Friday, February 17, 2017

Publishers Still Fighting to Bury Universities, Libraries in Fees for Making Fair Use of Academic Excerpts

Publishers Still Fighting to Bury Universities, Libraries in Fees for Making Fair Use of Academic Excerpts

On behalf of three national library associations, EFF today urged a federal appeals court for the second time to protect librarians’ and students’ rights to make fair use of excerpts from academic books and research.

Nearly a decade ago, three of the largest academic publishers in the world— backed by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) trade group— sued Georgia State University (GSU) for copyright infringement, insisting that GSU owed licensing fees for the use of excerpts of academic works in its electronic reserve system. Such systems are commonly used to help students save money; rather than forcing students to buy a whole book when they only need a short excerpt from it, professors will place the excerpts “on reserve” for students to access. GSU argued that posting excerpts in the e-reserve systems was a “fair use” of the material, thus not subject to licensing fees. GSU also changed its e-reserve policy to ensure its practices were consistent with a set of fair use best practices that were developed pursuant to a broad consensus among libraries and other stakeholders. The practices are widely used, and were even praised by the AAP itself.

But that was not enough to satisfy the publishers. Rather than declare victory, they’ve doggedly pursued their claims. It seems the publishers will not be content until universities and libraries agree to further decimate their budgets. As we explain in our brief, that outcome would undermine the fundamental purposes of copyright, not to mention both the public interest, and the interests of the authors of the works in question. The excerpts are from academic works whose authors are not looking to get rich on licensing fees. They are motivated, instead, by a desire to contribute to the greater store of knowledge, and by the benefits accrued to their professional reputation when other scholars read, and cite, their published work. They care about recognition, not royalties.

Moreover, the fair use analysis is supposed to consider whether the practice at issue will cause material harm to an actual or potential market. But there’s no real market for digital excerpts that the libraries’ practices could harm. Indeed, as GSU explained in their brief, “[m]any professors testified that they would not have used any excerpt if students were required to pay a licensing fee.” And even if such a market existed, most libraries likely couldn’t afford to be part of it. In light of rising costs and shrinking resources, “academic libraries simply do not have the budget to participate in any “new” licensing market" without diverting funds away from other areas—like those used to add new works to their collections.

Copyright is supposed to help foster the creation of new works. Requiring university libraries to devote even more of their budgets to licensing fees will have the opposite effect. We hope the court agrees.

Source: Publishers Still Fighting to Bury Universities, Libraries in Fees for Making Fair Use of Academic Excerpts | Electronic Frontier Foundation

The Customer Is Always Taxed

The Customer Is Always Taxed

The Customer Is Always Taxed

Philadelphia’s most famous son, Benjamin Franklin, popularized the expression that “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” To that list you can add a third certainty: politicians will consistently misunderstand or misrepresent how taxes actually work. Look no further than Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s misguided soda tax for proof.



Like most politicians, Kenney looks at taxes the way a barfly looks at an ATM near closing time: he thinks he can simply draw money out of the economy whenever he wants without consequence. As any Economics 101 textbook would have explained, had he picked one up, the soda tax was destined to lead to higher soda prices. Instead of looking in the mirror, though, he blames the very merchants on whom he foisted the tax in the first place. “They are,” he said, “gouging their customers.” The implication? Mayor Kenney believes that “business,” not customers, should pay the tax.

Taxes in Reality

In pushing for more taxes, politicians either don’t understand or won’t admit that every tax ― no matter on whom it is levied ― is ultimately paid by people. Every tax on “business” gets passed on in the form of higher prices, lower wages, or lower investment return. Businesses don’t pay taxes to the government; they collect taxes for the government. One way or another, people pay.

The mayor needn’t look outside the Commonwealth for proof. Beginning in 2013, the legislature increased state gasoline taxes, which currently add 58 cents to the price of each gallon of gas sold in Pennsylvania. Proponents of the gas tax hikes argued that the taxes would be levied on oil companies and wholesalers, not consumers. It apparently never occurred to the legislature that the oil companies and wholesalers would pass the tax along to the people.

Of the $2.50 the average Pennsylvanian now pays for a gallon of gas, $1.40 goes to the oil companies. But that’s sales, not profit. Oil company profit margins are around 6 to 7 percent, meaning that oil companies actually pocket around 10 cents per gallon of gas, which is about what they made before the tax increases. The taxpayer, as usual, picks up the difference. On a gallon of gas, the Commonwealth makes almost six times what the oil companies do.

In October, Governor Wolf signed into law a 40 percent tax on vaping shops. Again, the levy was presented as a “tax on businesses.” Politicians did some third-grade math and decided that they would get something approaching 40 percent of the total sales of vaping products in the form of new tax revenues. Instead, they destroyed a burgeoning local industry and now stand to collect nearly nothing.

In the end, Kenney’s tax is nothing new. It is nothing smart either. Politicians love money, and they hate offending voters. They take every opportunity to tax “business,” and when businesses simply pass the taxes along to consumers, workers, and investors as they must, those same politicians cry foul.

But here’s the rub. There are only two possible explanations for any of this: politicians who claim that businesses will pay for new taxes are either too stupid to understand simple economics or they are lying. And it really doesn’t matter which of those things is true of Mayor Kenney. Either way, the citizens of Philadelphia deserve better.

Republished from the Huffington Post.



Antony Davies
Antony Davies is an associate professor of economics at Duquesne University.

He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Republicans Are Already Trying to Raise Taxes

Republicans Are Already Trying to Raise Taxes

Republicans Are Already Trying to Raise Taxes


Republicans in the House of Representatives are inadvertently setting a nasty political and economic trap for Donald Trump. Yes, it’s the Republicans, not the Democrats, who are ready to administer an unnecessary black eye to the new President. That’s not their intention, but it manifestly will be the result.



