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Lives Matter

How is that for a revolutionary thought?

A gunman who announced online that he was planning to shoot two “pigs” in retaliation for the police chokehold death of Eric Garner ambushed two officers in a patrol car and shot them to death in broad daylight Saturday before running to a subway station and killing himself, authorities said.

The suspect, 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, wrote on an Instagram account: “I’m putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours, let’s take 2 of theirs,” officials said. He used the hashtags Shootthepolice RIPErivGardner (sic) RIPMikeBrown.

Police said he approached the passenger window of a marked police car and opened fire, striking Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in the head. The New York Police Department officers were on special patrol doing crime reduction work in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

“They were, quite simply, assassinated — targeted for their uniform,” said Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who looked pale and shaken at a hospital news conference.

Need I go into the details of how awful and disgusting an act this was? Need I really mention how much it will set back the effort to curb any police excesses and abuses of police power that occur? Need I discuss in detail how Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu didn’t deserve any of this, or how Ismaaiyl Brinsley made a tremendously tense and difficult situation and environment much, much worse by resorting to cold-blooded murder?

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More on the Normalization of Relations with Cuba

Daniel Drezner has a very good primer on the issue. One of the strengths of his post is that it does not promise the sun, moon and stars for the United States in exchange for normalization. This, of course, is a good thing; no one should want to harbor unrealistic expectations for Cuban-American relations in the aftermath of normalization. But as Drezner’s piece makes clear, normalization is the best route for the United States to take:

. . . while the benefits of catalytic carrots are not all that great, the status quo policy was worse. Way worse.

It’s not like 50 years of economic sanctions altered Cuba’s regime. Sure, Cuba’s chief economic patron Venezuela is ailing right now, but Cuba endured far worse when the USSR disintegrated and the Special Period started. So anyone who tells you that the sanctions just needed more a little time to work is flat-out delusional. After more than a half-century, they were never going to work.

Read the whole thing for more. Meanwhile, Will Wilkinson–who in a just world would take over Andrew Sullivan’s blog while Sullivan slinks off to an inglorious retirement–takes on those who fret that Cuba will be somehow polluted by American consumerism:

Look, I totally understand the sentiment. There is something singular and vivid about a vibrant, tropical ruin frozen in the 1950s. Cuba is a showcase of dilapidated anti-commercial mid-century nostalgia, and I too sort of wish I had gone to see it, just as I wouldn’t mind having seen Soviet Leningrad. Come to think of it, it would be pretty interesting to see the slave ships coming into harbor in prebellum Savannah. What a scene those auctions must have been! But the human part of me, the moral part, as opposed to the aesthetic and amorally curious tourist part, can only regret that slaving Savannah and communist Russia lasted as long as they did, and today I can be nothing but hopeful that something like freedom is finally coming to the Cubans. If it does, and I make it to Havana, and see a McDonald’s, I will walk into that McDonalds, buy a large Diet Coke, and pour a little on the ground in half-sincere mourning for the pretty, impoverished theme park of tyranny I never had the chance to see.

Walter Russell Mean–whose opinion always merits serious consideration and respect–is also pleased with the deal:

This is one of those cases, increasingly rare, where President Obama can please his base while serving the national interest. The standoff with Cuba serves no real American interest and hands our enemies a useful propaganda tool. Furthermore, a policy that denies Americans the right to travel to countries of their choice is an infringement of personal liberty that could only be justified by a serious security concern. (A travel ban to Syria, for example, might have some merit.) The argument that Cuba, however bad its intentions, poses such a concern has been a joke since the fall of the Soviet Union, and there is no sound justification for limiting the rights of Americans to visit the island.

