Brian Martinez – The Libertarian Standard Property - Prosperity - Peace Wed, 27 Apr 2016 06:16:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A new website and group blog of radical Austro-libertarians, shining the light of reason on truth and justice. Brian Martinez – The Libertarian Standard clean Brian Martinez – The Libertarian Standard (Brian Martinez – The Libertarian Standard) CC-BY Property - Prosperity - Peace Brian Martinez – The Libertarian Standard TV-G Charlie Hebdo: on “hate crimes” and blaming the victim Fri, 09 Jan 2015 21:45:54 +0000 Few people outside of jihadist circles have any reaction besides horror and condemnation for the January 7th attacks on the offices of French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, in which two masked gunmen shot and killed 12 people, including nine members of the magazine’s staff and two police officers. The horrific act sparked a nationwide manhunt that culminated today in the deaths of the two suspects, who were holed up with a hostage in a shop north of Paris. The two, who claimed to be trained by al-Qaeda, wished to become martyrs for their Islamist cause, and their wish was granted.

If the goal was to silence opponents of religious extremism (to “avenge” attacks upon the prophet Mohammed, as one of the gunmen stated), this was a senseless and ultimately futile act of murder; no sooner had news of the attack spread than media outlets were retransmitting many of the cartoons which Charlie Hebdo had published and allegedly so offended the perpetrators. But just as senseless were the reactions of some Westerners — even writers, whose livelihoods depend on free expression — who questioned the wisdom of Hebdo in publishing such provocative material in the first place. One stunning example came from Joyce Carol Oates, who wondered if the paper had indeed committed a “hate crime” (update: the tweet has since been deleted; you can view a screenshot here):

This is one of America’s most prolific writers and a recipient of numerous literary awards, someone who has not shied away from controversial subjects herself, and she believes it’s possible that writing or pictures could be considered a “hate crime.” Oates is not alone in this sentiment; one-third of Americans, and over half who identify as Democrats, favor hate crime legislation, including some forms of speech.

Let’s back up for a minute and consider the concept of a “hate crime.” This is a product of a politically-correct social climate which seeks to expunge unpopular thought by attributing to it the magical power of violating other people’s rights, which, for the purposes of so-called hate speech, must include the right not to be offended. Apparently, those who are affronted by rude commentary suddenly lose all agency and are unable to turn away from, or condemn with their own rhetoric, the mean things other people say about them or any group they identify with. It might even drive them to commit murder, and who’s to say their blind rage didn’t play a role? Charlie Hebdo’s editors should have known that their deliberate provocations of religious extremists would lead to their deaths. How irresponsible of them!

This is what is known as blaming the victim: finding them guilty to some degree for crimes committed against them by others. Imagine telling a rape victim that it’s terrible she was raped, but why on earth did she go out in public dressed like that? Some men just can’t control themselves! And this sort of shaming happens all too frequently to victims of sexual assault.

It shouldn’t happen to them, nor to victims of other crimes. But the politically-correct crowd in particular seems incapable of unreservedly condemning violence aimed at suppressing speech, if its victims don’t fit their favored ideological mold. There is little doubt that the content in Charlie Hebdo is often crass and confrontational. But that is precisely what satire has to be, if it’s to be successful. And it is simply not up for debate whether the cartoons and columns they published justified massacring the editorial staff. They didn’t. It is entirely possible, and indeed necessary, to defend Charlie Hebdo’s right to exist against violent thugs, even if one can’t endorse its content. To decry their material as “racist” or “Islamophobic” in the context of Wednesday’s shootings misses the point, and worse: it provides the enemies of reason and tolerance with the very ammunition they need to continue their bloody jihad.

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The martyrdom of Aaron Swartz Thu, 16 Jan 2014 11:00:52 +0000 A little over a year ago, a 26-year-old programmer and activist was murdered. His name was Aaron Swartz, and although he was found hanged in his Brooklyn apartment, and his death ruled a suicide, there is little question whose hands are stained with his blood. He was pursued mercilessly by a bullying prosecutor with a long track record of ruining the lives of brilliant (and perhaps naive) young men who didn’t play by the state’s rules. And he was betrayed by an educational institution that once prided itself on not playing by the rules, either.

Those are some of the heartbreaking and infuriating insights from a story in this month’s edition of Boston magazine about Aaron Swartz’ arrest and indictment, his father Bob’s attempts to extricate his son from the legal mess, and the relentless pressure by federal prosecutors to make an example of him. The punishment they sought for Aaron was draconian even by the feds’ standards: 13 felony counts under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), with a possible prison term of 35 years, and a $1 million fine. Bank robbers and terrorists have received more lenient sentences. But U. S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz declared that Swartz’ prosecution would serve as a warning to other “hackers” about “stealing” from computers.

