CO131 Ira Mehlman on Debating Immigration

Ira Mehlman is the media director of Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). In our discussion we talked about the prominent stories on FAIR’s home page which suggest that undocumented immigrants in the US are responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime, or are a disproportionate burden on the economy.

In fact, the weight of evidence indicates that undocumented immigrants commit proportionally fewer crimes than the rest of the population. There are a range of studies on the net cost/benefit of undocumented immigrants to the economy. Some studies indicate that the immigrants make a net contribution right across society, while others indicate that, while most US-born citizens benefit, very low skilled workers (highschool dropouts) suffer a wage drop, although this is offset by access to lower prices, and the effect diminishes with career progression.

FAIR’s contention that all levels of society suffer a significant net financial disadvantage caused by undocumented immigration is an outlier that is not replicated in other studies.

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About 40 men were taken to a barn and shot. Following that, at least 300 men, women, and children, including infants were rounded up and locked in the barn, which was doused with gasoline and set on fire. Anyone who tried to escape was shot. All of them died.

This is what happened in a small village called Jedwabne on July 10 1941, in nazi-occupied Poland. Before the massacre, Jedwabne had a population of about 1,500 Jews and 700 Catholics. Some of the details are lost to history because of the fog of war, but one thing is notable about this outrage. There were nazi forces present in the village earlier that day, and some may have taken part on the periphery, but the massacre was not carried out by Germans.

In Jedwabne, the Jews were murdered by their neighbors. They were killed by Catholic Poles who they had lived beside for generations. Clearly there were ethnic tensions before the nazi invasion, and these were exacerbated by the perceived, and sometimes real support for the Soviet Union in the Jewish community – the area had been under Soviet occupation until a few months previously.

In post-war communist Poland, there were trials of people accused of participating in the pogrom; several local catholic men were convicted. Their trials fell drastically short of anything that could be considered fair or impartial. Despite this, there is no serious historical source that disputes the central fact that local Catholic poles murdered hundreds of their Jewish neighbors.

No serious historical source. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t disputed.

Memorial to the murdered Jews of Jedwabne

In 2018, Poland’s conservative ruling party, called the Law and Justice party, passed a law making it a criminal offence to publicly state that the Polish nation was in any complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich. The truth is that many Poles gave their lives fighting bravely against the nazis. But some Poles were collaborators, sometimes under duress, and some, as happened in Jedwabne were enthusiastic in their treason.

The 2018 Polish law effectively extended a practice in Poland’s schools to the whole of society, making it impossible to tell that truth. There was an international outcry, and the law was changed to remove the prison sentence, but the law remains.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance has compiled the most widely-accepted definition of anti-Semitism; it contains several examples, including one which reads “Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II”.

Poland’s legally-compelled anti-Semitic lies are an example of what happens when people can’t win an argument on the facts, so they make up their own facts. This is poison for public debate, but it’s not the only example of this.

A couple of weeks ago, the Republican-controlled House in Ohio passed a bill instructing teachers in public schools on how to grade pupils taking exams. Under the law, students can’t be penalized if their work is scientifically wrong as long as the reasoning is because of their religious beliefs.

So, if a geography teacher sets a pop quiz with a question which is closest to the age of the earth, five billion, five million, 5,000 or 500 years, and a student get it wrong, and ticks 5,000 instead of five billion, the teacher isn’t legally allowed to mark them wrong.

And, presumably if a student says that the sun orbits the earth, or the earth is supported by elephants on the back of a giant turtle, or any number of religious-inspired answers, the teacher is legally obliged to mark them right. And even if the student gets some basic math wrong, says that two plus two equals five, what’s to stop them from saying that’s based on their religious belief, so top marks please?

Once the answer is based on what’s in the student’s mind, not what’s true in reality, there is nothing to hold on to.

These two examples are on different scales, but they both show a disconnection from the real world. If the facts aren’t the way you want them to be, you just pass a law to change them, or at least to force people to agree with you. Any belief system that must be shielded from reality by the force of law doesn’t have much going for it.

CO130 Thom Hartmann on the Purpose of SCOTUS

Thom Hartmann is one of America’s most prominent progressive talk show hosts. His latest book, The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America was publisher by Berrett-Koehler recently.

