Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2008 April 8-31

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Marxist Profs or Sensitive Students?

Over at the LA Times' Dust Up, reason.tv interview subject and chief skeptic at The Skeptic Michael Shermer and The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's Greg Lukianoff are discussing academic freedom, student indoctrination, and the like. Two snippets:

Shermer: "...Unless they are openly teaching a course entitled, in effect, 'Why Liberals Should Rule the World,' professors have no business introducing their political bias to students. Their job is to teach the curriculum of their subject, not churn out a bunch of Marx-worshiping, Bush-hating, Che Guevara-loving, pinko graduates who will go out into the world woefully ignorant that most Americans think entirely differently from the way they do...."

Lukianoff: "...Is having an opinionated professor really the same as indoctrination? I have seen claims—often from conservative students—that students have a right not to be "harassed" by the left-leaning opinions of their professors. This drives me nuts because if there is one thing conservatives should not be doing, it is legitimizing the idea that merely being exposed to different points of view is the same thing as harassment. Harassment rationales are used to shut down people with dissenting opinions (often the socially conservative, the un-PC, or the merely unlucky) far too often...."

More here. They'll be kicking each other around each week.

reason on campus bias and more here.

Boom Times for Sellers of $600 Toilet Seats

As you're preparing the details of your financial life for inspection, consider the Pentagon's accounting skills:

The basic defense budget for 2007 was $439.3 billion, up 48 percent from 2001, excluding the vast additional sums appropriated for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to federal regulators and current and former Pentagon officials, the accounting process is so obsolete and error prone that it's virtually impossible to tell where much of this money ends up. While the department's brass has made a few patchwork improvements, billions are still unaccounted for. The problem is so deeply rooted that, 18 years after Congress required major federal agencies to be audited, the Pentagon still can't be...

Until the Pentagon can get its records in order, no comprehensive audit is required. Instead, the department writes each year to the inspector general certifying that "material amounts" in its financial reports can't be substantiated.

That it can't be audited "goes to the heart of the department's credibility," says Dov Zakheim, who was Defense Department chief financial officer and comptroller under Rumsfeld. "Nobody would trust even a half-million-dollar enterprise if its books weren't clean."

The Pentagon has repeatedly assured Congress that it is working toward an audit. Yet the projected date continues to slip further away. In 1995, Pentagon officials testified that it could be audited by 2000. In 2006, an audit wasn't envisioned until 2016.

That's from a Portfolio piece called "The Pentagon's $1 Trillion Problem." Veronique de Rugy's fantastic May cover story -- "The Trillion-Dollar War" -- will make you just as excited to pay your taxes.

As Goes Bangor, So Goes Maine

Last week Maine became the fourth state, along with Arkansas, Louisiana, and California, to prohibit smoking in vehicles carrying minors. Its law, which covers all passengers under 16 and allows primary enforcement (meaning that a driver can be pulled over just for violating the smoking ban), is the strictest so far. The Arkansas and Louisiana bans apply only to little children. California's covers anyone below 18, but a smoker can be cited only if he's first pulled over for some other reason. The main backer of Bangor's car smoking ban, after which the state law is modeled, says next year he will push Maine legislators to raise the cutoff age to 18 and increase the penalty, now a $50 fine. Police can't know the age of people in a car until they pull it over, of course, so the law could provide a handy excuse for hassling young adults who smoke, especially if its coverage is extended to 16- and 17-year-olds. Don't like the looks of that long-haired 20-year-old with a NORML bumper sticker? If he's smoking in the presence of someone who might be a teenager, you've got all the justification you need for a traffic stop. 

My previous comments on car smoking bans (and my reasons for thinking they are not justified by the need to prevent child abuse) can be found here, here, and here, among other places.

The Capo di Tutti Capi Returns

According to the Italian media's notoriously unreliable exit-poll data, Silvio Berlusconi and the center-right "Freedom Coalition" he heads is set to again take the reigns of power, with a projected majority of seats in the chamber of deputies and the senate, and Berlusconi becoming prime minister for the third time. The Times of London has the details, and, for good measure, includes a photo of the leather-faced former PM giving his best Don Fanucci-cum-Mussolini wave to supporters of his People of Freedom Party. According to Italian media reports, the coalition defeated a left-center bloc led by the former Mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, a former communist party member who was heartily (and bizarrely) endorsed by George Clooney.

For my money, The Economist has done the best job over the years of exposing the buffoonish Berlusconi as corrupt in both business and politics (charges which led the former PM to sue the magazine in Italian court). As expected, they are again throwing darts, reminding us of his more recent gaffes:

Most of Mr Berlusconi's jests have been either silly (the claim that he spoke Latin well enough to have lunch with Julius Caesar) or sexist in a way that did not seem to damage him (his view that right-wing women were better-looking than lefties). But on April 8th, a more sinister side re-emerged when Mr Berlusconi said that state prosecutors, like those who have been chasing him through the courts since the early 1990s, should undergo periodic mental-health checks. His main rival, Walter Veltroni of the centre-left Democratic Party, demanded an assurance of Mr Berlusconi's loyalty to state institutions.

"We Don't Talk Green Talk in the Company"

One of the best features ever to appear in reason, in my humble opinion, was a three-way debate about corporate social responsibility between Milton Friedman, Whole Foods founder John Mackey, and the guy you see above, Cypress Semiconductors' T.J. Rodgers. All three are libertarians, but they found plenty to disagree about. Rodgers was more Catholic than the pope, citing Friedman to Friedman, and accusing Mackey of letting Ralph Nader ghostwrite his contribution.

These days, Rodgers is also the chairman of SunPower Corp, a manufacturer of solar-power systems. But his stance on the touchy-feely side of corporate social responsibility doesn't seem to have changed:

"We don't talk green talk in the company. As a matter of fact, I get itchy when I hear that kind of stuff."

Then he tells a story about the time he caught the president of SunPower "blathering about ice caps or something like that" and went to great lengths to publicly mock him for being, essentially, a Birkenstocks-wearing dirty hippie.

Rodgers' position these days seems to be something like this: Give the people a product they want, make a profit doing it, and don't feel too high and mighty if you happen to do something "socially responsible." Green is good? Who cares? The important thing, as he puts it, is that "green is green." Like money, get it?

Watch the whole thing at reason.tv

Read more about Rodgers here. More from Rodgers here.

Camel Snus in the Smoke-Free Tent

The Winston-Salem Journal reports that R.J. Reynolds is expanding its test marketing of Camel Snus, a Swedish-style oral snuff that comes in little pouches that users place between the lip and gum. Bill Godshall, executive director of SmokeFree Pennsylvania and one of the few anti-smoking activists who has endorsed smokeless tobacco as a harm-reducing alternative to cigarettes, welcomes the move:

Reynolds' expansion of its test market for snus will provide millions of smokers with less-hazardous alternatives to cigarettes, which is welcom[e] news. It makes sense for Reynolds to gradually expand its test market for snus, as it's a new and entirely different product than cigarettes....Although smokeless tobacco is just as addictive as cigarettes, and should not be used by those who are not addicted to nicotine, cigarettes are about 100 times deadlier than smokeless-tobacco products.

Representing the orthodox quit-or-die position is Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids:

Every new city RJR picked has a clean-air law. This is about RJR doing everything they can to keep people from quitting.

Remember when anti-tobacco activists used to pretend that smoking bans were aimed at protecting bystanders from secondhand smoke? In case you're worried about secondhand saliva, R.J. Reynolds notes that its snus "does not require the consumer to spit." 

Godshall co-authored an article about smokeless tobacco that appeared in the December 2006 Harm Reduction Journal. In my column last week, I noted that FDA regulation of tobacco products could impair competition between cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.

Urban Dance Squad

Last Saturday night, a group of about 20 D.C.-area libertarians headed down to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial for some flash mob fun. The prank was harmless revelry: To ring in Jefferson’s birthday, we would meet on the steps of the memorial at 11:55pm, wearing iPods, then dance for about 10 minutes, capture the whole thing on video, and leave.

I had planned to participate, but was about 10 minutes late. By the time I arrived it was already over. The National Park Police broke the whole thing up just a few minutes in, punctuating their lack of a sense of humor by arresting one of the dancers, a friend of mine and a regular at reason events (she's asking her name be kept private until she can speak with an attorney). She was cuffed, taken out to a paddy wagon, then booked and held at a Park Police station. Everyone I spoke with says there was no noise, there were no threats, and no laws broken. The woman who was arrested was stone-sober, wasn't aggressive or threatening, and the dancers weren't trespassing—the Memorial is open to the public 24 hours.  Even if one were to assume this was a "demonstration"—a stretch, anyway—permit are required only for 25 or more people.  There were about 20 at the Memorial.

At the time, the police refused to answer any questions, referring all calls to the communication number of the Park Police. They also refused to give their badge numbers.

After being held for five hours, the woman was booked and released. She was charged with "interfering with an agency function," which sounds to me like a handy catch-all. Her crime was apparently to ask “why?” when the park police told the group they had to disperse. I'd probably have asked the same thing if I hadn't been late. This all happened at around midnight. No one was bumping into tourists, or obstructing anyone’s way. The only conclusion one is left to draw is that it’s apparently illegal to dance on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial–even with headphones. In this post 9/11 world, whimsy, frivolity, and any straying from the routine will not be tolerated. Also, never question a cop's authority.

Of course, the real irony here is that all of this happened at the Jefferson Memorial, in observance of Jefferson’s birthday. Go out to celebrate the birth of the most hardcore, anti-authoritarian of the Founding Fathers, get hauled off in handcuffs. The photo is almost poetry. One of history’s most articulate critics of abuse of state authority looks on as a park police cop uses his elbow to push a female arrestee into one of said critic’s memorial pillars.

The dancers I spoke with say the other officer pictured in the foreground of this photo was also rather rude, telling other dancers to “shut the fuck up” when they inquired about their friend's arrest. When one person politely asked why it was necessary to use the word “fuck,” the officer replied, strangely, that if the questioner used any more profanity, he too would find himself arrested.

Both Sides Now—and We Hate That

Over at The Huffington Post, reason contributor Maia Szalavitz notes that Kansas physician Stephen Schneider and his wife, Linda, who are accused of drug trafficking through improper painkiller prescriptions, have managed to get their side of the story out with the help of the Pain Relief Network. The usual practice in cases like this is to convict the defendant in the press, which typically depicts his practice as nothing but a "pill mill" and rarely covers patients who are grateful for desperately needed pain relief. In the Schneiders' case, Szalavitz writes, "The AP has covered the story as one with two sides—including the legitimate need for access to pain relief, not just focusing on the prosecution's storyline of evil doctors pushing patients into addiction." Federal prosecutors have responded by seeking a gag order that would not only prevent the Schneiders and their lawyers from publicly discussing the case but silence Pain Relief Network President Siobhan Reynolds as well. Shouldn't they also have asked the judge to prevent people from talking about the gag order?

Szalavitz on pain doctor prosecutions here. More reason coverage of the subject here.

George Will on Bob Barr

Newsweek readers are getting their first impressions of the Bob Barr presidential campaign: Perpetually pessimistic conservative George Will assesses Barr and comes away optimistic and impressed. And he adds a few interesting pieces of data. Take this, on the fortunes of the LP.

Ron Paul, like Barr, has a sandpapery persona, and his Republican presidential campaign has been a mixed blessing for the Libertarian Party, whose presidential candidate he was in 1988. Paul has energized and enlarged the latent libertarian constituency. But his monetary fixations (trying to restore the gold standard and to inflame the public against the 1913 Federal Reserve Act) have deepened libertarianism's taint of quirkiness. And his money needs have competed with the Libertarian Party's: Its online fund-raising has declined 70 percent since he announced his run for the Republican nomination. But the party's membership has increased 20 percent since 2007.

Aha: That was why the party kept announcing that it would hand Paul the nomination if he wanted it. Not just to tempt him, but to jump up and down and tell libertarians that—hey!—it was still here. This is actually pretty promising for Barr. It was tough to say where all that Moneybomb money was coming from, and easy to speculate that liberals, truthers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers and Methodists were joining Paul but would never join a more doctrinaire libertarian movement. A lot of them won't, but enough of them have expressed some interest in helping the LP.

More from Will, tipping his hand on why he likes Barr:

One wealthy libertarian would give $1 million if the McCain-Feingold law regulating political participation did not ban contributions of more than $28,500 to national parties. Another wealthy libertarian—he is dead, so he has none of the supposedly corrupt purposes that make McCain so cross—bequeathed more than $200,000 to the party. That would fund the ballot access struggles, but it is in escrow because of McCain-Feingold. If libertarian voters cost McCain the presidency, that will be condign punishment.

Stacy McCain has an interview with Barr and a bearish assessment of his nomination chances.

Although one online poll of Libertarians showed Barr as a narrow favorite (with 30 percent, compared to 22 percent for [Wayne Allyn] Root and 17 percent for [Mary] Ruwart), it is impossible to predict who will emerge May 26 as the LP's nominee. Barr acknowledges that he would face a tough fight for the nomination, and notes that he's still not an official candidate.

"Whether it's the Republican Party, Democratic Party or Libertarian Party, anybody that goes into a party nominating process viewing it as a sure thing is almost bound to recognize that they're surely going to lose," he said in an interview after his LPNC speech. "You cannot, and I do not, take it as a sure thing. I feel very confident that if I do become a candidate, that I will win the party's nomination, but I do not take it for granted."

