Police Are Arresting Reporters, Seizing Cameras and Assaulting Protesters in Ferguson

Wednesday night, police in Ferguson, MO were lobbing Super-Sock cartridges into the crowds gathered to protest the fatal shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown. Brown was shot eight times, witnesses say he had his hands in the air. He was shot several times in the back.


At the same time, police were tear gassing reporters with Al-Jazeera America and taking apart their video equipment so they could not record the police’s actions.



They were also arresting Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery, and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly. The Federal Aviation Authority declared Ferguson a no-fly zone, preventing news crews from filming aerially.


The Economist:


The shooting comes not long after Eric Garner, another black man, was killed during a choke-hold arrest in New York. Last year an unarmed man called Jonathan Ferrell was shot ten times by a North Carolina police officer. “People are asking: ‘Is it open season on us?’,” says Delores Jones-Brown, director of the John Jay College on Race, Crime and Justice.

Jackie Summers: The Civil Rights Act is 50 years old. These two pictures were taken 50 years apart. Behold our progress. #Ferguson


This post originally appeared in

Correction: It appears from other reporting that Brown was shot six times, and none in the back.


Why It’s Time to Legalize Prostitution

And the radio interview I did on the piece:

Evidence shows that it would protect sex workers, reduce violence, cut down on sex trafficking, and more. There’s no good reason not to.


A prostitute has a 45 percent to 75 percent chance of experiencing workplace violence at some point, according to recent research indicates, and a 32 percent to 55 percent likelihood that she or he was victimized the past year. Worker safety, along with concerns about exploitation and objectification, are behind much of the continued support for keeping prostitution illegal.

But there’s a movement afoot to challenge conventional wisdom about prohibition. Or, rather, to incorporate what we already know about black markets into our thinking about sex workers and their rights.

As with the drug trade, much of the violence associated with sex work is exacerbated by its illegality. Violent people are more likely to prey on sex workers, confident that they won’t be reported to police. This leaves workers dependent on pimps and madams for protection, which often leads to more violence. And then there’s abuse from police. In Ireland, where prostitution is still criminalized, one study estimates that 30 percent of the abuse that sex workers report comes from police. Some estimate that police actually abuse American sex workers more often than clients do.

Illegality also forces sex work outdoors. Craigslist and Backpage should be havens for workers to connect with and vet clients from the safety of their homes. Instead, cops monitor such sites to ensnare workers and their clients. Sex workers traded safety tips and rated clients on My Redbook until the FBIseized the site, destroying the data and forcing sex workers onto other sites, or the streets.

After Germany and New Zealand legalized sex work, violence against sex workersdecreased, while workers’ quality of life improved. There, occupational health and safety laws protect sex workers. And the ability to screen clients and take credit card numbers has reduced violence. “It’s been just fantastic, really,” saidCatherine Healey, national coordinator for the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective.

Some worry about legalized sex work leading to more widespread sexually transmitted infections. But in reality, after testing began post-legalization in Germany, researchers discovered no difference in sexually transmitted infection rates between sex workers and the general population.

In fact, the data are pretty clearly in favor of legalizing sex work to improve public health. The World Health Organization recommends that countries decriminalize sex work. According to a recent WHO report, “Violence against sex workers is associated with inconsistent condom use or lack of condom use, and with increased risk of STI and HIV infection. Violence also prevents sex workers from accessing HIV information and services.”

It’s not just the WHO. Editors of the top medical journal The Lancet wrote that there is “no alternative” to decriminalizing sex work in order to protect sex workers from HIV. In 1980, Rhode Island effectively legalized prostitution by accident when lawmakers deemed the state statute on prostitution to be overly broad. They accidentally removed the section defining the act itself as a crime while attempting to revise it, though lawmakers didn’t realize the error until 2003. Over the next six years new cases of gonorrhea among women statewide declined by 39 percent. Interestingly, reported rapes also declined by 31 percent.

As far as worker exploitation goes, working conditions in black markets are nearly always worse. In Germany, sex workers get to avail themselves of the same social-welfare infrastructure as all other German workers. Perhaps it makes sense that a country that has always taken workers’ rights seriously would choose that it should no longer exempt sex workers. There, they are represented by a union and are afforded full police protection when something goes wrong.

Another huge impetus behind the movement to legalize sex work is the current focus on ending the scourge of sex trafficking. People are waking up to the fact that laws against sex work actually help human traffickers. This is why the U.N. Human Rights Council published a report from the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women which criticizes anti-trafficking measures which restrict sex workers.

According to the report, “The criminalization of clients has not reduced trafficking or sex work, but has increased sex workers’ vulnerability to violence, harmed HIV responses, and infringed on sex workers’ rights.”

