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Archive for August 6th, 2015

Free speech requires supporting speech that one does not like

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People automatically support the abstract idea of free speech and automatically oppose the practice of free speech with the speakers are saying things with which they disagree. In The Intercept Glenn Greenwald examines some examples:

As we all know ever since the inspiring parade in Paris following the Charlie Hebdo attack, “free speech” is a cherished and sacred right in the west even for the most provocative and controversial views (of course, if “free speech” does not allow expression of the most provocative and controversial views, then, by definition, it does not exist). But yesterday in the UK, the British-born Muslim extremist Anjem Choudary, who has a long history of spouting noxious views, was arrested on charges of “inviting support” for ISIS based on statements he made in “individual lectures which were subsequently published online.”

This arrest has predictably produced the odd spectacle of those who just months ago were parading around as free speech crusaders now cheering the arrest of someone for ideas he expressed in a lecture. That simply shows what was obvious all along: that for many participants, the Charlie Hebdo “free speech” orgies were all about celebrating and demanding protection for ideas that they like (ones that castigate Islam and anger Muslims), not actual principles of free speech (having the Paris march led by scores of world leaders who frequently imprison those with unpopular views was the perfect symbol).

Indeed, many of the west’s most vocal self-proclaimed free speech champions are perfectly happy to see ideas criminalized as long as the ideas are the ones they hate, expressed by those they regard as adversaries (beyond Choudary, just look at all theprosecutions for free speech they tolerate from their own governments when directed at the marginalized and disliked). Worse, they love to invent terminology to justify why their side’s views are totally appropriate and legal, but the other side’s views are criminal and beyond what “free speech” includes.

The principal justification I saw yesterday from those defending Choudary’s arrest was that “advocacy of violence” or “incitement to violence” is something different than speech, and can thus be legitimately punished, including with prison. With this standard in mind, I offer a few examples of statements and would like to know whether it should be legal to express them or whether one should be arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned for doing so:

(1) Saddam Hussein is a major threat and has WMD, and we should use all our might to invade Iraq, bomb the country, take it over, and kill him and his supporters!

(2) Obama is absolutely right to use drones even though he’s killing innocent people. In fact, we should use more drones to kill more people. Even if it means having civilians and children die, the need to wipe out The Terrorists requires we use more violence now, no matter how many innocent Muslims will die from it!

(3) Whenever Hamas shoots a rocket at Israel, Israel should retaliate with full, unbridled force against Gaza, even if it means killing large numbers of women and children. Nobody in Gaza is truly innocent – after all, they elected Hamas – and so they deserve what they get.

(4) If Iran doesn’t immediately give up its nuclear program, we should nuke them – blow them back to the Stone Age!

(5) Set to a musical score: we should bomb, bomb, bomb – bomb, bomb Iran.

(6) Muslims have been engaged in violence against the west for too long. It’s long past time we took the fight to them and did violence back to them.

(7) The west has spent decades bombing, occupying, and otherwise interfering in Muslim countries. Western governments have killed countless innocent men, women and children. They’ve used violence indiscriminately, without regard to whether it kills innocents. They seem unwilling to stop unless forced to. It’s thus not only justified but mandatory for Muslims to use violence back against the west. If it kills civilians, so be it: civilians elected the governments doing the violence.

(8) ISIS has valid grievances against the west, and I understand the reasons someone would want to join them. I agree with many of those reasons. Only ISIS has been successful in stopping western aggression.

These are all very easy examples for me. Despite the fact that they all advocate, justify and on some level “incite” violence, and despite the fact that almost all of these ideas have led to actual violence and the killing of innocents, they are all political opinions that nobody should be sanctioned or punished by the state for expressing, and if anyone is punished for them, it means, by definition, that they live in a society without “free speech.”

That’s because I agree with what the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 45 years ago inBrandenburg v. Ohio. That case overturned the conviction of a KKK member for giving a speech that threatened political officials (including the U.S. President) with violence. The Court invalidated as unconstitutional the Ohio law that made it a crime to “advocate . . . the duty, necessity, or propriety of crime, sabotage, violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform.”

