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Tonight on The Independents: Earth Day Hysteria, Drone-War Accountability, Palcohol Panic, Affirmative Action Boredom, AirBnB Agonistes, Aereo’s Dealio, a Facebook Vote...Plus Sexy After-show!

Click the clicky! |||Is it still Earth Day if nobody talks about it? How about if people celebrate it by publishing an article calling the fight against climate change "The New Abolitionism"? These are some of the questions to be chewed on tonight's live episode of The Independents (Fox Business Network, 9 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. PT). Party Panelists Monica Crowley (Fox News analyst, radio host, author of What the (Bleep) Just Happened? The Happy Warrior's Guide to the Great American Comeback), and Carrie Sheffield (Forbes contributor, "Committed to free minds + free markets"!), will talk about that, plus the Supreme Court's big affirmative action decision today, and then your Facebook vote will determine whether their final topic will be a new conservative gay marriage poll or Gov. Chris Christie's dull-witted remarks about not legalizing marijuana.

Cato Vice President (and columnist) Gene Healy will talk about the recent court ruling requiring President Barack Obama to at least explain when and how it determines that Americans need to be droned to death. Wall Street Journal multimedia explainer Jason Bellini, proprietor of "The Short Answer," will present his latest video, about New York's war on AirBnB. And the co-hosts will discuss the latest with the silly "palcohol" scandal.

After-show can be found at at 10 p.m. sharp; the aforementioned Facebook page at Follow us on Twitter @ independentsFBN, and click on this page for video of past segments.

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SCOTUS Grills Ohio Over Its Speech-Suppressing 'Ministry of Truth'

The U.S. Supreme Court appeared poised on Tuesday to give the green light to a First Amendment lawsuit aimed at overturning a censorious state law.

At issue in Tuesday's oral arguments in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus was whether the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) may proceed in federal court with a constitutional challenge to an Ohio law that criminalizes "false" political speech. Under the terms of that law, "any person" may file a complaint about "false" speech with the Ohio Elections Commission, thereby triggering official proceedings where the alleged wrongdoer may be forced by the state to produce witnesses and documents. "In other words," remarked Justice Anthony Kennedy during the oral arguments, "you have tens of thousands of private attorney generals" able to haul their political opponents before a state tribunal. Kennedy did not appear to mean that as a compliment.

In 2010, SBA List was subjected to precisely that sort of ordeal. After Democratic Rep. Steve Driehaus complained about the group's attack on his record, a three-member panel of the Ohio Elections Commission, with two Democrats in the majority and one Republican in dissent, determined there was "probable cause" to believe SBA List would be found in violation of the speech law. Meanwhile, the congressional election—where Driehaus was a candidate—came and went. In effect, SBA List had been successfully prevented from speaking out against Driehaus' candidacy.

The question now before the Supreme Court is whether that set of events is sufficient to give the conservative group the requisite "standing" needed to challenge the Ohio law on free speech grounds. Judging by what I observed during Tuesday's oral arguments, a majority of the justices seemed ready to give the Susan B. Anthony List its day in court.

"Don't you think," asked Justice Kennedy to Ohio State Solicitor Eric Murphy, "there's a serious First Amendment concern with a state law that requires you to come before a commission to justify what you are going to say and which gives the commission discovery power to find out who's involved in your association, what research you made, et cetera?"

Justice Antonin Scalia struck a similar note. "You are forcing them to go through this procedure in the midst of an election campaign," he complained to Murphy. Several minutes later, Scalia launched another attack, comparing the Ohio Elections Commission to the notorious "Ministry of Truth" from George Orwell's 1984.

But perhaps the most damaging argument raised against the state came courtesy of Justice Stephen Breyer. "There are things I want to say politically," Breyer began, "and if I say them, there's a serious risk that I will be had up before a commission and could be fined. What's the harm? I can't speak. That's the harm."

That statement captured the entire case against Ohio in a nutshell. Assuming Breyer and his colleagues hold to that view, the Buckeye State will soon be forced to justifiy its actions against the full weight of the First Amendment.

A decision in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus is expected by June.

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Chris Christie Opposes Pot Legalization Because He Doesn't Want New Small Businesses or Tourists in His State

Last night on his radio show, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wanted to make sure everyone knew he really, really doesn't think it's cool to legalize marijuana and that not even "casual use" is OK. After all, think of the potential consequences! 

"Go to Colorado and see if you want to live there," the governor said. "See if you want to live in a major city in Colorado, where there are headshops popping up on every corner, and people flying into your airport just to get high.

No siree. Wouldn't want new small businesses opening up or tourists coming to your state. That would be terrible.

He added:

"To me, it's not the quality of life we want to have here in the state of New Jersey," he added. "And here's no tax revenue that's worth that.

He could have stopped before the last three words.

