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08 Aug 10:43

That Time The US Government Sought To Secretly Delete Parts Of A Public Court Transcript About The NSA

by Mike Masnick
The EFF has revealed a very disturbing attempt by the US government to flat out secretly delete portions of a public court transcript over the belief that its lawyers may have slipped up and revealed classified information. This came from the recent hearing in the longstanding EFF case Jewel v. NSA, regarding a challenge to NSA surveillance (which began long before the Snowden revelations). After the hearing ended, apparently things took a turn for the bizarre, in which the government quietly notified the judge that it believed one of its attorneys had accidentally revealed classified information during the (very open) hearing, and hoped to remove that information from the transcript, and pretend that it never happened. The EFF fought it, and eventually the government backed down (perhaps realizing it hadn't really revealed anything):
On June 6, the court held a long hearing in Jewel in a crowded, open courtroom, widely covered by the press. We were even on the local TV news on two stations. At the end, the Judge ordered both sides to request a transcript since he ordered us to do additional briefing. But when it was over, the government secretly, and surprisingly sought permission to “remove” classified information from the transcript, and even indicated that it wanted to do so secretly, so the public could never even know that they had done so.

We rightly considered this an outrageous request and vigorously opposed it. The public has a First Amendment right not only to attend the hearing but to have an accurate transcript of it. Moreover, the federal law governing court reporting requires that “each session of the court” be “recorded verbatim” and that the transcript be certified by the court reporter as “a correct statement of the testimony taken and the proceedings had.” 28 U.S.C. § 753(b).

The Court allowed the government a first look at the transcript and indicated that it was going to hold the government to a very high standard and would not allow the government to manufacture a misleading transcript by hiding the fact of any redactions. Ultimately, the government said that it had *not* revealed classified information at the hearing and removed its request.But the incident speaks volumes about the dangers of allowing the government free rein to claim secrecy in court proceedings and otherwise.
It's great that this ended well, but it seems immensely troubling that the government even sought to do this in the first place. Of course, I would imagine this might lead some to scour the full transcript (embedded below) to see if there's any tidbit of information that the government didn't really mean to claim.

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08 Aug 10:00

Brickbat: I've Got a Little List

by Charles Oliver

The San Diego district attorney's office admits it keeps a list of law enforcement officers that it considers unreliable as witnesses in criminal cases. But it refuses to release that list of officers or even to say how many officers are on the list or which agencies they work for. In response to an open records request, the district attorney's office said the public interest in effective law enforcement outweighs any benefits of releasing such information. No, really.

07 Aug 20:57

The Logic of Government Action

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

The Russian government wants to punish America for sanctions the U.S. government imposed on Russia over the Russian government’s involvement in the hostilities in Ukraine.  So what does the Russian government do?  Its chosen means for punishing America is to prevent the Russian people from buying food from America.

“We’ll show you, Comrade Uncle Sammy!  We’ll not consume the valuable products that citizens of your country offer to us at attractive prices!  Take that!!!”

The Russian government is upset with Uncle Sam because the latter government had earlier restricted Americans’ abilities to purchase at attractive prices valuable products offered to them by Russian producers.

It’s crazy: governments routinely attempt to punish each other by each harming its own people.

Even crazier: many pundits and professors continue to find government to be a sensible, even magnificent, institution worthy of our loyalty, admiration, and obedience.

…..

I’ll reduce my consumption to punish you,” says U to R.

“Yeah?!  Well I’ll reduce my consumption, too.  That’ll show you,” responds R in fearsome retaliation to U‘s frightening threat.

But I can reduce my consumption more than you can reduce yours!” boasts U.

“Just you wait, U!  I’ll outdo you at reducing consumption!” R barks in reply.

….

Of course, the reason such trade sanctions have any hope of working is because producers in each country are special-interest groups.  They get heard; they are politically powerful.  The general public as such, and consumers as such, are largely ignored by politicians.  So because a policy by government U that harms producers in country R might create pressure on politicians in R to adopt policies more to the liking of government U, government U pursues that policy despite the fact that the very nature of the policy is to harm large numbers of citizens of country U.

07 Aug 16:59

Exclusive - Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund Publishes Evidence Henry Barbour at Center of Race-Baiting in MS, Calls on Reince Priebus to Censure

A new white paper from Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund puts a target on GOP operative Henry Barbour for his role in incendiary racial appeals in the Mississippi GOP Senate primary.

“Henry Barbour was the field general in an unprecedented campaign to smear a fellow Republican, so desperate was his family to cling to power,” Jenny Beth Martin, the chair of TPPCF, said in the statement provided exclusively to Breitbart News. “We’re used to these tactics from Democrats: desperate appeals to emotion, fear-mongering, even playing the ‘Klan’ card. Who would have thought the Barbour machine would finance such despicable race-baiting?”

During the campaign, a super PAC run by Barbour, Mississippi Conservatives, provided funds to Democratic operatives and organizations that put out literature and ran radio ads. These ads said that voting for incumbent Sen. Cochran was a means of stopping the Tea Party and preventing his primary challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, from “roll[ing] back the hand of time,” among other examples.

According to National Review, Barbour, the nephew of former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, vehemently denied to Republican colleagues having any role in the ads, before finally admitting to it in an interview with reporter Eliana Johnson, saying colorful remarks McDaniel made on talk radio a decade ago, and efforts to prevent voter fraud invited the scrutiny from black Democrats.

“Many Mississippians, who were already disgusted by McDaniel’s race-baiting talk-radio-show comments, heard the code words that insinuated that African Americans were not welcome in the Republican primary,” Barbour told National Review.

Monday, however, a Democratic activist said she had funded one particularly vicious ad that raised the specter of the KKK, and Barbour was quoted saying, “I am glad the people really behind this despicable KKK ad have been revealed, because Sen. Cochran’s opponents have falsely accused our group and others of running it. As I have said from the start, I had zero to do with it.”

There are also outstanding questions about the KKK ad, and the Democratic activist’s claims may not necessarily be true, either; the radio station that ran the ads backed up previous allegations against political operatives in Mississippi connected with Barbour. The radio station owner said Democratic operative Greg Brand was behind the ads—something Brand denies. If Brand was involved, it confirms a lot more connections back to the Barbours and Cochran’s allies. Radio station WMGO owner Jerry Lousteau said that if Brand is denying being involved, “he is lying.”

The new white paper from Tea Party Patriots outlines the nexus between the Barbour-run super PAC and the race-baiting ads that proliferated in Mississippi in the waning days of the race, helping drive Democratic turnout that gave Cochran his victory in the GOP primary.

Martin is calling on Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus—who is holding meetings right now in Chicago with all RNC members—to censure Barbour for his conduct in Mississippi.

“Chairman Priebus and members of the Committee, if you do nothing, you sanction Henry Barbour’s conduct,” Martin said, adding:

Is this why he was on the Committee’s hand-picked group to study ‘minority outreach’ after 2012? Well Reince, maybe I didn’t get the memo, but shouldn’t the GOP reach out to minorities with the conservative values in the party platform? Or is Henry’s method of fear-mongering with food stamps and school lunches the way to recruit African-Americans?

“By not repudiating such despicable conduct, you’ll tell 183,000 conservatives in Mississippi, ‘Yes, it’s fine that Democrats chose your nominee, and yes, the Barbour machine had to be preserved at all costs,’” Martin said in her statement, speaking directly to Priebus. “And Reince, never again accuse Harry Reid or Eric Holder of playing the race card. Because by your silence you’ve forfeited the right to complain, and have endorsed the shameful tactic yourself.”

The Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund white paper on Henry Barbour’s role in race-baiting ads is 24 pages long, and it opens with the statement that “Henry Barbour is not telling the truth.”

Before detailing how Henry Barbour’s denials are false, the white paper reads:

Henry Barbour, Republican National Committeeman from Mississippi, repeatedly claims in public that he had nothing to do with the race-baiting flyers and robocalls that were deployed against Republican State Senator Chris McDaniel during the June 3, 2014 Mississippi Republican U.S. Senate primary election and the June 24, 2014 Mississippi Republican U.S. Senate runoff election.

“Henry Barbour directed a PAC that provided the funding that produced and disseminated vile racial slurs against REPUBLICAN state Senator Chris McDaniel and his REPUBLICAN and conservative supporters,” the white paper reads. 

