CO112 Justin Strekal on Legalizing Marijuana

Justin Strekal political director at Norml.

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I mentioned last week that I would talk about the earthquake – earthquakes really – in UK politics. In particular that Nigel Farage’s new party, the Brexit Party won the European Parliament elections in the UK by a mile last month.

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CO111 Bruce Schneier on Cybersecurity

Bruce Schneier is a public-interest technologist. He’s been writing about security issues for more than 20 years, and he’s a Special Advisor to IBM Security, a fellow and lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School, and a board member of Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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A couple of quite similar stories caught my eye in the past while.

The first was about a German MP called Markus Frohnmaier. He was elected to the Bundestag, the German parliament for the far-right AfD party in 2017.

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CO110 Grayson Quay on Another View on MeToo

Grayson Quay is a freelance writer. His work has been published in The Washington Times, Reason.com, National Interest, Townhall and others. He is also MA candidate at Georgetown University Master’s Degree candidate.

CO109 Aaron Naparstek on the War on Cars

Aaron Naparstek is a cohost of the War on Cars podcast, and also the founder of Streetsblog.org.

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There have been a couple of stories about facial recognition. This audio is from a BBC report where the police set up a van with cameras filming passersby and searching for records on them based on facial recognition. One man decided that he didn’t like that, and pulled his sweater up over his mouth and nose to frustrate the camera system; the police stopped him, forced him to be photographed, and fined him £90, about $115 for what they called disorderly conduct.

There was no suggestion that he was guilty of any crime, at least of any other crime, if you call not wanting to be filmed a crime.

This was a trial, the police brought a BBC camera crew along with them to film the demonstration, and it was notable that three other people were arrested when the cameras, and the associated computer system recognized them as people who had outstanding warrants against them.

Compare that to the story another British man, this time in the French port city of Calais who will go on trial shortly for an incident that started when police noticed that he was filming them. He says that the police attacked a woman he was with without provocation; the two of them were recording police behavior.

There is an ongoing dispute at migrant camps around Calais, where volunteers distributing food to migrants say that they are suffering intense harassment from the French police. Amnesty International have said that the charges are an abuse of process, and should be dropped. The man faces large fines and up to five years in prison if he is convicted.

This has echoes of the Glik v Cunniffe case in the United States, where the Supreme Court ruled that citizens have the right to film public officials, including police, who are working in public. There is a clear case here to say that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. People have a right to film in public space. It has a good affect too, people, not least the police, who know that their actions are being recorded are more likely to behave in a decent way.

But facial recognition is a whole new technology. It’s notable that San Francisco has banned its use in public. This is not just filming people; it is effectively looking up each person up in a database, just because they went out in public.

Now, the UK operation that led to one man being stopped and fined for pulling up his sweater, that’s effectively the equivalent of setting up a checkpoint and saying that nobody is allowed to pass until they have given their ID and been checked. Is it justified?

It certainly seems like a scary use of new technology, but that alone is not a valid argument against it. You can’t rationally say that, while the rest of society moves on, law enforcement must only use technology invented before an arbitrary date.

But new technology has given governments ways of violating rights that were never before contemplated. If the police can use facial recognition to look up all passersby in a database of, say, outstanding warrants, and then it can use facial recognition to record all passersby in a database.

That is the electronic equivalent of putting a checkpoint on every street corner, and not letting anyone pass unless they produce ID and have their movements recorded. If you don’t immediately see why that is incompatible with democracy, then two things – one, you don’t know the difference between democracy and a police state, and two, you are going to learn about that difference pretty soon.

But remember, in that UK trial, the police arrested three wanted men. That is the electronic equivalent of a cop spotting a fugitive in the street and collaring them. Should we really complain about that? This has the potential to take a lot of criminals off the streets and be a much more efficient use of resources.

My opinion is this: if something is already permissible, there is no good argument for saying that doing the same thing electronically, rather than by a human, is a violation. So spotting a crook in the street, either by person or by machine, fine. But where something is clearly impermissible when done by humans, there is no justification for saying because we can do the same thing by machine, and be more subtle about it, it becomes acceptable. It doesn’t.

