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A Motorcycle Salesman Looks Back

By Jonathan Travelstead

Gone are the post-war dinosaurs whose death roars leaked
from their slash-cut pipes like twenty-weight crude. Gone, too,

is friction’s golden age, and the epoch of hub and greased axle
when the sprocket’s teeth were chained, worn smooth

as the piston’s wearisome slap. Machines are passing
from our lives. The new models have been disburdened

of the instrument cluster’s messy syntax so enlightenment
comes stock with the hardware’s removal. We've turned from

the Pythagorean nightmares of metric and standard systems,
shirked the dynamo for axion and joule. Thoreau,

even Sir St. Stephen Jobs III would beam at the godliness
of this simpler living. Take any body before this one.

Unfasten its cowling, peer inside at the horror of wet tines
and pinions, then tell me you prefer a musket to a laser beam.

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Google eavesdropping tool secretly installed

(THE GUARDIAN) — Privacy campaigners and open source developers are up in arms over the secret installing of Google software which is capable of listening in on conversations held in front of a computer.

First spotted by open source developers, the Chromium browser – the open source basis for Google’s Chrome – began remotely installing audio-snooping code that was capable of listening to users.

It was designed to support Chrome’s new “OK, Google” hotword detection – which makes the computer respond when you talk to it – but was installed, and, some users have claimed, it is activated on computers without their permission.

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Senator: Hack-attack cleanup making bigger mess

keyboard_computer_1927001b

The cyber breach at America’s federal Office of Personnel Management through which the personal data of an estimated 18 million former, current – and even prospective – federal workers was lost is, by one commentator’s estimate, the “Holy Grail” from a counterintelligence perspective.

“They [the hackers] can target Americans in their database for recruitment or influence. After all, they know their vices, every last one – the gambling habit, the inability to pay bills on time, the spats with former spouses, the taste for something sexual on the side. …

“Do you have friends in foreign countries, perhaps lovers past and present? They know all about them. That embarrassing dispute with your neighbor over hedges that nearly got you arrested? They know about that, too. Your college drug habit? Yes, that, too.”

The comments are from John Schindler, a former professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College and veteran of the National Security Agency who writes now about counterespionage.

CNN reported just Monday that FBI Director James Comey provided the estimate that the files, including vast reams of personal details, of 18 million people had been stolen.

The report said the estimate came during a closed-door briefing to senators recently and was based on OPM’s internal data.

The records belong to even those who applied for work with the government, but never were offered, or accepted, a job.

U.S. investigators have suggested that the Chinese government is behind the theft, which is thought to be the worst ever against the U.S. government.

WND reported Monday Heritage Foundation cyber security expert Riley Walters was alarmed by the breach, referring the description he’s heard about a “Pearl Harbor.”

“The cyber analysts have been trying to use that term for quite a while now. I guess this is one of those times you could theoretically use the term,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., says the attack was “a critical threat to our national security and economy.”

Even worse

But he said it gets even worse.

He has written to OPM Director Katherine Archuleta taking issue with the performance of the contractor OPM hired to provide credit monitoring services and identity theft protection to the employees affected by the breach.

Warner said he has received complaints from many of them about long wait times and unreliable or inaccurate services being provided by the contractor Winvale through its subcontractor, CSID.

“As you are well aware,” Warner said in his letter to Archuleta, “I have a large number of constituents in Virginia who are current, former or retired federal employees, and in the past two weeks, I have heard complaints from many of them about the poor quality of service provided by CSID.

“My constituents have reported that the website crashes frequently, and that the company’s dedicated hotline regarding the OPM breach has incredibly long wait times,” he said. “Wait times of over an hour are not uncommon.”

Some constituents have told Warner that the wait time on the CSID hotline has been some 90 minutes to speak with a representative.

Warner said many of the workers had received inaccurate or out-of-date information regarding their credit history, which “calls into question CSID’s ability to appropriately protect them from fraud and ID theft.”