It continues:

The Mississippi Conservatives PAC, under Barbour’s direction, funded (through illegal means) various operatives and organizations of dubious background to implement a deliberate and premeditated strategy of vicious race-baiting and fear mongering over issues of race during the runoff election between incumbent Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel. Henry Barbour deliberately chose to use well-known Democrat operatives and organizations in a character assassination scheme – the kind that the professional Left has perfected, and which Republicans abhor – in order to destroy the reputation of a loyal, fellow Republican, a current Mississippi state legislator in good standing and a Republican Party member since the age of 13, whose only offense was to announce and run for a Senate seat held by an incumbent Republican. (NOTE: Sen. Chris McDaniel announced for the U.S. Senate seat well before incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran had announced – and at a time when most observers believed that Sen. Cochran was not seeking reelection.)

TPPCF notes that the evidence against Barbour “raises serious and troubling questions” about “his behavior during the primary and the runoff campaign, and his evasions and downright falsehoods to the RNC afterwards.”

TPPCF thinks that the RNC and Republican leaders can’t legitimately demand certain standards of behavior from the Democrats and President Barack Obama if they can’t live by their own rules. “Every day, Republican Party officials demand that President Obama and the Democrats act responsibly and with the consent of the American people,” TPPCF wrote. “We think this is a perfect opportunity for the leaders of the Grand Old Party to demonstrate to their base and to all Americans that they will enthusiastically live up to the same standards that they demand of the President and his Party.”

Specifically, TPPCF is demanding the RNC censure Henry Barbour and issue a public statement condemning the actions he and others took to try to smear Tea Partiers as racists. 

The white paper then walks through how Barbour’s Mississippi Conservatives pro-Cochran super PAC used race-baiting tactics to get Democrats to voted for Cochran on June 24. 

“In the days immediately following the June 3 primary election, pro-Cochran forces inside the Mississippi GOP and its allies scrambled to find a new strategy,” TPPCF wrote, adding:

Given the results of the June 3 primary, it was clear that Cochran could not win a majority of REPUBLICAN votes in the June 24 runoff – so the strategist began to develop a plan NOT to rely only on the votes of Republican primary voters. Henry Barbour and his allies determined to go outside the GOP voters in Mississippi and to rely on a provision of Mississippi law that allows any voter – including Democrats – who do not vote in the Democratic primary to vote in the REPUBLICAN runoff election. Mississippi law does not require voters to state a party preference when they register to vote, so any registered voter who had not cast a ballot in the Democratic primary on June 3 was eligible to vote in the June 24 GOP Senate runoff.

TPPCF noted that Barbour’s goal – which he was very public about – was to “flood” the June 24 runoff with Democrats, and to do so "with Democrats who could be frightened into supporting Thad Cochran ... based on leftist, Democratic race-baiting, rather than time-honored Republican principles. And that is exactly what they did,” TPPCF wrote. 

Furthermore:

Mississippi Conservatives PAC, under the direction of Henry Barbour, raised funds from the national GOP establishment to then fund the efforts of All Citizens for Mississippi PAC – a new PAC established by Bishop Ronnie Crudup Sr. of the New Horizon Church International just before the Mississippi primary on June 3. This new PAC shares its street address and Treasurer with the church. This new PAC violated federal campaign finance law by not filing required FEC reports until well after the close the June 24 runoff election.

Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings show that Crudup’s new PAC raised money from only one source: Henry Barbour’s Mississippi Conservatives super PAC.

TPPCF details how Crudup’s “All Citizens for Mississippi PAC,” quickly “essentially became a cut-out” for Henry Barbour’s shop, and specifically pounded out advertisements into the black community accusing Chris McDaniel and the Tea Party of being racists—so they needed to support Cochran to keep a conservative out of office.

TPPCF cites three major examples of All Citizens for Mississippi’s race-baiting with Henry Barbour’s money. “All Citizens for Mississippi PAC produced and disseminated at least one flyer that claimed that ‘the tea party intends to prevent you from voting.’” 

“All Citizens for Mississippi PAC also produced and aired radio ads,” the white paper continued, asserting: 

One said, "A victory by tea party candidate Chris McDaniel is a loss for the state of Mississippi. It is a loss for public education. ... It is a loss for the citizens of this state in a time of natural disaster, for our public universities and particularly our historically black universities. A victory for Chris McDaniel is a loss for the reputation of this state for race, for race relationships between blacks and whites and other ethnic groups. Mississippi can't afford Chris McDaniel."

“A second radio ad produced and aired by All Citizens for Mississippi PAC said, ‘I'm Pastor Siggers, Pastor of the Mt. Olive Baptist Church. These are some tough times. ... And tough times call for tough decisions. A time when there is an effort to roll back the hand of time.'" The white paper went on to state, "I'm talking about the race for the U.S. Senate between Thad Cochran and tea-party candidate Chris McDaniels [sic]. I know that traditionally we as a community don't vote Republican, but for this special election, we need to turn out in record numbers to push back against this tea party effort."








07 Aug 14:38

The Weakling’s Guide to Working Out

by Tony Gentilcore

As you’ll undoubtedly see if you decide to read the entire article (and why wouldn’t you?), some trainees place the cart before the horse and make things more complicated than they have to be. Rocket science is hard. Long division is hard. Figuring out why women love Hugh Grant movies is hard. Lifting weights should not be hard.

I was asked by Stack Magazine to write an article aimed towards guys (but the message applies to women too!) who tend to have a hard time making progress with their exercise routine – namely their resistance training routine.

Or what I affectionally refer to as “lifting heavy stuff.”

To be candid, the message is nothing revolutionary and it’s probably one you’ve read or have been told time and time again. But it’s something that bears repeating, and frankly, despite how often it’s trumpeted, people somehow fail to allow the message to stick

Akin to how people continue to text while behind the wheel of a car or are constantly being told to put the toilet seat back down.

Yeah, kinda like that.

The Weakling’s Guide to Workout Out

NOTE:  as a small favor, if you liked the article on Stack, PLEASE share it through your social media outlets. If you didn’t like it, pffft, whatever….;o)

29 Jul 18:16

D.C. Circuit Rules that Obamacare Is a “Tax” but Not a “Bill for Raising Revenue”

by Timothy Sandefur

Timothy Sandefur

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals today tossed out the latest constitutional challenge to Obamacare, which argues that if the individual mandate is a “tax,” as the Supreme Court said it is, it’s still unconstitutional because it did not originate in the House of Representatives, as the Constitution requires. I argued the case on behalf of entrepreneur Matt Sissel in May.

Today’s decision, written by Judge Judith Rogers and joined by Judges Cornelia Pillard and Robert Wilkins, holds that while the mandate may be a “tax,” it isn’t a “bill for raising revenue,” and is therefore exempt from the Origination Clause.

What’s the difference between a tax and a bill for raising revenue? Some court decisions have held that there are things that may appear to be taxes but are actually only penalties designed to enforce other kinds of laws. For example, in a 1943 case called Rodgers v. United States, the court of appeals said that a tax that was imposed on people for growing more wheat than the government allowed (that’s the same wheat law that was at issue in the infamous Wickard v. Filburn) wasn’t really a tax, but just an enforcement penalty or a fine. Such penalties aren’t “bills for raising revenue,” so they don’t have to start in the House.

The problem with that line of argument is that in NFIB v. Sebelius, the Supreme Court said that the individual mandate, whatever else it might be, is not a penalty or a fine. That’s just why Chief Justice Roberts concluded that it was a tax! And that means that no such exemption should apply.

Today’s D.C. Circuit decision acknowledges this, but holds that there is another variety of tax that isn’t a “bill for raising revenue.” And that is, taxes whose “main object or aim” is something other than generating income for the government. According to this “purposive approach,” the court says, the court should look to “the primary aim” of the bill to decide whether the Origination Clause applies—without regard for whether it will “generate substantial revenues.”

But the Supreme Court has never endorsed this vague “purposive approach,” and for good reason. Laws often have many “objects or aims”—particularly in an era of massive omnibus bills. The ACA is over 2,000 pages long, with provisions on all sorts of different subjects. Which one is its “main” object? What is the “main” object of a “stimulus package” or a general appropriations bill? What about a tax imposed to support the military? Is its “main object” to raise money—or to support the military? If judges are free to decide what the “main object or aim” of a bill is, and to apply the Constitution or not accordingly, then they should at least have some objective criteria for making that call…and the court can point to none. That’s because the Constitution makes no distinction, and the constitutional analysis does not hinge on what the “main object or aim” of a bill is. Instead, the question is whether the bill levies a tax, and puts that money into the general treasury for Congress to spend at will—which Obamacare’s individual mandate tax does.

