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01 Dec 14:53

A Story about My Mom, Haiti, and Irresistible Math

by Pat

Pat will double your donation and then Heifer International will double that amount. A good day to donate if Heifer International is a charity you are considering supporting.

As I write this blog, Worldbuilders has raised nearly $516,000.

That was going to be my big announcement today, that we broke half a million dollars.

But it turns out I actually have a much bigger piece of news to share.

Today, Heifer International is running a special event in conjunction with Giving Tuesday. For one day, all donations made to Heifer will be matched and put toward their work in Haiti.

There’s two reasons that this is a big deal for me.

The first reason has to do with my mom. I don’t talk about her a lot on the blog, though I think of her constantly.

Marge and Patrick at Beach 1-1

(Here she is. With her little boy, long ago.)

You see, years and years ago, my mom went to Haiti.

It’s a long story, but the nutshell version is that she moved down to Haiti for two weeks to help run an orphanage in Port au Prince. This orphanage took care of babies that people abandoned at hospitals, usually because the babies were really sick, or they had permanently debilitating medical conditions. The parents left the children because they were desperately poor, and had no way to pay for their care.

Marge 1 068 (2) - Copy

But the hospitals couldn’t afford to care for the kids, either. Because the government in Haiti doesn’t pay for that. And the orphanage wasn’t in the nice part of town, so the government wasn’t giving them any money either. As a result, this wasn’t one of those posh orphanages like in Annie. They didn’t have beds for the kids, for one thing. But that doesn’t even begin to paint the picture for you. Huge swaths of Port au Prince don’t have any infrastructure at all, so the orphanage didn’t have luxuries like, say, running water.

Imagine that. Imagine taking care of these poor disabled babies and not having any running water. And I don’t mean that they couldn’t take showers regularly. I mean nothing came out of the faucets. They got water out of a cistern that was open to the air. They hoped for rain to re-fill it, and they had to boil every drop they drank and cooked with.

As a result, my mom came back from Haiti with a parasitic infection that took her years of serious medicine to get rid of.

She also came back with stories.

Marge in Haiti

I could tell you a lot of stories about the time my mother spent there. But the truth is, if you’ve read my books, you already know some of them. When she was there, my mom met an old barefoot man who took care of orphan boys with physical and developmental problems. A lot of times the boys were dangerous to themselves or others.

I saw a picture of him once. My mom said he was barefoot all the time, and she suspected he might have been a Trappist monk at some point in his life.

Sound familiar?

The stories my mom brought back from Haiti gave me my first glimmering realization that not everyone’s life was like mine. Not everyone could microwave a burrito when they got hungry. Not everyone had clean water to drink. There was an entirely different world out there where people were so poor, they had to abandon their babies if they were born sick.

So. That’s the first part of the reason I’m excited about Heifer matching donations today and all the proceeds are going to projects in Haiti. Because the roots of Worldbuilders go all the way back to my mom’s experiences there. The stories she told me.

The second reason I’m excited is when we caught wind of Heifer’s event last night, we gave them a call and did our very best fast-talking. And because Heifer is full of cool people, they’ve agreed to let our fundraiser take part in their event.

This means, that for the entire day, every dollar you donate on the Worldbuilders team page will be matched. (And you’ll be entered in our prize lottery.)

This is great news for us. Huge news. And I can’t thank Heifer enough for being willing to work with us on such short notice to make this happen.

But even so, something hasn’t been sitting right with me. I’ve been up all night rolling this around in my head. I’ve been looking through old pictures and thinking about my mom.

Marge 1 001 (3) - Copy

If my mom was still around, she would be moving heaven and earth today for this fundraiser. She’s be baking cookies and making quilts and talking to people at church. She would be filming goofy stretch goals and helping us package up orders in Tinker’s Packs.

And she’d do more than that. She’d put her money where her mouth was.

But here’s the thing. At the start of this year’s fundraiser, I’d decided that I wasn’t going to donate any more money to Worldbuilders. I’d talked myself out of it. I’d already given a bunch of money to charity this year, (Syrian Refugees, First Book, etc.) I’d done my part. I was going to be done.

And besides, I’ve kinda been saving up to build a house out in the country.

And besides, I already give a bunch of my time and energy to the fundraiser, right?

And then I think about my mom. And I think about kids in Haiti.

So here’s what we’re going to do.

If you donate to Worldbuilders today. I’m going to match your donation. Then we’re going to take ALL that money to Heifer and they’ll match both of us. So if you chip in today, your donation will be doubled, then doubled again.

I’ll match up to 100,000 dollars. I’ll let you do the math on that.

Come on, folks. Let’s be awesome together.

Here’s your link.

[Edit: Hey guys, Amanda here! I'll be in the comments answering questions all day, and we've had a fair number come in already, but you can always email us at questions [@] as well]

16 Oct 16:00

Wolf Claims More Student Hostages

by Commonwealth Foundation

Earlier this week, The Neighborhood Academy, a private school in Pittsburgh, held a rally in the state Capitol to highlight Gov. Wolf’s withholding tax credits for student scholarships.

Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit program (EITC), along with the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC), lets businesses contribute funds for scholarships so  thousands of low-income students across Pennsylvania can attend private school.

For students, this is a lifeline to better or safer schools. For schools like The Neighborhood Academy serving high poverty areas, the scholarships are essential to survival.  

Dennis Owens at ABC 27 has the story.

The Wolf administration justifies withholding tax credits by claiming its “hands are tied” due to the budget impasse.

But this makes little sense. The EITC and OSTC are not appropriations that are part of the budget.

Instead, they’re part of Pennsylvania’s tax code. This code is in effect despite the budget impasse. After all, everyone reading this is still paying taxes.

Wolf insists he “won’t cave” in his pursuit of the white whale of higher taxes. In his own words, “I want to keep the pressure up”.

Unfortunately, holding school children hostage has become part of that "pressure."

19 Sep 22:30

svartvitkatt: The kakapo, New Zealand’s flightless parrot...


The kakapo, New Zealand’s flightless parrot (x)

I’ll take a dozen.

15 Sep 00:46

La Heroicas ratas detectaminas africanas.

La Heroicas ratas detectaminas africanas.

02 Sep 11:45

Are You Crazy or is it Just Your Microbiota?

by Kevin Cann

Written by: Kevin Cann

For the millions of people in the world that suffer from mental illness, just snapping out of their negative moods is not an option. You may ask someone why they feel angry or sad all of the time, and they just can’t give you an explanation. They might say something like “I do not know why I feel like this, but I just do.” For those of us that do not suffer from mental illness this may be very difficult to comprehend. However, for those that are suffering, they may not truly know what is bothering them, and there is a reason for this.

We have ten times more bacteria in our bodies than we have human cells. Each one of us is an individual planet that gives refuge to hundreds of trillions of different bacteria. These bacteria actually influence the person that we are, and much like no individual is the same, no individual has the exact same bacterial makeup. These bacteria can actually influence our behavior, and an argument could be formed that they make us who we are.

These bacteria release chemicals into our bloodstream that can cross the blood brain barrier and actually influence our mood and behavior. They release some of the same chemicals used by our neurons. These chemicals are known as neurotransmitters, and some examples of them are serotonin, dopamine, and GABA.

The most popular group of prescription anti-depressants are known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI). They increase the amount of serotonin around the neuron, and in return our depression and anxiety should diminish. The problem with prescription drugs is over time they lead to desensitization of the receptor cells so more is needed until the system becomes overworked and the medications no longer produce the desirable outcome. This is why medications for mood disorders are constantly being increased and changed.

If mood disorders are a decrease, or loss of balance with these neurotransmitters, and our gut bacteria produce these chemicals, then perhaps the next question should be “is there an imbalance in gut bacteria leading to the imbalance in neurotransmitters?”

This is a question that Dr. Emeran Mayer of the University of California. Los Angeles asked. He and his team looked at MRI scans and microbiota makeup of thousands of volunteers. What they found was nothing short of remarkable. They found that the connections of brain regions differed depending on the makeup of the gut bacteria (1).

This research does not show definitively that our gut bacteria is the cause for mental illness. However, there have been some promising studies performed on mice. One study in particular, researchers fed one group of mice broth that was fortified with lactobacillus rhamnosus, and one group of mice broth without any of the bacteria.

The researchers continued this feeding for approximately a month, and then tested the mice for signs of anxiety and depression. This is done by timing how long it takes the mice to enter unexplored areas of a maze. They also measured mRNA gene expression associated with anxiety and depression and stress levels in the mice. The mice fed the broth with the bacteria showed less anxiety and depression signs than the control group (2).

Now mice are not humans. Humans have a much more complex environment that can influence their emotions in a number of ways. However, many people report an increase in mood and energy when they take up a paleo diet (along with a number of other positive health issues). Perhaps a reason for this has to do with the influence the paleo diet has on our gut flora.

Our gut microbiome has evolved with us from the beginning. Breads, pastas, and other processed foods are a relatively new piece to our diet. Our gut bacteria require fruits, vegetables, and meats to flourish. They actually feed off of the fiber that we do not digest. If we have a diet that is high in processed foods and lower in fruits and vegetables, this can cause an unwanted shift in our gut flora that can lead to negative mood, lower energy, and even obesity.

The answer to having a better mood may not require a prescription (unless prescriptions of probiotics become available). In some cases, like that of major depressive disorder, medication may be a requirement to feel better. Options should always be discussed with a doctor first. However, cleaning up the diet and taking a probiotic does not come with negative consequences. The only consequences of a eating more fruits, vegetables, and meats is feeling better.