Mead also goes on to point out that if we really want to undermine and endanger the Castro regime, we will end the embargo–which will take congressional action:

. . . The Castro government isn’t dying to have hundreds of thousands of well-heeled Cuban-Americans descending on Havana and buying the island back as foreign investors. Fidel and Raul have never wanted a total end to the embargo; they have understood for decades that the embargo acts to protect their socialist experiment. If the U.S. repealed the embargo, the Cuban government would have to choose between two unattractive courses. It could move toward normal and open economic relations with the United States, swamping its underdeveloped and scrawny local economy with gringo dollars and influence (with Miami Cubans leading the charge), or it would have to enact a tight set of regulations aimed at keeping American and Cuban American money and investors from overwhelming the island. That would make it crystal clear to every Cuban citizen that the Cuban government needs to keep the island isolated and poor in order to protect its grip on power.

Cuba’s strategic objective has always been to keep the embargo up and to make the embargo look like America’s fault. This has always made for odd relations between Cuban authorities and do-gooding American liberals anxious to heal the breach and help a poor, third-world country. U.S. liberal agendas and Cuban agendas mesh much less than liberals often think, and the Cubans have at times deliberately sabotaged efforts by American liberals to improve relations.

Speaking of Congress and its members, kudos to Jeff Flake for doing what he could on the Republican side to normalize relations. Here’s hoping that he and others can work to end the embargo as well–an action which will serve American interests for all of the reasons Mead outlines.

Portland’s Mayor Hates His Constituents and Wants Them to Have Less Consumer Choice

That’s the only conclusion one can draw after reading this:

Uber reached an agreement with Portland to suspend operations in the city for three months while regulators work to revise rules around taxis that currently prohibit ridesharing apps.

The city agreed to let Uber resume operations after three months whether or not new regulations have been passed, said an Uber spokeswoman. The three-month suspension will go into effect on Monday, she said.

The truce comes less than two weeks after Portland sued Uber and issued a cease-and-desist order, arguing the company’s recent decision to begin its UberX service in the market violated city laws. Earlier this month, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales challenged the company in a newspaper op-ed in which he said the company was operating in its own interests at the risk of sacrificing public safety.

There is absolutely no reason whatsoever why Uber can’t continue to operate while new regulations–assuming that any are actually needed–are crafted. But again, we see that “[t]here’s something about Uber . . . that brings out the nutty in people.”

An Appalling Act of Cowardice

Unbelievable:

With theater chains defecting en masse, Sony Pictures Entertainment has pulled the planned Christmas Day release of “The Interview.”

U.S. officials have reportedly linked a massive cyber attack against Sony to North Korea, which is at the center of the Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy.

“We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public,” Sony said in a statement. “We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”

[. . .]

Tuesday’s message accompanied another data dump. It threatened violence on theaters that showed “The Interview” and people who attend screenings.

“The world will be full of fear,” the message reads. “Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.)”

In response, exhibition industry lobbying arm the National Association of Theatre Owners said its members must decide individually whether to release the picture and Sony said it would respect theater owners’ decision not to exhibit “The Interview.” That set off a cascade of cancellations.

The bulk of the country’s 10 largest theater chains — a group that includes AMC, Regal, Cinemark, Carmike and Southern Theatres — announced they would delay showing the picture or would drop it altogether. In statements, many of the theater chains suggested that Sony’s lack of confidence in the film prompted their decision.

Let’s be clear about this: An anonymous hacker group has successfully intimidated Sony and hundreds of American movie theaters into refusing to show the film. I struggle in vain to think of any comparable act of mass cowardice–especially one that occurred in the United States. Charles C.W. Cooke is quite right:

As far as anybody can tell, [the hackers’ threat] all seems to be so much guff. “At this time,” the Department of Homeland Security has confirmed, “there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States.” Nor, for that matter, have the police departments of New York City and Los Angeles heard anything concrete. And yet, despite the lack of any tangible hazards whatsoever, the powers-that-be have elected to play it safe. First, Sony Pictures, which produced the film, canceled tomorrow’s inaugural showing. (“Security concerns,” natch.) Then the Carmike Cinemas chain, which owns 278 theaters in 41 states, announced that it would not be showing it at all. In the last few hours, the Hollywood Reporter has suggested, the other four giants of American cinema — Regal Entertainment, AMC Entertainment, Cinemark, and Cineplex Entertainment — elected to join in the boycott. And, finally, the studio pulled the December 25 release entirely. Perhaps Sony hopes to be “denounced” after all?