Furthermore, it said, “Anti-trafficking discussions on demand have historically been stymied by anti-prostitution efforts to eradicate the sex work sector by criminalizing clients, despite protests from sex workers’ rights groups and growing evidence that such approaches do not work.”

Human rights powerhouse Amnesty International concurs: “Amnesty International is opposed to the criminalization or punishment of activities related to the buying or selling of consensual sex between adults.” Thus begins a recently leaked document calling for an end to prohibitions on sex work. Criminalization discourages sex workers from reporting suspected sex trafficking to police.

Working with instead of against sex workers will lead to more slaves being rescued. In Germany, it already is. While prohibitionists claim that legalizing prostitution has increased human trafficking in the country, the data don’t support them. In fact the opposite happened. Germany legalized sex work in 2001. Between 2001 and 2011, cases of sex-based human trafficking shrank by 10 percent.

Now most German sex workers, 74 percent, are foreign born. But these migrant workers are hardly child sex slaves. The mean age of a sex worker in Germany is 31. A massive study of the sex trade in New York revealed a similar pattern. Researchers found very few underage sex workers actually working. When they started talking to pimps they found many won’t work with underage sex workers, not because of fear of arrest or moral qualms, but because teen workers don’t make enough money.

The claim that legalizing prostitution increased human trafficking also defies common sense. Whether you think bargain basement blowjobs are a good thing or a bad thing, the fact remains that criminalization makes things more expensive. In Germany, you’ll still pay a lot for high-quality service. But the days of paying more than 15 Euros for sex from someone who clearly doesn’t want to be there are over. Time spoke to one tourist who described the country as “The Aldi for prostitutes.”

This matters for trafficking because it costs a lot to kidnap someone and hold her against her will. This new economic reality means it makes zero sense for traffickers to keep their slaves in Germany, where prices are low. It’s true that traffickers must bring their victims through the country. But they are rewarded with higher prices if they keep going until they get to one of the countries where prostitution is still illegal, like France.

One other big movement behind the push for legalization is, ironically, feminism. Specifically, a new kind of feminism that acknowledges and seeks to defend women’s agency from all encroachments.

Much of the energy behind keeping sex work relegated to the black market comes from the unlikely partnership between radical feminists and evangelical Christians, both of whom object to the way prostitution makes the economics of sex explicit. Both see sex work as a special kind of work. Both put sex in a special category, that is, to be done with only certain people, under certain circumstances, among which they do not include “customers” and “for money.”

Stuart Chambers in the Montreal Gazette makes an excellent case that people’s impulse to put sex for money in a different category than sex for dinner or sex for an orgasm is the same impulse that led doctors and scientists to pathologize masturbation and homosexuality. That is, some people see sex that makes them uncomfortable to think about as wrong for other people to have.

Sex-positive feminists, on the other hand, argue that prohibitionists take this idea of sex being “special” too far when they mandate, through law, that everyone put sex in a special category.

Ultimately it should be up to the individual woman, or man, to decide whether having sex with someone is in an entirely different category than making them a latte or giving them a massage. This new feminism recognizes that some people would really rather have their feet worshipped in a brothel than work in a factory to make rent. It recognizes that sex work is exploitative. Workers are exploiting the fact that they have something someone else wants. Clients are exploiting the fact that they have something the sex worker wants. But, then, all work is exploitative.

This post originally appeared in the Daily Beast.


Obama Should Fire Brennan, His Reputation Could Hardly Get Worse

In the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf lays out both the reasons why President Obama should fire CIA director John Brennan, and the reasons why it would be dangerous for him to do so. Essentially, they’ve both been doing some really shady stuff, regarding both the US Constitution and international law, which they’ve both been covering up and lying about. Firing Brennan could bring more of these activities into the light, which would hurt Obama’s reputation. However, what we already know about Obama should eviscerate any shred of respectability he might have in anyone’s mind.

Brennan is currently under fire for bugging the computers of the Senate committee tasked with investigating the legality of CIA “enhanced interrogation” techniques. The CIA was mining Senators’ computers and emails to gather information on the investigation so they could begin working to discredit their reports. Brennan also lied to the Senate Intelligence Committee about it, saying, “That’s just beyond the scope of reason in terms of what we would do.”

Now he’s apologized, weeks ahead of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report. It’s expected to be a scathing indictment of the CIA, showing that they exaggerated the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation techniques to the public,fed journalists fake “leaks” and lied to members of Congress, downplaying the brutality of their information extraction practices and the extent to which they used them.

Now several Senators and even the New York Times editorial board is calling for his resignation. As Friedersdorf points out, Brennan’s CIA “broke laws and undermined the separation of powers core to our democracy.”

While firing Brennan would be the best thing for the American people, it would also open up the possibility that he would start talking. He could talk about Obama’s secret drone killing program.

