[Warning: This post contains spoilers about The Dark Knight. Don't read it if you haven't seen it.]
The third act of The Dark Knight takes a morally ambiguous twist with Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) discovers a sonar-based spying node that Batman (Christian Bale) is using to locate The Joker. Fox is horrified at the invasion of privacy; Batman, uncomfortable with what he's done, gives Fox the power to shut it down. Over at the ACLU's blog, Amanda Simon is thrilled at the plot twist. Sort of.
Unfortunately, like the telecoms before him, Mr. Freeman’s character reluctantly goes along with the plan saying he’ll resign and terminate the program after “this one time.” At least he didn’t ask for immunity.
But Tylerc217 at the Daily Paul totally rejects the twist, and sees the movie as propaganda.
I clearly remember one scene in The Departed where Alec Baldwin was giving high praises for the Patriot Act. The one line of praise stuck out in my mind, because after watching Thank You for Smoking, it dawned on me that lobbyists try to win over the ideas of the movie at hand. Without actually coming out and saying "buy our product", they instead push an idea and subconciously get the viewer to be in agreement with it.
You know, it didn't strike me like that it all. The sonar actually screws up at points; when it malfunctions, Batman nearly dies. And the way it's presented, there's nothing the technology offers that heat imaging doesn't offer. I'd want the Nolan brothers to explain their thinking before I rule one way or the other, but I'd bet the sonar was an anti-national security state statement.
After 10 years on the run, former Bosnian Serb military leader Radovan Karadzic has been arrested. The AP has a few sketchy details:
Mr. Karadzic has been indicted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia for genocide during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. He has been hiding since 1998.
President Boris Tadic's office said in a statement that Mr. Karadzic was arrested "in an action by the Serbian security services."
Mr. Karadzic, who was the leader of ethnic Serbs during the war that erupted with Bosnia's secession from Yugoslavia, is accused of masterminding massacres that the U.N. war crimes tribunal described as "scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of human history."
He had topped the tribunal's most-wanted list for more than a decade and was said to have resorted to elaborate disguises to elude authorities.
Mr. Karadzic's reported hide-outs included Serbian Orthodox monasteries and refurbished mountain caves in remote eastern Bosnia. Some newspaper reports said he had at times disguised himself as a priest by shaving off his trademark silver mane and donning a brown cassock.
reason on the Balkans.
A crackdown on Chinese foot massage parlors is underway in Los Angeles: "Authorities have raided about a dozen foot massage parlors in recent months, from San Gabriel to Rowland Heights, charging operators and masseuses with fines of up to $1,000."
Which is weird really, because if you think about it, who needs a cheap foot massage more than a jackbooted thug?
An attorney representing a new association of foot massage parlor owners has argued that the industry employs more than 1,000 people—many of the poorest Chinese emigres hoping to establish a foothold in the United States.
So is it protectionism? Or prudery?
"They think foot massage must be something to do with sex," [shop owner Ching] Lau said. "They don't understand how popular this is in Asia. It's part of Chinese culture."
Via Virginia Postrel's Dynamist blog.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine isn't a big fan of meat. According to Newsweek, only about 5 percent of its members are physicians. But they're determined to let the death of no meat-eater go unremarked upon in their op-eds—apparently eating deli sandwiches killed Tony Snow, and now it's killing your kids:
Food manufacturers and their lobbyists like to pretend that even the most unhealthful foods like hot dogs, bacon and other processed meats are OK in moderation. And anyone with a pepperoni addiction likes to pretend that jogging three miles a day will keep them healthy. But late last year, the game was up....
In fact, according to researchers, just one 50-gram serving of bacon, sausage, deli meats, or other processed meat (think one hot dog) daily increases our risk of colorectal cancer, on average, by 21 percent. Do the math. If your spouse or your kids are eating ham slices or hot dogs just a couple of times a week, they are significantly increasing their risk of colon cancer.
British officials looking to bust into a home or business have over 1,000 legal justifications to choose from, reports the Daily Mail. Here are a handy few:
• Invade your home to see if your pot plants have pests or do not have a 'plant passport' (Plant Health England Order 2005).
