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28 Mar 19:53

Earth Hour celebrates ignorance, poverty, and backwardness

by Mark Perry

In 2009, Canadian economist Ross McKitrick was asked by a journalist for his thoughts on the importance of the annual one-hour event in energy self-flagellation and green nitwitery known as Earth Hour, which takes place today, March 28, at 8:30 p.m. Here is his excellent response (my emphasis):

I abhor Earth Hour. Abundant, cheap electricity has been the greatest source of human liberation in the 20th century. Every material social advance in the 20th century depended on the proliferation of inexpensive and reliable electricity.

Giving women the freedom to work outside the home depended on the availability of electrical appliances that free up time from domestic chores. Getting children out of menial labour and into schools depended on the same thing, as well as the ability to provide safe indoor lighting for reading.

Development and provision of modern health care without electricity is absolutely impossible. The expansion of our food supply, and the promotion of hygiene and nutrition, depended on being able to irrigate fields, cook and refrigerate foods, and have a steady indoor supply of hot water.

Many of the world’s poor suffer brutal environmental conditions in their own homes because of the necessity of cooking over indoor fires that burn twigs and dung. This causes local deforestation and the proliferation of smoke- and parasite-related lung diseases. Anyone who wants to see local conditions improve in the third world should realize the importance of access to cheap electricity from fossil-fuel based power generating stations. After all, that’s how the west developed.

The whole mentality around Earth Hour demonizes electricity. I cannot do that, instead I celebrate it and all that it has provided for humanity. Earth Hour celebrates ignorance, poverty and backwardness. By repudiating the greatest engine of liberation it becomes an hour devoted to anti-humanism. It encourages the sanctimonious gesture of turning off trivial appliances for a trivial amount of time, in deference to some ill-defined abstraction called “the Earth,” all the while hypocritically retaining the real benefits of continuous, reliable electricity.

People who see virtue in doing without electricity should shut off their fridge, stove, microwave, computer, water heater, lights, TV and all other appliances for a month, not an hour. And pop down to the cardiac unit at the hospital and shut the power off there too.

I don’t want to go back to nature. Travel to a zone hit by earthquakes, floods and hurricanes to see what it’s like to go back to nature. For humans, living in “nature” meant a short life span marked by violence, disease and ignorance. People who work for the end of poverty and relief from disease are fighting against nature. I hope they leave their lights on.

Here in Ontario, through the use of pollution control technology and advanced engineering, our air quality has dramatically improved since the 1960s, despite the expansion of industry and the power supply.

If, after all this, we are going to take the view that the remaining air emissions outweigh all the benefits of electricity, and that we ought to be shamed into sitting in darkness for an hour, like naughty children who have been caught doing something bad, then we are setting up unspoiled nature as an absolute, transcendent ideal that obliterates all other ethical and humane obligations.

No thanks. I like visiting nature but I don’t want to live there, and I refuse to accept the idea that civilization with all its tradeoffs is something to be ashamed of.

MP: The winner for Earth Hour every year since 2003 has been North Korea (see photo below of the Korean peninsula at night). Odds favor them to be the winner again this year.


The post Earth Hour celebrates ignorance, poverty, and backwardness appeared first on AEI.

27 Mar 16:58

Robots Read News of the Kraft/Heinz Merger

If your firewall is blocking the image, see it on Twitter here.


Humor Dimensions: Recognition, mean, clever, bizarre

Brevity: Good (could lose the word “have” in first panel)

Inappropriateness: High (bathroom humor)

Predicted Twitter Response: Expect lots of retweets despite bathroom humor because the message about nutrition is important to folks and the naughtiness is softened by the silliness of it.

[Update: Typo in last frame corrected]

Update 3/29/15: I predicted lots of retweets despite the naughtiness of this comic because I assumed folks would agree with the message about nutrition. No one is on the other side of that issue. As predicted, this was a strong performer. Only a few of my tweets have had this many retweets.

Key Learning: You can get away with naughtiness if you don’t use actual naughty words and the message is otherwise positive.

If your firewall is blocking the image, see it on Twitter here.




24 Mar 18:54

Score a Victory for Cruz over Brown in Most Recent Climate Change Scuffle

by Paul C. "Chip" Knappenberger

Paul C. "Chip" Knappenberger

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

On Sunday, in anticipation of Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) announcement that he intends to run for president, California governor Jerry Brown (D), declared to NBC’s Meet the Press Cruz was “absolutely unfit to be running for office.” Why? Because of Cruz’s stance on climate change—some of which Cruz laid out on late night TV last week.

But comparing Cruz’s comments on Late Night with Seth Meyers and Brown’s remarks on Meet the Press, it is pretty clear that it is Gov. Brown who needs to spend more time familiarizing himself with the scientific literature on climate change and especially its associations with extreme weather events.

Apparently Gov. Brown is convinced that climate change, or rather the apparently scarier-sounding “climate disruption” Brown prefers, is behind the ongoing drought in California, not to mention the East Coast’s cold and snowy winter.

Cruz, on the other hand, told a more restrained story—that data doesn’t support many alarmist claims and that satellites show no warming during the past 17 years while climate models expected warming—one which comports better with the science that he portrayed.

While there is certainly more to the story than Cruz went into in his brief appearance with Seth Meyers, he is right, that according to satellite observations of the earth’s lower atmosphere as compiled by researchers at Remote Sensing Systems, there has been no overall temperature increase during the past 17 years.

Gov. Brown, meanwhile, decided to elaborate on the climate change issue. Under general questioning from Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, Brown admitted that is was difficult to link specific events, like the California drought, to human-caused climate change. But then Todd played a snippet of Cruz’s Late Night interview where Cruz said:

And my view actually is simple. Debates on this should follow science and should follow data and many of the alarmists on global warming, they have a problem because the science doesn’t back them up.

Brown’s assertions then got much bolder:

What [Cruz] said is absolutely false. Over 90% of the scientists who deal with climate are absolutely convinced that the human activity, the industrial activity, the generation of CO2, methane, oxides of nitrogen and all the rest of those greenhouse gases are building up in the atmosphere, they are heat-trapping, and they are causing warming, not just drought in California, but severe storms and cold in the East Coast. So it’s climate disruption of many different kinds. And that man betokens such a level of ignorance and a direct falsification of existing scientific data. It is shocking, and I think that man has rendered himself absolutely unfit to be running for office.

Unfortunately for Brown, it is he that is speaking against “existing scientific data.”

Consider this new study by a team led by Geophysical Fluid Dynamic Laboratory’s (GFDL) Thomas Delworth that examined the association between the global warming hiatus and drought in western North America (including California). Turns out, according to these scientists, both stemmed from a similar cause—a change in the patterns of winds across the tropical Pacific Ocean. Further, they suggest this pattern was not overly consistent with expectations from human-caused climate change. Here is an excerpt from that paper:

The strong connection between the intensification of Pacific trades and the drying in western North America observed over the past decade suggests that this drying cannot be connected in a straightforward fashion to greenhouse gas increases. In most coupled [climate model] simulations anthropogenic forcing produces a long-term weakening of the Walker circulation and tropical Pacific trade winds, but with substantial intrinsically-generated variability on decadal scales (Vecchi et al. 2006). Therefore, unless it can be shown that the strengthened trade winds are a result of either natural or human-induced radiative forcing changes, the model results suggest that the observed drying over the western U.S. over the last decade may be primarily due to natural variability, and therefore not necessarily a harbinger of a secular drying trend (Hoerling et al. 2010; Seager and Naik 2012). These results highlight how vulnerable western North America is to severe decadal swings in hydroclimate arising from internal variations of the climate system.

Clearly, Gov. Brown is out of touch with these findings, just as he is with many findings on East Coast cold and snow (for example, here, here, and here). But this is typical of those who are intent on attacking those folks (politicians, scientists, writers, etc.) who take a dimmer view than themselves on the necessity for policy action aimed to combat climate change—policies which too often seek to limit energy choice.

If anyone is keeping score, this round of political squabbling over climate change should go to Sen. Cruz.


Delworth, T.L., et al., 2015. A link between the hiatus in global warming and North American drought. Journal of Climate, doi:10.1175/JCLI-D-14-00616.1, in press.

25 Mar 11:40

Type 3 Diabetes, The Next Epidemic?

by Kevin Cann

Written by: Kevin Cann

Most people reading this have heard of the term insulin resistance. For those of you that are new to the paleo diet and the site, insulin resistance is when our muscle, liver, and fat cells become desensitized to the hormone insulin. This leads the pancreas to have to produce more insulin and shovel the majority of glucose into our fat cells for storage.

Type 2 diabetes is a result of prolonged insulin resistance. The pancreas becomes tired from being overworked trying to produce extra insulin and eventually we cannot manage our blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes is an epidemic that the world is currently facing. It is estimated by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that nearly 30 million Americans suffer from diabetes.

What if I said that type 3 diabetes is likely to be the next major epidemic that we face? You might be thinking “Type 3 diabetes? Is that such a thing?” You may know type 3 diabetes by another name, Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Yes, AD is a form of diabetes.

I am not just making this up. Research published in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology concluded by stating:

“ We conclude that the term “type 3 diabetes” accurately reflects the fact that AD represents a form of diabetes that selectively involves the brain and has molecular and biochemical features that overlap with both type 1 diabetes mellitus and T2DM” (1). This same research also showed that AD was treatable with insulin sensitizing agents.

Instead of having insulin resistance in the muscle, liver, and fat cells, we can develop insulin resistance in the brain. This is not hard to see once we realize that the brain uses about 25% of the body’s glucose supply. Type 3 diabetes does differ from type 2 in one scary way. We do not have to have dysfunctional blood sugar to develop it.

Some fascinating research is being conducted out of the University of Penn. For the first time they were able to prove that insulin resistance actually occurs in the brain. They also showed that this change can occur in the brain in non-diabetics and without any presence of hyperglycemia (2). This makes sense as insulin plays a critical role to glucose uptake and the health of brain cells. If something in this system becomes dysfunctional, cognitive decline would be a logical outcome. Glucose oxidizes easily in the blood and that oxidation can lead to DNA damage in the cells. Also, if we have insulin resistance in the brain our cells cannot get the glucose that they need to function.

According to the researchers at the University of Penn, people with diabetes are 50% more likely to develop AD. With this type of increase seen in this population it makes sense that insulin resistance plays a role in the development of AD. The theory is that the insulin resistance in the brain causes the formation of plaques and tangles in the neurons associated with cognitive impairment.

Insulin resistance in the brain also alters dopamine function. Dopamine is our neurotransmitter responsible for memory, focus, and energy (3). Dysfunctional dopamine levels have been linked to depression, ADD, ADHD, gambling addiction, drug addiction, and schizophrenia. Ironically sugar addiction has been linked to low dopamine levels as well.