The Brandenburg Court’s key reasoning: “the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force.” Only incitement of imminent violence – e.g., leading a mob holding torches outside of someone’s house and directing them to burn it down – can be punished; advocacy of violence by itself cannot be (my most comprehensive argument against criminalizing ideas on the ground that they are “hateful” or “violent” is here).

But if you don’t agree with that well-established principle of American law, and instead believe that it is legitimate to punish people for advocating or “inciting” violence, then it’s critical to specify what you mean. More to the point, it’s crucial that these high-minded standards not be exploited to render permissible advocacy of ideas that you like while outlawing and criminalizing ideas that you hate – or, worse, to legalize advocacy of violence by one’s own side while criminalizing advocacy of violence by the other side. That desire – to imprison people for expressing views one dislikes – is the defining attribute of a petty tyrant, and is the precise opposite of “free speech.”

With that in mind: which of the above examples should be considered criminal, if any, and why? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 August 2015 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Government, Law

A Former Drone Pilot’s Guilt Kept Him Awake at Night

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A normal person suffers a considerable psychic toll from killing hundreds of strangers, watching them as they die. Motherboard has a report on one such person:

One of the supposed advantages to the United States’ drone program is that by distancing pilots from their targets, the psychic scars of killing don’t form so easily. But even separated by thousands of miles and a computer screen, former drone pilot Brandon Bryant felt the shock of all 1,626 kills.

“I felt like it destroyed my soul,” Bryant told Motherboard. “For the longest time.”

And drone programs are proliferating. While only a few countries currently own armed drones, the eventual spread of drone technology is inevitable, and Germany is next in line. German Motherboard correspondent Theresa Locker tells us that “the combat drones of the Bundeswehr will be ready in ten years, at the latest.” German Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen cites the usefulness of drones as protectors of ground troops, with an ability to safely surveil a large area. But it’s naive to believe that it will end there.

“I stopped sleeping, because I started dreaming about my job. I couldn’t escape it,” Bryant says. And when he spoke out about his experiences, he says “I had people calling me a traitor, telling me I should eat a bullet.”

One of the last straws for Bryant was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 August 2015 at 3:19 pm

States are starting to teach accurate (i.e., factual) climate science in schools

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And the states that have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, which include the teaching of evolution along with actual climate science, include some surprises: Kansas, for example, and Kentucky and West Virginia. Ryan Koronowski reports at ThinkProgress:

The state that will host the first-in-the-nation caucuses and a Republican presidential debate in January of next year will be teaching its kids mainstream climate science in school.

On Thursday, the Iowa State Board of Education voted unanimously to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards, which set science and engineering educational expectations for public school kids. They are voluntary guidelines that allow states to decide if they want to provide standards that include the teaching of climate science and evolution.

This makes Iowa the 15th state to approve the standards, joining Arkansas (for middle school), California, Delaware, Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia.

“All Iowa kids will now have access to a world-class science education that includes learning the scientific evidence about human-caused climate change,” said Dr. Maria Filippone, a parent of an Iowa seventh-grader, according to a statement from the advocacy group Climate Parents. Filippone said learning about climate science “will help them develop solutions to the largest problem facing their generation.”

Iowa, a leader in clean wind power production, will play host to more than half a dozen Republican presidential candidates, many of whom have either denied the reality of climate change or questioned it.

Parents across the country have found different ways of talking about climate change with their children, and some start early. Now, instead of sporadic lessons in earth science classes, from grades 8-12, Iowa’s public high school students will now be learning about the evidence that leads the vast majority of scientists to the conclusion that human activity causes climate change.

Despite the unanimous vote, the acceptance of the standards did not come without a fight. A bill introduced by Iowa state Rep. Sandy Salmon would have stopped the NGSS from being implemented. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported that Salmon was concerned that the standards were developed outside of Iowa, that they covered evolution, and that the standards would “shine a negative light on human impacts on climate change.” The standards were in fact developed by science educators in 26 states, including Iowa, as well as the National Academy of Sciences.

