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Illinois, Defying Federal Policy, Wants to Let Medical Marijuana Licensees Have Guns

Illinois is reportedly intending to bravely flout federal policy regarding medical marijuana and the right to possess weapons, the Chicago Tribune reports:

The Illinois Department of Public Health had proposed requiring gun owners to give up their firearms if they became medical marijuana patients.

But after howls of protest from gun owners and marijuana users alike, regulators are dropping that prohibition, according to someone with knowledge of the rules who spoke on condition of anonymity....

The revised state rules are due to come out publicly Friday. They will then go to a legislative committee which will consider further changes before finalizing the regulations, clearing the way for business and patient applications in the fall, and possibly for marijuana distribution next year.

As readers of Reason know, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) considers what Illinois is seemingly willing to allow to be a no-no.

To the feds, state-legal medical marijuana licensees, as I reported back in 2011, "fall afoul of Sect. 922(g) of the federal criminal code (from the 1968 federal Gun Control Act), which says that anyone “who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance” is basically barred from possessing or receiving guns or ammo."

Nick Gillespie blogged back in January on Illinois, medical pot, and gun rights, when the state was planning to try to obey federal policy and keep its pot licence holders from owning guns.

I reported about the Wilson v. Holder case attempting to vindicate medical marijuana licensees Second Amendment right in 2011 when the suit was filed, and last month when a federal judge threw it out of court (though it may appeal its way back in, the lawyers in the case tell me). As more states license medical marijuana users, this particular confusing element of Second Amendment law is going to demand some more judicial decision making, and hopefully judicial sense that recognizes that merely being permitted to use certain medicines should not bar you form exercising a core constitutional right to self-defense.

Alas, the decision in the 2008 Heller case—which I wrote a book about, Gun Control on Trialleft too many annoying ambiguities in the hows whens and whys of federal encroachment on the Second Amendment—a matter I wrote a Reason feature article about in our April issue.

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Obamacare Sign Ups Hit 8 Million, Demographic Mix Falls Short of Target

Whitehouse.govWhitehouse.govPresident Obama took another victory lap celebrating his health care law today, announcing at an afternoon press conference that 8 million people had signed up for health coverage through the law’s insurance exchanges. Obama also hammered Republicans for refusing to work with him on making needed changes to the law. The message was clear, if not exactly cogent: Obamacare is working, and the problem with the GOP is that they won’t help him fix it.

It’s the latest in Obamacare victory celebrations from the White House, which has taken an increasingly confident tone regarding the law in the last few weeks as sign-ups unexpectedly surged at the very end of the first open-enrollment period. I say “unexpectedly” because while the administration’s own projections did foresee some increased activity in the last month, they did not anticipate the size of the spike that ended up occurring. Via Vox, here are the White House’s month-to-month projections compared with actual sign-ups.

Vox.comVox.com

The White House’s recent declarations that Obamacare is now a success have rested heavily (though not exclusively) on a single figure: the total number of sign-ups recorded. That number, of course, still doesn’t tell us how many people are actually enrolled, since enrollments must be paid and 15-20 percent of people who sign-up are reportedly not paying their first month’s premium (although even with a 20 percent reduction it still results in about 6.4 million enrollments). Nor does it tell us how many enrollments were previously uninsured.

Whitehouse.govWhitehouse.govNor does the 8 million sign-ups statistic tell us the answer to what is arguably the most important figure of all: the demographic mix of sign-ups. I say arguably because, while some may differ, that is in fact what White House Press Secretary Jay Carney argued just four months ago.

"Whatever the total figure is of people who enroll by March 31st, the aggregate number," he said in early January, "the total number is not as important as the overall makeup that you see in that population."

Carney’s statement came in response to a question about how many sign-ups were between the ages of 18 and 34, a demographic of younger and presumably healthier plan beneficiaries whose participation has been considered critical to the success of the law: The administration’s goal, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, was for 39 percent of the final tally to be between the ages of 18 and 34. The “worst-case scenario,” according to a Kaiser Foundation analysis cited by the administration was if only 25 percent of the final tally was in that age cohort.

As it turns out, we do have information about sign-ups in that age group, and the demographic mix is much closer to the worst-case scenario than it is to the administration’s target. About 28 percent of the sign-ups are between the ages of 18 and 34, according to a White House fact sheet. If, as Carney said in January, that number is much more important than the total number of sign-ups, then that’s probably a bad sign for Obamacare. 

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Albuquerque Civilian Police Oversight Members Resign: Can’t Keep Lying to the Community

poopersAPD Party PatrolOn the same day the Department of Justice (DOJ) released its findings on civil rights violations at the Albuquerque Police Department (APD), the city told its Police Oversight Commission (POC) that it couldn't rule against whatever the police chief decides about complaints against cops.

Three members of the commission complained about their toothlessness in letters of resignation this week. Via KOAT:

"The city attorney's office addressed the POC on April 10, 2014, and stated that we have no power to decide against the APD Chief or against the independent review officer's findings regarding citizens' complaints," reads [one of the quitting members, Jonathan] Siegel's letter. "I cannot continue to pretend or deceive the members of our community into believing that our city has any real civilian oversight." 

The city's response pointed to the DOJ's findings about the role an "effective" oversight commission can play and said the government was "hopeful"  the City Council would work with the DOJ on "continued efforts to reform and implement needed changes." The DOJ, in fact, called Albuquerque's "broken civilian oversight process" one of the "deficiencies" that contributed to the use of excessive force. No charges were announced by the DOJ in conjunction with the findings of a pattern and practice of excessive force by members of the APD.

