Today's "school officials accuse five-year-old of sexual harassment" incident is brought to you by Hagerstown, Maryland.
Writing in the Dallas Observer, Megan Feldman narrates some time spent with a group of still-motivated Texas Minutemen. For all the ink spilled on the group, few journalists ever give a sense of the kind of collective identity the Minutemen have built -- or whatever it is that draws them out for deadly boring work. Volunteers are either written up as drifting losers or scrappy warriors; either they're watching the border because they've got nothing better to do or they're there because, faced with invasion, they can do nothing else. Feldman at least includes a few details that hint at a sense of crazed play and self-conscious performance. Here's the state director of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps inviting Feldman to meet him in a Krispy Kreme parking lot:
"Pursuant to our policy of not giving specific 'when/where' information to non-volunteers, I cannot divulge anything to you, yet," he wrote. "I will call you on your cell phone at 6 a.m. and give you the information with which you will be able to meet me. I cannot, until then, even tell you in which city we will meet. Wear clothing appropriate for the weather conditions. The watch will be held rain or shine, for patriotism knows no weather restrictions."
Watching some laborers line up for work later that day, one volunteer translates the immigrant reaction:
"If all of us leave, no one will be here," the laborer says. He is a bit unsteady on his feet, as if he'd been drinking. "Do you like Mexican food?" he asks. The volunteers nod. This satisfies the man, and he turns and crosses back to the other side of the street. "I know you love enchiladas!" he calls over his shoulder.
One of the Minutemen walks over to Kirby and repeats what the laborer said.
"That just shows their mentality," the volunteer says, indignant. "He's basically saying Mexico has already taken over Texas—whites are already the minority."
From "I know you love enchiladas!" to "We win, Whitey!" It's impossible not to see this as an elaborate role-playing exercise.
Whole thing here.
It looks like Bob Barr's position on medical marijuana is indeed evolving. Steve Gordon, the Libertarian Party's communications director, cites two recent radio show appearances in which Barr said the issue should be left to the states. In an interview yesterday on KFNX in Phoenix, he had the following exchange with host Charles Goyette:
Goyette: ...but I have to assume that as a former U.S. attorney you've been kind of an old-line and maybe even a hard-line drug warrior, and most of us Libertarians think the drug war is foolish and folly.
Barr: There's a lot of room to work on that issue. For example, on the issue of medical marijuana and the states' rights issues involving that. I'm very supportive of states' rights. I am also very supportive the concept of legitimate testing for the use of medical marijuana, and I'm very disappointed that the government has stood in the way of that. So there's a lot of room there. I'm working through some of those individual liberties issues but also believe very strongly that, just as when I was in the Republican Party, I did not agree with everything the Republican Party stood for, everything in its platform, and certainly there's a lot of room in the Libertarian Party for people who have differing views on drugs, or differing views on other issues, and that's the sign of a mature party, that it will accommodate those differences.
The recording of the entire interview is here. Listeners report that Barr made similar comments in a call to Neal Boortz's radio show yesterday. Gordon also passed along the following comments by the Marijuana Policy Project's Rob Kampia, which he said were for public consumption:
I've had the opportunity to meet with former Congressman Bob Barr on two occasions this fall. The conversations were quite interesting (and very civil), given that he was one of the three most problematic members of Congress for my organization since I co-founded MPP 12 years ago. While serving in Congress from 1995 to 2003, he (1) prevented our 1998 medical marijuana initiative from taking effect in D.C., (2) took the anti-medical marijuana position while debating me on national TV, and (3) grilled me during my testimony before a congressional subcommittee in 2001. In addition, MPP orchestrated civil disobedience in his office on Capitol Hill, whereby a group of activists holding various signs chanted medical marijuana slogans in his office while we laid the body of a medical marijuana patient (with multiple sclerosis) in the doorway so that no one could get in or out.
But that's in the past; he has really come around on drug policy issues. He acknowledges that the drug war is a failure and it cannot be won, he has publicly come out in favor of states' rights for medical marijuana, and he wants to do whatever he can to shrink the size and reach of the federal government, which presumably includes the drug-war bureaucracy (the narcocracy) -- DEA, ONDCP, NIDA. I support the notion of Mr. Barr taking a leadership position with the Libertarian Party; it's a win/win for him and the Party.
It's heartening to hear that Barr is having second thoughts about at least some aspects of the war on drugs. As I've said, his general orientation vis-a-vis civil liberties ought to make him skeptical of the doomed and disastrous effort to separate people from the intoxicants they want. Still, I have to wonder what he'll be arguing with Ethan Nadelmann about when they debate the medical marijuana issue in New York next month.
Not really much new or surprising in Judicial Watch's "10 Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians for 2006" list, but it functions as a pretty good year-end news in review piece in these last weeks of the year, when year-end news in review pieces rule the roost.
In my over 100 lengthy interviews, and close reading of decades worth of libertarian movement literature, done as research for my forthcoming book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement, this is an opinion I've come across before. But here is Bruce Bartlett explaining why he thinks that, for the greater good of the larger libertarian cause, the Libertarian Party needs to disappear.
Bartlett is most famous recently for getting bounced from the National Center for Policy Analysis for writing the anti-Bush book Imposter: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy , which was excerpted in the June issue of Reason, with a close reading of Bush's terrible record on free trade
All right, true believers---let's Kirbycise!
The GOP's bad year keeps getting worse, doesn't it?*
A judge overturned the state auditor's election Thursday after a recount showed the Democratic challenger had actually beaten the Republican incumbent by 102 votes.
It was the first time in Vermont that a statewide election was overturned in a recount, the state archivist said.
That sounds incredibly minor, but fun fact: Randy Brock, the ousted auditor, was one of the few, proud black Republicans holding a statewide office. At the beginning of the election cycle, Republicans had six black officials, including Brock, holding some sort of job statewide. As I wrote for Radar, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman boasted that 2006 would be the "year of the African-American Republican," with two black candidates running for governor (Pennsylvania, Ohio) and two for Senate (Maryland, Michigan). It was a great, much-hyped story. And when all is said and done, Republicans have... two black officials holding office statewide. Take a bow, Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams and Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson!
*This doesn't mean I'm enjoying it, by the way. Defeating pro-war Republican senators who vote on civil liberties and U.S. foreign policy? OK. Replacing Republican state officials with liberal Democratic ones? Less OK.
Over at Real Clear Politics, author and sometime Reasonoid Jeremy Lott tries to prove that minimum wage-hiking ballot measures yanked the Democrats to victory.
Minimum wage increases were up for vote in six states this year and carried all but one state by overwhelming margins (Coloradans approved it by a more modest margin). Residents of Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, and Ohio decided that low wage workers deserved a raise -- out of somebody else's wallet, of course.
According to preliminary turnout figures compiled by George Mason University political scientist Michael P. McDonald, the initiatives did a great job of getting voters out to the polls in the midterm elections. Nationally, there were 83,217,655 ballots cast for the highest elected office in any state -- a 6.2 % increase over the 2002 midterms. Nearly a third of that increase (1,450,223 ballots) was concentrated in the six minimum wage-hiking states.
The minimum wage vote had four positive effects for Democrats: (1) It gave them control of the U.S. Senate; (2) It added to their majority in the House; (3) It helped them in state gubernatorial and legislative races; and (4) It was a Democrat-friendly issue to rival gay marriage.
Me, I'm not so sure. There's never been definitive proof of people going to the polls to vote for a ballot measure in a general election. The groups agitating to pass/defeat said measures may turn out their voters, but there's not a proveable connection between voting for Amendment X and voting for Candidate Who Supports Many of the Issues Embodied by Amendment X. Look at Virginia, which hosted an anti-gay marriage ballot measure that conservatives expected to help George Allen (who supported it) beat Jim Webb (who didn't). The amendment passed by 14 points, but Allen lost, and 40,000 people who voted in the Senate race left their ballots blank on the marriage amendment. Also, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Ohio and Nevada had more competitive races than they did in 2002. The candidates and party committees were spending more to turn voters out than they had four years ago.
But the hook of Lott's column is his advice for Democrats.
Democrats can continue to hike minimum wages on a state-by-state basis or they can hike the federal minimum wage, but probably not both. A federal raise will relieve pressure to hike state minimum wages and rob Democrats of future political gains.
What might serve Democrats best at this point is misdirection and demagoguery. They can encourage Republicans in the Senate to filibuster it or, failing that, pass a bill so ridiculous that even President Bush will have to veto it. Then tell voters the Man is keeping them down.
That sounds like the "backlash narrative" that Tom Frank was accusing Republicans (rightly) of stoking in What's the Matter With Kansas. Lott's solution is clever, but 1) the backlash narrative looks like it crapped out in 2006 and 2) the minimum wage is easier to game and re-game than gay marriage or abortion. You can have an amendment redefining marriage, one banning gay adoptions, then apart from legiaslating around the edges, you're done. But even if Congress passes a minimum wage increase, states can put slightly-higher-than-national increases on the ballot from here to the end of time.
...by the shocking rudeness of French waiters and taxi drivers. Apparently a large enough number of innocent Japanese tourists, heads filled with romantic visions, find the grim realities of Paris so devastating to their fragile, polite psyches that a name has been given to the condition--"Paris Syndrome."
The Japanese embassy, a handful of times a year, apparently has to send their mentally strained citizens back to the homeland with doctors and nurses aboard to mind them. As with any "syndrome" that is in fact an understandable, if eccentric, reaction to circumstances, the "cure" is--to get out of Paris and don't come back.
The far more interesting "Jerusalem Syndrome"--religious delusions suddenly overtaking travelers to the Holy Land--discussed here.
At Fox News.com, Radley Balko watches the government make the meth "problem" even worse.
Has Susette Kelo "gone around the bend"? That's the diagnosis of New London Development Corporation (NLDC) board member Reid Burdick, one recipient of a very special greeting card that Kelo sent to the officials she blames for using eminent domain to drive her from her home in the name of progress. On the front of the card is a picture of the house she struggled for years to save from the economic development bulldozers, culminating in the U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 decision siding with the city—and with central planners throughout the country who are busy thinking of better uses for other people's property. Inside the card are these verses:
Here is my house that you did take
From me to you, this spell I make
Your houses, your homes
Your family, your friends
May they live in misery
That never ends.
I curse you all
May you rot in hell
To each of you
I send this spell
For the rest of your lives
I wish you ill
I send this now
By the power of will
The opening rhyme is weak, but on the whole I prefer this message to the saccharine sentiments usually found in greeting cards. And while I don't necessarily endorse the curse on the friends and relatives of the malefactors, Kelo's vindictiveness is understandable. Not only did Kelo lose the battle for her home, but the NLDC insisted on taking her property and that of the other holdouts even though it had no particular need for the parcels—just to show it could. "This all could have been solved and ended many years ago," she says. "They didn't have to do what they did to us, and I will never forget. These people can think what they want of me. I will never, ever forget what they did." The responses from the card's recipients show they still don't get it.
"It's amazing anyone could be so vindictive when they've made so much money," says Gail Schwenker-Mayer, former assistant to the NLDC's former president, referring to the $442,000 Kelo ultimately accepted for her house after the Supreme Court said the city had the authority to kick her out. If this fight were about money, Kelo could have settled much sooner and saved herself a lot of trouble and heartache. She believed she was fighting for an important principle—that people should not be dispossessed simply because their use of their land is not generating as much tax revenue as the govenment would like. Judging by the reaction to Kelo from state legislators and the general public, millions of Americans agreed this was a principle worth defending.
"It's sort of sad she elected to do this," says NLDC board member George Milne. "We were trying to do things for the city. It was nothing personal." That nicely sums up the attitude of too many local officials and activists, who sincerely believe that good intentions and the absence of personal enmity make it OK to violate people's rights.
The Atlantic City Council plans to vote next week on an ordinance prohibiting smoking on casino floors, which are exempt from New Jersey's smoking ban. State Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), who co-sponsored the state ban, urged the council to close the loophole, likening secondhand smoke to other workplace conditions regulated by the government. "If radon and asbestos were found in Steve Wynn's or Donald Trump's offices, they would quickly fix that problem," he said, conflating hidden hazards with a conspicuous, well-known nuisance that people can choose to avoid if they consider it unacceptable. Who was the intrepid investigator who "found" tobacco smoke in casinos, and how long did it take him? (And yes, if a casino wanted to open a radon room or an asbestos alcove, and people were willing to work and gamble there despite the risk, that would be none of the government's business either.)
But this is the best paragraph in the article:
In other business, City Councilman Gene Robinson attended the meeting, wearing a pro-smoking ban T-shirt, but not addressing the issues surrounding the video that recently surfaced of him receiving oral sex. He and attorney Joe Levin have claimed no laws were broken and blamed Robinson's political enemies for the video's recording and distribution.
Yesterday I blogged that I was mortified by my Congressman Virgil Goode (R-Va.) because of a bigoted anti-Muslim letter that he sent out to selected constituents. According to the Washington Post, Virgil Goode (R-Va.) is standing by that missive. The Post reports:
In his written response, Goode said he will not apologize and does not see why his comments could be offensive to some Muslims. "The voters of each Congressional district select the representative that they choose to represent them, and perhaps voters in all districts will now ask prospective candidates whether they will use the Bible, the Koran, or anything else," Goode said.
