Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2004 January 1-31

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Colorado Voucher Program Halted

Another legal blow to school vouchers in Colorado. The gist of the Rocky Mountain News account:

The one-sentence decision from District Judge Joseph Meyer puts the program's fate further into limbo, as voucher supporters had hoped to move ahead with the plan while the issue is being taken to the state Supreme Court.

Meyer - in a two-pronged decision last month - placed an injunction on the program, but not before ruling that the voucher law violates the state Constitution because it strips control from school boards.

State Attorney General Ken Salazar and the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice are appealing the local-control issue separately to the state's highest court. A decision could come this summer.
....
Colorado's voucher system eventually was to become the country's largest, allowing up to 20,000 of the Front Range's poorest and lowest-performing students to use public money to attend private schools by 2007. The program was to start with roughly 3,300 children and 113 private schools.

Oil Platform

While free-market types debate just how to privatize Iraq's oil industry, officials there favor a different approach, according to The Wall Street Journal:

U.S. advisers and Iraqi oil officials, now studying how to organize Iraq's vast but dilapidated oil industry, are leaning heavily toward recommending the formation of a large state-run petroleum company....Modeled on Saudi Arabia's Saudi Aramco or Kuwait's Kuwait Petroleum Co., an Iraqi national oil company would be run by a professional management team insulated from political interference in day-to-day affairs, but ultimately overseen by a politically appointed oil minister.

[Via Liberty & Power.]

Fun of Flying

"People are not afraid of flying," says William Gaillard of the International Air Transportation Association, "but all these security measures take the fun out of flying."

Some readers may shake their head at Gaillard's priorities: Would he rather have his plane hijacked and crashed into a skyscraper? But I have a different question: Was flying ever fun? It's been an ordeal for me since I reached adult size and could no longer fit into a seat without contortions. I don't think we can blame this one on the government--or the terrorists.

I'm guessing Gaillard is used to flying first class.

Immigrant Song

All of the details are hazy, but President Bush's planned announcement of some sort of amnesty for illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. and the creation of a guest-worker program seem like steps in the right direction.

As the Miami Herald notes, Bush had planned a major overhaul of immigration laws prior to 9/11. It looks like his new proposal will not be that, but it's starting the conversation up at least. From the Herald account:

The proposal would provide a way for illegal immigrants who can show they have employment to work legally, although temporarily, in the United States. The new "temporary worker program," which also would include people still in their native countries who have a job lined up in the United States, would not, like the temporary visa programs already in existence that involve mostly technical experts, apply only to a certain sector of the economy or industry.

...

Bush wants to increase the nation's yearly allotment of green cards that allow for permanent U.S. residency, but won't say by how much, the officials said. Approximately 140,000 green cards a year are issued now.

He also wants the workers' first three-year term in the program to be renewable but won't say for how long; he won't set the amount workers should pay to apply for the program; and he won't specify how to enforce the requirement that no American worker wants the job the foreign worker is taking, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

We Have a Winner

In the contest to design the memorial at the site of the World Trade Center:

NEW YORK (AP) -- A design consisting of two reflecting pools and a large grove of trees was chosen for the World Trade Center memorial after an eight-month competition that drew more than 5,000 entries from around the world, officials announced.

The "Reflecting Absence" memorial, created by designers Michael Arad and Peter Walker, was chosen by a 13-member jury of artists, architects and civic and cultural leaders. The winning memorial was announced Tuesday by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the agency overseeing the rebuilding of the site.

The reflecting pools will mark the footprints of the World Trade Center towers. The development group said a revised version of the memorial will be unveiled next week, with significant changes that add trees and greenery around the footprints and expose the slurry wall, the last surviving piece of the trade center.

Apart from the panel that picked it, the design seems to have few supporters, with the AP quoting a number of relatives of victims who express disappointment. Rescue workers are also apparently mad that their dead won't be accounted for in a distinct way.

It's virtually impossible for this sort of memorial to satisfy everyone (maybe even anyone). Yet the design and the rationale for some of its elements--including "teeming groves of trees, traditional affirmations of life and rebirth," according to the jury chairman--seem truly banal and out of place in lower Manhattan.

Martian Blob?

OK kids, how many bad sci-fi movies feature a "strangely cohesive" "mysterious substance" featuring "alien textures" that baffle the mission scientist, who calls the stuff "bizarre" and declares, "It looks like mud, but it can't be mud."

[Rips off glasses, slams hand on desk.]

All that's missing is a renegade robot.

