Quotulatiousness

April 15, 2014

Are breast implants tax-deductable? Only if they’re “extraordinarily large”

Filed under: Business, Law, USA — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 07:10

For some reason, the following report at the Tax Foundation website does not have any images to accompany the story:

In filing one’s taxes, it may be necessary to distinguish between breast implants that are merely “large,” and breast implants that are “extraordinarily large.”

The relevant ruling on this subject came in 1994 in a case known as Hess v. Commissioner. The plaintiff, a self-employed exotic dancer, had implants that expanded her bust size to the size 56FF. For tax purposes, she treated these as a deductible business expense on her schedule C. The IRS contested her deduction.

[...]

The relevant issue in Hess was whether breast implants – traditionally thought of as a luxury good bought for personal benefit – could be considered a legitimate business expense. Given that the plaintiff was an exotic dancer, she had a fair argument. But in general, taxpayers aren’t allowed to treat personal appearance expenditures as business expenses unless they aren’t suitable for personal use. Hess, arguing pro se, convincingly established that her implants were inconvenient in everyday life due to the sheer enormity of her breasts. The courts ruled in her favor:

    Because petitioner’s implants were so extraordinarily large, we find that they were useful only in her business. Accordingly, we hold that the cost of petitioner’s implant surgery is depreciable.

H/T to Walter Olson, who assures us that this inquiry is strictly business.

April 14, 2014

In defence of limited corporate liability

Filed under: Business, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:47

The RSS feed that used to track Megan McArdle’s posts at Bloomberg View has been on the fritz for a couple of weeks, so I missed this article when it was posted earlier this month:

The argument for unlimited liability isn’t just a libertarian evergreen; it’s also something you occasionally hear from the far left, because it would basically make the corporate form untenable. Imagine, if you would, that by buying and holding the share of a firm for 10 minutes, you thereby subjected yourself to seizure of all your goods to satisfy potential lawsuit judgments — even if those judgments involved behavior that involved no legal liability at the time of the acts.

Not possible? That’s basically what happened with asbestos liability. Firms that had had no legal liability under the doctrines of the times in which the asbestos was sold or used suddenly found themselves driven into bankruptcy by massive settlements. Moreover, after the first wave of lawsuits exhausted the funds available to pay asbestos claims, plaintiffs’ lawyers started pushing to expand the number of pockets that could be dipped into.

A company that had never manufactured asbestos could be sued and have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on lawsuits and settlements because it had once bought a company with an insulation division that had formerly manufactured asbestos — even though it had immediately sold off that division in the process of completing the merger. Insurers could be forced to pay out for the whole of a company’s liability if they had sold a company insurance for even a year between the time a company started making or using asbestos and the time that the plaintiff discovered the harm. And “harm” wasn’t limited to getting sick; you could sue for the emotional distress of worrying that you might get sick.

Kind of hard to imagine becoming a shareholder under those circumstances, isn’t it? Maybe you’d better put your money in the bank — a small, privately held bank, of course. Commerce would look something like it did in medieval Italy, where all economic activity was basically organized by the family or the partnership.

Growth would have to be financed by debt or by retained earnings. That’s how British firms financed expansion in the early days of the Industrial Revolution. It’s how small businesses tend to finance expansion now.

The traditional libertarian answer is “insurance”, but that’s a non-starter as well.

To which I answer: What insurance company?

Insurers are also corporations, and their owners get the same valuable shield from liability that everyone else gets from the corporate form. They may have shareholders, or they may be mutually held by their policy holders, but either way, someone is getting protection from lawsuit by the same laws that protect General Motors Co. This sort of liability shield is vital for any large aggregation of capital requiring lots of contributors — which is basically the definition of an insurance company.

April 10, 2014

Policing the language, German style

Filed under: Europe, Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:24

Matthias Heitmann on the odd things that happen to avoid any hint of Nazi contamination in allowable letter combinations on license plates and to mandate equal gender presence in job titles and place names:

In Germany today, you see, there is a palpable desire to cleanse society of views officially deemed unacceptable or politically incorrect. This is most obvious when it comes to words or views associated with fascism or the far right. It’s likely that even the most liberal of Germans would oppose the right of members of the right-wing National Democratic Party to voice their strange views in public. Indeed, having embarrassingly failed to ban the party in 2003, the federal government is currently trying to outlaw the party once again. Anyone attempting to defend free speech or freedom of association in this context will find themselves accused of being a fascist sympathiser, an apologist or, even worse, disrespecting victims of the Holocaust and their descendants.

