With debate about NSA spying continuing in the Senate, it’s worth looking at some of the historical and modern precedents for protecting our communications and communications data. A few highlights:
When the Court reversed Olmstead in 1967’s Katz decision, it unfortunately and inadvertently produced a Fourth Amendment doctrine basing constitutional protection on “reasonable expectations of privacy.” People do reasonably expect privacy in their communications, but “reasonable expectations” doctrine is not well equipped for administering the Fourth Amendment. We saw that in Smith v. Maryland, the 1979 case in which the Court used no research or even consideration of the opposing view in finding that people have no expectation of privacy in data about their phone calls. Happily, the Court has eschewed “reasonable expectation” doctrine in many recent cases.
When the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NSA spying program is illegal a few weeks ago, it treated data as property. When we reduce our thoughts and records to digital form and send them over the Internet, we’re doing the same thing the founders did when they wrote letters and put them in the mail. Those communications are still ours, and they should be protected in transit as if they are in the home. America’s private telecommunications system is not like the U.S. mail, of course. We’re not handing our calls over to the government like we hand our letters to the U.S. Postal Service. Our calls and Internet communications should be more protected than the mail because we are using service providers that are obligated by contract and regulation to protect our privacy.
The communications data the NSA is accessing belongs to the parties between whom it passes. It is not the government’s to take—not without a particularized warrant based on the requisite level of suspicion. There’s good precedent for that.
Good ideas in Congress rarely have a chance. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is sponsoring legislation to speed drug approvals, but his initial plan was largely gutted before he introduced it last month.
Drug discovery is an uncertain process. Companies consider between 5,000 and 10,000 substances for every one that ends up in the pharmacy. Of those, only one-fifth actually makes money—and must pay for everything.
As a result, the average per drug cost exceeds $1 billion, most often thought to be between $1.2 and $1.5 billion. Some estimates run more.
Naturally, the Food and Drug Administration insists that its expensive regulations are worth it. Unfortunately, while the agency undoubtedly prevents some bad pharmaceuticals from getting to market, it delays or blocks far more good products.
The average delay in winning approval of a new drug rose from seven months in 1962, when the FDA’s power was dramatically increased, to 30 months in 1967. Approval time now is estimated to run as much as 20 years.
Economist Sam Peltzman found no evidence that changing the law reduced the introduction of ineffective or unsafe pharmaceuticals. After all, companies don’t make money selling medicines that don’t work. And putting out something dangerous is a fiscal disaster. Observed Peltzman: the “penalties imposed by the marketplace on sellers of ineffective drugs prior to 1962 seem to have been enough of a deterrent to have left little room for improvement by a regulatory agency.”
Alas, the FDA increases the cost of all medicines, delays the introduction of most pharmaceuticals, and prevents some from reaching the market. That means patients suffer and even die needlessly.
Congress has applied a few bandages over the years. One was to create a process of user fees through the Prescription Drug User Fee Act. The measure was estimated to save as much as $30 billion and as many as 310,000 life years.
A special procedure for “Accelerated Approval” of drugs aimed at life-threatening conditions also was created. Unfortunately, noted Nature Biotechnology, few medicines qualified and “in recent years, FDA has been ratcheting up the requirements.”
The Wall Street Journal reported that some desperate patients today who are “frustrated by the slow pace of clinical drug trials or unable to qualify, are trying to brew their own version of an experimental compound at home and testing it on themselves.” Overall, far more people die from no drugs than from bad drugs.
The deadliest pre-1962 episode involved Elixir Sulfanilamide and killed 107 people. Around 3500 users died from Isoproterenol, an asthmatic inhaler. Vioxx was blamed for a similar number of deaths, though the claim was disputed. Most of the more recent incidents would not have been prevented from a stricter approval process.
The death toll from agency delays of medicines like beta-blockers is much greater. Analyst Dale Gieringer figured that the benefits of FDA regulation “could reasonably be put at some 5,000 casualties per decade or 10,000 per decade for worst-case scenarios. In comparison … the cost of FDA delay can be estimated at anywhere from 21,000 to 120,000 lives per decade.”
Fundamental reform is necessary. The FDA should be limited to assessing safety. Further, the agency should be stripped of approval monopoly. As a start, drugs okayed by other industrialized states should be available in America.
As I argue in the Freeman, “Patients and their health care providers also could look to private certification organizations, which today are involved in everything from building codes to electrical products to kosher food. Medical organizations already maintain pharmaceutical databases and set standards for drug treatments. They could move into testing and assessment.”
No doubt, some people would make mistakes. But they do so today. With more options, more people’s needs would be better met.
Instead of arguing over regulatory minutiae Congress should address who decides who gets treated how. Today it is Uncle Sam. Tomorrow it should be all of us.
Robert Robb has an interesting piece in our paper today about the challenges in defeating even a deeply flawed Joe Arpaio in the Republican primary. In doing so, he reminds us of some (but by no means all) of Arpaio's worst characteristics, and makes a good case for why dark money in elections makes sense:
The missing element in the anti-Arpaio coalition is actually the business community.
Arpaio's war chest doesn't have to be matched. But making the case against him would require a campaign in the $2-$3 million range, beyond the reach of what an opponent is going to be able to raise.
If Arpaio is to be defeated, the business community probably has to conclude that he's enough of a damaging menace to warrant funding an independent campaign in that range. But the money isn't the only hurdle.