The President has repeatedly illegally used the state secrets justification to prevent information about extrajudicial killings from coming out into the public. Even Congress isn’t properly briefed on who Obama is killing or why. Obama blocked the release of a memo on the justification for killing two American citizens without trial, even though upon its eventual releaseit became clear that the information posed no threat to US safety. So the President is trampling on the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution and then refusing to acknowledge it or explain what the legal justification might be.

The latest abuse of the state secrets privilege is Obama’s DOJ refusing to explainwhy they’re refusing to allow a PhD student back into the US. And what was the reason both for the refusal to let Rahinah Ibrahim back in the country and for refusing to acknowledge why she wasn’t allowed? An FBI agent had checked the wrong box. The “state secret” was a coverup for incompetence.

The entire drone war in Pakistan could only be legal if the country consented to the killings, and there’s little evidence it has, and public statements indicate it hasn’t.

NSA spying has far exceeded its legal and Constitutional bounds and President Obama has lied about both the scope of the spying and what he knew and when. Trade alliances with allies such as Germany are in jeopardy because of NSA spying, and along with them billions of dollars in economic growth.

In fact, as NSA director James Clapper has repeatedly lied to Congress, with zero reproach from the Obama Administration, the only way anyone knows anything about just how far illegal NSA wiretapping and surveillance of American citizens who have not been accused of any crimes has gone is due to whistleblowers like Edward Snowden. And how has the Obama Administration, the “most transparent administration in history” dealt with these heroic individuals, the only check against lying and law-breaking government agencies? The Administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than any administration in US history.

I guess what I don’t get is what in the world John Brennan could reveal about President Obama which could possibly tarnish his reputation any further. He’s literally trampling on the Constitution, killing citizens without trial, disregarding the Fourth Amendment and allowing his goons to lie about it with zero consequences. And that’s what we know about! Fire John Brennan, Obama. You can’t get any lower.

This post originally appeared in


With or Without the Subsidies, Obamacare May Fall Apart

The Obamacare subsidies depend on Halbig’s outcome, and whether millions of Americans can afford their healthcare plans depends on the subsidies. At least, that’s the narrative. Commentators warn of a coming “death spiral” of extraordinary costs and insufficient incoming premiums as people cancel their plans without the subsidies. But what they’re ignoring is that Obamacare is on track to fail regardless of what the court decides.

What people aren’t grappling with is that with or without the subsidies, health insurance under Obamacare is simply too expensive. The hundreds of pills and procedures every insurance plan is now federally required to cover has bloated premiums beyond what most Americans want to, or often can, pay. That’s why Obamacare subsidizes the plans.

The whole point of Obamacare was supposedly to make health insurance more affordable. The problem is that Obama’s promise that “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” never squared with his plan to replace so-called catastrophic care plans with comprehensive coverage. Companies can’t cover breast implants and Viagra for the same price as covering cancer and car wrecks only.

Subsidies were the answer for affordable care. The federal government pays up to 100 percent of the premiums for certain insurance plans for people with low incomes. In total, the administration claims 6.7 million people will receive tax credits to pay their premiums and 70 percent, or 4.7 million, are using a federal exchange.

However, even with Medicaid expansion and subsidies, Obamacare still failed spectacularly to reduce premiums. Instead of reducing what every American family pays for health insurance by $2,500 per year, as candidate Obamapromised in 2008, insurance premiums increased for millions of Americans once Obamacare made their existing plans illegal. Families can expect to pay 32% more per year to stay covered under Obamacare. And that’s with the subsidies.

Money for subsidies has to come from somewhere. Here’s where things really get tricky for Obamacare. The entire premise is that, even with subsidies, young, healthy people’s premiums will subsidize care for the sick and elderly. Turns out that young people don’t really want to do that. And why should they? The plan hoses young, relatively poor people right when they least need high bills for services they’re not using. And it helps older, relatively rich people who should be able to afford the care they need.

Nick Gillespie and Veronique de Rugy have pointed out for Reason magazine that today’s seniors are far wealthier than today’s young adults. While, 36% of millennials are still living under their parents’ roof, 83% of elderly households own a home. Poverty rates for those over 65 years of age are much lower than most other demographics. Households headed by people 65 or older have 22 times the wealth of households headed by people under 35.

Not only are many young people either unemployed or underemployed, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that people under 40 owe 67% of the roughly $1.4 trillion that Americans owe on school loans. That’s on top of an average of several thousand dollars of credit card debt.

Obamacare forces people who can scarcely afford the extra cost to subsidize care for people who absolutely can afford to pay for their own health services. Obamacare’s solvency also requires that people who aren’t eligible for subsidies sign up. That, too, doesn’t really appear to be happening. Shockingly, people aren’t into paying a lot for services other people use more than they do. The plan will fail to reach solvency because it’s too expensive for the very people the plan needs on board in order to stay solvent.