If you want a sense of who'll be voting for the nominee, and how good/bad Barr's chances are, go back and read Brian Doherty's epic rundown of the 2004 convention. It was a far less complicated race, with movie producer Aaron Russo, radio host Gary Nolan, and... Constitutional scholar Michael Badnark. There was a sense that year that libertarian Republicans were ready to ditch Bush, that a good LP candidate could seize 3-4 percent of the vote in some swing states. But for a number of reasons the party nominated the driest, least media-savvy, and most outwardly odd candidate. The party's got a comparable embarassment of riches this time, but it's easy to write a scenario where left-libertarians and people who simply don't like him elevate some less prime-time-ready candidate, and watch as the political press ignore them for six months.

Woke Up, It Was Chelsea Lying

When I arrived at Penn State to cover Ron Paul's speech, I snagged a copy of the Daily Collegian and noticed this story:

Before joining the campaign trail with her mother in January, Chelsea Clinton said she had no idea how much sexism still existed in the nation.

"Two guys in New Hampshire stood up and shouted 'Iron my shirt,' " Chelsea Clinton said. "They were serious. I was shocked that they were serious. But I was even more shocked to see that no one seemed the think that it was a news story. It wasn't something you saw a news clip of."

Either Chelsea heard about this in a game of Clinton family telephone, and the facts got mangled, or she's just fibbing.

"They were serious."

No, they were local shock jocks doing a stunt for their show. This was revealed within about 4 hours.

"No one seemed the think that it was a news story."

It was a huge news story. Most of my news at the time was coming from chatter at campaign stops and listening to the radio, and I knew about this instantly. This isn't a perfect measure, but google "iron my shirt" and Clinton's name and you'll see 39,000 items, most of them contemporary news accounts.

"It wasn't something you saw a news clip of."

But it was! I saw a news clip of it, for example, the night it happened.

Chelsea's a thuddingly dull speaker, cruelly parachuted in to states where Obama is going to win anyway (Wisconsin, Vermont), so I've scoffed at the speculation that she'd ever enter politics. If she keeps playing the victim card and fudging the truth like this, though...

Should the Death Penalty Cover Crimes Other than Murder?

The Wash Post reports on a death-penalty case the Supreme Court will hear later this week:

"The 'evolving standards of decency' framework is not a one-way street that may lead only towards the elimination of the death penalty," the state of Texas argues in a brief joined by eight other states. "Each state's legislature should be allowed to...reflect its citizens' current moral judgment regarding the just deserts for certain capital crimes."

Of the 3,300 inmates on death row across the country, only two are there for a crime other than murder. Both were convicted under Louisiana's child rape statute, passed in 1995 and still the broadest in the land.

Those facts alone are a powerful argument that executing someone for rape would violate the Eighth Amendment prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment," argue lawyers for Louisiana death row inmate Patrick Kennedy. The 43-year-old Kennedy was convicted of raping his 8-year-old stepdaughter in 1998 in an assault so brutal that the girl required surgery.

But Jeffrey L. Fisher, a Stanford University law professor who will argue Kennedy's case, said no matter how heinous the crime, the court decided in 1977's Coker v. Georgia-- its last previous ruling on the limits of capital punishment -- that rape is not subject to the ultimate penalty.

Justice Byron R. White wrote for the court: "We have the abiding conviction that the death penalty, which is unique in its severity and irrevocability, is an excessive penalty for the rapist who, as such, does not take human life."

More here.

I'm against the death penalty because I don't think the state should have the power to execute. I think the state's role is to protect its population and it should do that using as little violence as possible.

But how do Hit & Run readers feel about the death penalty, in the above case and others?

reason on capital punishment here.

The Case of Henry Moses: Another Dr. Hayne Debacle

Henry Moses was convicted in 2003 of murdering his wife Derinda. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. I should start by saying that Moses was by no means a sympathetic defendant. On two occasions, he plead guilty to misdemeanor domestic abuse. He and his wife were chronic alcoholics. Theirs is a pretty sad story. But the evidence that Henry Moses killed his wife is spare at best. The prosecution's case rested almost entirely on the testimony of Dr. Steven Hayne, a medical examiner whose credibility has since come under fire from his peers, the national and Mississippi chapters of the Innocence Projects, and yours truly.

Two doctors testified in opposition to Hayne at trial, including the two hospital doctors who attended to Mrs. Moses after she was admitted. Dr. Leroy Riddick, the former state medical examiner for Alabama, also testified in opposition to Hayne after being asked by the defense to review Hayne's autopsy.

I recently asked another doctor, Dr. Harry Bonnell, to look over Dr. Hayne's autopsy, as well as Dr. Riddick's review of it. Bonnell is a reputable forensic pathologist who serves on the ethics committee of the National Association of Medical Examiners. You can view his CV here. Bonnell has also been asked to review one of Hayne autopsies in the past. You can view one of those reviews here (pdf) 

Bonnell told me he "completely" agrees with Dr. Riddick's assessment of Dr. Hayne's autopsy. He described Hayne's errors in Derinda Moses autopsy as "very egregious," and concluded, "Mr. Moses needs the state or the Innocence Project to get him out of prison."

Here's what happened:

On December 22, 2000, Henry and Derinda Moses checked into a motel in anticipation of a weeklong alcohol bender. According to Moses' trial testimony, after a few days, Derinda Moses began throwing up and convulsing. On December 26th, he brought her to the emergency room. According to court records, she was unresponsive. Soon, her organs began to fail, and a few days later, she died.

The hospital physicians determined—and maintained at trial—that Derinda Moses died of acetaminophen poisoning, which was exacerbated by her alcoholism. She had taken a considerable but unspecified amount of Tylenol over the previous few days days, in part to deal with the effects of the alcoholism, but also because she'd recently been in a car accident which required hip surgery. She used a walker to get around, which combined with her alcoholism, caused frequent falls.

Derinda Moses' family didn't like her husband—most would say with good reason. They testified at trial that they believe he killed her. But they had no evidence of that at the time of her death. The state would turn to Hayne for the evidence. Hayne was asked to perform the autopsy. As is often the case, he asked Dr. Michael West to assist him.

Hayne testified that in his autopsy he found an 11-inch section of Derinda Moses' bowel that had turned necrotic (essentially, it was dead). He said this is what caused her death. He then testified that he believed that "blunt force trauma" caused the damage to her bowel. Hayne's exact words: "She died of blunt force trauma producing injury to the bowel and to the peritoneal lining, ultimately dying from shock." Hayne was next asked if he had determined the manner of death. He had, he said.

"With reasonable medical certainty, I came to the conclusion it was homicide, sir," he said. He later elaborated that the cause of death was "blunt force trauma, purposely inflicted." He theorized that the murder weapon might have been a shoe or a fist, but that he couldn't say for sure.

It was from this testimony that Moses was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. There was no murder weapon. There were no witnesses. Moses' character flaws and Hayne's testimony are all there was.

The problem with Hayne's diagnosis is that there were no corresponding bruises on Derinda Moses' body where she should have been struck to cause the damage to her bowel. There was also no "path of damage" connecting the external portion of her body where the blow would have had to have landed through her body to her bowel. Dr. Riddick testified that you rarely if ever see a bruised bowel in adults, because there's nothing hard for the bowel to be trapped against.  If a blow to the outside of Mrs. Moses' body caused the injury to her bowel, there should have been extensive internal and external damage. A CAT scan showed no such damage.

According to Dr. Riddick's review of Hayne's autopsy, Hayne also neglected to photograph Mrs. Moses' bowel, another egregious oversight, given that his testimony was that the bowel was not only the cause of death, but evidence of homicide. In fact, the prosecutor in the case tried to impeach Dr. Riddick's testimony by noting that only Hayne had actually seen the body firsthand—Riddick only reviewed Hayne's notes. This of course is because prosecutors typically don't want anyone but Hayne viewing a body. But that Hayne was indeed the only doctor to perform an autopsy on Moses makes his failure to adequately photograph Derinda Moses' internal injuries all the more troubling. If you're the only one who's going to see the body, you should be extra careful to document everything, particularly those portions of the body you plan to testify are evidence of murder.

Hayne's sloppiness was also evident in other areas of the Moses autopsy. Hayne failed to notice Derinda Moses' surgical scar from hip surgery she'd had just a couple of months prior to her death, an oversight Dr. Bonnell again classified as egregious. In fact, Hayne not only failed to notice the surgery, he explicity wrote that "no evidence of acute medical intervention is appreciated" for the area of her body that had been operated on. He also failed to notice any sign of injury or healing in her ribs, which she also fractured in the accident. This too should have been apparent.

More troubling, Dr. Riddick testified that he found in a tissue sample that approximately 80 percent of Derinda Moses' liver cells were dead—a finding consistent with the diagnosis of Dr. Riddick and the two hospital physicians. Dr. Bonnell says that kind of liver damage should have been readily apparent to Hayne when he conducted his autopsy. It apparently wasn't. In fact, Hayne listed Mrs. Moses' liver and several other organs as being "unremarkable."

Hayne also testified that before he performed the autopsy on Derinda Moses, he spoke with the coroner in the case, as well as two police officers, something he does regularly. This isn't uncommon, but experts I've spoken with say it's problematic. Ideally, a medical examiner shouldn't hear the state's theory about what happened before conducting an autopsy. Of course, Hayne's critics say he talks to prosecutors for precisely the opposite reason—to make sure his diagnosis matches the authorities' theories about what happened.

One other thing Hayne didn't do is review Derinda Moses' medical history before reaching his conclusion about how she died. Dr. Riddick and the hospital physicians did review her history. They saw her history of alcoholism. And all of them concluded that Moses' death was an accident, not a homicide.

In its review of the Moses case, the Mississippi Court of Appeals seemed to acknowledge that the prosecution hadn't assembled the strongest of cases. But they refrained from questioning the jury's verdict, in large part because they found enough in Dr. Hayne's testimony to support the jury's verdict.

Regardless of what one may think of Mr. Moses as a person, four doctors believe he is not guilty killing his wife, and that Dr. Hayne's homicide diagnorsis was incorrect. Like Devin Bennett and Jeffrey Havard, however, there's no DNA test that could conclusively determine Mr. Moses' guilt or innocence. It's not a matter of who killed Derinda Moses, it's a matter of whether or not she was killed at all. It's in these types of cases that it's especially important that forensic experts be carefully screened by courts. It's in these types of cases that someone like Hayne can be particularly damaging.

Michael Young Handled the Weekend Political Thread...

...right here. The salon on Barack Obama and small town American vileness can continue there. Why didn't I have anything to say on the story on Friday? I was speeding through rural Pennsylvania, catching Ron Paul's final campaign appearances before the Pennsylvania primary for a story that will appear on Monday. That's me standing to the far right of the stage, craning my neck, in this photo.

Do I have anything to add to what Michael wrote? Agreement, and some additions.

- One conservative take on the story is that Obama is finally revealing his character, and that you can draw a line straight from his father to Jeremiah Wright to attacking small town white America. Let's assume that's true. We only found this out because someone taped a closed-door fundraiser. So why do we cover anything but closed-door fundraisers? The rest—speeches, debates, long sit-down interviews—obviously isn't that illuminating.

- If this is how Obama views the effects of lost manufacturing jobs, his anti-free trade campaigning in the rust belt is unforgiveable. And I'm usually inclined to forgive him for stuff like this.

- I have to go and agree with Joe Klein:

This Obama controversy... is the sort of thing we journalists blow up into massive gas, mostly because we really don't want to get down in the weeds about the things we need to get down in the weeds about...like whether trade deals really are so bad, especially with the weak dollar (I don't think so) and whether we need a pause in the withdrawal schedule in Iraq (I don't think so).

But you can't blame the media for this. Obama could have been honest to Ohioans about whether he'd personally dismantle factories in Honduras and ship them back to Youngstown for reassembling. Hillary Clinton could stop pretending she doesn't agree with Obama on this Thomas Frankian idea that getting-by small town voters are being snookered into voting Republican over Gods, Guns and Gays. Every Democratic power broker thinks this. Clinton looks sillier in populist garb than Dukakis looked in the tank.

Robert Fripp's combo gets the Politics 'n' Prog trophy this week.

Barack's New Deal

Over at Powerline, there is an interesting post on how Barack Obama backtracked in his Indiana speech yesterday to counter "his elitist disparagement of ‘small town' voters" in an earlier speech in San Francisco.

In San Francisco, Obama had said: "So it's not surprising then that [when voters] get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

In Indiana, he polished this, so that it came out:

People don't vote on economic issues because they don't expect anybody is going to help them. So people end up voting on issues like guns and are they going to have the right to bear arms. They vote on issues like gay marriage. They take refuge in their faith and their community, and their family, and the things they can count on. But they don't believe they can count on Washington.

While Obama is indeed engaging in spin, there is a far more disturbing aspect to his interpretation. He misses the essential nature of modern culture. People don't end up focusing on issues like the right to bear arms, gay marriage, faith-based and family-based issues, and the like, because of bitterness against Washington or a sense that they can't effect change there. People focus on these issues because modern American political culture is, effectively, about subcultures, variety, pursuing parochial aims, and shaping one's identity and personal agendas independently of the state.  