Aaron SwartzWhat did Swartz “steal”, exactly? Nothing. He downloaded files from JSTOR, an online archive for academic journals. Swartz used the network at MIT, where his father served as an adviser, under its “open access” policy, which included its subscription to JSTOR. Swartz had long held the view that scientific research should be freely available and not locked away behind a paywall. This wasn’t even the first time Swartz had performed such a download; in 2008 he grabbed 2.7 million documents from PACER, a federal court document system that usually charged for such access, even though they were public records. That attracted the FBI’s attention, but they found Swartz had committed no crime.

Swartz in fact had devoted much of his young life to finding ways to liberate information. Some of his earliest work included coauthoring the RSS 1.0 specification, a syndication format for Web-based content; founding a company to create wiki-based technology, which eventually merged with Reddit; and co-founding Demand Progress, an online advocacy group known mainly for its opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Swartz had also worked with Lawrence Lessig, a law professor and an advocate for intellectual property reform, studying under him at Stanford and later as a research fellow at Harvard. Swartz aided Lessig in developing the Creative Commons alternative copyright framework.

Given Swartz’ professional credentials and his history of “hacktivism”, what made his bulk downloads from JSTOR any more egregious than his previous exploits? The fact that Secret Service agents responded to the report of a “security breach” in the MIT network provides a possible clue:

When the Secret Service arrived, Bob [Swartz] says, the first thing they asked was whether any of the university’s classified research was threatened.

It wasn’t, but the nature of Swartz’ download, from a laptop hidden in a utility closet, made it look more suspicious to the feds. And it’s not surprising that a university receiving nearly a billion dollars in federal grants might toe the line with regards to any demand from the government, its hacker ethic be damned.

Intellectual property enforcement also played a role in Swartz’ prosecution. JSTOR subscriptions are not cheap, costing schools up to $50,000 per year. But MIT had a policy that not only allowed anyone on campus to use their network, but did not require authentication to access JSTOR. It was only after Swartz’ bulk download that suddenly “unauthorized network access” became an issue, allowing him to be charged under the CFAA. At worst, Swartz cost JSTOR some bandwidth during his download (to its credit, JSTOR settled with Swartz out of court and pursued no further legal action), but he didn’t steal anything. The concept of intellectual property, and the framework used by the state to enforce copyright, rests on the logically bankrupt notion that downloading a copy of something without permission constitutes “theft”. Never mind that Swartz did have permission in this case — once he broke some imaginary and unwritten rule (“too many documents”, apparently), his action rose to the level of a felony in the federal government’s view. This preposterous reasoning was all prosecutors needed to go after Swartz.

It was Aaron’s misfortune that he did his deed in a district with one of the country’s most notorious cyber-crime prosecutors. Stephen Heymann, the lead prosecutor in Swartz’ case, is no stranger to ruining young men’s lives. In 1994 Heymann prosecuted a student, also at MIT, for creating a bulletin board system which allowed users to trade copyrighted software (a precursor to the file-sharing networks common today). His case was dismissed on grounds that he didn’t intend to profit from the downloads, which prompted Congress to strengthen the CFAA to allow prosecution even if profit wasn’t a motive.

Heymann later won the conviction of 16-year-old Jonathan James, who had gained access to NASA and Department of Defense systems, and became the first juvenile to be incarcerated (via house arrest) for hacking. Heymann again targeted James in 2008, in an investigation of an identity theft ring tied to break-ins of department store networks. Although the Secret Service never found any evidence James was involved in the hacks, he killed himself in 2008, saying he had “no faith in the ‘justice’ system.”

Nor should anyone else, really. The system has never been about “justice,” and it seemed even less so in the circumstances surrounding Aaron Swartz’ case. This case was about projecting government power and crushing anyone who dared to upset the status quo, as Swartz often did. And anyone wishing to remain in the elites’ good graces — like MIT, and most other public research universities — had best do whatever is necessary to please their masters. And despite their pleas of “neutrality” in this case, MIT administrators did exactly that. They provided Heymann with every scrap of information they had about Swartz’ activities, usually with just a phone call. Bob Swartz pleaded with them to negotiate a settlement, asking: “Why are you destroying my son?” The school never gave him a satisfactory answer.