Obamacare only works if many more young, healthy, and wealthy people get insured than were insured previously. Instead, Obamacare has only reduced the percentage of uninsured Americans by 3%, from a peak of 18 percent last year to 15 percent. And most of the signups are sick, poor, old people.

If the Administration prevails, 7.3 million people will continue to get subsidies, according to recent analysis from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.According to the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, 83% of Obamacare plans are subsidized to some extent. Subsidizing the vast majority of health insurance plans without signing up a lot of new, healthy, unsubsidized payers simply does not work out, mathematically.

The Halbig case is certainly interesting. But even if the Administration gets its way, they’re a long way from out of the woods when it comes to Obamacare.

This post originally appeared in LibertyChat.


Walking the Red-Light District

On the last day of my recent trip to Germany, I’d wanted to check out Deutschland’s brothels. The focus of my writing on sex work has been U.S.-centric thus far. So I wanted to speak to someone participating in sex work in a country where it’s legal. I was running out of time and euros, but it just so happened that the quickest route to my hotel after drinks with locals included an area known for its ladies of the night.

As we walked down a hookah-bar-lined street, the sex workers looked more empowered than any I’ve seen stateside. Tall and healthy-looking, with thick hair and thin waists, beautiful corsets shaping hourglasses, they certainly didn’t look oppressed—except perhaps by four-inch platform Lucite heels. (Those oppress any wearer.)

On our walk I learned that Germany’s decision to legalize prostitution not only helped sex workers, but actually decreased the number of human trafficking victims in the country. But on our stroll, one of my companions told me that German feminists are trying to recriminalize sex work. This is a mistake, she argued. Legalization has improved sex workers’ lives.

Turns out, she was right. According to the data, violence against sex workers is down, while sex workers’ quality of life is up. And after testing began, post-legalization, researchers discovered no difference in sexually transmitted infection rates between sex workers and the general population.

Opponents claim legalizing prostitution has actually increased human trafficking in the country. But the data don’t support that claim. In fact, they show the opposite. From 2001, the year the law legalizing sex work in Germany was passed, to 2011, cases of sex-based human trafficking shrank by 10 percent.

It’s true that most German sex workers, 74 percent, are foreign born. However, Germany generally has a high immigration rate. Only 81 percent of people living in Germany were born there. Interestingly, right about when Germany legalized sex work, Eastern European countries joined the European Union, economic crises hit post-communist countries, and globalization increased immigration flows. But these migrant workers are hardly child sex slaves. The mean age of a sex worker in Germany is 31.
Besides not being supported by data, the claim that legalizing prostitution increased human trafficking also defies common-sense economics. Legalization has brought about reduced prices for sex acts people demand. Sure, one might still pay a lot for high-quality service. And as I learned on this trip, nothing is cheap in Germany. But the days of paying more than 15 euros for sex from someone who clearly doesn’t want to be there are over. Time Magazine spoke to one tourist who described the country as “the Aldi for prostitutes.”

Whether you think such sexual transactions are a good thing or a bad thing, the fact remains that criminalization makes things more expensive. And price drives pimps to find new ways to satisfy demand. Prices matter for trafficking because it costs a lot to kidnap someone and hold them against their will. The economic realities of legalization have brought about a situation in which it makes no sense for traffickers to keep their human chattel in Germany, where prices are lower. While it’s true that traffickers bring their victims through the country as a corridor, they normally keep going until they get to one of the countries where prostitution is still illegal, like France, where prices are higher.

In Germany, the sex workers are workers, not slaves. For a country that has always taken workers’ rights seriously (certainly more so than civil liberties) sex work is no exception. Workers there are represented by a union and are afforded full police protection when something goes wrong.

The importance of this benefit of legalization simply cannot be overstated. Violence is far more likely when violators know they won’t likely be reported.

And then there’s police abuse by sex workers worldwide: In Ireland, where prostitution is still criminalized, one study estimates that 30 percent of the abuse sex workers report comes from police. And “in South Africa,” writes Fordham human rights professor Chi Mgbako, “police officers often fine sex workers inordinate sums of money and pocket the cash, resulting in a pattern of economic extortion of sex workers by state agents.” Mgbako adds: “South African sex workers report that police confiscate condoms to use as evidence of prostitution; demand sexual favors in exchange for release from jail or to avoid arrest; physically assault and rape sex workers; actively encourage or passively condone inmate sexual abuse of transgender female sex workers assigned to male prison cells; and use municipal laws to harass and arrest sex workers even when they’re engaged in activities unrelated to prostitution.” Of course, prostitutes are abused in the United States as well.