The Post also points out:
When members of Congress are sworn in, they simply raise their right hand. In a ceremony afterward, they may take the oath of office on a Christian Bible, another religious book or no book at all.
Nihad Awad, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, responded:
Congressman Goode's ignorant and divisive statements are an affront to Muslims in his district and to Americans of all faiths who believe in our nation's longstanding traditions of religious tolerance and diversity.
Sounds about right to me.
Disclosure: For the first time since 1972, I voted a straight Democratic ticket in the last election, which means I voted for Goode's Democratic opponent.
A Christmas miracle at the zoo:
Scientists report of two cases where female Komodo dragons have produced offspring without male contact.
Tests revealed their eggs had developed without being fertilised by sperm - a process called parthenogenesis, the team wrote in the journal Nature.
One of the reptiles, Flora, a resident of Chester Zoo in the UK, is awaiting her clutch of eight eggs to hatch, with a due-date estimated around Christmas.
David Icke has not yet issued a statement.
The latest numbers from the Monitoring the Future Study, released today, indicate that methamphetamine use among students in the eighth, 10th, and 12th grades has been falling steadily since 2001, in the midst of what we are constantly told is a nationwide "meth epidemic." (Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show the same trend for adults.) Marijuana use also is down. So what's the latest chemical menace to the youth of America? There are two contenders, both of which should sound familiar.
"Abuse of prescription opioids remains at unacceptably high levels," declares the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Overall, past-year use of OxyContin rose from 3.4 percent to 3.5 percent, while past-year use of Vicodin rose from 5.7 percent to 6.3 percent. "Of significant concern is the finding that past-year use of Vicodin remained high among all three grades," says the ONDCP, "with nearly one in ten high school seniors using it in the past year." And "despite a drop from 2005–2006 in past-year abuse of OxyContin among 12th graders (from 5.5 percent to 4.3 percent), there has been no such decline among the eighth and 10th grade students."
Doesn't send your heart racing? "There is also concern about non-medical use of over-the-counter drugs," the ONDCP adds. "In the first national survey on non-medical use of cold or cough medicine, the data show that 4.2 percent of eighth-graders, 5.3 percent of 10th graders, and 6.9 percent of 12th graders reported taking cold or cough medicines with dextromethorphan (DXM) during the past year to get high." Of course, since this is the first survey to ask about DXM, those numbers could be down from last year, for all we know.
It's tough to alarm parents and gin up support for the war on drugs with the specter of cough syrup and the occasional Vicodin swiped from Grandma's medicine cabinet. But take heart, drug warriors. I'm sure meth and pot use will go back up again someday.
Italian poet Piergiorgio Welby, who has been suffering from muscular dystrophy for nearly 40 years, was taken off his respirator today in defiance of Italian court rulings and the Vatican. Welby, who had been attached to a respirator for 9 years, asked the Italian court to let doctors disconnect him (since, after all, he could no longer move). The court ruled that this would be euthanasia and doctors who participate in it could be sent to prison for up to 15 years.
The Vatican opposed disconnecting Welby because doing so might constitute euthanasia. But as the New York Times points out:
The church also opposes medical treatments to artificially prolong life, but several church officials have worried recently that ending artificial life support could result in de facto euthanasia.
“The problem is to know if we find ourselves truly in front of a case of an artificial prolonging of life,” Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, the Vatican’s top official for health, said in a recent interview with La Repubblica.
I find this cruelty in the name of religious dogma infuriating. If being kept alive by means of a feeding tube and a respirator is not artificial, what is? A point that Welby himself powerfully made:
“What is natural about a hole in the belly and a pump that fills it with fats and proteins?” he wrote in his letter to the president [of Italy]. The letter was delivered with a video of Mr. Welby in his bed at his home in Rome attached in silence to the respirator, with a laptop at his bedside reading his words in a spooky synthesized voice.
“What is natural about a hole in the windpipe and a pump that blows air into the lungs?” he wrote. “What is natural about a body kept biologically functional with the help of artificial respirators, artificial feed, artificial hydration, artificial intestinal emptying, of death artificially postponed?”
The beginning and end of life are where differences in religious beliefs become acute. Toleration of these differences is what makes living peaceably together in civil society possible.
As I've written before, I am personally conflicted about state sanctioned physician assisted suicide because I fear that the state may one day begin mandating that people be helped off this mortal coil. Increasingly advances in medicine force patients, families and physicians to make end-of-life decisions that nature once made for them. There is no perfect formula for making those decisions, but it is best that they be made informally by patients, families and physicians. The fact that the state can prosecute after the fact should deter most abuses. Again, not perfect, but the best that fallible humans can do.
Rest in peace Piergiorgio Welby.
When a neoconservative magazine publishes a piece about China, you usually know what to expect: anxieties about the growing challenge to American power, exaggerated expectations of conflict down the road, a call for Washington to stand tall against the threat. There's a little bit of that in Gordon Chang's essay in the December Commentary -- he even dredges up the spyplane collision of early 2001, responding to one of W.'s rare deft acts of diplomacy with a complaint about "an American apology that should never have been given" -- but mostly it's an excellent overview of the transformation of Chinese society from below:
There were few disturbances in the years immediately following Tiananmen. But the event irrevocably changed the People's Republic. By the end of the 1990's, Chinese society was turbulent once more as individual protests, both in the countryside and the city, began attracting tens of thousands of participants. In early 2002, two of them -- one by oil workers in Daqing in the northeast and the other by factory hands in nearby Liaoyang -- may have reached the 100,000 mark. In late 2004, in China's southwest, about 100,000 peasants protested the seizure without compensation of land to build a hydroelectric plant in Sichuan province.
Protests have not only become bigger in size; they are now more numerous. In 1994, there were 10,000 such "mass incidents"; by 2003 there were 58,000; in 2004 and 2005 there were 74,000 and 87,000 respectively. This is according to official statistics, which undoubtedly undercount. According to the legal activist Jerome Cohen, a truer figure for the last year may be 150,000.
Virtually every segment in society (except, of course, senior Communist leaders and wealthy entrepreneurs) is participating in these public demonstrations. Almost anything, whether or not it is a genuine grievance, can trigger a sit-in, demonstration, or riot against party officials, village bosses, tax collectors, factory owners, or township cadres.
China's reforms of the '80s were driven by a subtler form of people power:
We now know Deng as a reformer, and we credit him and the Communist party for debating, then planning, and finally executing the startling transformation of Chinese society. Yet the truth is that reform progressed more by disobedience than by design. Deng began his tenure in adherence to orthodox Communist economics, by trying to implement a ten-year plan. But his early failure to meet the plan's goals forced him to back away and permit individual initiative, at first under strict rules. Peasants on large collective farms, for example, were allowed to form "work groups" to tend designated plots, but it was specifically prohibited for just one family to make up a "work group." The prohibition did not last: in clear violation of central rules, families started to till their own plots, and local officials looked the other way.
Subterfuge on the farm was followed by subterfuge in towns and cities. Although private industry was strictly forbidden, entrepreneurs flourished by running their businesses as "red hat" collectives: private companies operating under the guise of state ownership. Such defiance would once have been unthinkable. By Deng's time, frustrated bureaucrats and countless individuals, including some of the poorest and most desperate citizens in China, were ready to take the next step -- ignoring central-government decrees and building large private businesses that now account for at least 40 percent of the Chinese economy. This became China's "economic miracle," brought to fruition even as government officials remained holed up in their offices in Beijing, preparing meticulously detailed five-year plans.
The most nuanced segment of the story -- and the most surprising section to see in a right-wing magazine -- asks whether any of this is a byproduct of Mao's Cultural Revolution. Without whitewashing the terrible crimes committed during the period, Chang nonetheless argues that
Paradoxically, it was Mao himself, the great enslaver, who in his own way taught the Chinese people to think and act for themselves....The Cultural Revolution may have been Mao's idea of ruining his enemies, but it became a frenzy that destroyed the fabric of society. As government broke down, its functions taken over by revolutionary committees and "people's communes," the strict restraints and repressive mechanisms of the state dissolved. People no longer had to wait for someone to instruct them what to do -- Mao had told them they had "the right to rebel." For the radical young, this was a time of essentially unrestrained passion. In one magnificent stroke, the Great Helmsman had delegitimized almost all forms of authority.
Read the whole thing here.
[Via Harry Siegel, who has also written the most gloriously convoluted sentence I expect to encounter today: "Where else but in Russia would a real estate boom in an area previously protected by development by a proposed but never built Lenin-topped Palace of Soviets in place of the razed Christ the Savior Cathedral gentrify at such a fast and furious pace that a celebrity plastic surgeon stabbed to death by roller skaters in an apparent roll-by contract killing warrants only a passing mention?"]
Slate's Jacob Weisberg, writing about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, says a few things about his religion that have gone unspoken elsewhere.
There are millions of religious Americans who would never vote for an atheist for president, because they believe that faith is necessary to lead the country. Others, myself included, would not, under most imaginable circumstances, vote for a fanatic or fundamentalist—a Hassidic Jew who regards Rabbi Menachem Schneerson as the Messiah, a Christian literalist who thinks that the Earth is less than 7,000 years old, or a Scientologist who thinks it is haunted by the souls of space aliens sent by the evil lord Xenu. Such views are disqualifying because they're dogmatic, irrational, and absurd. By holding them, someone indicates a basic failure to think for himself or see the world as it is. By the same token, I wouldn't vote for someone who truly believed in the founding whoppers of Mormonism.
Is that religious bigotry? Well, by definition, I suppose including a candidate's religion in your calculus of whether or not to give him a vote is bigotry. Millons of Americans do it. I'm sure that back in 2000, a sizable number of Jews turned their noses up at Dick Cheney and George Bush for the chance to elect Vice President Joe Lieberman. And is distrusting Romney because of his Mormonism the same as voting against JFK because he took the Eucharist? Not really. Substantial numbers of voters opposed JFK (and for the same reason Al Smith) for fear he would integrate the Vatican into government decisions. No one thinks Romney will do something similar. They just think Mormonism is irrational and creepy. That's their right. Jonah Goldberg's hope that Americans love to vote for "inclusion" and Romney's Mormonism will produce favorable storylines is fruitless; the media enjoys reporting on insurgent black, female and Hispanic candidates, not on members of conservative religious faiths.
Also, kudos to Weisberg to knocking down the meme that Romney is the first serious Mormon candidate for president. Not only did the (less than serious) Orrin Hatch run in 2000, the very credible Mo Udall ran in 1976, and might have beaten Jimmy Carter for the nomination had Birch Bayh or Frank Church dropped out and endorsed him. There's no real evidence that Romney is a more promising candidate than Udall was. Udall just looked tall and goofy, while Romney looks like a Ken doll sculpted out of ham.
The New York Times article "School Bars Yearbook Photo of Student in Medieval Garb" speaks absurdly and hilariously for itself:
Patrick Agin, a high school senior in Portsmouth, R.I., was surprised by his school’s refusal this fall to use a yearbook photograph of him dressed in medieval chain mail, with a broadsword over his shoulder...
...the picture ran afoul of its zero-tolerance weapons policy.
“Students wielding weapons is just not consistent with our existing policies or the mission of the school,” said Robert Littlefield, the principal. “I think the picture speaks for itself.”
And the story just gets better and better.
The high school mascot is a depiction of a Revolutionary War Minuteman carrying, yes, a rifle.
“That’s an entirely different issue,” Mr. Littlefield said. “I don’t think anybody could reasonably construe a cartoon depiction of a soldier from 250 years ago as a threat to our educational environment.”
But a photo of a student dressed in chain mail, well that's just the slippery slope to Columbine.
But wait , there's even more. The high school will allow the student to display his photo with his broadsword in the yearbook in the advertising section.
As the ACLU lawyer says, "It's a perfect example of bureaucratic ridiculousness." Amen.
Whole silly story here . Read it and weep, laugh, cry, and chortle.
Disclosure: I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU. But even if I weren't, this would still be a wacky story.
Going way back to 1986, I give you the sixth-grade class project of a young Indiana kid who would one day grow up to be a senior editor at reason magazine. Enjoy.
West Virginia takes an innovative approach to raising revenue: taxing businesses in other states.
Michael Young looks at American influence in the Middle East.
Federal vehicle stops near the Canadian border aimed at catching terrorists haven't caught a single Mohamed Atta, but they are catching lots of dopers :
Security stops of cars in rural New England near the US border with Canada, which became more frequent after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, have yet to snare a single terrorist -- but they have contributed to a huge, unexpected increase in marijuana seizures, according to homeland security authorities.
The seizures, which soared from 419 pounds in 2000 to more than 3,000 pounds last year, have pleased the federal Department of Homeland Security but have angered Vermonters and civil libertarians, who say the more aggressive US Border Patrol checkpoints should not be used for everyday law enforcement.
Some Vermonters are complaining about the patrol's more aggressive tactics, especially the use of highway checkpoints as far as 100 miles from the border. They say the random checkpoints -- which stop all passing cars inside the state, even if they're not headed to or from the border -- can make driving within their state feel like being in Eastern Europe under communism.