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I know that some listeners are in the UK, but most aren’t, and for you in the majority, although you’ve probably heard of Brexit, you mightn’t really be sure why it is such a big and difficult issue. It is a big and difficult issue, but the fact that it is a big and difficult issue makes it difficult to explain.

I’m not going to bore you to death here with all the details, but I have come across one fairly simple example of why it is so difficult. Cows. The reason – or one of the reasons anyway – is cows.

I’ll explain why in a minute, but first some basics. The EU is a huge trading bloc, currently 28 nations, with several more trying to get in, and one trying to get out – the UK. They are separate countries, but for trading purposes they work as one. If your business in one country wants to sell something to a customer in another country, you just put it on the back of a truck and send it to them. No extra paperwork, no taxes.

Tariffs with other countries are the same for all 28. They have to be. It wouldn’t be possible to have one tariff for Chinese goods going to France and another for Chinese goods going to Germany, because then you could just bring it into the one with the lower tariff and send it to the other.

Product standards are the same as well, so that you can make a product or component in one country and put it on the back of a truck and send it to any of the others. It’s been like that for more than 25 years.

Many people in Britain want to leave the EU so that they can set their own tariffs and product standards independently. That would mean that the UK and the EU would have to put up tariff barriers and product standards checks between each other, but that’s what the UK wanted and that’s their right. But it’s causing a lot of unexpected problems, because the people who proposed this didn’t really think that they would win the 2016 referendum, and didn’t really think through any solutions to problems, the big and difficult problems it would cause.

And because they are big and difficult problems, they are difficult to explain to anyone, let alone to understand, which is why people are getting very frustrated with the process. And I’m not going to bore you to death by trying to explain the all, but I’ll give one example. That’s where the cows come in. They are Irish cows.

And everyone likes them. Everyone especially likes the butter and cheese that their milk makes. All that rain and green grass makes it taste good. It’s put in products that are sold all over Europe, even in some beverages that are sold around the world. But one things that the cows don’t know, that you should know.

Ireland is divided. When Ireland became independent about 100 years ago, part of the island remained under British control, as part of the UK. That’s what UK stands for, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Some people in Northern Ireland like it that way, others not so much. That’s caused a lot of problems in the past, but one reason why it wasn’t such a problem in recent decades is because of the way that border became invisible. A division that still lets people live, work and trade anywhere they want isn’t that much of a division.

The Republic of Ireland, the much larger independent part is far more economically advanced, and that’s where those premium dairy products come from. They are so popular that their factories have a huge demand for milk, and they buy a lot of it from Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is happy to have this marked, because it’s quite a poor area, income levels are about half that of the Republic, and the North relies much more heavily on agriculture.

And, like I said, there’s no tariffs, no border checks, no problem, if you want to sell a product like milk or anything else from one EU country to another, which is technically what they are doing, even though most people in Ireland don’t really see it like that.

Then comes Brexit. Because Northern Ireland is legally part of the UK, it’s leaving the EU as well. And so are their cows. That’s a big problem.

The EU doesn’t import milk products. It’s not impossible, but the tariff to import each liter or gallon of milk is about five times bigger than the profit margin for producing that milk, so actually it is impossible, and WTO rules mean that just can’t be changed. That’s bad for the dairy factories in the Republic of Ireland, but it’s a catastrophe for the dairy farmers in Northern Ireland. One-third of all their milk goes to those factories in the Republic.

They really can’t export their milk anywhere else, milk isn’t the sort of product that you can put in shipping containers unprocessed, and Northern Ireland just doesn’t have the industrial base to process it.

I guess they could build it, but building up an industry like that takes years, if not decades. Farmers can’t tell the cows to wait that long to get milked. Farmers can’t even afford to keep feeding their cows if they have nowhere to sell their milk. This bit is not big and difficult to understand, it’s pretty simple. If the UK does what’s called a no-deal Brexit, Northern Ireland farmers would have to shoot one third of the cows immediately.

The thing that is big and difficult to understand, is that almost everything in the European economy is cows. Not cows exactly, but the same idea, just much more complicated. What I mean that no products are made anywhere. Almost everything is made everywhere. Every business, in the last quarter of a century has become intricately intertwined in a web of suppliers and customers right across those 28 countries.

