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Murder on TV

Making a Murderer, a 10-episode Netflix documentary series, follows the twisted legal saga of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin native who served 18 years in prison for the sexual assault and attempted murder of Penny Beerntsen. Avery was exonerated in 2003 but rearrested in 2005 and convicted of a totally different murder after a byzantine sequence of legal maneuvers.

Similar to the hit podcast Serial, the show gains its spellbinding power by delving ever-deeper into the ordinary, messy, ruined lives of those who run, and run afoul of, the criminal justice system. The result is a thrilling—and ambiguous—look at a part of American life typically shrouded in secrecy.

When the series debuted in December, it fed into a growing national conversation about cronyism and corruption in America’s judicial systems, prosecutorial misconduct, standards of evidence, and the need for criminal justice reform.

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Retro Sci-Fi

Technically, Amazon’s latest original series, The Man in the High Castle, is an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s award-winning novel of the same name. As in the book, the series takes place in an alternate history in which the Axis powers won World War II; the Nazis and the Japanese occupy the East and West coasts of the United States, respectively.

In fact, the series relies much more on the novel’s setting than on the particulars of Dick’s narrative, and in many ways it feels more like a conventional spy thriller dressed up in retro-sci-fi fittings. But the show also sketches out the ways in which the global social and political order might have been unstable for decades following an Axis win in WWII. And its MacGuffin—a series of films showing a world in which the Allies won—suggests that what really drives opposition to totalitarianism is a clear vision of another, better world.

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Batman vs. Cops

The Dark Knight III: The Master Race (issue 5 of 8 will be out in April) continues the story that began in Frank Miller’s legendary ’80s graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, featuring an aging, bitter Batman returning to action. But its themes are torn from today’s headlines. The series begins with the first new sighting of Batman in three years—as he saves a black teenager from pursuit by cops. “now he’s on r side?” a friend to whom he relays his Batman encounter via text asks. “figure he’s always been dumbass,” the teen replies.

The young man took some photos on his phone, which go viral and bring out the typical police apologist voices in media. The first issue ends with what appears to be Batman being beaten by cops. Co-written by Miller but drawn mostly by other artists, the ongoing series promises gripping entertainment about coping with the consequences of power and control.

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15 Years Ago

“Concern about ‘hate crimes’ is resuscitating the Chicago police department’s long-dormant Red Squad, an intelligence unit that specialized in infiltrating, harassing, and gathering intelligence on political groups….Police will again be able to amass databases on groups whom they think might commit terrorist acts and hate crimes.”
—Charles Paul Freund, “Hate Squad”

“How has Bush—who was elected under the most dubious circumstances in American electoral history, who is acknowledged by his own supporters as one of the weakest thinkers to hold the presidency, and who made at least one Cabinet appointment (that of Attorney General John Ashcroft) seemingly designed mostly to provoke controversy—done it so far? Largely by playing the role of the anti-Clinton when it comes to personal style.”
Nick Gillespie, “Bush the Lesser”

“Title IX sought to give women equal access to educational programs, including athletics. Now it’s evicting men from the locker room.”
Michael W. Lynch, “Title IX’s Pyrrhic Victory”

—April 2001

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Civil Liberties or Gun Control?

In November 1979, reason ran an excerpt from the book Restricting Handguns: The Liberal Skeptics Speak Out. The authors described the illegal surveillance, searches, and raids that would be required for effective handgun control and said liberals were “increasingly coming to oppose the prohibition of handguns for civilians” because of the massive civil liberties violations that would necessarily come with it.

Thirty-six years later, we’ve recently seen a long lull in major pushes for gun control—a lull that lasted more than a decade. But now liberals are bringing the issue back into the national spotlight. While violent crime has dropped by half since the 1990s, a series of high-profile mass shootings, from the 2012 Newtown elementary school massacre to the 2015 attack at a San Bernardino civic center, have provided the justification.

In January, President Barack Obama announced, in a teary-eyed address at the White House, unilateral measures to tighten federal controls on guns. These included more background check requirements, more blanket psychiatric disqualifications from firearm ownership, and more reporting on lost guns. He also directed federal agencies to find ways to keep their guns from unauthorized use and accidental discharges, acknowledging that the government represents the largest purchaser of firearms in the country.

Democrats have also called for prohibiting people on the no-fly list from purchasing weapons. Though the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is involved in lawsuits on behalf of people wrongly placed on that same list, it left open the possibility that, were it to be “fixed,” it would then be OK to use it to restrict people’s Second Amendment rights.

The connection between civil liberties–violating policies like “stop and frisk”—popular in New York, Chicago, and other major cities in the 2000s—and the gun control impulses that helped make those policies politically palatable is being downplayed. Recent measures to impose more control on legal firearm owners, such as a requirement that “assault weapons” in Connecticut be registered, have been met with widespread noncompliance. Meanwhile, a new law has gone into effect in California allowing authorities to seize guns from those legally possessing them, without notice, if a judge determines a “potential for violence” based on complaints from family.

In 1979, liberals writing in reason warned how much power—and potential for abuse—government would need in order to effectively ban handguns. In 2016, liberals on Twitter called for a federal crackdown on protesters in Oregon largely because they were armed. Times, it seems, have changed.

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