One problem is that there's some considerable constitutional ambiguity here. The Supreme Court okayed roadblock sobriety checkpoints in the early 1990s under the dubious reasoning that though they do probably violate the Fourth Amendment, any constitutional concerns are trumped by the alarming number of "alcohol-related" traffic fatalities. The hyped-up, inflated number the Court cited at the time was around 25,000. It's now at about 17,000. But when you count only people killed by legally intoxicated drivers, as the L.A. Times did in a terrific 2002 report, the number is closer to 5,000.
Believe it or not, several years later in Indianapolis v. Edmond the Court actually ruled that random roadblocks were not constitutional when used to check motorists for possession of illicit drugs. The reasoning there was that a motorist's mere possession of illicit drugs has little bearing on highway safety, and thus doesn't justify the Fourth Amendment violation (interestingly, Clarence Thomas wrote a dissent in that case in which he called out the questionable distinction between drug possession and intoxication, and held open the possibility of revisiting the legality of DWI checkpoints).
To further complicate matters, the Court ruled 30 years ago that roadblocks are constitutional when they're set up near the border, and used to enforce immigration laws.
I expect we'll see more on this when someone challenges seat-belt checkpoints.
The question, then, is what happens when roadblocks are set up and operated under a justification that's constitutional (border control), but it's clear that they're being used almost exclusively in a way that's unconstitutional (drug searches). That seems to be what's happening in Vermont. Of course, most DWI checkpoints today do more to generate revenue than to actually catch inebriated motorists.
There's also the question of whether 100 miles qualifies as "near" the border.
Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the Phenomenon of Christian Rock, by Andrew Beaujon (Da Capo, 2006). I read a lot of books about music, both popular and not--it's my main literary comfort food. The vast majority of books about music are not particularly recommendable to those who don't share my vast interest in reading music criticism, history, and biography--generally, the writers bring little to the telling other than their own, presumed, interest in the topic, and often not even that. Still, especially when I'm looking for excuses to find new sections of record stores to hang around in, I often like dipping into books about music styles or musicians I am sure I don't much care for, and sometimes this leads to a (often very expensive) new obsession--my interests in 20th century art music, jazz, and the Grateful Dead arose directly from reading books about them, and have cost me between them thousands of dollars.
I approached Body Piercing Saved My Life with no deep interest in the topic, merely an ominiverous curiosity about popular music styles. But I was mostly interested in the book because its author Andrew Beaujon was himself the writer, in his '90s band Eggs, of three of my tip-top favorite songs of that decade ("The Government Administrator," "Sugar Babe," and "A Pit With Spikes") and I was curious as to what he brought to the table as a music journalist.
The basic skills, as it turns out--the ability to track down musicians from both the beginnings and current eras of Jesus Rock (I'd have enjoyed more focus on the hippie Jesus Freak small-label rock of the early 1970s myself, now being rediscovered by ever-hungry reissue rock hipsters), profile them engagingly, and even generate some interesting narrative tension out of his own successes and failures in finding and relating to his interview subjects.
You'll hit the Cornerstone festival and the Gospel Music Awards and hang with Christian-indie apostate superstar Dave Bazan of Pedro the Lion. You'll grok the difference between "worship music" and "contemporary Christian music" and "Christian rock," learn why many rockers who rock from a Christian perspective learn to feel trapped in and eventually hate the insular community of "Christian rock." (This reminded me of my very first lesson in rock journalism, when I was a 19-year-old student entertainment writer in Gainesville, Fla., from the wise and excellent Tom Nordlie , with whom I later played in the band Turbo Satan. He advised me the most tedious thing you'd hear from bands, especially when confronting them with other bands or styles they quite clearly are exactly like, is "We don't want to be pigeonholed." He suggested in any interview situation where that was said, proceed as if the earnest musician had said "We don't want to be cornholed.")
Suffice it to say, the more successful with outsiders the Christian rocker gets, the less they want to be holed in any manner. You'll learn there are Christian versions of almost all music styles, mainstream and not, and at its best get a wider, clearer vision of how big the world of popular and semipopular music is, how many needs are being met in the grand cornucopia of ideological and musical modernity that most people wouldn't even know existed--lots of worlds, little and big, that the uninterested need never intersect, with their own heroes, history, magazines, and pigeonholes, and while it was interesting to get a glimpse of it, it may or may not be a failure of Beaujon's passion and skill that I went away from this book with not a single new CD I felt compelled to hear.
In case you were under the impression that Judith Regan was fired because of the mortifying controversy over her plans for a HarperCollins book and Fox TV interview featuring a sorta kinda murder confession by O.J. Simpson, executives at Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, which owns both the publishing house and the network, want it to be known that she actually was sacked because of anti-Semitic remarks she made while arguing with a Jewish HarperCollins lawyer about the now-abandoned Simpson project. "Of all people, the Jews should know about ganging up, finding common enemies, and telling the big lie," she supposedly told the lawyer, Mark Jackson, before alleging that he had joined the literary agent Esther Newberg, HarperCollins Executive Editor David Hirshey, and HarperCollins President Jane Friedman in "a Jewish cabal" that was plotting against her. Through her own hired Jew, the lawyer Bert Fields, Regan admits saying pretty much what Jackson says she said but denies using the modifier Jewish before cabal. Even if she had said "Jewish cabal," avers Fields, "that is not an anti-Semitic remark. Had she said it, I wouldn’t be offended, as a Jew."
Maybe Fields is especially thick-skinned (for a Jew). The alleged remark seems at least a little anti-Semitic to me. Unless Regan was joking (which she is not claiming), why bring up the religion/ethnicity of those supposedly plotting against her? If she had called four African-American publishing figures a "black gang" lying in wait to mug her, an inference of racism would be reasonable, I think.
But you see what the charge of anti-Semitism has accomplished? Already I've forgotten that Rupert Murdoch thought the Simpson deal was a dandy idea until it blew up in his face.
As has been much blogged, Georgia's Supreme Court recently upheld a 10-year sentence for Genarlow Wilson, who was prosecuted for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl. Wilson was just 17 at the time, and he’s already served almost two years. Glenn Reynolds, who thinks the punishment excessive, comments, “What's more, were the genders reversed I doubt that it would even have been prosecuted.”
Possibly, but I think Reynolds is underestimating Georgia’s enthusiasm for turning every last man, woman, and child into a convicted sex offender. I've written before about the plight of Wendy Whitaker, who was tagged an offender for giving a boy a blow job as a tenth grader. She was 17; he was 15. She’s just one of thousands on the list who are there for consensual sex crimes, and she’s not the only woman.
While it sounds like the range of serious sex crimes may be narrowing (Wilson was punished under a dated law that deemed oral sex far more egregious a crime than genital sex), the range of restrictions on convicted sex offenders is expanding. That means people like Whitaker and Wilson, who were punished under laws that have since been changed, will continue getting hit with ever more petty constraints on their daily lives and residency restrictions that keep them permanently on the move. The list of offenders is going to keep growing, and the range of places they can live shrinking.
For those of us who were wondering whether Bob Barr has moved even a little bit in a libertarian direction on drug policy now that he's a Libertarian leader, this upcoming event pretty much answers that question:
The Donald & Paula Smith Family Foundation
Presents a debate:
Should the sick be able to smoke?
21st Century Liberties Chair for Freedom and Privacy at the American Conservative Union
Executive Director, Drug Policy Alliance
James E. Fleming
Professor at Fordham Law, author of Securing Constitutional Democracy
Co-Sponsors: Fordham Law Federalist Society & American Constitution Society
Eleven states have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes. This has been largely accomplished by voter initiative but the issue is getting politicians’ attention. In Gonzales v. Raich the Supreme Court majority sided against California and medical marijuana but said "these respondents may one day be heard in the halls of Congress." The new Democratic majority may be more receptive to their calls. What is the medicinal efficacy of marijuana? Was Raich the last gasp of the Rehnquist Court’s "federalism revolution?" What is the connection between this and broader drug legalization? What has been the experience in these eleven legalized states?
Thursday, January 18th, 2007
6:30 P.M. Prompt
(Free and open to the public - Reception to follow)
Fordham Law School
140 W 62nd Street, McNally Hall
(Corner of 62th Street and Columbus Avenue)
If Barr, who supports the Defense of Marriage Act on federalist grounds, can't take a federalist position on the question of whether Grandma should be allowed to have a few plants on her window sill to relieve her post-chemotherapy nausea, what kind of libertarian (or constitutionalist) is he? I suppose it's possible that Barr will disappoint his sponsors by agreeing with Ethan Nadelmann, but things are not looking good.
[Thanks to Jonathan Rick for the link.]
The Justice Department has dropped its subpoena demanding "any and all copies" of a classified document that someone emailed to the American Civil Liberties Union in October. The ACLU had resisted the subpoena, arguing that release of the four-page document did not threaten national security and that, in any event, grand jury subpoenas are for collecting evidence, not for preventing the dissemination of classified material. You can judge for yourself whether the now-declassified "information paper," which addresses "the permissibility of photographing enemy prisoners of war and detainees," should have been classified to begin with. It says photographs "are generally permitted, even encouraged," as long as prisoners are "not displayed in any manner that might be interpreted as holding them up to public curiosity," in violation of the Geneva Conventions. "If you read between the lines," says an ACLU lawyer, "what it really says is we want to exploit group photos of detainees." In other words, he says, "If pictures of detainees can help sell the war, go for it." Which fits the ACLU's claim that the document, though potentially embarrassing, was not a threat to national security.
As for the propriety of using grand jury subpoenas to recover classified information, it seems the government was about to lose that argument. At a closed December 11 hearing, the transcript of which was unsealed this week, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Rodgers, "What is the authority for saying that a subpoenaed party can’t keep a copy of any document that they produced to the grand jury?" He noted that "there seems to be a huge difference between investigating a wrongful leak of a classified document and demanding back all copies of it," adding, "I’m old enough to remember a case called the Pentagon Papers."
Rodgers suggested the squabble was an ACLU publicity stunt. "The government has attempted to pursue its investigation and its request for the document at issue in as amicable, cooperative and unobtrusive a manner as possible," she wrote. Instead of talking things over in an amicable, cooperative, and unobstrusive manner—which is what you'd expect the ACLU to do in response to an abusive, overreaching supoena—the group immediately filed a motion challenging it, even though "the matter might be something the parties could negotiate without litigation [or publicity], which always remained the government’s strong preference." To recap: When the Justice Department tries to recover a document of dubious relevance to national security with an unpredented information-suppressing subpoena that is tantamount to a prior restraint on publication, and the ACLU files a motion to quash the subpoena, it's the ACLU that's jumping the gun.
The U.S. District Court in D.C. is scheduled to hear arguments tomorrow in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate finance reform law, filed by the free-market think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Free Enterprise Fund, and Beckstead and Watts, an accounting firm.
From the CEI press release, the plaintiffs are
asking the Court to declare [SarbOx] unconstitutional under the Appointments Clause of the Constitution. That clause requires major government officials to be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. However, the five-member accounting oversight board is virtually a quasi-private organization with no accountability to the President or the Congress that created it. It has the power to micro-manage companies’ accounting procedures, impose taxes, and fine companies up to $2 million. Complying with the Board’s rules cost the economy more than $35 billion in its first year alone.
Full CEI study on the topic of Sarbanes-Oxley's unconstitutionality.
Full text of court filing by the plaintiffs. (This filing, despite the CEI press release, does not seem to specifically name CEI as a plaintiff.)
My Reason feature roundtable of interviews from various professionals coping with Sarbanes-Oxley's effects, from our January 2006 issue.
Over at the LA Times, David Weigel suffers through a year of right-wing science fiction novels.
The New Republic reprints one of my favorite Jonathan Chait columns, in which he argues that Christmas gifts are economically irrational. As is often the case when someone applies economic reasoning to exchanges outside the cash nexus, I'm not entirely sure which parts are earnest and which parts are parody.
Virgil Goode (R-Va.), the congressreprobate from the 5th district of Virginia, has sent a letter to selected constituents assuring them that he absolutely will have nothing to do with the Koran. To wit:
When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.
The local C'ville Weekly reproduces the whole sorry piece of bigoted crap here .
For shame Mr. Goode! For shame!
Addition: By the way, Goode's attack on immigrants is something of a non-sequitur, since the first Muslim congressman, Keith Ellison, is a native born American who converted. I wonder when Goode will come out in favor of banning the preaching of Islam, too.
Disclosure: I voted for Goode's Democratic opponent in the most recent election. Boy, do I feel vindicated.
Hat tip to Pamela Friedman.
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) says he will stop blocking a vote on judicial nominee Janet Neff, but he still has questions for the Michigan judge about a lesbian commitment ceremony she attended in 2002. The ceremony, which was held in Massachusetts, involved the daughter of Neff's longtime neighbors, a woman she views as a member of the family. But Brownback isn't satisfied by that explanation. "I would like her to come back through committee so she can testify what took place, factually," he says. He wants to hear more about "her legal views on same-sex marriage and her ability and willingness to be impartial."