The bill died in committee earlier this year.

“The focus is on promoting the politically controversial topics of climate change, which is a highly debatable topic, man’s impact on the environment, and evolution as a scientific fact,” Rep. Salmon said in May.

The push to get states to adopt the standards, rejecting the backlash from conservative politicians in many states, has been growing over the last several years. Last June, several organizations released the Climate Science Students Bill of Rights, which states that students have the right to, among other things, receive high-quality education “free from ideological or political interference,” that explores “the causes and consequences of climate change.”

In December, West Virginia’s state education board caught flak for passed the standards but altering them so that they cast more doubt on mainstream climate science. They backtracked in January, adopting the scientifically accurate standards.

Last year, Wyoming became the first state to reject the standards, and in fact bannedschools from teaching that climate change was caused by humans. The legislature repealed the ban on the NGSS earlier this year, however, leaving the state’s Board of Education to adopt them if they so choose. Thus far they have not.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 August 2015 at 3:16 pm

Posted in Education, Science

Countdown to the Joeveo Temperfect mug

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Back in November 2013, there was a Kickstarter campaign for a double-walled coffee mug that would quickly cool the coffee down to drinking temperature and then keep the coffee at that temperature for a long, long time. The space between the walls contained a wax that absorbed heat (by melting) and then slowly released heat (as it resolidified).

I was eager to get one for The Wife, and today I got this email from the company:

A year and a half ago we ended our Kickstarter campaign for the Temperfect Mug and were launched head first into the trials and tribulations of taking a plan from paper to production. We are committed to delivering a class A product that we know the world will love. We can proudly say we have reached Joeveo’s biggest milestone to date, beginning pilot-scale production of the world’s first Temperfect Mugs!

It seems that we have run into every problem in the book, plus some! From a tree collapsing the workshop to an engineer being injured in the factory, we’ve seen it all. Recently we have been delayed by defects at the production level, and other larger orders taking precedence in the factory line. The latter is to be expected somewhat, as it is the busy season for these facilities. But even through these setbacks we have managed to make progress, and the train is leaving the station. It might be moving slowly, but it’s only going to pick up speed from here.

Over the last few months we have been in constant contact with our sourcing partners and manufacturing facility to make sure the project stays on track. It has taken some serious effort to tie up loose ends and have all aspects of every part finished according to their specifications. These efforts are finally culminating in a pilot batch of 500 Temperfect Mugs, which are being manufactured while you read this. These proto-mugs are slated to be finished August 16th, and will serve as an indicator of how the factory will be able to handle larger orders. If these mugs are defect free, we can move forward to full-scale production, and will finally be able to announce that the mugs are on their way!

We’ve been pretty poor at predicting the shipment date of our first mugs in the past [massive understatement – LG], so we hesitate to make shipping estimates at this point. We do know that once full-scale manufacturing is approved, production should take about a month and a half. Add to that about a month for ocean freight, and then we will start finishing and shipping the mugs here in NC.

We want to give a special thank you to everyone reaching out with their comments, words of encouragement and enthusiasm. It means a lot to us to know people are still excited about the product and the idea. We really appreciate everyone’s patience and support as we forge forward in this endeavor. The first milestone is down and we’re moving onward to full-production and delivery of the world’s first Temperfect Mug.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 August 2015 at 2:49 pm

Good news: Smoking marijuana as a teen may not impact your health as an adult after all

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Suppositions die hard. Deena Shanker reports in Quartz:

Hear that? It’s the sound of teen stoners everywhere telling their parents, “I told you so.”

A new study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors found that smoking pot as an adolescent is not linked to problems with physical or mental health later in the users’ life, including asthma, allergies, high blood pressure, or mood disorders.

 “What we found was a little surprising,” said Jordan Bechtold, the lead researcher and a psychology research fellow at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, in a press release.

The study used data collected through the Pittsburgh Youth Study,which examined the relationship between antisocial and delinquent behaviors and risk factors like alcohol and drug use among boys in Pittsburgh public schools. It assessed the health and habits of a random sample of black and white seventh grade boys, and then followed up with them twice a year for two-and-a-half years, then once a year for 10 years, and then one more time, 10 years later, when the boys were 36 year-old men.

