Thursday, March 31, 2016

Ewan McGregor is ‘very interested’ in an Obi-Wan Kenobi ‘Star Wars’ spinoff

Ewan McGregor is ‘very interested’ in an Obi-Wan Kenobi ‘Star Wars’ spinoff 

Could we ever see a Star Wars spin-off movie with everyone’s favourite bearded Jedi, Obi-Wan Kenobi?

Ewan McGregor certainly hopes so. When asked by Collider if he’s had talks with producer Kathleen Kennedy about the possibility he grins and plays it cagey, but it’s obvious from the video above that McGregor would love to wield a lightsaber again.

How to Eliminate Almost Every Federal Agency

How to Eliminate Almost Every Federal Agency

This week, the Heartland Institute offered up a modest proposal: Eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency’s 15,000-person staff, move the headquarters from Washington to Topeka, Kan., and reload it with 300 state delegates.The policy brief from the libertarian think tank that promotes climate skepticism — written by Heartland science director Jay Lehr — is something of a dream scenario for tea partiers and other conservatives, who would like a smaller government and a chance to wipe clean EPA’s federal regulations. Lehr writes that “incremental reform of EPA is simply not an option,” hence his proposal for a “Committee of the Whole” made up of state delegates that could slash 80 percent of EPA’s budget.

It’s hardly the first time conservatives have proposed trimming the government with an ax rather than pruning shears. Plenty of departments big and small have found themselves on the hypothetical chopping block for total elimination. Here’s a look at some of the proposals to clear out the Cabinet room.


Commerce Department: An easy target for those hunting federal-department game, Commerce is always in someone’s sights. In 1995, the Department of Commerce Elimination Act cleared a committee in the Newt Gingrich-led House, and a 1996 nonbinding budget resolution that passed both chambers also called for eliminating the department. Under the 1995 bill, trade programs would have been consolidated under a new “Office of Trade,” while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would be parceled out to agencies like the Interior Department or Fish and Wildlife Service. President Obama may may have heard the calls — in 2012, he proposed moving NOAA to Interior.Education Department: Another popular candidate for elimination. Ronald Reagan himself pitched the “deregulation by federal government of public education” as part of the 1980 Republican platform and its been a GOP calling card ever since. The American Spectator in 2012 proposed wiping the department away entirely and restoring its $68.1 billion budget to offset the deficit, while transferring its authority to states and local agencies.

Energy Department: The third agency Texas Gov. Rick Perry famously forgot he wanted to eliminate, Energy has also long been a pink-slip candidate. In his five-year budget plan, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky proposed zeroing out the department along with all of the grants and subsidies it distributes to renewable energy, while moving its nuclear research and the Atomic Energy Agency to the Defense Department. And in a 2011 bill, Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina offered up a plan to combine DOE and EPA into a new Department of Energy and Environment to eliminate any overlap.

Interior Department: During his 2012 presidential campaign, then-Rep. Ron Paul of Texas listed Interior as one of five federal agencies he’d eliminate. But what of the more than 500 million acres of public land managed by the agency? A year earlier he said this to the Western Republican Leadership Conference: “So you can imagine how wonderful it would be if land will be or should be returned to the states and then for the best parts sold off to private owners.”

Housing and Urban Development Department: At a closed-door fundraiser in 2012, GOP candidate Mitt Romney said that HUD, an agency his father helmed, “might not be around later” under a consolidation of the federal government. The American Enterprise Institute jumped on the proposal, saying HUD had helped distort the housing market. And in a column in Forbes, Josh Barro wrote that “there is nothing fundamentally unworkable about a private market in housing that requires heavy government regulation and subsidy” and said HUD should be shut down and housing subsidies abolished in favor of an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit.

Transportation Department: Daniel J. Mitchell of the Cato Institute has said that the volume of pork and bureaucracy should justify shutting down the federal Transportation Department in favor of state and local governments having power over roads. That way, he said, the gas-tax revenue wouldn’t be spent on “boondoggle mass transit projects.” Put more simply, Ron Paul said in 2012, the gas tax should just be collected and doled out to states by size or population. “And you could do that with one guy and a computer,” Paul said.

Agriculture Department: Greg Brannon, a doctor who sought the GOP nomination in North Carolina’s Senate race running under the tea-party mantle, made headlines earlier this year when he compared food stamps to “goodies” and said the program “enslaves people.” “The answer,” he said, “is the Department of Agriculture should go away at the federal level.”

Labor Department: The Cato Institute has offered up spending cuts for Labor, largely through reforming unemployment insurance. Others, including Fox Business host David Asman and Virginia Libertarian Party House candidate Will Hammer, have said the department should be axed entirely, with insurance and training being left up to the states.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Hoggetowne Medieval Faire 2016 - The New Minstrel Revue - The Minguelay Boat Song

Hoggetowne Medieval Faire 2016 - The New Minstrel Revue - The Minguelay Boat Song

The New Minstrel Revue performs 'The Minguelay Boat Song' at the 2016 Hoggetowne Medieval Faire in Gainesville, Florida.

ANALOG Computing – February 1987

ANALOG Computing – February 1987

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

In Syria, militias armed by the Pentagon fight those armed by the CIA

In Syria, militias armed by the Pentagon fight those armed by the CIA

Syrian militias armed by different parts of the U.S. war machine have begun to fight each other on the plains between the besieged city of Aleppo and the Turkish border, highlighting how little control U.S. intelligence officers and military planners have over the groups they have financed and trained in the bitter five-year-old civil war.

The fighting has intensified over the last two months, as CIA-armed units and Pentagon-armed ones have repeatedly shot at each other while maneuvering through contested territory on the northern outskirts of Aleppo, U.S. officials and rebel leaders have confirmed.

In mid-February, a CIA-armed militia called Fursan al Haq, or Knights of Righteousness, was run out of the town of Marea, about 20 miles north of Aleppo, by Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces moving in from Kurdish-controlled areas to the east.

“Any faction that attacks us, regardless from where it gets its support, we will fight it,” Maj. Fares Bayoush, a leader of Fursan al Haq, said in an interview.

Rebel fighters described similar clashes in the town of Azaz, a key transit point for fighters and supplies between Aleppo and the Turkish border, and on March 3 in the Aleppo neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsud.

The attacks by one U.S.-backed group against another come amid continued heavy fighting in Syria and illustrate the difficulty facing U.S. efforts to coordinate among dozens of armed groups that are trying to overthrow the government of President Bashar Assad, fight the Islamic State militant group and battle one another all at the same time.

“It is an enormous challenge,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who described the clashes between U.S.-supported groups as “a fairly new phenomenon.”

Friday, March 25, 2016

Obamacare Was Going to Lower Health Care Costs. What Actually Happened.

Obamacare Was Going to Lower Health Care Costs. What Actually Happened.

Hawking the Affordable Care Act (ACA) six years ago, President Barack Obama said, “Every single good idea to bend the cost curve and start actually reducing health care costs [is] in this bill.”

Team Obama projected that their version of health care reform—replete with the bells and whistles of “investments” in health information technology, health care delivery and payment reforms—would translate into big cost reductions for individuals, families and businesses. In his iconic health care “talking points”, the president said that the “typical” family would see a yearly $2500 savings in their health costs.

Those family cost savings, of course, have not materialized.

In year six, even with lower than anticipated enrollment in the health insurance exchanges and the refusal of 21 states to participate in the law’s Medicaid expansion, the health care cost curve is still on an upwardly mobile trajectory.

It is fueled by sharp increases in both public and private health care spending.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data show that total per capita health insurance spending will rise from $7,786 in 2016 to $11,681 in 2024. Looking at the future of employer-based health insurance costs, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that job-based premiums are poised to increase by almost 60 percent between now and 2025.

Obamacare’s cheerleaders have allowed their exuberance to outrun their supply lines. Medicare trustee Charles Blahous best summarized the problem:

“Given how the ACA’s advocates touted the law as ‘bending the cost curve down and reducing the deficit’ while occasionally in the same sentence crediting it with expanding coverage to ‘more than 94 percent of Americans’, many Americans could be forgiven for not understanding that those two goals were in conflict.”

Obamacare cannot deliver the impossible (even if it were good public policy­— and it isn’t).

Courtesy of the Affordable Care Act, public spending is outpacing private spending. For 2015, the Congressional Budget Office reports that the federal government spent a total of $936 billion on health programs (for example, Medicaid, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act), a 13 percent increase over the 2014 level.