This insulin resistance link to dopamine may explain why ketogenic diets are a useful therapeutic tool when treating diseases of cognitive decline and schizophrenia (4,5). Theoretically speaking, maybe the ketogenic diet reverses insulin resistance in the brain and brings the system back to normal.

Now that we know what causes AD how do we avoid it? Do we need to run as far away from carbohydrates as possible? In my opinion, no. There are a number of things that may lead to one developing AD such as food, stress, environmental toxins, gut health, and genetics.

In order to decrease our risk of developing AD we need to maximize each of those specified areas. Eating a healthy diet rich in nutrient dense foods is a start. I would not get so hung up on carbohydrate quantity as much as I would on quality. Most people that develop insulin resistance develop it from overeating highly refined and processed carbohydrates. I think we can still minimize our risk of developing AD eating a high carbohydrate diet that consists of fruits and sweet potatoes. If it was just the high carbohydrate intake leading to insulin resistance we would see more type 2 diabetes and AD in groups such as the Kitavans that consume a diet consisting of roughly 70% carbohydrates.

We need to manage our stress. If you are not doing something to actively manage your stress, you need to. Try adding in some daily meditation to your routine. Exercise is important to preventing AD, but it is not a stress management activity. Exercise increases insulin sensitivity and helps us recover from the stress response, but is a stressor in and of itself. Lift some weights 2-4 days per week and remain physically active throughout the week by walking more and standing up at your desk.

Limit the amount of environmental toxins in your home. Use cleaning products that are made from natural sources. Filtering your tap water is also a way to limit environmental toxins in your life. Some of us cannot control our work environment and may be surrounded by toxins there. Do the best you can to limit exposure and make sure you’re eating a nutrient dense diet. In a lot of cases nutrients in our food help protect us from environmental toxins.

We need to attempt to maximize our gut health. Our gut bugs are the gatekeepers of our immune system. They keep all unwanted things out. If they get out of balance things begin to slip through the cracks leading to a chronic inflammatory response. When this happens inflammatory cytokines are released and these cytokines cause DNA damage and inhibit cellular DNA repair (6).

Genetics may be a piece that is out of our control. However, our genes are not just locked into place. They respond to internal and external stimuli and express themselves accordingly (epigenetics). If we take more of the steps listed above I truly believe we can alter our genome for a favorable outcome.

AD, or type 3 diabetes, does not need to be the world’s next epidemic. We can take a proactive stance and eat a healthier diet consisting of nutrient dense real foods, manage our stress, optimize gut health, and limit environmental toxin exposure. If we do this we can age gracefully and enjoy a full life

24 Mar 11:09

Amazon Quietly Bricked Jailbroken Kindle Devices Last Year

by Tim Cushing
It appears that Amazon is very serious about walling off its garden. Late last year, it pushed out a firmware update for its Amazon Fire TV devices that not only made rooted devices unusable, but prevented Fire TV owners from rolling back firmware to previous, more root-friendly versions. Apparently, Kindle users were also included in this lockdown.

A recent post at Good Reader notes that the latest firmware for Kindles is pretty much identical to its Fire TV firmware, right down to the destruction of functionality.
The new firmware was pushed out to all modern Kindle devices in late November of last year. Anything after version 5.60 will not allow you to hack the firmware and do interesting things like change the screensaver system or install custom apps.
And, like its firmware for the Fire TV, rollback to less hack-resistant firmware is nearly impossible. You can force it back, provided you have a soldering iron (and the willingness to apply it to your device) or you can follow a few not-so-simple steps to take your root access back from Amazon. But once again, it's the company removing functionality for the sole purpose of making devices perform the way Amazon wants them to, rather than leaving these sorts of decisions to those who have purchased the devices.

And it's not as though Kindle owners are receiving any heads up from Amazon about the firmware's plans for their jailbroken devices. No mention of it is made in the firmware's specifications, which only tells you about the (supposedly) good things the update will bring: vague "bug fixes and improvements." Softpedia's hosting page for the latest version (5.6.1) goes into a little more detail, but it only contains a list of slightly-upgraded Amazon features, rather than the limitations the firmware will impose on paying customers.

If you like Amazon's walled garden, the company is more than happy to ensure you never find the gate. If you don't, Amazon is more than happy to step in and brick over any openings. The latter does a huge disservice to paying customers who are looking to get the most out of something they purchased and own, but seems to still somehow "belong" to Amazon.

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23 Mar 15:34

Reich on the Alleged Horrors of An Economic Cornucopia

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

Here’s a letter to the editor of Alternet:

In what is a prime candidate for the most economically mistaken essay ever penned, Robert Reich calls a future in which technology makes ever-more high-quality goods and services widely available at virtually zero cost “horrifying” (“In Our Horrifying Future, Very Few People Will Have Work or Make Money,” March 17).

Where to start?  Perhaps with the fact that the history of such Luddite fear-mongering is as long (at least 200 years) as its batting record is low (.000%).  Or maybe with the illogical worry about the unemployment created by an imaginary device that Dr. Reich uses to scare your readers - a device “capable of producing everything you could possibly desire, a modern day Aladdin’s lamp.”  In fact, in a future filled with such devices unemployment wouldn’t be a problem because no one would have to work in order to acquire the means to consume lavishly.  (Indeed, in such a future there would technically be no unemployment because no one would want to work.)

But Dr. Reich’s most wrongheaded claim is this one: “when more and more can be done by fewer and fewer people, the profits go to an ever-smaller circle of executives and owners-investors.”  This claim is exactly backwards.  By far the greatest part of the gains from entrepreneurial-driven advances in technology are, as they have always been, widely dispersed to the masses in the form of more and better consumption options available at lower and lower prices.  Examples include the factory production of textiles that clothed the masses, the mechanization of agriculture that saved the masses from famine, the assembly line that brought the likes of automobiles, kitchen appliances, telephony, and air travel to even the modern-world’s ‘poor,’ and the technology revolution that enables those yearning to read Dr. Reich’s economically uninformed commentary to satisfy their demands 24/7/365 by using their smartphones while sipping lattes and attending protests against the predations of the one percent.

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

Reich himself, in listing some modern devices (that he uses as evidence of the coming calamity of abundance), unwittingly gives examples against his proposition that all of the gains of labor-saving technological advances are captured by ‘the few.’

Indeed, even if one focuses exclusively and literally on the profits from entrepreneur-driven technological advances (rather than, more broadly, on the gains from such advances), they, too, are not destined to go to fewer and fewer people.  Higher profits spark competition which, in turn, drives profits down to ‘normal’ rates.  It’s this very process of competition that causes the gains from technological advances to be shared with the masses: the entrepreneurs might all like to keep their profits without sharing them, but competition obliges them to share those profits with the public, in the form of lower prices and improved product quality.  And with technology advancing as fast as Reich fears (and I applaud), the ability of entrepreneurs to compete against each other will only intensify.  If technology makes the production of the likes of clothes and cups of coffee cheap, easy, and fast, so, too, does technology make the production of other machines for use in competing in the production and sale of consumer goods cheap, easy, and fast.

UPDATE: Regular Cafe patron W.E. Heasley sent the following note to me by e-mail:

Is it not poetic justice that Reich managed to post his argument on a platform that uses little manpower, plenty of technology, and is distributed on mass? Shouldn’t Robert have had his essay hand delivered to each and everyone interested?

21 Mar 20:40

jedavu:Frozen Lakes PatternsWith the fall of temperatures, we...

Bubbles Under The Ice of Abraham Lake by Emmanuel Coupe.

Bubbles in The Ice of Abraham Lake by Phillips Chip.

Frozen Pond by Adam Rifkin.

Ice Rider in Siberia by Matthieu Paley.

Baikal Lake in Russia by Daniel Kordan.

Lake Druzhby in Antarctica by Stu Shaw.

Blue Pond in Japan by Kent Shiraishi.

Frost Flowers in the Arctic Ocean by Matthias Wietz.

Frost Flowers in the Arctic Ocean by Matthias Wietz.

Pond in Switzerland by Dartai.


Frozen Lakes Patterns

With the fall of temperatures, we have gathered for you the most beautiful photographs of frozen lakes and ponds from all around the world : Russia, Switzerland, Japan or also in Canada, their frozen surfaces are full of aesthetic and graphic patterns.

22 Mar 16:50

Students Are Literally 'Hiding from Scary Ideas,' Or Why My Mom's Nursery School Is Edgier Than College

by Robby Soave

ToddlerMy mother is a nursery school teacher. Her classroom is a place for children between one and two years of age—adorable little tykes who are learning how to crawl, how to walk, and eventually, how to talk. Coloring materials, Play-Doh, playful tunes, bubbles, and nap time are a few of the components of her room: a veritable "safe space" for the kids entrusted to her expert care.

We'll come back to that in a minute.

Judith Shulevitz—formerly of The New Republic, where her eminently reasonable and fact-based perspective has been replaced by mean-spirited blathering—writes that college students now fear perspectives that clash with their own so deeply that they are quite literally hiding from them.

In a must-read op-ed for The New York Times, Shulevitz provides examples of the most egregious instances. At Brown University last fall, for instance, the prospect of a debate between leftist-feminist Jessica Valenti and libertarian-feminist (and Reason contributor) Wendy McElroy was so horrifying to some students—including Sexual Assault Task Force member Katherine Byron—that the creation of a "safe space" was necessary. McElroy's contrarian perspective on the existence of rape culture ran the risk of "invalidating people's experiences" and "damaging" them, according to Byron.

The safe space she created, as described by Shulevitz, sounds familiar to me:

The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma. Emma Hall, a junior, rape survivor and “sexual assault peer educator” who helped set up the room and worked in it during the debate, estimates that a couple of dozen people used it. At one point she went to the lecture hall — it was packed — but after a while, she had to return to the safe space. “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,” Ms. Hall said.

It's my mother's classroom!

To say that the 18-year-olds at Brown who sought refuge from ideas that offended them are behaving like toddlers is actually to insult the toddlers—who don't attend daycare by choice, and who routinely demonstrate more intellectual courage than these students seem capable of. (Anyone who has ever observed a child tackling blocks for the first time, or taking a chance on the slide, knows what I mean.)

Lest anyone conclude that Brown must be a laughable outlier, read the rest of Shulevitz's essay:

A few weeks ago, Zineb El Rhazoui, a journalist at Charlie Hebdo, spoke at the University of Chicago, protected by the security guards she has traveled with since supporters of the Islamic State issued death threats against her. During the question-and-answer period, a Muslim student stood up to object to the newspaper’s apparent disrespect for Muslims and to express her dislike of the phrase “I am Charlie.” ...

