The Party of “It Wasn’t Us!”

In the wake of the Baltimore riots and unrest, the Democrats are trying desperately to shift the conversation away from what happened and more toward … anything. One issue that they seem to have locked into is that the events in Baltimore aren’t a response to militarized policing or the War on Drugs or a poisonous relationship between the police and the community. No, it’s about … inequality. And they are proposing to address this with a raft of proposals that are basically Democratic Liberalism 101: more taxes on “the rich”, higher minimum wage, more spending on “infrastructure” and schools, etc. Barack Obama, in particular, has called on Republicans to embrace more spending and job training.

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Science Sunday: Why You Should Vaccinate, Part 457

One issue that I am fairly militant about is vaccination. Vaccines are arguably the greatest invention in human history. Vaccines made smallpox, a disease that slaughtered billions, extinct. Polio, which used to maim and kill millions, is on the brink of extinction. And earlier this week, Rubella became extinct in the Americas:

After 15 years of a widespread vaccination campaign with the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine, the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization announced yesterday that rubella no longer circulates in the Americas. The only way a person could catch it is if they are visiting another country or if it is imported into a North, Central or South American country.

Rubella, also known as German measles, was previously among a pregnant woman’s greatest fears. Although it’s generally a mild disease in children and young adults, the virus wreaks the most damage when a pregnant woman catches it because the virus can cross the placenta to the fetus, increasing the risk for congenital rubella syndrome.

Congenital rubella syndrome can cause miscarriage or stillbirth, but even the infants who survive are likely to have birth defects, heart problems, blindness, deafness, brain damage, bone and growth problems, intellectual disability or damage to the liver and spleen.

Rubella used to cause tens of thousands of miscarriages and birth defects every year. Now it too could be pushed to extinction.

Of course, many deadly diseases are now coming back thanks to people refusing to vaccinate their kids. There is an effort to blame this on “anti-government” sentiment. But while that plays role, the bigger role is by liberal parents who think vaccines cause autism (you’ll notice we’re getting outbreaks in California, not Alabama). As I’ve noted before, the original research that showed a link between vaccines and autism is now known to have been a fraud. This week, we got another even more proof:

On the heels of a measles outbreak in California fueled by vaccination fears that scientists call unfounded, another large study has shown no link between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism.

The study examined insurance claims for 96,000 U.S. children born between 2001 and 2007, and found that those who received MMR vaccine didn’t develop autism at a higher rate than unvaccinated children, according to results published Tuesday by the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA. Even children who had older siblings with autism—a group considered at high risk for the disorder—didn’t have increased odds of developing autism after receiving the vaccine, compared with unvaccinated children with autistic older siblings.

96,000 kids — literally 8000 times the size of the sample Wakefield had. No study has ever reproduced Wakefield’s results. That’s because no study has been a complete fraud.

There’s something else, though. This issue became somewhat personal for me recently. My son, Hal 11000 Beta, came down with a bad cough, a high fever and vomiting. He was eventually admitted to the hospital for a couple of days with pneumonia, mainly to get rehydrated. He’s fine now and playing in the next room as I write this. But it was scary.

I mention this because one of the first questions the nurses and doctors asked us was, “Has he been vaccinated?”

My father, the surgeon, likes to say that medicine is as much art as science. You can know the textbooks by heart. But the early symptoms of serious diseases and not-so-serious one are often similar. An inflamed appendix can look like benign belly pain. Pneumonia can look like a cold. “Flu-like symptoms” can be the early phase of anything from a bad cold to ebola. But they mostly get it right because experience with sick people has honed their instincts. They might not be able to tell you why they know it’s not just a cold, but they can tell you (with Hal, the doctor’s instinct told him it wasn’t croup and he ordered a chest X-ray that spotted the pneumonia).

Most doctors today have never seen measles. Or mumps. Or rubella. Or polio. Or anything else we routinely vaccinate for. Thus, they haven’t built up the experience to recognize these conditions. Orac, the writer of the Respectful Insolence blog, told me of a sick child who had Hib. It was only recognized because an older doctor had seen it before.

