Is Scientology a cult or a religion? I've long been suspicious of the distinction, which seems to be more a matter of time than anything else. But at least one British teenager thinks the answer is "cult," which is too bad for him, because that's the answer that gets you a summons from City of London police for violating the Public Order Act. Section 5 of the act prohibits the use of "threatening, abusive or insulting words...within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby." The punishment for violators is "a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale." Prior to a May 10 protest at the Church of Scientology's London headquarters, police warned that use of the c-word would not be tolerated. But there it was on the kid's sign, which he refused to remove upon being "strongly advised" to do so. A leading civil libertarian told the Guardian "this barmy prosecution makes a mockery of Britain's free speech traditions."
[Thanks to Lee Gibson for the tip.]
The Washington Post today finds even more kernels of (subsidized) corn in the moose-turd pie that is the $307 billion farm bill:
Since the amount of the subsidy for 2009 is tied to recent record prices, farmers could reap a windfall if prices drop suddenly.
"I don't think many people on the House side who voted for the farm bill realized there were $16 billion in potential higher costs in there," said Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Charles F. Conner. "The budget exposure is tremendous." [...]
The Agriculture Department estimates that subsidy payments to corn farmers alone could reach $10 billion a year if prices -- which have been $5 to $6 a bushel -- were to drop to $3.25 a bushel, a level seen as recently as last year. [...]
Republican Rep. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), a strong critic of the new farm bill, accused House and Senate negotiators of "unbelievable gall."
"I don't think any of us had a clue this was in there. It was simply dropped into the conference report," he said.
This gives me a rare opportunity to agree wholeheartedly with anti-libertarian New York Times columnist David Brooks: John Sidney McCain is a thousand times better on this than Barack Hussein Obama, and one of the principal virtues of the coming McCain presidency is the prospect of him just vetoing the crap out of lousy legislation produced by emboldened Democrats (who suffer from a singular lack of Jeff Flakes).
Will libertarianism survive the coming century? In a transmission dated from the year 2058, the New America Foundation's James P. Pinkerton explains how the Rand Era gave way to the Surveillance Era.
Good news--the Pope is going to come out in favor genetically modified crops:
The Vatican has moved from a neutral position in a Europe-US confrontation over GM food and will come down in favour of genetic modification in a major report to be released next month.Truthabouttrade reports the Vatican has stunned opponents of genetically modified foods by declaring they hold the answer to world starvation and malnutrition.
Until Sunday's statement the Vatican had been neutral in the European Union-US confrontation over GM food, the paper says.
Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said the Vatican was preparing an official report on biotechnology, to be published next month, which would come down in favour of genetic modification. The document will coincide with a debate on GM by EU farm ministers.
He said the Pope was greatly interested in new technologies for food development as part of a policy of sustainable agriculture. He noted that 24,000 people died every day from starvation.
Cardinal Martino, who until last year was the Vatican representative at the UN, said he had lived for 16 years in the US "and I ate everything that was offered to me, including genetically modified products. They had no effect on my health. This controversy is more political than scientific."
The Vatican study will argue the future of humanity is at stake and that there is no room for the ideological arguments advanced by environmentalists.
Whole Catholic News story here.
*For explanation of headline see blogpost "How Dare You Insult Chlorophyll-Kind!"
Update: The news was too good to be true. It's from 2003. Different pope.
This New York Times article about organic baby formula, which ran on the front page of the national edition, is puzzling on several levels. Apparently some mothers (at least two!) who buy the organic version of Similac have been dismayed to learn that it contains sucrose instead of the lactose used by competitors. According to the Times, "All infant formulas contain added sugars, which babies need to digest the proteins in cow's milk or soy." But the supply of organic lactose has been tight lately, so Similac decided to use less-expensive (and sweeter) organic cane sugar instead.
Does that make the formula less healthy? The Times hems and haws on that question, citing clashing opinions regarding the effect that different sugars might have on tooth decay and obesity. The bottom line is there's no clear evidence sucrose is any worse for babies than lactose. "No health problems in babies have been associated with Similac Organic," the Times reports. Furthermore, "Doctors say that parents need not worry about the precise composition of formula, because the product over all has been proved safe and effective. "
Still, says one pediatrician, "That organic formula would be sweeter might not be a health risk, but it certainly isn't what the parents [who buy organic products] have in mind." A taste researcher concurs: "Making sweeter formula so that babies like it more seems to me contrary to the ethos of organic food."
What exactly does that mean? As far as the U.S. Department of Agriculture is concerned, the Times notes, "a product can be labeled organic when 95 percent of its ingredients are grown without the use of certain pesticides and herbicides." So a product can meet this standard, or even hit the 100 percent mark, but still not be organic in spirit? And if the ethos is so demanding, can any sort of baby formula truly be organic, since breast milk is both more natural and healthier?
Ron Bailey recently noted several myths about organic food, including the notion that it's especially healthy.
America's Worst Sheriff (is that not his nickname? I'll coin it anyway) Joe Arpaio doesn't like being criticized.
Arpaio began sponsoring "crime suppression sweeps" earlier this year, bringing hundreds of deputies and volunteer posse members to heavily Hispanic areas. Residents were pulled over for minor traffic offenses and questioned about their immigration status.
[Phoenix Mayor Phil] Gordon decried the practice in a series of high-profile speeches, beginning with the Chavez lunch in March. "The posse didn't lock up murderers," Gordon noted at the luncheon, correctly. "They locked up people with broken tail lights."
Four week after Gordon's widely publicized denunciation... sheriff's deputies fired off a public-records request seeking the mayor's e-mails, cell phone records, and meeting calendar.
The letter also demands e-mail correspondence for Police Chief Jack Harris, City Manager Frank Fairbanks, and all of Gordon's administrative staff. In all, the sheriff's investigators are seeking every single e-mail written by more than a dozen Phoenix staffers, from November to the date of the sheriff's demand.
The rationale given by Arpaio is that he's going to do his own investigation of the posse. No one believes this, obviously.
If you missed yesterday's excellent reason HQ debate about "The Future of Libertarian Politics" featuring Bob Barr, Mike Gravel, Wayne Allyn Root, and Vern McKinley, have no fear!
Just click above to watch a 10-minute version.
Thomas Frank chastises "Beltway libertarians" in today's Wall Street Journal for "rationalizing" and "giving a pious shine" to corporate lobbying, corporate welfare, public-to-private wealth transfers in Washington, the influence of K Street, and how policymakers who push through federal handouts to favored industries are often later rewarded with high-paying jobs in said industries.
Frank's criticism of libertarians would be spot-on . . . if libertarians were actually defending this stuff. Maybe Frank can give us some specific examples of libertarians who have argued that any of the items listed above are part of the "free market." I don't know of many. In fact, I'm pretty sure most of us Beltway libertarians have been pretty critical of all that.
From the other side of the political spectrum (well, sort of—I have a hard time distinguishing neocons from liberals these days), neocon star wordsmith David Brooks tells the New Yorker's George Packer that "anti-government" philosophy similar to the one embraced by the Republicans during the 1994 Gingrich revolution is . . . fundamentally un-American.
Jim Antle writes:
Passing through a Metro station, I was accosted by some LaRouchies handing out fliers about a webcast or some such by their fearless leader. I took the flier, gave them a look that was equal parts amusement and bemusement, and kept walking. One of them shouted after me, "With your support the Washington Nationals will win the Super Bowl this year! Are you with me? Do I need to get you free tickets to be with me?"
I've long nurtured a Capitol Hill crush on Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.). I profiled him in 2003, when he won my heart by talking about his love of bow-hunting (see snapshot at right) and his tradition of handing out copies of Atlas Shrugged as Christmas presents for his staff. Plus, he referred to Friedrich Hayek's "The Fatal Conceit" as "a good ol' classic."
At the time, he boasted that he was going to use his time in Congress to "turn entitlements into programs that can actually encourage individualism and self-reliance and financial freedom." Political puppy love aside, I know a tall tale when I hear one, so I didn't think much of that particular pledge.
But lo and behold, in today's Wall Street Journal Ryan proposes a couple of genuinely fresh ideas on entitlements that might (maybe, just maybe) have political legs. He's on the Budget and Ways and Means committees, so that helps the odds a little. For instance, check out this thought on Medicare:
The bill secures the existing Medicare program for those over 55 – so Americans can receive the benefits they planned for throughout most of their working lives. Those 55 and younger will, when they retire, receive an annual payment of up to $9,500 to purchase health coverage – either from a list of Medicare-certified plans, or any plan in the individual market, in any state.
The payment is adjusted for inflation and based on income, with low-income individuals receiving greater support and a funded medical savings account.
Will dangling almost $10,000 in front of grabby Americans win their hearts and minds? Is this scheme just crazy enough to work?
Via Arnold Kling
Pittsburgh-based U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan is back in the news. You may remember her from such hits as, "the first federal obscenity case in 20 years," "the railroading of Dr. Bernard Rottschaefer," "the overtly political prosecution of Dr. Cyril Wecht," and "I spent $12 million in taxpayer money to convict Tommy Chong of selling bongs."
Buchanan's latest effort is a sting on companies that sell masking devices to help people pass drug tests. Earlier this month, federal agents raided nine locations in six states where they suspected sales of products like the "Whizzinator," made famous by actor Tom Sizemore and Minnesota Vikings running back Onterrio Smith. There's no specific federal law criminalizing the sale of masking products, and none of the sites raided by federal agents were actually in Buchanan's district. My guess is that she's likely to charge manufacturers who ship the products into states that do have broad drug paraphernalia laws, or that have specific laws against masking products, under federal conspiracy statutes.
But it gets better. In the raid on Spectrum Labs in Newport, Kentucky, federal agents seized 8,000-10,000 copies of the movie AKA Tommy Chong. The movie is a documentary critical of Buchanan and the federal government's persecution of Chong. Federal agents apparently think it's drug paraphernalia.
"It's a way to punish the distributor financially," Mr. Chong said. "There's no way to get the DVDs back until the investigation is over." Mr. Chong said he has no ownership in the film.
He called the documentary a "focal point" of the raid. It was released about a month ago, and sales were slow, Mr. Chong said.
"It's selling like crazy now, thanks to Mary Beth. She's brought us a nice publicity gimmick."
Buy your very own copy of the movie here.
When Bob Barr and his campaign manager Russ Verney walked into reason's HQ yesterday, little did I know the building was becoming the epicenter of a conspiracy. That's the hot rumor on some hard-line libertarian sites at the moment.
The Libertarian Party is under attack. Its 2008 presidential nomination is the target of a "hostile takeover" bid by social conservatives, fronted by a former congressman of that persuasion and honchoed by two past practitioners of the art of the party raid, Richard Viguerie and Russ Verney.
Thomas Knapp's proof? E-mails asking Barr supporters to meet in Columbus for a Denver trip, and the creeping influence of Richard Viguerie.
I do know that one of its principals, Viguerie, was inserted as the convention's keynote speaker when Barr himself withdrew pursuant to setting up his presidential exploratory committee.
I do know that Viguerie bought the premier "third party news site" on the Internet over the weekend and the the new management immediately memory-holed an article (by me) casting Barr in a negative light vis a vis an article which appeared above the fold in Sunday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
First off, it's funny to think of Viguerie as a shadowy conspirator. The last time I saw him speak was... at a Libertarian Party meeting in Orlando last year, as an invited guest. It was no secret that Viguerie was dabbling with supporting at least Ron Paul and at most a full-on third party. In his (then-new) book Conservatives Betrayed, Vigurie wrote about third parties collaborating to get ballot access, although he preferred they could band together in a "third force" (rather than a spoiler party) once the right pressure was applied on Republicans.
But David Nolan piles on:
Clearly, Barr and Viguerie are attempting to gain control of the LP so that Barr can campaign on a conservative/libertarian hybrid platform and Viguerie can extend his fundraising empire into the libertarian quadrant of the political universe. If they succeed, the Libertarian Party will become just one more mouthpiece for malcontent Republicans.
The irony of all this? Nolan and Knapp both use the cover-up of this Atlanta Journal-Constitution article on Barr's PAC as Exhibit A. But when you read the article, you discover that Barr's run for the LP nomination is making his PAC less profitable.
"I thought it was going to benefit the Republican Party," said Edith Fogleman, 85, of Burlington, N.C. "I thought it was going for a good cause. I didn't know he was switching [to Libertarian]. I don't quite understand what he's doing."
