The decline in opioid prescriptions that began in 2011 accelerated last year, according to the latest data. Meanwhile, opioid-related deaths continue to rise. The opposing trends show the folly of tackling the "opioid crisis" by restricting access to pain medication.
A report published yesterday by the health consulting firm IQVIA shows that the total volume of opioids prescribed in the United States, indicated by the green area below, fell by 29 percent between 2011 and 2017, from 240 billion to 171 billion morphine milligram equivalents. Last year's 12 percent drop was the largest ever recorded. The number of opioid prescriptions and the number of patients receiving opioids for the first time are also declining. The report notes that "decreases in prescription opioid volume have been driven by changes in clinical usage, which have been influenced by regulatory and reimbursement policies and legislation that have been increasingly restricting prescription opioid use since 2012."
But as you can see in the graph, the total number of opioid-related deaths counted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicated by the blue line, is not falling along with opioid prescriptions. To the contrary, it has risen sharply in recent years, driven by dramatic increases in deaths involving heroin (orange) and illicit fentanyl (the main component of "other synthetic opioids," the category represented by the gray line). The CDC has not released final data for 2017 yet, but more increases are expected.
The crackdown on pain pills not only has not reversed the upward trend in opioid-related deaths. It is contributing to it by driving nonmedical users into the black market, where the drugs are more dangerous because their purity and potency are inconsistent and unpredictable. The vast majority of opioid-related deaths now involve illegally produced drugs: heroin, fentanyl, and its analogs. The crackdown is also hurting chronic pain patients, including people who have functioned well on opioids for years but now find it difficult or impossible to obtain the medication they need to maintain a decent quality of life.
Since the current strategy is manifestly not working, drug warriors are, as usual, redoubling their efforts. The Drug Enforcement Administration, which sets annual quotas for opioid production, reduced the limit by 25 percent in 2017 and 20 percent this year. Now the DEA plans to squeeze the supply some more.
The Washington Post reports that the agency will decide how much pain medication should be available based on the "legitimate medical needs of patients" rather than the number of pills manufacturers expect to sell. But the number of pills manufacturers expect to sell is based on the number doctors are expected to prescribe, which is in turn based on their judgment of patients' legitimate medical needs. The DEA is substituting its judgment for theirs, without even bothering to conduct an exam or take a medical history. For a doctor, that would be malpractice. For a drug warrior, it is all in a day's work.
The United Kingdom has been on a nanny-state bender lately. Already this year, British authorities have cracked down on Nazi dog videos, pocket knives, and sectarian songs. And now the current Conservative government has announced plans to ban plastic straws and stirrers.
"Plastic waste is one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world," said British Prime Minister Theresa May in a statement released today. May vowed a national plan of action to rid the country of "avoidable plastic waste" by the year 2042, promising that Environment Minister Michael Gove would develop a plan this year to ban straws.
Banning straws is something of a pet issue for Gove, who this year pledged to cut down on his own plastic use for Lent. He even supported Brexit on the grounds that it would make a prohibition of plastic straws easier to achieve.
Unsurprisingly for a man of such passions, Gove has employed near-apocalyptic rhetoric to sell a ban, describing straw usage as a "scourge on our seas" and "a symbol of society's damaging addiction to single-use plastics and our throwaway culture."
The straw ban isn't the only anti-plastic measure that May wants to take. She also hopes to prohibit plastic microbeads and enact mandatory charges for plastic bags.
But for all the fire-and-brimstone rhetoric, plastic straw usage's actual threat to marine health is difficult to pin down.
The U.K.-based Marine Conservation Society claims that Brits use 8.5 billion single-use plastic straws a year. That pencils out to roughly one out of every three Britons using one straw per day. Credible estimates on this side of the pond suggest about half of the U.S. uses one straw per day. (I reached out to the Marine Conservation Society to ask how they arrived at their figure but have yet to hear back.)
How many of these 8.5 billion straws actually get into the ocean is an open question.
The Marine Conservation Society is quick to point out that disposable cutlery, trays, and straws are among the top 10 most commonly found categories of items during the group's yearly coastal clean-up. Indeed, they are the tenth most commonly found item category, making up about 2 percent of all beach refuse collected. Given that straws are a subset of this category, they are less than 2 percent.