For 2015, the Congressional Budget Office reports that Medicare spending increased almost 7 percent, the fastest rate of growth since 2007; and, over the period 2013 to 2015. They also report that Medicaid spending alone jumped by 32 percent.

Medicaid is the fastest growing component of America’s poorly performing welfare state. Many Affordable Care Act advocates applaud the government’s increasing role in American health care as an indisputably good thing, but that does not bend the notorious “cost curve” downward. Nor does it guarantee value for the dollars expended, even if, as the president says, the Affordable Care Act has incorporated “ every single good idea” to do so.

Some Emory University students “in pain” after “Trump 2016″ chalked on campus

Some Emory University students “in pain” after “Trump 2016″ chalked on campus

The specter of a Donald Trump presidency is so disturbing to some college students that they’re protesting pro-Trump chalk writings on their campus, according to a report by Emory University’s campus newspaper.

The words “Trump 2016″ appeared earlier this week scrawled in chalk around the college campus, the Emory Wheel reported Monday. In response, a few dozen students gathered at the school’s administration building later that day, holding signs that read “Stop Trump” and “Stop Hate.” According to the paper, the activists shouted, “You are not listening! Come speak to us, we are in pain!”

When protesters moved to demonstrate inside the administration hall, school officials issued a swift answer. College president Jim Wagner met with the students, who expressed anxiety that the writings were threats to their safety rather than political speech, considering Georgia’s Republican primary was held earlier this month.

“The students shared with me their concern that these messages were meant to intimidate rather than merely to advocate for a particular candidate, having appeared outside of the context of a Georgia election or campus campaign activity,” Wagner wrote in a university-wide email Tuesday. “During our conversation, they voiced their genuine concern and pain in the face of this perceived intimidation.”

Some of the students, according to the Emory Wheel, complained about the slow response time to their grievances, although university administration officials met with demonstrators on the day the protests took place. One question posed to the university during the protest included: “Why did the swastikas [spray-painted on a Jewish fraternity house in 2014] receive a quick response while these chalkings did not?” Another asked if the university would “decry the support for this fascist, racist candidate” in an official campus statement.

In response, Wagner’s Tuesday email said the university “cannot dismiss their expression of feelings and concern as motivated only by political preference or over-sensitivity.”

“As an academic community, we must value and encourage the expression of ideas, vigorous debate, speech, dissent, and protest,” he said. “It is important that we recognize, listen to, and honor the concerns of these students, as well as faculty and staff who may feel similarly.”

In the future, Wagner promised to make “immediate refinements” to the procedures addressing social justice issues on the campus.

The university further ruled the chalk writings a “violation of policy” because of where they had appeared.

In a statement to CBS News, a university spokeswoman said, “Chalkings by students are allowed as a form of expression on the Emory campus but must be limited to certain areas and must not deface campus property—these chalkings did not follow guidelines—that’s the issue regarding violation of policy, not the content.”

Live Free or Trump

Live Free or Trump

Gary Johnson has climbed Mount Everest before.

This is not a metaphor about how hard it is to operate outside our two-party system. It’s a real thing that a presidential candidate has done. It just happens to also work, you know, as a metaphor.

Gary Johnson is the former Republican governor of New Mexico. During his two terms in office, he slashed the state budget while pushing for tax cuts, school vouchers and the legalization of marijuana. In 2003, after he left office, and shortly after breaking his leg, he climbed Mount Everest — the stuff of campaign ad makers’ dreams.

Now, as the presumptive presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party, Mr. Johnson is facing another daunting task: getting attention, and votes, as a third-party presidential candidate.

In a normal election year, Mr. Johnson’s candidacy would garner about as much publicity and respect as any third-party candidate’s, which is to say, close to zero. But this time is different. The Republican Party appears to be eating its own tail, with millions of voters lining up for a candidate that many party leaders find morally and politically reprehensible. And now, in retaliation, some of those party leaders are starting to look for their own Naderian spoiler candidate to prevent Donald J. Trump from winning the presidency.

Last Thursday, three influential conservative activists convened a meeting of anti-Trump Republicans in Washington to discuss the feasibility of running a third-party candidate. According to The Washington Post, the tone of the meeting was “muted and downbeat” — perhaps a sign of the resignation party elites are feeling as they realize Mr. Trump is likely to be their nominee.

The anti-Trump, anti-Hillary Clinton crowd isn’t out of options just yet. Some have suggested putting up an independent candidate, or going all in for Senator Ted Cruz. But an absurd, unpredictable election season sometimes merits an equally absurd, unpredictable response. That’s where Mr. Johnson comes in.

As the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee in 2012, he won around 1 percent of the popular vote. If he somehow were elected president, he would be the first commander in chief to have posed shirtless in GQ and served as the chief executive of a medical cannabis company.

It’s unlikely that Republican elites would ever rally round someone like Mr. Johnson. But as a firewall to prevent Mr. Trump from taking over the Oval Office, the Libertarian Party nominee — whom they disagree with on many subjects — may be their best shot.

The biggest hurdle anti-Trump Republicans must overcome, aside from finding a candidate willing to go into the wilderness for them, is getting on the ballot. The presidential election system is a patchwork of state deadlines and ballot requirements. Ralph Nader, who critics say helped usher George W. Bush into the White House by running as a Green Party candidate in 2000, is extremely familiar with the ballot requirements, having been booted off the Pennsylvania ballot in 2004. While Mr. Nader is happy to rail against the “two-party tyranny” of the American electoral system, he thinks starting a third-party run at this point in the election season a near-impossible goal.

“It’s almost too late, unless you’re a multibillionaire,” Mr. Nader said. “Other than just a tailored two- or three-state approach, I don’t see it happening.”

Even if anti-Trump forces are able to put a third-party candidate on the ballot, it is a limited victory: Ensure Mr. Trump loses, while also ensuring Republicans split their votes and get another Democrat elected.

After Mr. Johnson earns his party’s nomination for a second time, which he appears likely to do, his key challenge will be making it to the debate stage. Last year, the Libertarian Party and the Green Party filed a lawsuit against the Commission on Presidential Debates to change the national polling threshold that dictates that only candidates polling at 15 percent or higher can join in.

“There is no way that a third party wins the presidency without being in the presidential debate,” Mr. Johnson said. “The contention is on our part that if you’re on the ballot in enough states to mathematically be elected, then you should be included in the presidential debate.”

He pointed out that, unlike whichever independent candidate anti-Trump Republicans are thinking of putting up against Mr. Trump, the Libertarian Party — which will host its nominating convention in Orlando, Fla., over Memorial Day — will be on the ballot in all 50 states come November.

“There’s not another third party. There’s not. It’s just not going to happen,” he said, then added, “It could be me!”

Mr. Trump has played the primary process masterfully, staging his coup from within the palace walls. He capitalized on the very rules the Republican National Committee changed after the drawn-out 2012 primary election to make more states award their delegates as winner-take-all rather than proportionally.

Instead of ousting Mr. Trump and forcing him to run as a third-party candidate, Republican elites now find themselves, or their preferred candidates, losing control of their own party. After the meeting of anti-Trump conservatives last Thursday, one of the meeting’s organizers, the right-wing radio host Erick Erickson, put out a statement from the group.

“We intend to keep our options open as to other avenues to oppose Donald Trump,” he wrote. “Our multiple decades of work in the conservative movement for free markets, limited government, national defense, religious liberty, life and marriage are about ideas, not necessarily parties.”

It is noteworthy that Mr. Trump is running a campaign safely within the two-party system, considering he is a Voltron-like candidate built using the most successful parts of past independent campaigns.

Like George Wallace, the former Alabama governor who ran a third-party presidential campaign in 1968 after his segregationist views put him on the fringes of the Democratic Party, Mr. Trump uses strident racial language to stoke his supporters’ anger. Like Ross Perot, who won 19 percent of the popular vote as an independent in 1992, Mr. Trump is an eccentric billionaire who is fun to watch on TV, which has allowed him to move ahead without relying on traditional fund-raising channels. Like Pat Buchanan, the Reform Party candidate in 2000, he is repackaging warmed-over economic and cultural nationalism and selling it as the future of the conservative movement. Mr. Trump even has a bit of Teddy Roosevelt, whose penchant for strongman bluster made him a populist hero when he ran as the Progressive (a.k.a. Bull Moose) Party candidate in 1912.

For now, the Republican Party’s leaders are trying to maintain some semblance of control over what’s happening to them. Appearing on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said it was both too early and too late for his party to think about starting an independent bid.

