TIME Media

Yes, It’s Time for Both Brian Williams and Jon Stewart to Move On

The news business has fundamentally changed since both anchors started.

It’s weird that Jon Stewart announced he was stepping away from The Daily Show the same day that NBC announced its six-month suspension of Brian Williams from NBC Nightly News.

Stewart has long described himself and his show as trafficking in “fake news,” whereas Williams is being punished for faking news about himself (over and over again). One is leaving the small screen on a “career high note,” as The New York Times puts it, while the other is slowly fading away to that great Green Room in the sky. Does anyone really think Brian Williams will be back when his suspension ends? Does anyone really care?

In a real way, Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, which he’s been hosting since 1999, helped kill off “real news” shows such as NBC Nightly News by making them superfluous. Who needs to watch someone simply read the news when you can watch someone deliver the same information, plus a satire of the medium itself? Especially for people under 50, who have no memories of Papa Cronkite and who remember supposedly legendary anchors such as Dan Rather only for bizarre episodes (“Kenneth, What is the Frequency?”) and outright fabrications, The Daily Show was a one-stop show for news and commentary on the news. In an age of multi-tasking, that’s a godsend.

Especially in its early years, The Daily Show didn’t just riff on the news and poke fun and roll eyes at the endless spew of stupid and self-serving statements made by celebrities, politicians, and other hucksters. With the help of talented producers, writers, and “correspondents” including Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Nancy Walls, John Oliver, Samantha Bee, and Larry Wilmore, The Daily Show mimicked perfectly every aspect of network and cable news-gathering. The show was replete with ridiculous camera shots designed to reinforce audience sympathies, godawful banter between host and reporters, even more godawful questioning of people during news segments, and manic graphics that hyped every minor threat as the next great catastrophe facing the planet. And they actually produced stories that were being followed by everyone else in the business. By highlighting how the news is stitched together, The Daily Show helped instill a form of media literacy that is hugely important in a media-saturated age (The Onion provides a similar service for print journalism.)

It’s not surprising that in an age of declining audiences for all forms of TV news, The Daily Show reached and held younger viewers, with 18-29 year olds making up 40% of its audience. By deconstructing the news-delivery process, Stewart and company made it new. A decade ago, when polling data showed that as many young Americans got their news from The Daily Show as from programs like NBC Nightly News, the establishment even copped to be “depressed” by the news. Sadly, broadcast and cable news has done little to rejuvenate its form, determined instead to spend millions of dollars a year on hosts such as Williams, whose honesty and news sense are as sleepy and tired as their program’s elderly audiences.

But somewhere along Jon Stewart’s and The Daily Show’s ascent to legitimacy, awards, and influence, it’s meta-script got more than a little tired. If it once shone a harsh light on how television news skewed its presentations to frighten audiences or pander to power, it eventually succumbed to the same tendencies, especially the sin of self-importance. In a widely celebrated 2004 smackdown of the Punch-and-Judy antics of most cable news debate shows, Stewart accused CNN Crossfire hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala of “partisan hackery…what you do is not honest.” After the hosts pushed back, Stewart bemoaned in a very mean, very funny rant that something was wrong when “news organizations look to Comedy Central for their cues on integrity.”

But Stewart started taking himself too seriously, as if his celebrity meant he did in fact have the sort of social responsibility he specifically abjured on Crossfire. His 2010 “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” co-hosted by Stephen Colbert, unironically featured the former Cat Stevens singing “Peace Train” (as the Islamic convert Yusuf Islam, Stevens seemingly endorsed calls for the murder of Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses). Worse, it ended in a maudlin plea for peace and tolerance.

In a particularly ridiculous moment from last year, Stewart apologized for saying on CNN (of all places) that he hadn’t voted in the midterm elections. He was “being flip,” he told his own audience later. “It sent a message that I didn’t think voting was important or that I didn’t think it was a big issue. And I do, and I did vote.” Please, when a fake newsman starts thinking his every utterance is being taken seriously and needs to be defended or amended, something has gone very wrong.

Stewart has said that The Daily Show “doesn’t deserve an even slightly restless host.” He’s right about that. The show he leaves behind will need to reinvent itself more fundamentally than it might seem at first blush. We all process news very differently now than we did when he first took over hosting duties at The Daily Show. That’s in some large part due to Stewart, which he should take as an incredible compliment and his successor should take as an incredible challenge. The director of last year’s well-received drama, Rosewater, Stewart’s creative future is still ahead of him.

For Brian Williams, a frequent guest on The Daily Show, things aren’t so bright. Even as his entire genre of news was sinking like the Titanic, he decided to go ahead and plunge into oblivion all on his own. In an age of rapidly decentralizing and proliferating media, the one role that needn’t be filled is a newsreader whose every utterance will rightly be questioned.

TIME Media

Can We All Shut Up About the Weather for a While?

Times Square Snow Storm New York City
Benjamin Lowy—Getty Images Reportage for TIME A man walks through the middle of a snow storm in Times Square, New York City on Jan. 26, 2015.

Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv.

Especially weather that is totally in keeping with the seasons in which it’s taking place

So there was no Great Blizzard of 2015, or Snowmageddon, or anything more than a routine dumping of white stuff in mid-winter over a godforsaken region of the country that people are already leaving in droves.

The predictions for a Northeastern snow and ice storm of biblical proportions — if the Bible had snow, that is — just didn’t happen. Apart from a few Twitter jokes, what lessons should we draw from this latest media-driven anticlimax?