Sure, there are a few businesses in Britain that don’t buy any components or services from other EU countries, and only sell within Britain, but they are a tiny minority. In the UK, almost everyone’s job is, metaphorically, cows. And everything that anyone buys, it’s cows all the way down. And, if trade barriers spring up between the UK and the rest of the EU, all those cows will be lined up and shot.

CO129 Randall Holcombe on Protecting Liberty

Randall Holcombe is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. In the past He has also served as President of the Public Choice Society, President of the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics and as a member of the Florida Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors as well as a number of academic roles.

He’s written many books, the most recent of which is Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History, which was published last September.

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I saw a little story from Chicago during the week. Not something that’s going to make headline news, but it’s interesting. It comes from a City Council budget hearing submission by Library Commissioner Andrea Telli. I told you, this isn’t headline news.

But it is interesting. What the Chicago public libraries did was abolish fines for the late return of books. You know the sort of thing, you get two weeks to read the book, but if you don’t bring it back in time, you have to pay a dime or whatever for every extra day. The theory is that people will be more likely to bring back their books on time if they have to pay a fine for them being late.

 Well, Chicago said, forget it, bring us back the books when you can, no worries.

What happened? The return rate soared by 240 per cent. That goes against what you might expect, why would so many more people bring back their books when the penalty is removed? There’s a couple of reasons.

First, these fines are comparatively tiny, and they were only ever likely to be enforced when someone came into the library, probably to return the books, so to a degree they were more of a deterrent than an encouragement to bring the books back.

But secondly, human motivations aren’t as simple as that. People often do things for people, not because they have a financial motivation, but because they want to be good people. And, sometimes financial motivation just doesn’t work.

I’m reminded of a study where a kindergarten set up a system of fines for parents who picked up their kids late. Kindergarten teachers are basically held hostage by parents who show up late, because the kids are too young to kick out onto the street. So they said you pay so much money for every minute past closing time that we have to mind your kid.

Did that make the parents show up on time? No, not by a mile. Actually, it made them show up even later, and significantly later. As the authors of the study wrote, the parents regarded the payment not as a fine, but as a fee, and many thought it was a fee well worth paying. And, the fact that they were paying for the service meant that they lost non-financial motives to be on time, such as the sense of moral duty not to force the teachers to stay late at work.

But what was really interesting was when the kindergarten abandoned the fine system. Did the parents go back to normal, and pick their kids up not-quite-on-time, but not as late when they were paying for the extra time?

No. It seems that the experience of paying the fine, or the fee, permanently changed the parents’ outlook. Once they saw picking up their kids on time was not a moral duty, but a transaction, it seems that they couldn’t go back. Even after the fine system was withdrawn, they still saw it as a transaction, just maybe a better value one. So the introduction of money damaged the social contract.

The point here is that not every motivation is money, even in today’s world, people still can be motivated by a sense of duty to people even when they have no real connection with them. Whether it is fighting to defend people you’ve never met, caring for them as teachers or medics, keeping an orderly line in a busy café or braking to let someone merge into traffic, that sense of duty is, literally, priceless.

CO128 Michael Tauberg on Questioning Biden

Michael Tauberg is a senior Columnist with ProgressiveBrief.com. We discussed his article Trump Administration Corruption Doesn’t Excuse the Bidens.

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Air pollution in India is off the scale.

That sounds like a rhetorical flourish, but it isn’t. It’s literally the truth.

Most cities around the world, including in India, have sensors which monitor the levels of various pollutants, but one of the most important to monitor is called PM10s and PM2.5s. I won’t get into the technicalities but that’s basically a particle so small that our nasal hairs, the mucus on our airways and the other ways that our bodies have evolved to deal with impurities in the air, are unable to stop. We have no natural defenses against them.

And they’re bad.

Breathing elevated levels of these particles is associated with a whole range health problems including bronchial asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, interstitial pneumonia and birth defects, and they are listed as a grade 1 carcinogen, the worst type.

They can come from a variety of sources including diesel engines, power plants, agricultural burning and domestic fires for heating and cooking. They are estimated to cause up to 50,000 deaths per year in the United States, and more than a third of a million deaths per year in Europe, which is more densely populated.

