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30 Jul 16:13

Taking Another Look at the Cecil the Lion Story

by Marian L. Tupy

There is something fishy about Cecil the lion story. Don’t get me wrong, I find trophy hunting nauseating. Still, why on earth would Walter Palmer pay $50,000 to kill a lion? Per capita GDP in Zimbabwe is $936 per year (2014 dollars). If Palmer wanted to do something illegal, he could have killed a lion for fraction of the price. (I assume that any lion would do. Palmer happened to get “unlucky” and kill the most famous lion in Zimbabwe.)

Goodness knows that magnificent wild animals get slaughtered throughout Zimbabwe – for food, skin and horns – on a daily basis and for free. The culprits include hungry locals, corrupt parks officials, members of the military and government officials. It is very likely that Palmer believed (or wanted to believe) that he was buying a legal kill and outsourced the details (permits, etc.) to the locals. That does not make Palmer innocent. He should have known better than go on a safari to a failed state – with no property rights and the rule of law. That said, the story should be understood in the proper context: it is not individual hunters, but poverty and corrupt government that are destroying Zimbabwe’s wildlife.

For more on this, see my article in the Financial Times here.

31 Jul 19:23

Here's What the Guy Who Paid $50,000 to Kill Cecil the Lion Can Learn from the Guy Who Paid $350,000 to Kill a Black Rhino

by Katherine Mangu-Ward

cecilDays after the news of the death of Cecil the Lion broke—and weeks after the actual hunt—the Internet is still in an uproar. The dentist/hunter who killed the beloved big cat has shuttered his business in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and seems to have gone missing. Everyone from Betty White to Zimbabwe's minister of the environment is pissed.

At least part of the outcry seems to be focused on the fact that Walter Palmer regularly paid big bucks to go on big game hunts. From CNN:

"As troubling as it is, the rarer these trophy hunted animals become, the more hunters are willing to pay to kill them—like the American hunter who recently paid $350,000 to kill a critically endangered black rhino in Namibia," said Jeff Flocken, the [International Fund for Animal Welfare]'s North American regional director.

But the problem isn't that Palmer paid a lot of money to hunt a lion, it's that he didn't pay enough money, he paid it to the wrong people, and he killed the wrong lion.

As far as I can tell, Palmer screwed up by using dodgy guides who in turn used illegal practices to lure an animal that should have been off-limits for many reasons, including that it lived on protected land and that he was part of an Oxford research project. In a public statement, Palmer has said he believed his guides were on the up-and-up and that all his permits were in order, but he should have been more meticulous about checking out the legitimacy of the operation, especially since he already had a felony record for botching a bear hunt. It's unclear how much he was involved in the coverup when it became clear that the lion was not a legitimate target.

But too much of the coverage has elided of the fact that hunts like the one Palmer says he thought he was on can be carried out perfectly legally and, more importantly, are a huge boon for wildlife conservation.

Here's the story of even more expensive and high-profile hunt, flawlessly executed:

rhinoAmerican Corey Knowlton paid $350,000 for a permit to hunt a black rhino in Namibia under the auspices of the Dallas Safari Club back in January 2014. Black rhinos are critically endangered, and Knowlton received death threats after the permit auction, but the details of his hunt are likely to win over all but the most ardent hunting opponents.

For starters, the money will go to fight poaching. (That's right: this pay-to-play hunt will help fund efforts to prevent exactly the kind of crappy practices used by Palmer's team) The permit from the Namibian government authorized only the killing of one of 18 elderly male black rhinos, which are actually considered a net negative for overall species survival, since they are past their breeding years but remain territorial and are therefore a threat to the younger males. Knowlton and his well-vetted team whittled that list to just four animals and were obsessively carefully about finding the right rhino to kill. 

At one point during the hunt, they felt visibility wasn't good enough to be sure they were getting the right animal, so they headed to a new location to hunt one of the approved rhinos, only to discover that it has beaten them to the punch by dying of natural causes, likely old age–related. 

Yet according to an account from a CNN journalist who rode along on the hunt, the kill was no less thrilling for its careful targeting and elderly quarry and when it was over Knowlton felt he had done the right thing:

Knowlton walks up from behind the rhino and when he's certain it's over, he kneels next to it.

"Any time you take an animal's life it's an emotional thing," Knowlton said.

The Namibian government official assures Knowlton it is the rhino on the approved hunting list. The trackers smile with relief and shake hands.

I ask Knowlton if he still feels that killing this black rhino was the right thing to do and that it will benefit the future of this endangered species.

"I felt like from day one it was something benefiting the black rhino," reflected just moments after the hunt ended. "Being on this hunt, with the amount of criticism it brought and the amount of praise it brought from both sides, I don't think it could have brought more awareness to the black rhino."

If the accounts of a grisly two-day march to find the wounded Cecil, followed by a scramble to cover up the fact that he was collared and therefore should have been off-limits, are accurate, the closing moments of Palmer's hunt were nothing like this one. And hunts like Palmer's are likely more common than Knowlton's. But the fact that money exchanged hands wasn't the problem with Palmer's hunt—and it was probably the most praiseworthy party of Knowlton's.

Semi-related: If Palmer wasn't spending his money on big game hunts, it looks like he'd be spending it on GOP candidates. Which is more harmful? Your call.

Full disclosure: I'm on the record being bummed about narrowly missing the chance to eat South African lion meat. I later got the the chance to do so. It wasn't very good.  

02 Aug 00:35

Report: Shooter in Garland, Texas, Attack Purchased Firearm Linked to Fast and Furious Operation

by Oliver Darcy

One of the assailants who opened fire earlier this year outside a “draw Muhammad” event in Garland, Texas, purchased a firearm connected to the Fast and Furious operation, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday.

Five years before Nadir Soofi and his partner were shot to death by a responding officer after launching their failed attack, the 34-year-old reportedly visited a Phoenix gun shop.

Members of the FBI Evidence Response Team investigate the crime scene outside of the Curtis Culwell Center after a shooting occurred the day before, on May 04, 2015 in Garland, Texas. (Photo by Ben Torres/Getty Images)

Members of the FBI Evidence Response Team investigate the crime scene outside of the Curtis Culwell Center after a shooting occurred the day before, on May 04, 2015 in Garland, Texas. (Photo by Ben Torres/Getty Images)

According to the L.A. Times, Soofi wanted to purchase a 9-milimeter pistol, but knew prior misdemeanor drug and assault charges would be flagged in the federal screening process. Soofi, thus, went to Lone Wolf Trading Co., a shop known to sell firearms illegally.

The Phoenix gun shop, however, was part of the botched Fast and Furious operation, the L.A. Times reported. Federal authorities were allowing Lone Wolf to sell illegal firearms with the hope of tracing the weapons to drug cartels and smuggling networks.

An image depicting Nadir Soofi, one of the gunmen who attacked a venue that featured a contest to draw the Prophet Mohammed, is seen on a computer screen in the Pakistani capital Islamabad on May 6, 2015. (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

An image depicting Nadir Soofi, one of the gunmen who attacked a venue that featured a contest to draw the Prophet Mohammed, is seen on a computer screen in the Pakistani capital Islamabad on May 6, 2015. (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

Nonetheless, Soofi’s attempt raised flags and authorities put a seven-day hold on his ability to purchase a gun from the shop, the L.A. Times reported. However, for an unknown reason, that hold was lifted within 24 hours. Soofi left the shop with a 9-milimeter.

It was not clear whether that same weapon purchased five years prior to the Garland attack was used in the shooting, but federal authorities did contact Lone Wolf the following day, according to the L.A. Times.

The Garland attack left both shooters dead and a security officer wounded.

Follow the author of this story on Twitter and Facebook:
Follow @oliverdarcy

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30 Jul 21:00

How chimpanzees helped inspire the Windows Start menu

by Matt Weinberger

monkey chimpanzee computer tablet

When Windows 95 came out twenty years ago, its headlining feature was the  new Start menu, giving easy access to programs and documents.

The official theme song for the Windows 95 launch was even "Start Me Up" by the Rolling Stones. 