• Survey your home and garden to see if your hedge is too high (Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003).
• Check that accommodation given to asylum seekers is not being lived in by non-asylum seekers (Immigration and Asylum Act 1999).
• Raid a house to check if unlicensed gambling is taking place (Gambling Act 2005 Inspection Regulations 2007).
• Seize fridges without the correct energy rating (Energy Information Household Refrigerators and Freezers Regulations 2004).
Whole breathless article here.
Eli Whitney's beard! Fighting anti-fascist fruitcake Naomi Wolf is far, far crazier than originally thought. I finally got around to watching Loopy de Loop's tent revival speech at last weekend's Ron Paul "Revolution March," and while I cover most of the her points in my review of The End of America, Wolf's user guide to the impending fascist takeover, there are a couple of fascinating new wrinkles in her terror tale. Turns out that her brave stand against the current regime has caught the attention of the American Gestapo (2:48 in):
"My daughter is 13 years-old. She's in summer camp right now. She's writing me letters. I'm not getting her letters. I'm not getting half of my mail. And when my mail arrives, it's ripped wide open. I showed it to the post office and they said ‘That's not possible.'"
The Sgt. Schultz Brigade at the post office would say that, wouldn't they! Perhaps Wolf the Younger, likely sequestered for the summer at Camp Wo-Chi-Cha, is simply pretending to write letters home. Perhaps Wolf the Elder is only now realizing that the United States Postal Service has its share of lazy, incompetent federal employees. My plastic pith-helmeted mail carrier, for instance, routinely scatters my mail in mailboxes throughout the neighborhood. The stuff that actually arrives is helpfully ripped into small sections, which I reassemble during free weekends. Come to think of it, with that Afrikacorps headgear, he's probably a fascist too.
Other Naomi nuggets: Did you know that there is a real danger that New York Times editor Bill Keller will be executed like Nikolai Bukharin? (4:45) And Wolf provides this chilling, Gossip Girl-style recapitulation of Italian fascism running roughshod over a duly elected parliament (7:10): "Parliament kept saying, ‘wait, we're parliament.' And Mussolini kept saying, you know what? Whatever!" And Giovanni Gentile was like, huh? And Marinetti was like, pffff.
Complete video here.
Alan Gura, Dick Heller's attorney, reports that the .22-caliber revolver his client began to register last week is the same weapon he tried to register in 2002 before suing the District of Columbia over its handgun ban. Therefore, Gura says, assuming Heller is allowed to register the revolver and keep it at home, "the city appears to be complying with the literal command of the [Supreme Court] judgment," which said "the District must permit [Heller] to register his handgun" as long as he is not "disqualified from the exercise of Second Amendment rights" (i.e., has no criminal or psychiatric record that bars him from owning a firearm). Gura adds:
That does not mean that the rest of the D.C. Code with respect to firearms is constitutional. Much of it is not. But the entire code was not directly at issue in our case. It is our hope that Mayor Fenty and the City Council, or Congress, if the Mayor and City Council are unwilling to do so, sit down with their code books and the Supreme Court's opinion, and make a serious effort to conform the former to the latter. If the political branches do not make the city's firearm laws constitutional, then as we've seen, the courts will do it for them.
In particular, the remaining storage requirements (which say even a gun locked in a safe must also be kept unloaded) and the "machine gun" ban (which the city used to stop Heller from registering a .45-caliber pistol with a seven-round magazine, arguing that the ban covers most semiautomatics) seem ripe for challenge. I'll have more on this in my column on Wednesday.
Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit overturned the $550,000 fine that the Federal Communications Commissions imposed on CBS for Janet Jackson's failure to keep her breasts in her bustier during the 2004 Superbowl halftime show. It ruled that the FCC's abrupt abandonment of a longstanding policy forgiving brief, unplanned bits of "indecency" was "arbitrary and capricious," violating the Administrative Procedure Act. Because of the change in policy, the court said, CBS did not have fair warning that it could be fined for an incident like this one. Last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit reached a similar conclusion (PDF) regarding the FCC's suddenly strict treatment of fleeting profanities uttered by celebrities during live award shows. In March the Supreme Court agreed to review the latter decision, so it may soon decide the extent to which the FCC can make shit policy up as it goes along.