The more than 400 males tracked in the study were divided into four groups based on marijuana use: low or non-users, early chronic users, adolescence-only users, and late-teen through adulthood users. After controlling for other risk factors like hard drug use, socioeconomic status, and having health insurance, the researchers found that there were no significant differences between the groups’ mental and physical health problems in their mid-30’s. This was true, the study says, even when models were run without controlling for outside factors.

Since the results are at odds with previous studies, the researchers offered some potential explanations. Methodological differences between this study and previous studies might be part of the discrepancy, as this was a prospective study instead of retrospective, which is how many studies looking at marijuana’s impact on health are conducted. (Prospective studies follow cohorts over time, tracking different factors and outcomes; retrospective studies look back in time to track events.) A retrospective study, for example, that finds that marijuana use is correlated to psychotic symptoms may actually have found that the drug exacerbates an existing problem. The researchers also note that they may have had different findings if they looked at lesser psychological issues, like extra suspiciousness or “odd thinking” instead of binary diagnoses like psychotic and anxiety disorders.

This study, the authors note, also comes with its own limitations. It’s possible that users calibrated their marijuana intake based on their health risks, meaning, for example, someone predisposed to asthma who might otherwise be a chronic user was only a low user. The sample was from a single geographic area and included only men. It’s also possible that health problems will develop later than in a person’s mid-30’s, and the authors note that health outcomes were self-reported and are therefore less reliable. . .

Continue reading.

It would be interesting to see a comparative study on teen alcohol use.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 August 2015 at 2:39 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Science

To teach only ‘American exceptionalism’ is to ignore half the country’s story

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James Nevius reports in The Guardian:

In late July, the College Board, the administrators of the SAT and Advanced Placement exams, issued new guidelines for teaching AP United States history. One change was to add a section on “American exceptionalism,” a concept as old as the country itself that the United States is qualitatively different – and, arguably, better – than other nations.

While “exceptionalism,” at its best, nurtures civic pride, at its worst, it blinds Americans to the country’s long history of remarkably unexceptional ideas and actions. What George Santayana so neatly encapsulated over a century ago remains painfully true: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

As a historian and tour guide, I often see this collective American blind spot on display as I lead walks of historic New York City. On Central Park’s Bethesda Terrace, a quaint carving of a witch on a broomstick is a jumping off point for discussing the deep anti-Irish sentiment in the city following the influx of immigrants after the 1845 potato famine. Political cartoonists like Thomas Nast depicted the Irish as apes and Catholic bishops as monsters; “No Irish Need Apply” signs appeared in shop windows.

As I tell these stories, I can see the anger grow in some of my listeners. One woman flat-out told me to stop talking. “You can’t say that,” she admonished. “It’s not true.” I clarified that these were not my opinions, but those of many Protestant New Yorkers a century and a half ago. “No,” she repeated. She did not want to know about an America where such things were possible – which, of course, meant she didn’t want to confront the idea that she might still live in such a place.

Similarly, in Chinatown one day, my explanation of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which effectively banned Chinese immigration for six decades, led one visitor to launch into a tirade about America’s porous borders. I shook my head – not at his critique, which had some valid points – but at his inability to connect the country’s history with his own past. You see, he was Chinese American. The Chinese Exclusion Act had been an affront to his heritage; current immigrants were an affront to his political and economic ideals. He saw no link between the two.

In revising their standards, the College Board is hoping to bridge this gap between the nation’s history and students’ contemporary experiences by providing “sufficient time to immerse students in the major ideas, events, people and documents of US history,” where before “they were instead required to race through topics.” The revisions were also a reaction to conservative input on the AP curricula revision process – beginning in 2012, there had been a groundswell of conservative criticism against the proposed standards, which the Republican National Committee argued “emphasize[d] negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.” The College Board sought input from teachers, historians and parents to shape teaching guidelines that present a “clearer and more balanced approach to the teaching of American history.”