20 years later, the Start menu is still with us, making headlines once again as a key part of Windows 10.

It's something that gives Danny Oran, the ex-Microsoft interface designer who holds the patents for the Windows 95 Start menu and taskbar, mixed feelings.

"In some ways, it's a little disappointing the same stuff is in there," Oran says. 

One the one hand, millions and millions of people use his invention every day. But it also means that in the 22 years since he first invented the concept, nothing better has come along.

"In retrospect, I wish I got a royalty," jokes Oran.

Austin and Sherman 

daniel oran chimpanzee skinner computerOran first joined Microsoft in 1992. As a trained behavioral psychologist, Microsoft brass was hoping that Oran could figure out ways to make Windows easier to use for non-technical people.

Oran was uniquely qualified. At Harvard, Oran had undertaken his first user interface design project, overseen by no less than famed behavioral scientist BF Skinner.

Skinner asked Oran a simple question: "How would you teach chimps to talk?"

To answer that question, Oran ended up working with two teenage chimpanzees named Austin and Sherman, using a home-built device out of wood as a kind of keyboard for a computer program that would, ideally, teach them English.

"Did the chimps learn to talk? No. They didn't even come close," wrote Oran in a presentation. Still, it provided a lot of insight into how to design a computer program so even a chimpanzee could use it. 

"Our customers are morons!"

windows 95At the time, Microsoft needed the help. Windows 3.1, the version in use around 1992, had a reputation of being hard to use. And as a big fan of Apple's Mac operating system, Oran could come at it from an outsider's perspective.

One of the first steps along the way was to watch how customers were actually using Windows in the wild. As part of a usability study, Oran and some programmers would instruct a subject on how to complete a simple task and watch how they did it. 

This would become a frustrating experience for Oran very quickly. The Windows programmers wouldn't recognize that the problem was with the operating system and not the users.

For instance, one study subject took twenty minutes of staring at a Windows 3.1 desktop before being able to open a text editing program.  Finally, a programmer spoke up that this was unacceptable, to Oran's relief. But that relief would be short lived: "Our customers are morons!" exclaimed the programmer. 

This was frustrating enough, Oran says. But then they talked to that user, and it turns out that he was actually a propulsion engineer for Boeing. 

"He was literally a rocket scientist," Oran says. "And even he couldn't figure out Windows."

daniel oran windows start menu sketchThen he had an epiphany on his commute to Microsoft's Redmond headquarters.

If users couldn't figure out where to go in Windows, Oran says, it was a design failure.  So instead, he thought to give them one single button to push that led them to everything, the same way he had to teach the chimps, button by button, how to use software. 

Originally, Oran says, it was called the "System" button, and it lived at the top of the screen. But for whatever reason, maybe because it sounded too technical, users in these Windows studies wouldn't click a System button no matter what. 

But once they renamed it the "Start" button, people understood it intuitively.

Oran knew he had a winner when a test subject was able to use the Start menu to complete their task before he was even given the instructions. 

Taskmaster

The other piece of the puzzle was the taskbar. A big issue with Windows 3.1 was that people didn't know how many programs they had open. People would open a new game of Solitaire, minimize it when their boss came by, and then open a new one when they wanted to start playing again.

Windows 3.1 had a task manager to show you what programs were running, but most mainstream users would never figure out how to get to it. Their computers would gradually just get slower until they restarted the machine and started the cycle all over again.

"There was no way of knowing," Oran says.

windows 95 taskbar evolutionSo to solve this problem, Oran came up with the basic idea of a bar that would show you what was running. It was originally conceived as a bunch of tabs on the top of the screen. The earliest version of the concept looks a lot like browser tabs in Chrome or Safari. 

But these tabs took up too much space on the screen, especially since most monitors at the time were small and ran at a 640 by 480 resolution.

Eventually, Microsoft was guessing, there'd be bigger screens with higher definition displays (and they were right), but at the time, it wasn't practical. Oran ended up making the tabs smaller and making them into buttons.

For the sake of convenience, the Start menu and the taskbar were combined into one thing that sat at the edge of the screen. But for reasons that were unclear, Microsoft made the call to bring the taskbar down to the bottom, where it still sits by default in Windows 10. 

Oran says he heard a rumor that Microsoft did this because placing the taskbar at the top made it look too much like Apple Mac OS, and Microsoft was worried about legal action. But he never found out for sure.

Today

New Windows 10 start menuOran left Microsoft in 1994, before Windows 95 was released, to continue his graduate school program at Harvard.

These days, he's putting his behavioral science background to use for social good: Previously, he was at progressive activism site MoveOn.org, studying how social network effects can encourage a higher voter turnout and creating its Social Report Card product for the 2012 election. He also worked with early-stage startups in the Cambridge Accelerator. 

Today, Oran is living in the Washington DC area and working in the healthcare industry, using his expertise to come up with strategies for fighting suicide. 

"As fun as the Windows stuff was," Oran says, the work he's doing now is literally "life and death." 

He only watches Microsoft from the outside, and he hasn't gotten his hands on Windows 10 just yet.

Still, those mixed feelings remain: Windows 8 had its ups and downs, he says, but at least it tried something new besides a Start menu he invented decades prior. 

But he has a little bit of advice from his experience: Oran was still very young when he worked for Microsoft, but what he did had a lasting effect. The lesson for aspiring innovators just starting out is clear. 

"The things you work on can have a surprising impact," Oran says. 

SEE ALSO: 20 years ago, Matthew Perry and Jennifer Aniston made a very '90s instructional video for Windows 95

Join the conversation about this story »

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31 Jul 18:41

Uber is officially a $50 billion company (MSFT)

by Maya Kosoff

travis kalanick, ceo uber

Uber has closed a new round of funding that values the company at $50 billion, The Wall Street Journal's Doug MacMillan and Telis Demos report.

The ride-hailing company raised "close to" $1 billion in the new round of funding, sources tell The Journal.

The Journal reports that investors in the new round include Microsoft and Indian media company Bennett Coleman & Co.'s investment subsidiary.

And, as The Journal reports, Uber's newfound $50 billion valuation means that Facebook is no longer the only company to have a valuation of that level before going public.

The new round could help Uber continue to expand in markets outside the US, including India, its second-largest market.

On Thursday, Uber announced it would be sinking $1 billion into its Indian markets to take on Ola, a rival car-hailing service in the country valued at $2 billion.

"We filed to authorize this new funding more than two months ago. The filing is available to the public," an Uber spokesperson told Business Insider. "We aren’t commenting on additional speculation.”

SEE ALSO: Uber is a political machine

Join the conversation about this story »

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01 Aug 18:26

Microsoft created a chatbot in China that has millions of loyal followers who talk to it like in the movie 'Her'

by Jillian D'Onfro

joaquin phoenix her

Microsoft has created a Chinese-language chatbot that's captured the attention and affection of millions of people who message it regularly, The New York Times reports.

The bot, called Xiaoice, has more than 20 million registered users. Like in the movie "Her," where the main character falls in love with with a Siri-esque operating system, people are using Xiaoice as a surrogate companion, investing both time and emotional energy into their communication with the robot. 

From The Times:

She is known as Xiaoice, and millions of young Chinese pick up their smartphones every day to exchange messages with her, drawn to her knowing sense of humor and listening skills. People often turn to her when they have a broken heart, have lost a job, or have been feeling down. They often tell her, “I love you.”

Xiaoice's strength lies in its ability to "remember" details from previous conversations and mimic natural speech patterns, which it learns by constantly scraping real conversations between real people for its database from across the internet.

As far as privacy fears for users, Microsoft says that it only keeps general data, like what a person's mood is (for example, if they said they lost a job and are sad), and deletes the rest of the personal data.

Xiaoice "caused much more excitement than we anticipated," manager of the Microsoft program in Beijing, Yao Baogang, told The Times. 