Arguendo, let us suppose that the e-mail does, in fact, contain a genuine threat. Would a resolute and free people not ask, “So what?” So the buggers denounce our films? So they issue threats against our theaters? So they are sufficiently delusional to try to instill “fear” into the United States? We are talking here, as Michael Moynihan noted this morning, about “a country that subsists on bugs and grass” — a ridiculous, farcical, anemic shell-nation that, as unconscionably ghastly as it can be to its own people, is unlikely to achieve much in the United States besides the prompting of unalloyed hilarity. Not only does North Korea sit 6,000 miles away from California and 9,000 miles away from New York City, but its contributions to the world of technology and transportation are known primarily for their backwardness. Hackers are hackers, and while they are using their talents to wreak havoc on the Internet, they are to be taken seriously wherever they reside. But there is little reason to believe they are capable of wreaking havoc outside the digital world. Do we imagine, perhaps, that moviegoers in Chicago are likely to be faced with the Blitz?

No. How grotesque it is, then, to see businesses in the United States reacting so cravenly to what appears to be little more than a glorified letter of complaint. Is this now to be how America works? If so — if the friends of a campy two-bit dictatorship can force us to put our tails between our legs and ask not to be thrown into the briar patch — then one can only wonder how we might expect to stand up to our more competent foes. Will we perhaps start pulling books critical of the Iranian leaders, the better to protect Barnes and Noble from incoming Molotov cocktails? Will we remove websites that satirize the Chinese Communist party in order to forestall denial-of-service attacks on their hosts? Will we shut down newspapers that print broadsides against the Putin regime, lest his online buddies send a few death threats our way? I would certainly hope not. Rather, I would hope that we recognize that freedom of expression is the most vital of all our civic virtues, and that no good whatsoever can come of according a heckler’s veto to hackers, to family crime syndicates, and to their nasty little enablers on the international stage. If the right of a free people to associate and to speak as they wish is not deemed by civil society as worthy of fighting for, what exactly is?

Eugene Volokh is quite right as well:

I sympathize with the theaters’ situation — they’re in the business of showing patrons a good time, and they’re rightly not interested in becoming free speech martyrs, even if there’s only a small chance that they’ll be attacked. Moreover, the very threats may well keep moviegoers away from theater complexes that are showing the movie, thus reducing revenue from all the screens at the complex.

But behavior that is rewarded is repeated. Thugs who oppose movies that are hostile to North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, the Islamic State, extremist Islam generally or any other country or religion will learn the lesson. The same will go as to thugs who are willing to use threats of violence to squelch expression they oppose for reasons related to abortion, environmentalism, animal rights and so on.

And the beauty of all this, from the perspective of those who want to suppress movies they dislike, is that they don’t even actually have to bomb anything (something that’s very risky). All they need to do is put out some well-anonymized threats, and they have a good chance of prevailing. To be sure, it helps if they can back up the threats with something (such as a successful hacking attack), but the threats might succeed even without that. If terrorist threats worked with “The Interview,” even despite DHS’s statements that there’s no credible intelligence supporting a risk of actual violence, they might well work elsewhere as well. That, I think, is the lesson that many will take away.

The entire United States has been made subject to a hecklers’ veto. And the hecklers won. To say that this isn’t a proud day in the nation’s history is to understand matters severely.

Some Imperial Presidencies Are More Equal than Others

To wit:

President Obama has issued a form of executive action known as the presidential memorandum more often than any other president in history — using it to take unilateral action even as he has signed fewer executive orders.

When these two forms of directives are taken together, Obama is on track to take more high-level executive actions than any president since Harry Truman battled the “Do Nothing Congress” almost seven decades ago, according to a USA TODAY review of presidential documents.

[. . .]

Like executive orders, presidential memoranda don’t require action by Congress. They have the same force of law as executive orders and often have consequences just as far-reaching. And some of the most significant actions of the Obama presidency have come not by executive order but by presidential memoranda.

