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Former Bircher No Longer Believes in Vast Communist Conspiracy, Fears Vast Conservative Conspiracy Instead

The economist and historian Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, who sometimes contributes to Reason, has reviewed Claire Conner's Wrapped in the Flag, a memoir of growing up in a family of John Birch Society believers. Conner, he concludes,

To see more of James Gill's collage art, click on the pic.James Gillis unable to separate fully her wrenching childhood from the ideas and opinions of those she generally identifies as right wing. While there is always a note of tenderness in her writing about her parents, their fanatical harshness becomes the template for her damning of not only all Birchers but also most conservatives and even libertarians.

This makes her utterly oblivious to the extent to which she is still trapped in a conspiratorial worldview, but one of the Left rather than of the Right. She has graduated from her parents' belief that America was threatened by a giant left-wing conspiracy, in which every liberal was either a Communist or a Communist fellow-traveler, to a belief that America is threatened by a giant radical-right conspiracy, stretching from the 1950s to the present. She lumps together with the Birch Society in this gigantic, ongoing, and diffuse conspiracy such disparate individuals and organizations as Bill Buckley and his conservative National Review; politicians such as Barry Goldwater, George Wallace, and Ronald Reagan; Ayn Rand and her Objectivist followers; the libertarian Cato Institute; the modern Tea Party; and white supremacists of the Klan.

To support this portrayal, Conner engages in the same kind of guilt by association that Birchers employed to charge, for instance, that Martin Luther King was a secret Soviet agent.

To read the rest, go here.

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Court Tethers Old Man to SoCal for Letting Dog Off Leash

John Gladwin, a 69-year-old Army veteran, "must allow home visits by a federal probation officer, file monthly activity reports and … must get written authorization anytime he leaves the massive Central District covering most of Southern California," details LA Weekly. The government chooses to monitor this retiree and restrict his movement, though he's never committed a violent crime or sold illegal drugs or weapons. No, he let his dog, Molly, off her leash to play just beyond their yard in the vast expanse of Santa Monica Mountains.

The thing is, Molly has never actually caused trouble with hikers or others in these mountains, which are divided among four different authorities – California State Parks, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority and U.S. National Park Service – and each have different rules. But he's twice been caught in federal territory just hundreds of feet from his own property and has been prosecuted for violating a leash law. Now, "if he's caught with so much as a foot in the park, which stretches 50 miles from the Hollywood Hills to Point Mugu, [Gladwin] will go to jail."

Gladwin is riding out a 12-month probation for what seems like a few unfortunate encounters with officials on power trips. From the Weekly:

Supervisory Park Ranger Bonnie Clarfield, of the U.S. Department of Interior, testified against Gladwin at his November 2013 and April 2014 trials. Colleagues have teasingly dubbed her the "dog narc" — for her strict enforcement of leash laws during her 33 years on the job.

Things came to a head before Gladwin's first trial, during the government shutdown last Nobember:

Clarfield had stayed on the job that night, and spotted Gladwin and the dog. She was all set to give him a warning — until she recognized his name, by then infamous to the rangers. Clarfield issued him a citation — requiring a court appearance.

Clarfield isn't the only one that's opted to be tough on Gladwin. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharon McCaslin, who hands most misdemeanors for the Central District, told the Weekly, "I've never had someone, while a trial was pending, go and commit the same offense. He's incorrigible. ... He thinks the park is his backyard."

Gladwin has twice opted to go to trial rather than accept a plea bargain offered by the U.S. Attorney.

"[McCaslin's] job is to make sure that nobody goes to trial," Gladwin says of the prosecutor's misdemeanor caseload. "That's strike No. 1 against me, because I chose to go to trial." He believes McCaslin is using his case as a learning experience for her law student interns.

"These people need push-back. They're just wasting resources," Gladwin says. "Now it's all been about punishing me. To what end?"

Gladwin says that "the probation department doesn't even take it seriously" and that it seems like a lot of government resources going to waste to hammer him, since he's changed his route and takes Molly on walks on private land. 

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Why Lack of Political Support is a Problem For Obamacare

Whitehouse.govWhitehouse.govOver at The Washington Post, editorial writer Stephen Stromberg notes my current print-edition feature on the challenges ahead for Obamacare and the ways the administration has either exaggerated the health law’s successes or downplayed its potential problems.

