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Should Revenge Porn Be a Crime?

“Should Revenge Porn Be a Crime?” Produced by Amanda Winkler. About 6 minutes.

Original release date was April 14, 2014, and original writeup is below.

Romantic breakups are never fun—but add revenge porn to the mix and things can get downright cruel. Revenge porn is defined as the dissemination of sexually explicit images of an ex-lover without their permission. It can often be emotionally devastating and have lasting effects on a person's reputation and employability.

That's exactly what Nicole Coon, a 25-year-old Virginia nursing student, experienced last November when she found a sexually explicit video of herself on the Internet. Coon had filmed and sent the video to her boyfriend of 8 years. However, once the relationship went sour he allegedly posted the video on a website advertised as a platform for revenge porn.

Coon's sexuality—intended only for the eyes of her partner—was now being seen by family, friends, and potential employers.

"I did it because I was happy and in love and I trusted someone," says Coon. "The experience has changed me as far as trust goes. My trust [in people] has gone down tremendously."

Coon contacted the website asking for it to be taken down. The website would only comply in exchange for $500. Coon declined to pay, feeling that she shouldn't be financially burdened for what was a cruel invasion of her privacy. 

The nursing student fears for her future employment opportunities. 

"My reputation is everything. I don't want this situation to alter anything in the future. I don't want [people] to look at me any less."

Virginia Delegate Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) wants to deter this behavior in his state. He introduced House Bill 49 last December, which would make revenge porn a state crime. Since then his bill has been incorporated into Delegate Robert Bell's (R-Charlottesville) House Bill 326. Bell's legislation overwhelmingly passed both chambers and was signed by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in March.

The legislation will go into effect this July and makes it unlawful for "any person who, with the intent to coerce, harass, or intimidate, maliciously disseminates or sells" an image which depicts another person in a "state of undress," where "such person knows or has reason to know that he is not licensed or authorized" to disseminate. The new law classifies any violation as a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine and up to a year in jail.

Virginia, Utah, and Idaho have all enacted legislation this year criminalizing revenge porn; they join New Jersey and California, which were the first states to do so. Nineteen other states have proposed similar legislation. 

While most people sympathize with the victims, some fear criminalizing this behavior will have dire consequences on constitutionally protected free speech.

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Jon Basil Utley: Republicans Still Excel at Collecting Taxes for the State

Peter Larson/Medill News Service/WikimediaPeter Larson/Medill News Service/WikimediaThe old accusation that Republicans are tax collectors for the welfare state still rings true. Republicans repeatedly promise lower tax rates in return for eliminating tax deductions. Then, a few years later, tax rates are raised back up to old levels—but the deductions stay gone forever. But it's not just the welfare state. As Jon Utley points out, Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wisc.) proposed budget would increase military spending by some $50 billion per year starting in 2015, eliminating the savings of the defense sequestration plan passed last year by Congress.

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'Saving America From Dead Laws and Broken Government': A Q&A With Philip K. Howard, Author of The Rule of Nobody

"The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government - Q&A with Philip K. Howard" Produced by Joshua Swain. About 45 minutes.

Original release date was April 15, 2014, and original writeup is below.

"All of life works on responsibility," says Philip K. Howard. "Everybody listening to this ... has achieved what they've achieved in life because they took responsibility to make it happen. Government is no different than that."

In 1995, Howard wrote The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America, kicking off a national conversation about bureaucratic overreach and stupid regulations. In his new book, The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government, he extends and elaborates his analysis. It isn't bureaucratic gridlock or partisan polarization that's keeping Washington in perpetual mismanagement, argues Howard, but a fog of rules and regulations that has made it nearly impossible to figure out who is responsible.

Until civil servants can use common sense and practical judgement, he says, the government won't gain the flexibility needed for solving today's problems.

In a wide-ranging conversation with Reason's Nick Gillespie, Howard discusses many topics, including: the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's inability to quickly raise the height of the Bayonne Bridge to accommodate newer, taller ships (00:57); why even President Obama doesn't control the executive branch (5:37); why regulations haven't made nursing homes better (7:50); how even New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo couldn't shut down an unused juvenile detention center due to union rules (9:12); the long history of doctors gaming Medicare (10:31); why businesses are more flexible than governments (12:10); how technocratic views of government took over America; why mandatory minimums have led to abuse by prosecutors (18:42); specific reforms to shift from "automatic government" to individual responsibility (25:44); the goals of the Common Good Foundation (43:00); and the high probablitiy of a "seismic change" in America's political culture (44:10).

About 45 minutes.

Shot by Jim Epstein and Joshua Swain. Edited by Swain.

Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube Channel to receive automatic updates when new material goes live.

Read Gillespie's review of The Rule of Nobody here.