In any event, if the goal is to prevent plastic getting into the world's oceans, cracking down on plastic straw usage in rich countries is not the way to go.
A 2015 study in the journal Science estimates that anywhere from 4.8 million to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic got into the ocean in 2010. According that report, the determining factors in how much each country contributes to plastic marine waste are population size and the quality of waste management systems.
Unsurprisingly, the study found that poor countries with large coastal populations and bad waste collection systems are the biggest contributors of plastic into the oceans. China topped the list, contributing almost 28 percent of plastic inputs into the ocean in 2010. The United States was a distant 20th, contributing less than 1 percent of marine plastic waste. Looking at the dataset for the Science study, the U.K. ranks 49th, contributing somewhere from 9,456 to 26,344 tons of plastic to the ocean in 2010, or about a tenth of 1 percent of the total.
The best way to cut back on all that plastic waste, is to build up litter management systems, particularly in poor countries. It's certainly a better use of public resources than hassling people for using straws.
Mexico's most notorious drug kingpin, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, has been awaiting trial in the United States since his dramatic capture in 2016. Federal prosecutors have filed charges of drug trafficking, murder, money laundering, and kidnapping against Guzmán, who ran the notorious Sinaloa cartel for more than 40 years. El Chapo gained notoriety for his daring prison escapes, and for his controversial 2016 interview with Hollywood star Sean Penn while hiding as a fugitive from the law.
The U.S. and Mexican governments have declared Guzmán's capture a major win in the drug war. Harvard economics professor Jeffrey Miron thinks his story better demonstrates the folly of prohibition.
"When we interfere on the supply side with the drug trade by taking out kingpins and other ways, we tend to lower the prices partially because we're making the market more competitive," says Miron, who's also the head of economic studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. "Where there's demand, there's going to be supply."
The capture of kingpins doesn't just tend to make cartels more competitive in the marketplace. It can also increase violence as rival factions battle to fill the power vacuum.
A 2015 research brief conducted by Miron and his Cato colleagues Jason Lindo and Maria Padilla-Romo shows that capturing a leading drug trafficker "in a municipality increases its homicide rate by 80 percent" over a 12-month period. In neighboring municipalities, the homicide rate rises 30 percent in the six-month period after a kingpin's capture.
Over the last decade, the United States has contributed over $2 billion in money and intelligence resources to aid the Mexican government with their counternarcotics efforts, which focus on the elimination of drug cartel kingpins. In 2012, Gen. Charles Jacoby, who led the U.S. Northern Command from 2011 to 2014, admitted to Congress that removing kingpins did not have "an appreciable, positive effect" in limiting the operations and reach of Mexican drug cartels.
"In my view the best policy is to legalize everything," says Miron. "The harms come almost entirely from the prohibitions, not from the properties of the substance."
Reason spoke to Miron about the lessons to be learned from El Chapo's capture and if the Trump administration's latest calls for tougher punishment for drug dealers to combat the "terrible crisis of opioid and drug addiction" is opening a new front in the drug war.
Produced by Alexis Garcia. Cameras by Todd Krainin and Mark McDaniel.
Click here for full text, a transcript, and downloadable versions.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel.
Like us on Facebook.
Follow us on Twitter.
Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.
View this article.
View this article.
There are many reasons CIA Director Mike Pompeo should not be secretary of state, but his reckless, dishonest, and incoherent remarks about North Korea policy before the Senate last week may be chief among them. This becomes all the more troubling given President Trump's Wednesday announcement that Pompeo is already at the forefront of U.S-North Korea relations, having met with Kim last week.
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Pompeo spoke on Korea policy repeatedly, but two exchanges most deserve note. The first, at the 53-minute mark of C-SPAN's video, began when Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) pressed Pompeo to clarify his preferred outcome for resolution of U.S.-North Korea tensions. Pompeo was evasive, claiming it is a "misstatement" to say he supports regime change and offering the exceedingly vague goal of "a position where Kim Jong-un is unable to threaten the United States with a nuclear weapon," which could mean anything from assassination to Kim's sudden embrace of the American Dream. When Cardin kept pushing, Pompeo said he has "never advocated for regime change" and is not doing so now, writes Bonnie Kristian.