Fogleman, who gave at least $145 since 2006, said she stopped after learning Barr might run as a Libertarian.
So Viguerie is engaging in actions that could hurt his fundraising empire in the service of a plan to get the Libertarian Party more money, attention, and votes. Yes, this is a terrible threat. Stacy McCain has more on why, even without the churning rumor mill, activist LP skepticism is keeping the race wide open with Barr as an underdog.
Headline explained here.
No doubt to the disappointment of some libertarians, all three candidates took a stand against kiddie porn.
Sure. And no doubt to the disappointment of some conservatives, all of the major GOP candidates for president this year opposed bombing abortion clinics and lynching black people.
Commenter Fluffy alerts us to this ABC News story:
U.S. military personnel at Guantanamo Bay allegedly softened up detainees at the request of Chinese intelligence officials who had come to the island facility to interrogate the men − or they allowed the Chinese to dole out the treatment themselves, according to claims in a new government report.
Buried in a Department of Justice report released Tuesday are new allegations about a 2002 arrangement between the United States and China, which allowed Chinese intelligence to visit Guantanamo and interrogate Chinese Uighurs held there.
Whole thing here.
Did you miss our discussion on Libertarian and libertarian politics last night? Fear not; the American Spectator's Philip Klein has a good write-up (including follow-ups with Bob Barr on war and Mike Gravel on health care). The Washington Post's Reliable Source provides a sartorial scorecard, plus follow-up quotes from Gravel and our own David Weigel. Robert Stacy McCain makes a good point about the upcoming LP convention, and Extreme Mortman exhumes some relevant YouTubing. We will have video up a bit later.
(More Noel St. John photos from the event here.)
Senior Editor Jacob Sullum wonders how John McCain can speak out against "judicial activism" one day, then come out in favor of it on another.
- Protests by French students and a general strike brought down the government of Charles De Gaulle and ushered in a long period in Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere of left-wing and radical-chic values.
- Richard Harris' recording of "MacArthur Park," a ballad about cakes being left out in the rain and so much more, was released, beginning its long climb to the top of the charts.
- The very first issue of reason, the magazine of "Free Minds and Free Markets," was released, promising its readers "proof, not belligerent assertion. Logic, not legends. Coherance [sic], not contradictions."
The staff of reason invite you to celebrate at least one of these milestones on Wednesday, May 21, from 6.30pm to 9.00pm, at reason's DC HQ. The festivities will include loud rock and mellow pop music from that time and place; non-Electric Kool-Aid and a bevy of other soft and hard drinks; and high- and low-carb munchables to stave off the gnawing hunger for a world that is truly free of politics.
We'll also be handing out copies of the June 2008 issue of reason, stickers galore, and other thangs.
And don't miss reason.tv's live interviews with special guests who will take the measure of the '60s from right, left, and libertarian perspectives.
What: reason Celebrates May '68
When: Wednesday, May 21, from 6.30 p.m. to 9.00 p.m.
Where: reason DC HQ, 1747 Connecticut Avenue NW (near S Street)
RSVP (required): firstname.lastname@example.org
D.C. Police Chief Kathy Lanier rehires 17 police officers previously fired for misconduct.
Then she decides the city will arm them with semiautomatic weapons.
Sounds like a fantastic couple of ideas. What could possibly go wrong?
Meanwhile, a coda to the Kathryn Johnston botched drug raid case in Atlanta: Arthur Tesler was the only officer on the raid who didn't take a plea bargain. Despite admitting that he lied, helped cover up Johnston's murder, and stood watch outside while other officers handcuffed the bleeding 92-year-woman—allowing her to die while they planted marijuana in her basement—he was convicted today only on the charge of lying to investigators. He'll face a maximum of five years in prison.
The one good thing to come out of the case is we got to see just how vast, deep, and pernicious the culture of corruption and disregard for civil rights ran in Atlanta's police department. Tesler testified that narcotics officers were required to serve nine warrants and make two arrest per month, or they'd risk losing their jobs. This led to routine lying on warrants and bullying and intimidation of informants. What we don't know is how many people were wrongly raided, arrested, and jailed because of all of this.
Another Tuesday, another pair of inconclusive primaries. Because Oregon uses mail-in voting, there will be no exit polls, and this could dent Barack Obama's message: Kentucky will be called so early for Clinton that she'll get to run the airwaves for a few hours.
Kentucky (7 p.m.): The Democrats: It can't be worse for Obama than West Virginia. What could be worse? Obama's hell is Appalachia, and after 18 months of campaigning he can't get mountain whites to trust him. West Virginia was nothing but mountain whites; only half of Kentucky is Appalachian. Clinton carried every county in West Virginia (Obama only came close in Virginia-bordering Jefferson County), but Obama would have to work hard to lose Louisville-centered Jefferson County—19 percent black, median age 37, median income $44,000, and home to several universities. He has a chance in hell at winning Lexington-centered Fayette County. Lucky for him, the Louisville-based 3rd Congressional District sends 8 delegates to the convention, and he has a chance at winning them 5 to 3. Unlucky for him, the rest of the state will go for Clinton. Clinton 64 percent, Obama 35 percent, with Clinton netting around 11 delegates (out of 51).
The Republicans: I'm going to guess McCain finally
breaks 80 percent here: 84 percent for him, 8 for Huckabee, the
rest for Paul.
Oregon (11 p.m.): The Pacific Northwest loves Obama, and I think this analysis gets it right: Perceptions-wise, Obama is the more lefty, "reformer" candidate, and has gotten more so since Clinton became the candidate of the John Steinbeck novel. For a similar reason, Clinton has regularly underpolled Obama here versus McCain, even during periods of relative Obama weakness. The state's just not that into Clinton. I don't buy the few polls that showed a close race: Survey USA, a pollster with a lot of experience in the state, has shown Obama consistently ahead, dipping a little during Wright, and bouncing back since May 6. Obama 56, Clinton 43, with Obama netting around 8 delegates (out of 52).
The Republicans: I predict a slightly higher Paul vote here: Otherwise, similar to Kentucky.
UPDATE 10:56: I skipped the usual pundit wankery for some more important stuff, but really, did you miss anything? Hillary wins Kentucky, blah blah. Obama experiences weakness with Appalachian whites, yadda yadda. The pledged delegate majority finally goes to Obama, &c &c. At this point this is like obsessing over post-season pick-up games. Either the DNC engineers an anti-Obama coup or it doesn't.
Moreover, it's time to stop giving McCain the benefit of the doubt. Another opponent-less election, another failure to crack 3/4 of the vote. He hands 28 percent to Huck, Paul, and Uncommitted.
UPDATE 11:02: I was wrong: CNN was able to make a semi-exit-poll by calling Oregon's voters. If the early numbers bear out, Obama wins easily.
UPDATE 11:07: Everyone except CNN calls Oregon for Obama. Bill Kristol informs Fox viewers that Oregonians are all "drinking lattes and sipping granola." I'm confused as to how this is a greater character flaw than the Kentuckyian trend of "strongly disliking black people."
UPDATE 11:45: Here's a signal of how over this race is: Hugh Hewitt is grumbling that The Decemberists inflated Obama's numbers at his 75,000-person rally. They play the Internationale sometimes! And the bass player doesn't like George W. Bush!
The country these people inhabit is getting smaller and smaller.
Here are The Decemberists, by the way. WARNING: This video may
cause mild Islamofascism.
UPDATE 12:08: Ah, I see now that Clinton claimed "as goes Kentucky, so goes the nation." Unfortunately, McCain is beating Clinton by 12 poi nts in Kentucky right now. Obama loses Kentucky, too, by much more... but Clinton makes Oregon a toss-up, while Obama wins it easily. I'm not hearing this data point amidst the weird cable news babble about how Hillary Clinton can add four new Appalachian states to the union and seize the nomination.
UPDATE 12:16: With more than half of Oregon ballots counted, I think Obama's going to stick with a 15 or 16-point lead. 80 percent of Oregonians live west of Bend, and Obama's crushing Clinton there. They're breaking even east of the Cascades, which actually represents some slippage for Obama: He mopped up in the Idaho caucus in the counties that border (and are culturally identical to) this part of Oregon. Still, Obama's going to win by about 100,000 votes, meaning Clinton's up a net 150,000 votes for the night: Losing the popular vote unless you count the sham Michigan primary, discount the caucuses, and argue that Puerto Rico should decide this game. Are the Clintons shameless enough to argue that? Excuse me, I need to grab my flashlight: I think I just saw a bear shit in the woods.
UPDAT 12:36: Another point about the Clintons and Michigan: I don't see the point. They're galavanting around the country telling low-information voters that somebody cheated Michigan out of its primary vote and that the 328,309 voters she got there, against Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich, and "Uncommitted," should translate to delegates and a popular vote lead. But the only people left voting are South Dakotans, Montanans, Puerto Ricans, and superdelegates. The first three groups don't care about Michigan. The latter group does care, and is pissed off at Michigan for 1)trying to cheat and hold an early primary and 2)trying to get rewarded for cheating. There are 179 uncommitted superdelegates in these 48 states and territories. Obama needs fewer than half of them to clinch the nomination, even before we count delegates from the final three primaries.
Crying "crisis" every time some social scientist notices some differences between groups is very popular nowadays. The implication is that equality should be the status quo and that differences must be the result of malign forces. (Admittedly, sometimes there are malign forces, e.g., Jim Crow laws.) Conservatives now indulge in America's favorite passtime of claiming victimhood and so worry about the "boy crisis" in American education. The logic of a "boy crisis" means that special attention must be paid to boys over girls. Naturally this logic threatens the perks and programs of entrenched victim groups.
That being the case, is anyone shocked that the feminists at the American Association of University Women are promoting a "study" that purports to show that the "boy crisis" is a "myth?" Some researchers don't think it's a myth. And the Washinigton Post did not express any concern over how the study sponsored by an organization devoted to the interests of university women might have been skewed by conflicts of interest. At the end of its story on the AAUW report, the Post did note:
AAUW's study does show female students outperforming male students in some measures. Women have earned 57 percent of bachelor's degrees since 1982 and outperformed boys on high school grade-point averages. In 2005, male students had a GPA of 2.86 and girls, 3.09.
I will also mention that a friend of mine at a prominent university told me recently that he and his colleagues could fill all their graduate program slots with qualified women. However, women will refuse enter programs that have too few men, so his program has instituted affirmative action for men in order to attract women.
In any case, I don't believe that there is a "boy crisis" or a "girl crisis." The real victims are boys and girls who are stuck in our deteriorating government-funded educational system.
Whole Post article here.
Disclosure: As an undergraduate I entered the University of Virginia two years after it co-educated. From my point of view, the male/female ratio was far from optimum.
Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey reveals how goverment funding has retarded scientific innovation.
Yee was elected Saturday at the 9th District convention at North Thurston High School, one of nine congressional caucuses Democrats had throughout the state.
"I came out and basically reiterated that Sen. Obama is really the only candidate that consistently campaigns on rejecting torture without exception, on closing Guantanamo Bay, restoring habeas (corpus) and adhering to the Geneva Conventions," Yee said Monday.
He added that he sees himself as "living proof that civil liberties have been eroded since 9/11" because of what he calls "fear-mongering politics" led by conservatives.
This brings to mind a depressing fact of the Obama campaign: the
way his experience living with Muslims and the affinity Muslims
have for him has become part of a smear. A little while back Jim
posted video of Palestinian Arabs gathering at an internet cafe
and calling Americans to ask them to vote Obama. It was supposed to
be horrifying on its face: "Palestinians in Gaza are
phonebanking for Barack Obama!" And I suppose it's
horrifying if you imagine that Arabs are communicating in a
scrambled frequency, like the dogs in 101 Dalmatians, about how the
weak and appeasing President Obama will turn his back on Israel. If
you don't think that, though, it seems like... a bunch of Arabs
telling Americans they want peace and like one of their potential
leaders. Not Hamas members. Young Arabs, with those "hearts and
minds" we're presumably trying to reach.
(Via Avi Zenilman)
In response to my brief article on Burmese poverty, a few people have emailed to explain that "The Burmese People" "overwhelmingly support" the US policy of comprehensive sanctions against Burma imposed by Clinton's executive order in May 1997. We know this because Burma voted overwhelmingly for Suu Kyi in 1990, and Suu Kyi came to support comprehensive sanctions.