So the devil is in the detail here. We could say, if the system is programmed only to flag fugitives for the police to arrest, then that’s OK, but if it is programmed to record everyone who passes, for the authorities to use later however they see fit, that is not OK. But that would require an independent audit of the entire system being used. Let’s see how fast police forces are willing to agree to that.

CO108 Rob Bluey on Standards and Consistency

Rob Bluey is vice president for communications at The Heritage Foundation and Founding Editor of Daily Signal. I mentioned in the interview an article that Rob wrote during the Obama administration criticizing the removal of a website about earmark reform, and contrasted it to the Trump cull of the EPA’s website.

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Last month, a mob of more than 70 men, armed with baseball bats, knives, and rocks launched a series of vigilante attacks around the towns of  Clichy-sous-Bois and Bobigny, about an hour east of Paris. French police arrested at least 20 of them.

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CO107 David Dayen on the Economics of Vaping

David Dayen is a contributing writer The Intercept and a weekly columnist for the New Republic. He is the author of the book Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud., and he’s shortly to become the executive editor of the American Prospect.

We talked about his article How Vaping Giant Juul Explains Everything that’s Wrong with our World.

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There’s a story in the last couple of weeks that, if you’re in Australia, you’ve almost certainly heard, if you’re not in Australia, you’ve almost certainly not heard.

Continue reading “CO107 David Dayen on the Economics of Vaping”

CO106 Mitchell Robinson on Education Reform and Charter Schools

Mitchell Robinson is a writer for Eclectablog and associate professor and chair of music education at Michigan State University, as well as being a former high-school teacher. His research is focused on music education and education policy.

In the podcast we mentioned the Startup podcast featuring the Success Academy, and the Kipp schools.

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I was really concerned to read about something called the Momo Challenge. This is a social media meme, a chain message spread on Whatsapp, Facebook and other platform which tells of a powerful internet message that could induce young people to harm themselves.

Except it’s not.

The whole thing is a hoax.

And that’s not the bit I’m concerned about. Sure, stupid people make up stupid stories from time to time. What I’m really concerned about is the degree of traction this story got from people who should know better, and from people who should know that they don’t know. The basic message was that by some evil technical magic, messages were being inserted into children’s videos on YouTube which would, a bit like the film The Ring, make the kids go and commit suicide.

In the UK, for example, school administrators warned pupils and parents of the danger, major newspapers ran breathless stories of how dangerous it was for teenagers, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland issued an official warning as did various local forces in the US, and the RCMP in Canada said they were devoting resources to monitor the situation.

Not to be outdone, the French ministry of the interior said it was reviewing the situation daily. Spanish police issued a warning to people though it’s not clear what they warned people about, and Belgian police went so far as to say that it had caused the death of a 13-year old boy.

The BBC ran a story, which they have since removed, which claimed that forwarding the messages about the Momo Challenge allowed ‘hackers to harvest information’, which technically is nonsense, probably why they killed the story.

But the entire thing was nonsense. The only interest in this was cooked up by tabloid newspapers, and a few higher-brow outlets who should know better, like the BBC. To be clear, responsible organisations who looked into this, such as the UK National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Samaritans, and the UK Safer Internet Centre investigated and said that the phenomena didn’t exist, and there was no threat to young people or anyone else.

So how did people get so worried that school authorities and even police forces were issuing warnings to parents? That’s what I’m concerned about.

There’s all sorts of nonsense on the internet at any given time, but only rarely does a story break out into the offline world. I think that one of the reasons this story took off, is because it sounds just about plausible to some people who are motivated to believe it.

Obviously the people repeating the story have a very low level of technical understanding of the internet, and that probably goes along with them being the sort of people not really liking the internet; so when a story comes along that confirms all their biases about how the internet was an evil and bad all along, that tells them what they want to hear; they want it to be true, so they don’t analyse it critically.

There are echoes of the anti-vaccine  movement here too, the idea that young people are at risk from things their parents don’t understand is a powerful motivator. You can almost hear the ghost of Maude Flanders saying ‘Won’t somebody think of the children!