Some German feminists want to criminalize demand instead of supply, which makes sense on the surface. Why lock up the women, but not the men? The Swedish did exactly that, using a new twist on an old idea, fighting trafficking by criminalizing prostitution. They passed laws that prevented sex workers from working together, recommending each other’s customers, advertising or working from property they rent or own, or even cohabitating with a partner.
The result was sex workers enduring harassment instead of help from police and being forced to undergo invasive searches. Sex workers in Sweden were made to testify against their customers and ended up relying more on their pimps to find clients.

And the result was no change in the number of sex workers or their customers.

The truth is that laws against sex work actually help human traffickers. This is why the UN Human Rights Council published a report from the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women that criticizes anti-trafficking measures that restrict sex workers.

According to the report, “Sex workers are negatively impacted by anti-trafficking measures.” Specifically, “The criminalisation of clients has not reduced trafficking or sex work, but has increased sex workers’ vulnerability to violence, harmed HIV responses, and infringed on sex workers’ rights.”

Furthermore, “Anti-trafficking discussions on demand have historically been stymied by anti-prostitution efforts to eradicate the sex work sector by criminalising clients, despite protests from sex workers rights groups and growing evidence that such approaches do not work.”

Sure enough, my very brief encounter with German sex workers seem to bolster that view.

This post originally appeared in The Freeman.


How Government Is Making Black Markets as Dangerous As Humanly Possible

Just as the internet has revolutionized nearly aspect of everyday life, it’s revolutionized the so-called informal economy as well. Online marketplaces have made life far safer for people whose desires take them outside the bounds of legal protection. Which is why it’s so disturbing that government agencies are effectively turning back the clock, and shutting down websites that are helping keep people safe.

By shutting down Silk Road, My Redbook, and kicking people out of their banks through Operation Choke Point, the FBI and DOJ are increasing the levels of violence and usury people must endure, while trampling on speech rights and violating due process at the same time.

The logic behind criminalizing voluntary transactions has always been a little hazy. Generally speaking, pushing interactions into the black market, where police protection and contract resolution must be done without the state, results in more violence. And the results of criminalizing cooperative behavior have been pretty uniformly poor. Banning things doesn’t make people stop doing them, it just makes it much more dangerous for them to do so.

Online bazaar Silk Road helped ameliorate some of that danger by, essentially, replacing broken knee caps with bad user reviews. Instead of fighting for turf, retailers gathered positive feedback from buyers and bolstered demand by sending their drugs to independent testers who would confirm purity, strength, even type. As an aside, my first date when I tried polyamory many moons ago was with one such tester. He was a med student who would review Psilocybin for Silk Road buyers. What a beautiful system!

The entire premise of the drug war is supposed to be public safety. And yet, the market found a way to let people buy and sell drugs in a completely safe manner. To date there is zero violence that can be traced back to the Silk Road. While the alleged operator was accused of murder-for-hire when he was arrested, those charges have since been dropped.

But instead of applauding helpful entrepreneurs for solving an important public safety problem, the FBI instead seized Silk Road, an entirely legal marketplace, selling a variety of goods and services, only some of which were illegal. And it did so before convicting its alleged owner of any crime.

The result has been a new fun game of internet drug marketplace whack-a-mole. Of course the FBI isn’t going to stop people from buying and selling drugs online. But every time one of these sites is seized without due process, all the relationships between trusted buyers and sellers and user data must be re-established. No one’s safer, but everyone is inconvenience, and every time more people end up rotting in prison for nonviolent offenses.

Now the exact same thing is happening with My Redbook, a website where sex workers share health and safety information and to find clients in a safe environment. Again, most of the violence associated with selling sex results from criminalization. Violence is much more likely when a perpetrator knows a victim won’t call police. Online marketplaces such as My Redbook make work safer for prostitutes. Outdoor work requires snap judgments, and climbing into the car with total strangers. The web makes screening clients far easier, and puts the worker in greater control of where liaisons happen.

So how has the FBI responded to this boon to worker safety? The agency seized the website and shut it down before convicting anyone of any crime. Again, running a health and safety website with forums people can use to find clients is not illegal.

In between the seizures of Silk Road and My Redbook, the DOJ began Operation Choke Point. The purpose seems to be to dump people operating in legal gray areas into the gray market. As a result of pressure from the DOJ, big banks are dropping customers such as gun sellers and sex workers, closing their accounts and forcing them to find banking services elsewhere. Of course elsewhere is the world of online banking, where fees and interest rates are higher than traditional banks.

Again, it’s difficult to see how anyone is safer as a result of having to use an online bank instead of a traditional one.