01 Sep 12:01

Union Scheme to Prevent Teachers from Leaving: Make Process Confusing, Set One-Month Time Limit

by Robby Soave

Are you a Michigan public teacher who wants to leave your union? Sorry, you’re too late.

Michigan is a Right-to-Work state, and teachers have the right to opt-out of their union—but only if they do so during the month of August, and only if they manage to find the top secret post office box that accepts union resignations, according to the Michigan Education Association.

It’s a straightforward conflict: employees in Michigan won the legal right to leave their collective bargaining arrangements in 2012, but public employee unions—including the MEA, which represent teachers—want to keep as many dues-paying members in their clutches as possible. To that end, the MEA has mandated that teachers must declare their intention to opt-out during the month of August.

But that’s not all. The MEA also requires members to send their union resignations to an obscure P.O. Box, rather than MEA headquarters. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy reports:

In an apparent effort to make it even more difficult or even stop school employees from exercising their right under right-to-work to not pay union dues or fees, the state’s largest teachers union has quietly set up an obscure post office box address to which members must send the required opt-out paperwork. It's P.O. Box 51 East Lansing, MI 48826.

Based on a letter the Michigan Education Association sent to members who had tried to get out, and discussions with some of them, resignation requests sent to the regular union headquarters address will not be honored.

An extensive search of the union's websites found references to the post office box address on just one page of MEA's main website, and on one affiliate union’s website. There is no record of this post office box address existing before this month. In the past, union members who wanted to opt out just had to send notification to the address of the MEA's headquarters in East Lansing.

When asked for comment by Mackinac reporter Tom Gantert, MEA declined to provide a rationale for its actions. It’s hard not to see the new P.O. Box as a thinly-veiled attempt to make the opt-out process so cumbersome that members exceed the one-month time limit.

But there’s some good news for teachers who missed the deadline: in June, an administrative law judge ruled that employees have the legal right to opt-out at any time, and the Michigan Employment Relations Commission is inclined to support that decision.

01 Sep 12:35

4 Reasons This Article About E-Cigarettes Is Bad

by Jacob Sullum

Michael Siegel highlights an egregiously misleading Inquisitr piece about electronic cigarettes that parrots the talking points of anti-smoking activists and public health officials who irrationally view these products with fear and loathing. Dieter Holger's public disservice article nicely illustrates the evasions, rhetorical tricks, and outright lies frequently employed by e-cigarette alarmists.

Start with the title: "7 Reasons E-Cigarettes Are Bad." Compared to what? Since the relevant comparison is conventional cigarettes, which are indisputably much more dangerous, the title is an empty distraction. Holger continues to dodge the central issue in his introduction:

Are e-cigarettes really any better than smoking a cigarette? Here are seven reasons e-cigarettes pose dangers to our health.

Holger is determined not to answer the question he poses, so he follows it with a non sequitur. Even if "e-cigarettes pose dangers to our health," of course, that does not mean they are just as hazardous as conventional cigarettes. In fact, as Public Health England (PHE) emphasizes in a recent report, they are something like 95 percent safer.

Holger avers that "e-cigarettes contain plenty of cancerous chemicals" and "their fair share of toxic chemicals," statements that are utterly uninformative in this context. How much, after all, is "plenty" or "their fair share"? As the PHE report notes, "most of the chemicals causing smoking-related disease are absent and the chemicals which are present pose limited danger" because they are typically present at very low levels.

Later Holger concedes that "e-cigarettes might not have the same carcinogenic materials as cigarettes (like tar)." There is no might about it, since e-cigarettes do not burn tobacco or anything else. For the same reason, Holger is clearly wrong when he states that "e-cigarettes might create the equivalent of secondhand smoke."

Similarly, citing evidence of short-term changes in airway resistance during vaping, Holger warns that "e-cigarettes have negative effects on lungs." But as Siegel notes, these effects are far less serious than the respiratory damage caused by smoking, and smokers who switch to vaping "experience an immediate improvement in their respiratory symptoms and lung function." 

Holger asserts that "e-cigarettes are just as addictive as smoking tobacco," based purely on the observation that they contain nicotine. But as Siegel notes, research indicates that vapers score lower than smokers on measures of dependence, possibly because e-cigarettes do not deliver nicotine as efficiently as the conventional kind. More to the point, addiction to cigarettes is a concern mainly because of the harm it causes, and vaping causes much less harm.

Like CDC Director Tom Frieden, Holger warns that "e-cigarettes could be a gateway into tobacco products for youth." As the PHE report points out, it's not clear what that means. But assuming it means vaping leads to smoking among people who otherwise never would have tried tobacco, there is no evidence it is happening. To the contrary, smoking among teenagers continues to fall as vaping rises, as Holger implicitly concedes in the very same paragraph.

Like Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health, Holger claims "e-cigarettes won't help you quit." How can he possibly know that? Thousands of former smokers say otherwise, and the scientific evidence reviewed by PHE indicates that e-cigarettes "can help people to quit smoking and reduce their cigarette consumption."

If you follow Holger's model, you too can produce brazenly uninformative articles about e-cigarettes. Just remember to 1) implicitly equate e-cigarettes with conventional cigarettes, 2) avoid any clear discussion of relative hazards, 3) deny the existence of former smokers who used e-cigarettes to quit, and 4) mention children, preferably early and often.

01 Sep 16:27

Life Without Parole for a First-Time, Nonviolent Drug Offender

by Nick Gillespie

Over at Red State, Leon H. Wolf introduces us to the heartbreaking case of Sharanda Jones, who is cooling her heels in a federal prison until she dies there.

In 1999, Jones was 

convicted of a single, non-violent drug offense involving crack cocaine. This conviction stemmed from her first ever arrest, and she was not even caught with crack in her possession....

Sharanda was convicted based on the testimony of two government informants who themselves were facing draconian drug sentences. The thrust of their testimony was that they had, over the course of several years, received several shipments of crack cocaine from Sharanda, who according to their understanding had brought the cocaine up from Houston to Terrell (northeast Dallas metro area) for them. There was no allegation that Sharanda had ever committed a violent act, and she was not ever caught with any amount of crack in her possession. By the uncontested testimony at trial, Sharanda did not supply the crack herself or distribute it, but rather acted as a conduit to transfer it from Houston to Terrell.

Sharanda was initially charged with seven criminal counts, and pled not guilty to all seven.

Read the whole thing here and I suspect you'll agree with Wolf's headline plea: "President Obama, Commute Sharanda Jones' Sentence."

Earlier this summer, The Washington Post wrote about Jones. In 2014, the paper noted, Attorney General Eric Holder began granting clemency to non-violent drug offenders who had been model prisoners. There are about 100,000 federal prisoners in on drug charges, "among them thousands of nonviolent offenders sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Most are poor, and four in five are African American or Hispanic."

Jones applied under that program, reported the Post.

It has been a halting process, however. Only 89 prisoners of the more than 35,000 who have filed applications have been freed. They include 46 inmates who were granted clemency on Monday by Obama.

Jones wasn’t among them.

Red State's Wolf concludes

Until a day comes where one [there is] a more politically palatable solution, all Sharanda Jones can do is pray that someday, someone in a position of authority will determine that she has been punished enough, and that she should be given the second chance that we all deep down believe that we deserve for our mistakes.

Jones' case—and all the others like, especially in these early days of the end of the war on pot and, one assumes eventually, the end of the war on drugs—should haunt us all.

Your kids and your grandkids will one day ask, What did you do during the drug war? I hope that we will all be able to answer in a way that makes our descendants proud—and more free.

Hat Tip: Popehat.

02 Sep 00:41

Georgia Cops Shoot Resident, Kill His Dog After Responding to Wrong Home During 911 Call

by Ed Krayewski

Three officers in DeKalb County, Georgia, were responding to a 911 call about a possible burglar outside the last house on Boulderwoods Drive in Atlanta but entered the second house on the street, because, police say, it "matched the physical description of the house." They entered through a rear door they said was unlocked and ran into Chris McKinley, who had been watching a movie with his wife and 1-year-old child before entering another room with his dog. The cops shot McKinley, wounding him, and shot and killed his dog.

What's more, after using potentially deadly force, the police officers did not secure the crime scene they had created. McKinley stumbled outside, and ran into a neighbor who gave him first aid. She says McKinley kept repeating "Why did they shoot me? Why did they kill my dog?"

Police insist they're taking responsibility. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:

"Are we perfect?" DeKalb director of public safety Cedric Alexander said. "Absolutely not. But when we find a mistake, we own it. We own the fact that we were at the wrong house. We didn't hide it. We didn't mismanage it. We were at the wrong location based on information that was given to us."

Pro-tip for Alexander: if you're blaming your mistake on what someone else told you, you can't say you're "owning" it. In fact, you're kind of disowning it.

The incident is at least the fourth questionable police shooting in DeKalb County in the last two years. None appeared to result in termination of employment for any police officer.

Alexander wasn't done with the excuses either. More:

Alexander defended officers in DeKalb and throughout the country, saying they "have a tough job."

"In light of everything going on in the country right now, anytime officers have to respond to a call, they're checking and double checking themselves," he said Tuesday. "A lot of the criticisms and mockeries they've sustained across the country and even locally is just unfair."