The host, George Stephanopoulos, asked Mr. Priebus what he thought of the Stop Trump movement, and whether recruiting a third-party candidate would doom the Republican chances of winning back the White House. “Well, sure it would — of course it would,” he said. “But it isn’t likely, and it’s probably too late, and there is no definitive answer right now as to who the nominee is going to be of our party. So I think all of it’s far too early.”

It’s Schrödinger’s primary now: both alive and dead, too early to speculate about and too late to save. Worst of all, the anti-Trump movement’s only hope to save the party might be a Libertarian. According to Julia Azari, a professor of political science at Marquette University, a Trump victory would actually prove worse for the Republican Party in the long run than another Democratic presidency.

Donald Trump Is No Ronald Reagan

Donald Trump Is No Ronald Reagan

Before the GOP became the Party of Reagan, it was the Party of Lincoln. But you wouldn’t expect a Republican politician to spend a lot of time promising to free the slaves or preserve the Union. Trying to see today’s economic problems through Reagan-colored glasses isn’t impossible — we’re still over-regulated by a too-large government — but it can be distorting.

Similarly, casting the war on terrorism as a replay of the long battle against communism (which Reagan won) can be done, but it requires bending reality to theory. Marxism was a relatively brief and modern imposition on ancient cultures. Islam is an ancient religion, and radical Islam is an effort to fight off the imposition of modernity. Different threats and different contexts require different thinking.

All of these criticisms still stand. What’s different these days is the desperate effort to insist that Donald Trump is a new Reagan — not by Trump himself, but by a kind of conservative priesthood eager to prove by analogy what it can’t prove with facts or logic.

Newt Gingrich, Bill Bennett, and Rudy Giuliani are just a few of the prominent conservatives miraculously finding Reaganism in the outbursts of a loutish and crude real-estate developer the way the high lamas of Buddhism try to identify a new dalai lama based on a baby’s gurgling.

Most of their arguments are shockingly spurious given the intellects involved. Among the most common: “They said Reagan couldn’t win, too.” Logically, this has nothing to do with Trump’s alleged resemblance to Reagan (or Trump’s general-election chances). “They” — whoever they are — also claimed Kermit the Frog couldn’t win 270 electoral votes. That doesn’t mean they were wrong, or that Kermit is an amphibious Reaganite.

Indeed, all of the “They said X about Reagan, too” arguments are preposterous, but one stands out: “They said Reagan was a dunce, too.”

Of course, “they” were wrong about Reagan. But the “they” in 1980 were overwhelmingly liberal. Trump’s most important critics are overwhelmingly conservative. The claim that conservatives in 2016 are wrong about Trump because liberals 36 years ago were wrong about Reagan is a hard one to diagram on a grease board. And getting to the conclusion that these combined errors mean Trump is Reagan-like is the logical equivalent of crossing a canyon in three leaps.

In terms of personal character and ideological seriousness, Trump and Reagan could not be more different. Reagan was one of the most dignified politicians of the 20th century, one who turned his cheek to vicious attacks, refused to use profanity, and rarely showed an angry side. Meanwhile, Trump’s crude and vengeful streaks virtually define the man.

Reagan’s ideological principles were derived from decades of reading, speaking, and debating. Trump, meanwhile, is winging it.

“I don’t think he has an ideology,” Pat Buchanan told the Washington Post. “He very much is responding to the realities that he has encountered and his natural reactions to them. It’s not some intellectual construct.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Shining a light on police seizures, civil forfeitures

Shining a light on police seizures, civil forfeitures

Mississippi has some of the strongest protections in the country for private property rights. But those protections are shockingly lax when it comes to a little-known police practice called “civil forfeiture.”

Unlike criminal forfeiture, which only allows the government to forfeit property after securing a criminal conviction, under civil forfeiture, property owners do not have to be convicted or even criminally charged to lose their property.

Once a property has been forfeited and auctioned, law enforcement can keep up to 80 percent of the proceeds if just one agency investigated the case. If multiple agencies were involved, then agencies can retain all forfeiture proceeds. This creates a worrisome conflict of interest and may incentivize police to use this practice for their own financial gain.

Even worse, Mississippi police and prosecutors are not required to track or report their seizure and forfeiture activity, which keeps the public in the dark.

To shine a light on abuses of government power, state Rep. Chris Brown has proposed House Bill 1410, the “Asset Forfeiture Transparency Act.”  By a vote of 112 to 5, the House of Representatives voted in favor of the bill late last month.

If enacted, the bill would require agencies to list all property seized under state or federal forfeiture laws and include a description of the seized property and its estimated value. If a property is ultimately forfeited to the government, agencies would have to disclose the amount of proceeds received from its sale. Crucially, HB 1410 would oblige agencies to list whether or not property owners were even charged with a crime as well as how the case was resolved (i.e. in acquittal, conviction, dropped charges or plea agreement). Closed forfeiture cases would also appear on a public, searchable website created and maintained by the Commissioner of Public Safety.

The lack of transparency and accountability for Mississippi’s asset forfeiture laws can cause a breakdown of trust between police officers and the citizens whose rights they are sworn to serve and protect. The little information that has become public about civil forfeiture in Mississippi is troubling.

In Richland, a town of 7,000 residents just south of Jackson, police built and paid for a $4.1 million police station entirely with civil forfeiture. Forfeiture funds also paid for “every patrol car in the Richland Police Department fleet,” as well as a “top-level training center,” Mississippi Watchdog reported. Of course, without proper disclosure requirements, there is no way of knowing how many of those individuals who had their property taken in Richland were even charged with a crime.

The Washington Post investigated one federal forfeiture program and found that since 9/11, there have been nearly 400 cash seizures made by Mississippi agencies “without search warrants or indictments.” Although federal forfeiture data is largely wanting, the U.S. Department of Justice does keep track of how much an agency has collected through federal forfeiture, unlike current state law. Between 2000 and 2013, Mississippi law enforcement altogether received more than $47 million in forfeiture proceeds from the Justice Department, according to a recent report by the Institute for Justice.

By passing HB 1410, Mississippi is poised to join a growing reform movement.

FBI might have way to unlock attacker’s iPhone without Apple

FBI might have way to unlock attacker’s iPhone without Apple

A much-anticipated court hearing on the federal government’s effort to force Apple Inc. to unlock the iPhone used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino terror attack was abruptly vacated Monday after the FBI revealed it may have a way to access data without the company’s help.

Federal prosecutors made the surprising announcement on the eve of Tuesday’s hearing in U.S. District Court in Riverside, California. In court papers they said the FBI has been researching methods to access the data on Syed Rizwan Farook’s encrypted phone since obtaining it on Dec. 3, the day after the attack.

“An outside party” came forward over the weekend and showed the FBI a possible method, the government said in court papers requesting the hearing be postponed. Authorities need time to determine “whether it is a viable method that will not compromise data” on the phone.

If viable, “it should eliminate the need for the assistance from Apple,” according to the filing.

The government did not identify the third party or explain what the proposed method entailed.

Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym granted that request and ordered the government to file a status report by April 5. Pym also stayed her Feb. 16 order compelling Apple to create software that would disable security features on the phone, including one that erases all information if a passcode is incorrectly entered more than 10 times.

In a conference call with reporters, Apple attorneys said it’s premature to declare victory in the case because it’s possible that authorities could come back in a few weeks and insist they still need the company’s help. The attorneys spoke under an Apple policy that wouldn’t allow them to be quoted by name.

The company hopes the government will tell Apple about whatever method it uses to access the phone’s encrypted files. But the attorneys said it may be up to the FBI to decide whether to share the information.

The fact that a third party may have found a way into the phone without Apple’s help appears to contradict every sworn affidavit and filing put that the Justice Department has put forward in the last month. The government has argued in each of its filings that Apple’s help is necessary and that the company was the only entity that could provide investigators with what was needed.

FBI Director James Comey told the House Judiciary Committee in sworn testimony earlier this month that agency investigators had approached even the National Security Agency for help but did not have success.

Apple has previously said in court filings that the government did not exhaust all its options, and lawmakers have criticized the FBI for not doing more to try to crack the iPhone itself before seeking Apple’s help.

“To me, it suggests that either the FBI doesn’t understand the technology or they weren’t giving us the whole truth when they said there is no other possible way” of examining the phone without Apple’s help, said Alex Abdo, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Both of those are scary to me.”

The ACLU has filed a court brief supporting Apple’s position.