It's Almost Like Praying. Maria.

Not at NBC though, where Maria Shriver's coworkers are reportedly hot to shove the First Lady of California out the door. It was evidently OK to have a crypto-Kennedy on staff, but now that Shriver has gone over to the Dark Side -- and actually wants her husband to succeed, no less -- the great and fickle God of journalistic ethics demands that Shriver cease warping the vacant minds of helpless sofa-pods.

How utterly absurd. At least we know who she is sleeping with. Not so for all the producers, writers, strategists, bookers, editors, and staffers who populate the deeply incestuous poli-media melange.

And can we stick some copy in front of these insufferable Poynter Institute types, so that they have something to do? How much hand-wringing over ethics do we need? Don't be an ass, don't lie, don't steal. There. Next.

BTW, I thought Mr. Shriver's state-of-the-state speech was quite good, but notice how his convincing lines on over-spending go unreported. Don't lie, don't be an ass.

Secretary of State Condi Rice

The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller has written a long piece on the relationship between President Bush and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. Why? This explanation is as good as another: Rice, who is a major source for the story, is thinking about spending a second Bush term in Foggy Bottom.

Rice says the right things and has little trouble abandoning her preferred political philosophy for Bush's pseudo-religious ruminations:

"[S]he says she has melded her realism � the view that great powers act in their own self-interest � with what she calls Mr. Bush's idealism, or what his critics say is his na�ve belief in a 'moral' American foreign policy that can spread democracy throughout the world... The president likes to focus "on this issue of universal values and freedom," and after Sept. 11, [Rice] said, "I found myself seeing the value of that."

With no ass to kiss, Bush explained why he liked Rice:

"She's fun to be with... I like lighthearted people, not people who take themselves so seriously." Besides, he said, "She's really smart!"

Pryceless Fool

Writing in The Spectator, author David Pryce-Jones takes to task British Foreign Office Arabists who, he says, are favoring Iraqi Sunnis. That's not a good idea, because:

A straight line of Sunni tyranny leads from the unscrupulous [former Iraqi King] Faisal to the mass graves of Saddam Hussein and the Baath party. Sunni resistance today comes down to the simplest of statements: in case you�re thinking of treating us the way we treated everyone else, here�s a bomb. For these Sunnis, the current political process spells surrender of their Ascendancy.

Pryce-Jones is irate at British efforts to address Sunni fears: "Were it feasible, the driving of a wedge between Saddam loyalists and other Sunnis would be politic, but there is little or no chance of any such thing; the Sunnis huddle for protection in tribal collectivity."

If you musn't placate the Sunnis, then what must you do?

Today the Shia are educated, organised and armed very differently from 1920. Loose among them are also hundreds of Iranian agents, for the moment daubing anti-Western graffiti on walls but otherwise biding their time... Any attempt to discriminate against Iraqi Shia or in favour of Sunnis can only mobilise the killer bands in a competition in violence far more destructive than anything yet seen.

So, the moral of the story is that one should placate the violent Shiites, but not the violent Sunnis--who will eventually be silenced by superior force. Funny how Pryce-Jones, who claims to write about the Middle East, hasn't a clue as to how minority politics actually work.

Got a Whole Lotta Rights That Are Ready to Burn

The FBI gets what it asks for, warrants or no, when it wants to know who might be having a little bit too swingin' a time in Las Vegas. Note that it didn't go asking after any specific bad guys it was hunting; it wanted to know about everyone that was there.

Magic Kingdom

Remember the infamous Saudi textbooks? Not long ago, Khalid al-Awwad, the undersecretary of the kingdom�s Education Ministry, said Saudi Arabia was revising its school curriculum to stress �peace and tolerance.� A conference was even held recently to critically address the issue of "militancy."

Now, 150 angry people, including judges and university professors, are fighting back. In a signed statement, they warned:

"Any omissions or mutilation of what was written by the Islamic scholars... contradicts the national unity the state is calling for, as this unity is based on our religious creed..."

One of the signatories is Sheikh Nasser al-Omar. If you can read Arabic and want an insight into how some Saudi clerics use Internet, you might want to visit him here. (Thanks to Michael Scott Doran for both links. Incidentally, he's just written "The Saudi Paradox" for Foreign Affairs that provides a background for all this).

Whose Mind is it, Anyway?

A positive, though limited, development in the California Supreme Court, as reported (via Associated Press copy) in today's Los Angeles Times:

Mentally ill inmates cannot be forced to take anti-psychotic drugs, the California Supreme Court ruled Monday, allowing a certain class of prisoners to refuse treatment in limited circumstances.