The governor has also said that he's worried about the "profit motive" sneaking into his state if a recent bill submitted in the state legislature to legalize possession of marijuana of up to an ounce passes. He famously dragged his feet on much needed liberalization of medical marijuana in the state as well, as this Reason TV video shows:

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There Should Be No 'Punishment' Phase When a Culture War Ends

Let's not with the "eye for an eye," hmm?credit: washington_area_spark / photo on flickrDozens of supporters of gay marriage, including many noted journalists and scholars, have signed on to a statement today calling for an end to the kind of public outrage that haunted ex-Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich when people discovered he once donated money to the opposing side.

The full statement is posted at Real Clear Politics, and the signatories include many names recognizable here at Reason: Jonathan Rauch, Paypal's Peter Thiel, Eugene and Sasha Volokh (and other contributors to The Volokh Conspiracy), Andrew Sullivan, Charles Murray, Reason Contributing Editor Cathy Young. The letter calls for advocacy and debate, but an end to retributive responses to those who have opposed (or still oppose) same-sex marriage recognition. In the section titled "Disagreement Should Not Be Punished," they argue:

We prefer debate that is respectful, but we cannot enforce good manners. We must have the strength to accept that some people think misguidedly and harmfully about us. But we must also acknowledge that disagreement is not, itself, harm or hate.

As a viewpoint, opposition to gay marriage is not a punishable offense. It can be expressed hatefully, but it can also be expressed respectfully. We strongly believe that opposition to same-sex marriage is wrong, but the consequence of holding a wrong opinion should not be the loss of a job. Inflicting such consequences on others is sadly ironic in light of our movement's hard-won victory over a social order in which LGBT people were fired, harassed, and socially marginalized for holding unorthodox opinions.

During the debate over whether what happened to Eich was appropriate—and very frequently in the debate on recognizing gay marriage itself—supporters of how the conflict ended with Eich stepping down invoked interracial marriage. Would we have supported Eich if he was opposed to interracial marriage? How is opposing same-sex marriage different from opposing interracial marriage? Indeed, the issue was immediately raised in the comment thread after signatory Dale Carpenter posted an excerpt at The Volokh Conspiracy. Should a CEO opposed to interracial marriage be immune from any sort of consequences from such a position?

Since the laws against interracial marriage were struck down so many years ago, it's appropriate to respond: Who, actually, was punished for being on the wrong side of that debate? Did people who opposed race-mixing lose their jobs for supporting the wrong candidates? Can anybody point to CEOs who were fired back in the '60s or '70s for supporting some racist candidate somewhere? I have done a bit of a stab at trying to track down any info that such outcomes happened, but that would seem to take a lot more time than I have as a blogger.

To the extent that those particular civil rights battles ended, I don't recall there being a punishment phase afterward. The battles were certainly punishment enough. Those people on the wrong side—and there were millions of them—didn't go anywhere. They continued on with their lives under new laws and probably most of them eventually came around on the issue, or at least kept it to themselves. Winning a culture war isn't like winning an actual war. You're not stopping an invasion (or initiating one). When the war is over, the participants are still around and they still have to negotiate a way to live together. That realization is why the end of a culture war simply can't have some sort of Nuremberg Trials. There isn't an equivalent. You have to live next door to people who may have extremely different views from yours. Sometimes, those views were actually the majority view at one point. If you try to initiate a punishment phase, why would your opponents then agree to stop fighting and accept your victory?

Nobody who knows the history of the gay movement in the United States should countenance people being punished by their employers for the way they express themselves, unless they value revenge more than liberty (some probably do, sadly). The conclusion of the letter notes:

LGBT Americans can and do demand to be treated fairly. But we also recognize that absolute agreement on any issue does not exist. Franklin Kameny, one of America's earliest and greatest gay-rights proponents, lost his job in 1957 because he was gay. Just as some now celebrate Eich's departure as simply reflecting market demands, the government justified the firing of gay people because of "the possible embarrassment to, and loss of public confidence in...the Federal civil service." Kameny devoted his life to fighting back. He was both tireless and confrontational in his advocacy of equality, but he never tried to silence or punish his adversaries.

Now that we are entering a new season in the debate that Frank Kameny helped to open, it is important to live up to the standard he set. Like him, we place our confidence in persuasion, not punishment. We believe it is the only truly secure path to equal rights.

The tragedy was not that this sort of workplace treatment happened to gays and lesbians (or that it still happens). It was that it happened to anybody at all.

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Police Officer Tells Parents They Could Be ‘Trespassing’ on School Property If They Oppose Standardized Testing

abba caddabaGA DOEThe Finneys of Marietta, Georgia, have been fighting their local school district over the state's standardized exam battery, the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, taken in third, fifth, and eighth grades and used to determine promotion to the next grade. Two of their three children were required to take tests this month, a third grader and a fifth grader, but the parents refused. At one point they said they thought they had a meeting scheduled with the principal to talk about their concerns. Instead, they were met by a cop. Via the Marietta Daily Journal:

The Finneys worked out a meeting with school administrators early Wednesday morning to talk things over. But when they arrived, they were confronted by a police officer instead of the principal. 