Unfortunately, the new standards have also softened the language about the country’s most shameful episode: its 244-year history of slavery. As recent “heritage not hate” rallies centered on the Confederate battle flag illustrate, there is perhaps no greater myth in America today than the idea that the Civil War was predominantly about states’ rights. Well, it was about one right: the right to own Africans as chattel.

In Texas, new textbooks minimize the role of slavery in the Civil War, despite the fact that the state’s own “Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union” explicitly stated that the Confederacy was “established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity” and that “the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free….” Gone from the state’s new books are mentions of Jim Crow or the Ku Klux Klan. It’s the “you can’t say that” woman in Central Park writ large. This is especially troubling since Texas’s large population means that its curricular standards influence textbook buying in other states.

America is, in fact, an exceptional place. Founded by groups as diverse as . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 August 2015 at 10:55 am

Posted in Education

More Stalling Tactics from SEC Chair Mary Jo White on CEO-Worker Pay Ratio

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President Obama named Mary Jo White, a lawyer who worked for Wall Street firms, as chair of the SEC, presumably to allow her to protect Wall Street from any sort of enforcement of government regulations. And she’s done a fine job of that. Pam Martens and Russ Martens provide an example in Wall Street on Parade:

The Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation was signed into law five years ago to address the Wall Street abuses that led to the greatest financial crash since the Great Depression in 2008 and 2009. One of the requirements of that law was for the Securities and Exchange Commission to implement a rule making corporations publicly disclose the ratio of their CEO’s pay to the median worker’s pay.

Yesterday, after being publicly humiliated over not putting the law into force, the SEC finally adopted the rule. But it won’t go into effect until corporations complete their 2017 fiscal year, meaning it will be stalled for almost another three years.

Back on June 2, Senator Elizabeth Warren sent a scathing letter to SEC Chair Mary Jo White, berating her on a laundry list of broken promises. Warren told White: “You have now been SEC Chair for over two years, and to date, your leadership of the Commission has been extremely disappointing.” Among the long list of complaints was that the SEC Chair had failed to implement the CEO pay-ratio rule.

Two days ago, Richard Trumka, President of the 12.5 million member AFL-CIO, published an OpEd at CNN, furthering calling out the SEC for its foot-dragging. Trumka wrote:

“We have submitted a Freedom of Information Act request about the scheduling of final action on this rule. Nineteen organizations who represent investors and the public also submitted a letter in support of this request. In addition, petitions from more than 165,000 Americans demanding that the commission finally implement the CEO-to-worker pay rule were delivered to the SEC, and more than 1,000 calls placed as well.

“Public disclosures show that S&P 500 CEOs made 373 times the average rank-and-file worker in the United States in 2014. But we will not know the actual ratio at each individual company until the SEC enforces the CEO-to-worker pay rule.”

Stalling on regulatory rules has consequences. It gives Wall Street time to write its own legislation and find a compromised member of Congress to insert provisions to repeal the intended financial reform.

Take the so-called push out rule, where Dodd-Frank required those hundreds of trillions of dollars in derivative bets on the books of FDIC insured mega banks to be moved out of the commercial banking unit into non-insured affiliates.

That Dodd-Frank push-out rule had also been stalled from implementation for five years. Then, last December, Citigroup snuck legislation to repeal the rule into the must-pass $1.1 trillion spending bill needed to keep the country running. Congress and the President could have rejected this outrage but they didn’t. Congress approved the spending bill with the push-out rule repeal language intact and the President signed the bill into law.

Citigroup and other Wall Street banks are now able to keep their riskiest derivative gambles in the banking unit that is backstopped with FDIC deposit insurance, which is, in turn, backstopped by the U.S. taxpayer.

According to Bloomberg Business data, over the past five years – when Dodd-Frank financial reform was supposed to be making these mega banks safer – Citigroup has increased the notional amount of derivatives on its books by 69 percent. As of June 2014, according to Bloomberg, “Citigroup had $62 trillion of open contracts, up from $37 trillion in June 2009.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 August 2015 at 10:44 am

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