SEE ALSO: I ‘dated’ a virtual girlfriend for a week to see what all those Japanese guys are so excited about

Join the conversation about this story »

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31 Jul 14:47

New York Times: The right minimum wage is $0.00 per hour

by Mark Perry

From the New York Times editorial “The Right Minimum Wage: $0.00“:

There’s a virtual consensus among economists that the minimum wage is an idea whose time has passed. Raising the minimum wage by a substantial amount would price working poor people out of the job market. A far better way to help them would be to subsidize their wages or – better yet – help them acquire the skills needed to earn more on their own.

An increase in the minimum wage would restore the purchasing power of bottom-tier wages. It would also permit a minimum-wage breadwinner to earn almost enough to keep a family of three above the official poverty line. There are catches, however. It would increase employers’ incentives to evade the law, expanding the underground economy. More important, it would increase unemployment: Raise the legal minimum price of labor above the productivity of the least skilled workers and fewer will be hired.

If a higher minimum means fewer jobs, why does it remain on the agenda of some liberals? A higher minimum would undoubtedly raise the living standard of the majority of low-wage workers who could keep their jobs. That gain, it is argued, would justify the sacrifice of the minority who became unemployable. The argument isn’t convincing. Those at greatest risk from a higher minimum would be young, poor workers, who already face formidable barriers to getting and keeping jobs.

The idea of using a minimum wage to overcome poverty is old, honorable – and fundamentally flawed. It’s time to put this hoary debate behind us, and find a better way to improve the lives of people who work very hard for very little.

MP: In case you’re in shock hearing the NY Times editorialize against raising the minimum wage, check the publication date of the editorial. It was back in an era when even the NY Times editorial board had a grasp of basic economics.

The post New York Times: The right minimum wage is $0.00 per hour appeared first on AEI.

29 Jul 19:15

Revolt: John Boehner Just Got Stunned By An Unexpected Attack From His Own Party

by Randy DeSoto

Image Credit: Wiki Commons

Image Credit: Wiki Commons

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., has filed a motion to oust John Boehner as Speaker of the House.

The Tea Party favorite, now serving in his second term in Congress, filed a “vacate the chair” motion, which could force a no confidence vote by the full chamber.

In order for the move to be successful, it will require a majority vote of all the members of the House, including Democrats.

Politico reports:

The resolution, obtained by POLITICO, states that Boehner has tried to “consolidate power and centralize decision-making, bypassing the majority of the 435 members of Congress and the people they represent.” It accuses the speaker of using the “legislative calendar to create crises for the American people, in order to compel members to vote for legislation.”

The resolution also charges Boehner with using the Rules Committee to limit amendments.

The “Speaker has, through inaction, caused the power of Congress to atrophy, thereby making Congress subservient to the Executive and Judicial branches, diminishing the voice of the American People,” it reads. “Whereas the Speaker uses the power of the office to punish Members who vote according to their conscience instead of the will of the Speaker.”

Republican Study Chairman Bill Flores of Texas called Meadows’ move a “cheap political stunt.” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Cailf.) said that “when you don’t raise any money, and you need a way to raise money you do gimmicks like this.”

“But Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), who has repeatedly voted against Boehner, said there’s a lot of ‘dissatisfaction with the leadership,’” according to Politico.

As reported by Western Journalism, Meadows briefly lost his position as chairman of the Government Operations subcommittee last month after voting against Boehner and the Republican leadership regarding Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation. Other members also lost positions for not toeing the line following the TPA vote.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, ultimately reinstated Meadows after receiving an outpouring of support for the North Carolinian.

He is a member of the Freedom Caucus, made up of between 30 and 40 conservative lawmakers.

“Sources say Meadows will circulate a so-called discharge petition to force a vote on [his] motion. But if he wanted a vote in the next two legislative days, he could simply stand up and ask for one. If he did that, the motion would be considered ‘privileged,’ which would make it the immediate business of the House. In its current form, Meadows’ motion is simply a statement of opposition to Boehner,” Politico reports.

BCN editor’s note: This article first appeared at Western Journalism.

01 Aug 17:29

The Legal Case for Federal Land Disposal is Much Stronger than Critics Think

by Rob Natelson

The American Lands Council is a Utah-based organization that argues that the federal government should transfer part of its massive land holdings to the states. In recent weeks, apologists for federal land ownership have been savaging the American Lands Council and its leader, Utah Rep. Ken Ivory, in the Utah press.

I don’t agree with every position the American Lands Council takes, but they have a reasonable legal case. I wrote the following in the Salt Lake Tribune to defend Rep. Ivory and the Council against certain politically-motivated charges:

The American Lands Council and its leader, Utah Rep. Ken Ivory, argue that the federal government is illegally retaining vast tracts of Western lands, some of which should be conveyed to the states.

This is not a new position, but it is making new progress in American state legislatures. It also is drawing the charge that it has “no legal foundation.”

The truth, however, is that Ivory’s position is grounded much more firmly than critics admit.

There are at least three legal bases for concluding that the federal government is obligated to dispose of surplus acreage:

• The original meaning of the Constitution—the meaning attached to it by the Founders—largely supports this view.
• Some of the congressional laws creating Western states (“organic acts”) strongly imply that the federal government has the duty to dispose of excess land.
• To the extent that some of those laws suggest otherwise, they may be constitutionally defective.

Critics point to court cases that assume the federal government may own any land it wants to. But critics should be cautious about relying on those cases. They were sparsely reasoned and therefore are subject to ready judicial re-examination. Moreover, they were decided before the Supreme Court’s renewed interest in the original meaning of the Constitution’s text.

Significantly, that text does not grant the federal government an open-ended, unconditional power to own land. It grants an unconditional power to dispose, but merely conditional and limited authority to retain or acquire.

I first examined the meaning behind this text in a 2005 study published by the University of Colorado Law Review. I learned that the Founders intended the federal government to enjoy more power to own real estate than some right-wing activists admit. But I also learned that the Constitution conveyed to the federal government a good deal less power than Ivory’s critics claim. Essentially, the Constitution, as originally understood, grants the federal government authority to own land for purposes enumerated in the document, but requires the government to dispose of the remainder.

The Supreme Court should have the opportunity to analyze the original meaning of these provisions in the same way it has analyzed provisions applying to federal elections, habeas corpus, guns, and other issues. Perhaps Ken Ivory will give the Court that opportunity.

Another legal basis for Ivory’s position arises from the organic acts of states containing large federal holdings. Those laws support his view when read in light of prevailing rules of judicial interpretation and historical and legal context.

To illustrate: Each organic act grants the state a share of proceeds from federal land sales. From share-of-proceeds terms, courts commonly infer an obligation to maximize proceeds—in this case, a duty to maximize sales. Similarly, each organic act provides that the state disclaims title to federal lands. Although critics claim those disclaimers allow the federal government to retain lands, the disclaimers’ actual purpose was to clear title for sale. The states can legitimately contend that if the federal government sabotages the agreed purpose of the disclaimers, then the states may withdraw them.

Some state organic acts do have terms suggesting the federal government may retain land permanently, but for several reasons those terms may be constitutionally defective.

For example: The Supreme Court voids federal laws (including organic acts) that interfere too much with a state’s core sovereignty. Control over land within state boundaries always has been part of core state sovereignty.

Admittedly, the mere fact that the federal government owns some property within a state does not necessarily violate that state’s core sovereignty. But how far does this rule go?

Washington, D.C. does not claim merely title to the land it owns, but vast sovereign-style authority over it as well. Presumably, therefore, it would be unconstitutional for the feds to own and exercise that kind of authority over all of a state’s territory. But what if they own and control half the state’s land, as in Idaho? Two-thirds, as in Utah? Over 80 percent, as in Nevada?

These are serious and legitimate questions, and Rep. Ivory is performing a public service by raising them.

24 Jul 15:16

Yuval Noah Harari: What explains the rise of humans?

by contact@ted.com (TED Conferences LLC)
Remlaps

Sort-of dances around the idea from "I Pencil". In one sense, he seemed to miss the point, but in another, he broadened the idea in an interesting way.