If Neff owned a gun, would Brownback question her impartiality in cases involving the Second Amendment? If she went to church, would he wonder whether she could fairly address Establishment Clause controversies? If she liked to read newspapers, would he ask for reassurance that she could be objective in the trial of a reporter charged with illegally revealing classified information? If she smoked pot in college, would he ask whether she can be trusted to preside over drug cases?
Neff already has made the pro forma declaration that she will be guided by the law, not her personal views, so what else does Brownback want? An assurance that she will decide cases involving same-sex marriage the way he would? So far Brownback has not asked for that in so many words, but at one point he did offer to lift his block on Neff's nomination if she would promise to recuse herself from all such cases. According to The New York Times, the Judiciary Committee member "said he did not realize his proposal—asking a nominee to agree in advance to remove herself from deciding a whole category of cases—was so unusual as to be possibly unprecedented. Legal scholars said it raised constitutional questions of separation of powers for a senator to demand that a judge commit to behavior on the bench in exchange for a vote." Legal scholars such as Reagan administration Solicitor General Charles Fried, who had this to say:
First of all, people go to parties for all sorts of reasons....It would be inappropriate for the judge to recuse herself from any such case because it is a judge's duty to sit on cases [unless he has a clear conflict of interest]. For her to agree to any such restriction in this case would be wrong.
Sam Brownback for President: So Right, He's Wrong.
The Law of Unintended Consequences rears its hilarious head in unlikely places. The New York Times reports on a rash of women inducing birth in the last week of December to get the $500 child tax credit and other tax boons for the year that's about to end:
Unless you’re a cynic, or an economist, I realize you might have trouble believing that the intricacies of the nation’s tax code would impinge on something as sacred as the birth of a child. But it appears that you would be wrong.
In the last decade, September has lost its unchallenged status as the time for what we will call National Birth Day, the day with more births than any other. Instead, the big day fell between Christmas and New Year’s Day in four of the last seven years — 1997 through 2003 — for which the government has released birth statistics. (The day was in September during the other years; conception still matters.) Based on this year’s calendar, there is a good chance that National Birth Day will take place a week from tomorrow, on Thursday, Dec. 28.
So to see if taxes were truly the culprit, Mr. Chandra and another economist, Stacy Dickert-Conlin of Michigan State, devised some clever tests. They found that people who stood to gain the most from the tax breaks were also the ones who gave birth in late December most frequently. When the gains were similar, high-income parents — who, presumably, are more likely to be paying for tax advice — produced more December babies than other parents.
By my calculations, about 5,000 babies, of the 70,000 or so who would otherwise be born during the first week in January, may have their arrival dates accelerated partly for tax reasons.
The article, worth reading in full, is charmingly headlined: "To-Do List: Wrap Gifts. Have Baby. "
Wow, just when I thought the war on drugs couldn't get any more futile, this from the Associated Press:
Soldiers trying to seize control of one Mexico's top drug-producing regions found the countryside teeming with a new hybrid marijuana plant that can be cultivated year-round and cannot be killed with pesticides.
Soldiers fanned out across some of the new fields Tuesday, pulling up plants by the root and burning them, as helicopter gunships clattered overhead to give them cover from a raging drug war in the western state of Michoacan. The plants' roots survive if they are doused with herbicide, said army Gen. Manuel Garcia.
"These plants have been genetically improved," he told a handful of journalists allowed to accompany soldiers on a daylong raid of some 70 marijuana fields. "Before we could cut the plant and destroy it, but this plant will come back to life unless it's taken out by the roots."
The new plants, known as "Colombians," mature in about two months and can be planted at any time of year, meaning authorities will no longer be able to time raids to coincide with twice-yearly harvests.
The hybrid first appeared in Mexico two years ago but has become the plant of choice for drug traffickers Michoacan, a remote mountainous region that lends to itself to drug production.
Yields are so high that traffickers can now produce as much marijuana on a plot the size of a football field as they used to harvest in 10 to 12 acres. That makes for smaller, harder-to-detect fields...
Toward the end of the article, another lovely sign of what good the war on drugs does for domestic peace and tranquility:
[Former Mexican President Vicente] Fox boasted that his administration had destroyed 43,900 acres of marijuana and poppy plantations in its first six months and more than tripled drug seizures.
Yet drug violence has spiked across the country in recent years, with gangs fighting over control of routes following the arrest of drug lords, authorities say.
Mexico has also continued to struggle with corruption among its law enforcement ranks. Garcia said authorities did not tell soldiers where they were being sent on raids and banned the use of cell phones and radios.
Earlier this year there was a brief and aborted fooferaw about Mexico possibly loosening some of its drug possesion laws, which I wrote about in the LA Times. They should really think of revisiting that eminently sensible idea, extend it to sales as well, and say goodbye to the endless, violent, hopeless task of keeping people from substances they want to consume.
Joseph Barbera is dead and Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson is dancing on his grave.
Although everyone born in the last 60 years might imagine that they have happy childhood memories of The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound or, God help us, Scooby-Doo, the truth of the matter is that they're crap. Complete and utter crap. Worse, they're shoddily made crap, after Hanna-Barbera devised what they called "limited animation", more than halving the number of drawings from 26 per second to 3000 for five minutes, the better to fill the empty moments on TV between the ads. And thus they effectively destroyed animation for at least two generations, before it slowly began to claw its way back to respectability in the mid-90s.
Those 1990s - the age of Batman: The Animated Series and the good episodes of The Simpsons - were my introduction to animation. So I'm inclined to agree. But the shoddy Hanna Barbera cartoons of the 60s, 70s and 80s are directly responsible for some of the more interesting animation of the moment, starting with Space Ghost Coast to Coast and continuing through Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law. The tropes of crummy comic books and rotoscoped animation are the grist for The Venture Brothers, for my money the best animated show since the launch of South Park.
I'm fascinated by this, because the Mike Judge view (maybe he doesn't completely agree, but I'll assign this to the director of Idiocracy) is that people who drink deep of dumb commerce and dumber culture will, in turn, produce even dumber commerce and culture, their inspiration being so bad to start with. Why, then, are animators and writers weaned on Scooby-Doo producing smart, learned and referential stuff like South Park and The Venture Brothers?
The Heritage Foundation is issuing a fascinating report that finds that religious practice will improve your health, give you fresher breath and whiter teeth, remove your wrinkles and boost your sex life. Really, boost your sex life. And that may all be true (in the spirit of the season I won't contest the claims, after all, some of my best friends are religious believers).
But my snarky side couldn't help but wonder about the assertion: "Religious practice promotes the well-being of individuals, families, and the community." Hmmm. Community? Well maybe people behave better toward one another in their own religious communities, but history and contemporary events suggest that from time to time there might be a little bit of friction between practitioners of different faiths. Say the Thirty Years War ? Or how them Israelis and Palestinians? Or those Shi'as and Sunnis? And let's not forget the Buddhists and the Hindus in Sri Lanka. I'm not picking sides right now in any of those conflicts, I'm just saying....
In any case, the Heritage report does make some policy recommendations. Most significantly:
At the federal, state, and local levels, policymakers should work to encourage an environment in which religious institutions and organizations can thrive and citizens can actively practice their faith—both privately and publicly. In doing so, government entities can remain neutral with regard to particular faiths while still respecting the rights of citizens who are not affiliated with any religion or faith.
"...can remain neutral"? I would think that the Constitutional requirement that the Feds must remain neutral has been the key to both the relative religious peace enjoyed by Americans and relatively high number of believers among Americans. With regard to the latter claim, the idea is that if you can't use the state to clobber unbelievers, you have to get good at persuading others that you may have a direct hotline to some deity or other.
Anyway, have a Merry Winter Solstice holiday of whatever sort you prefer to celebrate!
China is tightening its requirements for foreigners adopting abandoned baby girls, which initially alarmed me, until I realized that my wife and I probably still qualify. We have one daughter from China and have been thinking of getting another, although the cost is daunting. Citing adoption agency websites, The New York Times claims "adoptions cost about $15,000," but in our experience the total was almost twice that. (You do get a $10,000 tax credit after the adoption is finalized.) But assuming we can come up with the money, it sounds like we meet the new criteria. As of May, according to the Times, adoptive parents will have to be high school graduates who are under 50 and married at least two years (five if either spouse has been divorced). Single parents, who already were disfavored, will be disqualified, as will those with criminal records, body mass indexes of 40 or more (which is quite obese), or serious health problems such as AIDS or cancer. People taking prescription drugs for anxiety or depression are also barred. The income requirement could be met by any middle-class family; the net worth requirement is tougher, but our home equity should do the trick.
Obviously, though, many people who would make fine parents will be disqualified under the new rules, which are intended not only to maximize children's prospects of living in a secure and stable environment but to discourage applications. Last year about 6,500 Chinese children (overwhelmingly girls) were adopted by Americans, and the Times says China recently has seen "an enormous spike in applications by foreigners, which has far exceeded the number of babies." It's not hard to see why. Although expensive, the Chinese adoption process is reliable; the girls are generally healthy, having ended up in orphanages mainly because of their gender, as opposed to handicaps, abuse, or neglect; and the orphanages seem to take good care of them.
The real puzzle is why they're not adopted domestically. Although the Chinese government no doubt welcomes all the money that flows into the country, directly and indirectly, as a result of its adoption industry, it is officially worried about a looming gender imbalance that will mean large numbers of young men with no chance of marrying and settling down—not a welcome prospect for any country, let alone one that values order (to put it kindly) as much as China does. If the government refuses to eliminate its reproductive restrictions (which it does not even acknowledge as part of the gender imbalance problem, blaming it all on an irrational preference for boys), it could at least encourage domestic adoption, rather than shipping off thousands of Chinese girls every year. Try to imagine a similar scenario in the U.S. or another Western country, where babies of the majority ethnic group had to be sent overseas for adoption. Whenever my wife and I went out in public in Changsha and Guangzhou with our daughter Mei, we were surrounded by people oohing and ahing over her and offering parenting tips (or so we gathered from the gestures). It's hard to believe there aren't enough families in China willing to take in these girls, especially if subsidies were provided. Then again, I am grateful for the seeming irrationality of the government's policy, and I suspect so are most of the exported girls when they grow up, having been raised in freer and more prosperous countries.
In the Wall Street Journal, Shikha Dalmia has a dim view of Dehli's future.
The drug development pipeline is getting drier. As evidence, a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) points out that while pharmaceutical R&D increased by 147 percent between 1993 and 2004, the number of new drug applications (NDAs) increased only 38 percent. Why? Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), one of the three Democratic senators who requested the GAO report, tells the Washington Post, "The findings...raise serious questions about the pharmaceutical industry claims that there is a connection between new drug development and the soaring price of drugs already on the market." Maybe.
But Sen. Durbin doesn't mention another significant GAO finding--that regulatory uncertainty and over-caution at the FDA is a major contributor to the drier drug development pipeline. Among other things, FDA regulators spooked by a few high profile withdrawals of drugs on safety grounds, have boosted data requirements for approval which have run up R&D costs. This may be the right decision (though as I explain here I don't think so).
Higher R&D costs encourage drug companies to focus R&D on fewer drugs that they hope will be blockbusters. As Pfizer's recent halt of its expensive phase III clinical trial of torcetrapib, which aimed to boost good cholesterol, shows this focus on blockbusters doesn't always work out. So consumers get fewer innovative non-blockbuster drugs and perhaps even fewer innovative blockbuster drugs.
Why have FDA regulators become more cautious? Because, as Harvard Business School professor Regina Herzlinger explains in her May, 2006 article, Why Innovation in Health Care is So Hard (not online): "Officials know they will be punished by the public and politicians more for underregulating-approving a harmful drug, say-than for tightening the approval process, even if so doing so delays a useful innovation."
I will venture to suggest that the FDA's increased obsession with safety may be killing more people than it saves. How about a GAO study on that question? After all, if it takes the FDA ten years to approve a drug that saves 20,000 lives per year that means that 200,000 people died in the meantime.
Disclosure: As faithful H&R readers must surely know, I own small amounts of a variety of biomedical stocks. If anything in this blog item persuades you to invest or not invest in biomedical companies, may whatever Deity you believe in help you.
Mere weeks after he didn't announce his campaign for the presidency, liberals at The New Republic and Media Matters are defending Barack Obama from a right-wing media assault. The tapeheads at MM find Dick Morris saying this:
[A]nybody who thinks about Obama for five minutes knows the guy's never introduced a bill. He's never been important. He's spent 100 weeks in the Senate. He's basically a -- no foreign policy experience.
This is both weird and inaccurate. Weird because Morris only exists to attack the Clintons and battle Hillary's presidential bid. He's written three books on the subject. If her bid collapsed, so would he, like an assassin choking down the cynanide capsule once the bullet sinks into the Generalissimo's brain. Inaccurate because, well Obama has introduced bills. Beyond what Media Matters lists, Obama co-sponsored, with Tom Coburn, a transparency bill that would let voters see every earmark their representatives inserted into a spending package. That right there is more impressive (to me) than anything John Kerry or John Edwards ever passed. And I'd bet it has more salience with voters than the mushy warmongering and video game bashing of the former First Lady.