“Others have reported extreme difficulties with obtaining information from CSID regarding the terms and conditions of the $1 million in identity theft insurance they have been offered as part of CSID’s contract with the federal government,” he said.

“I also question CSID and OPM’s judgment in contacting victims by emailing with a recommendation that they click on a link to CSID’s website to sign up for credit monitoring – a violation of basic cybersecurity protocols that employees should never click on unfamiliar links because they risk exposing employees to scammers’ phishing attempts,” he said.

Warner also took issue with OPM’s approach in awarding the sole-source contract to CSID via its main contractor, Winvale Group LLC.

36-hour contract proposal

The Request for Quotation, or RFQ, was out for only 36 hours which Warner said would not have given enough time for companies to learn of it and evaluate its terms and submit a bid for the contract. As it was, OPM had amended the proposal three times.

“According to procurement experts,” Warner said, “such a short turnaround time is highly unusual and raises suggestions that OPM could have intentionally steered the contract to CSID.

“While there was and remains a time-sensitive imperative to protect the personal information of our federal workers,” Warner said, “the General Services Administration is already equipped to assist agencies in quickly setting up credit monitoring services in the event of a breach.”

In 2006, following the breach of personal information of millions of veterans, active-duty military personnel at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the GSA awarded contracts to three companies to assist federal agencies needing credit monitoring services. Those three agencies were Equifax Inc., Experian Consumer Direct and Bearak Reports, a small woman-owned firm in Massachusetts.

Warner said that of the three, Bearak was not aware of the RFQ and, if it were, it would have bid on the contract.

“This raises questions as to whether OPM followed all appropriate federal procurement protocols in awarding this contact,” Warner said.

“As it stands,” Warner wrote, “at least [18] million federal employees have had their personal and financial information exposed and are now, through no fault of their own, at risk for potential fraud and identify theft.

“OPM has an obligation to take this threat seriously,” he said. “The agency’s awarding of this contract suggests, however, that protecting employees exposed by the breach is not the top priority for OPM that it should be.”

Current and former federal workers also have complained about further privacy concerns after they decided to register for services with CSID.

The NextGov.com website refers to one case in which a former federal employee had responded to a series of security questions, one of which had to do with student loans. After the woman answered “No” to the question of whether she had any student loans, she received three robocalls advising her she qualifies for government assistance on a student loan.

“I just thought that is such a strange coincidence that I get this call after I have had a security question involving whether or not I’ve had a student loan,” she said. “And I’m not a conspiracy theorist.”

A number of current federal employees say they intend to pass on the free assistance from CSID, since they believe it may be part of the cyber breach. One federal worker who holds a security clearance said that she was leery of any letter from CSID, saying they’re not sure the notification letters are legitimate government communications.

OPM officials declined to say whether they can or will supply CSID with a government email address to direct to a government website to assist with the notification process.

The company did not respond immediately to a WND request for comment.

 

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Police knew of child in ‘murdered mom’s’ car

Police with guns drawn surround Miriam Cary on Oct. 3, 2013

Police with guns drawn surround Miriam Carey on Oct. 3, 2013

WASHINGTON – A former member of the Secret Service Uniformed Division has revealed he heard a radio transmission inform officers there was a child in the car of Miriam Carey before officers shot her to death.

The former officer told the Carey family attorney he was on duty and in the officers’ locker room at the time he heard that radio call, and that he heard a number of other radio reports, until the chase ended with the shooting of the unarmed woman.

If Secret Service officers were aware Carey’s infant child was strapped into the backseat of her car when they chased and shot her to death, that would add to the list of the violations of their own policies, as recently documented by WND after obtaining the secret documents.

Carey was the single mother from Stamford, Connecticut, who drove to Washington, D.C., with her infant daughter strapped into the back seat on Oct. 3, 2013. She drove up to a White House guard gate, apparently by mistake because she immediately tried to make a U-turn to leave, but was chased by uniformed Secret Service officers and U.S. Capitol Police officers and shot dead about two blocks from the Capitol.