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Baylen Linnekin on Legal Barriers to Feeding the Homeless

Soup kitchenU.S. NavyWith all the restrictions on selling and marketing food, it’s easy to forget that even sharing food is sometimes still a crime. Despite his own stated optimism last year, Baylen Linnekin writes that it appears that bans on sharing food with the homeless and less fortunate won’t be going away any time soon. It will take a concerted effort by advocates for the homeless, and supporters on the left and right, to pressure cities to repeal these inane, mean-spirited, and un-American laws.

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Tonight on The Independents: The Seven Deadly Sins, With Thaddeus Russell, Baylen Linnekin, TV’s Andy Levy, Dagen McDowell, Charles Payne, Noelle Nikpour, and Commie Jesse Myerson!

Insert alt-text here. |||Kennedy's back in pilot's chair for the Friday night theme episode of The Independents (9 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. PT, on Fox Business Network), which tonight engages the millions of people celebrating religious traditions over this weekend with a fresh look at the Seven Deadly Sins. It'll break down like this:

Lust: TV's Andy Levy Sun Sentinel columnist and "GOP/Republican strategist" Noelle Nikpour examine politician sex scandals, and ponder the public policy implications of sexy-time laws.

Greed: Fox Business super-guest and investment guru Charles Payne tries to complexify things beyond whether greed is "good."

Sloth: Beloved Reason contributor Thaddeus Russell doesn't quite defend abject sloth, but he does question the desirability and efficacy of the Protestant work ethic.

Wrath: Fox News correspondent Dagen McDowell defends righteous vengeance, while Andy Levy and the panel express more circumspection.

Gluttony: Beloved Reason.com columnist Baylen Linnken talks about the messy intersection of public policy and foodstuffery.

Envy: Everyone's (least?) favorite communist Jesse Myerson defends his political tendency against charges of enviousness, then things get shouty and sweaty.

Pride: Your hosts chew on various aspects of how pride can be a bad or good thing.

Et voila! This show shall repeat at 2 a.m., then again at 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Check out our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter, and click here for video of past segments. Also, if you want to see John Bolton demand more drones and slag Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), watch the video below:

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Comparative Global Morality: How Do American Views Stack Up on Abortion, Affairs, and Other Morally Charged Issues?

Minnesota Historical Society/WikimediaMinnesota Historical Society/WikimediaA new global survey from Pew Research Center compares views on morality in 40 countries. Respondents in each country were asked about the moral acceptability of eight things: abortion, alcohol, contraception, divorce, extramarital affairs, gambling, homosexuality, and premarital sex. They could classify each as either morally acceptable, morally unacceptable, or "not a moral issue."

You could spend quite a while pouring over and pondering the results. Here are a few interesting tidbits I gleaned. 

1. On Booze

Unsurprisingly, Americans are among those with the least moral aversion to alcohol (we're even slightly less squeamish about it than the French). Only 16 percent of Americans find drinking alcohol to be morally unacceptable, compared to 18 percent of French respondents.

Other countries with high alcohol approval ratings were Australia (only 10 percent against), Britain (9 percent), Canada (9 percent), and Germany (14 percent). Countries where alcohol was most disapproved of were (again, unsurprisingly) Pakistan (94 percent), the Palestinian territories (89 percent), Indonesia, Tunisia, and Jordan (all 85 percent against). 

2. On Lovers 

It should also surprise almost no one that France has some of the most tolerant attitudes toward taking lovers. Here, 12 percent of respondents say having an affair is morally acceptable, and 40 percent say it isn't a moral issue, which makes only 48 percent really opposed to extramarital rendez-vous. 

Other countries with lax attitudes toward monogamy include Germany (only 63 percent find affairs morally unacceptable), Spain (65 percent), India (73 percent), and the Czech Republic (73 percent). In the U.S., 86 percent say affairs are immoral, four percent say they're morally fine, and 10 percent say this isn't a moral issue.

3. On Gambling

In many countries, a large majority were morally against gambling. Countries with the most accepting attitudes toward gambling included the U.S. (where 25 percent say it's morally acceptable and 47 percent say it's not a moral issue), Australia, the U.K., Canada, Poland, Spain, Italy, Germany, and France. 

4. On Abortion

In the U.S., a slight minority say abortion is morally unacceptable (49 percent), while 17 percent say it's acceptable and 23 percent say abortion isn't a moral issue. Overall, the countries most accepting of abortion were France, the Czech Republic, Germany, the U.K., Australia, Spain, and Japan.

Abortion disapproval is lowest in France, where only 14 percent say abortion is morally unacceptable and 47 percent say it's not a moral issue. In the Czech Republic, 18 percent say it's unacceptable and 49 percent say it's morally acceptable. In Germany, 19 percent say it's unacceptable; in the U.K., 25 percent; in Australia and Spain, 26 percent; and in Japan, 28 percent.

5. On Republicans

In the United States, sharp partisan divides were seen on five out of the eight issues. While 68 percent of Republicans said abortion is morally unacceptable, only 39 percent of Democrats said so. More than half of Republicans (54 percent) were opposed to homosexuality, compared to just 31 percent of Democrats, and almost half were against premarital sex, compared to a quarter of Democrat respondents. 