But my real concern is that in an age when engagement beats fact-checking, reality can become almost irrelevant.  

CO105 Cathy Reisenwitz on Cars and Freedom

Cathy Reisenwitz is a writer whose work has appeared in The Week, Forbes, the Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and others, and she’s appeared as a commentator on Fox News and Al Jazeera, which an interesting combination to say the least.

In the discussion I mentioned the coining of the word NEETs, young people who are Not in Employment, Education or Training. I also mentioned how many young men have not worked a single hour in employment the last year – over 17 per cent.

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On October 29 last year, Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia crashed, killing all 189 people on board died. On March 10 this year, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed killing all 157 passengers and crew.

Both planes were brand new Boeing 737 MAX 8s. In the days since the second crash, aviation authorities in countries starting with China, and finishing with the United States on March 13 have grounded all of this type of aircraft. This is remarkable because not only are these newly-delivered planes, they are a new model.

There are less than 400 of this type of aircraft around the world, the first one was delivered less than two years ago have been delivered around the world so far; Boeing has an order book of nearly 5,000 more, but I wouldn’t be counting on that now if I were them.

This could just be an unfortunate coincidence, but the fact that the two tragedies had similarities in the way that the aircraft crashed is worrying, as is the fact that during 2018 at least two pilots reported problems that could be related that happened when they were flying this model.

It’s notable that the government-ordered groundings began in China, and that the US was the last holdout, which looks like some political or national pride issues are in play here, as well as a concern for safety; so there is no guarantee that this decision-making process is driven by rationality.

But if we look at the risks in other transport and compare it to airlines, all rationality goes out the window. You could look at road accident statistics, and see a huge improvement, and you’d be right. There is some difficulty in measuring things here, because we are looking at death rates changing over time when a lot of other things are changing too; populations are going up, the number of cars is going up, and the amount we use them is going up, so if you saw an increase in fatalities, it could be just because of more driving, not because driving is any more dangerous.

But we don’t see an increase in fatalities; we see a huge decline. Fifty years ago, in 1969, there were more than 53,000 deaths on American roads. In 2017, the last year we have statistics for, there were 37,000 deaths. That seems like a good improvement, down from 53,000 to 37,000, a 30 per cent drop.

But that only tells half the tale. The population shot up in that time, so the death rate actually went down from 26 per 100,000 to 11 per 100,000; so the death rate more than halved – all those airbags, seat belts, driver ed courses, anti-drunk driving measures, anti-lock brakes, and so on have sure made a difference, but that still doesn’t tell the whole story, because the amount of driving has increased. A true measure of the risk is the number of fatalities per 100 million miles travelled.

That has been falling like a stone. It has gone 5 in 1969 to slightly over 1 death per 100 million miles travelled now. So driving now is five times safer than it was 50 years ago. And the improvement stretches back in a straight line for almost a century. In 1920, there were more than 20 deaths for every 100 million miles travelled. Driving now is much more than 20 times safer.

So that’s all good news, right?

Sort of. But look at the speed of reaction around the world to just the suspicion of a dangerous aircraft. Nearly 400 planes grounded, about $50b worth of aircraft, now they’re sitting there doing nothing, and will be for months. Think of the cost of that.

And consider this. After that huge decline in the danger of driving, a non-stop century of cars getting safer and safer. At the end of that century of improvement, driving is still eight times more dangerous than flying. And we don’t see the president giving a press conference ordering cars off the road.

We have a huge cognitive bias about the relative safety of cars. It comes, I think, from the fact that people prefer risks where they feel in control. People trust their own driving more than they trust a trained pilot’s flying; the stats prove they are flat wrong, but they just can’t believe it.

And one other thing, as well as saving lives, all those airbags and seatbelts have been costing lives too. Years ago, most road fatalities were the occupants of cars. But as the safety measures were introduced, some of that safety benefit was consumed not as lower deaths, but as riskier driving. That’s fine for the people in the car protected by the crush bars and rollover cages, but that just moved the risk outside the car. Pedestrians and cyclists are making up a much higher proportion of road fatalities.