Miriam Carey

Miriam Carey

WND obtained the official police report on the Carey shooting and detailed it in a five-part series. That report said four officers fired shots at Carey, two from the U.S. Capitol Police and two from the Secret Service Uniformed Division.

WND also obtained the secretive policy on vehicular pursuits in the U.S. Secret Service Uniformed Division Operational Procedures manual and the guidelines on the use of deadly force in the Homeland Security Legal Division Handbook, and detailed how officers violated their own rules by shooting and killing Carey.

If Secret Service officers were aware of the child in the car when shooting at it, that would add another serious violation.

Under the heading “General Policy” in the U.S. Secret Service Operational Procedures guidelines on “Vehicular Pursuits,” it states:

“Whenever it becomes evident that injury to citizens or members of the Force, or unnecessary property damage may result from a vehicular pursuit, that pursuit shall be immediately discontinued. Safety is the first priority, not arrest.”

Carey family attorney Eric Sanders told WND, “Certainly, since the officers had no authority to pursue them, they cannot establish authority to use deadly physical force against Miriam or her minor child.”

As WND previously reported, at least one officer immediately knew there was a child in Carey’s car, and he got on the police radio as soon as she left the White House guard post.

That indicates that all of the officers should have known they were shooting at a car with an infant strapped into the back seat.

The account from the White House guard in the police report includes this statement:

“As she got to the next set of barracks she made a U-turn and came back towards us. At this time she came to a stop or slowed down to an almost stop, I tried to open the front driver’s door but it was locked. I noticed that there was a baby in the car.”

He then added, “A look was broadcast as the vehicle traveled west on Pennsylvania Ave.”

Sanders, a former New York City Police officer, told WND a “look” stands for “be on the lookout for,” when used in radio transmissions.

The guard apparently did report the presence of the child in the car during his radio transmission, because the former Secret Service officer who spoke to Sanders confirmed he heard the mention of the child in a radio report.

Additionally, officers seemed to get a clear look inside Carey’s car, as seen in the video below, when she momentarily stopped at Garfield Circle, just below the Capitol.

Sanders said it was inconceivable that officers would not have seen the infant strapped into the child seat in the backseat.

But, for some reason, officers may have been surprised to find the child in the car after they shot and killed Carey.

The account from a Capitol Police officer who witnessed the crash of Carey’s car at the end of the chase read:

“Officer (redacted) said when the shots stopped he ran towards the suspect’s vehicle and noticed a small child in the back seat in a car seat. Officer (redacted) said the driver was unresponsive and he signaled to the other officers there was a child in the car. Officer (redacted) said he broke the car window and pulled the child from the car. Officer said the child was covered with glass and blood. Officer (redacted) said he wiped the child off and checked her for any injuries. Officer (redacted) said he rushed the child indoors and had a nurse treat the child. Officer (redacted) said he rode in the ambulance with the child to Children’s Hospital.”

The shots that stopped Carey’s car and presumably killed her were fired from behind her car, through the rear window, with her infant daughter strapped into a child’s car seat in the backseat.

The Justice Department claims officers fired their guns because Carey drove in reverse toward an officer at the end of the chase at Maryland Avenue and Second Street, but an eyewitness in the police report contradicted that claim.

That witness, a woman who apparently was working at the nearby Supreme Court, told police, as Carey’s “vehicle was backing up and before it struck the police booth, there were no police officers near the vehicle.”

It is possible officers did not hear about the child before they shot because of communication lapses between the Secret Service and Capitol Police, and because of the Reagan-era radio system still in use by police at the time of the Carey chase.

In March 2014, Roll Call reported Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., grilled Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine as to whether the antiquated radio system had hindered the department’s response to the Carey incident.

U.S. Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine holds news conference after Carey shooting on Oct. 3, 2013

Schultz said some police officers had said the radios used during the chase and shooting were not capable of communicating with Secret Service officers.

Dine said two emergency channels and a mutual aid radio system allowed the two agencies to communicate.

If that were true, would not officers have known of the child in the car?

And, if that were true, why did they shoot?

