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26 Jun 13:10

French Police Ordered to Crack Down on Uber After Anti-Uber Strike Turns Violent

by Ed Krayewski
Jts5665

Apparently, France sees violence as behaviour to be encouraged and rewarded. Bizarre.

French taxi drivers went on strike yesterday over competition from UberPOP, a ride sharing service made available in Friday after a presidential decree required non-ride sharing Uber drivers to wait 15 minutes before picking up a hail. The French government also ruled UberPOP illegal, but it continues to operate while there are still legal appeals available.

Yesterday’s protest made big news when it turned violent and ensnared Courtney Love, who tweeted the incident, saying her car had been ambushed and her Uber driver attacked. Like the shutting down of highways and other transportation links, violence too is a common tactic of the striking French taxi driver. For several years taxi drivers have targeted and attacked Uber drivers and their passengers. Earlier this week France 24 reported about a French man who was attacked by a cabbie after pointing out he couldn’t tell if the taxi was on-duty and noting that that was why Uber outcompeting the taxi drivers.

The French government will have none of the taxi drivers’ anti-Uber violence, so it has banned UberPOP and ordered police to crack down on drivers operating with the service. CNN reports:

The French government has ordered police to crack down on Uber in Paris after violence erupted at demonstrations by taxi drivers against the online ride service.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Thursday that he asked the Paris police authority to issue a decree forbidding activity by UberPOP drivers. Similar decrees have already been issued in other major French cities.

Cazeneuve said vehicles using UberPOP will now "be systematically seized" by police when caught operating.

Seventy vehicles were destroyed and ten people were arrested after yesterday’s violent protest, but no word on the breakdown of taxi drivers vs. Uber drivers and others who were arrested. At least one Uber driver was arrested for allegedly running over a taxi driver blocking his car, although most of the violence yesterday was attributed to the cabbies.

26 Jun 02:59

We’re At The Tipping Point

by Tom Naughton

A couple of podcasters who interviewed me recently asked if I believe we’re at a tipping point. I do. I’m seeing a major shift in what the public at large considers a healthy diet, thanks largely to the Wisdom of Crowds effect. It seems that more and more people are rejecting the decades-old anti-fat message and embracing real food – fat and all.

I’ve sometimes wondered if I’m just experiencing the Red Toyota Effect, which works like this: While shopping for a car, you make up your mind that you want a red Toyota … and soon after, you start noticing them all over the place, which leads you to think, “Holy moly! Everyone’s buying red Toyotas all of a sudden!” In fact, the red Toyotas were always there. You’re just noticing them now because owning a red Toyota is on your mind.

Sure, I’ve got diet on my mind. I write about diet, I think often about diet, I hang out in social media sites where the subject is diet. But I don’t believe I’m experiencing the Red Toyota Effect. I think there’s a real shift happening out there.

For starters, I keep seeing more mainstream media articles declaring that – surprise! — saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease after all. Here are some quotes from an article in the U.K. Telegraph with the headline No link found between saturated fat and heart disease:

For the health conscious reader who has been stoically swapping butter for margarine for years the next sentence could leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Scientists have discovered that saturated fat does not cause heart disease while so-called ‘healthy’ polyunsaturated fats do not prevent cardiovascular problems.

In contrast with decades old nutritional advice, researchers at Cambridge University have found that giving up fatty meat, cream or butter is unlikely to improve health.

They are calling for guidelines to be changed to reflect a growing body of evidence suggesting there is no overall association between saturated fat consumption and heart disease.

Earlier this month Dr James DiNicolantonio of Ithica College, New York, called for a new public health campaign to admit ‘we got it wrong.’ He claims carbohydrates and sugar are more responsible.

Admit we got it wrong …. Yeah, that would be awesome. Despite my optimism about a big shift within the public at large, I don’t expect a We Got It All Wrong announcement from the USDA anytime soon. They are, however, slooooowly backing away from some of the advice they’ve been handing down for the past 35 years. Here are some quotes from a Forbes article titled Fat Is Back: Time To Stop Limiting Dietary Fats, Experts Say:

The latest version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans – the government-sanctioned recommendations about what we should and shouldn’t eat – will include a game-changing edit: There’s no longer going to be a recommended upper limit on total fat intake. This hasn’t gotten as much press as the other big change – that cholesterol will no longer be considered a “nutrient of concern,” meaning that we can now eat eggs without feeling guilty.

But as the authors of a new paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association point out, the true game-changer in the new recommendations is that we won’t have to worry so much about the total fat content of our food. And this makes a lot of sense, since in many ways, fats are much better for us than what they’ve typically been replaced with in low-fat diets – refined carbs and added sugars.

For people who lived through the low-fat/no-fat craze that started in the 80s, this is big news. The change in fats recommendations has been coming for some time now, as studies have consistently shown that low-fat diets are in no way the beacon they once seemed to be, and can in fact be quite unhealthy over the long-term.

The USDA (ahem) “experts” are willing to admit that cholesterol is no longer a “nutrient of concern,” but can’t quite bring themselves to say saturated fat is okay. However – and this is huge, since so many people get their dietary advice from registered dieticians – the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has already jumped ahead of the USDA. The organization’s official commentary on the latest USDA guidelines first praises the USDA for its efforts, then disputes much of what the USDA has to say.

Dr. Stan De Loach (who has been recommending a high-fat, real-food diet to patients in Mexico for years) summarized the points made by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

1. Cholesterol contained in food items is NO LONGER a nutrient of interest or concern. That is, limiting cholesterol (egg yolks, for example) in the food plan makes no sense because there is no trustworthy scientific evidence that it may produce negative or harmful effects on the human body or cardiovascular system.

2. NO scientific consensus or concrete scientific evidence exists that could justify the recommendation that the quantity of dietary salt (sodium) be limited. This long-standing recommendation to not consume salt freely has been overturned. Moreover, the Report mentions that probably and certainly “there are persons who are NOT consuming a SUFFICIENT amount of sodium.”

3. “Not a single study included in this revision of the dietary recommendations meant to prevent cardiovascular disease was able to identify saturated fat as an element in the diet that has an unfavorable or adverse association to cardiovascular disease.” The experts recommend de-emphasizing saturated fat as a nutrient of interest or concern.

4. The lipid/lipoproteins LDL and HDL are NOT appropriate nor adequate for use as markers of the impact of diet on the risks of cardiovascular disease, for example, in the scientific studies that attempt to measure diet’s impact on the risks for cardiovascular disease.

5. “The consumption of carbohydrates carries a GREATER risk for cardiovascular disease than that of saturated fats.”

6. “It is likely that the impact of carbohydrate consumption on the risks for cardiovascular diseases is positive (that is, their consumption INCREASES the risks).”

7. “Therefore, it seems to us that the scientific evidence summarized and synthesized by the Committee suggests that the most effective simplified recommendation to reduce the incidence of cardiac disease would be a simple reduction in the consumption of carbohydrates, replacing them with polyunsaturated fats.” Polyunsaturated fats tend to reduce the levels of cholesterol in the blood. Avocados, fish (tuna, trout, herring, salmon), some varieties of nuts (peanuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame), some mayonnaises, some salad dressings, olive oil, etc., contain polyunsaturated fats.

8. “The strongest scientific evidence indicates that a reduction in the consumption of added sugars (carbohydrates) will improve the health of the American public.”

Okay, ya can’t win ‘em all, at least not right away. The dieticians want carbs replaced with polyunsaturated fats. But this is still huge. Look at the basic message: Stop worrying about cholesterol, saturated fat and salt. Start focusing on reducing sugars and refined carbohydrates. If this keeps up, people will soon believe you can eat food that tastes good and still be healthy. Dr. Ornish must be terrified.

It isn’t just that people are no longer accusing saturated fat of a crime it didn’t commit, either. There’s also been a huge rise in the demand for quality food, food that hasn’t been processed into nutritional oblivion. Food manufacturers are wondering what the bleep happened and trying to adjust, as this article in Fortune magazine online explains:

Try this simple test. Say the following out loud: Artificial colors and flavors. Pesticides. Preservatives. High-fructose corn syrup. Growth hormones. Antibiotics. Gluten. Genetically modified organisms.

If any one of these terms raised a hair on the back of your neck, left a sour taste in your mouth, or made your lips purse with disdain, you are part of Big Food’s multibillion-dollar problem. In fact, you may even belong to a growing consumer class that has some of the world’s biggest and best-known companies scrambling to change their businesses.

“Their existence is being challenged,” says Edward Jones analyst Jack Russo of the major packaged-food companies. In some ways it’s a strange turn of events. The idea of “processing”—from ancient techniques of salting and curing to the modern arsenal of artificial preservatives—arose to make sure the food we ate didn’t make us sick. Today many fear that it’s the processed food itself that’s making us unhealthy.

It’s pretty simple what people want now: simplicity. Which translates, most of the time, to less: less of the ingredients they can’t actually picture in their head.

Steve Hughes, a former ConAgra executive who co-founded and now runs natural food company Boulder Brands, believes so much change is afoot that we won’t recognize the typical grocery store in five years. “I’ve been doing this for 37 years,” he says, “and this is the most dynamic, disruptive, and transformational time that I’ve seen in my career.”

So it’s definitely not the Red Toyota Effect. This change is real, and it’s coming to a Kroger near you. In fact, I recently found – for the first time ever – dry-roasted almonds in a Kroger where the only ingredients were almonds and salt. A sign above that section of the store bragged about the lack of additives in the several varieties of nuts, which you can buy in bulk.

As the Fortune magazine article explains:

Shoppers are still shopping, but they’re often turning to brands they believe can give them less of the ingredients they don’t want—and for the first time, they can find them in their local Safeway, Wegmans, or Wal-Mart. Kroger’s Simple Truth line of natural food grew to an astonishing $1.2 billion in annual sales in just two years.

The search for authenticity has led organic food sales to more than triple over the past decade and increase 11% last year alone to $35.9 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association. Data provider Spins found that sales of natural products across nearly every category are growing in mainstream retailers, while more than half of their conventional counterparts are in decline.

Perhaps more frightening for Big Food, shoppers are doing something else as well: They’re skipping the middle aisles altogether.

The war on fat is ending, with fat emerging as the victor. Cholesterol is no longer a “nutrient of concern.” The low-salt nonsense is being abandoned by doctors, nutritionists and even the CDC. Consumers are avoiding foods with ingredients they can’t pronounce, and Big Food is both scared and scrambling to adjust.

Yes, we’re at a tipping point. Let’s hope the nation tips right over into better health.

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25 Jun 01:18

FOR SALE: Republican presidential hopefuls introduce Adelson-backed online gambling ban...


FOR SALE: Republican presidential hopefuls introduce Adelson-backed online gambling ban...


(Second column, 17th story, link)
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23 Jun 20:41

An Illustrated Guide to Civil Asset Forfeiture

by Adam Bates

This cheerfully drawn comic from the Daily Signal does an excellent job highlighting the insanity of civil asset forfeiture.  It begins with a quintessentially American premise: a young person setting out on his own, all wordly possessions in hand, to start a new life as an adult.  Far be it from me to spoil the rest:

 

Arresting your property

 

If such stories seem unbelievable (it is a cartoon after all), be sure and check out the recent all-too-real stories of Joseph Rivers and Charles Clarke, for whom this cartoon surely hits too close to home.  Even they are only the tip of the iceberg.

New Mexico has taken the initiative to end this inherently abusive practice once and for all, and there are active reform efforts underway in California, Michigan, Montana, Oklahoma, Maryland, and others. But until every other state and the federal government join in, these incredible tales of legalized theft and policing for profit will continue.