Partisan divides were much smaller when it came to gambling, contraception, and alcohol. Boozing, spending money, and preventing pregnancies—the three things we can all agree on here. God bless America, folks! 

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L.A. Sheriff’s Department Didn’t Disclose Massive Surveillance Program, Because People Wouldn’t Like It

closer and in real time for the king's menGoogle MapsVia Techdirt comes the story of the newest toys acquired by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD), former war-zone tech that allows "wide area surveillance." Camera systems are attached to civilian airplanes and can capture 10,000 times the area of a police chopper.  The system is provided by a company called Persistent Surveillance Systems that got it start, where else, designing wares for the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Police are excited about having the power to spy from the air in real time, recording video to play back later in order to track the movement of residents in places like Compton. Cops also knew, though, that this new ability of theirs might not play well with the public they still theoretically work for. Techdirt flags this portion of the report by the Center for Investigative Reporting:

"The system was kind of kept confidential from everybody in the public," (LASD Sgt.) Iketani said. "A lot of people do have a problem with the eye in the sky, the Big Brother, so in order to mitigate any of those kinds of complaints, we basically kept it pretty hush-hush."

You know who else had a problem with being monitored? The Los Angeles Police Department, whose officers destroyed equipment attached to their police cars that would record (audio only!) their interactions with residents. The LASD itself, meanwhile, was the recent target of a federal investigation after trying to hide an informant that was going to testify to corruption and excessive force at the department.

Can someone explain to me why Los Angeles needs two police forces? 

h/t From the Tundra

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The Bundy Ranch Standoff and Attitudes Toward the State

The immediate "crisis" portion of the standoff involving the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy over his cattle grazing on federal land ended last week.

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Whether this will be end of Bundy's troubles with the BLM, who have been in court with him over his refusal to pay fees to them for decades, remains to be seen, with the Bundys reporting that they've received registered mail from the BLM this week that they haven't opened yet.

I blogged about a lot of the factual background of the conflict here, with links to some relevant court documents.

This story really caught fire with lots of deeply emotional people on both sides of a rough "state vs. citizens" rift in American consciousness. This is even though the specifics of the story don't resonate with that many people's lives—few of us are ranchers or have armed government agencies literally stealing the instruments of our livelihood. On the other side, few of us feel that the order and safety or our lives are seriously threatened by recalcitrant ranchers or "militia members."

The specifics of the case also create many annoying ambiguities for libertarians, especially those who pay fealty to the "rule of law" over a kind of screw-you anarchism. A huge show of force against citizens attempting to peacefully protest seems like it could be overkill even if you think in general, the law has gotta be enforced. (But if you really believe that, you can't blink when recalcitrant people have to be shot dead at times.)

Depending on who you identified with, you could see people on both the government and Bundy sides as making ominous threats, either implicitly or explicitly. Those sorts of facts don't speak to who is right or wrong in principle, but in a story involving humans in conflict people like to feel sympathy for their side's behavior and demeanor, not just their position in the conflict.

It can be tricky, because the type of person who lets conflicts with the state get this far is apt to be, temperamentally, the type to do and say lots of things even a normally sympathetic person in principle might want to shy away from. Similarly, one need not believe in Bundy's eccentric political science vision of where legitimate American authority lies—to him, counties and states, not the federal government—to feel he's been ill-treated by the feds.

Very deep questions of duties to obey and the source of private property underlie this conflict. (And slightly less but still deep questions about federal land ownership and management vs. the prerogatives of states, counties, and citizens.) Let's just say I'd never seen so many people who do not consider themselves rock-ribbed conservatives rising up indignantly to defend the unquestionable value of and need to obey absentee land ownership based on the ukase of the powerful and faraway over the rights of indigenous people to work the lands before this case.

I write all this, by the way, not having done a thorough historical investigation into the specific facts that might establish proper title to the land in question. Neither am I sure about the eco-science behind exactly how and why the presence of Bundy's cattle is or is not harming in a vital and meaningful way the desert tortoise. (Please forgive me for being the only person who has written about the conflict who hasn't mastered those two topics.)

It says interesting things about where we stand as a citizenry, though, the different ways politicians and pundits have reacted to whatever version of the facts of the matter had sunk through their head.

Herewith, some interesting reactions covering the waterfront of who we are an an American people:

• Sen. Harry Reid (I have not been convinced that stories that connect this crackdown on the Bundys to a land grab for the Chinese are true) says that the Bundys and those on their side are "domestic terrorists." Well, they did stand up to oppose what was as legitimate a government orders, as government order legitimacy goes, as one could find.