At the top of the list: Can we shut up about weather for a while, especially weather that is totally in keeping with the seasons in which it’s taking place? It’s only 2015, but it seems like we get storms of the century about every three to six months. Our parents famously walked three miles (uphill both ways, mind you) in sub-zero and scorching temperatures in shoes made of detergent-box cardboard while also mining coal and smoking unfiltered cigarettes by the carton. And here we are, snug in our all-wheel-drive vehicles and Gore-Tex weather wear, demanding work and school be canceled on a 40% likelihood of snow flurries.

Summer has heat waves, winter has snowstorms, get over it. Ever since The Weather Channel first went live in 1982, Americans have been in love with “weather porn,” those swirling animated displays of pixels that change from green to yellow to orange to red to blue while moving rightward across your TV, computer, or smartphone screens. We stand transfixed like 12-year-old boys looking at a centerfold for the first time as reporters dressed like the Gorton’s Fisherman stand in the rain and tell us… it’s raining. Or, worse yet, that it’s not raining, snowing, sleeting, or hailing.

Part of the weather hype is driven by hysteria over global warming, which means that weather — once delivered by genial weirdos like Willard Scott and David Letterman — is as big a deal as the latest American misadventure in the Middle East (for the record, I believe that climate change is taking place, that human activity is part of the cause, and that the best way to deal with it is to remediate its effects rather than simply pull the plug on human progress).

As one Twitter wag put it in response to the non-blizzard of the moment, “Remember: no snow = global warming, lots of snow = global warming, less snow than you thought = global warming.” The important thing being, of course, that we always feel bad about ourselves no matter what’s happening. The United States doesn’t have colonies anymore, but we can still feel bad that our productive might is somehow making the world a worse place.

Which leads to a second lesson to learn from this latest snow job: To politicians, any and every day is a campaign rally just waiting to happen. Within recent memory, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took heat for failing to react quickly and efficiently to snowstorms, among other weather events. It’s funny, isn’t it, the way that our elected leaders never really seem to be there when it matters but are always quick to petition for extra money from taxpayers, the federal government, or private businesses for the next big catastrophe?

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and current New York Mayor Bill de Blasio proactively managed expectations by hyping this week’s non-storm, thereby helping to cause a run on grocery stores. Cuomo also trumpeted his actions to keep Uber from enacting “surge pricing” of more than 2.8 times its normal base fares. The whole point of surge pricing is to make it worthwhile for drivers to risk being out when they’d rather not, so we’ll see how well this exercise in price controls works out the next time there’s actually a serious weather event going on.

Which leads to a third and final lesson to remember from Nomageddon 2015: When push comes to shove, America, you’re on your own. After overseeing a nearly complete failure to execute the tasks for which New York City residents shell out exorbitant taxes, Mayor Bloomberg called the experience “character building” — for him. “Nobody has a career that goes straight up,” mused the billionaire on a radio talk show right after the debacle. You’re a chump if you think that elected officials really care about you and your misfortunes, America.

They have bigger fish to fry, bigger bank accounts to manage, and higher offices to seek than anything related to what they owe you. The sooner you fully internalize that reality and minimize the money they take from you and the regulations they bind you with, the more prepared you’ll be able to deal with the figurative and literal storm clouds life puts in your way.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

The 5 Worst Moments From Last Night’s State of the Union

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner watch as U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 20, 2015.
Larry Downing—Reuters President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 20, 2015.

Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv.

Before the speech slides down the memory hole, here are five moments to remember and then forget again until next year

The annual State of the Union Address (SOTU) is a rotten, time-honored ritual that marks the effective end of the holiday season in America. It’s like one last fruit cake that nobody wants and quickly tosses away after a moment of utterly false contemplation.

There were some tasty bits, for sure, in Obama’s seventh SOTU: He is correct to push for change in our policy with Cuba and his “conversion” in favor of marriage equality, however long overdue and politically motivated, is all to the good.

He promised his speech wouldn’t be a “laundry list.” True enough: It was more like a laundry truck, stuffed full of old and misguided ideas from his previous SOTUs. Before the speech slides down the memory hole, here are five moments to remember and then forget again until next year.

1. “Today, fewer than 15,000 [troops] remain” in Afghanistan and Iraq, said Obama. That’s down from nearly 200,000 just six years ago. Well, what took so long, really? Obama’s administration did everything it could to extend our presence in both countries (even tripling troop strength in Afghanistan for a “surge” that was a resolute failure by all accounts). Now we’re droning the hell out of Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere (where innocent targets are hit 28 times for every intended target, according to the British group Reprieve). And we’re back in Iraq, fighting ISIS without a declaration of war or a clear plan. Maybe we’ve “turned the page,” as Obama asserted in the speech’s controlling metaphor, but we’re just in a new chapter in the same tired old playbook when it comes to what Candidate Obama called “dumb wars” and pledged to avoid.

2. “America is number one in oil and gas. America is number one in wind power.” It’s true that the United States is undergoing an energy boom, but it’s no thanks to President Obama. Apart from subsidizing companies that make “clean energy” (and have a record of not delivering on promises), his administration has looked with horror on the fracking revolution that is the main reason for the rise in our production. On federal land, oil production is down 16 percent since 2010 and natural gas production is down 24 percent. Last week, Obama’s EPA proposed regulations to reduce emissions from fracked wells by 45 percent from their 2012 levels. The energy revolution is happening in spite of Obama not because of him.

3. “Middle-class economics works…. We can’t slow down businesses or put our economy at risk with government shutdowns or fiscal showdowns.” That’s all well and good, though it’s worth noting that government spending under Obama has been mostly flat precisely because of politics, shut downs, sequestration, and the like. Keeping spending constant is one of the major reasons deficits have reduced from record highs to “just” $483 billion last year. But if everything’s going in the right direction, why then is Obama calling for all sorts of new taxes and regulations on the business sector and high-income earners? Boosting the minimum wage, taxing college savings, mandating paid sick leave, pushing employers to offer to pay for college, and more: What theory explains how such costs will make employers likely to hire more workers and expand operations?