Stromberg argues that my piece is "ultimately too negative," but we do have a few points of agreement, mainly that "President Obama and his staff oversold the law, promising coverage expansion, cost containment, and unrealistic levels of consumer choice." In addition to laying out remaining problems for the law and noting the ways that the disastrous launch had helped shaped expectations for later performance, that was one of the major points of the piece: that even when the administration has reasonably good news or numbers on its side, it has often chosen to exaggerate its successes, and to declare them with more confidence than is warranted.

I want to zero in on a particular area of disagreement. Stromberg does not seem to think it is a particularly large problem for the law that it is still struggling in the court of public opinion. The law’s low polls, he writes, say "little about its inherent merits."

I tend to think that bad polls are at least potentially a bigger problem. For one thing, poor popularity ratings suggest that even if one believes the law is a success, it’s a success that’s not widely felt. Its benefits are going either unnoticed or actively disliked by the majority of people, which, with a law the size and scope of Obamacare, indicates that it may not be as successful as intended.

More importantly, though, is that for a law to work—or even survive—it must maintain a certain level of political support, even and perhaps especially if you think, as I sense Stromberg does, that it's already a moderate policy success that just needs more time to work out the kinks. An unpopular law is an unstable law, and it is one that is constantly under threat of change or perhaps even outright repeal. 

Just as a general matter, it's hard to maintain a law when the party behind it loses elections because of it. That's probably what happened in 2010, when Democrats lost the House. A 2012 paper by a team of political scientists found that Democrats may have lost control of the lower chamber (and thus the ability to, say, tweak the law during key implementation years) as a result of voting for the health law. 

It’s true that there’s not perfect precedent for the total repeal of a law as sweeping as Obamacare. But major health reforms have been wiped from the books before. The Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act, for example, was passed in 1988. A year and a half later, the law, commonly known as Cat Care, was repealed after extremely angry senior citizens refused to pay a tax financing an expansion of the health program’s catastrophic coverage.

As a 1990 post-mortem of the law in Health Affairs said, "a retrenchment of this magnitude is unprecedented in postwar social welfare policy." It had never happened before, which meant that no one really thought it was possible. But it did happen. The public pressure was just too strong.

Do I think full repeal is a realistic threat to Obamacare?

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John Buckley, Libertarian Senate Candidate From West Virginia

John Buckley, cousin to William F. Buckley, had a long personal background in Republican Party and conservative movement politics, including a stint running Young Americans for Freedom in the 1970s. He won a state legislative seat in Virginia in 1979. He lost his seat after one term and says that "by the early ‘90s I had soured on the Republican Party as a vehicle for expressing my political principles"—not because his principles had changed that much, or even that the Party’s lip service stated principles had, but that no Republicans seemed to act on the free-market side of their message.

After retiring from many years as an official with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, Buckley is running for Senate this year from West Virginia, where he has a home with his same-sex partner, with the Libertarian Party. The Washington Post recognized the race as one of seven nationally where the L.P. could be a player.

West Virginia is a state where the L.P. has, for now, ballot access without the need for expensive and morale-wrecking ballot access campaigns, thanks to the over-one-percent pull of their last gubernatorial candidate in 2012, David Moran. Buckley was nominated by the Party at a state convention in March. As usual with third party candidates, he admits big fundraising is still a chicken-and-egg problem of attention, and can only hope he gets included in multi-candidate debates in the fall.

Reason: Why run for office with a third party?

John Buckley: Republicans give a lot of lip talk to the principles of limited government, and whether people lose principles when they get to office, or even high party office, or never had them to begin with didn’t really matter if ultimately people lose those principles along the way and don’t advance the cause of limited government and individual liberty. I’ve found a more comfortable philosophical home within the L.P., while recognizing it doesn’t have resources to be competitive in all the races it has advanced candidates.

I was finishing a 12-year tenure in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, working for a federal judge under the restrictions of judicial ethics I could not participate in any politics, electoral campaign, even issue politics--which is as ought to be with federal judges.

I was planning to retire. My partner and I had home in West Virginia for 12 years initially purchased as a vacation home and remodeled to be our anticipated home when one of us would. With an open Senate seat with Jay Rockefeller retiring, it seemed an opportunity to get back in and advance principles I believe in. I think the country is going off in a terrible direction. I’m putting as much as I can into it, all my resources of time and a modest amount of personal funds to launch a campaign.

I’ve been seeking opportunities in any public forums where groups will invite candidates to appear, speak, debate.  Most [of that action] I believe will be coming in the fall, after Labor Day. But now I’m trying to get in front of the public at fairs, festival and other public events, anywhere I can find to shake hands, pass out literature. I’m using the late spring and summer months to develop a campaign organization, raising what funds I can, getting people involved and prepared pass out literature, sings, bumper stickers, get organized across the state.


Damon Root: Will John Roberts 'Redeem Himself' on Obamacare?

Credit: C-SpanCredit: C-SpanObamacare appears to be headed back to the U.S. Supreme Court. On Tuesday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit issued dueling opinions on the legality of an I.R.S. rule which provides tax credits to individuals who purchased their health insurance from federally run health care exchanges. That circuit split makes it likely the Supreme Court will get involved.

How will the Court rule on the matter? Senior Editor Damon Root examines what Chief Justice John Roberts' 2012 decision, in which he invoked the principle of judicial deference while upholding the health care law, could mean for this latest Obamacare battle.

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Paul Ryan Backs Sentencing Reform As a Way of 'Expanding Opportunity in America'

American Enterprise InstituteAmerican Enterprise InstituteToday House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) unveiled proposals aimed at "Expanding Opportunity in America" that include "commonsense criminal-justice reform." Ryan, who is expected to seek the Republican presidential nomination, endorsed the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would allow currently incarcerated crack offenders to seek sentence reductions based on new penalties approved by Congress in 2010. The bill also would cut the mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses in half while loosening the criteria for the "safety valve" that allows low-level, nonviolent offenders to avoid mandatory minimums. "All we're saying is, [judges] don't have to give the maximum sentence every time," Ryan said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. "There's no reason to lock someone up any longer than necessary."

Under current law, Ryan notes in the paper outlining his proposals, "a single gram of crack cocaine could be all that separates a convict from a less-than-five-year sentence and a 40-year sentence. Rigid and excessive mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenders, like these, may add to an already over-crowded prison system without appreciably enhancing public safety."

Ryan also endorsed the Public Safety Enhancement Act, which would let nonviolent offenders leave prison early if they complete evidence-based reintegration programs. "Here's the point," he said in his speech. "Nonviolent, low-risk offenders—don't lock them up and throw away the key. Get them in counseling; get them in job training; help them rejoin and contribute to our society."

Ryan told The Washington Post that anti-poverty activist Robert L. Woodson, president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, helped him see the light on sentencing reform. "I changed my mind on sentencing and prison reform," he said. "It just became clear to me that there are better ways for dealing with nonviolent criminals, [for] helping them get back on their feet, to pay their debt to society, and lead productive lives and be rehabilitated, than the current system we have today."

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) welcomed Ryan's conversion. "Congressman Ryan is way ahead of the curve in recognizing the link between incarceration and generational poverty," said Molly Gill, FAMM's legislative liaison. "The reforms he endorsed today have helped dozens of states save money, restore families and communities, and keep crime rates low." She added: "At a time when the need for smarter sentencing practices is now universally accepted. It's no longer strange when Republicans and Democrats work together on this issue. It's strange when they don't."  

I'm not sure we can credit Ryan with being "way ahead of the curve" if he is backing sentencing reform "at a time when the need for smarter sentencing practices is now universally accepted." Republicans such as Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), Sen. Mike Lee (Utah), and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah)—all of whom have introduced reform bills—surely deserve more credit for sticking their necks out on this issue. Still, it is encouraging that Ryan has joined them, which should boost the prospects of passing a bill in the House. "Every serious GOP candidate for 2016 supports sentencing reform," former Reason writer Mike Riggs, now FAMM's communications director, observes on Twitter. "When are we going to learn where likely Democratic candidates stand?"

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Obama Campaign Vets to Young Lefties: Pay Us $5,000 and We'll Let You Do Our Grunt Work

CampaignRoxanne Jo Mitchell / FlickrAre you a young liberal, eager to use mass democracy to put your progressive beliefs into action? Well, do we have a deal for you! For the mere cost of $5,000, you could work for two top Obama campaign strategists as an unpaid volunteer doing five weeks of grueling labor for a random Democratic candidate.

That's right, just $5,000—which includes a 5-day training session where you will gain firsthand knowledge from Obama campaign veterans Mitch Stewart and Jeremy Bird, who now run a political consulting firm called 270 Strategies.

The existence of the training program was first reported by BuzzFeed's Evan McMorris-Santoro, who for some reason comes across as skeptical about the value of this unique opportunity:

The cost for the five-day training with Bird and Stewart is $3,500. It costs $1,500 more if a student wants the five weeks of work experience. Critics say those costs are way above the market rate for campaign trainings. ...

Much of what the company is offering sounds similar to existing campaign training programs that usually have little or no upfront cost. ...

Participants will work on GOTV efforts for their assigned campaigns, according to the 360 program FAQ on 270’s website. That includes making phone calls, knocking on doors, and online campaign efforts. This is the grunt work that wins campaigns; it’s also the standard task for immersion trainees.

Said election grunt work is often minimally paid or not paid at all. The irony of Democratic staffers replacing the unpaid internship with the you-pay-us internship is not lost on some progressive campaigners:

To Mikey Franklin, a former progressive field staffer who’s now trying to end the D.C. practice of unpaid internships, asking people to pay to to volunteer goes against progressive values.

“It’s a basic principle that people should work for pay; they shouldn’t pay to work,” Franklin said. “It’s shameful that 270 Strategies are throwing their progressive values out of the window by charging $5,000 for a 5-day training and an unpaid internship. How will we win for the 99% if we only recruit from the 1%?”

A top official at another prominent progressive campaign training firm said 270 shouldn’t be running the program at that cost.

“The idea of paying to be a volunteer, I don’t entirely understand why they thought that was the best approach,” the official said. “I think it’s a terrible idea.”

For its part, 270 Strategies says it will offer discounts and scholarships as appropriate.

Truly, this is a can't-miss, shut-up-and-take-my-money opportunity for all you prospective Democratic politicos. 

NYPD Accused of Using Chokehold on Suspected Farebeater

Several videos posted online appear to show a New York City police officer using a chokehold on a suspected farebeater in an incident that took place just days before Staten Island resident Eric Garner died during a similar arrest last week.


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Department of Ed Investigating Whether Newark School Reorganization Plan is Racist

maybe the people who want to save our schools don't have time for early afternoon weekday ralliesLabor NotesIn 2012 the state-run board of education in Newark, New Jersey, unveiled a reorganization plan, "One Newark," that integrated charter schools into the public school system, converting some local public schools to city-wide charters and creating a standardized city-wide enrollment application for participating charters.

Charter schools have exploded in number in Newark since the first ones were opened in the '90s. They provide an opportunity to parents to give their children a better education. I have seen this first-hand living in Newark almost my entire life and as a student and teacher in the public school system there. Charter schools were, and continue to be, popular among Newark parents if not it's political class, which has used the public school system, as it has other public institutions, like a jobs and patronage program.

The One Newark plan was supposed to expand the opportunity for residents to send their children to charter schools. It still is—the plan will continue to be implemented when the school year starts in six weeks. But now the plan has found itself the target of a Department of Education investigation into whether it is discriminatory, because the school closings and moves involved (accompanied by three charter school openings) disproportionately affect black students. That impact shouldn't be surprising—the failures of Newark's public schools system disproportionately affects black students so proposed remedies, to be successful, should focus on increasing the educational opportunities of those same students. The feds and politically-active parents opposed to charter schools seem to disagree.

The Star-Ledger reports:

Jitu Brown, Journey For Justice's national director, framed the school battle as a human rights issue that disproportionately affects African-American families "You will not force failed education policies on our children any longer," Brown said. "We want sustainable community schools, and a world class education for our children regardless of race or economic status."

The Newark district said it will cooperate with the investigation.

"While the initiation of an investigation is a routine matter, we take all allegations seriously," Charlotte Hitchcock, chief of staff and general counsel for Newark Public Schools, said in a statement. "We remain steadfast in our belief that the One Newark plan is not discriminatory and is, in fact, predicated on the goals of equity and excellent educational options for all of our students regardless of race, socioeconomic status or learning ability."

The reorganization has been under fire since it was first presented. Community pushback led to some changes, including a reversal on the decision to convert Weequahic High School to single-sex academies. Hawthorne Avenue, which was supposed to be turned over to a charter, will remain a K-8 district school.

In May, Newark voters elected city councilman and local high school principal Ras Baraka mayor. The victory was hailed by charter school opponents as a mandate for their work because the other candidate was an advocate of charter schools. He was also a weaker candidate. From what I actually saw on the ground in Newark, Baraka's victory had more to do with how much more visible and active he was in the community than his opponent. Since taking office, Baraka has been more focused on bringing more law enforcement agencies into Newark to fight gang violence than schools and has, despite his rhetoric, not made any major moves to scuttle the state's school reorganization plan, a smart move considering charter schools' popularity among actual residents in Newark and not just the professional political and community activists who profit from the status quo.

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Steve Chapman On Immigrant Kids and the Fear of Disease

BorderWikimedia CommonsA couple of weeks ago, the city council of League City, Texas, passed a resolution expressing worry that "many illegal aliens suffering from diseases endemic in their countries of origin are being released into our communities." Tom Green County claimed the influx of Central Americans at the southern border puts Americans "at risk for epidemics of serious diseases." A Texas congressman said they might be carrying Ebola.

Now, there is no doubt that some of the youngsters and adults arriving in Texas suffer from various afflictions, including scabies and lice. It's hard to maintain optimal hygiene while trekking through the desert and sneaking rides on freight trains, writes Steve Chapman.

But scabies and lice are not unique to Honduras and Guatemala. The United States has a million cases of scabies every year and as many as 12 million of lice infestation. Local officeholders in Texas, however, rarely get agitated when these ailments pop up in New York or St. Louis, according to Chapman.

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Barbarism in the USA: Arizona’s Botched Execution

Joseph Randolph WoodArizona CorrectionsAnother state, another botched execution carried out with secret new drugs. This time: Arizona, where convicted murderer Joseph Randolph Wood gasped and snorted for more than 90 minutes after his execution began. What should have been a 10- to 15- minute ordeal took 117 minutes for Wood.

According to witnesses, Wood "gulped like a fish on land" and made movements "like a piston: the mouth opened, the chest rose, the stomach convulsed." He gasped for air roughly 660 times over the course of the 117-minute execution—which had been carried out using a controversial two-drug cocktail the state had never used before.

One of the drugs, midazolam, has been used in flawed executions carried out in other states this year, including the horrific botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, who died of a heart attack more than 40 minutes after the procedure started. It was also used in Ohio on Dennis McGuire, who gasped and snorted on the gurney before being pronounced dead 25 minutes after the execution began.

In the weeks leading up to Wood's execution, his attorneys argued that Wood had a First Amendment right to information about the drugs that would be used to kill him, which Arizona—like many states throughout the country—has kept confidential. On Saturday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Appeals Court sided with Wood and ruled that the execution could not be carried out until Arizona provided him with information about the origins of the lethal injection drugs, as well as the qualifications of the personnel who were going to administer the drugs.

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How Much Longer Until the Government Thinks Everybody Is a Terrorist?

More logos mean more protection!The InterceptThe latest document leak from The Intercept (that's Glenn Greenwald's new web publication) comes not from Edward Snowden, it seems. Instead, an unidentified source within the intelligence community has provided The Intercept with the secret 166-page document that explains how, exactly, the government puts people on terrorist watch lists and what happens with that information.

Dirty Wars author Jeremy Scahill, along with journalist Ryan Devereaux, scoured the documents to break down the details for readers. There is a lot to examine. Looking it over, I see three major take-aways:

The standard for getting on the watch list is low. "Reasonable suspicion" is enough. The Intercept notes:

The document's definition of "terrorist" activity includes actions that fall far short of bombing or hijacking. In addition to expected crimes, such as assassination or hostage-taking, the guidelines also define destruction of government property and damaging computers used by financial institutions as activities meriting placement on a list. They also define as terrorism any act that is "dangerous" to property and intended to influence government policy through intimidation.

This combination—a broad definition of what constitutes terrorism and a low threshold for designating someone a terrorist—opens the way to ensnaring innocent people in secret government dragnets. It can also be counterproductive. When resources are devoted to tracking people who are not genuine risks to national security, the actual threats get fewer resources—and might go unnoticed.

"If reasonable suspicion is the only standard you need to label somebody, then it's a slippery slope we're sliding down here, because then you can label anybody anything," says David Gomez, a former senior FBI special agent with experience running high-profile terrorism investigations. "Because you appear on a telephone list of somebody doesn't make you a terrorist. That's the kind of information that gets put in there."

And The Intercept notes, the names on the watch list show up when local law enforcement agencies interact with the listed folks, so somebody on the list is going to be treated with even more suspicion if he or she gets pulled over for speeding (for example) and might not even know why.

This isn't a small list, by the way. The Associated Press earlier in the month noted that the federal government has added more than 1.5 million names to the watch list over the past five years, though many have also been subsequently removed.

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Another Campus Falls to Anti-Smoking Zealotry—Even E-Cigs Are Banned

SmokingBrittany Perry / Wikimedia Commons

The University of Arizona has decided to follow colleges around the country in banning smoking on all campus property. The new policy is the university's way of promoting "health and wellness," like a good parent.

UA's ban covers not just cigarettes, but also chewing tobacco, cigars, and e-cigarettes. Hostility toward e-cigarettes is particularly nonsensical, since the tobacco-free product is used by many as a smoking cessation product. In fact, e-cigarettes are much more effective at helping people quit smoking than nicotine patches, according to this study.

Some students are irritated about the ban, but who are they to stand athwart history? From The College Fix:

The fact that they are banning all tobacco products is crazy,” sophomore Kevin Uznanski, who does not smoke, told The College Fix. “I think that the policy will work to a certain degree, but it will not eliminate all tobacco use on campus.” ..

“Banning electronic cigarettes is just too much,” Uznanski said, noting that the devices – which emit vapor, not smoke, and whose use is known as “vaping” – have a minimal effect on bystanders.

Violators will be referred to "the appropriate college student representative for educational resources," which sounds much worse than just paying a fine or something.

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Is Halbig the End of Obamacare?: Michael Cannon Explains What Comes Next

"What this really about is not healthcare, not Obamacare," says Michael Cannon, director of health policy at The Cato Institute. "it's whether the president of the United States is in fact the president of the United States and subject to the Constitution or an autocrat that can impose taxes on his own."

Click above to watch now or click below for page with full transcript, downloadable links, and more resources.

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D.C. Cops Conducting FBI-Like Stings to Arrest People They Predetermine as 'Bad Guys'

Cmdr. Melvin Scott, who oversees the operations, defended the practice to the Post, saying, "we have to feel comfortable and confident that these are bad guys, the guys we want. We’re not pressing these guys. They are boldly stating their job experience." 

The Washington Post this week reported on sting operations used by D.C. police officers to target "people they think are likely to commit armed robberies." The controversial tactics have resulted in more than a dozen federal court convictions thus far. 

One of the more recent operations led to the arrest of five men preparing to rob a fictional drug dealer created by undercover officers. While waiting for an undercover officer's "contact" to give them the go-ahead, a SWAT team stormed into the room and "dragged the men out by their feet."

A 2012 operation involved an undercover officer recruiting three men to rob a liquor store in Adams Morgan. Police bought two of the men, ages 18 and 19, alcohol and "tried unsuccessfully to get at least one of them into a strip club." The men were eventually arrested on conspiracy to to commit robbery, which has landed them in prison for three to four years.

Michelle Peterson, the attorney for one of the men, highlighted the questionable nature of these operations: 

"Everything that was done to plan this alleged event was done by the police officers,” said Michelle Peterson, the attorney for one of the men. In arguing for a lighter sentence, Peterson said the police had “continued to ply this young, impressionable man with alcohol, scantily clad women and offers of obscene amounts of money if he did what they wanted him to do."

These stings, which many people see as unfair entrapment, extend far beyond our nation's capital. Last fall, an autistic teen in California was persuaded to buy pot for an undercover police officer. On one occasion, he exchanged 0.6 grams of marijuana for $20 with the officer. The teen was eventually charged with two felony counts of selling marijuana. (Watch ReasonTV's coverage of the story here.) 

If you find these stories absurd, you're not alone. Two federal judges have recently thrown out cases that involved sting operations put on by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. In one of the cases, three suspects had already plead guilty to crimes that would have put them in prison for seven years or more. They had been convinced by undercover officers to assist in robbing an imaginary stash house for drugs with the promise of an enormous payday.

U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real declared the operation unconstitutional, saying, "The government created the fictitious crime from whole cloth." Another judge, Stephen Reinhardt, expressed a similar sentiment in a dissenting opinion on a different case last April: "The government verges too close to tyranny when it sends its agents trolling through bars, tempts people to engage in criminal conduct, and locks them up for unconscionable periods of time when they fall for the scheme."

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Rogier Van Bakel on His Family's Mistreatment by Border Officials

Border officialCBPAbuses and shenanigans by U.S. border agents are nothing new, but for Rogier Van Bakel, it turned personal. Returning to the United States at a border crossing in Maine, he and his young daughters were hassled, briefly detained, and ultimately released only when he agreed to delete a recording of the incident.

The reason they were given for their mistreatment? "Because."

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Inmate Languished for Two Hours After Botched Lethal Injection, Kim Jong-Un Mad About Dance Video: A.M. Links

  • Kim Jong-UnHarry Crane / Wikimedia CommonsThe two-hour-long death of convicted murder Joseph R. Wood III has renewed calls for the abolition of the death penalty. Wood was given a lethal injection in an Arizona prison on Wednesday, but did not die for another two hours. He "gasped and snorted" for a long time before succumbing, according to reports.
  • U.S. Ninth Circuit Court Judge Alex Kozinski said lethal injections should be replaced with firing squads. The injection shields the public "from the reality that we are shedding human blood," he said.
  • North Korean officials have asked China to remove a dance video that mocks leader King Jong-Un from the internet. The video features Jong-Un's head superimposed over kung-fu dancers and fighters. Chinese officials were unable to do anything about it, they said.
  • President Obama is drawing criticism for refusing to let the press accompany him to several fundraising events this week.
  • Jar Jar Binks is more popular than the U.S. Congress.

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

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Ben Bernanke: Life is "Absolutely" Better Now Than He's No Longer at Fed; Doesn't Want to Talk About Auditing the Fed

I'm on my way up to New York from Washington and ran into former Fed head Ben Bernanke waiting for the train.

Here's a 15 second interview with him. Is his life better now that he's no longer running the nation's central bank? "Absolutely." Does he think the Fed should be audited? Er, he doesn't want to do an interview.

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Peter Suderman's By-the-Numbers Look at Failed State Obamacare Exchanges

ReasonReasonOregon, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, Minnesota, Vermont and Hawaii: They all received hundreds of millions of dollars of federal grants to set up health care exchanges for the Affordable Care Act, and they all proved to be utter disasters. How did it all happen? From our August/September issue of Reason magazine, Senior Editor Peter Suderman offers a state-by-state analysis of each failure.

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Andrew Napolitano: What If Democracy Is a Fraud?

Cain and Todd Benson/FlickrCain and Todd Benson/Flickr

What if you were allowed to vote only because it didn't make a difference? What if no matter how you voted the elites always got their way? What if American democracy allows the government to do anything it wants, as long as more people bother to show up at the voting booth to support the government than show up to say no?

Democracy as it has come to exist in America today may be dangerous to personal freedom, argues Andrew Napalitano. The tyranny of the majority is as destructive to human freedom as the tyranny of a madman—and the government knows this. 

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Brickbat: The Language of Love

A French judge has ordered blogger Caroline Doudet to pay 2,500 euros to a restaurant she gave a bad review to and ordered her to change the title of that blog post. The judge said the review showed up too high in Google’s search results for the restaurant. The judge also expressed concern that her blog had too many followers.

Correction: The Right Numbers On the Growth of the VA Budget

In a discusssion of the Veterans Administration (VA) budget on tonight's episode of The Independents, I argued that the VA wasn't lacking for significant budget increases in recent years, and said that the budget for the program had grown from $131 million to $285 million since 2001. The overall argument still stands, but the budget numbers I stated on the show were totally, wildly wrong. In fact, the VA budget has grown from $45 billion in the 2001 fiscal year to  to $150.7 billion in the 2014 fiscal year. I got confused while glancing at my notes during the conversation and provided wrong information. (What can I say? Sometimes I get a little bit excited while on television.) I regret the error. Apologies for blowing it.

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Nationalize the Ivy League—What Could Go Wrong? (Hint: Lots)

YaleWikimedia CommonsIn response to William Deresiewicz's recent article in The New Republic about the deficiencies of a modern Ivy League education, Chris Lehmann of In These Times goes full Soviet: Nationalize the universities! He writes:

So rather than taking a sojourn among the working class to round out a deficient elite life curriculum, why not reverse the tacit social logic here? Finish the work begun by the GI Bill—which wreaked a sea change in access to quality higher education via the direct method of driving down its cost—and nationalize American institutions of higher learning, abolishing anything more than a nominal tuition fee. Yes, amid present conditions, this is utopian. But it’s no less realistic—and infinitely more democratic—than the expectation that better-trained meritocrats somehow will rescue the rest of us.

This solution ostensibly addresses some of the faults Deresiewicz finds with the operating procedures of Yale and Harvard, which reinforce economic privilege, according to the New Republic piece:

This system is exacerbating inequality, retarding social mobility, perpetuating privilege, and creating an elite that is isolated from the society that it’s supposed to lead. The numbers are undeniable. In 1985, 46 percent of incoming freshmen at the 250 most selective colleges came from the top quarter of the income distribution. By 2000, it was 55 percent. As of 2006, only about 15 percent of students at the most competitive schools came from the bottom half. The more prestigious the school, the more unequal its student body is apt to be. And public institutions are not much better than private ones. As of 2004, 40 percent of first-year students at the most selective state campuses came from families with incomes of more than $100,000, up from 32 percent just five years earlier.

The major reason for the trend is clear. Not increasing tuition, though that is a factor, but the ever-growing cost of manufacturing children who are fit to compete in the college admissions game. 

As Deresiewicz notes, universities under the purview of the state are not exactly bastions of equality and affordability. The government's efforts to correct these problems have failed spectacularly.

In other words, let's tread lightly here, comrades.

Reason's Jesse Walker responds to Deresiewicz here.

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Man Arrested for Passive Aggressive Watermelon Stabbing

Nikola Marković/FlickrNikola Marković/FlickrTales from the police state are often horrifying, sad, and haunting. Today in "criminal justice" inanity, I submit a story with less gravitas but a heightened level of absurdity. It seems a Connecticut man has been arrested for passive-aggressively stabbing a watermelon

After his wife showed cops photographic evidence of the victimized fruit,  Carmine Cervellino, 49, was charged with second-degree threatening and disorderly conduct, according to The Register Citizen. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Cervellino and wife are getting a divorce.

The watermelon incident took place July 4, after the wife showed up at police headquarters to report finding pot and a mysterious blue pill in her husband's toolbox. From The Register Citizen

She snatched them up, took pictures with a cell phone camera and stowed them away in her room. Later, when the woman returned home, she found the drugs missing, she claims, but she showed police the photos. Cervillino is not facing any drug charges.

The drug war may wane, but the war on watermelon cruelty is only beginning.  

After the cops left, Cervellino allegedly came inside and began menacingly cutting a watermelon. His wife snapped photos with her phone as he sliced the pieces of the fruit in a "threatening" way, then headed back to police headquarters. 

Cervellino was arrested on July 12; he's now free, after posting a $500 bond. The case was referred to a Family Services officer and Cervellino due back in court at the end of August. 

h/t Mat Vaillancourt 

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Tonight on The Independents: Red Meat Wednesday With Ron Paul, Peter Suderman, Maggie McNeill and More, Talking About War, Obamacare, the V.A., Prostitution, and Pot

From the Great Blue Beyond. |||Keeping with tradition, tonight’s episode of The Independents (Fox Business Network, 9 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. PT, with re-airs three hours later) features some hardcore libertarian action, including:

* Ron Paul (check out his new Voice of Liberty project here), who will expand on his controversial assertion that "Without US-sponsored ‘regime change,’ it is unlikely that....the Malaysian Airlines crash [would] have happened." Paul will also weigh in on the situation in Gaza.

* Peter Suderman, who will heroically fill in for an ill Kmele Foster, and take lead wonk role in discussions about the future impact of yesterday's Obamacare rulings, the latest tech problems with Lois Lerner's hard drives, and a new report on easy-does-it Obamacare fraud.

* Maggie McNeill (see her Reason TV interview here), who will comment on the World Health Organization's recent report claiming that decriminalizing prostitution will improve health outcomes and slow the spread of HIV.

I will again be hosting the show. Outnumbered co-host Jedediah Bila will be subbing in for Kennedy. Party Panel is The Blaze national security chief (and former CIA employee) Buck Sexton and Red Eye co-host Joanne Nosuchinsky, who will talk about the Veterans Administration's call for $17.6 billion in additional fix-it money, Snoop Dogg's claim to have smoked weed at the White House, and a new study proving (duh!) that socialists are big fat cheaters.

Follow The Independents on Facebook at, follow on Twitter @ independentsFBN, and click on this page for more video of past segments.


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