With the arrogance characteristic of state prosecutors, Heymann seemed shocked at Swartz’ temerity to fight the charges. Most outrageously, he likened Swartz to a rapist:

Negotiations continued, but in the end Aaron told Heymann no. He would fight the felony charges and go to trial.

Later, Heymann would tell MIT that he was “dumbfounded” by Aaron’s decision, and claimed that Aaron was “systematically re-victimizing” the university by choosing to go through proceedings. Publicly criticizing MIT at a trial, Heymann said, was akin to “attacking a rape victim based on sleeping with other men.”

If anyone was “raped” in this scenario, it was Aaron. Humiliated, cut off from many of his friends — his relationship with his girlfriend, Quinn Norton, ended after Norton tried to talk to Heymann and wound up giving the prosecutor a key piece of evidence against him — and seeing no end to the persecution, Aaron Swartz decided to end it himself.

In the end, there were no winners. No one was ever hurt by Swartz’ actions, no vital national interest served, no copyrights protected, no damage to repair. Instead the world lost a brilliant young mind who understood better than most the power knowledge has to liberate the world. Perhaps the state understands that too, which is why it tries so desperately to crush those who attempt to set it free.

Ted Cruz mad at Obama for not throwing more pot users in cages Sat, 11 Jan 2014 08:30:36 +0000 Senator Ted Cruz (R-Alberta Texas), a “Tea Party” Republican and ostensibly a champion of states’ rights, is unhappy with President Obama’s decision to not round up marijuana users in Washington and Colorado:

“A whole lot of folks now are talking about legalizing pot. The brownies you had this morning, provided by the state of Colorado,” he jokingly said during his keynote speech at Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Policy Orientation.

Oh Ted, what a knee-slapper!

“And you can make arguments on that issue,” Cruz continued. “You can make reasonable arguments on that issue. The president earlier this past year announced the Department of Justice is going to stop prosecuting certain drug crimes. Didn’t change the law.”

The problem, as Cruz sees it, isn’t just limited to Obama’s decision to not interfere with Washington’s and Colorado’s legalization of marijuana. The president is running the government like a “corrupt dictator” and only enforcing the laws that suit him. And perhaps Cruz has a point. But let’s look at a list of Cruz’ complaints:

Cruz is on solid ground when criticizing Obama’s unilateral delay of the ACA employer mandate. He simply doesn’t have the executive authority to make such a decision, as a lawsuit filed in October to block the delay argued. But it all falls apart when Cruz goes after Obama on immigration and drug policy.

For one, discretion in law enforcement is not the same thing as suspending a law. Prosecutors have always had substantial leeway in choosing which cases to pursue and what evidence to present, so Obama’s directives to immigration and Justice officials on relaxing deportation rules and drug offense indictments is not flouting the law but simply changing the enforcement strategy. This is not uncommon.

But more to the point, Cruz is attacking Obama for not strictly enforcing immoral laws. No government has moral authority to use violence against people, especially so when those people have violated no one’s rights. Smoking a plant and crossing imaginary political borders are crimes only because the state has declared them so. It’s blindingly clear that the federal government has no compelling interest in criminalizing drugs nor does it have a constitutional mandate to do so. And arguably it need not have jurisdiction over immigration enforcement — the constitution provides for federal authority over naturalization, or the laws and process by which one becomes a citizen. A states’ rights advocate, as Tea Party Republicans purport to be, might argue that border enforcement is the domain of border states.

Cruz seems to be repudiating both a cornerstone of the new Republican grassroots platform, and arguing for more federal infrastructure to maintain policies any true conservative should oppose. This is the sort of cognitive dissonance, not to mention rank hypocrisy, that keeps Republicans so woefully out of step with much of the nation.

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Economist in NYT: Abolish corporate income tax Mon, 06 Jan 2014 22:36:10 +0000 From one of the more unlikely corners of the interwebs — the op-ed section of the New York Times — comes a call to abolish the corporate income tax:

The United States may well have the highest effective marginal corporate income tax rate of any developed country. Jack Mintz, a public finance economist and director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary, puts the rate close to 35 percent, which is also the statutory rate. Other economists, using different techniques, calculate the marginal rate to be as low as 23 percent. But both figures are miles above zero.

They are also miles above our 13 percent average corporate income tax rate — the ratio of corporate taxes to total corporate profits. The fact that the marginal tax rate, whether 23 percent, 35 percent or somewhere in between, is so much larger than the average rate suggests that a sizable share of corporate profits and production is ending up overseas and untaxed.