4. “During World War II…this country provided universal childcare….[Today, childcare is not] a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.” It’s just short of obscene to invoke World War II’s privations in the current moment (and a gross overstatement, too; at its peak, the federal government helped to pay for “nurseries” for 130,000 children nationwide). Every aspect of America was commandeered to fight the Axis and staple goods ranging from butter to gas to steel to rubber and nylon were rationed. Today is nothing like that, and Obama’s “solution” to the cost of children is to subsidize daycare via direct payments and tax breaks. The predictable effect of injecting new money into a system will be an increase in prices. Which will then lead to calls for more subsidies.

5. “Let’s close loopholes so we stop rewarding companies that keep profits abroad, and reward those that invest in America. Let’s use those savings to rebuild our infrastructure and make it more attractive for companies to bring jobs home.” This is an Obama golden-oldie that makes it into almost every appearance he makes that’s longer than 30 seconds. If he’s serious about bringing jobs and profits “home” to America, the obvious place to start is with our corporate tax rate, which is the highest in the world among developed countries. What’s worse, though, is that we tax corporate earnings on a world-wide basis, meaning that companies headquartered here pay taxes (and then apply for credit) on what their overseas branches make. Just about nobody else does that and it’s that sort of policy that goosed Burger King to relocate its main headquarters to Canada.

Near the end of his speech—which assiduously avoided engaging how old-age entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security are already overwhelming the federal budget and will overtake it completely in the coming decades—Obama called (yet again) for new civility, pledging himself to deal kindly and openly with Republicans even as he noted that they were patently anti-abortion, anti-immigrant, and anti-poor people. He even lauded the fact that he had won re-election after noting he “had no more races to run” with the line: “I know, I won both of them.”

Worth a laugh, maybe, but also churlish, especially given the shellacking his party took just a few months ago. Arguably the most frustrating thing about Obama’s presidency is that he himself often barely seems to be inhabiting it. He reads about things in the newspapers, just like the rest of us, only playing commander in chief when it suits his fancy. That’s no way to run a country, especially one in which your position is weaker than it was just last year.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

The Increasingly Irrelevant Christian Primary

Annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Held In D.C.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks during the second day of the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord International Hotel and Conference Center on March 7, 2014 in National Harbor, Md.

Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv.

Displays of religiosity have become increasingly public and de riguer in GOP politics, but the reality is that Americans are turning away from organized religion

Despite a long, slow decline in religious participation among Americans, do not expect Christian conservatives to light a candle rather than curse the darkness when it comes to politics. At least two likely contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, are calling for nothing short of a religious revival. “We have tried everything else,” Jindal recently told a group of Christian and Jewish leaders in Iowa, “and now it is time to turn back to God.”

Yeah, no, especially when it comes to politics. We really don’t need more moral instruction and biblical exhortation from elected leaders. Most indicators of social dysfunction—such as crime, sexual assault, and bullying—are declining. When it comes to politics, what we need is restrained spending, reduced and simplified regulation and taxation, and an embrace of social tolerance that allows diverse individuals to peacefully get on with their lives. If Republicans choose to nominate a candidate who talks as if voters are sinners in the hand of an angry God, they will alienate independents and even conservatives who are forming a large and growing “leave us alone coalition.”

As Americans turn away from religion, the hot-button issues that once divided voters are finding wide acceptance. Nearly 40% of Americans are “unchurched” and “essentially secular,” says religion researcher David Kinnaman, who oversaw a 2014 survey of more than 20,000 respondents. That’s only going to continue. Baby boomers are less devout than their parents, and Gen-Xers and Millennials are less observant still. “The younger the generation, the more post-Christian it is,” he told Religious News Service last October.

At the same time, gay marriage, pot legalization, and even abortion are becoming settled issues among voters. In 2004, just 42% of Americans favored recognizing gay marriage as equal to heterosexual unions. The figure today is 55%, according to Gallup. The trend is with regards to pot legalization, which a majority also supports. When it comes to abortion, about equal numbers of us describe ourselves at pro-choice and pro-life (each around 46%), but there has been no rise in support for banning the practice since it was legalized in the 1970s.

While there’s no reason to think that voters are clamoring for more religion in politics, Mike Huckabee will make exactly such a move the cornerstone of his candidacy if he chooses to run for president. The former governor has taken a leave of absence from his gig as a Fox News host while he ponders his options and promotes his new book, God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy. He continues to view gay marriage as an abomination and just last fall threatened to leave the Republican Party if it did not “grow a spine” and defend the traditional definition of marriage.

That might sell a lot of books and draw an intense and loyal following on Fox News, but it has nothing to do with most people’s top political concerns. By vast majorities, Americans mostly care about things such as the economy, job creation, health care, and government spending. Those are the concerns that must be front and center for any successful candidate and party.

Which isn’t to say that politicians can’t be religious while advancing the limited government agenda that most Americans support. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is a bible-believing Christian who attended Baylor University, a Baptist institution. Yet the reason Paul is among the top-tier Republican hopefuls after just a few years in office isn’t because he can quote the Bible chapter and verse. It’s because he has foregrounded his libertarian bona fides by questioning the federal government’s spying on innocent citizens, refusal to rein in spending, willingness to intervene militarily all over the world, and continued enthusiasm for a failed war on drugs. People want less government and less intrusion on their day to day lives, not government bureaucrats weighing their children at public school and lecturing them about diet, as Mike Huckabee supports.