This is bizarre. In 1990, the Burmese were asked to choose between a viable pro-democracy party and the status quo. (There were many pro-democracy parties but none with the national appeal of Suu Kyi's NLD.) Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won a significant majority of seats, which indicates that the significant majority of Burmese were tired of living under a military dictatorship. The U.S. had not yet imposed comprehensive sanctions at this point. But even if they had been a prominent topic of debate, it would be strange to assume that a vote for Suu Kyi's party were a vote for sanctions rather than a vote for regime change. It's as if Americans were asked to choose between McCain and Kim Jong-il, and every voter who went for McCain was then assumed to support a gas-tax holiday.
I don't want to make too much of my personal experience, but I found that near-universal admiration for Suu Kyi in Rangoon existed alongside some gentle criticism of the NLD's disorganization and general ineffectiveness. You might, in conversations with actual Burmese people, find that they are capable of both supporting Suu Kyi and disagreeing with her on various things. But that would require envisioning them as rational individuals rather than as a nebulous glop of misery.
Chicago Alderman Dick Mell forgot to register his guns with the Chicago Police Department this year. He's required to do so under one of the toughest gun laws in the country, a law he helped pass.
Mell first sought to play the "do you know who I am" card, and bully Chicago PD's gun registration division into granting him an exception. They declined (good on them for that).
No problem. Mell has since introduced a new law that would give Chicagoans who forgot to register their guns last year a one-month grace period in which they can re-register without penalty.
Mell helpfully explains:
"It's not just for me. It's for other people with the same problem. It's giving people who legitimately registered their guns at one time only to let it slip by a chance to come back into compliance," Mell said. "Some people didn't realize that, every year, you have to re-register your guns."
By the way, if you move to or live in Chicago, you can forget about buying a handgun like one of those Mell owns. They've been banned since 1982. Mell was grandfathered in. Judge for yourself how well the ban has protected Chicagoans from gun violence. But hey, at least Mell feels safe.
A little good cheer from The Guardian's Bill Emmott on the future of free trade, during this primary season of anti-NAFTA trash-talking:
A year ago, the prime candidate for a protectionist backlash was the fount of globalisation itself, the United States. If anyone had said then that in the midst of the American presidential election the country would be suffering a recession caused by a financial crisis, most economists would have predicted a big upsurge in protectionism during the campaign. It is time to admit that this hasn't happened. America is not becoming isolationist. In fact, globalisation is not under any serious threat at all, from either side of the Atlantic.
And when Obama wins the nomination, there's good reason to hope the trade issue will fade to a mere whisper:
John McCain, the Republican candidate, is a firm advocate of free trade, so Obama might choose to sound protectionist in order to emphasise the difference between them. But that is unlikely; since McCain is a clear, lifelong free trader, Obama needs to sound only a little critical on trade to differentiate himself.
For the pessimistic take, go here.
Associate Editor Damon W. Root climbs into the ring to grapple with former Minnesota Gov. Jesse "The Body" Ventura.
In 1999, the CIA estimated that 50,000 women had been trafficked into the US for sex work, and enormous resources were marshaled to find them. Few were ever located, and there are plenty of reasons to wonder about the original estimate; sources told The Washington Post the number came from a single CIA analyst who relied on clippings from foreign newspapers. Now is probably a good time to take another look at that number. But as Melissa Ditmore explains, Congress prefers to address the embarrassing lack of victims by creating more of them:
The House version of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act would expand U.S. laws against prostitution by re-defining most prostitution-related activities, regardless of consent, as trafficking. Human trafficking is a complex issue, but there is widespread agreement about its key distinguishing features, namely the use of force, fraud or coercion. HR 3887 throws out these cornerstones and threatens to re-define all prostitution, arguably even all sex work, as trafficking.
If no "victims" or "traffickers" can be found, some will have to be created. The threat of additional charges or the promise of immunity can be used to persuade some of those charged to testify against their colleagues. During the initial period of the TVPRA, despite lavish spending on raids and on services for victims of trafficking, there was an embarrassing lack of migrants coming forward to take advantage of the protection offered by the law and to cooperate in the prosecution of their traffickers. The expanded definition of trafficking provided by HR 3887 should make up the shortfall in trafficking victims, but only by spuriously applying trafficking charges to cases that do not involve force, fraud or coercion.
There is something deeply wrong with our government when the answer to the desperate problem of human trafficking is to change the definition of the crime so we can claim we're doing something about it.
One personal confession: I've always had two journalistic reservations with the whole gay marriage issue. The first is that it's practically impossible to come up with an illustration for a gay marriage story that is not either two men embracing, two women embracing or a wedding cake with two grooms on top. The second is that I've always found the people I agree with on this issue (pro-gay marriage) to be completely boring, and the people I disagree with (anti-gay marriage) fairly interesting. [...]
Gay marriage supporters trip over themselves in their hurry to declare that polygamists or polyandrists or other sexual renegades can never be welcome in good society.
As a political tactic, that rush to conformism makes sense, but I fear it's more than just an act. If I learned anything during my long San Francisco sojourn, it's that gays can be every bit as boring and conservative as straights. Now I don't demand that anybody has to become a bomb-thrower just to get the tax breaks and other privileges straight couples enjoy. But it would be nice for somebody to acknowledge that gay marriage would be worth supporting even (or especially) if it did lead to the parade of horribles, or some consenting-adults portion of that parade, that opponents find so scary and so fascinating.
As a native and recent resident of the Golden State, and a confirmed judicial-activism hypocrite, I'm nothing but tickled pink that for a few months anyway our homosexualist friends (and enemies) will be able to marry and receive full recognition for it from state and local governments. At some very basic level denial of marriage is one of the true Last Acceptable Prejudices, and to the extent the guvmint is in the paper-recognition business, I have never understood why a legal prohibition against Heather's Two Mommies marrying isn't the worst kind of discrimination -- i.e., state-enforced.
I'm glad to be living in a brave new world in which, as this fascinating New York Times magazine feature details, some young gay people won't even know what it's like to live a furtive life of secrecy and shame. Unless they want to, etc.
Steve Chapman made the case against California judicial activism yesterday.
Michelle Shinghal blogs, re: what happened to the kids who were in the Yearning for Zion Ranch, the polygamist compound recently raided in Texas:
The Dallas Morning News is reporting that the cost of foster care for the kidnapped FLDS children will be nearly $1 million a month. The total cost to taxpayers for this fiasco could top $21 million.
reason's Jacob Sullum looked at "Latter-Day Taint" here.
Following up on Michael Moynihan's post on Johan Norberg's takedown of anti-globalization polemicist Naomi Klein and her book The Shock Doctrine ("hopelessly flawed at virtually every level"), I noticed (via Arts & Letters Daily) the following in the midst of an otherwise very favorable review of the book in the latest Dissent:
Klein's depiction of a monolithic class of politico-corporate elites is not tailored for every political situation. It is not particularly helpful for recognizing and exploiting the differences between Clintonian "free traders," Republican realists, and neocon fundamentalists. It provides little guidance for understanding what to make of it when the Weekly Standard opposes permanent normal trade relations with China, a key goal of corporate globalists, on human rights grounds. Nor does it allow for distinctions between different sectors of capital-recognizing, for example, that the interests of the vast tourism industry (which is currently furious about how Bush's War on Terror has adversely affected its business) may not be the same as those of Halliburton. Finally, it denies out of hand that religious conviction or nationalism, independent of commerce, might be forces in influencing Bush administration policy.
I suppose Klein's refusal to differentiate between free trade and corporate welfare isn't the gravest of her sins, but its still nice to see somebody on the left call her out for it.
An interesting article in City Journal describes the bottom-up reconstruction of New Orleans. Here's the heart of the argument:
In one crucial way, New Orleans's modern history of weak, ineffectual government helped it recover after Katrina. Though the [Bring New Orleans Back] luminaries drew up their plan swiftly, nobody had the political will, knowledge, or resources to enforce it. Property owners could show what they thought of the plan--and of various other utopian schemes bandied about by the nation's architectural giants--by ignoring them.
This approach--or better, lack of one--differs markedly from the reaction to the nation's other recent large-scale disaster, the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In New York, the state government, which had a long history of centrally planning huge projects, quickly monopolized control over rebuilding. Ground Zero, unfortunately, seemed the perfect opportunity for such a project. After all, the World Trade Center had been built as a government scheme 30 years before the attacks, and the towers' single leaseholder, real-estate investor Larry Silverstein, sweated under immense political pressure to cooperate with the government in its ambitious reconstruction plans. Six and a half years later, Ground Zero is still an early-stage construction site. Worse, what's eventually built there could be a white elephant.
In New Orleans, by contrast, though the city and feds can still screw up the sites that they control, including now-vacant housing projects, they can't define the whole reconstruction process. Enterprising homeowners can experiment with what works, rather than being stuck with some starchitect's vision for the next century.
The article is filled with examples of those experiments. The people of New Orleans, Nicole Gelinas writes, have "been building and rebuilding on their own or with small-scale help, rather than under top-down decree--and, in the process, showing that thousands of individual planners are better than one master."
[Hat tip: John Kluge.]
Joe Lieberman, utilizing his role at the top of the Homeland Security Committee for a change, commanded YouTube to cull "Islamist terrorist" content.
Lieberman asked the company not only to remove existing content but also identify changes that Google plans to make to YouTube’s community guidelines and explain how it plans to enforce the guidelines. Lieberman said removing such content should be “a straightforward task since so many of the Islamist terrorist organizations brand their material with logos or icons identifying their provenance.”
YouTube's response: Delete videos that break existing rules but "refuse to remove all videos mentioning or featuring these groups without consideration of whether the videos were legal, nonviolent or non-hate speech videos."
“While we respect and understand his views, YouTube encourages free speech and defends everyone's right to express unpopular points of view,” the company said. “We believe that YouTube is a richer and more relevant platform for users precisely because it hosts a diverse range of views, and rather than stifle debate, we allow our users to view all acceptable content and make up their own minds.”
The statement thanked Lieberman for alerting the company last week of several videos which violated the company’s community guidelines and that have subsequently been removed. However, the statement said that “most of the videos, which did not contain violent or hate speech content, were not removed because they do not violate our Community Guidelines.
I like the policy, but I'm not sure it's actually YouTube's policy. They've absolutely banned users for publishing videos with a preponderance of hate speech, like anti-Semite Frank Weltner. I'm pretty sure they've banned "the Trash Man," the masked creep who breathes heavily about infecting girls with HIV. YouTube thus far has proven more censorship-resilient than, say, Yahoo, but if they keep getting leaned on by Lieberman, or some fellow travellers with a similar amount of free time, I'm pessimistic about how absolutist they can be here.
As the Republicans settled on John McCain to carry their banner into the 2008 presidential election, three things happened. First Mike Gravel, the iconoclastic former senator from Alaska, left the Democratic race to fight for the Libertarian Party nod. Then, former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr, a Libertarian Party member since 2006, announced a bid for the party's presidential nomination. Finally, as the GOP's primaries wrapped up, Rep. Ron Paul notched a total of 1 million votes—just as his book The Revolution became a nationwide bestseller.
Paul has rebuffed multiple requests to run as a third party candidate, so what will happen to his supporters, donors, and voters? Why did Gravel and Barr join the Libertarian Party? Why do both of them want to see their former parties defeated at the ballot boxes? Should libertarians (note the small l) stay within the GOP ranks, as Paul has opted to do? Should they bolt for the Libertarians? The Democrats?
Joining Barr and Gravel will be:
- Wayne Allyn Root, a former Republican and self-described Goldwaterite who's also running hard for the Libertarian nomination.
- Vern McKinley, a "Ron Paul Republican" who's challenging incumbent Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) for a House seat in northern Virginia.
Be part of a live reason.tv audience and watch Barr, Gravel, Root and McKinley discuss these and related topics on Tuesday, May 20 at reason's DC HQ. Space is limited and RSVPs are mandatory.
What: The Future of Libertarian Politics
When: Tuesday, May 20, from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: reason DC HQ, 1747 Connecticut Avenue NW (near S Street)
In his column from our June issue, Contributing Editor Greg Beato chronicles how high-end designers are targeting America's new class of nomadic urban professionals.