At TNR, Conor Clarke argues that the media is trying to create an anti-Obama scandal out of a story about the senator getting a cushy Chicagoland real estate deal from a friend who was later indicted.
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz writes forthrightly that this "may not be a big deal in the larger scheme of things." In fact, he "mentions" the issue only because his reading and "sense of political dynamics" tells him the story "is about to break out of the Chicago media and go national." By "go national," Kurtz apparently means something other than receive 1,500-word treatment from The Washington Post, the seventh-biggest paper in the country. Slate commits basically the same offense. Dickerson writes that "we're going to hear a lot more" about Rezko if Obama runs for president--though he also insists that "this is not Obama's Whitewater" and "there's nothing here so far that seems politically life threatening." But we're already reading plenty about Rezko: We're reading about it in Slate, which titles Dickerson's piece "Barackwater" and lures you toward the link with a promise to bring you "inside Obama's shady land deal."
Well, so what? If the tone of the coverage is a bit much, the story still deserves coverage. When a politician gets as much glowing, contentless praise as Obama does, the responsibility of the media to uncover his past is even greater.
In any case, Obama's principled stance on earmarks - which was praised by more than a few Republicans I talked to for a story I'm working on - should really dispel claims that he's a lightweight or a media creation. He's not benefitting from the kind of pathetic man-crush I had on Jim Webb. But if in two years the Republicans vomit up nominee McCain and the Democrats pick Obama, and a land deal and some Dick Morris sneering are all of the knocks against him, I know who's got my vote.
The oldest stuff you'll see today:
The Sydney Morning Herald explains:
It is, scientists said yesterday, the glow from the first things to form in the universe, more than 13 billion years ago. Snapped by NASA's Spitzer space telescope, the bizarre objects must have existed within a few hundred million years of the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago....
"Whatever these objects are," said Alexander Kashlinsky, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre, "they are intrinsically incredibly bright and very different from anything in existence today." The image was made by Spitzer shooting pictures of five areas of the sky. All light from stars and galaxies in the foreground was then removed, leaving only the ancient infrared glow.
"Imagine trying to see fireworks at night from across a crowded city," Dr Kashlinsky said. "If you could turn off the city lights, you might get a glimpse at the fireworks. We have shut down the lights of the universe to see the outlines of its first fireworks."
Or maybe there's just some smudges on the lens. Either way, it's quite an image.
Some shocking sanity emanating from Peru, where President Alan Garcia is recommending that cocaine trafficking be combatted by... legalizing coca cultivation.
He added that he believed the best way to fight illegal coca plantations was to open new markets so that Peru's land could be used to produce coca for legal purposes.
Mr Garcia's culinary suggestions did not stop at a simple salad."You can put coca leaves in your roast dinners, in the oven, you can make many things which it will give a special taste to."
Garcia to be replaced by CIA-backed coup in 1,2...
(Via Alex Massie.)
Jacob Sullum celebrates the awkwardness of public, secular holidays.
Mark Hemingway has a fascinating piece in the Weekly Standard on Blackwater, the nation's largest don't-call-us-mercenaries security firm.
I wasn't really sure where I stood on the privatization of much of the military before I read the article, and I'm not where I stand after having read it. It is very interesting, though, and it's pretty clear there's a major transition going on. Consider this graph:
In the first Gulf war, the ratio of private contractors to military personnel was one to sixty. This time it's approaching one to one. The Washington Post last week reported that the Pentagon counts about 100,000 contractors in Iraq. Private contractors are being used to supply everything from pizzas to porta-potties; still the decidedly larger ratio is no doubt the result of the 20,000 or so serving in a quasi-military role--almost three times the number of British military forces currently in Iraq.
What to make of this? On the one hand, I suppose that if we're going to be getting our war on, the private sector's going to do lots of things better than the military bureaucracy does. On the other, even the most ardent free marketeer in me is revolted at the thought of attaching profit to war. I can't see many net positives in the fact that there's a growing industry that thrives not just on government contracts, but that's especially profitable when we're warring with another country.
In a puzzling New York Times op-ed piece, Marc Maurer objects to a federal judge's ruling that the U.S. government is illegally discriminating against blind people by failing to design paper money so they can distinguish different denominations by touch. The piece is puzzling because Maurer is the president of the National Federation of the Blind, which is suing Target for failing to make its website easily accessible to blind people. Maurer calls the currency case, which is supported by the American Council of the Blind, "frivolous litigation" while characterizing his group's Target lawsuit as a straightforward application of the nondiscrimination principle:
Discrimination occurs when the blind are barred from enjoying benefits, goods or services. This definition of discrimination is what most people understand the word to mean. If a landlord refuses to rent an apartment to someone because of race, color, creed or disability, then discrimination occurs. Sometimes people with disabilities are barred from certain facilities or services because of the way they are designed. A person in a wheelchair cannot climb the steps of a public building; if the building does not have a wheelchair ramp, that person is prevented from entering it. In another example, my group is suing the Target Corporation because the company’s Web site doesn’t accommodate the special text-reading software that the blind use to surf the Internet. In both cases, a person with a disability is kept out of a public place or denied use of a service, just as African-Americans were not welcome at whites-only lunch counters.
But while blind people cannot identify paper currency by touch, that does not prevent us from spending money. When we hand merchants our money, they take it and provide us with the goods or services we have paid for, no questions asked. People with whom we transact business provide us with correct change if needed, and we then organize the money in a manner that allows us to identify it in the future. We transact business in this way every day.
By the same logic, the unfriendly design of Target's website does not prevent blind people from buying stuff. They can ask sighted people for assistance in navigating the site (just as they can ask sighted people for help in counting money); they can shop at Target in person; they can even shop at other online stores that are easier to use, voting with their dollars against Target's discriminatory website. By contrast, since the government has a legally enforced monopoly on printing money, blind people can't simply use a competing currency that features raised symbols or different denominations in different sizes (although they can use cash alternatives such as credit and debit cards). I'm not completely convinced that redesigning U.S. currency makes sense, but surely the argument for demanding accommodation of the handicapped is stronger when you're dealing with a government monopoly than it is when you're dealing with one of many competing private companies. Am I missing something? Is there a longstanding feud between the National Federation of the Blind and the the National Council of the Blind?
The American Family Association, Alliance Defense Fund, and Liberty Counsel are not groups to sit idly by while secularists commodify, denigrate, and otherwise trivialize Christmas. And what better way to fight back than with pre-made gift packs?
The Mississippi-based American Family Association says it has sold more than 500,000 buttons and 125,000 bumper stickers bearing the slogan "Merry Christmas: It's Worth Saying."
The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal aid group that boasts a network of some 900 lawyers standing ready to "defend Christmas," says it has moved about 20,000 "Christmas packs." The packs, available for a suggested $29 donation, include a three-page legal memo and two lapel pins.
And Liberty Counsel, a conservative law firm affiliated with the Rev. Jerry Falwell, says it has sold 12,500 legal memos on celebrating Christmas and 8,000 of its own buttons and bumper stickers.
Leaders say demand for the goods -- which are pitched online and through e-mail to supporters -- is driven by what they view as a coordinated effort to secularize Christmas.
Gift pack buyers are participants in a longstanding tradition of anti-consumerist consumerism; the larger War on Xmas movement has always been about self-promotion and ratings. And surely something is right with the world when people express their disgust with spiritual drift by purchasing thousands upon thousands of lapel pins.
According to a new report from the Tax Foundation:
Property tax collections have exploded over the last four years....Adjusted for inflation, property taxes have increased by 12 percent..."It's about 27 percent in nominal terms since 2000." By comparison, property taxes increased by just 2 percent from 1994 to 2000.
......Soaring property taxes around the country have pushed lawmakers to seek reforms. In states such as New York and New Jersey, where property taxes are the highest, legislative sessions beginning next spring will attempt to address taxpayers concerns.
For those eager to listen to people talk about rising property taxes while jogging, study author Gerald Prante has a podcast on his findings .
The scourge of cheap airline tickets rears its head in China. The government rushes onto the scene to save the Chinese from the horror of promotional 13-cent airline tickets:
Spring Airlines, set up last year by travel agent China Spring International, sold more than 400 tickets on a new route between Shanghai and the northern city of Jinan for just 1 yuan ($0.13), the Beijing Times said. But that went against a 2004 rule — designed to help carriers' bottom lines after a vicious price war — that the maximum discount an airline can offer is 45 percent off a government-set base price, the report added.
A standard one-way ticket between Shanghai and Jinan costs 760 yuan ($97.10), excluding tax and fuel surcharge. The Jinan government said it would fine Spring Airlines' local travel agent branch 150,000 yuan ($19,160) as a punishment, though the company denies wrongdoing and will appeal, the newspaper said.
The case underscores the difficulty facing Chinese low-cost airlines, which are trying to model themselves on the likes of Ireland's Ryanair in bringing cheap no-frills travel to the world's most populous nation.
China's airline industry is dominated by three main state-run carriers, with which a clutch of low-cost airlines are trying to compete.
As Rational Review points out, the really scary part about this story is that the article above could easily be describing a nearly identical squabble in the United States.
It turns out that Big Intelligent Design may be following the path blazed by Big Tobacco. For decades Big Tobacco underwrote "science" that seeded obscure scientific journals with articles that purported to show that smoking tobacco doesn't contribute to cancer risk. That "science" was used to defend itself in subsequent liability lawsuits. As a former 3-to-4-pack-a-day smoker, I have no sympathy for people who smoke who say that they didn't know that cigarettes could damage their health and then file bogus lawsuits. But industry (in fact, nobody) is not allowed to lie about scientific results.
The New Scientist reports that Big Intelligent Design (another name for the Discovery Institute ) has established a research lab that, according to the lab's senior researcher Douglas Axe will "contribute substantially to the scientific case for intelligent design." The strategy will be to smuggle a few ambiguous papers into minor peer-reviewed journals, then turn around and use those results to claim that there are "doubts" about Darwinian evolutionary biology. Since there are "doubts" in the scientific literature, some befuddled judges may eventually rule that intelligent design can be taught as a "scientific" alternative in public schools. The scientific community had better keep a close eye on results reported by the Biologic Institute.
Princeton's John Londregan drives a stake through the heart of Pinochet in The Weekly Standard:
Pinochet tied his advocacy of free markets about people's eyes like a blindfold, to keep them from seeing his firing squads. Nothing that was achieved during his years of tyranny justifies the crimes he committed. Nor is there any meaningful sense in which the policies adopted by the Pinochet government should be viewed as paradigmatic for economic freedom. The military government long pursued a badly misguided policy of overvaluing the local currency; during the debt crisis of the 1980s it took the outrageous step of converting private debts to foreigners into public debt. And then there was its corruption, details of which continue to gradually leak into public view. Indeed, there continues to be a need for economic reform and openness in Chile, where a "good old boy network" acts as a powerful check on economic and social mobility.
Via Arts & Letters Daily.
Reason's Brian Doherty debunked the connection between Pinochet and Milton Friedman here.
Over at Asymmetrical Information, Jane Galt explains how working for PIRG changed her politics from "ultraliberal to libertarian":
Now, of course, I think of myself getting money from those poor people for PIRG, and I writhe in shame. Because of course, the whole thing is a massive scam. All the money from the canvass goes, not to the cause, but to the canvass: you are paying them to collect your name so that they can sic telemarketers on you several times a year. The canvassers don't believe in what they're saying, at least not in any reasonably creditable way; they are told what to say and exactly how to say it, about issues they know nothing more about than you do. Many of them shamelessly lie; others repeat untruths they picked up somewhere with the best of intentions and the worst of results. Even after the telemarketers are through with it, at almost no point does the money ever get used for the things that are stressed in the pitches, like research, preservation, rescuing human rights victims, and so forth; administrative costs for most of these operations are, as a percentage of total revenues, in the high double digits. Their idea of a really effective use of the money is lobbying the government to take more out of you in tax dollars, and spend it.
When thousands of people have already spent years homesteading the land to be "privatized."
Me to Justice Scalia: Isn't the Court's holding in Hudson v. Michigan going to mean that cops will feel free to barge in without knocking and announcing their authority whenever it suits their interests?
Justice Scalia to me: Look, the Knock-and-Announce Rule is about not catching people at home in their underwear.
And there you have it. The centuries-old Castle Doctrine boils down to no more than silly modesty -- and a modesty Justice Scalia finds worthy of ridicule. The comment echoes a line Scalia wrote in his opinion in Hudson about the only consequence of doing away with knock and announce would be for police to occasionally catch a suspect in his "nightclothes."
Katherine Mangu-Ward looks at giving gap between the left and the right.
After lettin[g] Republicans galvanize the idea that Democrats are soft on defense, Reid & company are signing on for the same reason they rolled over on the war.
Simply put, they don't want to look like pussies.
That's a tempting analysis of the loopy Iraq debate we're having right now. But the fact was that when Democrats and Republicans-except-Lincoln-Chafee voted for the Iraq war, support for a war on Iraq hovered around 70 percent. What's the support for a "troop surge"? It's buried in this CNN story:
Support for the conflict fell to a new low of 31 percent in the poll, conducted Friday through Sunday by Opinion Research Corporation, while a record 67 percent expressed opposition to the nearly 4-year-old war.