According to Tracey Finney, the officer was extremely nice and professional, but told them being on school property while actively opposed to the test was "kind of a trespassing thing" and that their kids weren't allowed on the property either if they weren't going to take the test. The officer's report confirms the parents were told they and their students would be trespassing if they stayed on the property.

The principal says the meeting was cancelled a couple of hours after it was confirmed via email that morning. The Finneys say they were told they could send their children to school after the tests were administered in the morning, but the school then told them make-up testing would take place in the afternoons. The Finneys say they like the public school system but that they will send their children to private school or homeschool them if their children will be compelled to take the tests.

While the tests have been mandatory in Georgia since 2000, in a statement picked up by The Daily Caller the family linked their concern over the data-collection aspect of standardized testing to Common Core. "People don't realize it," the statement read in part. "We don't want to sound like we're wearing tin-foil hats, but they want to track our kids from kindergarten through college."

Earlier this year, Colorado parent Sean Black reportedly got a visit from a cop after he told a state bureaucrat that he wanted opt his disabled child out of a test. In Colorado, teachers with children in public schools are among the loudest opponents of standardized testing, and Black, also a teacher, was eventually allowed to opt his child out.

The Finneys, meanwhile, deny that they're trying to opt out of the test. Rather, they insist what they're doing—refusing to have their children take it—is different. State officials say there's nothing in the law to allow for opting out.

This is, of course, the kind of thing that could be curbed by replacing state and federal standardization and centralization with a system in which funding follows the students to the schools of their choice

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SCOTUS Upholds Michigan Affirmative Action Ban, Sherpas Shun Mt. Everest, Another Police Shooting in Albuquerque: P.M. Links

  • Do they deliberately make the book titles so mockable?Metropolitan BooksThe Supreme Court today upheld, 6-2, Michigan's ban on using affirmative action during the enrollment process for colleges.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) says she's not running for president in 2016, but her new book, A Fighting Chance, seems to read a lot like the kind of books put out by people planning runs for president.
  • After an avalanche killed 13 of their peers, sherpas have abandoned this year's climbing season at Mount Everest.
  • Russia is applying pressure to Ukraine by demanding the country prepay for Russian gas unless it starts paying down its debt.
  • Today marks 10 years since NFL player turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire just weeks after arriving in Afghanistan.
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico, police officers shot and killed a 19-year-old woman during a chase. She's the third person killed by Albuquerque officers in five weeks. Police claim that she pulled a gun on them during a foot pursuit.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and don’t forget to sign up for Reason’s daily updates for more content.

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Zenon Evans on Promise and Peril in Tech Approaches To Stopping Child Sex Trafficking

jolibu-haku cc byjolibu-haku cc byChildren and teens are trafficked for sex and exploited for pornography, and the web amplifies this trade. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received 500,000 potentially explicit images of minors online in 2004. By 2011 it surged to over 17 million. The tech world is starting to intersect with the advocacy and outreach world on how to deal this issue in situations where legislation has been unsuccessful. Zenon Evans highlights an organization called Thorn and the pros and cons of their strategies: surveying, surveilling, and spreading information.

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Sen. Chuck Schumer Blasts FDA's 'Ridiculous' New Proposal for Breweries

Epicbeer/FlickrEpicbeer/FlickrSen. Charles Schumer (D–N.Y.) is sticking up for breweries and pushing back against the Food and Drug Administration's nonsensical "spent grain" proposal. In a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, Schumer said the proposed rule "would drive up costs for both farmers and brewers with no clear health or safety benefit." 

Under the rule, breweries would be barred from sharing spent grains—the leftover muck from the beer-making process—unless they dry and package the grains first. Currently, many brewers donate the spent grains directly to local farmers, who feed it to livestock. It's a symbiotic relationship that saves both parties time and cuts down on environmental waste.

Nick Matt, CEO of the brewery behind Saranac beers, says his company has been providing spent grain to farmers since 1888. It seems that for the past century and change, pigs and cows have been perfectly fine without the FDA imposing safety standards on the spent grains they eat. 

At a press conference at New York's Saranac Brewery yesterday, Schumer said the "ridiculous" rule—part of the FDA's implementation of the new Food Safety Modernization Act—is overly restrictive, is unnecessary, and would force brewers to trash the grains, as this would be cheaper than meeting the new requirements. The brewing industry estimates that compliance could cost brewers over $50 million a year.

The rule "simply cannot go forward," said Schumer. "I'm urging the FDA to do an about-face on this misguided rule, which would stymie a mutually-beneficial relationship between two of Upstate New York's most important industries."

Last week, 13 U.S. representatives also sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Hamburg about the spent grain proposal. "While we appreciate that the FDA is working towards improved food safety," wrote the lawmakers, led by Reps. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) and Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), "the unintended consequences of these regulations will increase costs, decrease efficiency and hamper the growth of breweries." 