The fight over robust civilian oversight's an old story in Albuquerque. As the Washington Post Radley Balko explains at The Watch blog, the cycle of police abuse, cover-up, and scandal has been going on for some time. One reform- minded police chief brought in in 1998 to fix that generation's problem of police abuse was then railroaded out of the department just three years later with the help of Albuquerque voters.

More on Albuquerque's problems at Reason 24/7.

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Gun Rights and 'Justice Stevens' Foolishness'

Earlier this week I noted a Washington Post op-ed by John Paul Stevens, where the retired Supreme Court justice called for a constitutional amendment that would effectively abolish the individual right to keep and bear arms. If he had has way, Stevens said, he would rewrite the Second Amendment to read: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed." That op-ed has now prompted a timely letter to the editor from Robert A. Levy, chairman of the Cato Institute and one of the three libertarian lawyers (Clark Neily and Alan Gura are the others) who conceived and litigated District of Columbia v. Heller, the landmark 2008 case which definitively rejected Stevens' troubling interpretation of the Second Amendment. Here is what Levy had to say:

Former justice John Paul Stevens offered a truly radical proposal to amend the Constitution. He would limit gun rights to persons serving in the militia and only during their times of service. So, the District again would be able to tell my ex-clients, who justifiably feared for their safety in their drug-infested neighborhoods, that they could not keep a handgun at home for self-defense. Responsible citizens who are concerned about extremist views on gun rights should condemn Justice Stevens’s foolishness.

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Why It Could Get a Lot Harder to Get Divorced in Some States

Moving Picture World/WikimediaMoving Picture World/WikimediaAs the great same-sex marriage debate bumbles on, a smaller, quieter marriage battle is taking place in state legislatures. Last week, The Washington Post reported on moves by socially conservative politicians around the country to make it harder for couples to get divorced.

Since 2011, more than a dozen states have considered bills that would limit allowable reasons for divorce and/or draw out divorce proceedings (via longer waiting periods and mandated counseling).

Wait, you need a reason to get divorced? Didn't we do away with that in the '70s? 

Yes, mostly: "No-fault" divorce laws—which permit couples to divorce without proof of adultery, abandonment, etc.—began to proliferate after California passed the first one in 1969 (signed by the Gipper himself). By 1980, 45 other states had joined California and by 1985, New York was the only outlier, the Post reports.

Despite the fact that it's driven up the divorce rate, no-fault divorce is generally looked at as a pretty positive development in America. It frees people from being trapped in miserable marriages, for one. And studies have suggested it has helped cut down on domestic abuse and spousal murder.

Returning to the old ways might force more people to stay unhappily married, but that's a pretty bizarre goal. Putting alleged "social good" above individual freedom and flourishing rarely seems to lead to either.

Leave it to legislators, however, to think they know better about your love life than you do. Kansas and Oklahoma are currently considering an end to no-fault divorce for parents or possibly everybody. North Carolina wants to institute a two-year waiting period. 

At Bloomberg ViewMegan McArdle uses European labor markets to explain why such laws could totally backfire.

After World War II, many left-wing European governments... passed laws making it very, very difficult to fire workers. In Italy, for example, a judge could reverse a layoff decision, not because you’d fired the worker unjustly, but because the judge didn’t think you needed to cut staff. Hurrah! Finally, workers were protected from the dark specter of unemployment!

Well, not quite. Workers were thrilled; employers were terrified. Now hiring a worker meant you were stuck with them unless they committed some absolutely flagrant offense—like, say, emptying the till and running out the door.

That’s a hell of a commitment to make to someone you barely know. So employers didn’t want to hire scary strangers; they wanted to hire close friends and family. Or, better yet, no one at all. Youth unemployment in many of these nations was staggering. The insiders had a great deal, but people without jobs found themselves consigned to a series of temporary, not-very-well-paid contracts. Or the dole.

The lessons? When you make contracts harder to exit, you also make it less likely people will want to enter into them. And promoting social arrangements via government force rarely works out the way social planners want it to. 

Jesse Walker on the Overland Park Shootings and Free Speech

In the wake of the Overland Park shooting spree of April 13, the notion is being floated, yet again, that we might be able to stop such crimes if only we were less rigid about the Bill of Rights. Jesse Walker explains why this draws exactly the wrong lessons from the killer's career as a violent bigot.

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Russia Agrees To “De-Escalate” in Ukraine, Rob Ford To Run Again, More Federal Regulations Than Ever Before: P.M. Links

  • State DepartmentState DepartmentRussia's foreign minister announced today he and other diplomats in Geneva reached an agreement to "de-escalate" the situation in Ukraine and "all illegal armed groups must be disarmed." This may come as a relief to Jews, considering pro-Russian militants are reportedly telling them to "register" or else they'll lose their citizenship (but it might just be the world's worst hoax).
  • Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is running again (not literally). He kicked off his re-election bid today.
  • The federal government really outdid itself in 2013. The number crunchers at the Competitive Enterprise Institute say the feds produced a total of 26,417 pages of regulations—a new record!
  • A North Dakota district judge overturned the state's law that prohibits an abortion after a heartbeat can be detected.
  • The Portland, Oregon, Water Bureau is flushing 38 million gallons of reservoir water after a teenager peed in it.
  • Your baby could be a racist, suggest researchers from the University of Washington who studied how little ones change their behavior around different ethnic groups.  

Follow Reason and Reason 24/7 on Twitter, and like us on Facebook. You can also get the top stories mailed to yousign up here.

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Wisconsin Legalizes Medical Marijuana—But Only for the Children!

Totally baked. You can tell, right?Credit: thejbird / photo on flickrThe discovery that an oil extract from marijuana was successfully treating extremely serious, life-threatening seizures in children with rare disorders has prompted some changes in the way people think about the drug (except, perhaps, for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie).

Medical marijuana is not legal in Wisconsin, but yesterday Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill making it legal in the state to use cannabidiol, a drug made from cannabis, to treat seizure disorders. This particular, singular type of medical marijuana is approved because there’s no chance anybody would enjoy taking it. From the Journal Times of Racine, Wisconsin:   

Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill legalizing cannabidiol, or CBD, which has reportedly been shown to work for children in Colorado. It was illegal in Wisconsin because it contains a small amount of THC, the component present in marijuana, but advocates noted that CBD could never be used as recreational marijuana.

The bill was written narrowly to apply only to CBD, which must be administered by a physician and is not considered by advocates to be "medical marijuana."

Baby steps, anyway. At least there’s another state where parents won’t have to pack up their families and move to Colorado if one of their children turns out to have the disorder. But Wisconsin may not be alone. Several other states that haven’t legalized medical marijuana are nevertheless considering legalizing this one particular marijuana extract for treating this particular rare illness.

For an exhaustive list of where each state stands on marijuana decriminalization or legalization, check out John K. Ross’ recent state-by-state review here.

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Jay Carney: Obama’s Most 'Substantive, Challenging' Election-Year Interview Was With The Daily Show

Whitehouse.govWhitehouse.govThe toughest interview President Obama had in the run-up to the 2012 election was with snarky talk-show host John Stewart, according to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

In an on-stage interview at George Washington University today, the top administration communications official pointed to the president’s sit-down with The Daily Show as the “most substantive, challenging” grilling Obama had prior to the election. Via RealClearPolitics:

JAY CARNEY: I remember we had some discussion during 2012 about well, is it appropriate for the president, the sitting president and candidate, to give interviews with Jon Stewart and others. And the answer was yes, again because the young voters we were trying to reach are more likely to watch The Daily Show than some other news shows. But also, I think if you look back at 2012 and the series of interviews the sitting president of the United States gave, probably the toughest interview he had was with Jon Stewart. Probably the most substantive, challenging interview Barack Obama had in the election year was with the anchor of The Daily Show

That’s a feather in Stewart’s cap, and a reflection of his formidable skills as an interviewer (for a more recent example, witness the interview he conducted with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius shortly after the launch of Obamacare’s exchanges). Stewart really is extremely good at drawing out his subjects, at getting to the point, and at focusing more on substance than on soundbite-driven news-cycle controversies.

But if you think Carney’s remark is true, it’s also something of an indictment of the mainstream journalists who are supposed to be holding the president accountable. If the president isn’t squirming a bit under questioning, and his staff don’t consider the interviews he sits for to be tough or challenging, then that’s a problem.

Of course, that’s hard to do without access. And this White House has not exactly made it easy for journalists to question the president, especially those with national audiences who might be most eager to press him on tough subjects.

During much of the 2012 campaign, the White House minimized its contact with national press, favoring local media outlets that were easier to bargain with. By August of that year, the president had been interviewed just eight times by national media, and 58 times by local news. Local news reporters were given ground rules that most national press would have been unlikely to accept: The White House chose the topic of the interview in advance, and then limited the length of the interviews to just 10 minutes, meaning that even if a reporter wanted to deviate from the predetermined topic, there was little time to discuss anything else.

National media ought to be willing to subject this president (or any other, from any party) to tough, rigorous interviews. But the White House and its communications team ought to be confident enough to subject the president to fair but critical interviews about his statements and policies. That they are not probably tells you as much or more than many of the softball interviews he ended up giving. 

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Border Patrol Harasses Local Protesters, Tells Them 'You Have No Rights Here'

Border Patrol checkpointEnd Border Patrol Checkpoints/ACLUWhen last we dropped in on the good people of Arivaca, Arizona, they were keeping a close eye on a Border Patrol checkpoint that controls access to their community and puts just about anybody entering or leaving town through an Iron Curtain nostalgia tour.

Tired of running the gauntlet, locals set up a monitoring operation at the checkpoint, where they simultaneously protested and recorded the agents' activities.

Border Patrol didn't like that. The agents got nasty.

How nasty? In a letter dated April 16 and sent to Manuel Padilla, Jr., Chief Border Patrol Agent for the Tucson sector, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona describes agents at the Arivaca checkpoint threatening protesters with arrest, forcing them behind an arbitrary line at the edge of a "Border Patrol Enforcement Zone," refusing to identify themselves, cursing at the locals, and blocking their view of agents' activities.

Some of the agents' actions are incredibly petty, such as parking a running vehicle so that the exhaust vents directly at the protesters. Then when they move, agents set another running vehicle in front of them.

Meanwhile, the feds let a local Border Patrol supporter into their checkpoint to turn his cameras on the protesters.

So matters are pretty tense betwen Arivacans and Border Patrol. What started all of this? An ACLU complaint filed in January details some of the abuses.

One former local business owner (her small business suffered from the decline in tourism caused by the checkpoint and was forced to close its doors at the end of 2013) described being detained on her way to a doctor’s appointment following a heart attack, held for over an hour in the hot sun, not permitted to sit down, and denied water. Other Arivacans report that agents at the checkpoint have told them, "You have no rights here," or that all community members are considered suspect simply by virtue of living in Arivaca.

The "you have no rights here" comment was documented in an op-ed by activist John Heid.

The caption for a picture of a school bus at the Arivaca checkpoint from the End Border Patrol Checkpoints Facebook page points out:

Our children live in a world where they pass through a military-style checkpoint every morning and afternoon for school. Every time their parents take them to Tucson shopping. Every time they go to a friends house in Amado, or to Karate in Sahuarita. Men carry guns, dogs bark, lights flash.

So a federal agency has basically declared war on an American community because it doesn't embrace agents' presence with open arms.

Below you can see a video of a uniformed douchebag with an attitude about "your little civil rights thing" harangue a woman for politely asking him to justify his actions. Imagine driving through this checkpoint every single day.

Woman Screamed at and Harrassed At Border Patrol Checkpoint from End BP Checkpoints on Vimeo.

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CBO vs. OMB on the President’s Budget Plan

Whitehouse.govWhitehouse.govEach year the president releases a budget plan, and each year we get two different sets of projections about what the effects of the budget plan would be if it were enacted.

First, accompanying the budget plan, we get the White House’s outlook—the projections from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). A little while later, we get a different set of projections from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

The CBO report, which was released this mornig, compares the president’s budget against the current baseline—what the CBO expects from the budget should all current legislation stay in place. It’s revealing, however, to also compare the CBO’s estimates to those produced by OMB. Inevitably, some of the estimates that come from within the White House are much rosier.

For example, via Gordon Gray at the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank, here’s how the White House’s projections of debt held by the public as a percentage of GDP stack up against the CBO’s projections of the same.

American Action ForumAmerican Action Forum

That’s a pretty big difference. There are numerous reasons for the difference, many of which are fairly technical. But in general, the CBO and the OMB use somewhat different baselines, meaning the projections have different starting points. The OMB also tends to rely on brighter assessments of the economy’s future, which in turn makes its overall outlook sunnier.

It’s a good thing that we have these competing estimates. For one thing, each one provides a check on the other. Both scorekeepers know that their estimates will be checked against the other, so neither wants to go too far out on a limb. This is especially useful for helping check OMB’s natural political incentives for optimism. As part of the White House, there are obvious reasons why OMB tends to see brighter economic futures; CBO’s follow-up score helps make sure that optimism doesn’t get too far out of hand.

For another thing, the competition serves as a reminder that these estimates are just that—estimates, subject to all sorts of uncertainties and prediction problems. Official Washington has a tendency to treat these projections as something approaching gospel truth, but no forecaster has a crystal ball. These best experts often disagree, which means that someone, and possibly everyone, is wrong. These projections offer generally helpful expert guides to the possible effects of policy making, but they don’t tell us what will happen, only what might.

Granted, there’s an added wrinkle when it comes to President Obama’s consistently dead-on-arrival budget frameworks. We can’t be exactly sure of what would happen if we implemented the administration’s budget blueprint, but we can be fairly certain that it doesn’t matter much either way, because that’s not going to happen.

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You Will Not Believe The T-Shirt That Got This Professor Kicked Off Campus!

Some of you will recognize the T-shirt verbiage to the right as coming from the hugely popular HBO series Game of Thrones.

Nobody at Bergen Community College did, alas, which led to the suspension of Francis Schmidt, an art and animation professor at Bergen Community College. The picture is of his daughter, who is doing some kind of yoga stance.

Here is an account of what happened next, courtesy of Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE):

Displaying a lack of both pop culture and First Amendment awareness, administrators at Bergen Community College in New Jersey placed Professor Francis Schmidt on leave this past January, requiring him to meet with a psychiatrist before returning to campus—just for posting a picture of his daughter in a T-shirt quoting the popular HBO television show Game of Thrones.

Schmidt, an art and animation professor, was required to meet with Jim Miller, an executive director at the college, as well as two other administrators prior to being put on leave because Miller believed he received a “threatening email” from Schmidt.

There are many problems with this accusation. First, the email was not sent from Schmidt. Jim Miller is a contact of Schmidt’s on Google+, so Miller automatically received an email from Google when Schmidt posted on Google+. Second, the “threatening” material was a picture of Schmidt’s young daughter doing yoga in a Game of Thrones T-shirt with the quote, “I will take what is mine with fire & blood.” For those who are unfamiliar with Game of Thrones, this is a quote from the character Daenerys, who is pledging to retake the throne in Westeros, a war-torn continent and the primary setting of the series.

Read more here.

FIRE reports that Schmidt is back teaching but notes, "it’s worrying that Schmidt was forced to go through this ordeal in the first place." Worrying isn't the first word I would use to describe the situation. If you want to bring your views on the situation to the attention of Bergen Community College's president, here's her page.

Hat tip: Peter Bonilla's Twitter feed.

Speaking of Game of Thrones, here's Reason TV's recent Tax Day video, which features GOT scenes and characters. Just so there is no misunderstanding, this is meant as a fun way of discussing the violence that men, women, and dwarves do - not through weapons but through the tax code.

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Lois Lerner: Living Embodiment of Why We Should Stay the Hell Away From the IRS

Lois LernerCSpanWho was it who said, "everybody is guilty of something"? My high school principal, I think. Anyway, it's also a paraphrase of the warning contained in Harvey Silverglate's Three Felonies a Day, which points out that we go through our lives breaking a tangled jungle of laws, often unintentionally.

That makes us all vulnerable to prosecution on a whim—perhaps by the fine folks at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) enforcing the country's vast and incomprehensible tax code.

That's why Judicial Watch's data dump of internal IRS documents suggesting that embattled former tax official Lois Lerner contacted counterparts at the Department of Justice about finding something prosecutable in the activities of conservative tax-exempt organizations is not surprising. Pick a spot in our society and dig deep enough, and eventually you'll find a crime. That's handy, if it suits your needs.

Then again, dig through bureaucrats' email trails long enough, and eventually you'll find something distasteful and nefarious.

Judicial Watch points, understandably, to the following exchange between Lerner and Nikole C. Flax, then-chief of staff to then-Acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller as particularly damning.

Sent: Wednesday, May 08, 2013 5:30 PM
To: Flax Nikole C
Cc: Grant Joseph H; Marks Nancy J
Subject: DOJ Call
Importance: High

I got a call today from Richard Pilger Director Elections Crimes Branch at DOJ. I know him
from contacts from my days there. He wanted to know who at IRS the DOJ folks could talk to
about Sen. Whitehouse idea at the hearing that DOJ could piece together false statement
cases about applicants who "lied" on their 1024s--saying they weren't planning on doing
political activity, and then turning around and making large visible political expenditures. DOJ
is feeling like it needs to respond, but want to talk to the right folks at IRS to see whether there are impediments from our side and what, if any damage this might do to IRS programs.

I told him that sounded like we might need several folks from IRS. I am out of town all next
week, so wanted to reach out and see who you think would be right for such a meeting and
also hand this off to Nan as contact person if things need to happen while I am gone --

Thanks

Lois G. Lerner
Director of Exempt Organizations

***

From: Flax Nikole C
Sent: Thursday, May 09, 2013 8:04 AM
To: Lerner Lois G
Cc: Grant Joseph H; Marks Nancy J; Vozne Jennifer L
Subject: RE: DOJ Call

I think we should do it – also need to include CI, which we can help coordinate. Also, we need to reach out to FEC. Does
it make sense to consider including them in this or keep it separate?

Ultimately, as the scandal unfolded and ensnared much more than the "low level workers" originally blamed for the mess, no prosecutions materialized. But it's easy to see how focused interest by tax officials and federal prosecutors could have found arguable mismatches between organizations' conduct and some interpretation of a tax code that, notoriously, has no consistent meaning across the IRS. (Legal scholars debate whether the IRS should be required to adopt one interpretation of the rules and stick with it. That would be nice.)

The IRS scandal regarding tax-exempt groups actually poses a worse hazard the the thicket of unknowable laws that Silverglate warns about, since the tax code is essentially a moving target, applied in novel ways as it suits IRS officials.

Which means that everybody really is guilty of something, if you put in a little effort to find just that. And that's especially true if it's the IRS looking. That's all the more reason to stay as far away as possible from potentially hostile government officials wielding amorphous rulebooks.

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Nick Gillespie: How "The Rule of Nobody" Leads to Tyranny by Bureaucrat and Dumb Regulations

courtesy The Daily Beastcourtesy The Daily BeastIf the government that governs least governs best, writes Nick Gillespie, then the government that governs via a demented form of "scientific management" and "legal assembly line" governs worst.

And that's exactly what we're getting these days. When the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey wanted to raise the roadway on the Bayonne Bridge to accommodate newer, taller ships, the renovation project seemed pretty straightforward. But it's turning out to be anything but simple, thanks to dozens of rules, regulations, and agencies that are standing in the way of what everyone agrees in a vital project. The Bayonne Bridge project exemplifies what Philip K. Howard calls "the rule of nobody" in his bracing and vital new book about "dead laws and broken grovernment."

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Colorado County Bullies Couple into Handing Over Land for Non-Use

government's just us, gimme!FacebookThe Barries, Ceil and Andy, of Summit County, Colorado, have been fighting their local government, which was trying to use eminent domain to seize their land and keep it "open space." The Barries bought 10 acres and a cabin just outside Breckenridge in the White River National Forest in 2011. The sale came with an all-terrain vehicle, but the U.S. Forest Service told the Barries they couldn't use the old mining road to get to the cabin from their home in the sub-division below.

The county got involved when the Barries petitioned it to declare the road a county route, which would permit them to use it. Instead, the county offered to buy the land. The Barries refused.

Then the county condemned the cabin over plumbing and electricity issues (the cabin has neither and a prior owner didn't get permits to remodel it) and then tried to use eminent domain to take it.

The Barries finally agreed to a sale, or "voluntary settlement" according to the county, this week, for $115,000. That amount, they say, barely covered the legal bills and a portion of the land value. It got too expensive to fight the government, and court-ordered mediation indicated they weren't going to win, as Fox News reports:

The Barries said the slim odds laid out by a mediation judge also influenced them to settle.

"The judge, who was the mediator, basically told us, 'You're fighting Summit County, in the Summit County Courthouse with a Summit County jury and a Summit County judge that has to be re-elected by Summit County voters in November, you're not going to win'," said Ceil Barrie.

The county cited "motorized travel" (the Barries say they've never gone off-road on their property) and "commercial activity" (Andy Barrie says he collected pinecones for his Christmas wreath business) in the area as reasons for trying to take the land from the Barries.

h/t Raven Nation

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Obama Surpasses the Awful Commutation Records of Three Republicans but Still Falls Far Short of Nixonian Mercy

NBC NewsNBC NewsPresident Obama made appropriate use of his clemency powers this week, shortening the prison term of a drug offender who received a sentence that everyone agreed was too long but for which there was no other legal remedy. In 2006 Ceasar Huerta Cantu was sentenced to 17.5 years in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy and money laundering charges related to shipping marijuana from Mexico to Virginia. That term was three-and-a-half years longer than it should have been under federal sentencing guidelines because of a mistake in Cantu's presentence report, which erroneously listed his "base offense level" as 36 instead of 34. Cantu's lawyer never noticed the mistake, which Cantu himself discovered in 2012 after his family mailed him a copy of the report. By then he had missed the deadline for asking the courts to shorten his sentence.

Cantu did receive a two-and-half-year sentence reduction in exchange for assistance in an unrelated case. Obama's commutation shortens the amended 180-month sentence to 138 months. As a result, Cantu will go free in May 2015, taking into account time credited for good behavior. "It's hard to imagine that someone in the federal criminal justice system could serve an extra three-plus years in prison because of a typographical error," said White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler in a speech at NYU Law School on Tuesday. Some of us believe that Cantu's sentence, for the "crime" of transporting the produce of an arbitrarily proscribed plant, was actually 15 years too long, but it is probably not realistic to expect the president to correct that sort of injustice.

Still, there is no reason why Obama should be so stingy with commutations, which he so far has issued at a slower rate than all but three other modern presidents: George W. Bush (11 commutations in 96 months), George H.W. Bush (three in 48 months), and Ronald Reagan (13 in 96 months). Obama has now issued 10 commutations in 64 months, which by that measure makes him about 26 percent more merciful than Bush II, 46 percent more merciful than Bush I, and 14 percent more merciful than Reagan. (Obama still lags all three on pardons, which clear people's records, typically after they have completed their sentences.) But surely a man who has repeatedly criticized excessively long prison sentences should aspire to do more than surpass these truly awful commutation records. Obama is still a long way from Nixonian levels of mercy, since Tricky Dick shortened 60 sentences in 67 years—a rate 83 percent higher than Obama's.

A few months ago, Deputy Attorney General James Cole indicated that Obama planned to pick up the pace, which was encouraging. Not so encouraging: Cole, whose department had at that point received about 9,000 commutation petitions since Obama took office, asked for help in finding worthy applicants, which suggested the government's lawyers are either lazy or extremely picky. Cantu's case seems to fit the latter theory. The New York Times reports that "a Justice Department official said the case was so clearly unjust, it moved through the process at unusual speed and was sent less than a month ago to the White House, where Ms. Ruemmler recommended that Mr. Obama approve it."

By the president's own account, there are thousands of other clear injustices that he has the power to remedy. He could start with all of the crack offenders sentenced under pre-2010 rules that almost everyone now agrees were unreasonably harsh. The Smarter Sentencing Act would make the shorter crack sentences enacted in 2010 retroactive. But if Congress fails to approve that bill, Obama still has the authority to act on his own, which would be consistent with the statements he and his underlings have made regarding our excessively punitive criminal justice system.

"The president believes that one important purpose [of clemency] can be to help correct the effects of outdated and overly harsh sentences that Congress and the American people have since recognized are no longer in the best interests of justice," Ruemmler said in her NYU speech. "This effort also reflects the reality that our overburdened federal prison population includes many low-level, nonviolent offenders without significant criminal histories." Probably more than 10. The president's pitiful performance so far falls far short of these aspirations. 

Addendum: Today is the official release date for six of the eight drug offenders whose sentences Obama commuted in December, including Stephanie George.

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Sriracha Plant Mulls Move, Providing Valuable Lesson to Government Meddlers

That's gonna leave a mark.Credit: Dave77459 / photo on flickr"I have had the bad luck to move into a city with a government that acts like a local king." That’s what David Tran, founder of Huy Fong Foods and producer of Sriracha hot sauce, said to the Los Angeles Times after the Irwindale, California, City Council last week unanimously declared his factory a "public nuisance" due to the alleged smell.

Baylen Linnekin wrote in December about the history of the factory’s issues and the regulatory troubles Tran has faced in California. Back then Linnekin wondered if the company might move out of California to escape its issues with regulators and the meddling government. The possibility seems more likely now. From the Times:

Huy Fong Foods' Executive Operations Officer Donna Lam said that Alabama, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Kansas, Ohio, Georgia, Iowa, Arizona, New Mexico and West Virginia have offered to host factories. A cadre of local officials also have thrown their support behind the hot sauce maker, including state Sen. Ed Hernandez.

U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas, whose district includes the San Fernando Valley, joined the chorus of voices clamoring to host Sriracha production on Wednesday.

It’s worth pointing out that Irwindale is a tiny, little industrialized cog in the greater Los Angeles area, with a population of less than 1,500. Yet 40,000 people are employed there. It is a place where people work, not live. From the city’s own demographic data, less than 1 percent of Irwindale’s land is used for residential purposes. By contrast, 43 percent of land in the city is used for industrial purposes and 31 percent of the land is open space. Roads take up more space in Irwindale than housing.

Yet, as of 2007, Irwindale boasted 134 city employees and its own police force of 27. According to its stats in 2007, the little town had a monthly payroll of more than $777,000. Dennis Romero of LA Weekly noted the odd relationship between Tran’s company and Irwindale:

It is a strange tale. As Tran has told it, Irwindale actually lobbied to get Huy Fong to move from its old digs in Rosemead to Irwindale, which it did in 2010. But when Tran got a bad feeling about initial odor complaints he decided to take preemptive action.

He was essentially paying Irwindale for $250,000 a year for 10 years to use the factory. But he surprised City Hall by buying it outright, depriving Irwindale of millions in future rent.

Most of the odor complaints have come from four nearby homes, one of which is occupied by the relative of a city councilman. That councilman, Hector Ortiz, recused himself from discussion and voting on the matter because, he says, he owns property near the plant.

At the same time, the city was looking to sell property it owns next door to Huy Fong to a waste-management facility, which could be ironic given the odors sometimes associated with those kinds of facilities.

Romero also noted that two current council members and a former council member face conflict-of-interest charges for using taxpayer funds for a lavish trip to New York City.

Now that the discussion of the Sriracha plant moving is taking on tones of actual possibility, Irwindale’s city attorney is acting confused about Tran's response:

Irwindale City Atty. Fred Galante said he was confused and disappointed by Tran's actions. Galante said Irwindale officials just want an action plan to be submitted, and Tran has not proposed any solutions for the city to reject.

"This seems very extreme," Galante said. "It's disappointing given that [air quality officials] have explained that there are readily available solutions."

He seems to have forgotten the fact that Irwindale is already suing Tran’s company. Maybe that’s the origin of Tran’s lack of trust?

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Ron Paul: Criticism of RPI Publishing 9/11 Truther Stuff Is 'a little bit overkill with political correctness'

Last night Ron Paul made one of his frequent appearances on The Independents, giving newsworthy comments about the rancher standoff in Nevada and his own showdown with the Internal Revenue Service over donor disclosures.

Then at the 7:22 mark of the video below, Kmele Foster asked Paul to comment on an essay that the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity published—actually reprinted, so there was proactive choice here—stating the following:

The conclusion is increasingly difficult to avoid that elements of the US government blew up three New York skyscrapers in order to destroy Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah and to launch the US on the neoconservatives agenda of US world hegemony.

Here's the video of Paul's response; a transcript of the exchange follows:

FOSTER: Dr. Paul one last question: Last week, actually on the 10th, at the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity website, a gentleman named Paul Craig Roberts wrote about 9/11 and suggested that the United States government was somehow complicit in that attack. I know in the past you've spoken out forcefully, and criticized folks who have spun such conspiracy theories. He actually did this on your website. Do you have anything to say about that, sir?

PAUL: Well, it's just that people should have a right to express their viewpoints. If you read 99 percent of the article it was a fantastic article. But that doesn't mean that—

Nice screen cap. |||FOSTER: Yeah, but that one percent is pretty nasty stuff, Dr. Paul.

PAUL: Yeah, I know, but that doesn't mean that I endorse what he says, obviously! So I think that's a little bit overkill with political correctness. People know my position, I've stated [it] on national television enough times. But Paul Craig Roberts has some very good views on war and civil liberties, and he shouldn't be excluded because he takes this particular position. But that wasn't the thrust of the article. So I think that, to me, the people who overly criticize something like that probably are the ones who have the problem, because—

FOSTER: No.

PAUL: —I think most people realize exactly what my position is. And I think the government—see, the other reason [for] the confusion is, I don't believe in government commissions. I don't believe government commissions ever get to the bottom of anything, whether it's an assassination committee, or a, you know, any type of commission they set up. They're set up to cover the government, to protect the government, and to make sure nobody's guilty of anything.

Some thoughts from me below the jump.

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Steve Chapman on Obama and the Appeasement Myth

Obama and PutinWhite HouseHawks in the wild tend to be solitary creatures. But those in Washington, D.C., often appear in noisy flocks. As Russian President Vladimir Putin continues his predatory activities in Ukraine, conservatives here are unanimous on how the Obama administration should respond: by emulating the Bush administration. But the hawks have a problem. They have a pathological need and a political incentive to fault President Barack Obama for timidity on Ukraine. At the same time, they must distract attention from the fact that they don't actually propose to do anything likely to affect Putin's behavior. The stark fact, writes Steve Chapman, is that Ukraine is not a place over which the U.S. and NATO should be ready to go to war, and nothing short of going to war will change its fate.

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Don't Miss Our Debate on Open Borders at Reason's DC HQ on Tuesday, 4/22 at 6 P.M.!

ReasonReasonNext Tuesday, April 22, Reason will be hosting a debate on whether the U.S. should open its borders.

Featuring:

Moderated by Thomas Clougherty, managing editor, Reason Foundation.

Doors open at 5:45 p.m. and the event will begin at 6:00 p.m. The debate and Q&A session will last an hour with a reception to follow.

RSVP to Cynthia Bell at cynthia.bell@reason.org or (202) 986-0916.

Reason is located at 1747 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, D.C., a few blocks north of the Dupont Circle metro stop on the red line.

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State Attorneys General to Google: Censor or Be Censored

Gayle Laakmann/Technologywoman.comGayle Laakmann/Technologywoman.comIf you have to ask Google how to rob a house or become a drug dealer, you probably aren't going to make a terribly superb robber or drug dealer. In other words: Search engine inquiries into how to start a life of crime are probably harmless. But that's not really the point—were eHow and Ask.com the premier way of learning the drug trade, it still wouldn't make it right for the government to intervene. The government is intervening, however, with state attorney generals (AGs) pressuring Google to obscure sites that promote illegal activities or sell "dangerous" or illegal materials. 

In a December 2013 letter, published by The Washington Post this week, attorneys general from 23 states and Puerto Rico "expressed concerns" about "Google's monetization of dangerous and illegal content," "the promotion of illegal and prescription free drugs," and general intellectual property violations on the Internet. The gang proposed a meeting in Denver in January, to which Google agreed.

A subsequent letter from the AGs, sent in February, calls the meeting a "valuable first step" but stresses that "much work remains to be done." Summarizing requests made at the meeting, the AGs ask Google to enhance content screening systems and place increased "human scrutiny" on content uploaded to YouTube and Google Drive; to delist sites that sell illegal drugs or any other illegal materials, and prevent these sites from using paid search or ads; and to provide "swift responses" to law enforcement officials about this content. 

"What can Google do to encourage a culture worthy of its 'Don't be evil' motto?" they ask. Oh, I don't know, perhaps not censor the Internet based on the whims of a group of paternalistic prosecutors or use its massive reach to be a spy for the state?

Google, to its credit, wanted no part of the AGs' evil schemes. The company explained that it already has initiatives in place to identify and address copyright violations or prohibited content, and it has (since 2010) barred illegal pharmacies from placing paid ads via Google.

It also, at the request of the AGs, recently removed more than 1,200 phrases from its auto-complete predictions, such as "how to become a drug dealer," "how to get away with robbing a house," and "how to buy slaves" (note that these search terms are still perfectly possible, you'll just have to type the whole phrase yourself). Additionally, it added hundreds of search terms (such as "buy foreign women") to a list of things that will not return ads on YouTube and AdWord.