The justices' 6-1 decision concerns California inmates who have done their time for criminal convictions but have been found to be mentally unfit for release to the community. Those inmates, hundreds in all, are housed at state mental institutions until they are deemed fit for return to the community.

If they refuse anti-psychotics, the court ruled, the state cannot force them to take the medication unless a judge authorizes it. A judge must find that the inmate is incompetent to refuse treatment and is an immediate danger to himself or others.

In other words, in California a judge's approval is now required to force drugs down the throat of people being held in captivity despite the fact that their legally authorized imprisonment has ended. Oh well, at least it's a free country.

Mandatory Outrage

Faithful H&R reader Ruthless pointed me to Debra Saunders' damning SF Chronicle column about mandatory minimum sentences. A snippet:

When I reached [former federal prison warden and supporter of mandatory minimums for drug crimes Joe] Bogan on his cell phone, I asked him how many drug kingpins he thought were in federal prison today. Bogan answered, "My estimation is of the 85,000 drug traffickers in the federal system, there are probably fewer than 1 percent of whom you could call kingpins."

Some inmates serving long sentences are first-time offenders such as Brenda Valencia, who was 19 years old when she was arrested for driving a drug dealer to another dealer's home. The feds charged Valencia for her role in a drug conspiracy. Her sentence: 12 1/2 years. The sentencing judge wrote that he found Valencia's sentence to be "an outrage," but that the law forced him to apply it.

Read the whole thing here and then call your congressman.

Snake Bites vs. Snake Oil

"Ephedra isn't snake oil, it's snake venom," declared Rep. Jim Greenwood (R-PA). Which brings up the question--how many people does each substance kill per year? According to my colleague Jacob Sullum, the FDA found that ephedra was implicated in just 2 deaths in 2002. Meanwhile snake bites kill between 9 and 14 people annually. Of course, millions of dieters take millions of ephedra tablets annually, while only 45,000 people get bitten by snakes each year. Banning ephedra isn't organic fertilizer, it's just bullshit.

Hitler. Now More Than Ever.

If you're interested in the two anti-Bush ads featuring Hitler that were posted briefly to Moveon.org as part of that group's efforts to unseat George W., you can check out the scripts over at the Republican National Committee site. And here's a link to one of the ads (requires Quicktime and takes a while to start, even on a fast hookup).

Those ads are contemptible--and would have been hugely ineffective in persuading anyone. They're so ludicrous and tone deaf, if J. Edgar Hoover was still running the FBI or Nixon in the White House, you'd almost suspect them of being plants.

The ads were created in response to a contest organized by Moveon.org. For a rundown about the contest that generated the ads, and to see the finalists actually selected by Moveon.org, go here. And for a list of celebrity judges who will decide the winner go here.

Crime Spree

Christopher Hitchens tells the NYC nanny to go to hell.

In the space of a few hours, Hitchens managed to break a slew of New York's pettier laws: He sat on an upended milk crate, took his feet off bike pedals, put his bag on the subway seat next to him, fed pigeons in Central Park and sat on a subway step. He also smoked in a bar and in a restaurant.

Dem Losers United: We Back Dean!

Former basketball star and slouchy senator from New Jersey Bill Bradley this morning threw his support behind Howard Dean, thus joining Al Gore in giving a double-kiss-of-death to the Democratic frontrunner.

In the best political tradition, Bradley, who challenged Gore unsuccessfully for the Dem nomination four years ago, characterized Dean as an extension of himself:

"When Governor Dean says that his campaign is more about his supporters than about him, he shows admirable modesty, but he sheds light also on why his campaign offers the best chance to beat George Bush...That is, he has tapped into the same wonderful idealism that I saw in the eyes of Americans in 2000, and he has nourished it into a powerful force."

Here's a longer account.

The endorsement may help Dean, though it's far from clear whether Bradley carries any juice with anyone outside of his immediate family and a couple of old Knicks teammates, much less voters in the Iowa caucuses or New Hampshire primary. It certainly doesn't hurt Dean--that would likely take an endorsement from the likes of Mike Dukakis, Fritz Mondale, and Jimmy Carter.

An interesting question raised by all of this is when Bill Clinton will anoint someone. The conventional wisdom is that he's leaning toward fellow Arkansan Wesley Clark, who's supposedly within the Clinton Democratic machine. But if it's true that Hillary is definitely running in '08, then you've got to figure Bill wants the Dems to lose this time around.

