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Friday Roundup: Guns, Money and Gag Orders

A few stories to close out your week:

  • Following on Alex’s post on the attempt to squash free speech at Reason, the Best Magazine on the Planet has gotten the gag order lifted and broken their silence. What they relate is appalling. Not only did the USA try to get personal information on Reason’s commenters, they got a gag order to try to prevent Reason from notifying those commenters that the government was seeking their information (Reason had already notified them by the time the order came). It’s a must-read on a government that is determined to shred any semblance of privacy.
  • Earlier this week, Treasury announced that the new $10 bill will have a woman on it, although it’s not clear who that will be or how she will “share” the bill with Alexander Hamilton. As someone who favors a radical overhaul of which faces are on our currency, I’m moderately in favor of this. But I much prefer the idea of putting a woman on the $20 for reasons articulated by Jillian Keenan (namely that Jackson was a racist slaveholding genocidal shredder of the Constitution). Still, there are lots of women we could honor: Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Sally Ride, Clara Barton. I would take all of these over Jackson. And I wouldn’t mind if we took all the politicians off our currency.
  • How bad was the security at OPM that led to the huge data breach? Really really bad. And they won’t fix it. Change we can believe in!
  • If you’re having trouble finding delicious barbecue, blame government. They are literally outlawing the kind of slow-cooking methods that make for such deliciousness. And it’s not really clear why other than “because they can”.
  • It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that Paul Krugman and the Keynesians are full of it again. They are citing Iceland an example of how expansionary fiscal policy can save an economy. The problem? In this thing called reality, Iceland endorsed a severe austerity, with significant spending cuts and tax hikes.
  • The blamestorming for Charleston has already begun. Here is a quick refresher about the media’s desperation to blame horrific acts of violence on the Right Wing.
  • And finally, Reason has a feature on a college student who was busted with pot, turned informant and was murdered. No one is accountable, as usual. I’ll spare you my usual War on Drugs rant, in favor of my other favorite one: when dealing with cops and prosecutors, always get a lawyer. Never negotiate on your own.

Massacre in Charleston

This broke late last night, but I wanted to await details. Nine people are dead after a gunman opened fire in one of America’s oldest black churches. The dead include the senior pastor and a state senator.

Be wary of early narratives of what happened here. The gunman is still at large and reports are still fragmentary. Rather than speculate, let’s just pray for the victims. I will update this post as confirmed news comes in.

Update: They appear to have caught the shooter, a 21 y/o white supremacist.

Anti-Trans Discrimination

So over the last few years, the health fascists have been telling us to avoid saturated fats in favor of trans fats. According to their analysis, using trans fats will prevent thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of heart atta- ..

No, wait.

That’s what they were saying. Now they are saying that trans fats are the quintessence of evil, a mass murderer of our body politic, something that needs to be banned forthwith and its inventors shot so that the knowledge of how to make trans fats may be extinguished. And yesterday, the FDA caved, calling for trans fats to be gotten rid of within three years (having been pushed by lawsuits from food nannies).

Take it away, Walter Olson:

It’s frank paternalism. Like high-calorie foods or alcoholic beverages, trans fats have marked risks when consumed in quantity over long periods, smaller risks in moderate and occasional use, and tiny risks when used in tiny quantities. The FDA intends to forbid the taking of even tiny risks, no matter how well disclosed.

The public is also perfectly capable of recognizing and acting on nutritional advances on its own. Trans fats have gone out of style and consumption has dropped by 85 percent as consumers have shunned them. But while many products have been reformulated to omit trans fats, their versatile qualities still give them an edge in such specialty applications as frozen pizza crusts, microwave popcorn, and the sprinkles used atop cupcakes and ice cream. Food companies tried to negotiate to keep some of these uses available, especially in small quantities, but apparently mostly failed.

Even if you never plan to consume a smidgen of trans fat ever again, note well: many public health advocates are itching for the FDA to limit allowable amounts of salt, sugar, caffeine, and so forth in food products. Many see this as their big pilot project and test case. But when it winds up in court, don’t be surprised if some courtroom spectators show up wearing buttons with the old Sixties slogan: Keep Your Laws Off My Body.