Obama has made prolific use of memoranda despite his own claims that he’s used his executive power less than other presidents. “The truth is, even with all the actions I’ve taken this year, I’m issuing executive orders at the lowest rate in more than 100 years,” Obama said in a speech in Austin last July. “So it’s not clear how it is that Republicans didn’t seem to mind when President Bush took more executive actions than I did.”

Obama has issued 195 executive orders as of Tuesday. Published alongside them in the  Federal Register are 198 presidential memoranda — all of which carry the same legal force as executive orders.

So much for the claim that this president is “issuing executive orders at the lowest rate in more than 100 years.” Can we have more media outlets point out that statements like this one ought to bring about trouser infernos at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

The Very Definition of “Scandal”

Wow:

The Obama administration overturned a ban preventing a wealthy, politically connected Ecuadorean woman from entering the United States after her family gave tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic campaigns, according to finance records and government officials.

The woman, Estefanía Isaías, had been barred from coming to the United States after being caught fraudulently obtaining visas for her maids. But the ban was lifted at the request of the State Department under former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton so that Ms. Isaías could work for an Obama fund-raiser with close ties to the administration.

It was one of several favorable decisions the Obama administration made in recent years involving the Isaías family, which the government of Ecuador accuses of buying protection from Washington and living comfortably in Miami off the profits of a looted bank in Ecuador.

The family, which has been investigated by federal law enforcement agencies on suspicion of money laundering and immigration fraud, has made hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to American political campaigns in recent years. During that time, it has repeatedly received favorable treatment from the highest levels of the American government, including from New Jersey’s senior senator and the State Department.

At best, this is highly unethical, and at worst, it is illegal. Oh, and way to completely undermine any serious move towards immigration reform, Obama administration. You just handed every opponent of reform who thinks that you lot are interested in handing out “amnesty” a club with which to beat you politically.

Of course, there should be congressional investigations concerning this news revelation. And given the involvement of our would-be next president of the United States, someone should ask Hillary Clinton why members of a family of alleged criminals should receive “favorable treatment from the highest levels of the American government” under her tenure at the State Department.

A Welcome Change in Cuba Policy

Let’s get the following out of the way: The Castro regime in Cuba is despicable, bloodthirsty, murderous, tyrannical, totalitarian, and entirely opposed to granting basic human rights to its people and to foreign innocents.

Let’s also get this out of the way: The United States embargo that has been in place against Cuba has done absolutely nothing whatsoever to change things for the better in Cuba.

So I am glad that Alan Gross is finally getting released by the Cuban government–which never should have been holding him hostage in the first place–and I am glad that the United States and Cuba are finally talking about normalizing relations. There is no reason whatsoever why a failed policy should be kept in place any longer, and quite frankly, it was held in place for far too long. No less a Cold Warrior than the late Richard Nixon thought as much, and as usual, his foreign policy judgment was on point. We will achieve more change in Cuba by constructive engagement with the country than we will by shunning and isolating it economically, and once the embargo comes to an end, any and all failures concerning the Cuban economy–and there will be failures concerning the Cuban economy–will more easily be considered entirely the responsibility of the Cuban government, which heretofore has been blaming the bad economy on the American embargo.

Yes, I know that there are people who believe that if we just “hang tough” against Cuba for a few years longer, things will change for the better. How much longer we are supposed to “hang tough,” we are not told, of course. Why haven’t things changed for the better by now, or years ago? Absolutely, positively no one can say. Why should we follow so incoherent a policy any longer? And yes, I know that there are plenty of people who are delighted that the embargo is coming to an end, who hated the embargo from the very beginning . . . and who think that we should initiate sanctions against countries like Israel, while ignoring human rights violations in countries like Cuba (and Iran, and China, etc.). These people can’t really be taken seriously, and I will be the first to state as much, but that doesn’t change the fact that our Cuba policy was a disaster and had to change. We opened up to countries like China and Vietnam, and the world hasn’t come to an end. Indeed, our engagement has brought about significant positive changes. Why can’t the same hold true in Cuba?