What Obama implicitly regards (in both his statements) as signs of disintegration, as reflections of popular frustration, are in fact examples of a thriving culture. Exceptions to this, of course, are anti-immigration sentiment and bigoted protectionism, both of which Obama conveniently dropped in his Indiana comments. Yet Obama's approach betrays a very suffocating vision of the state as the be-all and end-all of political-cultural behavior. Outside the confines of the state there is no salvation, only resentment. This is nonsense, but it also partly explains why Obama is so admired among educated liberals, who still view the state as the main medium of American providence.      

Now Playing at Reason.tv: Should the U.S. Boycott the Summer Olympics in China?

Should the United States boycott the Summer Olympics in China later this year? What's the point of boycotts in general?

reason.tv's Dan Hayes hit the mean, sunny streets of Washington outside of reason's D.C. headquarters and took the pulse of residents in the nation's capital. Approximately three minutes.

Click on the image below to view.

Friday Photoshop Fun

Not much planned this weekend? How about entering Fark.com's Design a Flag for the Nanny State Photoshop challenge?

Some of my favorites:

See some (more?) really terrible photo manipulation from Jesse Walker's post earlier today on Photoshop phaux pas.

Acquittal First, Then Punishment

In a recent series of cases that led it to declare federal sentencing guidelines advisory rather than mandatory, the U.S. Supreme Court emphasized that it's the jury's responsibility, not the judge's, to determine the facts on which a defendant's punishment hinges. Allowing judges to make factual findings that trigger automatic sentence enhancements, it ruled, violates the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury. At the same time, the Court has held that judges may rely on "the entire range of conduct" alleged by prosecutors, including counts rejected by the jury, when they impose sentences. The Court recently passed up an opportunity to revisit the 1997 decision in which it announced that rule, which is pretty hard to reconcile with the principle that people should be punished only for crimes of which they're been convicted.

At the end of last month, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by Mark Hurn, a Madison, Wisconsin, man who was arrested in 2005 after a police search of his home found 450 grams of crack cocaine, 50 grams of powder cocaine, and $38,000 in cash. Hurn admitted selling cocaine but insisted the crack belonged to other people who lived with him. The jury convicted him of cocaine powder possession, which carried a penalty of two to three years, but acquitted him of crack possession. The judge nevertheless punished him as if he'd been convicted of the crack charge, imposing an 18-year sentence. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit conceded that Hurn's sentence was "almost entirely" based on the crack charge that the jury had rejected (which also illustrates the arbitrary disparity in punishment between smoked and snorted cocaine) but approved the punishment anyway, citing the "entire range of conduct" rule. 

[via the Drug War Chronicle]

Social Cons in the Classroom

A school textbook authored by conservative academics James Wilson and John Dilulio is under fire from students, scientists and legal scholars for its biased presentation of issues like school prayer, gay marriage, and climate change. The Associated Press has details:

[Critics] say "American Government" by conservatives James Wilson and John Dilulio presents a skewed view of topics from global warming to separation of church and state. The publisher now says it will review the book, as will the College Board, which oversees college-level Advanced Placement courses used in high schools.

The Wilson and Dilulio text on global warming:

The edition of the textbook published in 2005, which is in high school classrooms now, states that "science doesn't know whether we are experiencing a dangerous level of global warming or how bad the greenhouse effect is, if it exists at all."

A newer edition published late last year was changed to say, "Science doesn't know how bad the greenhouse effect is."

On the Texas Supreme court decision that overturned a ban on sodomy:

The authors wrote that the Supreme Court decision had a "benefit" and a "cost." The benefit, it said, was to strike down a rarely enforced law that could probably not be passed today, while the cost was to "create the possibility that the court, and not Congress or state legislatures, might decide whether same-sex marriages were legal."

And on school prayer:

LaClair also was concerned about the textbook's treatment of U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding prayer in school. The book shows a picture of kids praying in front of a Virginia high school and states, "The Supreme Court will not let this happen inside a public school." Blake said the photo was cut out of the most recent edition.

The textbook goes on to state that the court has ruled as "unconstitutional every effort to have any form of prayer in public schools, even if it is nonsectarian, voluntary or limited to reading a passage of the Bible."

Those examples are not correct, says Charles Haynes, a religious liberties expert at the First Amendment Center in Washington.

"Students can pray inside a public school in many different ways," Haynes said, adding they can pray alone or in groups before lunch or in religious clubs, for example.

New at Reason

Do you ever worry that the United Nations is getting better?

In "Same as It Ever Was," reason Associate Editor Michael C. Moynihan introduces you to Princeton University's Richard Falk, champion of the Ayatollah Khomeini, endorser of 9/11 conspiracy theorists—and the new United Nations Human Rights Council's newly elected special rapporteur on the "situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967."

And then there's Swiss socialist Jean Ziegler, supporter of Holocaust deniers, friend of Moammar Kaddafi—and recent nominee to the UN Human Rights Council Advisory Committee.

Read all about it here.

Is Economics Destroying the World?

George Mason University English professor Robert Nadeau has a silly article in Scientific American in which he "proves" that economics is not a "science." Amusingly, Nadeau seems blissfully unaware of the fact that his preferred "science," i.e., ecology, is rife with metaphors stolen borrowed from economics, beginning with Darwin's use of Malthus in formulating the theory of natural selection. Darwin, in his Autobiography wrote:

In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement 'Malthus on Population,' and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here then I had at last got a theory by which to work...

As it turns out, Malthus's description fit the natural world, but failed when it came to describing the activities of human beings.

In 1992, at the first Earth Summit in Brazil, I listened to environmentalist dim bulb, Hazel Henderson, declare to a crowd of activists that "economics is brain damage." Henderson went on to suggest to the hooting and hollering delight of the crowd that all economists be rounded up and put into re-education camps.

Another idea adopted by ecologists from economics is the tragedy of the commons. The concept was made famous in ecologist Garrett Hardin's 1968 article of the same name. But Hardin did not originate the concept-it goes all the way back to Thucydides. One modern economic formulation of the concept appeared in the 1949 treatise Human Action, by economist Ludwig von Mises, where he described the tragedy of the commons (and I maintain that all environmental problems occur in open access commons) in this way:

If land is not owned by anybody, although legal formalism may call it public property, it is used without any regard to the disadvantages resulting. Those who are in a position to appropriate to themselves the returns — lumber and game of the forests, fish of the water areas, and mineral deposits of the subsoil — do not bother about the later effects of their mode of exploitation. For them, erosion of the soil, depletion of the exhaustible resources and other impairments of the future utilization are external costs not entering into their calculation of input and output. They cut down trees without any regard for fresh shoots or reforestation. In hunting and fishing, they do not shrink from methods preventing the repopulation of the hunting and fishing grounds.

Of course, economics can and should be critiqued - that's how errors are corrected and new discoveries made. Nadeau's biggest error is that he fails to understand that economics is a positive sum game, not the negative sum evolutionary game played by most other creatures. In other words, Nadeau, like most ecologists, is still stuck with economic ideas that are over two centuries out of date. We now know that most of the human economy is in fact intangible.

In any case, I invite you to take a look at Nadeau's "critiques." From the article:

  • The market system is a closed circular flow between production and consumption, with no inlets or outlets.
  • Natural resources exist in a domain that is separate and distinct from a closed market system, and the economic value of these resources can be determined only by the dynamics that operate within this system.
  • The costs of damage to the external natural environment by economic activities must be treated as costs that lie outside the closed market system or as costs that cannot be included in the pricing mechanisms that operate within the system.
  • The external resources of nature are largely inexhaustible, and those that are not can be replaced by other resources or by technologies that minimize the use of the exhaustible resources or that rely on other resources.
  • There are no biophysical limits to the growth of market systems.

All of the above statements are false, or misleadingly incomplete at best. On the basis of them, Nadeau goes on to assert:

If the environmental crisis did not exist, the fact that neoclassical economic theory provides a coherent basis for managing economic activities in market systems could be viewed as sufficient justification for its widespread applications. But because the crisis does exist, this theory can no longer be regarded as useful even in pragmatic or utilitarian terms because it fails to meet what must now be viewed as a fundamental requirement of any economic theory—the extent to which this theory allows economic activities to be coordinated in environmentally responsible ways on a worldwide scale. Because neoclassical economics does not even acknowledge the costs of environmental problems and the limits to economic growth, it constitutes one of the greatest barriers to combating climate change and other threats to the planet. It is imperative that economists devise new theories that will take all the realities of our global system into account.

For some real information on economics see Stanford University economist Paul Romer's excellent article on economic growth. For my non-technical take on the alleged limits to growth see my article The Law of Increasing Returns. As for Nadeau, I hope that he will some day soon walk across campus and talk to some his colleagues at George Mason's excellent economics department.

Hat tip: Charles Masoner

Weirdness in Wecht Trial Continues

Yesterday, I posted about a hung jury in the federal corruption trial of Pennsylvania medical examiner Cyril Wecht, and the allegations of political motivation in the case on the part of U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan.

The case just gets odder. The judge apparently also instructed the jurors not to talk to attorneys or the media—even after the trial was over, and even though the jurors were under no legal obligation to obey his request.

Now, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that at least two jurors have been contacted by FBI agents, who requested interviews in their homes. Buchanan's office says this is routine. Other attorneys the paper interviewed say they never heard of such a thing, and that it smacks of intimidation.

McCain on Mortgage Bailouts

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has gone from knowing nothing about the economy to becoming a free-enterprise guy to sounding like an interventionist. Reports the LA Times:

McCain, in a campaign stop at a windows business in Brooklyn, said, "There is nothing more important than keeping alive the American dream to own your home, and priority No. 1 is to keep well-meaning, deserving homeowners who are facing foreclosure in their homes."

Well, you know what's coming next: McCain has announced a mostly detail-free plan to unburden deserving folks (of course!) of "a burdensome mortgage for a manageable loan that reflects the market value of their home." His plan, details to come sometime next week, will cost less than Hillary Clinton's or Barack Obama's, won't be a bailout for speculators or banks, blah blah blah.

That sort of turn is totally predictable. What's truly strange in the Times piece is this bit from New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who was campaigning for McCain:

Bloomberg...recalled a visit several years ago to McCain's retreat outside Sedona, Ariz. He joked that the home and surrounding property were "relatively small" to be called a ranch and recalled that McCain's trademark ribs, which he grills himself, "were slightly on the well-done side." But Bloomberg said he "loved them anyways."

Question: How would McCain know if Boomer was campaigning against him?

Whole LAT piece here.

Reason Foundation's Mike Flynn on mortgage and big-bank bailouts here.

reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch wrote the book on McCain. Buy Myth of a Maverick now!

"Here's a gun, and here's a beer"

Over at Radar, reason contributor Marty Beckerman plugs in a genuinely confusing bit from Fox News earlier this week in which the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) goes on a tear about how troops under 21 are "malleable" and hence shouldn't be able to drink legally. The context isn't clear and the video is very Zapruder-quality. But watch it and decide for yourself.

On Monday Fox News Channel aired a debate between Candy Lightner, the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and Alex Koroknay-Palicz of the National Youth Rights Association, which contends that if you're old enough to vote, marry, and join the Army, you're old enough to guzzle Jäger. As you can imagine, Lightner was unimpressed, and rather vocal about it:

Koroknay-Palicz said U.S. soldiers between the ages of 18 and 21 should have the legal right to drink a beer, which seems more than reasonable considering that they might, you know, die at any moment. (You need to unwind after your day at work?) But Lightner was disgusted that our fighting men and women would have the audacity to imbibe. She ranted that 18-year-olds haven't "developed, and that's exactly why the draft age is 18, because these kids are malleable." She added: "They will follow the leader, they don't think for themselves, and they are the last ones I want to say, 'Here's a gun, and here's a beer.' They are not adult—that's why they're in the military. They are not adults."

More here.

Update: Over at reason.tv's Rough Cut blog, Dan Hayes has posted video of a Fox News debate about whether the drinking age should be lowered, a move that several states are considering. Check that out here.

And last April, reason Senior Editor Radley Balko interviewed former Middlebury College President John McCardell, Jr., who heads up Choose Responsibility, a group that advocates repealing the drinking age back to 18. Read that here.

To Catch a Theft Victim

File this one under "Well it certainly feels true":

Steve Steinberg refused to pay a parking ticket issued after his car had been stolen, so the Washington, DC Department of Motor Vehicles sent a collections agency after him. [...] After he reported the theft, Steinberg says, the DC police and DMV ticketed his car, towed it, then released it to the thief.

Despite having several opportunities to check the car's license plates, the only thing Steinberg got from the police was a $200 ticket for the parking violation the thief had committed. Steinberg sent letters to the police and DMV and informed them that his car had been stolen and he would not pay the ticket, so the DMV reported him to a collections agency.

Underlying story here.

I am quite confident that I will never be able to successfully satisfy the bureaucratic requirements for licensing my car at the DC DMV. Last time I braved the line I was told to come back only when I brought my Social Security card. Hasn't this nation gone paperless yet?

Mary's Buggin'

You may remember her from such hits as "the persecution of Dr. Bernard Rottschaefer," "the first federal obscenity case in 20 years," and "the railroading of Tommy Chong."

Now it seems U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan may have finally stepped in it but good. This week, a federal jury hung on the 41 public corruption charges Buchanan brought against Pennsylvania medical examiner Dr. Cyril Wecht. A majority reportedly voted to acquit. This after a two-year investigation, a very sympathetic judge, and a bizarre trial in which the defense rested without calling a single witness. A loss or even a hung jury is rare for a U.S. attorney. Their conviction rate is over 95 percent.