The popular fear of being accused of being a Nazi sympathiser has resulted in some strange regulations. Since the 1980s, for instance, the letter combinations ‘NS’, ‘KZ’, ‘SS’, ‘SA’ or ‘HJ’, which all potentially allude to fascist symbols or institutions, have been banned from use on car licence plates. In the past few months, there has been a heated debate about whether letter or number combinations like ‘HH’ or ‘88’ (which both allude to ‘Heil Hitler’), ‘18’ (meaning ‘Adolf Hitler’), 204 (meaning Hitler’s birthday) or even ‘GV’ (which is short for sexual intercourse) should be banned from licence plates, too. This poses something of a problem for Hamburg car owners, whose licence plates all start with ‘HH’.

[...]

It’s not only on the traditional minefield of racism and fascism that free speech has suffered in Germany. Free speech has also been knocked about by feminists, too, with their determination to impose new language and behaviour regulations. Last summer, for instance, the University of Leipzig announced plans to address its staff using only the feminine forms of words. ‘Professorin’ is due to replace older formulations like ‘Professorinnen und Professoren’ or ‘Professor/innen’. Schröder, meanwhile, admitted during a recent interview that not even the Bible is immune from linguistic tinkering. When talking to girls, for instance, the masculine ‘der Gott’ could simply become the neutral ‘das Gott’.

Interestingly, when feminist language control clashes with anti-fascist dogma, feminism seems to prevail. In the German capital, Berlin, a local parliament, heavily dominated by green and left-wing politicians, voted against naming a square in front of the Jewish Museum after the Enlightenment philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. This decision was made on the grounds that as Mendelssohn was a man, he would break the rule established in 2005 to only name streets and squares after women. This was deemed necessary in order to achieve sexual equality on the city map. As a compromise, the local parliament used Mendelssohn wife’s name alongside his own, creating ‘Moses-und-Fromet-Mendelssohn-Platz’. Although Fromet wasn’t a historic figure, she at least was a woman.

April 7, 2014

The Non-Libertarian Police Department

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:37

I linked to Tom O’Donnell’s “Libertarian Police Department” article last week. This week, Conor Friedersdorf presents the Non-Libertarian Police Department. The difference is that O’Donnell’s department doesn’t exist, while Friedersdorf is describing far too many actual police departments:

I can laugh along with parodies of libertarian ideology. But shouldn’t a reductio ad absurdum start with a belief that the target of the satire actually holds? Tom O’Donnell proceeds as if libertarians object to the state enforcing property rights – that is to say, one of the very few state actions that virtually all libertarians find legitimate! If America’s sheriffs were all summarily replaced by Libertarian Party officials selected at random, I’m sure some ridiculous things would happen. Just not any of the particular things that were described. That isn’t to say that there weren’t parts of the article that made me laugh. It got me thinking too. If the non-libertarian approach to policing* was the target instead, would you need hyperbole or reductio ad absurdum? Or could you just write down what actually happens under the officials elected by non-libertarians? It is, of course, hard to make it funny when all the horrific examples are true:

I was just finishing up my shift by having sex with a prostitute when I got a call about an opportunity for overtime. A no-knock raid was going down across town.

“You’re trying to have your salary spike this year to game the pension system, right?” my buddy told me. “Well, we’re raiding a house where an informant says there’s marijuana, and it’s going to be awesome – we’ve got a $283,000 military grade armored SWAT truck and the kind of flash grenades that literally scared that one guy to death.”

“Don’t start without me,” I told him. “I just have to stop by this pawn shop. It’s run by some friends of mine from ATF. They paid this mentally disabled teenager $150 dollars to get a neck tattoo of a giant squid smoking a joint. Those guys are hilarious.”

The post-legalization hellhole that is Denver

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:54

Well, we can’t say they didn’t warn us that if Denver allowed the sale of legal marijuana, it would descend into a lawless vortex of violence:

“There will be many harmful consequences,” Douglas County Sheriff David Weaver warned in a September 2012 statement. “Expect more crime, more kids using marijuana, and pot for sale everywhere.”