With Arpaio, there's a risk of criminal investigations and bogus criminal charges if you oppose him. That's part of what makes him a damaging menace. So, any such independent campaign would likely have to be by a dark-money group that didn't disclose its contributors.
It would be fascinating to watch the dark-money scolds react to a dark-money campaign to defeat Arpaio while protecting donors against his documented retaliatory proclivities.
Venezuela’s bolivar is collapsing. And as night follows day, Venezuela’s annual implied inflation rate is soaring. Last week, the annual inflation rate broke through the 500% level. It now stands at 510%.
When inflation rates are elevated, standard economic theory and reliable empirical techniques allow us to produce accurate inflation estimates. With free market exchange-rate data (usually black-market data), the inflation rate can be calculated. The principle of purchasing power parity (PPP), which links changes in exchange rates and changes in prices, allows for a reliable inflation estimate.
To calculate the inflation rate in Venezuela, all that is required is a rather straightforward application of a standard, time-tested economic theory (read: PPP). Using black-market exchange rate data that The Johns Hopkins-Cato Institute Troubled Currencies Project has collected over the past year, I estimate Venezuela’s current annual implied inflation rate to be 510%. This is the highest rate in the world. It’s well above the second-highest rate: Syria’s, which stands at 84%.
Venezuela has not always experienced punishing inflation rates. From 1950 through 1979, Venezuela’s average annual inflation rate remained in the single digits. It was not until the 1980s that Venezuela witnessed a double-digit average. And it was not until the 1990s that Venezuela’s average inflation rate exceeded that of the Latin American region. Today, Venezuela’s inflation rate is over the top (see the accompanying table).
In an unprecedented move against a government agency, which we are just waiting to hear blamed on Russia, The IRS has admitted that its data has ben compromised...
Thieves used an online service provided by the IRS to gain access to information from more than 100,000 taxpayers, the agency said Tuesday.
The information included tax returns and other tax information on file with the IRS.
The IRS said the thieves accessed a system called "Get Transcript." In order to access the information, the thieves cleared a security screen that required knowledge about the taxpayer, including Social Security number, date of birth, tax filing status and street address.
"The IRS notes this issue does not involve its main computer system that handles tax filing submission; that system remains secure," the agency said in a statement.
The IRS said thieves targeted the system from February to mid-May. The service has been temporarily shut down.
"In all, about 200,000 attempts were made from questionable email domains, with more than 100,000 of those attempts successfully clearing authentication hurdles," the agency said. "During this filing season, taxpayers successfully and safely downloaded a total of approximately 23 million transcripts."
Tax returns can include a host of personal information that can help someone steal an identity, including Social Security numbers and birthdates of dependents and spouses. However, the IRS said the thieves appeared to already have a lot of personal information about the victims.
The IRS said it is notifying taxpayers whose information was accessed.
* * *
One wonders if they found Lois Lerner's emails while they were in there?
For centuries now, school has produced an ever-enlarging literature of contempt and hate by those of us (read: all of us) unlucky enough to attend K-12 education. I'm betting that Socrates outdoor classrooms were kind of a drag, but certainly from Herman Hesse's Beneath the Wheel to Catcher in the Rye to Blood and Guts in High School to Pink Floyd's The Wall to Frank Portman's King Dork books, the message that school is filled with petty tyrants (both adult and student variety) is based on many people's everyday experience.
Here's a good example of why so many of us disliked school even if we dig edumication.
Via the Twitter feed of Lizbuddie comes the story of Anthony Mazur, a 16-year-old student at Texas' Flower Mound High School. A photographer for the yearbook, Mazur took pictures of athletes and other students and then posted them on a Flickr account where he sold some of them to parents. As it happens, according to his school district's policy, there's no issue with that and Mazur apparently owns the the copyright to work he produces.
Cue administrative outrage:
Back in March, Mazur says he was called into FMHS Assistant Principal Jeffrey Brown’s office, where he saw that Brown had his website pulled up on a computer there. He said that Brown was angry at him, and told him that posting the pictures online was illegal, and violated copyright. According to Mazur, Brown also worked the angle (contrary to the policy listed above) that the camera belonged to the district. When Mazur argued that the copyright belonged to him, he says that Brown changed his tune and said that it violated student privacy. Brown allegedly told Mazur at the time that a parent had complained.
Mazur alleged that Brown told him in a coercive tone “I’m just asking you to take the website down, I’m not asking you to return any money.” Mazur said he assumed Brown meant the school, with regards to returning money. Mazur said Brown told him that he “wouldn’t report [Mazur] to the IRS” over the money he earned from selling the photos. Brown told Mazur that he was issuing an “administrative directive” to take the photos down. At this point, Mazur said he requested that his parent be brought into the discussion.
The school said that a student had complained and posting pictures violated privacy concerns. But that's not what the parents of Mazur were told:
After the meeting, the Mazurs said they received a written administrative directive ordering him to take the pictures down. Len Mazur said the reasoning listed on the directive was not related to privacy concerns, but “because he posted with the intention to profit”. The Mazur’s would not say how much money, even in general terms, that Anthony had earned from selling his photos. But Anthony said that his customers were all parents of the students in the photos, buying the digital photo for their own use. “It doesn’t matter whether he sold one or a million pictures,” said Len Mazur, who insisted that it was the principle of applying the law correctly that was important.