Similarly, the reason why Bobby Jindal, a Roman Catholic, is popular in Louisiana isn’t because he says he once performed an exorcism while an undergraduate. It’s because he has governed pragmatically and effectively, especially on issues such as school choice. As the libertarian Cato Institute notes in its latest report card on governors, “Jindal has been tight-fisted on spending,” the number of state employees is down 18% since he took office, and he opposes expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

It is a bizarre paradox that displays of religiosity have become increasingly public and de riguer in GOP politics as Americans turn away from organized religion. Republicans won big in the midterms not because they are the party of God but because President Obama and the Democrats overreached, overspent, and overregulated over the past few years. Republicans can win the White House in 2016, but only if they put forth a powerful agenda to address worldly problems while leaving religion where it belongs: in houses of worship.

Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv and the co-author with Matt Welch of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

Foie Gras Freedom Is Also a Win for Free Speech

lucydphoto—Getty Images/Flickr RF Sauteed foie gras

Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv.

Opponents of the delicacy shouldn't use the state to force their subjective value judgments on those who have a taste for things they find abhorrent

The overturning of California’s idiotic and repressive ban on the production and sale of foie gras is a small but important victory for “food freedom.” The only downside is that the decision is open to appeal, so it might be temporary.

The ban was passed in 2004 but only went into effect in 2012. The politicians responsible—including then governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who hypocritically claimed to be probusiness and in favor of limited government—said they wanted to give producers and restaurants time to adapt to the change. But in fact the long lag time had everything to do with Golden State term limits. By the time the ban was in full force, you see, none of those responsible would still be in the legislature.

As defined by the nonprofit Keep Food Legal, food freedom is “the right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, cook and eat the foods of their own choosing, including everything from raw milk to trans fats, hemp to soda, and foie gras to Four Loko” (disclosure: I once served on Keep Food Legal’s board of trustees). In an age of artisanal everything and skyrocketing interest in all sorts of new and innovative cuisine, food freedom is every bit as important as rights to free speech and alternative sexuality.

Indeed, what we cook and what we eat have become as much an arena of individual expression as whom we vote for and whom we marry. Raw-milk producers still labor under draconian regulations and the threat of federal raids despite strong demand for their products by impeccably informed consumers. In a world in which caffeine-enhanced Four Loko has been prohibited, it’s a wonder that Irish coffee is still available.

In order to ban a choice of something as personal as food, government at any level should have extremely compelling reasons related to public health and safety. Simply finding something offensive is no more a warrant for prohibition than for censoring art that some find disturbing. In the case of foie gras, animal-rights activists could only express concern for the birds that are traditionally force-fed in the production of foie gras. All animals that are ultimately slaughtered for human consumption may have our sympathy and empathy. They do not, however, have rights equal to ours. The basic problem helps to explain why the California ban was written in a way that critics presciently called both constitutionally vague and impossible to enforce.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), one of the major players in the foie-gras issue, has tried over the years to assert constitutional rights for orcas. In this, PETA is joined by other activists who have done the same for chimpanzees, dolphins and other animals. None of their lawsuits have gotten far, and they are not likely to because they are nonsensical. However much humans may or may not have an ethical obligation to treat animals in a humane fashion, animals simply do not have rights in any meaningful legal sense.

Which isn’t to say people opposed to foie gras have no means of carrying the day. They can work to end the market for foie gras and other animal products through persuasion and informational campaigns. But they cannot and should not bank on using the coercive power of the state to force their subjective value judgments on the rest of us who have a taste for foie gras or other delicacies they find abhorrent.

And they should assiduously make sure that tax dollars are not going to support food they would never eat. That’s a likely point of agreement between them and libertarian defenders of the right to cook and eat what we want. A central part of the food-freedom agenda is freedom from subsidizing other people’s preferences. Keep Food Legal’s mission statement emphasizes that the group “also support[s] ending agricultural subsidies, which distort the market and help lead to problems like obesity and environmental degradation.”

Increasingly, we live in a world of wildly proliferating choices in virtually every aspect of our daily lives. Like never before, we are free to dress how we like, live where we want, marry whomever we love (or just live with them). The Internet and global trade mean we can have goods from all over the world shipped to our doors. In more and more states, we can even legally smoke pot. In such a climate, it is both folly and hubris for anyone to think he can command the world to live by his rules alone.

Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv and the co-author with Matt Welch of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

5 Earth-Shaking Trends To Follow in 2015—and Beyond!

Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv.

Here are five trends that grew in 2014 and will continue to gain steam this year—and through the rest of the decade

Whether you believe the “libertarian moment has finally arrived” or not, there’s no question that 2014 was a watershed for the decentralization of all sorts of cultural, economic, and political power. Thanks to technology that empowers individuals (think Twitter, Uber, cellphone cameras) and the continuing breakdown of all sorts of gatekeeper institutions (social, political, religious), more and more people in the United States and around the globe are ready, willing, and able to try and call their own shots.

That’s profoundly liberating and anxiety-inducing all at the same time. Some of the outcomes will be unambiguously good, some bad, and most will be a mixture of both. But this new world isn’t going away any time soon.

Here are five trends that grew in 2014 and will continue to gain steam this year—and through the rest of the decade.

1. The end of America as a destination country

Americans have always taken for granted that everyone in the world wants to move here–that’s one of the reasons some people are worried about opening the borders. We’ll be overrun!

Yeah, not so much. Illegal immigration to the United States peaked in 2007 and legal immigration peaked even sooner, in 2006. Part of the reason for the decline is our persistently rotten economy and part of it is our stupid business climate (see below). But a big part of it is that other countries offer better chances for growth and opportunity for migrants and natives alike.