The vehicle for this unwitting GOP punch is a new exaction called the border adjustability tax. This levy will cost American consumers at least a trillion dollars over the next ten years. Knowing how Washington politicians calculate these things, you can bet the amount will end up being considerably more. Prices for everyday items, such as socks, shoes and household appliances, will go up. So will tech devices like the iPad, not to mention automobiles and trucks. Gasoline? Millions of Americans will pay an additional 30 cents or more per gallon at the pump. Lower-income and struggling middle-class Americans will get hit the hardest.

Few people are even aware of what the Republicans are getting ready to hit them with. There has been virtually no debate or public discussion about this new, horrible tax, yet in one of those strange fits of collective, self-destructive behavior, numerous GOP lawmakers are ready to enact it.

Here’s how, in essence, this sneaky, anti-consumer tax works. Importers will no longer be allowed to deduct an item as a business expense. To simplify things, let's say a store imports a pair of sneakers for $40 and then sells them for $50, making a $10 profit on which it would owe taxes. Under the Republican plan, however, the retailer wouldn't be able to deduct the $40 it paid for the sneakers. In fact, it would owe taxes on the entire $50! And who, ultimately, pays this tax? You, the consumer, in the form of higher prices or fewer choices of where you can shop. Retailers and their customers will be hit.

Many oil refiners import crude oil to turn into gasoline. This new tax will sharply raise their costs, which will spell pain when you fill up your tank. Worse, some could be forced out of business or have to sharply curtail operations, as drivers cut back on buying the suddenly more expensive fuel.

Companies like BMW, Toyota, Mercedes, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai have major manufacturing operations in the U.S. that employ tens of thousands of workers in good-paying jobs. These companies’ costs will soar because they import numerous parts for the vehicles their workers assemble.

The Loophole of All Loopholes

But wait, it gets worse. Another feature of this bizarre GOP scheme gives exporters a gargantuan tax break by, in effect, not taxing their export revenues. Let's say a corporation sells a piece of machinery to Iran for $5 million, which cost only $4 million to produce. That means $1 million in taxable profit. Under the new Republican scheme, however, that $5 million received from the mullahs wouldn’t be taxable. Instead of a $1 million profit, the corporation, for tax purposes, would have a $4 million loss. Loophole doesn't begin to describe this "tax break."

No wonder companies like Boeing, GE and other big exporters are orgasming over this GOP "reform."

Big breaks for big companies, higher prices for beleaguered consumers. Why are the Republicans doing this? They say the revenue raised will help finance a huge tax cut, such as getting rid of the death tax and the horrific alternative minimum tax, cutting the corporate tax rate from its disastrous 35% to a highly stimulative 20% or less and very meaningfully lightening the tax burden on individuals. These are all extremely exciting ideas and would do wonders for the economy.

But enacting a big, brand-new tax to finance cuts in old taxes is a dangerous business, especially in the way the Republicans are going about it. Democrats will gleefully remind voters why prices are going up, conveniently ignoring the tax cuts. Moreover, the GOP border adjustment tax is a but a small step away from a full-blown value added tax, which has financed the bloating of governments around the world. Democrats will someday be back in power, and they won't hesitate to either ramp up this GOP-created tax or go for the VAT. This would be hypocritical--rip apart the Republicans over this tax, and then go on to compound their felony. A VAT would crush future U.S. economic growth rates, just as it has in Europe and elsewhere.

Consider this astonishing fact: In the mid-1960s government spending in Europe as a proportion of their economies wasn't much different from our own. Growth rates matched or exceeded ours. Then Europe discovered the VAT. Spending ballooned and growth slowed to a crawl, consistently clocking in at significantly lower levels than Uncle Sam's.

Republicans also claim their new tax would help exports. In the real world it would do no such thing, as astute tax expert Dan Mitchell has explained (see this and this).

The GOP should drop this tax scheme. Why create unnecessary conflict and damage our new President? Republicans shouldn’t be constrained by the Congressional Budget Office's antiquated way of measuring the economic impact of changes in taxes. Drop the green eye shades, and go for big cuts that would turbo-charge the economy.

Republished from Forbes.



Steve Forbes
Steve Forbes is an American publishing executive, who was twice a candidate for the nomination of the Republican Party for President. Forbes is the Editor-in-Chief of Forbes, a business magazine. Forbes was a Republican candidate in the 1996 and 2000 Presidential primaries. Forbes is the son of longtime Forbes publisher Malcolm Forbes, and the grandson of that publication's founder, B.C. Forbes.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Game Player’s (February 1991)

Game Player’s (February 1991)








Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Border Security Overreach Continues: DHS Wants Social Media Login Information

Border Security Overreach Continues: DHS Wants Social Media Login Information



Now more than ever, it is apparent that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), are embarking on a broad campaign to invade the digital lives of innocent individuals.



The new DHS secretary, John Kelly, told a congressional committee this week that the department may soon demand login information (usernames and passwords) for social media accounts from foreign visa applicants—at least those subject to the controversial executive order on terrorism and immigration—and those who don’t comply will be denied entry into the United States. This effort to access both public and private communications and associations is the latest move by a department that is overreaching its border security authority.

In December 2016, DHS began asking another subset of foreign visitors, those from Visa Waiver Countries, for their social media handles. DHS defended itself by stating that not only would compliance be voluntary, the government only wanted to access publicly viewable social media posts: “If an applicant chooses to answer this question, DHS will have timely visibility of the publicly available information on those platforms, consistent with the privacy settings the applicant has set on the platforms.”

As we wrote last fall in comments to DHS, even seeking the ability to view the public social media posts of international travelers implicates the universal human rights of free speech and privacy, and—importantly—the comparable constitutional rights of their American associates. Our objections are still salient given that DHS may soon mandate access to both public and private social media content and contacts of another group of foreigners visitors.