Seventy thousand years ago, our human ancestors were insignificant animals, just minding their own business in a corner of Africa with all the other animals. But now, few would disagree that humans dominate planet Earth; we've spread to every continent, and our actions determine the fate of other animals (and possibly Earth itself). How did we get from there to here? Historian Yuval Noah Harari suggests a surprising reason for the rise of humanity.
31 Jul 17:30

Star Parker: Rejecting the Lies of the Left

by News Editor

How will Ferguson rebuild? Star Parker has some ideas. As someone once poor and welfare-dependent, she knows what she’s talking about.

01 Aug 13:34

Uber vs. Piketty

by Don Boudreaux
(Don Boudreaux)

Tweet

Thomas Piketty famously argues that owners of capital grab ever-larger shares of wealth, and that the single best ‘solution’ to this alleged problem is a global tax on wealth and high rates of income taxation.  Problems galore fill Piketty’s book – including his failure to recognize that market-driven innovation and competition are incessantly creating new capital while reducing or even destroying the value of older capital, all in ways that move new flesh-and-blood people into the central ranks of the ‘capitalists’ while moving others onto the periphery of those ranks.  (Twelve years ago Mark Zuckerberg, the son of a dentist, was no one’s idea of a capitalist.  He’s now worth close to $40 billion.)

While working together earlier this week on a business trip to California, my Mercatus Center colleague Ashley Schiller and I were chatting about Uber and the assaults that governments are now launching on this amazing innovation.  Ashley had a brilliant insight, which I share here with her kind permission: Uber (and other ‘sharing economy’ innovations, such as Airbnb) allow ordinary people to turn their consumption goods into capital goods.

Uber enables someone who would otherwise drive his or her car only for personal use to drive his or her car for paying customers – that is, to drive his or her car in an income-earning (and, hence, wealth-enhancing) manner.  Uber enables a consumption good to easily become a capital good for however long the car owner chooses to operate as an Uber driver.  For whatever number of hours car owners use their personal cars as Uber (or Lyft) cars, part of value of those cars becomes part of the value of an economy’s capital stock even if formal statistics do not yet register it as such.

Uber and other sharing-economy innovations create more productive capital and create more capitalists.  Government interventions against Uber and other sharing-economy innovations are, therefore, government interventions aimed not only at protecting the value of existing capital (and established capitalists) from the forces of creative destruction, and such interventions are not only obstacles to market forces that improve consumers’ access to goods and services; in addition, such interventions are assaults against market forces that increase the amount of wealth-producing capital that ordinary people are able to own, control, and profit from.

It’s more than a little ironic that France gives the world not only an economist who insists that massive taxation is required to prevent existing owners of capital from growing ever more rich and powerful at the expense of those of us who today are not relatively significant owners of capital, but gives the world also the single most obnoxious example of government intervention that blocks market forces from doing what the French economist says cannot be done by the market and must be done by the state.

UPDATE: Over at BleedingHeartLibertarians, Steve Horwitz furthers this discussion.

01 Aug 14:44

The Sharing Economy and the Ownership of the Means of Production

by Steve Horwitz

In a post at Cafe Hayek this morning, Don Boudreaux cites his Mercatus colleague Ashley Schiller’s observation that Uber and the “sharing economy” more generally allow individuals to turn their consumption goods into capital goods as they wish to. Your car becomes a capital asset when you use it for Uber driving. This, Don points out, spreads the ownership of capital more widely and thereby undermines the process of capital concentration that people like Piketty claim is happening. That’s a terrific point. And it raises a huge irony…

How amusing is it that so many Marxists and progressives are objecting to a change in the relations of production that enables more individuals to become owners of the means of production rather than having to work for someone else who owns all of the physical capital they require to do their job?

Yes, Uber still owns the software platform that makes the connection between seller and buyer possible, but it remains the case that Uber drivers own their own capital, as did the pre-capitalist artisans and farmers. Uber drivers control the days and times they choose to work. They can hunt in the morning, be a medical technician in the afternoon, drive for Uber in the evening, and work on their new business idea after dinner. Or they can do it by days if they wish.

The sharing economy can’t make us all Aristotle or Goethe. It can’t give us all of Marx’s utopia. But it sure does seem to get us closer to a number of the goals that Marxists and other progressives have claimed to want.  When people own their means of production and escape from the imposed structure of the owners of capital, they thereby gain the flexibility to explore multiple avenues of flourishing much more on their own terms.

Isn’t that one of the central goals of Marx-inspired socialism? If so, we should be celebrating the sharing economy as a huge step toward realizing one of socialism’s central goals through the market. Bleeding heart libertarianism, indeed.

 

30 Jul 13:50

What IS Free-Range Parenting? A Primer from the CBC

by lskenazy

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This is a lovely piece about Free-Range Kids from the CBC (Canada’s public broadcasting station). Couldn’t have said it better myself:

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Note: Your child does not HAVE to look like my son Izzy to go Free-Range…even though the kid the CBC found sure does!

The "Subway Rider" back in the day. (Now he's 17.)

The “Subway Rider” back in the day. (Now he’s 17.)

28 Jul 14:30

Boeing 777 landing in 60 MPH winds

by Rob Beschizza
Remlaps

h/t Jts5665

This KLM pilot nails it at Schipol airport in Amsterdam—and any passengers who refused to stash their stuff were likely nailed by their iPads during rapid corrections in 60MPH cross-winds. Read the rest

31 Jul 11:56

Netflix to bring three Star Wars TV shows to the little big screen

by Dave James
Remlaps

h/t Roumen.ganeff

Netflix to bring three Star Wars TV shows to the little big screen

So Amazon Prime might have been all smug about the fact it poached the much-maligned fading lights of BBC's Top Gear show, but in this game of streaming Top Trumps Netflix seems like it's got the ace card: Star Wars.

According to rumours from Cinelinx Netflix is set to work with Disney to create three new live-action Star Wars TV shows.

And we thought our Lucasfilm excitement couldn't get any more powerful…

Disney already has a deal in place with Netflix to create Marvel-based shows, such as Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron-Fist and Luke Cage - with more on the way - so Netflix seems like an ideal home for Star Wars. After all, the final series of The Clone Wars cartoon was distributed exclusively on Netflix too.

And with the amount of money Netflix is ploughing into its homebrew TV offerings we shouldn't be looking at low-budget offerings either.

Scene-stealing

In fact reports are that filming of the TV series is being scheduled to fit between work on the various movies so that they can share the same sets. Thank JJ that they've decided to eschew Lucas' obsession with CGI in favour of actual physical things…

There has been no official confirmation though as yet, and the rumours don't seem to have any clue as to who, what or when the different TV series will cover or when they might go live.

With Rogue One covering the Rebels' troops and the second of the Star Wars Anthology movies covering young Han Solo and potentially Boba Fett too, what's left for the TV series?

We're desperate to find out what the hell happened to Ashoka, and maybe see a little more about the seedy underbelly of Coruscant's lower levels too.

Though with three new movies, three anthology flicks and potentially three live-action TV series, is that going to be too much of a good thing?

Familiarity breeds contempt and all that...

via Cinelinx










29 Jul 10:05

Netflix set to create two new Marvel TV series every year

by Dave James
Remlaps

h/t Roumen.ganeff

Netflix set to create two new Marvel TV series every year

With the success of its Daredevil TV series Netflix has announced plans to put out a new Marvel show every six months, pulling inspiration from The Defenders group of heroes.

Speaking at the Television Critics Association Ted Sarandos, Netflix CCO, explained that it was the company's plan to continue producing a new shows from The Defenders pool of characters. The final end goal is for them to all finally assemble (wink) for an ensemble series featuring them all.

"Some will selectively have multiple seasons as they come out of the gate," said Sarandos. "So there will probably be two launches a year."

The Defenders suits this approach perfectly, the comic-book group is referred to as a 'non-team' because of the individualistic nature of its ever-changing protagonists. So building up the individual characters via their own shows or miniseries before throwing them all together makes perfect sense.

To hit its two per year goal shouldn't be hard as The Defenders has had a bunch of different members since Dr. Strange, the Hulk and Namor the Sub-Mariner set it up. There's a host of possible crossovers too, with the Guardians of the Galaxy having time-travelled their way onto the roster at one point and even Howard the Duck and Spiderman made their own appearances too.