Such questions are why the killing of Miriam Carey is still a mystery, almost two years after her death.

Even long before WND uncovered all of these additional details, once he heard the basic facts of the case in December of 2013, famed civil libertarian Nat Hentoff said from all of the evidence he had seen in WND’s reports, which he called very thorough and easily corroborated, “[T]his is a classic case of police out of control and, therefore, guilty of plain murder.”

Follow Garth Kant @DCgarth

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‘Emerging Diseases’ takes on MERS, Ebola, more

ebola_virus_model

Whooping cough, smallpox, measles and tuberculosis, once enough to send American communities into paroxysms of fear through their very mention, are essentially exterminated, right?

And the U.S. is largely protected from exotics like Ebola, Chikungunya, Chagas disease, Dengue fever and others by distance and time, correct?

Not really, as Jane Orient, M.D., explains in the new free e-book from WND, “EMERGING DISEASES.”

“The dreaded infectious diseases of the past may be forgotten,” she writes, “but they are not gone, and diseases that are new, at least to the United States, are emerging.”

One of the newest is MERS, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which was first found in the Arabian Peninsula but already has spread to at least 20 other nations, including the United States.

Before that, it was Ebola, which is blamed for killing thousands horrifically on the African continent. It spread fear throughout America and the rest of the world.

There also was a recent measles epidemic, worries about the side effects of vaccines, rare diseases brought into America by illegal aliens, and ominously drug-resistant strains.

Orient, president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, warns there’s danger in letting such issues “drop off our radar.”

“Unfortunately, much of our public heath establishment has been diverted into protecting us against sugary soft drinks, rather than infectious disease threats,” she writes. “And public trust is being eroded by politicization of the issues and conflicts of interest.”

Orient’s special new e-book – titled “EMERGING DISEASES: Protecting Your Family from Pandemics, Viral Threats, and Rogue Vaccines” – is being made available FREE, exclusively to WND News Alert subscribers. A subscription to the free WND service will also give you access to other valuable free products like this one, plus all future giveaways – and we have many in store. So if you’re not yet subscribed to WND’s free news alerts, do so now and get instant access to “EMERGING DISEASES.”

The e-book discusses the threats right now from Ebola, Chikungunya, Dengue, Chagas, tuberculosis, smallpox, whooping cough, measles, and more.

“There is ultimately no substitute for the traditional public health methods of identification, isolation and contact tracing,” she writes.

Disease32

Suggestions for individuals?

“Keep on your shelf some older medical textbooks. You might be the first to recognition a condition that your physician has never seen or even heard of,” she advises.

And, importantly, “Find a physician you trust who is open to innovation and to individualized assessment of risks and benefits of vaccines. A physician needs to be working for you, not for an Obamacare ‘accountable care organization’ (ACO), a managed care organization, or a big institution such as a hospital.”

Orient earned undergraduate degrees in chemistry and mathematics from the University of Arizona and her MD from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. She’s been in solo practice since 1981.

 

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‘You hurt a lot of people, but I forgive you’

Dylann Roof

Dylann Roof

A magistrate judge in South Carolina has set bond at $1 million on a weapons charge for a 21-year-old man suspected of murdering nine people during a church meeting on Wednesday – but the hearing had shades of revival meeting embedded as family members of the victims used a victims’ impact statement time to forgive the alleged killer.

Dylann Roof was making his first appearance on the charges on Friday, and was in front of a camera in a tiny locked room in the jail near the courthouse. Two armed officers stood behind him during the hearing, which lasted only a few minutes.

Roof, wearing prison garb with a packet of papers in his shirt pocket, appeared subdued, answered the judge’s questions about age and address briefly, and appeared to show no emotion. His hands remained cuffed during the hearing.

The judge, James Gosnell, said he was not authorized by statute to set bond on murder charges, so Roof would remain behind bars no matter any other ruling on Friday.

He set Roof’s next court appearance for Oct. 23, and a subsequent hearing on Feb. 5, 2016.