Worse, the vague “purposive approach” creates a loophole that the Senate can easily walk through to originate revenue-raising bills. All it needs to do is originate a tax by saying that its main purpose is some other thing. One reason we know that isn’t what the Constitution says is that the Framers rejected a proposed draft of the Origination Clause that would have applied only to “[b]ills for raising money for the purpose of revenue.” The reason is obvious: because the vague “purpose” test would allow Congress to evade constitutional limits too easily.

There’s remarkably little Supreme Court precedent interpreting the Origination Clause. It seems likely that the Sissel case will change that eventually.

07 Aug 12:03

Opposition to Minimum-Wage Legislation Requires Value Judgments (And So Does Support for Such Legislation)

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

Commenting on this post, Peter Maxted argues that economists (such as myself) who repeatedly point out that minimum-wage legislation reduces the employment options of low-skilled workers miss the point.  If I grasp his point adequately, Mr. Maxted insists that the relevant policy question is one of costs compared to benefits: do the costs of minimum-wage legislation outweigh the benefits?  Pointing out that minimum-wage legislation has costs is an insufficient basis for concluding that minimum-wage legislation is undesirable.  He’s correct.  Yet the reality that the downsides of policy Z must always be compared with upsides of policy Z does not, contrary to Mr. Maxted’s implication, mean that the basic economic argument used to make a case against minimum-wage legislation does not supply very sturdy grounds for opposing such legislation.

I posted, in the comments section of that post, a longish response to Mr. Maxted’s comment.  I’ll not repeat here what I said there.  Instead, here I offer a draft of the sort of public speech that a pro-minimum-wage politician or pundit would give if he or she were true to the scientific spirit urged by Mr. Maxted:

Fellow Americans,

I propose that the minimum-wage be raised.  A higher minimum wage will cause some low-skilled workers’ wages to rise; therefore, many of these workers’ annual incomes will rise.  And who can object to that happy outcome?!

But you must know, fellow Americans, that this hike in the minimum wage will also likely cause some other low-skilled workers to lose their jobs, and yet others who would otherwise have found employment at the lower wage to not find employment.  These workers will remain unemployed indefinitely.  We don’t know who these unfortunate workers are; they will not know who they are.  Yet the logic of economics assures us that they will almost certainly exist.

So you must beware of those politicians and pundits who endorse a higher minimum wage as if it will unambiguously help all low-skilled, low-paid workers.  You must be on guard against the constant over-selling of this policy, often as if it were cost-free – such as when (to pick just one example from among multitudes) President Obama said last month, “[w]hen … you raise the minimum wage, you give a bigger chance to folks who are climbing the ladder, working hard….  And the whole economy does better, including businesses.”

Such claims, which are standard fare among those of us who press for raising the minimum wage, are unscientific; they’re based either on no, or on faulty, economic reasoning.  Such claims promise a free lunch, or at least a lunch that is free to all low-skilled workers.

Be aware also that the distribution of the benefits of minimum-wage legislation are likely not to be in favor of the workers who are most in need of higher wages.  Obliged to pay higher wages for workers to fill entry-level jobs, employers will have a surplus of workers to choose from.  The workers who will get and keep jobs at the higher minimum wage will disproportionately be workers who are least in need of this artificial privilege.  These workers will mostly be white, well-educated teens from well-to-do neighborhoods; the workers who will be the ones who are cast indefinitely into the ranks of the unemployed – whose hourly pay will fall to $0.00 – will disproportionately be minority teens and young adults from the inner city, as well as immigrants: people whose level of education, whose command of English, whose social connections are not as high or as strong as those of teenagers from high-income families living in places such as Fairfax County, VA, Montgomery County, MD, Bergen County, NJ, or Westchester County, NY.

So understand, as you join me in supporting a higher minimum wage, that the beneficiaries will disproportionately be people who are least in need of special privileges, while the people who bear the burden of the costs of the higher minimum wage will disproportionately be those who are most in need of employment even at wages lower than the legislated minimum.

Note also that even those workers who are fortunate enough to be employed at the higher minimum wage will likely suffer work conditions worse than they would in the absence of a legislated minimum wage.  Most employers of low-skilled, entry-level workers – firms such fast-food restaurants, lawn-care services, and motels – operate in highly competitive industries.  These firms have no excess profits out of which they can, even if they wished, pay the mandated higher wages without cutting costs on some other fronts.  So employers of minimum-wage workers will demand more work effort per hour from their low-skilled workers – these employers will be less lenient with employees who use work time for personal matters – they’ll pay fewer fringe benefits – they’ll be less able to afford to hire workers for overtime work (which is one reason that I said in my opening line that not all, but only “many,” of these workers who are employed at the minimum wage will experience higher annual incomes).

Yet despite these economic realities, I support a higher minimum wage because I believe that the benefits to the workers who will receive higher hourly wages as a result outweigh the costs to those who will be rendered indefinitely unemployed or channeled into the underground economy.

Please join me in supporting this policy to promote social justice!

26 Jul 10:34

Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

…from page 61 of David Mamet’s 2011 book, The Secret Knowledge (original emphasis):

Hayek calls this utopian vision The Road to Serfdom.  And we see it in operation here, as we are in the process of choosing, as a society, between Liberty – the freedom from the State to pursue happiness, and a supposed but impossible Equality, which, as it could only be brought about by a State capable and empowered to function in all facets of life, means totalitarianism and eventual dictatorship.

06 Aug 17:06

Obama refers to self 68 times at US-Africa Summit...


Obama refers to self 68 times at US-Africa Summit...


(Second column, 5th story, link)
Related stories:
06 Aug 17:07

Amash Blasts Defeated Opponent: 'I Ran For Office to Stop People Like You'

by Robby Soave

Justin AmashHaving survived a primary challenge from a neoconservative crony capitalist supporter of the Export-Import Bank, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) had no intention of making nice with an opponent who had branded him "al-Qaida's best friend" in Congress.

Brian Ellis, who lost to Amash 57 percent to 43 percent in Tuesday's primary, called to concede and congratulate the victor. But Amash rejected the call, lambasting Ellis for running "a ridiculous, despicable smear campaign."

In his victory speech, Amash called on Ellis to apologize:

"You owe my family and this community an apology for your disgusting, despicable smear campaign. You had the audacity to try and call me today after running a campaign that was called the nastiest in the country. I ran for office to stop people like you. To stop people who were more interested in themselves than in doing what's best for their district. Everyday Americans are taking back their government from the crooks and the cronies. They are taking back their government from the political class elites."

He also mocked former Republican House Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who backed Ellis:

"You are a disgrace. And I'm glad we could hand you one more loss before you fade into total obscurity and irrelevance."

Watch a video of the speech here, courtesy of The Washington Post.

More on Amash from Reason here.

04 Aug 21:58

New York Guest House Burns Own Reputation To The Ground By Trying To Charge Customers $500 For Bad Reviews

by Tim Cushing
Jts5665

Stay away from this place...

The Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York, joins the small group of businesses who have attempted to levy fees against customers who leave negative reviews. It's an exclusive group that no business should want to be a part of, one that includes the infamous and possibly French geek gadget re-shipper KlearGear.

Page Six was the first to report on this customer-unfriendly clause residing in the rental terms and conditions:

If you stay here to attend a wedding and leave us a negative review on any internet site you agree to a $500. fine for each negative review.

If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding or event (this is due to the fact that your guests may not understand what we offer and we expect you to explain that to them).
Not only is the clause incredibly stupid and openly antagonistic, but it holds renters responsible for the actions of anyone in their party, including guests whose experience may have been drastically different than the renting party's. It even tells renters to spread the news that no negative reviews should be posted, which should be enough to tell potential customers to rent elsewhere.