Robert Cattanach, a former U.S. Department of Justice attorney who handles cyber-security cases for the Dorsey & Whitney law firm, said the government would likely not have disclosed it had a lead on possibly unlocking the phone unless it was almost certain the method would work. That’s because the disclosure weakens the government’s case by introducing doubt that it could only access the phone with Apple’s help, he said.

“They’ve created ambiguity in a place where they’ve previously said there is none,” he said.

Prosecutors have argued that the phone used by Farook probably contains evidence of the Dec. 2 attack in which the county food inspector and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, slaughtered 14 at a holiday luncheon attended by many of his work colleagues. The two were killed in a police shootout hours later.

The FBI has said the couple was inspired by the Islamic State group. Investigators still are trying to piece together what happened and find out if there were collaborators.

The couple destroyed other phones they left behind, and the FBI has been unable to circumvent the passcode needed to unlock the iPhone, which is owned by San Bernardino County and was given to Farook for his job.

Apple has argued that the government was seeking “dangerous power” that exceeds the authority of the All Writs Act of 1789 it cited, and violates the company’s constitutional rights, harms the Apple brand and threatens the trust of its customers to protect their privacy. The 18th-century law has been used on other cases to require third parties to help law enforcement in investigations.

It’s not clear what method the government now wants to test. But even as the FBI has insisted that only Apple is able to provide the help it needs, some technical experts have argued there are other options.

The most viable method involves making a copy of the iPhone’s flash memory drive, said Jonathan Zdziarski, a computer expert who specializes in iPhone forensics. That would allow investigators to make multiple tries at guessing the iPhone’s passcode. A security feature in the phone is designed to automatically erase the data if someone makes 10 wrong guesses in a row.

But if that happens, Zdziarski said, investigators could theoretically restore the data from the backup copy they have created.

The Darkness that Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker

The first book in the Prince of Nothing Trilogy.

Strikingly original in its conception, ambitious in scope, with characters engrossingly and vividly drawn, the first book in R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing series creates a remarkable world from whole cloth-its language and classes of people, its cities, religions, mysteries, taboos, and rituals-the kind of all-embracing universe Tolkien and Herbert created unforgettably in the epic fantasies The Lord of the Rings and Dune. It's a world scarred by an apocalyptic past, evoking a time both two thousand years past and two thousand years into the future, as untold thousands gather for a crusade. Among them, two men and two women are ensnared by a mysterious traveler, Anasurimbor Kellhus—part warrior, part philosopher, part sorcerous, charismatic presence—from lands long thought dead. The Darkness That Comes Before is a history of this great holy war, and like all histories, the survivors write its conclusion.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

CBO suggests taxing drivers by the mile

CBO suggests taxing drivers by the mile

Shirley said that one way to charge drivers more is to implement “vehicle-miles traveled charges.”

Some members of Congress and some officials in the Obama administration have argued for years that a vehicle miles traveled tax, or a “VMT” tax, should be imposed in order to create more federal highway revenue. The Obama administration in 2011 floated a draft bill that would have created a VMT.

Among other things, that plan foresaw the installation of equipment on people’s cars and trucks that would measure how far they drive, and the collection of taxes electronically through a reading of those devices at gas stations.

More recently, some Democrats have proposed legislation creating a VMT tax. But none of these plans have advanced in the Republican-led Congress.

CBO’s presentation also said the government could get more money from drivers by charging them more when traffic is bad. Shirley calls that “congestion pricing.”

A third option, Shirley said, would be “allowing tolling on additional existing interstates.”

Libertarian Party Welcomes Refugees from the Republican and Democratic Parties

Libertarian Party Welcomes Refugees from the Republican and Democratic Parties

It looks increasingly likely that Mr. Trump and Sec. Clinton will be the nominees for the Republican and Democratic Parties.

Neither candidate is a friend to liberty. And freedom-loving Americans everywhere are deeply concerned.

For quite some time, Pew Research Center polls have consistently shown that more Americans identify as “independent” than as Republicans or Democrats.

Now, many Republican primary voters are considering voting for non-Republican candidates in the general election.

A Fox News exit poll shows that over half of Republican primary voters who did not vote for Mr. Trump report interest in voting for a third-party or independent candidate in the general election if Mr. Trump receives the Republican nomination.

Here in the Libertarian Party, we are friends of refugees…those fleeing war torn countries, those fleeing desperate poverty, and also those fleeing despotic candidates such as Mr. Trump and Sec. Clinton.

We welcome former Republicans and Democrats who value “liberty and justice for all” to find a new home in the Libertarian Party.

Libertarianism is the idea that you should be free to make your own decisions in all aspects of your life as long as you don’t infringe upon the rights of others.

Chair Nicholas Sarwark says, “If you are one of the millions of Americans who no longer feel you have a voice in the Republican or Democratic Parties, we welcome you to join us in our fight for the rights of ordinary Americans to be free to raise their families, run their businesses, and pursue happiness in any way that’s peaceful.”

We are an incredibly diverse party, truly representing folks from every walk of life, who genuinely care about the rights of each person. We believe firmly that all rights, of all people, matter all the time. That is a key difference between us and the older parties, each of which is plagued with special interests that undermine the rights of some.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Trump backs price controls – free enterprise in peril

Trump backs price controls – free enterprise in peril

Donald Trump has once again demonstrated how his ill-conceived populist appeals will quickly commit him to public policies that conservatives have been working to defeat — for a generation or more. His latest example is a casual embrace government-set price controls – this time for pharmaceutical drugs. Government price controls and dictated similar mandates are policies Republicans have opposed for decades, led by fact-based conservative economists and purposeful conservative principles.

Price controls, mandated by government agencies, do not adapt to market conditions at anything other than glacial speed. The real price of consumer products – whether life saving medicine or the latest hair-growth cream – regularly shift at both the wholesale and retail levels. Economists – both conservative and liberal – have repeatedly demonstrated how government mandated price controls decimate expenditures like the research and development process. The incredible freedom scientists have to experiment within the United States over the previous decades has already produced multiple miracle drugs. These same freedoms and liberties are on the cusp of giving us even more ground breaking and innovative medicines. If candidate Trump’s plans were enacted, not only would research and development be severely reduced, but it would also force a severe limitation of the drugs Medicare patients can use today.

Yet here is Trump, naively backing this idea at a New Hampshire rally with rhetoric that is literally indistinguishable from liberal lines used by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or Hillary Clinton.

This raises the question: if Trump were the standard-bearer for the Republicans – typically the more free-market party, though certainly not perfect on that score – what would stop the United States from becoming a European-style welfare state with its high taxes and low growth rates?

Certainly not Congressional Republicans are not the answer, who have been shying away from the issue. They have repeatedly allowed progressives to frame the debate as a supposed common-sense “negotiation” – as if government-set price controls were just another routine business transaction.

Trump has used the same cynical progressive rhetoric elsewhere. He has claimed the only reason the government doesn’t seize on hundreds of billions in savings is somehow “because of the drug companies.”

Total nonsense and typical Trump bluster. The way Medicare currently purchases drugs is to take the average price of that drug on the private sector. The price of the drug on the private sector is subject to the same laws of supply and demand like any other good or service. However, there is a notable influencing factor which lowers the cost of prescriptions for millions of Americans. Most self-insured companies and the larger health insurance companies employ pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). PBMs negotiate pharmacy expenditures on behalf of those companies – companies which serve tens of millions more patients than Medicare’s 41 million. Negotiating on behalf of this vast number of U.S. citizens gives the PBMs the “clout” necessary to drive hard bargains – and obtain prices lower than those received by Medicare beneficiaries.

What Sanders, Clinton and others are proposing is to let Medicare demand a given price from the drug companies – regardless of the costs needed to produce that medicine or fund further research. If the company simply couldn’t produce the medicine at the demanded price, the drug would then not even be available to a very large pool of Medicare patients.

The key distinction between the private plans negotiating with the drug companies and Medicare is that people on private plans have some degree of choice about which plan they pay for. Medicare patients have only Medicare as an option so long as the government is paying for their health care.

Many other countries have tried out “magical” economic thinking with price controls. In places like Germany, France and Japan, the best-performing drugs simply become unavailable, forcing doctors to prescribe a higher quantity of less-effective drugs. Thus the average price for each prescribed drug goes down but overall per person spending on drugs goes up. Germany and France, for example, both spend a higher portion of their health care spending on drugs than the U.S. does. Meanwhile, price controls further damage research and development because the government is artificially rewarding low prices rather than efficacy. Companies have a reduced financial reason to invest in better drugs. This is one of the reasons new drug development in the U.S. is dramatically better than the rest of the world.