View this article.
No, President Donald Trump didn't have authorization to order a military strike on Syria. No, Congress will not hold him accountable for bombing Syria anyway. Not only has Congress largely abandoned its duty to grant or deny the president permission to wage war, but a bipartisan bill was introduced this week that would pretty much let him engage in war as he pleases.
Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and former vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine (D-Va.) teamed up to introduce a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Both Trump and former President Barack Obama have been criticized for using the AUMF signed after 9/11, which was theoretically supposed to authorize the fight with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, to justify all sorts of military interventions in the Middle East. The Obama and the Trump administrations have argued that the 2001 AUMF covers everything from military actions in Libya and Syria to drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia.
Corker and Kaine's AUMF is supposed to address this imbalance between what the 2001 bill actually authorized and how it has been used. Unfortunately, their "authorization" is virtually a blank check. It gives the president permission to keep on doing what he's doing, it expands the number of terrorist groups the White House may use the military against, and it allows the president to add both new "associated" terrorist groups to the AUMF and even entire new countries where anti-terror operations will happen, beyond Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen.
In other words, it resolves the problem of unauthorized military actions by retroactively authorizing them and future strikes as well. It does not have any sunset clause, instead requiring the president to submit a report every four years with a proposal to repeal, modify, or leave the AUMF in place. There will be congressional review for the addition of new countries, and lawmakers can remove authorization to strike in new countries should they choose to do so. But otherwise this is, in practical terms, permission to send the military wherever the president pleases. (Among this new AUMF's co-sponsors, by the way, is outgoing Arizona GOP senator and Trump critic Sen. Jeff Flake.)
Gene Healy and John Glaser of the Cato Institute are not happy with this bill. They wrote a commentary for The New York Times arguing that the AUMF should instead be repealed and not replaced at all:
As we have painfully learned, war often spawns new threats. The Islamic State had its origins in the Sunni insurgency that rose to fight American forces in Iraq. As early as 2006, the National Intelligence Estimate on Trends in Global Terrorism found that the Iraq war had "become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement." In the seven countries that the United States either invaded or bombed since Sept. 11, the number of individual terrorist attacks rose by an astonishing 1,900 percent from 2001 to 2015. If anything, open-ended war in the Middle East has made us less safe, not more.
Presidential war undermines fundamental values of our representative democracy. "In no part of the constitution," James Madison wrote in 1793, "is more wisdom to be found than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department"?were it otherwise, "the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man."
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) warned on Fox News that this new AUMF will expand the president's power. This morning Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) tweeted that he doesn't support the new plan either:
Having reviewed the proposed bill text from my colleagues, I am not supportive of this attempt at writing a new AUMF. I look forward to seeing how the markup goes and hope for an opportunity to debate and amend something on the Senate floor.? Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) April 19, 2018
The White House, meanwhile, thinks it already has all the authority it needs to wage war how it chooses. It has not yet taken a formal stance one way or the other on the new AUMF.
You don't often hear someone arguing against a pay raise. But that's exactly what many servers and bartenders across the country are saying: They're ok with their current hourly wage, so long as they can keep their tips.
Come June, servers in Washington, D.C., might be out of luck if Initiative 77?a proposal that aims to eliminate the tip credit?passes at the ballot box. Restaurant owners in the district currently pay waitstaff $3.33 an hour, well below the minimum wage, with the expectation that they will earn the rest (and sometimes much, much more) in tips. If gratuities fall short, existing law dictates that employers must make up the difference. Even so, the initiative would require D.C. restauranteurs to increase base pay to the prevailing $15 minimum wage, writes Billy Binion.
View this article.
Ohio State University (OSU) tried to expel a student for engaging in an allegedly nonconsensual threesome. That student is now suing the university, and this week a judge agreed that the administrators who investigated the case likely violated the due process rights of the accused.
Unlike the vast majority of sexual misconduct disputes litigated under the auspices of Title IX, the federal statute mandating gender equality on campus, the accused is a woman. The genders of her accusers are unknown?Judge Edmund Sargus's decision omits the use of gendered pronouns.