Read “Redeemed Unredeemable: When America’s Most Notorious Criminals Came Face to Face With God” by Thomas Horn and Donna Howell.

In a move that was out of the ordinary, the judge himself made a statement before beginning the hearing.

“Charleston is a strong, very strong community,” he said. “We have big hearts. We’re a very loving community. We’re going to reach out to all victims … and we will touch them. We have victims, nine of them.”

But he also noted the victims on the “other side,” those members of Roof’s family.

“We must find it in our heart that at some point in time not only to help those who are victims but to help his family as well.”

The judge read the charges, and asked representatives of the victims’ families if they wanted to make statements. Several declined, but others came forward.

The daughter of victim Ethel Lance said, “I will never be able to hold her, but I forgive you. … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people, but I forgive you.”

A relative of victim Myra Thompson appeared to address Roof directly, “Take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to one who matters the most, Christ, so that he can change you.”

A family member for Tywanza Sanders said, “May God have mercy on your soul.”

Several others said they were determined that, although it appeared hate prompted the crime, they would not allow hate to reign.

One said, “We are the family that love built. We have no room for hate. We have to forgive … [but] I thank God I won’t be … around when your judgment day comes with Him.”

See WND’s extensive coverage of the Charleston, South Carolina, church massacre:

Big List of Drug-Induced Killers

Charleston shooter ‘wanted to start a civil war’

Big radio talkers react to church massacre

Charleston church shooter: ‘You rape our women’

Obama: America must ‘do something’ about ‘gun violence

Hero of 1993 church attack calls for being armed

Source: Charleston church shooter confesses to massacre

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Those Who Shape Us, the Lives We Touch

By Sandy Ikeda

Earlier this month, my 67-year-old sister, Virginia Ikeda, “Ginger” to me and my family, died peacefully after a long illness. I rarely write here about my personal life, let alone family matters. But I feel moved to share some thoughts on Ginger’s passing with you because of the impact she had on my beliefs and my career.

Those Who Shape Us

As far as economic lineages go, my pedigree is solid. The founder of the Austrian school of economics, Carl Menger, is my intellectual great-great grandfather. One of Menger’s most important students, Eugen von Boehm-Bawerk, taught Ludwig von Mises, who, after coming to the United States, had Israel Kirzner and Hans Sennholz as two of his most outstanding students. (The third is Murray Rothbard.) And I had the privilege of having both Kirzner and Sennholz as my teachers — who then are my intellectual fathers. (You might say that I had two Austrian daddies!) But I’m almost certain that none of this heritage would be mine were it not for my sister.

More than anyone in my life, she opened my eyes to unseen worlds and to some radical ideas.

Ginger was not only the oldest of five kids; she was also the most upbeat and adventuresome of us, even as we grew older. I’m pretty sure that without her love for music and performance, for instance, neither I nor my siblings would have pursued music as far as we did, or even at all. It was Ginger who first went off to university — neither of our parents had a chance to do so — and it was Ginger who exposed us firsthand to the counterculture of the 1960s and to some of the stranger lifestyles then emerging.

She rode across country alone on a motorcycle, joined a progressive-rock band, ran a candle business, played percussion in the Phoenix Symphony, and worked as a paralegal in a prestigious law office in Los Angeles. She wrote poetry and music, became a savvy computer programmer, and hosted her own radio talk show on technology. (No doubt she also did some “interesting” things that I’ll never know about.) She made friends easily with her openness, cleverness, and dry humor.

You Got What for Graduation?

And it was Ginger who, when I was 14 or so, nurtured my deepening interest in Buddhism, my family’s religion. She introduced me to her Buddhist friends, some of whom, remarkably, remained with her until her final hour.

In short, she exposed me to possibilities outside the provincial world of my hometown and to “big ideas.” That included politics, economics, and social issues.