All risk is not equal. It’s one thing to say ‘I want to get there faster, so I’ll take a risk and hit the gas’, it’s my life. But it’s another thing to say, ‘I can hit the gas without fear, because I’m protected by airbags and impact bars so I’ll be safe if I hit something, or someone’.

People might not say those things out loud, but the statistics shows that’s what is happening. If we have an excess of caution in the airline industry, perhaps we could move some of that spare caution into the driver’s seat on the roads.

CO104 Christian Toto on the Politics of Hollywood

Christian Toto is the editor of Hollywood in Toto, and a regular commentator on both politics and the entertainment industry.

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Clement Atlee, the British World War II Labour Party leader, and minister was once quoted by Margaret Thatcher, the conservative party leader of the 1970s and 1980s. They both agreed that referendums are ‘a device of dictators and demagogues’.

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CO103 Michael Tanner on Helping the Poor

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, with an emphasis on poverty and social welfare policy, health care, and Social Security and entitlement reform.

His most recent book, The Inclusive Economy: How to Bring Wealth to America’s Poor, looks at the ways government contributes to poverty in the United States and suggests reforms that will enable the poor to more fully participate in a growing economy. 

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I saw a couple of things recently related to podcasts, or at least that might resonate with podcast listeners. One was a YouTube video that compared the market valuation of WeWork, the company that offers hotdesking to remote workers, to Regus, a similar but much more established company, now owned by the IWG group. WeWork has a valuation of $47 billion. WeWork have been advertising heavily on some podcasts. Hell, if they have that much money, I should be tapping them for ads on Challenging Opinions. Regus has a valuation of $4 billion and, get this, Regus is does almost ten times the business. Almost ten times bigger, but less than one tenth of the valuation.

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CO102 Scott Morefield on Trump, Three Years Later

Scott Morefiled is a reporter for the DailyCaller and a columnist for Townhall. His writings have also been featured  on Breitbart, BizPac, TheBlaze, National Review, The Federalist, The Hill and others.

In the podcast we discussed his article from 2016, and I mentioned a quotation from HL Mencken, and the fact that Trump’s cabinet has a collective wealth of over four billion dollars.

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In the U.S., President Trump was reported recently as saying that EU countries must take back the estimated 800 Isis fighters captured in Syria by US-backed forces and put them on trial.

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CO101 Adam DeCollibus on What Was the Past Like?

Adam DeCollibus is the author of Caravan. I mentioned the excellent Caliphate podcast in the conversation.

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I’ve talked about the Baltic republics, and Ukraine before – their governments, and to a large extent their people – are anxious to make alliances to the West, join NATO, join the EU. It’s notable that of the former eastern bloc countries, the Baltic states that once were part of the Soviet Union, occupied by the Soviet Union they would say, have been the most anxious to integrate with the west, joining NATO and the EU, and adopting the euro currency as soon as they were permitted to do so.

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CO100 David Introcaso on Healthcare Reform

David Introcaso is a healthcare policy consultant based in Washington DC.  He worked for then house majority leader Stenny Hoyer and at Department of Health and Human Services, and he has consulted for the American Heart Association, the American Public Health Association and United Health Group.  He has taught as a adjunct at the University of Chicago and at George Washington University.

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I was reading a piece called Unholy Alliance: Why Do Left-Wing Americans Support Right-Wing Muslims? by Yasmine Mohammed. She’s a former Muslim who, in her own words, ran away from the religious far-right world in which I was raised, and … made [her] way left towards values … like gender equality, free speech and LGBT rights.

And she continued,

Now, try to imagine the shock, betrayal and sadness I feel seeing fellow liberals celebrating right-wing, conservative aspects of Islam. On February 1, I was so upset over World Hijab Day that I spent the day in bed with a migraine. Hijab Day? … Is there a Mormon underwear day? What about a chastity belt day? I risked my life, and my daughter’s life, to escape from the darkness into the light — only to find the light celebrating and fetishising darkness.

That’s what she said, and I think she has a point. I know that many Muslim women want to wear the hijab, and do so without harassment, but for many others, it’s a symbol of oppression and submission. And, let’s be real here, for many women, it’s a bit of both.