A few days later, a guest editorialist in the student newspaper took Ms. El Rhazoui to task. She had failed to ensure “that others felt safe enough to express dissenting opinions.” Ms. El Rhazoui’s “relative position of power,” the writer continued, had granted her a “free pass to make condescending attacks on a member of the university.” In a letter to the editor, the president and the vice president of the University of Chicago French Club, which had sponsored the talk, shot back, saying, “El Rhazoui is an immigrant, a woman, Arab, a human-rights activist who has known exile, and a journalist living in very real fear of death. She was invited to speak precisely because her right to do so is, quite literally, under threat.”

You’d be hard-pressed to avoid the conclusion that the student and her defender had burrowed so deep inside their cocoons, were so overcome by their own fragility, that they couldn’t see that it was Ms. El Rhazoui who was in need of a safer space.

Caving to students' demands for trigger warnings and safe spaces is doing them no favors: it robs them of the intellectually-challenging, worldview-altering kind of experience they should be having at college. It also emboldens them to seek increasingly absurd and infantilizing restrictions on themselves and each other.

As their students mature, my mother and her co-workers encourage the children to forego high chairs and upgrade from diapers to "big kid" toilets. If only American college administrators and professors did the same with their students.

20 Mar 16:45

This Mom Beat Ridiculous 'Child Neglect' Charges, But Life Is Still Tough

by Lenore Skenazy

Nicole GaineyLast summer, Florida mom Nicole Gainey was arrested, handcuffed, taken to the local jail, fingerprinted, and held for seven hours for the “crime” of letting her 7-year-old son walk half a mile to the local park. She faced a possible $5,000 fine and five years in jail, but thanks to the Rutherford Institute and lawyer Brian H. Bieber, prosecutors dropped the charges.

Her legal ordeal may have ended months ago, but the resulting emotional and financial troubles are ongoing. Gainey has struggled to keep a job and her son, now 8, has issues of his own. Here is a note from her (edited down):

Dear Lenore: I am the mother that got arrested July 26 for letting my son son walk to the park that is closer than his school by himself, and since my arrest our lives have changed for the worse.

My son was 7 at the time, now he’s 8. He walked to our neighborhood park half mile from my home on a Saturday afternoon about 4 p mfor an hour. He had his own cell phone, he had been going there all that summer, and some nosy busybody at the community pool that’s on the way called the cops, due to him looking too young to be by himself.

So then the police picked up my son at the playground and placed him in the cop car while they went to talk to the people at the pool. Then they came to my home and never told me he was in back of the car, and arrested me. It wasn’t until they were putting me in the back of the car that I found out that my son was in there this whole time, like he was a criminal.

As he got out & walked past me he tells me, “I’m sorry mommy. I wanted to go play at the park”—thinking it was his fault. Since then, the charge was not filed but I can not get a job anywhere, I think due to this, and I am struggling very bad. Also my son used to be a carefree outgoing little boy. Everything has changed.

Thank you for sharing my story when it happened. A lot of readers were on my side. Well, I was wondering if you will put my Go Fund Me link on your page. If anyone can help even a small bit, my children and I will be very grateful.  Please tap to donate.

Let me reiterate—again—that the reason this story went national is that it's rare for parents to face consequences this horrifying. I publish stories like this for two reasons: to support the parents, and to incite the kind of national outrage needed to pressure the cops to stop arresting perfectly responsible moms and dads.

free-range-kidsThe same way crazy stories about kids getting suspended for Pop Tart guns and sporks have made Americans deeply skeptical of zero tolerance laws, stories of parents arrested for giving their kids a bit of freedom have made the country start wondering: Why is the government telling loving parents how to raise their kids?

So do no freak out about possibly getting arrested if you send your kids outside. The odds are vastly on your side. And so, increasingly, is the rest of the country.

20 Mar 13:55

DEA 'Cold Consent' Encounters Constitute Federal Stop-and-Frisk

by Adam Bates

Adam Bates

Over at Forbes, the Institute for Justice’s Nick Sibilla details a new report from the Department of Justice concerning the Drug Enforcement Administration’s practice of cold-stopping travelers at airports, bus stations, and train stations and asking to search their property looking for forfeitable assets.

Federal drug agents may be racially profiling and unjustly seizing cash from travelers in the nation’s airports, bus stations and train stations. A new report released by the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Justice examined the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s controversial use of “cold consent.

In a cold consent encounter, a person is stopped if an agent thinks that person’s behavior fits a drug courier profile. Or an agent can stop a person cold “based on no particular behavior,” according to the Inspector General report. The agent then asks the people they have stopped for consent to question them and sometimes to search their possessions as well. By gaining consent, law enforcement officers can bypass the need for a warrant.

While many people who believe they have nothing to hide may–inadvisably–consent to a police search, they may not be familiar with federal civil asset forfeiture laws, which give federal agents wide latitude to seize property, especially cash, without charging anyone with any crime. Sibilla notes that the DEA agents even go so far as to carry affidavits for search targets to sign disclaiming any rights to the property being seized. 

Disturbingly, the Inspector General found that DEA interdiction task force groups have been seizing cash from travelers and then urging them to sign forms disclaiming their own cash and “waiving their rights.” In one cold consent encounter, DEA agents stopped another African-American woman in part because she was “pacing nervously” before boarding her flight. After gaining her consent, the agents searched her luggage and found $8,000.

The extortive waiver maneuver is not an isolated practice in civil forfeiture jurisdictions. In exchange for signing away your money, the agents agree not to seize other property (for instance, your car or home) or arrest you on criminal charges. Many interstate travelers (the primary targets of drug interdiction forfeiture efforts) rationally decide it’s better to get on with their journey than fight the government for their property. It’s not hard to imagine the practical and financial vulnerability of people getting ready to step on an airplane being threatened with arrest if they refuse to hand over their cash. 

The Department of Justice report also raises troubling questions concerning the criteria used to make the stops. There is an obvious risk that allowing DEA agents to stop travelers cold and question them invites the possibility of racial profiling. This federal policy bears a striking resemblance to the NYPD’s controversial Stop-and-Frisk program, which received withering criticism for the constitutional and racial dynamics involved in allowing officers to stop people cold.

In short, this is another on a long list of areas where the pernicious incentives of the drug war and civil asset forfeiture combine to create an institution of abuse and disregard for individual liberty. 

At a time when predatory, revenue-centered law enforcement is being rightly condemned-–with the ostensible imprimatur of the federal government-– it would be nice for the federal government to set an example by ending its own abusive law enforcement practices.

20 Mar 12:57

AMTRAK loses $214m in '14, gets $11.2m in bonuses...

AMTRAK loses $214m in '14, gets $11.2m in bonuses...

(Second column, 6th story, link)

20 Mar 04:05

California Officials in the Dark About Black Markets

by Steven Greenhut

One of the most notorious features of the Soviet Union as it limped toward collapse were black markets. Rather than deal with that nation's myriad regulations and restrictions in the official economy, Russians relied heavily on these markets to survive.

A close look at the United States economy also points to a large and growing underground economy — not just for illegal goods and services such as drugs and prostitution, but for legal ones such as cigarettes and construction. Indeed, the more heavily taxed and regulated the activity, the more likely black markets will arise.

It's no surprise this is common in heavily regulated California. This month the state's independent oversight agency, the Little Hoover Commission, released a report ("Level the Playing Field: Put California's Underground Economy Out of Business") detailing the costs of what it calls an "insidious multibillion-dollar" marketplace.

Little Hoover focuses on a lack of enforcement: "The commission found the underground economy is growing and thriving in part because of insufficient resources for enforcement." It calls for more government officials, and for increasingly punitive measures such as "bolstering asset seizure laws" that let the government, say, seize the trucks owned by unlicensed contractors.

The report sidesteps other possibilities. Many say California's tax and regulatory structure pushes people into the underground economy and that an enforcement-heavy approach will lead to more obtrusive inspections at private job sites, reduced economic activity, a bigger bureaucracy and more poverty given that many of those who work without licenses don't have the financial wherewithal to get them.

A guy who builds a deck without a license isn't the same thing as a pimp or a drug pusher. Yet prostitution is the world's oldest profession and shows no signs of going away. Likewise, the nation's drug wars haven't put the drug cartels out of business and never will. What's the likelihood that a new "war on handymen" or unlicensed hair braiders will put the underground economy out of business?

"People go underground because the paperwork, taxes and licensing are onerous," said William Anderson, a professor of economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland. "A lot of times (the scofflaws) are smaller guys who don't have the resources to comply. (These regulations) destroy jobs and turn what would normally be law-abiding activity into criminal activity."

As a small example, I recently gave a speech at an event in Southern California, but was not allowed to personally sell my books unless I applied for and purchased a city business license. Is the problem a lack of enforcement agents to fine and possibly jail authors? Or is the problem an unreasonable regulation that does nothing to advance the safety of book buyers and sellers?

Because such rules often are so unreasonable and meant mainly to bolster local budgets or protect a powerful interest group (e.g., shop owners who don't like the competition), most people tend not to worry morally about breaking them. We find more regulations everywhere, with increasingly bizarre outcomes – such as cities shutting down children's lemonade stands, or sending SWAT teams to arrest people who sell raw milk.

"If we want to follow the letter of the law, we better not have the local kid (cut your lawn); you better get a licensed contractor with permits," Anderson added. This raises costs and it inserts government and lawyers into every private transaction. "Less gets done at a higher price … and there are fewer opportunities for younger people to learn how to work," he added.

Contractors and unions often lobby for more regulations because it gives them a competitive advantage over lower-cost businesses and workers. Then they complain "it isn't fair" that others ignore many of the edicts. "Taking more aggressive action against the underground economy is essentially about fairness," agrees the commission.

But if commissioners were truly concerned about fairness, they would once again evaluate ways to make California's laws more reasonable, so there's far less benefit to ignore them. Unless, of course, they believe the Soviet Union's economy would have worked better had there only been better enforcement.

19 Mar 21:07

Did a Student's Non-PC Views on Rape Statistics Get Him Banned from Class? Maybe, Maybe Not.

by Robby Soave

SaveryA male student at Reed College—a private liberal arts college in Oregon—says he was told not to return to his Humanities 110 discussion because his opinions about the prevalence of campus rape offended other people in the class. His professor, however, disputed that characterization of events in an exclusive statement to Reason.

Reached by email, the student refused to answer my questions and made the weirdest demand I've ever heard. More on that in a minute.