It turns out that the school's "acceptable use policy" (AUP) doesn't clearly apply to the situation at hand. The Lewisville Texan Journal has a wide-ranging account of the mess (which is ongoing) and has posted damning documents of the school's bullying tactics. The school district's communications person hasn't gotten back to folks with pertinent information.
Hass declined to answer our followup questions about how the AUP applied to the situation, since his work was related to a class project (yearbook), and since photographs taken at public events have no legal expectation of privacy, or whether Brown threatened him with expulsion, confiscating money, or reporting him to the IRS.
Anthony Mazur has since bought his own camera and is snapping away. His Twitter feed is here.
Read the whole story, including the school's AUP and the memo it sent Mazur's parents full of "directives" to be followed forthwith.
And then try to re-imagine school as a place that is not the equivalent of a minimum-security prison (attendance is mandatory!) but is instead actually interesting, challenging, and effective in reaching most kids in some sort of individualized way. Sure, school choice has its critics, but maybe the ultimate reason we don't want to destroy the traditional education-as-grim-funless-lockdown is that doing so would rob us of so much artistic expression about just how much school sucks.
This is an object lesson in what we discussed at the May Brainstorm. Never, ever, blindly trust the so-called experts. Respect, but verify.State therapy specialists claimed Jacob Barnett would never tie his shoes, read or function normally in society. But the boy’s mother realized when Jacob was not in therapy, he was doing “spectacular things” completely on his own.She decided to trust her instinct and disregard the advice of the professionals. Instead of following a standardized special needs educational protocol, she surrounded Jacob with all the things that inspired passion for him – and was astonished at the transformation that took place.
Following a diagnosis of autism at age two, Jacob was subjected to a cookie cutter special education system that focused on correcting what he couldn’t do compared to normal children. For years, teachers attempted to convince Kristine Barnett that her son would only be able to learn the most basic of life skills....By the time Jacob reached the age of 11, he entered college and is currently studying condensed matter physics at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis. According to an email Professor Scott Tremaine wrote to Jacob’s family:Jacob also has an IQ of 170 — higher than that of Einstein.“The theory that he’s working on involves several of the toughest problems in astrophysics and theoretical physics … Anyone who solves these will be in line for a Nobel Prize.”
….. is from J.R.R. Tolkien:
“….the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”
This is a good book.
Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has capitulated to the war on drugs in a pack of vetoes today. The governor has vetoed two bills that would restore voting rights to felons who have been released from prison, a bill turning public smoking of marijuana into a civil offense and decriminalizing possession of marijuana paraphernalia, and a bill that would significantly reform civil asset forfeiture reform to reduce police abuse.
For the voting rights bill, Maryland has previously restored voting rights for felons who have completed their sentences, including any terms of probation or parole. These new bills would have restored their voting rights after release from prison, even while they were still serving parole. Hogan's justification for his veto is that parole or probation violations could land the ex-felon back in prison. They are technically still serving their sentence.
Hogan's reason for his marijuana veto is explained entirely because he's worried that police won't be able to do anything about people smoking marijuana behind the wheel. That is literally his only explanation for his veto and his capitulation to law enforcement and prosecutors who opposed it. Jacob Sullum has analyzed the challenges in claiming that marijuana use creates a driving hazard here.
Finally, Maryland's proposed civil asset forfeiture reform bill would have established a minimum amount of money ($300) to trigger police seizure, required police to establish evidence that the property owner knew said property was connected to a crime, required police to provide better information to property owners about the seizures, and most importantly, forbid law enforcement agencies from transferring seized property to federal authorities. This has been the mechanism by which state and local law enforcement agencies have been bypassing state-level restrictions on asset forfeiture by passing seizures through the Department of Justice's "equitable sharing" program, which has much looser rules of evidence and often allows law enforcement agencies to keep a greater percentage of what they've seized than their own states.
Hogan's explanation for this veto is remarkably absurd. Heroin!
"Maryland is currently facing a heroin epidemic. The individuals involved in the manufacture and sale of drugs are profiting from the deaths and ruined lives they are creating. The asset forfeiture law helps to ensure that these criminals do not reap any economic benefits from their crimes."
None of that would actually change. Police and prosecutors would just have to prove the relationship.
On the bright side, Hogan did also acknowledge in his veto letter that civil asset forfeiture laws are abused. His response is to create a "working group" full of the law enforcement people who are responsible for this abuse to analyze forfeiture laws to recommend changes "if warranted." So, there's that.
Islamic State militants have executed at least 400 mostly women and children in Syria's ancient city of Palmyra. Eye-witnesses have reported the streets are strewn with bodies – the latest victims of the Islamic State's unrelenting savagery - on the same day photographs of captured Syrian soldiers have emerged.However, keep in mind that false reports of atrocities have been used to whip up support for war for centuries. That doesn't mean the reports are inaccurate, particularly in the electronic age when it's easier to document events, but it's important not to rush to judgment.
It follows the killing of nearly 300 pro-government troops two days after they captured the city, now symbolised by a black ISIS flag flying above an ancient citadel.