•Sen. Rand and former Congressman Ron Paul, not surprisingly given that one of their core political constituencies are people who think the federal government and its agents often acts as bullies in enforcing not-always-legitimate demands, are both sympathetic to Bundy's plight. Republican politicians less inclined to want the support of the insurrectionist-minded are understandably avoiding the topic and certainly not cheering on Bundy.

•The New York Times thinks Bundy is just a deadbeat, and wonders if the right would cheer were his supporters armed Black Panthers protecting a black family from eviction. Gracy Olmstead of the American Conservative, writing at the Federalist, also sees Bundy fighting more for his own personal gain than grand political principle. Glenn Beck, often a hero to elements of the more radical American right, did one of his usual not-entirely-predictable turns on the Bundy matter, saying he wants the Bundys' angry supporters to "un-friend him" on Facebook, saying he's all about peace, man.

•My favorite opposing views, presenting the limits of this debate most colorfully, come from Kevin Williamson in National Review, who didn't mind saying that he could praise a little sedition, even if the "the law" isn't on its side:

 Is government our servant, or is it our master? The Left has long ago answered that question to the satisfaction of its partisans, who are happy to be serfs so long as their birth control is subsidized. But the Right always struggles with that question, as it must. The thing that conservatives seek to conserve is the American order, which (1) insists that we are to be governed by laws rather than by men and (2) was born in a violent revolution. Russell Kirk described the conservative ideal as “ordered liberty,” and that is indeed what we must aim for — keeping in mind that it is order that serves liberty, not the other way around. And it is the government that exists at the sufferance of the people, including such irascible ones as Mr. Bundy, not the other way around....

Prudential measures do not solve questions of principle. So where does that leave us with our judgment of the Nevada insurrection? Perhaps with an understanding that while Mr. Bundy’s stand should not be construed as a general template for civic action, it is nonetheless the case that, in measured doses, a little sedition is an excellent thing.

And paired with that, popping in as if from Central Casting to stand for the "Left" Williamson poked at, were the folks at ThinkProgress with a detailed think piece on, hm, what sort of excuse can we come up with, after the BLM's unfortunate standdown, to make sure that Mr. Bundy still ends up locked in a cage?

Those, then, are two of the (at least) three Americas. The third probably thinks that Bundy should have probably just given up somewhere along the line, but Christ leave him alone now, and also probably that at a certain point essentially sending in an army on such a mild form of disobedience might be overkill. But alas, that's what it all has to come down to, when dealing with a man who thinks he's in the right, and has friends who agree with him.

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Hillary Clinton Details Her Hard Choices, Startup Funding on the Rise, Earthquake Hits Mexico: P.M. Links

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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David Harsanyi on GOP Health Care Reform Rhetoric

tsca/Wikimediatsca/WikimediaThe notion that conservatives not only oppose liberal health care reforms but are vigorously working to deny Americans access is a popular one on the left. But it is possible to deem Obamacare destructive policy and still support expanding affordable health coverage, writes David Harsanyi. The GOP has never been able to settle on a set of reforms, but Republicans have been using the exact same rhetoric for years, and it embraces the imperative of expanding affordable health care. 

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Ukraine: Pro-Russian Militants Reject Diplomatic Agreement

youtube screencapyoutube screencapIn Geneva yesterday the U.S., Ukraine, Russia, and the European Union reached "a compromise of sorts" on how to deal with the tempestuous and bloody situation stirred by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. The problem is, those separatists don't agree to a word it.

NPR highlights the diplomats' decisions:

  • All "illegal armed groups" in Ukraine must immediately lay down their weapons.
  • All "illegally seized buildings" in eastern Ukraine must immediately be returned to that nation's authorities.
  • All protesters in eastern Ukraine, who have been pushing to join the Russian Federation, will be granted amnesty by the Ukrainian government unless they are judged to be guilty of capital offenses.

The group, which includes Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, issued a joint statement assuring that these are "concrete steps to de-escalate tensions and restore security."

President Obama was skeptical. "My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days," he said, "but I don't think, given past performance, that we can count on that." So far, his assessment seems correct.

Denis Pushilin, a self-proclaimed leader of the self-declared "People's Republic of Donetsk," says his men won't budge. "Lavrov did not sign anything for us, he signed on behalf of the Russian Federation," he defied. Pushilin continues to maintain that only a referendum for secession will end the armed occupation of government buildings.

Another self-proclaimed separatist leader, Oleksandr Khriakov, "demanded that Euromaidan protesters pack up their camp in Kyiv first," according to Radio Free Europe.

This may not be the only problem for the Ukrainian government, though. Adrey Illarionov of the Cato Institue and formerly chief economic adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin says that Ukraine was "sold" and "betrayed" by the Geneva agreement. He lists some serious problems he sees with the agreement:

  1. Ukraine de facto agreed to "external control" - matters relating to the exclusive jurisdiction of the national government in domestic policy, will now be addressed with respect to the external forces of Ukraine. These external forces are the West and Russia....
  2.  In the document there is no requirement to withdraw from the territory of Ukraine, Russian troops, including GRU, FSB, MTR and others. That is, their presence in Ukraine is now de facto legalized. 
  3. The document says nothing about Russian aggression. There is not a word about the war being waged by the Putin regime against Ukraine. So now even the fact of Russian aggression is legalized. 