Here's a nice look at how Homeland Security gets the job done:
Texas mayors and business leaders filed a class-action lawsuit Friday alleging Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff hoodwinked landowners into waiving their property rights for construction of a fence along the Mexican border.
Members of the Texas Border Coalition said Chertoff did not fairly negotiate compensation with landowners for access to their land for six-month surveys to choose fence sites.
"They are determined to build a wall to appease mid-America," [Brownsville Mayor Pat] Ahumada said. "This is a political problem that's being addressed at the expense of all the border communities."
Barack Obama mans up and takes a stand against the entity that's terrorizing Americans.
Democrat Barack Obama said on Sunday he would pursue a vigorous antitrust policy if he becomes U.S. president and singled out the media industry as one area where government regulators would need to be watchful as consolidation increases.
"I will assure that we will have an antitrust division that is serious about pursuing cases," the Illinois senator told an audience of mostly senior citizens in Oregon.
"There are going to be areas, in the media for example where we're seeing more and more consolidation, that I think (it) is legitimate to ask...is the consumer being served?"
Obama's too far ahead to lose the nomination, but I couldn't help but think of Howard Dean:
I believe we need to re-regulate the media, go back to limiting the number of stations that can be controlled in one particular area, so we can be sure that the American people get moderate, conservative and liberal points of view.
The day in 2009 when Sen. Al Franken casts the tie-breaking vote on a bill reversing most of the 1996 Telecommunications Act is really not hard to imagine.
Headline explained here.
According to a survey reported in the May issue of the American Journal of Public Health, 14 percent of public school districts randomly tested students for drugs during the 2004-05 year. These were districts where at least one high school had a testing program. Almost all of those districts were testing student athletes, 65 percent were testing students enrolled in extracurricular activities, and 28 percent were testing all students. The first two policies have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has not yet addressed universal testing of public school students. Since this is the first survey of its kind, it's not clear how those decisions have affected the prevalence of drug testing. Future surveys may indicate whether the Bush administration's campaign for student drug testing, which includes federal subsidies, has had a significant impact.
The researchers note that "many of these districts may be conducting such testing beyond current Supreme Court sanctions" and therefore "may be placing themselves in a legally vulnerable position." Then again, they say, "districts that subject all students to random drug testing would appear to eliminate the risk that those who use illicit substances may simply decline to participate in extracurricular activities to avoid testing."
Previous reason coverage of student drug testing here.
At one of the Army's leading intellectual hubs..., the commanding general there has directed his troops to start blogging. Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who heads the Combined Arms Center [CAC] and Ft. Leavenworth, told his soldiers in a recent memo that "faculty and students will begin blogging as part of their curriculum and writing requirements both within the .mil and public environments. ...
Lt. Gen. Caldwell, the former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, is a blogger himself, contributing to Small Wars Journal. He made waves in January when he wrote that "we must encourage our Soldiers to... get onto blogs and to send their YouTube videos to their friends and family."
Of course, this is goes against the military's current official position. Remember the YouTube ban on military networks? There's even a mini campaign inside the military at the moment, along the lines of the old "Loose Lips Sink Ships" posters, reminding soldiers that blogging can compromise security.
But my bet is that Lt. Gen. Caldwell's way of thinking will win out in the end. The idea, he says, is "telling the Army’s story to a wide and diverse audience." More openness, not less, will reconnect the average American with the average soldier--something pro- and anti-war factions should both want to see, each for their own reasons.
Why not have a few classes reminding soldiers not to post sensitive material (and reminding them what "sensitive material" includes) and then let 'em have at it?
Via Danger Room
Kerry Howley argues that Burma's poverty was not inevitable, but the predictable byproduct of bad governance.
Today the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal law that makes it a crime to offer or solicit child pornography. This law defines child pornography more narrowly than an earlier statute that was overturned by the Court on First Amendment grounds, and it does not seem to leave a lot of room for punishing or chilling protected speech. But there is this strange wrinkle, noted by Justices David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in their dissent: In the case of a person offering to sell or transfer pornography, he either has to believe the images feature actual children or intend that people receiving the offer believe that. The images need not in fact feature actual children, however (or even exist). Yet the Court has said that "virtual child pornography," featuring computer-generated or manipulated images but no actual children engaged in sex acts, cannot be constitutionally prohibited (unless it is deemed "obscene"). Hence this law punishes, among other things, speech about transactions involving legal material, on the condition that the person offering it either thinks or claims it is illegal. In such a case, the transaction itself is legal, but talking about it is not.
Today's decision is here.
On the train to New York last week, I had the displeasure of sitting in front of a rather loud, abrasive woman who, apropos of nothing, lectured/harangued her unfortunate seatmate—a pleasant and soft-spoken Nigerian businessman—about her country's hideous history of bigotry and genocide. America was full of misinformed rubes entranced by American Idol, we are congenitally, irredeemably racist, blah, blah. It was rather obvious, she argued, that Americans wouldn't ever pull the lever for Barack Obama, and for this she profusely apologized. (She actually apologized.) The Nigerian smiled politely. (Actually, in the latest Pew Global Attitudes poll shows that, just behind the Japanese, the Nigerians were most positive towards America.) Then came the rather predictable speech on America's damaged reputation and her deep embarrassment in disclosing her nationality when travelling in Europe, a continent, she sighed, that was light years ahead of us on issues like race, immigration, and various social issues like gay rights and the death penalty.
Well, no. Sure, places like Sweden, Holland, and Norway are to the left of America on many social issues, and many are far more supportive of gay marriage and civil unions than Americans. But there are vast differences in European attitudes on such questions, as evidenced by the much more socially conservative views held by Poles, Italians, Greeks, and Portuguese. Progressive Europe, of course, is only progressive in those progressive enclaves, mostly in Northern and Western Europe. In December 2006, for instance, a Eurobarometer poll reported that "only 32% of Europeans feel that homosexual couples should be allowed to adopt children throughout Europe" and "44% of EU citizens agree that such marriages should be allowed throughout Europe." In Greece, that number was only 15 percent, in Italy 31 percent.
So the day after the train lecture on why "Europe" will be disappointed by our inevitable anti-Obama racism, I saw this tale of superior European progressivism in The Guardian:
Sixty-eight per cent of Italians, fuelled by often inflammatory attacks by the new rightwing government, want to see all of the country's 150,000 Gypsies, many of them Italian citizens, expelled, according to an opinion poll.
The survey, published as mobs in Naples burned down Gypsy camps this week, revealed that the majority also wanted all Gypsy camps in Italy to be demolished.
Some potentially big news in the Chesapeake, Virginia drug raid this past January that resulted in the death of Chesapeake PD Det. Jarrod Shivers, and sent 28-year-old Ryan Frederick to jail on murder charges.
Local news station WTKR reporter Stacy Smith was given access to letters Frederick has written to friends and relatives. From those, she has determined that the informant in the case is 20-year-old named "Steven." The station isn't yet reporting the man's full name. Chesapeake PD refuses to confirm his identity.
The informant was apparently dating the sister of Frederick's fiance. Prior to the raid, Frederick and the informant got into an argument after Frederick accused him of stealing something from his home. According to Frederick, the informant threateningly promised he'd be back—which may explain the break-in just prior to the raid.
The informant has a shady past, including arrest for trespassing, a spotty employment history, and—most interestingly—a grand larceny arrest for credit card theft and credit card fraud just prior to the raid. After the raid, the grand larceny charge against the informant was dismissed. The fraud charge was set aside. The fraud charge was later reinstated. "Steven" was due in court to face that charge last week, but didn't show. He's now considered a fugitive.
According to the affidavit for the search warrant that informant is the only source for the raid. There were no corroborating confidential informants. There was no surveillance. There were no undercover dope buys.
If Smith is correct, the police took the word of an unemployed guy with a grudge, a criminal record, and who had just been arrested for stealing credit cards, all in order to conduct a nighttime raid on a guy who had no prior record, and for whom neighbors and former employers have nothing but praise. They apparently did no corroborating investigation. A cop died as a result. And now they want to bring the hammer down on Ryan Frederick to account for their mistakes.
It's increasingly looking like Ryan Frederick is not only innocent, but that he has a compelling civil rights suit against the city of Chesapeake and its police department.
Remember Lori Drew, the Missouri woman accused of playing a cruel prank on Megan Meier, a 13-year-old girl who killed herself afterward? On MySpace, Drew allegedly pretended to be a boy who at first befriended Meier, a former friend of her daughter's, and then turned on her, saying "the world would be a better place" without her. After looking into the case, local and state law enforcement authorities could not find any criminal laws that Drew had broken. But last week Thomas P. O'Brien, the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, brought four federal charges against her: one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing a computer without authorization via interstate commerce to obtain information to inflict emotional distress. Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. "To my knowledge it is the first case of its kind in the nation," O'Brien said. "But when an adult violates terms on a MySpace account to gain information that creates this type of reaction, it caused this office to take a really hard look."
A little too hard, I'd say. O'Brien is by no means alone in wanting to hold Drew at least partly responsible for Meier's death, but the law does not allow him to do so. So instead he has resorted to legal contortions aimed at converting Drew's violation of MySpace rules into a federal crime. (The rationale for indicting Drew in California, by the way, is that MySpace is based in Beverly Hills.) There are plenty of reprehensible things people do that are not and should not be crimes. One of them is being mean to emotionally vulnerable people. Since individual reactions to insults are unpredictable and highly variable, a rule that criminalized speech when it leads to suicide or other forms of self-harm would chill any expression more negative than "Nice day, isn't it?" Because there is no such rule, O'Brien has twisted a law aimed at fraud, spying, vandalism, and child pornography into an excuse to punish a woman everyone hates.
Back in 2003, George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr warned that broadly construed laws against unauthorized computer access could "criminalize contract law on the Internet, potentially making millions of Americans criminals for the way they write e-mail and surf the Web."
In a feature from our June issue, Senior Editor Jacob Sullum dissects the government's self-defeating war against online gambling.
Michael Goldfarb counterintuitively argues that Bob Barr will hurt Obama.
Ron Paul voters would seem to be the irreconcilables of the Republican party. They aren't going to vote McCain no matter what, but they might have voted Obama to punish their party and force a withdrawal from Iraq. If Andrew Sullivan is any indicator, supporting Ron Paul and Barack Obama are not mutually exclusive.
Look, I love Andrew Sullivan, too, but using him as a demographic indicator is like using a black swan to make a point about water fowl. Ron Paul's coalition had three main sectors: anti-war leftists, Bob Taft conservatives, and unreconcilable political outcasts. The anti-war leftists will move over to Obama. You can guess what will happen to the unreconcilables. The Taft types will be extremely gettable for Bob Barr, who will be building a coalition that won't look exactly like Paul's.
Where does a lot Barr's potential base come from? Embittered white conservatives who will not vote for McCain but could never vote for Obama. Some of these people are racists (or people who put too much faith in the e-mails their cousins forward them); most, hopefully, will be talk radio listeners who consider McCain a quisling on immigration, taxes, free speech, etc and etc. They've spent the primaries casting protest votes for Paul or Huckabee, or putting on Operation Chaos fatigues and voting for Clinton. I'm a huge skeptic about the salience of the immigration issue, but with a Republican base this depressed and angry, immigration can be effective wedge for Barr. He doesn't have to finesse his position very much to attack the guy talk radio calls "Juan Amnesty McCain."
The effect this will have on the election, of course, isn't just a zero-sum vote-for-vote effect. It has the potential to box in McCain the way Ralph Nader boxed in Al Gore. How much can McCain brag about his immigration reform cred in public, to Hispanic voters, without Barr rallying the talk radio vote? How much time or money does Barr make McCain waste in a gimme state like Georgia or Alaska, the way Nader made Gore waste time in Oregon and Minnesota? Republicans are avidly hoping that Paul does not rent his donor list to Barr (or Chuck Baldwin) because they see the potential here.
(Obviously, the calculus changes a little if the LP nominates Root, or a left-libertarian like Gravel or Ruwart.)
The filmmakers behind Secondhand (Pepe) discuss Haiti's trade in used clothes. An excerpt:
First off, we should note that you can find pepe for sale on pretty much any street in Haiti. It seemed as though pepe lined the sidewalks with small-time vendors selling a few things by hanging them up on the walls by the sidewalk. Then we also visited all types of dedicated marketplaces. Some were very concentrated with just clothing, and these were often by the ports, where the clothing would arrive. Sometimes the pepe would be sold within larger markets where you could also find food and other goods. Sometimes the clothing was sorted into different areas or by peddler’s specialty -- you would have the used shoe guy over here and the lady that only sold t-shirts over there.