Wecht's attorneys—including former GOP Attorney General Dick Thornberg—say the case was entirely driven by politics (Wecht is an outspoken Democrat). They point out that the trial itself cost about $200,000, while the total amount of money Wecht is alleged to have used from his public position to aid his private practice amounts to about $1,700.

In one post-trial interview, the jury foreman seemed to agree. The feds immediately announced plans to try Wecht again.

What I'm wondering is how the Department of Justice can see fit to spend two years and likely seven figures in taxpayer dollars to investigate a medical examiner for sending personal faxes on his publicly-owned machine, but thus far has seen no reason to look into Mississippi's Dr. Steven Hayne.

I've argued before that the real scandal with this Justice Department is not that it fired a bunch of prosecutors who didn't share the administration's priorities and political agenda. The real scandal is just how screwed-up those priorities and that agenda actually are.

The Bourgeois Formalism of Lenny and Carl

Despite plummeting popularity and increasing social unrest at home, Hugo Chavez has decided it's a perfect time to nationalize both Venezuela's cement and steel industries. On Wednesday, the Chavez government announced that it would takeover steelmaker Ternium Sidor, "sending the Argentine-controlled company's shares tumbling." Following news of Venezuela's planned takeover of Mexican cement company Cemex, Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, made a trenchant point: "They are doing such a terrible job managing the nation's most important company, [state oil company] PDVSA, that it's hard to imagine they're really going to have the skill, the manpower and the knowledge to do much with [cement] companies. This is rather a cockeyed economic proposition."

Both decisions will surely have a negative economic impact on Venezuela's already shaky economy, but it cannot possibly match the damage to public morale of this decision. The Times of London reports:

Luxurious chest hair and little red trunks versus doughnuts and "D'oh!". In the battle of the US television heavyweights, The Hoff has vanquished Homer.

Or at least in Venezuela, where The Simpsons has been ordered from television schedules by President Hugo Chavez after being deemed unsuitable for children. Controversial enough, but in an even more curious move its 11am timeslot has been handed to Baywatch, the show that launched a thousand adolescent dreams.

David Hasselhoff and his aerodynamic life-saving cohorts began their slow-motion jog across the nation's screens on Friday morning, after a ruling that The Simpsons was in danger of breaching the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television.

The National Telecommunications Commission said the show pushed "messages that go against the whole education of boys, girls and adolescents". So far the regulatory agency, which reports to the government, has failed to explain why the cartoon family from Springfield poses more of a threat to the minds of Venezuelan children than a lifeguard falling out of her swimsuit.

(Hat tip: Bruce)

Pregnant for the Last Time

The oddest commentary I've read about Pregnant Man Thomas Beattie is this Annalee Newitz essay, which asks why the media ignored the parade of pregnant men she knew in San Francisco to focus on this schlub.

Beattie is the first pregnant man most people will ever meet. He's the guy in People magazine right now looking preggers and hunky, and the guy who was on The Oprah Winfrey Show last week. And it makes sense that he's the first wonder of tranny obstetrics medical science to hit the spotlight. He's a nice, small-town Oregon boy, married for five years to a nice, small-town lady, and his full beard and muscles make it quite obvious that he's a dude.

In other words: he's not a freak from a freaky city like San Francisco. He is, as they say in the mainstream media, relatable.

Newitz must be watching different Beattie coverage than I'm watching. This is before she connects Beattie to Barack Obama.

In some ways, those are the same questions people are asking about a possible Obama presidency. Can the majority of people in the United States accept a mixed-race guy in a role previously reserved for white dudes? To return to the issue of Beattie, can the majority accept a man taking on a role (pregnant dad) they'd never contemplated before, except when watching a bad Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi comedy called Junior?

As much as they were when watching Dennis Paymer take the oath in 24, or Morgan Freeman guide us through our crises in Deep Impact. I'd guess.

Beattie is not a political creation like Obama — he's the creation of medical technology, pure and simple. Hormones and surgery made him male. Artificial insemination made him pregnant.

And fear made him a monster!

Poperah

A lot of Christians are angry at Oprah about her latest book club selection, Eckhart Tolle's New Age tome A New Earth. Here is one of many YouTube videos attacking her:

That clip is called The Church of Oprah Exposed; it is, among other things, a promo for Carrington Steele's book and DVD Don't Drink the Kool-Aid: Oprah, Obama, and the Occult. (Yes, of course there's an Obama angle. Apparently Jeremiah Wright isn't the only controversial preacher in his life.)

It isn't just fringy Christians who talk about a Church of Oprah. In 2002 the deeply mainstream Christianity Today published a famous article, "The Church of O," that makes a more respectful, less paranoid argument that Oprah is a spiritual leader. The best quote in it comes from a Bible teacher in Chicago: "I like Oprah. I'm a closet groupie, though, because her theology's a little off." Another Chicago Christian -- the infamous Rev. Wright -- has a good line as well: "Somebody who makes $100 a week has no problem tithing. But start making $35 million a year, and you'll want to renegotiate the contract. You don't want to be a part of 'organized religion' at that point."

Over in the ivory tower, Prof. Kathryn Lofton of Indiana University has taken a slightly different approach, arguing that "Oprah does things in a religious manner, but she is not a religion." She goes on:

"She endorses some modes of theological existence, but dislikes many more. For her, religion implies control and oppression and the inability to catalog shop. The only way religion or religious belief works for Oprah is if it is carefully coordinated with capitalist pleasure. Thus, the turn to 'spirituality' -- the non-dogmatic dogma that encourages an ambiguous theism alongside an exuberant consumerism," Lofton said.

In Winfrey's view, Buddhism isn't about meditation and renunciation, it's about beaded bracelets and fragrant incense. "Christianity isn't about Christ's apocalyptic visions or the memorization of creeds, it's about a friendly guy named Jesus and his egalitarian message. As long as you can spend, feel good about yourself and look good, your religious belief will be tolerated on Planet O. The religion of Oprah is the incorporated faith of late-capitalist America," Lofton said.

Sort of a mellower, bourgier version of the spiritual jacuzzi I described in reason in May 2003. That article concluded with a look at Discordianism, the Church of the SubGenius, and other "joke religions" -- I wrote it too early to include the Flying Spaghetti Monster -- so I shouldn't end this post without mentioning that Oprahism has manifested itself in that sphere as well. Here's one more YouTube clip:

For extra credit, read the comment thread on that film's YouTube page. The Carrington Steele crowd has discovered the video and seems to be taking it literally. God bless the Internet: bringing mutually incomprehending tribes together since 1969.

"Who Doesn't Want to Wear the Ribbon?!?!"

Via Arts & Letters Daily comes this interesting Spiked review of the book Ribbon Culture, by Sarah Moore, which looks at the "the relentless rise of awareness-raising ribbons—kitsch fashion items that express the wearer's fear of disease or empathy with victims."

In seeking to understand why the individuals she interviewed wear the ribbons or wristbands that they do, Moore's account stands out through her refusal to pander to the rhetoric of ribbon culture, which emphasises ‘awareness', ‘caring' and engagement with a cause. In reality, these positive rhetorical sentiments mask an anxious, self-obsessed, depoliticised culture....

The increasing orientation towards the self has been theorised by several influential thinkers, including Christopher Lasch in The Culture of Narcissism (1979), Anthony Giddens in Modernity and Self-Identity (1991), Ulrich Beck in Risk Society (1992) and Frank Furedi in Therapy Culture (2004). It is understood to be a product of the breakdown of traditional institutions and relations of solidarity, which lead to a more fragmented, risk-conscious society, in which the quest for meaning takes on a more individualised, uncertain form. Critics such as Lasch and Furedi view this process as a predominantly negative one, leading to a fearful, isolated outlook that rests on a diminished sense of the individual and society, while the Giddens school of thought presents it in a rather more positive, liberatory light.

Put me in the Giddens school to the extent that I think the breakdown of traditional institutions is both overstated and generally liberatory and the turn toward the individual to be a good thing. I find Lasch generally unpersuasive as a social critic and am a disagreeing admirer of Furedi's work. But the review (and I presume the book it's based on) is certainly worth checking out.

More here.

Unscrupulous Cigarette Bargains

Last week I noted plans to raise New York state's cigarette tax, now $1.50, to $2.75, and estimated that the increase would boost the price of a pack in New York City, which imposes a $1.50-a-pack tax of its own, above $9. On Wednesday, in a completely unrelated development, a guy was busted in New York City with millions of dollars in counterfeit cigarette tax stamps:

The fake stamps would have allowed unscrupulous cigarette dealers to evade nearly $6.1 million in state and city taxes, authorities said....

State excise tax investigator Marybeth Cherubino, who was the lead agent on the case, said that, besides dealing in counterfeit tax stamps, Al-Nablisi bought 375,000 packs of untaxed cigarettes in February from undercover investigators.

''He wanted as much as we could supply,'' she said....

The arrest comes as some authorities voice concern about whether New York state's planned $1.25-per-pack hike in tobacco taxes, taking the price of a pack in the city to about $9, will fuel demand for contraband cigarettes.

Health surveys have found that more than a third of New York state smokers already regularly buy cigarettes from untaxed sources.

If you live in South Carolina and you're planning a drive to New York, you might want to wait until the state legislature approves the new budget. And rent a van.

[Thanks to James Feldman for the tip.]

"Frankly, These People Are Economically Illiterate"

Here's a tasty tidbit from a Roll Call story about the many members of Congress--especially those who will be making decisions about congressional action in response to the banking crisis and coming recession--who have been taking a beating in the market:

Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who works with many GOP Members on their financial disclosure statements, suggested...that it's not surprising that nearly 10 percent of lawmakers may be out millions of dollars because of the current credit collapse.

“Frankly ... these people are economically illiterate,” she said.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), for example, may face as much as $2.9 million in banking stock losses, according to the story. None of the affected senators have announced any intention to recuse themselves from decisions about bailouts and regulatory changes, either on the grounds of conflict of interest or on the ground of economic illiteracy.

Via The Weekly Standard

New ONDCP Message: Don't Smoke Pot Too Much

The Office of National Drug Control Policy has a new, mildly amusing anti-pot website featuring a faux documentary called Stoners in the Mist (parts of which, I assume, will also be featured in anti-drug PSAs). Although the jokes are mostly ripped off from Cheech & Chong and such pothead-depicting movies as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, I suppose I prefer this soft-sell approach to the ads accusing pot smokers of funding terrorism or initimating that it's only a matter of time before they accidentally run over a little girl or blow a friend's head off. Then again, people might be more receptive to subtler lies in an entertaining package, in which case the better propaganda is actually worse.

The mockumentary and the material accompanying it include many misrepresentations (see if you can spot them all!), but the most fundamental one is the conflation of pot smokers with stoners, which is rather like treating all drinkers as drunks. No doubt people who spend most of their lives stoned do have difficulty accomplishing things, relating to others, carrying on conversations, and catching basketballs. This is the grain of truth at the center of the pothead humor from which Stoners in the Mist borrows so shamelessly. But the traditional portrayals are usually gentle, even affectionate, and are especially popular among people who like to smoke pot, who recognize both the realistic aspects and the comic exaggeration. I doubt there are many people who decide to stop smoking weed (or never to try it) after watching Dude, Where's My Car? or Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. By contrast, although Stoners in the Mist resembles a sketch from a weak episode of Chapelle's Show, the ONDCP's intended message is that all pot smokers are losers. In a country where about half the population admits to trying marijuana before graduating high school, and a substantial majority surely knows at least a few pot smokers pretty well by then, who is going to believe this message? Probably only the teenagers who were not inclined to smoke pot in the first place.

Ha!

Behold, Mark Leibovich's profile of Chris Matthews: an epic that simply refuses to end, that you do not want to end, that illuminates the most oddball fixture in cable television's Mount Rushmore better with the light of a hundred H-bombs. Again and again, Matthews morphs into a character from a Norman Spinrad novel.

At one point, Matthews suddenly became hypnotized by a TV over the bar set to a rebroadcast of “Hardball.” “Hey, there I am — it’s me,” he said, staring at himself on the screen. “It’s me.”

On his idols:

He loved Johnny Carson, particularly his persona as a wide-eyed Nebraskan, awed that movie stars were actually talking to him. “Carson was great company,” Matthews says. “He was big company. Best company in the world.” He identifies with this. “Now, I am people’s company,” he told me. “Do you know that women come up to me all the time and say, ‘My husband watched you until the end, until he died’?” (Also, Matthews added, Carson “had babes on the show.”)

On his historical imperative:

Matthews envisions his role in this presidential campaign to that of Eric Sevareid and Walter Cronkite in 1968. “Your job is to illuminate, illuminate the game,” Matthews says. He faces a nightly challenge to “bring to life” the unfurling of history. Matthews says he wants to be synonymous with this campaign, like Howard Cosell was with Muhammad Ali.

“Imagine bullfighting without Hemingway,” he says. “I can’t.”

Is Matthews comparing himself to Hemingway?

“No way,” he says. “Don’t you, don’t you [expletive] do that.”

On his head:

Staring at the screen, Matthews squinted, cocked his head and leaned forward. “Have you noticed,” he said to no one in particular, “that my head looks about four times as big as Obama’s?”