For instance, India and China, the world’s two most populous countries, have higher economic growth rates than the United States. Hard-working individuals have more places than ever from which to choose.

2. The end of America as a business destination

China has surpassed the United States as the planet’s largest economy and Burger King shipped its corporate headquarters to Canada. The two actions aren’t directly connected but each points to ways in which the U.S. is being dethroned as the center of the universe (if it ever was to anyone but Americans).

Burger King didn’t move from Miami to the Great White North because it likes snow all of a sudden. It did so to save millions in taxes. The U.S. corporate tax code and related regulations (many stemming from Sarbanes-Oxley, the Bush-era rules passed in the wake of Enron’s collapse) make it easier and smarter for investors to start companies elsewhere or move all or part of their business. Despite widespread agreement among many Republicans and Democrats in the federal government, there’s no reason to believe that any meaningful reform will take place any time soon.

3. Cheap and abundant energy changes everything

Massively proliferating energy from fracking, shale oil, improved green technologies, and other sources makes everything cheaper for everyone in the world. The price of a barrel of oil has dropped 40 percent since June and has been on the skids for five years.

Beyond savings that can be directed to other economic activities, the drop if energy costs also means that tyrannical countries ranging from Russia to Venezuela to Saudi Arabia have less clout on the world stage. The oil cartel OPEC controls about 40 percent of world production but it’s facing increasing difficulty in keeping its member states in line. The United States had long been OPEC’s biggest customer, which meant that we had to deal gingerly with Saudi Arabia and other Middle-Eastern producers, especially when it came to foreign policy.

With the U.S. producing more of its own energy than was even conceivable a few years ago, China and Asia more broadly is rapidly becoming OPEC’s top customer. Which means that world politics—the decline in oil prices is hamstringing Vladimir Putin in Russia—are going through a major restructuring.

4. Cultural elites take it on the chin

It hasn’t been a good year for cultural elites. In November, the once-beloved comedian Bill Cosby took to Twitter and asked fans to contribute “#cosbymemes.” The feed was immediately filled with images mocking him and calling attention to a growing number of rape accusations. The auteur behind HBO’s Girls, Lena Dunham, published a memoir in which she wrote about being the victim of sexual assault and offering her little sister “three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds.” A commentary by Kevin Williamson of National Review led to a negative reaction that forced Dunham (and even her sister) to engage in a Twitter exchange and to cancel planned appearances.

This sort of thing didn’t happen as easily in the past, when it was harder for everyday people or even members of the media, to speak directly to top-line stars and personalities. The Sony hack, in which unknown perpetrators released terabytes of emails, documents, and even movies, takes it all to a new level. It’s a very different world—filled with very different conversations—when the audience can speak back to whomever it wants.

5. The death of brand loyalty, especially in politics

It seems like only yesterday that everyone agreed the GOP was finished because it had no way of appealing to younger voters and minorities, who would always and everywhere vote Democratic. “For Republicans, Just Doing the Math is Frightening,” read one typical story’s headline.

All it took to dispel that truism was a few years with Democrats calling the shots and reneging on implicit and explicit promises to safeguard civil liberties, not invade random countries, or screw up the economy more than the GOP under George W. Bush. Now the question is “Are Democrats Losing the Youth Vote?” The short answer is that while younger voters aren’t exactly giving bear hugs to Republicans, they have cooled considerably on Democrats over the past several elections. Latinos voted two-to-one for Democrats but also “shifted Republican in key races.”

Although the Republicans won the midterms in a landslide—taking the Senate, increasing its lead in the House of Representatives, and controlling more seats at the state level than ever—there’s every reason to believe that all it will take to see another shift is a couple of years of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner in power.

Which is the point: Brand loyalty is dead in most consumer products—does anyone still come from a Chevrolet or Ford or even Mercedes family?—and it’s shot in politics too. Trust in government and politics, which is at historically low levels, has led to rapid swings in control of Congress and shrinking affiliation with either the Democrats or Republicans. That’s another trend that shows no sign of slowing down in 2015 and beyond.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Media

Is Reading Executives’ Hacked Emails Really Any Better Than Peeping at Hollywood in Its Birthday Suit?

Sony Pictures Classic 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards Party
Jean Baptiste Lacroix—WireImage Scott Rudin and Amy Pascal attend the Sony Pictures Classic 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards Party held at The Beverly Hilton hotel on January 16, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California.

Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv.

Reading hacked emails is hardly any better than being a Peeping Tom

It was just a few months ago that everybody and his grandmother was truly livid—or at least feigned anger before firing up our search engines—when hackers released naked pictures of celebrities ranging from Jennifer Lawrence to Kate Upton to Dave Franco. Curiously, such outrage is almost completely missing in the media’s response to the massive hack attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment, which may be linked to the North Korean government and has dumped private emails, contracts, files of unreleased movies, and more all across the Internet.

This time around, there is unapologetic prurience at the chance to get a real behind-the-scenes look at an industry long notorious for its wicked, backbiting, and hypocritical ways. Big-shot producer Scott Rudin tells Sony co-chair Amy Pascal he thinks Angelina Jolie is “a minimally talented spoiled brat”? A-List director David Fincher is as difficult as Hitler was anti-Semitic? Tell us more!

Whatever the differences in public responses, the episodes underscore two basic points that are worth learning fast: First, nobody cares about other people’s privacy, especially if the divulged material is juicy enough. Second, privacy is itself a highly fluid concept that will have probably changed yet again by the time you finish reading this article. Once upon a time, for instance, the Supreme Court ruled that federal agents didn’t need warrants to tap phones. Privacy is invented more than it is discovered.

