Socialism running down its inevitable path.
A broken door. Smashed windows. Residue from a flesh grenade on the carpet. That's the state in which Miami cops left a 90-year-old woman's house after raiding it for drugs. They didn't find any illegal activity, but won't admit they made a mistake.
The woman was interviewed by cbsmiami.com, though she declined to be named. She said the raid happened on December 18th:
“I don’t know how the cops got in here. The noise woke me up when something said boom! Like a bomb or something,” said the 90-year old. ...
Riviera Beach Police said after evidence of criminal activity, they got a search warrant.
“Cops standing over here talking about where’s the drugs? I said what? What drugs? Ain’t no drugs in here,” she said.
After drug-sniffing dogs failed to find anything, the police left. When asked whether they got the wrong address, the department countered that just because the woman didn't know about drugs being sold out of her house "doesn't mean it didn't happen." That ranks pretty highly on the list of hilarious and also worrisome police excuses, in my book.
The cops have agreed to repair the damages to her house, at least—though they have not done so yet.
Why so harsh? The SCDC says that it's a separate felony for each day that an inmate uses a social media site (oddly, you can do as much as you want in a single day and it's just a single felony -- but new day, new felony). And, of course, "social media" is defined broadly as well:
In October 2013, Tyheem Henry received 13,680 days (37.5 years) in disciplinary detention and lost 27,360 days (74 years) worth of telephone, visitation, and canteen privileges, and 69 days of good time—all for 38 posts on Facebook. In June 2014, Walter Brown received 12,600 days (34.5 years) in disciplinary detention and lost 25,200 days (69 years) in telephone, visitation, and canteen privileges, and 875 days (2.4 years) of good time—all for 35 posts on Facebook. In May 2014, Jonathan McClain received 9,000 days (24.6 years) in disciplinary detention and lost 18,000 days (49 years) in telephone, visitation, and canteen privileges, and 30 days of good time—all for 25 posts on Facebook.
There's a lot more to Maass's article, and it's well worth reading. He also takes Facebook to task for helping the SCDC takedown prisoners' Facebook profiles. Facebook has set up an easy form, which can lead to widespread abuse, and it doesn't appear that Facebook does much, if anything, to check to see if the accounts actually abuse the company's terms of service. There are lots of problems with the criminal justice and prison systems in the US, and there may be legitimate reasons to limit access to social media for prisoners (though that seems like a stretch in many cases). But to make it an additional felony and to lock up people for years because of it? How is that not cruel and unusual punishment?
South Carolina adopted a Level 1 social media offense [PDF] to punish “Creating and/or Assisting With A Social Networking Site,” defined as: “The facilitation, conspiracy, aiding, abetting in the creation or updating of an Internet web site or social networking site.”
SCDC defines “social networking” very broadly, covering everything from YouTube and Twitter to blogs and email, although all of the cases EFF reviewed [PDF] involved Facebook. Investigations are conducted by corrections officers and inmates are convicted during disciplinary hearings that often last mere minutes.
Since the policy was implemented, SCDC has brought 432 disciplinary cases against 397 inmates, with more than 40 inmates receiving more than two years in solitary confinement [PDF].
I want to offer a perspective on the Greek financial mess.
I am not confused about the Greek desire to get out from under their debt load - past governments have built up intolerable levels of debt which is costs a huge portion of Greek GDP to pay off.
At one time in my life I would have been confused by folks, often on the Left, who argue that the answer to Greek debt problems is ... deficit spending. This might have seen inexplicable to me earlier in life as a wondered how the same behavior of fiscal irresponsibility that led them into debt would get them out. But I have learned that there is no limit to the optimism Keynesians hold for the effects of government spending. The last trillion of debt may have not done anything measurable but the next trillion is always going to be the one that turns us around. Sort of like Cubs fans.
No, what confuses me today is the fact that other institutions and countries are still willing to buy Greek debt and even entertain some sort of debt swap where they end up with even more Greek debt. I have heard it said by many experts that it is unrealistic to expect that lenders will get even a fraction of their principle back from these loans. So why loan more?
The key for me in understanding this is the book "Engineering the Financial Crisis". In that book, the authors presented the theory that the Basel capital accords, which set capital requirements for banks, had a lot to do with the last financial crisis. Specifically, the rules allowed bank investments in two types of securities to be counted at 100% towards their capital levels. Any other type of investment was severely discounted, so there were enormous incentives in the regulations to focus bank investments on these two types of securities. What were they? Sovereign debt and mortgages (and mortgage-backed securities).
In the authors' view, which I find persuasive, a lot of the last financial crisis was caused by these rules creating a huge artificial demand by banks for mortgage securities. This created a sort of monoculture that was susceptible to small contagions spreading rapidly. As this demand for mortgage backed securities inevitably drove down their returns, it also created a demand for higher-yielding, riskier mortgage investments that might still "count" as mortgage securities under the capital requirements.
Anyway, for the Greek crisis, we need to look at the other piece of these capital requirements that give 100% capital credit: sovereign debt. Now, I may have this wrong, but for Euro denominated credit, it all counts as 100% whether its German or Greek, which is a bit like saying a mortgage to Bill Gates and a mortgage to Clark Griswold's country cousins count the same, but those are the rules.
So here is the problem as I understand it: Greek debt, because of its risk, paid higher returns than other sovereign debt but still counted the same against capital requirements. So European banks loaded up on it. Now that the debt is clearly bad, I am sure they would love to get paid for it. But what they want even more is to continue to get credit for it on their balance sheets against capital requirements. So what the banks need more than getting paid is for the debt to still exist and to (nominally) be current so that they can still count it on their balance sheets. Otherwise, if the debt gets written off, that means banks need to run out and raise hundreds of billions in new capital to replace it.
Yes, I know this seems insane. If everyone knows that the debt is virtually worthless, isn't it a sham to keep taking expensive steps (like issuing even more new debt) just to make sure the debt still appears on the books at 100%? Yes, of course it is. This is a problem with just about every system ever tried on bank capital requirements. Such requirements make sense (even to this libertarian) in a world of deposit insurance and too big to fail, but they can and do create expensive unintended consequences.
A couple of news items landed in my inbox recently that aren’t directly related, but they’re both examples of the Vision of The Anointed at work.
I gave a brief summary of The Vision of The Anointed (as described by economist Thomas Sowell in a book by that name) in a speech I called Diet, Health and the Wisdom of Crowds. If you haven’t seen it, here’s a recap of how The Anointed (who are nearly always members of the intellectual class) operate:
The first news item that reminded me of The Anointed was about an (ahem) study that pinpoints the reason we have an obesity problem in modern America. Here are some quotes:
A new report puts some of the blame for Americans’ expanding waistlines on the growth of new Wal-Mart supercenters in the US.
Big box retailers, and Wal-Mart in particular, have made cheap, bulk-size junk foods more readily available, and Americans are eating more as a result, argues the report, which was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
“We live in an environment with increasingly cheap and readily available junk food,” Charles Courtemanche, an assistant professor of economics at Georgia State University and one of the report’s co-authors, told the Washington Post. “We buy in bulk. We tend to have more food around. It takes more and more discipline and self-control to not let that influence your weight.”
Well, there you have it. People are fat because there’s more food around. I remember asking my grandparents when I was a wee child, “Grandma, Grandpa … why aren’t you fat?” And my grandpa plopped me on his knee and rubbed my head and said, “Well, we would be if we could. But if you go look over there in the pantry, you’ll see we’re down to a few slices of bread and some carrots. It happens all the time because there’s no Wal-Mart nearby and we can only afford to eat just as much as we should.”
The researchers found higher rates of obesity in areas dense with supercenters, which have a larger selection of food and also offer other services, such as auto repair. Just one additional supercenter per 100,000 residents increases average body mass index in the area by 0.24 units and the obesity rate by 2.3% points, they found.
Riiiight. And since correlation proves causation, that means Wal-Mart is making people fat. It couldn’t be, say, the fact that low-income people are more likely to be fat for all kinds of reasons, and that Wal-Mart super-centers are built where their most loyal customers live.
Notice how nobody who blames obesity on lower food prices can explain why the wealthiest Americans also have the lowest rates of obesity? If it’s all about affordability, then wealthy people should be the fattest – they can eat whatever they want and as much as they want. But no, it’s only if we’re talking about poor people that we blame affordability – and thus Wal-Mart.
“These estimates imply that the proliferation of Wal-Mart Supercenters explains 10.5% of the rise in obesity since the late 1980s,” researchers wrote.
Uh-huh. And I’ll bet you all had no idea what to blame for obesity, then just stumbled across this data during a wide-open search for truth, then came to your astonishing conclusions.
Of course that’s not what happened. These bozos with PhDs went looking for a reason to blame Wal-Mart and – ta-da! – they found it. Intellectuals blaming Wal-Mart for the ills of society … now that is a shock.
In case you haven’t noticed, The Anointed are contemptuous of Wal-Mart and the people who shop there. This article in the Atlantic, written by a Brit, describes the snobbery rather nicely:
As a young man I aspired to live and work in the US because I wanted to be part of a thriving classless society. Of course that was naive. America is not a classless society. I’m not talking about the 1% and the 99%, and I’m not talking about mainstream America and the underclass (shocking though that gulf is). I’m talking about elite disdain for a much larger segment of the country. It’s a cultural thing: American snobbery.
Many of my American friends have an irrationally intense loathing of Wal-Mart, as though delivering bargains to the masses isn’t quite proper.
In America elite and demotic cultures aren’t merging, they are moving farther apart. The elite is ever more confident of its cultural superiority, and the demos, being American, refuses to be condescended to. I don’t think it’s economic pressure that causes much of the country to cling bitterly to guns and their religion, as Obama put it so memorably. It’s a quintessentially American refusal to be looked down on.
[The elite] may use a self-conscious rhetoric of non-judgmentalism – words like ‘inappropriate’ and ‘challenging’, or phrases such as ‘people in need of support’ and ‘people with issues’ – but they have no inhibitions about instructing others about what food they should eat, how they should bring up their children, or what forms of behaviour are healthy.
Well said, my British friend. You just described The Anointed.
Here are some similar thoughts from an essay in The National Review:
A few weeks ago, I was very much amused by the sight of anti-Wal-Mart protests in Manhattan — where there is no Wal-Mart, and where, if Bill de Blasio et al. have their way, there never will be. Why? Because we’re too enlightened to let our poor neighbors pay lower prices. The head-clutchingly expensive shops up on Fifth and Madison avenues? No protests.
Ironically, the anti-Wal-Mart crusaders want to make life worse for people who are literally counting pennies as they shop for necessities. Study after study has shown that Wal-Mart has meaningfully reduced prices: 3.1 percent overall, by one estimate — with a whopping 9.1 percent cut to the price of groceries. That comes to about $2,300 a year per household, savings that accrue overwhelmingly to people of modest incomes, not to celebrity activists and Ivy League social-justice crusaders.
And here’s a quote from Member of The Anointed Bill Maher explaining how Wal-Mart shoppers choose to vote:
Republicans need to stop saying Barack Obama is an elitist, or looks down on rural people, and just admit you don’t like him because of something he can’t help, something that’s a result of the way he was born. Admit it, you’re not voting for him because he’s smarter than you.
Uh, no, Bill, that’s not quite it. It’s more along the lines of something Milton Friedman once said: it’s not intelligent people who are the problem. The problem is people who are so impressed with their own intelligence, they feel qualified to tell others how to live.
Barack Obama can’t help it if he’s a magna cum laude Harvard grad and you’re a Wal-Mart shopper who resurfaces driveways with your brother-in-law.
Ahh, Bill, so that’s the reason. Wal-Mart shoppers resent smart people with Ivy League degrees. Strangely, many of those Wal-Mart shoppers later voted for Mitt Romney, who earned both a law degree and an MBA from Harvard.
Brilliant argument. Maher chides Republicans for saying Obama is an elitist who looks down on rural people, then makes it perfectly obvious that he, an Obama enthusiast, is an elitist who looks down on rural people. (I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean Wal-Mart shopper as a compliment.)
Gee, Bill, I would think someone with your towering intellect would recognize how thoroughly you just undermined your own argument. Of course The Anointed look down on rural people and Wal-Mart shoppers. And despite what you and your fellow left-wing snots think, the rural Wal-Mart shoppers are smart enough to know it.