Moreover, as a practical matter, such vetting is unlikely to weed out terrorists as they would surely scrub their social media accounts prior to seeking entry into the U.S.

Such border security overreach doesn’t stop there.

There have been several reports recently of CBP agents demanding access to social media information and digital devices of both American citizens and legal permanent residents. Most disturbing are the invasive searches of Americans’ cell phones, where CBP has been accessing social media apps that may reveal private posts and relationships, as well as emails, texts messages, browsing history, contact lists, photos—whatever is accessible via the phone.

Such border searches of Americans’ digital devices and cloud content are unconstitutional absent individualized suspicion, specifically, a probable cause warrant. In light of the DHS secretary’s statements this week, we fear that DHS may soon take the next step down this invasive path and demand the login information for American travelers’ online accounts so that the government can peruse private, highly personal information without relying on access to a mobile device.

Source: Border Security Overreach Continues: DHS Wants Social Media Login Information | Electronic Frontier Foundation

US Beats UK in Lives Saved by Health Care

US Beats UK in Lives Saved by Health Care

US Beats UK in Lives Saved by Health Care

Last night’s CNN duel between Senators Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz on the future of Obamacare was pretty illuminating for a recent arrival to the United States, with Senator Sanders’ playbook all-too-familiar to those of us from the UK.



Sanders wants a single-payer socialized healthcare system in the United States, just as we have in Britain. Any objection to that is met with the claim that you are “leaving people to die.” The only alternatives on offer, you would think, are the U.S. system as it exists now, or the UK system.

Sanders did not once acknowledge that the UK structure, which is free at the point of use, inevitably means rationed care, with a lack of pre-screening. He also failed to acknowledge that lower health spending levels (indeed, even public spending on health is lower in the UK than the United States now) are not the same as efficiency—which is about outputs per input.

In the face of anecdote after anecdote about those saved by Obamacare and the virtues of a government-run health system, Cruz countered with some anecdotes from the UK showing the consequences of rationed care: a Scottish hospital turning away pregnant women, a woman in Wales waiting eight hours on the floor for an ambulance to arrive after a fall, and a hospital in Essex canceling life-saving cancer treatment because there were no free beds in intensive care.

He could also have talked about the Mid-Staffs scandal, or a recent documentary showing doctors deciding between saving a cancer patient or a pensioner bleeding to death.

Anecdotes are powerful in helping to persuade people, and there are good reasons to use them in debates. Yet they are always susceptible to the charge that all health systems have extreme failures. Perhaps more powerfully then, the inadequacies of the UK system show up systematically in the data about how well conditions are dealt with (data from my former colleague Kristian Niemietz’s reports here and here):
  • In the United States, the age-adjusted breast cancer 5-year survival rate is 88.9 percent, compared with just 81.1 percent in the UK
  • The United States leads the world on the equivalent stat for prostate cancer (97.2 per cent) vs. 83.2 percent in the UK
  • Lung cancer: 18.7 percent in the United States vs. 9.6 percent in the UK; bowel cancer: 64.2 percent vs. 56.1 percent
  • Just in case you think I am cherry picking: U.S. survival rates are also better for leukemia, ovarian cancer, stomach cancer, and liver cancer—all of those for which I can find comparisons
  • The age- and sex-standardized 30-day mortality rate for ischaemic stroke is just 3.6 per cent in the United States vs. 9.2 per cent in the UK; for haemorrhagic stroke, the figures are 22 percent vs. 26.5 percent
I could go on. All of which is to show that your probability of dying from a range of common conditions is much higher in the UK than here. Perhaps that’s why (with no hint of irony) The Guardian’s write-up of a Commonwealth Fund Report suggesting the UK’s health system was “the best in the world” said “the only serious black mark against the NHS was its poor record on keeping people alive.”

Reprinted from Cato Institute.



Ryan Bourne
Ryan Bourne, former head of public policy at IEA, occupies the R. Evan Scharf chair in the Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute. He is a co-author of "The Minimum Wage: silver bullet or poisoned chalice?" and "Smoking out red herrings."

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

FBI Search Warrant That Fueled Massive Government Hacking Was Unconstitutional

FBI Search Warrant That Fueled Massive Government Hacking Was Unconstitutional

Appeals Court Should Find Warrant Violated Fourth Amendment Protections

Boston—An FBI search warrant used to hack into thousands of computers around the world was unconstitutional, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) told a federal appeals court today in a case about a controversial criminal investigation that resulted in the largest known government hacking campaign in domestic law enforcement history.


The Constitution requires law enforcement officers seeking a search warrant to show specific evidence of a possible crime, and tie that evidence to specific persons and places they want to search. These fundamental rules protect people from invasions of privacy and police fishing expeditions.

But the government violated those rules while investigating “Playpen,” a child pornography website operating as a Tor hidden service. During the investigation, the FBI secretly seized servers running the website and, in a controversial decision, continued to operate it for two weeks rather than shut it down, allowing thousands of images to be downloaded. While running the site, the bureau began to hack its visitors, sending malware that it called a “Network Investigative Technique” (NIT) to visitors’ computers. The malware was then used to identify users of the site. Ultimately, the FBI hacked into 8,000 devices located in 120 countries around the world. All of this hacking was done on the basis of a single warrant. The FBI charged hundreds of suspects who visited the website, several of whom are challenging the validity of the warrant.

In a filing today in one such case, U.S. v. Levin, EFF and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit to rule that the warrant is invalid and the searches it authorized unconstitutional because the warrant lacked specifics about who was subject to search and what locations and specific devices should be searched. Because it was running the website, the government was already in possession of information about visitors and their computers. Rather than taking the necessary steps to obtain narrow search warrants using that specific information, the FBI instead sought a single, general warrant to authorize its massive hacking operation. The breadth of that warrant violated the Fourth Amendment.