FreedomWorks recently released a handy map accompanying their report on state forfeiture laws. How does your state stack up?  

 

 

24 Jun 17:29

Google Was Gagged For Four Years From Talking About Fighting The Wikileaks Investigation

by Mike Masnick
Reporter, activity and security guy Jacob Appelbaum has been harassed by the government for years for helping with Wikileaks. We've written before about how he gets detained at the border and is ordered to hand over all of his electronic equipment. A few years ago, we wrote about the ridiculous legal fight in which the Justice Department demanded that Twitter hand over Appelbaum's messages without telling anyone, as part of the still ridiculous grand jury investigation into Wikileaks (which still isn't over!).

If you recall, as part of that discussion about the legal fight with Twitter -- in which we gave kudos to Twitter for standing up for its users' privacy -- it also came out that similar demands for information were also sent to Google and Sonic.net in trying to access Appelbaum's details. Sonic.net quickly said that it fought the request -- but Google gave no comment. We found this to be disappointing at the time.

However, late last week, it was finally revealed -- four years later -- that Google not only fought the order, but was gagged from talking about it until just recently. Reading through the full set of released documents (300 pages) is quite incredible -- as are Appelbaum's own comments as he reads through the document himself.

If you don't recall the big legal fight with Twitter, the DOJ refused to get a warrant, but instead got what's known as a 2703(d) order, which has a much lower privacy protection standard. A warrant, as you know, requires probable cause. A 2703(d) order just requires "reasonable grounds to believe that the contents [of the email] are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation."

This whole thing started in late 2010 when the grand jury investigation sent those 2703(d) orders out -- each accompanied by a gag order. Twitter fought the gag order and was able to get a judge to unseal it in early January 2011 for the sake of alerting the users in question, to see if they would protest (which they did, though unsuccessfully). Twitter alerted a few users, including Appelbaum, that the feds had requested information. While many had assumed the feds had used a warrant or a traditional subpoena, it was quickly revealed that it was the 2703(d) process, raising many more concerns. The fact that there were also a number of mistakes in the order raised further concerns. The revelation of this order got a lot of press attention, which the DOJ hated.

In fact, that's what much of the (now revealed) argument between Google and the DOJ is discussing. Google points out that the identical order in the identical investigation was made public concerning Twitter's involvement, and thus, there is no reason not to make it public for Google too. The DOJ responds about just how incredibly harmful the press attention of the Twitter order is... though they fail to explain a single way it is harmful, other than that some online internet commenters were kinda mean to them. First, the DOJ insisted that it was important that Google be gagged, and then said that Twitter's ungagging "seriously jeopardized the investigation."
The Order should remain sealed at this time. The Order satisfies all statutory and constitutional requirements, and the [REDACTED] subscriber would not have a valid basis for challenging it even if Google did provide him with notice. Furthermore, unsealing and permitting disclosure at this time is not in the best interest of the investigation. Unsealing and permitting disclosure of the Twitter Order has already seriously jeopardized the investigation and the government believes that further disclosures at this time will exacerbate this problem.
Of course, the DOJ never actually goes into any detail about how revealing that it was digging for information jeopardized the investigation at all. It just makes these baseless claims. Later, it further argues that unsealing the Twitter order (which it had agreed to allow) was a mistake in hindsight:
Indeed, in light of the events that followed the unsealing and disclosure of the Twitter Order, had the government known then what it does now, it would not have voluntarily filed the motion to authorize it.
Why is that? Well, the only argument the government seems to make is that once the Twitter Order was public, people got mad and said not nice things about the DOJ. First, it points to this Glenn Greenwald article from 2011, in which he revealed more details of the original Twitter Order, including the name of the magistrate judge who signed off on it. The DOJ presents this as if it's harassment, though read the article and see if that's reasonable. And then it further claims that the US Attorneys were "harassed on the internet." But the only evidence it provides is this: So some kid gets angry and fires off an angry email to the DOJ with the Anonymous tagline at the end, and the DOJ gets all weak-kneed? Really?

Even more bizarre, the DOJ includes a long paragraph talking about how all of the praise that Twitter got after the Twitter Order was revealed explains why the Google Order shouldn't be revealed. That is, the DOJ is explicitly saying "man, it would suck if actually protecting the privacy of users became contagious":
That does not seem like a legitimate reason for a gag order. It sounds like the DOJ is unwilling to support due process and is afraid to actually have to defend its actions.

In response to this, Google quite reasonably points out that the government's argument cancels out its own argument. At one point, for example, the DOJ pointed to one of the people it was seeking information on Tweeting to followers not to send direct messages, and another saying that it's likely that Google and Facebook received similar orders. As Google points out, given that, the targets already suspect what is going on and thus it couldn't possibly make sense to maintain the gag order. As for the "parade of horribles" above, Google rightly points out that none of them show how revealing the Google Order will exacerbate any of the "problems" it outlined.

The fight was put on hold while the individuals in question (including Appelbaum) fought the Twitter Order. And, when that failed, the case picked up again, with the DOJ saying "look, that failed, so this case is over." Google responded, quite reasonably, that whether or not the individuals succeeded in stopping the information disclosure is a wholly separate issue from whether or not the gag order makes sense. Unfortunately, in the end, the court rejected all of Google's arguments. The court relies heavily on the fact that Appelbaum (though, bizarrely, his name is redacted here) tweeted the following: "Do not send me Direct Messages - My twitter account contents have apparently been invited to the (presumably-Grand Jury) in Alexandria." To the court, this is evidence that any disclosure will lead to a change in behavior.

Furthermore, the court ridiculously buys into the claims by the DOJ that the "public campaign" supporting Twitter for standing up for the rights of its users is a form of witness intimidation. Really: That concluding line is really incredible:
If the Google Order were unsealed, future service providers may do precisely what Google has done in this instance, namely resist compliance with a lawful §2703(d) order by bringing baseless legal challenges that have the effect of impeding the government's progress in the Wikileaks investigation.
In other words, merely challenging the legitimacy of a gag order with an associated court order to hand over someone's info -- in other words protecting a user's privacy is somehow seen as evidence of impeding an investigation. This is ridiculous.

Finally, as Lauren Weinstein points out in his own analysis of these newly released documents, this does show just how strongly Google fought the government to block the government from getting access to user info. There is this false belief out there that Google, in particular, has given the government free access to its servers (in part because of an incorrect interpretation of a Snowden document early on). Yet, this highlights how Google actually fought quite hard to protect its users' info (and this all happened more than two years before the Snowden leaks). Indeed, in my original post, about the revelation that Google had received a similar order, we were disappointed that unlike Twitter and Sonic, Google refused to comment. We had no way of knowing that the company had been gagged.

Even Appelbaum -- not exactly one to cheer on Google in most settings -- now admits that he's impressed by how strongly Google fought. A few of his tweets explaining this:



Separately, he notes that while we know about Twitter, Sonic and Google... we don't know about Facebook or Yahoo, leading him to wonder what happened there:

No matter what, this seems like yet another example of the DOJ being out of control and trying to cover up its own actions to keep them out of the public debate, rather than for any legitimate purpose.

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24 Jun 16:09

Piketty Is Wrong: Rich Families Don't Generally Get Richer

by Ronald Bailey

ShirtsleevesFrench economist Thomas Piketty made a huge splash last year with his Capital in the 21st Century in which he claimed that economic inequality increases as capital accumulates in the hands of the already rich. Piketty's analysis as been comprehensively analyzed and dismissed by other economists. One of the more informative and entertaining takedowns of Piketty is by Northwestern University University of Illinois-Chicago economist Deirdre McCloskey.

Alerted to a new study, "The Rich Get Poorer: The Myth of Dynastic Wealth," by The Economist's Buttonwood column, I thought I would share some that study's conclusions with Reason readers.

From the study:

We believe Piketty’s core message is provably flawed on several levels, as a result of fundamental and avoidable errors in his basic assumptions. He begins with the sensible presumption that the return on invested capital, r, exceeds macroeconomic growth, g, as must be true in any healthy economy. But from this near-tautology, he moves on to presume that wealthy families will grow ever richer over future generations, leading to a society dominated by unearned, hereditary wealth. Alas, this logic holds true only if the wealthy never dissipate their wealth through spending, charitable giving, taxation, and splitting bequests among multiple heirs.

As individuals, and as families, the rich generally do not get richer; after a fortune is first built, the rich get relentlessly and inevitably poorer.

The “evidence” Piketty uses in support of his thesis is largely anecdotal, drawn from the novels of Austen and Balzac, and from the current fortunes of Bill Gates and Liliane Bettencourt. If Piketty is right, where are the current hyper-wealthy descendants of past entrepreneurial dynasties—the Astors, Vanderbilts, Carnegies, Rockefellers, Mellons, and Gettys? Almost to a man (or woman) they are absent from the realms of the super-affluent. Our evidence—used to refute Piketty’s argument—is empirical, drawn from the rapid rotation of the hyper-wealthy through the ranks of the Forbes 400, and suggests that, at any given time, roughly half of the collective worth of the hyper-wealthy is first-generation earned wealth, not inherited wealth.

The originators of great wealth are one-in-a-million geniuses; their innovation, invention, and single-minded entrepreneurial focus create myriad jobs and productivity enhancements for society at large. They create wealth for society, from which they draw wealth for themselves. In contrast, the descendants of the hyper-wealthy rarely have that same one-in-a-million genius. Bettencourt, cited by Piketty, is a clear exception. Typically, we find that descendants halve their inherited wealth—relative to the growth of per capita GDP—every 20 years or less, without any additional assistance from Piketty’s redistribution prescription.

Dynastic wealth accumulation is simply a myth. The reality is that each generation spawns its own entrepreneurs who create vast pools of entirely new wealth, and enjoy their share of it, displacing many of the preceding generations’ entrepreneurial wealth creators. Today, the massive fortunes of the 19th century are largely depleted and almost all of the fortunes generated just a half-century ago are also gone. Do we really want to stifle entrepreneurialism, invention, and innovation in an effort to accelerate the already-rapid process of wealth redistribution?

Buttonwood observes:

Indeed, the authors point out that the rapid turnover of the Forbes 400 suggests that inherited wealth is unstable. Three-quarters of the families in the original list no longer appear on it.

Of course, dropping out of the Forbes 400 hardly indicates a descent into penury. But family wealth tends to dissipate over time. The Astors, Vanderbilts and Carnegies were among the wealthiest families of the late 19th century; not one of their descendants makes it onto the modern list. Indeed a Vanderbilt family reunion held in 1973 failed to find a single millionaire among the 120 present.

The study concludes:

When great wealth is achieved through entrepreneurialism, innovation, and invention, society benefits, jobs are created, and life becomes easier and better. For generations, this process has fueled American exceptionalism. When great income is achieved through entrepreneurialism, innovation, and invention, society again benefits for the same reasons. We find it puzzling that Piketty underplayed what even he recognizes as the major driver of growing American income inequality: the massive appropriation of the wealth of corporations by their executives. When it is objectively deserved, terrific; when it is not, it siphons resources out of the macroeconomy and hollows out the opportunity set for the populace at large.

As the researchers note, a significant driver of rising income inequality in the United States has been the increasingly outsized pay packages awarded to corporate CEOs. They do not see much evidence that 9-figure CEO compensation boosts shareholder wealth and argue for corporate governance reforms that more tightly align CEO pay with increased shareholder value.

In an case, they find that the proverb "shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations" has more than a bit of truth behind it.

24 Jun 17:01

TECH COMPANY FINDS STOLEN GOVT LOG-INS ALL OVER WEB...