That sneering attitude towards “Wal-Mart shoppers” is the reason I can’t stand Bill Maher. He’s a left-wing snot, and his live audience is full of left-wing snots who whoop and cheer at his snotty comments as a form of congratulating themselves for what they see as their superiority to people who shop at Wal-Mart and resurface driveways.
Even though I spent a chunk of my life as a comedian, I’ll be the first to say that if all the comedians disappeared, life would be less entertaining, but we’d be fine. If all the magna cum laude graduates from Harvard Law School disappeared, we’d also be fine, if not better off. But if all the people who know how to resurface driveways or otherwise build and repair stuff disappeared, we’d be screwed.
Anyway, you get the point. The Anointed view Wal-Mart shoppers as idiots. And since they’re idiots, the Wal-Mart shoppers are stuffing themselves and getting fat because – thanks to the low prices offered by the evil Wal-Mart – they can now afford to stuff themselves. I mean, it’s not as if any of them have actually tried to lose weight or anything.
So The Anointed see all these stupid Wal-Mart shoppers getting fat, which means The Anointed must come up with a Grand Plan to fix the problem – and of course, as The Anointed, they aren’t expected to provide any evidence that the plan would work.
The plan that came out in the media recently was proposed in 2010 by none other than Jonathan Gruber. If the name isn’t familiar, it should be. Gruber was once called “the architect” of ObamaCare by Democrats … until he embarrassed himself and the party by getting himself caught on video telling the truth about what it took to pass ObamaCare:
Yup, “the architect” was justifying lying to the public about what ObamaCare would actually do. The voters are stupid, ya see — one of the only two reasons anyone resists a Grand Plan proposed by The Anointed — so you have to lie to them to get a bill passed that’s really for their own good.
Gruber’s statements so perfectly captured the attitude of The Anointed, The Anointed in the Obama administration immediately tried to disown him.
Meanwhile, Bill Maher renewed his credentials as a member of The Anointed by agreeing with Gruber:
On Friday, Bill Maher, host of HBO’s Real Time, brought up Jonathan Gruber, the economist who was an advisor and main architect on Obamacare and got caught crediting the “stupidity” of Americans to get the bill passed. Maher joked they were “soulmates” and likened his fellow Americans to dogs, and didn’t understand why anything Gruber said about the average American’s stupidity was considered controversial.
Maher’s audience applauded wildly, as they always do for their hero.
By the way, the subtitle of Sowell’s book is Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy. When Bill Maher agrees that you have to lie to the stupid voters to do what’s best for them and his audience of left-wing snots hoots and cheers in response, that’s a fine example of self-congratulation. They were probably high-fiving each other for not being stupid voters … you know, the kind who shop at Wal-Mart and resurface driveways and don’t understand that we need The Anointed to make important decisions for us … such as what kind of health insurance we’ll be allowed to buy.
That’s the attitude. Now here’s the kind of Grand Plan the attitude produces:
Jonathan Gruber, long credited as the architect of ObamaCare, once discussed the necessity of taxing fat people by body weight in order to fight obesity.
“Ultimately, what may be needed to address the obesity problem are direct taxes on body weight,” Gruber wrote in an essay for the National Institute for Health Care Management in April 2010, just months after helping design ObamaCare with the president in the Oval Office and during the period in which he was under contract as an Obama administration consultant.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it at least twice: whenever The Anointed come up with a Grand Plan to fix a problem, it somehow always requires confiscating other people’s money or limiting their freedom to make their own decisions — or both, for a REALLY Grand Plan.
So there’s the mind of The Anointed at work: people are fat because Wal-Mart has made food too cheap. All those people who resurface driveways with their brother-in-law are overeating because they can afford to … and because they’re stupid and have no discipline. But if The Anointed impose direct taxes on bodyweight, the stupid driveway resurfacers will say to themselves, “Well, heck, I can’t afford those taxes! I’d better stop eating so much of this cheap Wal-Mart food and lose some weight.”
And then once again, The Anointed will have fixed society’s problems. All hail The Anointed.
I have mentioned a number of times my chicken or the egg arguments with Progressives on the solution to cronyism. Is the problem that government power exists to influence markets, and as long as it exists people will bid to control it? Or is it possible to wield massive make-or-break government power over industry rationally, and only the rank immorality and corrupt speech of corporations stands in the way. The former argues for a reduction in government power, the latter for more regulation of corporations and their ability to participate in the political process.
I believe this is an example in favor of the "power is inherently corrupting" argument. No corporation lobbied for NOx rules on diesel engines. They all fought it tooth and nail. But once these regulations existed, engine makers are all trying to use the laws to gut their competition:
In 1991, the EPA ignored complaints from several makers of non-road engines that rivals were cheating, in order to save fuel, on emissions rules for oxides of nitrous (NOx). Then environmental groups took up the same complaint, whereupon the agency demanded face-saving consent decrees with numerous engine makers, including two Volvo affiliates.
In essence, the engine makers apologized by agreeing in 1999 to accelerate by a single year compliance with a new emissions standard scheduled to take effect in 2006.
Meanwhile, with another NOx standard looming in 2010, Navistar sued the EPA claiming rival engine-makers were seeking to meet the rule with a defective technology. In turn, Navistar’s competitors sued claiming the EPA was unfairly favoring a defective technology pursued by Navistar (these are only the barest highlights of what became a truck-makers’ legal holy war).
While all this was going on, a Navistar joint-venture partner, Caterpillar, complained that 7,262 Volvo stationary engines made in Sweden before 2006 had violated the 1999 consent decree. Now let’s credit Caterpillar with a certain paperwork ingenuity: The Volvo engines were not imported to the U.S. and were made by a Volvo affiliate that wasn’t a party to the consent decree. EPA itself happily certified the engines under its then-current NOx standard, only changing its mind four years later, prodded by a competitor with a clear interest in damaging Volvo’s business.
To complete the parody, a federal district court would later agree that the 1999 consent terms “do not clearly apply” to the engines in question, but upheld an EPA penalty anyway because Volvo otherwise might enjoy a “competitive advantage” against engines to which the consent decree applied.
As a side note, this is from the "oops, nevermind" Emily Litella School of Regulation:
Let it be said that the EPA’s NOx regulation must have done some good for the American people, though how much good is hard to know. The EPA relies on dubious extrapolations to estimate the benefits to public health. What’s more, the agency appears to have stopped publishing estimates of NOx pollution after 2005. Maybe that’s because the EPA’s focus has shifted to climate change, and its NOx regulations actually increase greenhouse emissions by increasing fuel burn.
… is from page 17 of Thomas Sowell’s 2009 volume, Intellectuals and Society:
Why the transfer of decisions from those with personal experience and a stake in the outcome to those with neither can be expected to lead to better decisions is a question seldom asked, much less answered.
A woman attempted to rob a bar in La Crosse, Wisconsin, but was thwarted by a customer with a taser. The police are making sure justice is served and have arrested the woman.
They arrested the man with the taser, too. That's because it's against the law in Wisconsin to carry a taser without a permit.
The incident took place in the early morning hours at King's Korner bar. A former employee pointed a gun at the bartender and demanded the money in the cash register. But customer Jeff Steele brandished his taser at the burglar, and she ran off. She was apprehended shortly thereafter.
Steele didn't actually use the taser, according to the batender. Still, he will face a felony weapons charge, according to WKBT:
Steele is being charged with possession of an electronic weapon, which is a felony, because he doesn't have a concealed carry permit for his Taser.
"You can have it in your home and on your private property without a concealed carry permit, but you do need to keep a concealed carry permit to carry it out in public," said Officer Lisa Barrix, with the La Crosse Police Department.
"When I bought it off the Internet it said basically that it's legal to have in the state of Wisconsin, but didn't go into any depth on it, so I assumed that it was legal to carry around, otherwise why would you buy one to leave it at home? How is it for defense then?" Steele said.
Barrix says because Steele tried help he wasn't immediately taken to jail.
What a great message—exercise your Constitutional rights and defend someone from a potentially violent crime and you won't be taken to jail immediately.
For his part, Steele claims he ordered the taser online and didn't know he was only allowed to keep it in his home. He lives in a rough neighborhood, and if he can't leave his house with the taser in tow, it defeats the entire purpose.
I hope he learned his lesson. About helping people. And protecting himself.
The Washington Post's Radley Balko has updates on the 2012 killing of 24-year-old Seth Adams by Michael Custer, a Palm Beach county sheriff's deputy, which was ruled justified after the county sheriff, Ric Bradshaw, said that investigation would "verify exactly what I thought from the beginning."
The attorney for the Adams family says he's found new evidence in the shooting: a police witness who said the interaction was "peaceful" just 90 seconds before the shooting (appearing to contradict Custer's claim that Adams was belligerent from the beginning, when he found the undercover cop lurking in the parking lot of his family business late at night), a blood trail beginning behind the Adams' truck (suggesting he wasn't shot while reaching for something on the driver's side, as Custer claimed), and a review that found Custer had "difficulty assessing critical incidents and making sound decisions under pressure," a review state investigators were not given.
There are more questions here. Why isn't the state's attorney's office investigating the sheriff's department for reportedly lying about the existence of Custer's employee evaluations? And why did FDLE investigators take the department at its word that those evaluations didn't exist? An investigator for the Adams family was able to obtain them through an open-records request. Shouldn't a state agency charged with investigating police shootings be a bit more skeptical of the targets of its investigations?
Worse, the state's attorney, a new one, will only consider new evidence if it's presented by a law enforcement agency. As Balko points out:
No matter how compelling new evidence uncovered by attorneys for the Adams family may be, Aronberg won't consider it. It must come from one of the law enforcement agencies involved. That is, either the sheriff's department for whom Custer worked, which promoted Custer despite serious questions about his temperament and decision-making, whose sheriff has supported Custer from the start, and which failed to turn over Custer's personnel files . . . or the state agency that failed to uncover all of these things during its own investigation.
Lawmakers in at least 12 states are proposing different kinds of bills aimed at police reform—40 in Missouri alone. In Florida, a bill proposed by two state legislators, Democrats Shevrin Jones and Alan Williams, would mandate patrol officers use body cameras and exempt such use from wiretapping laws.
There's no way Sixteen Candles could happen today. The plot would be that only 10 people wrote "hbd" on Samantha's Facebook wall.
— LBJohnson (@ladybirdj) February 4, 2015
The man who shot down Brian Williams' helicopter reportedly shouted "what's the frequency Kenneth?!"
— Jimmy (@JimmyPrinceton) February 4, 2015
What? Your Pokémon is evolving! *hundreds of years later* Squirtles are now slightly less susceptible to the flu.
— Glenn (@justabloodygame) February 5, 2015
Let he who has never falsely remembered himself in a helicopter hit by rocket-propelled grenades cast the first stone.
— Josh Greenman (@joshgreenman) February 5, 2015
"Damn this war — this dirty, stinking war!" – Brian Williams playing Dance Dance Revolution
— David Burge (@iowahawkblog) February 5, 2015
"I'm Rob Lowe" "And I'm lied about my helicopter getting hit by an RPG Rob Lowe" #BrianWilliamsMisremembers
— Anthony Bialy (@AnthonyBialy) February 5, 2015
I just called Brian Williams cell phone and got a voice mail for Vandelay Industries.
— John Nolte (@NolteNC) February 5, 2015
today is National Weatherpersons Day. or maybe it isn't. pretty good chance though. I'd plan for it. or not. maybe check back later?
— Dave Ditell (@davedittell) February 5, 2015
More than 1,000 people spend their workdays in an industrial park housed in an excavated mine the size of 140 football fields. As Bloomberg reports, the underground industrial park known as SubTroplis opened for business in 1964 in an excavated mine below Kansas City, Mo. attracting tenants with the lure of lower energy costs and cheap rents...
About 10 percent of Kansas City's commercial real estate is underground, says Ora Reynolds, president of SubTropolis landlord Hunt Midwest. Landlords have made a cottage industry out of underground industrial space, thanks to rock formations near the Missouri River that allow trucks to drive into the old mines instead of tenants needing to use elevators to get things in and out.
Industrial chic: Subtropolis boasts 17-foot-high ceilings supported by rough-hewn columns. The 270-million-year-old limestone deposits are six times stronger than concrete, according to Hunt Midwest's marketing materials.