The accused student, referred to as "Jane Roe," filed a motion for preliminary injunction to prevent her expulsion, arguing that she was denied the opportunity to cross-examine her accusers. Judge Sargus agreed to this request, explaining in his decision that Roe is likely to prevail in court.
"Given the central role cross-examination has played as a truth-seeking device in our justice system, and given that Defendants have not identified any authority supporting their position, the Court cannot conclude that a pre-hearing investigative process, such as OSU's, is a constitutionally adequate substitute for cross-examination," wrote Sargus.
The dispute actually concerns two separate incidents, one on September 3, 2016, and another on November 12, 2016. The September incident took place during a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where Roe met up with several friends. One of these friends, LH, became very drunk, as did Roe. While they were seated next to each other, Roe allegedly began to grope and kiss LH.
LH claimed to have remembered Roe's actions later after a friend told LH something had happened. The university investigated the matter, and noted that LH said Roe had engaged in nonconsensual touching while LH "drifted in and out of consciousness." Roe countered that she merely sat next to LH and couldn't recall anything inappropriate happening. A witness said Roe had "encroached" on LH's territory but did not see her kiss LH.
The November 12 incident involved two other complainants, RK and MH, who met up with Roe for a night of drinking and dancing. All three returned to Roe's house afterward, where they engaged in a threesome. RK and MH later claimed that Roe had "engaged in intentional sexual touching and sexual penetration without consent and/or by force or coercion." RK told an investigator that consent had been verbalized, but that RK had been too drunk to meaningfully consent at the time. Investigators interviewed several witnesses, but as The College Fix's Greg Piper notes in his write-up of the case, "five of the seven purported 'witnesses' had simply been told by one or another accuser about the incident. The other two were roommates of Roe and one accuser."
Neither RK nor MH showed up for the hearing, leaving Roe with no opportunity to meaningfully cross-examine them. Roe testified that she had obtained their consent for each and every individual sex act she performed. Roe's roommate testified that he saw one of the complainants leave the house after the encounter, and that this person did not seem drunk.
Administrators suspended Roe for two years as a result of the Rocky Horror Picture Show incident. They expelled her for the allegedly nonconsensual threesome. She appealed both decisions, and lost twice.
These are complicated allegations involving multiple intoxicated young people. (They might also involve students who were experimenting with their sexuality, and who may have regretted or been ashamed of certain same-sex activities.) It's entirely possible that Roe violated acceptable norms of consent. But she should have had an opportunity to question her accusers about what happened. Cross-examination is a vital component of due process, and a critical tool for evaluating conflicting stories and arriving at the truth.
"Cross-examination is important for both the accused and the accuser, because both sides have an interest in accurate and reliable outcomes," Joshua Adam Engel, an attorney for Roe, tells Reason. "For hundreds of years we have recognized that cross-examination helps the finder of fact 'get it right.'"
KC Johnson, a chronicler of the various due process abuses suffered by students accused of sexual misconduct under campus Title IX procedures, describes Sargus's defense of cross-examination as "very powerful."
Indeed, it's cases like this one that remind us why Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently told The Atlantic that she believes some college sexual misconduct policies are "not giving the accused person a fair opportunity to be heard, and that's one of the basic tenets of our system."
President Donald Trump's first year in office saw the creation of fewer new federal regulations than any year since the National Archives started tracking regulatory rules in 1976. Even so, the administration created more than 3,200 new rules during 2017. That's 34 new regulations for every single bill passed by Congress.
That sort of dichotomy permeates a report published today by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a D.C.-based free market think tank.
On one hand, there is no doubt that the Trump administration has made slashing federal regulations a key policy goal. During his presidential campaign, Trump promised to remove two regulations from the books for every new one added. That atmosphere has reduced red tape and slowed the creation of new rules, says Clyde Wayne Crews, vice president for policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the author of "10,000 Commandments," an annual assessment of the size of the federal regulatory state.