In one of the largest markets in Miragoane, just outside of the gates of the port, in the central town square -- you had people opening up boxes and making preliminary sortings. In the Saline marketplace in Port-au-Prince, there was an incredible expanse of peddler/tailors set up with sewing machines, sitting among mounds of clothing, under tents sewn together from fabric scraps and old blankets.
At times, we learn, Haitians have even used these clothes as an informal private currency, similar to the cigarettes described in R.A. Radford's classic "The Economic Organization of a P.O.W. Camp." The whole interview is here.
Elsewhere in Reason: Kerry Howley describes the used T-shirt trade in Tanzania.
In 2004, liberal bloggers griped about Republicans giving money to Ralph Nader. In 2006, it was Republicans aiding Green candidate Carl Romanelli in Pennsylvania's Senate race (during the months when it looked close, not like a Bob Casey blowout of Rick Santorum).
At least one Daily Kossack is getting revenge by funding Bob Barr.
I will ultimately be a max GE Contributor to Obama, once I attend the fundraisers, and I will give money to the DCCC and DSCC. However, that doesn't mean I can't afford a small amount of money given regularly to get Barr on TV and on the Ground where both he and I know he can do the best, Namely, Alaska and Georgia and other similar states... I think he'd do pretty good in Texas as well.
I suppose my donation would be modest, $25/month through October. This modest amount of money will be my defense play... and I think after having gone through Operation Chaos, and having the GOP Openly funding Nader in 2004, getting a chance to prop up a Bob Barr Kamikaze Mission is simply tempting.
It's still an open question whether Barr (who I'd still give only a 50 percent-and-rising chance of locking down the LP nomination) will take more support from McCain or Obama. But all signals are that Barr is aiming at the McCain vote. From his interview with Newsweek:
Does anybody getting into the race plan to ask the tough questions or plan to point out some of the areas where McCain is less conservative than he would like people to believe? ... As a matter of fact, I suspect the votes I will get will come from folks who would be more inclined to sit out the election in the first place because there's not a real conservative in the race. The votes are not going to come from people that are committed to voting for McCain.
There's a strategy to Barr calling himself a "real conservative." Will it rankle the left-leaning Libertarian delegates who don't want him to get the nomination? Yes. But those delegates want to see McCain lose more than they want to see Obama lose. Barr is dog-whistling to them, saying he can make that happen.
Thank God this criminal has been stopped before he strikes again:
A man who said he thought he was just helping a woman in need is accused of running an illegal taxi service.
Miami-Dade County’s Consumer Services Department has slapped Rosco O’Neil with $2,000 worth of fines, but O’Neil claims he is falsely accused.
“I ain’t running nothing illegal,” O’Neil said.
The 78-year-old said he was walking into a Winn-Dixie to get some groceries when he was approached by a woman who said she needed a ride.
“She asked me, ‘Do I do a service?’” O’Neil said. “I told her no. She said, ‘I need help getting home.’”
O’Neil told the woman if she was still there when he finished his shopping, he would give her a ride. She was, so he did.
As it turned out, the woman was an undercover employee with the consumer services department targeting people providing illegal taxi services.
“She said the reason she targeted him (is because) she saw him sitting in his car for a few minutes,” said Ellen Novodeletsky, O’Neil’s attorney.
After O’Neil dropped off the woman, police surrounded him, issued him two citations and impounded his minivan. On top of the fees, it cost O’Neil an additional $400 to retrieve his minivan from the impound lot.
There are no prior complaints that O’Neil was providing illegal transportation for a fee.
“It’s not entrapment because she didn’t expect him to provide her transportation,” said Sonya Perez, a spokeswoman for the consumer services department.
O’Neil claims he was just being kind and providing a ride to a lady in need.
“There’s all kinds of possibilities, but the fact of this particular case, what our enforcement officers witnessed — because we had several on the scene, plus a Miami-Dade police officer — and all the information came back the same, that this was a business transaction,” Perez said.
O’Neil said he never even discussed money until the woman insisted upon it.
“She asked me, ‘How much you charging?’” O’Neil said. “I said, ‘Anything you give me.’ She said, ‘No, I need a price.’”
One of the oft-expressed worries is that man-made global warming will boost the number and power of hurricanes. Last year, Greg Holland from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. reported that global warming had doubled the number of hurricanes over the course of the 20th century. However, a new study in the journal Nature Geoscience finds that global warming may actually reduce the number of Atlantic hurricanes in the 21st century.
According to Bloomberg.com, climate modeler Thomas Knutson at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) finds:
``This study does not support the notion that increasing greenhouse gases are causing a large increase in Atlantic hurricane or tropical storm frequency,'' the paper's lead author, Thomas Knutson, a NOAA scientist, said May 16 in a conference call with reporters. ``Rather for future climate conditions we simulate a reduction.'' ...
Knutson and colleagues plugged data from each of the hurricane seasons from 1980 to 2006 into their model. They then altered atmospheric and temperature data to reflect possible scenarios for conditions at the end of this century published last year by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Under the altered conditions -- including sea surface temperatures 1.72 degrees Celsius warmer than now -- they found that tropical storm numbers declined by 27 percent and hurricanes by 18 percent. Storm systems with winds of at least 100 miles an hour more than doubled.
If increased hurricane activity is not responsible for rising damage, what is? In February, NOAA explained what is happening:
A team of scientists have found that the economic damages from hurricanes have increased in the U.S. over time due to greater population, infrastructure, and wealth on the U.S. coastlines, and not to any spike in the number or intensity of hurricanes.
The debate continues.
So says Robert Novak, in a nifty if depressing little sausage-making column. One wonders what kind of party will emerge from this November's rout.
Last week, California's Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. Now Steve Chapman wants to know why they were in such a hurry to substitute their preferences for those of the voters.
I'm on Inside Washington Weekly with esteemed Orange Line Mafia members Jamie Kirchick, Amanda Carpenter, and host David White. (I don't think any of us actually live on the Orange Line.) And if you live in or close to D.C., be sure to RSVP for reason's forum on the libertarian vote with Mike Gravel, Bobb Barr, Wayne Allyn Root, and Vern McKinley.
Unconvincing Quote of the Week
"Conservatism is alive and well in America; don’t let anyone tell you differently. And by conservatism, I don’t mean the warmed-over 'raise your hand if you believe …' kind of conservatism we see blooming every election cycle." - Fred Thompson, making his... uh... comeback.
The Week in Brief
- Bob Barr officially tossed his chapeau in the ring for the Libertarian Party nomination.
- Hillary Clinton ground Barack Obama into dust in the West Virginia primary, carrying all 55 counties.
- Republicans lost their third straight special election of the year as Democrat Travis Childers took Mississippi's first district—a seat whose voters went 62-37 for Bush over Kerry.
- John Edwards endorsed Obama. (The only ex-candidates who haven't endorsed so far are, I think, Biden and Kucinich.)
- The Senate passed the farm bill.
- George W. Bush baited Barack Obama into a three-way battle on foreign policy with John McCain. One of these guys, of course, would pop Cristal if his approval rating broke 30 percent.
- The Huckabee for vice president boomlet came to a thudding end.
- Mike Gravel and Wayne Allyn Root debated on Fox Business:
Below the Fold
- The people behind "Stop Her Now," claiming they've "cancelled her show," launch "Stop Him Now."
- Congress's lone atheist endorses Obama.
- RiShawn Biddle takes on the black church.
- Bill Kauffman reviews Ron Paul.
- Wayne Allyn Root, Bob Barr, and three other LP candidates get profiled (briefly) by Fortune.
- J. Patrick Coolican talks with Rick Perlstein, author of the brilliant Nixonland.
- FDR never talked to Hitler, except when he did.
- Brian Beutler accuses McCain of selling out vets.
I couldn't find a copy of the Robert Fripp-produced and enhanced
"Hammond Song" by the Roches, so he's a folkier version for
Politics 'n' Prog.
SATURDAY UPDATE: Bob Barr responds to Mike Huckabee:
Mike Huckabee showed incredibly poor taste when he joked about a gun pointed at Senator Barack Obama. His words were reckless, callous and harmful to the sports men and women of America and to those of us who fully support the Second Amendment.
Every candidate for public office inflames the passions of people who fervently disagree with them. To suggest, as Governor Huckabee did, the misuse of a fire arm toward a political candidate is reckless. His attitude toward proper, legal and safe use of fire arms was demeaning to all of us who advocate the right to bear arms. His reprehensible use of a threatening and violent scenario involving a firearm at the NRA's National Convention was vile beyond belief.
I call on all supporters of the Second Amendment and all supporters of civil discourse in our political races to demand a public apology from Governor Huckabee.
He knows whereof he speaks.
In a speech to the National Rifle Association today, John McCain argues (accurately) that he's a much stronger defender of the Second Amendment than Barack Obama. A few excerpts:
For more than two decades, I've opposed efforts to ban guns, ban ammunition, ban magazines, and dismiss gun owners as some kind of fringe group unwelcome in "modern" America. The Second Amendment isn't some archaic custom that matters only to rural Americans, who find solace in firearms out of frustration with their economic circumstances. The Second Amendment is unique in the world. It guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms. To argue anything else is to reject the clear meaning of our Founding Fathers....
But the clear meaning of the Second Amendment has not stopped those who want to punish firearms owners—and those who make and sell firearms—for the actions of criminals. It seems like every time there is a particularly violent crime, the anti-gun activists demand yet another restriction on the Second Amendment. I opposed the ban on so-called "assault weapons," which was first proposed after a California schoolyard shooting. It makes no sense to ban a class of firearms based on cosmetic features. I have opposed waiting periods for gun purchases.
I have opposed efforts to cripple our firearms manufacturers by making them liable for the acts of violent criminals....
Senator Obama hopes he can get away with having it both ways. He says he believes that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to bear arms. But when he had a chance to weigh in on the most important Second Amendment case before the U.S. Supreme Court in decades, District of Columbia v. Heller, Senator Obama dodged the question by claiming, "I don't like taking a stand on pending cases." He refused to sign the amicus brief signed by a bipartisan group of 55 Senators arguing that the Supreme Court should overturn the DC gun ban in the Heller case. When he was running for the State Senate in Illinois, his campaign filled out a questionnaire asking whether he supported legislation to ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns with a simple, "Yes."
I think McCain (who also notes some of his differences with the NRA, including his support for background checks at gun shows and for campaign finance regulations that muzzle groups like the NRA close to elections) is actually too easy on Obama here. As I've noted, Obama has cited the D.C. ban as an example of gun control that's consistent with the Constitution, which makes you wonder what it would take to violate the Second Amendment as he understands it.
McCain adds that, even if the Supreme Court overturns the D.C. law, federal judges will continue to play an important role in determining which firearm restrictions pass constitutional muster. Hence supporters of the right to keep and bear arms will still need to worry about judicial appointments. That much is certainly true, but McCain runs into trouble when he tries to explain why his criteria for picking judges are superior to Obama's:
In America, the constitutional restraint on power is as fundamental as the exercise of power, and often more so. Yet the Framers knew these restraints would not always be observed. They were idealists, but they were worldly men as well, and they knew that abuses of power and efforts to encroach on individual rights would arise and need to be firmly checked. Their design for democracy was drawn from their experience with tyranny. A suspicion of power is ingrained in both the letter and spirit of the American Constitution.
In the end, of course, their grand solution was to allocate federal power three ways, reserving all other powers and rights to the states and to the people themselves. The executive, legislative, and judicial branches are often wary of one another's excesses, seeking to keep each other within bounds. The framers knew exactly what they were doing, and the system of checks and balances rarely disappoints.
Quite rightly, the proper role of the judiciary has become one of the defining issues of this presidential election. It will fall to the next president to nominate qualified men and women to the federal courts, and the choices we make will reach far into the future. My two prospective opponents and I have very different ideas about the nature and proper exercise of judicial power. We would nominate judges of a different kind, a different caliber, a different understanding of judicial authority and its limits. And the people of America—voters in both parties whose wishes and convictions are so often disregarded by unelected judges—are entitled to know what those differences are.