When I told the doctors Hal had been vaccinated, their faces filled with relief. Because it meant that they didn’t have to think about a vast and unfamiliar terrain of diseases that are mostly eradicated. It wasn’t impossible that he would have a disease he was vaccinated against — vaccines aren’t 100%. But it was far less likely. They could narrow their focus on a much smaller array of possibilities.

Medicine is difficult. The human body doesn’t work like it does in a textbook. You don’t punch symptoms into a computer and come up with a diagnosis. Doctors and nurses are often struggling to figure out what’s wrong with a patient let alone how to treat it. Don’t cloud the waters even further by making them have to worry about diseases they’ve never seen before.

Vaccinate. Take part in the greatest triumph in human history. Not just to finally rid ourselves of these hideous diseases but to make life much easier when someone does get sick.

The IRS Lies, Steals, Extorts

Why do we need to outlaw asset forfeiture without trial? Why do we need to abolish structuring laws? Why do we need to burn the IRS down and salt the Earth?

This is why:

Last October, in response to the outrage provoked by “structuring” cases in which the government took people’s money because their bank deposits were too small, the IRS said it would no longer do that unless there was evidence that the money came from an illegal source. In March the Justice Department announced a similar policy for seizures based on structuring, which entails making deposits of less than $10,000 with the intent of evading bank reporting requirements. Yet both the IRS and the DOJ are continuing to pursue the forfeiture of $107,000 that belongs to Lyndon McLellan, the owner of a convenience store in rural North Carolina, based on nothing but suspicion of structuring.

As in other structuring cases, McLellan lost his money because of well-intentioned but bad advice from a bank teller. The teller told McLellan’s niece, who usually handled L&M Convenience Mart’s deposits, she could save the bank burdensome paperwork by keeping the deposits below $10,000, the reporting threshold. Based on the resulting pattern of deposits, the IRS cleaned out McLellan’s bank account a year ago, even though there was no evidence that the money came from anything other than his perfectly legal business, which combines a store with a gas station and restaurant. The Institute for Justice, which is suing the IRS and the DOJ on McLellan’s behalf, notes that “the government filed its forfeiture complaint in December 2014, two months after the IRS announced it would not forfeit money in cases like this one.”

Reminder: when Elliot Spitzer, who had prosecuted people for structuring, structured payments to his madam to avoid detection, he wasn’t punished at all. This law is frequently applied to people who can’t afford to fight it or make a ruckus. The only reason McLellan can fight this is because the IJ — one of the more singularly awesome organizations in the country — is fighting on his behalf.

It gets worse. North Carolina congressman George Holding grilled the IRS commissioner about this case. This pissed off the federal prosecutor. You see, the warrant is under seal by the court. Ostensibly, this is to “protect” the defendant but in reality it protects the government from having their scumbag behavior exposed (see here for where these seals have been used to silence Scott Walker supporters when they have been subjected to midnight raids and fishing expeditions to try to find some evidence … any evidence … of wrong-doing). Similar gag orders were used to try to silence the late Siobhan Reynolds when she opposed government efforts to crack down on pain-killer use.

Of course, when sealed records are leaked by prosecutors — such as when Barry Bond’s sealed testimony in the BALCO case was leaked — no one cares.

Anyway, the prosecutor’s response has to be read to be believed:

I’m a bit concerned. At your request, I provided you a copy of the application for seizure warrant, which remains under seal with the Court, and now it appears it has been made available to a congressional committee? I do not know who did that, and I am accusing no one, but it was not from our office and could only have come from your clients. That was certainly not my intent in making this available. My intent was for you and your clients to be able to actually know the facts so you could review them and have an intelligent discussion with me. Whoever made it public may serve their own interest but will not help this particular case.

Your client needs to resolve this or litigate it. But publicity about it doesn’t help. It just ratchets up feelings in the agency.

Not unreasonable. But … wait for it.

My offer is to return 50% of the money. The offer is good until March 30th COB.

In other words, “shut the hell up and we’ll give you back the half the money”. And remember, if it weren’t for the support he’s receiving from the IJ, this would likely be the best outcome for McClellan.

A few weeks ago, John Oliver — whose commentary I normally find funny and occasional insightful — defended the IRS. He pointed out, correctly, that they didn’t make the tax law so ridiculously byzantine and that they barely have the resources to deal with the ungodly mess Congress has handed to them. He pointed out that for every dollar we spend on the IRS, we get six back. I don’t find it particularly persuasive since that means more money extracted from our citizens (sometimes in error and frequently at the expense of people like McClellan, who can’t afford to fight).