One California sheriff went on Denver television to warn that, as a result of marijuana in his county, “thugs put on masks, they come to your house, they kick in your door. They point guns at you and say, ‘Give me your marijuana, give me your money.’”

Three months into its legalization experiment, Denver isn’t seeing a widespread rise in crime. Violent and property crimes actually decreased slightly, and some cities are taking a second look at allowing marijuana sales.

“We had folks, kind of doomsayers, saying, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to have riots in the streets the day they open,’” Denver City Council President Mary Beth Susman, a supporter of legal marijuana, says. “But it was so quiet.”

[...]

Prior to legalization, opponents warned property crime would rise. Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey argued robbers would prey on marijuana businesses and their customers, because they’re more likely to carry cash (and, of course, the drug).

So far, city data shows no increase in property crime. Compared to the first two months of 2013, property crime in January and February actually dropped by 12.1 percent. Reports of robberies and stolen property dropped by 6.2 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Burglaries and criminal mischief to property rose by only 0.5 percent.

Denver residents don’t seem especially concerned with the issue, either. Susman recalls a recent community meeting she held with senior citizens: when she asked if the crowd wanted her to talk about marijuana, people told her they were tired of hearing about the issue.

“Based on my general understanding in my district, it is becoming ho-hum,” Susman says.


A sign is displayed outside the 3-D Denver Discrete Dispensary on January 1, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. Legalization of recreational marijuana sales in the state went into effect at 8am this morning. (Photo by Theo Stroomer/Getty Images)

April 4, 2014

Welcome to the church of SSM militant

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:20

A National Review editorial on the Mozilla CEO’s short tenure after being outed as a supporter of a Californian anti-SSM ballot initiative:

In 2008, Barack Obama and Brendan Eich both were against gay marriage. Senator Obama averred his support for the one-man/one-woman view of marriage, while Mr. Eich, a cofounder of the Mozilla web-browser company, donated $1,000 to support Proposition 8 — a California ballot initiative that had the effect of making Senator Obama’s avowed marriage policy the law in California, at least until a federal court overturned it on the theory that California’s constitution is unconstitutional. Barack Obama inexplicably remains, as of this writing, president of the United States of America, but Mr. Eich has just been forced out as CEO of Mozilla because of his political views.

The various tendencies that operate under the general heading of “gay rights” have had an extraordinary run of it in the past several years, in both the political and the cultural theaters. We now have a constitutional right to commit homosexual acts (Lawrence v. Texas), while Facebook offers at last count 56 different gender options to its users (trans with or without asterisk, genderqueer, neutrois, and two-spirit among them). Having won the battle in California, the sore winners are roaming the battlefield with bayonets and taking no prisoners. Mr. Eich’s donation had been a matter of public record for some years, but Eros is a jealous god, and he will have blood from time to time. Mr. Eich’s elevation to the chief executive’s position provided occasion for critics within his firm and without to make an example of him.

[...]

Again, it is in this case a matter of culture. The nation’s full-time gay-rights professionals simply will not rest until a homogeneous and stultifying monoculture is settled upon the land, and if that means deploying a ridiculous lynch mob to pronounce anathema upon a California technology executive for private views acted on in his private life, then so be it. The gay agenda of the moment is, ironically enough, to force nonconformists into the metaphorical closet. If through the miracle of modern medicine you end up with five sets of mixed genitals, you’ll get your own section in the California civil-rights statutes; cling to nearly universal views about marriage for a few months after it’s become unfashionable, and you’re an untouchable.

Unless, that is, you’re the anti-gay-marriage candidate that all the pro-gay-marriage people voted for in 2008, in which case you get a pass, apparently on the theory that everybody assumed you were being willfully dishonest for political reasons. (That assumption provides a relatively rare point of agreement between homosexual activists and the editors of this magazine.) There simply is to be no disagreement, no dissent, and no tolerance for other points of view.

Update: In Time, Nick Gillespie says there’s both good and bad aspects of this event.