TECH COMPANY FINDS STOLEN GOVT LOG-INS ALL OVER WEB...


(Third column, 20th story, link)
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22 Jun 17:24

The Ultimate Cause of the Financial Meltdown: Government

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

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In this superb new video – which is just under six-minutes long – the Manhattan Institute’s Nicole Gelinas explains the relevant, bailout-bloated history behind the 2008 financial crisis.  Contrary to popular myth, the chief cause of this crisis was not banks and other financial institutions being too free of the oversight of government regulators but, rather, banks and other financial institutions operating with perverse incentives created by myopic government officials.

20 Jun 22:01

Los Angeles Police Shoot Unarmed Man in Head, Roll Him Over, Handcuff Him

by Robby Soave

LAPDLos Angeles police shot a man in the head on Friday—supposedly out of concern that he was concealing a weapon under the towel he was holding. They later discovered that the man was unarmed.

But first, the officers rolled the unconscious man—who was bleeding from the head wound—onto his stomach so that they could handcuff him. He was later taken to the hospital and is in critical condition.

It’s unclear whether the officers had any reason whatsoever to suspect that the man was dangerous. The incident occurred in broad daylight in the relatively safe neighborhood of Los Feliz. The officers were driving by when the man flagged them down, calling “police, police.” According to the Los Angeles Times:

The man flagged down officers about 6:35 p.m. at Los Feliz Boulevard and Tica Drive south of Griffith Park, according to a police account.

"This person extended an arm wrapped in a towel. The officer exited the vehicle and said, 'Drop the gun, drop the gun,'" LAPD Lt. John Jenal said.

At that point at least one officer shot the man, officials say. He was taken to a hospital where he was listed in critical condition.

The aftermath was caught on video by a neighbor. The disturbing footage shows the officers handcuffing the man even though he was in very, very bad condition. Nevertheless, a spokesperson for the LAPD confirmed that proper protocol had been followed:

LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith, a department spokesman, said the officers followed standard LAPD protocol in handcuffing the man when they did. At that point, Smith said, the man had not been searched and was considered a suspect.

"We always do that," Smith said. "That's the policy ... to handcuff someone in a situation like that."

Smith cautioned that the investigation into Friday's shooting was still in its early stages. One of the key questions, he said, was why the man flagged down the two uniformed officers.

Smith seems to think “suicide-by-cop”—where a person intent on ending his own life deliberately provokes the police into firing a kill shot—is a possibility here. But maybe the man simply needed some kind of assistance, and didn’t realize holding a towel would be interpreted as a threat.

22 Jun 04:01

Shona Banda Faces Decades in Prison Because Her Son Questioned Anti-Pot Propaganda

by Jacob Sullum

In Live Free or Die, a 2010 memoir recounting how cannabis oil saved her life, Shona Banda emphasizes the importance of "self-taught knowledge," acquired by constantly asking questions and "looking at all of the angles of any information given." Her son may have learned that lesson too well. Had he been less inquisitive, less prone to question authority, he might still be living with his mother, and she might not be facing criminal charges that could send her to prison for decades.

Banda, a 38-year-old massage therapist who appeared in criminal court for the first time last week, is free on a $50,000 bond while her case is pending. She was able to pay a bail bondsman the $5,000 fee necessary to stay out of jail thanks to donations from supporters across the country who were outraged by her situation. The case has drawn international attention partly because it features draconian penalties and a mother's forcible separation from her 11-year-old son but also because of the way it started.

During a "drug education" program at his school in Garden City, Kansas, on March 24, Banda's son heard some things about marijuana that did not jibe with what he had learned about the plant from his mother. So he spoke up, suggesting that cannabis was less dangerous and more beneficial than the counselors running the program were claiming. That outburst of skepticism precipitated a visit to the principal's office, where the fifth-grader was interrogated about his mother's cannabis consumption. School officials called Child Protective Services (CPS), which contacted police, who obtained a warrant to search Banda's house based on what her son had said.

As translated by the Garden City Police Department, Banda's son "reported to school officials that his mother and other adults in his residence were avid drug users and that there was a lot of drug use occurring in his residence." From Banda's perspective, what her son had observed was her consumption of a medicine that had "fixed" her Crohn's disease, alleviated her pain, and restored her energy. "I had an autoimmune disease," she says in a 2010 YouTube video during which she displays the scars left by multiple surgeries aimed at relieving her crippling gastrointestinal symptoms. "With Crohn's disease, it's like having a stomach flu that won't go away." But after she started swallowing capsules containing homemade cannabis oil, she says, her life was transformed. "I'm working for the first time in four years," she says. "I'm hiking. I'm swimming. I'm able to play with my kids [two sons, one of whom is now 18]….Anything beats raising your kids from a couch and lying there in pain all day." Banda's personal experience aside, there is scientific evidence that cannabis is an effective treatment for the symptoms of Crohn's disease.

As far as the police were concerned, none of that was relevant, since Kansas is not one of the 23 states that allow medical use of cannabis. In the cops' view, what they found at Banda's house—"approximately 1 ¼ pounds of suspected marijuana"—was contraband, not medicine. And when CPS caseworkers took Banda's son away from her, they were protecting him, not kidnapping him. "The most important thing here is the child's well-being," Capt. Randy Ralston told the Associated Press. "That is why it is a priority for us, just because of the danger to the child."

The precise nature of that danger remains mysterious. Ralston says "the items taken from the residence"—the marijuana, plus "a lab for manufacturing cannabis oil on the kitchen table and kitchen counters, drug paraphernalia and other items related to the packaging and ingestion of marijuana"—were "within easy reach of the child." But police came to Banda's house in the middle of the afternoon, so that detail is less alarming than it sounds. "She was producing oil during the day, while her son was in school," says Sarah Swain, Banda's criminal defense attorney.

So far Banda has been unsuccessful at regaining custody of her son, who is living for the time being with her husband, from whom she is separated. "He is in state custody and has been since the beginning of the case," Swain says. "He is placed [temporarily] with the father." A family court judge ultimately will decide whether it is in the boy's best interest to be reunited with his mother.

But as Swain notes, that process will be "moot" if "Shona goes to prison." The charges against her, which Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier announced on June 5, include two misdemeanors—endangering a child and possession of drug paraphernalia—and three felonies: unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance, possession of equipment used to manufacture a controlled substance, and distribution or possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of school property. The distribution charge, a "drug severity level 1 felony," carries the longest maximum sentence: 17 years. Swain says Kansas law allows sentences for different offenses to be imposed consecutively as long as the total term does not exceed twice the longest maximum, which means Banda could be sent to prison for as long as 34 years. Richmeier, apparently based on the assumption that any sentences would be served concurrently, says the maximum term Banda faces is 17 years.

It seems unlikely that Banda, who has no criminal record, would receive a sentence as long as 34 or even 17 years. But a substantial prison sentence is a real possibility given the charges she faces. "When your cure is illegal," says a caption at the beginning of Banda's 2010 video, "you are forced to make the choice to live free or die." If Richmeier has her way, living free will no longer be an option for Banda.

One way to keep Banda out of prison may be to challenge the actions that police took before obtaining a warrant to search her house. Banda initially turned away the officers and CPS employees who came to her house, ostensibly to "investigate the safety of the residence for the child." Capt. Ralston describes what happened next:

The residence was secured pending investigation and application [for] a search warrant. Officers remained on scene until the search warrant was granted to prevent the destruction of evidence while the application for search warrant was proceeding.

That "securing" of the residence, University of Kansas law professor Richard Levy told The Wichita Eagle, may have amounted to an unconstitutional seizure, which casts doubt on the validity of the subsequent search. And without the evidence obtained in the search, the case against Banda crumbles.

Even if the search is upheld, Banda may be able to avoid conviction on the distribution charge, which seems to be based on the amount of cannabis found in her home, as opposed to evidence that she was selling pot. The quantity of cannabis that Banda had may seem like a lot for a recreational user, but it isn't for a daily medical user who consumes marijuana in the form of extracts. "I know of no evidence that Shona Banda was ever distributing marijuana," Swain says, noting that the difference between possession and possession with intent to distribute could be the difference between a year's probation and years in prison. Banda's potential sentence also is enhanced because she happens to live within 1,000 feet of school property (assuming prosecutors measured correctly), not because there is any reason to believe she was selling pot to kids. Swain says that enhancement may be subject to challenge, depending on the nature and location of the property prosecutors have in mind.

It seems indisputable, however, that Banda engaged in the unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance as Kansas defines it. For someone with no criminal record, that charge alone carries a presumptive sentence of 98 months—more than eight years.

How does Richmeier justify threatening Banda with such harsh penalties? The same way a Texas prosecutor last year justified threatening a teenager with 20 years in prison after he was caught with a pound and a half of hash brownies and cookies: We don't make the law; we just enforce it. "The Finney County Attorney's office is responsible for upholding the law in the State of Kansas and holding violators of those laws responsible," Richmeier says in a statement she sent reporters last week. "Currently, the laws in the State of Kansas do not allow for marijuana use, possession, [or] possession of paraphernalia nor do they allow the production of oils or other by-products of the cannabis plant, regardless of a person's medical status."

Richmeier, who says her office will refrain from discussing the details of Banda's case to avoid "prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding," adds:

Once a violation of law has occurred, our office does not pick and choose the persons we prosecute. Cases with legitimate, well-investigated violations are filed. Once a complaint is filed, we depend on the veracity of our legal system to ensure the appropriate punishment occurs.

That defense, which presumably is Richmeier's response to the public uproar caused by her prosecution of Banda, is not quite accurate. After all, Banda was breaking the law every day she made and took her medicine. She wrote a book about it, produced YouTube videos about it, and began work on a documentary about her experience with the "amazing" and "miraculous" plant that she credits with saving her from disabling pain and premature death. "Knowledge is power," Banda says in her 2010 video. "When you decide to take your life in your own hands, and realize that you can do this with a $50 machine and a $5 spatula, a plant that you can grow for free in your own backyard, you can do this, and it's awesome." Banda's "violation of the law" was hardly a secret, but it was not until her son questioned anti-pot propaganda at school that police decided to investigate and Richmeier decided to file charges.

"Shona has always been open about her use of cannabis oil," Swain notes. "This is not someone who has chosen to live in the shadows for fear of criminal prosecution….Shona told me that when she moved to Garden City, she took a copy of her book to the sheriff's department and said, 'This is who I am.'"

So why the sudden interest in treating Banda like a criminal? "It goes to the completely arbitrary nature of the enforcement of drug laws," Swain says. "To me, this is just a glaring example of how ridiculous the war on drugs in this country has become."

This article originally appeared at Forbes.com.

21 Jun 13:18

PAPER: Pope 'in sad world of make-believe'...

19 Jun 18:57

Foggy Forests of Ancient Trees Pruned for Charcoal in Basque Country Photographed by Oskar Zapirain

by Christopher Jobson

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Oskar Zapirain's photographs capture eerie forests cast in thick fog, hazy light descending upon the foliage in the same green shade that blankets the floor in moss. Zapirain has been attracted to this landscape for years because of the homogenous light as well as the way it forces the viewer directly into a mystical atmosphere.

The forest Zapirain features is a beech forest in Oiartzun, Basque Country in Northern Spain. This particular forest is unique due to the history charcoal production within the region. Instead of clearcutting like we do today, the trees were instead pruned to preserve the trees and maintain the integrity of the forest across generations. The trees have since regrown with short trunks and dramatically long limbs that shoot outward like arms from almost every angle, adding a ghostly feel to each of Zapirain’s photos. You can explore more of his work on Flickr.