In his provocative new book The Dumbest Generation, Mark Bauerlein argues that "the digital age stupefies young Americans and jeopardizes our future" by turning out hyper-networked kids who can track each other's every move with ease but are largely ignorant of history, economics, culture, and other subjects he believes are prerequisites for meaningful civic participation.
Bauerlein talked with reason.tv's Nick Gillespie in June. To watch the approximately eight-minute interview, and to see Bauerlein’s answers to questions from the home version of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, click here.
It's a few months old, but here's a pretty crazy case of prosecutorial malfeasance from Santa Clara County, California.
San Jose Det. Matthew Christian created a fake DNA report signed by a fictitious lab technician to use as a prop while interrogating a man under investigation for sex crimes against a developmentally disabled neighbor. Police are allowed to lie to suspects in an effort to extract information or confessions, so Christian hadn't violated any laws in actually creating the report.
The problem is that the fake report somehow made its way into Deputy District Attorney Jaime Stringfield's file, along with a real report stating that no DNA could be found on the blanket in question. At a preliminary hearing, Stringfield then proceeded to question the Det. Christian about the fake report. Christian obliged with false testimony.
"This blanket that you seized, did you submit it to the crime lab for analysis?" she asked.
"Yes," Christian said.
"Are you aware of any results?" she asked.
"Yes. There was semen found on the blanket," Christian said.
Superior Court Judge Gilbert T. Brown ordered Kerkeles to stand trial. Stringfield listed Roberts, the fake analyst, among her trial witnesses.
Stringfield blamed the defense attorney for not pointing out the discrepancy in the two reports. But according to the article, defense attorneys twice asked for more information on the reports. Stringfield declined their requests. The defense finally made a third request, this time for the resume of the fictitious lab technician who signed the fake report, at which time Det. Christian remembered that he had made the whole thing up.
An "internal committee" of prosecutors later concluded that Christian's fake report, false testimony, and memory lapse, and Stringfield's failure to notice the fake report, failure to notice the real report, and failure to distinguish between the two—were all "honest mistakes."
In November, San Francisco voters will get to vote on whether to decriminalize prostitution in the city.
The measure would bar authorities from spending money to investigate or prosecute people for engaging in prostitution.
The measure, which qualified Friday, would also end a local program that allows those caught soliciting a prostitute for the first time to avoid charges if they attend a class and pay a fine.
And the measure got in the ballot in large part because of Starchild, America's best-dressed Libertarian activist. He helped collect the signatures to qualify it, and he's one of the measure's spokespeople. Eric Dondero pays tribute:
Libertarians and most especially Libertarian Republicans are aligned with Conservatives more and more these days, on a variety of civil liberties issues. Conservatives have come around on smoking bans, seat belt laws, speed limits, free speech rights, and even in some cases on the gambling front. But they still seem completely out-of-touch on sexual matters, and hopelessly uncool.
And they wonder why young people are turning off to the GOP in record numbers.
Perhaps they should consider that it's their oldline prudishness that's more of a turn-off to younger voters than the War in Iraq. Solution: Let the Libertarians take the lead on issues such as legalization of prostitution and swingers' rights, and bring some hipness back to the GOP.
It's a beautiful coda to the city's 2007 lawsuit against Starchild, which he won.
Last month the House Financial Services Committee rejected a bill co-sponsored by Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) that would have blocked Treasury Department regulations aimed at preventing online gambling. Speaking against the bill, Alabama Rep. Spencer Bachus, the committee's ranking Republican, explained that the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), the law that requires the regulations, is all about saving the youth of America from a potentially lethal addiction. "McGill University found that one-third of college students who gamble on the Internet ultimately attempted suicide," he averred. He added, "That is why the rate of suicide on our college campuses has doubled in the past 10 years."