There is real violence associated with drugs, guns, and sex work. All of it happens in the real world, where bodies meet bodies. Seizing websites and threatening banks into dumping customers does absolutely nothing to solve the problem of real-world violence. In fact, it counteracts the benefits of moving these marketplaces online. Shutting down a legal website before convicting the owner of any crime also violates his or her speech rights and deprives them of due process.

Physical safety for citizens should be the goal of law enforcement. As such, law enforcement should not only let online marketplaces and forums and banks do their jobs in peace, but perhaps even encourage street vendors to move online. Eliminating transactions by shutting down websites is as ineffective as it is illegal. The goal instead should be to make transactions as safe as possible.

This piece originally appeared at


U.S. spying may cost the U.S. economy billions

Talk about bad timing.

This week marked the start of renewed negotiations for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the European Union and the U.S. And mere days before that, the German federal prosecutor’s office confirmed that it is investigating another possible case of U.S. spying in Germany. Imagine being at the TTIP negotiating table with that elephant in the room.

Billions upon billions of dollars in potential economic growth for both Germany and the U.S. are at stake with this free trade agreement. Forbes notes that “one study, done for the EU, concluded that a comprehensive trans-Atlantic trade and investment agreement would add $122 billion annually to the American economy and $150 billion annually to the European economy.”

But now European anger over U.S. spying may put this landmark deal in serious jeopardy.

TTIP is complex and multifaceted, but essentially it is an attempt to reduce trade barriers and streamline regulations. Let’s focus on just a couple tiny slivers of it to get a sense of how important it could be to economies on both sides of the Atlantic. Simply standardizing regulatory differences between the EU and the U.S. could yield tremendous gains. For example, Germany mandates that blinker lights on cars must be orange. The U.S. mandates they must be red. This discrepancy creates an artificial and useless barrier to trade. Former congressman and WTO official James Bacchus calculated that streamlining these kinds of regulations by just 25 percent could increase combined GDP by $106 billion.

Another example: The U.S. and EU require different models of crash test dummies for car safety tests, even though the dummies ultimately accomplish the same goal. For carmakers, this means doing the same tests twice, adding significantly to the cost of the cars. Studies have found that differing auto safety standards end up adding about 25 percent to the costs of American cars sold in the EU.

In the midst of a tepid U.S. economic recovery, an agreement like TTIP would provide everyone with a much-needed economic boost. The benefits to eased and increased trade between countries really cannot be overstated.

And that’s why now is such a bad time for the world to learn that a German soldier may have been passing information to U.S. military intelligence, acting as an alleged double agent in Germany’s BND foreign intelligence service, according to media reports.

No wonder 70 percent of Germans characterize the U.S. as “power-hungry.” In addition, majorities of Germans describe the U.S. as arrogant and reckless. Germans are incredibly disappointed in President Obama. Based on Obama’s “hope and change” campaign rhetoric and promises of “the most transparent administration in history”, millions of people throughout Europe expected a radical departure from the hawkish policies of President Bush. Instead, they have become increasingly disillusioned with Obama over the depth and breadth of NSA spying — including the spying on U.S. allies like Germany revealed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

That included recruiting German officials to spy on Germany for the U.S., tapping Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone, and monitoring around half a billion telephone calls, emails, and text messages in the country every month.

And now, many in German politics are using outrage over such snooping revelations to hold TTIP hostage.

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, Merkel’s former justice minister and a member of the traditionally pro-American Free Democratic Party, said she wanted free-trade negotiations to be put on ice and Edward Snowden — whose leaks informed Germany of the spying — to be granted the right to stay in Germany.

“We can’t go on like this,” Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said. “The Americans know no boundaries. They will only understand a clear message.”

But it’s Germany’s Green Party that is taking the lead on TTIP opposition. Berlin must “take a more resolute approach to the U.S. government,” said Katrin Göring-Eckardt, head of the Green Party’s parliamentary group. That has already meant expelling U.S. intelligence operatives from the country. But it could also mean expanding counterespionage against the U.S., and, of course, blocking TTIP.

The White House isn’t budging. The Obama administration recently rejected a proposed “no-spy” agreement between Washington and Berlin. And the administration is resisting any potential legal constraints on its foreign intelligence collection, citing worries that other countries would ask for similar treatment.

The diplomatic toll of spying on friendly nations led by friendly leaders is considerable. The German people are now justifiably distrustful and upset with their American allies. And the unwillingness on the part of the U.S. to put any limits on spying or provide any transparency about who is being targeted or why further divides the U.S. from its allies.

However, with TTIP now in the balance, the toll is no longer just diplomatic, but financial as well. Billions of dollars in economic growth are at stake. So far, the Obama administration has offered no satisfactory justification for surreptitious foreign intelligence gathering in Germany. With the costs of spying this high, explanation and justification are the least that we, Americans and Germans alike, deserve.