But this illustrates perfectly why people hate the IRS and the prosecutorial machinery that surrounds them. This is an agency that once had “Seizure Fever — Catch It!” posters printed up. This is an agency that zealously uses the unconstitutional powers Congress gives them. This is an agency that has happily complied with Presidential requests for targeted political audits and harassment. And now it is an agency that lied about what they were doing, seized someone’s assets and threatened him when he went public with it.

So yeah, we need to burn the tax code down. Yes, we need to pass laws to stop asset forfeiture — it’s clear that we can’t rely on the agencies to do it on their own. But once we do that, we also need to tear down the IRS and replace it with something else. They are too used to using and abusing the power our Congress and our Courts have stupidly given them.

Officers Charged

That was fast:

Six police officers have been charged in the death of Freddie Gray, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said Friday. One officer — the driver of the police van — has been charged with several counts, including second-degree depraved-heart murder. Another officer has been charged with several counts, including manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. Two other officers have been charged with several counts, including involuntary manslaughter. An additional two officers are charged with several counts, including second-degree assault.

There’s been a lot of information flying around the last few days, such as claims that Gray had recent neck surgery (which proved false) or that he somehow broke his own neck (which is dubious and now contradicted by other sources). As I noted earlier this week, the Baltimore PD have a long and ugly history with giving prisoners “rough rides”.

We will see what comes out at trial.

Don’t Silence Mumia

Last year, the State of Pennsylvania passed the Revictimization Relief Act, a bill designed to allow crime victims to sue if criminals engage in speech that causes them mental anguish. Perhaps the best way to illustrate what the law is about is to look at why it was passed: Mumia Abu-Jamal had given the commencement address at Goddard College. He gave this via videotape because Abu-Jamal is in prison for the murder of Daniel Faulkner. And Faulkner’s family is getting a little tired of seeing his murderer bruited about as some great public intellectual.

Let’s get one thing straight: I think Mumia is guilty as hell. Faulkner was shot by a gun consistent with Mumia’s revolver, which had fired five shots and was found next to him. Mumia was himself shot by Faulkner. Four witnesses placed him at the scene. To believe Mumia is innocent, you have to believe … actually, I’m not sure what you have to believe because the theories of his innocence make no sense and Mumia has not given a consistent account of what happened. Maybe a one-armed man ran in, grabbed Mumia’s gun, shot the cop and left.

The protestations of his innocence revolve around him being an intellectual and a supposedly peaceful man. That’s as maybe but anyone is capable of murder. We don’t convict people of murder because they’re the kind of people who would probably kill someone and we don’t acquit because it’s, like, totally not like them to gun down a cop. I tend to focus my attention on the evidence, which was and is damning.

I also have little time for Mumia’s supporters. It’s not just that they lavish praise and support on him (and, in some cases abuse on Faulkner’s widow and accusations of corruption against Faulkner). It’s that they do so while ignoring the hundreds of innocent people who have languished in prison and on death row for decades but aren’t celebrities.

That all having been said, the Pennsylvania law crosses me as blatantly unconstitutional. And it was struck down by a federal court this week. Volokh and Randazza have a breakdown of the decision. Bottom line:

First Amendment protection extends to convicted felons. The Act is in violation of the First Amendment as it is content based, overbroad, and vague in its coverage of “offenders” and speech “conduct.” Victims have other forms of redress and can use their own free speech to combat that of inmates.

Call Mumia a murderer. I’ll do that right now: he’s a murderer. Call the school that invited him to do their commencement idiots. I’ll do that, too: they’re idiots. But restraint of his speech and those who want to promote his speech is wrong and unconstitutional. As we like to say, it’s the speech you hate that needs the most protection.

Baltimore Erupts

The city of Baltimore is in a state of emergency right now. Riots have erupted over the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. Gray, who was arrested for possessing a switchblade, was put into a police van. When he emerged, his neck was shattered and he would later die of severe spinal injury. And this isn’t the first time someone has been seriously injured by a Baltimore PD van ride:

Relatives of Dondi Johnson Sr., who was left a paraplegic after a 2005 police van ride, won a $7.4 million verdict against police officers. A year earlier, Jeffrey Alston was awarded $39 million by a jury after he became paralyzed from the neck down as the result of a van ride. Others have also received payouts after filing lawsuits.