In my sophomore year of high school (I think, though I can’t be sure), she gave me Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, which I read and studied closely. I can’t say that I appreciated its full importance immediately, but its central message — that actions should be evaluated based on both immediate and long-term consequences, not only for some people but for all — has stayed with me. She gave me Percy Greaves’s Understanding the Dollar Crisis, the book that introduced me to price theory, monetary theory, and Austrian business-cycle theory. Because of her influence, by my junior year in high school, I had decided to study either economics or political science in college.

Buddhism and Austrian economics have set the internal and external parameters of my life. And when I began writing this column for FEE more than five years ago, they merged in the name I chose for it: Wabi-sabi. We don’t use that name any more, but “wabi-sabi,” as I interpret it, nicely reflects what are for me the common elements of those two world views: that nothing is complete, nothing lasts, and nothing is perfect — and that’s okay.

I was thrilled when, as a high school graduation gift, Ginger presented me with a copy of Mises’s Human Action. Its green binding and gold lettering still adorn the bookshelf of my study, but like any much-loved text, it has become worn and marked up in the 40 summers since she gave it to me. On the endpapers, she had written:

For Sandy,

On your graduation from high school into manhood: I hope that you become and remain a strong, responsible and right-thinking man.

With love and best wishes,

Your sister,

Ginger

I don’t know how close I’ve come to fulfilling those hopes, but I do know that her gift has helped guide me on my way.

Mainly because of Ginger, I did major in economics when the time came, which in turn opened doors to graduate study that neither of us had foreseen, and that led eventually to the career I’ve found myself growing into these past 30 years or so.

The Lives We Touch

Gradually, our interests began to diverge, as those of, if I may say, reasonably smart people naturally do. As she delved ever more deeply into Buddhism, her interest in politics and social theory waned, and as my study of economics and social theory deepened, I spent less time studying Buddhism (although I do practice my faith daily). And as I gained knowledge of and confidence in the wide world she opened to me, our conversations would sometimes turn into disagreements and some of those into arguments — as often happens between people who care about ideas and principles. But the love we had for each other as brother and sister was always strong.

I moved to New York City, got married, and started a family and a career; she moved around a bit but settled some time ago in New Mexico, living, as she sometimes did, slightly off the grid. We would spend time together back home in Mesa, Arizona, over many Christmas holidays and at occasional family gatherings in between, until her health made that hard to do. The last time I saw her was shortly after Christmas last year, for two days and a night, at her home near Silver City. Though she was seriously ill, we managed to have delicious meals together, hugs, laughs, and conversations, including one fierce, hour-long argument. It was like old times, and I’ll always cherish that last visit.

I’m so grateful to have had Ginger in my life. I wish more of my friends and colleagues could have known her and felt her wit and charm. But then, it’s comforting to know that anyone whom I might touch will also be touched by her.

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Uber Solves the Fundamental Problem of the Marketplace

By Steven Horwitz

As an economic innovation, Uber exemplifies the way creative entrepreneurs discover new methods of providing better, less expensive consumer products and services. It also demonstrates how such creativity helps people navigate around barriers to entry created by government regulations that, though designed to protect consumers, end up protecting incumbent firms.

The benefits of these innovations have prompted me to write glowingly about services like Uber — many times, in fact. As much as I had written about it, though, I’d never actually used the service.

Until this month, that is. After three Uber rides in the last two weeks, not only am I more convinced about the value that the so-called “sharing economy” is providing; I have been struck by the way technology helps to solve the fundamental problem of the marketplace.

The fundamental problem of markets is the need to establish trust among strangers. In a wonderful and unappreciated book called In the Company of Strangers, Paul Seabright explores this formulation in great depth. He argues that for markets to work more fully, we need various institutions that allow strangers to be less suspicious of one another. We need to turn them into “honorary friends,” or in my own preferred version, “honorary kin.”

For most of human history, we lived in small, kin-based bands, where the people we interacted with were all people we knew personally. Our minds have evolved to know how to deal with such situations after millennia of living that way. The modern world, however, requires that we interact with people we do not know personally — but treat them as if we do.

The fundamental problem of markets is the need to establish trust among strangers.