At the end of the piece we learn that he is possibly running for the Senate in 2010.

Mother Superior State College Jumped the Gun Images*

Over at Inside Higher Ed, a publication that covers post-K-12 education issues with vim, vigor, and verve, Andy Guess reports on the case of Robert Crandall, a tenured prof at Lake Superior State College who has gotten in trouble for posting offensive content to his office door. LSSC's case, according to a lawyer representing the school, is that the prof has "acted in an unprofessional and insubordinate manner [and] his actions cannot be considered protected speech."

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), co-founded by reason contributors Harvey Silverglate and Alan Charles Kors, is publicizing the case. Writes Guess:

The first complaints date back to 2005, and the professor, Richard Crandall, was ordered to remove the materials from his door in 2007 (he eventually complied). Items included a photo of Ronald Reagan, pictures mocking Hillary Clinton, a sign posting a "Notice of the Weekly Meeting of the White, Male, Heterosexual Faculty and Staff Association (WMHFSA)," and various cartoons about abortion, Islamic terrorism and other topics. One depicts two hooded women looking over a photo album. One says, "And that's my youngest son, Hakim. He'll be martyring in the fall." The other replies, "They blow up so fast."

The university argues that the postings contribute to a hostile environment and therefore do not fall under First Amendment protections, although such arguments have not fared well historically in the courts. No lawsuit has been filed, but in the past some professors whose cases have been publicized by FIRE have pursued legal action. The university did not respond to requests for comment.

FIRE and Crandall, who could not be reached for comment, point out that other professors at the university are able to post politically charged pictures and phrases on their doors without consequence, presumably because their perspective is liberal or leftist rather than conservative or right-wing.

More here.

Take a look at the images and I think there's a strong implicit case that Crandall is a tool. Some are funny (IMO), some are not, but if I were an undergrad, they'd definitely kind of freak my shit—as did any number of door and office postings by lefty profs back in the day. But general freakage of shit does not seem not to be the issue here, as it really does appear to be the specific content—right-wing, and heavy on the pro-gun, anti-abortion themes—that is cause for complaint.

FIRE has always made a consistent argument (and has defended scholars and the right and the left) that public universities, precisely because they are government-sponsored, are totally bound by the First Amendment in ways that private universities are not necessarily (yeah, yeah, I understand that the line between public and private is totally nebulous given various funding issues ranging from federal research grants to Pell grants, etc).

I agree with that argument, and think that Crandall and all profs should be allowed to put whatever they want on their doors. Indeed, the whole point of going to college may be to expose kids to hostile environments—or, rather, intellectual environments in which they are exposed to all sorts of perspectives and taught to think critically about every aspect of their lives.

And yet, given the quality of political discourse (right, left, center) on most campuses, I think I may also want to live in a world where students and professors only meet in open areas devoid of any individualized signage, sort of like where prisoners and visitors meet. Plexiglass dividing walls optional.

[*]: I apologize in advance for this title, which is every bit as tortured as the inmates of Abu Ghraib.

Pirates and Pinkertons

The gradual privatization of policework proceeds apace. Piracy -- real piracy, with boats and weapons, not some kid downloading Hannah Montana songs -- has been increasing lately (a result, I assume, of efforts to control global warming). One effect, according to ISN Security Watch: "both states and the private sector are turning to private security companies...to help meet their maritime security needs."

Whole story here. Via IntelFusion.

We'll Always Have Mugabe

Is anyone enjoying the Olympic torch protests more than Robert Mugabe? The first week after he lost the Zimbabwe general elections, Mugabe's thuggery and attempts at rigging the contest were international news. Then the Olympic relay hit Paris, and the Zimbabwe story slowed, and that modestly-sized hole the media has for human rights abuses got filled. Meanwhile, as Jamie Kirchick shows, Mugabe has been mounting up to wreck his country and his enemies.

"I say don't wait for dead bodies on the streets of Harare. Intervene now. There's a constitutional and legal crisis in Zimbabwe," MDC Secretary-General Tendai Biti pleaded at a Monday news conference, drawing allusions to the Rwandan genocide. Though the likelihood of such a massive slaughter is slim, Biti has reason to be scared. The regime has already detained scores of opposition activists and arrested seven members of the country's electoral commission, accusing the latter of undercounting votes for Mugabe. Last Friday, 400 "war veterans" marched through the streets of Harare in silence, a demonstration of force meant to signal that the state-sanctioned terror of 2000 could easily be repeated should Mugabe give the order. The way Mugabe sees it, bloodshed is in his best interest: Inciting violence would give him the pretext to declare a state of emergency and postpone a runoff presidential election indefinitely. Mugabe has reportedly drawn up plans to dispatch 200 senior military commanders throughout the country to execute a campaign of intimidation and violence in preparation for a potential run-off.

The BBC's reporting on this has seemed overly optimistic, probably because it's hard to allow for the high-level lying of Zanu-PF sources. The coming regional meeting of powers doesn't look like it'll solve anything. Meanwhile, Mugabe's regime is getting away with this:

Zanu PF militants have invaded the farm of Commercial Farmers' Union president Trevor Gifford, saying he is never to return home.

Mr Gifford, who has spent a frantic week in Harare trying to assist at least 60 fellow farmers cope with their own invasions around the country was not at home near Chipinge, about 220 miles south east of Harare, when the mob of about 30 wearing Zanu-PF T-shirts arrived at his security gate.

"They have left messages with staff for me that they are taking over the farm and will manage the livestock with some of my workers," Mr Gifford said.

I'd hoped an 84-year old, unable to even muster fraudulent support for his government, would see the writing on the wall. 

Beer and Global Warming Part 2

As reason contributor Peter Suderman pointed out yesterday, the biofuels craze is already boosting the price of beer because farmers are shifting away from barley to biofuel crops made more lucrative by mandates and subsidies.

 

As if that weren't bad enough, a New Zealand climatologist now warns:

The price of beer is likely to rise in coming decades because climate change will hamper the production of a key grain needed for the brew -- especially in Australia, a scientist warned Tuesday.

Jim Salinger, a climate scientist at New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, said climate change likely will cause a decline in the production of malting barley in parts of New Zealand and Australia. Malting barley is a key ingredient of beer.

"It will mean either there will be pubs without beer or the cost of beer will go up," Salinger told the Institute of Brewing and Distilling convention.

Whole depressing AP article here.

Disclosure: I drink scotch--preferably single malt Caol Ila, Lagavulin, or Laphroaig--which is also made using barley. 

Sir Elton Comes Out for Hillary; Guess Which Song She Mentions

As someone who genuinely enjoys pre-knighted Elton John music from his '70s heyday, I can think of any number of Reggie Dwight-Bernie Taupin tunes that might cover this situation. None is mentioned below, though Sen. Clinton's invocation of "I'm Still Standing" below is the worst mention of a song by a politico since Sen. Bill Bradley once announced lunch for a bunch of New Jersey high school newspaper editors circa 1981 by announcing to the Springsteen-savvy crowd that "everybody has a hungry heart."

Sez the BBC:

Pop star Sir Elton John has raised $2.5m (£1.3m) for Hillary Clinton's US presidential campaign with a concert at New York's Radio City Music Hall.

Former president Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea joined the former first lady at the gig.

Senator Clinton, who is fighting Barack Obama to become the Democratic party's candidate, said: "I'm still standing"—a nod to Sir Elton's 1983 hit song.

The singer told the crowd: "There is no-one more qualified to lead America."

He also accused people who think Mrs Clinton is an unsuitable candidate of being sexist.

"I'm amazed by the misogynistic attitudes of some of the people in this country, and I say to hell with them," he told the crowd.

"I love you Hillary, I'll be there for you."

More here.

I mention this story because a) I find celebrity endorsements/anti-endorsements genuinely hilarious (how many votes did David Crosby throw Bush's way by announcing he'd leave for Canada if the Texan beat Al Gore in 2000)?; b) I am genuinely interested in what sort of dinosaur rawk stars will come out for Barack Obama and John McCain (what are The Spokesmen up to these days?); c) I genuinely would have voted for Hillary if she had quipped instead, "I get high in the evening sniffing pots of glue," and d) It's a genuine opportunity to link yet again to the ultimate Shatnerian triumph of style, substance, and schmaltz, a.k.a. his dramatic reading of Elton John's "Rocket Man" (pronounced rock-IT maaan):

Boo on That Mortgage Bailout!

Over at Rough Cut, the video blog of reason.tv, check out Mike Flynn saying to mortgage bailouts on CNBC's Task Force. Flynn is director of government affairs at Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes the print and online editions of reason.

Click on the image below to hear a rollicking good argument against government intervention in the economy—for strapped homeowners and investment banks alot.

Politics Is Hell on the Homefront, Too

Though he wins re-election handily every six years, and his machine still effectively runs Arizona Republican politics, it is kind of funny how John McCain is despised, challenged and occasionally defeated (in minor elections) by activist Republicans in his home district, who dislike him because of immigration, abortion, and his temperament (not necessarily in that order). The latest, from an Arizona GOP insider:

John McCain's slate for important state convention delegates, was unable to muster the necessary votes to win in his own home district.

His list included three GOP precinct committeemen who had endorsed Democrat Janet Napolitano for governor and whose names appeared on the pro-abortion WISH List: Sharon Harper, Kahryn Nix and Brenda Sperduti. [...]

Along with the cookies, cupcakes and McCain lapel stickers, a "Recommended McCain Delegates to State Convention" list printed on McCain's letterhead was distributed to committeemen entering the meeting. Previously, letters were mailed and follow-up phone calls made, to ensure support for McCain's hand-picked slate.

RealClearPolitics on "McCain's Arizona Problem" here. Seeing Red AZ's litany of complaints here.

Is Obama's Position on the D.C. Gun Ban a Mystery?

Conservative columnist Robert Novak, who last month claimed Barack Obama "has weighed in against the D.C. [gun] law," now describes the Illinois senator's position as "unrevealed": 

In response to my inquiry about his specific position, Obama's campaign e-mailed me a one-paragraph answer: Obama believes that while the "Second Amendment creates an individual right... he also believes that the Constitution permits federal, state and local government to adopt reasonable and common sense gun safety measures." Though the paragraph is titled "Obama on the D.C. Court case," the specific gun ban is never mentioned. I tried again, without success, last week to learn Obama's position before writing this column.

But at a February 15 press conference in Milwaukee, Obama made it pretty clear that, while he believes the Second Amendment protects an individual right to arms, he does not think Chicago's handgun ban or the D.C. gun law, which effectively prohibits keeping a firearm at home for self-defense, violates that right:

There's been a longstanding argument among constitutional scholars about whether the Second Amendment referred simply to militias or whether it spoke to an individual right to possess arms. I think the latter is the better argument. There is an individual right to bear arms, but it is subject to common-sense regulation, just like most of our rights are subject to common-sense regulation....I think that local jurisdictions have the capacity to institute their own gun laws...The City of Chicago has gun laws, as does Washington, D.C. I think the notion that somehow local jurisdictions can't initiate gun safety laws to deal with gang-bangers and random shootings on the street isn't borne out by our Constitution.

I pieced these quotations together from an A.P. story, an ABC News report, and a Chicago Tribune blog item; I haven't been able to locate a complete transcript. But Obama's meaning does not seem mysterious to me. Indeed, A.P. matter-of-factly reported that "he voiced support for the District of Columbia's ban on handguns"—although, to be fair to Novak, ABC News legal correspondent Jan Crawford Greenburg interpreted Obama's remarks differently, saying "he declined...to take a position on whether the D.C. gun ban violates the Second Amendment."

This is not just nitpicking. Obama's past positions on gun control and recent statements about gun rights provide little reason to believe he takes the Second Amendment seriously. And as I've argued, it's hard to see what meaningful restrictions the Second Amendment imposes on gun control if something like the D.C. law can pass constitutional muster.

Decent Political Commentary in Entertainment Weekly. Really.

Stephen King uses his regular Entertainment Weekly column to score some points against the latest push to ban the sale of the really good kind of video games to minors in my current base of operations, Massachusetts. Here's the master of horror on why he's freaked out by video game bans:

What makes me crazy is when politicians take it upon themselves to play surrogate parents. The results of that are usually disastrous. Not to mention undemocratic....

What really makes me insane is how eager politicians are to use the pop culture — not just videogames but TV, movies, even Harry Potter — as a whipping boy. It's easy for them, even sort of fun, because the pop-cult always hollers nice and loud.

King tosses in a gratuitous what-we-really-need-is-gun-control point at the end, but he comes out strong for "plastic videogame guns," which is still pretty good.

reason on King here. And on The King here. And on Dr. King here.

Do Scientists Cheat When They Brain-Dope?

As an April Fool's joke, Jonathan Eisen of the University of California, Davis, issued a press release about the National Institutes of Health's new anti-brain doping regulations, complete with a World Anti-Brain Doping Authority website.

Now Nature is reporting the results from an informal poll that one-fifth of scientists confess to using pharmaceuticals such as ritalin, modafinil, and beta-blockers to enhance their cognitive function. According to Nature:

One in five respondents said they had used drugs for non-medical reasons to stimulate their focus, concentration or memory. Use did not differ greatly across age-groups (see line graph, right), which will surprise some. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in Bethesda, Maryland, says that household surveys suggest that stimulant use is highest in people aged 18–25 years, and in students.