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19 Jun 02:48

Statins Don’t Cause Memory Loss? Are These Researchers Drunk?

by Tom Naughton

Like most people, I’ve long assumed whiskey can have a negative impact on memory. The first time I drank whiskey (as a teenager, I’m sorry to say), my only memory after the fourth or fifth shot was of a glowing star dancing in front of my face. I later realized, while helping my drinking buddy clean the room where we drank the whiskey, that the dancing star was the burning end of a cigarette. Neither of us remembered smoking the cigarettes, but we sure cleaned up quite a few of them.

My belief that whiskey affects memory was strengthened during my college years. My roommate and I mostly drank beer at parties, but occasionally indulged in Jack Daniel’s. The Jack Daniel’s nights sometimes led to a series of next-day phone calls intended to ascertain, say, why my car was parked in the middle of a courtyard, and why some guy I didn’t recognize was snoring in the back seat.

So yeah, I just always figured whiskey is bad for memory, at least in the short term.

Well, I should know better than to form medical opinions based on anecdotal evidence. Turns out whiskey doesn’t affect memory. I know this because I recently conducted a careful study comparing the effects of gin and whiskey on memory, and there was no statistically significant difference. That means we don’t need to be concerned with whiskey’s effect on the brain. I could even write a news article with the headline:

STUDY QUESTIONS WHISKEY, MEMORY LOSS CONNECTION

What, you say that’s a ridiculous conclusion? Well, of course it is. But it’s no more ridiculous than the conclusions from a study that generated this headline:

STUDY QUESTIONS STATIN, MEMORY LOSS CONNECTION

Beginning treatment with a statin was associated with a nearly fourfold increased risk of developing acute memory loss within 30 days in a retrospective cohort study …

Yeah, so that would lead me to conclude statins are bad for memory.

… but a similar increase in risk was seen in patients starting non-statin lipid-lowering drugs.

WTF?!! Does that somehow exonerate statins? Let’s read on.

Compared with non-users, both statin and non-statin lipid-lowering drug (LLD) use was found to be associated with acute memory loss in the weeks following treatment initiation, but there was no difference in memory loss when statins and non-statins were compared with each other, researcher Brian L. Strom, MD, of Rutgers University in Newark, N.J., and colleagues wrote online June 8 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

I see. So Dr. Strom compared the effects of whiskey and gin on memory loss and found them to be the same. No worries about whiskey, then. Next thing you know, Dr. Strom will be suggesting people who drink whiskey and gin just think they’re experiencing more memory loss.

The observation that all LLDs were associated with memory loss suggests that either all drugs used to lower lipid levels cause acute memory loss or that the observed memory loss in the study was due to detection bias, Strom said.

Head. Bang. On. Desk.

In a telephone interview with MedPage Today, Strom said it makes sense that patients on a new drug would be more likely to notice symptoms and attribute them to the drug, and they are also more likely to report such symptoms to their physician.

Riiiiight. Statins (and other lipid-lowering drugs) don’t actually cause memory loss, ya see. It’s just that people on statins who were going to have memory issues anyway are more likely to blame the drug. Kind of like one of those next-day phone conversations in college …

“Hello? Oh, hey, Mark. What? Of course I’m alive! Why wouldn’t I be? Uh-huh … uh-huh … I said WHAT?! YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! Well, hell no, I don’t remember! Look, just do me a favor and tell her it was the Jack Daniel’s talking!”

Several previous studies have shown acute memory loss associated with the use of statins, but others have not shown the association or have even shown improved memory in long-term statin users compared with non-users.

Strom noted that without the non-statin LLD control group in his study, the findings would have shown a strong association between statin initiation and short-term memory loss.

“In the absence of this control group, the finding would have been completely misleading,” he said.

Okay, to illustrate the deep and wide stupidity of that statement, imagine this quote about my whiskey-and-gin comparison study.

Naughton noted that without the gin-only control group in his study, the findings would have shown a strong association between whiskey and short-term memory loss.

“In the absence of this gin-only control group for comparison, the finding would have been completely misleading,” he said.

Strom said the study findings should reassure both patients and physicians who prescribe statins.

Naughton said the study findings should reassure both college students who drink whiskey and the liquor-store owners who sell the whiskey.

“This whole issue of short-term memory loss with statins is really a tempest in a teapot,” he said. “Statins are very effective drugs, and people should not veer away from them for fear of a short-term memory effect, especially given the data suggesting that long-term statin use improves memory.”

“This whole issue of short-term memory loss with whiskey is really a tempest in a teapot,” Naughton said. “Whiskey is a very effective drink, and people should not veer away from it for fear of a short-term memory effect, especially given the data suggesting that long-term whiskey use improves memory.”

Strom reported receiving research funding from AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb and serving as a consultant to Abbott, AstraZeneca, Bayer Healthcare, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Novartis and Pfizer. A co-author reported receiving research funding from AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb and serving as a consultant to AstraZeneca, Bayer Healthcare, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Merck.

Naughton reported receiving research funding from Jack Daniel’s and Old Grand-Dad and serving as consultant to Jim Beam, Johnnie Walker and Jameson’s. A co-author reported receiving research funding from Knob Creek and Barton Reserve and serving as a consulting to Glen Morangie, Glenfiddich, Canadian Club and Bushmill’s.

Here’s the bottom line: beating down your cholesterol is bad for your brain, whether you do it with a statin or another drug. Comparing statins to non-statin LLDs doesn’t change that … any more than drinking gin instead of whiskey will explain why that strange dude is snoring in the back seat of your car.

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18 Jun 20:09

Sad Puppies are not calling for any boycotts

by correia45

I’m seeing this narrative pop up that Sad Puppies is calling for a boycott of Tor, but that is simply not true. Speaking as the guy who started the Sad Puppies campaign, I’m not calling for a boycott of anything. I’m not asking anyone to do anything. As far as I’m concerned this mess is between Tor and its customers. I’ve said very little about it so far, but I’ve been clear about that much.

The Sad Puppies Campaign is NOT calling for any boycotts.

But as we’ve seen time and time again, what I actually say doesn’t matter. It is just whatever narrative they can get to stick. I’m seeing lots of people on Facebook who should know better saying this is Sad Puppies declaring war on Tor. Nope. I’ll explain what it is.

Back in April when some high ranking Tor employees were making some pretty outlandish accusations, I put up a blog post asking for SP supporters not to blame Tor.

http://monsterhunternation.com/2015/04/11/last-sp-post-for-the-week-to-my-people-dont-yell-tor/ I respect Tom Doherty. I’m friends with a bunch of Tor authors. I explained how the company was a big outfit with a lot of employees. I told my supporters don’t blame them.
And in the intervening months several Tor employees had to go and make that really hard. A few Tor employees were extremely vocal with some very asinine criticisms, and still, I kept telling my supporters not to blame the whole company.

For this recent dust up, this is how I see it. Tor editor Irene Gallo posted some obviously false, slanderous nonsense, and she did it in a post representing her company’s products. It went viral.

Personally, I am used to being lied about. I volunteered for this. Lots of industry people have been insulting us, or regurgitating lies without question, since this started. It’s been a pattern for years. One of the goals of my original campaign was to expose the political bias that existed in this system, so this particular post didn’t come as a shock.

Only this time Gallo screwed up and tarred not just me or other SP leaders, but she slandered the fans who agreed with us and some unaffiliated authors (some of whom write for Tor!) with some pretty vile stuff.

For many people that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. They got angry. It turns out regular folks don’t like to give money to people who call them Nazis. They started contacting Tor and its parent company, Macmillan. Tom Doherty himself issued a statement that I personally liked. I’m glad he did that. I’ve been told that Tor has implemented a new social media policy, so that when its employees are calling its customers names, they need to make it clear they are speaking for themselves and not their employer. That is pretty standard in the rest of the corporate world.

Then Gallo issued a half assed, ‘I’m sorry you got upset when I called you all racist nazis’, pseudo apology. No retraction. Many people didn’t think that was good enough, so they continued to send emails to Tor. When it leaked that some Tor staff were dismissing all those emails as bots, and not real human fans, that riled them up.

The person who set the Friday deadline for a real apology is author Peter Grant. Let me tell you about Peter. He’s not one of the Sad Puppies organizers and wasn’t involved in the campaign, but I’ve known him for about fifteen years.

Do you know why Peter Grant took great personal affront to being labeled an unrepentantly racist, neo-nazi? That is because he literally fought and bled against neo-nazi terrorists in a blood soaked African civil war so brutal that most pampered Americans can’t even wrap their brains around it. He had many friends murdered, black and white both. He saw real terrorism. He still suffers from the physical injuries and nightmares. So he takes his culture war accusations very seriously.

Those accustomed to knee jerk bitching and bloviating about every possible outrage and trigger warning, quickly dismissed Peter’s taking umbrage against Gallo’s comments with their usual racist/sexist/homophobe accusations. Because obviously, anyone who disagrees with them is guilty of some ist or ism, evidence be damned. Their idea of social justice is forming Twitter mobs. Peter Grant got blown up protesting Apartheid.

After being a soldier, Peter hung up his guns and became a man of God. SJWs are saying that he’s a homophobe because he agreed with Sad Puppies, while in real life he volunteered at a colony for homosexuals who had been forsaken by African society, dying of AIDS. When I first met him, Peter was a prison chaplain, trying to help the fallen and broken, and victims of things you can’t even imagine. Basically, he’s an honorable man who puts his money where his mouth is, and now he’s offended.

Peter asked for a retraction from the Tor editor who flippantly dismissed thousands of fans as unrepentant racist neo-nazis. I don’t believe he’s calling for anything beyond that.

Again, this is between Tor and its readers who feel insulted, not the Sad Puppies campaign or the people who ran it. Yes, those Venn diagrams overlap, but sorry, you can’t blame this one on me. Many normal fans agreed with what Sad Puppies was trying to do, and shockingly enough, they eventually got sick and tired of employees of one of their favorite publishing houses calling them names. I’m not calling for anything, though I can certainly understand why some people are.

If any individual who felt insulted is satisfied with Tom Doherty’s statement saying that his employees don’t speak for his company, good for you. If any individual is unsatisfied and demands further action, that’s also up to you. I’m not going to tell anybody what to think.

For the other side who are saying that Gallo is the real victim here, and she was only speaking truth to power… Yeah, you guys run with that. Anybody with two brain cells to rub together can see she her comments were nonsense. The only thing she is a victim of is arrogance.

To the SJWs saying Tom Doherty is a hateful misogynist because he isn’t letting his employees libel people on the clock anymore? Double down. There might be some people left out there who haven’t realized I was right about you yet.

To the Tor authors I’m seeing post about this, the Sad Puppies campaign is not calling for a boycott. If you are upset why people are angry take it up with your art director about why she’s insulting your customers.

To the Sad Puppies supporters, do what you think is right. All I’m asking is that whatever you do, try to be as civil as possible in your disagreements. Stick with the facts. We’ve got the moral high ground, and the great moderate middle of this debate has seen we’ve been telling the truth all along.

19 Jun 02:55

What Really Happened in the Waco Motorcycle Gang Massacre?

by Brian Doherty

One month ago yesterday, on the early afternoon of May 17, in and outside the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, a bevy of marauding motorcycle gangs who had gathered to create some sort of criminal trouble (the cops had already warned the restaurant to not let them meet there) began a wild melee of shooting at each other and at police. Nine people would eventually lose their lives, and 18 others were wounded.

Waco police (including a SWAT team) and officers from the state Department of Public Safety–who were all already on the scene, aware of the potential for trouble–swung into action, nipped the violent chaos in the bud, and put 177 violent criminals behind bars on charges of "engaging in organized criminal activity." Bail was uniformly, and understandably, set at $1 million.