First, the details. According to BuzzFeed, 19-year-old Jeremiah True told his classmates that the oft-cited 1-in-5 statistic about sexual assault was an exaggeration (an opinion with which I happen to agree). This and other politically incorrect opinions led his humanities professor, Pancho Savery, to ban him from attending discussions. In an email to True, Savery told him that these opinions made his classmatess—survivors of sexual assault among them—"extremely uncomfortable." He wrote:

“There are several survivors of sexual assault in our conference, and you have made them extremely uncomfortable with what they see as not only your undermining incidents of rape, but of also placing too much emphasis on men being unfairly charged with rape,” Savery wrote to True. “The entire conference without exception, men as well as women, feel that your presence makes them uncomfortable enough that they would rather not be there if you are there, and they have said that things you have said in our conference have made them so upset that they have difficulty concentrating in other classes. I, as conference leader, have to do what is best for the well-being of the entire class, and I am therefore banning you from conference for the remainder of the semester.”

The story, first reported by BuzzFeed, was picked up at National Review and The Daily Caller. Both outlets criticized Savery for caving to hypersensitivity. NR's Kat Timpf complained that the recitation of a fact (that the 1-in-5 statistic isn't valid) could get a student in trouble:

Yes — he was banned for pointing out that a deceiving statistic was misleading. It’s based on a survey of senior undergraduates from just two schools, both large public universities — hardly a sample that represents the entire country. And it didn’t even ask the participants about “rape” in particular. Rather, it asked them if they had ever experienced any “unwanted sexual contact” — including “forced kissing” and someone “rubbing up against you in a sexual way, even if it’s over your clothes.” 

Savery is known for being an ardent defender of free speech, which makes his apparent decision to remove True from class all the more baffling. While Reed College is a private institution not bound to follow the First Amendment or extend free speech rights to its students, this certainly seems like another incident where feelings-protection trumped open dialogue and violated the ethos of the law. If students can't debate cultural issues and facts in a classroom discussion, what kind of education are they getting?

All that said, I was curious about the context of True's remarks. While students should be able to speak up about controversial subjects, they aren't allowed to hijack classroom conversations and steer them wildly off track. If True was rowdy, interrupted other students, or veered off topic, that would be another matter.

Savery declined comment to BuzzFeed, but I was able to reach him via email. He confirmed that he was a "strong believer in the First Amendment," and maintained that the student's views were not the issue.

"He was not banned because of what he said but because of a series of disruptive behaviors," Savery told Reason.

I also reached True via email, and asked him whether he had been rowdy or disruptive in class. He responded by making a bizarre request. This was his email back to me:

Before I interview with you, you must agree to make "nigger" be the first word in your article.

I declined this ultimatum, and he declined to answer my questions. Needless to say, I've grown a lot more skeptical of True's side of the story. If I find out anything more that backs up either person's assertions about what happened, I'll update this story.

16 Mar 11:12

SJW is anti-science and anti-mathematics

by (Vox)
SJWs are against more than mere fun. They also oppose science as well as math in the form of probability. Mike Cernovich drops relevant statistics on those who have attempted to attack him over daring to mention scientific hate facts.
In a post about HIV I observed, “Straight men do not contract HIV.” I did not push a narrative. I did not share what I heard on some news channel or learned from a nit-wit teacher.

Rather, I analyzed data from the United States Center for Disease Control. When you look at CDC data, you notice something.

Where are all of the straight white male HIV infections?

Relying on CDC data is considered racist and homophobic, as morons believe a scientific judgment is a moral one. Zealots are simply unable to look at scientific questions with a scientific lens and moral questions with a moral lens.
Cernovich points out that even in the impossible event that every single man with HIV is honestly reporting his sexual activity (impossible because we already know it is not true), "According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, men almost never get HIV from women. A healthy man who has unprotected sex with a non drug-using woman has a one in 5 million chance of getting HIV. If he wears a condom, the odds drop to one in 50 million."

To put it in perspective:
  • Killed by a Dog:     1 in 103,798
  • Killed by Lightning: 1 in 136,011
  • Contracting HIV: 1 in 5,000,000
The point isn't that this means straight men should run around freely fornicating, it is that one can NEVER, EVER trust anything an SJW says about ANYTHING. They are all about the narrative, not the truth, not the science, not the statistics, not the probabilities and most certainly not the history.

Posted by Vox Day.
12 Mar 13:49

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

by Patrick

For a limited time, you can once again get your hands on Neal Stephenson's awesome Cryptonomicon for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

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

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

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

A breathtaking tour de force, and Neal Stephenson's most accomplished and affecting work to date, Cryptonomicon is profound and prophetic, hypnotic and hyper-driven, as it leaps forward and back between World War II and the World Wide Web, hinting all the while at a dark day-after-tomorrow. It is a work of great art, thought and creative daring; the product of a truly iconoclastic imagination working with white-hot intensity.
12 Mar 15:48

RIP: Terry Pratchett

by Patrick


Fantasy author Terry Pratchett has died aged 66 after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

"The world has lost one of its brightest, sharpest minds," said Transworld Publishers' Larry Finlay.

Sir Terry, best known for the Discworld series, wrote more than 70 books over his lengthy career.

He was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2007, but continued writing, completing his final book last summer.

The author died at home, surrounded by his family.

Mr Finlay said he was "deeply saddened" by the news of Sir Terry's death.

"In over 70 books, Terry enriched the planet like few before him. As all who read him know, Discworld was his vehicle to satirize this world: He did so brilliantly, with great skill, enormous humour and constant invention.

"Terry faced his Alzheimer's disease (an 'embuggerance', as he called it) publicly and bravely. Over the last few years, it was his writing that sustained him. His legacy will endure for decades to come.

"My sympathies go out to Terry's wife Lyn, their daughter Rhianna, to his close friend Rob Wilkins, and to all closest to him."
09 Mar 12:49

Are You a Libertarian? Take This Quiz...

by Kat Murti

Kat Murti

Are you a libertarian? Find out!

Somewhere between 30 and 40 million Americans hold libertarian views. Are you one of them? Take this quiz — excerpted from David Boaz’s new book The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedom — and find out just how libertarian you really are! 

The quiz launched just over a week ago and almost 30,000 people have already taken it. Have you? Use #LibertarianMind to share your results on social media, tag your friends, and see how they measure up!

Of course, the quiz represents a very simplified version of libertarian principles and very few people will have “perfect scores” in any one direction, but it’s a great way to open up a discussion with friends and family.  If that discussion leads to more curiosity about libertarianism and its principles, point them in our direction…or give them a their very own copy of The Libertarian Mind!

Haven’t had a chance to read The Libertarian Mind yet? We have a limited number of copies to give away. Take the quiz to learn the details! You can also follow The Libertarian Mind on Facebook for news on the book, media appearances, and more. 

06 Mar 03:34

More From The Save The Grain Campaign

by Tom Naughton

Depending on which article you read, somewhere between 30% and 55% of people in the U.S. and Canada are cutting back on grains, especially wheat.  That’s no small threat to what has long been the most profitable sector of the food industry.  (Those government grain subsidies sure help.)

So the grain industry is fighting back with I’ve decided to call the Save The Grain Campaign.  The campaign employs three main tactics I’ve noticed so far:

1. Promote grains as a necessary health food.
2. Attack people who say grains are bad for us.
3. Attack diets like low-carb or paleo that limit or eliminate grains.

Back in January, I wrote a post about an incredibly stupid article in Shape Magazine that featured the headline Low Carb Diet Linked to Shorter Life Expectancy.  The article was about a Harvard observational study in which people who ate whole grains had longer lifespans than people who ate white flour.  From that study, the dunce reporter at Shape Magazine concluded that 1) whole grains are health food, and 2) a low-carb diet will shorten your lifespan.

Riiiight.  And if people who smoke filtered cigarettes live longer than people who smoke unfiltered cigarettes, that means unfiltered cigarettes are good for you … so people who don’t smoke will die prematurely.  Same twisted logic.  Leaders of the Save The Grain Campaign must have been proud.

The grain promoters know they can’t claim that grains are good for everyone without looking foolish.  After all, there’s that little problem known as celiac disease.  So they’re quick to point out that only one percent of the population has been diagnosed with celiac disease.  Grains are great for the other 99 percent, ya see.

Riiiiight.  That’s roughly equivalent to pointing out that only seven percent of cigarette smokers develop lung cancer, so cigarettes are fine for the other 93 percent.  Celiac disease may be the most severe form of grain intolerance, but it’s hardly the only one.  As I’ve mentioned before, when I stopped eating wheat and other grains, I waved goodbye to psoriasis on my scalp and arthritis in my shoulder, to name just two benefits of many.  And guess what?  I don’t have celiac disease.  I had the test done to be sure.

If my daughter Sara eats wheat, she gets red blotches on her arms she calls da bumps – and I doubt she has celiac disease.  I’ve heard from people who gave up grains and stopped getting migraines, or restless legs at night, or cold sores, or mood swings, or … well, heck, name it.  Most of them, like me, didn’t give up grains because they have celiac disease or were worried about gluten or the gliadin protein.  They gave up grains because they adopted a low-carb diet to lose weight, then noticed all those lovely side benefits.

That’s why I believe some studies and articles discouraging people from adopting a low-carb diet are part of the Save The Grain Campaign.  When people go low-carb, bread, pasta and cereal are usually among the first foods swept from the menu.  So with that in mind, let’s look at a couple more articles I’d consider part of the campaign.

We’ll start with an article on the Med Page Today site with the headline OmniCarb Study: Cutting Carbs No Silver Bullet.

Overweight and obese people who followed a low glycemic index diet in the context of an overall DASH-type diet had no greater improvements in insulin sensitivity, lipid levels or systolic blood pressure compared with study subjects who ate high glycemic index foods, in a randomized, controlled feeding study.

Low glycemic?  I though the headline was about low-carb.

Following a low-glycemic index, low-carbohydrate diet, compared with a high-glycemic index, high-carbohydrate diet did not affect insulin sensitivity, systolic blood pressure, LDL cholesterol or HDL cholesterol, but it did lower triglycerides during the from 111 to 86 mg/dL, researcher Frank M. Sacks, MD, of Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues wrote in the Dec. 17 issue of JAMA.

Ah, there was a low-carb arm of the study.  So they must have limited carb intake to somewhere between 20 and 50 grams per day.

Among the two study diets with a high carbohydrate composition (58% of daily energy), one had a high glycemic index (≥65 on the glucose scale) and the other had a low glycemic index (≤45 on the glucose scale).

The two other diets had a low carbohydrate composition (40% of daily energy), with one having a high (≥65%) and the other having a low (≤45%) glycemic index.

Um … 40% of daily energy as carbohydrate is a low-carb diet?  Say what?  If I consume 2500 calories per day, 40% as carbohydrate works out to 250 grams per day.  I’m pretty sure that’s nothing like what Dr. Atkins recommended.