Now, the Union Street Guest House has all the negative reviews it will ever need. As soon as this started spreading around the internet, it's Yelp page quickly filled up with negative reviews, forcing the business to offer this "explanation" on its Facebook page.
The policy regarding wedding fines was put on our site as a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding many years ago. It was meant to be taken down long ago and certainly was never enforced.
Oh. Well, LOL… I guess. I'm not sure the "it was all a joke" defense is going to undo the damage done by its decision to insert this language into its rental terms, no matter what the original impetus. This also doesn't explain why a lousy joke was allowed to be part of the official policies for nearly two years (it appeared sometime between August and October 2012). It's gone now, but there's still an edge to USGH's voice in the amended terms, which indicates the Guest House is in no hurry to hand out refunds, return deposits or deal with chargebacks.
CANCEL AT YOUR OWN RISK, WE DO NOT ACCEPT ALL CANCELLATION REQUESTS...

If you file for a charge-back (request a refund directly from your amex or bank card) or file a complaint to any 3rd party organization during that time you are responsible for any fees associated with it and doing so will only hold up the refund process...

The deposit will not be refunded until we feel that everything is 100% resolved (we reserve the right to refund at any time). If you hold the entire Inn you are responsible for every room. There are no "releasing" rooms prior. If there are any unused rooms you forfeit your entire deposit. All chargebacks and any other fees related to any charges from anyone in your party (that they have not paid) will be deducted from your deposit.
According to Page Six, there's also a bit of an edge to its voice in its handling of earlier negative reviews:
For any bad reviews that do make it online, the innkeepers aggressively post “mean spirited nonsense,” and “she made all of this up.”

In response to a review complaining of rude treatment over a bucket of ice, the proprietors shot back: “I know you guys wanted to hang out and get drunk for 2 days and that is fine. I was really really sorry that you showed up in the summer when it was 105 degrees . . . I was so so so sorry that our ice maker and fridge were not working and not accessible.”
It would seem obvious that there are better places to spend your money, especially since the chance of you receiving your deposit seem incredibly slim. The most objectionable part of the terms has been removed, but only because it went completely public. At no time during the last two years did the Guest House take down this clause, which seems to indicate that it wasn't the inside joke it's now pretending it was.

I don't know why this lesson even needs to be learned at this point. If businesses haven't figured out that attempting to suppress bad reviews almost invariably only results in more bad reviews, this sort of stupidity and inevitable backlash should be viewed as nothing more than culling the herd. If you'd rather try to silence unhappy customers than address the problems in your own business, you deserve to have your reputation torched to the ground. But don't blame the internet. This fire was started by the Union Street Guest House itself.

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31 Jul 01:37

According to Its Text, It Benefits the Poor

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

Congratulations are due to Zac Gochenour, who successfully defended his excellent dissertation on Monday afternoon in Carow Hall on George Mason University’s Fairfax campus.  Dr. Gochenour (who will soon start his career as an assistant professor at Western Carolina University) began his academic study of economics as an undergraduate at George Mason.  Bryan Caplan served as chairman of Zac’s dissertation committee; Pete Leeson and I had the honor of serving as the other two members of Zac’s committee.

Zac’s dissertation is on the economics and political economy of immigration.  Here’s a brief passage from page 14 of chapter 2 – a chapter that details the history of efforts in the United States to restrict immigration:

The 47th Congress saw the most action on immigration of any to that point; ultimately, three major acts concerning immigration were enacted. The first concerned regulations for vessels carrying immigrants: the new bill added minimums for carrying capacity and deck area per passenger.

(Fortunately, President Arthur vetoed this 1882 act.)

Note that these Congressional acts were the handiwork of people hostile to immigrants.  Yet lookie here!  We find among the legislative tactics used by these anti-immigrant types a legislative mandate that, on its surface, makes life better for immigrants: larger ships and more space for immigrants traveling to America.

The lesson here is not only that legislators’ unsavory intentions are easily hidden behind fine-sounding statutory language, but also that one tried and true way for government to inflict harm on disfavored groups is to mandate benefits for those groups.  By mandating more ship space for immigrants en route to America, many members of Congress in the early 1880s understood that the actual result of the mandate would be fewer ships willing to carry immigrants to America or higher fees charged to people wishing to gain passage on ships bound for the United States.  Either way, the mandated minimum-space requirement (had Pres. Arthur not vetoed it) would have raised the cost to shipowners of carrying immigrants and, thus, would have restricted the options of those non-Americans who wished to immigrate to America.  Immigrants would have suffered from this statute that, on its surface, made them better off.

Pretty statutory words are crafted to achieve ugly actual outcomes – outcomes that are, at any rate, decidedly different from any results that credulous people infer from the literal texts of statutes.

A similar effect is in play (to mention only one of many real-world examples) with minimum-wage legislation: the words of the legislation proclaim a desire to improve the lot of low-skilled workers.  But the actual effects of the legislation – effects that are the direct result of government mandating that private businesses supply a minimum amount of benefits to poor workers – harm those workers.  The results of such legislation are fewer employment options for the very workers that the words of the legislation lead credulous people to believe government seeks to help.

….

As much as I would love to have more office space at GMU than I now have – and as much as I’d love (even more!) to have a higher (oh, say, a 40 percent higher) salary than I now have – I would vigorously oppose any efforts to mandate such improved benefits for middle-aged academic economists in America.  For purely selfish reasons I know that I am too likely to suffer if such ‘benefits’ are mandated for me.

To mandate that Smith offer more benefits to Jones whenever he deals with Jones is to mandate that Smith incur higher costs whenever he deals with Jones.  To avoid such higher costs, Smith typically reacts by reducing, or even completely eliminating, his dealings with Jones.  Jones’s lot is not improved as a result; it’s worsened.

06 Aug 12:33

WASHPOST: Global Warming Could Make Worse...

Jts5665

yeesh.

06 Aug 11:12

Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

… is from pages 201-202 of my colleague Richard Wagner’s insightful 2007 book, Fiscal Sociology and the Theory of Public Finance (links added):

Rent seeking describes what people have in mind by lobbying.  It refers to the payments people make to secure political favors.  A sports magnate would like special tax treatment for a stadium he is building.  He lobbies to get this enacted.  Or, more likely, hires someone to do this for him, most likely a defeated or retired legislator.  But rent seeking is only part of the story of money and politics, and perhaps only the minor part.  Rent extraction may be even more significant.  It refers to the payments people make to avoid being victimized by politically harmful measures.  If rent seeking were called bribery were it to occur between private persons, rent extraction would be called extortion.

There is one significant difference between rent seeking and rent extraction that should not be ignored, which may explain why the former has received more attention than the latter.  With rent seeking, politicians are portrayed as relatively passive victims.  They are deluged by lobbyists, and on occasion capitulate to those interests.  The politician is caught in a squeeze between the intensity of special interests and the quietude of the public interest.

With rent extraction, politicians are in the forefront of the action.  They are the initiators who continually look for targets.  Those targets have a choice.  They can ignore the politicians and lose a lot of wealth.  Or they can participate politically, thereby softening their losses.

05 Aug 17:38

Environmentalists Shocked That Local People Protect Forests Better Than Do Governments

by Ronald Bailey

DeforestationOver at the New Scientist Fred Pearce has a nice article, "Local people preserve the environment better than government," in which he discusses an issue well known to Reason readers - recognzing the property rights of local people protects resources from overexploitation. Pearce is focusing on a new report from the environmentalist think tank, the World Resources Institute. The report, Securing Rights, Combating Climate Change: How Strengthening Community Forest Rights Mitigates Ciimate Change, surveys the literature and finds that private ownership of land by local communities greatly reduces deforestation. For example, the report notes:

When Indigenous Peoples and local communities have no or weak legal rights, their forests tend to be vulnerable to deforestation and thus become the source of carbon dioxide emissions. Deforestation of indigenous community forests in Brazil would likely have been 22 times higher without their legal recognition. In Indonesia, the high levels of carbon dioxide emissions from deforestation are driven in part by no or weak legal rights for forest communities. For example, oil palm concessions cover 59 percent of community forests in part of West Kalimantan.

The conclusion that local people are much better at managing forests than are governments, according to Pearce, supposedly flies...

...in the face of the "tragedy of the commons", the idea that collectively owned resources are doomed because everyone grabs as much as they can until they are used up.

Not at all. It's not the commons that is the problem. Overexploitation arises from open access. Environmentalists have long been misled by Garrett Hardin's "The Tragedy of the Commons" fable, in which he argued that only government coercion can forestall environmentally destructive private greed. Libertarians have long known that government "ownership" almost always ends in mismanagement, most especially in poor countries with little or no democratic accountability. In most cases, government "ownership" amounts to creating an open access commons.