The deep pull of hacked naked pictures of celebrities isn’t simply that we common people get to see the stars in their birthday suits. After all, many celebrities have either bared all on their day jobs and hyper-realistic Photoshopped fakes of everyone from Sarah Palin to Joe Biden already haunt the Internet like Banquo’s ghost (there are probably full-junk shots of him online too). It’s that these are images that were not meant to be seen by the mere public (indeed, that was the lure of early celebrity sex tapes that, often as not, may have been made with the intention their being leaked). They promise some sort of secret knowledge of the “real” star that Hollywood has always tried to obscure in its manipulation of public images. In an age of Wikileaks, Edward Snowden, and–more importantly–TMZ, we don’t just want to see the finished product, we want to see what’s behind the curtain. And what execs really think of the stars they pay so well.

That’s true from the hacked emails and documents from Sony. When studio executive Clint Culpepper calls rising comedian and movie star Kevin Hart “a greedy whore” for demanding payment to do “social media” on a movie, it’s the sort of revelation that confirms all of our nastiest intuitions. The hypocrisy on display in the emails—a movie mogul pissed at a performer asking for money?—is nothing short of electrifying.

Similarly, when studio head Pascal and Oscar-winner Rudin—both public, liberal supporters of Barack Obama—start dishing race-based jokes about the president, we know we’re finally on the inside of a walled fortress built to protect phonies. “Should I ask him if he liked Django [Unchained]?” quipped Pascal in a note to Rudin written shortly before she was about to meet Obama at a fundraiser. “12 Years [a Slave],” replied Rudin.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t moments of something approaching valor and artistic courage. It’s widely believed the hack has some connection to The Interview, an upcoming comedy in which Seth Rogen and James Franco play bumbling journalists tasked by the U.S. government to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un (that country’s officials have denied any involvement while denouncing the film as a “terrorist act”). After Sony proposed edits to the movie’s finale, apparently to make the movie less offensive to Korean communists, Rogen pushed back, telling Pascal, “This is now a story of Americans changing their movie to make North Koreans happy.” Good for Rogen, but when the star of Zack and Miri Make a Porno is the conscience of your industry, you might have bigger problems than learning how to turn on a firewall and encrypt your data.

There’s no question that Sony, like Apple in the nude photos hack, didn’t do enough to prevent the exposure. In 2011, Sony’s Playstation network was hacked, costing the company $171 million in damages and repair. Amazingly in the wake of that, Sony reportedly didn’t even encrypt sensitive data such as passwords and employees’ Social Security numbers.

The saving grace for Sony and victims of hacks may be that as it becomes increasingly difficult to keep secrets from determined hackers, the public will become less and less judgmental. Even a few decades ago, the release of nude photos was enough to cost Miss America her crown. However mortified they might be personally, none of the celebrities outed in the nude picture hack can claim much if any damage to their professional life. So it is with Hollywood hypocrisy and scandalous personal behavior, which has never been in short supply.

Short of revelations of serious crime—such as the rape allegations Bill Cosby is facing—the public will simply consume any behind-the-scenes drama as something akin to a bonus track on a DVD. If anything, expect seemingly unauthorized “hacks” to become strategically deployed to pique curiosity about projects. Certainly, The Interview is a more interesting movie when we know that studio executives wanted to tone it down.

And expect Hollywood players—phonies that they are—to be the most forgiving of all. Rudin and Pascal have already apologized for their “racially insensitive remarks” and Pascal has begun a ritualized apology tour by phoning the Rev. Al Sharpton and promising to go on the tax-avoiding MSNBC host’s show. Pascal has even managed to air kiss Angelina Jolie, the object of withering scorn in one of the most widely discussed email exchanges with Rudin. Most important, though, Rudin and Pascal have reportedly also forgiven each other for their harsh comments. Because in Hollywood, after all, it’s who you know that counts most of all.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.


Cameras Wouldn’t Just Prevent Police Brutality. They Would Prevent Violent Protests Too

Mayor De Blasio Discusses Use Of Police Body Cameras At Police Academy In Queens
Andrew Burton—Getty Images New York Police Department (NYPD) Officer Joshua Jones demonstrates how to use and operate a body camera during a press conference on December 3, 2014 in New York City.

Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv.

Want fewer avoidable deaths and potentially angry protests? Then get more video from every possible angle

If you’re outraged—and you should be—that no indictment followed Eric Garner’s death at the hands of the New York Police Department, thank the people who captured the attempted arrest gone horribly wrong from different angles on their cellphone cameras. And start pushing for laws and procedures that not only provide legal protection for citizens who film police but outfit cops with wearable cameras and other recording devices.

Such technologically enabled transparency won’t end all disputes between citizens and law enforcement but it will go a long way to providing clarity in ambiguous cases and, as important, minimizing bad actions by police and suspects alike. It will also have an impact on protests that always have a potential for violence on the part of marchers and authorities.

If official and crowdsourced footage of the confrontation between Michael Brown and Ferguson policeman Darren Wilson existed, it may well have minimized the subsequent protests, militarized response to demonstrators, and the widely criticized grand jury proceedings in Missouri.

Amateur video abounds in the Garner case. Cellphone footage plainly shows cops putting the 350-pound man into the chokehold and other restraining moves that a coroner ruled killed him (chokeholds are explicitly banned by NYPD rules, which should give even police defenders pause). Other video shows NYPD officers standing haplessly over an unmoving, apparently dead Garner for minutes, attempting no resuscitation. The footage is not just disturbing as hell—Garner is heard shouting, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” repeatedly before he expires—it’s the reason why people across the political spectrum are disgusted by the grand jury ruling. As Rep. Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican who is also a lawyer, tweeted, “Clearly excessive force against #EricGarner.”