Read more Reason coverage of Ukraine here.

7 Weed Products To Buy Your Loved One This 4/20


If you live in one of the two states where marijuana is fully legal, or in one of the 20 where it's available for those with a prescription, you may be in the market for the perfect 4/20 gift idea.

Luckily, we've got you covered. Oh, and while many of the companies that manufacture our recommended products do not intend for their products to be used for marijuana, we doubt they'll check up on you after you buy them.

Check them out here.

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Study of Pot Smokers' Brains Shows That MRIs Cause Bad Science Reporting

Massachusetts GeneralMassachusetts GeneralThis week a study of cannabis consumers published by The Journal of Neuroscience provided powerful evidence that MRI scans cause shoddy science reporting. Researchers at Northwestern University and Massachusetts General Hospital used MRIs to compare the brains of 20 young adults who reported smoking pot at least once a week and 20 controls who had used marijuana no more than five times in their lives and had not consumed it at all in the previous year. The pot smokers had higher gray-matter densities in the left nucleus accumbens, and there were "significant shape differences" between subjects and controls in that area and in the right amygdala. The differences were more pronounced in subjects who reported smoking marijuana more frequently. "Because this is a cross-sectional study," the authors noted, "causation cannot be determined." In other words, it is not clear whether the brain differences were caused by marijuana. It also is not clear how long the differences last or whether they have any functional significance.

Those nuances generally were lost in press coverage of the study, which presented the MRI scans as evidence that smoking pot causes brain damage. News outlets claimed the study found that "marijuana re-shapes brains of users" (NBC News), that "even casually smoking marijuana can change your brain" (The Washington Post), that "casual pot use impacts brains of young adults" (The Oregonian), that "recreational pot use" is "harmful to young people's brains" (Time), that "casual marijuana use" is "bad for young adults" (The Times of India), and that "even 'casual' marijuana use can knacker bits of your brain" (Gizmodo UK). A Medical News Today headline quoted the researchers as saying "casual marijuana use changes the brain," although that statement does not appear in the article under the headline, in the study itself, or in press releases about the study issued by Northwestern University, Massachusetts General, and the Society for Neuroscience, which publishes The Journal of Neuroscience. Similarly, an MSN NZ headline had the study claiming that "cannabis use 'alters brain regions,'" another phrase that is absent from the study and the press releases.

Although they seem to have been misquoted in some cases, the researchers themselves are partly responsible for the misrepresentation of their findings. As John Gever points out in a coolheaded MedPage Today analysis, the study says "the left nucleus accumbens was consistently affected by cannabis use," even though the authors acknowledge elsewhere that their data cannot prove causation. One of the study's authors, Northwestern University psychiatrist Hans Breiter, goes even further in the Society for Neuroscience press release, saying, "This study raises a strong challenge to the idea that casual marijuana use isn't associated with bad consequences." Gever responds: "Um, no, it doesn't—not without before-and-after MRI scans showing brain structure changes in users that differ from nonusers and documentation of functional impairments associated with those changes."

Yet Breiter goes further still in the Northwestern press release. "People think a little recreational use shouldn't cause a problem, if someone is doing OK with work or school," he says. "Our data directly [say] this is not the case." No, they don't, as the study itself concedes. In the Massachusetts General press release, Breiter claims the study, which was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has policy implications: "Our findings—which need to be followed up with longer-terms studies—raise serious concerns about efforts to legalize recreational marijuana use, particularly for young adults."

What is the nature of the "bad consequences" and "problem[s]" that Breiter fears? "These two brain regions have been broadly implicated in processes underlying addiction," he says, "so it's a real problem that people claiming their marijuana use does not negatively impact their lives show significant changes in these structures." Harvard psychologist Jodie Gilman, the study's lead author, offers similar comments in the Northwestern press release. "It may be that we're seeing a type of drug learning in the brain," she says. "We think when people are in the process of becoming addicted, their brains form these new connections." It is not clear what the practical significance of "these new connections" might be, since Gilman et al. emphasize that their subjects "were not dependent" on marijuana.

Presumably Gilman and Breiter are not suggesting that anyone who smokes pot once a week is destined for addiction, which seems inconsistent with research on patterns of cannabis consumption. Data from the National Comorbidity Survey indicate that 9 percent of cannabis consumers experience "dependence" at some point in their lives. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 18 million Americans have used marijuana in the last month, while about 3 million qualify as "dependent" at some point during a given year.