Subtropolis's cool climate helped attract cloud computing company LightEdge, which has become the anchor tenant in what Hunt Midwest hopes will develop into a major data center.
The U.S. Postal Service uses Subtropolis as a distribution hub for postage stamps, storing hundreds of millions of stamps in the facility.
The USPS rents more than 500,000 square feet at SubTropolis.
The National Archives and Records Association keeps old tax records and federal court documents at the facility. Pick a fight with the Internal Revenue Service and the paper trail may lead to these shelves.
Journey to the center of the earth—or at least, to EarthWorks, an educational program that schools students on the Midwest's natural habitats in a 32,000 square-foot space in SubTropolis.
Some cannisters in this archive hold the original film from Gone with the Wind.
"I have no idea how many pounds of coffee I have down here," says Joe Paris, vice president at Paris Brothers, a specialty foods company. "I have thousands of bags. Some of them are 60 or 70 kilos. It's a lot."
SubTropolis is down the road from an assembly plant at which Ford manufactures F150 pickups. This has attracted companies such as Knapheide, shown here, which manufactures steel bodies that get rigged onto Ford trucks.
After debating people online for years on issues from catastrophic man-made climate change to genetically-modified crops to common chemical hazards (e.g. BPA) to vaccination, I wanted to offer a couple quick thoughts on the common mistakes I see in evaluating risks.
1. Poor Understanding of Risk, and of Studies that Evaluate Risk
First, people are really bad at thinking about incremental risk above and beyond the background risk (e.g. not looking at "what is my risk of cancer" but "what is my incremental added risk from being exposed to X"). Frequently those incremental risks are tiny and hard to pick out of the background risk at any level of confidence. They also tend to be small compared to everyday risks on which people seldom focus. You have a far higher - almost two orders of magnitude - risk in the US of drowning in your own bathtub than you have in being subject to terrorism, but which do we obsess over?
Further, there are a lot of folks who seem all-to-ready to shoot off in a panic over any one scary study in the media. And the media loves this, because it drives the meter on their earnings, so they bend over backwards to look for studies with scary results and then make them sound even scarier. "Tater-tots Increase Risk of Ebola!" But in reality, most of these scary studies never get replicated and turn out to be mistaken. Why does this happen?
The problem is that every natural process is subject to random variation. Even without changing the conditions of an experiment, there is going to be random variation in measurements. For example, one population of white mice might have 6 cancers, but the next might have 12 and the next might have zero, all from natural variation. So the challenge of most experiments is to determine whether the thing one is testing (e.g. exposure to a particular substance) is actually changing the measurements in a population, or whether that change is simply the result of random variation. That is what the 95% confidence interval (that Naomi Oreskes wants to get rid of) really means. It means there is only a 5% chance that the results measured were due to natural variation.
This is a useful test, but I hope you can see how it can fail. Something like 5% of the time that one is measuring two things that actually are uncorrelated, the test is going to give you a false positive. Let's say in a year that the world does 1000 studies to test links that don't actually exist. Just from natural variation, 5% of these studies will still seem to show a link at the 95% confidence level. We will have 50 studies that year broadcasting false links. The media will proceed to scare the crap out of you over these 50 things.
I have never seen this explained better than in this XKCD cartoon (click to enlarge):
All of this is just exacerbated when there is fraud involved, an unfortunate but not unknown occurrence when reputations and large academic grants are on the line. This is why replication of the experiment is important. Do the study a second time, and all but 2-3 of these 50 "false positive" studies will fail to replicate the original results. Do it three times, and all will likely fail to replicate. This, for example, is exactly what happened with the vaccine-autism link -- it came out in one study with a really small population and some evidence of fraud, and was never replicated.
2. The Precautionary Principle vs. the Unseen, with a Dollop of Privilege Thrown In
When pressed to the wall too hard about the size and quality of the risk assessment, most folks subject to these panics will fall back on the "precautionary principle". I am not a big fan of the precautionary principle, so I will let Wikipedia define it so I don't create a straw man:
The precautionary principle or precautionary approach to risk management states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is not harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action.
I will observe that as written, this principle is inherently anti-progress. The proposition requires that folks who want to introduce new innovations must prove a negative, and it is very hard to prove a negative -- how do I prove there are no invisible aliens in my closet who may come out and eat me someday, and how can I possibly get a scientific consensus to this fact? As a result, by merely expressing that one "suspects" a risk (note there is no need listed for proof or justification of this suspicion), any advance may be stopped cold. Had we followed such a principle consistently, we would still all be subsistence farmers, vassals to our feudal lord.
One other quick note before I proceed, it turns out that proponents of the precautionary principle are very selective as to where they apply the principle. They feel like it absolutely must be applied to fossil fuel burning, or BPA use, or GMO's. But precautionary principle supporters never apply it in turn to, say, major new government programs and regulations and economic interventions, despite many historically justified concerns about the risks of these programs.
But neither of these is necessarily the biggest problem with the precautionary principle. The real problem is that it focuses on only one side of the equation -- it says that risks alone justify stopping any action or policy without any reference at all to benefits of that policy or opportunity costs of its avoidance. A way of restating the precautionary principle is, "when faced with risks and benefits of a certain proposal, look only at the risks."
Since the precautionary principle really hit the mainstream with the climate change debate, I will use that as an example. Contrary to media appellations of being a "denier," most science-based climate skeptics like myself accept that man is adding to greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and that those gasses have an incremental warming effect on the planet. What we deny is the catastrophe -- we believe we have good evidence that catastrophic forecasts from computer models are exaggerating future warming, and greatly exaggerating resulting forecast climate changes. Whenever I am fairly successful making this argument, the inevitable rejoinder is "well, the precautionary principle says that if we have even a small percentage chance that burning fossil fuels will lead to a climate disaster, then we have to limit their use immediately".
The problem with this statement is that it assumes there is no harm or risk to reducing fossil fuel use. But fossil fuel use pays enormous benefits to everyone in the world. Even if we could find near substitutes that don't create CO2 emissions (and it is every much open to debate if such substitutes currently exist), these substitutes tend to be much more expensive and much more infrastructure-intensive than are fossil fuels. The negative impact to the economy would be substantial. One could argue that one particular impact -- climate or economy -- outweighs the other, but it is outright fraud to refuse to discuss the trade-off altogether. Particularly since catastrophic climate change may only be a low-percentage risk while economic dislocation from reduction in fossil fuel use is a near certainty.
My sense is that if the United States chose to cut way back on fossil fuel use in a concerted effort, we could manage it and survive the costs. But that is because we are a uniquely rich nation. I am not sure anyone in this country understands how rich. I am not talking just about Warren Buffet. Even the poorest countries have a few rich people at the top. I am talking about everybody. Our poorest 20% would actually be among the richest quintile in many nations of the world. A worldwide effort to eliminate fossil fuel use or to substantially raise its costs or to force shifts to higher cost, less easily-used alternatives would simply devastate many developing nations, which need every erg their limited resources can get their hands on. We are at a unique moment in history when more than a billion people are in the process of emerging from poverty around the world, progress that would be stopped in its tracks by a concerted effort to limit CO2 output. Why doesn't the precautionary principle apply to actions that affect their lives?
College kids have developed a popular rejoinder they use in arguments that states "check your privilege." I thought at first it was an interesting phrase. I used it in arguments a few times about third world "sweat shops". I argued that those who wanted to close down the Nike factory paying $1 an hour in China needed to check their privilege -- they had no idea what alternatives those Chinese who took the Nike jobs were facing. Yes, you middle class Americans would never take that job, but what if your alternative was 12 hours a day in a rice paddy somewhere that barely brought in enough food for your family to subsist? Only later, I learned that "check your privilege" didn't mean what I thought it meant, and in fact in actual academic use it instead means "shut up, white guy." In a way, though, this use is consistent with how the precautionary principle is often used -- in many of my arguments, "precautionary principle" is another way of saying "stop talking about the costs and trade-offs of what I am proposing."
Perhaps the best example of the damage that can be wrought by a combination of Western middle class privilege and the precautionary principle is the case of golden rice. According to the World Health Organization between 250,000 to 500,000 children become blind every year due to vitamin A deficiency, half of whom die within a year of becoming blind. Millions of other people suffer from various debilitating conditions due to the lack of this essential nutrient. Golden Rice is a genetically modified form of rice that, unlike conventional rice, contains beta-Carotene in the rice kernel, which is converted to vitamin A in humans.
By 2002, Golden Rice was technically ready to go. Animal testing had found no health risks. Syngenta, which had figured out how to insert the Vitamin A–producing gene from carrots into rice, had handed all financial interests over to a non-profit organization, so there would be no resistance to the life-saving technology from GMO opponents who resist genetic modification because big biotech companies profit from it. Except for the regulatory approval process, Golden Rice was ready to start saving millions of lives and preventing tens of millions of cases of blindness in people around the world who suffer from Vitamin A deficiency.
Seems like a great idea. Too bad its going nowhere, due to fierce opposition on the Left (particularly from Greenpeace) to hypothetical dangers from GMO's
It’s still not in use anywhere, however, because of the opposition to GM technology. Now two agricultural economists, one from the Technical University of Munich, the other from the University of California, Berkeley, have quantified the price of that opposition, in human health, and the numbers are truly frightening.
Their study, published in the journalEnvironment and Development Economics, estimates that the delayed application of Golden Rice in India alone has cost 1,424,000 life years since 2002. That odd sounding metric – not just lives but ‘life years’ – accounts not only for those who died, but also for the blindness and other health disabilities that Vitamin A deficiency causes. The majority of those who went blind or died because they did not have access to Golden Rice were children.
Note this is exactly the sort of risk tradeoff the precautionary principle is meant to ignore. The real situation is that a vague risk of unspecified and unproven problems with GMO's (which are typically driven more by a distrust on the Left of the for-profit corporations that produce GMO's rather than any good science) should be balanced with absolute certainty of people dying and going blind. But the Greenpeace folks will just shout that because of the "precautionary principle", only the vague unproven risks should be considered and thus golden rice should be banned.
Risk and Post-Modernism
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Naomi Oreskes and the post-modern approach to science, where facts and proof take a back-seat to political narratives and the feelings and intuition of various social groups. I hadn't really thought much about this post-modernist approach in the context of risk assessment, but I was struck by this comment by David Ropeik, who blogs for Scientific American.
The whole GMO issue is really just one example of a far more profound threat to your health and mine. The perception of risk is inescapably subjective, a matter of not just the facts, but how we feel about those facts. As pioneering risk perception psychologist Paul Slovic has said, “risk is a feeling.” So societal arguments over risk issues like Golden Rice and GMOs, or guns or climate change or vaccines, are not mostly about the evidence, though we wield the facts as our weapons. They are mostly about how we feel, and our values, and which group’s values win, not what will objectively do the most people the most good. That’s a dumb and dangerous way to make public risk management decisions.
Mr. Ropeik actually disagrees with me on the risk/harm tradeoffs of climate change (he obviously thinks the harms outweigh the costs of prevention -- I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he has actually thought about both sides of the equation). Fine. I would be thrilled for once to have a discussion with someone about climate change when we are really talking about costs and benefits on both sides of the equation (action and inaction). Unfortunately that is all too rare.
Postscript: To the extent the average person remembers Bjorn Lomborg at all, they could be excused for assuming he is some crazed right-wing climate denier, given how he was treated in the media. In fact, Lomborg is very much a global warming believer. He takes funding from Right-ish organizations now, but that is only because he has been disavowed by the Left, which was his original home.
What he did was write a book in which he looked at a number of environmental problems -- both their risks and costs as well as their potential mitigation costs -- and he ranked them on bang for the buck: Where can we get the most environmental benefit and help the most people for the least investment. The book talked about what he thought were the very real dangers of climate change, but it turned out climate change was way down this ranked list in terms of benefits vs. costs of solutions.
This is a point I have made before. Why are we spending so much time, for example, harping on China to reduce CO2 when their air is poisonous? We know how to have a modern technological economy and still have air without soot. It is more uncertain if we can have a modern technological economy, yet, without CO2 production. Lomborg thought about just this sort of thing, and made the kind of policy risk-reward tradeoffs based on scientific analysis that we would hope our policy makers were pursuing. It was exactly the kind of analysis that Ropeik was advocating for above.