As I read the article, I realized I’ve written about Dr. Frank Sacks and his research before.  In fact, my first-ever blog post (nearly six years ago) was titled Create Your Very Own Biased Study.  It was about a study conducted by … wait for it … Dr. Frank Sacks, who declared that low-carb diets aren’t particularly good for inducing weight loss.  He showed as much by putting people on a (ahem) low-carb diet.  Except his definition of low-carb was … wait for it … 35 percent of calories.  Again, that’s nowhere close to the degree of carbohydrate restriction recommended by Dr. Atkins, Drs. Eades & Eades, etc.  Heck, even Paul Jaminet’s Perfect Health Diet, with the safe starches and all, tops out at 30% of calories from carbohydrates.

Dr. Sacks has to know that low-carb diet plans start at 50 grams max, then gradually raise the carb intake to perhaps 100 grams.  So I can’t help but wonder why he keeps studying “low-carb” diets that allow well over 200 grams per day, then uses those results to declare that cutting carbs doesn’t make much of a difference.  Why not try an actual low-carb diet in one of these studies?  Because to me, his studies look like reducing an alcoholic’s intake from 10 drinks per day to seven, then declaring that the poor S.O.B. still isn’t sober, so there’s no point in cutting back on alcohol.

If Dr. Sacks wants to steer people away from low-carb diets, at least he’s subtle about it.  This article in Consumer Reports isn’t:

Widely publicized diets, such as high protein and low carbohydrates, seem so promising. It’s no wonder so many of us have tried—or considered—them. But does science support the claims? We spoke with doctors and dietitians, and read the research.

They may have spoken with doctors and dieticians – which is roughly as useful as asking for dietary advice from a plumber – but based on what follows, I can guarantee they didn’t read the research.

Remember the Scarsdale diet and the Stillman diet? Those high-protein, low-carb plans may have gone out of fashion, but Atkins, first published in 1972, is still hot. Protein-packed products are flooding stores, and the list of popular protein-rich diets—Paleo, Zone, and more—continues to grow. All claim that you’ll lose pounds, feel peppier, and reduce your risk of heart disease.

People lose weight on high-protein plans because they take in fewer calories, not because they focus on protein. “Diets only work by lowering calories,” says David Seres, M.D., director of medical nutrition at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York and a member of Consumer Reports’ medical advisory board. “Where the calories come from doesn’t matter.”

Yes, when you lose weight, you take in fewer calories than you burn.  That’s HOW you lose weight, but not WHY you lose weight.  In several studies, people on a low-carb diet spontaneously ate less despite not being told to restrict calories.  That means something positive happened with their metabolisms.  Eating less is the result, not the cause.  Dr. Seres’ statement is akin to saying that Alcoholics Anonymous may work, but only because people stop drinking.

In addition to pushing protein, many of these plans recommend cutting back on—or completely eliminating—carbohydrates. Get less than 50 grams of carbs per day (the amount in two apples) for three to four days in a row, and your body will start tapping its own fat and muscle for fuel instead of its usual source: glucose derived from carbohydrates. That may sound like a way to shed pounds, but it can have serious health consequences. “You’re altering your metabolism away from what’s normal and into a starved state,” Seres says. “People in starved states experience problems with brain function.”

Holy crap, I’d better load up on carbs and then check that highly complex program I spent all those overtime hours coding last month – with everyone from the president of IT on down waiting for results.  I’m told it worked quite well.  On the other hand, my brain function is impaired, so I might have heard “This sucks — you’re fired” and interpreted it as “I really appreciate all your hard work in getting this done” … from the president of IT.

A high-protein diet also overworks the kidneys. That’s especially worrisome for people with kidney disease and can predispose those with healthy kidneys to kidney stones.

If your kidneys are damaged, they can leak protein.  In that case, you need to restrict protein.  But protein doesn’t cause the damage in the first place.  Here’s a quote from a journal article on the supposed dangers of high-protein diets:

The purpose of this review is to evaluate the scientific validity of AHA Nutrition Committee’s statement on dietary protein and weight reduction, which states: “Individuals who follow these [high-protein] diets are risk for … potential cardiac, renal, bone, and liver abnormalities overall.

Simply stated, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever that high-protein intake has adverse effects on liver function. Relative to renal function, there are no data in the scientific literature demonstrating that healthy kidneys are damaged by the increased demands of protein consumed in quantities 2–3 times above the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).

In contrast with the earlier hypothesis that high-protein intake promotes osteoporosis, some epidemiological studies found a positive association between protein intake and bone mineral density. Further, recent studies suggest, at least in the short term, that RDA for protein (0.8 g/kg) does not support normal calcium homeostasis. Finally, a negative correlation has been shown between protein intake and systolic and diastolic blood pressures in several epidemiological surveys.

In conclusion, there is little if any scientific evidence supporting the above mentioned statement.

So I guess the anonymous Consumer Reports reporter didn’t actually slog through the research before repeating what a few doctors and dieticians believe.

When it comes to heart disease, the saturated-fat-laden red meat that’s part of many high-protein diets may actually boost your risk. According to a Harvard study of more than 120,000 people followed for more than 20 years, a meat-based low-carb diet increased the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 14 percent.

Denise Minger sliced and diced that observational study in a guest post on Mark Sisson’s blog.  It’s worth reading in its entirety, but here’s the money quote:

If you secretly suspected that this was a “people who eat red meat do a lot of unhealthy things that make them die sooner” study, you can now gloat.

As you can see, the folks eating the most red meat were also the least physically active, the most likely to smoke, and the least likely to take a multivitamin (among many other things you can spot directly in the table, including higher BMIs, higher alcohol intake, and a trend towards less healthy non-red-meat food choices).

Same old, same old … in a society where people are told meat is bad for them, it’s mostly the I don’t give a @#$% people who eat more meat – well, except for us LCHF and paleo types.  I don’t give a @#$% types have worse health outcomes for all kinds of reasons – including not giving a @#$%.

By the way, I realize some of you are probably expecting me to jump up and down and insist that a low-carb diet is a high-fat diet, not a high-protein diet.  Truth is, unless you aim for a constant state of ketosis – which I don’t – a low-carb diet probably will be high in protein.  And for most of us, I think that’s good.  I’ll explain why in a future post.

In the meantime, we can all sit back and chuckle at the Save The Grain Campaign.  I give them kudos for effort, but it’s not going to work.  You can’t easily convince people to dismiss their own experiences.


05 Mar 04:05

Dad Accused of “Child Abuse” After Toddler Sneaks Outside

by lskenazy

Lives there a parent who hasn’t, at some point, lost track of his or her kid? That’s just the way life is — imperfect! 

Until the authorities deem it a crime.

In this case, CPS gets it TOTALLY RIGHT…but not the prosecutor. So don’t read this letter if you were hoping to have a good day. Do read it if you think you have any idea how to help or crusade for change. Speaking of which, the National Association of Parents is trying to create a fund to help parents dealing with crazy CPS issues. Here’s the link. – L (who has, at the letter writer’s request, changed the names of the kids)

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am heartbroken and desperate over my son’s long struggle with his false child abuse charges.
It all started in December, 2013.  It was an unseasonably warm day, and my son, his wife, and kids were having a family day.  They had been cooking, and the apartment became very hot.  My son had taken all sorts of precautions to protect his precocious 18 month old Annie, such as putting safety latches on cabinets, doorknob covers on doorknobs, and a high security latch on the main apartment door.  Because of the heat, he had a window cracked open to cool the place down.
My son has four other children, who were 9, 7, and 3.5 at the time.  The 3.5 year old boy was napping, and woke up screaming, in an inconsolable fit.  My son and his wife were very preoccupied with calming him down, figuring he had a bad dream.  Once they got him settled, they became aware that Annie was not in the room.  They looked in the usual hiding places, for she was often apt to strike off on her own, or follow her brothers to play, etc.  They could not find her anywhere.
They expanded their frantic search to outside the apartment, knocking on neighbors’ doors, searching the playground, etc.  After 15 minutes of frantic searching, my son called the police and reported her missing.  After he hung up, they called him back and told him to come pick her up.  TOTAL STRANGERS from out of town had found her on Main Street, but that was, in reality, only THIRTY YARDS from the apartment door, so it would take he no time to get there.  She had been very happy and giggling about her apparent adventure.
When he arrived at the police station, he was charged with child abuse.  He was totally confused by this, for he had never been abusive.  His nine year old son had to answer questions about the siblings’ ages, etc because Frank was totally numb and could not think straight.  (The police said if his wife had shown up instead, SHE would have been the one charged.  That is how arbitrary this was!)  Thus began his long nightmare.
The DA tried to force him to plead guilty.  That would have meant a permanent abuse charge and prison time.  He can afford neither because he is a professional photographer who shoots weddings, graduations, and many children’s events.  The CPS came to the apartment, did their review, and found Frank and his wife to be beyond suspicion of abuse.  In fact, they noted he had taken every precaution possible.  The DA refused to even consider their findings.
I advised my son to insist upon an attorney being appointed for him, and to insist on a jury trial.  No jury in its right mind would put a hardworking father in prison for having a precocious toddler bent on adventure.  He followed my advice, but nine days before the trial date, the DA finally relented and offered a reduced charge of “reckless endangerment.” I would never have agreed to such a thing myself, but Frank was feeling guilty for not watching Annie like a hawk every second, so he relented, per his appointed attorney’s advice.
The probation was to be six months, and he was to attend an online parenting class.  If there were no more “incidents,” his record would be clean after six months.  He thought this was a good deal, but I was on the edge of my seat for the last five months, counting the days.
Sunday he called me and told me that there was a warrant out for his arrest, and that the deal was off, he was back to the full “child abuse” charge with NO OPTION FOR A JURY TRIAL!  He was told he would go directly to sentencing, and the child abuse record would now be permanent.  His “crime” was to not show for a court appointment he never even knew was scheduled!  He received no notification, had gotten no notice from his appointed attorney, had no clue whatsoever of being in violation of probation.  He had attended the class, and was awaiting certification to show at the end of his probation in April.
I am so angry with the system.  My grandchildren are at risk of being lost.  My daughter-in-law has been totally devastated by this ordeal, and if he is found guilty, no doubt the state would take them because they have destroyed both parents.
My son is devastated, but is also determined to sue if he survives this.  As for me, it is hard for me to watch from my home several states away.  Maybe it is good I am not there, because I am fighting mad myself, and I certainly would not be a calming force.  Please help…somehow…before I lose my grandkids, and a good man his livelihood and his good reputation.  They might already damaged his business beyond repair.

Lenore here: I am sharing this story not to scare parents, but only because I believe that as we grow aware of how corrupt or crazed authorities can ruin a family, our voices will crescendo, demanding change. This is our creed: Parents do not have to be perfect. The government cannot demand it. The state should only intervene when children are in obvious and indisputable danger.  If you’d like to contact this writer of this letter, her email is: .