A declassified secret US government document obtained by the conservative public interest law firm Judicial Watch, shows that Western governments deliberately allied with al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups to topple Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad. The document reveals that in coordination with the Gulf states and Turkey, the West intentionally sponsored violent Islamist groups to destabilize Assad, and that these “supporting powers” desired the emergence of a “Salafist Principality” in Syria to “isolate the Syrian regime.”Yet another strike against the principle of foreign intervention. The devil you don't know is often considerably worse than the one you are trying to cast out.
Presented with no comment whatsoever...
In an EconLog blog post from December 2013 (“Phase-In: A Demagogic Theory of the Minimum Wage“), GMU economist Bryan Caplan makes some excellent points about the typical legislative process of phasing-in gradual increases in the minimum wage to something like $15 per hour over several years or more like in Seattle vs. just increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour immediately. Here’s Bryan (with some numbers and dates adjusted to reflect current conditions):
Increases in the minimum wage are usually “phased-in.” Why not just immediately impose the minimum wage you actually want?
There is a major difference between employers’ response to sharp-and-sudden versus slow-and-gradual minimum wage hikes: visibility. If the minimum wage unexpectedly jumped to $15 today, the effect on employment, though relatively small, would be blatant. Employers would wake up with a bunch of unprofitable workers on their hands. Over the next month or two, we would blame virtually all low-skilled lay-offs on the minimum wage hike – and we’d probably be right to do so.
If everyone knew the minimum wage was going to be $15 in 2017, however, even a large effect on employment could be virtually invisible. Employers wouldn’t need to lay any workers off. They could get to their new optimum via reduced hiring and attrition. When the law finally kicked in, you might find zero extra layoffs, because employers saw the writing on the wall and quietly downsize their workforce in advance.
If you sincerely cared about workers’ well-being, of course, it wouldn’t make any difference whether the negative side effects of the minimum wage were blatant or subtle. You’d certainly prefer small but blatant job losses to large but subtle job losses. But what if you’re a ruthless demagogue, pandering to the public’s economic illiteracy in a quest for power? Then you have a clear reason to prefer the subtle to the blatant. If you raise the minimum wage to $15 today and low-skilled unemployment doubles overnight, even the benighted masses might connect the dots. A gradual phase-in is a great insurance policy against a public relations disaster. As long as the minimum wage takes years to kick in, any half-competent demagogue can find dozens of appealing scapegoats for unemployment of low-skilled workers.
The fact that activists’ proposals include phase-in provisions therefore suggests that for all their bluster, they know that negative effects on employment are a serious possibility. If they really cared about low-skilled workers, they’d struggle to figure out the magnitude of the effect. Instead, they cleverly make the disemployment effect of the minimum wage too gradual to detect.
MP: Bryan makes a great point and helps explain why all recent minimum wage hikes to $15 per hour are being phased-in gradually over several years and not raised immediately: Seattle’s $15 per hour minimum wage won’t take effect until 2017, 2018, 2019 or 2021 depending on the size and type of employer, Los Angeles’s $15 per hour minimum wage won’t take full effect until 2020, and San Francisco’s $15 per hour minimum wage won’t be in effect until 2017.
The post Bryan Caplan on why minimum wage advocates want a gradual phase-in: it hides the negative employment effects appeared first on AEI.
… is from page 127 of volume III (“The Political Order of a Free People,” 1979) of Hayek’s Law, Legislation, and Liberty:
Current methods of taxation have been shaped largely by the endeavor to raise funds in such a manner as to cause the least resistance or resentment on the part of the majority who had to approve the expenditure. They certainly were not designed to assure responsible decisions on expenditure, but on the contrary to produce the feeling that somebody else would pay for it…. The theory and practice of public finance has been shaped almost entirely by the endeavor to disguise as far as possible the burden imposed, and to make those who will ultimately have to bear it as little aware of it as possible. It is probable that the whole complexity of the tax structure we have built up is largely the result of the efforts to persuade citizens to give the government more than they would knowingly consent to do so.
When news broke that the likely cause of last week's Amtrak crash was that the engineer was doing 106 on a 50-mph curve, liberal pundits were left scrounging for a ways to use this tragedy to make a case for spending more federal tax dollars on passenger rail. The narrative that needed to be retrofitted to the facts was that Republican lawmakers had blood on their hands for blocking efforts to give Amtrak the vital money it needed to safely run its trains.
And so they discovered Positive Train Control (PTC), a technology that up until last week only rail geeks had heard about. (What news editor would let a phrase like that slip past the red pen?) PTC is a system that uses radio signals and GPS to prevent trains from speeding, and in 2008, a federal law mandated that all passenger rail systems install it by the end of 2015. Though overall federal (and state) subsidies to Amtrak have climbed every year since, Congress didn’t directly providing funds for PTC's implementation.
PTC would have prevented last week's crash, but Amtrak didn't have it installed yet on the track where last week's crash occurred.
"Republican Cuts Kill…Again," was the headline of a shamelessly misleading and inaccurate video posted by the Agenda Project Action Fund, a liberal policy group. "Currently Available Technology May Have Prevented Fatal Amtrak Crash. But Congress Never Funded It," was the title of a Think Progress post by Josh Israel.