For some, such injuries have been inflicted by what is known as a “rough ride” — an “unsanctioned technique” in which police vans are driven to cause “injury or pain” to unbuckled, handcuffed detainees, former city police officer Charles J. Key testified as an expert five years ago in a lawsuit over Johnson’s subsequent death.

Christine Abbott, a 27-year-old assistant librarian at the Johns Hopkins University, is suing city officers in federal court, alleging that she got such a ride in 2012. According to the suit, officers cuffed Abbott’s hands behind her back, threw her into a police van, left her unbuckled and “maniacally drove” her to the Northern District police station, “tossing [her] around the interior of the police van.”

“They were braking really short so that I would slam against the wall, and they were taking really wide, fast turns,” Abbott said in an interview that mirrored allegations in her lawsuit. “I couldn’t brace myself. I was terrified.”

In fact, the city of Baltimore has paid out $6.3 million in settlements for police brutality just since 2011. Report indicate rampant and widespread abuse. When you add in the city’s problems with crime and lawlessness, it has been a powderkeg for a long time. There is some evidence that complaints are down under the new Mayor. But I suspect this situation will not resolve any time soon, especially if the officers involved are not indicted or are acquitted.

The protests since’s Gray’s death have been peaceful. But starting over the weekend, hooligans have been taking advantage of the situation to engage in looting and violence, which has exploded into today’s chaos. The police are also claiming they have “credible threat” that gangs intend to retaliate against the police. Let’s hope some order can be brought to the situation.

Clinton Cash

In about a week, a book called Clinton Cash is going to drop on bookstores. Already a top-seller, it details a lot of the corruption we’ve been hearing about. Glenn Reynolds:

It was a bad week for Hillary Clinton. So bad, in fact, that The Washington Post declared she had “the worst week in Washington.” From The New York Times, there were reports of shady uranium deals with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kazakhstan. From The Post, it was reporting on how the Clintons’ foundation seems more like a personal piggy bank. And from Politico, it was a report that “Clinton struggles to contain media barrage on foreign cash.” (If you haven’t kept up, here’s a bullet-point summary of the key bits). And the book that led to all these stories isn’t even out yet.

The responses from Clintonworld have been unconvincing — my favorite was when their supporters denied that a meeting between Bill Clinton and shadowy Kazakh nuclear officials had taken place, only to have a The Times reporter produce photo evidence. But, hey, the Clintons have survived even more concrete evidence of scandal — remember Monica Lewinsky’s semen-stained dress? — so why should this time be any different?

Well, one big difference is that three major news organizations — The Times, The Post and Fox News — are all working on the story. If it were just Fox, the Clintons might be able to spin it as a product of, in Hillary’s famous phrase, the “vast right-wing conspiracy.” But that’s unlikely to fly this time. Even the liberal group Common Cause has called for an audit of the Clinton Foundation’s finances.

Even so, don’t count the Clintons out yet. Even if these scandals ultimately kill Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential candidacy, she’ll be inclined to keep it staggering along as long as possible. So long as it looks as if she might be president, the money will keep coming in, and many people will be afraid to challenge her. As soon as her candidacy falls off the table, so will the money, and the influence.

Reynolds goes through the winners and losers from Clinton’s “bad week”, but I would agree with Nick Gillespie that the real losers are the American people who have yet another reason to doubt their government.

I have obviously not read Schweizer’s book but we don’t need it to know that the Clintons have been wallowing in largesse for years. The Foundation is frantically refiling its taxes and admitting that most of its money gets spent … on itself:

According to the Post, it took in more than $140 million in grants and pledges in 2013 but spent just $9 million on direct aid.

Much of the Foundation’s money goes to travel ($8.5 million in 2013); conferences, conventions and meetings ($9.2 million); and payroll and employee benefits ($30 million). Ten executives received salaries of more than $100,000 in 2013. Eric Braverman, a friend of Chelsea Clinton, was paid nearly $275,000 in salary, benefits, and a housing allowance for just five months’ work as CEO that year.