Welcome to the brave new world of socially conscious… web-browsing. In the past, consumers might patronize certain businesses (Whole Foods, say, or Ben & Jerry’s) whose stated missions extended beyond increasing shareholder value and avoided others that might have politically objectionable CEOs or reputations for being anti-abortion (Domino’s Pizza, say) or public positions opposed to certain forms of birth control (Hobby Lobby, for instance). Now we’re boycotting free products such as Firefox and demanding companies dance to the tune called by customers. I think that’s a good thing overall — but it may end up being just as difficult for consumers to live with as it will be for corporations.

Whether you care about gay marriage or politically correct web experiences, Eich’s resignation shows how businesses respond to market signals. “Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech,” writes Mitchell Baker, the organization’s executive chairwoman, in announcing Eich’s stepping down. “And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.”

Just as the Internet has empowered consumers to find cheaper prices, more-extensive reviews, and a wider variety of goods than ever before, it’s also made it easier for them to call out companies for all sorts of dastardly actions, screw-ups, and problems. I like that OKCupid’s intervention wasn’t a call for government action to limit people’s choices or ban something. Indeed, OKCupid didn’t even block Firefox users from its site — rather, it politely asked them to consider getting to the site via a different browser.

March 30, 2014

In which Tim Worstall admits that Karl Marx was right

Filed under: Business, Economics, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:37

Well, right in this particular analysis, anyway:

Which is where we can bring Karl Marx into the discussion. Wrong as he was on many points he was at times a perceptive analyst. And he noted that what determined the wages of the workers wasn’t some calculation of a “fair wage”, nor some true value of their production (although he had much to say on both points), but in a market economy the wages that were paid were a reflection of what other people were willing to pay for access to that labour.

If, for example, there were a large number of unemployed (that “reserve army of the unemployed”) then a capitalist didn’t have to raise the wages of his workers however far productivity grew. If anyone tried to capture a bit more of the value being created, say through a strike or other activity, then the capitalist could simply fire them and bring in some of those unemployed. No profits needed to be shared with the workers. However, when we get to a situation of full employment then the dynamic changes. It’s not possible to simply hire and fire to keep wages low. For the other capitalists are competing for access to that labour that makes those profits. The higher profits go the higher all capitalists will be willing to bid up wages to continue making some profit at all.

The obverse of this is if the employers collude in order to artificially suppress the wages of the workers which is why that case involving Apple, Google and so on is going to trial. That’s monopoly capitalism that is and we really don’t like it at all.

But in this case with Yahoo trying to challenge Google’s YouTube, it will be the workers who benefit. For the two companies are vying with each other for access to the content being made and thus the profits that can be made. Of whatever revenue can be made a larger portion will go to the producers of the content and a smaller one to the owners of the platforms. Which is excellent, this is exactly what we want to happen.

March 29, 2014

Surveillance of Canadian telecommunications channels

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs looks at how the Canadian security establishment operates:

The issue of lawful access has repeatedly arisen on the Canadian federal agenda. Every time that the legislation has been introduced Canadians have opposed the notion of authorities gaining warrantless access to subscriber data, to the point where the most recent version of the lawful access legislation dropped this provision. It would seem, however, that the real motivation for dropping the provision may follow from the facts on the ground: Canadian authorities already routinely and massively collect subscriber data without significant pushback by Canada’s service providers. And whereas the prior iteration of the lawful access legislation (i.e. C–30) would have required authorities to report on their access to this data the current iteration of the legislation (i.e. C–13) lacks this accountability safeguard.

In March 2014, MP Charmaine Borg received responses from federal agencies (.pdf) concerning the agencies’ requests for subscriber-related information from telecommunications service providers (TSPs). Those responses demonstrate extensive and unaccountable federal government surveillance of Canadians. I begin this post by discussing the political significance of MP Borg’s questions and then proceed to granularly identify major findings from the federal agencies’ respective responses. After providing these empirical details and discussing their significance, I conclude by arguing that the ‘subscriber information loophole’ urgently needs to be closed and that federal agencies must be made accountable to their masters, the Canadian public.

[...]

The government’s responses to MP Borg’s questions were returned on March 24, 2014. In what follows I identify the major findings from these responses. I first discuss the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA). These agencies provided particularly valuable information in response to MP Borg’s questions. I then move to discuss some of the ‘minor findings’ related to the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA), Competition Bureau, Statistics Canada, and the Transportation Safety Board (TSB).