So, it is good that the embargo is finally coming to an end, and with its end, we can more realistically hope that things will change for the better in Cuba. And kudos to the Obama administration, which deserves a great deal of credit for bringing about a change in policy than previous presidents–both Republican and Democrat–very likely wanted to bring about on their own.

Democrats Understand How Good a Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush Can Be

Behold:

For Democrats, though, Mr. Bush’s step toward a campaign was cause for concern, as many said the Spanish-speaking former governor of Florida, perhaps the most electorally pivotal state in the country, would be the toughest Republican to defeat.

“I keep reminding people Michael Corleone was the younger brother of Fredo,” said the Democratic strategist Paul Begala, comparing characters from “The Godfather” to Bush family dynamics.

The dumb little cheap shot at George W. Bush aside, the excerpt is actually rather telling. Just about any sophisticated observer of politics can understand and appreciate how appealing Bush would be in any general election contest. Of course, the primaries and caucuses need to be gotten through first, and it remains to be seen whether the Republican right will actually give Bush a serious look, or just scream “RINO!” and nominate a candidate who is sure to lose the general election.

What Kind of President Might Jeb Bush Be?

I am very pleased by reports that Jeb Bush is about to toss his hat into the presidential ring. I certainly count myself as a big-time Jeb Bush fan; he is hyper-smart, hyper-serious and conscientious, very interested in policy, determined and proven to be a very good manager and leader who is not afraid to drill down into the details of a problem while at the same time maintaining a big-picture perspective, and someone who is in politics for all the right reasons–to do right by the people who elected him, and might elect him again. When it comes to Bush’s political appeal, he is able to draw moderates, independents, conservatives and libertarians into his political camp. He knows how to win elections, and he was a very popular governor of Florida. He can revive the national Republican brand if he makes it to the 2016 general election. Frankly, there is quite little not to like.

Oh, and the ideological concerns about Bush that stem from the right? They are bogus:

Some conservatives say Jeb Bush isn’t one of them, citing a handful of positions that cut against Republican orthodoxy. A look at his record as governor of Florida suggests that’s not quite accurate.

Mr. Bush championed tax cuts, privatized state jobs, fought for school vouchers, won power over the judiciary and labored to prolong the life of a brain-damaged woman, Terry Schiavo.

Well before earmarks became a dirty word in Washington, he campaigned against such pet projects in Tallahassee, promising to veto spending items not approved by his administration. He wound up vetoing some $2 billion in spending over eight years.

If Mr. Bush runs for president, his two terms as governor between 1999 and 2007, and the related question about his conservatism would likely be an issue.

“Honestly I don’t think I ever came across one person who told me he wasn’t being conservative enough,” said Al Cardenas, who was chairman of the Florida Republican Party during the Bush gubernatorial years

Over his tenure, Mr. Bush cut taxes by some $19 billion, much of it benefiting businesses and investors, such as the repeal of a tax on investments. He created the first school-voucher program in the country, allowing students in failing schools to use public money for private-school tuition, a program later struck down by the state Supreme Court as unconstitutional. Another program, also being challenged in court, gives companies a tax credit if they donate for private school scholarships.

Mr. Bush also sparked protests with his One Florida program, which aimed to end affirmative action preferences for minorities in universities and state contracting.

How much more conservative is any politician supposed to be before the right accepts that politician as one of their own? I disagree with the stance that Bush took during the Terri Schiavo case, but the stance that he took certainly shouldn’t cause conservatives to have doubts about Bush’s philosophical bona fides.

To be sure, Bush has offended some people on the right by taking a sensible position on immigration policy, but I happen to see that as a feature for his candidacy, not a bug. Maybe that’s just because I care about solving the immigration conundrum–like Bush, coincidentally!–instead of constantly trying to use immigration as a political weapon on behalf of Republicans, only to have that weapon turned against the Republican party when presidential elections roll around. I don’t apologize for this position; I happen to think that from time to time, politicians ought to try to govern, instead of waving bloody shirts. I recognize that for some, this is an antiquated notion, but I happen to think that it might still have some currency, and I hope that it gains currency with a Bush presidential run.