“No one questions the need for the FBI to investigate serious crimes like child pornography. But even serious crimes can’t justify throwing out our basic constitutional principles. Here, on the basis of a single warrant, the FBI searched 8,000 computers located all over the world. If the FBI tried to get a single warrant to search 8,000 houses, such a request would unquestionably be denied. We can’t let unfamiliar technology and unsavory crimes lead to an erosion of everyone’s Fourth Amendment rights,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Mark Rumold.

EFF filed a brief in January in a similar case in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, and will be filing briefs in Playpen cases in the Third and Tenth Circuits in March. Some trial courts have upheld the FBI’s actions in dangerous decisions that, if ultimately upheld, threaten to undermine individuals’ constitutional privacy protections over information on personal computers. 

“These cases will be cited for the future expansion of law enforcement hacking in domestic criminal investigations, and the precedent is likely to impact the digital privacy rights of all Internet users for years to come,” said Andrew Crocker, EFF Staff Attorney. “Recent changes to federal rules for issuing warrants may allow the government to hack into thousands of devices at a time. These devices can belong not just to suspected criminals but also to victims of botnets and other hacking crimes. For that reason, courts need to send a very clear message that vague search warrants that lack the required specifics about who and what is to be searched won’t be upheld.”

Source: FBI Search Warrant That Fueled Massive Government Hacking Was Unconstitutional, EFF Tells Court | Electronic Frontier Foundation

Monday, February 13, 2017

The StingRay Is Exactly Why the 4th Amendment Was Written

The StingRay Is Exactly Why the 4th Amendment Was Written

The StingRay Is Exactly Why the 4th Amendment Was Written

Imagine you are in the middle of your typical day-to-day activities. Maybe you are driving, spending time with family, or working. If you are like most people, your phone is at your side on a daily basis. Little do you know that, at any time, police and law enforcement could be looking at information stored on your phone. You haven't done anything wrong. You haven't been asked for permission. You aren't suspected of any crime.

The StingRay

Police have the power to collect your location along with the numbers of your incoming and outgoing calls and intercept the content of call and text communication. They can do all of this without you ever knowing about it.

How? They use a shoebox-sized device called a StingRay. This device (also called an IMSI catcher) mimics cell phone towers, prompting all the phones in the area to connect to it even if the phones aren't in use.

The police use StingRays to track down and implicate perpetrators of mainly domestic crimes. The devices can be mounted in vehicles, drones, helicopters, and airplanes, allowing police to gain highly specific information on the location of any particular phone, down to a particular apartment complex or hotel room.

Quietly, StingRay use is growing throughout local and federal law enforcement with little to no oversight. The ACLU has discovered that at least 68 agencies in 23 different states own StingRays, but says that this "dramatically underrepresents the actual use of StingRays by law enforcement agencies nationwide."

The Violation

Information from potentially thousands of phones is being collected every time a StingRay is used. Signals are sent into the homes, bags, and pockets of innocent individuals. The Electronic Frontier Foundation likens this to the Pre-Revolutionary War practice of soldiers going door-to-door, searching without suspicion.

Richard Tynan, a technologist with Privacy International notes that, “there really isn’t any place for innocent people to hide from a device such as this.”

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution states that, “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The StingRay clearly violates these standards. The drafters of the Constitution recognized that restricting the government from violating privacy is essential for a free society. That's why the Fourth Amendment exists. The StingRay is creating a dangerous precedent that tells the government that it's okay for them to violate our rights. Because of this, freedom is quietly slipping out the window.

Little Regulation

Law Enforcement is using StingRays without a warrant in most cases. For example, the San Bernardino Police Department used their StingRay 300 times without a warrant in a little over a year.

In 2010, the Tallahassee Police Department used a StingRay in a warrantless search to track down the suspect of a crime. A testimony from an unsealed hearing transcript talks about how police went about finding their target. The ACLU sums it up well:
"Police drove through the area using the vehicle-based device until they found the apartment complex in which the target phone was located, and then they walked around with the handheld device and stood ‘at every door and every window in that complex’ until they figured out which apartment the phone was located in. In other words, police were lurking outside people’s windows and sending powerful electronic signals into their private homes in order to collect information from within."
A handful of states have passed laws requiring police and federal agents to get a warrant before using a StingRay. They must show probable cause for one of the thousands of phones that they are actually searching. This is far from enough.

Additionally, there are many concerns that agents are withholding information from federal judges to monitor subjects without approval - bypassing the probable cause standard laid out in the Constitution. They even go as far as to let criminals go to avoid disclosing information about these devices to the courts.

If the public doesn’t become aware of this issue, the police will continue to use StingRays to infringe on our rights in secret and with impunity.

Olivia Donaldson

Olivia Donaldson
Olivia Donaldson is a recent high school graduate that is currently opting out of college and participating in an entrepreneurial program called Praxis.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

FBI Throws Up Digital Roadblock to Transparency

FBI Throws Up Digital Roadblock to Transparency

Beginning March 1, FBI Will No Longer Accept FOIA Requests Via Email

It’s well documented that the FBI is keen on adopting new technologies that intrude on our civil liberties. The FBI’s enthusiasm for technology, however, doesn’t extend to tools that make it easier for the public to understand what the agency is up to—despite such transparency being mandated by law.

The FBI recently announced that it’s removing the ability for the public to send Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the agency via email. Instead, the FBI will now only accept requests sent through snail mail, fax, or a poorly designed and extremely limited website.

The FBI’s decision to abandon email—a free and ubiquitous method of communication—as a means of sending in FOIA requests will make sending requests to the agency far more difficult. The decision will thus undoubtedly thwart both transparency and accountability, and the FBI must be well aware of this. In a world in which thermostats and toasters are increasingly connected to the Internet, the FBI's rejection of emailed FOIA requests is a slap in the face to transparency. The FBI's decision is all the more galling given that other agencies are currently embracing technologies that both help people making FOIA requests and help the agencies more efficiently and effectively process them.