Trump absurdly claimed price controls would save $300 billion a year. That’s more than 80 percent of the entire amount of money everyone in our country annually spends on drugs. Not just Medicare – everyone in the United States. That’s just fantasy – even Bernie Sanders doesn’t pretend that fantasy could happen.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Obama at SXSW: “Your phones shouldn’t be off limits…’

Obama at SXSW: “Your phones shouldn’t be off limits…’

Obama made an appearance at the SXSW festival this weekend. In case you’re wondering, SXSW is basically a hub for media conferences and nerd-fest that Barack ditched Nancy Reagan’s funeral for. Priorities. It was there that our Commander in Chief shamelessly made an ass out of himself. Again.

The president… made it clear he didn’t see why phones should be off limits. If, technologically, it is possible to make an impenetrable device where there is no key, no door at all, how do we apprehend the child pornographer, how do we disrupt a terrorist plot? “It’s fetishizing our phones above every other value,” he said. “And that can’t be the right answer. If [the government] can’t get in, then everyone is walking around with a Swiss bank account in their pocket.”

“How do we apprehend the child pornographer?” Hopefully not the same way the government “apprehends” rapists or those who commit treason by jeopardizing national security. Through their illegal email servers they’re trading classified information from.

Obviously Obama’s newest attack on personal privacy stems from the whole San Bernardino-terrorists debacle. But really, the FBI eyeing the tech field has been a long time coming. The government has inserted itself into just about every industry possible. Look no further than Obama showing up at SXSW, where presidents have no possible business other than to push propaganda where it doesn’t belong. Uncle Sam does not like being left out. Whenever he steps in he brings a load of new rules with him that somehow manage to limit our freedoms even more.

Obama’s remarks are not only patronizing but condescending. And douchey. He’s implying that the American people are being unreasonable. The government just wants unfettered access to all of your data: including bank account information, coordinates, passwords, your entire network.

Hoggetowne Medieval Faire 2016 - Empty Hats - The Hat Came Back

Hoggetowne Medieval Faire 2016 - Empty Hats - The Hat Came Back

Empty Hats performs 'The Hat Came Back' at the 2016 Hoggetowne Medieval Faire in Gainesville, Florida.

Activisions – Volume 1 – Fall 1981

Activisions – Volume 1 – Fall 1981

Friday, March 11, 2016

Surprise! NSA data will soon routinely be used for domestic policing that has nothing to do with terrorism

Surprise! NSA data will soon routinely be used for domestic policing that has nothing to do with terrorism

A while back, we noted a report showing that the “sneak-and-peek” provision of the Patriot Act that was alleged to be used only in national security and terrorism investigations has overwhelmingly been used in narcotics cases. Now the New York Times reports that National Security Agency data will be shared with other intelligence agencies like the FBI without first applying any screens for privacy. The ACLU of Massachusetts blog Privacy SOS explains why this is important:

What does this rule change mean for you? In short, domestic law enforcement officials now have access to huge troves of American communications, obtained without warrants, that they can use to put people in cages. FBI agents don’t need to have any “national security” related reason to plug your name, email address, phone number, or other “selector” into the NSA’s gargantuan data trove. They can simply poke around in your private information in the course of totally routine investigations. And if they find something that suggests, say, involvement in illegal drug activity, they can send that information to local or state police. That means information the NSA collects for purposes of so-called “national security” will be used by police to lock up ordinary Americans for routine crimes. And we don’t have to guess who’s going to suffer this unconstitutional indignity the most brutally. It’ll be Black, Brown, poor, immigrant, Muslim, and dissident Americans: the same people who are always targeted by law enforcement for extra “special” attention.

This basically formalizes what was already happening under the radar. We’ve known for a couple of years now that the Drug Enforcement Administration and the IRS were getting information from the NSA. Because that information was obtained without a warrant, the agencies were instructed to engage in “parallel construction” when explaining to courts and defense attorneys how the information had been obtained. If you think parallel construction just sounds like a bureaucratically sterilized way of saying big stinking lie, well, you wouldn’t be alone. And it certainly isn’t the only time that that national security apparatus has let law enforcement agencies benefit from policies that are supposed to be reserved for terrorism investigations in order to get around the Fourth Amendment, then instructed those law enforcement agencies to misdirect, fudge and outright lie about how they obtained incriminating information — see the Stingray debacle. This isn’t just a few rogue agents. The lying has been a matter of policy. We’re now learning that the feds had these agreements with police agencies all over thecountry, affecting thousands of cases.

EPA Fines Wyoming Man $16 Million for Building a Pond on His Property

EPA Fines Wyoming Man $16 Million for Building a Pond on His Property

Farmers and ranchers call the EPA’s new water rule the biggest land grab in the history of the world. It is a massive land grab, especially in a country that has been built on the right to own property. The administration is changing all that.

A new oppressive water rule gives the EPA jurisdiction over all public and private streams in the United States that are “intermittent, seasonal and rain-dependent.” It will regulate what are normal daily ranching and farming practices and take control of their land.

According to congressional budget testimony, waters of the United States would give the EPA authority over streams on private property even when the water beds have been dry, in some cases, for hundreds of years.

EPA Chief Gina McCarthy tested the power of the EPA in advance of the passage of these harsh new rules by using it in the case of a Wyoming man and his pond. The rule wasn’t even put through when the EPA threatened him. McCarthy took out her pen and phone.

Andy Johnson is being fined $37,500 a day and faces criminal penalties for building a pond on his property.

Andy and Katie Johnson built a stock pond on their 8-acre Wyoming farm. They filled it with clear water, fish, ducks and geese. His horses used it to drink and graze.

All went well until the EPA went after the family for violating the Clean Water Act. Regulators showed up on the Johnson’s land one day and said they were facing a “very serous matter.”

Andy Johnson has vowed to go bankrupt before he pays the government a dime. He wants to teach his children to not back down.

The EPA claims the Johnsons built a dam on a creek without a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. The EPA charges the pond discharges into other waterways. Johnson says it’s a pond to attract wildlife which is exempt from Clean Water regulations.

Johnson says a letter from the Wyoming State Engineeer’s Office proves he followed state rules.

The EPA claims they have the final say and they won’t back down.

Johnson felt hopeless when he received the EPA order, but he now has Republican lawmakers helping him, including Wyoming Senators John Barrasso, Mike Enzi, and Louisiana Sen. David Vitter.

The congressmen sent a March 12, 2014 letter to the EPA’s acting Assistant Administrator demanding the EPA withdraw the compliance order which “reads like a draconian edict of a heavy-handed bureaucracy”.

Johnson was given 60 days to hire a consultant to assess the impact and to schedule restoration work on his own property. He refused.

Mr. Johnson is being represented by the Libertarian organization, Pacific Legal Foundation, as he fights what has been called a “regulatory war” with the Obama administration over environmental issues ranging from water quality to gas drilling, coal power plants to sage grouse.

“We can’t have unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats ignoring the limits of their own authority,” said Jonathan Wood, a lawyer for the foundation. “There was no need for federal regulation here.”

“It makes no sense whatsoever,” Mr. Johnson said, pointing at the waving grasses and birds pinwheeling around the water. “We have wetlands now. I really think the E.P.A. should be coming in and saying, ‘Good job.’

Mr. Johnson had gotten full approvals from Wyoming officials, and said the federal government had no business using national water laws to make decisions about the creek that meanders through the family’s eight-acre property. Mr. Johnson and his wife, Katie, had spent $50,000 — most of their savings, they said — to create the pond to water their 10 head of cattle and four horses. Dismantling it now would be ruinously expensive and destroy what has become a tiny oasis for birds and wildlife, they said.

After a standoff of a year, Mr. Johnson sued the E.P.A., asking a judge to declare his pond legal and wave away accumulating fines that could now reach $16 million.

“They have no right to be here,” Mr. Johnson said. “We’re law-abiding people. It makes your blood boil that they would come after you like that.”

The suit says that the pond was created to water stock and is too far removed from navigable rivers to fall under the E.P.A.’s authority.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Commodore MicroComputers, Issue 43, September/October 1986

Commodore MicroComputers, Issue 43, September/October 1986

Result of Third-Party Lawsuit Could Decide Outcome of 2016 Election

Result of Third-Party Lawsuit Could Decide Outcome of 2016 Election

A lawsuit filed on September 26, 2015 in Washington D.C. (and its eventual outcome) may turn out to be the most important event of the 2016 presidential election.