Perhaps the police officers who shot McKinley and killed his dog after entering the wrong home in response to a possible burglary called should've triple checked. Or, you know, just stopped for a second and thought about what they were doing. But if they're unlikely to face any consequences for their actions, legally, professionally, or otherwise, what incentive would they have to do it?

Police officers have been complaining recently that the national attention paid to police brutality and misconduct has made their job harder. The coverage isn't going anywhere, so perhaps police officers interested in improving their image should take a harder stance against police officers who make mistakes that end with innocent people seriously injured and, in other cases, killed.

h/t Matt W.

02 Sep 04:01

Denver's Unconstitutional Harassment of Jury Nullification Activists

by Jacob Sullum

This Saturday is Jury Rights Day, which commemorates the 1670 acquittal of Quaker leader William Penn by English jurors who refused to convict him even though he had clearly violated a ban on dissenting religious assemblies. Denver is celebrating the occasion by harassing activists who seek to inform the public about the principle embodied in Penn's acquittal: the right of jurors to reject the enforcement of unjust laws, a.k.a. jury nullification.

After two local activists, Mark Iannicelli and Eric Brandt, distributed jury nullification pamphlets outside the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse in Denver on July 27, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey charged each of them with seven counts of jury tampering, a felony punishable by one to three years in prison. The seven counts were based on pamphlets received by seven jury pool members.

The statute cited by Morrissey makes it a crime to "communicate with a juror" outside of a judicial proceeding "with intent to influence [the] juror's vote, opinion, decision, or other action in a case." But neither Iannicelli nor Brandt is accused of trying to affect the outcome of any particular case. They were merely distributing general information about jury rights.

Denver conceded such activity is constitutionally protected after David Lane, the attorney who represents Iannicelli and Brandt, filed a First Amendment lawsuit on behalf of two other activists and the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA). The city stipulated that "Plaintiffs who wish to engage in peacefully passing out jury nullification literature to passersby on the [courthouse] Plaza are entitled to do so."

Denver promised it "will not arrest or otherwise charge Plaintiffs for handing out literature regarding jury nullification so long as Plaintiffs do not violate Colorado law or Denver's Revised Municipal Code." The city added that "Plaintiffs' proposed intent of peacefully handing out jury nullification literature to or discussing jury nullification with passersby at the Plaza, without more, does not violate Colorado law."

Does that mean Morrissey plans to drop the jury tampering charges against Iannicelli and Brandt? Not according to Lynn Kimbrough, Morrissey's public information officer. "Their charges still stand," she says. "They weren't arrested for passing out literature. They certainly have a free speech right to do that."

Rather, says Kimbrough, they were arrested on suspicion of jury tampering. When I ask her to explain the difference between what Denver deems a crime and what it recognizes as constitutionally protected activity, she says she can't comment on the details of a pending criminal case. It seems activists who don't want to get arrested will just have to guess where the line is.

The speech-chilling uncertainty was compounded by an incident that happened last week, the day after U.S. District Judge William J. Martinez issued an injunction protecting FIJA pamphleteers. Police descended upon Eric Verlo and Janet Matzen, the two activists who had sought the injunction, as they and several associates were passing out FIJA literature at the courthouse.

According to a motion filed by Lane, who asked Martinez to hold Denver Police Chief Robert C. White in contempt of court, the cops seized "all literature regarding jury nullification including about 1,000 pamphlets, a small shade shelter, a table, four chairs, buckets, a cooler, signs and other items." He adds that the officers even "attempted to take personal property such as purses, computers, backpacks and other items" from the activists, but "the pamphleteers resisted the attempts by the police to steal their personal property."

The city says the seized items constituted illegal "encumbrances of the right-of-way" under Denver's municipal code. Although the code does not define that term, a photo Lane submitted along with his motion shows Verlo et al. were not obstructing traffic into or out of the courthouse.

"The only plausible explanation for this is that the police were acting in retaliation for the exercise of the free speech rights of the pamphleteers," Lane writes. It seems Denver is willing to tolerate jury nullification activists in theory but not in practice.

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

31 Aug 14:54

Quotation of the day from 1910 on the ‘utterly fallacious principle’ of government price-fixing…..

by Mark Perry

…. is from Frederic Jesup Stimson‘s 1910 book “Popular Law-Making: A Study of the Origin, History, and Present Tendencies of Law-Making By Statute” (emphasis added):

And now we find the first statutory origin of that utterly fallacious principle — although alive today — that the state, in a free country, a legislature-governed country, has the right, when expedient, to fix the price of anything, wages or other commodities; fallacious, I say, except possibly as to the charges of corporations, which are given special privileges by the government; the principle, which .prevailed throughout the Middle Ages, of fixing the prices of all things. In this case the price was on bread; but you find now for many centuries an attempt to fix the price of almost everything; and of labor, too, what wages a man should be paid. It lasted persistently for centuries and centuries, and it was only under the influence of modem political economy, Adam Smith and other quite modem writers, that the principle that it was possible to fix prices of commodities was utterly eradicated from the English mind.

And you hardly got it out of England before it reappeared in the United States. It is not a new-fangled principle. You find the newspapers commonly talk about fixing prices by law as if it were something utterly unheard of and utterly new. It is not so. It is on the contrary as old as almost any legislation we have, and you can make no argument against it on that ground. It has always been the custom of our ancestors to regulate the prices of wages by law, and the notion that it was either unconstitutional or inexpedient dates from a very few years back; yet all such attempts at legislation have utterly disappeared from any modem statute book. In no State of our forty-six States is any one so unintelligent, even in introducing bills in the legislature, as today to propose that the price of a ton of coal or a loaf of bread shall be so much.

This is the importance of these early laws, even when obsolete; because we never know when some agitator may not pop up with some new proposal — something he thinks new — which he thinks, if adopted, will revolutionize society. If you can show him that his new discovery is not only not new, but was tried, and tried in vain, during two or three centuries in the life of our own ancestors, until an enraged public abolished it, it will destroy any effect that he is likely to make upon the average legislature.

MP: Alas, the appeal of “utterly fallacious principles” (government price-fixing, e.g. minimum wage laws), “free lunches” and “getting something for nothing” never dies and we never seem to learn from history….

HT: Jeff Brown

The post Quotation of the day from 1910 on the ‘utterly fallacious principle’ of government price-fixing….. appeared first on AEI.

31 Aug 18:12

China Rocked By Another Massive Chemical Explosion, People's Daily Reports

by Tyler Durden

Bizarre. Coincidence or destruction of evidence?

Seriously, what the f##k is going on over there?


This is the second explosion in Shandong, which both follow the huge and deadly explosion in Tianjin.

We'll await the details which we imagine will suggest that, as was the case in Tianjin, many more tonnes of something terribly toxic were stored than is allowed under China's regulatory regime which apparently only applies to those who are not somehow connected to the Politburo.

After the last Shandong explosion, The People's Daily reported that the plant contained adiponitrile, which the CDC says can cause "irritation eyes, skin, respiratory system; headache, dizziness, lassitude (weakness, exhaustion), confusion, convulsions; blurred vision; dyspnea (breathing difficulty); abdominal pain, nausea, [and] vomiting."


Breaking: A blast seen and heard in a chemical industry zone in Lijin, Dongying City of Shandong around 23:25 Mon.

— People's Daily,China (@PDChina) August 31, 2015

Sur #weibo, série de clichés de l'explosion de #Shandong

— Breaking3zero (@Breaking3zero) August 31, 2015

This clip has just been posted to a Weibo account - reportedly showing tonight's explosion (we are unable to confirm this is not the previous Shandong explosion though that was more twlight than dead of night)...

31 Aug 10:00


by Mike

Tugboat Birdhouse on a pole, Clarksville, Missouri, June 8, 2007
Tugboat Birdhouse on a pole, Clarksville, Missouri, June 8, 2007

31 Aug 14:30

For Progressives, First Amendment Comes in Second

by A. Barton Hinkle

Progressive America is troubled. Some of its leading lights fret that if something is not done soon, government will actually need a good reason to censor other people's speech.

Such is the ominous upshot of a seemingly minor Supreme Court case that could have "far-reaching consequences," as The New York Times put it recently.

The case (Reed v. Town of Gilbert) concerned a sign ordinance in Gilbert, Ariz., that imposed tighter restrictions on church signs than on political ones. The entire Supreme Court said that was ridiculous, and struck the measure down. Government cannot blithely discriminate against certain speech or speakers based on content.

Six of the justices said the test known as strict scrutiny—which requires government to cite a compelling state interest for a law, and to tailor the law narrowly to fit that interes—applies not just to some narrow forms of censorship, but to any topic-based restriction on speech.

As The Times' Adam Liptak notes, "the decision has already required lower courts to strike down laws barring panhandling, automated phone calls and 'ballot selfies.' '' He cites Robert Post, dean of Yale Law School, who takes the view that the court (in Liptak's words) "did not think through the consequences" of its ruling in the sign case.

And thereby hangs a tale. In recent years it has become increasingly obvious that many liberals view the right to free speech as an instrumental good, rather than an intrinsic one—i.e., they favor free speech not as an end in itself, but merely as means to achieve other ends. And wherever free speech impedes other agendas, wherever it produces consequences liberals find discomfiting, it should give way.

Ballot selfies erode the privacy of the voting booth, which in turn could make vote-buying and voter intimidation easier. Hence New Hampshire passed a law last year that subjected anyone displaying a ballot selfie to a $1,000 fine. Other states are considering similar measures—or at least they were, until a federal court struck down New Hampshire's law, on the grounds that such photos enjoy First Amendment protection.

Similar concerns animate efforts to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United. In that case, the government wanted the authority to prohibit the dissemination of a movie; the Supreme Court said the nonprofit group Citizens United had a First Amendment right to air it. Critics of the ruling think government should restrict some people's speech in the name of a "level playing field."

In a similar vein, many progressives detest First Amendment protections against business regulations. Post, for example, wrote with alarm about a court ruling that struck down tour-guide licensing in Washington, D.C. on First Amendment grounds.

Around the country, other small entrepreneurs—veterinarians, dieticians, even newspaper columnists—have challenged similar occupational licensing on free-speech grounds as well. "The First Amendment,"Post bemoaned, "seems to have been transformed into a straitjacket for our institutions of democratic governance."

Well, yes. That's exactly what the Bill of Rights is for.


A Harvard professor, Jerry Avorn, has objected to another recent federal court ruling that upheld the speech rights of business interests. Earlier this month a Manhattan district judge said the FDA could not prohibit drug companies from providing truthful, non-misleading information about non-label uses for various drugs.

As health-care writer John Goodman noted in Forbes, prior to the ruling drug company employees could go to prison simply for giving doctors copies of peer-reviewed research published in medical journals showing that a drug approved to treat Disease X also turns out to be effective in treating Disease Y. (This despite the fact that doctors are perfectly free to prescribe drugs for such off-label uses.)

Avorn thinks that's how things should remain—and wrote as much in a journal article titled, "In Opposition to Liberty: We Need a 'Sovereign' to Govern Drug Claims." Even if doing so violates the First Amendment? Apparently so.

Back in March, Liptak noted that while "liberals used to love the First Amendment... that was in an era when courts used it mostly to protect powerless people like civil rights activists and war protesters." But now business interests are seeking free-speech protections, and courts are obliging. "Once the patron saint of protesters and the disenfranchised, the First Amendment has become the darling of economic libertarians," complains Columbia University law professor Tim Wu.

The attitude revealed by such laments was best summed up by Nat Hentoff in a book title: Free Speech for Me—But Not for Thee.

It is not comforting that complaints like these come from some of the country's leading legal minds, because they expose a grievous misunderstanding of rights.

Rights are, as legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin put it, "trumps" that outweigh competing considerations — not because of cost/benefit calculations but by definition. Their intrinsic worth does not increase or diminish depending on who exercises them. It is just as wrong to allow censorship of one speaker—rich or poor, black or white, Koch brother or Occupy Wall Street protester—as it is to allow censorship of another. And it is impossible, in any intellectually honest way, to protect the free speech of some speakers without adopting general principles that protect the free speech of all others.

This helps explain the trend noted by Harvard law professor Lawrence Tribe in a March essay, which he sees as transforming First Amendment law "into a charter of largely untrammeled libertarianism in which the regulation of virtually all forms of speech and all kinds of speakers is treated with the same heavy dose of judicial skepticism."

That, he might have added, is exactly as it should be.

28 Aug 16:03

Obama Administration Declares War on Franchisors and Subcontractors

by Walter Olson

In a series of unilateral moves, the Obama administration has been introducing an entirely new regime of labor law without benefit of legislation, upending decades’ worth of precedent so as to herd as many workers into unions as possible. The newest, yesterday, from the National Labor Relations Board, is also probably the most drastic yet: in a case against waste hauler Browning-Ferris Industries, the Board declared that from now on, franchisors and companies that employ subcontractors and temporary staffing agencies will often be treated as if they were really direct employers of those other firms’ workforces: they will be held liable for alleged labor law violations at the other workplaces, and will be under legal compulsion to bargain with unions deemed to represent their staff. The new test, one of “industrial realities,” will ask whether the remote company has the power, even the potential power, to significantly influence working conditions or wages at the subcontractor or franchisee; a previous test sought to determine whether the remote company exercised “ ‘direct and immediate impact’ on the worker’s terms and conditions — say, if that second company is involved in hiring and determining pay levels.”

This is a really big deal; as our friend Iain Murray puts it at CEI, it has the potential to “set back the clock 40 years, to an era of corporate giants when few people had the option of being their own bosses while pursuing innovative employment arrangements.”

  • A tech start-up currently contracts out for janitorial, cafeteria, and landscaping services. It will now be at legal risk should its hired contractors be later found to have violated labor law in some way, as by improperly resisting unionization. If it wants to avoid this danger of vicarious liability, it may have to fire the outside firms and directly hire workers of its own.
  • A national fast-food chain currently employs only headquarters staff, with franchisees employing all the staff at local restaurants. Union organizers can now insist that it bargain centrally with local organizers, at risk for alleged infractions by the franchisees. To escape, it can either try to replace its franchise model with company-owned outlets – so that it can directly control compliance – or at least try to exert more control over franchisees, twisting their arms to recognize unions or requiring that an agent of the franchiser be on site at all times to monitor labor law compliance.

Writes management-side labor lawyer Jon Hyman:

If staffing agencies and franchisors are now equal under the National Labor Relations Act with their customers and franchisees, then we will see the end of staffing agencies and franchises as viable business models. Moreover, do not think for a second that this expansion of joint-employer liability will stop at the NLRB. The Department of Labor recently announced that it is exploring a similar expansion of liability for OSHA violations. And the EEOC is similarly exploring the issue for discrimination liability.

And Beth Milito, senior legal counsel at the National Federation of Independent Business, quoted at The Hill: “It will make it much harder for self-employed subcontractors to get jobs.” What will happen to the thriving white-van culture of small skilled contractors that now provides upward mobility to so many tradespeople? Trade it in for a company van, start punching someone’s clock, and just forget about building a business of your own.

What do advocates of these changes intend to accomplish by destroying the economics of business relationships under which millions of Americans are presently employed? For many, the aim is to force much more of the economy into the mold of large-payroll, unionized employers, a system for which the 1950s are often (wrongly) idealized.

One wonders whether many of the smart New Economy people who bought into the Obama administration’s promises really knew what they were buying.

28 Aug 18:23

Wyoming Farmer Sues EPA Over $16 Million in Potential Fines Over Building Drinking Water Pond for His Livestock

by Brian Doherty

With the help of the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), Wyoming farmer Andy Johnson is suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in federal court in Wyoming over their insistence that he needed a federal permit to build a stock pond on his land in 2012.

He's facing $37,500 in daily fines from EPA threat unless and until he "restore[s] the property to its prior condition pursuant to a federally approved restoration and mitigation plan." That fine hanging over his head is now above $16 million.

Summary and commentary from the lawsuit as filed about why Johnson thinks the EPA is out of line:

Before constructing the stock pond, Johnson obtained all the necessary state and local permits. He performed the work himself and took every care to maximize the pond’s incidental environmental benefits....

Why should the Feds step in? 

Section 404 of the [Clean Water] Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1344, authorizes the issuance of federal permits for the discharge of dredge and fill material, i.e., rocks or soils, into the navigable waters of the United States. Subsection “f” of Section 404, 33 U.S.C. § 1344(f), contains a list of activities that result in discharges of dredge and fill material that are exempt from regulation under the Clean Water Act. This list includes discharges “for the purpose of construction or maintenance of farm or stock ponds.” 33 U.S.C. § 1344(f)(1)(C).

The only way an exempt activity can become subject to the act’s requirements is if it both (a) is for the purpose of bringing an area of the navigable waters into a use to which it was not previously subject, and (b) impairs the flow or circulation or reduces the reach of navigable waters...

The suit goes on to explain how the Supreme Court's 2006 Rapanos v. U.S. case defined the waters over which the federal Clean Water Act has hold, and they insist that Johnson's pond is not the sort of water the feds have any jurisdiction over:

Johnson’s construction of a stock pond on his private property, and any associated deposit of dredge and fill materials, is exempt from regulation under the Clean Water Act. Johnson did not change the use of this water, which has long been a source of water for his and prior owners’ livestock. Nor did he impair the flow or circulation or reduce the reach of any navigable water.

Johnson’s construction of a stock pond is also beyond the reach of the Clean Water Act because six-mile creek is not a “water of the United States.” The water that flows over Johnson’s property is return flow from upstream agricultural users as it makes its way to a controlled irrigation canal and reservoir. It is not a tributary of any traditional navigable water nor is there any significant nexus between it and any traditional navigable waters.

EPA’s compliance order—which determines that Johnson’s construction of a stock pond on his private property violated the Clean Water Act—is therefore arbitrary and capricious, and contrary to law.

Johnson wants to get the EPA to admit it has no jurisdiction over his pond, stop threatening him, and pay his legal fees.

The Pacific Legal Foundation's press release announcing the suit with some juicy states v. fed authority details:

“For more than a year, Andy Johnson has sought to explain EPA’s error to it,” said [PLF attorney Jonathan] Wood.  “He provided them a report on the project prepared by a former Army Corps of Engineers enforcement officer that lauds its many environmental benefits.  Of course, he pointed to his receiving all the necessary state and local permits.  But EPA won’t budge, or even explain why it should be able to ignore the law’s exemption for stock ponds.”

Indeed, the EPA continues its crusade against Johnson even though Wyoming state officials have said that he complied with all state requirements.  The state engineer, for instance, says that Andy’s state permit is “in good standing and entitled to be exercised exactly as permitted.”

Gov. Matt Mead, in a statement, said:  “Mr. Johnson permitted and constructed his stock water pond appropriately. ... The actions of the EPA in regard to Mr. Johnson have been heavy-handed.”

Shikha Dalmia in Reason on the roots of the Rapanos case.

28 Aug 12:45

A Japanese paradise flycatcher feeding its baby. This migratory...

A Japanese paradise flycatcher feeding its baby. This migratory species is suspected to be in moderately rapid decline as a result of habitat degradation and loss on its wintering grounds.

28 Aug 14:30

Oil Surges To $45 After Saudi Troops Invade Yemen

by Tyler Durden

For the 3rd day in a row, crude oil prices are spiking as the short squeeze morphs into a war premium. Heberler reports that Saudi ground troops have entered Northern Yemen and seized control of two areas in the Saada province. WTI is now above $45...

As we noted previously, boots have been on the ground there (and tank tracks) since early July...


But, as Haberler reports, forces seize control of two areas in Yemen’s Saada province in the first actual ground offensive by The Saudis...

Saudi Arabian ground troops have advanced into northern Yemen, in a bid to push back against Houthi Shia militia and forces loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh, military and tribal sources said.


This is Saudi Arabia's first ground offensive in Yemen since it launched an extensive military campaign in March targeting Houthi positions.


The sources told Anadolu Agency that Saudi Arabian troops advanced into Saada province after Houthi militants recently stormed Saudi positions in the southern Saudi province of Jizan.


"Saudi ground forces seized control of two areas in Saada province and intend to advance toward Houthi positions," sources said.


Yemen descended into chaos last September, when the Houthis overran capital Sanaa and other provinces, prompting Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies to launch a massive air campaign against the Shia group.


Pro-Hadi forces – backed by Saudi-led air power – have managed recently to retake Aden and Taiz from the Houthis.

And the result...


Makes you wonder who got the nod of the invasion yesterday?

*  *  *

We have however seen this size 3-day explosion before...


Charts: Bloomberg

28 Aug 04:01

The Next Front in the War on Religious Freedom

by David Harsanyi

Stop bellyaching about Washington. All the country's best fascists are on your local city council.

Not long ago, Colorado became a leader in the fight against religious freedom, when its Civil Rights Commission, self-appointed ministers of justice and theology, decided that a shopkeeper who refuses to participate in a gay wedding ceremony must be smeared and fined out of business. A Colorado appeals court says this is kosher, finding that the brittle sensitivities of a cakeless couple outweigh the constitutional rights of Christian business owners.

Now, in an effort to save everyone some time, the cultural imperialists at the Denver City Council have decided to skip the pretense of some trumped-up injustice and jumped right to discriminating against a business solely because of the beliefs of its CEO.

The Denver City Council's Business Development Committee has stalled a seven-year deal with Chick-fil-A because CEO Dan Cathy spoke out against gay marriage back in 2012. Cathy, after being flogged for this misconduct, backed off, saying he regretted getting involved. But that won't do. There are no prisoners in this culture war. So the city council will meet in a couple of weeks to take up the topic again. Not so the members can take time to chew over the significance of a city's punishing its citizens for their thoughts and beliefs or even to weigh the importance of tolerance in a vibrant city such as Denver. They're waiting to have a closed-door committee hearing with city attorneys, who will brief them on the legal implications and practicality of shutting down apostates.

The only thing that might stop Denver from pulling this concession from an apologetic Christian, then, would be a few risk-averse bureaucrats. This, even though Chick-fil-A has not been accused of any infraction or crime. No one has even suggested it's guilty of make-believe acts of discrimination. Chick-fil-A has given assurances, in fact, as all other concessionaires at Denver International Airport restaurants have, it will follow nondiscrimination policies laid out by law, which include protections for sexual orientation.

So what's the point? Well, Councilwoman Robin Kniech asked a concessionaire this question: "If the national corporation with which you are affiliated once again puts themselves at the center of a national debate about depriving people and their families of rights, would you as a concessionaire have any ability to influence that?"

"I don't believe so," he answered.

"I don't think you would, either," Kniech said. "And that's my concern."

So that's her concern? Setting aside the oversimplification of the debate surrounding marriage, since when is it the interest of a city councilor to monitor the political activities of citizens and wonder how she deals with vendors who displease her sensibilities? Do Americans with minority opinions function under some different set of laws? The only entity with the power to deprive anyone or anyone's family of rights, in this case, is the city council. So please tell me how Kniech isn't a petty tyrant.

Of course, Denver is not alone. A few years back, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) supported an alderman's efforts to block Chick-fil-A from opening in his city because of, as the media like to say, the "anti-gay views" of its CEO, which, only a couple of years beforehand, had been the anti-gay views of President Barack Obama and Emanuel, his chief of staff. The Chicago City Council didn't go through with it, after "assurances" from the company that the virtue of Chicago would be protected.

Denver Councilman Paul Lopez, who is leading the intellectual charge for the ban, a task that meshes poorly with his skill set, says that in the end, opposition to the chain at the airport is "really, truly a moral issue." Now, when the Founding Fathers told us that government can make no law respecting an establishment of religion, I took it to mean that the belief system of a union-installed sock puppet on a city council would be completely irrelevant in matters of expression and faith. Really, truly.

Now, people are free to boycott and protest whomever they please. Citizens and elected officials have every right to work to cut off taxpayer funding to businesses and institutions they find morally distasteful. But if the city council of Anytown, USA, were to concoct reasons to deny permits to gay business owners who support same-sex marriage, many Americans would find that rightfully appalling. If you're OK with the idea of a city council's denying Christians who believe in traditional marriage the same freedom, you're a massive hypocrite, and probably worse.


26 Aug 18:53

...And It's Gone!

by Tyler Durden

Damn It Janet!



Source: @NorthmanTrader

26 Aug 20:53

Windows 10 Reserves The Right To Block Pirated Games And 'Unauthorized' Hardware

by Karl Bode

Apparently windows 10 is spyware.

While Windows 8 annoyed many users for its attempt to duct-tape two disparate computing styles (traditional Windows and a touch interface) together while demanding you stand impressed by the genius of such a move, Windows 10 initially appeared to be seeing some positive responses (at least among those who use Windows). That was, at least until people started to realize how nosy the operating system is, how frequently it feels the need to phone home to Redmond, and some of the more obnoxious language buried in the terms of service.

Not too surprisingly (this is Microsoft we're talking about) the OS opts users in to all manner of information sharing from the start, and there's some indication the OS doesn't really heed its own opt-out settings for many of these "services":
"Unfortunately for privacy advocates, these controls don't appear to be sufficient to completely prevent the operating system from going online and communicating with Microsoft's servers. For example, even with Cortana and searching the Web from the Start menu disabled, opening Start and typing will send a request to to request a file called threshold.appcache which appears to contain some Cortana information, even though Cortana is disabled. The request for this file appears to contain a random machine ID that persists across reboots.
While much of this phoning home appears to be innocuous, it's obviously annoying to users who expect an OS that operates quietly and securely on the network. Other ingrained features of the OS may or may not be more troublesome, depending on how seriously you'd like to take the Microsoft's fine print. One provision in particular appears to have caught the eye of numerous news outlets: namely that Microsoft has the ability and reserves the right to disable first-party (aka Microsoft) titles should they be found to be pirated. The TOS also notes that Microsoft reserves the right to block "unauthorized hardware":
"We may automatically check your version of the software and download software updates or configuration changes, including those that prevent you from accessing the Services, playing counterfeit games, or using unauthorized hardware peripheral devices. You may also be required to update the software to continue using the Services."
Comforting! It's possible Microsoft will never utilize this particular portion of its TOS, but its inclusion is understandably troubling all the same, and with the capability embedded, it's hard to think our friends at the MPAA and BSA won't urge Microsoft to include their products. Update: one commenter points out the TOS in question that has everyone in a tizzy refers to Windows services, not necessarily Windows 10. Windows 10 is covered by Microsoft Software License Terms. In short, while Microsoft could declare Windows 10 as a service, it still seems highly unlikely that the company is going to invite the wrath of millions by using Windows 10 as a piracy and device nanny, especially if they want the OS to succeed.

If you're looking for some additional bright side, Windows 10 at least blocks some of the more obnoxious, invasive flavors of DRM that have made the rounds over the last few years, including SecureROM and SafeDisc. Unfortunately, that means titles that used this DRM simply won't work on the new OS without a patch.

Either way, worries about Windows 10's spying and reporting habits appear to have freaked out a few BitTorrent trackers. One tracker by the name of iTS has decided to block all Windows 10 users entirely, redirecting them to this YouTube video explaining the perceived dangers of the new OS. In a post over at Reddit, tracker admins explain why they're not particularly welcoming of Windows 10 users:
"Many of you might have heard or read about the terrible privacy policy of windows 10 recently. Unfortunately Microsoft decided to revoke any kind of data protection and submit whatever they can gather to not only themselves but also others. One of those is one of the largest anti-piracy company called MarkMonitor. Amongst other things windows 10 sends the contents of your local disks directly to one of their servers. Obviously this goes way too far and is a serious threat to sites like ours which is why we had to take measures."
This is likely somewhat of an overreaction, since Microsoft has been working with MarkMonitor for many years now, in some instances to protect customers from phishing attacks. Still, it's understandable that Microsoft's decision to embed Windows 10 with all manner of chatty behaviors would raise a few eyebrows. If Redmond wants to avoid the fractured adoption issues that plagued earlier versions of Windows, hopefully executives there can be publicly pressured to ensure that opting out of the more chatty and invasive aspects of the new OS actually works.