Now, I can sympathise with the feeling that women who don’t want to leave the hijab behind, or don’t want to do that yet, they shouldn’t be victimised, they shouldn’t be treated badly on that basis, and them wearing the hijab shouldn’t be used as  a proxy, an excuse for racist or ethnic victimization. So, yes, defend the right of people to wear silly religious garb if they want to do that, and it doesn’t restrict the rights of others.

But there is a whole world of difference between that and saying that wearing the hijab is a good thing, that it should be encouraged or celebrated. Sure, some women in the west wear the hijab because they were brought up with it, and they wouldn’t be comfortable going out without it, and to an extent that is their choice.

But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the hijab springs from a virginity hysteria in the deeply misogynistic culture that it comes from. Yasmine Mohammed is right that it is absolutely absurd for American liberals to be supporting it, or any other of the bronze-age traditions that make up Sharia law.

But they aren’t the only ones who are being hypocritical. Let’s look at many of the people who are setting themselves up who are loudest about keeping the evil influence of Islam out of the west, the Breitbarts and the Tommy Robinsons, the Nathan Damigos and the Black Pigeon Speaks, and all the alt and not-so-alt right. Why do they want to do that? To preserve western values, that’s why. To defend the enlightenment.

The only problem is that the people who are so anxious to keep out Muslims for the sake of western values and the enlightenment are the same people who care least about western values and the enlightenment. Between them they have attacked everything from due process and the rule of law to religious freedom, universal suffrage and democracy, and every individual liberty that has made the western world what it is. There’s an awful lot of hypocrisy out there. I can understand Yasmine Mohammed being disappointed with otherwise-liberals doing the apologetics for the equivalent of the Westboro Baptist Church. And I hate to have to make the choice, but when I do have to make the choice between silly liberals being too tolerant of a totalitarian religion on one hand, and on the other hand, knuckleheads with keyboards dressing their racism up as concern for something that I am actually concerned about … I hate to have to make that choice, but I think I’d tip the balance in favour of people believing in freedom and getting it wrong sometimes, than people believing in totalitarianism and getting it wrong sometimes.

CO099 Jennifer Briney on Unity and Divisions

Jennifer Briney is the host of the Congressional Dish podcast.

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A lot of people are kidding themselves.

We have two rival presidents in Venezuela. Nicolás Maduro, the elected president, the successor to Hugo Chavez. I won’t go so far as to say democratically elected, but … elected.

And Juan Guaido, the speaker of the national assembly who has declared himself interim president; he’s been supported strongly by the current US administration, despite the fact that he has no constitutional legitimacy at all, and to a lesser extent by the EU and other western countries.

People on the left have been calling this just another US-backed coup in Latin America, and there is some reason to say that, but they are kidding themselves if they think that is the only thing going on here. People like UK Labour Party leader tweeted in 2013 “Thanks Hugo Chavez for showing that the poor matter and wealth can be shared. He made massive contributions to Venezuela & a very wide world”.

Maybe not quite. Whatever about the aims of Chavez and his successor, their economics have been a catastrophe for the country. 90 per cent of people live in poverty, and the average Venezuelan lost 11kg, that’s 24 pounds, in 2017. Get that, the economy is in such a mess, people on average lost enough weight to make themselves a weightwatchers star, just because they can’t afford food.

That’s a disgrace in any country but for the nation with the world’s biggest oil reserves, that’s an outrage. It’s said that no society is more than two missed dinners from anarchy, so with years of the whole population going hungry, anyone saying that the current crisis is all down to American propaganda or destabilisation is kidding themselves.

But they’re not the only ones. We’ve had a lot of guff about free elections and democracy, but anyone who thinks that the only motivation the west has is fostering democracy, is really kidding themselves. Marco Rubio let the mask slip a little when he tweeted about how important Venezuelan oil is to Valero Energy and Chevron, and, perhaps as an afterthought, to oil refining jobs in Gulf Coast.

The US administration is bending over backwards to encourage a military coup against Maduro, and I’ve no doubt if he falls, a lot of people, most people, in Venezuela will cheer. A new government might even make life better; it could hardly make it much worse.