March 28, 2014

Opinions, statistics, and sex work

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:04

Maggie McNeill explains why the “sex trafficking” meme has been so relentlessly pushed in the media for the last few years:

Imagine a study of the alcohol industry which interviewed not a single brewer, wine expert, liquor store owner or drinker, but instead relied solely on the statements of ATF agents, dry-county politicians and members of Alcoholics Anonymous and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Or how about a report on restaurants which treated the opinions of failed hot dog stand operators as the basis for broad statements about every kind of food business from convenience stores to food trucks to McDonald’s to five-star restaurants?

You’d probably surmise that this sort of research would be biased and one-sided to the point of unreliable. And you’d be correct. But change the topic to sex work, and such methods are not only the norm, they’re accepted uncritically by the media and the majority of those who the resulting studies. In fact, many of those who represent themselves as sex work researchers don’t even try to get good data. They simply present their opinions as fact, occasionally bolstered by pseudo-studies designed to produce pre-determined results. Well-known and easily-contacted sex workers are rarely consulted. There’s no peer review. And when sex workers are consulted at all, they’re recruited from jails and substance abuse programs, resulting in a sample skewed heavily toward the desperate, the disadvantaged and the marginalized.

This sort of statistical malpractice has always been typical of prostitution research. But the incentive to produce it has dramatically increased in the past decade, thanks to a media-fueled moral panic over sex trafficking. Sex-work prohibitionists have long seen trafficking and sex slavery as a useful Trojan horse. In its 2010 “national action plan,” for example, the activist group Demand Abolition writes,“Framing the Campaign’s key target as sexual slavery might garner more support and less resistance, while framing the Campaign as combating prostitution may be less likely to mobilize similar levels of support and to stimulate stronger opposition.”

China’s “fake news” problem

Filed under: Business, China, Law, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:36

The WSJ‘s China Real Time section discusses a recent announcement that the government will be cracking down on “fake news”:

According to the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, such a phenomenon “seriously damages the image of news workers, corrodes the credibility and authoritative nature of the news media, is strongly opposed by all sectors of society, and bitterly detested by the people.” Nine government departments will be involved in the crackdown on such activity, the newspaper said.

By extortion, the government was referring to the practice in which people presenting themselves as journalists — real or not — threaten to report negative information on sources unless they pay them. While it didn’t explicitly spell out what it meant by “fake news,” the government has in recent years been cracking down on the dissemination of rumors or thinly sourced reports that it says contribute to social instability.

[...]

Late last year, in one particularly high-profile case, a Chinese newspaper journalist confessed to accepting hundreds of thousands of yuan in exchange for producing stories defaming a large construction-equipment maker. (Chinese reporters routinely accept hongbao, or small packets of money, when attending press events.) Meanwhile, deal-cutting among IPO candidates faced with media extortionists — in which many companies pay for advertisement space to avoid negative coverage — is common, according Caixin Magazine.

March 25, 2014

Understatement of the day: “dumb things happen when you’ve been drinking”

Filed under: Cancon, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:10

It’s hard to guess just which parts of his little violent criminal spree might be downgraded to mere “dumb things”:

Cpl. Jonathan Laporte shot up his own home and two of his neighbours’ cars before arming himself with a shotgun and handgun and blasting his way through the showroom of a high-end car dealership on Feb. 9, 2011.

The rampage came less than an hour after he was charged and released by police for physically assaulting three men at a Hunt Club Road hotel.

The 25-year-old soldier had met a man at the Days Inn after replying to an online ad for consensual, “no strings attached” gay sex. But the encounter turned violent after Laporte became heavily intoxicated and grabbed his partner by the neck and started squeezing after warning the man not to tell anyone about their hook-up.

The man eventually escaped wearing nothing more than his underwear and a T-shirt, but returned to the room to recover his wallet and cellphone. Once inside, Laporte closed the door and resumed the attack, punching the man repeatedly in the face as he screamed for help.