There is a scale that basically measures how polluted the air is, it counts how many particles are in each cubic meter of air, anything under 50 is good, under 100 is satisfactory, between 200 and 300 is poor and there’s a warning with that it “may cause breathing discomfort to people on prolonged exposure, and discomfort to people with heart disease”.

Not nice, but it’s not the worst. Between 300 and 400, very poor air quality “may cause respiratory illness to the people on prolonged exposure. Effect may be more pronounced in people with lung and heart diseases”.

And the top of the scale, between 400 and 500 “may cause respiratory impact even on healthy people, and serious health impacts on people with lung/heart disease”. The scale doesn’t go higher, but the pollution can still get worse. Although there are no official classifications for the readings, the equipment can register higher readings in extremely polluted areas, but even they have their readings.

In the past few weeks, in some Indian cities, many sensors are all giving the same reading: 999. That would be a horrifying reading, if it were true. It would mean that the pollution level was double the top of the range of the worst category of pollution. But it’s not true. The air pollution isn’t that bad.

It’s worse.

The reading is 999 because that’s the highest reading the sensors can give. When they were designed, nobody imagined that they would need to measure air that badly polluted, so the design limitation is that readings of 1000 or above can’t be registered, they all appear as 999, so we don’t have real data, but even though we don’t have the true reading, we know that it is truly awful. It’s the equivalent of smoking 50 cigarettes a day.

It has devastating results. Apart from the obvious, lung cancers in non-smokers, half of Delhi’s 4.4 million schoolchildren have stunted lung development from which they will never recover. There are a variety of reasons why it is so bad now, some of them seasonal, but that’s not the point I want to make here.

The live map of world air quality shows that air pollution is worst in poor Asian countries, by a long way. There are some environmental campaigners who advocate a return to a low-tech village life and who idealize some third-world ways of life; what they don’t realize is that what they are describing is poverty; grinding poverty.

And people in grinding poverty like that will do almost anything to improve their lives right now. That may be cutting down a tree to get firewood to cook their next meal, burning smoky coal to keep warm or driving a dirty diesel truck to earn a few bucks.

You can try to explain to them that they are endangering their long-term future, but when your short term future is in jeopardy, that’s not so persuasive. It’s like telling someone going before a firing squad that they shouldn’t have that last cigarette, it’s bad for them.

It’s true that the world faces gigantic environmental challenges. The way to solve them is to move forwards, not backwards. We have developed technologies that were unimaginable a few decades ago. The choice isn’t between taking people out of poverty and meeting those challenges. In fact, it’s probably not possible to do one without the other.

CO127 Scot Faulkner on the 1994 Contract with America

Scot Faulkner was the National Director of Personnel for the Reagan-Bush presidential Campaign of 1980. He went on to serve the Reagan Administration in executive positions at the Federal Aviation Administration, the General Services Administration, and the Peace Corps. He serves on the boards of numerous corporations and foundations and he’s the author of a bestselling book called Naked Emperors: The Failure of the Republican Revolution, published in 2007.

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I was talking last week about how the libel laws in England prevent journalists from working, and keep stories about the rich and powerful under wraps. That doesn’t happen much in the US.

As I mentioned last week, the US follows a 1964 precedent called New York Times v O’Sullivan, from a libel case taken by Montgomery police commissioner LB Sullivan who said that some inaccuracies in a piece about the policing of civil rights demonstrations in Alabama libeled him.

In the UK he would have been certain of a win and probably a big payout, but the Supreme Court agreed with the New York Times that they are going to make some honest mistakes from time to time and if that could put them out of business, that would effectively restrain their free expression.

They ruled that proving the facts is not enough to sue. You must prove the journalist knew, or should have known the truth and maliciously or recklessly wrote something false anyway. Basically you have to prove what was in their mind, an almost impossible task.

That’s why there is no big libel business in the US. But someone did win a libel case recently. His name is Leonard Pozner, he’s the father of Noah Pozner who was murdered at the age of six years in the Sandy Hook school shooting. The court ruled that James Fetzer, a crackpot conspiracy theorist must pay him $450,000.

Fetzer had made up multiple ludicrous theories to claim that the shooting didn’t happen, that the murdered boy never existed and published them in a book. When, probably unwisely, Leonard Pozner published his son’s birth certificate, Fetzer accused him of faking it.