While the researchers were not always careful in explaining the significance of their findings, the misunderstandings reflected in the press coverage got a strong boost from the publicity departments at Northwestern and Massachusetts General, which picked headlines for their press releases that encouraged reporters to conflate correlation with causation and differences with damage:

Casual Marijuana Use Changes Brain Structures Involved in Reward, Emotion and Motivation: Mass. General, Northwestern Study First to Find Changes in Brains of Recreational Users

Casual Marijuana Use Linked to Brain Abnormalities: First Study to Show Effects of Small Time Use; More 'Joints' Equal More Damage

Those summaries are actually more misleading than a lot of the headlines in the general press, which is saying something.

Addendum: Pete Guither notes a scathing assessment of Gilman et al.'s study by U.C.-Berkeley computational biologist Lior Pachter, who calls it "quite possibly the worst paper I've read all year."  

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Snowden Defends Question to Putin, Notes Russian President’s Evasiveness

Ask him if his refrigerator is running!RT ScreenshotEarlier in the week, Edward Snowden popped up on Russian television asking President Vladimir Putin if the country engages in mass surveillance of the communications of Russian citizens. Putin, of course, denied it. Matthew Feeney wrote about the exchange yesterday, along with responses from folks who worry it’s a sign Snowden is under the influence of the Russian government or perhaps having to play ball to protect his amnesty there.

Today, The Guardian published Snowden’s response to those who were critical of his appearance. He notes that Putin’s responses did appear evasive and would hardly put the matter to rest in Russia:

There are serious inconsistencies in his denial—and we'll get to them soon—but it was not the president's suspiciously narrow answer that was criticized by many pundits. It was that I had chosen to ask a question at all.

I was surprised that people who witnessed me risk my life to expose the surveillance practices of my own country could not believe that I might also criticize the surveillance policies of Russia, a country to which I have sworn no allegiance, without ulterior motive. I regret that my question could be misinterpreted, and that it enabled many to ignore the substance of the question – and Putin's evasive response – in order to speculate, wildly and incorrectly, about my motives for asking it.

The investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, perhaps the single most prominent critic of Russia's surveillance apparatus (and someone who has repeatedly criticised me in the past year), described my question as "extremely important for Russia". According to the Daily Beast, Soldatov said it could lift a de facto ban on public conversations about state eavesdropping.

Others have pointed out that Putin's response appears to be the strongest denial of involvement in mass surveillance ever given by a Russian leader—a denial that is, generously speaking, likely to be revisited by journalists.

Snowden goes on to point out the surveillance system put in place to monitor all communications at the Sochi Olympics. It seems as though Snowden is hoping to use Putin’s obvious desire to embarrass the United States to push for Russia to be more transparent as well. But given that Russia treats its protesters and dissidents significantly differently (as in, much, much worse) than America, it may be a little much to expect anything resembling the open debates we’re having here.

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Court Documents Reveal Details of LAPD Incident with Photographer

Shawn Nee, a street and documentary photographer in Hollywood, California, is alleging in a lawsuit filed in late 2013 that officers from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) retaliated against him for asserting his constitutional right to take photographs in a public space. Nee was taking photos from a sidewalk approximately 90 feet away from an incident officers were investigating June 2, 2013. Even so, he was detained, cuffed and had his information run by LAPD Officers Mike Foster and Kevin Palmer.

When the officers' supervisor, Sergeant Rudy Vidal, arrived at the location, Foster allegedly told Vidal that Nee was "talking all this nonsense" about his First Amendment rights. After Nee further asserted that he was being detained for taking photos in a public space and invoked his right to remain silent, Vidal ordered Palmer and Foster to take Nee into custody for "interfering." From the lawsuit:

At the Wilcox station, Nee was handcuffed to a bench until he was taken into an interrogation room and questioned by a detective. Nee was in custody for approximately one and one-half hours before he was released with no charges filed. Throughout most of that time, he was handcuffed.

The LAPD said in two responses to the lawsuit filed in Feburary 2014 that the force used against Nee "was caused and necessitated" by his actions, and, "was reasonable and necessary for self defense." Further, the court papers say there was reasonable suspicision to detain Nee and probable cause for his arrest.

Although the LAPD is clear in its policy about the rights of news reporters at crime scenes, saying officers should not prevent the taking of pictures in public spaces (including pictures of police officers), the policy is not clear about the rights of citizen or independent journalists like Nee. The lawsuit says that the fact that the current LAPD policy fails to recognize that the rights of credentialed journalists are no greater than citizens, "encourages the police to mistreat independent journalists and members of the public they encounter."

The incident was caught by Nee on a Vievu body camera, the same camera police officers internationally use in the field so there is a recording after the fact. The practice can protect an officer in a court preceding or if there is an internal affairs investigation. Reason TV initally aired video of Nee's arrest in "Cameras vs. LAPD: Was a Photographer Interfering or Just Taking Pictures."