Lomborg must have expected that his work would be embraced by the environmental Left. After all, it was scientific, it achnowleged the existence of a number of environmental issues that needed to be solved, and it advocated for a strong government-backed effort led by smart technocrats doing rational prioritizations. But Lomborg was absolutely demonized by just about everyone in the environmental community and on the Left in general. He was universally trashed. He was called a climate denier when in fact he was no such thing -- he just pointed out that man-made climate change was way harder to solve than other equally harmful environmental issues. Didn't he get the memo that the narrative was that global warming was the #1 environmental threat? How dare he suggest a re-prioritization!
Lomborg's prioritization may well have been wrong, but no one was actually sitting down to make that case. He was simply demonized from day one for getting the "wrong" answer, defined as the answer not fitting the preferred narrative. We are a long, long way from any reasonable ability to assess and act on risks.
Inquisitive Mind @livebeefIn the unlikely event that anyone is interested in the actual historical facts of the matter:
Your decision to not vaccinate your children puts my children's health at risk. You are the worst kind of person.
Vox Day @voxday
Your decision to drive your children in your car puts their health at much greater risk. You are an even worse person.
Vox Day @voxday
Deaths from measles in last 10 years = 0. Automobile deaths in last 10 years = 383,542
Vox Day @voxday
Deaths from measles in last 10 years = 0. Deaths from bicycles = 6,770. ONLY A MONSTER WOULD LET KIDS RIDE BIKES!
Inquisitive Mind @livebeef
What the hell is WRONG with you people? (Posts scary propaganda cartoon.)
Vox Day @voxday
We're just not idiots like you who embrace totalitarian government because someone said BOO! Measles deaths in 2014 = 0
Inquisitive Mind @livebeef
Do you not understand what the concept of "almost eradicated" means? Look up the death count it used to have.
Vox Day @voxday
I have. And most of the deaths stopped long BEFORE widespread vaccine availability. You are misinformed.
Inquisitive Mind @livebeef
Vox Day @voxday now
Measles deaths dropped 91.5 percent by 1960, 2 years BEFORE vaccinations. You are misinformed.
In 1962, immediately preceding the licensure of the first measles vaccines in the United States, when measles was a nearly universal disease, Alexander Langmuir described the medical importance of measles to the country and put forth the challenge of measles eradication. Although most patients recovered without permanent sequelae, the high number of cases each year made measles a significant cause of serious morbidity and mortality Langmuir showed that >90% of Americans were infected with the measles virus by age 15 years. This equated to roughly 1 birth cohort (4 million people) infected with measles each year. Not all cases were reported to the public health system; from 1956 to 1960, an average of 542,000 cases were reported annually. By the late 1950s, even before the introduction of measles vaccine, measles-related deaths and case fatality rates in the United States had decreased markedly, presumably as a result of improvement in health care and nutrition. From 1956 to 1960, an average of 450 measles-related deaths were reported each year (∼1 death/ 1000 reported cases), compared with an average of 5300 measles-related deaths during 1912–1916 (26 deaths/ 1000 reported cases).Note that even in the ABSOLUTE WORST CASE, which is a completely unvaccinated scenario with 90 percent infection rates that assumes absolutely no improvement in health care in 55 years, we're talking about 450 deaths per year. Realistically, we're probably talking around 200, given the advancements in medical technology. THAT is what all the pro-vaccine scaremongers are going on about. Americans would do better to ban bicycles, as they would save three times more lives per year.
Utes Byfive @Utesbyfive
Natural immunity produces carriers: Typhoid Mary, Someone vaxxed can't be infected. CANT FUCKING CARRY
The Ecuadoran government is using U.S. law to silence its critics. The government is filing complaints under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, claiming copyright violations against videos and posts critical of the government. Websites hosting the material automatically take it down. Those who posted the material are generally able to get it reinstated, but that takes time and effort.
… is from page 128 of Thomas Sowell’s 2009 book, The Housing Boom and Bust:
Few things blind human beings to the actual consequences of what they are doing like a heady feeling of self-righteousness during a crusade to smite the wicked and rescue the downtrodden.
Andrew M. Grossman
Challenging an agency’s assessment of scientific research in court is typically seen as a fool’s errand. The courts may keep the regulatory state on a close leash where matters of constitutional law are concerned, and will give challenges regarding the proper interpretation of statutes a fair hearing before (usually) deferring to the government’s view. But an agency has to go seriously off the rails before the courts will second-guess its assessment of the scientific record underlying a regulation.
That’s what makes EPA’s super-expensive Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule so interesting: the agency’s own assessment of the scientific research shows there was no good reason to regulate in the first place. The Supreme Court is now reviewing EPA’s decision to plow ahead regardless, irrespective of the costs of doing so.
Power plants emit trace amounts of mercury, and mercury poses a risk to human neurological development when pregnant women consume fish tainted by it. But, as EPA has explained, mercury deposition in the United States “is generally dominated by sources other than U.S. [power plants].” In fact, the agency’s figures show that those plants are responsible for only about one half of one percent of airborne mercury.
Common sense would therefore suggest that reducing or even eliminating emissions from U.S. plants could have little or no appreciable effect on public health. And EPA actually agrees, finding that “even substantial reductions in U.S. [power-plant] deposition…[are] unlikely to substantially affect total risk.”
To escape that seemingly inescapable conclusion, the agency had to assume the existence of “women of child-bearing age in subsistence fishing populations who consume freshwater fish that they or their family caught” in enormous quantities. And not just any fish, but the most contaminated fish. And even then, placing its thumb on the scale at every step of the way, EPA still struggled to find any real risk, ultimately concluding that mercury from domestic power plants might cause the hypothetical children of these hypothetical women to suffer a hypothetical loss of 0.00209 IQ points apiece—an amount that cannot be meaningfully distinguished from zero.
Why would EPA go through all this trouble to contrive a risk worthy of regulation, while ignoring costs that the agency projects to hit $10 billion per year? The answer is that EPA has long wanted to comprehensively regulate power plants but (due to the cooperative-federalism structure of the Clean Air Act) has been forced to defer to the states on whether and how to address individual sources. Minimizing Section 112’s “appropriate and necessary” requirement allows EPA to circumvent the statutory limitations on its authority and directly achieve its intended goal: imposing new requirements on power plants.
So what seems like a complicated statutory case actually boils down to a familiar story: a federal agency twisting statutory language to aggrandize its own power at the expense of the states’. The Supreme Court can take EPA’s evaluation of the science at face value and still reject this power-grab.
Barack Obama and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have been flogging continued federal involvement in the providing of private broadband Internet service with the argument that some citizens’ Internet speeds just aren’t fast enough. It manifested recently in a call for local governments to get into the business of competing with private service providers and offering municipal broadband (oblivious to the reality that typically local governments have been the barrier to better Internet service, not the solution).
The news today is that, in order to flesh out the assertion that there are enough folks who can’t get decent broadband, the FCC has voted, 3-2, to simply change the definition of broadband, increasing the base benchmark speed and, by regulatory fiat, declaring that millions of Americans who had "high-speed Internet" yesterday are now listening to Spotify with soup cans on strings. From The Guardian:
In a 3-2 vote, the commission approved a measure that increases the minimum standard for broadband speed, giving the agency more power to force internet service providers to improve their service.
The definition of broadband is set to be raised from 4 megabits per second (Mbps) to 25Mbps for downloads and 1Mbps to 3Mbps for uploads.
With that speed as the benchmark, significantly fewer Americans have access to high-speed broadband. Under the previous definition, 19 million Americans were without access; the new definition means that 55 million Americans – 17% of the population – now do not have access to high-speed broadband, according to the FCC’s 2015 Broadband Progress Report, which is in the final editing process but was cited at the hearing.
It’s like mission creep within mission creep. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 pushed the FCC into involvement in making sure broadband spreads across the country (like the FCC was needed for this in any way, shape, or form). As broadband improves, the FCC is going to make sure they get to keep their spoon in the stew (or whatever "too many cooks" metaphor applies) by just ordering innovation via regulation. Who is this "we" Commissioner Mignon Clyburn refers to?
"We are never satisfied with the status quo. We want better. We continue to push the limit, and that is notable when it comes to technology. As consumers adopt and demand more from their platforms and devices, the need for broadband will increase, requiring robust networks to be in place in order to keep up. What is crystal clear to me is that the broadband speeds of yesteryear are woefully inadequate today and beyond."
All of this is true, and yet none of what Clyburn says is an argument for direct FCC involvement. Commissioner Michael O’Rielly dissented, pointing out, "Selecting an artificially high standard and applying it in a way that is impossible to meet in order to reach all Americans certainly in the near term makes a mockery of a process that was supposed to provide an honest assessment of broadband deployment in the United States." He wondered that, because some people believe we’re on the way to teleportation technology, whether the FCC should estimate the bandwidth needs for that as well. Don’t give them any ideas.
In an interesting bit of a sort of cronyism as a result of the limits of technology, telecom companies that offer DSL services through the phone lines—AT&T and Verizon, for example—will not be forced to adapt to these new demands because it’s physically impossible. This means broadband providers will be required by the FCC to improve their Internet speeds up and probably far beyond what many of their customers need, therefore driving up their prices and encouraging customers who don’t need bleeding edge download speeds to consider dumping them for their phone company competitors to save money. No wonder cable companies are upset by the news.
From 2010, here’s Nick Gillespie and Reason TV with three reasons why the FCC needs to stay away from the Internet. (Spoiler: "mission creep" is one of the reasons):
Earlier this month Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told an audience of conservatives that the legal philosophy known as judicial restraint has been an abysmal failure throughout American history. So Paul offered an alternative: The Supreme Court should stop deferring to the other branches of government and should instead spend more time striking down government infringements on individual liberty. "I'm a judicial activist when it comes to the New Deal. But I'm also a judicial activist when it comes to Brown [v. Board of Education]. I think the [Supreme Court] was right to overturn state governments that were saying separate but equal is fine," Paul declared.
The response to Paul's speech has been instructive. Conservative law professor and former George W. Bush administration official John Yoo, for example, attacked Paul's "immature views on politics and the Constitution," arguing that "Paul's claims about judicial activism raise fundamental doubts about his positions on social issues."
On the left, meanwhile, Vox's Andrew Prokop faulted Paul for "voic[ing] his support for an infamous and long-obsolete Supreme Court ruling asserting that 'liberty to contract' was a fundamental Constitutional right."
For conservatives like Yoo, the problem with Paul's speech is that he explicitly endorsed the Supreme Court’s 1965 ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut, which struck down a state law banning the use of birth control devices by married couples on the grounds that it violated their right to privacy. According to many conservative legal thinkers—including both the late Robert Bork and current Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia—the Griswold Court had no business interfering with the state's broad power to regulate morality and private sexual behavior.
For liberals like Prokop, the problem with Paul's speech is that he endorsed the Supreme Court's 1905 ruling in Lochner v. New York, which struck down a state law limiting the working hours of bakery employees on the grounds that it violated the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. Liberals dislike Lochner because they think the Court had no business interfering with the state's broad power to regulate economic affairs.
What these two views share in common is that they each support what amounts to virtually unchecked majoritarian rule over certain aspects of American life. For conservatives, judicial deference means that lawmakers get the last word when it comes to banning birth control and prohibiting "homosexual conduct." For liberals, judicial deference means that lawmakers get the last word when it comes to bulldozing private property in the name of eminent domain. Each approach demands judicial passivity in the face of its preferred forms of government action.
Rand Paul, by contrast, is offering a third way, something that we might call a principled libertarian approach. "If we believe in judicial restraint we presume the majority is correct. We presume that laws are constitutional until we can prove otherwise," Paul observed. But "maybe we should start with the presumption of liberty.... Maybe we should be presumed to be free."
To say the least, Paul's approach is at odds with the reigning pro-government orthodoxies on both the legal left and the legal right. No wonder he's got both sides running scared.
The Epochal Consequences Of Woodrow Wilson’s War
Remarks by David Stockman
Committee for the Republic
Washington DC January 20, 2015
My humble thesis tonight is that the entire 20th Century was a giant mistake.
And that you can put the blame for this monumental error squarely on Thomas Woodrow Wilson——-a megalomaniacal madman who was the very worst President in American history……..well, except for the last two.