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Reddit Reprimands Its Technology Forum for Censorship

RedditRedditLast week, Reddit user "Creq" blew the lid on the apparent censorship of hot-button topics being discussed on the site's technology page, "r/technology." Moderators responded in kind this week by banishing the highly trafficked discussion board from the site's front page.

Backing up his claims with graphs that show sudden, conspicuous silence on major issues, Creq alleged that over the last eight months r/technology has been automatically removing discussions for which the title features words and phrases such as "National Security Agency," "Obama," "Bitcoin," and "Comcast," among many others. The Daily Dot points out that "almost all of them have at least two qualities: they're commonly found in the intersection of technology and politics, and they can be seen as controversial, or at least likely to inspire anger in a few people."

This came a surprise, since Reddit bills itself as a highly democratic platform for information cultivation and the r/technology board alone has over five million subscribers.

Why did the tech moderators censor posts? One of them, assuring everyone that he never approved of the tactic, explained that the volunteer staff turned an automatic filter into an overzealous crutch when some of the moderators became lazy. Still, discussions about some topics, such as Tesla cars, seemed to be deliberately gagged by moderators motivated by bias.

Reddit's director of communications, Victoria Taylor, has told the BBC that r/technology will not be featured on the site's main page or be included among new users' default subscriptions. "The moderation team lost focus of what they were there to do: moderate effectively," she said. "We're giving them time to see if we feel they can work together to resolve the issue. We might consider adding them back in the future if they can show us and the community that they can overcome these issues."

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Ron Hart: What Putin and Obama Have in Common

click thru for sourceclick thru for sourceHumorist Ron Hart on similarities between Vlad Putin and Barack Obama:

Putin is seeking a fourth term in 2018 and doesn’t want to be too closely associated with Obama, whose favorability poll numbers are in the 30s versus Putin’s in the 70s – Putin has his career to consider.

Yep, ole Putin is running again in 2018. He said he looks forward to the voters of Russia being heard at the polls – then chuckled uncontrollably for a few minutes. I predict Putin will win first, second and third in that race.

Obama appears politically weaker each day. He is not going to use military force against Putin’s march for Ukraine. It’s not like there is a Nevada Tea Party rancher grazing cows on federal lands. Yet, he is serious, sending Joe Biden to Kiev. Dennis Rodman must have been on assignment.

Read the whole thing.

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4 Questions to Ask Your College (or Your Kid's College) If You Care About Intellectual Freedom

Former Reason Editor in Chief and current Bloomberg View columnist Virginia Postrel offers up "four specific questions that demand factual answers" to gauge a college or university's commitment to the free and open exchange of ideas.

The whole list is a must-read but this one caught my eye especially because it's so true and generally underappreciated:

3) What is the administrator-to-professor ratio? How much has that grown in the last 10 years?

This question illuminates where the university’s priorities lie -- in teaching and research or in overhead -- while also offering a clue about attitudes toward academic freedom and students’ rights. Administrators, not professors, are the ones making and enforcing rules against speech. They are the ones more concerned with maintaining order and a shiny institutional image than with intellectual inquiry and the marketplace of ideas.

“The administrative class is largely responsible for the hyperregulation of students’ lives, the lowering of due process standards for students accused of offenses, the extension of administrative jurisdiction far off campus, the proliferation of speech codes, and outright attempts to impose ideological conformity,” writes [Greg] Lukianoff in his book “Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate.” He argues that “the dramatic expansion of the administrative class on campus may be the most important factor in the growth of campus intrusions into free speech and thought.”

Read the whole thing.

Reason TV interviewed Postrel about her new book, The Power of Glamour, and much more. Watch below:

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Clarence Thomas vs. Antonin Scalia on 4th Amendment and 'Reasonable Suspicion'

Credit: C-SpanCredit: C-SpanThe U.S. Supreme Court handed down a major ruling today with profound implications for the Fourth Amendment rights of all persons who drive or ride in automobiles on public roads. At issue in Navarette v. California was a traffic stop prompted by an anonymous call to 911 claiming that a truck had driven the caller off the road. Going by the information supplied in that call alone, the police located a matching truck in the vicinity of the alleged incident and pulled it over on suspicion of drunk driving. That stop led to the discovery of 30 pounds of marijuana stashed in the truck.

The question before the Supreme Court was whether that single anonymous tip to 911 provided the police with reasonable suspicion to stop the truck. Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas ruled that the "the stop complied with the Fourth Amendment because, under the totality of the circumstances, the officer had reasonable suspicion that the driver was intoxicated." While this is a "close case," Thomas acknowledged, it still passes constitutional muster. Joining Thomas in that judgment was Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, and Samuel Alito.