What these big government opportunists chose to ignore is that PTC never made sense in the first place. That's because it's wildly expensive without much benefit, as Baruch Feigenbaum, a transportation policy analyst with the Reason Foundation, noted in a recent blog post:
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) places the cost at more than $13 billion to install and maintain a nationwide class I PTC system. Consulting firm Oliver Wyden estimated that PTC has a 20 year benefit between $0-$400 million. Even if all $400 million in benefits are realized, the cost/benefit ratio range is $1 in benefits for every $20 spent on the system.
PTC also involves use of the spectrum, so installing it means coordinating with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is exactly the sort of complex management challenge a dysfunctional organization like Amtrak isn't up to.
But there's another safety technology that could have prevented last week's crash, which does make a lot of sense. As Feigenbaum writes:
The most obvious solution would be to expand Amtrak’s existing automatic train control system that regulates speed. Automatic train control systems can be programmed to send information to a train about the speed limit for a section of track...If the technology was installed on the northbound track [where last week's accident occurred], the train likely would have gone around the curve at 80 miles per hour and not come off the track.
The 2008 mandate for PTC got pushed through Congress only because of a 2008 train crash in California:
Even before the final safety report [for that accident] was released, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) began pushing to mandate automated safety equipment for all large railway systems…Swept up in the emotion, Congress in 2008 failed to seriously consider any solution except PTC. The PTC bill passed October 16, 2008 with limited debate only a month after the crash.
After last week's crash, Amtrak quickly went with the cheaper and more logical soultion, and installed an Automatic Train Control (ATC) system on the stretch of track where the accident occurred in one weekend.
While it's true that PTC works better than ATC at preventing crashes, in a world of scarcity and tradeoffs, the most expensive and complicated system is often the worse choice. As the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Marc Scribner notes in a sharp piece on the lessons of last week's crash, all that extra money for PTC would have been better spent on improving grade crossings, where on average about 270 people are killed each year. Train derailments, by contrast, are incredibly rare.
So is it possible that if Dianne Feinstein and other lawmakers hadn't pushed the PTC mandate, Amtrak would have gone ahead and installed ATC throughout the Northeast Corridor, and then eight people wouldn't have died last week? If they hadn't mandated PTC, would that extra money have gone to saving lives at grade crossings?
Who knows, but I think counterfactuals of this sort are shallow and unproductive. The only thing we know for sure is that when government officials try and make the world a safer place by fiat it can lead to unintended consequences that get people killed.
I wrote about Amtrak for The Daily Beast back in 2013: "Amtrak Is a Tax-Sucking Behemoth That Deserves to Die."
Two years ago, some parents donated an equipment shed/clubhouse for the baseball team at Nevada's Arbor View High School. Now, school district officials say the shed has to be torn down because providing a shed for the boys baseball team and not the girls softball team violated Title IX. The parents aren't happy with that decision. They are even less happy that the school system asked only one company to tear down the shed and that company is charging $21,000, a fee the parents will have to pay.
The US government is comprised of three branches: legislative, judicial and executive. The branches are supposed to work to balance the government, with each one acting as a check against excesses by the others. As a theory, it's impeccable. In practice, it's a mess.
At a hearing today on a lawsuit seeking to make videotapes of force-feedings at Guantánamo public, Justice Department attorneys argued that the courts cannot order evidence used in trial to be unsealed if it has been classified by the government. “We don’t think there is a First Amendment right to classified documents,” stated Justice Department lawyer Catherine Dorsey.The judges, of course, reserve the right to tell the DOJ it's full of crap. It hasn't yet, but that may be coming. It did, however, get off a shot of its own in response.
“Your position is that the court has absolutely no authority (to order disclosure), even if the government is irrational?” [Judge Merrick] Garland asked, pointedly raising a scenario in which the government classifies a copy of the Gettysburg Address.The information being argued over is recordings of Guantanamo Bay detainees being force-fed. These were ordered to be released last October by District Judge Gladys Kessler, who granted a stay while it was appealed.
Chief Judge Merrick Garland characterized the government’s position as tantamount to claiming the court “has absolutely no authority” to unseal evidence even if it’s clear the government’s bid to keep it secret is based on “irrationality” or that it’s “hiding something.”Dorsey did, however, point out an option that didn't include the judicial system. (Well, at least not immediately…)
“That is our position,” Dorsey agreed.
She added that a more appropriate tool to compel the release of the videos was through a Freedom of Information Act request.Hilarious.
… is from page 46 of the 2000 Liberty Fund edition of Frederic William Maitland’s 1875 dissertation at Trinity College, Cambridge, A Historical Sketch of Liberty and Equality:
Again, laws first appeared in the history of mankind as the formulation of already existing customs, and not as the expression of the will of a superior.
(For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with legal scholarship: no name is more respected and celebrated as an historian of law as that of Maitland.)
Terry Pratchett may not have been the first writer to personify Death as a walking, talking skeleton tasked with reaping the souls of the living, but he was the first to give him a horse named Binky and a granddaughter named Susan.
This Death was no less efficient or inevitable despite all the whimsy, of course. As various characters in Pratchett's long-lasting, wildly popular series of fantasy novels passed on, Death traveled across Discworld—a flat planet resting on the backs of four elephants who stood on a giant turtle that swam through the universe—to ferry the newly deceased to whatever came afterward.
So it was highly appropriate that after Pratchett's death at age 66 on March 12, following a long and deliberately public faceoff with early-onset Alzheimer's disease, the novelist's official Twitter account described his passing as Death gently escorting Pratchett from our rounder, less turtle-dependent world.