This post originally appeared at The Week.


Netroots Nation and Liberal Populism Key to Defeating Hillary

Last week Netroots Nation, formerly Yearly Kos, went down in the city that best represents how well a corrupt, overweening government can respond to changing economic conditions. Detroit, Michigan hosted a meetup for particularly whiny and net-savvy liberals got together to whine about how the Democratic Party isn’t in touch with the people. And it’s within the belly of this discontent beast that we can see the key to defeating Hillary at the ballot box.

Netroots refers generally to the lefty blogosphere. It’s kind of like the Tea Party of the that side, in that it’s people who are more liberal than mainstream left wingers. For example, when Vice President Joe Biden was speaking, a faction of the audience had to be escorted out for chanting “Stop deporting our families.”

They also take social justice more seriously than mainstream Democrats. A candidate for state representative in Michigan asserted that water is a human right and called on the crowd to call Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s office to stop the water shutoffs for Detroit residents before Biden got up to speak.

But unlike the Tea Party, the average netroot netizen is actually younger than the average Democrat. In 2008, and less so in 2012, this young voter was essential to candidate Barack Obama’s success. He got this voter off their butt and into the booth with his lofty, lefty promises. He promised not to raise taxes one cent on those making under $100,000. He promised to close Guantanamo. He was going to oversee the most transparent administration in history. He would provide a path to citizenship, implement a non-interventionist foreign policy, and stand up to business corruption.

Today, that voter is disillusioned with the Democratic Party. President Barack Obama has been a major disappointment in every single area, and broken nearly every campaign promise he made. His one area of “success,” the policy on which he spent every cent of his political capital, his one accomplishment as a president, ObamaCare, is riddled with hiccups, underperformance, rollbacks, delays, exemptions, and errors. And, as the Netroots Netizen will point out, even if it works as intended, ObamaCare is not single-payer health insurance, which is what liberals want. Instead, ObamaCare is a major handout to those loathsome creatures the health insurance companies. Obama offered the companies every single American citizen on a silver platter. Obama told Americans, “Buy health insurance from these companies, or pay a fine.”

In a way, Hillary Clinton is a boon to the GOP. She’s not even going to try to energize the young, liberal Democratic wing. She has nothing to offer.

She’s a typical tax-and-spend liberal, something young people who are chronically un- and under-employed are not exactly energized by. When Jon Stewart asked Hillary Clinton about her views on America’s foreign policy, she replied, “We have a great story about human freedom, human rights, human opportunity.” There is literally no space between her and whoever the GOP might nominate.

No mention of Guantanamo. No denunciation of extrajudicial killings of American citizens abroad. No drone strikes. No, America has been doing it right, we’re just not adamant enough about our rightness. On NSA spying whistleblower Edward Snowden, Hillary has called for his prosecution.

As far as standing up to business corruption, Hillary Clinton IS business corruption. From the Arkansas legislature to the White House to New York, Hillary Clinton has left a trail of backroom deals, shady businessmen, and crony capitalism in her wake.

These young, liberal voters may not all know about Hillary Clinton’s frankly establishment Republican stances on foreign policy and spying and collusion between business and government. But a candidate like Rand Paul could help bring these deficiencies to light. Rand Paul has stood up to President Obama about NSA overreach, extrajudicial killings, punishing whistleblowers, staying out of foreign conflicts and crony capitalism. Rand Paul would be able to, if not woo these young liberals, at least show them that they should stay home for Hillary.

Either way, it should be the goal of the Republican noise machine from now until Election Day to show the lefty young uns that Hillary Clinton is NOT one of them.


Why I’m an Anarcha-Feminist: A Moral System Explained

I’m not, in any way, a Noam Chomsky fan. However, I couldn’t help be struck by his description of anarchism in a recent interview.

Primarily it is a tendency that is suspicious and skeptical of domination, authority, and hierarchy. It seeks structures of hierarchy and domination in human life over the whole range, extending from, say, patriarchal families to, say, imperial systems, and it asks whether those systems are justified.

First of all, yes, exactly, brilliant.

But second, “patriarchal families” is something I’d generally skip over. The pithiness of the entire statement, plus me going through and deciding where and when to cut off the part I wanted to quote, had me pass over it again, and notice it.

Anarchy asks whether patriarchal families are justified.

The answer I’ve come to, after years of thought, beginning while I was still embroiled in Evangelical Christianity, on through self-identifying as a non-practicing deist Christian anarcho-capitalist, is, essentially, sometimes.

First we’ve got to decide what we mean by justified. I don’t know Chomsky’s moral system, but from the fact that he’s an anarcho-syndicalist I’d guess that maximizing human prosperity isn’t the aim of his ethics.