In a belated response to Bachus' startling claim, the Safe and Secure Internet Gambling Initiative, an industry group, cites McGill University gambling and addiction researcher Jeffrey L. Derevensky, who says:
This assertion, which is reportedly based upon our empirical research, is not predicated upon any factual evidence. None of the studies conducted with adolescents or college students, to the best of my knowledge, have looked at a connection between Internet wagering and suicide attempts.
In a June 25 press release, Bachus revised his claim, saying, "A study by McGill University found that nearly one-third of teenage compulsive gamblers attempted suicide" (emphasis added). That sounds a little more plausible, depending on how compulsive gambling is defined. But according to Derevensky, Bachus is still wrong to cite McGill research in support of his assertion. In any case, given that only 7 percent or so of online bettors qualify as "problem gamblers" (according to a 2007 survey by the British Gambling Commission), throwing everyone who has ever gambled online into that category is a pretty big mistake. Then, too, while Bachus said suicides on college campuses have doubled in the last decade, the CDC says suicides among 15-to-24-year-olds fell by 28 percent between 1990 and 2003, then rose by 8 percent in 2004 before falling by 3 percent in 2005, the latest year for which data are available (PDF).
Addendum: Several commenters wondered whether Bachus is conniving or clueless. Last summer, after Radley Balko testified at a hearing on Internet gambling before Frank's committee, he described an exchange with Bachus that supports the latter interpretation.
Yesterday's New York Times carried a great little review of Mark LeVine's new book Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam. According to reviewer Howard Hampton, LeVine, a longhaired Jewish rocker and professor of Middle Eastern studies, travels among the believers only to find death metal bands, riot grrrls, and other assorted thrashers:
Eagerly seizing on the stereotype-busting possibilities of "an 18-year-old from Casablanca with spiked hair, or a 20-year-old from Dubai wearing goth makeup," LeVine would like us to see them as the faces of an emerging Muslim world, potentially a much less monochromatic place than the one represented on TV by the usual "Death to America" brigades. "Heavy Metal Islam" turns the notion of irreconcilable differences between Islam and the West on its head, appealing to the universality of youth culture as "a model for communication and cooperation" in the Internet age. LeVine reckons the likes of Metallica and Slayer provide a brute lingua franca that knows no borders, opening up breathing room in cloistered societies, gradually undermining rigid belief systems—a benign, bottom-up brand of globalization as opposed to the ruthless corporate or state-sponsored kind.
I'm not sure if the guys in Slayer have ever been called agents of tolerance and goodwill before, but there's no question that openly listening to a Slayer classic like "Altar of Sacrifice" might get a young Iranian in some trouble with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. But, as Hampton argues in his review, LeVine is on pretty shaky ground describing Slayer and Metallica as alternatives to "ruthless corporate" globalization rather than as explicit products of it. Who does he think releases and distributes their records, anyway? Along those lines, here's Hampton's final word:
The punch line of LeVine's informative, valuable and moderately mad book is twofold: this conscientious anti-imperialist has written a swell tract in favor of large-scale cultural imperialism—a Marshall Amps Plan—and his program is undoubtedly the first to enlist death metal as the spearhead of a new Peace Corps(e).
In a Feature from our August/September issue, reason.tv Editor Nick Gillespie talks tax cuts, terrorism, gun rights, and immigration with Grover Norquist.
On today's date in 1925, a jury of his peers convicted John T. Scopes for teaching evolutionary theory in his high school biology class. Clarence Darrow led the defense against William Jennings Bryan, a Democratic presidential nominee and devout Bible thumper, and lost. The Tennessee Supreme Court eventually overturned the verdict on a technicality, insisting in its decision that The Butler Act itself didn't violate the Constitution.
The trial was essentially a joke, hence its alternate name, the "Scopes Monkey Trial," but the means by which the state made its case sound unfunny and more than a little terrifying from the perspective of a 21st Century agnostic:
The entire prosecution case in the trial of John Scopes occupies less than two hours of a Wednesday afternoon session of court. The state calls only four witnesses. School Superintendent Walter White and Fred Robinson both testify that Scopes, in a conversation at Robinson's drug store-soda fountain-book dispensary, admitted having taught evolution. Howard Morgan, age 14, and Harry "Bud" Shelton, age 17, appear as two eyewitnesses to the crime.