For those who choose to use, methylphenidate was the most popular: 62% of users reported taking it. 44% reported taking modafinil, and 15% said they had taken beta blockers such as propanolol, revealing an overlap between drugs. 80 respondents specified other drugs that they were taking. The most common of these was adderall, an amphetamine similar to methylphenidate. But there were also reports of centrophenoxine, piractem, dexedrine and various alternative medicines such as ginkgo and omega-3 fatty acids.

The most popular reason for taking the drugs was to improve concentration. Improving focus for a specific task (admittedly difficult to distinguish from concentration) ranked a close second and counteracting jet lag ranked fourth, behind 'other' which received a few interesting reasons, such as “party”, “house cleaning” and “to actually see if there was any validity to the afore-mentioned article”.

So far professional scientific societies have not declared that using such enhancements violates their rules.

Whole Nature article here.

Hat tip to Andy Fell.

March of the Paulites

I'd missed this news from a few days ago: Ron Paul supporters staged a democratic coup at Minnesota Republican district meetings and left the party's leaders sputtering. Well, sputtering and dismissive.

Over the weekend, they captured six of a dozen GOP national convention delegates elected at congressional district meetings. The rebellion has left local party officials crying foul, even as state leaders downplay the importance of the unexpected result.

"They'll be national delegates, but at the end of the day, that doesn't change anything because John McCain is going to be our nominee," said party spokesman Mark Drake.

Well, they should have seen it coming. Ron Paul supporters nabbed 16 percent of the vote and four counties on the Feb. 5 caucuses, and as the organizers kept pointing out to me, they were ready to win delegates in the next stage of the process. McCain has a number of built-in advantages for the fall, but "a well-organized and motivated party" is not on his list.

This little victory raises a question: What is the Ron Paul campaign actually up to? What's the rEVOLution up to? The answers are "not much" and "a little more." Paul is doing a campaign swing in Pennsylvania on Friday, but he's turned down requests from local organizers (very, very active ones, whose Liberty Bell t-shirts were spotted many times in New Hampshire) to go and stump in their areas. He might go to Duke before the North Carolina primary, but his campaign is leaving the grunt work of the campaign to local organizers.

The minor-league rEVOLutionaries are doing a little better. There are no less than six "Ron Paul Republicans" running for office in Virginia and Maryland, and the four from Maryland have already won their primaries. On Friday I stopped by a fundraiser for Amit Singh, a 33-year old first-time candidate in the uber-Democratic suburbs in Virginia across the river from D.C. He's closing in on $40,000 in funds after less than a month of campaigning. Last night the Maryland GOP had a dinner for its congressional challengers, and Ron Paul Republicans got tips on how to campaign.

One thing I've heard from a number of Ron Paul-inspired candidates is speculation about what Ron Paul will do for them. Is he going to endorse? Is he going to share his donor list? So far he's only endorsed two non-incumbent candidates, Murray Sabrin for New Jersey's Senate seat and Jim Forsythe for New Hampshire's first congressional district. The New Jersey GOP is trying desparately to find a candidate to crush Sabrin, and it's coming up short. But Forsythe, running against a former congressman who lost the seat in the 2006 rout, is about to drop out of the race. The Paul campaign suggests that the candidate might start endorsing other candidates soon. "Ron will review them after staff vet them first," said a spokesman. "The criteria will be a combination of viability and commitment to limited government principles."

Barr vs. Boortz on Borders

The popularity of Neal Boortz and his brand of bare-knuckled, national greatness libertarianism is one reason Libertarian candidates do unusually well in Georgia. Georgia libertarian radio host, national audience: Seems like an unalloyed good for Bob Barr. But Jim Galloway listened in to a Barr-Boortz interview and heard the two scrapping about illegal immigration.

Said Barr:

“You set a mechanism internally to determine who is here. And if you catch folks that are here unlawfully, and do not submit themselves to a background check that those coming into this country are going to be required to do, then you send them back to their country.”

Said Boortz:

“It sounds to me that you’re saying, if you find an illegal immigrant in this country, and they’re willing to submit to a background check, that that could open the door to them staying here.”

Said Barr:

“I think as a practical matter, that makes a lot of sense. I’m not sure how you would go about rounding up millions of people and trying to deport them. The key here is security….”

What's Barr's immigration record? The rundown from the restrictionists at Numbers USA is here, and it reveals that Barr voted against most liberal immigration policies, with a few exceptions. Those exceptions were usually for employers.

Rep. Barr voted AGAINST the Gallegly Amendment to H.R.2202. That amendment would have made pilot workplace verification programs (see above) mandatory in five of the top seven immigration states

Rep. Barr voted IN FAVOR of the Pombo Amendment to H.R.2202. He was voting for a massive new program that would have allowed agri-business to import up to 250,000 foreign farm workers each year for a period of service of less than a year.

Before the House passed the H-1B doubling bill (H.R.3736), Rep. Barr had an opportunity to vote for a Watt Substitute bill that would have forbidden U.S. firms from using temporary foreign workers to replace Americans. Rep. Barr opposed that protection. The substitute also would have required U.S. firms to check a box on a form attesting that they had first sought an American worker for the job. Rep. Barr voted against that.

This is the kind of stuff that starts restrictionists' teeth gnashing. How much Republicans and pro-McCain bloggers make of this will depend on whether Barr becomes a threat, and how much he pounds on the issue.

Hayne Responds

Dr. Steven Hayne has responded in Jackson's Clarion-Ledger to a complaint filed by the national and Mississippi Innocence Projects to revoke his medical license. And to vouch for his credibility, he has summoned none other than District Attorney Forrest Allgood—the same guy who has had three murder convictions overturned, and who continued using "bite-mark expert" Dr. Michael West more than a decade after the disgraced dentist was exposed as a fraud.

Here, a closer look at Hayne and Allgood's comments:

"My experience with Hayne is that 99 times out of 100 he testifies this guy died and this is how he died," Allgood said. "How is that in any way convicting innocent people?"

I'm not even sure what this means. In the Tyler Edmonds case, Hayne put his medical expertise behind a Allgood's theory that two people held the gun that fired the bullets that killed a man. His testimony in the Cory Maye case was critical in casting doubt on Maye's credibility with the jury. In the Devin Bennett and Jeffrey Havard cases, Hayne's testimony that infant deaths were homicides instead of accidents was really the only evidence presented against the men. Both were sentenced to death. Hayne routinely testifies to matters well beyond the mere cause of death, many times well beyond his area of expertise.

The National Association of Medical Examiners limits pathologists to fewer than 250 autopsies a year.

Hayne said such a number is arbitrary. "There's one group that says you shouldn't do more than 350, and there are other groups that don't have a limit," he said. "Should I call the Innocence Project to see if I've done too many and stop?"

NAME is widely considered the guiding professional organization for forensic pathologists. But I'd challenge Hayne to find any medical organization willing to give its approval to the 1,500 to 1,800 autopsies he does per year. It isn't that he does 10 or 15 more than he should. It's that he does 5-8 times as many as he should. While testifying 2-3 times per week. And holding other jobs.

He estimates he works 110 hours a week. "Some people were put on this earth to party, and some people were put on this earth to work," he said. "I've always worked very hard."

And a forensic pathologist whose conclusions and trial testimony can determine whether or not someone is found guilty of murder shouldn't be working 110 hours per week. It's simply not possible to put in that kind of time and do an adequate job. Hayne's history of sloppy work bears this out.

Innocence Project officials say Hayne has wrongly testified he is "board certified" in forensic pathology. By contending he is board certified, officials say this is an obvious reference to the American Board of Pathology.

Hayne disputed that claim.

He said the American Board of Pathology has never construed its board as superior. He said he is certified in anatomical pathology and clinical pathology by that board. He is certified in forensic pathology by the American Board of Forensic Pathology.

Any forensic pathologist will tell you that in order to work in most hospitals, testify in court, and generally be accepted as "board certified" in a particular medical specialty, you have to be certified by an organization approved by the American Board of Medical Specialties. And in forensic pathology, that means a certification in the sub-specialty of forensic pathology by the American Board of Pathology.

No forensic pathologist I've talked to has heard of the "American Board of Forensic Pathology." It sounds suspiciously like the organization Hayne should have been certified by, but is just a bit off. The organization apparently doesn't have a website. It's also just one of several organizations of dubious merit from which he has claimed certification over the years. Given that Hayne only seems willing to speak to the Clarion-Ledger, perhaps a reporter there could ask him more about this mysterious organization. Does he have an actual certificate from them? Where are they located? What did he have to do to get certified?

He said the American Board of Pathology hasn't certified him because he walked out of the examination. He said he got angry at what he regarded as a stupid question - ranking in order what colors are associated with funerals instead of asking questions about forensic pathology.

"I've got a temper. I don't put up with crap like that," he said. "I walked out and took another examination from another board."

And yet for decades thousands of forensic pathologists have managed to take the same exam without storming off in anger.

Sometimes defense lawyers will ask for the funds to hire an expert to challenge Hayne, Allgood said. "So far I have yet to see any of them come and testify, which only leads me to the conclusion they agree with what he said."

Allgood is flat-out lying. First, many times when a defense attorney in Mississippi asks the court for funds to hire an expert to challenge Hayne, he is denied. That's what happened in the Jeffrey Havard case. Moreover, I personally know of cases in which Allgood was the prosecutor, where defense attorneys were able to procure an expert to counter Hayne. It's not surprising to see Allgood hedge and mislead on this stuff. But he's now brazenly lying on matters that can be pretty easily verified.

Finally, a bit of comic relief...

Hayne said he's the victim of modern-day McCarthyism by a group whose real aim is to gut the death penalty in Mississippi and other states.

Million Lemmings March

News that Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr had called off his planned "Million-Man March" against the U.S. occupation (while also pondering withdrawal from the eight-month ceasefire that has reduced violence levels in the country) is a timely reminder that few things in this world are as resonant as particularly inspired acts of American political branding.

In the 11.5 12.5 years since probably less than a million black men descended upon the capital, we've had the semi-coherent follow-up Million Family March, the related Million Father March and Million Woman March, the 10th anniversary Millions More Movement, plus the anti-gun Million Mom March, the pro-gun Million Gun March, the 10,000-strong Million Worker March, Robert Mugabe's Million Man March in Zimbabwe, the Million Step March across North Carolina, the impeach-Bush Million Phone March, the obesity-fightin' Million Calorie March, a Million Mind March organized by somebody named Rebecca, the Million Musicians March in Austin (of course) to free Tibet (of course), the self-explanatory Million Marijuana March, and the recent Million Fag March against the crazy Westboro Baptist Church. I for one am looking forward to the upcoming Million Paul March, the Million DJ March this August, and the Million Robot March of 2056.

I was first awed by the power of American political sloganeering some time in the early 1990s, when a Czech politician was looking for a catchy new tough-on-crime law, but lacked the powerful national metaphor of baseball (on account of Czechs not having any clue how to play it). His solution? "Three Strikes Are Enough!"

Petraeus at the Senate

From the L.A. Times' account of yesterday's Senate hearings on the Iraq War:

As expected, back-to-back Senate committee hearings spotlighting Army Gen. David H. Petraeus became a confrontation between two immovable forces. But there was no real decision at stake: President Bush is expected Thursday to endorse Petraeus' recommendation for a suspension of withdrawals in July, insisting that security gains over the last 15 months can lead toward a sustainable future, with continued U.S. help....

Democrat after Democrat, including the party's two remaining presidential contenders, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, questioned whether the costs of the strategy proposed by Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who also testified, were too high....

By keeping force levels at 140,000 into the autumn -- a few thousand more than before Bush announced the troop buildup in January 2007 -- U.S. officials can build on recent gains and the Iraqi government can gradually take over responsibility, he argued.

"This approach does not allow establishment of a set withdrawal timetable," he acknowledged. "However, it does provide the flexibility those of us on the ground need to preserve the still fragile security gains our troopers have fought so hard and sacrificed so much to achieve."

Petraeus refused to specify what might take place following a recommended 45-day suspension in troop reductions....

Not surprisingly, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) lauded Petraeus: "This means rejecting, as we did in 2007, the calls for a reckless and irresponsible withdrawal of our forces at the moment we are succeeding." Beyond the Dems, he was countered by several GOP senators, including Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, who noted, "Simply appealing for more time to make progress is insufficient."

More here.

reason's current cover story on "The Trillion Dollar War" here. More on Iraq here.

Adventures in Cosmopolis

Tonight I scored an invite to one of those innumerable D.C. meet-and-greets, The Week magazine's Opinion Awards. Journalists, think-tankers and policy geeks from the high and low circles of the city gathered in a Georgetown hotel, downed free drinks, and ate free food, as The Week handed out prizes for cartooning (Mike Lukovich), blogging (Joshua Micah Marshall) and column writing (Ruth Marcus). Mingling around the small ballroom, seemingly seated at random, were figures from all over the political spectrum. Karl Rove, seated next to Ben Bradlee and across from Ana Marie Cox, was right next to the stage as The Week editors awarded journalists who'd exposed his misdeeds. And they joked while they did so.

When Josh Marshall (in absentia) was credited with exposing the White House's abuses in the U.S. attorneys scandal: "Karl... I'm sorry to bring this up." Big laughs.

When Mike Lukovich got his award: "When I got this I got a call from Karl Rove, telling me, "I want to be there for you, Mike!'"