Right now though Netflix has Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist in development to compliment the second season of Daredevil.

The Defenders

This huge commitment to creating its own Marvel series just shows how times have changed for the streaming giant. It also shows how big a player it has become in the TV market.

Following on from Sarandos' 2013 claims of a goal to "become HBO faster than HBO can become us" it is close to delivering on that promise. The Vulture has plotted the homegrown content of both companies showing that Netflix's 36 shows in in production or on-screen in 2015 outstrips HBO's 23 count of its own content.

Considering last year Netflix's homegrown shows only numbered 11 that's huge growth.

HBO though is very much still HBO and with HBO Now it's created a US-only Netflix-a-like service too. And profit-wise there is no comparison - HBO is still reportedly ten times more profitable.

But then you've got to spend money to make money....

Who would you like to see Netflix creating their own series? I'm holding out it paying Cage to chew some more scenery as Ghost Rider.










30 Jul 13:32

The Biggest Fraud In History

by tonyheller

Government scientists know perfectly well that global warming isn’t happening. Their best data is from satellites, which show no warming for almost twenty years.

ScreenHunter_10030 Jul. 30 09.22

Wood for Trees: Interactive Graphs

But there is $29 billion per year being distributed by the government to perpetuate this massive fraud – so it continues.

31 Jul 04:00

Vet

It's probably for the best. Since Roombas are native to North America, it's illegal for Americans to keep them in their houses under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
29 Jul 22:18

Cop To Vet On Receiving End Of Bogus Raid: Investigating Things Beforehand Just Slows Us Down

by Tim Cushing
Remlaps

h/t Jts5665

The "shoot first, ask for immunity later" mentality of today's law enforcement officers is perfectly highlighted in this story about a US military veteran finding himself on the receiving end of a military-style raid… all because a "helpful" neighbor reported him for being in the "wrong" apartment. (via Amy Alkon)

Alex Horton, an Iraq war veteran, was having some work done on his apartment. During the repairs, his landlord put him up in a "model unit." He fell asleep in an apartment otherwise known to be unoccupied. A passing neighbor apparently saw him in the apartment through the cracked door and reported this to the police. What happened next was standard operating procedure -- both for the US military and US law enforcement.

I got home from the bar and fell into bed soon after Saturday night bled into Sunday morning. I didn’t wake up until three police officers barged into my apartment, barking their presence at my door. They sped down the hallway to my bedroom, their service pistols drawn and leveled at me.

It was just past 9 a.m., and I was still under the covers. The only visible target was my head.

In the shouting and commotion, I felt an instant familiarity. I’d been here before. This was a raid.

I had done this a few dozen times myself, 6,000 miles away from my Alexandria, Va., apartment. As an Army infantryman in Iraq, I’d always been on the trigger side of the weapon. Now that I was on the barrel side, I recalled basic training’s most important firearm rule: Aim only at something you intend to kill.
The militarization of police goes far beyond simply arming them with the military's leftover vehicles and weapons. It also informs their tactics. But law enforcement only cherry-picks what it likes about the military. Horton's article for the Washington Post points out that law enforcement officers don't handle their weapons like military members do. Soldiers are taught that guns are deadly and should only be pointed at targets the soldier intends to kill. Police officers are taught to use their guns for intimidation, without nearly as much attention paid to drilling home the point that guns are deadly and should be respected -- especially by the ones wielding them.
[Erik] Rhoads, the Fairfax County police lieutenant, was upfront about this mind-set. He explained that it was standard procedure to point guns at suspects in many cases to protect the lives of police officers. Their firearm rules were different from mine; they aimed not to kill but to intimidate. According to reporting by The Washington Post, those rules are established in police training, which often emphasizes a violent response over deescalation. Recruits spend an average of eight hours learning how to neutralize tense situations; they spend more than seven times as many hours at the weapons range.
This is what turns a report of a squatter in an apartment into a fully-armed raid. It didn't have to be this way. This "situation" could have been defused at any point before the officers rushed into the apartment with weapons drawn. The security guard at the complex could have been asked about the person in the model apartment. The apartment's owner and management could have provided helpful information as well. But no one -- not even Shift Commander Erik Rhoads -- even considered arming police officers with additional information. They had guns and the authority to use them. That was enough.
When I later visited the Fairfax County police station to gather details about what went wrong, I met the shift commander, Lt. Erik Rhoads. I asked why his officers hadn’t contacted management before they raided the apartment. Why did they classify the incident as a forced entry, when the information they had suggested something innocuous? Why not evaluate the situation before escalating it?

Rhoads defended the procedure, calling the officers’ actions “on point.” It’s not standard to conduct investigations beforehand because that delays the apprehension of suspects, he told me.
It also delays the apprehension -- the violent apprehension, I might add -- of non-suspects, as was the case with Horton. It instead expedites the sort of stupidity that would be comical if it weren't so dangerous for everyone involved. The willful ignorance of situations, explained away by the "need" to swiftly apprehend criminals, leads to more death and violence. And not just for "suspects." It makes the situation more dangerous for cops as well. It's as if modern law enforcement agencies view the "fog of war" as a tactical advantage, even though nothing about the history of that terms suggests it has ever been viewed that way by actual combatants.

This is an astounding admission. Rhoads, a commanding officer, is willing to purposefully endanger his own officers in the pursuit of a few more busts. His officers, apparently, are more than willing to be abused in this fashion, as long as it means they can dress up in tactical gear and yell a lot while pointing guns at people. Beyond that, though, he's willing to willfully endanger the public by purposefully avoiding any information-gathering that might make these interactions safer for both his officers and those they seek.

Rhoads' statement explains why flashbang grenades get tossed into toddlers' cribs. In the haste to bust someone responsible for $50 worth of drug sales, facts were withheld and investigative reconnaissance of the residence kept to a minimum. It allowed the raiding officers to operate with a minimum of concern for the occupants. All they had to know was "no-knock" and "drug dealer." Everything else was irrelevant.

Deployed troops are put into extremely dangerous situations every day and yet they are expected to maintain relationships with the people in the areas they patrol and not assume every tense situation can only be defused by gunfire. Back in the US where the streets are infinitely safer, the opposite is true. Force and aggression are the favored tactics and an officer's life is valued above all others. This isn't how policing is supposed to work and it betrays the public these officers are supposed to serve.
I understood the risks of war when I enlisted as an infantryman. Police officers should understand the risks in their jobs when they enroll in the academy, as well. That means knowing that personal safety can’t always come first. That is why it’s service. That’s why it’s sacrifice.
Here in the US, it's the public that's expected to make these sacrifices. A "civilian" is expected to die before an officer does and collateral damage is not only to be expected, it's wholly encouraged by those with the same mentality as Lt. Erik Rhoads.

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29 Jul 16:45

To the States: Resist Much, Obey Little

by Michael Boldin

Written by the great American poet, Walt Whitman, TO THE STATES urged people, cities and states to RESIST.

We call that nullification – something northern abolitionists did to great success in the 1850s.

FULL POEM:

To The States, or any one of
them, or any city of The
States, Resist much, Obey
little,
Once unquestioning obedience,
once fully enslaved,
Once fully enslaved, no nation,
race, city, of this earth,
ever afterward resumes
its liberty.—

09252013_whitman-resist-much-obey-little

28 Jul 18:59

Intel's 3D memory is 1,000 times faster than modern storage

by Andrew Tarantola
Remlaps

h/t Roumen.ganeff

Intel and Micron unveiled a novel new kind of non-volatile data storage device during a press conference on Tuesday. The chips, dubbed "3D XPoint" (pronounced "cross-point"), are being touted as the first new class of "mainstream memory" to hit the m...
30 Jul 18:24

Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission

by matthewsickmeier

A new book from a mainstream author and publisher not only details the problems created by the federal regulatory state, it recommends a course of action to stop it quite familiar to supporters of the Tenth Amendment Center.

Followers of the Tenth Amendment Center’s work are no strangers to the continuing growth of federal power. From expansive wars overseas, to disproportionate incarceration of citizens, to complete disregard of constitutional jurisprudence, there seems to be no limit to the continuous expansion of federal authority.