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Shikha Dalmia on Why India Might Elect a Sham Free Marketer Hindu Extremist

Narendra Modi: narendramodiofficial / Foter /Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist with a severe case of authoritarianism, has taken a hefty lead in India’s five-week-long elections by vowing not to let India's messy democracy stand in the way of economic liberalization to generate growth and jobs.

But Modi is a sham free marketer who has offered no clear policy agenda for economic reforms, notes Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia. But if he has still earned a cult following, it is by forging a rhetoric that gives voice to the soaring economic aspirations of Indians. This, she notes, is in stark contrast to the ruling Congress Party, which has been controlled by the Nehru dynasty since its inception. It has taken inspiration from the National Advisory Council that Sonia Gandhi, the Congress Party head and the Italian widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, has stacked with like-minded NGO activists (essentially community organizers) and leftist intellectuals. Most of them oppose India's turn to "neoliberalism" and privatization and believe that the old recipe of "social spending" and industry mandates is the answer to poverty.

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South Dakota Clinic Offers Parents Free Drug Tests for Kids, No One Takes Offer Yet

everybody gets a drug testingCBSA drug testing clininc in Belle Fourche, South Dakota, is offering parents free drug testing sessions for their children next week but is not finding any interest. Via the Rapid City Journal:

"We have not had one person call," [Lori] Lei said. "It's really disheartening, because we encourage parents to test."

The free testing offer was made through an article this week in the local weekly paper, and through word of mouth. The offer may be going unheeded because not enough people have heard about it, or it could be that testing your child creates an uncomfortable situation.

Lei, who owns Drug Screening Services in Belle Fourche, has offered the free drug screenings starting on Monday, April 21. She chose that date because it falls just after 4/20, which is a common buzzword for marijuana use either on April 20 or at 4:20 on the clock.

Lei says even the threat of being drug tested could give children an "excuse" to just say no when drugs are offered, but, as the Rapid City Journal puts it in their headline, parents appear to be just saying no to the offer.

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Social Security Drops Efforts To Collect Old Debts From Children of Debtors. Maybe.

Carolyn W. ColvinSocial Security AdministrationAfter a good deal of embarrassing coverage, the Social Security Administration announced it's suspending its efforts to collect old debts—those stretching into that past, beyond 10 years—on April 14. The official statement from Carolyn W. Colvin (pictured at right), Acting Commissioner of Social Security, carefully stays clear of any mention that they were often trying to collect these debts from the next generation.

I have directed an immediate halt to further referrals under the Treasury Offset Program to recover debts owed to the agency that are 10 years old and older pending a thorough review of our responsibility and discretion under the current law to refer debt to the Treasury Department.

If any Social Security or Supplemental Security Income beneficiary believes they have been incorrectly assessed with an overpayment under this program, I encourage them to request an explanation or seek options to resolve the overpayment.

Controversy over the program swirled around both the age of the debts Social Security was trying to collect and the fact that it was putting the touch on people who were children when the debts were supposedly incurred by their parents and guardians.

People rarely keep documentation for decades on the off chance they may have to dispute future debt claims. And Social Security officials themselves admitted that they had no records of the alleged debts. They just wanted the money and were willing to take it.

Tapping the next generation for debts supposedly incurred by parents has been even more troubling to commentators, because it lies outside modern practice by demanding that people take responsibility for debts in which they have no say. Social Security claimed the modern generation benefited as children from overpaid public assistance and therefore personally owed the money.

Social Security officials are apparently surprised that anybody found this objectionable.

In an email, Social Security spokesman Mark Hinkle said, "We want to assure the public that we do not seek restitution through tax refund offset in cases when the debt in question was established prior to the debtor turning 18 years of age." He added, "Also, we do not use tax refund offset to collect the debt of a person's relative. We only use it to collect the overpaid benefits the person received for himself or herself."

But that seems to have been Social Security's claim along, subject to novel interpretation. Which means some variant may well return once the fuss dies down.

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Damon Root on the Supreme Court's Next Big Gun Rights Case

Credit: White House / Flickr.comCredit: White House / Flickr.comWhen the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban in the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, it did so because the Second Amendment protects "the core lawful purpose of self-defense." That includes "the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation." Two years later, the Court applied the same standard against state and local governments, overturning the Windy City's handgun ban in McDonald v. Chicago. Yet the Supreme Court has been silent on the Second Amendment ever since. Although multiple parties have sought review in a variety of gun control cases, the Court has yet to reenter the thicket surrounding the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

That silence may soon be coming to an end, reports Reason Senior Editor Damon Root. Today the justices are meeting in private conference to consider the latest batch of petitions seeking review and among that batch is a Second Amendment case that is eminently worthy of the Court’s attention. In fact, it presents the next logical step in the development of a coherent Second Amendment jurisprudence.