Say bye-bye to your family, sweetheart. Daddy did a bad thing: He couldn't find you for a few minutes, which means he is an irresponsible parent!

Say bye-bye to your family, sweetheart. Daddy couldn’t find you for a few minutes, which means he is an abusive parent!

02 Mar 17:00

How Walmart Made Liberals Turn Right

by A. Barton Hinkle

Liberals and conservatives do not agree with each other, as a matter of general principle. If one side says something is true, then the other side will try hard to prove it isn’t, just to show them. So it is nice to see liberals come around on a point conservatives have been making for decades: Welfare leads to moral rot.

Conservatives have made this point over and over again, in books and conferences and blog postings ad nauseam. Twenty years ago David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, wrote that “without welfare and food stamps, poor people would cling harder to working-class respectability than they do now.” A couple of years ago Paul Ryan made the same point: “We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.”

By giving people their daily bread, conservatives say, the welfare state robs them of any reason to get off the couch and make it themselves. And this is bad not just because it imposes economic costs on society. It is bad because it corrodes virtue. Industry, thrift, a go-getter spirit—these are important qualities in both the individual and the community. Laziness, sloth, dependence on others—these are character flaws. Those on welfare could go to work and do for themselves, conservatives say, if only the welfare state hadn’t enabled them not to.

Liberals think this is all bunk. While some, such as economist Paul Krugman, might concede that “incentives do have some effect on work effort,” they contend the effect is quite small. What’s more, they say conservatives get the causality backward. People receive government benefits because they are poor, and they are poor because of economic circumstances. They aren’t poor because of government benefits.

Or so they used to say. But then came Walmart.

A couple of weeks ago Walmart announced it would raise hourly wages for half a million employees. The New York Times argued it should be forced to raise pay even further through an increase in the national minimum wage. After all, the paper said, there is “little doubt that Walmart (and other employers) would pay more if low wages were not, in effect, subsidized by taxpayers, who pay for the food stamps and other public assistance that low-wage workers rely on to get by.”

The Times was referring to a study, such as it was, purporting to show Walmart’s low wages cost taxpayers $6.2 billion in public assistance, including food stamps, Medicaid, and housing benefits. Other studies have purported to show similar things about the fast-food industry—which ostensibly costs the taxpayers $7 billion in social-welfare spending.

These tendentious claims have several shortcomings, such as loaded assumptions (PolitiFact has ruled a similar claim, by an MSNBC figure, “mostly false”) and the fact that a slightly smaller percentage of Walmart’s workforce receives public benefits than the average for the U.S. retail sector as a whole.

Imagine, too, what would happen if Walmart and fast-food restaurants went out of business tomorrow. Would other companies snap up all their employees, perhaps even pay them better? Probably not. (In fact, the increase in job applicants might depress wages elsewhere.) It is far more likely that the shutdowns would lead to higher unemployment and therefore even more social-welfare spending. Hence Walmart and other low-wage employers probably reduce the total amount of social-welfare spending in the U.S., rather than increase it.

But forget all that. Assume the company’s critics are right—that Walmart is leaning on public assistance to avoid pay hikes it otherwise would have to make. The criticism here isn’t simply an economic one. It’s also a moral one.

Greed, stinginess, lack of compassion—those qualities that supposedly produce Walmart’s low wages—are character flaws. Indeed, one of the groups criticizing Walmart’s pay scales is Americans for Tax Fairness—and fairness is a question of moral judgment. Another left-leaning group, Demos, lamented in a report on raising Walmart pay that “American workers are working harder for less” even as the rich get richer. Walmart, says The American Prospect, creates “an America where millions of people who get up and go to work each day are nevertheless paid too little to feed themselves.”

You get the idea: Walmart has a moral obligation to pay its workers more—and it would, if not for all the food stamps, housing assistance and medical benefits those workers receive from the federal government.

What is this but the conservative welfare critique applied to a different party? It’s not economic circumstances that have led to Walmart’s low wages, but moral shortcomings. Government assistance has lulled an able-bodied company into dependency and complacency, draining it of the will and the incentive to do the right thing for its workers.

The two arguments continue running in parallel. Conservatives argue that poor people would be better off in the long run if they took even menial jobs, and thereby started to develop the habits of character that are essential for anyone who wishes to prosper.

Liberals argue that Walmart and other low-wage companies would be better off if they paid workers more. As Demos argued two years ago: “Walmart . . . workers earn too little to generate the consumer demand that supports hiring and would lead to economic recovery. . . . If Walmart redirected its current spending to invest in its workforce, the benefits would extend to all stake-holders in the company—customers, stockholders, taxpayers, employees and their families—and the economy as a whole.”

Conservatives used such arguments to push through welfare reform, forcing recipients to seek the jobs right-wingers felt they needed for their own good. And as the Times put it the other day about Walmart’s recent wage announcement, “Walmart can readily afford to do better than those measly increases. But it is very unlikely to do that voluntarily, without government action.”

By government action, the paper meant raising the minimum wage, not cutting welfare. But be thankful for small favors: At least some progressives are beginning to admit there’s a problem.

02 Mar 22:56

17 Errors & Omissions in Vox's Otherwise Excellent History of King v. Burwell

by Michael F. Cannon

Michael F. Cannon

This week, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in King v. Burwell, one of four legal challenges to an IRS regulation that purports to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but in fact vastly expands the IRS’s powers beyond the limits imposed by the Act. Just in time for oral arguments before the Court, Vox’s Sarah Kliff has produced what I think may be the best history of King v. Burwell and related cases I’ve seen. Still, there are a few important errors and omissions, listed here in rough order of importance.

1. Kliff refers to the birth of my “twin daughters.”

My wife indeed gave birth to twins, but only one of them was a girl.

Definitely not a girl.Definitely not a girl.

2. The twins’ birth did not cut into my efforts to dissuade states from establishing Exchanges.

They were born after the deadline for states setting up Exchanges had passed.

3. “As anyone who covered it at the time…remembers, the law’s passage was an absolute mess,” Kliff reports, and the “messy language and loose ends that legislators expected to get ironed out simply became part of the law.”

Nevertheless, Kliff reports that all congressional staff involved with the drafting of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act swear they meant to authorize the disputed taxes and subsidies in states with federal Exchanges. She also reports that all journalists who reported on the drafting process swear that every time the topic arose, Democratic staffers always said these provisions would be authorized in states with federal Exchanges.  (Well, except these members of Congress and this journalist.)

Kliff neglects to mention that there is absolutely zero contemporaneous evidence of any kind that supports those recollections. Or that contemporaneous discussions of that issue, like this one by Jonathan Cohn, show (A) that even the sharpest journalists weren’t paying attention to this issue, and (B) to the extent they did, their impressions were consistent with the subsidies being conditional.

Thus, the only contemporaneous evidence that speaks directly to the question presented to the Court is the explicit statutory text clearly limiting subsidies to Exchanges “established by the State.” That’s probably something Kliff should have mentioned. You know, so readers can decide whether to take the “if you like your health plan, you can keep it” crowd at their word.

4. According to Kliff, in August 2011, Jonathan Adler suggested to me that the ACA only authorizes subsidies through state-established Exchanges and suggested I fold that into the case I was making to state officials that they not implement the ACA.

Hey, wait a minute. The first part is true, but the second part is not. I didn’t need that Adler guy to tell me how to do my job. I needed him to tell me how to do his job.

5. Kliff commits the same rookie (or Freudian?) error every other reporter does by claiming the disputed taxes and subsidies are part of ObamaCare, that a victory for the government is a victory for the ACA, and to rule for the plaintiffs would be “to rule against the Affordable Care Act.”

That is the government’s argument, which Kliff treats as fact. The plaintiffs argument is that they are trying to uphold the law. The two lower court opinions that went against the government said they were upholding the ACA.

By framing the case the way the Obama administration does, Kliff is essentially winking at her readers as if to say, ‘Natch, the government is right.

6. Kliff quotes former Democratic staff director of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee John McDonough as saying, “There is not a scintilla of evidence that the Democratic lawmakers who designed the law intended to deny subsidies to any state.”

That is flatly untrue.

As even the government concedes, the Democratic senators on the HELP Committee—which McDonough ran—approved a bill that withheld Exchange subsidies in states that did not implement that bill. Kliff has quoted McDonough in the past making the same invalid point, and I have corrected her, to no avail.

Kliff should have informed readers that McDonough himself helped the authors of the ACA do what he now says they never considered doing. Instead, she once again allowed McDonough to misrepresent the legislative history and what the ACA’s authors were considering.

7. Kliff leaves the reader with the impression that the statutory requirement that subsidy recipients must enroll “through an Exchange established by the State”—the only language in the statute that speaks directly to the question presented in King v. Burwell—was a “drafting error.”

Not even the government makes that claim.

That said, the government’s claim that “[t]he phrase ‘Exchange established by the State under Section [1311]’ is a term of art that includes an Exchange established for the State by HHS” is scarcely more defensible.

8. Kliff reports that Adler told me in August 2011 that the ACA offered Exchange subsidies only in state-established Exchanges, but: “There wasn’t much that Cannon and Adler could do with their discovery at that point. The federal government still hadn’t published the rules governing how the insurance subsidies would work; it was still possible that the Obama administration might come out and agree with them, saying state exchanges were the only bodies authorized to dole out funds. The Obama administration eliminated that possibility in May 2012.”

Actually, the Obama administration announced its plan to issue subsidies in federal Exchanges almost immediately after Adler told me they couldn’t. The IRS issued its proposed tax-credit rule in mid-August 2011.

9. Kliff reports that “everyone expected” the IRS to offer tax credits in federal Exchanges.

Having read the law, that was not what I expected. Call me naïve, but I was surprised the IRS was violating clear statutory text.

10. Kliff writes, “The whole point of the federal exchanges, after all, was to make sure Obamacare worked in states that wouldn’t or couldn’t build an exchange of their own.”

How does Kliff know that? This is an assumption, which she appears to make without any contemporaneous support.

I don’t know how Kliff rules out Vanderbilt law professor Jim Blumstein’s alternative theory that the federal Exchanges were nothing more than an “oops” provision to protect the ACA against charges that Congress was commandeering the states. I hope she has more to go on than assurances from the “if you like your health plan, you can keep it” crowd.

Between Kliff’s theory and Blumstein’s theory, the latter is more compatible with the ACA, which explicitly authorized unlimited funds for the establishment of state-run Exchanges but zero funds for the establishment of federal Exchanges.

11. Kliff writes: “Congress always meant for residents of all 50 states to have access to financial help. It was never a question, during the five years I’ve spent writing about Obamacare, whether this would be the case.”