Someone once said that every decision is made for two reasons, a good reason and a real reason. I suspect that the real reason that Fetzer lost the case is because he is a vile individual who made it his life’s mission to terrorize the grieving parents of murdered children in a crazed attempt to bend reality to match his ideology.

But the good reason, the reason it was possible to find against him legally is because there was ample evidence that Fetzer had oceans of evidence to show that what he was writing was untrue, but he published it anyway. He had, after all, been posting on it online obsessively, so he could not claim to have been misinformed.

It’s sort of ironic that his obsessiveness actually hurt him legally, rather than helped him, but this was a very exceptional legal case. It’s extremely rare for anyone to win a significant libel case, which is why it’s rare that they are even taken. Is this a good situation?

The rise of fake news cannot be seen in isolation from this issue. There are some outlets out there that freely publish lie after lie, that make a lot of money doing that because it brings in the clicks, and the people who are being lied about can basically do nothing about it.

The effect of this is that public pressure, which can sometimes convert into political pressure, is making big tech companies into a poor substitute for libel courts. Facebook, twitter and others are feeling the pressure to get fake news off their platform, or at least to be given less attention, and they are responding, to some degree. They try to outsource the decision as to what is fake and what isn’t, but they can’t run away from it totally. Many of the platforms – as they call themselves to try to avoid the tag ‘publishers’ – many of them have been deleting posts, closing accounts, banning people.

Conservatives in particular have complained about being victimized about this. Whether they’re just being snowflakes or have a genuine grievance is another question. But this highlights a question that we aren’t tackling. There’s a list of things – no effective libel laws, frictionless publishing for everyone with a phone, social media companies not being a privatized judge and jury, and the defense of people who are the victims of merciless campaigns of lies. You can have some of the things on that list, but you can’t have all of them.

CO126 Richard Vedder on America’s Short-changed Students

Richard Vedder is an economist, historian, author, and columnist. He is a professor emeritus of economics at Ohio University and senior fellow at The Independent Institute. Who have just published his latest book called Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America.

In our discussion, I mentioned the fact that the number of hours of minimum-wage working required to fund a year at university has skyrocketed since the 1960s:

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There was an interesting little aside in an episode of South Park a few years back, but if you live in the UK, you may not have caught it, because that episode of South Park, the cartoon with eight-year-old Colorado boys who seem to know too much and too little about life was never shown in the UK. The episode had a poorly-drawn caricature of the actor Tom Cruise, who improbably shows up at the house of one of the boys, gets offended, hides in the boy’s wardrobe and won’t come out.

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You get the impression that the writers are trying to make a point.

But don’t make that point in England.

American libel laws started out very similar to the ones in England, but they have diverged radically, and that change has become such a part of the culture in the US that it’s hard for many people grasp the difference. The main change came about from a case in the US called New York Times v O’Sullivan. I don’t want to go deep into the legality, but basically, in 1964, the New York Times published a piece on policing civil rights demonstrations in Alabama which contained some inaccuracies, and the Montgomery police commissioner LB Sullivan considered that constituted a libel against him.

He sued for libel. In the UK that would be a slam-dunk. You accuse someone of something you can’t prove in court. Ka-ching, they get a big payout, supposedly to compensate them for the loss of their good name.

But the New York Times fought the case to the Supreme Court arguing that the First Amendment meant that they needed some latitude. If they publish millions of words a day, they are going to make some honest mistakes and if that could put them out of business, that would effectively restrain their free expression.

The court agreed, and changed the standard to take a libel case. Someone suing now doesn’t just have to show that what was written was wrong; they have to show that the publisher was malicious or reckless in writing it. It’s no good to just prove the facts support you; you have to prove the journalist knew, or should have known the truth but wrote something false anyway.

That sounds reasonable, but it puts a burden on the person taking the case to effectively prove what was going on in the mind of the journalist when they wrote it, and the only way to do that is to ask them, and it’s pretty unlikely that they will voluntarily admit to malice or recklessness.

In the UK, the old standard still applies; in fact it has got much stricter. All along, if you could afford an expensive lawyer, and if you got wind that some journalist was going to publish a story about you that you didn’t like, and if you could take them to court in time, you could get an injunction, an order not to publish. The only way to fight this was to prove every detail of the story in court, an impossible burden for most publications.