These are not pretty pictures but they are essential viewing if you want to understand how the police operate and why so many Americans, especially racial and ethnic minorities who tend to have more run-ins with police, feel about law enforcement.

Given how they come off in the Garner footage, it’s understandable why police routinely try to shut down citizens photographing or videotaping them in the line of duty. Indeed, last August, police in Ferguson arrested several reporters for doing just that. That sort of thing is hardly an isolated incident, either. While there is a court-recognized right of citizens to record the police, there’s also little question that cops and law enforcement at all levels are waging nothing less than a “war against cameras.”

Ironically, cameras are in many—maybe most—instances the police’s best friend. Dashboard-mounted cameras have become standard equipment for most highway patrols and routinely exonerate patrolmen accused of misconduct. Back in August, former NYPD police commissioner Bernie Kerik, who implemented dash cams for his force, said that such footage overwhelmingly vindicates police versions of events. Not only that, they have a calming effect. “If a trooper loses his cool,” a spokesman for Pennsylvania Highway Patrol told The York Daily Register, “The trooper will have to answer for his actions.”

And they will also have to answer when they turn off or mess with cameras at inopportune moments. The Albuquerque, New Mexico PD did just that earlier this year when it fired a member for failing to turn on her body camera before engaging in a fatal shooting.

You don’t have to believe that “everyone behaves better when they’re on video” to recognize the vast benefits of ubiquitous video from official and distributed sources. It might have prevented violence in Ferguson in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting (it may even have helped to avoid the incident in the first place). While it did not help to bring an indictment in the Eric Garner death, it has raised disturbing and totally legitimate issues about police behavior and techniques. Those are good things, even if they are born out of tragedy.

Police should actually be the most supportive of increasing the amount of footage, especially footage taken by cameras they’re wearing. A year-long study of the Rialto, Calif., police department found that using “officer-worn cameras” reduced use-of-force incidents by 59% and reduced complaints against the cops by 87.5%. Between the Brown and Garner deaths—and cases such as the one in Cleveland where police shot and killed 12 year old Tamir Rice—law enforcement needs to work hard to regain the trust and confidence of the American public. Assuming they are acting in good faith and in accordance with proper policies, literally being able to show things from their point of view may be one of the best ways they can reassure us all.

Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv and the co-author with Matt Welch of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong with America.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Business

Uber’s Real Crime Is Giving In to Politics as Usual

Adam Berry—Getty Images

Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv.

The company once fought unfair regulation—now it wants its own

So does Uber, the smartphone-enabled ridesharing service, have “an a–hole problem” that threatens the company’s very future? The New York Times warns that “Uber’s hard-charging [corporate] culture…can become a losing proposition faster than you might imagine.”

That seems to be the growing consensus among observers as the company’s list of real and imagined sins starts growing longer by the minute. Some of the complaints are serious and some are frivolous. But there’s one truly anti-competitive move Uber is pulling that it should definitely called out on—and hasn’t been yet.

In just a few years, Uber has gone from being universally praised to being universally dumped on. “Uber is software [that] eats taxis,” enthused Marc Andreessen, the man who invented the first popular web browser and is now a leading venture capitalist in Silicon Valley, back in 2011. “It’s a killer experience.”

Even as Uber has expanded to 45 countries and more than 200 cities and is valued at more than $18 billion, the only press the company seems to get these days is bad press. It’s not a pretty list, to be sure. Uber’s seemingly cavalier attitude toward its customers’ privacy has been a public relations problem pretty much since Day One, and the company has been criticized for trying to steal drivers from rival services and for allegedly tying up competing services with fake ride requests. The latter is churlish and underhanded (management says any such incidents were isolated) but the luring drivers away from other companies by paying them more? Come on, already: That’s called capitalism, and it’s a win for workers.

There have been more serious matters. Earlier this year, when an Uber driver in San Francisco struck and killed a six-year-old girl while between fares, the company first tried to dodge any responsibility but ultimately expanded its insurance coverage for drivers. Another driver not only assaulted a passenger but had somehow managed to pass the company’s background check despite being on probation for battery and having “multiple drug-related felony convictions” under his belt. These and other similar incidents are terrible and need to be dealt with better than they have been, even as the same sorts of complaints happen all the time with traditional taxi services. With Uber and other services at least, you really can pinpoint the malefactors immediately. Try doing that with a traditional cab company.

Much of the media-centric anger at Uber concerns its top management. Uber’s co-founder Travis Kalanick drew ire when he commented to GQ that his newfound wealth and fame had led to something like girlfriends on demand. “We call that Boob-er,” he joked. Both the quality of the joke and the mind-set it reveals are adolescent, but customers aren’t riding with Kalanick. The latest outrage is just a few days old and explains more of the media’s newfound vitriol toward Uber. After a particularly critical article about the company appeared, Senior Vice President of Business Emil Michael talked about spending “a million dollars” to look into critical journalists’ “personal lives” and “families.” He quickly apologized and Kalanick distanced himself from the comments in a 13-tweet-long act of contrition that reads about as sophisticated as his “Boob-er” gag (the main point was the Michael is not in the position to carry out such threats, not the best line of defense).

It’s this sort of not-ready-for-prime-time stupidity that may well end up eating into Uber’s customer base even as the company provides a great and appreciated service. None of us wants to do business with “a–holes,” but we also don’t expect businesses to be run by saints or be our best friends, either. If the company goes too far, people can always vote with their dollars for other ridesharing services, such as Lyft and Sidecar.