Think about having someone come to your house to repair an appliance. A person you do not know and who you have never seen before is asking for access to your house. You allow them in. What gives you the confidence to do that? Presumably that person arrived in a vehicle with a company name on it (say, Sears) and is wearing a uniform that also reflects that organization’s identity.

We know that the profit motive of the market provides an incentive for firms to hire reliable people, and we use the brand name, the uniform, and other markers to ascertain this stranger’s trustworthiness. If someone knocked on your door after getting out of a regular passenger car, with no uniform on, maybe not at the time you contracted for, you’d be very hesitant to let that person in.

When you think about what a taxi or Uber ride is, you can see the same process at work. After all, what makes us willing to get into the backseat of a stranger’s car? With taxis, there are the obvious markers that are designed to generate trust: yellow or green paint (in the United States, anyway), a corporate name, and the name and picture of the driver, among others. Many of those markers are possible because of the corporate structure that puts all of the drivers in similar-looking vehicles with the same company’s name.

That, of course, is not how Uber works. Not only are you getting into the backseat of a stranger’s car; you are getting into the backseat of their personal vehicle, which has no obvious marking that it is intended to provide rides to strangers. At first blush, it seems like a case similar to an apparently random person showing up at your home to do repairs.

But Uber overcomes this apparent problem in several ways that make clever use of technology. When you request your ride, you are immediately given identifying information about the driver and car, including a thumbnail picture of the driver, the color and make of the car, and its license plate. An additional way in which Uber establishes trust is by using GPS technology to show you exactly where your car is and how long (and what path) it will take to get to you. Watching the car drive up on the Uber app as you see it in front of you is a major signal of trust.

Uber also gives you a cell number for your driver, which is useful if the pickup location is ambiguous. It also makes retrieving anything you left in the car much easier. Have you ever tried to get a lost item back from a cab company?

On a recent airport pickup, my Uber driver even had an auto-response on her phone that told me exactly where to meet her and gave further details about her car.

Uber also establishes trust through its rating system, which works much like those of eBay and other online, anonymous exchange-based sites. Riders rate drivers, and the driver’s rating appears alongside the identifying information about the car. Drivers rate riders, too, so if you misbehave in a car, you are less likely to get picked up the next time you need a ride. After all, sellers also have to trust buyers!

If drivers are not trustworthy, people will not use the service, and Uber will suffer.

Finally, Uber has the profit incentive, just as our appliance repair company does. If drivers are not trustworthy, people will not use the service, and Uber will suffer. Notice that taxi companies with various forms of government protection from competition (for example, the taxi medallions in New York City) do not face the same strong incentive effects here. They don’t have to please their customers in quite the same way. And that might explain why my airport Uber had a bottle of water waiting for me in a very clean, very comfortable, and relatively new car. That does not describe most taxi rides in most cities.

Of course, Uber isn’t perfect, as several recent allegations against drivers demonstrate. But no system is perfect, and it is not as if cab drivers have never been accused of or arrested for abusing passengers. Any such comparison must take into account all of the costs and benefits of each alternative. The flexibility and lower cost of Uber, plus the various ways it provides superior customer service, matter too, as does the fact that all transactions are credit card based. Customers and drivers need not carry cash, making them less likely to be robbed while looking for and accepting a ride.

Living out beautiful anarchy by finding ways around the state and crony-capitalist providers like cab companies requires that the alternatives, such as Uber, solve the problem of turning strangers into honorary kin. Thankfully, modern technology, such as the combination of GPS, electronic payment, and smartphones that Uber and other services in the sharing economy are using, provides effective ways of doing so and makes us willing to get in the backseats of strangers’ cars as if they were the backseat of our parents’ minivan.

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Church wins Supreme Court case on sign rules

ChurchSign

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that a town’s sign regulations must be content-neutral in order to be legal, striking down the rules that had been set up by officials in the town of Gilbert, Arizona, that targeted church signs with more restrictions than signs in other categories.