When emcee Margaret Carlson made a joke about wiretapping abuses, Rove stage-whispered a joke: "Your calls aren't that interesting, incidentally."

MSNBC host Chris Matthews arrived a bit late, and Carlson pointed him out as he took his seat. "I want more recognition and attention!" He laughed that glass-shattering "HAH!" that Darrell Hammond has such an easy time parodying. Throughout the night, even though I wasn't close to Matthews, it was hard not to hear him.

Rove was there for a purpose: He, Democratic pollster Doug Schoen, and former New York Times Editor Howell Raines ambled onstage after the awards for a rambling forum on "How We Pick the President." Magazine editor-at-large Harold Evans trodded up and down the stage, asking them open-ended questions about the election, and seeming way too surprised when fireworks started burning. Schoen mostly antagonized the audience, wrenching every topic back to his belief that Centrism was what Americans were lusting after, refusing even to call Fox News a conservative network. Raines seemed to curdle whenever Rove spoke, and crackled when he got a chance to attack him. "One of the biggest changes in my lifetime," he said, "has been this rise of negative campaigning."

Rove was a bit more credible. Hillary Clinton, he said, had run an "appalling, lousy" campaign. He'd beaten Al Gore in 2000 by making it look like Gore was running away from Bush, looking weak, instead of defining himself and looking strong. When the conversation turned to Jeremiah Wright, Rove rolled out an argument he'd been using on Fox News and in other interviews: Obama missed the opportunity to denounce Wright, and the fact that he'd stayed in the pews for 20 years implied that he agreed with Wright's craziest statements. There was some applause and a lot more low-decibel grumbling. Raines challenged Rove on how John McCain had sought the endorsement of fanatics like John Hagee. "That's not the same as sitting in that church for 20 years as this pastor said the government created crack to kill the black community," said Rove, "that the CIA created AIDS."

Chris Lehmann, an occasional reason contributor, piped up from the second row from the stage. "He wasn't in the pew!"* Lehmann said. "He wasn't in the pew when Wright said that!" Evans tried to quiet the room down. "We're moving on to another subject," Evans said. "Then he should stop lying," Lehmann said.

The rest of the panel followed this pattern: Schoen getting rolled, Raines getting annoyed, Rove launching effective Republican attacks. Negative campaigning only worked if it reinforced a worry that voters held: For an example, he used Mike Dukakis and the issue of crime. Ana Marie Cox (who's married to Lehmann) was obviously thrown. As the panel wound down, she raised her hand. As the speakers filibustered, she waved both her hands with more an more energy, swinging them like a distress signal. When Evans called on her she sarcastically complimented the organizers for putting together "so many experts on race and gender," then asked Rove if Dukakis's problems with crime had anything to do with race.

"The Gallup poll showed that 60 percent..."

Cox repeated her question.

"It was first reported in Reader's Digest. Al Gore was the first to make it an issue."

This sounded like a non sequitur, and the audience wasn't satisfied. So Rove clarified: "I will not say it had nothing to do with race. But the ad the Bush campaign ran on this did not exploit race. The image was blue." Everyone scratched their heads, including me, because the iconic Willie Horton ad was on a blue screen... with an embedded picture of the very black Horton.

Two thoughts occured to me after Evans moved the conversation on from here. The first was that Rove must get this a lot, touring the rubber chicken circuit in a country and a city where he's still largely loathed. The second was that the crowed must have loved what Lehmann and Cox were saying. That second thought was proven after the event was over, and a bevy of journalists, who'd largely sit and smiled during the presentation, rushed over to thank Cox for her question.

You have to respect Chris Matthews: He's blunt enough to say what he thinks without waiting for someone else to say it. When Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute asked Rove about John McCain, Evans asked who Ebell's ideal candidate would be. "I would have liked to see Haley Barbour," Ebell said.

"Hah!" said Matthews. "I could tell you stories about him!"

Running Babies Through a Scanner Darkly

From today's Congress Daily:

Former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly is scheduled to make a pitch on Capitol Hill today for legislation on the House floor requiring all states to screen newborns for the full complement of disorders that can be detected in early childhood.

Kelly, whose 8-year-old son died in 2005 of a nervous system disorder called Krabbe disease, planned to join Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Children and Families Subcommittee, to urge the House to pass Dodd's newborn-screening bill. A vote on the legislation is scheduled for today.

Not all states screen infants for all disorders such as Krabbe, and Dodd's bill would require such testing to be uniform across the country.

While it's easy to imagine (and to celebrate) a world where genetic testing is so cheap and easy that most people get their kids tested as a matter of course, mandating testing at this stage doesn't make sense and may even slow progress and artificially inflate prices.

The same reasoning applies here as in the case of mandating florescent light bulbs: A mandate will reduce incentives to keep pushing prices down and testing technology at the bleeding edge of science. Plus, picking a list of disorders to be tested for, and setting it down in the fast-drying concrete of legislation will breed a less flexible, less adaptable field.

How's this for a case of nanny state--literal and figurative? 

Innocence Project Files Complaint to Revoke Dr. Hayne's Medical License

I'll have more on Mississippi's wacky medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne over the next few days. But today, the national and Mississippi Innocence Projects have filed a whopping 1,000-page complaint to the Mississippi Board of State Medical Licensure calling for the revocation of Hayne's medical license.

The report "outlines several violations – spanning two decades – of the Mississippi state law that regulates medical practice," including the Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks cases, as well as several of the cases I first reported for reason last October.

From the press release:

“Steven Hayne’s long history of misconduct, incompetence and fraud has sent truly innocent people to death row or to prison for life. This is precisely why regulations are in place to revoke medical licenses. Steven Hayne should never practice medicine in Mississippi again, and the complaint we filed today is an important step toward restoring integrity in forensic science statewide – and restoring confidence in the state’s criminal justice system,” said Peter Neufeld, Co-Director of the Innocence Project.

[...]

“We have only presented the tip of the iceberg to the State Board of Medical Licensure, but this evidence shows Steven Hayne’s unprofessional, dishonorable and unethical conduct that has deceived, defrauded and harmed the public,” said W. Tucker Carrington, Director of the Mississippi Innocence Project.

The complaint filed today says, “We believe the conduct in this complaint alone is sufficient to justify immediate revocation of Dr. Hayne’s license … His work compromises the accuracy and integrity of medicine and criminal justice throughout the state. We urge you to put an end to his misconduct through an expeditious, thorough investigation of his work and revocation of his license."

In February, I spoke with the head of the Mississippi State Medical Association, who said she would move to revoke Hayne's membership in that organization.

California Punishes Wrongfully Convicted Man a Second Time

Last month, I mentioned the case of James Ochoa, an Orange County, California man wrongly convicted and imprisoned for 16 months for carjacking.

The state of California is now refusing to compensate Ochoa for his wrongful conviction because, they say, by accepting a plea bargain, Ochoa contributed to his own railroading.

A glimpse at the facts of this case shows why that decision is absurd. The OC Weekly reports:

Robert Fitzgerald, a sassy Superior Court judge with an embarrassing track record of being rebuked by appellate courts for judicial improprieties, confronted Ochoa outside the presence of the jury with this offer: Plead guilty and get a two-year-prison sentence, or face the possibility of life in prison if you continue the trial and the jury finds you guilty.

Here's what Ochoa was thinking:

The threat frightened Ochoa. Later, he described to me the factors in his decision: how the Buena Park police detectives had raided his parents’ house and arrested him for a crime he didn’t commit; how prosecutors had refused to consider the weakness of their case; and, finally, of the white, suburban-dominated Orange County jury members, whom, he believed, would accept law enforcement’s word as gospel.

Two years versus life. Taking the plea wasn't part of some elaborate scheme to defraud the state out of wrongful conviction compensation. It was an act of self-preservation. I probably would have done the same thing.

And his suspicions about the system that was prosecuting him were probably more justified than even Ochoa knew at the time.

Remember, this is the case where DNA testing showed that the hair left at the crime scene did not match Ochoa. According to the crime lab technician who conducted the testing, that result was met with fierce resistance from the prosecutors' office, who on two occasions asked her to change her results.

Talk about adding insult to injury. Neither the judge nor the prosecutors have suffered any repercussions for their behavior. Indeed, post-exoneration, the only person being punished for his role in the railroading of James Ochoa . . . is James Ochoa.

Huck! Come Back, Huck!

Via Jonathan Martin, a stirring scene captured by Warren Cole Smith from a March meeting of the Christian right.

Michael Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association, an early supporter of Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, chided the group for cold-shouldering his candidate until it was too late. Others, including Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, disagreed. The meeting quickly threatened to dissolve into accusations, rebuttals, and recriminations.

Then, venerable Paul Weyrich... a Romney supporter and one of those Farris had chastised for not supporting Huckabee, steered his wheelchair to the front of the room and slowly turned to face his compatriots. In a voice barely above a whisper, he said, "Friends, before all of you and before almighty God, I want to say I was wrong."

In a quiet, brief, but passionate speech, Weyrich essentially confessed that he and the other leaders should have backed Huckabee, a candidate who shared their values more fully than any other candidate in a generation. He agreed with Farris that many conservative leaders had blown it. By chasing other candidates with greater visibility, they failed to see what many of their supporters in the trenches saw clearly: Huckabee was their guy.

Why'd they fail to see that? These people aren't stupid, after all. The answer, I think, is because economic conservatives (and some libertarians) outflanked them. Earlier this year I pointed out that the Club for Growth had a bad year at the polls and that the falling salience of tax cuts as an election issue was hurting their candidates at the polls. Exhibit A: Their inability to stop the Huckabee surge in Iowa. But the Club campaign was extraordinary successful at convincing the conservative elite that Huckabee was unacceptable, suspect. Before Huck started his rise, all some of these people knew about him was that he'd gotten a covenant marriage (good!) and crusaded against childhood obesity (mixed at best!). Economic conservatives rushed in to define Huckabee and provide their allies with specific examples of his perfidy on tax hikes, on state spending, and so on. This had two mutually-reinforcing effects: To raise doubts about Huckabee's consistency among religious right leaders, many of whom were also economic conservatives, and to hint that the Club wing of the party would revolt if Huckabee prevailed.

Obviously, this campaign wouldn't have worked if Huckabee wasn't actually a big-government conservative. He supplied the ammo. But the ammo would have just sat around if economic conservatives didn't bring the guns. Reading Smith's article, I don't know if this attack would work again. The Club is convinced that it's tarred Huckabee and prevented him from ever becoming a frontrunner again, but the Weyrichs and the rest of the Beltway Christian right can't afford another wrenching rejection of their base.

Getting His Goat

Jose Merced, a Santeria priest in Euless, Texas, is challenging the city's refusal to let him sacrifice goats. Last month a federal judge upheld Euless' ban on animal sacrifice, and today the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed an appeal on Merced's behalf with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

In Employment Division v. Smith, a 1988 case involving the Native American Church's peyote rituals, the U.S. Supreme Court held that "neutral laws of general applicability" do not violate the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom merely because they make it difficult or impossible for someone to practice his religion. But five years later, in a case that seems quite similar to Merced's, the Court unanimously overturned ordinances banning animal sacrifice in Hialeah, Florida. Since those ordinances, a direct response to the opening of a Santeria church, singled out the type of animal slaughter practiced by Santerians, the Court concluded they were not "neutral laws of general applicability." Hence they could be justified only if they were narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest, which they weren't. Although Euless claims to be protecting public health, it likewise prohibits religious slaughter in particular, while allowing the killing of deer and other animals for food. Becket Fund attorney Lori Windham asks:

Why is it okay to butcher a deer in Euless, but not a goat? The issue of Santeria and animal sacrifice has already been decided by the United States Supreme Court. I'm pretty sure the Constitution of the United States still applies in Euless, Texas.

Last year I explored the legal fallout from Smith in a reason story about religious use of drugs.

You Wait Right Here, I'll Go Get Warren

Ilya Somin joins the ranks of Harding revisionists:

In Sunday's New York Times, Yale historian Beverly Gage has an interesting article suggesting that Harding may have been the first "black" president in the sense that it is possible that he had a remote black ancestor. Unfortunately, Gage's article about Harding and race relations completely ignores the fact that Harding made a well-known speech advocating full legal equality for southern blacks in 1921, in Birmingham, Alabama. As W.E.B. DuBois pointed out at the time, Harding went farther in advocating equal rights for blacks than any other post-Reconstruction Republican president (the Democrats, at that time the party of southern whites, were even worse). Indeed, no president went as far as Harding in advocating equal rights for southern blacks for several decades thereafter. Harding also lobbied hard for a federal anti-lynching bill to curb the rampant lynching of blacks by whites in the South - again, the first post-Reconstruction president to do so (the bill passed the House, but died in the Senate due to the threat of Democratic filibusters). As DuBois pointed out in the linked article, Harding was not wholly free of the racism common among whites at the time. But he was a lot better than the vast majority of his contemporaries.

Nor were these Harding's only positive aspects. As Gene Healy discusses in his interesting recent book, The Cult of the Presidency, Harding is also notable for reversing the severe violations of civil and economic liberties that had proliferated under his predecessor Woodrow Wilson. It's easy to belittle Harding's campaign slogan - "Return to Normalcy." But Harding's notion of "normalcy" included an end to the imprisonment of political dissenters (such as Wilson's notorious "Palmer Raids"), abolition of wage and price controls, and the reversal of Wilson's numerous illegal seizures of private property.