His unforgiveable error was to put the United States into the Great War for utterly no good reason of national interest. The European war posed not an iota of threat to the safety and security of the citizens of Lincoln NE, or Worcester MA or Sacramento CA. In that respect, Wilson’s putative defense of “freedom of the seas” and the rights of neutrals was an empty shibboleth; his call to make the world safe for democracy, a preposterous pipe dream.
Actually, his thinly veiled reason for plunging the US into the cauldron of the Great War was to obtain a seat at the peace conference table——so that he could remake the world in response to god’s calling.
But this was a world about which he was blatantly ignorant; a task for which he was temperamentally unsuited; and an utter chimera based on 14 points that were so abstractly devoid of substance as to constitute mental play dough.
Or, as his alter-ego and sycophant, Colonel House, put it: Intervention positioned Wilson to play “The noblest part that has ever come to the son of man”. America thus plunged into Europe’s carnage, and forevermore shed its century-long Republican tradition of anti-militarism and non-intervention in the quarrels of the Old World.
Needless to say, there was absolutely nothing noble that came of Wilson’s intervention. It led to a peace of vengeful victors, triumphant nationalists and avaricious imperialists—-when the war would have otherwise ended in a bedraggled peace of mutually exhausted bankrupts and discredited war parties on both sides.
By so altering the course of history, Wilson’s war bankrupted Europe and midwifed 20th century totalitarianism in Russia and Germany.
These developments, in turn, eventually led to the Great Depression, the Welfare State and Keynesian economics, World War II, the holocaust, the Cold War, the permanent Warfare State and its military-industrial complex.
They also spawned Nixon’s 1971 destruction of sound money, Reagan’s failure to tame Big Government and Greenspan’s destructive cult of monetary central planning.
So, too, flowed the Bush’s wars of intervention and occupation, their fatal blow to the failed states in the lands of Islam foolishly created by the imperialist map-makers at Versailles and the resulting endless waves of blowback and terrorism now afflicting the world.
And not the least of the ills begotten in Wilson’s war is the modern rogue regime of central bank money printing, and the Bernanke-Yellen plague of bubble economics which never stops showering the 1% with the monumental windfalls from central bank enabled speculation.
Consider the building blocks of that lamentable edifice.
First, had the war ended in 1917 by a mutual withdrawal from the utterly stalemated trenches of the Western Front, as it was destined to, there would have been no disastrous summer offensive by the Kerensky government, or subsequent massive mutiny in Petrograd that enabled Lenin’s flukish seizure of power in November. That is, the 20th century would not have been saddled with a Stalinist nightmare or with a Soviet state that poisoned the peace of nations for 75 years, while the nuclear sword of Damocles hung over the planet.
Likewise, there would have been no abomination known as the Versailles peace treaty; no “stab in the back” legends owing to the Weimar government’s forced signing of the “war guilt” clause; no continuance of England’s brutal post-armistice blockade that delivered Germany’s women and children into starvation and death and left a demobilized 3-million man army destitute, bitter and on a permanent political rampage of vengeance.
So too, there would have been no acquiescence in the dismemberment of Germany and the spreading of its parts and pieces to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Austria and Italy—–with the consequent revanchist agitation that nourished the Nazi’s with patriotic public support in the rump of the fatherland.
Nor would there have materialized the French occupation of the Ruhr and the war reparations crisis that led to the destruction of the German middle class in the 1923 hyperinflation; and, finally, the history books would have never recorded the Hitlerian ascent to power and all the evils that flowed thereupon.
In short, on the approximate 100th anniversary of Sarajevo, the world has been turned upside down.
The war of victors made possible by Woodrow Wilson destroyed the liberal international economic order—that is, honest money, relatively free trade, rising international capital flows and rapidly growing global economic integration—-which had blossomed during the 40-year span between 1870 and 1914.
That golden age had brought rising living standards, stable prices, massive capital investment, prolific technological progress and pacific relations among the major nations——a condition that was never equaled, either before or since.
Now, owing to Wilson’s fetid patrimony, we have the opposite: A world of the Warfare State, the Welfare State, Central Bank omnipotence and a crushing burden of private and public debts. That is, a thoroughgoing statist regime that is fundamentally inimical to capitalist prosperity, free market governance of economic life and the flourishing of private liberty and constitutional safeguards against the encroachments of the state.
So Wilson has a lot to answer for—-and my allotted 30 minutes can hardly accommodate the full extent of the indictment. But let me try to summarize his own “war guilt” in eight major propositions——a couple of which my give rise to a disagreement or two.
Proposition #1: Starting with the generic context——the Great War was about nothing worth dying for and engaged no recognizable principle of human betterment. There were many blackish hats, but no white ones.
Instead, it was an avoidable calamity issuing from a cacophony of political incompetence, cowardice, avarice and tomfoolery.
Blame the bombastic and impetuous Kaiser Wilhelm for setting the stage with his foolish dismissal of Bismarck in 1890, failure to renew the Russian reinsurance treaty shortly thereafter and his quixotic build-up of the German Navy after the turn of the century.
Blame the French for lashing themselves to a war declaration that could be triggered by the intrigues of a decadent court in St. Petersburg where the Czar still claimed divine rights and the Czarina ruled behind the scenes on the hideous advice of Rasputin.
Likewise, censure Russia’s foreign minister Sazonov for his delusions of greater Slavic grandeur that had encouraged Serbia’s provocations after Sarajevo; and castigate the doddering emperor Franz Joseph for hanging onto power into his 67th year on the throne and thereby leaving his crumbling empire vulnerable to the suicidal impulses of General Conrad’s war party.
So too, indict the duplicitous German Chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg, for allowing the Austrians to believe that the Kaiser endorsed their declaration of war on Serbia; and pillory Winston Churchill and London’s war party for failing to recognize that the Schlieffen Plan’s invasion through Belgium was no threat to England, but a unavoidable German defense against a two-front war.
But after all that—- most especially don’t talk about the defense of democracy, the vindication of liberalism or the thwarting of Prussian autocracy and militarism.
The British War party led by the likes of Churchill and Kitchener was all about the glory of empire, not the vindication of democracy; France’ principal war aim was the revanchist drive to recover Alsace-Lorrain—–mainly a German speaking territory for 600 years until it was conquered by Louis XIV.
In any event, German autocracy was already on its last leg as betokened by the arrival of universal social insurance and the election of a socialist-liberal majority in the Reichstag on the eve of the war; and the Austro-Hungarian, Balkan and Ottoman goulash of nationalities, respectively, would have erupted in interminable regional conflicts, regardless of who won the Great War.
In short, nothing of principle or higher morality was at stake in the outcome.
Proposition # 2: The war posed no national security threat whatsoever to the US. Presumably, of course, the danger was not the Entente powers—but Germany and its allies.
But how so? After the Schlieffen Plan offensive failed on September 11, 1914, the German Army became incarcerated in a bloody, bankrupting, two-front land war that ensured its inexorable demise. Likewise, after the battle of Jutland in May 1916, the great German surface fleet was bottled up in its homeports—-an inert flotilla of steel that posed no threat to the American coast 4,000 miles away.
As for the rest of the central powers, the Ottoman and Hapsburg empires already had an appointment with the dustbin of history. Need we even bother with the fourth member—-that is, Bulgaria?
Proposition #3: Wilson’s pretexts for war on Germany—–submarine warfare and the Zimmerman telegram—-are not half what they are cracked-up to be by Warfare State historians.
As to the so-called freedom of the seas and neutral shipping rights, the story is blatantly simple. In November 1914, England declared the North Sea to be a “war zone”; threatened neutral shipping with deadly sea mines; declared that anything which could conceivably be of use to the German army—directly or indirectly—-to be contraband that would be seized or destroyed; and announced that the resulting blockade of German ports was designed to starve it into submission.
A few months later, Germany announced its submarine warfare policy designed to the stem the flow of food, raw materials and armaments to England in retaliation. It was the desperate antidote of a land power to England’s crushing sea-borne blockade.
Accordingly, there existed a state of total warfare in the northern European waters—-and the traditional “rights” of neutrals were irrelevant and disregarded by both sides. In arming merchantmen and stowing munitions on passenger liners, England was hypocritical and utterly cavalier about the resulting mortal danger to innocent civilians—–as exemplified by the 4.3 million rifle cartridges and hundreds of tons of other munitions carried in the hull of the Lusitania.
Likewise, German resort to so-called “unrestricted submarine warfare” in February 1917 was brutal and stupid, but came in response to massive domestic political pressure during what was known as the “turnip winter” in Germany. By then, the country was starving from the English blockade—literally.
Before he resigned on principle in June 1915, Secretary William Jennings Bryan got it right. Had he been less diplomatic he would have said never should American boys be crucified on the cross of Cunard liner state room so that a few thousand wealthy plutocrat could exercise a putative “right” to wallow in luxury while knowingly cruising into in harm’s way.
As to the Zimmerman telegram, it was never delivered to Mexico, but was sent from Berlin as an internal diplomatic communique to the German ambassador in Washington, who had labored mightily to keep his country out of war with the US, and was intercepted by British intelligence, which sat on it for more than a month waiting for an opportune moment to incite America into war hysteria.
In fact, this so-called bombshell was actually just an internal foreign ministry rumination about a possible plan to approach the Mexican president regarding an alliance in the event that the US first went to war with Germany.
Why is this surprising or a casus belli? Did not the entente bribe Italy into the war with promises of large chunks of Austria? Did not the hapless Rumanians finally join the entente when they were promised Transylvania? Did not the Greeks bargain endlessly over the Turkish territories they were to be awarded for joining the allies? Did not Lawrence of Arabia bribe the Sherif of Mecca with the promise of vast Arabian lands to be extracted from the Turks?
Why, then, would the German’s—-if at war with the USA—- not promise the return of Texas?
Proposition #4: Europe had expected a short war, and actually got one when the Schlieffen plan offensive bogged down 30 miles outside of Paris on the Marne River in mid-September 1914. Within three months, the Western Front had formed and coagulated into blood and mud——a ghastly 400 mile corridor of senseless carnage, unspeakable slaughter and incessant military stupidity that stretched from the Flanders coast across Belgium and northern France to the Swiss frontier.
The next four years witnessed an undulating line of trenches, barbed wire entanglements, tunnels, artillery emplacements and shell-pocked scorched earth that rarely moved more than a few miles in either direction, and which ultimately claimed more than 4 million casualties on the Allied side and 3.5 million on the German side.
If there was any doubt that Wilson’s catastrophic intervention converted a war of attrition, stalemate and eventual mutual exhaustion into Pyrrhic victory for the allies, it was memorialized in four developments during 1916.
In the first, the Germans wagered everything on a massive offensive designed to overrun the fortresses of Verdun——the historic defensive battlements on France’s northeast border that had stood since Roman times, and which had been massively reinforced after the France’s humiliating defeat in Franco-Prussian War of 1870.
But notwithstanding the mobilization of 100 divisions, the greatest artillery bombardment campaign every recorded until then, and repeated infantry offensives from February through November that resulted in upwards of 400,000 German casualties, the Verdun offensive failed.
The second event was its mirror image—-the massive British and French offensive known as the battle of the Somme, which commenced with equally destructive artillery barrages on July 1, 1916 and then for three month sent waves of infantry into the maws of German machine guns and artillery. It too ended in colossal failure, but only after more than 600,000 English and French casualties including a quarter million dead.
In between these bloodbaths, the stalemate was reinforced by the naval showdown at Jutland that cost the British far more sunken ships and drowned sailors than the Germans, but also caused the Germans to retire their surface fleet to port and never again challenge the Royal Navy in open water combat.
Finally, by year-end 1916 the German generals who had destroyed the Russian armies in the East with only a tiny one-ninth fraction of the German army—Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff —were given command of the Western Front. Presently, they radically changed Germany’s war strategy by recognizing that the growing allied superiority in manpower, owing to the British homeland draft of 1916 and mobilization of forces from throughout the empire, made a German offensive breakthrough will nigh impossible.
The result was the Hindenburg Line—a military marvel based on a checkerboard array of hardened pillbox machine gunners and maneuver forces rather than mass infantry on the front lines, and an intricate labyrinth of highly engineered tunnels, deep earth shelters, rail connections, heavy artillery and flexible reserves in the rear. It was also augmented by the transfer of Germany’s eastern armies to the western front—-giving it 200 divisions and 4 million men on the Hindenburg Line.