But the US strongly supports murderous authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, which are ranked much lower than Venezuela on the world democracy index. They’re not encouraging the people in those countries to rise up and overthrow their government; they’re not openly inciting a military coup. The difference is, as Marco Rubio said, the importance of keeping the Venezuelan oil flowing to US oil companies. If you think that the motivation is democracy, then you’re kidding yourself.

CO098 Max Suchkov on Russian Objectives

Maxim A. Suchkov is a PhD political analyst, Russia Editor at Al Monitor, and a fellow at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies.

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A little more than a year ago, on 27 December 2017, a woman climbed on top of a utility cabinet, one of those boxes you see in the street for telecom equipment, she took off the headscarf that she was wearing, she tied it to the end of a stick and she waved it like a flag.

That might not seem noteworthy, just a little strange, except for the fact that the woman who did it was Vida Movahed, and the utility cabinet she stood on was on Enghelab Street, which means Revolution Street, in Teheran, the capital of Iran.

Vida Movahed

Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, wearing a hijab, a headscarf covering the hair and neck, is required by law for all women in Iran. Vida was arrested almost immediately and is currently on bail awaiting trial.

Within a couple of days, several women posted images on social media of them doing the same thing. One of them, Narges Hosseini, was arrested and charged with openly committing a sinful act which carries a penalty of 10 years in prison and up to 74 lashes; she is also on bail pending trial. Since then many other girls and women have followed Vida’s example, despite dozens of them being arrested and some beaten by police.

Reports indicate that Iran’s hardline Islamic government is unsure whether to crack down hard on these protests, or turn a blind eye – they fear that either strategy could lead to them spreading. Some of their attempts to prevent the protests have been pathetic, such as fixing obstacles on top of utility boxes.

Iran is different to Saudi Arabia, where women were only recently given the right to get a driving licence, and still can only go to university, or even go shopping, with the permission of a male guardian.

The place of women in Iranian society is complex. There are female members of the Iranian parliament, some of whom have expressed something akin to grudging support for the Girls of Revolution Street, as the protestors have become known. Before that revolution, women had comparatively much more freedom. In 1979, thousands of women protested in the streets at the introduction of this very law, making the hijab compulsory.

Iranian schoolgirls show their attitude to the compulsory hijab laws

The courage of the women in the recent protests cannot be overstated. They protest, often alone, often in a street full of hostile men. They are well aware that rape, and torture, including sexual torture, are common Iranian prisons, particularly for prisoners protesting against the regime.

And, should they try to escape and claim asylum, every single one of them is banned from entering the United States under Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban.

CO097 Michael Pento on Social Justice and the Market

Michael Pento is a president and founder of Pento Portfolio Strategies. Michael is a well-established specialist in the Austrian School of economic theory.

His steadfast advocacy of free markets has been broadcast on radio programs throughout the country, and he is a regular guest on CNBC and FOX Business News and Bloomberg, and his writing has been published in Forbes, The Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal and others.

CO096 Ron Fein on the Path to Impeachment

Rob Fein is the legal director for FreeSpeechforPeople.org. He is a constitutional lawyer who previously served as Assistant Regional Counsel in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he received the National Gold Medal for exceptional service. He is the Co-Author of The Constitution Demands It: The case for impeachment of Donald Trump.

CO095 Bill Warner on Political Islam

Bill Warner is an author and the editor of Political Islam.

Bill, as he promised in the podcast sent me his sources for some of the claims that he made, including this about attitudes to Sharia Law, He also sent this link from the Gatestone Institute, an organisation that claims to be a think tank, but in reality is just a fake news mill, cranking out stories that are either gross misrepresentations of the facts, or just plain false.

I actually covered one of their claims on podcast 66 and it’s notable that one of the sources that the Gatestone Institute cite is, in fact, from a BBC journalist, Ruth Alexander, who produced a piece with a whole slew of statistics, and she’s saying the exact opposite of what the Gatestone Institute claimed she was saying.

