The popularity of auxiliary home power generators is somehow proof that taxes should be higher? John Steele Gordon tries to parse a New York Times columnist’s argument. [Commentary]
A federal judge has declined jurisdiction of the Oglala Sioux tribe’s lawsuit claiming that liquor sellers just over the Nebraska border are legally answerable for the harms of alcoholism on the reservation. The dismissal is without prejudice to possible refiling of the claims in state court; New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof had promoted the cause. [BBC]
On July 12 New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer wrote an extensive story about the death of a 12-year-old boy who had been brought to an emergency room with fever and rapid pulse, sent home, and died of septic shock. Lab test results and other indicators of distress allegedly went unheeded, and the boy’s family is represented by Thomas Moore, perhaps the city’s premier medical malpractice lawyer. Some legal blogs had a field day citing Dwyer’s article as an example of flagrant medical malpractice, as they depicted it; other reactions, some gathered in a Dwyer follow-up column, were more mixed.
The other day the Chicago Tribune documented a longstanding campaign (see Friday link) to get government bodies to adopt standards requiring flameproofing of furniture upholstery, carpets and other household materials. Turns out key actors in that campaign were companies that make the chemicals used in flameproofing, which thereby guaranteed themselves a giant market for their products, as well as cigarette companies that worried that they would face regulatory and legal pressure over fires caused by careless smoking and decided to pursue a strategy of turning the issue into someone else’s problem.
Unfortunately, according to the Tribune series, the supposedly flameproof furnishings 1) aren’t necessarily very good at reducing fire risk and 2) are doused with chemicals that one might not want rubbing off on one’s family and pets. That’s aside from the regulations’ obvious cost in making furnishings more expensive and narrowing consumer choice by excluding producers unable or unwilling to use the chemical treatments. Whether or not you accept the series’ interpretation in all respects — the authors tend to taken an alarmist line, for example, on the chemicals’ environmental dangers — it’s useful as reminder #83,951 that government regulation often is driven by motives quite different from those advertised, and in particular by business lobbies whose interest is frequently squarely opposed to laissez-faire.
On Sunday, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, criticized lately in this space for his views on supposed Big Beer responsibility for Indian reservation alcoholism, addressed the flameproofing story in his column. After reciting the controversy — laying a particular emphasis on chemical alarmism, long a specialty of his — Kristof concludes as follows:
This campaign season, you’ll hear fervent denunciations of “burdensome government regulation.” When you do, think of the other side of the story: your home is filled with toxic flame retardants that serve no higher purpose than enriching three companies. The lesson is that we need not only safer couches but also a political system less distorted by toxic money.
Which affords James Taranto of the WSJ’s “Best of the Web” this response:
The guy is so blinded by ideology that he fails to notice he has just given an example of burdensome government regulation.
I’ve got a piece out at Reason today in which I de-foam the Times columnist’s highly aerated assertions about beer sales near the Pine Ridge, S.D. Oglala Sioux reservation. And a followup at Cato: Kristof has written about the failures of the Drug War, so why does he not apply those lessons here? See also: NYT “Room for Debate” discussion. A different view: Eric Turkewitz.
- Thomas Cooley Law School in Michigan, facing class-action suit, subpoenas Colorado lawprof Paul Campos, vocal critic of schools’ disclosure policies [Campos, Scott Greenfield]
- “Maintenance of effort”: Yielding to special ed lobby, feds won’t let local school districts cut outlays [Nirvi Shah, Ed Week] “Havoc in classrooms” feared as NYC pushes least restrictive placement of disabled students [NY Post] Feds to universities: it’s an ADA violation to ask suicidal students to leave [WFAE, Popehat]
- Arizona lawmaker proposes ban on political viewpoint discrimination in faculty hiring [Inside Higher Ed]
- “University of Maryland Cuts Varsity Cheer Program” [Washington Post, Doug Robinson/Deseret News via Saving Sports]
- Due-process revolution in school discipline hasn’t worked out as intended [Richard Arum, The Atlantic] Heavy police presence in schools is something new [J.D. Tuccille, Reason] “Education Department Pushes Racial Quotas in School Discipline” [Hans Bader, CEI]
- “What Yale and the Times Did to Patrick Witt” [KC Johnson, Minding the Campus]
No, this isn’t the first time the fashionable, First-Lady-approved theory has been debunked — see posts here, here, and here — but it’s gratifying to see the NYT’s formidable Gina Kolata get front-page space for a thorough treatment. One study found poor neighborhoods “had nearly twice as many supermarkets and large-scale grocers per square mile” as wealthier ones; another “found no relationship between what type of food students said they ate, what they weighed, and the type of food within a mile and a half of their homes.” [Tyler Cowen, Jacob Sullum] And Katherine Mangu-Ward notes the juxtaposition of Kolata’s piece with an opinion piece in the paper the very same day: “Food Deserts Are Not Real. Also, We Can Fix Them.”