[Prosectuor Thomas] Stewart asks Morgan if "Professor Scopes" ever taught him "anything about evolution." "Yes sir," the boy replies in a barely audible voice. "Just state in your own words, Howard, what he taught you and when it was," Stewart requests. "It was along about the second of April. He said that the earth was once a hot molten mass, too hot for plant or animal life to exist upon it. In the sea, the earth cooled off; there was a little germ of one cell organism formed, and this organism kept evolving until it got to be a pretty good-sized animal, and then it came on to be a land animal, and it kept on evolving, and from this was man." From the defense table, Arthur Garfield Hays offers his congratulations on Morgan's history of life on earth: "Go to the head of the class." Stewart asks Morgan if Scopes classified "man with reference to other animals." He had, Morgan says, called humans "mammals."
Tony Long at Wired brings up this interesting fact, which, if true, means the scene in the soda store was a fabrication:
Whether Scopes actually taught evolution to his biology class remains unclear. Although he told the court he had done it and would do it again, he later admitted to a newspaper reporter that while he used a textbook that included a chapter on evolution, he skipped the chapter.
Science Correspondent Ron Bailey blogged here on Scopes' legal legacy.
Seems that the city of St. Louis, like many cities, allows the police to confiscate the cars of people suspected (but not necessarily convicted) of certain crimes. They have a contract with a city towing firm, and said firm was allowing police officers and their families to "rent" confiscated cars free of charge, sometimes for months on end. Officers and their families could also sometimes purchase the confiscated cars at a fraction of the cars' value.
All of that is pretty outrageous. But it gets better. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch stumbled onto the story after investigating the daughter of the city's police chief. She had been involved in a number of accidents with different cars. On several occasions she had wrecked a car, then simply gone down to the towing service to get a 60-80 percent discount on a new one. After one accident, her blood-alcohol concentration tested at .17. She wasn't arrested or charged. The department says it has "no idea" why she was let go.
The police department hired a law firm, which concluded that the towing arrangement broke no rules or laws. The chief improbably claims he was oblivious to the deals his daughter was getting (her relationship with the towing service apparently goes back to 2002). The Post-Dispatch reports that the chief's last public statement on the matter was that, "the absolute necessity in maintaining transparency in the eyes of the public."
He has since declined to comment.
In the New York Post, Editor in Chief Matt Welch reviews a new book explaining why eminent domain is just the gateway into a world where local governments respect no man's property.
Convinced America is going into the shitter? Tempted to buy into the recent rise of rise-and-fallism? Make sure you first read this great little World Affairs Journal survey by Georgetown professor Robert Lieber of retrospectively inaccurate and sometimes comical American "declinism." A sample:
It was in the 1970s that declinism began to take on its modern features, following America's buffeting by oil shocks and deep recessions, a humiliating withdrawal from Vietnam, victories by Soviet-backed regimes or insurgent movements in Africa, Central America, and Southeast Asia, and revolution in Iran along with the seizure of the U.S. embassy there. A 1970 book by Andrew Hacker also announced The End of the American Era. At the end of the decade, Jimmy Carter seemed to give a presidential stamp of approval to Hacker's diagnosis when he used concerns about a flagging American economy, inflation, recession, and unemployment as talking points in his famous "malaise" speech calling for diminished national expectations.
By the early 1980s, declinism had become a form of historical chic. In 1987, David Calleo's Beyond American Hegemony summoned the U.S. to come to terms with a more pluralistic world. In the same year, Paul Kennedy published what at the time was greeted as the summa theologica of the declinist movement-The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, in which the author implied that the cycle of rise and decline experienced in the past by the empires of Spain and Great Britain could now be discerned in the "imperial overstretch" of the United States. But Kennedy had bought in at the top: within two years of his pessimistic prediction, the Cold War ended with the Soviet Union in collapse, the Japanese economic miracle entering a trough of its own, and U.S. competitiveness and job creation far outpacing its European and Asian competitors.
Link via Opinion L.A.