Writing in dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia came out swinging against Thomas. "The Court's opinion serves up a freedom-destroying cocktail," Scalia declared, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. It elevates an anonymous and uncorroborated tip above the bedrock guarantee of the Fourth Amendment. "All the malevolent 911 caller need do is assert a traffic violation, and the targeted car will be stopped, forcibly if necessary, by the police." That state of affairs, Scalia declared, "is not my concept, and I am sure it would not be the Framers', of a people secure from unreasonable searches and seizures."

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Clapper Signs Media Directive Gagging Intelligence Workers

Last month Director of National Intelligence James Clapper signed a directive banning the employees of some government agencies from discussing intelligence-related work with the media.

Read the directive below:

In the directive "media" is defined as "any person, organization, or entity" that is "primarily engaged in the collection, production, or dissemination to the public of information in any form, which includes print, broadcast, film and Internet" or is "otherwise engaged in the collection, production, or dissemination to the public of information in any form related to topics of national security, which includes print, broadcast, film and Internet."

In an email, the Government Accountability Project's national security and human rights director, Jesslyn Radack, rightly points out that the directive "is a clear extension of the executive branch's war on national security whistleblowers."

This latest action is a clear extension of the executive branch's war on national security whistleblowers. It is a grotesque twist for James Clapper to limit public knowledge about government activity when he himself has been responsible for lying to Congress and misleading the public about the government's overreaching mass surveillance programs.

The lie in question can be watched below. In March last year Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Clapper, "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" Clapper responded, "No, sir." Wyden went on to ask, "It does not?" Clapper responded, "Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly."

Under a heading titled "Policy," the directive says:

The IC [Intelligence Community] is committed to sharing information responsibly with the public via the media to further government openness and transparency and to build public understanding of the IC and its programs, consistent with the protection of intelligence sources and methods.

Remember, the Obama administration is supposedly "the most transparent administration in history."

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Shikha Dalmia on Detroit's Sweet Bankruptcy Deal for Retirees

Labor.UnionLibraryOfCongress.FoterIf there is an organizing principle in Detroit's bankruptcy settlement last week, it is that those at the forefront of fleecing the city will get the sweetest deal and the innocent victims will get the shaft.

There is no other way to interpret the recent efforts by both the Democratic White House and the Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to look for ever-more creative ways to handover taxpayer money to city retirees. Left out of the equation are residents who have paid for such profligacy by having to live in an unlivable city.

Looking back, the entire bankruptcy exercise will seem like a giant missed opportunity to put Detroit on a path of fiscal sanity — and recovery.

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Foundation Gives Obamacare Enrollment Group $13 Million After Sebelius Call

Whitehouse.govWhitehouse.govAround this time last year, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius came under fire for making a series of calls to private companies and a foundation requesting support for Enroll America, a non-profit organization dedicated to boosting enrollment in health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The calls were questionable because Sebelius was reportedly calling companies that HHS regulated, and because Enroll America is run by a former Obama administration campaign staffer and HHS political appointee.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigated the incident and released its report to the public yesterday. The report doesn't attempt to judge the legality of the HHS secretary's actions, but focuses instead on establishing the facts of the matter.

Here's the short version: Between January and April 2013, Sebelius called five outside groups and requested that they provide either financial or technical assistance to Enroll America. In the months following the calls, one of those groups, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), gave Enroll America two grants totaling $13 million.

Sebelius wasn't the only government official who spoke with RWJF about supporting Enroll America. The former White House deputy assistant to the president for health policy—Jeanne Lambrew, who is identified in the report only by her title—also spoke with the foundation about the need to raise $30 million to finance outreach efforts surrounding the health care law. Lawbrew didn't name a specific amount. But she "indicated a hope that RWJF would provide a significant financial contribution to support such efforts."

Basically, the administration asked, and then, some time later, RWJF gave.

Was there a relationship between the request and the funding? The foundation claims there wasn't. An RWJF representative who spoke to the GAO said that the "two grants were not made in response to the Secretary's call." The foundation representative also noted that RWJF had supported the creation of Enroll America, and, prior to the call from Sebelius, provided an early grant for the group's strategic planning.

Fair enough, I suppose: RWJF, a foundation that supports lots of work in the health policy realm, had an existing relationship with Enroll America, and it's certainly plausible that they might have donated anyway.

What the report really underscores, though, is how closely linked the Obama administration is with Enroll America. The GAO looked into whether HHS was aware that RWJF had donated following the call from Sebelius, and HHS responded that while there was no official tracking, staffers had heard about the donation. How did they find out? From Enroll America, which told GAO that "they had an ongoing relationship with HHS and likely discussed which organizations had decided to contribute."

So Enroll America is an organization run by a former HHS and Obama campaign staffer, dedicated to boosting participation in the Obama administration's most prominent legislative achievement, and which meets with senior White House officials and maintains an ongoing relationship with a key administration agency. It's no wonder the cabinet-level head of this agency makes fundraising calls in support of this organization. It's practically an arm of the administration. 