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27 Aug 10:13

Study: 15% Of Wireless Users Now Tracked By Stealth Headers, Or 'Zombie Cookies'

by Karl Bode
Earlier this year AT&T and Verizon were caught modifying wireless user traffic to inject unique identifier headers (UIDH). This allowed the carriers to ignore a user's privacy preferences on the browser level and track all online behavior. In Verizon's case, the practice wasn't discovered for two years after implementation, and the carrier only integrated a working opt out mechanism only after another six months of public criticism. Verizon and AT&T of course denied that these headers could be abused by third parties. Shortly thereafter it was illustrated that it was relatively easy for these headers to be abused by third parties.

While the fracas over these "stealth" or "zombie" cookies has quieted down since, a new study suggests use of such stealth tracking is increasing around the world as carriers push to nab their share of the advertising pie. Consumer advocacy group Access has been running a website called, which analyzes user traffic to determine whether or not carriers are fiddling with their packets to track online behavior. According to a new study from the group (pdf) examining around 200,000 such tests, about 15% of site visitors were being tracked by the carriers in this fashion all over the globe:Globally, the report notes that AT&T, Bell Canada, Bharti Airtel, Cricket, Telefonica de España, Verizon, Viettel Peru S.a.c., Vodafone NL, and Vodafone Spain are all now using stealth headers. In many of these instances there's no opt-out mechanisms in place for users, or the opt-in mechanisms that exist don't actually work. Most regulators meanwhile don't even realize this technology exists, much less have any plan to protect user privacy via hard opt-out requirements. The practice itself, and the stored data, the group's authors note, makes a delicious target for hackers and the intelligence community alike:
"Using tracking headers also raises concerns related to data retention. When “honey pots” of sensitive information, such as data on browsing, location, and phone numbers, are collected and stored, they attract malicious hacking and government surveillance. This kind of collection and retention of user data is unsustainable and unwise, and creates unmanageable risks for businesses and customers alike."
The W3C Consortium recently agreed, noting that stealth carrier tracking header injection is basically a privacy nightmare in the making that undermines user trust in the entire Internet:
"The aggregate effect of unsanctioned tracking is to undermine user trust in the Web itself. Moreover, if browsers cannot isolate activity between sites and offer users control over their data, they are unable to act as trusted agents for the user. Notably, unsanctioned tracking can be harmful even if non-identifying data is shared, because it provides the linkage among disparate information streams across contextual boundaries. For example the sharing of an opaque fingerprint among a set of unrelated online purchases can provide enough information to enable advertisers to determine that user of that browser is pregnant — and hence to target her with pregnancy-specific advertisements even before she has disclosed her pregnancy.
This is what has been happening while the marketing, tech and telecom industries bickered, prattled and grandstanded over do not track protections -- that this technology makes irrelevant anyway. And while companies like Verizon have repeatedly claimed that no privacy or transparency guidelines are necessary because "public shame" will keep them honest, keep in mind that it took security researchers two years before they even realized that the telco was doing this. It took another six months of pressure for Verizon to heed calls for basic opt-out mechanisms most Verizon users don't know exist. It makes you wonder: just how long will it take the press and public to realize future iterations of stealth tracking technology are being used?

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27 Aug 09:51

Ayres Natural Bridge

by Mike

After visiting Fort Fetterman on July 10, 2010, our next objective was to find Ayers Natural Bridge.

I had the GPS unit set for shortest distance instead of fastest time and, unfortunately, the shortest distance settings took us down a route that wasn’t! 

After we had gone through a farmyard, the “road” degenerated into a rutted, muddy path that was getting progressively worse.  I was on the verge of looking for a place to turn around when a farmer who set out after us on a four-wheel ATV caught up and told us that the track we were on wasn’t a road.  Apparently, we weren’t the first to be directed through his land by their GPS device.

Ayres Natural Bridge, Converse County, Wyoming, July 10, 2010
Ayres Natural Bridge, Converse County, Wyoming, July 10, 2010

When we made it to Ayers Natural Bridge, we found it was the centerpiece of a very nice county park.  We had a picnic and spent about an hour in the park.

Unlike most natural bridges formed by water, Ayers Natural Bridge still spans the stream that cut through it. In May 1920, the bridge and surrounding 150 acres of land was donated to Converse County by Andrew C. Ayres for use as a free park, which bears the same name as the formation.

The arch over the creek was occasionally visited by emigrants on the Emigrant Trails, but it wasn’t an easy undertaking.

Mathew C. Field – July 12, 1843: Rode off in advance of the camp with Sir Wm., to visit a remarkable mountain gorge – a natural bridge of solid rock,over a rapid torrent, the arch being regular as tho shaped by art – 30 feet from base to ceiling, and 50 to the top of the bridge – wild cliffs, 300 feet perpendicular beetled us, and the noisy current swept along among huge fragments of rock at our feet. We had a dangerous descent, and forced our way through an almost impervious thicket, being compelled to take the bed of the stream in gaining a position below. We called the water Bridge Creek!  (Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office)

Ayres Natural Bridge Park, Converse County, Wyoming, July 10, 2010
Ayres Natural Bridge Park

More information:

Ayres Natural Bridge

27 Aug 00:35

They're Going to Need a Bigger Currency: Venezuela's Socialist Meltdown Continues

by Brian Doherty

Latest from the inflationary meltdown in Venezuela, from Bloomberg:

Venezuela is preparing to issue bank notes in higher denominations next year as rampant inflation reduces the value of a 100-bolivar bill to just 14 cents on the black market.

The new notes -- of 500 and possibly 1,000 bolivars -- are expected to be released sometime after congressional elections are held on Dec. 6...

Many Venezuelans have to carry wads of cash in bags instead of wallets as soaring inflation and a declining currency increase the number of bills needed for everyday purchases. The situation is set to get worse. Inflation, already the fastest in the world, could end the year at 150 percent, said the official.

The government stopped releasing regular economic statistics in December, when it reported inflation had reached 69 percent.

And in a recent PBS Newshour photo essay (where, sadly but predictably, they blame the problems entirely on falling oil prices and not at all on government policy), you can see the current state of attempts to government-manage an inflationary socialist economy.

Artificially low retail gas prices in Venezuela lead, naturally, to black marketeers buying low there and selling high in Colombia.

Reason on Venezuela.

26 Aug 13:40

The Free Market Is A Process of Scientifically Relevant Experiments

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)


I love this e-mail that I received last evening from Cafe Hayek patron Corey Henderson, a physicist; I paste it in full below with his kind permission (original emphasis):

I wanted to comment on some of your recent posts where you ask economists to “put their money where their mouths are” and actually start businesses that back up their claims. I don’t use Facebook, however, so I am e-mailing you directly. It’s been a great series of posts and I’ve enjoyed them.

Consider this, though: I am a physicist and we tend to bifurcate into theoreticians and experimentalists. One cannot really exist without the other, and there has long been a tension between the two groups. No one, however, can doubt that both groups are scientists. The scientific enterprise, of course, must contain both exercises. A theoretical physicist who does not include a pathway to experimentation in his work is not a scientist, and the best ones are enthusiastic whenever an experimental group is pursuing evidence for (or against) their claims. They collaborate extensively. THIS is science.

The TV show Mythbusters is credited by many scientists (including myself) for being the BEST childhood introduction to science possible today. Why? Because the show is about taking a proposition, usually “common knowledge”, and gradually working up more and more rigorous tests to prove or disprove it. It’s hands-on, messy, disastrous experimentation writ large and hugely entertaining.

If economists claim they are scientists, it’s incumbent on us to ask “who are your experimentalists then?” The answer, obviously, is “entrepreneurs”. Just like Mythbusters, they’re doing the experiments, millions of them every day, and no fancy degrees or advanced math required (usually).

Thanks for your time,
Corey A. Henderson
PhD Candidate and NSF Graduate Fellow
Dept. of Engineering Physics
Univ. of Wisconsin – Madison

Exactly so.  The market itself is a vast and on-going laboratory of experiments – experiments that are relevant, real, and revealing.  These experiments are valuable not least because they are made under real-world circumstances and by people with strong personal incentives to discover and comprehend the ‘truth’ better than their rival experimenters.  (This is a point the general thrust of which I associate with Michael Polanyi.)  When entry into, and exit out of, markets aren’t restricted by government, and when people are free to contract, or not, with their own money (and only with their own money) on terms to which each voluntarily agrees in a regime of secure private property rights, the market discovers which goods and services, production and distribution and financing processes, and trading arrangements work best compared to realistically available alternatives.

While I sincerely believe that much useful information can be gathered by academics doing empirical studies (both quantitative and non-quantitative), it is an unwarranted conceit of academics to suppose themselves and their empirical studies to be the only, or even the chief, source of empirical knowledge of social reality.