So went the story as told at the time by the Waco police. But in the ensuing month the behavior of law enforcement that day has come increasingly into question.

First of all, the gathering was not just some premeditated bloody biker party with no legitimate intent. It was a meeting of a group called the Confederation of Clubs and Independents, a multi-biker-club confab dedicated to political chatter of interest to bikers. As Clay Conrad, a Houston lawyer whose firm is representing one arrested couple, William and Morgan English, pointed out in an interview, the gathering "was not a one-off, this was a frequent occurrence. These meetings would happen every couple of months [around Texas], and there has never been significant violence before. I believe at worse this would have been one murder if the police hadn't gone in and started shooting everyone in sight."

Conrad's spin is significantly different than that of the police. But it has been matched by numerous reports from other eyewitnesses, and people who have talked to eyewitnesses. The lawyer grants that the mayhem was launched by a conflict between members of the Cossacks and Bandidos biker gangs, in which one biker pulled a gun on another and started shooting. But that initial attack, Conrad insists, involved "no more than three rounds total of small arms fire, according to military vets on the scene who heard and knew how to recognize what guns sound like. All the rest of the fire came from police hardware. We believe that autopsies are going to show that at least six of the dead were shot by police, maybe all nine, and that the 18 wounded were shot by police."

William English, in an account circulated by his lawyer, said "I heard two pops that sounded like small caliber gunfire. Following that, I heard several bursts of assault weapon shots. I recognized the sound because I carried one of those weapons for six years as a Marine. That's all the gunfire I heard. Then the police started screaming 'Get down!'"

English told CNN that it was crazy to believe, as the police have claimed, that nearly everyone present was part of a criminal biker conspiracy preparing for violence. "Do you think I would want to take my wife to some place I know there was going to be shooting?" he asked. "Do you think I would want to be in a place where there was a shooting? I was in combat. I don't want to be shot at anymore."

English and his wife are members of a group called Distorted Motorcycle Club, and were there, he told local TV station KCEN, to participate in a "meeting of the Confederation of Clubs and Independents to talk about legislation for Motorcycle Awareness month." He noted in the interview that "part of your 300 weapons" that the police crowed about confiscating on the scene included his pocket knife. 

English isn't alone in his assessment of what went down that night. A former Marine, Michael Devoll, told the local news station WFAA that he was just pulling into the Twin Peaks lot in a truck when he heard "a few rounds of handgun fire and then, I would say, an overbearing suppressing fire of M-4 rounds." Devoll characterized the ensuing melee as being mostly defined by a "barrage" of police rifle fire. "It was the most unorganized, unprofessional thing I've ever been a part of," he said.

The Associated Press reported, in the pages of the New York Times, that "several witnesses — at least three of them veterans with weapons training — told The Associated Press that the sound of rapid-fire rifle shots dominated," and that "Six witnesses interviewed by the AP describe a melee that began with a few pistol shots but was dominated by what sounded like short bursts of automatic gunfire." A named Navy vet, Steve Cochran, told the A.P. that "I heard one pistol shot. All the rest of the shots I heard were assault rifles," including sound-suppressed but audible rounds. The A.P. reporters who viewed some restaurant surveillance video say they saw only one verifiable shot fired by a biker, though they could only see the restaurant and patio, not the parking lot.

Conrad's partner, Paul Looney, had a more nuanced view today based on what he's pieced together from his clients, other eyewitnesses, and other lawyers representing other people arrested at the scene. He's not sure that all the shooting but for the first two or three shots was from police, but says as for the bikers, "I think that when its all said and done there are four people with criminal liability and one of those people is dead"—that is, that at least one of the bikers shooting was himself shot dead.

Looney scoffs at the cookie-cutter document the police produced for every single arrested person, none of which provided any specific evidence that the arresting officer had seen them do any specific criminal act, besides being on the scene when some person or persons started shooting, and the police swept in to do some more shooting.

Waco Police spokesman Patrick Swanton claims that more biker guns were fired than police guns. The Waco police's most recent summation of the incident, from Chief Brent Stroman last week, asserts that only three officers fired at all, discharging just 12 shots. Forty-four total shell casings were reportedly found on scene, and Stroman categorically denied that his men fired "indiscriminately into the crowd." His most recent weapons-on-the-scene count is 475, including 151 firearms. The police impounded 130 motorcycles and 91 other vehicles, and so far have returned 52 of the motorcycles and 47 of the other vehicles. The police claim they found weapons buried on the grounds, and that somehow even at this late date the number of weapons on scene might still go up.

The constant harping on weapons found on the scene is clearly part of a public relations campaign to make citizens think that any amount of police firepower on the crowd of bikers was justified. But even after taking into account that law enforcement is counting things like pocket knives and wallet chains as weapons, the police have done nothing so far to prove publicly that possessing even the more potent weapons was a crime, or that those arrested were seen brandishing or using them. This is Texas, and these are (largely) guys in motorcycle clubs. Possessing weapons is not evidence of a crime, or even criminal intent.

The original $1 million bond for all 177 arrested is nearly impossible for most people to meet, even with a bail bondsman taking only 10 percent. Even the presiding judge said out loud that the large bail was designed to "send a message." Fortunately, once lawyers got involved, some sanity was applied to the proceedings. As of today, 142 have gotten out on bonds ranging from $25 thousand to the original million they all faced. As Associated Press discovered, 115 of these people pinned as being part of organized criminal gangs had no criminal record at all.

Even if, as the lawyers I've spoken to predict, the vast majority of those arrested eventually end up released unindicted, without specific proof of their intent or participation in any crime at the scene, that doesn't make the police's actions harmless. Imagine how your work life, family life, and home life, would be affected by being suddenly without warning locked away for weeks. Jobs, custody, relationships can all be lost. You've been marked in a manner not easily washed away.

At least one of the arrested, Matthew Clendennen, is suing the police officers involved and the city of Waco and McClennan County, essentially for false imprisonment. Clendennen, in a phone interview, says he was so late to the event and things were so chaotic he can't personally speak authoritatively to the question of who was shooting and when or why. He says that though he "rides with the Scimitars" and was aware of the political meeting aspect, "my main purpose was to hang out with friends."

Clendennen is suing because he feels damaged by the police. "They drug my name through the mud from a professional standpoint. I was born and raised in Waco and owned and operate a business in Waco and my business is based off of my reputation, and the initial report...the mugshot, all that stuff drug my name through the mud," he said. Clendennen can't yet testify that it's lost him any of his landscaping business, but "we survive off of people Googling my name, and to see all those reports [about his arrest] online?"

More painfully for Clendennen, while in jail "my ex-wife served me with a petition" to restrict his custodial arrangement with his son to supervised visits, and filed a restraining order, leaving him, thanks to the arrest, "in the middle of a legal battle" and unable to be alone with his son or to discuss his civil or criminal cases with him.

Clinton Broden, Clendennen's lawyer, said this week that he's in communication with other lawyers involved, and as far as they know no grand jury has yet indicted any of those arrested that day. If arrested without indictment in Texas, Broden says, you are entitled to a probable-cause hearing known as an examining trial, and Clendennen won't be getting his until August 10.

"People who don't make bond," says Conrad, English's lawyer, will sit in jail until at least August. "That is obscene. It's destroying people's lives to make some political point about not wanting bike clubs in Waco." While none of Conrad's clients are yet suing the police, Conrad can imagine a class action suit eventually arising. Conrad predicts a slow trickle of "no true bill" decisions, and the releasing of prisoners, with police hoping the public eventually loses interest in the story.

The notion that the police might have been at least partially in the wrong in the shooting incident, and almost entirely in the wrong in arresting so many people, has spread throughout the Waco community, leading to a June 7 "Waco Freedom Ride" biker rally in defense of the arrested that drew around 500 people, though those out on bond were not permitted by the conditions of their release to take part.

"Everyone involved in this wants the other side of the story out there," Conrad says. "There has been a false narrative put out by police of this huge biker melee and it isn't reality. Someone pulled a gun on somebody else and fired two or three shots. There was not this army of people shooting at each other. That never happened. It was mainly the police shooting at sitting ducks, or running ducks."

Sgt. Patrick Swanton of the Waco police told CNN in early June  that "we won’t respond to allegations made by people in jail for probable cause, and the justice system is working the way it should." At this point, any possibly incontrovertible truth is buried in a morass of "cop said/suspect said." Sgt. Swanton did not return a call for comment or clarification as of posting; if I hear from him later, will update.

But the Waco police and the county court system have it within their power to settle most lingering doubts about whether the police did the right thing that day in Waco, chiefly by making actual evidence-citing indictments, and by releasing objectively verifiable information (including any video, which Chief Stroman said on June 12 was sent to the FBI for analysis, though there may well be recordings on some of the many confiscated cell phones the government wants to search) about how the dead were killed and the wounded were wounded. Chief Stroman says that federal ATF is handling the ballistics investigation into exactly what sort of weapons were used. But in general, rather than being more open, Waco police are doing the opposite: When Yahoo! News made a Texas Public Record Act request about the incident, the organization was mostly stonewalled and given a haphazard collection of redacted documents. 

Clendennen's lawyer Broden maintains that "it doesn’t seem normal at all" that the police have revealed no hard facts about the sources of the mayhem. "Obviously they have access to preliminary information about the type and caliber of bullets and weapons that killed and wounded those people. I don't know why they have not released it."

17 Jun 20:40

Behold: The 'Simple' Rules for Fighting Federal Asset Forfeiture

by Scott Shackford

"Dear Reason: I never thought this would ever happen to me ..."The Heritage Foundation, as part of a multipartisan effort to help educate Americans about our abuse-prone police civil asset forfeiture system, has produced a lovely pamphlet explaining how the whole racket works, complete with an illustrated story.

Reason, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Institute for Justice, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and others, have offered up some of the information used within the pamphlet to explain how civil asset forfeiture works and how police can seize your property without ever actually charging you with a crime.

Take a look at the pamphlet here. "Arresting Your Property" is designed to inform those who haven't been following asset forfeiture stories, which is a way of saying that regular Reason readers might not see much within the pamphlet about which they're not already familiar. The illustrated asset forfeiture story within is remarkably similar to the case Jacob Sullum just blogged about this morning.

Consider the pamphlet mostly as a resource to shove at friends and buddies who don't understand what this whole scandal is about. There is, however, one component worth highlighting to Reason readers. We have written frequently about how complicated it is to fight asset forfeiture. "Arresting Your Property" puts together a massive flowchart to show just how challenging it is. (Click for a larger image):

Worst board game ever.

Keep in mind: This is just the federal asset forfeiture process. States have their own procedures (assuming they're not using the Department of Justice's program to federalize it) and their own complicated flow charts that can be just as bad, or even worse.

Reason has a massive archive of stories related to asset forfeiture here

17 Jun 20:29

Obama Thinks The Free Market Killed Neighborhood Diversity. In Fact, It Was the New Deal

by admin

Here is a very telling paragraph from the HUD's new proposed fair housing rule

Despite the existing obligation to AFFH, in too many communities, the Fair Housing Act has not had the impact it intended — housing choices continue to be constrained through housing discrimination, the operation of housing markets, investment choices by holders of capital, the history and geography of regions, and patterns of development and the built environment.

So, they list "discrimination" as a problem, but then look at the other four items they list as problems.  These can all be summarized as "the normal operation of free markets, property rights, and individual choice."