As the case of U.S. fisheries has sadly demonstrated, even with democratic accountability, government management of resources often ends up destroying them. On the other hand, private collective ownership that limits access helps protect them. Private ownership, either collective or individual, is the key to the proper management of land, water, and nearly any other resources.

I will repeat my mantra: Wherever you see whatever you want to call an environmental problem, catastrophe, screw-up, it's occurring in an open access commons. That is, since nobody owns the resource, everybody exploits it as much as they can because they know if they leave something behind, the next guy is just going to take it. I live in hope that someday soon environmental activists will heed this lesson.

For more background on how recognizing the property rights of local people help protect the environment, see my article, "The Nature of Poverty: Property Rights Help the Poor Even More Than Rich."

25 Jul 16:02

Quotation of the day on what happens when oil companies get richer…

by Mark J. Perry

… is from Karr Ingham, economist for the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, from a recent presentation in Houston where he predicted that crude oil production in Texas will surpass its 1972 all-time high within two years:

When oil companies get richer, they don’t pocket their money. They invest in future projects. They drill. They pay people. That’s how economic growth is generated.

MP: Damn those evil, greedy oil companies…. they make money, and they invest, they drill, they pay workers, etc……

30 Jul 15:29

Who’d a-thunk it? Market-based medicine saves money?

by Mark J. Perry

I’ve featured the Surgery Center of Oklahoma many times on CD, see posts here, here and here, and watch video above of a special report on the surgery center. Unlike most other medical providers, the Surgery Center of Oklahoma actually posts transparent pricing and offers deeply-discounted, payable-in-advance, cash-only medical procedures. The center does accept private insurance, but it does not accept Medicaid or Medicare — government regulations won’t allow them to post transparent prices online. If any competitor offers a lower price, the Surgery Center will match or beat it, so patients can be guaranteed of getting the lowest price possible.

Here’s a recent news report that illustrates just how much money can be saved when a clinic or hospital operates according to free-market principles and is not burderned by the highly bureaucratic, costly system of government-regulated Medicare and Medicaid.

Oklahoma City-based Surgery Center of Oklahoma has saved the Oklahoma County government approximately $573,000 in medical bills in the five months of its agreement with the county to provide surgery for public employees, according to a report from The City Sentinel.

As of July 17, the “ambulatory surgery center” (ASC) has performed 89 surgeries on public employees at a cost of nearly $336,000, just over one-third of the potential total cost of the surgeries through other providers, according to the Oklahoma County Budget Board. “At a conservative level…it looks like we will save about $1.3 million over 12 months,” said Jon Wilkerson, director of human resources, benefits and payroll for the county, in the report.

In addition to providing direct and huge savings for its patients, the Surgery Center of Oklahoma is also imposing market discipline on its competitors (not unlike the discipline Walmart imposes on Target, etc.), as clinic co-founder Dr. Keith Smith explains here:

“Hospitals are having to match our prices because patients are printing their prices and holding that in one hand and holding a ticket to Oklahoma City in the other hand and asking that hospital to step up,” Dr. Smith said. “So we’re actually causing a deflationary effect on pricing all over the United States.”

MP: We would have a lot more market-based, low overhead, consumer driven health care, and a lot more “price wars” for surgery and other medical procedures if the medical industry moved in the direction of the business model of the Surgery Center of Oklahoma. Unfortunately, the Unaffordable Care Act is taking us in exactly the opposite direction: high overhead health care based on traditional third-party payments that are not transparent to patients, with costs that will tend to escalate over time due to the lack of market incentives and competition, along with the high cost of government red-tape, bureaucracy and paperwork.

05 Aug 02:30

Automated eyes...

Jts5665

Apparently they are watching everyone...

04 Aug 21:18

The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballantyne, PhD + Giveaway!

by Alison Golden
Jts5665

There is a lot of good information in this book. If you have food allergies or any form of autoimmune disease I highly recommend it.

Sarah hasn't written a book here, she's written an encyclopedia. This is a massive book, 432 pages, full color and fully indexed.

Fabulous

The Paleo Approach details in enormous, um, detail her recommended approach using mostly diet to stem the symptoms of autoimmune disease.

Except that it's much more than this.

This book is about the body: how the immune system works; blood sugar regulation; leaky gut; possibly the most comprehensive run down of the hormonal system I've read in a popular book.

I also have one copy of The Paleo Approach to giveaway!

The post The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballantyne, PhD + Giveaway! appeared first on PaleoNonPaleo.

02 Aug 22:11

Cops Drag Brooklyn Grandmother Naked Out of Apartment—Complaints About NYPD Brutality Still Pouring In

by Ed Krayewski

new york's finestSince the death last month of Eric Garner at the hands of New York City police during an attempted arrest (ruled a homicide by chokehold by the medical examiner), there have been a series of complaints about police brutality directed at the New York Police Department (NYPD). Some occurred after Garner's death but some occurred before, only appearing after because of the renewed attention to the NYPD's record of police brutality in the wake of Garner's very publicized death.

Here is the latest of the latter kind, via the New York Daily News:

A Brooklyn grandmother who had just taken a shower was dragged from her apartment by about 12 cops who then stood by for more than two minutes while she was naked in the hallway, according to video that emerged Friday.

Denise Stewart was in her Brownsville apartment on July 13 when police — responding to a domestic disturbance call at the building — pounded on her door at 11:45 p.m. and demanded entry.

Stewart, 48, cracked the door wearing only a towel wrapped around her body and underpants — and was yanked into the hallway by cops over the screams of her family and neighbors.

The video shows a chaotic scene as a dozen or so male officers burst into Stewart's apartment, while several others struggle to subdue and cuff the nearly naked woman in the hallway outside.

Police did not get a specific apartment number for their call but chose Stewart's residence because it sounded loud on the inside. They claimed a 12-year old girl in the house had visible injuries on her, that becoming their reason to act, although it didn't protect her from being arrested either. The Daily News explains:

Cops removed the 12-year-old from the apartment and say she refused to get into the police car and kicked the door. A police spokesman said the child kicked out one of the police van's windows, with the broken glass cutting the chin of one of the cops. The cops were treated at local hospitals and released.

Denise Stewart was charged with assaulting a police officer, and — along with her oldest daughter, Diamond Stewart, 20, — resisting arrest, acting in a manner injurious to a child and criminal possession of a weapon.

Stewart's son Kirkland Stewart, 24, was charged with resisting arrest. The 12-year-old was charged with assaulting a police officer, criminal mischief and criminal possession of a weapon.

Children's Services found no sign of neglect of the 12-year-old, although it sounds like the police's behavior toward her may count as abusive.

Related: my column earlier today explains how incidents like these illustrate the dangerous effects "progressive" policies have on the very people they claim to be enacted on behalf of, the poor.

04 Aug 14:46

A Field Guide to Government Whistleblower Retaliation

by Scott Shackford

"You can probably handle the truth, but we can't, frankly."The scandal over the absolutely horrible treatment of patients by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a secondary scandal: VA employees who have attempted to blow the whistle on the agency’s corruption have faced retaliation.

The Washington Post spent time with the woman who used to be the spokesperson for the hospital in Phoenix (the one that had been Ground Zero for the scandal, but problems have been exposed at hospitals across the country). She is no longer the hospital’s spokesperson. She is now essentially a living joke about government bureaucracy:

[Paula] Pedene, 56, is the former chief spokeswoman for this VA hospital. Now, she is living in a bureaucrat’s urban legend. After complaining to higher-ups about mismanagement at this hospital, she has been reassigned — indefinitely — to a desk in the basement.

In the Phoenix case, investigators are still trying to determine whether Pedene was punished because of her earlier complaints. If she is, that would make her part of a long, ugly tradition in the federal bureaucracy — workers sent to a cubicle in exile.

In the past, whistleblowers have had their desks moved to break rooms, broom closets and basements. It’s a clever punishment, good-government activists say, that exploits a gray area in the law.

The whole thing can look minor on paper. They moved your office. So what? But the change is designed to afflict the striving soul of a federal worker, with a mix of isolation, idle time and lost prestige.

The Post describes her workday in the basement, which is exactly what you’d think it is—she’s a second receptionist in a basement library where the visitors rarely need any help at all.