Nearly three-quarters said Bush administration policy needs a complete overhaul or major changes. But only 11 percent of those polled backed calls to send more American troops to Iraq, as President Bush is said to be considering.
Eleven percent. That's about 1/3 as many people as favor the no-strings legalization of marijuana. Suffice to say that Washington political classes don't spend a lot of time discussing ideas that almost 9 in 10 Americans oppose. Why are they considering this one?
Ah, this column by former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson fills one's heart with cheer. After all, Gerson is a former Bush speechwriter.
My low point with the Republican Party came in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In attempting to deliver benefits to victims, the administration found men and women who had never had a bank account; families entirely disconnected from the mainstream economy. A problem rooted in generations of governmentally enforced oppression—slavery and segregation—demanded an active response from government to encourage economic empowerment and social mobility.
Yet the response of many Republicans was to use the disaster as an excuse for cutting government spending, particularly the Medicare prescription-drug benefit for seniors. At a post-Katrina meeting with White House officials, one conservative think-tank sage urged: "The president needs to give up something he wants. Why not the AIDS program for Africa?
What follows is a completely incoherent argument for and against government spending. Those cruel conservatives who believed the almost impossibly complex reconstruction of a city was more imporant than a $1.2 Medicare benefit (that hadn't gone into effect yet) don't understand "that the health of society is determined by the health of institutions." But, uh, most of Bush's spending has "gone to a range of unexpected security necessities" and other discretionary spending is "far below President Clinton's double-digit growth in his final year." So big spending is bad, and Bush doesn't do it - except when it's good, and he does. Got it?
Gerson goes on to inform us that foolish libertarians need to stop idealizing Reagan because
[T]he Reagan reality is more admirable than the myth. He wisely chose what was historically necessary—large defense increases and tax reductions—over what was politically unachievable: a massive rollback of government.
But didn't he do this because he faced a Democratic House and (for two years) Senate? For four years, Bush didn't have to contend with either of those things. This is why we hoped Bush would roll back government, or entitlement, or something besides a few taxes. What we didn't expect was Michael Gerson whispering "spend!" into the POTUS's ear, coquettishly slipping huge spending packages under his pillow.
The reaction to reason's interview with Bob Barr keeps rolling in, and includes plenty of stuff like this:
[W]hen I read the paragraph saying Barr had joined the Libertarian Party I thought -- somewhere Ron Crickenberger is smiling cause Barr must have at least partially come around on the drug war. Ron represented a lot of LP members and activists in being vociferiously anti-drug war so Barr must know this and must have come around. Aparently I'm wrong, according to reason magazine cub reporter David Weigel, who didn't press him enough on the issue IMHO, Barr is still a drug warrior.
If I can defend myself; after Barr declined to back off his stance on the drug war, I didn't press him because I didn't want to conduct an entire interview on that issue. Is it going to be a crucial issue in Barr's new role? It may be, as he says his goal is to recruit and train Libertarian candidates and produce better election results than they've ever had. In other words, he might recruit candidates with great campaign skills and resumes who, like him, fall short on one part of the LP quiz.
Had I really wanted to waste my time, I could have quizzed Barr in the style of the New York Times.
Is there actually a card that card-carrying Libertarians carry? “There actually is,” Mr. Barr said in a brief phone interview. “It’s a heavy plastic card, the size of a credit card, with the party logo on it.”
Does he carry the card? “In my briefcase. And I always have my briefcase.”Is having a card at odds with Libertarianism? “I’m not required to carry the card.”
Cathy Young starts planning for Mary Cheney's baby shower.
I've long been fascinated with the quest for quantification above truth or accuracy that haunts American journalism (and American culture generally)--here's a piece I wrote on the topic over a decade ago for Cato Policy Report, and here's another one from the December 1995 issue of Reason. So I'm always delighted to add to my clip file of "figures that no one actually knows"--in this case, saith the New York Observer, Manhattan's rental vacancy rate .
It contains 85 tools, weighs nearly two pounds, and costs about $1000--the biggest Swiss Army knife ever. Writes the Guardian:
Although Swiss rationality and neutrality are often mistaken for wimpishness, Swiss mercenaries were long considered the most reliably vicious in Europe. The infantrymen of the Swiss Confederation were particularly skilled in the use of very nasty-looking pointy things, including crossbow bolts and the 18ft pikes with which they fought off the Habsburgs at the Battle of Morgarten in 1315. (The pikes carried by the Papal Swiss Guard are an echo of this battle.)
The article also suggests that you "unload this mother into the plastic tray as you walk through security at Heathrow and just see what happens." Reason readers, get to it!
And don't forget, Knives Take Lives. Especially those of the Swiss army variety.
Today I was supposed to appear on KPCC, an NPR afiliate in Los Angeles, to discuss Jon Gettman's report on marijuana production in the U.S. (mentioned by Dave Weigel earlier today). In preparation, I started collecting numbers on the fiscal and economic impact of marijuana legalization, which the producer said would be the segment's focus. He just called me back to say they don't need me after all (the segment was "overbooked"), so I thought I'd share what I planned to say on the radio with you, Gentle Hit & Run Reader, lest my research be for naught. The excise tax revenue from legal marijuana, which especially interested the KPCC producer, probably would not amount to much, because almost all of the $36 billion that Gettman estimates the U.S. marijuana crop is worth to growers (which translates into something like $63 billion at the retail level) can be attributed to the "risk premium" associated with prohibition. It's the war on drugs that makes marijuana "America's biggest cash crop."
Dale Gieringer of California NORML has estimated that marijuana may cost as much as 100 to 300 times as much in the black market as it would if it were legal (not counting taxes). Even if the multiple is more like 50 or 25, the value of the cannabis crop would plummet if prohibition were repealed. You also need to consider patterns of consumption. About 45 million Americans smoke cigarettes, typically consuming close to a pack a day (an average of 17 cigarettes per day for daily smokers, who represent four-fifths of smokers), for a total of 378 billion cigarettes in 2005. Total state and federal excise tax revenue from cigarettes (not including payments under the Master Settlement Agreement that resolved state lawsuits against the major tobacco companies) is about $15 billion a year. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 15 million Americans smoke pot each month—one-third the number of cigarette smokers—and the typical level of consumption is occasional. The average pot smoker does not consume even a joint a day, let alone 17. Assuming similar production costs for both kinds of dried psychoactive plants, the total retail value of marijuana would be a small fraction of the total retail value for cigarettes. So unless marijuana tax rates were set much higher than cigarette taxes, which would tend to perpetuate a black market, the excise tax revenue would be quite modest at current consumption levels. Gieringer suggests a tax of 50 cents to $1 per joint, which is extremely heavy even compared to the cigarette taxes that prevail in New York City ($3 a pack, or 15 cents a cigarette, on top of the federal excise tax of 39 cents a pack). Even a levy as big as Gieringer proposes would bring in revenues that "might range from $2.2 to $6.4 billion per year," according to his estimate.
Given much lower prices and removal of the legal barriers to obtaining marijuana, consumption almost certainly would rise, as new consumers entered the market and current consumers smoked more often. But it's doubtful that consumption would rise enough for marijuana to generate anything like the excise tax revenue from cigarettes, mainly because, given the differences in the two drugs' effects, pot smokers (as a group) are never going to smoke as heavily as cigarette smokers. With a tax rate comparable to the U.S. average for cigarettes, we might be talking about hundreds of millions of dollars a year, or maybe a billion or two, as opposed to $15 billion.
Yet the big drop in marijuana prices, the very development that would make excise tax revenue surprisingly modest, would put billions of dollars in consumers' pockets, allowing them to get the same value for much less money. And to the extent that marijuana consumption rose, that too should be counted as an economic benefit, since people would be getting more enjoyment from the product than they did at artificially inflated prices.
From the government's (and taxpayer's) point of view, the real fiscal benefit from abandoning the war on marijuana would come from no longer arresting, prosecuting, and jailing pot smokers, sellers, and growers. Drug law enforcement costs something like $40 billion a year, and marijuana accounted for 43 percent of drug arrests in 2005. That doesn't mean legalizing marijuana would save two-fifths of the money spent on the drug war, since marijuana offenders are much less likely to be imprisoned than other kinds of drug offenders. But the savings certainly would be substantial. And that's not counting all the indirect costs, such as marijuana offenders' legal expenses, loss of freedom, forgone income, and so on.
In short, the focus on the excise tax bonanza that legal marijuana supposedly would bring—a theme that is often emphasized by opponents of the war on drugs—is misplaced. Which is just as well, since I'm not a big fan of excise taxes.
During the Republican primary in Arizona's gubernatorial race, Don Goldwater (nephew of Barry) basically imploded after opponents pounced on his idea of putting captured illegal immigrants "down to work, there on the border, to build the fence that we so desparately need."
As it happens, Goldwater the Lesser was ahead of the curve.
Executives of Golden State Fence pled guilty to hiring illegal immigrants. The executives may serve jail time in addition to paying nearly $5 million in fees. Their attorney told NPR that the case proves construction companies need guest workers.This wasn't any fence company. Golden State Fence had a hand in building San Diego's border wall in the 1990s. The San Diego fence served as a model for the recently passed but still underfunded 700-mile border fence because it successfully stopped immigrants from crossing at points along its 14-mile stretch.
Snark aplenty over at the Los Angeles Times op-ed blog.
The State Department doesn't like the term sex worker:
The office combating human trafficking issued a directive Friday to US agencies urging them to avoid using terms "sex worker" or "child sex worker" and even advised governments not to use them.
"Of course, one can rationalize words such as 'sex worker' and "child sex worker" in an effort to avoid a demeaning label such as 'prostitute," said John Miller, the office's director.
"However, there are other substitutes such as 'women used in prostitution' or 'sexually exploited children' that are neither pejorative nor pretend that violence to women and children is 'work,'" said Miller, who retired Friday after campaigning extensively across the globe to stem the human trafficking problem.
"What is occurring is the use of the language to justify modern-day slavery, to dignify the perpetrators and the industries who enslave," he said.
Women used in prostitution. I generally hesitate to accuse anyone of "objectifying" women, but refusing to associate them with active verbs qualifies as sufficiently demeaning. And even if we were to grant that sex workers are by definition victims, as Miller prefers, the supposed need to switch terms is hard to understand. I think child soldiers are victims. Do I have to call them children used by war? Isn't the reality of the situation disturbing enough without the added offense to Strunk and White?
The effort to control language is part of a larger campaign to conflate sex slavery with good old-fashioned hooking, making it easier for officials to use horrifying tales of the former in their campaign against the latter. John Miller, who is being used by the State Department to promulgate anti-prostitution policies all over the world, considers all sex workers to be slaves -- whether they're Manhattan call girls or trafficked Cambodian children. It's hard to know what slavery even means in this context, given that it bears no relation to the concept of consent.
Whole State Department song and dance here.
In response to proponents of torture's "ticking time bomb" scenario, Jim Henley postulates a few hypotheticals of his own.
I like Harriet Miers. As White House Counsel, she has worked with me in a courteous and professional manner. I am also impressed with the fact that she was a trailblazer for women as managing partner of a major Dallas law firm and as the first woman president of the Texas Bar Association.
If it's for a surge, that is, for two or three months and it's part of a program to get us out of there as indicated by this time next year, then, sure, I'll go along with it.
The latter statement by the incoming Senate majority leader is getting some attention (at least whenever the cable channels can pry their feeds off the incredible story of danger-seekers who encountered danger). Is the top Democrat on the Hill really buying into the idea that we need to send more troops to Iraq? Has John McCain convinced everyone of the rightness of a Surge, through sheer force of maverickism?
I wonder why more people don't remember that Reid has a habit for endorsing terrible Republican ideas. In the Miers case, it was pretty clear he wanted to avoid the White House yanking Miers and nominating a stronger, more conservative nominee. In this case, it's possible he enjoys the idea of hanging a doomed idea - One! Last! Push! - supported by a small number of Americans around the necks of George Bush and John McCain.
There is an obvious conclusion to all this: Harry Reid is dumb. And there is a less obvious conclusion: Harry Reid is a genius.
I gather from Dave Weigel's interview with former Republican congressman Bob Barr that his views on drug policy have not changed much, if at all, even though he has taken on a leadership role in the Libertarian Party, which steadfastly opposes the war on drugs. As I've said before, even when the L.P. was pretty plausibly identifying him as "the worst drug warrior in Congress," I admired Barr as a libertarian-leaning conservative who was not afraid to buck his party and mainstream opinion to defend constitutional rights. But it's hard for me to see how a libertarian (or Libertarian) can support drug prohibition. Contrary to what he says in the interview, this is no "minor disagreement." Not only does the war on drugs directly violate the basic right to control one's body and mind; it leads to exactly the sort of wide-ranging civil liberties violations, especially in connection with Fourth Amendment rights, that so concern Barr when it comes to the war on terrorism—and at least protecting us from hijackers and suicide bombers, unlike maintaining the purity of our bodily fluids, is a legitimate function of government. Barr's stance is especially puzzling given that a number of prominent conservatives, including the National Review crowd, have turned against the war on drugs even without switching their party registrations.