This precluded any hope of Entente victory. By 1917 there were not enough able-bodied draft age men left in France and England to overcome the Hindenburg Line, which, in turn, was designed to bleed white the entente armies led by butchers like Generals Haig and Joffre until their governments sued for peace.
Thus, with the Russian army’s disintegration in the east and the stalemate frozen indefinitely in the west by early 1917, it was only a matter of months before mutinies among the French lines, demoralization in London, mass starvation and privation in Germany and bankruptcy all around would have led to a peace of exhaustion and a European-wide political revolt against the war makers.
Wilson’s intervention thus did not remake the world. But it did radically re-channel the contours of 20th century history. And, as they say, not in a good way.
Proposition #5: Wilson’s epochal error not only produced the abomination of Versailles and all its progeny, but also the transformation of the Federal Reserve from a passive “banker’s bank” to an interventionist central bank knee-deep in Wall Street, government finance and macroeconomic management.
This, too, was a crucial historical hinge point because Carter Glass’ 1913 act forbid the new Reserve banks to even own government bonds; empowered them only to passively discount for cash good commercial credits and receivables brought to the rediscount window by member banks; and contemplated no open market interventions in debt markets or any remit with respect to GDP growth, jobs, inflation, housing or all the rest of modern day monetary central planning targets.
In fact, Carter Glass’ “banker’s bank” didn’t care whether the growth rate was positive 4%, negative 4% or anything in-between; its modest job was to channel liquidity into the banking system in response to the ebb and flow of commerce and production.
Jobs, growth and prosperity were to remain the unplanned outcome of millions of producers, consumers, investors, savers, entrepreneurs and speculators operating on the free market, not the business of the state.
But Wilson’s war took the national debt from about $1 billion or $11 per capita—–a level which had been maintained since the Battle of Gettysburg—-to $27 billion, including upwards of $10 billion re-loaned to the allies to enable them to continue the war. There is not a chance that this massive eruption of Federal borrowing could have been financed out of domestic savings in the private market.
So the Fed charter was changed owing to the exigencies of war to permit it to own government debt and to discount private loans collateralized by Treasury paper.
In due course, the famous and massive Liberty Bond drives became a glorified Ponzi scheme. Patriotic Americans borrowed money from their banks and pledged their war bonds; the banks borrowed money from the Fed, and re-pledged their customer’s collateral. The Reserve banks, in turn, created the billions they loaned to the commercial banks out of thin air, thereby pegging interest rates low for the duration of the war.
When Wilson was done saving the world, America had an interventionist central bank schooled in the art of interest rate pegging and rampant expansion of fiat credit not anchored in the real bills of commerce and trade; and its incipient Warfare and Welfare states had an agency of public debt monetization that could permit massive government spending without the inconvenience of high taxes on the people or the crowding out of business investment by high interest rates on the private market for savings.
Proposition # 6: By prolonging the war and massively increasing the level of debt and money printing on all sides, Wilson’s folly prevented a proper post-war resumption of the classical gold standard at the pre-war parities.
This failure of resumption, in turn, paved the way for the breakdown of monetary order and world trade in 1931—–a break which turned a standard post-war economic cleansing into the Great Depression, and a decade of protectionism, beggar-thy-neighbor currency manipulation and ultimately rearmament and statist dirigisme.
In essence, the English and French governments had raised billions from their citizens on the solemn promise that it would be repaid at the pre-war parities; that the war bonds were money good in gold.
But the combatant governments had printed too much fiat currency and inflation during the war, and through domestic regimentation, heavy taxation and unfathomable combat destruction of economic life in northern France had drastically impaired their private economies.
Accordingly, under Churchill’s foolish leadership England re-pegged to gold at the old parity in 1925, but had no political will or capacity to reduce bloated war-time wages, costs and prices in a commensurate manner, or to live with the austerity and shrunken living standards that honest liquidation of its war debts required.
At the same time, France ended up betraying its war time lenders, and re-pegged the Franc two years later at a drastically depreciated level. This resulted in a spurt of beggar-thy-neighbor prosperity and the accumulation of pound sterling claims that would eventually blow-up the London money market and the sterling based “gold exchange standard” that the Bank of England and British Treasury had peddled as a poor man’s way back on gold.
Yet under this “gold lite” contraption, France, Holland, Sweden and other surplus countries accumulated huge amounts of sterling liabilities in lieu of settling their accounts in bullion—–that is, they loaned billions to the British. They did this on the promise and the confidence that the pound sterling would remain at $4.87 per dollar come hell or high water—-just as it had for 200 years of peacetime before.
But British politicians betrayed their promises and their central bank creditors September 1931 by suspending redemption and floating the pound——-shattering the parity and causing the decade-long struggle for resumption of an honest gold standard to fail. Depressionary contraction of world trade, capital flows and capitalist enterprise inherently followed.
Proposition # 7: By turning America overnight into the granary, arsenal and banker of the Entente, the US economy was distorted, bloated and deformed into a giant, but unstable and unsustainable global exporter and creditor.
During the war years, for example, US exports increased by 4X and GDP soared from $40 billion to $90 billion. Incomes and land prices soared in the farm belt, and steel, chemical, machinery, munitions and ship construction boomed like never before—–in substantial part because Uncle Sam essentially provided vendor finance to the bankrupt allies in desperate need of both military and civilian goods.
Under classic rules, there should have been a nasty correction after the war—-as the world got back to honest money and sound finance. But it didn’t happen because the newly unleashed Fed fueled an incredible boom on Wall Street and a massive junk bond market in foreign loans.
In today economic scale, the latter amounted to upwards of $2 trillion and, in effect, kept the war boom in exports and capital spending going right up until 1929. Accordingly, the great collapse of 1929-1932 was not a mysterious failure of capitalism; it was the delayed liquidation of Wilson’s war boom.
After the crash, exports and capital spending plunged by 80% when the foreign junk bond binge ended in the face of massive defaults abroad; and that, in turn, led to a traumatic liquidation of industrial inventories and a collapse of credit fueled purchases of consumer durables like refrigerators and autos. The latter, for example, dropped from 5 million to 1.5 million units per year after 1929.
Proposition # 8: In short, the Great Depression was a unique historical event owing to the vast financial deformations of the Great War——deformations which were drastically exaggerated by its prolongation from Wilson’s intervention and the massive credit expansion unleashed by the Fed and Bank of England during and after the war.
Stated differently, the trauma of the 1930s was not the result of the inherent flaws or purported cyclical instabilities of free market capitalism; it was, instead, the delayed legacy of the financial carnage of the Great War and the failed 1920s efforts to restore the liberal order of sound money, open trade and unimpeded money and capital flows.
But this trauma was thoroughly misunderstood, and therefore did give rise to the curse of Keynesian economics and did unleash the politicians to meddle in virtually every aspect of economic life, culminating in the statist and crony capitalist dystopia that has emerged in this century.
Needless to say, that is Thomas Woodrow Wilson’s worst sin of all.
Readers send me links to articles all the time. (Bless all of you who do.) Some articles are particularly newsworthy or timely and become fodder for blog posts. Others don’t and end up in what I now think of as the Cold Case Files. They’re old, but still worth digging out now and then for a second look.
I just came across one that deserves a second look because it relates to my recent posts on how U.S. News ranked the popular diets and The Rider And The Elephant. I poked fun at how U.S. News ranked the Slim Fast diet #13 while placing the paleo diet 35th out of 35 – because it’s just so darned hard to follow, you see. What I didn’t mention in that post is that the Biggest Loser diet was ranked #9. The U.S. News panel of experts had this to say about eating like a Biggest Loser:
The diet received high marks for short-term weight loss, safety and soundness as a regimen for diabetes, and it was rated moderately effective for heart health.
Good for short-term weight loss — and it must not be hard to follow, because according to the (ahem) logic the panelists cited while putting paleo at the bottom of the list, a difficult diet should earn a bad score.
We know the Biggest Loser diet is good for short-term weight loss because we see people losing impressive amounts of weight during weekly weigh-ins on the TV show, right? Uh-huh … so let’s take a look at an article from an Australian news service I found in my Cold Case Files:
Andrew ‘Cosi’ Costello was a contestant on the Biggest Loser in 2008 … Today, Cosi writes exclusively for news.com.au about what contestants really have to go through on the hit Channel 10 show.
“The only thing that really disappoints me about the Biggest Loser is the length of time between the weigh-ins. Have you ever wondered how the contestants manage to lose a staggering 12 kilos in a single week? We don’t. In my series a weekly weigh-in was NEVER filmed after just one week of working out. In fact the longest gap from one weigh-in to the next was three and a half weeks. That’s 25 days between weigh-ins, not seven. That “week” I lost more than nine kilos. I had to stand on the scales and was asked to say the line, “wow, it’s a great result, I’ve worked really hard this week”. The producers made sure that we never gave this secret away, because if we did, it created a nightmare for them in the editing suite. The shortest gap from weigh-in to weigh-in during our series was 16 days. That’s a fact.”
So that short-tem weight loss isn’t as impressive as the U.S. News panelists think it is.
“The thing is, overweight people get inspired by watching the Biggest Loser. They get off the couch and they hit the gym. But after a week in the real world, some people might only lose 1kg so they feel like they’ve failed and they give up. That’s where the show is misleading. You need to remember it’s a TV show, it’s not all real. In fact, not even the scales we stood on were real.”
Awesome. So people watching the show try starving themselves and horsewhipping themselves into hours of exercise so they can achieve a similarly awesome seven-day weight loss … except the weight loss might have actually required 25 days and was measured on a not-real scale, at least while the cameras were rolling.
“I would say that about 75 per cent of the contestants from my series in 2008 are back to their starting weight. About 25 per cent had had gastric banding or surgery.”
If 75 percent are back to the their starting weight and 25 percent had bariatric surgery, that would leave … hang on, let me get out the calculator … almost nobody achieving long-term weight loss.
Yes, but … uh … the short-term weight loss is good. Just ask the experts consulted by U.S. News.
“Anyone can lose weight in a controlled environment; I’d say it’s almost impossible not to lose weight on the Biggest Loser. But the show doesn’t address the reasons why people like me are so obsessed and addicted to eating excess amounts of food; it doesn’t get to the root of the problem.”
Bingo. People who go on The Biggest Loser are (as the article makes clear) agreeing to be in lockdown. Same goes for people who participate in metabolic ward studies. And yes, under those circumstances, you can probably demonstrate that all weight-loss diets work as long as the dieter sticks to the diet, as some internet cowboys like to point out. So what? All that tells us is that if you lock the elephant in a cell, he doesn’t run away — because he can’t. But he’ll be miserable the whole time, and when he’s no longer in lockdown, he won’t be hanging around for long – even if the rider thinks he should.
When Ancel Keys conducted his semi-starvation study in the 1940s, the participants were in lockdown. Yup, they lost weight. They also lost their energy, their ability to concentrate, their sex drive, their desire to talk about much of anything besides food, and – in a couple of cases – their sanity. One man bit off his own finger to get released from the study. That’s an elephant being pretty damned determined to run away. Soon after the study ended, all of the men regained the lost weight, and some gained more than they’d lost. After being starved, the elephant wanted to protect itself against future starvation.
So again, I don’t give a rat’s rear-end what the (ahem) experts consulted by U.S. News consider a good diet. A good diet is a diet that keeps the elephant happy instead of dragging him to a place he doesn’t want to go. And I doubt the Biggest Loser diet fits that definition for most people.
Journalist Barrett Brown, after already serving 31 months in jail, was today sentenced to 63 months total, and a $890,000 fine, which of course no normal human could ever pay off. The Guardian reports on the background:
In September 2012, Brown was arrested by the FBI for allegedly threatening a federal agent in a video posted to YouTube [after the FBI had raided his home and searched his computers, for reasons detailed below]. In October 2012, after being held for two weeks without charge, he was indicted on charges of making an online threat, retaliating against a federal officer and conspiring to release personal information about a government employee.
Two months later, he was indicted on 12 further charges related to the hacking of private intelligence contractor Stratfor in 2011.
Jeremy Hammond, the hacker who actually carried out the Stratfor breach, was sentenced to the maximum possible 10 years. Writing for the Guardian from prison in December, Hammond bemoaned that Brown “continues to await his sentencing for merely linking to hacked material”.