Copyright Infringement?

Did you happen to notice the terms Secretary of State Colin Powell used in his Jan. 1 op-ed in the New York Times (here linked to the International Herald Tribune)?

As we work to restore a liberated Iraq to its people, we invite the United Nations and the international community to help Iraqis establish a new citadel of free minds and free markets in the Middle East.

No problem, Colin, we're happy to improve this administration's prose.

How the Net Serves Journalism

Gravity Lens blogger Jeff Patterson points to this interesting case of how the Web abetted plagiarism and its correction:

Over at retroCRUSH, Robert Berry explains how his story about "The Worst Sex Scenes Ever" was ripped off by the British paper The Daily Star, which attributed the list to a "poll" done by the fictitious mag FILM. That story got picked up by a bunch of other publications and sites.

From Berry's account of an exchange with a Star editor:

On 1/05/04 I spoke with a the News Editor of "The Daily Star" named Kieran Saunders and what he told me takes the cake.

He said, "Well, if it's on the internet it's up for grabs. You can't copyright anything on the internet." I told him that was untrue and he then refused to speak with me further, and said all future communication needed to be sent to their legal contact, Steven Bacon in London. I even tried to call back an hour later to speak with the actual author of the piece, and Saunders answered the phone, stating, "I told you never to call here again, speak to our legal group" before ending the call.

Worth checking out.

Btw, the list at issue here, which I encountered in its fake form, is pretty good. Here's a link to Berry's original.

Foot of the Classes

Husain Haqqani, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has written an article on Muslim religious schools, or Madrasas, in Pakistan for Foreign Policy magazine.

Haqqani writes that the Madrasas filled a gap left open by poor Muslim states:

As many as 1 million students study in Madrasas in Pakistan, compared with primary-school enrollment of 1.9 million. Most Muslim countries allocate insignificant portions of their budgets for education, leaving large segments of their growing populations without schooling. Madrasas fill that gap, especially for the poor. The poorest countries, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia, Yemen, and Indonesia, boast the largest madrasa enrollment.

Haqqani goes on to argue that the religious schools promote a quietist form of Islam, "teaching rejection for Western ways without calling upon believers to fight unbelievers"; but he also believes that the ambient poverty in which they thrive "makes it difficult for the Madrasas to remain unaffected by radical ideas..." Indeed, it was in the Madrasas of Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan that the Taliban movement initially grew.

Is he hopeful that Madrasas can be marginalized? It's a mixed bag:

Legitimizing secular power structures through democracy might reduce the political influence of Madrasas. But that influence is unlikely to wane dramatically as long as Madrasas are home to a theological class popular with poor Muslims. And the fruits of modernity will need to spread widely before dual education systems in the Muslim world will come to an end.

Dean's Listing

The Marijuana Policy Project has issued its final grades for the Democratic presidential candidates, based on the positions they have taken (or refused to take) regarding the medical use of cannabis. John Edwards, Richard Gephardt, and Joe Lieberman all got F's because they repeatedly dodged the issue. Howard Dean, who opposed a medical marijuana bill when he was governor of Vermont, fared only slightly better, earning a D-. It seems to me he deserves a higher grade, a C at least.

Judging from the statements collected by MPP, Dean has consistently taken the position that marijuana should be treated like any other medicine, passing muster with the FDA before it can be legally used. At the same time, he has consistently condemned the federal government's raids on medical marijuana users in California and other states that recognize the drug as a medicine. In other words, medical marijuana should not be legalized at the federal level until the FDA approves, but in the mean time the DEA should leave cancer and AIDS patients alone.

Obviously, one can disagree with this position, starting with the premise that the federal government has the authority to tell people what plants they may grow and ingest (for whatever reason). And Dean's stance is not exactly courageous. But it strikes me as sincere, given his technocratic tendencies, and it is certainly preferable to the aggressive posture taken by the Bush and Clinton administrations. In practice, it would allow states to go their own way on this issue even if marijuana remained completely forbidden under federal law.

Nizar Nayyouf

According to a story Monday in the Dutch newspaper, De Telegraaf (link in Dutch), a Syrian journalist identified as "Nizar Najoef" has identified three locations in Syria where Iraqi WMD is hidden.