What's more, the FBI’s alternative solution—it's new “E-FOIA” website website—is no solution at all. The website places a 3,000 character limit on requests and has technical barriers that prevent automated FOIA requests. These constraints significantly limit the amount of information people can seek via a single request and needlessly slow down the process.

Perhaps the biggest problem is the website’s terms of service, which place limits on the types of requests that can be filed digitally. They suggest the website will not accept FOIA requests seeking records about FBI operations, activities, or communications. Not only does this make no sense from a technical standpoint, it runs directly counter to the very purpose of FOIA: ensuring that the public can learn about an agency’s operations and activities.

EFF is grateful to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Or.), who sent a letter (pdf) to the FBI on Friday highlighting many of the concerns we have about the FBI’s abandonment of email and its reliance on an problematic website. We look forward to the FBI’s response.

The FBI's recent announcement makes one thing clear: Congress should—and easily could—update FOIA to require all federal agencies, including the FBI, to accept FOIA requests via email. In the digital world we live in, this is a no-brainier. EFF has been calling for this simple fix, along with a host of other changes, for some time, and we remain committed to supporting legislative efforts that increase government transparency.

Source: FBI Throws Up Digital Roadblock to Transparency | Electronic Frontier Foundation

Thursday, February 9, 2017

What Is the Blockchain and What Can It Do? Interview with Caitlin Long

What Is the Blockchain and What Can It Do? Interview with Caitlin Long

What Is the Blockchain and What Can It Do? Interview with Caitlin Long

When people first get interested in Bitcoin, it is usually as an investment and, possibly, as an alternative to nation-state monies of the world. It takes time and study but you eventually come to realize that there is a lot more potential to this technology. It all comes down to the Blockchain, which is the information storage and sharing technology that gives Bitcoin its value at all. And this ledger-based system – which belongs at once to everyone and no one – has a multiplicity of uses that could potentially eat into the exclusive domain of what are today considered within the exclusive domain of public law.







Like what? Like property titles. Like marriage announcements. Like contracts between multiple parties that require strict adherence to terms. Once you begin to let your imagination run wild, you begin to see the potential of an entire legal system that could gradually emerge in the digital cloud, one that could displace traditional functions of the nation-state itself.

Of course that seems a bit like science fiction, which, if possible, is surely decades or longer away. Or maybe not. According to many experts in Blockchain technologies, the advantages are so palpable as to make immediate applications advantageous to many institutions right now.

A pioneer currently working on such applications is Caitlin Long, who will be speaking at FEEcon later this year. In this brief presentation, she discusses the promise and prospect of distributed ledgers to change the way we think of contracts and property titles.



Jeffrey Tucker
Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Highway Robbery Gets Presidential Seal of Approval

Highway Robbery Gets Presidential Seal of Approval

Highway Robbery Gets Presidential Seal of Approval

Donald Trump is going after one of the few issues proven to be a unifier across party lines: civil asset forfeiture.



This legal tool allows law enforcement to seize money and physical property from those merely suspected of criminal behavior. Unfortunately, there is no conviction requirement, meaning confiscation can occur before suspects have been given the opportunity to defend themselves in court.

After 2016 saw several state victories reining in the practice, the Obama Administration reinstated the program on the federal level. The federal Equitable Sharing Program, which had briefly been paused due to budget constraints, provided local law enforcement with a loophole, which allowed them to continue the practice so long as they shared their spoils with the feds.

President Trump made some egregious comments on the matter while addressing a room full of Texas police officers on Tuesday, effectively destroying any hope that his administration will be better on this issue than President Obama. In fact, the situation may very well become worse.

The nomination of Jeff Sessions to the office of Attorney General has made many criminal justice advocates nervous, as he has a long history of justifying the practice of policing for profit. On Tuesday, Trump confirmed these fears when he threw his support behind the controversial practice, saying that he saw  "no reason" to restrict law enforcement's use of civil asset forfeiture.

Ignoring the substantive concerns over the practices' disregard for due process, Trump even threatened to "destroy the career" of libertarian-leaning Texas legislator Konni Burton for her outspoken opposition to the practice, a comment met with approving laughter from the law enforcement officials in attendance.

Unfortunately, the issue is not as clear-cut as Trump would like to believe. Civil asset forfeiture has arguably done more to destroy the lives of innocent people than it has to help catch those actually guilty of criminal acts.

A Systematic Problem

Since there are few restrictions to the practice, it has frequently been used against those who were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time and were not, in fact, engaging in criminal behavior.

In 2013, for example, a Peruvian pastor had $14,000 seized during a routine traffic stop. Traveling to a church event, Pastor Marco Silva, a citizen of Peru but legally present in the United States, was pulled over for “failure to signal a lane change.” The money, which was supposed to be donated to a Peruvian orphanage, was seized by law enforcement.

While Trump claims that any politician opposed to this practice would "get beat up really badly by the voters," he clearly doesn't understand the impact civil asset forfeiture has had on everyday people.

Without first having to prove guilt, asset forfeiture is ripe for abuse. Worse still, law enforcement is incentivized to continue this practice since they are allowed to keep a portion of the confiscated cash or property.

One family, who had their entire house ransacked after falsely being accused of breaking drug laws, not only had their belongings destroyed, but important legal documents, including adoption papers, were also confiscated and subsequently lost in the process.

This is because with civil asset forfeiture, it is technically the property, and not the individual that is being prosecuted. This makes it extremely difficult for individuals to regain control over their belongings. Those who are able to afford the extravagant legal fees are often forced to settle for only a portion of their property returned, while some are forced to forfeit their property forever.

The Road Ahead

The abuse of civil asset forfeiture has become so widespread, it has created unlikely alliances in Congress between Republicans and Democrats.