Regarding the first claim, Congress also meant for residents of all 50 states to have access to the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. That doesn’t mean Congress didn’t intend to condition Medicaid subsidies on state cooperation.

Regarding the second claim, all that tells us is that journalists should ask more questions and/or members of Congress and congressional staff should read bills more closely.

12. Kliff writes, “For about two years, [Adler, Cannon,] and other challengers made a purely textualist argument.”

Actually, it was less than one year before we learned the plain text of the statute reflected Congress’ intent. We wrote in July 2012: “We were both surprised to discover this flaw in the law, and characterized it as a ‘glitch.’ Yet our further research demonstrates this feature of the law was intentional and purposeful, and that the IRS’s rule has no basis in law. This supposed fix is actually an effort to rewrite the law and provide for something Congress never enacted, and indeed that PPACA’s authors intentionally chose not to include in the law.”

13. Kliff misrepresents Adler’s and my argument that Congress intended to condition subsidies on states establishing Exchanges.

Fortunately, to her and Vox’s credit, she let me make that case in my own words in a previously published interview (read the whole thing):

Sarah Kliff: Are you 100 percent convinced it was Congress’s intent to withhold subsidies in the federal exchange?

Michael Cannon: There are two ways to interpret that question. Did the people who wrote this language mean to withhold subsidies in federal exchanges? My answer to that is, I’m 100 percent convinced that they meant to do that.

The other way to think about it is, “Did the people who voted for this law intend to withhold subsidies in federal exchanges?” That’s a different question, but the answer is the same. I’m 100 percent convinced that’s what the members of Congress who enacted this law meant to do, just the same way I’m 100 percent convinced they meant to throw people off of their existing health plans even though they said, “If you like your health plan, you can keep it.”

What members of Congress might have ideally wanted is different from congressional intent, which is determined by what they actually vote on. If the language of a statute is clear, then that constitutes congressional intent.

14. Kliff writes that when Oklahoma became the first plaintiff to challenge the IRS rule, it “couldn’t scrounge up additional plaintiffs before the deadline to amend its case and ultimately went it alone.”

In fact, Oklahoma had additional plaintiffs lined up, but the court wouldn’t allow those plaintiffs to join the suit.

15. Kliff writes, “And on July 22, the subsidies argument got its first positive news. In the span of two hours — and by pure coincidence — the appeals courts for the District of Columbia and the Fourth Circuit issued conflicting rulings.” (Emphasis added.)

If Kliff can substantiate the claim that this was a coincidence, she should share it.

16. Kliff writes, “[Jonathan] Gruber has disavowed the remarks [in which he told audiences that the law conditions subsidies on states establishing Exchanges], saying that he spoke ‘off the cuff’ and made a mistake. There’s reason to believe him: Gruber spoke regularly to dozens of reporters during this period and never mentioned this idea to any of them.”

Kliff should have mentioned there is also reason not to believe Gruber’s disavowals. Gruber made that claim multiple times, and his attempts to explain those comments away reveal, um, inconsistencies.

17. Finally, Kliff writes that the government’s argument “has remained consistent throughout the process.”

No, it hasn’t. When King v. Burwell reached the Supreme Court, the government unveiled a new argument: “The phrase “Exchange established by the State under Section [1311] is a term of art that includes an Exchange established for the State by HHS.” The government also called the phrase a “technical term” that “reflects style and grammar—not a substantive limitation” on the IRS’s power.

The government had never previously called that phrase a “term of art.” The only statutory provision it had described as a term of art was the term “Exchange,” and the government described that as a “defined term of art” (emphasis added) because, unlike “Exchange established by the State,” the ACA actually bears a definition that gives the word “Exchange” a meaning other than its ordinary meaning.

I meant what I said at the beginning. This really was the best history of King v. Burwell and related litigation that I’ve seen.

02 Mar 17:00

Vaccines are "safe" and "effective"

by (Vox)
Because they are totally "tested". By scientists doing science:

Merck, the pharmaceutical giant, is facing a slew of controversies over its Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine following numerous allegations of wrongdoing from different parties in the medical field, including two former Merck scientists-turned-whistleblowers. A third whistleblower, this one a scientist at the Centers for Disease Control, also promises to bring Merck grief following his confession of misconduct involving the same MMR vaccine.

The controversies will find Merck defending itself and its vaccine in at least two federal court cases after a U.S. District judge earlier this month threw out Merck's attempts at dismissal. Merck now faces federal charges of fraud from the whistleblowers, a vaccine competitor and doctors in New Jersey and New York. Merck could also need to defend itself in Congress: The staff of representative Bill Posey (R-Fla) -- a longstanding critic of the CDC interested in an alleged link between vaccines and autism -- is now reviewing some 1,000 documents that the CDC whistleblower turned over to them.

The first court case, United States v. Merck & Co., stems from claims by two former Merck scientists that Merck "fraudulently misled the government and omitted, concealed, and adulterated material information regarding the efficacy of its mumps vaccine in violation of the FCA [False Claims Act]."

According to the whistleblowers' court documents, Merck's misconduct was far-ranging: It "failed to disclose that its mumps vaccine was not as effective as Merck represented, (ii) used improper testing techniques, (iii) manipulated testing methodology, (iv) abandoned undesirable test results, (v) falsified test data, (vi) failed to adequately investigate and report the diminished efficacy of its mumps vaccine, (vii) falsely verified that each manufacturing lot of mumps vaccine would be as effective as identified in the labeling, (viii) falsely certified the accuracy of applications filed with the FDA, (ix) falsely certified compliance with the terms of the CDC purchase contract, (x) engaged in the fraud and concealment describe herein for the purpose of illegally monopolizing the U.S. market for mumps vaccine, (xi) mislabeled, misbranded, and falsely certified its mumps vaccine, and (xii) engaged in the other acts described herein to conceal the diminished efficacy of the vaccine the government was purchasing."

These fraudulent activities, say the whistleblowers, were designed to produce test results that would meet the FDA's requirement that the mumps vaccine was 95 per cent effective. To the whistleblowers' delight, the judge dismissed Merck's objections to the case proceeding, finding the whistleblowers had plausible grounds on all of the claims lodged against Merck.
Vaccine advocates, are you starting to find even a glimmering of understanding why some intelligent and well-informed people just might harbor the occasional doubt about the safety and efficacity of vaccines? If not yet, what more will it take? And do you not understand that once this level of fraud is established, it casts at least a modicum of doubt on EVERY SINGLE CLAIM that has been made about vaccine safety in the past?

Perhaps you'll even be able to understand why doctors have been hesitant to come forward with their doubts about vaccines if you consider the sort of response they can be expected to encounter from the vaccine manufacturers, who are legally protected against being held liable for the deficiencies of their products:
Merck made a "hit list" of doctors who criticized Vioxx, according to testimony in a Vioxx class action case in Australia. The list, emailed between Merck employees, contained doctors' names with the labels "neutralise," "neutralised" or "discredit" next to them. 
Do you find that confidence-inspiring?

Posted by Vox Day.
28 Feb 17:55

A Taxing Institution

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

Here’s a letter to the D.C.-based WTOP Radio:

You report that the IRS is cutting back on “customer service.”  Pleading poverty because of the budget cuts it must endure as a result of Congressional displeasure with its recent mistreatment of many of its ‘customers,’ the IRS moans that it simply has too few resources now to adequately man its customer-service phone lines.  The IRS’s message to its ‘customers’ is clear: tell your representatives to increase our funding or we’ll make your lives even more miserable than we already do.

There’s a key, if familiar, lesson here: when private firms in competitive markets seek more revenue they considerately offer customers the carrot of better service; in contrast, when government agencies seek more revenue they angrily whack ‘customers’ with the stick of worsened service.

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

Of course, there’s a real upside to this particular instance of bureaucratic greed: also predicted to fall in number are IRS audits.

27 Feb 01:20

Welcome To Obama-Land

by Tyler Durden

Presented with no comment...




27 Feb 20:20

Infrastructure: Privatization and Innovation

by Chris Edwards

Chris Edwards

Tomorrow at CPAC, I will discuss some advantages of infrastructure privatization. Perhaps the largest advantage is innovation. Unlike government bureaucracies, private firms in a competitive environment are eager to maximize the net returns of projects, so they find new ways to reduce costs and improve quality.     

The benefits of innovation are obvious in fast-moving industries such as high-technology. But innovation can also be important in long-established, hard-hat industries such as highway building. Numerous countries are ahead of the United States in privatizing and partly privatizing (“public private partnerships” or “P3s”) government assets such as highways, airports, seaports, passenger rail, and air traffic control. Experience around the world shows that much innovation is possible after such industries are liberated from the bureaucratic yoke.

A House hearing last year looked at the international experience with privatization. The head of a provincial P3 agency in Canada said that P3 projects are more likely to be completed on time and on budget than traditional government infrastructure projects. And he said, “Competition and the profit motive can lead to startling results, where the winning proposal provides solutions that the public owner never contemplated. This happens over and over again.” Isn’t that interesting?

In his latest newsletter, Robert Poole provides more evidence of the “innovative effect” of P3s. He discusses $2 billion of cost savings from P3 highway projects in Texas, which are examined in a paper by Fidel Saenz de Ormijana and Nicolas Rubio:

Texas DOT has been gradually increasing the extent of design flexibility it gives project developers, via two methods. One is to encourage P3 developers to submit “alternative technical concepts” (ATCs) as part of their proposals in response to an RFP. The other is to encourage potential developers to present innovative ideas during the industry review meetings that precede issuance of the RFP. In the latter case, those ideas may be included in the RFP as options for all potential bidders to consider.

The largest cost savings discussed in the paper concern the LBJ (I-635) project in Dallas, where TxDOT’s conceptual design called for the express lanes to be constructed in a new tunnel beneath the existing general-purpose lanes, due to severe right of way constraints. During design review, the authors’ companies (Ferrovial and Cintra) suggested the alternative of a depressed center section for the express lanes, with the rebuilt general-purpose lanes partly cantilevered over the express lanes. This was presented in the RFP as an option, and the authors’ consortium’s bid that used this approach came in at substantially lower cost, contributing a large fraction of the resulting $1.3 billion construction cost savings.

The other cases described in the paper deal with several phases of the North Tarrant Express project in Fort Worth. In these cases, the developer-proposed changes were of two types. Some were changes in the design and placement of lanes and ramps, to provide better traffic flow (and generate more toll revenue). Others were changes in phasing, so as not to incur premature construction costs for lanes needed only in the ultimate configuration (10 to 20 years in the future), while designing now to facilitate their later addition within the long term of the concession agreement. These changes saved $480 million in NTE 1 and 2W and another $150 million in NTE 35W.

