School’s Out; Reactionaries Hate That

If there’s been one bright spot in America’s COVID-19 experience, it’s the near-complete shutdown of an expensive and obsolete government education system cribbed from mid-19th century Prussia.

Across the country, “public” pre-K thru 12th-grade programs closed their doors this spring. Some districts attempted to hobble along using not yet ready for prime time online learning systems. Others just turned the kids loose to likely learn far more than they would have in the combination daycare centers and youth prisons that pass for schools these days.

It was a perfect opportunity to scrap “public education” as we know it, perhaps transitioning entirely to distance learning as a waypoint on the journey toward separation of school and state.

Naturally, the political class hates that idea. Primary and secondary education constitute an $800 billion per year job and welfare program, with beneficiaries (read: voters and campaign contributors) up and down its extensive food chain.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran isn’t one to let a little thing like a pandemic derail that gravy train: He’s ordered the state’s government schools to re-open in August,  operating at least five days per week and offering “the full panoply of services” — from glorified babysitting to teacher pay to big agribusiness buys for school lunch programs — to those beneficiaries.

It seems likely that most states will follow Corcoran’s lead to one degree or another, naturally also seeking ways to blow even more money than usual on enhanced social distancing, increased surface disinfection work, etc.

That seems to be the consensus of the entire American mainstream political class, from “progressive left” to “conservative right.”

Yes, Republicans and evangelical Christians will bellyache about the teachers’ unions,.

Yes, Democrats and the unions will gripe about charter schools and voucher programs.

But they’re united in their determination to resuscitate the system as it existed before the pandemic, instead of letting that rotten system die a well-deserved death and moving on to better things.

There’s a word for that attitude.

The word is “reactionary.”

As time goes on, we’ll hear lots of agonized propaganda about how the pandemic has forced huge changes in “public” education. Those changes will be entirely cosmetic. The authoritarian infrastructure beneath won’t have changed at all.

By letting the political class pretend that history can be forced to run backward, we’re denying future generations the real educational opportunities that past generations denied us.

School’s out. We should keep it that way.

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Changing Your Beliefs

I used to think people could change their beliefs.

I thought if people were presented with better information which showed the flaw in their belief, they would change their belief to fit the new information. I thought the process would be almost automatic.

After all, I’ve done it many times over the course of my life. I’ve also seen it happen in people I know. I know from personal experience that it can be done.

Sadly, it seems this isn’t as common as I had assumed.

In spite of overwhelming evidence, people still believe cops (and political government) are good and necessary– or, at least a “necessary evil” [sic]. They fear or hate anarchy without even understanding what it is. They imagine there’s such a thing as “too much liberty” and see it as a threat.

No amount of information, logic, or evidence to the contrary will budge them from their belief. They believe it, and that’s the end of it.

I realized the problem: even flawed beliefs based on bad information can still “work”. It’s not as dangerous to hold an erroneous belief as it seems it should be. So, as long as the belief isn’t causing them immediate agony or death, it’s less painful to hold onto it than to change it.

Therefore, I no longer expect better information to influence anyone, but I still put it out there so they’ll have no excuse. And I’ll still make fun of them for believing such ridiculous things.

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Want to Reform the Criminal Justice System? End the Drug War

Protesters say America’s criminal justice system is unfair.

It is.

Courts are so jammed that innocent people plead guilty to avoid waiting years for a trial. Lawyers help rich people get special treatment. A jail stay is just as likely to teach you crime as it is to help you get a new start. Overcrowded prisons cost a fortune and increase suffering for both prisoners and guards.

There’s one simple solution to most of these problems: End the war on drugs.

Our government has spent trillions of dollars trying to stop drug use.

It hasn’t worked. More people now use more drugs than before the “war” began.

What drug prohibition did do is exactly what alcohol prohibition did a hundred years ago: increase conflict between police and citizens.

“It pitted police against the communities that they serve,” says neuroscientist Carl Hart in my new video. Hart, former chair of Columbia University’s Psychology department, grew up in a tough Miami neighborhood where he watched crack cocaine wreck lives. When he started researching drugs, he assumed that research would confirm the damage drugs did.

But “one problem kept cropping up,” he says in his soon-to-be-released book, Drug Use For Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, “the evidence did not support the hypothesis. No one else’s evidence did either.”

After 20 years of research, he concluded, “I was wrong.” Now, he says, our drug laws do more harm than drugs.

Because drug sales are illegal, profits from selling drugs are huge. Since sellers can’t rely on law enforcement to protect their property, they buy guns and form gangs.