Federal courts are charged with applying the Constitution and laws of our country to each case at hand. But a court is hardly competent to check the abuses of other branches of government if it cannot control its own judicial activism.
Real activists seek to make their case democratically—to win hearts, minds, and majorities to their cause. Such people throughout our history have often shown great idealism and done great good. By contrast, activist lawyers and activist judges follow a different method. They want to be spared the inconvenience of campaigns, elections, legislative votes, and all of that. Some federal judges operate by fiat, shrugging off generations of legal wisdom and precedent while expecting their own opinions to go unquestioned.
McCain wants his audience to believe he will appoint judges who will strike down gun control laws that conflict with the Second Amendment. At the same time, he condemns "activist judges" who override the will of the people, as expressed by their legislative representatives, in the process "shrugging off generations of legal wisdom and precedent." But that is exactly what the Supreme Court will be doing if it declares the D.C. gun ban unconstitutional. Furthermore, that is what it ought to do, because the legal wisdom that long prevailed in this area—the idea that the Second Amendment protects no individual rights that a legislature need respect—was wrong. In this case, as in many others involving "constitutional restraint[s] on power," the Court can be true to its obligations only if it is "activist," rejecting the considered opinion of elected legislators and thereby checking "efforts to encroach on individual rights."
Jeff Jacoby made a similar point about the inadequacy of McCain's judicial philosophy in a recent Boston Globe column. A few years ago in reason, Damon Root made the libertarian case for judicial activism.
The foreign policy talk is, deservedly, getting all the attention, but John McCain's "2013: A Space Odyssey" speech went into an interesting place on health care. I don't think any Republican is optimistic about this issue: Post-Medicare Part D, the Democrats are clutching it tighter than a winning lottery ticket. But here's McCain's boiled-down pitch, from a future where "health care has become more accessible to more Americans than at any other time in history."
Reforms of the insurance market; putting the choice of health care into the hands of American families rather than exclusively with the government or employers; walk in clinics as alternatives to emergency room care; paying for outcome in the treatment of disease rather than individual procedures; and competition in the prescription drug market have begun to wring out the runaway inflation once endemic in our health care system.
I can see how this curbs inflation, even if, for a certain segment of the population this would be counteracted by the end of deductions on employer-provided health care. Michael Tanner has more on the benefits.
Schools have greatly improved their emphasis on physical education and nutritional content of meals offered in school cafeterias. Obesity rates among the young and the disease they engender are stabilized and beginning to decline.
The Schools of the Future have done this how? Does McCain plan a Huckabee-in-Arkansas mandate? I'm willing to listen to his plan, but this promise is pure vapor without it.
The federal government and states have cooperated in establishing backstop insurance pools that provide coverage to people hard pressed to find insurance elsewhere because of pre-existing illness.
Most states already have high-risk pools, and since the pre-existing illnesses we're going to start talking about as the Boomers start withering—heart disease, Alzheimers—I'd like to get a cost for this.
The reduction in the growth of health care costs has begun to relieve some of the pressure on Medicare; encouraging Congress to act in a bipartisan way to extend its solvency for twenty-five years without increasing taxes and raising premiums only for upper income seniors.
I'd sort of like to know how: McCain's only cost-saving solution thus far seems to be to change the scheme for reimbursements and to crack down on fraud. It seems, as with his spending solutions, to be change around the margins.
Did you know Target has its own crime lab?
Target got into forensics as a way to combat shoplifting and such crimes but has taken its skills far beyond the department store. Its seven-person team of investigators, most of them former law enforcement officials, spend 70% of their time fighting theft, fraud and personal injury cases involving Target's 1,600 stores. But the lab is also frequently tapped by city, state and federal law-enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to solve big cases....
Target installed cameras in most of its stores in the 1980s, but that wasn't enough to really make a dent in store thefts. "We had a volume of evidence from our cameras but no expertise," says Fredrick Lautenbach, the retailer's crime lab manager. He says the company also didn't want to rely on overburdened police departments to help it solve problems with theft. In 2003 the company created its lab...
[I]t decided to largely limit its volunteer work to cases involving murder, sexual assault or armed robbery. It doesn't charge for its services but asks police departments to donate a patch when it helps them out. It has 136 on display in its main office in Brooklyn Park, Minn.
As Jacob Sullum pointed out yesterday, Barack Obama hasn't exactly made crystal clear his position on medical marijuana.
Fortunately, the Republican National Committee has stepped forward to clear up any confusion. If you support ending the federal SWAT raids on cannabis stores and taking a federalist approach to medical marijuana, the RNC says Obama's your man.
If you think the president must continue paramilitary raids on convalescent centers in states that have approved medical marijuana, and that anything less wouldn't be keeping with his oath to uphold and protect the Constitution, well, then you should vote Republican.
If somebody wants to buy milk taken directly from a cow, should the government stand in the way? Jacob Grier explains why the state should play a minimal role in the barnyard.
Whatever qualms one might have about a semi-super secret defense agency with a mandate to invent "surprising" military technologies, you have to give the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) some credit. It's not like with the space program: All they can claim to have contributed to civilian life is Velcro and Tang (and even those claims are disputed). DARPA has given us the Internet, GPS, and faster wireless communications. They failed to give us telepathic spies.
New Scientist looks back at 50 years of DARPA, and comes up with a list of the good, the bad, and the promising. Of course, we'll probably never know about the really good stuff DARPA has managed to come up with.
GPS: We would be quite literally lost without today's global positioning system (GPS). But long before the current NAVSTAR GPS satellites were launched, came a constellation of just five DARPA satellites called Transit. First operational in 1960, they gave US Navy ships hourly location fixes as accurate as 200 metres.
Total failure (but awesome, and immortalized in science fiction):
Orion: Set in motion shortly after DARPA was created, Project Orion aimed to drive an interplanetary spacecraft by periodically dropping nuclear bombs out of its rear end.
The entire craft was designed like a giant shock absorber with the back covered in thick shielding to protect human passengers. Concerns about nuclear fallout and the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty ended the project in the early 1960s.
Bionic Limbs: DARPA wants prosthetic limbs that are "fully functional, neurologically controlled and have normal sensory capabilities" and is funding scientists who are making serious progress.
For example, Video of a bionic arm built by the creator of the Segway shows impressive dexterity, while other teams have built prototype prosthetics controlled by thought alone.
Not mentioned, but something I'm pretty pumped about: A nasal spray that dramatically reduces the need for sleep.
In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, foreign policy writer Robert Kaplan argues for forcibly aiding the Burmese victims of Cyclone Nargis (a proposal Kerry Howley discussed the other day). He also argues against doing so.
On the one hand, says Kaplan, "this is militarily doable," thanks largely to conveniently located U.S. ships. In fact, "an enormous amount of assistance can be provided while maintaining a small footprint on shore, greatly reducing the chances of a clash with the Burmese armed forces while nevertheless dealing a hard political blow to the junta." Furthermore, "we could do a lot of good merely by holding out the possibility of an invasion," thereby pressuring "Beijing, New Delhi and Bangkok to, in turn, pressure the Burmese generals to open their country to a full-fledged foreign relief effort."
On the other hand, "a humanitarian invasion could ultimately lead to the regime's collapse," "the collapse of the Burmese state," and interethnic civil war. In that case, "we would have to accept significant responsibility for the aftermath." To sum up:
It seems like a simple moral decision: help the survivors of the cyclone. But liberating Iraq from an Arab Stalin also seemed simple and moral. (And it might have been, had we planned for the aftermath.) Sending in marines and sailors is the easy part; but make no mistake, the very act of our invasion could land us with the responsibility for fixing Burma afterward.
So according to Kaplan, the U.S. should stay out. Or go in, but carefully, with a plan. And whatever decision we make, we can't say he didn't warn us.
The spectacle of the pork-laden farm bill sailing through both houses of Congress with veto-proof majorities is disgusting enough if you imagine that its supporters are simply political hacks doing what they think is necessary to stay in power. They are, of course, but they don't necessarily see it that way. Since politicians would not be politicians if they did not believe the public interest coincided with their own ambitions, they have a remarkable ability to see blatant pandering, logrolling, and vote buying as not only necessary but noble. Hence Barack Obama's bizarre claim that passing the favor-filled farm bill is a way of standing up to "the special interests." Or consider the response from Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, to President Bush's veto threat:
Obviously, I have been very disappointed in the comments coming out of the White House. But we do have a strong vote in both the House and the Senate, and I think that shows you that in a complex piece of legislation like this, and it truly is because it touches so many different areas of so many different aspects of agriculture and food production, as well as nutrition and conservation and energy, that there is something in this bill for every member of the House and every member of the Senate.
If Congress passed legislation giving each representative and senator $1 million in taxpayer's money to spend as he saw fit, there would also be something in the bill for every member of the House and every member of the Senate. By Chambliss' logic, raiding the public treasury in this way would be clearly fair and justified. The scary thing is, I don't think he's faking it. He really is indignant about Bush's veto threat, because he really does believe that serving the public interest is a matter of doing favors for lots and lots of special interests.
A quick footnote to my short piece on the Flying Spaghetti Monster: In the time since that article appeared in the print edition of reason, the statue has been removed from the courthouse grounds, along with the other spiritual statuary. Apparently, faced with a choice of allowing every religion or no religion to have a place on public property, the local authorities have opted for a clean lawn.
In the Artifact from our June issue, Managing Editor Jesse Walker finds god—the noodle-god of the Pastafarians, anyway—outside the Cumberland County courthouse in Crossville, Tennessee.
One of Barack Obama's offhand YouTube debate answers from last year—that he would meet "without precondition" with the leaders of Iran, Venezuela and North Korea—has stuck to him ever since. Obama, who isn't much for admitting mistakes (assuming this was one), claims he's talking about a foreign policy in the tradition of FDR, Truman, and other presidents people liked. Clinton, McCain, and now Bush claim he's an easily-led appeaser. Yesterday McCain used a conference call with bloggers to attack Obama: "What do you want to talk about with him? President Ahmadinejad's statement that Israel is a 'stinking corpse'? That they want to wipe Israel off the map? That they continue to supply these terrible, most lethal, explosive devices that are killing young Americans? What do you want to talk to him about?"
But it seems ex-Clintonite Jamie Rubin, who interviewed McCain two years ago, has him dead to rights.
Rubin rubs it in: "For some Europeans in Davos, Switzerland, where the interview took place, that's a perfectly reasonable answer. But it is an unusual if not unique response for an American politician from either party. And it is most certainly not how the newly conservative presumptive Republican nominee would reply today." But "conservative" isn't the right word for what McCain's doing. "Pandering," maybe. "Moronic swill that he doesn't believe." If McCain's going to cash this check, after all, he's going to... what? Break off all communications with Iran? If they're funding terrorism, and we don't talk to people who fund terrorism, wouldn't you have to? Is the most offensive thing about Iran is that its president called Israel a "stinking corpse?" You'd think so, given how much the campaign reiterates that... but I can hardly think of a stupider reason to break ties with a foreign power than "their leader made a threat he can't back up!"
Related, this clip from yesterday's Hardball, in which Chris Matthews de-bones a war-hungry talk show host, is good for five or six laughs.
MATTHEWS: You are talking about a critical point in American history, in European history, and you can't tell me what Neville Chamberlain did in Munich. What did he do in '39, '38?
JAMES: Chris, Chris, Chris, I wasn't the one that raised the Hitler comment. My point is -- my point is, what President Bush has done is, he has taken this shot across the bow, all right?
MATTHEWS: You don't know what you're talking about, Kevin. You don't know what you're talking about.
JAMES: ... know what I'm talking about.
MATTHEWS: Tell me what Chamberlain did wrong.
JAMES: Neville Chamberlain was an appeaser, Chris. Neville Chamberlain...
MATTHEWS: What did he do?
JAMES: Neville Chamberlain was an appeaser, all right?
MATTHEWS: What did he do?
JAMES: Neville Chamberlain, his -- but his policies, the things that Neville Chamberlain supported, all right energized, legitimized...
MATTHEWS: Just tell me what he did.
JAMES: ... energized, legitimized, and made it easier for Hitler to advance in the ways that he advanced.
MATTHEWS: I have been sitting here five minutes asking you to say what the president was referring to in 1938 at Munich.
JAMES: I don't know what the...
MATTHEWS: You don't know. Thank you.