Brown, who was accused of sharing a link to the data Hammond obtained from the breach (as well as several further indictments related to withholding or hiding evidence and obstructing the FBI), at one point faced a possible sentence of 105 years.
He will reportedly be eligible for supervised release after one year, and once released will have his computer equipment monitored. The $890,250 in restitution payments will go to Stratfor and other companies targeted by Anonymous. He will pay $225 in fines....
I blogged about Brown's case back in June 2013. Excerpts:
To simplify a pretty complicated story, Brown dumped the contents of an Anonymous-released dump of documents grabbed from Stratfor, a private intelligence/security company into a public wiki dedicated to investigative journalism he ran called ProjectPM, and began looking into a mysterious company called "Endgame Systems," an info-security firm with multi-million dollar yearly subscriptions services supposedly involving giving away info on how to exploit systems vulnerabilities in computers.
The FBI got a warrant for his laptop, raided his mother's house, and later tried to subpoena data on everyone who had accessed Brown's journalism site Project PM. An angry Brown released an ill-advised video threatening harrassment of an FBI agent and his family, and the arrest and indictment followed.
Scott Shackford wrote in March about the feds dropping many of the charges against Brown while he still languished behind bars, including the ones for essentially hyperlinking to hacked documents. (Many links on the charge-dropping.)
Shackford notes something interesting about the charges that remained, for which Brown was sentenced today after pleading guilty to three of them: "of the charges that remain, all but one are an outcome of the FBI targeting him for something they now acknowledge is not a criminal act." That is, they can come after you for no particular good reason and if you don't cooperate to their satisfaction, you are a criminal, and if they drive you to say publicly you might want revenge for them wronging you, you are again a criminal.
Brown made an interesting statement before being sentenced, in which he expressed both some regret and some defiance. He said he regretted threatening an FBI agent on tape, and trying to hide some laptops from them.
But he went on to excoriate the government's case and how they pursued it. Excerpts:
.....there is also the matter of the dozens of people around the world who have contributed to my distributed think tank, Project PM, by writing for our public website, echelon2.org. Incredibly, the government has declared these contributors — some of them journalists — to be criminals, and participants in a criminal conspiracy. As such, the government sought from this court a subpoena by which to obtain the identities of all of our contributors. Your Honor denied that motion and I am very grateful to Your Honor for having done so. Unfortunately the government thereafter went around Your Honor and sought to obtain these records by other means. So now the dozens of people who have given their time and expertise to what has been hailed by journalists and advocacy groups as a crucial journalistic enterprise are now at risk of being indicted under the same sort of spurious charges that I was facing not long ago, when the government exposed me to decades of prison time for copying and pasting a link to a publicly available file that other journalists were also linking to without being prosecuted....
Brown also accused agents of lying in the service of keeping him in jail:
At the September 13th bond hearing, held in Magistrate Judge Stickney’s court the day after my arrest, Special Agent Allyn Lynd took the stand and claimed under oath that in reviewing my laptops he had found discussions in which I admit having engaged in, quote, “SWATting”, unquote, which he referred to as, quote, “violent activity”, unquote. Your Honor may not be familiar with the term SWATting; as Mr. Lynd described it at the hearing it is, quote, “where they try to place a false 911 call to the residence of an individual in order to endanger that individual.” He went on at elaborate length about this, presenting it as a key reason why I should not receive bond. Your Honor will have noted that this has never come up again. This is because Mr. Lynd’s claims were entirely untrue.....
In what Brown thinks is a particularly bizarre and dangerous move:
.....in response to our motion to dismiss the charges of obstruction of justice based on the hiding of my laptops, the government claimed that those laptops contained evidence of a plot I orchestrated to attack the Kingdom of Bahrain on the orders of Amber Lyon. Your Honor, Amber Lyon is a journalist and former CNN reporter, who I do know and respect, but I can assure Your Honor that I am not in the habit of attacking Gulf state monarchies on her behalf. But I think it’s unjust of them to use this court to throw out that sort of claim about Miss Lyon in a public filing as they did if they’re not prepared to back it up. And they’re not prepared to back it up. But that won’t stop the Kingdom of Bahrain from repeating this groundless assertion and perhaps even using it to keep Miss Lyon out of the country — because she has indeed reported on the Bahraini monarchy’s violent crackdowns on pro-democracy protests in that country, and she has done so from that country. And if she ever returns to that country to continue that important work, she’ll now be subject to arrest on the grounds that the United States Department of Justice itself has explicitly accused her of orchestrating an attack on that country’s government.
Brown notes that the government's power to decide who is and isn't a journalist is inherently subject to abuse, and mocks their shifting standards for when to credit someone's denial of being something, making much of the fact that he once expressed contempt for the profession and denied being a journalist, he said in the same colloquial sense a politician might deny being a politician.
In the September 13th criminal complaint filed against me, the FBI itself acknowledges that I do not claim any official role within Anonymous. Likewise, in last month’s hearing, the prosecutor accidentally slipped and referred to me as a journalist, even after having previously found it necessary to deny me that title. But, there you have it. Deny being a spokesperson for Anonymous hundreds of times, and you’re still a spokesperson for Anonymous. Deny being a journalist once or twice, and you’re not a journalist. What conclusion can one draw from this sort of reasoning other than that you are whatever the FBI finds it convenient for you to be at any given moment. This is not the “rule of law”, Your Honor, it is the “rule of law enforcement”, and it is very dangerous.
A Reason TV interview from last April with Kevin Gallagher of the group Free Barrett Brown:
Michael Ames at Newsweek has an interesting tale of how the federal government helps environmentalists crush the oystering industry, even with scant evidence that oystering is hurting the environment in a meaningful way. Dianne Feinstein comes out as a hero of private business in this one.
the DOI and its National Park Service spent much of the past decade using scientifically unsound, and at times bizarre, tactics to prove the oyster farm had to go. "The Park Service has falsified and misrepresented data, hidden science and even promoted employees who knew about the falsehoods, all in an effort to advance a predetermined outcome against the oyster farm," [Sen. Dianne] Feinstein [defending her constituents in a particular oyster farm north of San Francisco] wrote to then-secretary of the interior Ken Salazar in March 2012. "It is my belief that the case against Drakes Bay Oyster Company is deceptive and potentially fraudulent.”
The Park Service wanted that oyster farm out, and were overzealous in service of that desire:
Feinstein called on the NAS to conduct an external review of the Park Service’s environmental studies. The resulting report concluded that Park Service scientists, in setting out to prove the farm was causing environmental harm, had "selectively presented, over-interpreted, or misrepresented the available scientific information" and “exaggerated the negative and overlooked potentially beneficial effects of the oyster culture operation.”
For example, when they saw seal numbers dropping, scientists made targeted assumptions about the oyster farm that ignored critical variables, such as nosy kayakers and shifting sandbars. Such limited data, the NAS said, “cannot be used to infer cause and effect.” Ultimately, the NAS “conclude[d] that there is a lack of strong scientific evidence that shellfish farming has major adverse ecological effects on Drakes Estero.”
Environmentalists painted the oyster farm as an "ecological disaster" but it is Ames's conclusion, in his well-reported story, that there was insufficient real evidence for that, and that the agencies wanting to get rid of oystering there even concealed some photographic evidence that belied the notion that oyster operations were harassing or damaging the seals. Both Department of Interior and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reports Ames cites agree with the notion that the seal threat was overstated or false.
But the USGS, study author Brent Stewart told Ames, actively changed his findings in order to harm the oyster industry:
when the USGS published its final report that November, Stewart discovered that his findings had been altered and that the study reached conclusions his research directly contradicted. "It's clear that what I provided to them and what they produced were different conclusions and different values," says Stewart. "In science, you shouldn’t do that."
For example, the USGS had deleted his words “no evidence of disturbance” for one date, and in its analysis stated that two disturbances “were associated with boat activity”—despite Stewart’s study that showed otherwise. Strangely, USGS went back to Stewart months later and asked him to double-check his work on two dates in particular. He did as requested and reiterated his findings, but even this did not alter the final report’s inaccuracies. In its Final Environmental Impact Statement, the Park Service took this alteration one step further by implying causation between the boats and the seals, something Stewart had explicitly ruled out. Eventually, this Impact Statement would beused by Department of Justice lawyers in their arguments against Lunny [the oyster company operator] before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Stewart told his contacts at the USGS that their report had errors and asked if he could correct them. “The response I got was, ‘No, it's done. It can’t be changed.’ That was a bit shocking.”
The whole long story is well worth a read, and casts shade on how government will misuse science to support preconceived notions about how human industry and protected portions of the environment should interact.
President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address tomorrow proposes $320 billion in taxes over the next 10 years. Pretty much every new story is presenting it as "increasing taxes on the wealthiest" to pay for programs to help the middle class. That's bad enough. It's not like he's proposing increasing taxes to pay for fundamental government operations. It's just a wealth transfer to cover the "costs" of offering up tax credits to famillies with two working parents (screw you, stay-at-home moms and dads!). But beyond that, Americans for Tax Reform looked at the package and point out several ways these tax increases are going to potentially come back and hurt others besides the richest among us.
Obama previewed his plan for "free" community college for students seeking associate's degrees a couple of weeks ago. The administration has put a price tag of $60 billion over 10 years for it (which means it's likely to be much higher). Part of how Obama plans to pay for it is to tax the special saving funds, called 529 plans, that people can use to gather money to pay for their children (or themselves) to go to college:
Under current law, 529 plans work like Roth IRAs: you put money in, and the money grows tax-free for college. Distributions are tax-free provided they are to pay for college.
Under the Obama plan, earnings growth in a 529 plan would no longer be tax-free. Instead, earnings would face taxation upon withdrawal, even if the withdrawal is to pay for college. This was the law prior to 2001.
As you may recall, I argued that Obama's "free community college" plan was a subsidy for college administrators and bureaucrats, not students. Nothing could make my analysis more clearly true than to literally tax people's college savings in order to give more money directly to colleges.
Read more analysis from Americans for Tax Reform here.
Once again the mainstream media peddled the spoon-fed propaganda that world leaders "led the march" to honor the victims of the Paris shootings last week. Glorious photo-ops of Merkel, Hollande, Poroshenko, David Cameron (oh, and not Barack Obama) were smeared across front pages hailing the "unity in outrage." However, as appears to be the case in so many 'events' in the new normal managed thinking in which we live, The Independent reports, French TV has exposed the reality of the 'photo-op' seen-around-the-world: the 'dignitaries' were not in fact "at" the Paris rallies but had the photo taken on an empty guarded side street.
Congressional hearings should be used to investigate and shed light on shady science, ties, and practices from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Although many failings of the EPA have already been exposed, proper investigations into these issues could help publicize the agency's looniness and also yield further details about EPA's questionable methods and relationships.
Congressional investigations and publicized hearings provide a way for the public to understand the real objectives of extreme environmentalists (known as "radical greens") and the incredible costs these impose upon America, in terms of both lost jobs and wasted resources. But such an undertaking needs to be done intelligently, with skilled, persistent questioning and sustained focus on particular, egregious issues, not just letting congressmen grandstand for their home districts. Below are six issues these hearings should address to help bring about reform at the EPA and remind Americans to be skeptical of exaggerated EPA warnings.
Oil Spill Inaction
A good issue to start with would be exposing the EPA’s role in exacerbating the damage done by BP’s giant oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Few Americans know that the spill might have easily been prevented from reaching shore. Holland offered during the first days to send over its experienced skimmer boats from the North Sea, which take up oil off the sea surface and separate most of it. The Dutch even offered to train Americans in their procedures. But EPA regulations stated that any cleaned ocean water must be 99.9985 percent free of oil before being dumped back into the ocean.
Despite the emergency, the agency refused to modify the regulation until a month later, when oil was already reaching shore. (Many more details are in my 2010 Reason article, "Government’s Catastrophic Response to the Oil Disaster.") A Congressional hearing with subpoena power could get to the bottom of who at the EPA was responsible for this delay, how, and why.
Regulation through Litigation
Second, Congress should subpoena emails sent between EPA officials and their radical green (RG) brethren on the outside concerning the multibillion-dollar scam known as "sue and settle" litigation. Here's how it works: RG lawyers sue the EPA demanding it tighten standards on some obscure but costly issue. The EPA then "settles" the suit by agreeing to new, often impossibly-tight standards. An October '14 report from the National Center for Policy Analysis found these regulations "run the gamut from dictating precisely how much sulfur is allowed in a gallon of gasoline to setting efficiency standards for microwaves." A 2013 paper from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported that "EPA chose not to defend itself in over 60 lawsuits from special interest advocacy groups" between 2009 and 2012, resulting in more than 100 new regulations.
Natural Gas Nannying
The EPA's shutting down of coal mines—and wasting tens of billions on subsidies for "alternative" energy—is already on Congressional agendas. Coal may be the EPA’s first target, but natural gas is next. In its crosshairs is hydraulically fractured oil drilling ("fracking"), with new plans to force drilling rigs to shut down unless they pay for very expensive collection of flared methane gas, now burned away when gas pipelines are not close by.
EPA’s distorted use of its own "science" and methodology needs serious questioning and exposure. The agency's carbon dioxide rulings are already under fire, and I have written in detail about how its radiation limits were preposterously irrelevant to real threats. Under these limits, a "dirty" nuclear-radiation dispersal device which actually contaminated a hundred-foot distance would require an emergency evacuation of half a city. The Government Accounting Office even insisted that EPA revise the limits.
EPA's rules come from the discredited "linear no threshold theory" (LNT). Explaining to the American public the basis for this theory is vital and needs repeating over and over again. Its main premise is extrapolating any possibility to illogical extremes. For example, LNT deducts that, if 100 aspirin is a fatal dose for healthy humans, then out of 100 people each taking one aspirin, one of them will die. This nonsensical model is used to decree that even a few parts per billion of something or other will cause a cancer somewhere, with someone, and on this basis it shuts down industries and orders the spending of billions of dollars upon non-existent problems.
Another example of the agency's poor science is the Clean Air Act, where EPA uses standards and regulations set for densely populated cities to demand that oil drillers keep the air above the Arctic Ocean pristine clean. This requirement cost Shell Oil a whole year in lost drilling, because it was effectively forced to close during the few months of the year when drilling is permitted by the extreme weather.
Lead Paint Regulation
Lead paint is another hyper-scare where EPA policies are hurting more than helping. Its removal or painting-over should be done properly and carefully. But stringent EPA requirements for precisely how contractors must go about this (and the fines they'll pay if they don't) has some home contractors scared to work on houses built before lead-paint use was discontinued. Threatening small contractors with $37,000 per day fines for scraping paint from an outside window is preposterous. Congress could cut through the hype and highlight how such strict rules for removing lead paint harm American workers and businesses, without making us any safer.
The EPA wants industry to spend tens of billions more to bring ground-level ozone further down, from 75 part per billion to 65 to 70 parts per billion, all based on its LNT theory. In 2011, it said that costs could reach $90 billion to gain public health benefits of $100 billion. It should explain the methodology! And the alleged benefits that this reduction will bring.
Unfortunately, we can expect to see more action on ozone regulation in 2015: last December, an appeals court overturned (at the behest of the National Resources Defense Council) EPA rules allowing states more flexibility and time in complying with ozone regulations. "All statutory indications militate against allowing the agency’s lengthening of the periods for achieving compliance with revised air quality standards," the court ruled. Last week, the White House announced that "EPA will develop new guidelines to assist states in reducing ozone-forming pollutants."
Written by: Kevin Cann
I am sure seeing this headline on the Paleo Solution blog caught your attention. That title was the title of a January 2, 2015 article published in Discover magazine. If you live in a cave and have not yet been inundated with this via your Facebook newsfeed check it out first, http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2015/01/02/red-meat-cancer-immune/ , and here is a copy to the research, http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/12/25/1417508112 . Typically I do not get into these debates anymore as it is just the same old arguments. However, this study mentioned something a bit different. These researchers are blaming a sugar molecule, Neu5Gc, found in beef, lamb, and pork.
Their argument is that the human body cannot digest this sugar molecule and this causes an inflammation response. Neu5Gc cannot be synthesized in humans due to an irreversible mutation of gene CMAH. This gene is actually found in other mammals including apes. Neu5Gc is immunogenic in humans and DOES cause an inflammation response. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/gene/8418 ).
Researchers, just like anyone else, want to get their names out there. Showing the dangers of red meat has always had some media sex appeal. Science has already known that Neu5Gc causes an immune response in humans, so why would researchers need to do further research on mice? My guess would be to get their names published in a magazine.
These researchers knocked out the CMAH gene in the mice to “humanize” them. They then fed them the mouse equivalent of red meat. This was mouse chow enriched with the Neu5Gc. They then fed the mice this for the next 12 weeks. The mice were then injected with the antibodies for Neu5Gc to mimic the human response. The mice fed the enriched chow were 5 times more likely to develop tumors then the mice fed a normal diet.
The mice in this study tended to develop tumors mostly in the liver. However, the popular claim against red meat is colon cancer. The fact that the mice were developing tumors in different areas brings to question the difference in the digestion of the sugar molecule between the two species. Knocking out certain genes in mice is good for metabolic research, but for cancer research it gets a bit dodgy. Humans and mice will disburse Neu5Gc throughout their tissues in different ways. This may explain why the mice were developing liver cancer and the suspected outcome would have been colon cancer. Also, the fact that the mice were developing liver cancer makes me question the dosages they were receiving. Our liver is our major detox organ and if the dosage of a “poison” was superiorly high, this could be the cause of the liver cancer. Remember the poison is in the dose.
All foods contain at least one compound that can lead to negative health outcomes when taken at extreme doses. However, none of these compounds tend to show these same negative health outcomes when taken in the amount found in a normal dietary setting. If I am a researcher and I want my research published in magazines this is exactly how I would do it. I would overwhelm a mouse with an amount of one of these compounds that is larger than any human would ingest on a given day, slap a catchy title on it like “Red Meat Causes Cancer” and send it out for everyone to read. The layperson is none the wiser and my name is published in major media outlets. Not saying that this is what happened, but definitely something to keep in mind.
Research has shown using the same mouse model that Neu5Gc is present in cancerous cells. However, just because the sugar molecule is there does not mean that it is the cause of the tumor. We know that some tumors require sugar for the energy to continuously divide. Perhaps Neu5Gc is one of the sugars it can utilize as fuel. This would make sense from an evolutionary perspective since humans do not synthesize the sugar.
After quite a bit of digging I was able to find that the dosages that they gave the mice in the study were about 100 times higher than the dosages that humans consume when we look at how much Neu5Gc was consumed per kg of bodyweight. Also, 12 weeks is about half of the lifespan of the mice they used in the research. To sum it up these mice were fed 100 times more of the sugar molecule then humans would consume per day for half of their lives. To add even more, this was not within the context of their normal diets.
My question would be, what would happen if we consumed normal amounts of Neu5GC within the context of a normal diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats? I have written about the meat and inflammation link in past articles (http://robbwolf.com/2013/12/26/meat-leads-inflammation/ ). Meat is an important source of many critical nutrients including our B vitamins and iron. If the sugar molecule Neu5Gc is toxic to humans within the context of a realistic diet we should expect to see increased cancer rates amongst populations that consume high meat diets. These increased cancer rates should correlate directly with the amount of meat consumed as well. However, this is not what we see.
There are a few hunter gatherer groups that can be found across the planet. One of them being the Maasai eat a high fat diet from animal products, but yet do not suffer the same lifestyle diseases that are so abundant in the Western hemisphere (http://sciencenordic.com/maasai-keep-healthy-despite-high-fat-diet ). Two other groups that are compared often are the Mormons and the Seventh-day Adventists. The Mormons eat meat and the Seventh-day Adventists do not. Other lifestyle factors between the two groups are very similar. Their smoking rates are lower, they have strong spiritual connections, and they drink less. Their total life expectancies are comparable at 2-4 years higher than the general population. They also both have cancer rates much lower than the general population. This includes colon cancer, a cancer in which red meat is supposed to negatively affect (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1449267 ).
I am going to go out on a limb here and say that Neu5Gc is not a major cause of cancer. It comes down to a plethora of lifestyle behaviors. The more positive actions we take to take care of our health the better off we will be. Manage your stress, move around a bit, get some sunlight, hug your mom, and eat some steak.
For more information on this checkout the podcast with guest Chris Kresser:
… is from David Ricardo.
My policy is, as it has always been, to use as Quotations of the Day (and as Bonus ones) only quotations that I’ve run across in my own readings. For a variety of reasons I don’t take suggestions from readers – and that policy will not change. But today I make an exception for an unsolicited suggestion that comes from a scholar whose work – and whose person – I admire unreservedly. My dear and good friend Bob Higgs sent this suggestion from David Ricardo’s posthumously published  “Observations on Parliamentary Reform“:
The quantity of employment in the country must depend, not only on the quantity of capital, but upon its advantageous distribution, and above all, on the conviction of each capitalist that he will be allowed to enjoy unmolested the fruits of his capital, his skill, and his enterprise. To take from him this conviction is at once to annihilate half the productive industry of the country, and would be more fatal to the poor labourer than to the rich capitalist himself.
Ricardo here concisely summarizes (1) the Austrian understanding that an economy’s ‘microeconomic’ details at least match in importance any considerations of aggregate demand, and (2) Bob Higgs’s own deep understanding of the depressing consequences of regime uncertainty.
You may recall the story last month of a family threatened by the authorities for letting their kids walk outside. Here's the latest from the mom, Danielle Meitiv, who is hoping the rest of the media takes note. I hope so, too.
Meitiv explains via email:
Dear Reason: On Monday, a Montgomery County child protective services worker went to my children's school and interviewed them without my knowledge or consent. Why?
Because last month we'd let them walk home from the park by themselves. It's a mile away. They are 6 and 10. We live in suburban Maryland. Let me recap the story and then tell you where we're at.
On a Saturday afternoon in December, my husband, Alexander, gave our kids permission to walk home from the local playground. I was out of town at the time. When they'd walked about halfway, a Montgomery County Police patrol car pulled up. A "helpful" neighbor had called 911 to report unaccompanied children walking outside. Our kids were brought home in a police cruiser.
At the door the police officer asked to see my husband's ID, but did not explain why. When he refused, she called for backup.
A total of six patrol cars showed up.
Alexander then agreed to get his ID and went to go upstairs. The officer said—in front of the kids—that if he came down with anything else, "shots would be fired." She proceeded to follow him upstairs, and when he said she had no right to do so without a warrant, she insisted that she did.
Our 10 yr. old called me crying and saying that the police were there and that Daddy was going to be arrested. Alexander stepped outside to continue the conversation away from the kids. When he disagreed with one of the officers about the dangers that walking alone posed to children, she asked him: "Don't you realize how dangerous the world is? Don't you watch TV?" They took notes and left.
Two hours later a CPS worker arrived with a “temporary safety plan,” which she told my husband to sign. It stated that he would not leave the children unsupervised at any time before Monday morning, when someone from their office could contact him. He refused to sign it. She informed him that if he didn’t, she would instruct the police to take the children away immediately. He signed.
We were then contacted by a CPS social worker named W. Don Thorne who made an appointment for us to come to his office on Friday, Jan. 9. A little while later he called back saying that he needed to come to us, so that he could see our house. We told him we would meet with him at his office, not our home. He said he would speak with his supervisor and call us back.
On Monday, Mr. Thorne showed up at our door unannounced, accompanied by a police officer. He insisted that he had the right to come into our house without a warrant. I said that I was invoking my Fourth Amendment rights against unwarranted search, and would not let him in, but repeated my willingness to go to his office to answer questions. Then I noticed that he had a visitor’s sticker from my children’s elementary school on his jacket. Had he been to my children's school to interview them?!
He didn't answer that question and they quickly left. I have since learned that he visited my children’s school and spoke to my children without my knowledge or consent.
We do not know what actions CPS will take next.
We are frightened and confused. We are good parents, educated professionals, and our children are happy, healthy, well-adjusted, and academically successful.
As difficult as it is for us to believe, all of these events occurred as the result of allowing our children to walk along public streets in the middle of the afternoon without our supervision.
My husband grew up in the former Soviet Union. Now he wonders if we have to just go along with whatever the authorities want us to do. I keep reminding him that we have RIGHTS in this country and that neither the police nor the bureaucrats can arbitrarily dismiss them.
Read more from Reason on the Meitiv family's problems with CPS here.