I am not yet going to issue an endorsement of Jeb Bush; it is not yet 2015, let alone 2016, and I do want to see if there are other candidates who step forward to be considered by the Republican party once primary and caucus season roll around. But I am at the very least 95% sure that I will support Bush for president. He knows how to win elections and he knows how to govern successfully. The past two Republican presidential nominees showed that they knew nothing about the former, and the incumbent president of the United States has shown that he knows rather little about the latter. To say the least, it’s time for a change.

Won’t Someone Please Put Vox Out of Its Misery?

Please. There is no quality control over at Ezra Klein’s pretend news site, the mistakes are piling up, and they are becoming embarrassing beyond belief. Jeff Bezos must indeed be thanking his lucky stars that he didn’t shell out good money to support this quasi-journalistic calamity, but it is not enough for this clown show of a media enterprise to have been shunned by the Washington Post. Apart from providing some much needed comedy relief, Vox serves no purpose whatsoever. Why would anyone trust it, given all of the mistakes its writers and editors repeatedly make?

Stop treating Vox as though it is a serious news source! Maybe if the site is treated with the contempt that it deserves, it will go away, and better news sources will spring up to replace it.

Uber-Craziness

Will Wilkinson is quite right in stating that “[t]here’s something about Uber, the popular ride-sharing service, that brings out the nutty in people.” And he is also quite right to mock those who call for “socializing” Uber. The complaints about surge-pricing automatically kicking in when Uber cars were in high demand during the hostage standoff in Sydney, Australia are also mock-worthy. Indeed, reading most of the commentary about Uber is enough to make one want to poke one’s eyes out.

If there is any silver lining to all of this incredibly bad punditry about Uber, it is that it identifies for the rest of us a group of pundits who shouldn’t be listened to the next time they opine about something. Or the time after that. Or the time after . . . well, you get the idea. But since many of us knew already that these pundits shouldn’t be listened to, it’s not much of a silver lining, now is it?

So I guess were are back to being depressed about the ignorance of economics that regularly gets displayed in punditry about companies like Uber and Lyft, and in punditry overall. And I guess we are also back to being depressed about the fact that just about every time a good and innovative company comes along to make life easier and better for consumers, a pack of pundits–usually on the port side of the ideological and partisan divide–get together and mindlessly attack the company in question. I guess that some people just can’t stand to see private businesses successfully work to bring valuable services and benefits to consumers. It’s almost as though these folks are afraid to see how efficient business operations in a capitalist economy might serve to undermine their own socioeconomic worldviews, or something.

Quote of the Day

When Mencken is interested, he goes to work with a writing style that retired undefeated. The hot dogs of his time were served in pastry shells, not “the soggy rolls prevailing today, of ground acorns, plaster of paris, flecks of bath sponge and atmospheric air all compact.”

Mencken applies the balm of humor to raw nostalgia. He caps an obligatory yarn of childhood play by stating: “A few years ago . . . I encountered a ma’m in horn-rimmed spectacles teaching a gang of little girls ring-around-a-rosy. The sight filled me suddenly with so black an indignation that I was tempted to grab the ma’m and heave her into the goldfish pond. In the days of my own youth no bossy female on the public payroll was needed to teach games.”

And Mencken expresses a warm honesty about the cold heart of a child. “Happy Days” ends with the death of his grandfather. “The day was a Thursday — and they’d certainly not bury the old man until Sunday. No school tomorrow!”

The same Mencken expression, unblinking but unfrowning, is turned upon the press. “Newspaper Days” and “Heathen Days” are correctives for those who lament the present media’s sensationalism, and curatives for those who think newsmongers go around speaking truth to power.

Journalism, Mencken explains, is fun, “especially for a young reporter to whom all the major catastrophes and imbecilities of mankind were still more or less novel, and hence delightful.” And “a newspaperman always saw that show from a reserved seat in the first row.”

When he wasn’t part of the show himself. Sundays were light on news when Mencken was at The Baltimore Morning Herald in 1903 — until “a wild man was reported loose in the woods . . . with every dog barking for miles around, and all women and children locked up. I got special delight out of the wild man, for I had invented him myself.”

“Journalism,” Mencken notes, “is not an exact science.”

P.J. O’Rourke. I need to get this book.

Your Government at Work (Social Security Outrages Continue)

Remember this? Sure you do. Guess what? It’s still happening:

The Social Security Administration, which announced in April that it would stop trying to collect debts from the children of people who were allegedly overpaid benefits decades ago, has continued to demand such payments and now defends that practice in court documents.

After The Washington Post reported in April that the Treasury Department had confiscated $75 million in tax refunds due to about 400,000 Americans whose ancestors owed money to Social Security, the agency’s acting commissioner, Carolyn Colvin, said efforts to collect on those old debts would cease immediately.

But although some people whose refunds were seized were reimbursed in recent months, some of those same taxpayers have since received new demands from Social Security, asserting that the debts remain and seeking repayment.

In March, the U.S. government intercepted Mary Grice’s tax refunds from both the IRS and the state of Maryland. It turned out that after Grice’s father died in 1960, when she was 4, her mother got survivor benefits to help feed and clothe her five children. Social Security says it overpaid someone in the Grice family — it’s not sure who — in 1977. With Grice’s mother long since dead, the government came after Mary to pay the debt.

The Takoma Park woman, now 58, filed suit against Social Security, challenging the government’s right to take her money without notice to satisfy her mother’s debt. After The Post wrote about her case, the government returned Grice’s tax refunds to her. But in August, she received a new bill from Social Security, seeking the same $2,997 that the agency had refunded to her four months earlier.

“DID YOU FORGET?” the letter said, demanding that Grice “send us the full payment right away.”

There is no excuse or justification–none–for going after the children of those who allegedly (note that word: “allegedly”) received overpayments from the Social Security Administration. That this practice is continuing is an outrage. Equally outrageous: There hasn’t been any kind of sustained effort on the part of any elected official to shine a light on this nonsense and to shame the Social Security Administration into stopping its practice of hounding entirely innocent people.

Nota bene: This story is but one example of how big government can overreach and harm the rights and liberties of those it is supposed to represent. There are, of course, other such examples of government-perpetrated overreach and harm. Maybe those who sneer at warnings concerning big government should think twice before dismissing such warnings as nonsensical and overwrought.

Quote of the Day

Computers are rapidly beginning to outperform humans in more or less every area of endeavor. For example, machine vision experts recently unveiled an algorithm that outperforms humans in face recognition. Similar algorithms are beginning to match humans at object recognition too. And human chess players long ago gave up the fight to beat computers.

But there is one area where humans still triumph. That is in playing the ancient Chinese game of Go. Computers have never mastered this game. The best algorithms only achieve the skill level of a very strong amateur player which the best human players easily outperform.

That looks set to change thanks to the work of Christopher Clark and Amos Storkey at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. These guys have applied the same machine learning techniques that have transformed face recognition algorithms to the problem of finding the next move in a game of Go. And the results leave little hope that humans will continue to dominate this game.

Link. This is a very big deal.

“No Consumer Choice, Please. We Are French.”

Another day, another report about how taxicab cartels are scared of competition:

Uber’s low-cost ride ride-hailing service will be banned in France from the start of next year, the government said Monday as hundreds of taxi drivers blocked roads around Paris to protest what they claim are its unfair business practices.

A new law tightening regulations for chauffeured rides will effectively ban the UberPop service as of Jan. 1, said Pierre-Henry Brandet, spokesman for France’s Interior Ministry.

“Currently, people who use UberPop are not protected if there is an accident. So not only is it illegal to offer this service but for the consumer there is a real danger,” Brandet told the BFM television network.

Several hundred taxis blocked the roads heading from the Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport, then inched toward the French capital in their latest protest of the ride-sharing company.

I am absolutely certain that deliberately causing a traffic jam will do much to endear members of the taxicab cartel to the French public. What could possibly go wrong with this plan?

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