But journalists developed a couple of strategies to fight this. One was to keep the stories top secret until publication, but that meant you couldn’t ask the subject for a comment and risked missing out some aspect of the story, increasing the risk of a libel case. Another was, if you got injuncted, not to report the story, but report on the injunction.

So the courts started issuing what are called superinjunctions. That’s a court order not only not to publish a story, but also not to publish the injunction, or report that the injunction exists, or report anything about the case whatsoever, and it applies to anyone who knows anything about it, so by definition no journalist can report it.

There have been a few high profile cases, including one taken by the chairman of the Conservative party. In the 1980s he won half a million pounds sterling, a gigantic fortune at the time, from a newspaper that reported that he had paid a prostitute for sex. Decades later, he was convicted of perjury, the story was entirely true. The newspaper was from a big media group, but other smaller publications have been totally put out of business by libel awards.

But that was the 1980s, before the internet took hold. That brings me back to South Park and Tom Cruise. Now anything that is published anywhere is, give or take the odd great firewall, published everywhere. Including England.

That gives us what is called libel tourism. People with no connection to the UK at all, going to the UK to sue other people with no connection to the UK for what they wrote in publications with no connection to the UK. That path has been somewhat narrowed, following a change in the law in 2014, but it’s still there, and that’s why the episode from South Park that I’ve taken that clip from has never been shown on British TV.

South Park hit back with another episode where a whole host so stars lock themselves in the boy’s wardrobe, and when they come out you hear this exchange.

I’ll sue you in England seems to be the ultimate threat that a celeb can make to a publisher, because it’s basically impossible to sue in the US.

Whatever about the international impact, this affects British politics profoundly. If you want to know how profoundly, try to find out how many children the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson has. British reporters, if they mention the topic at all, usually say that he has ‘at least’ five children. His Wikipedia entry, at the time of recording, in the quick facts box says ‘Children: 5 or 6’. He has four children with his second wife, another with a woman he had an affair with while he was married to his second wife – that information came out in a court case – and there are persistent rumors of at least one more child with another woman, but nobody’s publishing.

The British libel laws are said to allow politicians to sleep soundly in other people’s beds, but I’m much more concerned about them being used to prevent information vital to the public good being published. One oil company, called Trafigura used a superinjunction to prevent the publication of a report that they had been illegally dumping toxic waste on beaches in West Africa. We found out about that because of a concerted action including a member of the British parliament who managed to mention it in a speech, under parliamentary privilege.

For the rest – we don’t know, because we don’t know. That’s the problem with libel laws being too strict. But what about the almost – almost – non-existent libel laws in the US – more next week.

But my point about the British laws is not so much about the scandals that people try to suppress, but break through, not even about the stories that are successfully stymied by legal action, but about the much larger number of stories that never get that far, because journalists are too afraid to write them, or just don’t even start on the research because they know that there is a good chance that they will never be able to publish.

That is a cancer on public life.

CO125 Wen Fa on Litigating Liberty

Wen Fa is an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a national, nonprofit legal organization that represents clients free of charge.

We talked about his work on cases including Rentberry v. City of Seattle about rent-bidding laws, and another tenant/landlord case, Pakdel v. City and County of San Francisco, and various cases about Vaping.

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Francis Rawls is in jail. And that’s where he’s staying. He lost his case at the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. So what has he been convicted of? Nothing.

Rawls, a former Philadelphia police officer has been in jail 17 months because he invoked the Fifth Amendment, he said he wouldn’t give self-incriminating information to police investigating him. But the Fifth Amendment is, you know, the Fifth Amendment. It guarantees the right not to incriminate yourself.

The exact text is no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”. So how come the court denied his appeal, with three judges voting unanimously against him? It’s partly because the information that the police and the courts want him to hand over, and that he is refusing, are the passwords to encrypted external hard drives that were connected to his computer. The police seized them, along with his computer because they believe they contain child porn, and they do have good reason to believe that, and they convinced a judge to give them a warrant to seize and search his computer.

The appeals court ruled that forensic examination showed that Rawls had downloaded thousands of files, the hash values of which indicated they were child pornography.  That’s a bit of geek-speak but it means they were monitoring his online activity, they didn’t get the actual files, but they recognized that they were extremely likely to be identical to files of known child porn images.