But let's not dwell on Death. Pratchett's Discworld books, all 40 of them (not counting short stories and related works), teemed with messy, disorganized life. And because he wrote in the fantasy genre, they were also packed with wizards, witches, dwarves, dragons, vampires, zombies, demons, werewolves, and the occasional orangutan. His books were humorous in tone, but tackled weighty matters of self-determination, identity, innovation, and, above all else, liberty.
"Whoever created humanity left in a major design flaw. It was the tendency to bend at the knee." That piece of insight came from Feet of Clay, a book from right in the middle of his series, published in 1996. The witticism encapsulates a consistent theme in his books approaching how humans (and other sentient species) struggle between the desire to be free and the comfort of letting somebody more powerful or smarter (or claiming to be smarter, anyway) call the shots. In Pratchett's books, both the heroes and the villains tended to be people in positions of authority. What separated his heroes—people like police commander Samuel Vimes, witch Esme "Granny" Weatherwax, and even Patrician Havelock Vetinari, an assassin turned ruler of the sprawling city of Ankh-Morpork—from the villains was their insistence on letting people live their own lives, whatever may come of it, even when they made a mess of things.
By contrast, Pratchett's villains, whether they were fallen and irrelevant nobles, religious leaders, narcissistic elves, or tradition-obsessed dwarves, pursued power for themselves while claiming it was for the benefit of all. The ultimate villains in Pratchett's books were the "auditors of reality," shapeless cosmic bureaucrats who hate life because it's so unpredictable. People aren't just shaped by the universe. They help reshape the universe, and this torments creatures who want nothing more than a permanent form of order. Pratchett responded (through Vetinari) to all these inclinations in The Truth: "Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions....It's the only way to make progress."
Pratchett's works embraced progress and innovation, both in technology and in humanity. His book series may have started in what appeared to be a typical quasi-medieval fantasy milieu, but it was far from static. Over the course of his novels, the Discworld saw the invention of the printing press, a form of telegraph, paper currency, mail, and in the last book to be published before Pratchett's death, the steam engine. But also over the course of his novels, the Discworld also saw the development of concepts of liberty, like the free practice of religion, freedom of speech and of the press, and the notion that basic rights ought to be extended to new races that humanity had treated like vermin or property—goblins, orcs, golems, the undead.
As J.K. Rowling eclipsed Pratchett as England's (and ultimately the world's) most popular fantasy writer, he introduced a teen witch named Tiffany Aching in a series of young adult-oriented books sharing the DiscÂworld setting and some of its characters. Rather than replicating the concept of a repressive institutionalized public school setting and infusing it with magic, like Rowling did with Hogwarts, Pratchett sent Aching out into the world to learn from other witches and through experience how to deal with serious problems using magic (or, more importantly, not using magic). She was Harry Potter's homeschooled cousin.
Pratchett's anti-authoritarian authority figures and his themes of innovative freedom and self-determination drew him praise from the Libertarian Futurist Society. Several of his books have been finalists for the group's Prometheus Award. He won in 2003 for Night Watch, a book starring Vimes that used time travel to explore Ankh-Morpork's dark history of violent, murderous leadership and thuggish police. It even had examples of a vicious variation on waterboarding-style interrogations before the world knew how the CIA was treating certain prisoners in its efforts to track down Osama bin Laden. When accepting the prize, Pratchett encapsulated both what Vimes learned from his experience with authority turned bad and what he saw from the government today: "When lawlessness walks the streets, the authorities will bend all their efforts to keeping honest men unarmed...Policemen are sometimes tempted into being sheepdogs who prefer to keep the flock corralled rather than protect it from the predators, because it's easier to bite sheep than wolves. [Vimes] learns that the people who declare that the innocent have nothing to fear are wrong, because the innocent certainly should fear; they fear the guilty and, especially, they should fear, distrust, and fight the kind of people who say 'the innocent have nothing to fear.'"
Pratchett noted, ruefully, that England lacks a tradition of libertarianism, but went on: "Currently we have a government that lacks wisdom, perspective, or talents, is centrist, arrogant, talks incessantly about rights while it curtails freedoms, and is led by a man who is passionately devoted to appearing to be passionately devoted to things. I see fragments of Night Watch all around me. So, right now, I'm feeling very libertarian indeed."
If you're still on the fence, and don't want to miss out, pledge a dollar.
We'll be using Backerkit to allow people to increase their pledges, and to specify the things they want, and you'll have until at least mid-June to settle up.
The Kickstarter page is a long, involved, possibly confusing thing. Here are some easy links:
Seventy Maxims: Click here if you want to pledge for the hardback copy of The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries. It's $20 in the US, with additional shipping for Canada and the rest of the world.
Company Commander: Click here if you want everything—RPG book, cards, dice, screen, PDFs, the Seventy Maxims book, and more. It's $75, and you'll need to increase your pledge by $10 to get the RiPP token add-ons, but that can wait until June if you'd like. This is by far our most popular pledge level. Again, additional charges will apply for shipping outside the US.
RPG PDFs only: Click here for the "Air Dropped Grunt" level. This gets you the core RPG book and the cards in PDF format. This is $20, with no shipping charges at all. Note that this does not include the Maxims in PDF format, because we're not doing those as part of this Kickstarter.