Making, rather than just stating, this case requires constructing a large-scale computer simulation model of the United States economy as it interacts over time with other nations’ economies, and then seeing how the model reacts when you change the American corporate income tax. I’ve developed such a model with three colleagues through the Tax Analysis Center, a nonpartisan research group. Our findings make a very strong, worker-based case for corporate tax reform.

The author, economist Laurence Kotlikoff of Boston University, argues that eliminating the corporate income tax will produce “rapid and dramatic increases in American investment, output and real wages, making the tax cut self-financing to a significant extent.” It’s an idea even President Obama embraced, at least partially — in 2012, he proposed lowering the corporate income tax a few points. Kotlikoff’s plan is considerably more radical, although he also calls for raising personal income tax rates to make up any decrease in revenues, and taxing capital gains at the same rate as income, among other reforms. Elsewhere, Kotlikoff has proposed what he calls a “Common Sense Tax” plan, which assesses a 13% flat tax on payroll and a 25% tax on personal income above $100,000.

Nobody in the mainstream press ever seems to want to propose ideas to make government do a lot less of what it does now, and thereby reduce the need for taxation, period, let alone “reform”. But talking about lowering or eliminating taxes in the Newspaper of Record is still a pretty good step forward.

Uber’s “surge pricing” again angers people who don’t understand economics Fri, 03 Jan 2014 04:34:32 +0000 Uber, the car-service startup striking fear into city bureaucrats and taxi cartels everywhere, is catching flack from some New Year’s Eve revelers who discovered they were charged hundreds of dollars for a ride home:

…there were a ton of complaints on New Year’s Eve from customers caught by surprise by some hefty fares. In fact, if you look at Uber’s Twitter feed right now, it’s dominated by a series of apologies for the “sticker shock” it caused last night.

Meanwhile, several angry customers have been tweeting screenshots of their sky-high Uber fares. Some are as much as $350 for just a few miles, which was almost enough to get you a booze-filled evening at the Applebee’s in Times Square.

Uber surge pricing notice“Caught by surprise” is rather subjective, as Uber took great pains to warn users that surge pricing, its policy of multiplying fares during periods of high demand, would be in effect on New Year’s Eve. Furthermore, the Uber app requires users to acknowledge when surge pricing is in effect, even going so far as requiring manual input of the fare multiplier before hailing a car.

So whose fault is it that users were rung up for $350 car rides? Nobody’s, of course. Uber’s surge pricing policy is not only legal, but entirely fair and rational. Rapidly adjusting pricing to meet short periods of high demand helped ensure that cars were available to people who really wanted them. Anybody wishing to avoid high fares could find an all-night diner or someplace safe to relax until demand dropped and surge pricing was no longer in effect.

There’s another name for this practice, used by people who don’t like free markets: “price gouging”. Most commonly, this pejorative refers to rapidly increasing prices of essential supplies in the aftermath of a natural disaster. This is illegal in many states, and it’s easy for the media to demonize “gouging” when people have lost their homes and are looking for food, water, fuel, and shelter. Yet the principles which make it okay for Uber to raise fares so drunks can get home should apply to states of emergency as well. Price gouging, or surge pricing, helps ensure that resources are allocated as efficiently as possible. Preventing businesses from setting their own prices via threat of prosecution invariably leads to the kind of shortages that hamper relief efforts.

This also helps explain why taxicabs are virtually impossible to find on any big party night: their fares are regulated, set by the local taxi or public utilities commission, and neither companies nor drivers are free to raise prices when there’s high demand. Private car services like Uber, meanwhile, are unregulated, which is why you can always find someone to drive you home after the ball has dropped and the last bottle of champagne is drunk — if you’re willing to pay for it.

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2014: the year of the sweet leaf Wed, 01 Jan 2014 04:28:48 +0000 Tomorrow, the country’s first legal retail shops to sell recreational marijuana will open for business in Colorado. This comes 14 short months since the state’s voters approved the legalized possession, use, and sale of marijuana. Washington state, which also passed a pot legalization measure, will soon follow, probably sometime in June. It’s even happening internationally: Uruguay became the first country to legalize marijuana at the national level — which may spark a “tidal wave” of legalization across South American countries that have grown weary of the expensive and bloody U.S.-led war on drugs.

The impact of this historic milestone is more than just legal or political; it is a signal of the mainstream acceptance of a product which for decades has been subject to fearmongering propaganda and sometimes brutal interdiction by a state desperate to eradicate its use. Now that Colorado and Washington have opened the gates to legalization, there is no hope for the drug warriors to stop the flood. Not that they won’t try: even now they continue their dire and uninformed warnings about the dangers of pot.