For example, against some academic-economists’ empirical findings that employers of low-skilled workers in America today enjoy monopsony power we must place the findings of those experienced and skilled real-world experimenters: entrepreneurs.  If the laboratory conditions (the market settings) are such that experimenters (entrepreneurs) are free to experiment – that is, if neither entry into nor exit out of the laboratory (the market) is artificially blocked by government, and if government hasn’t otherwise restricted the experimenters’ ability to peacefully use the available lab equipment – then these experimenters are far more likely to discover the ‘truth’ about the current state of the market than are outside observers (such as academics) who seldom, if ever, actually do relevant work in the laboratory itself and who also are necessarily restricted to using only limited sources of information for the kinds of quantitative analyses that they typically perform.

If the entrepreneurs-experimenters believe that they’ve found that some workers are underpaid, these entrepreneurs-experimenters test their hypothesis by actually trying to employ these underpaid workers differently and at slightly higher wages.  If the entrepreneurs-experimenters profit, the hypothesis is confirmed.  If instead the entrepreneurs-experimenters suffer losses, the hypothesis is rejected.  Either way, the knowledge revealed by such entrepreneurs-experimenters ought to be considered and used far more frequently by academic economists.

UPDATE: Prompted by a commenter on this post, I just remembered this relevant post from this past April.

25 Aug 12:59

The Feds into Everything

by Chris Edwards

Our hyperactive, grasping federal government has inserted its wasteful, probing fingers into just about everything these days.

I hadn’t been to an eye doctor in a while, and so when I went recently I was surprised to be presented with these two forms:

The first form claims that electronic transmission of prescriptions “helps protect the privacy of your personal information.” That strikes me as plainly false—an old-fashioned piece of paper with my eye information couldn’t get hacked on the Internet or wouldn’t be sent to the government. The form lists the supposed benefits of e-prescribing to the patient. On net, the benefits may indeed outweigh the costs—but then we wouldn’t need a federal mandate to bring it about.

Like many Americans, I find the second form regarding race rather offensive. It would be one thing if university researchers were surveying a sample of patients for such information in order to study eye diseases that may vary by personal characteristics. But reading between the lines on this form, the government appears to be collecting the information not for medical research, but essentially for socialist planning purposes.

25 Aug 06:08

Large-Scale Peer-Review Fraud Leads To Retraction Of 64 Scientific Papers

by Glyn Moody

Techdirt has written numerous articles about an important move in academic publishing towards open access. By shifting the funding of production costs from the readers to the researchers' institutions it is possible to provide free online access to everyone while ensuring that high academic standards are maintained. An important aspect of that, both for open access and traditional publishing, is peer review, which is designed to ensure that the most important papers are brought forward, and that they are checked and improved as they pass through the publication process. Given that pivotal role, the following story in The Washington Post is both shocking and troubling:

One of the world’s largest academic publishers, Springer, has retracted 64 articles from 10 of its journals after discovering that their reviews were linked to fake e-mail addresses. The announcement comes nine months after 43 studies were retracted by BioMed Central (one of Springer’s imprints) for the same reason.
To put those numbers in context, a specialized site that tracks this and similar malpractice in the academic world, Retraction Watch, reports that the total number of papers withdrawn because of fake reviews is 230 in the past three years.

It's not known exactly how the reviews of the 64 articles involved were faked, or by whom. But there are plenty of other cases that indicate ways in which the peer review system is being subverted. These range from the obvious ones like researchers reviewing their own papers or suggesting people they know as suitable reviewers, to more devious approaches, including the use of companies providing "specialist" services. As the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) wrote in its statement on "inappropriate manipulation of peer review processes":

While there are a number of well-established reputable agencies offering manuscript-preparation services to authors, investigations at several journals suggests that some agencies are selling services, ranging from authorship of pre-written manuscripts to providing fabricated contact details for peer reviewers during the submission process and then supplying reviews from these fabricated addresses. Some of these peer reviewer accounts have the names of seemingly real researchers but with email addresses that differ from those from their institutions or associated with their previous publications, others appear to be completely fictitious.

We are unclear how far authors of the submitted manuscripts are aware that the reviewer names and email addresses provided by these agencies are fraudulent. However, given the seriousness and potential scale of the investigation findings, we believe that the scientific integrity of manuscripts submitted via these agencies is significantly undermined.
The Washington Post article goes on to discuss various policies that publishers are beginning to put in place in an attempt to prevent fakes from undermining the peer review system. But the real problem lies not in the publishing process, but in the way that academic careers are judged and advanced. Currently, too great an emphasis is placed on how many papers a researcher has published, and whether they are in "prestigious" journals, where "prestigious" is generally defined using the highly-unsatisfactory "impact factor," supposedly a measure of academic influence. This creates an enormous "pressure to publish," which inevitably leads to some people cutting corners.

The best way to address the growing problem of fake reviews is to adopt better, more inclusive ways of evaluating academics and their work, and thus move beyond today's fixation on publishing papers in high impact-factor titles. While that thorny issue remains unaddressed, the great revolution in knowledge production and dissemination that open access potentially enables will remain incomplete and even compromised.

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25 Aug 12:07

Whistleblowers Band Together To Sue FBI, NSA And DOJ For Malicious Prosecution, Civil Liberties Violations

by Tim Cushing

This should be fun. A bunch of whistleblowers that were hounded, surveilled and prosecuted/persecuted by the US government are banding together to sue all the big names in domestic surveillance.

Thomas Drake, Diane Roark, Ed Loomis, J. Kirk Wiebe and William Binney have filed a civil rights lawsuit against the NSA, FBI, DOJ, Michael Hayden, Keith Alexander, Chris Inglis, Robert Mueller and a handful of others. They will be represented by Larry Klayman, who has some experience suing intelligence agencies.

The claims arise from the government's treatment of these whistleblowers after they started making noise about the NSA's surveillance programs. More specifically, the lawsuit points to the short-lived internet surveillance program THINTHREAD, which was ignored and abandoned in favor of something more expensive, but less protective of Americans' communications.

Plaintiffs worked in various roles on developing and perfecting a candidate program called THINTHREAD which was capable of performing the technical work desired by the NSA for surveillance of the internet efficiently, effectively, and at very low cost.
THINTHREAD was put into operation successfully but only on a demonstration basis. It was approved to demonstrate that it worked, but not officially commissioned for actual operational use.

Despite the Plaintiffs demonstrating that THINTHREAD actually worked, the NSA ignored THINTHREAD as a candidate for performing the desired surveillance of the internet and telephone communications, because THINTHREAD was inexpensive and highly effective, yet Lt. General Michael Hayden had made a corporate decision to “buy” externally rather than “build” internally the solution deemed necessary to harvest internet data.
$4 billion went into another program called TRAILBLAZER (THINTHREAD's internal development cost, by contrast, was only $4 MILLION), along with five years of development. In the end, TRAILBLAZER never worked properly and was abandoned by the NSA in 2006.

This wasteful "funneling" of funds to preferred government contractors was reported to the Dept. of Defense by four of the whistleblowers, under the heading of waste, fraud and misuse of taxpayers' money. The DoD wasn't happy. It issued a scathing internal report. But the NSA wasn't interested in having its faults pointed out. It sent the DOJ after the whistleblowers, using an unrelated leak of information about the NSA's expansive domestic surveillance programs to the New York Times as the impetus for a series of raids.

According to the filing, the raids were retaliatory. The government had already determined the plaintiffs had nothing to do with the leaks reported on by the New York Times. And it used faulty affidavits to justify the corresponding raids.
In fact, the affidavit for the search warrants are themselves based upon an illegal, warrantless phone tap and refer to a conversation illegally intercepted between Plaintiff Roark and Plaintiff William Binney, although misrepresenting the call’s contents. Further, the ultimate pretext for the search, a paper describing THINTHREAD at a high level that Binney had given the FBI, was falsely claimed by NSA to be classified. Thus, the search warrant affidavit is not only false but illegal.
The lawsuit also attempts to use the breadth and reach of known surveillance programs as proof the government knew the whistleblowers had nothing to do with the NYT leak.
Moreover, as later revealed by Edward Snowden, the NSA was even then, with the assistance of cooperating telephone and telecommunications companies, conducting mass interception and surveillance of all telephone calls within the domestic United States for the very purpose – at least so they claimed – of detecting both external and internal threats against the national security of the United States.

Therefore, through those phone and internet records, the Defendants had actual evidence at the time of the false affidavit and retaliatory searches and seizures that none of the Plaintiffs had communicated with the The New York Times or other journalists, except that Plaintiff Drake on his own had spoken confidentially with regard to public and /or unclassified information to the Baltimore Sun.
The end result of the FBI, NSA and DOJ's actions in response to whistleblowing (largely performed through proper channels) is a host of alleged civil liberties violations and other abuses, starting with the violation of 1998's Whistleblower Protection Act. From there, the whistleblowers allege violations of their First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights, along with malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress and abuse of process.

It will be interesting to see where this goes. The government likely won't be able to dismiss the suit quickly, but the plaintiffs are going to run into a ton of immunity claims that will be buttressed by invocations of national security concerns. Their lawyer -- Larry Klayman -- has occasionally displayed his inability to distinguish between actionable claims and conspiracy theories, a tendency that doesn't improve the plaintiffs' chances of succeeding. But of all the outcomes I imagined for the stories of Drake, Binney, et al, taking these agencies on directly in federal court wasn't one of them.

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25 Aug 04:51

Thoughts on Pratchett – [Part 1]

by Pat

Earlier this year, when I was in Germany on tour, Terry Pratchett died.

It didn’t come as a complete shock. We’ve known for ages that he was sick. We’ve had years to brace for the inevitable impact.