The Washington Post attempted to get an explanation from the VA on why Pedene is being treated the way she was. The hit a wall, partly because the person responsible for sending Pedene to the basement has been put on leave because of the big scandal, and partly because of the typical “no comment on personnel matters” response that thwarts any journalist trying to figure out what happens to any human being who works for any government from lowly garbage collectors, to police officers, to city managers.  

Read the whole thing here.

31 Jul 10:38

Why You Can’t Just Snap Out of Your Depression

by Kevin Cann

Written by: Kevin Cann

 

Depression is still often looked at by the masses as a state of mind that we can just simply snap right out of.  I am writing this article today in hopes of educating as many people as I can regarding the true nature of depression.  According to researchers at Stanford University the cause of depression is attributed 50% to genetics, and the other 50% attributed to other factors.  This conclusion was drawn on research with identical and non-identical twins as well as looking at adopted children with a predisposition to depression (http://depressiongenetics.stanford.edu/mddandgenes.html ).

Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even cancer have ties to our genetics.  We do not tell people with these diseases to just “snap out of it”, because it is not that simple.  The same can be said about depression.  Evidence has been mounting showing disruption in the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis (HPA) in those that suffer from depression.  Researchers decided to look at this section of the human brain because depression is also linked to cognitive decline on top of the emotional instability.  What researchers have been discovering is game changing.

Research is beginning to show deficits in glucocorticoid receptor (GR) mediated negative feedback.  This would make sense in light that increased stress leads to increased rates of depression.  Our glucocorticoids are a group of our stress hormones, with cortisol being the most popular. GR’s are responsible for binding to the stress hormones and relaying their messages to cells.  When there are deficits in the GR, the stress hormone’s signal is not read and relayed and we need an increased level of that same hormone to get the message across.  One gene in-particular is being linked to the decreased ability someone has in managing stress and it is classified as the NR3C1 gene.  Interestingly enough in rats maternal behavior can alter another gene, NGF1-A, which controls GR activity (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19089807 ).  This would explain how stress can lead to epigenetic changes that lead to us becoming depressed.

That study was done on rats, so let us look at a study that was performed on humans.  Researchers looked at pregnant mothers with treated and untreated depressive disorders and looked at the methylation status of the NR3C1 gene.  They concluded by stating that newborn methylation status of NR3C1 was effected by the mother’s mood during the third trimester of pregnancy (http://www.landesbioscience.com/journals/epigenetics/OberlanderEPI3-2.pdf ).

Why would the mother’s mood directly affect the child’s mood and predispose him or her to negative emotional well-being later in life?  Could there really be a survival benefit to this?  The time in utero and early on in life is a critical period for CNS development.  Some newborns develop emotional resilience during this time and others develop an increased risk for mental illness (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2965301/ ).  Perhaps this is evolution trying to figure out the best way to handle the stressors of modern society?

Serotonin is our neurotransmitter responsible for our mood.  Low levels are associated with increased risk of depression, anxiety, and irritability.  In fact, most anti-depressant medications work upon this pathway to try to alleviate the symptoms associated with anxiety and depression.  Serotonin also plays a critical role in gene expression in helping us deal with stress.

Rats that are groomed more from their mothers show increased levels of serotonin.  These increased levels of serotonin increase NGF1-A gene expression and they show lower levels of glucocorticoids, a group of stress hormones, later in life (http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v12/n3/fig_tab/nn0309-241_F1.html ).  Knowing that serotonin plays a critical role in the expression of favorable genes to assist us in managing stress, we need to make sure that we do not become deficient in this important neurotransmitter.  This makes managing stress, sleeping, and eating a diet high in nutrient dense food important as they all play critical roles in serotonin production, and poor sleep, food choices, and increased stress levels can actually deplete us of serotonin.

Depression is not just a frame of mind that we can just snap out of.  Just like other diseases there is a genetic component to it.  Our mother’s mood during pregnancy as well as our genetic lineage predispose us to either emotional resiliency or increased risk of mood disorders.  The good news is that just because we are genetically predisposed to depression doesn’t mean that these genes need to express themselves.  Our epigenome is an amazingly adaptive machine and we can take part in lifestyle behaviors that will quiet our negative genes and allow us to express positive mood genes.  This includes sleeping well, eating a healthy diet of nutrient dense foods, having quality social relationships, managing stress, and getting adequate sunlight.  Following those lifestyle rules will not only help with depression, but with other ailments as well.

 

 

 

 

24 Jul 14:30

Border Agents Harassed My Family, Forced Me to Delete Recording, 'Because'

by Rogier van Bakel

Border port of entryOur trip to Quebec was lovely, thanks. Returning to the U.S., not so much.

At the Jackman, Maine, border crossing into the United States, I get interrogated about what I have in my car. And not just the three juicy Canada-bought clementines, either.

"What is your relation to these children?" brusquely demands the young border guard who examines my two daughters' passports and my own.

They do have their mother's last name, and they do look somewhat Asian. I'm white. Maybe he's curious. So I don't give him any lip.

"I'm their dad."

"Where is their mother?"

"At home, I guess."

"Do you have a letter with her permission for you to travel with them?"

Seriously?

"I wasn't aware that I needed any such thing,” I say. “Are you telling me I do?"

He clearly doesn't appreciate even that tiny bit of pushback.

"Never mind. Follow me into lane one, please. We're going to have to search your vehicle. Please give me your driver's license."

I hand it to him, then park the car in the area he indicates.

"Now please get out of the car and follow me inside."

I grab my iPhone off the dash, hit the record button, and tell him politely: "For my protection, officer, I'm now recording what's happening." He stays silent. I step out of the car, and without warning, he physically attacks—that is, he wrestles the phone from my hand, twisting my arm in the process. I'm stunned.

"Officer, I do not give you permission to take my phone."

"I don't need your permission!” he barks. “Get inside and sit on the bench. With your kids."

He disappears. With my phone.

Inside the building, I ultimately get a lecture from two other border patrol officers—friendlier, but not by much—about why recording is not allowed.

"If you upload it or share it in any way, people are going to know what kinds of questions we ask," one of them says.

That makes no sense, I say. "As a journalist, I can tell the world, in writing, what questions you ask. In the U.S., anyone has that right. That's certainly not against the law. What's the difference between that and recording the conversation?"

A moment's hesitation.

"Officer safety and security."

I consider it. Might be fun to turn the tables for a moment, and use the argument of the typical surveillance enthusiast against them.

"If you all behave professionally, I believe you have nothing to worry about, and I don't see why being recorded should faze you."

'Officer safety' strike me as a nonsense. They're all wearing name tags. I could identify them in writing, in public, and that wouldn't be an intolerable affront against safety and security. Why would a voice recording be any different?

Now, to my surprise, my oldest daughter pipes up, in her sweetest voice. She's 11.

"Why are you telling my dad this?"

I stare at her, wondering if, for her own good, I should tell her to zip it.

The answer from one of the guards is unexpected: "Because!"

What in the world? Who's the child here?

My daughter doesn't hesitate. In a soft but clear voice, she tells the two uniformed men, "'Because' is not a reason."

Holy crap. I am suddenly swelling with pride. But take it easy, kid, I think—this is not your fight. I gesture to her that it's all right. She sits back down on the bench.

Then I fill out a customs declaration, as requested, and am resigned to letting my car get searched...for no reason that I'm aware of, unless it is that, ten minutes earlier, I hadn't smiled ingratiatingly enough.

But the guys now have other plans.

"We'll need you to delete from your phone what you just recorded."

I think about it. Is this leverage, maybe? "If I do, are we free to go?" I ask.

Surprisingly, the answer is yes.

They retrieve my phone.

I take a chance and delete the recording while one of the officers watches closely. I figure that if I ever need to retrieve the footage, I'll find a software expert who knows how.

To his credit, the officer wasn't lying. I promptly get our passports and my driver's license back.

"Welcome home," he says, perhaps brightening at the prospect that I will soon be out of his life. The feeling is mutual.

My daughters and I roll away, in our unsearched car—having ultimately posed no greater threat to the United States than the unthinking importation of three clementines, contraband that the border patrol professionals have bravely confiscated and discarded.

I'm sure they'll rest easy tonight, and so can you.

24 Jul 21:58

Of Apple and NSA

by noreply@blogger.com (Vox)
This is not exactly shocking news, but it is disappointing all the same to learn that Apple is making it even easier for governments to spy on its users.
Apple has endowed iPhones with undocumented functions that allow unauthorized people in privileged positions to wirelessly connect and harvest pictures, text messages, and other sensitive data without entering a password or PIN, a forensic scientist warned over the weekend.