I think the most palatable presidents of the 20th century were Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, and I believe Wilson was the worst chief executive in U.S. history. So I'll nod in general agreement, though I think Somin understates Du Bois' criticisms of Harding.

An aside: Harding's alleged black ancestry is a plot point in one of my favorite novels, Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo.

Another aside: In the comment thread beneath Somin's post, some readers are talking up the merits of James K. Polk. Me, I don't believe that history can be reduced to simple "turning points," but if I did, I'd say the day everything went to hell came when that landgrabbing bastard beat Van Buren at the 1844 Democratic convention.

You're Just Like Crosstown Traffic

Yesterday, New York's Democratic-run Assembly killed Mike Bloomberg's plan for $8 traffic congestion charges. Today, the New York Times reveals how the Bloomberg forces screwed up.

In Albany, the commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, expressed the mayor’s sentiments, saying: “You are either for this historic change in New York or you’re against it. And if you’re against it, you’re going to have a lot of explaining to do.”

Ms. Sadik-Khan’s remarks were widely noted by Albany lawmakers, with some viewing her tone as condescending. So when it was revealed that the state police had pulled her over for speeding and improperly using her lights and sirens on her way to the Capitol, it only underscored what the legislators saw as the Bloomberg administration’s imperious attitude.

And that was just the toothless threat. Bloomberg personally donated $500,000 to Republican state senators, who narrowly run that body... shortly thereafter, the State Senate's leader endorsed the plan. Bloomberg's political advisor, fresh off the Bloomberg-for-President draft campaign (How'd that turn out?), growled about defeating anti-congestion charge pols at the ballot box.

[Sheekey has] hinted that opponents of congestion pricing would face rejection by voters in the fall elections.

“If there are people out there who aren’t helping New York City, I suppose they should fear,” Mr. Sheekey said on Monday, just hours before the Assembly rejected the measure in a closed door meeting. “It’s not the mayor they should worry about.”

I think the Bloomberg team's punching above its weight. They had to know that polls showed a solid majority of New Yorkers against the plan, and that most Democrats in the state Assembly represent the city or its environs. They'd have to face voters boiling over with rage at their new taxes, and thanks to city council term limits there's no shortage of ambitious, bored politicians who could jump in and unseat them. Bloomberg needed to convince the city that the city's roads are a distorted market, that the revenue from congestion taxes will come back to them in public transportation, etc. and etc. You can only go so far with hype and bullying.

Red-Headed Stranger, "The Body" See Controlled Demolition

Everyone's favorite weed-smoking, tax-cheating troubadour, Mr. Willie Nelson, has joined the ranks of the 9/11 "truthers." On Amy Goodman's Democracy Now radio program, Pancho the Lefty dropped some science on how buildings collapse: "I think 85 or 90 percent of the people in this country say, "What?" I mean, a plane hit this building, and it fell kind of like that. And another plane hit that building, and it fell kind of like that. About the same time it fell, this one fell the same way. It looked like an implosion somewhere, you know? And then, all of a sudden, the third building fell, and no plane hit it."

Former Minnesota governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura recently appeared on The Alex Jones Show to offers his own, Loose Change-inspired theories of how buildings collapse and at what temperature jet fuel burns. The crack(pot) reporters at Prison Planet have the story:

"Two planes struck two buildings....but how is it that a third building fell 5 hours later? How could this building just implode into its own footprint 5 hours later - that's my first question - the 9/11 Commission didn't even devote one page to that in their big volume of investigation. How could those buildings fall at the speed of gravity - if you put a stopwatch on them both of those World Trade Center buildings were on the ground in ten seconds - how can that be?"
[...]

Having undergone Basic Underwater Demolition Seal training, Ventura is speaking from an experienced standpoint and he unequivocally stated that he thought the buildings were deliberately imploded.

"Upon looking at the film in super-slow motion and the way the buildings fell and comparing that to the way that they do like a controlled demolition of a hotel in Las Vegas, they both fell identical."

Toddlers Are Not Not Allowed to Marry

An extraneous not in a 2007 law briefly allowed children of any age to marry in Arkansas, as long as they had parental permission. The botched passage read:

In order for a person who is younger than eighteen (18) years of age and who is not pregnant to obtain a marriage license, the person must provide the county clerk with evidence of parental consent to the marriage.

In a special session last week, the state legislature re-established the old minimum ages for marriage with parental permission: 16 for girls and 17 for boys. Evidently legislators abandoned the attempt to carve out an exception for girls younger than 16 who are pregnant, perhaps fearing that the mysterious marriage not would slip back in. 

Here's a rundown of legal marriage ages in various states. Until a couple years ago, when lawmakers established a minimum marriage age of 15, Kansas was among the loosest, allowing girls as young as 12 to marry with parental permission. Neighboring Nebraska had a minimum age of 17, the sort of discrepancy that can cause tabloid headlines.

Say a Prayer for the Free-Trade Democrat

Where have all the free-trade Democrats gone (long-time passing)? I noted earlier today that Hillary Clinton adviser Mark Penn got shitcanned for his ties to the Colombian government, specifically his work to push through a pending free-trade agreement with that country and these United States. Clinton, whose husband helped push through the North American Free Trade Agreement, is against the Colombian deal.

Given the demagoguery on the trade issue done during the Democratic primary in Ohio, it's worth dwelling on Clinton's and Barack Obama's trade positions, which suck. From the LA Times:

The Colombian trade pact sent to Congress on Monday by President Bush represents a win-win for the United States. Colombia already enjoys U.S. tariff preferences, and has since 1991; in exchange for making them permanent, Bogota would eliminate its tariffs on U.S. exports, which would greatly boost American manufacturers. To refuse the deal would alienate pro-U.S. governments across Latin America and push them closer to hostile leftist rivals such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. If Clinton and Obama make good on their promises to revisit NAFTA, meanwhile, it could spark a trade war with Canada and Mexico and reverse more than a decade of growth for all three North American economies.

Bill Clinton proved to Democrats that the party could both support sensible trade policies and win elections. It's a shame that his potential successors have forgotten that lesson.

More here.

Yet hardcore Dems seem hell-bent on pushing anti-trade as a defining characteristic of their party. Here's Talking Points blogger Josh Marshall talking about Penn:

Having your key campaign advisor also be an international man of mystery-cum-PR-lobbyist-cheeseball is fairly problematic. But for Hillary's sake, when her political future is on the line in a state like Pennsylvania, wracked by the loss of industrial jobs for decades, you think he could have waited a few more weeks before prancing off to help get a new free trade pact passed?

I think there's little doubt that Penn is a tool when it comes to having too many masters and all that, but do Democrats--whether in the rank and file or in the egghead brigades--really think that Pennsylvania's (or Ohio's, of Michigan's) lack of industrial jobs has anything to do with Colombia? Or even NAFTA for that matter? For starters, manufacturing employment peaked in the U.S. in 1979.

Blogger extraordinaire Alan Vanneman, a man on the Democratic side of the debate, plays out a different take--and one I wish were more popular across the politicial spectrum:

Yes, poor Pennsylvania, staggering under a 4.9% unemployment rate (February 2008). Poor Pennsylvania, with a per capita income of a mere $36,680 (2006 data), ranking only 18th in the U.S. A free-trade pact with mighty Colombia (2006 income per capita, a whopping $2,740) would surely blow a huge hole in the Keystone State's economy.

Hillary Clinton, Josh Marshall, and a lot of other "liberals" should hang their heads in shame at this disgraceful "Fuck the Latinos" campaign strategy.

Read more here.

What was NAFTA's effect on unemployment in the U.S.? Read about it here.

Winning Afghanistan is Cancelled!

Hmm, did Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and fellow discussant Frederick Kagan do the math and just figure there's no way to win? Whatever the reason, here's a screen capture from the website of the American Enterprise Institute that kicked off my unintended-meanings radar:

Who Wants to Bury a Billionaire?

You can't sum up the entire sorry situation in Zimbabwe in just one sentence. But this one goes a long way:

Now the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has rewarded the people of Zimbabwe with a new $50 000 000.00 bank note to reduce the number of notes they have to carry around.

This picture might help, too:

The country faces an inflation rate of approximately 200,000 percent. One of the few saving graces: an extensive black market, which allows Zimbabweans access to more stable foreign currencies.

Name that Vice-Presidential Candidate

What politician, whose name is currently being kicked around for vice president under McCain, said this?:

"If you go back to 2000, when I helped the president in the campaign, I said that I was, in effect, kind of Libertarian on this issue, and meaning by that that I have been concerned about a government role in this issue."

reason contributor and Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi has the answer.

Update: The Wash Post is reporting that Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and the "Leave Us Alone Coalition" has said that Condoleezza Rice would "would be a great president....[and a] great vice president."

Petty Tyranny in California

Terrific bit of investigative journalism from the OC Register finds that nearly one million cars in California owned by public officials are outfitted with special plates that make them immune to fines for traffic violations.

An Orange County Register investigation has found that the program, designed 30 years ago to protect police from criminals, has been expanded to cover hundreds of thousands of public employees – from police dispatchers to museum guards – who face little threat from the public. Their spouses and children can get the plates, too.

This has happened despite warnings from state officials that the safeguard is no longer needed because updated laws have made all DMV information confidential to the public.

The Register found that the confidential plate program shields these motorists in ways most of us can only dream about:

• Vehicles with protected license plates can run through dozens of intersections controlled by red light cameras and breeze along the 91 toll lanes with impunity.

• Parking citations issued to vehicles with protected plates are often dismissed because the process necessary to pierce the shield is too cumbersome.

• Some patrol officers let drivers with protected plates off with a warning because the plates signal that the drivers are "one of their own" or related to someone who is.

[...]

Some police officers confess that when they pull over someone with a confidential license plate they're more likely to let them off with a warning. In most cases, one said, if an officer realizes a motorist has a confidential plate, the car won't be pulled over at all.

"It's an unwritten rule that we would extend professional courtesy," said Ron Smith, a retired Los Angeles Police Department officer who worked patrol for 23 years. "Nine out of 10 times I would."

When They Knock Kick at Your Front Door

Phillip Carter, now blogging over at the Washington Post, discovers an especially rancid paragraph from the John Yoo torture memo released last week claiming that whatever 4th Amendment protections we have left no longer apply when it's the U.S. military doing the searching and seizing:

Indeed, drawing in part on the reasoning of Verdugo-Urquidez, as well as the Supreme Court's treatment of the destruction of property for military necessity, our Office recently concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations. See Memorandum for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, and William J. Haynes II, General Counsel, Department of Defense, from John C. Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, and Robert J. Delahunty, Special Counsel, Re: Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States at 25 (Oct. 23, 2001). [italics in original]

Carter tries to figure out what it all means:

It could refer to the National Security Agency's now-well-publicized surveillance program -- a program grounded in many of the same constitutional theories of presidential power that underlie the torture memoranda. It could also refer to deployment of federal military forces within the United States and action they could take against U.S. citizens, such as hypothetically searching someone's bag for suspected explosives at an airport. (It should be noted that most soldiers deployed for homeland security are state National Guard soldiers, who for complex reasons are subject to different legal rules than federal soldiers.) Or the footnote could refer to clandestine domestic military operations conducted by the Defense Department and its intelligence components -- things we can only guess at.

UPDATE: Senior Editor Jacob Sullum was all over this last week. Excerpt:

That position provides a legal rationale not just for the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance of international communications involving people in the U.S. but for monitoring of purely domestic phone calls and email as well. Indeed, it justifies warrantless domestic searches and seizures of any kind, provided they are carried out by a branch of the Defense Department that asserts a connection to terrorism or some other national security threat. 

The Justice Department has repudiated both Yoo's March 2003 memo and his August 2002 memo addressing torture. But it's not clear to what extent it still concurs with Yoo's sweeping view of executive power. During his confirmation hearings, Attorney General Michael Mukasey conceded that the president is bound to obey statutes regulating the treatment of military prisoners. But he dodged the question of whether Congress has the authority to regulate domestic surveillance conducted in the name of national security. No one thought to ask him whether the president is bound to obey the Fourth Amendment, presumably because no one imagined that even this administration would claim otherwise. Now we know better.

Stone Cold Killer

Controversial political operative Roger Stone continues to add notches his belt, his bedpost, whatever you want to call it. Here's one read on the fall of dirty-toilet pollster Mark Penn, who cashiered himself from the Hillary Clinton campaign this weekend:

Infamous Republican hit man Roger Stone was directly involved in the downfall of Clinton campaign chief strategist Mark Penn. Information printed by conservative columnist Robert Novak last Saturday that Penn's company—Burson Marsteller—was kiting $3 million worth of polling bills in possible violation of the federal campaign finance laws, was supplied by Stone....Stone was also the person who leaked word of Penn's contract last week with the Colombian government to help strategize for a free trade agreement (note: which Hillary Clinton opposes). While Penn stepped down from the post of chief strategist over the weekend, he clearly remains involved in Clinton's inner circle.

Last month Stone was credited by national media sources as the person who tipped off the feds to now-resigned NY Governor Eliot Spitzer's involvement with a high-priced prostitution ring...

More here.

Last November 28, Stone sat down with reason.tv and talked about Eliot Spitzer, the presidential race, and "Dirty Tricks and the Grand Tradition of American Politics." Click below to watch: