDISON, with characteristic effrontery, represents this as a useful and beneficent invention. He says that an aerophone can be attached to a locomotive, and that with its aid the engineer can request persons to "look out for the locomotive" who are nearing a railway crossing four miles distant from the train. He also boasts that he will attach an aerophone to the gigantic statue of "Liberty." Which France is to present to this country, provided we will raise money enough to pay for it, and that the statue will thus be able to welcome incoming vessels in the Lower Bay, and to warn them not to come up to the City in case Mr. STANLEY MATTHEWS is delivering an oration on the currency, or Mr. Cox is making a comic speech at Tammany Hall. Were the aerophone to be confined strictly to these uses, it prove a comparatively unobjectionable intstrument; but no man can loose a whirlwind and guarantee that its ravages shall be confined to Chicago, or to some other place where it may do positive good.There is some talk about the threat of this horrible invention on "dumb wives" and "dumb husbands" which we will skip over here, and then it gets to the next fear: the public being overwhelmed with everyone blasting their speech for four miles with aerophones. Oh the cacophony.
Our present vocal powers are always used to their full capacity. Everybody talks with about the same volume of voice, and when the aerophone comes into use, people will universally talk as loudly as the instrument will permit. When ninety-nine people out of a hundred converse with the aerophone, there will be such a roar of conversation that the hundredth person, who may speak in his natural voice, cannot be heard. We can only faintly imagine the horrible results of the general introduction of the aerophone. Wives residing in suburban Jersey villages will call to their'husbands at their places of business in the City, and require information as to subjects of purely domestic interest. Mothers whose children have wandered out of sight will howl over a four-mile tract of country direful threats as to the flaying alive which awaits James Henry and Ann Eliza unless they instantly come home. From morning till midnight our ears will be tortured with the uproar of aerophonic talk, and deaf men will be looked upon as the favored few to whom nature has made life tolerable.I love the fear of having to hear talk of "purely domestic interest." And, in the end, could anything less that the entire destruction of society follow as a result?
The result will be the complete disorganization of society. Men and women will flee from civilization and seek in the silence of the forest relief from the roar of count- less aerophones. Business, marriage, and all social amusements will be thrown aside, except by totally deaf men, and America will retrogade to the Stone Age with frightful rapidity. Better is a dinner of raw turnips in a damp cave than a banquet at DELMONICO'S within hearing of ten thousand aerophones. Far better is it to starve in solitude than to possess all the luxuries of civilization at the price of hearing every remark that is made within a radius of four miles. It may be too late to suppress the aerophone now, but at least there is time to visit upon the head of its inventor the just indignation of his fellow-countrymen.Frankly, the whole thing is so over the top and outrageous that it almost feels like parody of similar moral panics, but it does seem to be legit. Consider this when comparing it to today's moral panics, like Google Glass, mobile phones in general, autonomous cars, personal drones and a variety of other technologies. Perhaps one day we'll learn not to pre-freak out, but it doesn't appear to be happening just yet.
Government officials violate the public trust – in this case by, well, let the New York Times tell the tale of how the ballyhooed-at-its-birth 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement isn’t quite working out as planned:
Only a small fraction of the money has gone to tobacco prevention. Instead, the states have used the windfall for various and unrelated expenditures. In Alaska, $3.5 million in settlement money was spent on shipping docks. In Niagara County, N.Y., $700,000 went for a public golf course’s sprinkler system, and $24 million for a county jail and an office building. And in North Carolina, in the ultimate irony, $42 million of the settlement funds actually went to tobacco farmers for modernization and marketing.
But that’s not all: Nine states — Alaska, California, Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and West Virginia — and Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam decided to get as much of those annual payments as fast as they could by mortgaging any future payments as collateral and issuing bonds. They traded their future lifetime income for cash today — at only pennies on the dollar.
Shocker. Fine pronouncements and loud boasts from 16 years ago about irresponsible tobacco companies finally being held accountable by responsible (!) government officials are proven false – all up in smoke – and in ways that yet further reveal the explanatory power of public-choice economics. Isn’t the miracle in the government-intervention formula supposed to prevent such shenanigans? Maybe next time the miracle will finally work! Or is government incurably cancerous?
(I thank Peter Minowitz for the pointer to this NYT report.)
Here's a story to really make you question where "criminal" and "justice" fit into the criminal justice system. Zach Bowman is an editor at RoadandTrack.com, an automotive magazine. Last October, he decided to ride a motorcycle in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which was closed due to the federal government shutdown. This year, he almost went to jail for it.
Bowman makes light of the situation in an Esquire article last week, but he chronicles an uncomfortable instance of law enforcement going overboard on victimless crime, seemingly just to make an example of someone. He writes:
Rangers don't take kindly to publicly mocking the government shutdown by riding a motorcycle through a closed national park. That's especially true when you write a piece about it. I'd netted three citations for my efforts, including traveling the wrong way on a one-way road, ignoring a public closure, and operating a motor vehicle off of designated trails.
He wasn't putting any lives at risk, since not even the rangers were there. They only found out about Bowman's stunt after he published his article about it. Two weeks passed before the citations came in the mail:
Combined, these were good for up to 18 months of incarceration or $15,000 in fines. To make matters more endearing, the offenses occurred on federal land, which meant each was a genuine misdemeanor, the kind that go in the box under "HAVE YOU EVER BEEN CONVICTED OF A MISDEMEANOR" on job applications and unpleasant conversations with in-laws.
His lawyer worked a deal by which he did community service. "I swapped 40 hours of my life, plus 10 hours of commuting, for two perfect hours in a park I've loved all my life." Those 40 hours were spent scrubbing park bathrooms, among other dirty jobs.
Bowman figures that "everyone should have to deep clean a public toilet at least once, just to get a first-hand feel for how horrible humanity is as a species."
It's great that he documented the shitty experience, but I think he missed the point (and a great metaphor for dealing with government); No one "should have to" do manual labor just because lawmakers couldn't agree on a budget and a few park rangers couldn't take a joke.
The United States is the 12th freest economy in the world according to the new Economic Freedom of the World report. Co-published today by Cato and the Fraser Institute, it finds a strong relationship between economic freedom and human well-being.
The U.S. ranking is part of a worrisome decline in economic freedom that began more than a decade ago. For decades, the United States ranked in second or third place on the index. In 2000 it was #2, yet by 2005 it ranked 8 and it continued its precipitous fall until recently. On a 0-10 scale, the U.S. rating is now 7.81 compared to 7.74 last year, a slight improvement. The level of economic freedom in the United States is lower today than it was in 1980. Since 2005, Canada has ranked higher than the United States.
The authors of the report note that the United States has fallen in all five areas that they measure: size of government; legal system and property rights; sound money; freedom to trade; and regulation. But the rule-of-law indicator (legal system and property rights) has seen the biggest decline and, as the graph shows, it has been enormous.
The U.S. Decline
The measured deterioration in the rule of law is consistent with scholarship in that field and, according to the report, is a result of “increased use of eminent domain to transfer property to powerful political interests, the ramifications of the wars on terrorism and drugs,” and other property rights violations. Because the rule of law is of course a cornerstone not just of economic freedom but of all freedoms, and because there is a strong relationship between economic freedom and other liberties (civil and political), all Americans should be concerned with the findings of the report.
A deterioration in the rule of law should also be of special concern to Hong Kong, the top ranked territory in the index, where recent protests highlight the danger that Beijing’s interference in its legal system, including the perception of such, poses to the overall freedoms and economic success of Hong Kong.
Venezuela's economic crisis has led to some shocking and surreal price distortions that hit people's buying power dramatically. While the government of President Nicolas Maduro calls the country's minimum wage of Bs. 4,252 the highest in the region when converted to $675 using the official exchange rate, the galloping black market for currency considers it as just $42.50 when converted at the street rate of Bs. 100 per US dollar, the rate which many importers and retail outlets must use to acquire hard currency. Venezuela's annual inflation rate of more than 63 percent is the highest in the Americas, according to official statistics.
A box of 36 coloured pencils as photographed in a studio with an illustrative price tag of $115 (US dollars), equivalent to the Bs. 725 (bolivars) that it costs on average to purchase in Caracas at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, in Caracas September 29, 2014. (Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
A Goodyear brand automobile tyre as photographed in a studio with an illustrative price tag of $753 (US dollars), equivalent to the Bs. 4,750 (bolivars) that it costs on average to purchase in Caracas at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, in Caracas September 29, 2014. (Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
An aluminium pressure cooker as photographed in a studio with an illustrative price tag of $507 (US dollars), equivalent to the Bs. 3,200 (bolivars) that it costs on average to purchase in Caracas at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, in Caracas September 29, 2014. (Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
A five-gallon bucket of house paint as photographed in a studio with an illustrative price tag of $528 (US dollars), equivalent to the Bs. 3,329 (bolivars) that it costs on average to purchase in Caracas at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, in Caracas September 29, 2014. (Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
A can of Coca-Cola as photographed in a studio with an illustrative price tag of $5.56 (US dollars), equivalent to the Bs. 35 (bolivars) that it costs on average to purchase in Caracas at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, in Caracas September 29, 2014. (Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
A pair of Stanley brand household pliers as photographed in a studio with an illustrative price tag of $121 (US dollars), equivalent to the Bs. 765 (bolivars) that it costs on average to purchase in Caracas at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, in Caracas September 29, 2014. (Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
A Samsung 32" plasma TV as photographed in a studio with an illustrative price tag of $5,476 (US dollars), equivalent to the Bs. 34,500 (bolivars) that it costs on average to purchase in Caracas at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, in Caracas September 29, 2014. (Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
A kilogram (2.2 lbs) of raw carrots as photographed in a studio with an illustrative price tag of $19.05 (US dollars), equivalent to the Bs. 120 (bolivars) that it costs on average to purchase in Caracas at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, in Caracas September 29, 2014. (Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
An Adidas Adipure Crazy running shoe as photographed in a studio with an illustrative price tag of $1,198 (US dollars), equivalent to the Bs. 7,547 (bolivars) a pair of them costs on average to purchase in Caracas at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, in Caracas September 29, 2014. (Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
A Big Mac as photographed in a studio with an illustrative price tag of $14.60 (US dollars), equivalent to the Bs. 92 (bolivars) that it costs on average to purchase in Caracas at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, in Caracas September 29, 2014. (Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
A locally produced bath towel as photographed in a studio with an illustrative price tag of $136 (US dollars), equivalent to the Bs. 859 (bolivars) that it costs on average to purchase in Caracas at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, in Caracas September 29, 2014. (Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
A hair dryer as photographed in a studio with an illustrative price tag of $697 (US dollars), equivalent to the Bs. 4,392 (bolivars) that it costs on average to purchase in Caracas at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, in Caracas September 29, 2014. (Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
A Barbie doll as photographed in a studio with an illustrative price tag of $194 (US dollars), equivalent to the Bs. 1,226 (bolivars) that it costs on average to purchase in Caracas at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, in Caracas September 29, 2014. (Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
A household broom as photographed in a studio with an illustrative price tag of $24.60 (US dollars), equivalent to the Bs. 155 (bolivars) that it costs on average to purchase in Caracas at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, in Caracas September 29, 2014. (Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
A 50 lb. (22.7 kg) bag of Purina Dog Chow as photographed in a studio with an illustrative price tag of $272 (US dollars), equivalent to the Bs. 1,716 (bolivars) that it costs on average to purchase in Caracas at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, in Caracas September 29, 2014. (Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
A 75-watt incandescent light bulb as photographed in a studio with an illustrative price tag of $13.51 (US dollars), equivalent to the Bs. 85.12 (bolivars) that it costs on average to purchase in Caracas at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, in Caracas September 29, 2014. (Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)
* * *
We found no instance of over-classification in the sample of [REDACTED] finished intelligence reports that we reviewedAdmittedly, the number of reports reviewed is classified here, so perhaps the Inspector General just reviewed one. Or zero. But, uh, wait a second... why is the number of reports reviewed classified in the first place? The number is listed as (b)(3) exemption, which tells you basically nothing. It just incorporates things exempted by other statutes. Basically, it's saying there's some law out there that forbids us from revealing this. Of course, one could argue that this seems like a case of overclassification... in the report that insists that the Inspector General couldn't find any examples of overclassification.
Because nothing says "safety precautions" like rolled-up sleeves on a HazMat suit...
h/t Kirk B
* * *
And here is a gentleman jet-washing the puke from the pavement outside the Texas Ebola victim's apartment building...
— WFAA TV (@wfaachannel8) October 2, 2014
Plenty of other countries didn't even bother thinking about it. As Wetzel points out, basically the only two countries interested are authoritarian regimes:
Certainly not Oslo, Norway, not even at the bargain rate of an estimated $5.4 billion in a nation of just five million people. It once wanted desperately to host the 2022 Winter Olympics and its bid was so perfect that it was considered the favorite to win. Then the country held a vote earlier this year and 55.9 percent of Norwegians opposed.
Wednesday the Norwegian government effectively pulled the bid. Norwegians are known for the ability to cross country ski really fast and being so friendly they beg visitors to come experience their picturesque nation. Since this involved the IOC however, they decided against having visitors come experience their picturesque nation to watch them cross country ski really fast.
They aren't alone. Previous finalist Krakow, Poland, saw 70 percent voter opposition and pulled its application. A majority felt the same way in Germany and Switzerland, killing bids in Munich and St. Moritz respectively. In Sweden the majority party rejected funding the proposed games in Stockholm.
Essentially the only places interested in hosting the 2022 games are countries where actual citizens aren't allowed a real say in things – communist China and Kazakhstan, a presidential republic that coincidentally has only had one president since it split from the old USSR in 1989.To sum it up:
Essentially the entire world has told the IOC it's a corrupt joke.Don't hold back:
The IOC has billions of dollars laying around and billions more coming because to most people the Olympics is just a television show and the ratings are so high that the broadcast rights will never go down. The IOC doesn't pay the athletes. It doesn't share revenue with host countries. It doesn't pay for countries to send their athletes. It doesn't lay out any construction or capital costs. It doesn't pay taxes.Except now the racket may be ending. Except for China and Kazakhstan. Wetzel's conclusion is spot on:
It basically holds caviar rich meetings in five star hotels in the Alps before calling it a day. That and conduct weak investigations into corruption charges of the bidding process, of course. "No evidence uncovered" is on a win streak.
It's a heck of a racket.
So China or Kazakhstan it is, the last two suckers on earth willing to step up to this carnival barker.The Olympics are from another era -- one of top down, "we control and own everything while paying none" variety. We've seen those types of businesses failing in lots of other arenas -- and now it may be happening to the Olympics as well.
One lucky nation will win. The other will host the 2022 Winter Olympics.
… is from George Gerbner:
Fearful people are more dependent, more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line postures….They may accept and even welcome repression if it promises to relieve their insecurities.
Breaking news: Some politicians do understand budgets and respect their constituents wishes. Yesterday the Norwegian government voted against guaranteeing finances for the 2022 Winter Olympics, thereby ensuring the capital of Oslo would have to back out of the bidding process. Five other cities already jumped ship, leaving Beijing, China and Almaty, Kazakhstan the only two in the running.
Deadspin notes that "in a non-binding referendum in February, 55.9 percent of Norwegians said they didn't want the Games." The site also highlights some of the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) ridiculous, costly demands, like a cocktail party on the king's dime:
"The overall price tag was put at $51 billion, scaring off politicians and taxpayers and leaving the International Olympic Committee with a major image crisis," reports the Associated Press. Who could blame those Norwegians? The IOC, apparently. The committee shot back with this zinger: "Senior politicians in Norway appear not to have been properly briefed on the process and were left to take their decisions on the basis of half-truths and factual inaccuracies."
Seriously? Just look at Russia which this past winter hosted the most expensive games to date, or Greece which hosted the then-most expensive games 10 years ago. The Olympic stadiums are in ruins, the former country is on the brink of recession, and the latter still has one of the world's stinkiest debt problems. They aren't outliers and this ain't a new phenomenon.
Public expenditures on sports infrastructure and event operations necessarily entail reductions in other government services, an expansion of government borrowing, or an increase in taxation, all of which produce a drag on the local economy. At best public expenditures on sports-related construction or operation have zero net impact on the economy as the employment benefits of the project are matched by employment losses associated with higher taxes or spending cuts elsewhere in the system.
It's a recurring problem with big events that require big stadiums and promise big money, and America isn't immune. In the bankrupt city of Detroit, political leaders are still pushing for a taxpayer subsidized hockey stadium that simply cannot bring in the revenue the politicians promise.
Even when money isn't the primary issue, the process reeks of bad juju: Orlando only recently decided to drop an eminent domain case against a family-owned church that the city hoped to pave over for a Major League Soccer stadium.
In the National Football League (NFL), the teams of which are owned mostly by billionaires who are good at twisting the arms of legislators: eighty-seven percent of stadium capital financing comes out of taxpayer dollars, according to ESPN columnist Gregg Easterbrook. While the NFL promises Super Bowl host cities will make $500 to 600 million from all the tourism, sports economist Robert Baade figures "$50 to $60 million would be a generous appraisal."
No smart city should want an NFL team, explains Reason TV's Alexis Garcia. The same applies for the Olympics:
While overnight the massive student protest crowd swelled to as much as 200,000 according to eyewitnesses as today's deadline for their demands that HK Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying resign arrives, the gathering was surprisingly peaceful. That may change at any moment.
BREAKING: Hong Kong police warn of serious consequences if protesters charge government buildings
— The Associated Press (@AP) October 2, 2014
As Bloomberg reports, student leaders yesterday said they would escalate the protests and may surround Leung’s residence, which overlooks Central, if he didn’t resign today. This morning, about 100 police officers guarded the road outside the office, a rectangular low-rise block that’s part of the government headquarters complex in Admiralty, facing about 200 protesters wearing black T-shirts.
AP adds that the Hong Kong police have warned of "serious consequences" if pro-democracy protesters try to charge or surround government buildings.
Police spokesman Steve Hui said Thursday that authorities would not tolerate any illegal surrounding of government buildings. He urged the protesters, who want top leader Leung Chun-ying to resign, to remain calm and restrained.
The protesters gave a midnight Thursday deadline for Leung to resign and for the government to respond to their demands for a change in political reform plans devised by Beijing.
And according to one SCMP reporter, today's escalation may have already begun, and "tonight is going to get messy":
Tensions rising as a stream of police stream into Tamar with riot gear. Crowds jeering and chanting "shame on you!"
— Bryan Harris (@bryanhimself) October 2, 2014
Police entering through a very narrow between a stone wall and a wall of protesters. Getting intense. Police recording everything.
— Bryan Harris (@bryanhimself) October 2, 2014
Crowds pin police against wall, shouting "you can not enter". Police shuttling in huge wooden crates. More gas tonight?!
— Bryan Harris (@bryanhimself) October 2, 2014
Wow, crowds surging. Police trying to maintain supply line. Protesters are gearing up for gas - goggles are being passed around.
— Bryan Harris (@bryanhimself) October 2, 2014
Police are carrying a boxes labelled "batons" and metal "flammable" tins. Tonight is going to get messy.
— Bryan Harris (@bryanhimself) October 2, 2014
Hundreds of police entering Tamar. Crowds now screaming at cops. Student leader had the mike: "the police are liars" he screams.
— Bryan Harris (@bryanhimself) October 2, 2014
"Police, you are CYs condom," screams one student in English. Huge jeering of officers. Few gweilo cops around. Scuffles!
— Bryan Harris (@bryanhimself) October 2, 2014
And the punchline:
The wall the police are sandwiched against belongs to PLA barracks btw. They're looking down at the crowds.
— Bryan Harris (@bryanhimself) October 2, 2014
Should the protest turn violent again, with tear gas and/or water cannon, keep a close eye on what the PLA will do: so far they have stayed out of it, but if the Police start losing control of the situation, things may escalate very quickly.
The Des Moines Register highlights an Iowa forfeiture case, the subject of a federal lawsuit filed this week, in which state troopers took $100,000 in winnings from two California poker players traveling through the state on their way back from a World Series of Poker event in Joliet, Illinois. The case illustrates several of the themes I discussed in a recent column explaining how cops became highway robbers:
Cops can always find an excuse to stop you. On the morning of April 15, 2013, Trooper Justin Simmons, who is part of an "interdiction team" that looks for contraband and money to seize, pulled over William Davis and John Newmerzhycky, who were traveling west on Interstate 80 in a rental car, a red Nissan Altima. Simmons later said he had received a vague tip from "an Illinois law enforcement officer" to be on the lookout for a red car, but he did not know why. Obviously that did not rise to the level of reasonable suspicion, which Simmons needed to stop the car. So instead he claimed that he pulled Davis and Newmerzhycky over because Newmerzhycky, who was driving, failed to signal as he passed a black SUV. But as can be seen in the video recorded by Simmons' dashcam (starting around the 00:28 mark), Newmerzhycky did signal. In the absence of such contrary evidence, cops are free to invent minor traffic infractions to justify a stop they want to conduct for other reasons. Although it does not condone such prevarication, the Supreme Court has said any valid legal reason makes a stop constitutional, even if it's a pretext for a more ambitious investigation. The Register reports that its "review of 22,000 warnings and citations given by the [interdiction] teams from 2008 to 2012 showed that 86 percent went to non-Iowans." Because Iowans are much better drivers, of course.
Cops can extend a traffic stop after issuing a citation or a warning, provided the motorist "consents." Around the 1:27 mark in the video at the top of the Register's story, after Simmons has ostensibly concluded his business and sent Newmerzhycky on his way, he pulls a Columbo, engaging Newmerzhycky in a conversation-cum-interrogation about the real object of the stop. "Hey, John?" he says as Newmerzhycky starts returning to his car. "Do you have time for a couple of questions? Do you have something illegal in the car?" Things quickly go downhill from there. Newmerzhycky denies having drugs or large amounts of cash. Simmons asks for permission to search the car. Newmerzhycky says no. Simmons asks if it's OK to bring a police dog by for a sniff. "I'd prefer to be on my way," Newmerzhycky says. Simmons asks again. "Do I have the right to say no to that?" Newmerzhycky asks. He does, since he is officially free to go at this point. Simmons answers the legal question honestly, and Newmerzhycky reiterates his desire to be on his way.
A dog sniff is not a search, but it can justify a search. Refusing to take no for an answer, Simmons says Newmerzhycky seems nervous (who wouldn't be in these circumstances?), and he uses that observation as justification for calling Trooper Eric VanderWiel, a K-9 officer with a drug-detecting dog. That move is highly suspect, since the Supreme Court has said police may not forcibly extend a routine traffic stop merely to wait for a drug-sniffing dog. At the same time, the Court says an olfactory inspection by a canine is not a search and can be conducted at will, without any evidence of criminal activity, provided a traffic stop is not "unnecessarily prolonged." VanderWiel's dog supposedly alerted to the back of the car, at a point where the dog was conveniently hidden from the dashcam. In practice, such an assertion gives cops a license to search any car they want, since "a court can presume" a police dog's alert by itself provides probable cause unless the defendant proves the animal is unreliable.
Cash is inherently suspicious. The troopers found $85,000 inside Davis' locked briefcase, plus another $15,000 in Newmerzhycky's computer bag, where they also found a grinder with bits of marijuana in it, which resulted in a citation for possession of drug paraphernalia—the only Iowa charge brought against either man. (Both bags were in the trunk, so maybe the dog really did smell contraband—or maybe she is trained to smell cash.) Naturally, Newmerzhycky's denial that he was carrying a lot of currency counted as evidence that he was up to no good, although it is not hard to see why an innocent person might lie in this situation, especially given how things turned out. But the truth is that police automatically assume large sums of cash must be related to drug trafficking or other criminal activity. They have a strong incentive to do so, since they get to keep the money. In Iowa law enforcement agencies receive 100 percent of the proceeds from civil forfeitures they initiate. From 2011 through 2013, the Register reports, Iowa's interdiction teams seized about $7 million in cash from motorists.
"There is absolutely nothing illegal or uncommon about people driving through the United States with out-of-state plates...and carrying amounts of cash," the lawyer who filed Davis and Newmerzhycky's lawsuit tells the Register. "There's nothing illegal about carrying cash, and yet law enforcement begins to treat individuals who are carrying cash as if they are criminals." Ultimately the state agreed to return $90,000 of the two men's money, a third of which was consumed by legal fees.
That was not the end of their trouble. "Both of their California homes were searched the next day by law enforcement based on a tip from an Iowa agent," the Register notes. Although both men have state-issued cards identifying them as patients allowed to use cannabis for symptom relief, the paper says, they still faced "felony drug charges" because of the marijuana found in their homes. According to Davis and Newmerzhycky's California lawyer, prosecutors dropped those charges after watching the video of the traffic stop.
In their lawsuit, Davis and Newmerzhycky argue that the stop, the search, and the seizure were unconstitutional. They want the rest of their money back, plus compensation for their ensuing troubles, including a stroke that Newmerzhycky attributes to the stress caused by the criminal charges.
[Thanks to Joe Kristan for the tip.]
Now that Ebola is officially in the US on an uncontrolled basis, the two questions on everyone's lips are i) who will get sick next and ii) how bad could it get?
We don't know the answer to question #1 just yet, but when it comes to the second one, a press release three weeks ago from Lakeland Industries, a manufacturer and seller of a "comprehensive line of safety garments and accessories for the industrial protective clothing market" may provide some insight into just how bad the US State Department thinks it may get. Because when the US government buys 160,000 hazmat suits specifically designed against Ebola, just ahead of the worst Ebola epidemic in history making US landfall, one wonders: what do they know the we don't?
From Lakeland Industries:
Lakeland Industries, Inc. (LAKE), a leading global manufacturer of industrial protective clothing for industry, municipalities, healthcare and to first responders on the federal, state and local levels, today announced the global availability of its protective apparel for use in handling the Ebola virus. In response to the increasing demand for specialty protective suits to be worm by healthcare workers and others being exposed to Ebola, Lakeland is increasing its manufacturing capacity for these garments and includes proprietary processes for specialized seam sealing, a far superior technology for protecting against viral hazards than non-sealed products.
"Lakeland stands ready to join the fight against the spread of Ebola," said Christopher J. Ryan, President and Chief Executive Officer of Lakeland Industries. "We understand the difficulty of getting appropriate products through a procurement system that in times of crisis favors availability over specification, and we hope our added capacity will help alleviate that problem. With the U.S. State Department alone putting out a bid for 160,000 suits, we encourage all protective apparel companies to increase their manufacturing capacity for sealed seam garments so that our industry can do its part in addressing this threat to global health.
Of course, purchases by the US government are bought and paid for by taxpayers. For everyone else there's $1200 mail-order delivery:
That said... 160,000 HazMats for a disease that is supposedly not airborne? Mmmk.
The Obama administration wants to cripple the navigation and traffic reporting apps on your smartphone-in the name of safety, of course.
Provisions in the proposed transportation bill would give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration the power to regulate apps like Google Maps and Waze, the crowd- sourced traffic reporting tool. Congress passed stopgap transportation funding for the next 10 months in July, but more significant reforms are still under debate.
Regulators plan to start with automobiles' built-in navigation devices, since regulatory authority is clearer there. Possible "features" include limiting inputs when the car is in motion or making users click a button declaring themselves passengers.
But useless onboard navigation systems mean drivers will turn to their smartphones, so the feds are looking to slap some new rules on those too. The impulse to make rules against distracted driving has a long and not terribly glorious pedigree, dating back to efforts to stop fiddling with the dial when radios first started appearing in cars. In recent years, talking and texting bans have become increasingly popular, but have failed to show clear positive results and may even cause harm. (See "Text Ban Fail," below.)
In related news, a group beholden to Congress and run by a former top transportation bureaucrat strongly believes that the government should act. "We absolutely need to be looking at these nomadic devices," Deborah A.P. Hersman-president of the congressionally chartered nonprofit the National Safety Council, and a former chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board-told The New York Times in June.
… is from page 109 of Michael Huemer’s insightful and powerful 2013 book, The Problem of Political Authority:
Respect for authority was Hitler’s key weapon. The same is true of all the greatest man-made evils. No one has ever managed, working alone, to kill over a million people. Nor has anyone ever arranged such an evil by appealing to the profit motive, pure self-interest, or moral suasion to secure the cooperation of others – except by relying on institutions of political authority. With the help of such institutions, many such crimes have been carried out, accounting for tens of millions of deaths, along with many more ruined lives.