Jonathan Zdziarski, an iOS jailbreaker and forensic expert, told attendees of the Hope X conference that he can't be sure Apple engineers enabled the mechanisms with the intention of accommodating surveillance by the National Security Agency and law enforcement groups. Still, he said some of the services serve little or no purpose other than to make huge amounts of data available to anyone who has access to a computer, alarm clock, or other device that has ever been paired with a targeted device.

Zdziarski said the service that raises the most concern is known as com.apple.mobile.file_relay. It dishes out a staggering amount of data—including account data for e-mail, Twitter, iCloud, and other services, a full copy of the address book including deleted entries, the user cache folder, logs of geographic positions, and a complete dump of the user photo album—all without requiring a backup password to be entered.
So much for that whole liberal countercultural vibe Apple has been riding for decades. It was one thing to construct a walled garden. It's another to hand Big Brother a secret key to it.

Posted by Vox Day.
24 Jul 04:27

NSA Keeps Tracking People Even After They're Dead...

Jts5665

Alternate Headline: NSA Tracking Long Term Democrat Voters


NSA Keeps Tracking People Even After They're Dead...


(Second column, 24th story, link)
Related stories:
23 Jul 21:36

Corporate Tax Inversions Made Simple

by Chris Edwards

Chris Edwards

Numerous responses to my article in the New York Times yesterday about corporate tax inversions indicated a lack of understanding. Related articles by Levin, Johnston, and Huang similarly suggested that further enlightenment is needed.

The following chart should simplify the issue for NYT readers, columnists, and policymakers.

All data from KPMG. Global average is for 134 countries.

CITR

23 Jul 17:00

The Future Is Smaller - That's The Only Way This Works

by Tyler Durden

Submitted by Simon Black of Sovereign Man blog,

Leopold Kohr was a rather obscure Austrian economist from the early 20th century who spent the better part of his career railing against the ‘cult of bigness’.

Kohr’s fundamental premise was simple: Big doesn’t work. Big corporations. Big governments. Big countries. There are just too many problems from size.

Think about ancient Rome. As the empire expanded, Rome’s imperial government had to create layers and layers of bureaucracies. Municipal levels, provincial levels, regional levels, etc.

They had to maintain a massive standing army to secure their constantly-growing borders. Tax collection was a nightmare. Infrastructure constantly needed expansion and maintenance.

It was all so costly, and absolutely required that Rome run an unwieldy, behemoth government.

History tells us that large governments almost invariably lead to waste, corruption, and overextension of power. It’s the large governments that rattle the sabers and constantly threaten warfare.

It’s large governments that maintain police states, that spy on their citizens, and commandeer nearly every personal choice imaginable with regulatory agencies that tell us how to educate our children and what we can/cannot put in our own bodies.

As Kohr theorized, bigness often leads to tyranny.

Moreover, it all ends up costing far more than a nation can afford… which is why big governments historically rack up even bigger debts.

Most of today’s big, established ‘rich’ countries are in exactly the same boat that Kohn predicted: heavily in debt. Militant. Aggressive. Tyrannical.

If you look at the more financially successful nations today, i.e. those with solvent governments who do not indebt future generations to drop bombs by remote control drones, they’re nearly all small.

Hong Kong has some of the lowest tax rates in the world. And yet the local government is awash with so much cash that they frequently send tax refunds back to local residents.

Singapore is in a similar position; the city-state has zero net debt, a strong defense force, incredibly low tax rates… yet they still manage to funnel excess tax revenues back into the economy, often as tax breaks or business incentives.

Here in Andorra is another example.

The personal income tax hasn’t even been implemented yet, but it technically only goes as high as 10%. Local property taxes are a joke– a friend was telling me she pays 70 euros a year to the local municipality.

Corporate income tax tops out at 10%. There are no estate or inheritance taxes. No wealth tax. No capital gains tax.

Yet this place remains one of the most civilized counties on the planet, and is tremendously affordable to boot.

(It doesn’t hurt that Andorra is gorgeous– postcard perfect. And it gets about 300 days of sunshine per year with some of the best skiing a human being could possibly ask for.)

Smallness is one of the key reasons why these places thrive.

The Andorran government would never be able to afford some massive police state or wage wars in foreign lands. They can’t afford bureaucratic regulatory agencies or obscene surveillance programs.

And the place is way too small for politicians to be able to hide. If the Prime Minister does something stupid, he’ll have 20 neighbors standing in his front yard the next morning taking him to task for his incompetence.

Large countries lack this sense of community and accountability. Everything gets lost in the bureaucracy and size.

It’s this very size now that is causing many of the largest economies in the world to collapse under their own weight.

In fact, all over Europe we’re seeing independence movements, from Scotland to Catalonia. There’s even been serious discussion raised about breaking California apart into six separate states.

This seems radical to most people. But when you look at the evidence objectively, smaller is about the only way an organized state can really work.

23 Jul 16:57

Halbig & Obamacare: Applying Modern Standards and Ex-Post-Facto Knowledge to Historical Analysis

by admin

One of the great dangers of historical analysis is applying our modern standards and ex post facto knowledge to analysis of historical decisions.  For example, I see modern students all the time assume that the Protestant Reformation was about secularization, because that is how we think about religious reform and the tide of trends that were to follow a century or two later.  But tell John Calvin's Geneva it was about secularization and they would have looked at you like you were nuts (If they didn't burn you).  Ditto we bring our horror for nuclear arms developed in the Cold War and apply it to decision-makers in WWII dropping the bomb on Hiroshima.  I don't think there is anything harder in historical analysis than shedding our knowledge and attitudes and putting ourselves in the relevant time.

Believe it or not, it does not take 300 or even 50 years for these problems to manifest themselves.  They can occur in just four.  Take the recent Halbig case, one of a series of split decisions on the PPACA and whether IRS rules to allow government subsidies of health care policies in Federal exchanges are consistent with that law.

The case, Halbig v. Burwell, involved the availability of subsidies on federally operated insurance marketplaces. The language of the Affordable Care Act plainly says that subsidies are only available on exchanges established by states. The plaintiff argued this meant that, well, subsidies could only be available on exchanges established by states. Since he lives in a state with a federally operated exchange, his exchange was illegally handing out subsidies.

The government argued that this was ridiculous; when you consider the law in its totality, it said, the federal government obviously never meant to exclude federally operated exchanges from the subsidy pool, because that would gut the whole law. The appeals court disagreed with the government, 2-1. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 million people may lose their subsidies as a result.

This result isn’t entirely shocking. As Jonathan Adler, one of the architects of the legal strategy behind Halbig, noted today on a conference call, the government was unable to come up with any contemporaneous congressional statements that supported its view of congressional intent, and the statutory language is pretty clear. Members of Congress have subsequently stated that this wasn’t their intent, but my understanding is that courts are specifically barred from considering post-facto statements about intent.

We look at what we know NOW, which is that Federal health care exchanges operate in 37 states, and that the Federal exchange serves more customers than all the other state exchanges combined.  So, with this knowledge, we declare that Congress could not possibly meant to have denied subsidies to more than half the system.

But this is an ex-post-facto, fallacious argument.  The key is "what did Congress expect in 2010 when the law was passed", and it was pretty clear that Congress expected all the states to form exchanges.  In fact, the provision of subsidies only in state exchanges was the carrot Congress built in to encourage states to form exchanges. (Since Congress could not actually mandate states form exchanges, it has to use such financial carrots and stick.  Congress does this all the time, all the way back to seat belt and 55MPH speed limit mandates that were forced on states at the threat of losing state highway funds.  The Medicaid program has worked this way with states for years -- and the Obamacare Medicare changes follow exactly this template of Feds asking states to do something and providing incentives for them to do so in the form of Federal subsidies).  Don't think of the issue as "not providing subsidies in federal exchanges."  That is not how Congress would have stated it at the time.  Think of it as "subsidies are not provided if the state does not build an exchange".  This was not a bug, it was a feature.  Drafters intended this as an incentive for creating exchanges.  That they never imagined so many would not create exchanges does  not change this fact.