As I argue in my book Saying Yes, the one way to reconcile libertarian principles with drug prohibition is to buy into voodoo pharmacology—the idea that (some) drugs take control of people and compel them to behave badly. If that were true, the war on drugs would be a literal battle against the evil forces residing in certain chemicals, aimed at preventing their aggression against drug users. Does Barr, who left the Republican Party because it was insufficiently dedicated to individual liberty and too accepting of overweening government, believe something along these lines? If so, is there no one at the L.P. who can set him straight?
As I noted in my dispatches from the U.N.'s climate change conference in Nairobi last month, some European officials are contemplating the imposition of countervailing tariffs on countries they regard as global warming scofflaws. That would most definitely include the U.S. But perhaps cooler heads have prevailed. The Financial Times reports:
The European Union’s trade commissioner will on Monday dismiss French proposals for a “green” tax on goods from countries that have not ratified the Kyoto treaty as not only a probable breach of trade rules but also “not good politics”.
Peter Mandelson says that the levy, aiming to cancel the competitive advantage of countries that are not cutting carbon emissions to fight global warming, would be “highly problematic under World Trade Organisation rules and almost impossible to implement in practice”.
The proposals are gathering support after Günter Verheugen, industry commissioner, backed the idea after it was separately proposed by an advisory group of EU government officials and industry leaders he co-chairs.
“Not participating in the Kyoto process is not illegal. Nor is it a subsidy under WTO rules,” Mr Mandelson will warn in a podcast speech to 50,000 subscribers. “How would we choose what goods to target? China has ratified Kyoto but has no Kyoto targets because of its developing country status. The US has not ratified but states like California have ambitious climate change policies.”
You can be sure that this is an idea that is not going away. Whole FT article here .
John Fund at the Wall St. Journal thinks it quite likely that everyone is jumping the gun on the "Obama is running for president" thing. If he
chooses to sit 2008 out, he won't be the first person to play the media like a fiddle, being coy about his intentions in order to boost his profile. Al Gore has followed his wife's advice to leave the door open for a 2008 presidential bid in part to fuel interest in his global-warming documentary and book. Similarly, Mr. Obama knew what he was doing in October when he announced his interest in a presidential candidacy at the very moment his new book reached the stores. Since then, "Audacity of Hope" has reached the top of the best-seller lists, selling more than 400,000 copies.
In addition to all the consultants who are urging him to run, Mr. Obama has other advisers who are telling him that at age 45 he can afford to wait. He also could easily find himself on the top of her list of potential running mates. "A Clintion-Obama ticket would be the most powerful turnout machine you can imagine for the Democratic base in 2008," one Democratic congressman who knows both of them told me. "He might be better positioned to be president if he first ran for vice president. If Hillary won, he would be the heir apparent. If she lost, no one would blame him for that."
For all the disappointment the national media might express at an Obama noncandidacy, he could marshal his rhetorical skills and deliver a superb speech that would deepen his long-term appeal to the electorate.
As with lots of things (but not everything) involving elections, I'd say fundraising amounts in the next 6 months is the place to look to see who is for real and who is just floating trial balloons for the glee of watching them be batted around.
My first cynical thought was: Where's the "pact" clearing the way for building nuclear power plants in the U.S.? But perhaps there is hope. According to the Wall Street Journal, utility companies are planning to build 30 new plants. Why? The happy part of the answer is because utilities are responding to higher natural gas prices. The less happy part of the answer is that utilities want to gobble up the new subsidies in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
Iran's rascal president discovers what he could have figured out from Americans six weeks ago - bellicose warmongering ain't the electoral gold people think it is.
Early results from last Friday's election suggested that his Sweet Scent of Service coalition [emphasis mine] had won just three out of 15 seats on the symbolically important Tehran city council, foiling Mr Ahmadinejad's plan to oust the mayor and replace him with an ally.
The outcome appeared to be mirrored elsewhere, with councils throughout Iran returning a majority of reformists and moderate fundamentalists opposed to Mr Ahmadinejad.
Compounding his setback was the success of Hashemi Rafsanjani, an influential pragmatist and fierce critic of the president's radical policies. Mr Rafsanjani - whom Mr Ahmadinejad defeated in last year's presidential election - received the most votes in elections to the experts' assembly, a clerical body empowered to appoint and remove Iran's supreme leader. By contrast, Ayatollah Mohammed-Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, Mr Ahmadinejad's presumed spiritual mentor, came sixth.
The handsome fellow on the right is Tehran Mayor Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf, a possible candidate for the presidency, who racked up wins as Ahmadinejad crapped out. In a few years the Islamic Republic might replace a radical president who looks like Spencer Ackerman with a conservative-but-sane president who looks like William Hurt.
I don't know much more about Iran's electoral system, but in retrospect doesn't the week the president spent toasting guys like Robert Faurisson look like it would have been better spent, uh, campaigning?
The great paleocon political writer W. James Antle III has an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News on one of my favorite topics - how conservative voices in the media, by hitching their wagons to the modern GOP, kneecapped the movement. The best anecdote:
When hosts finally began giving voice to increasing conservative disenchantment with President Bush, for example, the administration worked to bring them back in line. In October, several prominent hosts were summoned to the White House for a personal meeting with the president.
Sean Hannity, who occasionally campaigns for Republican candidates, enthused, "I think [Bush would] have an 80 percent approval rating if he could bring people into the Oval Office six people at a time and explain it all to them."
That was one of the sillier moments in the election, and as Antle points out, one of the least perspicacious. Conservative talk radio with its tens of millions of listeners had actually pressured Republicans out of making some of their dumbest decisions -- chiefly the Harriet Miers SCOTUS nomination, but also some of the earmark/pork battles like the $223 million "bridge to nowhere." Here was your model for staunching the GOP's bleeding. Inform them that they were bleeding. But the glamor of the White House and the White House's willingness (unlike the George Bush I White House) to coddle conservatives put a damper on that.
Here's a good example of the cocoon conservative media figures spun for themselves: Hugh Hewitt's election night broadcast. It's an amusing peek into this world where the media was lying about Bush's unpopularity, where the media rigs polls to make Republicans look bad, where wings take dream. The best bit is Hour 6, when the shape of the Democratic win was becoming clear, but Hewitt asks John Podhoretz why the media is using this "dirty data" that shows crazy results like George Allen losing.
A new release of official statistics prove what marijuana decriminalization advocates have maintained for years; that pot is the country's biggest cash crop.
... the market value of pot produced in the United States exceeds $35 billion -- far more than the crop value of such heartland staples as corn, soybeans and hay.
California is responsible for more than one-third of the cannabis harvest, with an estimated production of $13.8 billion that exceeds the value of the state's grapes, vegetables and hay combined -- and marijuana is the top cash crop in a dozen states, the report states.
The report estimates that marijuana production has increased tenfold in the past quarter-century despite an anti-drug effort by law enforcement.
Jacob Sullum had the scoop on more data about the size of the marijuana crop (and trade) and its potential value if regulated back in 2005.
David Weigel chats with former Congressman Bob Barr about his plans for the Libertarian Party.
Remember this Jim Henley post when you're scanning the news in six months or so.
The government is still mulling ways to scrounge up to 20-30,000 troops to add to the existing forces.
As a reminder, the winter months are when insurgent activity drops, so look for a spate of stories about how “the surge is working” in the early months of 2007. Then look for everything to fall apart again as summer turns toward fall.
One of the real oddities of this war is how quickly the botched predictions of hawks are forgotten when the next roadblock or crisis pops up. Most recently, when violence ticked down in Baghdad four months ago there was a brief flurry of comment on how the generals on the ground had figured this mess out, how the Iraqis were coming into their own, etc and so on. That was just the latest bogus analysis: A year ago the Connecticut for Lieberman Party claimed we could start withdrawing troops by, well, now. These people are always wrong and should not be taken seriously.
The Chronicle of Higher Education weighs in with an interesting, but somewhat muddled, version of that old song: "Low Down Conservative Academia Shutout Blues." Yeah, ev'rybody's talking 'bout Foucault, religious right, corporate whores, needless wars, but all Mark Bauerlein is saying is, Give Hayek A Chance.
The biggest muddle, in a piece complaining that academic and popular books assessing conservatism don't treat it as a coherent intellectual tradition, is his casual linking of disparate thinkers, thus: "Count the names Hayek, Russell Kirk, Irving Kristol, etc., on syllabi in courses on "Culture & Society." Tally how often, in left-of-center periodicals, those names are linked to moneyed interests. The framing is complete. Heralds of conservatism start and finish in the messy realm of politics and finance, never rising into the temple of reflection."
The complaint about the association of conservative and free-market thinking with moneyed interests is apt. That Hayek, a classic 19th century liberal and apostle of the knowledge-spreading and dynamic powers of free markets and the unrestricted price system, Kirk with his tradition-rooted mistrust of untrammeled capitalism, and Kristol's bellicose nationalism and love of censorship can be so casually conflated is a sign that even at the highest levels, academic understanding of conservative is deficient.
This is not to say there are no interesting ways in which the three can be compared; Hayek shared with Kirk an interest in the defense of rooted tradition that cannot necessarily be rationally justified, and with Kristol an interest in dynamic economic growth, but the differences between all three are more important than the similarities, and merely linking those three together does not a defensible and coherent intelellectual tendency make. The main reason for this, as Hayek pre-emptively told Bauerlein and all the rest of us over four decades ago, is that Hayek is "not a conservative ."
Indeed, as Hayek wrote, in language that sounds quite a bit like the unnamed and innumerable liberal professors who keep conservativism from a position of respect in the academy, "conservatism fears new ideas because it has no distinctive principles of its own to oppose them; and, by its distrust of theory and its lack of imagination concerning anything except that which experience has already proved, it deprives itself of the weapons needed in the struggle of ideas. Unlike liberalism, with its fundamental belief in the long-range power of ideas, conservatism is bound by the stock of ideas inherited at a given time. And since it does not really believe in the power of argument, its last resort is generally a claim to superior wisdom, based on some self-arrogated superior quality."
Of course, in large part thanks to the influence of libertarians such as Hayek and Milton Friedman on conservatism as popularly understood, the conservative of today is far more respectful of liberty and markets overall than was the conservatism of the 1950s that Hayek wrote about here. Still, it won't help further academic understanding and appreciation of either Hayek or conservatism to lump them together as Bauerlein does.
UPDATE: I misspelled the name of the author of
the linked story in my original post (now fixed).
Reason's editor-in-chief Nick Gillespie had earlier discussed Bauerlein's calls for "a little less Foucault and a little more Hayek" in his report on the 2005 Modern Language Association meetings at TechCentral Station; and readers should also check out a great essay Bauerlein wrote for Reason, reviewing the Anti-Chomsky Reader (edited by Peter Collier and David Horowitz) in our April 2005 issue
As discussed over at the Cato blog by Daniel Ikenson, the International Trade Commission has surprisingly done the right thing and revoked "longstanding antidumping and countervailing duty restrictions against imported carbon steel plate and corrosion-resistant steel from 15 different countries." (They are keeping them against corrosion-resistant steel from Germany and Korea for at least another five years.)
My previous blogging on how these duties hurt American steel-using companies in order to help eternally poor-mouthing steel-making companies here .
In a forthcoming Criminology and Public Policy article, University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt and Jens Ludwig, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University, debunk the idea that New York City's crackdown on public pot smoking has helped reduce violent crime. As part of New York's "broken windows" law enforcement strategy, misdemeanor arrests for smoking marijuana in public view (MPV) rose from 1,851 in 1994 to a peak of 51,267 in 2000, an increase of 2,670 percent. According to "broken windows" theory, these arrests should have had a broader impact on crime by reducing conspicuous signs of lawbreaking and disorder. Another possible justification is that MPV arrests lead to more serious arrests because public pot smokers are especially likely to be predatory criminals. (A similar rationale has been offered for crackdowns on petty offenses such as loitering and subway turnstile jumping.) A third rationale is that arresting drug users disrupts black market activity and reduces the violence associated with it—not very plausible in this case, since the marijuana trade is substantially less violent than, say, the crack trade.
Whatever the theory for viewing MPV arrests as a crime control tactic, they do not seem to have had the predicted effect. Looking at data across police precincts, Harcourt and Ludwig initially find an association between MPV arrests and reductions in violent crime. But this apparent effect disappears once they take into account regression to the mean—the tendency of the precincts that saw the biggest increases in crime rates during the 1980s and early '90s to see the biggest subsequent drops. It turns out those precincts are also the ones that put the most effort into arresting pot smokers. After adjusting the data for regression to the mean, Harcourt and Ludwig find that, if anything, higher MPV rates are associated with higher violent crime rates. "We find no good evidence that the MPV arrests are associated with reductions in serious violent or property crimes in the city," they conclude.