According to the new edition of "10,000 Commandments," the Trump administration delayed or repealed more than 1,500 regulations passed by the Obama administration. Congress helped out by using the Congressional Review Act to eliminate 15 Obama-era rules during 2017. The results include a rollback of the feds' role in land use decisions and an end to the Social Security Administration's attempt to regulate guns.
On the other hand, the federal regulatory state remains a massive entity that sucks $1.9 trillion out of the economy each year. And Trump's efforts to shrink it are under threat from his other, often countervailing, impulses.
"These are good things, but there are warning signs," Crews says. "President Trump's own apparent affinity for strong antitrust enforcement and protectionist trade policies threaten to undermine the economic gains from his regulatory reform efforts."
You can literally see how Trump stacks up against previous presidents by printing out the full length of the Federal Register, that annual behemoth that publishes every new rule issued by a federal department or agency. In 2016, Obama's final year in office, the register ran to a record length of 95,000 pages?far ahead of the previous record, set just one year before, of 80,000 pages. Thirteen of the 15 longest registers in American history were authored by Trump's two immediate predecessors.
Trump's 2017 register? A mere 61,308 pages, the lowest count since 1993.
While Trump delivered on his promise to cut two regulations for every new one added, there are worrying signs that federal rulemaking might increase in coming years. Agencies have three times as many regulatory actions as deregulatory actions in the pipeline, Crews says.
And only Congress can truly return the administrative state to a more limited role. As Matt Welch detailed in Reason last year, the growth of federal regulations is largely the result of Congress handing over too much rulemaking authority to federal agencies?and failing to hold agencies accountable for the rules they create.
"Ultimately, permanent regulatory streamlining will require Congress to act," says Crews.
The College Republicans at the University of California, Merced advertised their club last month with signs that read "I.C.E. I.C.E. Baby" and provided the phone number for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Now the student government is considering defunding them and similar organizations, in part because College Republicans might use those funds to attend conservative conferences and spread hateful rhetoric on campus.
The initial advertising campaign provoked a response from school administrators several days after the incident. The officials condemned the group's "bigoted and hateful" tactics but reminded students that "as nasty as the club's signs were, they are protected by the First Amendment," writes Liz Wolfe.
View this article.
If you think internet companies aren't paying any taxes for online sales and that's killing bricks-and-mortar retailers and states' budgets, you, my friend, have been duped, writes Veronique de Rugy. In reality, the internet isn't a tax-free zone, nor is the lack of revenue the issue with state budgets. There is, however, a battle about whether state and local governments should be allowed to collect taxes from out-of-state companies.
Most state lawmakers want to force out-of-state companies to collect sales taxes on their behalf. This argument was just heard by the Supreme Court in the case of South Dakota v. Wayfair Inc. If the states were to win, they would be able to reach into the pockets of every mom selling her paintings on Etsy, even though she may live on the other side of the country, didn't elect other states' officials, and never agreed to those states' tax laws.
View this article.
President Donald Trump is confident he will ultimately convince Sen. Rand Paul (R?Ky.) to vote to confirm CIA Director Mike Pompeo, the president's pick to be the next secretary of state. Trump told reporters that Paul "is a very special guy" who has "never let me down."
But Paul has pledged to oppose the nomination, on grounds that Pompeo is too favorable toward military intervention in the Middle East. Paul grilled Pompeo at his confirmation hearings last week, castigating the would-be secretary of state for continuing to support a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan?contrary to Trump's position.
"The president has been very specific at times on this and he said it's time to get out of Afghanistan," said Paul. "Some here worry you're going to be too much in agreement with the president, I worry you're going to be too much in disagreement with the president."
CNN reported that Trump called Paul yesterday and asked him to give Pompeo another chance:
Paul told reporters on Capitol Hill that Trump called him a "few minutes ago" and asked for him to meet with Pompeo and he will.
"I'm open to meeting right now and we'll see what happens in the meeting," he said with a smile, adding that no date had been set for the meeting.
Meanwhile, the president is touting Pompeo's involvement in recent efforts to bring North Korean President Kim Jong-Un to the negotiating table. According to The Washington Post:
Pompeo did help set the table for those negotiations to commence, when Kim and Trump meet in a yet-to-be-determined location. On Wednesday, Trump told reporters that the meeting would take place "in the coming weeks" and that "hopefully that meeting will be a great success."