What actually troubles me the most about Uber is its newfound willingness to work with local governments to come up with regulations it can live with—but which put its existing and future competitors at a disadvantage. Not long ago, Uber was refreshing in its attitude that it didn’t need any government’s permission as long as it was serving customers’ needs who voluntarily downloaded its app and summoned its cars. That’s exactly how things should be in a free market.

Early Uber investor Ashton Kutcher explained it well on Jimmy Kimmel Live back in January. With “Uber cab or [room-sharing service] airbnb or any of these new peer-to-peer networks,” said Kutcher, “you have old-school monopolies and incumbents, and old-school governments that get kickbacks from various people that don’t want the new guy to come in so they try to kick them out of their city. But the people are going to have what the people want and the people say they want Uber and the people say they want airbnb.” Across the country, Uber faced down taxi commissions and other agencies that tried to shut it down even as residents clamored for alternatives to traditional cabs.

In September, though, the company hired former Barack Obama adviser David Plouffe specifically to work with local governments. “Uber should be regulated,” says Plouffe, who hails the legislation he hammered out in Washington, D.C. as “groundbreaking legislation [that] provides a model going forward.”

That model is one that gives clear advantages to Uber, which has more market share and political clout than its rivals such as Lyft and Sidecar. What the legislation does is establish “burdensome new ridesharing regulations” dictating minimum ages of drivers and other requirements that will make it more difficult for competitors to catch up to Uber or enter new markets in the first place.

In The Myth of the Robber Barons, historian Burton W. Folsom made a distinction between market entrepreneurs, who got rich by providing goods and services to people at cheaply and efficiently, and political entrepreneurs, who maintained and grew their market share by lobbying for regulations and special privileges that gave them an edge. Folsom underscored that it’s common for market entrepreneurs to become political entrepreneurs (think Thomas Edison, who used all sorts of political connections to kneecap market rivals).

Uber’s latest strategy may make sense from a business point of view—Plouffe even calls it “Uber-mentum”—but if you believe in free markets, it’s just as dispiriting as most of the other things that have ginned up anti-Uber fervor. And to the extent that new regulations make it that much harder for the next great disruptive business to come along, it’s worse still.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.


Did President Obama Just Break the Internet?

Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv.

'Net Neutrality' is a clever phrase but a dumb policy.

So President Obama has announced that the Internet should effectively be regulated as a public utility along the lines of the old-time Ma Bell phone system. He’s asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reclassify internet traffic from information services (or Title I services under current Communications Act rules) to telecommunication services (or Title II services).

Obama is old enough to know better. If you think cable companies and internet service providers (ISPs) absolutely suck at customer service (and they pretty much do), they’re simply faint echoes of the old Bell system, which set the standard for awfulness. “We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the phone company,” joked the comedian Lily Tomlin back in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Public utilities and government-granted monopolies — the only sort that actually stick around for very long — are rarely famous for their customer service and innovative practices. “The Phone Company” was enough of a cultural shorthand for all that was bad, rotten, and bureaucratic in American life that it was the super-villain in the 1967 black comedy The President’s Analyst. As bad as Comcast or Verizon might be, things can always get worse — and likely will if federal regulators gain more control.

Obama is acting in the name of “Net Neutrality,” keeping the Internet free and open, ensuring that user access to legal content and sites isn’t blocked, and protecting against a long parade of potential horribles that have failed to materialize in the absence of the new regulations he is championing. He and other proponents of Title II reclassification such as video-streaming juggernaut Netflix are particularly exorcised at the possibility of Internet “fast lanes” through which ISPs would charge companies fees to deliver their content to users. All data should be treated equally is the rallying cry of Title II proponents. Anything less, they charge, is a form of censorship.

Let’s leave aside the inconvenient fact that reclassification under Title II wouldn’t actually prevent “paid prioritization” deals, that ISPs are constantly managing online traffic in all sorts of ways to keep users happy, and that the FCC’s legal standing to regulate the internet is far from a settled matter. The real question is whether experiments in delivering content and services would necessarily be bad for the rest of us (I write as a Netflix subscriber, the editor of web and video sites, and an Internet junkie).

The answer is no. Clemson University economic historian Thomas W. Hazlett defines Net Neutrality as “a set of rules…regulating the business model of your local ISP.” The definition gets to the heart of the matter. There are specific interests who are doing well by the current system and they want to maintain the status quo via government regulations. That’s understandable but the idea that the government will do a good job of regulating the Internet (whether by blanket decrees or on a case-by-case basis) is unconvincing, to say the least. The most likely outcome is that regulators will freeze in place today’s business models, thereby slowing innovation and change.

That’s never a good idea, especially in an area where new ways of bundling and delivering content are constantly being tried. It’s a historical accident that cable companies, who back in the day benefited from monopoly contracts with local governments, have morphed into ISPs. That will not always be the case, as the rise of Verizon (originally a phone company) and Google’s rollout of its own fiber system, attest. Just a few years ago, the FCC frowned on the cell-phone company MetroPCS’s discount plan that allowed access to the World Wide Web but denied users multimedia streaming. The FCC and Net Neutrality proponents thought that was a bad thing. Customers on a budget had a different opinion.

According to the FCC’s own findings, the speed and variety of American Internet connections are growing substantially every year. Despite claims that monopolistic ISPs don’t have to listen to customers, 80% of households have at least two providers that can deliver the internet at 10Mbps or faster, which is FCC’s top rating. It’s in the increasingly intense battle over customers that a thousand flowers will bloom; all sorts of interesting, stupid, and dumb innovations will be tried; users will be empowered; and tomorrow’s Internet will look radically different from today’s.

And maybe, just maybe, customer service will be light years better than what was offered by the phone company of Obama’s youth.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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