… By looking at the LBJ and NTE projects as businesses, the team was strongly motivated to come up with alternative designs and more-careful phasing of improvements to make the projects financially feasible. And to its great credit, Texas DOT was willing to accept many of those changes, resulting in projects that will provide very tangible benefits, without putting taxpayers at risk.

For more on infrastructure P3s and privatization, see here.

27 Feb 15:28

The Biggest Lie in the FCC's Net Neutering* Actions

by admin

When I write about the dangers to innovation, competition, and price discovery from the FCC's decision to regulate the Internet into Ma Bell, supporters of net neutering are quick to point out that the FCC promised to only use a fraction of the power it is giving itself.

Ha!  When has this happened, ever, with the government?  If they have the power, they are going to use it.  In fact, to call the FCC as somehow careful about staying within bounds of their power is a joke anyway, since this entire regulation likely exceeds their legislative mandate.   Even if the current commissioners are honest that they will never use all this new power, how can they possibly bind future commissioners?

I am reminded of the income tax, which was sold to the country with the promise that it would only ever apply to the top few percent of earners.  In other words, they were asking for the power to tax everyone but promised only to use a fraction of that power

when initially imposed, the income tax, despite its progressive rates, appeared rather straightforward and not all that burdensome—almost benign. Of course, appearances can be deceiving.

There were, of course, warnings about the dangers of a progressive tax structure. But people supported the income tax because it was originally meant to impose only very low tax rates on only the highest incomes. Proponents argued that the 16th amendment to the U.S. Constitution would force the so-called “robber barons” to pay taxes. It was not supposed to provide a mechanism for Washington to reach into most Americans’ pockets.


The original income tax was obviously not meant to be paid by most citizens, nor were rates high enough to significantly undermine the spirit of enterprise. For example, under this system single taxpayers today would pay no tax on any earnings up to almost $45,000 and married couples on earnings up to almost $60,000. A one percent tax rate would be in effect on incomes up to about $300,000. The top rate of 7 percent would not take hold until earnings hit almost $7.5 million.


* "Net Neutrality" is an Orwellian term that bears no relationship to what is actually going on.  I will use "net neutering" going forward.

26 Feb 00:10

Evidence shows that affluence in the US is much more fluid and widespread than the rigid class structure narrative suggests

by Mark Perry
income income1

Most of the discussions on income inequality, the reviled “top 1%,” and the hand-wringing about the share of income or wealth going to the “top 1%” typically assume that the top 1/5/10% and bottom 99/95/90% percentile groups by income (pick your favorite percentage) operate like private clubs that are closed to new members. That is, many people assume that various income groups are static and fixed, with very little movement or fluidity among those income groups over one’s career or lifetime. Start out life in the bottom 20% or bottom 50%? Too bad, you’re stuck there forever no matter how hard you try or work, and you can forget about ever being part of the top 1/5/10%. Born into the top 1/5/20%? Great, you’ve got a lifetime membership in that static, closed group.

That rather simplistic interpretation of a static economy is really nothing like the very fluid and dynamic world we actually live in, with significant degrees of income and wealth mobility/fluidity over one’s lifetime. That’s the main conclusion of a new study titled “The Life Course Dynamics of Affluence” by Thomas Hirschl and Mark Rank, based on an empirical investigation of individual lifetime income data in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics over a 44-year period.

For example, one of the authors’ key findings is that by age 60, nearly 70% of the US population experienced at least one year in the top 20% by income, more than half (53.1%) were in the top 10% for at least one year, more than one-third (36.4%) spent at least one year in the top 5%, and 11.1% (one out of nine) spent at least one year with income in the top 1% (see top chart above). Those findings of significant income fluidity for one year periods are further supported when the authors look at longer time periods. For example, although 11.1% of  Americans made it into the top 1% for at least one year, only 1.1% (1 in 91) of Americans stayed in the top 1% for ten years or more during their lifetimes, and only about half that amount (0.60%, or 1 in 167) were able to stay in the top 1% for ten consecutive years (see bottom chart above). That should shatter the myth that the top 1% is a fixed club closed to new members! Likewise, more than 1 out of 3 Americans (36.4%) spent at least a year in the top 5%, but only about 1 in 15 (6.6%) remained there for ten years or more, and only about 1 in 27 (3.7%) spent 10 consecutive years in the top 5%. Lots of movement and fluidity.

Here is a summary of the main findings of the study (emphasis added):

1. There is substantial fluidity in top-level income over ages 25 to 60. Thus a static image of top-level income tenure is at odds with the empirics of how people live out their life course.

2. The study findings indicate that top-level income categories are heterogeneous with respect to time, comprised of a relatively small set of persistent members, and a larger set of short-term members. For example, although over half of the U.S. population experienced one or more years of top 10th percentile income, only about half of this set attained top 10th percentile income for three consecutive years, and fewer than 7 percent persisted at this level for 10 consecutive years. Thus the lifetime top 10th percentile is mostly transitory, moving in and out of this percentile over the life course.

3. There are two contentious social implications related to the finding that top-level income is fluid across time. One is that there is widespread opportunity for top-level income. The opportunity to attain top-level income is widely accessed, and many reap the benefits of opportunity. It is also the case that attaining top-level income in one year does not necessarily predict it for the following year. Indeed, most who attain top-level income do so for a limited number of years, and to the extent that they have expectations of persistence, have some probability of experiencing insecurity relative to their expectations. Income fluidity is a double-edged sword, creating opportunity for many, along with insecurity that this opportunity may end sooner than hoped for.

4. We interpret the widespread attainment of top-level income as materially consistent with the way the majority of Americans tend to characterize their society. In a recently published study, we report evidence that most Americans hold fast to the belief that hard work will be rewarded economically, and the present study finds evidence that many Americans do, in fact, attain top-level income. This evidence is counter-intuitive vis-à-vis popular interpretations regarding the 1 percent versus the 99 percent, and we believe that our findings serve to qualify these interpretations. When interpreting social and economic relationships and trends, it is important to consider not simply one, or even many, cross-sections in time, but also the extent of social and economic mobility across the life course. Individuals experience their lives not as a disconnected set of years, but rather as a continuous lifetime of experience.

MP: Thanks to Thomas Hirschl and Mark Rank for bringing some much-needed attention to the significant income mobility and fluidity in the American economy, which directly contradicts the narrative we hear all the time of a rigid class structure based on static income groups like the top 1/5/10%, a static bottom 20/50/99%, etc.

As one of the authors (Mark Rank) pointed out last year in the New York Times:

It is clear that the image of a static 1 and 99 percent is largely incorrect. The majority of Americans will experience at least one year of affluence at some point during their working careers. (This is just as true at the bottom of the income distribution scale, where 54 percent of Americans will experience poverty or near poverty at least once between the ages of 25 and 60).

Ultimately, this information casts serious doubt on the notion of a rigid class structure in the United States based upon income. It suggests that the United States is indeed a land of opportunity, that the American dream is still possible — but that it is also a land of widespread poverty. And rather than being a place of static, income-based social tiers, America is a place where a large majority of people will experience either wealth or poverty — or both — during their lifetimes.

Rather than talking about the 1 percent and the 99 percent as if they were forever fixed, it would make much more sense to talk about the fact that Americans are likely to be exposed to both prosperity and poverty during their lives, and to shape our policies accordingly. As such, we have much more in common with one another than we dare to realize.

The post Evidence shows that affluence in the US is much more fluid and widespread than the rigid class structure narrative suggests appeared first on AEI.

26 Feb 17:43

Wherein I Come Clean to Representative Grijalva

by admin

Here is the letter I wrote today (pdf) to Representative Grijalva confessing my climate funding biases.  The image is below.  I feel so much better.


I wrote this in support particularly of Roger Pielke, who has educated a lot of people about climate and is not even really a climate skeptic and who has been pretty upset by this scrutiny.  Call it the "I am Spartacus" strategy.

My earlier post on funding and bias is here.

26 Feb 16:27

What Does It Take to Turn Off the 21st Century? A Saw.

by J.D. Tuccille

Some asshole turned off the 21st century in northern Arizona yesterday. The hardest part was probably the hike. The modern world flows to northern Arizona in a cable that runs hundreds of miles through the desert. That cable was cut in an isolated river bed near New River, north of Phoenix. Once the vandals were there, doing damage wasn't that big a challenge. The cable is about as thick through as a man's leg, so the right tool in a backpack was all it took. And there went the 21st century, and maybe a few illusions some of us (**cough**) may have about the extent of our independence.

What went with that cable was most cell phone service (every company but Verizon was down), the Internet (multiple ISPs run through the same pipe), the 911 system, and pretty much any digital communications connection you can imagine. Northern Arizona businesses largely became cash only—including the roadside stops vending gas to cross-country travelers. Trucks lined up waiting for the stations to get back online so they could process company credit cards to fill their tanks. It's not like the drivers could just take out cash—ATMs were down, too.

My wife's pediatric office was able to examine kids and patch them up. But checking on test results, getting reads on x-rays, scheduling appointments with specialists, and electronically sending prescriptions to pharmacies were all out. Old-fashioned landlines worked, but medical facilities are part of the modern world. Thoroughly digitized and electronic, hospitals, labs, and clinics were reduced to sending couriers back and forth.

There's a lot to like about the interconnected, digitized modern world. I wouldn't be telecommuting from a rural area if I didn't have an electronic link to the world beyond. People like me now have the historical luxury of living where we want while doing work that, not so long ago, required an actual presence in a major population center.

But that means we need that electronic link. I thought I was being clever by using a smart phone hotspot as a backup for occasional Internet outages. Unfortunately, for much of its journey, the conduit for my smart phone runs all of two inches from the main Internet connection. Live and learn.

The outage inconvenienced me. Some folks who've grown up in the wired age had a worse time of it. According to CBS 5, "Zak Holland, who works at a computer store at Northern Arizona University, said distraught students were nearly in tears when he said nothing could be done to restore their Internet connection."

Northern Arizona is sparsely settled, which likely explains its weak connection to the modern age. Fiber optic is pricey to lay down per mile, and there's only so much of it that any company can afford to run across the wilderness to serve a scattered population. We get our 3G, but we have to live with the fact that somebody with a grudge, hiking boots, and a spade can take it away.

That's a reality check for those of us who value our independence. I use the Internet to liberate me from places I don't want to live, governed by politicians I don't like, who impose laws I find intrusive. But in the process, I make myself dependent on a six-inch-wide pipe.

So now, to ensure a bit more of that that independence I thought I had, I have to work a bit harder on that backup plan.

26 Feb 14:45

PHOTOS: Nearly-frozen waves lap up on Nantucket...

PHOTOS: Nearly-frozen waves lap up on Nantucket...

(First column, 18th story, link)