In an era when the country finds itself more divided than ever, Trump would be wise to cease his support of an issue that has negatively impacted so many Americans.

Instead, Trump has fallen victim to the same fear mongering used to convince people that a repeal of asset forfeiture would result in terrorist attacks or a cartel takeover.

While Trump was discussing the issue with Texas law enforcement earlier this week, Rockwall County Sheriff, Harold Eavenson, called out another Texas lawmaker who, like Burton, is committed to passing legislation restricting the process. "I told him the cartel would build a monument to him in Mexico if he could get that legislation passed,” Eavenson told Trump. President Trump distastefully responded, by saying, "you want to give us his name? We'll destroy his career."

As the room once again erupted in laughter, it became painstakingly clear that under the Trump Administration, the road to criminal justice reform will be an uphill battle.

Brittany Hunter
Brittany Hunter is an associate editor at FEE.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

DeVos Confirmed: Everything They Said about Her Is False

DeVos Confirmed: Everything They Said about Her Is False

DeVos Confirmed: Everything They Said about Her Is False

Betsy DeVos has been confirmed as Secretary of Education, but just barely. In the course of the hearings, outrageous claims were made about her views. Most originated from the public school industry itself, which is clinging to old forms for dear life. The result has been nothing but confusion. Let’s look more carefully.

In an op-ed for the New York Times, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) alleges that she is voting against Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education because:
  • DeVos opposes policies that allow “our young people, all of them, to participate in our democracy and compete on a fair footing in the workforce.”
  • DeVos supports “voucher systems that divert taxpayer dollars to private, religious and for-profit schools without requirements for accountability.”
  • “The voucher programs that Ms. DeVos advocates leave out students whose families cannot afford to pay the part of the tuition that the voucher does not cover; the programs also leave behind students with disabilities because the schools do not accommodate their complex needs.”
Each of those claims is belied by concrete facts, and Hassan is guilty of most of the charges she levels at DeVos. Also, Hassan sent her own daughter to a private school, an opportunity that she would deny to other children.

A Fair Footing

Under the current U.S. education system, the quality of students’ schooling is largely determined by their parents’ income. This is because wealthy parents can afford to send their children to private schools and live in neighborhoods with the best public schools. Such options narrow as income declines, and the children of poor families—who are often racial minorities—typically end up in the nation’s worst schools.

Contrary to popular perception, funding is not the primary cause of differences between schools. Since the early 1970s, school districts with large portions of minority students have spent about the same amount per student as districts with fewer minorities. This is shown by studies conducted by the left-leaning Urban Institute, the U.S. Department of Education, Ph.D. economist Derek Neal, and the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Moreover, contrary to the notion that certain minorities are intellectually inferior, empirical and anecdotal evidence suggests that with competent schooling, people of all races can excel. For example, in 2009, Public School 172 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York, had:
  • a mostly Hispanic population.
  • one-third of the students not fluent in English and no bilingual classes.
  • 80% of the students poor enough to qualify for free lunch.
  • lower spending per student than the New York City average.
  • the highest average math score of all fourth graders in New York City, with 99% of the students scoring “advanced.”
  • the top-dozen English scores of all fourth graders in New York City, with 99% of students passing.
These and other such results indicate that school quality plays a major role in student performance. Hassan and other critics of school choice are keenly aware of this, as evidenced by the choices they make for their own children. For example, Obama’s first Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, stated that the primary reason he decided to live in Arlington, Virginia, was so his daughter could attend its public schools. In his words:
That was why we chose where we live, it was the determining factor. That was the most important thing to me. My family has given up so much so that I could have the opportunity to serve; I didn’t want to try to save the country’s children and our educational system and jeopardize my own children’s education.
Duncan’s statement is an admission that public schools in the D.C. area often jeopardize the education of children, but he would not let this happen to his child. Few parents have the choice that Duncan made because most cannot afford to live in places like Arlington, where the annual cash income of the median family is $144,843, the highest of all counties in the United States.

Other prominent opponents of private school choice—like Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Bill Clinton—personally attended and also sent their own children to private K-12 schools. Likewise, Hassan’s daughter attended an elite private high school (Phillips Exeter Academy) where Hassan’s husband was the principal.

The existing U.S. education system does not provide an equal footing for children, but Hassan criticizes DeVos for supporting school choice, which would lessen this inequity. By its very definition, school choice allows parents to select the schools their children attend, an option that Hassan and other affluent people regularly exercise.

Taxpayer Money and Accountability

Four lines of evidence disprove Hassan’s claim that DeVos wants to “divert taxpayer dollars” to non-public schools “without requirements for accountability.”

First, private school choice generally increases public school spending per student, which is the primary measure of education funding. As explained by Stephen Cornman, a statistician with the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, per-pupil spending is “the gold standard in school finance.”

Private school choice programs boost per-student funding in public schools because the public schools no longer educate the students who go to the private schools, which typically spend much less per student than public schools. This leaves additional funding for the students who remain in public schools.

According to the latest available data, the average spending per student in private K-12 schools during the 2011-12 school year was about $6,762. In the same year, the average spending per student in public schools was $13,398, or about twice as much. These figures exclude state administration spending, unfunded pension liabilities, and post-employment benefits like healthcare—all of which are common in public schools and rare in private ones.

Certain school costs like building maintenance are fixed in the short term, and thus, the savings of educating fewer students occurs in steps. This means that private school choice can temporarily decrease the funding per student in some public schools, but this is brief and slight because only 8% of public school spending is for operations and maintenance.

Second, school choice provides the most direct form of accountability, which is accountability to students and parents. With school choice, if parents are unhappy with any school, they have the ability to send their children to other schools. This means that every school is accountable to every parent.