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As I’m recording this, the UK government is preparing fora vote on Theresa May’s deal with the EU to do Brexit in an orderly way. She is certain to be defeated, most likely by a huge margin. What happens next is almost impossible to say, because the House of Commons is split into multiple factions, with MPs of various parties wanting to stay in the EU, take May’s deal and leave, or leave the EU with no deal.

There is a large majority against every possible outcome,and a very real chance that May, or her entire government will fall out of office, and there is no obvious successor who can do any better at uniting either the MPs or the population, so there is sure to be instability. The UK has long since given up on trying to pursue any other policy goals, they have been preoccupied by this for nearly three years, and there is no end in sight.

Across the Atlantic, President Trump seems to be staring down the barrel of Robert Mueller’s prosecution for campaign finance violations and possible more serious charges. Observers of the White House have various opinions of Trump, Mueller and any possible charges, but nobody disagrees that this is the sole focus of the administration at the moment. As in the UK, almost everything else is on hold.

There is strong evidence that Russian military intelligence put a lot of resources into promoting the Brexit vote in the UK, and the candidacy of Donald Trump. You might have different opinions as to why they did that, and whether it made any difference, but we can certainly see what Putin wanted, even if we don’t agree on anything else.

But consider this. Think of a point sometime in the near future. The UK is struggling to appoint a new prime minister. President Trump is all-consumed by fighting criminal charges. If you were Putin and you wanted to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, or the Baltic states, or Poland,what moment would you choose to do it?

CO094 Graham Elwood on the Progressive Platform

Graham Elwood is a comedian, actor, podcaster, and writer.

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So here’s a bit of what I said at the top of the podcast a little over a year ago.

Yeah, so I guess that MBS is getting a bit more name recognition now than he was a year or so ago.

There are a couple of things to remember about Saudi Arabia. It’s not a country in the normal sense. It is the only place on earth without a constitution or basic law of any type. The will of the prince, literally, is law. Its name, ludicrously, is that of the al-Saud ruling family. It is literally a personal fiefdom.

And they make extensive use of capital punishment, beheading people whenever the mood strikes them, and they’re not too picky about due process. So it’s not too much of a stretch to think that a troublesome journalist, who would be dispatched without a second thought while in the country, would be a target while outside the country.

So, yes, I still think that Mohammad Bin Salman will be much more of an influence on Saudi Arabia than his recent predecessors. Exactly how that will work out, I really don’t know, but he was high-fiving and bear-hugging Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires last week, so I’m not holding my breath for liberal democracy any time soon.

And speaking of democracy, in July, I talked about an electoral system that the state of Maine confirmed by popular ballot, and I gave a brief explanation of how it would work in a piece that I recorded outdoors on holidays.

So this system was tested in the elections in November, particularly in Maine’s second district. Maine has two House members. The race was very close, Bruce Poliquin the incumbent Republican member, in the first round polled very slightly more than Jared Golden, the Democratic challenger. But, as I said it was very close, there was less than a one per cent margin, both got around 46 per cent of the vote. The rest of the votes went to two minor independents.

Because nobody got more than 50 per cent of the vote, those two minor candidates were eliminated, and counters went to look at the votes of those minor candidates. There were about 23,000 of them, and of those 23,000 voters over 10,000 had given their second-preference vote to Golden, and less than 5,000 to Poliquin. This put Golden about one percentage point ahead of Poliquin on the final count, with about 50.5 per cent of the vote.

The bottom line is that more voters preferred Golden, and so he won. Poliquin made threats of court action against the count, saying that only the first-preference votes should be counted, but that doesn’t seem to be happening, which isn’t so surprising, I’m not really sure how he would like to explain to a judge how the electoral system should be changed after the votes have been cast, and the votes should be counted in a different way to the one that the voters expected.

But in all the other Maine races, and almost always with Ranked Choice Voting, the candidate who wins the first count goes on to win the election, even if they have to wait for the lower preference votes of minor candidates to be distributed.

The point of the system isn’t to change who gets elected, it is to change how they get elected. It requires the winning candidate to get at least 50 per cent of the vote, so riling up a small base with negative campaigning is less successful. As Jared Golden – congressman elect Jared Golden – discovered, it’s important to appeal beyond your base, and that’s something important these days.

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