BBC to be (effectively) privatized in proposed new legislation

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:09

British TV viewers are required to pay a regular license fee (which funds the BBC) or they can be prosecuted. The British government may be on the verge of changing this:

Budgets come and go, but something more far-reaching will take place in the House of Commons today; something that might change our political discourse significantly, benignly and permanently.

The Government has indicated that it will back a Bill, brought in by the backbench MP, Andrew Bridgen, to decriminalise non-payment of the Television Licence Fee. Instead of being dragged through the courts, defaulters will simply have their access to the BBC switched off — in the same way that Sky withdraws its services from those who don’t pay their subscriptions.

The practical case for the measure is unarguable. The BBC’s privileged legal position is silting up our criminal justice system. A ridiculous 180,000 people face prosecution every year over non-payment. Under the new regime, they will instead be in the position people who don’t cough up for their gas or electricity bills. A great deal of time and money will be saved.

But the real significance of the proposal is that it will, in practice, remove the BBC’s monopoly. If the penalty for non-payment of the licence fee is withdrawal of the service, rather than prosecution, then that fee ceases to be a tax and becomes a subscription. Refusal to pay is no longer a criminal act, but an exercise of consumer choice. The BBC will become, in practice, a pay-on-demand service like its rivals.

March 12, 2014

The “affirmative consent” meme meets the “purity test” form

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:15

As we’re regularly informed by media outlets and websites, we are in the middle of a rape epidemic, with skyrocketing rates of rape (especially on the campus). Wendy McElroy discusses the new White House initiative for “affirmative consent” and the actual statistics on sexual crimes:

It is called “affirmative consent.” It is a new front in the growing regulatory oversight of the most intimate aspect of personal life: making love or having sex. If the White House Council on Women and Girls gets its way, then the doctrine of affirmative consent will regulate sex on a campus near you. It may already be happening.

Affirmative consent is sometimes called “enthusiastic consent” or “yes means yes.” It is intended to replace the current standard of “no means no.” By that standard, the noninitiating sexual partner — almost always assumed to be the woman — needs to decline sex in some manner for the act to be legally viewed as rape. She can verbally decline, try to leave, or push the man away; her “no” can be expressed in many ways.

[...]

The legal standard of affirmative consent is said to solve these perceived problems. The person initiating sex must receive explicit consent before and throughout the sex act in order to escape the specter of rape. In practical terms, this means the man must receive explicit consent from the woman prior to and during a sex act, or he becomes vulnerable to being criminally charged.

When I read this, I instantly imagined a re-worked “sexual purity test” questionnaire for the new affirmative consent requirement. If it hasn’t already been done, I’m sure it’ll be posted somewhere within the week.

On the rather more dubious claim that rape is increasing, the stats don’t back that up at all:

There is a proximate cause for the growing campaign to assert affirmative consent on campuses and in legislatures. On January 22, 2014, the White House Council on Women and Girls issued a paper entitled “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action” (PDF). It stated, “1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted while in college.” That’s a stunning statistic. Or, it would be, if it were true. It is not. And the New York Times headline, “Obama Seeks to Raise Awareness of Rape on Campus,” printed on the same day as the council’s report was released, can’t turn falsehood into truth. Nevertheless, the task force established in the wake of the report will almost certainly validate its findings and act on them.

The truth: the rate of rape has fallen sharply since 1979.

In March 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice reported,

    From 1995 to 2005, the total rate of sexual violence committed against U.S. female residents age 12 or older declined 64% from a peak of 5.0 per 1,000 females in 1995 to 1.8 per 1,000 females in 2005 (figure 1, appendix table 1). It then remained unchanged from 2005 to 2010. Sexual violence against females includes completed, attempted, or threatened rape or sexual assault. In 2010, females nationwide experienced about 270,000 rape or sexual assault victimizations compared to about 556,000 in 1995. [PDF.]

The White House Council’s report is also biased in its presumption that the majority of sexual assaults are committed by men against women. The council states that “1 in 71” men is raped in his lifetime, as opposed to “1 in 5” women during her college years. But this figure appears to conflict with the landmark 2007 “Sexual Victimization in State and Federal Prisons Reported by Inmates” conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) within the Department of Justice (DOJ). The BJS report indicated that around 60,500 prisoners were sexually abused in one year alone. Since the prison population is overwhelmingly male, it is reasonable to assume most of the victims were male as well. (Indeed, of the ten prison facilities found to have the highest incidence of “nonconsensual sexual acts,” eight had only male prisoners [PDF].)