In Charles Murray’s most recent book By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission (Crown Forum, 2015) the focus is on just that. However, rather than the typical aggregate summary of the current state of affairs, Murray focuses on what is sometimes referred to as the fourth branch of government – the regulatory state; that is the extensive and intertwined network of unelected administrative agencies, each dominating their area of “expertise.”

Introducing the book, Murray carefully describes the rise of big government in America. In part 1, titled “Coming to terms with where we stand,” he makes the case that our political process is beyond repair and no longer an effective avenue for change. He identifies the Supreme Court as a key tool expansionists used to legitimize any overreaching law or interpretation thereof (think general welfare clause).

Murray continues his evaluation with precise and fact-based findings to cement his position. He often cites the Code of Federal Regulations, which grew from 22,877 pages to 174,545 pages in a span of 50 years, as black and white proof of an over burdensome bureaucracy. Murray correctly points out these codes are primarily malum prohibitum (wrong not in and of themselves, but because statute asserts so.) That leaves Americans complying with counter-productive regulations that are expansive and bad for society overall, despite the image lawmakers strive to sell.

Ideally, Murray argues that regulatory bodies should harbor a “no harm, no foul” outlook on their rulings; the discretion sports referees take when making a call. As Murray writes;

“If a violation of a rule has occurred but it has no effect on the action of the game, the officials ignore it and the game goes on, to the greater enjoyment of both players and spectators. As the sports announcers say, ‘The officials are letting them play tonight.'”

Having identified the problem, Murray goes on to explain why conventional political methods, such as electing the right representatives or depending on judges, are of little use in reining in the beast. Referencing the fact that the Supreme Court continually affirms most of what the legislative branch passes anyway, and even adds to existing law (think Chief Justice Robert’s most recent ruling on King vs. Burwell), there seems to be no hope in asking lawmakers to restrain themselves when they have a judicial stamp of approval operating less than a mile away.

Murray notes that in the few cases the Supreme Court actually did overturn law, such as Brown v. Board of Education and Plessy v. Ferguson, it amounted to only a roadblock to federal operations and not its limits. And it’s the lack of limits of federal power that is the root of overreaching government actions. With lawmakers legislating outside the sphere of their constitutionally enumerated powers, we see time and time again a blurred line between what Congress can and cannot do.

Unlike many typical social science books, Murray doesn’t just leave the reader with a laundry list of grievances. Instead he constructs a very plausible strategy to stop them. By the People details, what Murray calls, “systematic civil disobedience” – a distinct initiation of defiance to certain regulations. As Murray explains:

“Not…all regulations, but…pointless, stupid and tyrannical ones. Identifying…categories that should come under strict scrutiny include regulations that prescribe best practice for a craft or profession; restrict access to an occupation; prohibit owners of property from using it as they wish; prescribe hiring, firing and working conditions; and prevent people from taking voluntary risks. Within each category, the task is to discriminate between regulations that should command our voluntary compliance from those that are foolish or worse…”

Under his strategy, laws which are malum in se (bad in themselves) are exempt. Murray also excludes public interest items such as the tax code and national defense from his “systematic civil disobedience,” leaving issues that nearly everybody opposes such as bureaucratic red-tape, over bearing OSHA regulations and other administrative laws.

Murray’s approach to methodical defiance distances himself from individuals applying similar techniques to more controversial topics, which it’s assumed, could tarnish the cause. It seems Murray chooses to focus on the low hanging fruit of federal grievousness for the sake of plausibility, or to focus action on issues that cross party lines. Be that as it may, attacking the issues We the People covers would be a step in the right direction for liberty.

Murray’s proposed mechanism for attack is what he calls “The Madison Defense Fund.” A private legal defense fund which treats government as an “insurable threat,” much like floods and fires. As Murray sees it, businesses take out insurance for workers compensation, and they can do the same for government meddling.

By the People: Rebuilding Liberty without Permission

GET THE BOOK HERE

In a recent example, Sackett v. EPA, the Sackett family was accused of building their home on government protected wetlands. The family attempted to contest the decision, but was not allowed to since the administrative courts would not hear their case. In the meantime, the family racked up $37,000 a day in fines (The Sacketts were eventually vindicated in court). This is the typical case – and one Murray highlights – as the Madison Defense Fund’s main target.

As Murray explains it, initially the private firm would notify the regulatory agency that it will represent the defendant, and that it will relieve the defendant of any and all financial hardship the regulatory agency wishes to impose on them. Furthermore, not only will the Madison Defense Fund relieve the financial burden, it will also publicly announce the heavy handedness of the regulation and its effect on the people. The strategy is to win a “war of attrition,” ending with the government backing down because the benefit of the said legal battle would be outweighed by the negative public backlash.

All in all, By the People offers a refreshing outlook on how to further the liberty fight. The book spotlights the issues at hand and offers a seemingly plausible solution that appeals to those in favor of peaceful civil disobedience.

30 Jul 19:23

Of Rotten Eggs and Guilty Minds

by Ilya Shapiro, Randal John Meyer
Remlaps

h/t Jts5665

It isn’t every day that a person can go to his or her job, work, not participate in any criminal activity, and still get a prison sentence. At least, that used to be the case: the overcriminalization of regulatory violations has unfortunately led to the circumstance that corporate managers now face criminal—not just civil—liability for their business operations’ administrative offenses.

Take Austin and Peter DeCoster, who own and run an Iowa egg-producing company called Quality Egg. The DeCosters plead guilty to violating certain provisions of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act because some of the eggs that left their facilities contained salmonella enteritidis, a bacterium harmful to humans. They were sentenced to 90 days in jail and fined $100,000 for the actions of subordinates, who apparently failed, also unknowingly, in their quality-control duties.

In other words, the “crime” that the DeCosters were convicted of didn’t require them to have put eggs with salmonella into interstate commerce, or even to have known (or reasonably been able to foresee) that Quality Egg was putting such eggs into interstate commerce. It didn’t even require the quality-control operator(s) most directly involved in putting the contaminated eggs into interstate commerce to have known that they were contaminated.

Nearly a century of jurisprudence has held that imprisoning corporate officers for the actions of subordinates is constitutionally suspect, given that there’s neither mens rea (a guilty mind) nor even a guilty act—the traditional benchmarks of criminality since the days of Blackstone. Yet there are about 300,000 regulations that can trigger criminal sanctions. These rules are too often ambiguous or arcane, and many lack any requirement of direct participation or knowledge, imposing strict liability on supervisors for the actions (or inactions) of their subordinates.

In United States v. Quality Egg, the district court ruled that courts have previously held that “short jail sentence[s]” for strict-liability crimes are the sort of “relatively small” penalties that don’t violate constitutional due process.  Such a sentence has only been imposed once in the history of American jurisprudence, however, and for a much shorter time on defendants with much more direct management of the underlying bad acts. Additionally, prison is not the sort of “relatively small” penalty—like a fine or probation—that the Supreme Court has allowed for offenses that lack a guilty mind requirement.

Joining the National Association of Manufacturers, Cato points out in an amicus brief supporting the DeCosters’ appeal that this case presents an opportunity for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit to join its sister court, the Eleventh Circuit, in holding that prison sentences constitute a due-process violation when applied to corporate officers being charged under a strict-liability regulatory regime.

30 Jul 20:23

Grotesque Detail Arises from L.A. Police Killing of Unarmed Man

by Brian Doherty

Jeff Sharlet at GQ reveals a particularly damning detail arising from his reporting on a March L.A. police shooting of an unarmed man named Charly "Africa" Keunang on the streets of downtown L.A. who they had already wrestled to the ground:

Two of the six bullets that killed Charly entered his body through what are called "contact gunshot wounds"—which means the muzzle of the officer's gun was pressed directly against Charly's body...

There's a moment in the body-cam video when it appears to me that Officer Francisco Martinez has his hand on Charly's torso—Charly is on his back after having been wrestled down and tased—with his gun pointed at the body. I didn't include that detail in my story because I couldn't be absolutely certain. We still can't be sure Officer Martinez's hand is holding Charly down, but now we can be certain: He pressed his gun into the chest of an unarmed man who was lying on his back and pulled the trigger.