It was not really until 2012 that anyone even took seriously the idea that states might not set up exchanges.  Even as late as December 2012, the list was only 17 states, not 37.  And note from the linked article the dissenting states' logic -- they were refusing to form an exchange because it was thought that the Feds could not set one up in time.  Why?  Because the Congress and the Feds had not planned on the Federal exchanges serving very many people.  It had never been the expectation or intent.

If, in 2010, on the day after Obamacare had passed, one had run around and said "subsidies don't apply in states that do not form exchanges" the likely reaction would not have been "WHAT?!"  but "Duh."  No one at the time would have thought that would "gut the whole law."

Postscript:  By the way, note how dangerous both the arguments are that opponents of Halbig are using

  1. The implementation of these IRS regulations are so big and so far along that it would be disruptive to make them illegal.  This means that the Administration is claiming to have the power to do anything it wants as long as it does it faster than the courts can work and makes sure the program in question affects lots of people
  2. The courts should give almost unlimited deference to Administration interpretations of law.  This means, in effect, that the Administration rather than the Courts are the preferred and default interpreter of law.  Does this make a lick of sense?  Why have a judiciary at all?
23 Jul 02:04

Ancel Keys Had A Tiny One

by Tom Naughton

Yup, and I can prove it:  Ancel Keys had a tiny dataset — but that didn’t stop him from leaping to big conclusions.  Nina Teicholz wrote about Keys’ problematic data in the terrific book The Big Fat Surprise, and I just came across an old paper that backs her up.

The paper appeared in a 1989 edition of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and was (of course) based on Keys’ famous Seven Countries study.  You’ll recall that Keys supposedly recorded what people in seven countries ate and then followed their health outcomes for several years.

Here’s a description of the study’s design from the paper:

During the base-line survey 13,000 men, aged 40- 59 y, were medically examined. Information on diet was collected in random samples from each cohort by use of the record method.  Detailed data on food consumption patterns have been published only for 9 of the 16 cohorts. Therefore, the food intake data were coded once again into a standardized form by one person. Then the foods were summarized in a limited number of food groups. The average daily consumption per person of these food groups was calculated for each cohort.

So Keys had food records, although that coding and summarizing part sounds a little fishy.  Then he followed the health of 13,000 men so he could find associations between diet and heart disease.  So we can assume he had dietary records for all 13,000 of them, right?

Uh … no.  That wouldn’t be the case.

The poster-boys for his hypothesis about dietary fat and heart disease were the men from the Greek island of Crete.  They supposedly ate the diet Keys recommended:  low-fat, olive oil instead of saturated animal fats and all that, you see.  Keys tracked more than 300 middle-aged men from Crete as part of his study population, and lo and behold, few of them suffered heart attacks.  Hypothesis supported, case closed.

So guess how many of those 300-plus men were actually surveyed about their eating habits?  Go on, guess.  I’ll wait …

And the answer is:  31.

Yup, 31.  And that’s about the size of the dataset from each of the seven countries:  somewhere between 25 and 50 men.  It’s right there in the paper’s data tables. That’s a ridiculously small number of men to survey if the goal is to accurately compare diets and heart disease in seven countries.

But wait … so far we’re assuming the dietary records were accurate.  As Teicholz pointed out, Keys took one of his food-recall surveys in Greece during Lent, when religious Greeks abstain from animal foods.  I’d call that a bit of a confounding variable.  And then there’s this, directly from the paper:

In Crete the villages involved were Agies, Paraskies, Thrapsano, and Kastelli. In Corfu the villages were Ano Korakiana, Skriperon, and San Marco. About 30 men were involved in each dietary survey. However, the original 7-day records were no longer available.

No original records?!  So you dumped the study, right?

It was therefore decided to reconstruct the diets of these cohorts on the basis of results of the dietary surveys mentioned in a publication by Keys et al.

Uh … so you swapped in the results from an earlier paper.  Okay, got it.  But tell me we’re at least talking about a genuine dietary survey here.

When no information about the consumption of certain foods, eg, fruits and vegetables, was available food balance sheet data from Greece in 1961-65 were used as a substitute.

Head.  Bang.  On.  Desk.

Getting the picture?  Keys followed the health of more than 300 men from Crete.  But he only surveyed 31 of them, with one of those surveys taken during the meat-abstinence month of Lent.  Oh, and the original seven-day food-recall records weren’t available later, so he swapped in data from an earlier paper.  Then to determine fruit and vegetable intake, he used data sheets about food availability in Greece during a four-year period.

And from this mess, he concluded that high-fat diets cause heart attacks and low-fat diets prevent them.

Keep in mind, this is one of the most-cited studies in all of medical science.  It’s one of the pillars of the Diet-Heart hypothesis.  It helped to convince the USDA, the AHA, doctors, nutritionists, media health writers, your parents, etc., that saturated fat clogs our arteries and kills us, so we all need to be on low-fat diets – even kids.

Yup, Ancel Keys had a tiny one … but he sure managed to screw a lot of people with it.

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22 Jul 19:00

Venezuela's Transformation To Socialist Utopia Is Nearly Complete As Its Factories Grind To A Halt

by Tyler Durden

Venezuela's transformation to a socialist utopia has been well-documented on these pages. Recall:

In retrospect, one can only hope the same "socialist paradise" fate isn't headed to the other "fairness doctrine" members such as the US and France, because with socialist utopias like these who needs capitalist hell?

In any event, what utopia would be complete without a complete paralysis of the one sector that traditionally serves as the backbone of any functioning economy: no, not makers of iPhone apps... manufacturing.

As the WSJ reports, this car-crazed country's auto industry, once the third largest in South America, is seizing up as manufacturers struggle to produce a few vehicles a day. Apparently channel stuffing hasn't been revealed as a legitimate "retail channel" in the Latin American country just yet. As for subprime car purchase loans, US banks apparently don't offer those in Caracas. Yet.

Car makers, including global giants like Ford Motor Co. , Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, General Motors Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., have cut output by more than 80% in the first six months of the year compared with a year earlier because of a lack of dollars to pay parts suppliers, according to data compiled by the Automotive Chamber of Venezuela, which represents car makers.

 

"This is the first time I have ever seen things this bad," said 61-year-old Antonio Lopez, a Ford worker who recently prepared a sedan for painting at the auto maker's factory here. The cavernous Valencia plant, about 110 miles west of Caracas, was quiet by midafternoon one day last month, with a handful of workers sweeping up and maintaining equipment on assembly stations.

 

Across Venezuela, car production and sales has been sliding fast. Balance sheets have been battered, with revenue vulnerable to devaluation and trapped in Venezuela because of currency controls. Auto makers built 36,919 vehicles through June of last year. But only produced 6,161 during in the same period this year, about what Argentina produces in a few days.

...

Economists say the car industry, like newspapers, bottlers and food processors, has been hard hit by a shortage of dollars in Venezuela that has left many companies scrambling to pay for much-needed imports in a country that produces little more than oil. The reverberations in the economy include companies going out of business, a shortage of basic products and one of the world's highest rates of inflation.

...

 

"[Sales] volumes are down 75% below 2013, and last year was the lowest level in a decade," said Carlos Gomes, an economist who follows the global auto industry for Scotiabank. "I think it is fair to say that the situation is alarming."

Alarming maybe, but at least it is a socialist utopia. An utopia where it appears that the phones...

Venezuela's Communications Ministry declined to comment. The ministries of finance and industry didn't return phone calls. A spokeswoman for the Automotive Chamber of Venezuela, which represents foreign auto makers, said the group was in talks with the government and declined further comment.

.... also don't work.

And a quick glance at what is coming to every banana republic socialist utopia near you:

"I can't find anything. Prices are climbing daily," said Jesus Ramirez, a taxi driver who has spent a year trying to replace the 2008 Renault he purchased new for $7,441. He sold the car for over $30,000 five years later.

 

With inflation at 60% a year, among the highest in the world, Venezuelans protect their earnings by buying cars, among other big-ticket items.

 

Car parts needed to keep vehicles on the road have also become difficult to find. That has led thieves to steal parts such as batteries from parked cars.

 

The owner of a Caracas car dealership who said he last sold a vehicle in 2009, said he stays in business by servicing cars. But with spare part shipments tumbling 75%, he said, he fears his business may soon close.

 

"I spend all day on the phone looking for parts," the owner said, asking to remain nameless. "We are in survival mode."

Oops. Looks like someone forgot to BTFD, or rather BTFATH, and instead of being hopeful is cynical.