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The Airwaves Belong to the (Properly Licensed) People! Boston Radio Station Raided, Shut Down

Reason contributor Garrett Quinn reports out of Boston on how the federal government keeps the fraying edges of civilization together: by raiding and shutting down a nice thing that made lots of people happy, Boston radio station Touch 106 FM:

An underground Boston radio station considered by some as the voice of Boston's African-American community while operating in Dorchester for last eight years was raided by federal agents on Thursday.

Touch 106.1 FM was shutdown after a raid by U.S. Marshals this morning, according to the station's owner and operator, former mayoral candidate Charles Clemons.

A defensive Clemons told reporters today that the station was shut down for operating without a license, something the station has been doing for years.

"We are unlicensed. It's point blank. We are unlicensed," said Clemons.

The station is a low power station with a range that does not extend very far beyond Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury. Agents, according to Clemons, took anything related to transmitting from the Touch 106.1 FM studios....

Universal Hub is reporting that Clemons was fined $17,000 by the FCC for operating without a license in 2008.

Reason's Jesse Walker wrote a history of scrappy rebellious radio, Rebels on the Air. Hat tip: Jeff Patterson.

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Federal Court Upholds Wisconsin Limits on Collective Bargaining By Government Workers

In a ruling issued today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit handed Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker a victory in his efforts to change state law governing labor relations with government employees. According to the AFL-CIO, Wisconsin’s Act 10, which had largely prohibited collective bargaining by public-sector workers, violated the rights of the state's municipal employees. But the 7th Circuit disagreed, ruling today:

The unions...assert that "[t]he ability of municipal employees to engage in the activity of bargaining collectively with their employers, in the hope of reaching a voluntary agreement regarding their wages and other conditions of employment, is a fundamental right." The unions further aver that both the Supreme Court and our court have long recognized that the Constitution protects this right....

None of those cases [cited by the unions] establish what the unions assert here: that they have a constitutional entitlement to collectively bargain with the state. And we find that the unions' contention that this is a long-standing fundamental right difficult to square with the fact that several states have prohibited public-sector collective bargaining over at least some topics.

The 7th Circuit's ruling in Laborers Local 236, AFL-CIO v. Walker is available here.

Read Reason's coverage of the collective bargaining debate in Wisconsin here.

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Five Cops on Desk Duty After Dashcam Video Contradicts Their Story About Drug Bust

dramatization of desk duty"The Other Guys"/Columbia PicturesFive cops in Glenview, Illinois, were put on desk duty after dashcam video shown at a hearing to determine charges against a man accused of having marijuana in his car contradicted their testimony. The ABA Journal reports:

[Cops] had said Joseph Sperling was arrested after officers who pulled him over in a traffic stop smelled marijuana, searched the vehicle and found nearly a pound in a backpack lying on the back seat of his car. But the Glenview police video showed the search occurred only after Sperling was taken from his car, frisked and handcuffed....The newspaper dubbed it "a 'Perry Mason' moment rarely seen inside an actual courtroom."

Castigating the officers for their "outrageous conduct," Cook County Circuit Judge Catherine Haberkorn granted a defense motion to suppress the search, which eliminated a basis for his arrest and resulted in a swift dismissal by prosecutors of the felony drug case against the 23-year-old.

"All the officers lied on the stand today," said Haberkorn, who herself is a former prosecutor, at the March 31 hearing. "So there is strong evidence it was conspiracy to lie in this case, for everyone to come up with the same lie."

Despite the evidence of their malfeasance, the cops remain on the job, placed on desk duty while they're under investigation.

This isn't just an isolated incident: Something similar happened in February. Prosecutors in New Jersey dropped charges against a man accused of eluding police, resisting arrest, and assault. Instead, they charged cops with falsifying reports and assault after dashcam video contradicted their testimony.

Some cops say dashcams offer them protection as well, but others have proven quite hostile to being recorded.

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Austin Breweries Now Allowed to Open for On-Site Drinking

South Austin Brewing Co./FacebookSouth Austin Brewing Co./FacebookGood news: Austin breweries will finally be allowed to open taprooms for the public, something craft brewers (and appreciators) in the city have long been clamoring for. But the newly approved changes to Austin's land development code—changes that local news station KXAN tells us took "months of discussion"—still impose several arbitrary restrictions on where and how brewing companies can sell beer. 

Under the new rules, only breweries located at least 540 feet away from any single family residences will be allowed to open public taprooms (unless they obtain special dispensation). Breweries must also provide on-site parking (but don't drink and drive folks!). And customers who'd like to taste a beer on tap and then take some home are also out of luck—under Texas law, breweries can only sell draught beer, not bottles for folks to take home. 

The rules aren't nearly as stupid as those proposed in Florida, where brewers could have to sell their beer to distributors and then buy it back at marked-up rates in order to sell it on-premise. But as the craft beer industry grows, I think it's interesing to see how different states are responding to the different market opportunities this is opening. Will more of them act to encourage small businesses and innovation? Or will they cave to traditional players in the alcohol industry, such as the big beer and distributor trade associations?

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