Foot in the Door: Again, here's the $1.00 pledge level, the "Forward Observer." It gets your foot in the door so that you can increase your pledge to cover any of the rewards I've listed above. If you decide you don't want this stuff after all, well, you're out a dollar, but at the very least you'll get some nifty wallpapers for your trouble.
If you don't play RPGs, but have been looking for a good encyclopedia of the Schlock Mercenary universe, the core Planet Mercenary book will deliver that in spades. It's an in-universe artifact, written by the R&D team at Planet Mercenary. Their CEO's commentary will appear in the margins (she was promised those would not go to print, but somebody screwed up) and we'll have plenty of references to things that have happened in the Schlock Mercenary comic strip, as told from the perspective of folks on the outside.
This Stuff Ships In April of 2016
We have a lot of work to do before we can deliver the goods you're pledging for. The artists have barely started their work, and at least one of the manufacturers has a 26-week cycle. The Planet Mercenary Team (Howard, Sandra, Alan, Jeff, Ben, and a bunch of other folks) will be working on this for the next ten months.
Between now and the shipping date we'll keep you in the loop with regular blog posts here, in the development journal (schlocktroops.com), and via Kickstarter updates. We'll post lots of digital goodies between now and then, including pre-release rules, draft images (like this early draft of Jeff Zugale's cover art) and probably plenty of fun desktop wallpapers.
This has been one of the most successful role playing games to appear on Kickstarter. Your faith in us is humbling and a bit intimidating, and we promise that you have not misplaced it. You backers have made this crazy, wonderful thing possible, and in about three days we'll start our journey to carry it from "possible" to "wonderful and in your hands."
Thank you for giving us that opportunity.
This is going to be so. much. fun.
Yet more government idiocy.
Once upon a time, a boy with a beautiful head of hair starred in a bunch of teen movies and then grew up to co-found a new-age spiritual movement. Tale as old as time. The actor-turned-guru, Andrew Keegan, set up Full Circle's headquarters in an old Venice Beach, California, church last fall, and this would all just be a charming little fact ripe for the Tweeting were it not for meddling state alcohol control agents. Last Friday, an undercover officer from the state's Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) "infiltrated the temple," Vice reports, "clearing the way for a 9 PM incursion by five officers." What manner of crazy bootlegged hooch were the agents there to confiscate?
Kombucha. Blueberry kombucha.
For the uninitiated, kombucha is a type of carbonated, probiotic tea, popular among hipsters and health foodies. It's made by mixing regular tea, sugar, and a "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast" known as the "mother" and letting the whole business ferment for a few days. The end result is a somewhat vinegar-like beverage that's packed with good bacteria (à la yogurt) and ever-so-slightly alcoholic.
Under federal law, beverages with more than 0.5 percent alcohol must state so on the label. In general, kombucha falls under this limit, though this can vary based on how it's made; and the longer kombucha is fermented—or, once bottled, the longer it sits on store shelves—the more the alcohol content may rise. For a brief while, in 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) looked like that they might crack down on kombucha, spurred by both widely-circulated rumors that Lindsay Lohan's alcohol-detection bracelet had been set off by drinking it and state tests showing some commercial brands were above the 0.5 limit. Most fell between 0.5 and 2.5 percent alcohol.
On Friday, Full Circle was offering kombucha on tap, provided by local brand Kombucha Dog, during an event to benefit Freedom Project and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. But because the tea contains slightly above 0.5 percent alcohol, it requires a special license to sell say ABC agents, who cited a Full Circle rep for misdemeanor selling alcohol without a license. "We’re a complaint-driven agency, so when someone notifies us about what might be an illegal activity, we respond to it," ABC Special Agent Will Salao told local newspaper The Argonaut. Keegan's response?
"They may be a complaint-driven agency, but we’re an intention-driven organization and our intentions are pure," Keegan said. "Kombucha is something we’d never imagine to be an illegal substance, and it’s frustrating the system has that perspective."
Jason Dilts, Full Circle's communications director, said drinking kombucha is part of the group's spiritual practice. "It's a sacred tea to a lot of people who come into our temple," Dilts told Vice.
But "despite the Kombucha Police raiding the layer, much awareness and love was shared" last Friday, one event-goer noted on Facebook. "Cheers to all who contributed their vibezzz."
Full Circle can't comment on legal issues surrounding the raid, Dilts told me via email. "Rather than put energy into the unnecessary disturbance that took place, we will instead focus on business as usual," he said. On Sunday, Full Circle is holding a benefit concert in honor of Brendon Glenn, a young man who was killed in Venice Beach last week during an altercation with Los Angeles police.
Jessica Cooke, a 21-year-old from Ogdensburg, New York, recently graduated from SUNY Canton with a degree in law enforcement leadership and had already applied for a job as a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent when she was surprised by an impromptu final lesson at a CBP checkpoint on Route 37 in Waddington last week. What she learned—that people who insist on their constitutional rights in this setting run the risk of being roughed up and shot with a stun gun—should help make her a better CBP agent, although CBP may not see it that way.
Cooke was driving from Norfolk to her boyfriend's house in Ogdensburg, the northern border of which is the St. Lawrence River. If you cross the river, you are in Canada, but Cooke was not crossing the river. She nevertheless became subject to the arbitrary orders of CBP agents by driving through one of the country's many internal immigration checkpoints, which can be located anywhere within 100 miles of the border (a zone that includes two-thirds of the U.S. population). For some mysterious reason, she was instructed to pull into a secondary inspection area, where she used her cellphone to record a five-minute video of the stop (below).