Is this arrangement uncommon? Perhaps in some of the particulars, but in general, no, it's not entirely unusual for administrations to work closely with friendly outside groups. But it's rare to see the inner workings detailed so clearly.  

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89-Year-Old Kicked Out of HUD Housing for Smoking Cigarettes

publichousing.compublichousing.comBeulah Toombs, an 89-year-old resident of Ohio, is being forced out of her home for refusing to quit smoking. Toombs lives in Cincinnati's AHEPA 127 Apartments, a building for low-income seniors whose rent is subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, building residents were given one year to quit smoking when the building went totally smoke-free in 2013. Toombs refused. "I don’t think so," she told the Enquirer. "This is my home, and I think you can do whatever you want to in your home."

Clearly, Beulah is a badass (and a healthy one at that—the Enquirer reports that despite her lifelong cigarette habit, Toombs is in remarkably good health). But badassery is frowned on by building management, who deemed Toombs "non-compliant" after maintenance workers spotted ashtrays and cigarette butts in her apartment and another resident reported seeing a lighter and cigarette inside. Toombs is now being forced to evacuate by the end of April. 

"My mom is getting older, and this is causing her so much stress,” her daughter, Mary Ann Burgoyne, told the Enquirer. "She kept telling me that she was paying her rent. She was a little confused. She thought they might put her in a debtors prison."

Burgoyne approached a senior-advocacy group for help, but said they declined, saying her mom should quit smoking. 

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Explain Why It's OK To Rain Death From the Sky, Court Tells Obama Administration

DroneNATOLast year, in response to a lawsuit over death-by-drone assassinations of American citizens overseas, including Anwar Al-Awlaki, his teenaged son Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, and Samir Khan, the Obama administration admitted it had done the deed, and claimed that it did so completely legally.

Howzzat? asked the plaintiffs and a curious judge.

We can't tell you, it's a secret, the administration replied. And—nyah nyah—the courts have no say in this anyway.

The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagrees, and says the Obama administration must turn over its legal rationale for snuffing Americans with flying killer robots. Writes Judge Jon O. Newman for the court:

We emphasize at the outset that the Plaintiffs' lawsuits do not challenge the lawfulness of drone attacks or targeted killings. Instead, they seek information concerning those attacks, notably, documents prepared by DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel ("OLC") setting forth the Government's reaso ning as to the lawfulness of the attacks.

Note that the the plaintiffs, including The New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union, don't challenge the legality of the assassinations because they have no idea what the government's argument for their legality might be. It's a secret, remember, unknown, and therefore unimpeachable.

But the Obama administration has pushed the limits of the legal protections it claims for its arguments in Lois Lerner style, by publicly discussing the drone killings, boasting legal authorization for its actions, and then coyly refusing to say anything more. The leak of a Justice Department white paper revealing part of the legal argument and hinting at more also undermined the administration's insistence on secrecy.

Too cute by half, says the court. "Voluntary disclosures of all or part of a document may waive an otherwise valid FOIA exemption."

As a result:

With the redactions and public disclosures discussed above, it is no longer either "logical" or "plausible" to maintain that disclosure of the legal analysis in the OLC-D OD Memorandum risks disclosing any aspect of "military plans, intelligence activities, sources and methods, and foreign relations."

So cough it up, says the court. Tell us why you think it's legal to send drones to kill Americans.

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The Internet Black Market Just Got Its Own Google

screencap, Wiredscreencap, WiredTo find oneself an unmarked automatic weapon required either knowing exact addresses on the deep web or a prominent California Democrat. One of those options recently got a lot harder (sorry, Leland Yee) but the other may be on the verge of getting easier. For black market goods most people turn to hard-to-access places on the Internet, which haven't been conducive to browsing. Last week, an anonymous individual launched a search engine called Grams that caters to all kinds of contraband needs.

Known only as "Gramsadmin," the engine's creator explained to Wired, "I noticed on the forums and reddit people were constantly asking 'where to get product X?' and 'which market had product X?' or 'who had the best product X and was reliable and not a scam?' I wanted to make it easy for people to find things they wanted on the darknet and figure out who was a trustworthy vendor."

So, he spent two weeks building Grams, which looks a lot like Google, primary color scheme and "feeling lucky" button included. He built it to function like Google, too. Gramsadmin has discussed his project on Reddit:

I am working on the algorithm so it is a lot like Google's it will have a scoring system based how long the listing has been up, how many transactions, how many good reviews. That way you will see the best listing first....

Within the next two weeks Grams will have a system similar to Google AdWords where vendors can buy keywords and their listings will go to the top of the search results when those keywords are searched for.... They will be bordered with an advertisement disclaimer so users know those are paid results.

Although it's only a beta version and only accessible through the Tor Browser, which facilitates anonymous Internet activity at a tedious pace, Grams has an average time of one second for a search to load, which is "super fast, especially for Tor," Vice's Meghan Neal reports.

Also, Grams currently only shows results from eight different marketplaces, such as SilkRoad2, Agora, and BlackBank.