Under the current public education system, schools are accountable to government officials, not students and parents. Again, Hassan knows this, because her son has severe disabilities, and Hassan used her influence as a lawyer to get her son’s public elementary school to “accommodate his needs.”

Unlike Hassan, people without a law degree, extra time on their hands, or ample financial resources are at the mercy of politicians and government employees. Short of legal action or changing an election outcome, most children and parents are stuck with their public schools, regardless of whether they are effective or safe. That is precisely the situation that DeVos would like to fix through school choice, but Hassan talks as if DeVos were trying to do the opposite.

Third, taxpayer funds are commonly used for private schools, and Hassan actually wants more of this. Her campaign website states that she “will fight to expand Pell Grants” but fails to reveal that these are often used for private colleges like, for example, Brown University, the Ivy League school that she, her husband, and her daughter attended (disclosure: so did this author).

In other words, Hassan supports using taxpayer money for top students to attend elite private universities, but she opposes the same opportunity for poor students to attend private K-12 schools.

Hassan’s position on college aid also undercuts her objection that DeVos supports programs that “leave out students whose families cannot afford to pay the part of the tuition that the voucher does not cover.” If that were truly Hassan’s objection, she would also oppose aid that doesn’t cover the full costs of every college, because that would leave out students who can’t pay the rest of the tuition.

Fourth, contrary to Hassan’s rhetoric about accountability to taxpayers, she supports current spending levels in public K-12 schools, “debt-free public college for all,” and expanding “early childhood education” in spite of the facts that:
  • the U.S. spends an average of 31% more per K-12 student than other developed nations, but 15-year olds in the U.S. rank 31st among 35 nations in math.
  • federal, state, and local governments spend about $900 billion per year on formal education, but only 18% of U.S. residents aged 16 and older can correctly answer a word problem requiring the ability to search text, interpret it, and calculate using multiplication and division.
  • the average spending per public school classroom is $286,000 per year, but only 26% of the high school students who take the ACT exam meet its college readiness benchmarks in all four subjects (English, reading, math, and science).
  • federal, state and local governments spend $173 billion per year on higher education, but 80% of first-time, full-time students who enroll in a public community college do not receive a degree from the college within 150% of the normal time required to do so.
  • 4-year public colleges spend an average of $40,033 per year for each full-time student, but one-third of students who graduate from 4-year colleges don’t improve their “critical thinking, analytical reasoning, problem-solving, and writing” skills by more than one percentage point over their entire college careers.
  • the federal government funds dozens of preschool programs, and the largest —Head Start—spends an average of $8,772 per child per year, but it produces no measurable benefit by the time students reach 3rd grade.
In sum, Hassan supports pumping taxpayer money into programs with high costs and substandard outcomes, but she opposes doing the same for private K–12 schools that produce better outcomes with far less cost.

Left Behind?

Hassan’s claim that private school choice programs “leave behind students with disabilities because the schools do not accommodate their complex needs” is also false.

In Northern and Central New Jersey, there are more than 30 private special education schools that are approved by the state. As far as parents are concerned, these schools serve the needs of their children better than the public schools in their areas. If this were not the case, these private schools would not exist.

More importantly, if parents don’t think that a private school will be best for their special needs child, school choice allows them to keep the child in a public school that is better-funded thanks to the money saved by school choice.

In a recent brief to the Nevada Supreme Court, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, and its state affiliate argue that free-market voucher programs will lead to “cream-skimming—the drawing away of the most advantaged students to private schools––and lead to a highly stratified system of education.”

As detailed above, the current public school system is highly stratified by income, and income and education go hand in hand. Hence, the real issue is not stratification but what happens to students who stay in public schools. Contrary to the belief that school choice will harm these students, a mass of evidence shows the opposite.

At least 21 high-quality studies have been performed on the academic outcomes of students who remain in public schools that are subject to school choice programs. All but one found neutral-to-positive results, and none found negative results. This is consistent with the theory that school choice stimulates competition that induces public schools to improve.

Who Wins and Who Loses?

Wide-ranging facts prove that school choice is a win for students, parents, and taxpayers. However, it financially harms teachers unions by depriving them of dues, because private schools are less likely to have unions than public ones.

In turn, this financially harms Democratic politicians, political action committees, and related organizations, which have received about $200 million in reported donations from the two largest teachers’ unions since 1990. Unions also give many unreported donations to Democratic Party causes.

Teachers’ unions are firmly opposed to private school choice, and the National Education Association has sent an open letter to Democrats stating that “opposition to vouchers is a top priority for NEA.”

So why does Hassan oppose giving other children opportunities that she gave to her own children? Motives are difficult to divine, but the reasons she gave in her op-ed are at odds with verifiable facts and her own actions.

James Agresti
James D. Agresti is the president of Just Facts, a nonprofit institute dedicated to publishing verifiable facts about public policy.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

WWF WrestleMania Challenge (NES)

WWF WrestleMania Challenge (NES)







Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Bad Idea behind Our Sluggish Recovery

The Bad Idea behind Our Sluggish Recovery

The Bad Idea behind Our Sluggish Recovery

“I actually compare our economic performance to how, historically, countries that have wrenching financial crises perform. By that measure, we probably managed this better than any large economy on Earth in modern history.” – President Obama
So say defenders of the sluggish recovery. But recent research belies that idea. The truth is that our lackluster growth is the result of neglecting an essential economic concept.

According to Just Facts Daily, “even after the recession ended in 2009 average real GDP growth has been 35% below the average from 1960–2009, a period that includes eight recessions.” Moreover,
In early 2011, the White House Office of Management & Budget projected that real GDP would grow by an average of 3.6% per year for five years after the Great Recession (see pages 14–16). Obama’s economists noted that this figure was lower than the typical post-recession growth rate of 4.2%, but they concluded that the “lingering effects from the credit crisis may limit the pace of the recovery,” even though the recession left “enormous room for growth in 2011.” Ultimately, GDP grew by an average of 2.2%, or 39% below the White House’s conservative estimate.
Despite these unmet forecasts, some insist that recoveries from financial crises are inherently slower.  While previous economic research by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff appeared to affirm that notion, a subsequent study has shown it doesn’t withstand scrutiny.