Olson also points out that you don’t just ban trans fats; you have to switch to something else. That something else may be palm oil, coconut oil or genetically-modified soybean oil, all of which come with known and unknown health risks.

Anyone want to lay bets on when those oils will turn out to be dangerous? Anyone want to lay bets on how fast we’ll find out that the danger of trans fats has been wildly overestimated?

You can read more from Baylen Linniken, including the details of how this ban came about. What’s striking, however, is the complete and total lack of skepticism in the supposedly fact-based left wing. Vox has run several articles that repeated the health tyrants claims without any skepticism (despite having run numerous articles about how most scientific studies are garbage). Major media networks have mindlessly repeated the FDA’s shaky claim that this will save 7,000 lives a year. None of them have asked with it is the governments business to do this. All of them see this as some sort of progressive victory.

To hell with this. Trans fats are not poison. They are (probably) bad for you. But it’s not the FDA’s job to make us eat right. That’s our job. Their job is to make sure the food supply is safe. Trans fats aren’t nearly deadly enough to warrant a ban. They aren’t even as deadly as the horribly low-salt low-fat high-carb diet the health experts have been pushing on us for decades.

Don’t ban trans fats. Ban the food nannies.

Trump In

Donald Trump just declared that he’s running for President this year, apparently as a Republican, in one of the oddest speeches I’ve ever seen from a Presidential candidate. God knows what he’ll do. He has been famous for really awful ideas, including a proposal for a wealth tax.

This is going to be highly entertaining to blog, but bad for the Republic in the long run. We now have 12 Republican presidential candidates. Some of them are serious (Bush, Rubio, Walker, maybe Kasich and Perry), some have interesting things to say (Paul), some are just engaged in ego-stroking and some are just insane.

If they don’t pull their shit together, Hillary is going to coast to victory.

Game of Thrones Season Five

Season Five just finished. Overall, it was good. It didn’t quite reach the heights of Season Four, but that was to be expected. Overall, it wandered a lot and didn’t really get very far. I’m told that this is also true of the books (although we are now well past the books). Hopefully, Season 6 will start pushing us toward a conclusion.

It just ended as I write this so if you haven’t watched it yet, spoilers ahoy!:

Read more… »

Science Sunday: Philae Revives

Great news from ESA:

Rosetta’s lander Philae has woken up after seven months in hibernation on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The signals were received at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt at 22:28 CEST on 13 June. More than 300 data packets have been analysed by the teams at the Lander Control Center at the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

“Philae is doing very well: It has an operating temperature of -35ºC and has 24 Watts available,” explains DLR Philae Project Manager Dr. Stephan Ulamec. “The lander is ready for operations.”

For 85 seconds Philae “spoke” with its team on ground, via Rosetta, in the first contact since going into hibernation in November.

When analysing the status data it became clear that Philae also must have been awake earlier: “We have also received historical data – so far, however, the lander had not been able to contact us earlier.”

Now the scientists are waiting for the next contact. There are still more than 8000 data packets in Philae’s mass memory which will give the DLR team information on what happened to the lander in the past few days on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Philae shut down on 15 November 2014 at 1:15 CET after being in operation on the comet for about 60 hours. Since 12 March 2015 the communication unit on orbiter Rosetta was turned on to listen out for the lander.

You may remember Philae as the spacecraft that descended to the comet and landed on the surface. The thought was that it landed at an angle in a crater and it’s solar panels were not well-illuminated. It did some experiments before running out of power but there was always hope that, as it got closer to the sun, the increased sunlight would be enough to revive it.

It looks, tentatively, like that’s happening. If so, it’s gravy on the lovely roast that has been Rosetta’s mission. We’ve already gotten tons of awesome data and breath-taking images. Now we’re might get even more.

Welcome back, Philae.

Shootout in Dallas

Early this morning, a deranged man starting shoot at the Dallas police HQ and planting bombs. No one was wounded. The police chased him down, cornered him in a parking lot, shot out his engine and then, when it appeared he wouldn’t back down, shot him.

I’ve criticized the police in this space for using SWAT tactics in domestic situations. This is one instance where it was absolutely required. As far as I can tell, they handled a dangerous situation well and no innocent bystanders were hurt. So … well done, Dallas PD.