“The sign code identifies various categories of signs based on the type of information they convey, then subjects each category to different restrictions. One of the categories is ‘Temporary Directional Signs Relating to a Qualifying Event,’ loosely defined as signs directing the public to a meeting of a nonprofit group. The code imposes more stringent restrictions on these signs than it does on signs conveying other messages. We hold that these provisions are content-based regulations of speech that cannot survive,” the opinion said.

The issue was the town demanded church signs be posted only shortly before a “qualifying event” and removed immediately after, allowing very little time for the churches to let the public know of events.

The case was brought by Pastor Clyde Reed of Good News Community Church when his organization was cited for leaving a sign up too long after a meeting. His congregation rents temporary spaces each week for services, and he uses the signs to let people know where the meetings are being held.

The case was fought on his behalf by the Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF spokesman David Cortman said, “Speech discrimination is wrong regardless of whether the government intended to violate the First Amendment or not, and it doesn’t matter if the government thinks its discrimination was well-intended. It’s still government playing favorites, and that’s unconstitutional, as the Supreme Court today found.”

Get “Constitutional Chaos: What Happens When the Government Breaks Its Own Laws,” by Judge Andrew Napolitano for a briefing on such constitutional disputes.

The opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, said the town forbids any signs without a permit – but then “exempts 23 categories of signs from that requirement.”

Among the categories are “Ideological Signs,” “Political Signs” and “Temporary Directional Signs Relating to a Qualifying Event.”

Those “events” are any “assembly, gathering, activity, or meeting sponsored, arranged, or promoted by a religious, charitable, community service, educational, or other similar non-profit organization.”

Ideological signs can be 20 square feet with no time limits, while political signs could be 16 square feet and be up 60 days before and 15 days after elections.

But, the opinion said, “The code treats temporary directional signs even less favorable than political signs.”

“Temporary direction signs may be no larger than six square feet. They may be placed on private property or on a public right-of-way, but no more than four signs may be placed on a single property at any time. And, they may be displayed no more than 12 hours before the ‘qualifying event’ and no more than 1 hour afterward.”

That means for a 9 a.m. service, a sign could go up no earlier than 9 p.m., and would lose its effectiveness because of minimal traffic during overnight hours.

The church wanted to display times and locations of services, and would use signs to do that. A dozen or more with the name, location and time were posted on Saturdays and then taken down on Sundays.

The town twice cited the church for violating its sign code, specifically for exceeding time limits. Officials even confiscated one of the signs.

The town responded to the pastor’s concerns by promising “no leniency under the code,” and punishment, including the possibility of jail time, for “future violations.”

The district and intermediate appeals courts sided with the city, but Thomas wrote, “The First Amendment … prohibits the enactment of laws ‘abridging the freedom of speech.’”

He continued, “Content-based laws – those that target speech based on its communicative content – are presumptively unconstitutional and may be justified only if the government proves that they are narrowly tailored to serve compelling state interests.”

He said, “The restrictions in the sign code that apply to any given sign … depend entirely on the communicative content of the sign. If a sign informs its reader of the time and place a book club will discuss John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, that sign will be treated differently from a sign expressing the view that one should vote for one of Locke’s followers in an upcoming election, and both signs will be treated differently from a sign expressing an ideological view rooted in Locke’s theory of government.”

His conclusion, “The sign code is a content-based regulation of speech.”

In a discussion about the case as it developed, ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco explained the real question was whether free speech plaintiffs have to prove the government intentionally discriminated against their speech.

“So what? Well, the problem with requiring proof of discriminatory motive is that motive is notoriously hard to prove. Put simply, if discriminatory intent must be proven a lot more speech will be prohibited,” he explained.

“Make no mistake, not just religious speech but all types of speech would be in serious peril if Gilbert gets its way. … The government isn’t going to voluntarily give the true reason it enacted a law that unlawfully restricts speech. Instead, it’s going to give a lot of other plausible sounding motives to explain away its actions.

“In the end, whether the government’s speech discrimination is intentional or unintentional should not be a reason to allow it to continue. And that is the principal we are fighting to re-establish in Reed v. Town of Gilbert.”