You have to assume this spat is less about foreign policy
principle and more about peeling 10 or 15 percent of the Jewish
vote from Obama. Hey, what could be better for Israel than more
empty threats and destabilizing regional wars?
Headline explained here.
Debbie Nathan writes:
Found this today at the neighborhood 99-cent store, in the Bronx just across the Harlem River from Upper Manhattan. Have no idea what it means. It was mixed with a pile of other pink backpacks decorated with the identical Barbie face, but without the headscarf. The secular Barbies had the same plucked eyebrows, lipsticky lips and hyperMaybelline eyes. But no verbiage surrounded them -- not a word. Meanwhile, Muslim Barbie, as you see here, is trapped in a sea of "Are you happy?"...But what really got me was, this backpack was Made in China. To me, there's something about 99-cent Asian shlock that seems mystically insightful when it comes to 21st-century American culture.
This is actually a contest. "If you have any ideas about its meaning," Nathan writes, "do tell. In fact, I'd be glad to pass my purchase on to you (postage paid!) in exchange for some inspired words."
From the chair of California's Libertarian Party:
People who truly cherish freedom see today's Supreme Court decision as a victory for liberty and common sense. There's no reason why consenting adults should not be allowed to marry so long as their arrangement doesn't interfere with any other individual's ability to live their life in any way they want to.
Many supporters see the decision as a repudiation of bigotry and narrow-mindedness. But Libertarians also see it as a step towards a revision of the larger public policy issue surrounding marriage. Californians should start asking their elected officials why government is involved in granting marriage licenses at all.
And here's Libertarian presidential hopeful Bob Barr (via Marc Ambinder):
Regardless of whether one supports or opposes same sex marriage, the decision to recognize such unions or not ought to be a power each state exercises on its own, rather than imposition of a one-size-fits-all mandate by the federal government (as would be required by a Federal Marriage Amendment which has been previously proposed and considered by the Congress). The decision today by the Supreme Court of California properly reflects this fundamental principle of federalism on which our nation was founded.
Henry Payne wonders how the Burmese junta is handling its botch-up of the country's disaster recovery.
Last summer, when Barack Obama repeatedly distanced himself from the Bush administration's policy regarding medical marijuana, he stopped short of explicitly promising to let states go their own way in this area. But two recent interviews seem to have eliminated any wiggle room on that question.
Until now Obama's firmest stand was the one he took on August 21 in Nashua, New Hampshire. Asked if he would continue the Drug Enforcement Administration's raids on medical marijuana users and their caregivers, he replied:
I would not have the Justice Department prosecuting and raiding medical marijuana users. It's not a good use of our resources.
That statement still left open the possibility of prosecuting and raiding the people who supply patients with marijuana and are permitted to do so under state law. In a May 9 interview with Oregon's Willamette Week, however, Obama was specifically asked whether he would "stop the DEA's raids on Oregon medical marijuana growers" (emphasis added), and he said:
I would because I think our federal agents have better things to do, like catching criminals and preventing terrorism. The way I want to approach the issue of medical marijuana is to base it on science, and if there is sound science that supports the use of medical marijuana and if it is controlled and prescribed in a way that other medicine is prescribed, then it's something that I think we should consider.
That last part is rather vague: Who is "we," and what is it they're considering? The Obama campaign's response to questions from the Los Angles Times clarifies things a bit:
"Voters and legislators in the states—from California to Nevada to Maine—have decided to provide their residents suffering from chronic diseases and serious illnesses like AIDS and cancer with medical marijuana to relieve their pain and suffering," said campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt.
"Obama supports the rights of states and local governments to make this choice— though he believes medical marijuana should be subject to [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] regulation like other drugs," LaBolt said. He said the FDA should consider how marijuana is regulated under federal law, while leaving states free to chart their own course.
It seems to me that Obama now has unequivocally promised to back off and allow states to make their own policy decisions about the medical use of marijuana within their own borders. He also seems to be saying the federal government should consider rescheduling marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act so that doctors can legally prescribe it. Even if that second part never materializes, on this issue Obama is much better than John McCain, who (as the Times notes) has repeatedly flip-flopped between federalism and drug-war dogmatism, with the latter at this point winning out.
John McCain gave an interesting speech this morning dreaming out loud what the world will look like in January 2013, after the first four years of his administration. The headlines from it will mostly (and inaccurately) be about "Troops Home From Iraq by 2013: McCain," on which more from me here, but there are some more concrete, semi-radical promises of interest in the speech. For instance:
I will ask Democrats to serve in my administration. My administration will set a new standard for transparency and accountability. I will hold weekly press conferences. I will regularly brief the American people on the progress our policies have made and the setbacks we have encountered. When we make errors, I will confess them readily, and explain what we intend to do to correct them. I will ask Congress to grant me the privilege of coming before both houses to take questions, and address criticism, much the same as the Prime Minister of Great Britain appears regularly before the House of Commons.
Wowza! While I am a huge fan of Question Time With the Redcoats, I would worry somewhat that the Rolling Fireside Chat Revue would place even more "bull" in the Bully Pulpit, aggrandizing an already inflated office in which (as Gene Healy taught us in this month's cover story) presidents before Woodrow Wilson thought it a bit too presumptuous to deliver the State of the Union in person.
More from McCain today, on that question of executive power:
The powers of the presidency are rightly checked by the other branches of government, and I will not attempt to acquire powers our founders saw fit to grant Congress. I will exercise my veto if I believe legislation passed by Congress is not in the nation's best interests, but I will not subvert the purpose of legislation I have signed by making statements that indicate I will enforce only the parts of it I like.
Besides being a direct (and welcome) rebuke to George W. Bush and the Unitary Executive theory, this also somewhat contradicts McCain's long track record of supporting a line-item veto, which the Supreme Court ruled in 1998 gave the executive branch powers our founders did not see fit to include in the Constitution. And more relevantly, it would seem to be in contradiction of McCain's own longstanding belief that presidents have too little power vis-a-vis Congress in the planning of foreign policy and the waging of war. Here are some of his thoughts on that subject, from his 2002 political memoir Worth the Fighting For:
My disdain of congressional interference in the conduct of the war in Vietnam made all the stronger my natural antipathy to the notion of 535 self-styled secretaries of defense second-guessing and hamstringing the president's authority in national security matters.
At timies, my despair [about Bill Clinton's feckless foreign policy], and the disdain it provoked, caused me to doubt principles I had held for a lifetime about the president's preeminence over Congress in the conduct of foreign policy and the imperative that American power never retreat in response to an inferior adversary's provocation.
On October 14, 1993, eleven days after the ambush of our rangers in Mogadishu, I offered an amendment on the Senate floor restricting funds for American forces in Somalia to the purpose of their "prompt and orderly withdrawal." [...] [I]t was an encroachment on presidential authorrity and a retreat in the face of aggression from an inferior foe that I would never have contemplated in the past. [...] In hindsight, I wish I had not undertaken so drastic a step.
[Theodore Roosevelt] invented the modern presidency by liberally interpreting the constitutional authority of the office to redress the imbalance of power between the executive and legislative branches that had tilted decisively toward Congress in the half century since the Civil War.
Oh yeah: Here's McCain's terrible 2013 ad:
Here's a better version:
Whether out of ineptness or malice, Dallas police officers sometimes add charges to a traffic citation after they've handed the driver his copy. The driver finds out after he sends in his fine (for a burned-out tail light, say) and later receives a notice threatening him with arrest if he fails to pay the fine for some other offense he did not even realize he'd been accused of committing (failing to wear a seat belt, say). This is not only irritating but unconstitutional: It violates the Sixth Amendment right "to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation." Although Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle told The Dallas Morning News "he does not believe the department has a widespread problem" with ex post facto ticket alteration, the truth is he has no way of knowing:
Several things can happen when people discover an officer has cited them with a violation that doesn't appear on their copy of the ticket.
Some complain to the courts and the additional charges are dropped, but don't file complaints with the police department. Some pay the fines without complaint, and some can't prove a ticket has been tampered with because they do not save their copies.
These things make it difficult to assess the scope of such ticket-writing practices...
"We write about 400,000 tickets a year," [Kunkle] said. "We don't know the numbers of these [illegally altered citations] because the tickets are going to look normal to us coming in."
"You're only going to see the problem if you try to look at the copy of the citation the citizen got vs. the one that went to the municipal court system," Chief Kunkle said.
Having received a speeding ticket in Dallas, I can testify that it's nearly impossible to decipher one of the city's citations (or figure out how big your fine is) even if the officer remembers to mark down all the charges. Here's a solution that might address both problems:
The department is also working on a long-range plan to move to a system where tickets are filed electronically, with a printout handed to the ticketed person, thereby limiting the chance of any errors or tampering.
The short term looks less promising:
After receiving inquiries from The News, police officials said they plan to issue a memo reminding officers that altering charges on a citation isn't acceptable.
[Thanks to Michelle Shiinghal for the tip.]
Does Republican presidential hopeful John McCain really plan on withdrawing troops from Iraq by 2013? Editor in Chief Matt Welch wades into the quagmire to find out.
John McCain isn't the most popular Republican for Alaskans. On Super Tuesday he placed fourth in the state's caucus, behind Ron Paul. McCain's opposed to drilling in ANWR, a real political anomaly for a Republican in this state—even most state Democrats want to start the drills spinning. So I'm not surprised to see that a Research 2000 poll (conducted for Daily Kos) shows McCain leading Barack Obama by only 7 points, 49-42, even though George W. Bush beat John Kerry 61-36. Actually, I think McCain could lose the state. Two reasons.
1) The Republican brand is shattered in Alaska. Gov. Sarah Palin is popular, but she became governor by primary-ing the loathsome Frank Murkowski. Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young, both on the ballot this year, are more in the Murkowski mold. And right now they're both losing to Democrats.
2) Alaskan voters, all 470,000-odd of them, are unusually amenable to third parties. In 2000, Ralph Nader crested 10 percent of the vote here. In 1992, Ross Perot got 28 percent. The Libertarian Party's best ever state result was Ed Clark's 12 percent haul in 1980—I'm pretty sure he knocked Jimmy Carter into third place in some precincts.
So a lot of the scaffolding is there that could make this state a Libertarian target. Bob Barr, for example, voted for drilling in ANWR, and could lace into McCain on the issue. A higher-than-normal number of Alaskans will be voting Democratic down the ballot, and might want to split it...and hey, there'll be another conservative candidate they can vote for if they can't stomach Obama. (The Constitution Party's Chuck Baldwin will be on the ballot, too.) If the LP shot for a 1980-sized 10 percent of the vote—around 30,000 ballots—it's possible to see Obama winning the state with 45 percent.
Caveats: I talked with 1992 LP candidate/former Alaska office-holder Andre Marrou few months back, and he was incredibly pessimistic about the LP's chances in the state because he thought the brand was so damaged. Also, Ralph Nader will probably make it on the ballot, but his total probably won't even match the 1.4 percent he got in 2004. But it's still something to watch if the race gets close. Obama will have the money to spend if the spirit moves him, although it would be a time-suck for either him or McCain to take a detour to Anchorage. (We all laugh at Richard Nixon's 1960 trip to Fairbanks, but he only won the state by 1,000 votes.)
In 2001 Regina McKnight, a 24-year-old South Carolina woman, was convicted of "homicide by child abuse" because she was a cocaine user whose baby was stillborn. She received the minimum sentence for that crime, 20 years, with eight years suspended. The conviction, the first of its kind, was outrageous for several reasons:
1) If McKnight had deliberately killed her baby by obtaining an illegal abortion, the maximum sentence she could have received would have been two years.
2) There was no solid evidence that McKnight's baby died as a result of her cocaine use, and even the general connection between cocaine and stillbirth had been called into question.
3) Although tobacco use is also associated with stillbirth, women who smoke during pregnancy are not prosecuted for homicide when their babies die (unless they smoke crack).
This week the South Carolina Supreme Court unanimously overturned McKnight's conviction, finding that her attorney had not made an adequate effort to present evidence on the latter two points and had failed to challenge confusing jury instructions regarding intent. The court said McKnight's lawyer should have introduced into evidence the autopsy report (which mentioned two factors in addition to cocaine as contributing to the baby's death), called an expert witness to question the state's conclusion about the cause of death, and questioned "the adverse and apparently outdated scientific studies propounded by the State's witnesses to find additional support for the State's experts' conclusions that cocaine caused the death of the fetus." The court said the defense should have presented testimony regarding "recent studies showing that cocaine is no more harmful to a fetus than nicotine use, poor nutrition, lack of prenatal care, or other conditions commonly associated with the urban poor."