It is mine.

And what I have decided, after looking at the evidence, is that patriarchal families are not conducive to maximizing human prosperity. So to me, they are not justified.

Part of why I broke up with the Evangelical church is that I lost faith in its moral system. I overgeneralize and hyperbolize here, I realize, but, for the sake of clarity, I’ll summarize the Evangelical moral philosophy as:

We think Jesus or Paul said this activity is right or wrong, so that makes it right or wrong.

The idea that it is morally wrong for women to teach men, or that premarital sex is wrong, is justified on the exact same grounds that one could use to justify requiring that women must cover their heads in church in order to be right with God. That they don’t cover their heads is clearly a matter of practicality, but pointing that out made my fellow churchgoers hella uncomfortable.

Similarly, I overgeneralize and hyperbolize when I describe the moral system of social conservatism to be,

This activity is different than the activity I’m comfortable with and that has a long track record so it’s wrong.

Though my social conservatism was inextricably linked with Evangelical Christianity, and fell away as I dumped it, I similarly reject its premise. Accepting or rejecting an activity as moral requires more, for me, than approval by a person or persons or a long track record. Cab companies have a long track record. Uber is better.

I get, intellectually, the idea that humans are incomplete and fallible in our intellect, information and understanding. The idea is that because we are not omniscient, we need a supernatural power to tell us how to act. How interesting that faith in the supernatural (but not church membership or attendance) negatively correlates with education and intelligence. It’s almost like the more faith one has in one’s own intellect, information and understanding, the less able one is to buy into this particular moral system.

Because when you look at it, the Evangelical moral system is actually opposed to intellect, information and understanding. God loves us, right? So surely he’d set up a moral system which would maximize our self-interest. Surely being a devout Christian would make us wealthier, happier, more fulfilled and living longer, healthier lives. But, no, it says in the New Testament pretty clearly that following Jesus will lead to alienation, persecution and suffering.

I don’t know, man. I’m just not sure I’m into that. I really mean that. I don’t know. Maybe I should be proclaiming the Gospel and being shunned and sacrificing my worldly happiness for eternal glory. But I do know that the moral code I preached when I was Evangelical, a path to heaven which consisted of renouncing homosexuality and saving yourself for marriage and eschewing drugs, was wrong. And worse, incredibly alienating and hurtful. So since following that moral code brought me to a place I shudder to remember, hurting people and making their lives more difficult, I’ve rejected and replaced it.

As well, I intellectually understand the socially conservative idea that because institutions like marriage and monogamy have “worked” over millennia, they should be protected and enshrined, and that deviation from them threatens the entire working system, and should be punished accordingly. But worked for whom? Yes, marriage and monogamy and insisting women maintain modesty and sexual purity has in the past helped establish and maintain stable, two-parent households in which children could grow up relatively unscathed. However, at what cost to the women involved? And, are we mistaking cause and effect here? Stable marriages, marriage at all, really, has always been most easily and readily available to the wealthiest, the most educated, the most intelligent and the most emotionally strong among us. Is it possible that it’s all those factors which make for the best parenting among the married, and not the marriage itself?

Furthermore, is it possible that what we’re actually seeing is a vicious cycle, in which our ideas about a woman’s proper place help keep her from being able to be economically independent, which then makes her solo parenting marred by grinding poverty, which helps bolster support for the idea that she should be parenting within a marriage?

And even beyond that, is it possible that a man as head of the household, which is what I believe Chomsky was referring to when he said “patriarchal families” only makes sense when women are poorly educated? Now that women are earning more degrees than are men, why relegate decision making to the less-informed of the two?

Another data point which challenges the justification for “patriarchal families” is whether it makes sense for men to head households when their wives outearn them. Since single, childless women in cities outearn their male counterparts, insisting that a family be headed by a man will lead to women eschewing marriage entirely, for lack of a suitable partner.

No, I find both moral systems irredeemably flawed. That’s not to say either get everything wrong. It’s to say that I reject the foundations upon which they are built. No, it’s not enough for me to accept something as moral that Jesus or Paul reportedly said it is. I’ll wear my head fully uncovered should I go to church, thankyouverymuch. And no, that people have always done it and it’s worked okay is not reason enough for me to accept that in the here and now, it’s something worth doing. You can take your admonition for me to submit to my husband and shove it where the sun don’t shine.

My moral system is essentially this: Something is moral if the empirical evidence indicates it makes people happier, more connected or wealthier. Is this arbitrary? Arbitrary as hell. I could have as easily said that something is moral if it increases equality. And I do enjoy equality, but I justify it by the evidence that equality of opportunity, and equality before the law is generally conducive to happiness, connectedness and prosperity.

So, basically, all that is part of why I’m an anarcha-feminist.

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