Perhaps the biggest change will come in how marijuana-related stories are covered by the news media. The Denver Post has launched a new Web site, — so far the only major daily newspaper in the country with a site dedicated to marijuana. (The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a marijuana blog as part of their main site.) Pot will be covered — in reviews of shops and strains, stories of events and crimes — in much the same way as alcohol. Alongside reviews of pinot noirs, you might find evaluations of Purple Kush. This coverage has existed for years, of course, in states where medical marijuana is legal, but now that 21-plus year-olds can buy the stuff like they can a bottle of wine, societal attitudes will likely shift as well. Lifting the stigma of illegality means no more furtive discussions of pot in public and back-alley deals. We may well be arguing about the relative merits of various strains like we do micro-brews.

Legalization isn’t perfect. There are now many more rules to follow for people who wish to engage in the marijuana trade, and it’s clear that Colorado’s current rules favor the established players in the medical marijuana industry. Banks are still restricted in accepting money from businesses tied to illicit drugs, which marijuana remains classified as at the federal level, so it’s a cash-only business for now. Taxes on retail marijuana will be punitively excessive, reaching as high as 30% in Denver. There are also limits on how much pot one can possess, and strict bans on public consumption.

But for those who can find a private place to light up with their newly-purchased bud tomorrow, they may very well believe what Ozzy Osbourne sang over 40 years ago: “Soon the world will love you, sweet leaf.”

Too little, but not too late: Eric Holder begins to roll back the drug war Tue, 13 Aug 2013 03:18:20 +0000 More than forty years after the U. S. government launched the modern drug war, its highest-ranking prosecutor has tacitly admitted that it is a legal and moral failure:

In a major shift in criminal justice policy, the Obama administration moved on Monday to ease overcrowding in federal prisons by ordering prosecutors to omit listing quantities of illegal substances in indictments for low-level drug cases, sidestepping federal laws that impose strict mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., in a speech at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco on Monday, announced the new policy as one of several steps intended to curb soaring taxpayer spending on prisons and help correct what he regards as unfairness in the justice system, according to his prepared remarks.

Saying that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no good law enforcement reason,” Mr. Holder justified his policy push in both moral and economic terms.

At the risk of giving Holder too much credit, it is encouraging that he is not viewing his end-run around mandatory minimums for drug offenses in purely utilitarian terms: he recognizes the injustice of current laws which have contributed to the world’s highest incarceration rate. But it’s worth noting that these reforms follow the lead of several conservative Southern states, which have turned to treatment, diversionary programs, and early release for non-violent offenders as a way to relieve prison overcrowding. Texas, far and away the nation’s leader in executions, has experienced a steady drop in its prison population after adopting sentencing reforms aimed at rehabilitation instead of imprisonment, and is actually closing prisons it no longer needs.

Whether Holder’s proposed reforms will have a similar effect on federal prison populations remains to be seen. One caveat is that this does not represent any long-term reform of the actual mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. Holder is simply using his prosecutorial discretion to not issue indictments that could lead to lengthy prison terms. The laws are still on the books and only Congress can change or repeal them. Should Obama or his successor appoint a more enthusiastic drug warrior, even this modest progress could be reversed. It’s also unclear who will qualify as a “low-level” drug offender. Your friendly neighborhood pot dealer may get lucky with this policy change, but it’s unlikely that purveyors of harder stuff will be unrelated “to large-scale organizations, gangs, or cartels” in the feds’ view.

But it’s a start. If President Obama wants to leverage the political capital he’ll gain from these reforms, he could take even more dramatic action to reduce prison populations by using his clemency powers to reduce the sentences of minor drug offenders. But as he has demonstrated throughout his time in office, Obama’s mercy for incarcerated Americans is quite limited.

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Finding affordable dentist like pulling teeth? Fri, 01 Feb 2013 15:27:18 +0000 It must be for some. And one man, 63-year-old Jose Santiago Delao of Texas, was willing to provide dental services on the cheap, despite not having a license. Eventually he landed on the authorities’ radar and was arrested following a complaint from a woman about a botched molar repair:

Delao admits he skirted the law, but isn’t remorseful.

“Jesus Christ didn’t need or didn’t have a license,” Jose Delao told Yahoo News during a jailhouse interview. “People hurt and they needed it. People didn’t have enough money to visit the regular dentist.”

Delao, a former dental lab technician, claims he couldn’t turn his back.

“It broke my heart,” he said, tapping his chest, “because I have the experience.”