Earlier Wednesday, Trump praised Pompeo for breaking the ice between the two countries, noting that the CIA director "got along with [Kim] really well, really great." Pompeo returned to Washington with enough assurance that North Korea was prepared to negotiate over the future of its nuclear weapons program that the White House decided summit talks were worthwhile, according to the people familiar with the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
It's possible Trump is attempting to signal to Paul that Pompeo has abandoned his past as a torture-defending hawk and is ready to play the role of peace-seeking diplomat. Assuming that Paul proves immune to such overtures, Republicans will need to convince at least one Senate Democrat to vote for Pompeo in order to get him confirmed. Currently, it's unclear whether any of them will break ranks.
Randa Jarrar, the Fresno State University professor who celebrated the death of former First Lady Barbara Bush in a series of widely-condemned tweets, is now under investigation.
"This was beyond free speech," Fresno President Joseph Castro said, according to The Fresno Bee. "This was disrespectful."
But the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and American Civil Liberties Union of North America both say it's a mistake for the university to investigate Jarrar for merely saying something offensive about Bush.
"If Fresno State administrators are reviewing her based on this political speech, that is troubling," said ACLU staff attorney Abre Connor.
And Ari Cohn, an attorney at FIRE, said, "The desire to see someone fired because they said something you disagree with or was offensive to you is childish and unproductive and it needs to stop."
Tax Day is now officially over?for real this time. The IRS had to extend the deadline for U.S. residents to file taxes by one day after the website crashed on Monday, leaving many people incapable of completing their civic duty. Technical problems were apparently responsible for the glitch, which caused a "planned outage" error message to appear at IRS.gov.
"IRS teams worked hard throughout the night," said Acting IRS Commissioner David Kautter. "We are back up and running."
Thank goodness for that.
QUICK HITSTamika Mallory, one of the co-presidents of the Women's March, wants people to boycott Starbucks because the Anti-Defamation League is assisting with the coffee company's anti-bias training. The ADL is a Jewish civil rights and anti-hate group. "The ADL sends U.S. police to Israel to learn their military practices," said Mallory in a tweet. "This is deeply troubling." Women's March leadership has previously been accused of anti-Semitism. Don't presume Trump's talks with Kim Jong-un will necessarily be "fruitful." Washington state transportation officials apologized for accidentally telling commuters: "U SUCK." FIRE scored an important victory over Joliet Junior College, which had attempted to punish a student for distributing socialist pamphlets. Protesters heckled James Comey during a book tour stop in New York City on Wednesday.
Donald Trump takes pride in his self-image as a tough guy. When a protester disrupted a rally, he said, "I'd like to punch him in the face." After the Parkland shootings, he said he probably would have run in to confront the killer, even without a gun.
He's always putting foreign leaders in their place. He's slapped the Chinese with tariffs and said he would welcome a trade war. He's threatened North Korea with destruction. He's denounced the "brutal and corrupt Iranian regime."
But when it comes to Vladimir Putin, writes Steve Chapman, Trump doesn't come across as fierce or demanding. He comes across as scared.
View this article.
A couple of years ago, I went to dinner at the Seattle Space Needle. To my surprise?I was over 30?the waiter asked to see ID when I ordered wine. I hadn't brought my purse from the hotel, so I had nothing with which to prove my age. In retrospect, this probably saved me from a $100 bar tab at their prices, but at the time I was annoyed.
Although we aren't officially required by law to carry identification, in practice it is necessary to get through many interactions. This has become increasingly true over time. As a teenager I bought booze without problems. I can also recall being able to fly domestically without showing ID. I still often go out with nothing but some cash in my pocket. Nonetheless, like all of you, I leave a paper trail of account numbers, credit scores, and biometric photos wherever I go.
In The Known Citizen, a highly readable new history of privacy in America, the Vanderbilt historian and legal scholar Sarah Igo offers insight into the ways attitudes have evolved as different forms of identification, and different expectations of privacy, have emerged, writes Katrina Gulliver.
View this article.