"Nizar Najoef" is more commonly spelled Nizar Nayyouf, and he is a remarkable man. He was a journalist and an activist for liberal reform under Hafez Assad, and as a result spent nine years in prison. In his first prison, Nayyouf tried to organize a prisoners' rebellion; he was soon transferred to another prison where he promptly began a hunger strike. Finally, he was sent to a military prison where he was subjected to appalling torture, and is apparently partially paralyzed as a result. Nevertheless, Nayyouf somehow managed to smuggle out information about the torture of his fellow prisoners. Numerous human-rights groups and reporters' organizations tried to intervene in his case; he was finally released in 2001 following a plea from the Vatican. Nayyouf now lives in Europe.

Where does Nayyouf say the WMD is (or was) hidden? In tunnels beneath the town of al-Baida; near the village of Tal Snan; and in "Sjinsjar" (Dutch spelling), a city east of the highway between Hama and Damascus. Nayyouf says he received the information through connections in Syrian intelligence. He believes the U.S. knows all of this, but is biding its time for political reasons. It will act on the information, he told the newspaper, "when the U.S. thinks it's time to see Assad go."

Is there anything to this? Who knows. What's impressive is that, despite paralysis, blindness, and illness due to torture, Nayyouf is still battling the Syrian Baathists. Not long ago he participated in a press conference accusing the regime of still imprisoning a Lebanese man who disappeared 12 years earlier. He's probably right about that. Nayyouf even beat a libel suit brought against him by Syria's former vice president (another Assad), after Nayyouf revealed that he'd ordered the murder of political prisoners. He's irrepressible.

Dems Debate While Nation Gets Ready for Some Football

Let's say you're a major political party down on its luck. In the past few years, you've managed to squander decades-long control of Congress (with only a few short interruptions), you couldn't follow up a two-term incumbency in the White House with a win, you've been tanking in statehouses across the nation, you've got declining voter enrollment, yadda yadda yadda.

What day do you pick for the first debate among your party's candidates for Campaign 2004? The same day as a couple of NFL playoff games, the bowl game that decides the college football champ (well, sort of), a full slate of new episodes on Fox's not-incorrectly named "Laugh Out Loud Sunday," and the season premieres for two popular HBO series.

To top it off, your top would-be presidents--two of whom don't even bother to show--spend most of their time complaining that the Republicans have improperly implemented programs that you totally agree with. To wit, these exchanges from yesterday's Democrat debate:

[Rep. Dick] Gephardt accused [Gov. Howard] Dean of tempering his support for trade agreements to curry favor with labor unions.

"Howard, you were for NAFTA, you came to the signing ceremony. You were for the China agreement," Gephardt said. "It's one thing to talk the talk, you've got to walk the walk."

Dean said the agreements as implemented by the Bush administration have "globalized the rights of multinational corporations, but they did not globalize the rights of workers, they did not globalize human rights, environmental rights, the right to organize."

....

Dean...assailed Democratic rivals in Congress for voting for Bush's education program, the No Child Left Behind Act, which he contended has failed in its stated mission to rescue failing public schools.

[Sen. John] Kerry defended his vote, noting that his Massachusetts Democratic colleague, Ted Kennedy, was a key sponsor. "Ted Kennedy, is the greatest champion of education in America," he said. "He didn't put this in place to have it implemented this way.

The most embarrassing moment may have come when Dean insisted on a show of hands from those who would support the eventual nominee. As someone who leans neither Democrat nor Republican, this was the sort of cringe-inducing showcase that helps explain declining party affiliation.

On second thought, maybe the Dem planners knew what they were doing when they slotted this debate into a time when no one would be watching.

PSPD

The New York Times reports on an unsettling trend in education: rowdy behavior that once would've gotten students sent to the principal's office is now getting them sent to jail. I guess adminsitrators figured that as long as the cops are there for the SWAT-style drug raid, they might as well kill two birds with one stone and haul off class clowns and kids violating the dress code... (Hat tip: reader Jennifer Abel)

The Terminally Dull Man

Although I can't resist the insulting title above, I actually like Michael Crichton. He's a godawful prose stylist and, as Ron Bailey noted here a while back, a technophobe-of-all-trades. But he's got million-dollar ideas by the score, and in this speech (thanks to Arts & Letters Daily for the link), he ties global warming, secondhand smoke, the smearing of Bjorn Lomborg, and many other topics dear to Reason's black heart into the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence boondoggle. Sample:

As with nuclear winter, bad science is used to promote what most people would consider good policy. I certainly think it is. I don't want people smoking around me. So who will speak out against banning second-hand smoke? Nobody, and if you do, you'll be branded a shill of RJ Reynolds. A big tobacco flunky. But the truth is that we now have a social policy supported by the grossest of superstitions. And we've given the EPA a bad lesson in how to behave in the future. We've told them that cheating is the way to succeed.

Plenty more where that came from.

If I Don't Own It, It Must Be a Monopoly

New at Reason: If more than 50 companies own most of the major media, is that a monopoly? Where did all these new channels come from? Can the man who brought you Who Will Marry Five Million Bears? be all bad? In our January cover story, Ben Compaine explains it all.

The Man Can Bust Our Music

According to a new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, online music downloads have gone down, down, down to a burning ring of fire over the past six months. In May, 29 percent of adults said they downloaded music (legally or illegally), a figure that stood at 14 percent in December.

The study doesn't differentiate between legal and illegal downloads but its authors suggest that record-industry lawsuits aimed at illegal downloaders and other measures account for a good chunk of the drop-off, even as legal services ranging from ITunes to Napster got up and running.

Here's an account of the study (which I haven't read) in the Dallas Morning News(reg. required).

Whatever else is going on, one thing is clear: the amount of downloads at sites such as Kazaa still dwarfs the number at the licensed sites.

"The People Have Spoken...the Bastards"

A show on BBC 4 Radio recently ran a contest asking listeners to suggest a piece of legislation that would improve life in Britain, promising that the winning proposal would be introduced by Labour Party M.P. Stephen Pound. Both Pound and the show's producers regretted the offer once it became clear that the most popular suggestion was a law allowing homeowners "to use any means to defend their home from intruders."

Pound denounced the proposal as a "ludicrous, brutal, unworkable blood-stained piece of legislation," saying, "The people have spoken...the bastards." He told The Independent: "We are going to have to re-evaluate the listenership of Radio 4. I would have expected this result if there had been a poll in The Sun. Do we really want a law that says you can slaughter anyone who climbs in your window?"

The vote apparently was part of the popular reaction against the conviction and imprisonment of Norfolk farmer Tony Martin for shooting a burglar. Martin, who was initially sentenced to life for murder but ultimately served three years of a five-year sentence for manslaughter, has endorsed the bill. His prosecution became a cause celebre for supporters of the right to self-defense--who clearly do not include enlightened thinkers such as Pound.

[Thanks to Dan Terrill for the tip.]

Clickety Clark, Way Off Track

Dem prez candidate Wesley Clark went to New Hampshire, land of fiercely independent and quirky media, to decry media consolidation. If he isn't even going to bother to stick his head outside the campaign bubble, Clark could at least read about the real world.

Big Spenders

Republicans are taking more heat over their big appetite for spending:

What has vexed conservatives most is the 31.5 percent growth since Bush took office in discretionary spending. That is the one-third of the budget lawmakers approve annually for defense, domestic security, school aid and everything else except Social Security and other benefits.

Such spending grew by an annual average of 3.4 percent during Clinton's eight years.

Further infuriating conservatives, Bush and the Republican-run Congress have enacted a $400 billion, 10-year enlargement of Medicare; $87 billion in expanded benefits for farmers; and $40 billion for increased veterans' payments and the Air Force's leasing and buying of refueling tankers.

More details here.

A few recent Reason links on the topic (from vexed libertarians):

Ride the Death Spiral Vicious cycles in entitlement spending.

Medicare Fraud Reforming our way to bankruptcy.

W Is for What? Bush may be compassionate, but he's no conservative.

Body Snatchers How can you tell the evil party from stupid party?

Wrecking the Wreckers

A bill that would limit local governments' ability to take private land for other people's private gain is being floated in Colorado, reports the Denver Post. The Colorado Municipal League, an interest group for local governments in the state, is opposed, pointing to many wonderful Albertsons and Kmarts the state might be lacking if not for their power to condemn and take private land willy-nilly. Sam Staley wrote a feature article for Reason on this ugly practice back in our February 2003 issue.

[Link via Rational Review]

People Shoot Pistols At Each Other

England's greatest songwriter was shot in New Orleans yesterday. According to early reports, Ray Davies of the Kinks -- the only rock star to sing an ode to Queen Victoria before getting knighted -- was wounded in the leg while chasing down the thieves who stole his date's purse. That said, there's always the chance that Dave did it.

Us fans can sleep easy: the singer appears to be in good shape. According to Davies' manager, "He's in hospital but it is not really serious. He should be up and about in a day or so."

No Guns in O-hi-o

A libertarian gun rights activist named Jeff Jordan, also known as "Hunter," fell afoul of Ohio's gun laws last week and was arrested. He was driving through the state with some weapons (that, his supporters claim, would have been legal for him to have in most states) when cops searched him during a speeding stop. The story, and a call for help in his defense, here. While the relevant statute does allow you to have a gun in your car, it has to be in a closed container, on a rack, or "in plain sight with the action open or the weapon stripped." More on the latest developments in some possible loosening of Ohio's concealed-carry statutes here.

Ever Been in Turkish Prison?

Call the wrong guy "mister" and you might be. Two officials of the Democratic People's Party were arrested for calling Abdulllah Ocalan, head of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker's Party, by a Turkic honorific meaning "respected and esteemed."

This constitutes "propaganda in favor of a terrorist organization," the Beeb reports.

The Saddam Effect. Or Not.

Here's two reports about the effect of Saddam's capture on insurgency in Iraq.

The first, from the Washington Times, says "that guerrilla attacks [in Baghdad] have dropped sharply since the Dec. 13 capture of Saddam Hussein."

The second, from Knight-Ridder via the San Jose Mercury News, says "Saddam Hussein's capture three weeks ago has not slowed the anti-American insurgency in Iraq, which now seems more entrenched than ever, according to a review of recent attacks and interviews with U.S. and Iraqi officials."

Now that that's all cleared up, we can really enjoy the weekend's football games.

Bread, Circuses, Racecars

Eszter at Crooked Timber notes that the Hungarian government has decided to drop $4 million to sponsor a Formula One racer. She writes: "If this happened in a country with adequate social services and few people living in poverty then perhaps one could contemplate its legitimacy. But in a country with as many social problems as Hungary, I find it hard to swallow."

Commenter Dan Simon adds a perceptive postscript:

While I personally don�t care for the idea of $4 million in government money being spent on a Formula 1 team, I take some small consolation in the fact that lots of ordinary Hungarians of little means will probably get some enjoyment out of it. If instead the government had blown $4 million on, say, a Rothko for the Hungarian national art museum, how many low-income Hungarians would have been likely to get a big thrill out of it�and how many Crooked Timber collectivists would have complained?

Judging Judges

This week Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist reiterated his criticism of congressional efforts to track federal judges' sentencing practices, in language almost identical to remarks he made in a speech last May. In his annual report on the federal judiciary, Rehnquist warned that the attempt to discourage "downward departures" from the minimums indicated by federal sentencing guidelines "could appear to be an unwarranted and ill-considered effort to intimidate individual judges in the performance of their judicial duties."

There's really no dispute that making lists of naughty judges is an effort to intimidate them. The issue is whether the intimidation is "unwarranted and ill-considered," a threat to judicial independence and the separation of powers, as Rehnquist sees it, or an appropriate response to a "growing problem of downward departures" that is "undermining sentencing fairness throughout the federal system," as House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) puts it.

There's an easy answer to the question of how much discretion judges ought to have in sentencing: just the right amount. Either too much or too little can result in unjust punishment, and striking the right balance is tricky. But it's important to recognize that limiting the authority of judges means increasing the authority of prosecutors, who in many cases can essentially determine a defendant's sentence by deciding how to charge him. And given the incentives that prosecutors face, trusting them to sentence people is a bigger threat to fairness than the occasional soft-hearted judge.

The chief problem with the federal criminal justice system is not excessive lenience. If judges can make draconian sentences less harsh (especially for nonpredatory "crimes") without violating the law, more power to them. Unfortunately, Congress seems intent on giving them less.

Economics for Real People

In an email, occasional Reason contributor Gene Callahan--he and Greg Kaza have an excellent piece about the unfairly vilified financial instruments known as derivatives in the February issue of Reason (speaking of which, Why haven't you subscribed yet? If you did, you'd have read that story by now!)--has pointed out that his 2002 tome Economics for Real People: An Introduction to the Austrian School is currently ranked higher on Amazon than any of the books highlighted on Reason Online's "Show Now and Save" section.

That list is set automatically, reflecting recent purchases made by visitors from our home page to Amazon. But in the interests of Gene--and you, our humble readers, who likely have an interest in this topic--let me recommend that you check out his book, which has been called "a remarkably well-written exposition for the layman of the highlights of Austrian Economics."

People Who Died, Died

Once again, the Baltimore City Paper has marked the end of the year with a tribute to people who died in the last 12 months and weren't quite famous, but should've been. This year's honorees range from Peter Safar, the doctor who proved the efficacy of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, to Cholly Atkins, a Motown choreographer:

Ask someone over 40 to sing the chorus of the Supremes' "Stop! In the Name of Love," and they very well may throw up their arm, palm outward, and continue on through the rest of the arm movements Atkins devised to sell the lyrics, even though they may not be able to remember a single line of the song's verses.

Why They Hate Us, Part CMXXIV

Courtesy reader Ari Spanier, from California's North County Times:

Cunanan musical to be developed at La Jolla Playhouse

A musical based on the life of San Diego serial killer Andrew Cunanan ---- whose far-flung victims include fashion designer Gianni Versace ---- will be developed this year at the La Jolla Playhouse through a $35,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Playhouse announced last week.

The musical, titled "Disposable," will be developed by three Playhouse associates ---- playwright Jessica Hagedorn (whose "Dogeaters" went from the Playhouse to off-Broadway a few years ago), composer Mark Bennett (creator of the score for the Playhouse's "Eden Lane" last year) and director Michael Greif (who ran the Playhouse as artistic director from 1994 to 1999).

Playhouse spokeswoman Jessica Padilla called the musical a "long-term project in the very early stages of development." While "Disposable" will have its world premiere at the Playhouse, Padilla said she did not know when it would take place.

Cunanan grew up in La Jolla, was a regular in San Diego's gay party scene in the 1990s and had a reputation as a gay prostitute before he embarked on a cross-country odyssey of serial killings in 1997. Before he shot himself to death in a Miami-area houseboat, Cunanan was suspected of killing five people (most of them gay men) in Illinois, Minnesota and Florida. His last victim, Versace, was shot to death on the front steps of his Miami mansion.

Is it just me, or are the creators of musicals based on real-life serial killers chasing the rainbow? Sure, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and Sweeney Todd can put asses in the seats, but such singing spectacles as Assassins, about US presidential killers (hey, you try rhyming "Leon Czolgosz"), and Capeman (despite a hand from a Nobel Prize winner, this debacle merely underscored that Art Garfunkel really was carrying Paul Simon all those years), tanked like a revival of Home Sweet Home (a deadly musical version of the Iliad that lasted one performance and surely contributed to Yul Brynner's death every bit as much as the cigarettes he famously blamed posthumously).

Apparently I Sued Citibank

My latest Citibank Visa bill includes a credit for 73 cents, my share of the "SCHWARTZ SETTLEMENT REFUND." As a reader of Overlawyered.com noted last month (along with many other people who scrutinize credit card bills faster than I do), the money comes from an $18 million fund created to settle a class action lawsuit challenging Citibank's 10 a.m. deadline for payments. The refunds ostensibly are compensation for inappropriate late fees, but a Citibank recording explains that it was impossible to allocate the money with any precision and that qualifying customers generally received less than a dollar. The lawyers got $9 million.

TSA, DWI, WTF?

Courtesy of the hibernating Antic Muse (soon to be jacked back into the blogosphere like a sharp, stinging blast of Bhopal's finest) comes this lovely little study in the perils of drinking on the job:

TSA Chief At Dulles Is Charged With DWI
Agency Says Official Had Code Orange Duty
By Steven Ginsberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 2, 2004; Page B01

The chief of the Transportation Security Administration at Dulles International Airport was placed on administrative leave yesterday after being charged with drunken driving while he was on duty for a New Year's Eve Code Orange alert, officials said.

Acting federal security director Charles Brady was pulled over about 1 a.m. by a Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority police officer who saw him driving erratically on Route 28 near Dulles, airport spokeswoman Tara Hamilton said.

Brady, 49, was taken to the Fairfax County jail, where he was booked at 3 a.m. He was released at 1 p.m. yesterday after being charged with driving while intoxicated, said spokesman Lt. Tyler Corey, who described Brady as "extremely cooperative" during his stay.

On a night considered at particular risk of terrorism, with extraordinary security actions in place across the country, Brady was supposed to be at his airport post until 2 a.m. TSA spokeswoman Jennifer Marty said that Brady should have been participating in a security exercise to ensure the safety of air travelers at that hour....

Whole thing here.

Lest ye forget: The cover story of the February Reason, on newsstands now, is "Dominate. Intimidate. Control.: The sorry record of the Transportation Security Administration." Buy it now!

Full Frontal Nelson

Willie Nelson will test his crossover appeal with a newly penned protest song, "What Ever Happened to Peace on Earth."

Nelson has grown chummy with Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich and will be part of a fund-raising concert for the candidate on Saturday.