After presenting her driver's license, Cooke, who surely learned in college that police (and even CBP agents!) need "reasonable suspicion" to detain someone, asks why she was pulled over. "You guys have no reason to be holding me," she says. A male agent who identifies himself as a supervisor has no explanation for the detention, but he says Cooke will have to wait for a drug-sniffing dog to inspect her car. "Well, they'd better be here soon, because if not, I'm calling 911, and this can all be figured out," Cooke says. "You guys are holding me here against my will." Eventually the female agent who first interacted with Cooke says she seemed nervous—an all-purpose excuse for detaining someone, since people tend to be nervous when confronted by armed government officials.
"Why do you want to get in my trunk when you have no right to?" Cooke asks. That question also reflects a potentially disquieting familiarity with Supreme Court decisions related to traffic stops. Just last month, the Court ruled that, in the absence of reasonable suspicion, police may not extend a traffic stop for the purpose of walking a drug-sniffing dog around the vehicle. But the Court also has said that if a dog alerts to a car (or, same thing, a cop claims that the dog alerted), that is enough by itself to supply probable cause for a search, even though there are lots of reasons (including a handler's deliberate or subconscious cues) why a dog might alert to a car that contains no contraband.
"If they're not here within 20 minutes, I'm gone," Cooke says. "You can leave," the male agent says. "You can walk down the road right now....Your car's not going anywhere....I'll spike the tires." After Cooke refuses to comply with his order to "stand over there" instead of "here," they have this exchange:
CBP agent: I'm going to tell you one more time, and then I'm going to move you.
Cooke: If you touch me, I will sue your ass. Do you understand me?
CBP agent: Go for it.
Cooke: Touch me then.
CBP agent: Move over there.
Cooke: Go ahead. Touch me.
CBP agent: I'm telling you to move over there.
At this point the agent seems to grab Cooke, and soon she is lying on the ground, screaming. According to a CBP spokeswoman, the agent "deployed an electronic control device." Naturally, the government is considering assault charges—against Cooke.
While Cooke is rolling around on the ground, screaming in pain, the agent repeatedly orders her to "get on your stomach." Her response: "What the fuck is wrong with you?" Also this: "Are you fucking retarded?" And this: "You fucking Tased me, you asshole!" These rejoinders do not have quite the same emotional impact as "I can't breathe," especially since Cooke survived the incident. Still, she asks good questions.
The video ends at this point. But according to Cooke, the dog finally arrived, sniffed around her car, and did not alert. The agents opened her trunk anyway. They found no contraband.
If that account is accurate, it is hard to see how the search could have been legal. While nervousness alone might be deemed enough for reasonable suspicion, SUNY Buffalo immigration law professor Rick Su told the local NPR station, "it is not sufficient" to justify a vehicle search, which requires probable cause to believe the vehicle contains evidence of a crime. Su notes that CBP is "starting to use these checkpoints beyond their intended goal":
It's an immigration checkpoint. But what it seems from the video is that the interest of the officials is not so much immigration at that point. It's something else, maybe a drug violation, or other ordinary crimes that they were investigating....This belief actually sets up a very dangerous dichotomy between the exception that's granted for immigration and the use of immigration checkpoints to [pursue] all sorts of other law enforcement priorities....
[A checkpoint stop] really should be relatively nonintrusive. Ask questions about identification, about residency, and, as long as they are satisfied that there is no reasonable suspicion that there is an immigration violation, most people should be waved through. It should be a relatively quick check.
But because "the exception is so broad," Su says, the feds are "using immigration checkpoints to enforce other areas of federal law, including the war on drugs." In other words, the Supreme Court, which has explicitly rejected drug interdiction as a rationale for randomly stopping cars, has effectively allowed such stops within 100 miles of any "external boundary," as long as the feds claim to be looking for illegal immigrants.
Even though she was preparing for a career as a CBP agent, Cooke clearly was disturbed by this development. But the Watertown Daily Times found some local residents who think her objections are much ado about nothing. "I'm all for border patrol checks," said one. "Look at the drugs seized weekly by these that would otherwise go right onto the streets. If you have nothing to hide, why be a jerk? Just cooperate."
But... what difference does it make...
Viidad: Why did you write COMPOST EVERYTHING?I told you he was nuts. Read the rest of the interview at Castalia House.
David The Good: I suppose I should say “because I love our mother the earth” or “because I want to world to reduce, reuse and recycle” or something stupid like that, but really, it’s because I’m a cheapskate and I hate following all the rules that tell me I should throw out stuff that could be added into my gardens as fertilizer.
Viidad: Like dead bodies.
David The Good: I wish people would stop bringing that up. One or three times does not a pattern make.
Viidad: But the precedent is there…
David The Good: I will not answer any more questions along these lines. I am VFM, craven servant of the Dark Lord, serial number 0156…
Viidad: Are not! That’s my number!
David The Good: Surely The Most Evil One could not have made a mistake…!
Viidad: Never! But… well… hmm… I… whatever. Okay, weird. Back to the interview. What about this question: who should really give a flying fetid flip-flop about composting?