Oddly missing from this list of causes is what many historians consider to be the #1 cause of lack of neighborhood diversity and ghetto-ization:  The Federal Government and the New Deal.  New Deal rules essentially forced the concentration of blacks into just a few neighborhoods.   The biggest unmixing of races in New York can be seen between 1930 and 1950.   Blacks in Brooklyn went from fairly evenly mixed to concentrated in Bed-Stuy, all directly attributable to New Deal rules.   Basically, ever since then, we have just been living with the consequences.  Via NPR in an interview with Richard Rothstein

On how the New Deal's Public Works Administration led to the creation of segregated ghettos

Its policy was that public housing could be used only to house people of the same race as the neighborhood in which it was located, but, in fact, most of the public housing that was built in the early years was built in integrated neighborhoods, which they razed and then built segregated public housing in those neighborhoods. So public housing created racial segregation where none existed before. That was one of the chief policies.

On the Federal Housing Administration's overtly racist policies in the 1930s, '40s and '50s

The second policy, which was probably even more effective in segregating metropolitan areas, was the Federal Housing Administration, which financed mass production builders of subdivisions starting in the '30s and then going on to the '40s and '50s in which those mass production builders, places like Levittown [New York] for example, and Nassau County in New York and in every metropolitan area in the country, the Federal Housing Administration gave builders like Levitt concessionary loans through banks because they guaranteed loans at lower interest rates for banks that the developers could use to build these subdivisions on the condition that no homes in those subdivisions be sold to African-Americans.

Postscript:  Here is how the Ken Burns New York documentary series explained it, though the source page is no longer available:

Government policies began in the 1930s with the New Deal's Federal Mortgage and Loans Program. The government, along with banks and insurance programs, undertook a policy to lower the value of urban housing in order to create a market for the single-family residences they built outside the city.

The Home Owners' Loan Corporation, a federal government initiative established during the early years of the New Deal went into Brooklyn and mapped the population of all 66 neighborhoods in the Borough, block by block, noting on their maps the location of the residence of every black, Latino, Jewish, Italian, Irish, and Polish family they could find. Then they assigned ratings to each neighborhood based on its ethnic makeup. They distributed the demographic maps to banks and held the banks to a certain standard when loaning money for homes and rental. If the ratings went down, the value of housing property went down.

From the perspective of a white city dweller, nothing that you had done personally had altered the value of your home, and your neighborhood had not changed either. The decline in your property's value came simply because, unless the people who wanted to move to your neighborhood were black, the banks would no longer lend people the money needed to move there. And, because of this government initiative, the more black people moved into your neighborhood, the more the value of your property fell.

The Home Owners' Loan Corporation finished their work in the 1940s. In the 1930s when it started, black Brooklynites were the least physically segregated group in the borough. By 1950 they were the most segregated group; all were concentrated in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, which became the largest black ghetto in the United States. After the Home Owners Loan Corp began working with local banks in Brooklyn, it worked with them in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens.

The state also got involved in redlining. (Initially, redlining literally meant the physical process of drawing on maps red lines through neighborhoods that were to be refused loans and insurance policies based on income or race. Redlining has come to mean, more generally, refusing to serve a particular neighborhood because of income or race.) State officials created their own map of Brooklyn. They too mapped out the city block by block. But this time they looked for only black and Latino individuals.

This site has some redlining maps, including one of Brooklyn, prepared by the Feds.  Remember, this is not some evil Conservative business CABAL, these are Roosevelt Democrats making these maps.  This site adds:

While the HOLC was a fairly short-lived New Deal agency, the influence of its security maps lived on in the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and the GI Bill dispensing Veteran’s Administration (VA). Both of these government organizations, which set the standard that private lenders followed, refused to back bank mortgages that did not adhere to HOLC’s security maps. On the one hand FHA and VA backed loans were an enormous boon to those who qualified for them. Millions of Americans received mortgages that they otherwise would not have qualified for. But FHA-backed mortgages were not available to all. Racial minorities could not get loans for property improvements in their own neighborhoods—seen as credit risks—and were denied mortgages to purchase property in other areas for fear that their presence would extend the red line into a new community. Levittown, the poster-child of the new suburban America, only allowed whites to purchase homes. Thus HOLC policies and private developers increased home ownership and stability for white Americans while simultaneously creating and enforcing racial segregation.

The exclusionary structures of the postwar economy pushed African Americans and other minorities to protest. Over time the federal government attempted to rectify the racial segregation created, or at least facilitated, in part by its own policies. In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court case Shelley v. Kraemer struck down explicitly racial neighborhood housing covenants, making it illegal to explicitly consider race when selling a house. It would be years, however, until housing acts passed in the 1960s could provide some federal muscle to complement grassroots attempts to ensure equal access.

 

17 Jun 19:53

Overwrought Language of the Day

by admin

Our Overwrought language award this week comes from Kevin Drum of Mother Jones, writing about Paul Ryan's budget plan.  Drum calls Ryan's budget a "Vision of a Dickensian Hellhole".  He quotes Jonathon Chait as saying, "Its enactment would amount to the most dramatic rollback of government since the New Deal."

All this for a budget that proposes to reduce government spending to about 19% of GDP, a level that we have not seen since the Dickensian Hellhole of ... the Bill Clinton Presidency.  During the New Deal, spending hovered around 10% of GDP.

This is the ratchet effect that big government lovers are so adept at employing.  Under President Obama (with a lot of help from George Bush and a Democratic Congress) spending has skyrocketed to an unprecedented-except-in-WWII level of over 25% of GDP.  But suddenly Drum and Chait and company want to define that level as the new baseline, below which any drop is now "Dickensian."  Which is another reason that we should never, ever create a new government spending program because once established they are impossible to eliminate, no matter how stupid and wasteful.

 

17 Jun 12:55

Conscription and the Minimum Wage

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

Tweet

Here’s another letter to a frequent – and always quite hostile – e-mail correspondent:

Mr. Aaron the Aaron

Dear Mr. the Aaron:

Like many ‘Progressives,’ you champion both conscription and the minimum wage.  As such, you call my opposition to conscription “dogmatic,” while you reckon that my opposition to minimum-wage legislation results from my being (quoting one of your earlier e-mails) “blind to employers’ power over employees.”

Allow me to summarize your policy position: You wish to force people to work for certain employers (governments) at wages that these people judge to be too low but that you judge to be acceptably high for them, while simultaneously forcing people not to work for other employers (private firms) at wages that these people judge to be acceptably high but that you judge to be too low for them.  In short, you presume to forcibly override with your own assessment – or with that of politicians whom you mysteriously trust – the assessments of each of millions of individuals of what are and what are not acceptable working terms and conditions for these individuals.

I could comment further on your arguments’ inconsistencies (for example, no employer has as much “power over employees” as does one that can actually conscript workers).  But I’ll simply add that the lone consistency that knits together all of your arguments is a faith that employment arrangements dictated by force are superior to those reached through mutual and voluntary consent.

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

17 Jun 01:30

Prisons Without Walls: We're All Inmates In The American Police State

by Tyler Durden

Submitted by John Whitehead via The Rutherford Institute,

“It is perfectly possible for a man to be out of prison and yet not free—to be under no physical constraint and yet be a psychological captive, compelled to think, feel and act as the representatives of the national state, or of some private interest within the nation wants him to think, feel and act. . . . To him the walls of his prison are invisible and he believes himself to be free.”—Aldous Huxley, A Brave New World Revisited

Free worlders” is prison slang for those who are not incarcerated behind prison walls.  Supposedly, those fortunate souls live in the “free world.” However, appearances can be deceiving.

“As I got closer to retiring from the Federal Bureau of Prisons,” writes former prison employee Marlon Brock, “it began to dawn on me that the security practices we used in the prison system were being implemented outside those walls.” In fact, if Brock is right, then we “free worlders” do live in a prison—albeit, one without visible walls.

In federal prisons, cameras are everywhere in order to maintain “security” and keep track of the prisoners. Likewise, the “free world” is populated with video surveillance and tracking devices. From surveillance cameras in stores and street corners to license plate readers (with the ability to log some 1,800 license plates per hour) on police cars, our movements are being tracked virtually everywhere. With this increasing use of iris scanners and facial recognition software—which drones are equipped with—there would seem to be nowhere to hide.

Detection and confiscation of weapons (or whatever the warden deems “dangerous”) in prison is routine. The inmates must be disarmed. Pat downs, checkpoints, and random searches are second nature in ferreting out contraband.

Sound familiar?

Metal detectors are now in virtually all government buildings. There are the TSA scanning devices and metal detectors we all have to go through in airports. Police road blocks and checkpoints are used to perform warrantless searches for contraband. Those searched at road blocks can be searched for contraband regardless of their objections—just like in prison. And there are federal road blocks on American roads in the southwestern United States. Many of them are permanent and located up to 100 miles from the border.

Stop and frisk searches are taking place daily across the country. Some of them even involve anal and/or vaginal searches. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has approved strip searches even if you are arrested for a misdemeanor—such as a traffic stop. Just like a prison inmate.

Prison officials open, search and read every piece of mail sent to inmates. This is true of those who reside outside prison walls, as well. In fact, “the United States Postal Service uses a ‘Mail Isolation Control and Tracking Program’ to create a permanent record of who is corresponding with each other via snail mail.” Believe it or not, each piece of physical mail received by the Postal Service is photographed and stored in a database. Approximately 160 billion pieces of mail sent out by average Americans are recorded each year and the police and other government agents have access to this information.

Prison officials also monitor outgoing phone calls made by inmates. This is similar to what the NSA, the telecommunication corporation, and various government agencies do continually to American citizens. The NSA also downloads our text messages, emails, Facebook posts, and so on while watching everything we do.

Then there are the crowd control tactics: helmets, face shields, batons, knee guards, tear gas, wedge formations, half steps, full steps, pinning tactics, armored vehicles, and assault weapons. Most of these phrases are associated with prison crowd control because they were perfected by prisons.

Finally, when a prison has its daily operations disturbed, often times it results in a lockdown. What we saw with the “free world” lockdowns following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the melees in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland, mirror a federal prison lockdown.

These are just some of the similarities between the worlds inhabited by locked-up inmates and those of us who roam about in the so-called “free world.”

Is there any real difference?

To those of us who see the prison that’s being erected around us, it’s a bit easier to realize what’s coming up ahead, and it’s not pretty. However, and this must be emphasized, what most Americans perceive as life in the United States of America is a far cry from reality. Real agendas and real power are always hidden.

As Author Frantz Fanon notes, “Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”

This state of denial and rejection of reality is the essential plot of John Carpenter’s 1988 film They Live, where a group of down-and-out homeless men discover that people have been, in effect, so hypnotized by media distractions that they do not see their prison environment and the real nature of those who control them—that is, an oligarchic elite.

Caught up in subliminal messages such as “obey” and “conform,” among others, beamed out of television and various electronic devices, billboards, and the like, people are unaware of the elite controlling their lives. As such, they exist, as media analyst Marshall McLuhan once wrote, in “prisons without walls.” And of course, any resistance is met with police aggression.

A key moment in the film occurs when John Nada, a homeless drifter, notices something strange about people hanging about a church near the homeless settlement where he lives. Nada decides to investigate. Entering the church, he sees graffiti on a door: They live, We sleep. Nada overhears two men, obviously resisters, talking about “robbing banks” and “manufacturing Hoffman lenses until we’re blue in the face.” Moments later, one of the resisters catches Nada fumbling in the church and tells him “it’s the revolution.” When Nada nervously backs off, the resister assures him, “You’ll be back.”

Rummaging through a box, Nada discovers a handful of cheap-looking sunglasses, referred to earlier as Hoffman lenses. Grabbing a pair and exiting the church, he starts walking down a busy urban street.