For those who want to give it a whirl, "grams7enufi7jmdl.onion" is the address. 

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Baylen Linnekin on the Unappetizing State of Food Freedom food columnist Baylen Linnekin sounds off over at Fox News about the unsavory treatment in the United States of our right to eat and drink the goodies of our choice.

In fact, 2014 may go down as the worst year for food freedom since the New Deal era, when Congress, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Supreme Court conspired to strip Americans of many basic food rights. Just how ludicrous was that period? In 1942, the Supreme Court actually upheld a New Deal law that prohibited farmers from using wheat they grew on their own farms to bake bread to feed their own families.

While we haven’t matched that historic low yet, there are still nine months left in the year.

Linnekin points to rules requiring chefs and bartenders to wear gloves, bans on trans fats, nagging nannies adopting tech tools so that it's increasingly difficult to escape their concerns, and more issues you may have already found cringe-worthy through his pieces and those of other great Reason writers.

It just may inspire you to stock the pantry with soon-to-be-forbidden treats.

Read the whole thing here.

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Minnesota Girl Could Be Expelled After Pocket Knife Found During Drug Dog 'Lockdown'

facing expulsion for a pocket knifevia FacebookMore zero tolerance run amok, via KEYC, a CBS-affiliated station in Minnesota:

On Tuesday Wells Police reportedly found a small pocket knife in [high school junior] Alyssa Dresher's purse during a routine locker search.

Which led school officials to suspend her for three days. The school has a very strict weapons policy and according to that, the punishment could lead to a 12 month suspension after further advisement from the school board. The superintendent was not able to speak specifically to the case concerning Drescher but did tell KEYC that in any situation the safety and welfare for all students is their primary concern. 

The school board will decide on Thursday whether to kick her out of school for mistakenly (according to her) bringing a pocket knife used to complete farm chores to school. Her father says the schools superintendent, Jerry Jensen, wants to push for a 12-month suspension or expulsion at Thursday's meeting and that his daughter had never had any disciplinary problems before.

The knife was found while the school was put on "lockdown" so a drug dog could sniff students lockers for drugs, according to The Albert Lea Tribune, which also reported that police said they found no drugs in the school during the search. Drescher's locker was nevertheless singled out.

Her family and friends set up a Facebook page in support of Drescher on Thursday. It's garnered about 1,100 fans.

Thanks to Anthony Sanders for the tip

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Obamacare vs. Flexible Insurance Plan Design

Whitehouse.govWhitehouse.govObamacare is often described as an attempt to make sure that most everyone has, or at least has access to, health insurance. But it's more than that: It's an attempt to make sure that everyone has a specific kind of health insurance. It's not enough for the law's authors and administrators to tell you that you need to be covered. They also want to tell you how.

Case in point, a regulation proposed last month by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which would prohibit people in most states from purchasing standalone fixed indemnity insurance. Fixed indemnity coverage is a form of limited, low-cost insurance that pays out a flat rate in response to certain prescribed events—say $75 for a doctor's visit or $15 for a prescription—regardless of the cost. Because the coverage payouts aren't variable, and because some major medical costs aren't covered at all, monthly premiums are often quite low, meaning that it offers a way for people to have some coverage at relatively affordable rates.

It may not be an option for much longer. The proposed regulation would essentially outlaw standalone indemnity policies, making it illegal to sell them except as an addendum to the more robust, more expensive plans that meet the law's minimum essential benefits requirements.  Under the proposed rules, indemnity insurance sold by itself would be classified in such a way that it has to meet all the requirements for "major medical coverage."

It's as if regulators suddenly decided that anyone selling scooters had to make sure those scooters were as powerful (and thus expensive) as motorcycles. Otherwise, scooters could only be sold as sidecars to people who already owned motorcycles.

The result is that scooters probably won't be available at all. Basically, the indemnity policies would have to meet a slew of Affordable Care Act requirements that would increase their cost and, in the process, make them too expensive and troublesome to sell.

In some ways it's really sort of bizarre. Prior to this proposal, the expectation was that individuals would be able to pay the mandate penalty and then purchase fixed indemnity insurance on the side. If this proposal goes through, that won't happen. Which would likely mean fewer people with some kind of coverage.

In other ways, of course, it makes a certain sort of sense. If you understand that the goal of the law is not merely to drive people into some form of health coverage, but also to specify what type of coverage they have, then this certainly fits the bill.

It's another example of the many ways the law attempts to control and limit the flexibility of insurance carriers to offer a variety of plans and coverage types. The health law's supporters have regularly sold it as a market-based system that promotes private insurer competition. But as we see with these sorts of rules, it in fact ends up heavily restricting the kinds of insurance market competition that is acceptable, and transforming the individual insurance market into what is effectively a quasi-public regulated utility. 