Even so, it hit me surprisingly hard. I hadn’t expected that.

Odds are, if you know much anything about me, you know I’ve been a fan of Pratchett for years. If you follow me on goodreads you’ve seen me write reviews so gushy that they border on the inarticulate.

Terry Pratchett – Facing Extinction

I didn’t know him. Honestly, I didn’t even know too much about him. I saw him speak once at a convention in Madison, and got to meet him very briefly. I wrote about it on the blog.

The fact remains that his work (and a few of the things I knew about him) had a huge impact on me.

So… yeah. It hit me kinda hard.

If you’re in your 20′s and 30′s and reading this blog on the interweb, it may be hard for you to understand that our opinions about authors used to come almost entirely from reading their books. Even after the internet crawled gasping onto the devonian shore of the 1990′s things like social media and author blogs simply didn’t exist in any meaningful way.

As a result, one of my first exposures to Terry Pratchett as a person was in an interview in the Onion back in 1995. Just to give you an idea of the time frame. That was back when you could pick up a copy of The Onion printed on paper. What’s more, it available *only* on paper, and even then, you could only get it in my home town of Madison, WI.

What Pratchett said in that interview had a big effect on me, as I’d been working on my own novel for a couple years at that point.

It took some digging (as I said, this was published pre-internet) but here’s the interview:

O: What’s with the big-ass hat?

Pratchett: Ah… That’s the hat I wear. I don’t know, it… It… That hat, or types like it, I’ve worn for years and years. Because I bought one, and I liked it. And then people started taking photographs of me in it, and now, certainly in the UK, it’s almost a case of if I don’t turn up in my hat people don’t know who I am. So maybe I could just send this hat to signings. I just like hats. I like Australian book tours, because Australians are really, I mean that is the big hat country, Australia.

O: You’re quite a writer. You’ve a gift for language, you’re a deft hand at plotting, and your books seem to have an enormous amount of attention to detail put into them. You’re so good you could write anything. Why write fantasy?

Pratchett: I had a decent lunch, and I’m feeling quite amiable. That’s why you’re still alive. I think you’d have to explain to me why you’ve asked that question.

O: It’s a rather ghettoized genre.

P: This is true. I cannot speak for the US, where I merely sort of sell okay. But in the UK I think every book— I think I’ve done twenty in the series— since the fourth book, every one has been one the top ten national bestsellers, either as hardcover or paperback, and quite often as both. Twelve or thirteen have been number one. I’ve done six juveniles, all of those have nevertheless crossed over to the adult bestseller list. On one occasion I had the adult best seller, the paperback best-seller in a different title, and a third book on the juvenile bestseller list. Now tell me again that this is a ghettoized genre.

O: It’s certainly regarded as less than serious fiction.

P:  (Sighs) Without a shadow of a doubt, the first fiction ever recounted was fantasy. Guys sitting around the campfire— Was it you who wrote the review? I thought I recognized it— Guys sitting around the campfire telling each other stories about the gods who made lightning, and stuff like that. They did not tell one another literary stories. They did not complain about difficulties of male menopause while being a junior lecturer on some midwestern college campus. Fantasy is without a shadow of a doubt the ur-literature, the spring from which all other literature has flown. Up to a few hundred years ago no one would have disagreed with this, because most stories were, in some sense, fantasy. Back in the middle ages, people wouldn’t have thought twice about bringing in Death as a character who would have a role to play in the story. Echoes of this can be seen in Pilgrim’s Progress, for example, which hark back to a much earlier type of storytelling. The epic of Gilgamesh is one of the earliest works of literature, and by the standard we would apply now— a big muscular guys with swords and certain godlike connections— That’s fantasy. The national literature of Finland, the Kalevala. Beowulf in England. I cannot pronounce Bahaghvad-Gita but the Indian one, you know what I mean. The national literature, the one that underpins everything else, is by the standards that we apply now, a work of fantasy.

Now I don’t know what you’d consider the national literature of America, but if the words Moby Dick are inching their way towards this conversation, whatever else it was, it was also a work of fantasy. Fantasy is kind of a plasma in which other things can be carried. I don’t think this is a ghetto. This is, fantasy is, almost a sea in which other genres swim. Now it may be that there has developed in the last couple of hundred years a subset of fantasy which merely uses a different icongraphy, and that is, if you like, the serious literature, the Booker Prize contender. Fantasy can be serious literature. Fantasy has often been serious literature. You have to fairly dense to think that Gulliver’s Travels is only a story about a guy having a real fun time among big people and little people and horses and stuff like that. What the book was about was something else. Fantasy can carry quite a serious burden, and so can humor. So what you’re saying is, strip away the trolls and the dwarves and things and put everyone into modern dress, get them to agonize a bit, mention Virginia Woolf a few times, and there! Hey! I’ve got a serious novel. But you don’t actually have to do that.

(Pauses) That was a bloody good answer, though I say it myself.

I’m looking forward to buying myself a cheese hat.

O: Back to the hat.

P: Let’s go back to the hat… Everybody needs an edge, and if the hat gives you an edge, why not wear a hat? When you get started writing, you’re one of the crowd. If the hat helps, I’ll wear a hat— I’ll wear two hats! In fact, I’m definitely going to buy a cheese hat before I leave here. We’ve never heard of them in the UK, and I can see it as being the latest thing in fashion.

Okay, you can turn the tape back off again.

I actually remember where I was when I read that. Right now, twenty years later, I remember where I was sitting as I held the paper and read it.

I’m not going to be cliche and say it changed my life.

You know what? I am. I’m going to say it. It changed my life.

Remember what year this was. It was 1995. This was before Harry Potter was written. Before Neil Gaiman wrote Neverwhere.

Pixar has just released its first movie. There was no Matrix. No Sixth Sense. No Lord of The Rings movies. Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy were a decade away.

There was no Game of Thrones on HBO. Hell, there wasn’t even Legend of the Seeker. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was 2 years away, and even more years from being recognized as brilliant television, rather than silly fluff with vampires.

I had been writing my fantasy novel for about two years, and while I loved fantasy, I knew deep down, it was something I should feel ashamed of. Fantasy novels were the books I read as a kid, and people picked on me for it. There were no classes on the subject at the University. I knew deep down in my bones that no matter how much I happened to love fantasy, it was all silly bullshit.

Even these days, people look down on fantasy. They think of it as kid stuff. They dismiss it as worthless. They say not real literature. People say that *NOW* despite the fact that Game of Thrones and The Hobbit and Avengers and Harry Potter are bigger than The Beatles.

That’s NOW. If you weren’t around back then, you really can’t begin to understand how much worse it was. When I told people I was working on a fantasy novel, a lot of people wouldn’t even really know what I was talking about.

I would say, “I’m writing a fantasy novel” and people would look at me with earnest confusion and concern in their eyes, and they would say, “Why?”

Then I read that article, and it filled me with hope. With pride.

*     *     *

I’ve got more to say on this, but this blog is already really long. And I’m leaving for PAX in the morning, so I’ll save the rest for next week

Be good to each other everyone,


24 Aug 18:42

Twitter's Excuse For Shutting Down Services That Highlight Deleted Politicians' Tweets Is Painfully Ridiculous

by Mike Masnick
A couple months ago, we wrote about Twitter shutting down Politwoops, a service from the Sunlight Foundation that highlighted tweets that politicians had posted... and then deleted. This was a useful tool for transparency, showing what kinds of tweets politicians delete. Frequently it was silly things like typos, but sometimes it caught and highlighted really ridiculous statements by politicians that they should have thought more about first. Twitters reasoning behind this made no sense at all at the time, claiming that it was about "honoring the expectation of user privacy." That's wrong. If you tweet publicly, there is no "expectation of privacy." You have done something publicly.

This weekend, this whole situation got more attention, as Twitter similarly shut down a number of similar services, including foreign instances of Politwoops run by the Open State Foundation. Once again, Twitter gave a reason... that made absolutely no sense:
Imagine how nerve-racking – terrifying, even – tweeting would be if it was immutable and irrevocable? No one user is more deserving of that ability than another. Indeed, deleting a tweet is an expression of the user’s voice.
This is worse than the original reason. First of all, that's not terrifying at all. That's how life is, every day. You say something, people hear it/see it and they can repeat it or call you out on it if they disagree. And you can have a discussion. And, of course, you can later change your words, admit you made a mistake, or, yes, delete your tweet. But people might notice that. And that's fine. It's not terrifying. There's nothing "immutable" or "irrevocable" about Politwoops highlighting things that actually happened.

As for the next two lines, again, it makes no sense. There is nothing in Politwoops that makes one user "more deserving" of any ability than any other. Anyone can delete tweets. And anyone who saw the original tweet can call it out and highlight it. Yet, for whatever reason, Twitter has decided that it wants to give extra special protections to some users, by claiming that it's an abuse to actually build a system to automate such things. This is the opposite of enabling free speech. It's stifling it.

And, yes, deleting a tweet is an expression of the user's voice -- as is having someone highlight what you deleted. That's how this works. This move is profoundly disappointing by Twitter -- a company that regularly positions itself as a champion of free speech and being engaged in the political process.

Politicians say stupid stuff all the time (as does pretty much everyone). And people call them out on it. And no one ever argues that's an invasion of their privacy... except, apparently, Twitter. Once again, this is a reminder of why we should be focused on protocols instead of platforms for the services that enable free expression. When we rely on platforms, we have to live by their rules.

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