In one of the standout instances of media misconduct during the run-up to the recent furor, NBC repeatedly aired, on “Today” and other shows, audio footage misleadingly edited so as to advance the proposition that George Zimmerman was suspicious of Trayvon Martin because of his race [Erik Wemple, Washington Post] While announcing that it had fired the unnamed producer it considered responsible, NBC was less than forthcoming about other details of the scandal, which — as Mickey Kaus points out — may have had a lot to do with its lawyers’ concerns about minimizing a possible defamation payout: “Like other tort laws, libel laws are in practice the enemy of transparency.”
Some have recalled the scandal in which “Dateline NBC” aired footage of supposedly exploding GM cars that in fact had been rigged with incendiary devices. But I’m actually more put in mind of a less celebrated media disgrace from the same era, the Texaco Tapes pseudo-scandal, in which (as I recount here) the New York Times and other outlets avidly promoted systematic misreadings of audiotapes in a hotly disputed racial-bias case, and failed to engage in adequate (or, really, any) soul-searching when the misreadings came to be exposed. In the Martin/Zimmerman case the questionable audio readings included the “two-shot” account influentially advanced by the New York Times when the case first broke nationally, and the supposed racial slur which dominated coverage for a couple of days before being (if the prosecutor’s affidavit is any indication) discreetly laid to rest.
More: Speaking of the New York Times, you have to wonder whether that paper has some sort of stylebook rule requiring it to keep misreporting what Stand Your Ground laws do [Jacob Sullum, more, earlier] And Tom Maguire notes that the paper’s latest editorial appear to be backing off its earlier assertions that the Zimmerman case will hinge on the state’s curtailing of the old “duty to retreat”: “The duty to retreat evidently extends to Times editors.” He also wonders whether, on the much-discussed question of whether Zimmerman flouted the advice of a 911 operator, the NYT editorialists read their own paper. Yet more: Maguire collects the media myths.
I have a new post at Cato rounding up many of my recent writings and broadcast appearances on the subject, under the title, “Why Is Press Coverage of the Martin/Zimmerman Case So Bad?”
Natalie Jackson, an attorney for Martin’s family, said these lawyers “continue to make irresponsible statements to the media.” In a statement obtained by NBC News she said, “Not only have they spoken recklessly about racial issues, enflaming passions and reinforcing stereotypes,” now they’ve thrown “their own client, George Zimmerman, under the bus by [alluding] to his possible flight from justice.”
Yes, it would be nice if attorneys involved with the case refrained from making irresponsible statements to the media, speaking recklessly about racial issues and inflaming passions. It should be noted that this is the same attorney Natalie Jackson who, with colleague Benjamin Crump, promoted the “cold blood” or “two shots” account of the case that was influentially picked up by the New York Times’s Lizette Alvarez on March 17 and then by much of the rest of the press:
On the recordings, one shot, an apparent warning or miss, is heard, followed by a voice begging or pleading, and a cry. A second shot is then heard, and the pleading stops.
“It is so clear that this was a 17-year-old boy pleading for his life, and someone shot him in cold blood,” said Natalie Jackson, one of the Martin family lawyers.
Soon thereafter, the Orlando Sentinel found that only one bullet had been fired from Zimmerman’s gun. While indirectly acknowledging the problems with the audio — put more bluntly, the first “shot” was imaginary — the Times has appended no correction regarding the “two shots” account, though it has corrected an unrelated error in the Lizette Alvarez story.
Tom Maguire at Just One Minute has been all over media misreporting of the Martin/Zimmerman case, including the two-shots account. He points out that a large number of memes unfavorable to Zimmerman, and which turned out to need revision or correction in later coverage, originated with the Martin family’s lawyers, particularly Benjamin Crump. That would include Zimmerman’s allegedly huge weight advantage over Martin, the supposed “racial slur” that dominated coverage for a few days, and the negligence of the Sanford police department in still (“unbelievably,” says Emily Bazelon) not having interviewed Trayvon Martin’s girlfriend, who allegedly “heard him get pushed” over a cellphone (when in fact the family’s lawyers had instructed her not to cooperate). Related here (on civil suit against homeowners’ association).
I would not place any bets that with Zimmerman’s original lawyers out of the case we will now be spared irresponsible or racially inflammatory lawyering.
The New York Times invited me to participate in a “Room for Debate” discussion of Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law, and my contribution is here. I elaborate on some of the issues at stake — including the failure of Florida’s violent crime rate to rise as predicted under the law — in this Cato post (& welcome Instapundit, Reihan Salam/NRO, Alex Adrianson/Insider Online, Aaron Worthing, David Codrea readers).