Bill Allison is a senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, a government watchdog group once run by prominent leftist Zephyr Teachout. In Allison’s view, “it seems like the Clinton Foundation operates as a slush fund for the Clintons.”

It’s important to note that the Clinton Foundation’s status as a problematic charity is distinct from the “Clinton cash” issue that Peter Schweizer and others have highlighted. “Clinton cash” focuses on the fundraising methods used by the Clintons. Specifically, there are substantial allegations that they raise money in part because nations and wealthy individuals hope to influence U.S. policy through their donations, and very possibly have succeeded in doing so.

The problem flagged by Charity Navigator and other watchdogs focuses on what the Clinton Foundation does with the money it raises (whether ethically or not). The Foundation’s profligacy and failure to spend a significant percentage of its funds on its alleged mission would be of concern even if there were no ethical problems associated with the Clintons’ fundraising.

I have a sinking feeling that none of this is going to matter in the end. As I said in a previous post, we’ve known who the Clinton are for over two decades and people still love them. But it’s going to be fun watching the cockroaches scatter as the sunlight is finally turned on the Clintons. And how knows? Maybe the Democrats will wake up and realize they’re about to nominate a corrupt surveillance-state supporter, drug warrior and Wall Street darling.

And if that happens … oh my goodness will this election suddenly become unpredictable and fun.

Science Sunday: Twin Spin

Two stories I want to highlight this week.

The first is some exciting news in cancer research. It’s been over four decades since President Nixon declared a “war on cancer” and while we have many treatments for it, of varying effectiveness, a “cure” is elusive. The biggest reason is that we’ve discovered that cancer is an incredibly complex panoply of conditions, some of which respond to certain therapies, some of which don’t. Last week, we heard about a therapy that’s having stunning results:

The 49-year-old woman had had three melanoma growths removed from her skin, but now the disease was spreading further. A several-centimeter-sized growth under her left breast went deep into her chest wall. Some of the tissue in the tumor was dying because of lack of blood flow.

Doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center offered her an experimental combination of two drugs: Opdivo and Yervoy, both manufactured by Bristol-Myers Squibb, both among a vanguard of new medicines that boost the immune system to attack tumors. Three weeks later she came back for her second dose.

“She didn’t say anything and when I examined her, I said, ‘Wait a minute!’” says Paul Chapman, the doctor who was treating her. “She said, ‘Yeah, it kind of just dissolved.’”

Where the tumor was before was, literally, a hole – a wound doctors hope will heal with time. Chapman took some fluid from it, and found there were no melanoma cells there. “I’ve been in immunotherapy for a long time, and we’ve talked and fantasized about reactions like this, but I’ve never seen anything this quickly,” he says. He skipped her next dose, and gave her two more before she stopped treatment because of the diarrhea the drug combination was causing. She has no detectable melanoma – amazing for a disease that has long been considered close to untreatable.

The drug is proving very effective, wiping about about 20% of the cancers its encounters. The results from an investigation into lung cancer were so effective that Bristol-Myers Squibb ended the trial early because it was unethical to withhold the drug from placebo patients.

This isn’t a “cure” but it is very promising. There are concerns, because the drug is very expensive ($250,000 per year of treatment). As McArdle points out, the new emphasis on cost effectiveness may limit access to the drug. But even if it only goes to the super rich for now, it’s blazing a path that other less expensive drugs might follow.

And people wonder where the money for prescription drugs goes.

In other news, this week marked the 25th birthday of the Hubble Space Telescope, which they celebrate with this spectacular image of Westerlund 2 (Click to see the full image):

15-066

I’ve written about Hubble before (here, here, here and here). It has challenged everything we thought we knew about the universe and thrown down the gauntlet for future missions. Happy Birthday.

Guns on Campus

I’m neutral on the question of whether guns should be on college campuses. I’m not comfortable with the combination of young people, alcohol and firearms although I’m open to debate about it. But I see no reason why concealed carry holders, who must meet certain requirement to get their permits, should not be permitted to carry on campus. There is an abundance of research showing that concealed carry holders are far less likely to be involved in crime than the general population. Allowing concealed carry permit holders to carry their weapons onto campus has very little risk and would extend the protective effect (i.e, criminals don’t know if someone is packing or not) to the students.