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The Communist Party's Role in the Rise of Joseph McCarthy

Murder, she programmed.United ArtistsAs a postscript to this morning's item about Joe McCarthy, here's a fun question for you: What role did the Communist Party play in McCarthy's rise to federal office? No, I'm not talking about some crazy Manchurian Candidate scenario—just the accidental effects of the party's activities in the 1946 election.

Before then, Wisconsin was represented in the Senate by Bob LaFollette, Jr. The senator had been affiliated with the Progressive Party, a left-wing outfit, but in the mid-'40s the Progressives merged with the GOP. (That sounds extremely weird today, I know. But it was possible to be an overtly liberal Republican back then.) After the merger, LaFollette lost to McCarthy in the Republicans' 1946 primary.

Why did McCarthy beat LaFollette? The main reason is that the Democratic candidate, Howard McMurray, campaigned hard for the state's liberals to vote for him in the Dem primary (where he was running unopposed) rather than for LaFollette in the contested Republican race. He was fairly successful in this: Not every member of the old Progressive Party was eager to follow LaFollette into the GOP, and even if they wanted to support LaFollette there were candidates for other offices that they could back only if they voted in the Democratic race.

Organized labor in particular decided, for the most part, to vote for McMurray rather than LaFollette. And among the forces pushing the unions in that direction were the Wisconsin Communists, who hated LaFollette—like many people on the non-Marxist left, he was strongly anti-Communist. (McCarthy, meanwhile, had not yet embraced the issue that would make him famous. He appeared at this point to be member of the moderate, internationalist wing of the Republicans, attacking LaFollette for "voting in opposition to world co-operation.")

Did the Communist Party play the deciding role in LaFollette's loss? LaFollette himself thought so, but he was probably wrong: Patrick Maney's bio Young Bob makes a good case that other factors were more important. But the Communists did play a role in McCarthy's win. If you're a fan of juicy historical ironies, you can add that to your file.

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Gene Healy on Obama's Soon-To-Be Transparent Kill List

Thomas-Hawk-CC-BY-NCThomas-Hawk-CC-BY-NCGood news: thanks to a ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Monday, the "most transparent administration in history" is going to have to tell American citizens when it believes it's legally entitled to kill them. Gene Healy writes that in matters of transparency, the Obama Team can always be counted on to do the right thing—after exhausting all other legal options and being forced into it by the federal courts.

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Gay Marriage Foes Urge GOP to Cling to Sinking Ship

Somebody toss Gary Bauer a life preserver, please© Jorgenmac | Dreamstime.comA new poll shows that Texas is the latest state flipping for gay marriage. A poll put together by Texas Tech University showed 48 percent of Texans supporting same-sex marriage recognition and 47 percent opposed. It’s nearly a 10 percent increase in support in Texas since the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act last year. A federal judge also struck down Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage recognition in February, though the ruling is stayed for appeals.

But polls be damned, the same gay marriage opponents who have been fighting against gay marriage from the start are still trying to insist that Republicans need to keep embracing this culture war battle in order to please their base. They put together a poll of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents to bolster their claims. Politico notes:

The survey by the GOP polling firm Wilson Research Strategies was of Republican and Republican-leaning independents and was taken over a month ago, sampling 801 people from March 18 through March 20, with a 3.5 percent margin of error.

The survey showed 82 percent agreeing with a statement that marriage should be between “one man and one woman.” It also found 75 percent disagreed that “politicians should support the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples.”

First of all, the wording of the questions matter. Reason-Rupe poll director Emily Ekins has previously noted that polls that ask whether people want to “redefine” marriage get greater disapproval numbers than polls that ask whether people want to “legalize” gay marriage. Both the questions address only the idea of “defining” or “redefining” marriage and nothing to do with policies or principles. It doesn’t ask whether the government should recognize same-sex marriages or whether government benefits or privileges should be extended to same-sex couples. The question was designed to get more negative responses.

And then there’s this graph reminder from Gallup:

Independent voter graphGallup

It’s a reminder that the Republican Party has been bleeding members since 2005. Only 25 percent of Americans identify as Republicans, while 42 percent identify as independents and 31 percent identify as Democrats. This marriage poll included independents who said they leaned toward the Republican party, but doesn’t indicate how many independents they surveyed leaned toward the GOP. Another chart from Gallup shows Democrats still outnumbering Republicans significantly when independent "leaners" were included.

Even as the popularity of President Barack Obama and his policies plunge, and the likelihood of the Republican Party taking control of the Senate following midterms increases, the GOP is still struggling with this issue. The Nevada Republican Party removed opposition to gay marriage (and abortion) from its party platform earlier in the month. And yesterday the Consumer Electronics Association, a trade association, announced it was going to provide financial support to the Log Cabin Republicans, a group of gay conservatives, apparently the first tech group to do so. As the Mozilla controversy has shown, there is political diversity within the tech community, but it is nevertheless largely supportive of same-sex marriage. Would any GOP operative look at the shifts in this country on gay marriage (especially among the young) and actually recommend listening to these guys?


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