Faking It

What on Earth?

There is another controversy over the veracity of representations of minority status in Washington. We previously discussed the controversy raised by the allegedly false claims of Senator Elizabeth Warren that she is a Native American. In this case, however, the accused is the head of a NAACP chapter and she is being accused of lying by her own mother. Worse yet, some have suggested that Rachel Dolezal is the head of the NAACP’s chapter in Spokane planted hate mail at her office.

Dolezal has claimed to be black, but there are pictures of her as a blonde girl and pictures of her in between as a woman with frizzy hair who has apparently tanned a lot to try to look partially black. There’s also good reason to believe she faked at least racist incidents she experienced.

I have no deep thoughts on this. She’s clearly got issues. But … damn.

Hackers Hack … Everything

Remember folks, these are the people who think they can run your life better than you can:

Hackers stole personnel data and identity numbers for every federal employee, a government worker union said Thursday, saying that the cyber theft of U.S. employee information was more damaging than the Obama administration has acknowledged.

Wait, the Obama Administration downplayed another failure? Well, knock me over with a feather.

U.S. intelligence officials say China, like the U.S., spies for national security advantage. Unlike the U.S., they say, China also engages in large-scale theft of corporate secrets for the benefit of state-sponsored enterprises that compete with Western companies. Nearly every major U.S. company has been hacked from China, they say.

Mike Rogers, the former chairman of the House intelligence committee, said last week that Chinese intelligence agencies have for some time been seeking to assemble a database of information about Americans. Those personal details can be used for blackmail, or also to shape bogus emails designed to appear legitimate while injecting spyware on the networks of government agencies or businesses Chinese hackers are trying to penetra [sic].

It’s a cyberwar and we’re losing it.

J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a letter to OPM director Katherine Archuleta that based on OPM’s internal briefings, “We believe that the Central Personnel Data File was the targeted database, and that the hackers are now in possession of all personnel data for every federal employee, every federal retiree, and up to one million former federal employees.”

The OPM data file contains the records of non-military, non-intelligence executive branch employees, which covers most federal civilian employees but not, for example, members of Congress and their staffs.

The union believes the hackers stole military records and veterans’ status information, address, birth date, job and pay history, health insurance, life insurance, and pension information; and age, gender and race data, he said. The letter was obtained by The Associated Press.

So, basically, everything. I supposed we shouldn’t be surprised that this would happen under the steady gaze of those who botched the healthcare.gov rollout. But the sheer scale of this is astonishing.

The best part? As Rick Wilson pointed out on Twitter, no one will suffer any consequences. The contractors will get more money to fix their buggy software. OPM employees will get raises. We’ll bitch to China about it but not take any action.

Obama Ignores Courts, Constitution, Decency … Again

Good Lord. Can you imagine the outcry if a Republican did this:

The Obama administration has asked a secret surveillance court to ignore a federal court that found bulk surveillance illegal and to once again grant the National Security Agency the power to collect the phone records of millions of Americans for six months.

The legal request, filed nearly four hours after Barack Obama vowed to sign a new law banning precisely the bulk collection he asks the secret court to approve, also suggests that the administration may not necessarily comply with any potential court order demanding that the collection stop.

US officials confirmed last week that they would ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court – better known as the Fisa court, a panel that meets in secret as a step in the surveillance process and thus far has only ever had the government argue before it – to turn the domestic bulk collection spigot back on.

Justice Department national security chief John A Carlin cited a six-month transition period provided in the USA Freedom Act – passed by the Senate last week to ban the bulk collection – as a reason to permit an “orderly transition” of the NSA’s domestic dragnet. Carlin did not address whether the transition clause of the Freedom Act still applies now that a congressional deadlock meant the program shut down on 31 May.

So let’s walk through this. The Second Circuit concluded that the Patriot Act did not allow bulk collection of phone records. Congress then passed a law restricting bulk data collection, allowing a six-month transition period. But they did not actually restore Section 215 yet, so it’s a bit in limbo. Obama is now asking the secret FISA court to ignore the Second Circuit and ignore Congress and reauthorize bulk data collection anyway, using the sunset provision in the USA Freedom Act as cover.

I guess we should just trust Obama when he ignores the courts.