Harvard economists Robert Barro and Jin Tao recently conducted a major study of 185 economic contractions of at least 10 percent of GDP in 42 countries, including “financial crises such as the Great Depression of the 1930s.” They found that
On average, during a recovery, an economy recoups about half the GDP lost during the downturn. The recovery is typically quick, with an average duration around two years. For example, a 4% decline in per capita GDP during a contraction predicts subsequent recovery of 2%, implying 1% per year higher growth than normal during the recovery. Hence, the growth rate of U.S. per capita GDP from 2009 to 2011 should have been around 3% per year, rather than the 1.5% that materialized.

Arguing that the recovery has been weak because the downturn was severe or coincided with a major financial crisis conflicts with the evidence, which shows that a larger decline predicts a stronger recovery.
So why hasn’t this recovery been stronger? The predominant explanation blames inadequate stimulus spending. It holds that more “demand” is needed to boost the economy. But this inverts the nature of the relationship between demand and economic performance. Demand is the result—not the cause—of economic activity. Therefore production, not demand, determines growth. At best, trying to stimulate demand while ignoring production is like trying to grow a flower by watering its petals instead of its roots.

But it’s often worse than that. The state can spend only what the private sector produces, which means government must first remove a dollar from the economy to spend it into the economy. Because doing so misallocates resources, the net effect is worse than zero: Rather than merely neglecting the flower’s roots, it’s like sucking water out of the soil and pouring it over the flower’s petals. Small wonder the economy has failed to break even three percent growth rates.

This basic insight was once universally understood. Writing in his “fourth proposition,” for instance, John Stuart Mill explained that “the demand for commodities is not the demand for labor”—or, as economist Steven Kates clarifies, “when you buy goods and services you are not increasing the number of jobs.” That’s because the payment of wages precedes the production and sale of a good or service. “The employment of labor is an entrepreneurial decision made in advance of production and sale. It is not the consequence of someone having finally bought the product,” stresses Kates. Only productive activity creates economic growth.

While failing to grasp this concept was once considered the sign of a bad economist, today it is almost totally disregarded. That’s because the economist responsible for our abandoning this truth—John Maynard Keynes—although he never refuted it, he successfully invented and repudiated a mischaracterized version of it so that subsequent generations have been convinced of its error.

But the truth is it remains as valid today as ever. And until our policies reaffirm it we shouldn’t be surprised to witness suboptimal economic growth rates and a weaker economy.

David Weinberger
David Weinberger formerly worked for The Heritage Foundation. He currently blogs at diversityofideas.blogspot.com.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.


Monday, February 6, 2017

Commodore Microcomputers – September/October 1984

Commodore Microcomputers – September/October 1984




Americans Are More Charitable than “Socially Conscious” Europeans

Americans Are More Charitable than “Socially Conscious” Europeans

Americans Are More Charitable than “Socially Conscious” Europeans

When I’m in Europe giving speeches and participating in conferences, it’s quite common that folks on the left will attempt to discredit my views by asserting that Americans are selfish and greedy.

Since I’m generally sympathetic to Ayn Rand’s writings, I don’t see anything wrong with people striving to make themselves better off. Moreover, Adam Smith noted back in 1776 that the desire to earn more money leads other people to make our lives better. One of his most famous observations is that, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

But, for the sake of argument, let’s accept the premise of my statist friends in Europe and simply look at whether their assertion is correct. Are Americans more selfish and greedy that their counterparts across the ocean?

The most obvious way of testing this proposition is to compare rates and levels of voluntary charity. Selfish and greedy people presumably will cling to their money while compassionate and socially conscious people will share their blessings with others.

So how does the United State compare to other nations? Well, I’m not a big fan of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but the bureaucrats in Paris are quite good at collecting statistics from member nations and producing apples-to-apples comparisons.

And if you look at rates of “voluntary private social expenditure” among nations, it turns out that Americans are easily the most generous people in the developed world.



Wow, people in the United States are so generous that their voluntary giving amounts to 10.2 percent of gross domestic product. The only other nations that even crack 5 percent of GDP are the Netherlands, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Most of the supposedly compassionate welfare states have dismal levels of charitable giving. Voluntary social expenditure in major European nations such as France, Germany, Italy, and Spain averages less than 2 percent of GDP.

It’s also worth noting that these numbers actually understate the charity gap between Americans and folks from other nations. Economic output in the United States is about 30 percent higher than it is in the rest of the developed world, so charitable giving by Americans actually represents a much bigger slice of a much bigger pie.

Statists might respond by asserting that Europeans express their generosity through the public sector. I reject that comparison since – as I explained when criticizing a Michael Gerson column – it’s wrong to equate government coercion with private charity.

But even if you have the European mindset that government should be a vehicle for redistribution, the OECD numbers show that there’s not much difference between the United States and other developed nations. According to the OECD data, government redistributes 20 percent of GDP in America compared to an average of 21.9 percent of GDP for all OECD nations. And since there’s strong evidence that government redistribution undermines progress in the fight against poverty, I actually wish there was a big gap between America and other nations!

And don’t forget, by the way, that 20 percent of U.S. GDP is a lot more money than 21.9 percent of GDP in other nations, so government in the United States spends more on redistribution, on average, than other OECD governments. Indeed, I’ve already shared healthcare numbers making that same point.

P.S. It’s also worth sharing the data showing that proponents of small government in the United States are far more generous than those who favor a big welfare state.

Republished from International Liberty.



Daniel J. Mitchell
Daniel J. Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.