There was other evidence – one image depicting a pubescent girl in a sexually suggestive position was found on his computer, Rawls’ sister had said her brother showed her hundreds of pictures and videos of child porn, and that logs on his computer that suggested the user had visited groups with titles common in child exploitation.

There are some problems with that evidence, logs of a computer visiting pages with titles common in child exploitation doesn’t mean that the computer downloaded child porn, and they don’t prove who generated those logs; but that said, you can be damn sure I wouldn’t be leaving  Francis Rawls alone with any child of mine.

But Rawls hasn’t been convicted of anything, he hasn’t even been charged with anything, but the court ruled that the Fifth Amendment doesn’t apply; the lower court, the appeals court and the police, all agreed that the presence of child porn on his drives was a “foregone conclusion.” That’s where my real problem was. If it is a foregone conclusion, why not just use the evidence that shows it is a foregone conclusion to charge and convict Rawls?

We’ve had a speaker from the Electronic Frontier Foundation on the podcast before and one of their attorneys said about this case “compelled decryption is inherently testimonial because it compels a suspect to use the contents of their mind to translate unintelligible evidence into a form that can be used against them. The Fifth Amendment provides an absolute privilege against such self-incriminating compelled decryption.”

But the court disagreed, and Rawls stays in prison until he hands over the passwords, even though he has already been inside for longer than he might expect to be if he was sentenced for possessing child porn.

It’s hard to have sympathy with someone who’s probably a pedophile, but that’s the whole point. If our rights can be cancelled by just being accused of being a criminal, then none of those rights will last long. There’s no point in saying that everyone is entitled to a fair trial, as long as they are not suspected of being a criminal.

And this is not a rarified situation. Many countries have a variation of this, but New Zealand has gone a step further and made it a crime for anyone travelling in or out of that country not to unlock their phone or other devices for border officials to snoop through and copy as they see fit. No reason, no warrant required, and anyone who doesn’t comply will have their devices confiscated, along with a $5,000 fine.

So if anyone you’ve ever been sexting with decides to take a trip to New Zealand, you can expect your private photos to be shared around the break room of the border guards, and then be sent on to all their friends, and their friends’ friends, and so on.

It’s long been established that countries are entitled to check the goods coming across their borders to make sure they are legitimate, the right taxes are paid and so on. When the electronic age came in, that seems to have been quietly extended to examining the data stored on laptops, phones and so on.

I just don’t buy the line that this is to protect us from terrorists or organized crime. Anyone who is wise to these laws will be smart enough to make sure they only travel with clean devices. If they want to store or transport incriminating data, they can just encrypt it, email it to themselves, and pick it up once they have crossed the border.

Sure, these laws might pick up the odd dumb criminal, but that leaves the question – are you willing to sacrifice all of your privacy, hand over all your data to the border agents of any country you, or anyone you’ve been in contact with travels to for them to make use of on their next bathroom break or to pass on to their secret police, just to pick up the odd dumb criminal?

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CO124 Steven Taylor on The Electoral College, again

Steven Taylor  is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University, Alabama. He specialises in political parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. We discussed an article he wrote for Outside the Beltway.

We’ve been hearing a lot about Ukraine in the past week, and I can promise you’ll be hearing a lot more about it the coming weeks and months, and maybe even years. I’m not going to try to keep you up to date with what’s going on in the White House, that’s not really the job of a podcast, certainly not this podcast.

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CO123 Anthony Galace on Greenlining not Redlining

Anthony Galace is the director of health equity at the Greenlining Institute.

*****

Our brains don’t really work so well with very small or very large numbers. If I ask you to imagine the distance from earth to the sun, from earth to the nearest star, or earth to the nearest galaxy, it’s tempting to just think very, very far in all three cases, even though each one is millions of times more than the previous one.

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CO122 Sky Palma on Opinion News

Sky Palma is the founder of DeadState, and a senior editor at Raw Story.

*****

If I was to ask you what was the most dangerous animal in the world, and you were to think tigers, bears or sharks, you’d be wildly wrong, particularly with sharks. Despite Shark Week, despite Jaws, sharks are not statistically dangerous to humans – quite the reverse, humans kill millions, many, many millions of times more sharks that sharks kill humans.