Sliding the sunglasses on his face, Nada is shocked to see a society bombarded and controlled on every side by subliminal messages beamed at them from every direction. Billboards are transformed into authoritative messages: a bikini-clad woman in one ad is replaced with the words “MARRY AND REPRODUCE.” Magazine racks scream “CONSUME” and “OBEY.” A wad of dollar bills in a vendor’s hand proclaims, “THIS IS YOUR GOD.”

What’s even more disturbing than the hidden messages, however, are the ghoulish-looking creatures—the elite—who appear human until viewed them through the lens of truth.

This is the subtle message of They Live, an apt analogy of our own distorted vision of life in the American police state. These things are in plain sight, but from the time we are born until the time we die, we are indoctrinated into believing that those who rule us do it for our good. The truth, far different, is that those who rule us don’t really see us as human beings with dignity and worth. They see us as if “we’re livestock.”

It’s only once Nada’s eyes have been opened that he is able to see the truth: “Maybe they’ve always been with us,” he says. “Maybe they love it—seeing us hate each other, watching us kill each other, feeding on our own cold f**in’ hearts.” Nada, disillusioned and fed up with the lies and distortions, is finally ready to fight back. “I got news for them. Gonna be hell to pay. Cause I ain’t daddy’s little boy no more.”

What about you?

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the warning signs have been cautioning us for decades. Oblivious to what lies ahead, most have ignored the obvious. We’ve been manipulated into believing that if we continue to consume, obey, and have faith, things will work out. But that’s never been true of emerging regimes. And by the time we feel the hammer coming down upon us, it will be too late.

As Rod Serling warned:

All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes—all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the earth into a graveyard, into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance. Then we become the grave diggers.

The message: stay alert.

Take the warning signs seriously. And take action because the paths to destruction are well disguised by those in control.

This is the lesson of history.

16 Jun 22:38

Encrypted Email, Easy and Free

by J.D. Tuccille

Demand is high, so you'll have to wait in line a bit for the outfit to free up capacity, but all ProtonMail email accounts requested by June 17 (that's tomorrow), get an upgrade to 1GB of storage. The storage is nice, but it's the email accounts itself that matters. That's because ProtonMail is a free, browser-based, encrypted email service. It gives you security without having to master glitchy plugins or challenging tech (yes, you geeks—lots of people find this stuff challenging). It's pretty much like using Gmail, but minus the likelihood of being snooped on by marketing types, intelligence snoops, or asshole federal prosecutors.

ProtonMail got its start in the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations, when scientists at CERN decided that they didn't really want to provide browsing opportunities for the NSA. The service's technology is designed so that, unlike the late, lamented Lavabit, only users have access to their own email—there's no ability to comply with subpoenas. Servers are based in Switzerland, reducing the likelihood of backdoors being installed by the world's pushier intelligence services (among other things, they can use American court orders for toilet paper, so you don;t have to wait out the encryption wars).

Together with other encrypted and also-free communications offerings, like TextSecure, Signal, and RedPhone, ProtonMail makes relatively (let's emphasize that) secure communications accessible to pretty much everybody.

Keep it coming folks. These are the sort of developments we need.

16 Jun 20:07

The FDA's Trans Fat Ban: Their Laws, Your Body

by Walter Olson

The Obama administration’s Food and Drug Administration today announced a near-ban, in the making since 2013, on the use of partially hydrogenated vegetable fats (“trans fats”) in American food manufacturing. Specifically, the FDA is knocking trans fats off the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list. This is a big deal and here are some reasons why:

  • It’s frank paternalism. Like high-calorie foods or alcoholic beverages, trans fats have marked risks when consumed in quantity over long periods, smaller risks in moderate and occasional use, and tiny risks when used in tiny quantities. The FDA intends to forbid the taking of even tiny risks, no matter how well disclosed.
  • The public doesn’t agree. A 2013 Reason-RUPE poll found majorities of all political groups felt consumers should be left free to choose on trans fats.  Even in heavily governed places like New York City and California, where the political class bulldozed through restaurant bans some years back, there was plenty of resentment.
  • The public is also perfectly capable of recognizing and acting on nutritional advances on its own. Trans fats have gone out of style and consumption has dropped by 85 percent as consumers have shunned them. But while many products have been reformulated to omit trans fats, their versatile qualities still give them an edge in such specialty applications as frozen pizza crusts, microwave popcorn, and the sprinkles used atop cupcakes and ice cream. Food companies tried to negotiate to keep some of these uses available, especially in small quantities, but apparently mostly failed.
  • Government doesn’t always know best, nor do its friends in “public health.” The story has often been told of how dietary reformers touted trans fats from the 1950s onward as a safer alternative to animal fats and butter. Public health activists and various levels of government hectored consumers and restaurants to embrace the new substitutes. We now know this was a bad idea: trans fats appear worse for cardiovascular health than what they replaced. And the ingredients that will replace minor uses of trans fats – tropical palm oil is one – have problems of their own.
  • Even if you never plan to consume a smidgen of trans fat ever again, note well: many public health advocates are itching for the FDA to limit allowable amounts of salt, sugar, caffeine, and so forth in food products. Many see this as their big pilot project and test case. But when it winds up in court, don’t be surprised if some courtroom spectators show up wearing buttons with the old Sixties slogan: Keep Your Laws Off My Body.
16 Jun 18:09

The Three M’s: Milosevic, Mugabe, and Maduro

by Steve H. Hanke

What do Slobodan Milosevic, Robert Mugabe, and Nicolás Maduro have in common? The Communist Manifesto and inflation.

At 480% per annum, Venezuela’s inflation is currently the world’s highest. The Bolivarian Revolution is pushing prices up at a rate of 36% per month. Will these punishing inflation numbers spell the end of President Nicolás Maduro’s reign? Maybe not. Milosevic’s Yugoslavia and Mugabe’s Zimbabwe witnessed much higher inflation rates, and both hung on for many years.

Slobodan Milosevic was in the saddle when inflation gutted the rump Yugoslavia. Milosevic’s inflationary madness reached its peak in January 1994, when the monthly inflation rate hit 313,000,000% – almost nine million times greater than Venezuela’s current monthly rate. Nonetheless, Milosevic retained his grip on what was left of Yugoslavia for another six years.

In 2008, Zimbabwe out-did Yugoslavia when Zimbabwe recorded the second-highest hyperinflation in history. With Robert Mugabe at the helm, hyperinflation peaked at a staggering 79,600,000,000% per month, or a daily rate of 98%. Despite this astronomical figure, Mugabe remains in office to this day – over seven years since the hyperinflation ended.

While hyperinflation is not a recipe for building a politician’s popular support, it is not a certain death knell, either. Don’t count Maduro out, yet. As long as he retains popular support and “controls” the ballot boxes, he will stay in the saddle.

16 Jun 17:47

Russians and Chinese Got Snowden Documents the Old-Fashioned Way

by Ronald Bailey

CrptographyBrokenBritish surveillance functionaries placed a story over the weekend in the Sunday Times (London) claiming that the Russians and Chinese had gotten hold of the documents that Edward Snowden sneaked out of the NSA computers and had broken their encryption. As my colleague Scott Shackford points out the Sunday Times offered nothing more than the assertions of unnamed British spy agency sources as evidence. He noted that one of the Sunday Times' reporters actually admitted on CNN: "We just publish what we believe to be the position of the British government at the moment."

Over at Wired, cryptographer and Harvard Berkman Center fellow Bruce Schneier also dismisses the claims against Snowden made by British intelligence service disinformation specialists published in the Sunday Times. On the other hand, he does think that Russian and Chinese spies have in fact obtained most of the documents taken by Snowden, but not from Snowden. First, try as they might, journalists to whom Snowden delivered the documents will have great difficulty in preventing digital infiltration by national intelligence services.

Secondly, Russian and Chinese hackers (at the behest of their governments) have had great success in penetrating U.S. government networks. Consequently, they are very likely to have taken many of the Snowden documents directly from the NSA's own servers. Schneier explains:

I believe that both China and Russia had access to all the files that Snowden took well before Snowden took them because they’ve penetrated the NSA networks where those files reside. After all, the NSA has been a prime target for decades...

In general, it’s far easier to attack a network than it is to defend the same network. This isn’t a statement about willpower or budget; it’s how computer and network security work today. A former NSA deputy director recently said that if we were to score cyber the way we score soccer, the tally would be 462–456 twenty minutes into the game. In other words, it’s all offense and no defense.

In this kind of environment, we simply have to assume that even our classified networks have been penetrated. Remember that Snowden was able to wander through the NSA’s networks with impunity, and that the agency had so few controls in place that the only way they can guess what has been taken is to extrapolate based on what has been published. Does anyone believe that Snowden was the first to take advantage of that lax security? I don’t.

This is why I find allegations that Snowden was working for the Russians or the Chinese simply laughable. What makes you think those countries waited for Snowden? And why do you think someone working for the Russians or the Chinese would go public with their haul?

So Snowden becomes a cover-your-ass excuse for the failures of surveillance state fuctionaries.

Hat tip Richard Rohde.

16 Jun 17:57

CHART: Animals most likely to kill you...

16 Jun 12:56

Some Links

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

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Radley Balko explains that there is in America no credible evidence of a new nationwide crimewave.

Dan Sanchez details some especially nasty unintended (if not entirely unforeseen) consequences of Uncle Sam’s foreign-policy and military adventures abroad.  (HT Bob Murphy)

My colleague Alex Tabarrok reviews, in today’s Wall Street Journal, Alvin Roth’s new book, Who Gets What – and Why.

Richard Ebeling is correct: today’s American “Progressives” are intellectual – and ethical – descendants of Bismarck.  A slice:

The American progressives, many of whom as graduate students in philosophy, political science, economics, and history had studied at German universities in the closing decades of the nineteenth and the open decade of the twentieth century, came back from their foreign education with confidence that an elite of “experts” trained like themselves should be and would be the social engineers of the future.

For instance, one of the leading Americans influenced by his German welfare-statist professors was Richard Ely, a founder of the American Economic Association and a leading proponent of this new “cradle to grave” political paternalism.

Would you prefer to live today on an annual salary, in 2015 dollars, of $50,000 or in 1985 on an annual salary (in 1985 dollars) of $500,000?  James Pethokoukis correctly notes that the answer isn’t obvious for most people.

Greg Mankiw is understandably unimpressed with the arguments offered in favor of reauthorizing that great geyser of cronyism, the U.S. Export-Import Bank.  A slice:

Three arguments for the Ex-Im Bank were given:

1. It creates jobs.  Of course it does!  If the government were to put the names of all businesses into a hat, pull out a few randomly, and give those a per unit subsidy, those businesses would expand and hire more workers. That would not make it a good policy, however, because the wrong jobs would be created.

2. It returns money to the Treasury.  Really?  If the bank were truly a profitable venture, we could privatize it.  I bet if the government tried to sell off the Ex-Im Bank, it wouldn’t get much, if anything at all.  If the Bank’s activity were actually profitable, we wouldn’t need a government-run bank to do it.

3. Other countries give similar subsidies to their firms. So what? If other nations engage in corporate welfare, that is no reason for the United States to follow suit in the name of a level playing field.  We don’t need to import other nations’ bad policies.

03 Jun 14:00

Spam Isn't Even Trying to be Clever Anymore

funny-facebook-fail-spam-legit

Submitted by: (via HolstenerLiesel)

Tagged: email , spam , seems legit
14 Jun 20:14

jedavu: Unbelievable Places That Look Like They’re From Another...