Guess what? Colorado is showing that this approach works just fine:

For most of Colorado’s history, firearms were legal on public university campuses. That began to change in 1970, due to concerns about campus violence by terrorist organizations such as the Weather Underground.

I’ll pause for a moment. This is one of the dirty little secrets of the gun control movement: it got its big impetus as a response to left wing violence, especially organizations like the Black Panthers.

In 2003, Colorado passed the Concealed Carry Act:

As the brief explained, Colorado’s law, like the law of almost every other state, provides an objective process for issuing permits to responsible adults. In Colorado, an applicant must be at least 21 years old, pass a fingerprint-based background check, and a safety-training class taught by a nationally-certified instructor. Even if a person meets all these conditions, the statute instructs the Sheriff to deny the application “if the sheriff has a reasonable belief that documented previous behavior by the applicant makes it likely the applicant will present a danger to self or others.”

As a result, in Colorado, as in other states, persons with carry permits, tend to be highly law-abiding. For example, in the five-year period between 2009-13, there were 154,434 concealed handgun carry permits issued in Colorado. During this same period, 1,390 permits were revoked. 931 of these permits were revoked following an arrest. Contrast this with the arrests of over 200,000 Colorado adults in 2013 alone.

Those stats are similar to those I’ve seen for other states.

Colorado State has allowed guns on campus for 12 years. There has never been a problem. The University of Colorado just lost a lawsuit and will have to permit them as well. The legislature tried to change this but one thing that stopped them was the testimony of a woman who was raped on the Nevada Reno campus. She had a permit to carry in Nevada but was forbidden from carrying her weapon on campus. Her testimony is a rebuttal to all the pseudofeminists who oppose women arming themselves:

The crime took place just a few feet from an emergency call box. “How does rendering me defenseless protect you against a violent crime?” she asked the Colorado Senators. State Senator Evie Hudak told Collins that if Collins had been carrying a gun, statistics showed that the gun would have been taken from her. Actually, statistics show that fewer than one percent of defensive gun use results in the defender’s gun being taken.

“Respectfully senator, you weren’t there,” Collins responded. “Had I been carrying concealed, he wouldn’t have known I had my weapon; and I was there. I know without a doubt in my mind at some point I would’ve been able to stop my attack by using my firearm. He already had a weapon of his own; he didn’t need mine.”

Because the rapist was not stopped that night, he later raped two more women and murdered one.

You know who else supports allowing concealed carry on campus? The Colorado Sheriffs, who note that they can not be everywhere at once and that concealed carry is a vital part of public safety.

Guns are not a panacea, obviously. And mass shootings are so rare that I think any specific policy response to them is misguided. I’m dubious that concealed carry will massively cut crime rates on campuses (which are already lower than the general population). But I see no reason why conceal carry holders should be forbidden from bringing guns on campus, no matter how “offensive” they might be the “University values”, as the UC Board of Regents so charmingly put it. And they just might confer a solid benefit.

(PS – I recommend reading that entire link, which is quite good.)

Uber and Guns

Remember, kids: according to Mother Jones, this was not a mass shooting prevented by someone with a gun:

Authorities say no charges will be filed against an Uber driver who shot and wounded a gunman who opened fire on a crowd of people in Logan Square over the weekend.

The driver had a concealed-carry permit and acted in the defense of himself and others, Assistant State’s Attorney Barry Quinn said in court Sunday.

A group of people had been walking in front of the driver around 11:50 p.m. Friday in the 2900 block of North Milwaukee Avenue when Everardo Custodio, 22, began firing into the crowd, Quinn said.

The driver pulled out a handgun and fired six shots at Custodio, hitting him several times, according to court records. Responding officers found Custodio lying on the ground, bleeding, Quinn said. No other injuries were reported.

Why would this not qualify as a mass shooting stopped by someone with a gun? Because no one was killed and Mother Jones requires at least four deaths to qualify an event as a mass shooting. As I noted before, their criteria are very narrowly tailored almost to deliberately exclude events like this. Maybe if the cab driver had let this guy kill four people before stopping him, Mother Jones would be more impressed.