Cigarettes harm people, too, but there are no violent cigarette gangs—no cigarette shootings—even though nicotine is more addictive than heroin, says our government. That’s because tobacco is legal. Likewise, there are no longer violent liquor gangs. They vanished when prohibition ended.

But what about the opioid epidemic? Lots of Americans die from overdoses!

Hart blames the drug war for that, too. Yes, opioids are legal, but their sale is tightly restricted.

“If drugs were over the counter, there would be fewer deaths?” I asked.

“Of course,” he responds. “People die from opioids because they get tainted opioids….That would go away if we didn’t have this war on drugs. Imagine if the only subject of any conversation about driving automobiles was fatal car crashes….So it is with the opioid epidemic.”

Drugs do harm many people, but in real life, replies Hart, “I know tons of people who do drugs; they are public officials, captains of industry, and they’re doing well. Drugs, including nicotine and heroin, make people feel better. That’s why they are used.”

President Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex. America’s drug war funds a prison-industrial complex. Hart says his years inside the well-funded research side of that complex showed him that any research not in support of the “tough-on-drugs” ideology is routinely dismissed to “keep outrage stoked” and funds coming in.

America locks up more than 2 million Americans. That’s a higher percentage of our citizens, disproportionately black citizens, than any other country in the world.

“In every country with a more permissive drug regime, all outcomes are better,” says Hart. Countries like Switzerland and Portugal, where drugs are decriminalized, “don’t have these problems that we have with drug overdoses.”

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drug use. Instead of punishing drug users, they offer medical help. Deaths from overdoses dropped sharply. In 2017, Portugal had only 4 deaths per million people. The United States had 217 per million.

“In a society, you will have people who misbehave, says Hart. “But that doesn’t mean you should punish all of us because someone can’t handle this activity.”

He’s right. It’s time to end the drug war.

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The New Censors

Do you say what you think? That’s risky! You may get fired!

You’ve probably heard about a New York Times editor resigning after approving an opinion piece by Senator Tom Cotton that suggested the military to step in to end riots.

Many Times reporters tweeted out the same alarmist wording, “Running this puts Black NY Times staffers in danger.”

Really? How?

In my new video, Robby Soave, a Reason magazine editor who writes about young radicals, explains, “They only claim it because that’s their tactic for seizing power in the workplace.”

They learned this tactic from so-called woke professors and fellow activists at expensive colleges, says Soave.

Last year, Harvard students demanded that law professor Ron Sullivan resign as a resident dean. Why? He’d agreed to be part of Harvey Weinstein’s legal defense team.

A female student said, “I don’t feel safe!” although Sullivan had been a dean for many years. Sullivan resigned.

At UCLA, business school lecturer Gordon Klein rejected a request to give black students different treatment on their final exam because of George Floyd’s death. Klein pointed out that since the class was online, he had no way of knowing which students were black. He also told students: “remember that MLK famously said that people should not be evaluated based on the color of their skin.”

The activist group Color of Change (which once demanded that I be fired) launched a petition to have Klein “terminated for his extremely insensitive, dismissive, and woefully racist response.” UCLA quickly caved. Klein is on mandatory leave.

Now that many former college radicals have jobs at elite media companies, they demand that newspapers not say certain things.

When, in response to looting during George Floyd protests, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran the insensitive headline, “Buildings Matter, Too,” 44 staff members claimed that “puts our lives at risk.” Their letter didn’t give any evidence as to how it threatened their lives (in fact, today both blacks and whites are safer than ever), but they won. The editor resigned.

A week later, young activists at NBC news tried to silence The Federalist, a respected conservative site that NBC labelled as “far-right.” The Federalist had published a column that said, correctly, that the media falsely claimed that violent riots were peaceful. But the column did contain a mistake. It quoted a government official saying tear gas was not used, when it had been used.

NBC then ran an article bragging that Google blocked The Federalist‘s ads after an “NBC news verification unit” brought The Federalist‘s “racism” to Google’s attention. NBC’s reporter even thanked left-wing activist groups for their “collaboration.”

But NBC was wrong. Google didn’t cut off The Federalist. Google merely threatened that if The Federalist didn’t police its comments section.

It was one time when the activist mob’s smears failed. But they keep trying to kill all sorts of expression.

Some now even want the children’s TV show Paw Patrol canceled because it suggests law enforcement is noble.

When activists decide that certain words or arguments are “offensive,” no one must use those words.

But “we’re supposed to occasionally offend each other,” says Soave, “because you might be wrong. We have to have a conversation about it. We have to challenge dogma. What if we were still with the principle that you couldn’t speak out against the King?! That’s the history of the Middle Ages.”

That’s when authorities arrested Galileo for daring to say that the earth revolved around the sun.

“That’s the condition that all humans lived under until just the last 300 years, and it was a much less happy place,” says Soave. “Then we came to an idea that we improve society by having frank and sometimes difficult conversations about policy issues, philosophy, about how we’re going to get along and live together.”

Life has been much better since people acquired the right to speak freely.

Elite colleges spread the idea that speech can be a form of violence. “Words are like bullets!” they say.

But words are words; bullets are bullets. We must keep them apart.

When entitled leftists declare themselves the sole arbiters of truth, it’s crucial that we all speak up for free speech.

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Politics Reason Behind a Lot of Anger

Why is there so much anger in the world?

People fight over statues; over differing opinions on gender, race, and policing. Over masks and whether to end the shutdown or keep society imprisoned until everyone is perfectly safe — which can never be.

Activists are even protesting to abolish the Fourth of July … without mentioning Independence Day. I guess if they are successful, future calendars will skip from the third to the fifth … unless the activists are confused.

What causes anger over such issues? Politics — where every win comes at someone’s expense.

Politics forces everyone along the same path. Legislation dictates things only our ethics and morals should determine. To understand the anger, notice how politics makes a difference of opinion into a life and death struggle. An unnecessary one.

It’s odd that something imagined to be a hallmark of civilized society is instead the root of most antisocial behavior. Trying to form a society around politics is like trying to form a pearl around a pellet of nuclear waste.

If you want to play politics, go ahead, but any results should only apply to you. You shouldn’t expect others to be bound by your results. They shouldn’t be expected to fund your political institutions or agencies. If you want it, you fund it. I have better uses for my money.

Just as there is no “one-size-fits-all” church, you shouldn’t be able to force everyone to participate in the same political system based on location. Or any political system at all. If you force everyone to play your game by your rules, or else, your game is toxic. Society would be better off without it.

Just imagine if no one were forced to fund a park or a statue. If your group builds a park, good for you. If you want to put a statue in the park to honor Willie Nelson, people can choose to visit your park or not. As long as they aren’t forced to subsidize it, they aren’t harmed.

If, however, you force people to chip in for the park and pay for statues and monuments to things they dislike, it’s no wonder people get angry. I do, too.

The way these things are currently done causes strife. It’s long past time to give it up and try something better. Something voluntary, based on unanimous consent. If you want to chip in, go ahead. If you’d rather not, go your own way. It’s the only civilized way to organize a society.

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Afghanistan Bounties: Pot, Meet Kettle (and Turn Off the Stove!)

“American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan,” claims the New York Times.

More controversially, the authors write that US president Donald Trump was briefed on the assessment (he denies it) and the piece’s tagline says that his administration “has been deliberating for months” on how to respond (he says the US intelligence community didn’t find the claims credible).

Naturally, the response preferred by those who buy the Times‘s version of events is:

First, make domestic political hay with it. Sure, trying to frame Trump as a Russian asset has backfired spectacularly every time it’s been tried, but sooner or later it’s bound to work, right?

Second, make foreign policy hay with it. Punish the Russians until they’ve been baited back to full-blown Cold War levels of enmity, all the while whining that “they hate us for our freedom.”

I’ve got a better plan.

First, reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan to zero. If there aren’t any US forces in Afghanistan, no US forces in Afghanistan will be in danger due to supposed “Russian bounties.”

Second, ignore — forget! — the slim possibility that Russian bounties were behind any American deaths.

Problems solved.

Why should the US let the Russians off the hook and quit worrying about it? Here’s why:

To date, fewer than 2,500 Americans have died in Afghanistan in nearly 19 years of war.

The Russians’ 1979-1989 Afghan war lasted about half as long. Their toll was 15,000 dead.

Why didn’t the Russians get off as lightly as the Americans?

Because the US government spent at least $3 billion directly  funding and arming groups like al Qaeda to fight the Russians in Afghanistan (through the CIA’s “Operation Cyclone”), and billions more indirectly via the Pakistani government.

Even counting only the known direct aid, that amounts to a $200 in-kind bounty for every dead Russian soldier. $200 was a pretty sweet paycheck, more than Afghanistan’s per capita GDP during most of that period.

If there is a Russian bounty program on US troops in Afghanistan now, it’s clearly been less successful than the equivalent US program was 30-40 years ago. And with that program, the US government gave up any conceivable standing to complain about a Russian remix.

That supposed remix is just one more reason, from among a long list of good reasons, to bring the troops home from Afghanistan.

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