The apparent lack of results is especially troubling because the MPV arrests have disproportionately involved blacks (who accounted for about 25 percent of New York's population but 52 percent of MPV arrests) and Hispanics (also about 25 percent of the population but 32 percent of MPV arrestees). It may be that blacks and Hispanics are more apt than whites to smoke pot in public, or (more likely) it could be that they disproportionately live in the high-crime neighborhoods where the police department focused its "broken windows" efforts. But Harcourt and Ludwig note that blacks and Hispanics were not only especially likely to be arrested during the study period (1989 to 2000); they also "were more likely than their white counterparts to be detained before arraignment (2.66 and 1.85 times more likely, respectively), convicted (both twice as likely) and sentenced to additional jail time (4 and 3 times more likely, respectively)." One need not accuse the police and courts of deliberate discrimination to be disturbed by figures like these, especially since advocates of the crackdown on pot smokers apparently have nothing to show for it.
Leaving aside the racial angle and the injustice of arresting people for a "crime" that harms no one, these arrests seem to be a big waste of time and money, even when you consider possible indirect effects. As Harcourt and Ludwig put it, "New York City’s marijuana policing strategy seems likely to simply divert scarce police resources away from more effective approaches that research suggests is capable of reducing real crime."
Brian Doherty corrects the record on Milton Friedman and Augusto Pinochet.
The London Times reports:
More and more, Baghdad is splintering into Shia and Sunni enclaves that are increasingly no-go areas for anyone from outside. The trend is fuelled by the ugliest sectarianism. It also reflects a crude power grab, with both sides egged on by political parties aiming to maximise their clout in the Iraqi Government by dominating as much of the capital as possible. The result is that since February, when Sunnis bombed the golden-domed mosque in Samarra, a Shia shrine, 146,322 individuals have been displaced in Baghdad, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
The paper supports the point with a fascinating map of Baghdad drawn up by the U.S. military:
Via American Footprints, which notes that in addition to all the internal displacements, over a million -- maybe two million -- Iraqis have fled the country. Jim Henley comments: "I still read bland statements on conservative sites that Iraq can't be in a civil war because we're 'not seeing a massive refugee problem.' That may be because 'we're' not looking."
The latest step in Bob Barr's political evolution: He has become a life member of the Libertarian Party and is joining its national committee.
Yes, that's the same party that took credit for knocking him out of Congress four years ago. Times change!
Update: The party has now posted a press release making the announcement.
The Drug War Chronicle reports that pressure is building for Texas Gov. Rick Perry to commute the sentence of Tyrone Brown, who was sentenced to life in prison for smoking pot. In 1990, when he was 17, Brown took part in a $2 robbery in which the victim was not physically injured, a crime for which he received 10 years of probation. A few weeks later, he tested positive for marijuana, and the judge not only revoked his probation but inexplicably resentenced him to a life term. Now, after local and national media attention triggered by the November Coalition, Perry has been urged to commute Brown's sentence not only by outraged citizens but by Dallas District Attorney Bill Hill, Sheriff Lupe Valdez, and even the sentencing judge, Keith Dean, who is no longer in office. In addition to the sheer insanity of the sentence, there's a racial angle (which proved important in Perry's decision to release the Tulia residents nabbed for allegedly selling cocaine to discredited undercover cop Tom Coleman): The Dallas Morning News contrasted Dean's ridiculously harsh treatment of Brown, a poor black teenager, with the lenience he showed a wealthy white guy, John Alexander Wood, who received a 10-year suspended sentence for killing a prostitute. When Wood repeatedly tested positive for cocaine, Dean did not send him to jail, let alone give him a life sentence. Instead he arranged things so Wood didn't have to take drug tests anymore.
American Spectator scribe (and Reason contributor) John Tabin recorded a podcast with me about Liberaltarians, Libertarian Democrats, Libertarian Conservatives, values voters, and some other stuff that always lights up the H&R comment threads. The audio is here, along with links to the articles we're jawing about.
"A lawsuit against IBM is reviving debate over whether Web overuse may be classified as an addiction," says the subhead above this BusinessWeek story. At first I thought the article was about a guy who was suing IBM for making the computer he used to go online. So I was actually a little relieved to see it was about a guy, James Pacenza, who is suing IBM for wrongful termination because it fired him for violating company policy by visiting a sex-oriented chat room at work. Pacenza says he suffers from Internet addiction and couldn't help himself, so IBM should have been more accommodating, as the Americans with Disabilities Act requires for addictions such as alcoholism. The article poses the question of whether using the Internet too much is indeed a "legitimate addiction," which the author defines as "uncontrollable" and "not just a bad habit."
Although BusinessWeek presents this question as a vexing, highly controversial issue, it should be clear that Web surfing, like anything else that provides pleasure or relieves stress, can be the focus of an addiction, one just as "legitimate" as alcoholism, compulsive gambling, or any other hard-to-break habit the American Psychiatric Association deigns to recognize as a "mental disorder." But an addiction is a bad habit (sometimes a good habit), and it is not "uncontrollable," although it is, by definition, difficult to give up. It's comical to see psychologists and psychiatrists argue about whether excessive Internet use is a "real" addiction, as if there were objective scientific criteria for making that determination. Some people use the Internet so much that it has a negative impact on their lives, and they have trouble cutting back because the activity is highly rewarding. Enough said.
But calling a pattern of behavior an addiction does not, or at least should not, give employees a free pass to violate company policy or screw up on the job. Even under the ADA, a company is not required to continue employing a guy who shows up at work drunk every day, although it may have to keep him on once he's sober and attending A.A. meetings. Likewise, even if Internet addiction were recognized as a "disability," an employer presumably could still get rid of a guy who spent all his time at work jerking off to Internet porn, although it might have to give someone like Pacenza a second chance and refer him to "treatment." To my mind, even that sort of requirement is unwarranted, but then I don't think accommodation of the blind, deaf, or semiparalyzed should be legally required either. The point is, even the ADA implicitly recognizes that addictions are not "uncontrollable," that it's legitimate for employers to expect people working for them to control their "compulsive" behavior enough to get their jobs done, albeit with a little employer-subsidized assistance. Although I don't expect them to start lifting passages from Thomas Szasz, Stanton Peele, or Jeffrey Schaler, it would be nice if publications like BusinessWeek stopped putting so much faith in the APA's arbitrary designations and stopped pretending that addicts literally can't help themselves.
Addendum: Commenter jb wonders if the distinguishing feature of true addictions is the biological changes directly caused by psychoactive substances—in particular the "physical dependence" that results in withdrawal symptoms. As he notes, that would leave out excessive gambling, which the APA does recognize as a disorder. It would also leave out drugs, such as cocaine and nicotine, that are not consistently associated with significant withdrawal symptoms. The APA used to say such drugs were "habituating" but not "addicting," a distinction it ultimately abandoned. Today the APA says withdrawal symptoms are neither necessary nor sufficient for a diagnosis of substance dependence; it distinguishes—quite rightly, in my view—between "physical dependence" and the psychological attachment that is the essence of addiction. This view of addiction, which harks back to the original meaning of the term, does not require physical withdrawal symptoms or direct chemical action (although all rewarding experiences have indirect effects on brain chemistry), and it allows us to acknowledge the clear parallels between, say, smoking and overeating, alcohol abuse and excessive gambling, "shopaholism" and porn obsession.
[Thanks to Linda Stewart for the link.]
Ronald Bailey puzzles over a few concrete "solutions" being bandied about to fix global warming.
I don't know the story behind this video, but if anyone does,
... as I'm having trouble understanding why anyone wants to ship more American troops to Iraq. I mean, besides because they want to save their asses politically.
A key figure in twentieth-century music has died:
Ahmet Ertegun, the music magnate who founded Atlantic Records and shaped the careers of John Coltrane, Ray Charles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and many others, died today in Manhattan. He was 83.
A spokesman for Atlantic Records said the death was the result of a brain injury suffered when Mr. Ertegun fell backstage at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan on Oct. 29 as the Rolling Stones prepared to play a concert to mark former President Bill Clinton's 60th birthday.
I better get this out of the way quickly: Look! Another Clinton-linked death!
OK, here's my serious reaction: Ertegun was more famous than most people on the business side of pop music, in part because he was so memorably played in Ray by Curtis "Booger" Armstrong. But his significance is a lot larger than that.
Some people have a romantic notion that commerce and art are always at loggerheads and that the role of the music industry is to suck all the soul out of its product. And there's enough corruption, mediocrity, and protectionism in the business to give that notion some staying power. But there are also businessmen who really care about the music they sell, who go out of their way to nurture their artists' talents. There's a reason why music fans speak reverently not just of their favorite performers, producers, and writers, but of the enterprises that allowed them to flourish, from FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee.
Atlantic grew to be a lot bigger than Sun, but it was no less vibrant. If I was forced to choose between a world without Atlantic's soul catalog and a world without Motown, I'd throw Berry Gordy overboard in a heartbeat -- and I like Motown.
Ertegun, who was a producer and songwriter as well as an executive, got his start as a record collector, not a record magnate. Everything I've read about him indicates that he was a genuine music fan; that he was interested not just in getting rich by giving the public what it wanted but in doing good by giving the public what it didn't realize it would like. Indeed, like any canny entrepreneur who loves what he does, he saw those two interests as one and the same. He liked jazz, rock, blues, and soul, and because of that, he helped give the rest of us a chance to like the music too.
And when he didn't like it, he might let someone else make the dough. Here's my favorite Ertegun story, from the critic Dave Marsh:
[Jackson Browne's] musical rewards are not always obvious -- Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records famously couldn't hear it at all, even when David Geffen implored him to sign Browne because "there was a fortune to be made." "You start a label," Ahmet said, "you make the fortune." So Geffen started Asylum Records, and he not only made a fortune, his label, with Browne and the Eagles, became the center of California rock in the Seventies.
To sign Ray Charles, and to refuse to sign Jackson Browne -- Ahmet Ertegun was a man with taste.
The Department of Homeland Security says it is rounding up and deporting undocumented meatpackers in order to fight "identity theft." Over at The American Prospect, David Bacon takes a hard look at the theft threat and says: "Take mine!"
ICE rhetoric would have you believe these deportees had been planning to apply for credit cards and charge expensive stereos or trips to the spa. The reality is that these meatpacking laborers had done what millions of people in this country do every year. They gave a Social Security number to their employer that either didn't belong to them, or that didn't exist. And they did it for a simple reason: to get a job in one of the dirtiest, hardest, most dangerous workplaces in America. Mostly, these borrowed numbers probably belong to other immigrants who've managed to get green cards. But regardless of who they are, the real owners of the Social Security numbers will benefit, not suffer.
Swift paid thousands of extra dollars into their Social Security accounts. The undocumented immigrants using the numbers will never be able to collect a dime in retirement pay for all their years of work on the killing floor. If anyone was cheated here, they were. But when ICE agents are calling the victims criminals in order to make their immigration raid sound like an action on behalf of upright citizens.
Something very backward is going on when anti-immigration officials are trading in dated identity scares. A litmus test for "seriousness" in the immigration debate is support for an employer verification system, a massive federal database that employers will be required to consult before making hires. And one of the chief arguments against creating that database is that it will surely spur a massive increase in actual identity theft, encouraging middlemen to sell, and undocumented workers to buy, more sophisticated false documentation.
Buried in the third paragraph of an interview with outgoing Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R), Len Lazarick notes:
Rather than conduct a series of one-on-one interviews, Ehrlich’s press office invited reporters to dine on seafood stew over rice - but only print journalists from newspapers who had endorsed his re-election, which was just about all of them except for The Sun.
Ehlrich had made some nice feints toward libertarianism in office - an openness to medical marijuana, a veto of an anti-Wal Mart bill - but he spent months fighting the Baltimore Sun because he viewed them as biased against him, finally cutting off their access to his office. Too bad he felt like he needed to underline that mild thuggishness as he exited the state house.
The New Republic's Eve
Fairbanks has a funny Friday piece about Republicans getting
power pried out of their mitts last week. If you doubted that
the party of Reagan had gone pathetically native:
On the floor on Friday, [Ways and Means Chairman Bill] Thomas succumbed fully to the Republican mood of anguished drama, noting darkly that some Republicans "have left willingly, some unwillingly" and weirdly suggesting that Maryland's Ben Cardin, leaving the House for the Senate, might be humming "free at last." At the end of his speech, he burst into tears and proclaimed, "Mister Speaker, I relinquish my time, forever!"
There's more like that, including this greatness: "On the first floor of Rayburn, someone has torn the Capitol office directory down from the wall and ripped it into pieces. Viciously scribbled arrows point toward Mark Foley's name."
Forced to legalize either gay marriages or civil unions, the New Jersey legislature (run by Democrats) has chosen civil unions.
The civil unions bill passed the state Assembly by a vote of 59 to 19 and the state Senate by a vote of 23 to 12. [Gov. Jon] Corzine has said he will sign it. The law will create a 13-member Civil Union Review Commission, which will study how well the unions work, evaluate similar statutes in other states, and recommend changes to improve the law.
Traditional marriage stalwarts are tickled by New Jersey's decision, since if the legislature had gone a little further gay marriage would now have a toehold in two states. But really, think of how far gay marriage advocates have come. What was a radical position in Vermont six years ago is now a mainstream compromise. Lawmakers in Canada and Massachusetts, given a chance to roll back legal gay marriage, have decided against it (Flip-floppin' Mitt Romney's disgusting preening all for naught).