Even if we accept the legal theory behind this prosecution, the government would have to show that cocaine use during pregnancy is independently associated with stillbirth, once confounding variables such as prenatal nutrition, health care, and use of other drugs are taken into account (the sort of problem that pervades the literature on the effects of prenatal cocaine exposure). Even if a general risk has been established, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to show beyond a reasonable doubt that a particular factor caused a particular stillbirth. Finally, the magnitude of the risk matters. If the risk to the fetus posed by the mother's cocaine use is comparable to that posed by various habits for which pregnant women whose babies die are not prosecuted, it's clear the government is irrationally discriminating against cocaine users.
Forget about cocaine for a moment. Do we want to accept, as a general principle, the idea that women who unintentionally cause harm to their fetuses by doing (or failing to do) certain things during pregnancy should not only be held criminally liable but prosecuted for homicide if the fetus does not survive? Such a rule is plainly inconsistent with the law regarding abortion, and it probably would deter many pregnant women from seeking medical care, thereby further endangering them and their babies. More to the point, a stillbirth is not a murder, and a woman who experiences this tragedy, even if her own behavior may have inadvertently contributed to it, deserves sympathy, not prosecution and prison. The fact that anyone needs to state this explicitly speaks volumes about the extent to which anti-drug hysteria has warped our system of justice.
Bill Falk is editor in chief of The Week, the magazine that promises to "tell you all you need to know about everything that matters." Six years old and boasting a growing circulation of 500,000 subscribers, The Week has redefined the news magazine for the 21st century by offering wide-ranging and witty takes on the topics of the day. For each issue, Falk and his staff sift through thousands of newspapers, magazines, websites, and other sources to produce a concise and comprehensive gazette of news, opinion, and attitude.
Although The Week is a non-partisan publication, Falk has no shortage of opinions about the state of the media—and particularly the troubles facing old-style, mass-circulation print behemoths such as Time and Newsweek. Such mags are "clearly in a bad place," he says. "It's unclear what their role is in this new media landscape....They're fishing around for what their role is going to be."
In this 10-minute interview conducted and filmed by reason.tv's Nick Gillespie and Dan Hayes, Falk explains why he thinks The Washington Post is the best newspaper in America, why content will always be king across all media platforms, and why it may not be a bad thing that politics is starting to look more and more like a reality TV show in which contestants get voted off the island.
Click below to view. To add this video to your site and more reason.tv, go here.
NPR reports on a new call for "potty parity," this time from men.
Designers of a new arena in St. Louis thought they were doing a good thing by putting more toilets in the women's restrooms. But as architecture professor Kathryn Anthony explains, their modest effort is only one small step in a direction that will require broad legislation.
Some cities and counties already have laws requiring extra ladies toilets--sometimes as many as quadruple the number of available for men.
And then there's this:
[University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign architecture professor and board member of the American Restroom Association Kathryn] Anthony says the issue of restroom access is so important that the free market can't be trusted.
Personally, I've always favored the personal responsibility approach: I'll march right in and use a single stall men's room if it's empty and there's a lock on the door.
Listen to the whole show here.
Robert Samuelson is disappointed with the level of debate among the presidential candidates thus far. "Let's imagine what a candidate inoculated with truth serum might say," he writes. Thus, we get one of those sad columns where the pundit in question tells us what he would say were Americans enlightened enough to nominate him, and then explains that he'll never be nominated because he is just so goshdarn candid. Here's a nice bit of straight talk:
"Finally, let's discuss poverty. Everyone's against it, but hardly anyone admits that most of the increase in the past 15 years reflects immigration -- new immigrants or children of recent immigrants. Unless we stop poor people from coming across our Southern border, legally and illegally, we won't reduce poverty."
The last line is nonsensical as stated, but I assume Samuelson meant to say "won't reduce the rate of poverty in the United States." So, to paraphrase our truth-teller: If you let more poor people into the United States, there will be more poor people in the United States. Well, yeah. But why should we care about the aggregate poverty rate as opposed to the well-being of the individuals within the aggregate? The rate tells us nothing about the average well-being of those Americans who were here before the migration takes place, and nothing about how much better off those immigrants are for having migrated. By Samuelson's logic, we should deny poor immigrants entry even if they make natives appreciably better off, because they'll affect a statistic he is oddly preoccupied with.
I tend to assume that people who tout this talking point are just confused, but it's worth considering the implicit worldview of someone who repeatedly states this kind of thing. The goal here has nothing to do with poverty alleviation; we already know that the quickest way to reduce poverty is to open labor markets. Rather, the goal is to reduce the number of people beneath a particular income level within a particular spatial area. To what end, I have no idea. But if that's what we're aiming at, why not just deport the poor?
California's supreme court has overturned the state ban on gay marriage.
The case involved a series of lawsuits seeking to overturn a voter-approved law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
With the ruling, California could become the second state after Massachusetts where gay and lesbian residents can marry.
Andrew Sullivan is breaking down the decision.
One key fact: the ruling takes effect in 30 days - which means thousands of couples will be able to marry long before any initiative attempts to reverse it. So the initiative question becomes: do you want to divorce thousands of already-married couples? Or do you want to keep things as they now are? That's a big advantage for the pro-equality forces.
Politically, I suppose this is bad news for the Democrats, but not nearly as much as in 2004. For one, it's not coming out of a candidate's home state. (How lucky was John Kerry to come from Massachusetts in the year of Goodridge?) For another, John McCain voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment: He can't demagogue this, and he won't. And finally, the issue's simply becoming less volcanic as the issue is normalized. The way things are going, Mitt Romney will be leading a pro-gay marriage campaign by 2016 or so.
UPDATE: DOMA author Bob Barr chimes in:
Regardless of whether one supports or opposes same sex marriage, the decision to recognize such unions or not ought to be a power each state exercises on its own, rather than imposition of a one-size-fits-all mandate by the federal government (as would be required by a Federal Marriage Amendment which has been previously proposed and considered by the Congress). The decision today by the Supreme Court of California properly reflects this fundamental principle of federalism on which our nation was founded.
Indeed, the primary reason for which I authored the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 was to ensure that each state remained free to determine for its citizens the basis on which marriage would be recognized within its borders, and not be forced to adopt a definition of marriage contrary to its views by another state. The decision in California is an illustration of how this principle of states' powers should work.
That's why he wrote DOMA? Hrm.
Steve Chapman explains why raising the capital gains tax will be good for the free market.
In this week's Village Voice, Chuck Eddy offers a spirited revisionist defense of the much-maligned (by liberals, anyway) country star Toby Keith. As you might recall, Keith topped the charts in 2002 with "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue," a patriotic ditty that promised terrorists and other malfeasants, "we'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way." While I can't say that I've ever cared for Keith's music, his feud with the self-important Dixie Chicks was fun to watch. And as reason contributing editor Charles Oliver noticed back in 2003, the famously pugnacious Keith was an Iraq War skeptic from the start.
Here's Eddy on why Keith is more than just a right-wing shock jock:
That handful of songs (a couple of which appeared on a surprisingly funky 2003 album entitled Shock'n Y'All, har har) is pretty much where Toby's editorializing ends, at least on record. His output is no more limited by his war-machine anthem than Merle Haggard's was by the comparably opportunistic "Okie From Muskogee" and "The Fightin' Side of Me" when Nixon was president. And not many country artists since Merle have managed a creative streak like Toby's these past few years-in fact, to my ears, his '00s output (six albums plus change, including half of 2006's Broken Bridges soundtrack and a few spare tracks collected on his new 35 Biggest Hits) just might stand up to anybody else's this decade, in any musical genre.
That's a bold statement. But the comparison to Hag makes sense. Read the rest of Eddy's article here. For the definitive take on the tangled politics of country music, however, look no further than reason's own Jesse Walker.
I've entertained the notion of updating the LP race standings every week until the convention, the way that multiple media orgs and blogs did when covering the Democratic and Republican races. But there doesn't seem to be a lot of fluidity in the race: Bob Barr, Wayne Allyn Root, and Mary Ruwart are bunched up at the top of the field, with delegates telling me they're swapping between Root and Barr but no one telling me they'd trade Ruwart for one of them.
So, a brief update on the frontrunners. Barr's fundraising has ticked up since he announced his run and got an unprecendented (for an LP candidate) flurry of coverage. Outright Libertarians, a gay rights group within in the party, quickly blasted him for his record on their issue. This is a signal of Barr's punching power at this point in the race: He engenders ire from his enemies like no one else running in the LP. William Hawkins accuses him of "turning against his country."
Wayne Allyn Root is ignoring the Barr media blitz and calling up delegates. Right before John McCain issued a TV ad predicting what the world would be like in 2013, Root did sort of the same thing, e-mailing supporters a future history of the Root campaign and the LP.
The blizzard of media attention after the LP convention is over. Thank you Congressman Bob Barr and Jesse “The Body” Ventura. Media from across the country came to Denver because of you. But what they witnessed was Wayne Allyn Root pulling off the political upset (at least as far as the Washington D.C. press corp. is concerned). A star is born. Now the media will be more interested in the new face of the LP because of who he is…not who he was.
The important thing about media isn't getting it- it's what you do with it after you get it. Wayne is a dynamic media personality. He has proven he knows how to get media, and how to use it. He wins over even skeptical and cynical hosts. He gets them to say, “Wow, I could actually vote for you.” If Wayne Allyn Root gets the LP Presidential nomination, we'll have a future. With Wayne there is a huge (and long-term) upside.
It ends on an up note:
On election night 2008, Wayne Allyn Root outperforms the expectations of the political pundits and Beltway insiders, including a very close third place finish in his home state of Nevada... Wayne will build on his close third place finish in Nevada in 2008 to win Nevada as a Libertarian Presidential candidate in 2012.
Giving off the impression that she's back on her heels, Mary Ruwart rolled out a YouTube message to her supporters claiming she's been "smeared, libeled and misquoted" by other candidates.
Some people think being tough is a matter of pointing fingers, getting angry, and in some cases, smearing your opponents... a truly tough person takes responsibility for his or her actions and would never smear an opponent. I think that's why my staff calls me the Velvet Hammer: Soft on the outside, tough on the inside.
On a side note: Alan Keyes has responded to his landslide defeat at the Constitution Party convention by humbly returning to a life of quiet scholarship and intellectual activism. Hah! No, seriously, he's founded his own third (fifth? sixth?) party. His organizers failed to get on the Texas ballot, but the California branch of the Constitution Party is trying to shove him onto that state's ballot.
The Alabama State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recently held a public forum on eminent domain abuse. Here are Rev. John E. Smith and his wife Gail explaining what the authorities did to their Birmingham church:
When Drew Carey and reason.tv last checked in on San Tan Flat, a family-oriented restaurant in Pinal County, Arizona, the father-and-son owners Dale and Spencer Bell were fighting against a ridiculous, anachronistic, and anti-business ban on outdoor dancing. Check that video out here.
What a difference a video--and ongoing litigation courtesy of the libertarian public-interest law firm the Institute for Justice--makes! As The Arizona Republic reports:
Pinal County Superior Court Judge William O'Neil overturned a decision from the county Board of Supervisors that said the country-Western-themed restaurant was operating an illegal dance hall by allowing patrons to dance to live music on its back patio.
The judge's ruling brings closure to the conflict between the county and restaurant owner Dale Bell, who have been at odds for more than two years after San Tan Flat neighbors complained about noise coming from the property.
The saga of San Tan Flat drew national attention, prompting commentary from actor Drew Carey and conservative Washington Post columnist George Will. The case also received several comparisons to the 1984 Kevin Bacon film Footloose, in which a small town bans rock music and dancing.
At the time we released the video, one of the owners of San Tan Flat told the East Valley Tribune, "'This adds one more voice, and I think Drew Carey has a credible voice and he speaks with some degree of credibility to the public,' said Dale Bell, who owns San Tan Flat with his son, Spencer."
Congrats to the Bells for fighting for their inalienable right to host dancing in the Arizona desert!
For embed code to post the video to your own site and for more reason.tv, go here.
Push click on the image below to enjoy exclusive interviews with the Bells and footage from the victory party last Friday at San Tan Flat.