But authorities say Delao, a native of Costa Rica, has never been a licensed dentist in Texas. If convicted, he could get two to 10 years in prison….

A survey of published news reports shows that as many as eight such underground dental clinics have been shutdown in the U.S. since last summer.

“I would clearly classify it as a problem,” said Dr. Frank Catalanotto, chair of the Department of Community Dentistry at the University of Florida. “It is potentially a big problem.”

I disagree that the problem is unlicensed dentistry. The problem is that there is obviously a market demand for low-cost dentistry that isn’t being met, probably because the barrier to entry in the field as a state-licensed dentist is so high, a barrier which licensed dentists have a vested interest in maintaining, as it protects their market share from would-be competitors like Delao. But people are far more likely to be uninsured for dental care than for medical care, or simply can’t afford to pay the high prices of mainstream dental work. Delao understood this and tried to meet the need, to his credit. He may have committed some crime (if, as the story reports, he did not let a patient leave when she wanted to), but trying to help people isn’t one of them.

(Cross-posted from A Thousand Cuts.)

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Electric vehicle sales keep shorting out Mon, 28 Jan 2013 05:28:56 +0000 Even with substantial help from the government in the form of $7,500 buyer’s tax credits, automakers are having trouble moving their electric vehicles:

Ford Motor Co. is offering hefty discounts of more than $10,000 for leases on its slow-selling Focus electric vehicle.

Ford is offering customers up to $10,750 off for three-year leases, according to the Dearborn automaker’s website. It also has dropped the base price of the Focus EV by $2,000 for cash sales.

In addition, Ford is offering a $2,000 cash discount on the Focus EV and 1.9 percent financing if the electric vehicle is purchased through Ford Motor Credit.

The automaker sold just 685 Focus EVs in 2012, but built 1,627 — making it one of the poorest performers among electric vehicles on the market.

chevy voltThis follows reports that Nissan has dropped the base price of its Leaf EV by 18 percent, following sluggish sales in 2012 that didn’t come close to meeting projections. And the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt continues to struggle, although it saw an uptick in sales late last year. But Government Motors still loses thousands of dollars on every Volt it sells.

Despite these grim numbers, some forecasters predict robust sales for EVs in 2013. But President Obama’s promise to have one million electric cars on the road by 2015 still seems to be a long shot. The choices made by consumers are speaking much louder than Obama’s words ever could.

(Cross-posted from A Thousand Cuts.)

Maybe The Journal News did us a favor after all Thu, 03 Jan 2013 05:17:46 +0000 Print and online media were predictably flooded with stories on guns and gun control in the week following the horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Few stories, however, attracted attention like this one published by The Journal News, a White Plains, New York-based paper, which included an interactive map pinpointing the names and locations of registered handgun permit holders throughout two suburban New York counties. The Journal News did nothing wrong in obtaining the information; handgun permits in New York are public records, and a Freedom of Information Act request was all the paper needed to get them.

Although legal, their action is problematic for other reasons, not the least of which is that the story accompanying the map starts off with the shooting of a local woman by her mentally disturbed 77-year-old neighbor, who “had amassed a cache of weapons — including two unregistered handguns and a large amount of ammunition — without any neighbors knowing.” Which seems to beg the question of how a map of registered permit holders might have alerted this person’s neighbors to his firearms ownership status. Also, there is no way of knowing who owns rifles and shotguns, even though they’re just as lethal as handguns, because New York does not require ownership permits for them. So what legitimate public interest is served by a newspaper outing legal handgun owners, who presumably (because felons cannot own firearms) have not committed any crimes?

Whatever their motivation, The Journal News was perhaps not prepared for the firestorm of criticism it ignited, which has prompted them to hire armed security for their editorial offices:

The armed guards — hired from local private security companies — have been stationed in The Journal News’s headquarters and in a satellite office in West Nyack, N.Y., since last week, said Janet Hasson, the president and publisher of The Journal News Media Group.

“The safety of my staff is my top priority,” Ms. Hasson said in a telephone interview.

Quite understandable, but for a newspaper that apparently believes the presence of guns in their readers’ neighborhoods constitutes a safety risk they should know about, doesn’t it strike anyone as ironic that it would then hire people with guns to protect its staff? The only point they seem to be proving is that guns help people feel safer. So wouldn’t a neighborhood full of legally-owned firearms be among the safest places to live? We already know the answer to that¹.

¹ With the caveat, of course, that mandatory gun ownership is no more libertarian than gun restrictions.

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