Gunshot wounds #2 and #3, reads the report—the shots are listed arbitrarily—are described as "penetrating, fatal." One bullet entered above Charly's right nipple, the other close to the center of his chest. "Yellow gunpowder is present on the skin" in both cases; "soot is present in the wound." Three examiners, including the chief medical examiner-coroner, inspected these two wounds in particular, and the three examiners concurred: "Range of fire: This is a contact gunshot wound." Not "point-blank," the distance at which you can't miss, which is as much as several feet;contact. The gun pressed into the body, the bullets traveling directly from the barrel into the flesh, no distance in between....

Officer Volasgis said—incorrectly, of that we must be clear—"He has my gun." He says that he was straddling Charly, and that Charly only let go of his gun after he'd been shot; but the body-cam video, on which we cannot see Charly reach for the gun, shows Officer Volasgis is already on his way to standing at the moment the first shot is fired, his holstered gun beyond Charly's reach. Officer Martinez pushed his 40-caliber Glock 35 directly into Charly's body—hard muzzle pressing down into the flesh—and fired.

That is: Officer Francisco Martinez pressed his gun into the chest of an unarmed man and shot him through the heart.

It took five months for the L.A. coroner to reveal this final, awful fact. The investigation is "ongoing," according to the LAPD's local paper, theL.A. Times....

This Huffington Post article has more details from an earlier Sharlet story and an interview with him about the police interaction with Keunang that preceeding the video below, in which an attempt to talk to Keunang about a complaint against him quickly led to tasering, then to his murder.

Some citizen video of the incident:

29 Jul 14:39

“The Spirit of Decentralization”

This is a very interesting read on the open web. One of the core ideas here is something that we think and talk about a lot, which is that social media and private networks are killing the open web that blogs played such a huge role in creating.

“Blogs gave form to that spirit of decentralization: They were windows into lives you’d rarely know much about; bridges that connected different lives to each other and thereby changed them. Blogs were cafes where people exchanged diverse ideas on any and every topic you could possibly be interested in.”

And this conclusion:

“New, different, and challenging ideas get suppressed by today’s social networks because their ranking strategies prioritize the popular and habitual.“

I’ve always believed that, given time, people will float back to the decentralized web.  Technology moves so quickly these days that I’m really not even convinced that internet providers, social networks, or congress can prevent the open sharing of information.

I gave up Facebook several months ago after reading a few studies about the negative impacts of Facebook on happiness.  I was concerned that my real friends would think I was shunning them or that I’d be out of the loop.  But none of those things have happened.  In the end, the only difference is that I’m spending those precious minutes online reading more blogs.  It’s inspiring and enriching and I’m grateful to have made the change.

29 Jul 18:18

The end of the public school

by noreply@blogger.com (VD)
Remlaps

h/t Jts5665

I tend to agree. As state and local money gets tighter, something is going to give. And one of those things is going to be the public schools, because kids don't vote and elderly Boomers are much more concerned about keeping the public money flowing in their direction than they are about the future:
Public education is losing ground. It is being undermined at every turn. This is due to more than the Christian contingent. People everywhere are taking control of their children’s education. The Internet is making this possible. As time marches on, tools and information will be even more accessible. This trend will not be reversed.

Why not? Funding. The system takes gobs of money. Gobs. It inhales taxpayer money and then wastes it like any other bureaucratic welfare-state system does.

Resources flee over time from those individuals and institutions that misallocate capital. Competition eats them alive. Resources also flee over time from individuals and institutions that break God’s law. By giving the state jurisdiction over the education of our children, this is exactly what we have done over the last 300 years. We have already paid for that choice. We have more to pay. In the meantime, the institution is coming to an end.
Sometimes, good things happen for bad reasons. The end of the 18th century indoctrination system imported from Germany is an idea whose time has long past. Technology and economics are in the process of killing it.

Posted by Vox Day.
29 Jul 10:01

Wordpress Takes A Stand Against Abusive DMCA Takedown Notices; Others Should Pay Attention

by Tim Cushing
Remlaps

h/t Jts5665

Automattic, the company behind blogging platform Wordpress, continues to prove that just because the issuing of DMCA takedown notices has largely been handed over to automated processes, the response doesn't need to be similarly robotic.

Its latest transparency report shows it has rejected 43% of the DMCA notices it has received as either incomplete or abusive. Contrast this to almost any other platform where the initial response is to take down content/links first and work backwards from there. (Contrast this further to services like YouTube and Soundcloud, where content is subjected to automated pre-screening that seems to result in just as many illegitimate "removals.")

Automattic's DMCA process is anything but.

We carefully review each notice to ensure it’s formally complete, and includes all information required by the DMCA, before taking action. Notices that don’t meet the requirements of the statute are included in ‘notices rejected as incomplete.’

We also may decline to remove content if a notice is abusive. “Abusive” notices may be formally complete, but are directed at fair use of content, material that isn’t copyrightable, or content the complaining party misrepresents ownership of a copyright.
In an effort to keep the worst abusers "honest" (or at least warn others performing the same intermediary functions), Automattic continues to maintain a "Hall of Shame" highlighting issuers of bogus takedown notices.

So, there's at least one major platform that has its users' backs -- something it has taken as far as the filing of lawsuits against serial abusers. And it's one of the few that will actually try to determine whether or not the usage of the disputed content falls under fair use. Automattic seems to have learned from its past mistakes, and now it's attempting to hold rightsholders and their representatives to the same standard it applies to itself. If content is going to be removed, the person(s) making these demands need to hold up their end of the bargain.

DMCA abuse isn't likely to stop anytime soon. The process to issue notices continues to become more streamlined, which puts even more non-infringing content at risk. On top of that, the automated processes used to compile lists of "infringing" URLs continues to be error-prone. This wouldn't be an issue if the companies providing these services to rightsholders spent a little (or any) time giving the notices a once-over before sending them out. The failure to do so not only has the potential to remove non-infringing content, but also to screw the same people they're supposed to be protecting -- not just in terms of reputation, but also financially.

A brief perusal of DMCA notices issued to Google finds multiple examples of non-infringing content being targeted by flaky automated processes. It also shows rightsholders are being billed for largely useless takedown requests filled with URLs covered in previous requests by the same company.

This recent request by IFPI Latin America contains 237 URLs --- 236 of which were already delisted in response to earlier requests.


This is far from uncommon and pretty much amounts to double billing. Even in cases where rightsholders pay a monthly or yearly fee rather than per DMCA takedown, it's still wasted money. While it's obviously easier to let machines do the work and humans to collect the paychecks, nothing about an automated copyright takedown notice process contributes anything towards healthier respect for the idea itself, or the creations protected by it.

Automattic, on the other hand, will continue to gather respect from its users and potential customers around the world simply by refusing to lay out a WELCOME mat for our new DMCA robot overlords.

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29 Jul 06:22

This Week: Three New State Right to Try Laws Take on Some FDA Restrictions

by Mike Maharrey

(July 29, 2015) – Patients facing life-threatening illnesses will have more treatment options open to them in Alabama, North Dakota and Minnesota on Saturday thanks to new laws that tear down federal roadblocks going into effect this week.

These new “Right to Try” laws effectively nullify in practice some Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules that stop terminally ill patients from utilizing certain treatments, allowing them to access experimental medications and procedures not yet approved by the federal regulatory agency.

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act prohibits general access to experimental drugs. However, under the expanded access provision of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C. 360bbb, patients with serious or immediately life-threatening diseases may access experimental drugs after receiving express FDA approval.

These new state laws bypass the FDA expanded access program and allows patients to obtain experimental drugs from manufacturers without first obtaining FDA approval. This procedure directly conflicts with the federal expanded access program and effectively nullifies it in practice.

Despite directly challenging federal authority, state Right to Try laws stir up very little opposition. Right to Try bills sailed through their respective legislatures in Alabama, North Dakota and Minnesota. Americans from across the political spectrum intuitively understand that  FDA regulations that let a desperately sick patient die rather than try count among some of the most inhumane policies of the federal government.