Tianzi Mountains, China


Fly Geyser, Nevada, Usa


Dragonblood Trees, Socotra, Yemen


Pamukkale, Turkey


Glowworms Cave, New Zealand


Abraham Lake, Canada


Monte Roraima - Venezuela


Dallol Volcano, Ethiopia


Son Doong Cave, Vietnam


Giants Causeway In Northern Ireland

jedavu:

Unbelievable Places That Look Like They’re From Another Planet

Unbelievable Places That Look Like They’re From The Mushroom Kingdom

15 Jun 18:20

The Disposable Life of a 20-Year-Old Confidential Informant

by Anthony L. Fisher

On June 27, 2014, the body of 20-year-old Andrew Sadek, a promising electrical student at the North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS) in Wahpeton, North Dakota, was pulled from the Red River bordering North Dakota and Minnesota.

Missing for two months, the young man was found shot in the head, wearing a backpack filled with rocks. 

The grisly death of a college student in one of the safest towns in the state, where violent crime is extremely rare, did not lead to a sweeping investigation. In fact, police immediately said they did not suspect foul play.

Such a supposition strains credulity as it is, but what would be slowly revealed over the following months is that Andrew had been working as a confidential informant for the police, and that his school knew that authorities were busting its students and using them as bait to catch drug dealers

This is a story of overzealous prosecution of minor drug offenses by a task force answerable only to itself, callous official indifference toward a grieving family, and a lack of transparency by authorities that raises more questions than it answers. 

Paramount among these questions: Why are police using non-violent, first-time offenders in the very dangerous role of confidential informant?  

A QUIET FARM KID

Growing up on a family-owned farm in Rogers, North Dakota, Andrew Sadek was active with the raising of their cattle and particularly close to his parents, who lost their older son, Nick, in a car accident in 2005.

Andrew was a few weeks shy of graduation when he went missing in May 2014. Days later, the Sadeks received the shocking news that a warrant had been issued for Andrew's arrest for two felony counts of distributing a controlled substance. 

In an interview with Reason TV, Andrew's mother, Tammy, described her deceased younger son as "kind of a homebody" whose only previous brush with the law was a speeding ticket.

"His dreams were to become an electrician and take over the family farm," Tammy says of Andrew. "We sent him off to college, he was excelling at college. That's why this was such a shock to us."

For two gut-wrenching months, the Sadeks prayed Andrew would come home to the farm to help with the spring calving, while police continued to assume Andrew was on the lam.

Then, Andrew's body was found.

Shot. Wearing the backpack filled with rocks. Not wearing the clothes he was last seen in. Without his wallet. An autopsy proved inconclusive in determining suicide or homicide, and no weapon has yet been found.

But according to the Sadeks, Sgt. Steve Helgeson of the NDSCS Campus Police, the lead officer in charge of the investigation, tried to convince them that their son put on the rock-filled backpack, shot himself in the head, and somehow propelled himself into the river. 

Tammy says Sgt. Helgeson told her "That's what kids do in that area, they commit suicide," referring to the golf court bridge over the river that connects the Bois de Sioux golf course.

No one who knew Andrew supports this theory. His friend Justin Rippentrop told Reason TV that Andrew was a "laid-back, generous, fun-loving guy," who never showed depressive tendencies and seemed in particularly good spirits as his graduation date approached. Crucially, no one at the college has indicated that Andrew was exhibiting any signs of emotional distress, and no suicide note has been found.

A DRUG TASK FORCE LACKING TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY

What the police knew but continued to keep from the Sadeks, was that Andrew had been working as a confidential informant for the Southeast Multi-County Agency (SEMCA), a drug task force answerable only to its own board, a 12 person committee made up of local senior police officers and elected officials.

Andrew first came into contact with SEMCA in April 2013, after he twice sold marijuana, a total of 4.5 grams or $80 worth, to a confidential informant. Shortly thereafter, a police raid on Andrew's dorm room turned up nothing but a small plastic grinder and some marijuana residue. 

But the grinder, plus the two sales to SEMCA's informant in a "school zone," which in North Dakota includes colleges, was enough for authorities to threaten Andrew with two Class A felony charges, each carrying a possible 20 year sentence. Or, he could "voluntarily" agree to work as a confidential informant.

Upon enrolling at NDSCS, Andrew signed a Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) waiver obligating the school to inform his parents of any disciplinary issues, but the school never notified the Sadeks following the raid on his dorm room, or any time thereafter.

Faced with the prospect of spending the bulk of his life in prison, and without consulting a lawyer or his parents, Andrew chose to become an informant, agreeing to make two controlled buys from each of three SEMCA-targeted drug dealers. 

When Andrew was last seen leaving his dorm building on May 1, 2014, he still owed SEMCA one last controlled buy. 

Refusing to accept authorities' speculation that Andrew had committed suicide, the Sadeks hired a private investigator, who discovered a significant amount of water in the wheel wells of Andrew's car, suggesting that someone may have driven Andrew's car to the banks of the river where his body was found, before returning it to the campus parking lot. 

WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?

Because Andrew's body was found on the Minnesota side of the river, the NDSCS campus police claimed the case was not in their jurisdiction, which the North Dakota Attorney General's office confirmed. But the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension told Valley News Livea newscast in Fargo, North Dakota, that they have nothing to do with it. For all the agencies involved with busting Andrew Sadek for selling a small amount of pot, no agency is willing to take the lead in solving his violent death. 

Valley News Live reporter Nicole Johnson told Reason TV, "It took a long time to get the results of the autopsy. So I called (Sgt.) Steve Helgeson, the officer in charge of this case, and he told me it was not a top priority." Johnson adds that no one who has directly worked on the case has answered a question of theirs since Andrew was found in June 2014.

Finding no help from the local authorities, the Sadeks' demanded a state-wide investigation, which culminated in a report from the North Dakota Attorney General's Bureau of Criminal Investigation, released in January 2015.

The report revealed for the first time that Andrew had been working as a confidential informant for SEMCA. 

That the school knew of the raid on Andrew's dorm room in 2013, but allowed his parents to learn this news only after he went missing raises significant ethical and legal questions in its own right. But the fact that SEMCA only disclosed Andrew's status as a confidential informant because they were forced to by the Attorney General, more than a year after the young man was first targeted by the task force, demonstrates a heartless lack of concern for confidential informants even after they end up dead.

The SEMCA report runs all of four and a half pages, nearly half of which merely names the board members and the authors of the report.  And despite the obvious dangers inherent with being an informant working for the police to bust drug dealers, the report found that SEMCA had acted appropriately when using Andrew, a non-violent first time offender, as a C.I. The report's conclusion offered four minor tweaks to protocol, such as having a "Pre-Ops briefing" and assigning a supervisor to each case. 

In February 2015, Reason's Jacob Sullum wrote about Wahpeton Police Chief Scott Thorsteinson, a SEMCA board member, and his response to the violent death of a confidential informant in his town:

Thorsteinson conceded that police informants work in "a dangerous subculture" but said cops usually "bend over backwards to protect their C.I."

Thorsteinson said Sadek's death is no cause for reflection on the methods used by drug warriors in North Dakota. "These types of investigations are conducted the same way pretty much everywhere where people breathe in and out," he said. "They never did anything wrong that needed to be changed." Thorsteinson, who acknowledged that Sadek's mother "had to go through a difficult ordeal," explained that busting drug offenders is a thankless but necessary job. "Law enforcement... we're generally not popular," he told KVLY. "The sheep dog is not loved by the flock, and they're hated by the wolf, but we do it anyway." In Thorsteinson's view, the citizens he serves are sheep, while harmless pot dealers like Sadek are wolves.

The lack of a statewide chain of command allowed SEMCA to operate as an entity answerable only to itself. And though SEMCA's board remains intact, the agency now falls under the jurisdiction of the North Dakota attorney general. When contacted by Reason TV about the use of college students as confidential informants, Liz Brocker, a spokesperson for North Dakota's Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, replied, "We have no opinion about confidential informants." 

The Wahpeton Police Department, Richland County State's Attorney, SEMCA, and both NDSCS and its campus police department all either declined to comment or did not respond to Reason TV's request for comment.

DISPOSABLE YOUNG LIVES

Andrew Sadek is not the only young person to be terrified into working as a C.I. In 2014, a confidential informant at the University of Massachusetts died of a drug overdose, prompting criticism that if his parents had been notified, he might have been able to receive treatment for substance abuse. In 2015, Buzzfeed reported on the widespread use of confidential informants on the campus of Ole Miss.

Most notably, in 2008, Florida State student Rachel Hoffman was murdered when police compelled her to make an illegal gun purchase. A sweeping 2012 New Yorker article recounted Hoffman's tragic fate:

She had never fired a gun or handled a significant stash of hard drugs. Now she was on her way to conduct a major undercover deal for the Tallahassee Police Department, meeting two convicted felons alone in her car to buy two and a half ounces of cocaine, fifteen hundred Ecstasy pills, and a semi-automatic handgun.

The operation did not go as intended. By the end of the hour, police lost track of her and her car. Late that night, they arrived at her boyfriend's town house and asked him if Hoffman was inside. They wanted to know if she might have run off with the money. Her boyfriend didn't know where she was.

"She was with us," he recalled an officer saying. "Until shit got crazy."

Two days after Hoffman disappeared, her body was found in Perry, Florida, a small town some fifty miles southeast of Tallahassee, in a ravine overgrown with tangled vines. Draped in an improvised shroud made from her Grateful Dead sweatshirt and an orange-and-purple sleeping bag, Hoffman had been shot five times in the chest and head with the gun that the police had sent her to buy.

Hoffman's death led to state-wide reforms regarding the use of confidential informants, including common-sense modifications such as forbidding the use of recovering drug addicts as informants, additional training for informants and officers, and more robust recordkeeping requirements so that unsuitable candidates are not needlessly placed in potentially lethal situations. In March 2015, a new proposal made it through Florida's Senate Criminal Justice Committee to "add teeth" to "Rachel's Law," which includes criminal penalties for officers who fail to follow protocol or endanger their assigned informants. 

THE DEATH THEY WISH WOULD GO AWAY

When the police aggressively prosecute young people unfamiliar with the criminal justice system and then use them as confidential informants, they assume a certain amount of responsibility for their safety. But the lack of interest by the agencies that ensnared Andrew Sadek in vigorously investigating his death as potential murder suggests they wish the case would just go away.

Which only begs the question, why?

Why are the authorities not investigating this case with the same aggressive zeal they continue to use on the campus of NDSCS busting small-time drug sellers?

The heartbroken Sadek family searches for justice for their son, though they are not confident that any law enforcement agency will continue to investigate Andrew's death. Tammy hopes that Andrew's death can serve as a cautionary tale to other young people who get in over their heads and feel they have no other choice but to work as an informant.

"I don't want other kids to end up in this situation," Tammy says. "Talk to your parents. Talk to a lawyer. Don't do the police's job for them."

About 9.45 minutes. 

Written and Produced by Anthony L. Fisher.

Camera by Alex Manning.

Special Thanks to Jim Wareham, Ike Walker, Nicole Johnson and Bradford Arick of Valley News Live.

MUSIC: "I Was a Boy" and "Dishonest" by Wooden Ambulance (http://www.facebook.com/wooden.ambulance); "Old" by Smokey Hormel (http://www.smokeyhormel.com)

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15 Jun 10:00

Missing Footage

by Charles Oliver

Chicago police erased 86 minutes of video taken from the security camera of a Burger King located 100 yards from where a cop shot a 17-year-old boy to death, according to the store's manager. Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times, nine in the back. The missing video runs from 9:13 to 10:39 p.m. McDonald was shot around 9:50 p.m. Police deny erasing the video.