Senator Dianne Feinstein versus the CIA

Filed under: Government, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:52

In Mother Jones, David Corn shows the state of play between the Central Intelligence Agency and the senate committee that is responsible for oversight of the CIA:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chair of the Senate intelligence committee, took to the Senate floor and accused the CIA of spying on committee investigators tasked with probing the agency’s past use of harsh interrogation techniques (a.k.a. torture) and detention. Feinstein was responding to recent media stories reporting that the CIA had accessed computers used by intelligence committee staffers working on the committee’s investigation. The computers were set up by the CIA in a locked room in a secure facility separate from its headquarters, and CIA documents relevant to the inquiry were placed on these computers for the Senate investigators. But, it turns out, the Senate sleuths had also uncovered an internal CIA memo reviewing the interrogation program that had not been turned over by the agency. This document was far more critical of the interrogation program than the CIA’s official rebuttal to a still-classified, 6,300-page Senate intelligence committee report that slams it, and the CIA wanted to find out how the Senate investigators had gotten their mitts on this damaging memo.

The CIA’s infiltration of the Senate’s torture probe was a possible constitutional violation and perhaps a criminal one, too. The agency’s inspector general and the Justice Department have begun inquiries. And as the story recently broke, CIA sources — no names, please — told reporters that the real issue was whether the Senate investigators had hacked the CIA to obtain the internal review. Readers of the few newspaper stories on all this did not have to peer too far between the lines to discern a classic Washington battle was under way between Langley and Capitol Hill.

[...]

So here we have the person assigned the duty of guaranteeing that the intelligence establishment functions effectively and appropriately, and she cannot get information about how the CIA meddled in one of her own investigations. This is a serious breakdown. And by the way, Feinstein has still not succeeded in forcing the CIA to declassify her committee’s massive report on the interrogation and detention program.

Here is how she summed up the current state of play:

    If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted. But, Mr. President, the recent actions that I have just laid out make this a defining moment for the oversight of our intelligence committee. How Congress and how this will be resolved will show whether the intelligence committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.

What Feinstein didn’t say — but it’s surely implied — is that without effective monitoring, secret government cannot be justified in a democracy. This is indeed a defining moment. It’s a big deal for President Barack Obama, who, as is often noted in these situations, once upon a time taught constitutional law. Feinstein has ripped open a scab to reveal a deep wound that has been festering for decades. The president needs to respond in a way that demonstrates he is serious about making the system work and restoring faith in the oversight of the intelligence establishment. This is more than a spies-versus-pols DC turf battle. It is a constitutional crisis.

March 8, 2014

“If you would like a refund, please contact a fan of my work directly for your money”

Filed under: Business, Law, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:55

Reason‘s Brian Doherty reports on a fascinating Kickstarter campaign by comic artist John Campbell:

For those who think Ayn Rand was just crazily overwrought in the “unrealistic” characters she created to dramatize the anti-capitalist mentality, you might want to see this addendum to the Kickstarter page of comic artist John Campbell, who raised over $50,000 on Kickstarter to publish a book of his comics Sad Pictures for Children.

He got tired of having to mail the books he promised, apparently (believe me, I know that’s a drag) and so decided to burn a copy for every person who asked about where the book they’d been promised was.

The page has a video of him doing the burning.

He has elevated the annoyance of mailing 127 packages to an anti-market rant of marvelous proportion. Excerpts, though whole thing is worth reading, after he talks about how rich people he knew as a kid mistreated a pet rat:

    I got a lot of requests from backers to get books sent before Christmas, which I was able to do for some people. I could not do this for other people before leaving for the holidays, and many of them asked for refunds.

    I refunded them with money I got from selling the original art I made for my webcomic from 2009-2012. This was money I planned to ship orders with. After this happened, I could have made another update explaining I had issued refunds and then tried to sell more things or asked for more shipping money. Instead I thought for a long time about what has been happening…

    If you would like a refund, please contact a fan of my work directly for your money. This is where the money would come from anyway. I am cutting out the middle man.

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