Virtually ignored by all but a handful of alternative media outlets, this suit has the power to destroy the existing political power structure ─ much like the ridesharing firms, Uber and Lyft, threaten the antiquated taxi industry. If successful, it will permanently expand the number of candidates on the debate stage during the general election by proving that the Commission on Presidential Debates is in violation of current anti-trust law. Politics is not just free speech; it’s also big business.

In a nation that prides itself on choice, with endless varieties of almost anything imaginable, why are we limited to hearing from just Republicans and Democrats when debating our nation’s future? The reason is that you, as a citizen, are being subconsciously herded under the guise of “preventing confusion.”

Libertarians, Greens, Reform, Constitutional, and Independents are allowed, to a point, to voice their issues, but the most important qualifier has always been the official debate stage. Inclusion on this stage is, in effect, the social proof that says to the American voter: this candidate is for real and should be considered.

National debates, being the most important forum to present a candidate’s ideas to the American voter, have the most restrictive qualifiers for inclusion. These qualifiers are conveniently set by Republicans and Democrats masquerading as unbiased arbiters. These biased members are deciding the rules, rather than using an independent organization like the League of Women Voters, because they fear competition.

The existing debate rules state that a presidential candidate must “have a level of support of at least 15% (fifteen percent) of the national electorate as determined by five national public opinion polling organizations selected by CPD, using the average of those organizations’ most recent publicly-reported results at the time of the determination.” This 15-percent hurtle leaves out important criteria, such as how polls should be worded, which polling organizations will be used, and when these polls should be taken. Cherry picking polling companies and adjusting the timing are just a few ways to tilt the outcome.

More significant to the discussion is that the Commission fails to address the most vital element, which is that polls are becoming increasingly unreliable each year in the cell phone age. Polling has become so untrustworthy that renowned pollster, Gallup, is getting out of the presidential polling business because it admits it can’t get accurate results. If an organization such as Gallup is throwing in the towel, then the reliability of every poll is in question.

In the 2012 election, Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein were not included in approximately 90 percent of the popular polls. Most of the time, these polls used “none of the above” or “someone else” rather than disclosing their names, even though they were listed on the ballot. The average voter would be hard pressed to find any poll that covered third parties in any meaningful way.

Republicans and Democrats may not agree on much, but there is no dispute between them that only their two parties should be competing for Americans’ votes. The political establishments in both major parties do everything within their power to squash nontraditional viewpoints.

Engineers lose control of U.S. military weather satellite

Engineers lose control of U.S. military weather satellite

The U.S. Air Force has been unable to send commands to the service’s newest weather satellite for nearly a month, and engineers are trying to determine if the spacecraft can be salvaged, officials said last week.

The polar-orbiting Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 19, or DMSP F19, spacecraft stopped responding to orders from the ground Feb. 11, the Air Force said in a March 3 press release.

“At this time, it is not known what caused the anomaly or if the satellite will be recovered, and the anomaly is under investigation,” the Air Force said. “There are no other known issues with the satellite.”

Designed for a five-year service life, DMSP F19 launched April 3, 2014, from California atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. It is the newest in the Air Force’s series of DMSP weather observatories designed to help forecasters predict storms, clouds, fog and dust storms that could inhibit global military operations.

Satellite operators in Suitland, Maryland, are still receiving telemetry from DMSP F19 after the Feb. 11 anomaly, but it is unclear whether engineers can recover the satellite and continue its mission.

The Air Force said the DMSP F17 satellite, launched in November 2006, has been reassigned as the primary DMSP spacecraft, taking over for the crippled DMSP F19.

“There is no impact to the strategic weather mission, and the DMSP constellation remains able to support warfighter requirements through resilient systems and processes,” the Air Force statement said. “The constellation continues to provide weather and atmospheric data to users as it has for the past five decades.”

Officials generated a 30-day plan to reestablish command and control capability aboard DMSP F19. It will take “some time” to determine whether the DMSP F19 satellite can recovered, the Air Force said.

A detachment from the Air Force’s 50th Operations Group stationed at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, oversees the DMSP satellites in conjunction with NOAA’s satellite operations center in Suitland.

Made by Lockheed Martin, the DMSP satellites have not been immune to technical faults in recent years.

DMSP F19 only partially deployed its power-generating solar array after its April 2014 launch, but officials said the glitch did not affect its mission.

The DMSP F13 satellite launched in 1995 exploded in orbit last year, spreading debris fragments and adding to the growing space junk problem in low Earth orbit. Engineers blamed the disintegration on a battery fault, and investigators said other DMSP satellites are susceptible to the same flaw that could lead to further explosions in orbit.

The retired NOAA 16 civilian weather satellite in polar orbit with largely the same design as the DMSP spacecraft also broke apart in space last year, shedding more debris in orbit. It is not clear whether the Lockheed Martin-built NOAA 16 satellite used the same suspect battery design as the DMSP spacecraft.

Lockheed Martin completed construction of the DMSP satellites a decade ago, and the Air Force pulls the spacecraft from storage to launch as needed. For example, the DMSP F19 satellite was finished in 1998 and stored in a clean room at Lockheed Martin’s Sunnyvale, California, plant before technicians readied it for liftoff in 2014.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Former first lady Nancy Reagan dead at 94

Former first lady Nancy Reagan dead at 94

Nancy Reagan, the widow of President Ronald Reagan and passionately devoted keeper of his flame, died Sunday morning of congestive heart failure at 94, according to her spokesperson.

Reagan died at her home in Los Angeles. She’s set to be buried at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, next to her husband. Prior to the funeral, there will be an opportunity for members of the public to pay their respects at the Library, the spokesperson said. Details had not yet been announced Sunday afternoon.

Reagan, whose husband died in 2004, had appeared frail after suffering several falls in recent years. In May 2012 it was disclosed she had broken several ribs in a fall at her Los Angeles home six weeks earlier.

Memorials poured in from many in the political world.

“Nancy Reagan was totally devoted to President Reagan, and we take comfort that they will be reunited once more,” former First Lady Barbara Bush said in a statement. “George and I send our prayers and condolences to her family.”

Although she initially worked as an actress, the former first lady was, first and foremost, Mrs. Ronald Reagan.

“My life really began when I married my husband,” Nancy Reagan once said, and for 52 years of marriage they were a fiercely close and devoted couple.

Bernie vs. Ron Paul: There’s No Comparison

Bernie vs. Ron Paul: There’s No Comparison

Super Tuesday may have been the beginning of the end for the Bernie Sanders campaign, but the ideas that propelled it are likely to linger for quite some time. With some writers comparing Bernie to Ron Paul (not in terms of economics and philosophy, of course, but as insurgent candidates), now seemed like an opportune moment to examine the Sanders message and legacy, and compare it to Ron’s.

Like Ron, Bernie surprised all the pundits with his fundraising, polling, and electoral success. In fact, so successful has Sanders been that Hillary Clinton has been reduced to a pathetic and unconvincing “me, too” campaign — I can be just like Bernie, if that’s what you rubes want!

Bernie has gained a lot of traction from his complaints that Hillary is in the tank for Wall Street and the big banks. He’s likewise pointed to the six-figure honoraria Hillary has earned from speeches given to the big banks.

The best the now-hapless Bill Clinton could do in reply was to note that Bernie, too, had been paid to give speeches. Technically, Bill was right. Bernie had earned money from public speaking: a whopping $1,800 over the course of a year. The year before that, Bernie had earned $1,300 from public speaking. All of this money was donated to charity, as is the requirement for US senators.

It’s true that Bernie is better than Hillary on foreign policy, but in keeping with Rothbard’s Law — everyone concentrates in the area in which he is worst — Bernie speaks very little about issues of war and peace. And even there, consistency and principle are elusive: he supported Bill Clinton’s bombing of Serbia over Kosovo, an act of terror based on propaganda that rivaled anything George W. Bush ever peddled. Sanders favors the ongoing drone campaigns, too, and even supported the F-35, one of the biggest boondoggles in the Pentagon’s long and sorry history.

Bernie’s primary legacy will be to have resuscitated the idea of socialism in the minds of many Americans. It is a very confused socialism, to be sure. The young people who follow Bernie can’t even seem to define socialism, according to recent surveys. And in fact Bernie’s economics is really just a hyper-Keynesianism rather than out-and-out socialism. But by suggesting that the Scandinavian countries constitute a model that the United States should emulate, he has encouraged the idea that only large-scale, systemic change in the direction of vastly increased government power can produce the kind of society Americans want.

Capitalism ought to be our default position, since it conforms to the basic moral insights we acquired in our youth: keep your word, live up to your agreements, don’t take what doesn’t belong to you, and do not cause anyone physical harm.

But thanks to years of propaganda to the contrary, socialism has come to appear to many people as not simply a morally plausible position but clearly and obviously desirable and superior to the capitalist alternative. The free market, they are convinced from what they recall from their elementary school textbooks, leads to “monopoly” and oppression.

Bernie speaks as if the system is rigged against the people because of business influence in government — a fair enough point, as far as it goes — but it’s hard to take this criticism seriously when his proposed solution is to extend the influence of politics over more and more areas of life and increase the powers and scope of the very government he is supposed to be criticizing.

The Sanders narrative is rooted in two major historical claims, both of them dead wrong.

First, Sanders believes “capitalism” was to blame for the 2008 crash. But as readers know, that downturn, like the Great Depression before it, was preceded by years of Federal Reserve credit expansion. According to the Austrian theory of the business cycle, the artificial lowering of interest rates below free-market levels sets in motion an unsustainable economic boom. The economy is set on a path that could be sustained only if real resource availability were greater than it really is. Eventually, when real savings and resources turn out not to exist in the abundance that the Fed’s interventions misled people into expecting, projects have to be abandoned and the phony prosperity becomes real recession.

Sanders supporters will no doubt point to the great number of bad mortgages originated by private lenders. But would these mortgage loans have been extended in the first place if institutions like Countrywide couldn’t sell them to the government-privileged Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Fannie and Freddie enjoyed special tax and regulatory advantages and had a special line of credit from the US Treasury — a line of credit everyone knew would be essentially limitless if push ever came to shove.

It was the perfect storm: the Fed’s crazed monetary policy injected huge quantities of additional credit circulating throughout the economy, and the federal government’s various mandates and regulations made real estate an artificially attractive outlet for all that new money. When this ramshackle edifice came crashing down, capitalism — which, in the midst of all this money creation and regulatory lunacy, had never been tried — took the blame.

Indeed, what could be intellectually easier than blaming the “free market” for a phenomenon a critic doesn’t understand? Ron Paul, on the other hand, never tired in his own presidential campaigns of going beyond surface explanations to account for what really happened in the disaster of ’08, and identify who the real culprits were.

The other part of the Sanders story — Scandinavia — is shallow and misleading, too.

In fact, Denmark’s own prime minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, finally had to correct the Vermont senator’s references to his country as “socialist.” “I would like to make one thing clear,” Rasmussen said. “Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy. Denmark is a market economy.”

Still, there’s no question Denmark has a large public sector. And it’s starting to suck the life out of the place. Denmark’s various benefits subsidize idleness to an absurd and unmanageable degree. In the country’s 98 municipalities, guess how many have a majority of residents working. If you answered three, you know far more about Denmark than Bernie and his supporters do.

It’s a similar story in the rest of Scandinavia. For instance, Sweden’s welfare state was able to develop only because of the wealth created by decades and decades of a prosperous market economy. Private-sector job creation was anemic to nonexistent in the decades following the radical expansion of the Swedish welfare state. And as for Norway, there are lots of “free” things there, it’s true — if you’re prepared to pay a 75 percent effective tax rate.

The comparison of Bernie to Ron goes like this: both launched insurgent, anti-establishment presidential campaigns while in their 70s, shook up their respective party establishments, and attracted large youth followings. But Bernie is no Ron.

Just on the surface: Bernie is a grump and difficult to work with; Ron is a kindhearted gentleman who always showed his appreciation for the people in his office.

More importantly, Ron urged his followers to read and learn. Countless high school and college students began reading dense and difficult treatises in economics and political philosophy because Ron encouraged them to. Bernie’s followers receive no such encouragement. And why should they? Bernie’s platform merely regurgitates the fallacies and prejudices his young followers already imbibed in school. What more is there to read?

Ron’s followers, meanwhile, were curious enough to dig beneath the surface. Is the state really a benign institution that can costlessly provide us whatever we might demand? Or might there be moral, economic, and political factors standing in the way of these utopian dreams?

Bernie’s supporters demand material things for themselves, to be handed to them at the expense of strangers they have been taught to despise. But like Ron himself — who as an OB/GYN opposed restrictions on midwives even though doing so was not in his material interest — the young Paulians embraced the message of liberty without a thought for material advantage.

Hoggetowne Medieval Faire 2016 - Empty Hats - Queen of Argyle

Hoggetowne Medieval Faire 2016 - Empty Hats - Queen of Argyle

Empty Hats performs Queen of Argyle at the 2016 Hoggetowne Medieval Faire in Gainesville, Florida.

Columns III (Sega Genesis)

Columns III (Sega Genesis)

Friday, March 4, 2016

The rise of American authoritarianism

The rise of American authoritarianism

The American media, over the past year, has been trying to work out something of a mystery: Why is the Republican electorate supporting a far-right, orange-toned populist with no real political experience, who espouses extreme and often bizarre views? How has Donald Trump, seemingly out of nowhere, suddenly become so popular?

What’s made Trump’s rise even more puzzling is that his support seems to cross demographic lines — education, income, age, even religiosity — that usually demarcate candidates. And whereas most Republican candidates might draw strong support from just one segment of the party base, such as Southern evangelicals or coastal moderates, Trump currently does surprisingly well from the Gulf Coast of Florida to the towns of upstate New York, and he won a resounding victory in the Nevada caucuses.

Perhaps strangest of all, it wasn’t just Trump but his supporters who seemed to have come out of nowhere, suddenly expressing, in large numbers, ideas far more extreme than anything that has risen to such popularity in recent memory. In South Carolina, a CBS News exit poll found that 75 percent of Republican voters supported banning Muslims from the United States. A PPP poll found that a third of Trump voters support banning gays and lesbians from the country. Twenty percent said Lincoln shouldn’t have freed the slaves.

Last September, a PhD student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst named Matthew MacWilliams realized that his dissertation research might hold the answer to not just one but all three of these mysteries.

MacWilliams studies authoritarianism — not actual dictators, but rather a psychological profile of individual voters that is characterized by a desire for order and a fear of outsiders. People who score high in authoritarianism, when they feel threatened, look for strong leaders who promise to take whatever action necessary to protect them from outsiders and prevent the changes they fear.

So MacWilliams naturally wondered if authoritarianism might correlate with support for Trump.

He polled a large sample of likely voters, looking for correlations between support for Trump and views that align with authoritarianism. What he found was astonishing: Not only did authoritarianism correlate, but it seemed to predict support for Trump more reliably than virtually any other indicator. He later repeated the same poll in South Carolina, shortly before the primary there, and found the same results, which he published in Vox.

As it turns out, MacWilliams wasn’t the only one to have this realization. Miles away, in an office at Vanderbilt University, a professor named Marc Hetherington was having his own aha moment. He realized that he and a fellow political scientist, the University of North Carolina’s Jonathan Weiler, had essentially predicted Trump’s rise back in 2009, when they discovered something that would turn out to be far more significant than they then realized.

That year, Hetherington and Weiler published a book about the effects of authoritarianism on American politics. Through a series of experiments and careful data analysis, they had come to a surprising conclusion: Much of the polarization dividing American politics was fueled not just by gerrymandering or money in politics or the other oft-cited variables, but by an unnoticed but surprisingly large electoral group — authoritarians.

Their book concluded that the GOP, by positioning itself as the party of traditional values and law and order, had unknowingly attracted what would turn out to be a vast and previously bipartisan population of Americans with authoritarian tendencies.

This trend had been accelerated in recent years by demographic and economic changes such as immigration, which “activated” authoritarian tendencies, leading many Americans to seek out a strongman leader who would preserve a status quo they feel is under threat and impose order on a world they perceive as increasingly alien.

Trump embodies the classic authoritarian leadership style: simple, powerful, and punitive

These Americans with authoritarian views, they found, were sorting into the GOP, driving polarization. But they were also creating a divide within the party, at first latent, between traditional Republican voters and this group whose views were simultaneously less orthodox and, often, more extreme.

Over time, Hetherington and Weiler had predicted, that sorting would become more and more pronounced. And so it was all but inevitable that, eventually, authoritarians would gain enough power within the GOP to make themselves heard.

At the time, even Hetherington and Weiler did not realize the explosive implications: that their theory, when followed to its natural conclusion, predicted a looming and dramatic transformation of American politics. But looking back now, the ramifications of their research seem disturbingly clear.

Authoritarians are thought to express much deeper fears than the rest of the electorate, to seek the imposition of order where they perceive dangerous change, and to desire a strong leader who will defeat those fears with force. They would thus seek a candidate who promised these things. And the extreme nature of authoritarians’ fears, and of their desire to challenge threats with force, would lead them toward a candidate whose temperament was totally unlike anything we usually see in American politics — and whose policies went far beyond the acceptable norms.

A candidate like Donald Trump.

Even Hetherington was shocked to discover quite how right their theory had been. In the early fall of 2015, as Trump’s rise baffled most American journalists and political scientists, he called Weiler. He asked, over and over, “Can you believe this? Can you believe this?”

This winter, I got in touch with Hetherington, MacWilliams, and several other political scientists who study authoritarianism. I wanted to better understand the theory that seemed to have predicted, with such eerie accuracy, Trump’s rise. And, like them, I wanted to find out what the rise of authoritarian politics meant for American politics. Was Trump just the start of something bigger?

These political scientists were, at that moment, beginning to grapple with the same question. We agreed there was something important happening here — that was just beginning to be understood.

How Mitt Romney Is Totally Wrong About Donald Trump

How Mitt Romney Is Totally Wrong About Donald Trump

The easy rejoinder to Romney is to say he’s accurate but his timing is too late to matter. Indeed, as Trump’s march to the Republican nomination proceeds, this is fast becoming the conventional wisdom among GOP activists, whether they are part of the #NeverTrump crew or are coming to terms with having the guy at the top of their ticket. As longtime Republican consultant, no in-the-tank Trump loyalist Alex Castellanos recently wrote

Donald Trump whipped the establishment and it is too late for the limp GOP establishment to ask their mommy to step in and rewrite the rules because they were humiliated for their impotence.

If Trump is going to be our nominee, as I believe he is, it is our mission to support Trump and make him the best nominee and president possible.

What both sides—conservatives who say they will NEVER vote for Trump under any circumstances and conservatives who will grudgingly fall in line—misunderstand is that Trump isn’t a fraud perpetrated on the Republican Party, nor on the throngs of Republican primary voters who have propelled him to victory all over the place.

Put simply, Trump is the distillation of conservative Republican politics for all of the 21st century. He’s not the cause of a GOP implosion, but the final effect of an intellectual and political hollowing-out of any semblance of commitment to limited government, individual rights, and free markets. He is what happens when you fail to live up to your rhetoric and aspirations again and again.

Yes, as Romney stated, The Donald has shifted positions on all sorts of issues over the years (immigration, outsourcing, abortion, whatever). As if that isn’t a clearer indictment of the Republican Party when it ran both houses of Congress and the White House in the early part of this century. Winning the most-contested election in the history of the United States, George W. Bush campaigned on reducing the size, scope, and spending of government—and then proceeded to kick out the jams on constraints on government outlays.

Leave aside massive increases in defense spending and the scope of foreign policy ambitions for the moment (we’ll get to them). With help of “conservative” and “establishment” legislators (it’s far from clear what either of these terms really means, except to the GOP Mensheviks and Bolsheviks tossing them at each other like Molotov Cocktails), the Republicans pushed No Child Left Behind, the single-biggest expansion of the federal government into education in decades, and the creation of a budget-busting prescription-drug entitlement for seniors. They signed off on Sarbanes-Oxley, a dumb regulatory response to the Enron scandal and bursting of the tech bubble, which helped push IPOs to London and foreign capitals. Bush and the GOP signed off on protectionist measures against foreign steel and timber when it suited them while completely bungling federal responses to natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

Then there was the Republican response to the 9/11 attacks. The Republican Congress signed off on The Patriot Act, which vies with Hillary Clinton’s latest memoir for the title of least-read (even by the authors) doorstop of this century. They created not just the demonstrably useless Transportation Security Administration but an entirely new and sclerotic cabinet agency, The Department of Homeland Security (DHS). And now as conservatives and Republicans whine about Donald Trump’s authoritarian desire to “open up the libel laws,” recall what Republican Attorney General John Ashcroft said to anyone who dast dissent from Total Information Awareness:

“Those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty,” he inveighed before Congress, “your tactics only aid terrorists.”

When it came to actually prosecuting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the GOP was anything but fiscally responsible or part of what used to be called the “reality-based community.” Rather, Republicans deliberately funded (still) ongoing activites via “emergency supplemental” spending procedures, so they didn’t really have to fully explain to the public how much loot they were spending. That underhanded process only stopped once Barack Obama took office, in the brief moment when he and the Democrats deigned to actually produce and write budgets. Having succeeded with passing tax cuts, the Republicans—despite constantly bashing the Democrats as big spenders and deficit whores—never bothered to discuss how to pay for massive increases in military spending. Or Medicare spending. Or any other sort of outlay that ballooned under Bush and the Republican Congress. But don’t you see? It’s Obama and the Democrats who are to blame for everything—even when the GOP controls Congress?

Who created TARP and which party’s 2008 candidate suspended his campaign so that he could race back to Washington to bail out the big banks and, eventually Chrysler and GM? On his way out the door (and after a last-ditch $100 million stimulus plan that is largely forgotten to all but the nation’s debtors), George W. Bush actually said, “I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system.” Like much of what Donald Trump says today, of course, this is a lie, or at least an exaggeration, to the extent it pretends that George W. Bush, whose greatest business deal involved family connections and eminent domain, ever embodied free-market principles.

But what’s past is past, right? And today’s conservatives all hated Bush and the GOP Congress, right, even if they did endorse them George W. and company (except when he tried to privatize Social Security or, even worse, pass immigration reform).

In 2008 and 2012, the Republican Party ran such paragons of principle and consistency as John McCain and Mitt Romney for president. What was notable about McCain, besides his reflexive war-mongering, was that he ultimately flipped from being actually kind of open-bordersy to cutting TV commercials demanding that we “complete the danged fence.” As for Romney, who now sits in smug judgement of Donald Trump, he was that GOP guy who “evolved” on abortion and gay rights (even though Republicans don’t believe in evolution) and, oh yeah, created the program that became the model for Obamacare.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

First They Came For the iPhones…

First They Came For the iPhones…

The FBI tells us that its demand for a back door into the iPhone is all about fighting terrorism, and that it is essential to break in just this one time to find out more about the San Bernardino attack last December. But the truth is they had long sought a way to break Apple’s iPhone encryption and, like 9/11 and the PATRIOT Act, a mass murder provided just the pretext needed. After all, they say, if we are going to be protected from terrorism we have to give up a little of our privacy and liberty. Never mind that government spying on us has not prevented one terrorist attack.

Apple has so far stood up to a federal government’s demand that it force its employees to write a computer program to break into its own product. No doubt Apple CEO Tim Cook understands the damage it would do to his company for the world to know that the US government has a key to supposedly secure iPhones. But the principles at stake are even higher. We have a fundamental right to privacy. We have a fundamental right to go about our daily life without the threat of government surveillance of our activities. We are not East Germany.

Let’s not forget that this new, more secure iPhone was developed partly in response to Ed Snowden’s revelations that the federal government was illegally spying on us. The federal government was caught breaking the law but instead of ending its illegal spying is demanding that private companies make it easier for it to continue.

Last week we also learned that Congress is planning to join the fight against Apple — and us. Members are rushing to set up yet another governmental commission to study how our privacy can be violated for false promises of security. Of course they won’t put it that way, but we can be sure that will be the result. Some in Congress are seeking to pass legislation regulating how companies can or cannot encrypt their products. This will suppress the development of new technology and will have a chilling effect on our right to be protected from an intrusive government. Any legislation Congress writes limiting encryption will likely be unconstitutional, but unfortunately Congress seldom heeds the Constitution anyway.

When FBI Director James Comey demanded a back door into the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone, he promised that it was only for this one, extraordinary situation. “The San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message,” he said in a statement last week. Testifying before Congress just days later, however, he quickly changed course, telling the Members of the House Intelligence Committee that the court order and Apple’s appeals, “will be instructive for other courts.” Does anyone really believe this will not be considered a precedent-setting case? Does anyone really believe the government will not use this technology again and again, with lower and lower thresholds?

According to press reports, Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. has 175 iPhones with passcodes that the City of New York wants to access. We can be sure that is only the beginning.

Hoggetowne Medieval Faire 2016 - Empty Hats - Ramblin' Rover

Hoggetowne Medieval Faire 2016 - Empty Hats - Ramblin' Rover

Empty Hats performs Ramblin' Rover at the 2016 Hoggetowne Medieval Faire in Gainesville, Florida.