However, Google patiently explained to the AGs, it does not own or run everything on the Internet nor have a desire to be censor in chief (emphasis mine): 

In contrast to our hosted platforms, our search index reflects existing content on the web, and the sites linked in Google search results are created and controlled by those sites' webmasters, not Google. Given the First Amendment and free-expression issues at play, search is the least restrictive of our services ... It is our firm belief that Google should not be the arbiter of what is and is not legal on the web.

Hell yeah. And Google also rejected (as it has many times before) the idea that it should remove entire sites from search results for copyright violations. Whole-site removal "sends the wrong message internationally, by favoring over-inclusive private censorship over the rule of law," it said. "This would jeopardize free speech principles and the free flow of information online globally and in contexts far removed from copyright." 

The state AGs aren't satisfied, of course. If Google won't fall in line, they've threatened to pursue legal action, according to The Washington Post. Jim Hood, Mississippi AG and the one leading this crusade, explained to the Post that they were merely "trying to make (Google) do right." 

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Justin Amash Digs Captain America Movie, Slags NSA Surveillance

Via Breitbart comes a movie review of  Captain America: The Winter Soldier by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.):

“I like Captain America and actually the most recent movie was fantastic,” Amash said during a WOOD Radio interview on the The Justin Barclay Show in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Amash said that the movie directed a strong warning of the dangers government surveillance, suggesting that his Republican primary opponent would have sided with the bad guys in the film.

“It really was right up my alley in terms of the message. It was directed at people like my opponent, frankly, who think you need to monitor every single American in the country, that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t matter - it was directed at those people.”

Amash is in a primary battle for his congressional seat, facing Republican businessman Brian Ellis. Ellis has campaigned against Amash’s principled stance on surveillance issues, particularly his fight to reform the National Security Agency.

Read the whole thing here.

I'm with Amash regarding both NSA surveillance and the new Captain America flick (Reason.com movie critic Kurt Loder (who preferred the first Captain America flick). As noted by both Loder and Reason's Peter Suderman (who reviews movies for the Washington Times), Winter Soldier is a definite throwback to 1970s-era paranoid thrillers. As with the recent Batman movies by Christoper Nolan, it's really a meditation on post-9/11 issues related to security, privacy, and justice. Which makes it especially cool that it's kicking ass at the box office, having pulled in about $170 million so far.

Reason TV interviewed Justin Amash in 2013. Watch below. Read a transcript here.

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Could Play and Freedom Trace Back to the Building Blocks of Everything?

central planners not required"Cosmos"/PBSAnthropologist David Graeber writes at The Baffler about "play" and how the concept may be necessary at any and every level of physical reality. I found the piece via NPR, which rightly highlights Graeber’s idea that the self-organizing "play" principle is something approaching a primitive ancestor to freedom. But, wrongly and unsurprisingly, NPR differentiated that force from the ones at play in the marketplace.

An excerpt from Graeber’s essay:

What would happen if we proceeded from the reverse perspective and agreed to treat play not as some peculiar anomaly, but as our starting point, a principle already present not just in lobsters and indeed all living creatures, but also on every level where we find what physicists, chemists, and biologists refer to as “self-organizing systems”?

This is not nearly as crazy as it might sound.

Philosophers of science, faced with the puzzle of how life might emerge from dead matter or how conscious beings might evolve from microbes, have developed two types of explanations.

The first consists of what’s called emergentism. The argument here is that once a certain level of complexity is reached, there is a kind of qualitative leap where completely new sorts of physical laws can "emerge"—ones that are premised on, but cannot be reduced to, what came before. In this way, the laws of chemistry can be said to be emergent from physics: the laws of chemistry presuppose the laws of physics, but can’t simply be reduced to them. In the same way, the laws of biology emerge from chemistry: one obviously needs to understand the chemical components of a fish to understand how it swims, but chemical components will never provide a full explanation. In the same way, the human mind can be said to be emergent from the cells that make it up.

Those who hold the second position, usually called panpsychism or panexperientialism, agree that all this may be true but argue that emergence is not enough. As British philosopher Galen Strawson recently put it, to imagine that one can travel from insensate matter to a being capable of discussing the existence of insensate matter in a mere two jumps is simply to make emergence do too much work. Something has to be there already, on every level of material existence, even that of subatomic particles—something, however minimal and embryonic, that does some of the things we are used to thinking of life (and even mind) as doing—in order for that something to be organized on more and more complex levels to eventually produce self-conscious beings. That "something" might be very minimal indeed: some very rudimentary sense of responsiveness to one’s environment, something like anticipation, something like memory. However rudimentary, it would have to exist for self-organizing systems like atoms or molecules to self-organize in the first place.

Read the rest here.

Graeber is apparently a co-founder of the "Anti-Capitalist Convergence," so he too, like NPR, may miss the link between free markets and self-organization, as well as the ought-to-be self-evident idea that centralization (even when masquerading as "consensus") can only destroy the wonders self-organization (which requires not consensus but freedom to act) can produce.

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ATTN POLICE: Enough Already with the Jaywalking Stings! Don’t Cops Have Better Things To Do?!

"ATTN POLICE: Enough Already with the Jaywalking Stings! Don’t Cops Have Better Things To Do?!" is the latest video from ReasonTV. Watch above or click on the link below for video, full text, supporting links, downloadable versions, and more ReasonTV clips. 

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Nick Gillespie Interviews William Binney, the Original NSA Whistleblower

Jacob Appelbaum CC BYJacob Appelbaum CC BYIn 2002, more than a decade before Edward Snowden's NSA revelations rocked the world, William Binney and several former colleagues went to Congress and the Department of Defense, requesting that the NSA be investigated. Not only was the super-secretive agency wasting taxpayer dollars on ineffective programs, they argued, it was broadly violating constitutional guarantees to privacy and due process. Nick Gillespie interviews Binney to find out why nobody listened.

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