I’m sure some smartass out there will be thinking that the most dangerous animal is man, but I’m thinking of other animals that kill humans.

A shark…

And by a mile, the winner is the mosquito. To put it in context, sharks typically kill five or six humans per year, worldwide. Depending on your sources, mosquitoes kill somewhere between 700,000 and 2.7m people per year. Get that, mosquitoes kill at the very least 100,000 times more people than sharks. They are estimated to be responsible for about 17 per cent of all the disease on the planet. I can’t wait for Mosquito Week on the Discovery Channel.

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CO121 Jared Moffat on the Legacy of Prohibition

Jared Moffat is campaign coordinator for the Marijuana Policy Project.

I mentioned that Ferguson, Missouri gains an extrordinary amount of its revenue from motoring fines.

Black people make up 27 percent of the population, but represent 71 percent of drivers pulled over by police officers. Last year, the town issued 29,072 traffic citations, according to statistics from the Missouri attorney general’s office.

*****

A couple of weeks back an international group of scientists announced that they had detected a black hole swallowing a neutron star.

I say a couple of weeks back, but the detection made last month was actually of something that happened 900 million years ago, long before the dinosaurs walked the earth. It was detected last month because that’s how long it took the gravitational waves to arrive at earth from where this event happened, 900 million light years away.

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CO120 Reese Erlich on Tensions with Iran

Reese Erlich has won numerous journalism awards including a Peabody award. He’s also a freelance journalist who writes for CBS Radio, Australian Broadcasting Corp., NPR and VICE News, and his Foreign Correspondent column distributed nationally in the US.

Last year he published his latest book with the title The Iran Agenda Today: The Real Story Inside Iran and What’s Wrong with U.S. Policy.

*****

I mentioned the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong a few weeks back, particularly the fact that a huge proportion of the city’s population was taking part in them. Since I talked about them, the protests have been covered widely in the western media, and they haven’t dissipated, they are continuing every weekend.

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CO119 Gautam Tejas Ganeshan on What Motivates Antivaxxers

Gautam Tejas Ganeshan is a musician and a writer and blogger, and we talked about a piece that he wrote titled ‘Is there an intelligible “anti-vaxx” position?

CO118 Andrew Branca on Gun Law

Andrew Branca is a lifelong NRA member, a lawyer who consults on self-defence law and the author of The Law of Self Defense: The Indispensable Guide to the Armed Citizen.

During our discussion, I metioned the Dickey Amendment, which forbids the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from advocating or promoting gun control, but has widely been interpreted as preventing the CDC from studying the health effects of gun ownership.

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CO117 Will Wilkinson on Community and Ideology

Will Wilkinson is the vice president for research at the Niskanen Center.

He’s also and a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. He was previously, a correspondent for The Economist and a research fellow at the Cato Institute.

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CO116 Raymond Ibrahim on Islam and the West

Raymond Ibrahim is the author of Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War Between Islam and the West.

*****

Let’s do a bit of science.

Maybe, like me, you have had various social media invaded by people making all sorts of complaints about something called 5G. That’s the newest mobile data standard. Unless you are really special, that doesn’t work on your phone yet, but the networks are being installed, and newer handsets using them will be available soon, probably starting at the top end of the price range.

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CO115 John Hawkins on Politicized Data

John Hawkins is a writer for Bizpaq review, Brass Pills and is the editor Right Wing News. He’s also the author of 101 Things All Young Adults Should Know.

We talked about John’s article The Best Stats & Quotes From ‘Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse’, John’s take on the findings of that book. I mentioned the fact that the number of hours needed to work at minimum age to pay college tuition has increased about tenfold in the last 40 years, and the book Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam.

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CO114 Greg Shupak on Reporting the Conflict

Greg Shupak has a PhD in Literary Studies and teaches Media Studies at the University of Guelph in Toronto. He regularly writes analysis of politics and media for outlets including Electronic Intifada, In These Times, Jacobin, and the website Fairness and accuracy in reporting.

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CO113 Mark Vernon on the Secret History of Christianity

Mark Vernon is a psychotherapist and writer, with a degree in physics, before two degrees in theology, and a PhD in philosophy. He’s written books covering subjects from friendship and belief, to wellbeing and love.

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