“Americans shouldn’t have to ask the government for permission to try to save their own lives,” Goldwater Institute president Darcy Olsen said. “They should be able to work with their doctors directly to decide what potentially life-saving treatments they are willing to try. This is exactly what Right To Try does.”

Alabama Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) sponsored Senate Bill 357 (SB357) along with five cosponsors. The Gabe’s Right to Try Act unanimously passed both the Alabama House and Senate.

Gabe Griffin inspired the legislation. The 10-year-old boy suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a rare, debilitating condition with a 100 percent mortality rate to date. Gabe’s parents say they hope the new law will give their son a new lease on life.

“At 10 years old, Gabe walks, hugs, breathes, and feeds himself like any other typical child that age, but that will be taken away in the next few years if we don’t find a cure,” Gabe’s father, Scott Griffin, said during a WTVY interview. “Without a cure, Gabe is expected by doctors to be in a wheelchair by the time he is 12 years old and lose his life around the age of 20. Traci and I are willing to accept all risks to save our son and we will do anything to keep from having to put him in a wheelchair in a couple of years.”

Sen. Tim Mathern (D), along with five cosponsors, introduced the North Dakota Right to Try Act (SB2259). It cleared the state Senate 32-15, and breezed unanimously through House with a 91-0 vote.

A Minnesota right to try bill also sailed through the legislative process, passing the state Senate 60-4 and gaining overwhelming House approval 123-0. Rep. Nick Zerwas served as one of the bill sponsors. On the House floor, he shared a story about his own experience with experimental medical procedures. As a 15-year-old, Zerwas learned he would not be getting a needed heart transplant. Doctors told he only had a few months to live, but suggested an experimental heart surgery.

“That was my right to try,” he said. “I fully believe life is worth fighting for, and government has no role in getting in the way.”

Clearly, right to Try bills have real impact on real people. The FDA vividly illustrates how the federal government harms countless individuals with its one-size-fits-all policies and soulless bureaucratic processes. State action can break apart the federal monopoly in a way that benefits vulnerable individuals.

These Right to Try laws represent an important step toward health freedom. Twenty-two states have passed similar legislation into law, and bills in Illinois and Oregon only need their respective governors’ signatures.

Although these laws only address one small aspect of FDA regulation, they provide us with a clear model demonstrating how to nullify federal statutes that violate the Constitution. The strategy narrows the influence of nullification to limited aspects of the law itself. The strategy works because it focuses on ending specific federal policies large numbers of Americans from across the political spectrum oppose.

ACTION ITEM

For other states: Take the steps to get a similar bill passed in your state at THIS LINK.

29 Jul 07:56

Five Facts to Help You Bring Down Obamacare

by Michael Boldin

So you want to end Obamacare, but are wondering what you can actually do about it today. You’re not alone.

Should you wait for another Supreme Court opinion, support “repeal and replace,” or hope an all-new Congress and President will do it for you in 2017?

Look, don’t kid yourself. None of these are going get the job done. But for people who support the Founders’ Constitution and personal liberty, there still is hope, as long as these strategies are quickly abandoned.

Here are five important facts that can help Americans bring down Obamacare – whether the federal government wants them to or not.

1. The IRS can’t collect

Current federal law expressly prohibits the IRS from using liens to collect for failure to pay the “shared responsibility” tax under Obamacare. And even the IRS itself makes this information public. On their website, they note:

The law prohibits the IRS from using liens or levies to collect any individual shared responsibility payment. However, if you owe a shared responsibility payment, the IRS may offset that liability against any tax refund that may be due to you.

Earlier this year, a report at the Washington Post noted that as many as 6 million people are expected to owe the fee this year, and even Rep. Paul Ryan’s office acknowledged the inability of the IRS to collect should people refuse:

“All the IRS can do to get the money is ask an individual to pay it, and, if they don’t, reduce their future refunds”

In other words, if you refuse to participate and refuse to pay – they’re not going to do anything significant.

2.  The feds can’t run Obamacare on their own.

It’s already widely known that federal bureaucrats aren’t good at getting a website up and running properly, and they’ll waste millions of dollars trying to do it. But states act as the front line for operation and enforcement of most parts of the federal act.

Once he became boss, Al Capone didn’t do a lot of his own dirty work. He paid henchmen to take care of things for him, under his orders.

Today, the states act as henchmen for the feds. Some of them operate exchanges, which takes some of the burden off the federal bureaucrats. Others handle paperwork and other regulatory or enforcement needs for the feds. A report released in June noted that states have already spent $880 million and 27.1 million hours handling such work for the federal government.

3. States don’t have to participate

If the federal government didn’t need help from the states, they wouldn’t try to get it, but they’ve put heavy pressure on states to handle enforcement from the get-go.

“CCIIO [the federal Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight] has been working to collaborate with those states and really leverage state processes and resources to accomplish CMS’s direct enforcement,” Teresa Miller, who oversees implementation of the ACA’s insurance reforms for CCIIO, told POLITICO in 2013.

Under both the Constitution and even modern Supreme Court jurisprudence, the states simply don’t have to handle these big jobs for the federal government.

In Federalist #46, James Madison advised – as a first response to federal overreach – a “refusal to cooperate with officers of the Union” by individuals and states. He said doing so in multiple states would be extremely effective at stopping federal power.

“…would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter”

In four major cases spanning over 150 years, the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld this strategy as the “anti-commandeering doctrine.”

The short version? Obamacare is a federal act, so the feds can figure out how to enforce it on their own. This, however, might be pretty tough for an entity that can barely get a website up and running.

4. Things are already happening

While it’s impossible to know how many people are already refusing to pay the so-called “shared responsibility” tax, it is happening.

Indiana accountant Scott Frick told the Washington Post that one of his clients, after learning he would have to fork over $850 for going without insurance last year, thought about the IRS and decided not to pay, just to “see what happens.”

States are taking action as well.

On July 1, a new law went into effect in Arizona that, among other things, bans the state from “funding or aiding in the prosecution of any entity for a violation of the act.” This would prevent the Arizona Department of Insurance (DOI) from investigating or enforcing any violations of federally mandated health insurance requirements, something that could prove particularly problematic for the feds if other states take the same action – since federal government doesn’t have an enforcement arm to handle such issues, nor do they have the resources to create one.

A number of state legislators have already indicated that they plan on introducing legislation in 2016 banning their state from participating in various parts of Obamacare implementation or enforcement. This includes Sen. Mae Beavers (TN), Sen. Linda Collins-Smith (AR), Rep. Bill Chumley (SC), and Sen. Kevin Lundberg (CO).

In previous sessions, legislators in other states worked on bills to withdraw their state from all or parts of the federal act. This includes Rep. Jason Spencer in Georgia, Sen. Bob Onder and Rep. Keith Frederick in Missouri, Sen. Chris McDaniel and Sen. Angela Burks Hill in Mississippi, Rep. Tim Harman in Indiana, Rep. Mike Ritze in Oklahoma and Del. Joe Ellington and Del. Larry Faircloth in West Virginia.

It will be up to people in those states to contact these legislators to encourage introduction of similar legislation in 2016 (links are provided above).

5. This has been done before

American colonists used a multi-prong strategy of protests, boycotts, local legislation, and outright disobedience to bring down the hated Stamp Act of 1765.

Prohibition and the Volstead Act went virtually unenforced well-before it was repealed. Massive individual noncompliance coupled with more than two dozen states refusing to help with federal enforcement led to its repeal.

Individual resistance in the underground railroad coupled with Northern states refusing to help enforce the federal fugitive slave act of 1850 helped render one of the worst laws in American history virtually null and void in practice, even though the law was not repealed.

TAKING ACTION. NOW.

These examples of a successful “Peoples’ Nullification” should be seen as a blueprint for today.

While state actions are a big piece of the puzzle, the penalty for not having insurance is the linchpin of the entire federal act. But with no way for the IRS to collect the tax, some people are already displaying courage and refusing the mandate.

Without enough signups, and without enforcement and support from a number of states, the entire system will come crashing down.