A Baton Rouge police officer is under investigation after getting caught on body camera video saying she could search a vehicle without probable cause and say anything she found was in plain sight. When Robin Ducote said she wanted to search a truck, another officer asked if she had probable cause. "Yeah, they are both f****** passed out," Ducote responded. "So, if we find something, we say it's in plain view. Who gives a s***, we're writing this report."
Watch Barack Obama call President Trump a "total and complete dipshit":
Of course, that isn't real. It's a video created by comedian and Academy Award winner Jordan Peele, employing increasingly easy-to-use programs to demonstrate the coming age of nearly seamless "fake news" images.
A couple months ago, when the Reddit user deepfakes first publicized his ability to swap anyone's face into porn, the reaction was swift and mostly univocal: This was a threat to the very universe! As the reliably alarmist Motherboard hyperventilated:
An incredibly easy-to-use application for DIY fake videos?of sex and revenge porn, but also political speeches and whatever else you want?that moves and improves at this pace could have society-changing impacts in the ways we consume media. The combination of powerful, open-source neural network research, our rapidly eroding ability to discern truth from fake news, and the way we spread news through social media has set us up for serious consequences.
Well, no. For starters, the control and manipulation of images and events has been with us forever. The powerful have always been able to do this, going back to the days when leaders would kill people for publishing unauthorized versions of speeches. Contra Walter Benjamin, whose "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" (1936) is one of the most influential essays written in the past century, the ability for more and more of us to detach words and images from the specific time and place of their creation and instantiation is incredibly liberating. The same types of technology that allow us to put a mustache on the Mona Lisa and circulate that image globally also allow people to speak truth as they see it to power.
Reappropriating, misappropriating, decontextualizing, recontextualizing?as all that has become easier and easier over the years, the result has been a wellspring of letting the relatively powerless speak. That was the essential insight of the early scholars of fan fiction, such as the semi-notorious "slash" fiction written by Star Trek fans shortly after the original series was canceled in 1969. Fans started writing stories in which Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock engaged in sadomasochistic sexual adventures and sell them using the code K/S via newsletters (hence the term slash). As Constance Penley of the University of California at Santa Barbara wrote,
Slash fans do more than "make do" [with mass-produced materials]; they make. Not only have they remade the Star Trek fictional universe to their own desiring ends, they have achieved it by enthusiastically mimicking the technologies of mass-market cultural production, and by constantly debating their own relation...to those technologies.
That same sort of turn is at work in all sorts of political messaging, too, from lefties such as Shepard Fairey and Robbie Conal to right-wing guerrilla artists such as Sabo. Technology that allows us to create and distribute deepfake videos are simply the latest and greatest methods of letting all sorts of people speak in all sorts of ways.
That isn't to say that the rise of videos like Peele's shouldn't give us pause. In an age of deep fakes, fake news, polarization, and paranoia, we need to become better and better at critically reading media and all sources of information. Two-thirds of us already believe the mainstream media publish a lot of horseshit, which is a good start. Back in the 1990s, as cable news started to proliferate and dictate what we considered news and reality, shows such as The Daily Show arose to help teach us how to read tropes and motifs more critically. Even before that, postmodern TV programs such as Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Simpsons, Beavis and Butt-head, and Space Ghost: Coast To Coast offered weekly lessons in how to consume media critically. They were funny as hell, but by foregrounding the act of interpretation (even or especially by asshats like Beavis and Butt-head) they also gave us a set of very useful tools.
What the Obama vid above and others like it drive home is the need to step up our game. This is one of the main lessons to emerge from those Russian trolls posting ads and dubious info on Facebook, too.
We will never be able to rein in fake news; indeed, we will never even be able to agree on its precise definition. But that doesn't mean we're powerless. Writing recently in The New York Times, University of Maine journalism professor Michael Socolow laid out a tentative program that would help "prevent smart people from spreading dumb ideas." Among his thoughts: Don't share surprising news that doesn't give links to evidence or supporting facts, be skeptical when a story perfectly confirms your most-intensely felt beliefs, and always ask, "Why am I talking?" The way forward is always through empowering individuals to be better filters for themselves, not delegating authority or interpretation to the government or other gatekeeping institutions.