Part MMCIV in an ongoing series on stupid distractions that Republicans think will save them from humiliating defeat
After Barack Obama finished the primaries with more delegates than Hillary Clinton, some media-savvy (and fat-walleted) Clinton supporters went off the deep end and created revanchist blogs and PACs aimed at installing Clinton at the Democratic convention. The catchall name for these groups was PUMA, short for "Party Unity My Ass," and a PUMA PAC and PUMA.com were launched in mid-June to steer the movement.
It was hard to tell, at first, how much pull these people had. Their every move draws media coverage; they've got a YouTube channel collecting all of their cable news appearances. As Robert Stacy McCain reports, they've announced an August conference in D.C. (with the caveat that they'll cancel it if fewer than 250 people register).
But the first evidence of their power has trickled in, and it's... yeah, it's pathetic. PUMA PAC (its acronym changed to "People United Means Action") has released its first FEC filing, which shows it raised $22,840 in the month of June. Of course, most of the PUMAs' effort is geared not toward funding a new PAC, but toward relieving Hillary Clinton's debt so she can triumphantly seize the Democratic nomination in Denver. How's that going?
On Sunday, Clinton reported having a $25.2 million debt at the end of June, including her own $13.2 million loan to the campaign... Clinton, who suspended her campaign on June 7, reported raising $2.7 million from donors during the month.
We at JustSayNoDeal.com, we started an initiative before the Fourth of July to raise money to put down her debt. And within that week leading up to the Fourth of July we raised approximately $10 million. Our most conservative estimates have it at six million but we’re looking more at $10 million. Our sources tell us that the debt is now less than $5 million from being in the black… we believe that by this weekend that Hillary’s debt will be finished.
Is it possible that Bower et al raised 400 percent as much as Clinton raised in June? It's hard to believe, since Bower had no idea of how much debt Clinton was carrying—she would have had to raise $20 million in 10 days to run it down to $5 million. And it doesn't help Bower's case that traffic to JustSayNoDeal.com actually declined during this week of frenzied fundraising. Yes, he claims that the hub site is one of 230 sites serving "2.5 million people." But if Clinton raised $2.7 million in June, what were all of those people doing? Did they all chip in $1.01? (The fundraising link at JustSayNoDeal goes straight to HillaryClinton.com.)
Is there any way of gauging how many PUMAs there are? Well, on June 14 Bower created a Facebook group for them. In a month and a week it's grown to 456 members. Is it so small because Clinton's salt-of-the-earth supporters don't waste their time online? Well, no. The still-active Hillary Clinton for President group has more than 22,000 members, although it's shedding dozens of them every day.
Are the PUMAs lying about their support, their numbers, or their fundraising just to get attention? We won't know for sure until July's fundraising numbers come out, as they can prove or disprove Bower's Fox News claims. Bower, in another interview where he made the "$10 million" claim, said that PUMAs give in increments of $20.08 so "they know it's from us." Anyone want to bet that 50,000 Clinton donors materialized in a week in early July? A long holiday week, no less? If you do, I've got an account at IndyMac I want to sell you.
In other stupid Obama news, a few bloggers revisited the issue of whether Obama forged his own birth certificate, based on a study by an expert who goes by the handle "TechDude." AJ Strata leaves them crawling around on the floor, looking for their teeth.
For the so-called candidate of change, writes Steve Chapman, Barack Obama sure has some old-fashioned ideas about education.
July 19, Oxford, UK-Death by asteroids, comets and gamma ray bursts was on the agenda of the conference on Global Catastrophic Risks this morning. First up was NASA senior scientist David Morrison to talk about the Spaceguard Survey and the threat of a catastrophic asteroid strike. Morrison started out by noting that we had just past the centenary of the 5-15 megaton Tunguska airburst over Siberia. In 1998, Congress charged NASA with surveying the skies to detect 90 percent of near earth asteroids (NEAs) greater than 1 kilometer in size in 10 years. An impact by a kilometer-sized asteroid could end civilization. Besides the blast, such an asteroid would inject so much dust into the atmosphere that it would cause global winter that would cause massive crop failure.
According to Morrison, 80 percent of the NEAs that are a kilometer or more in size have been identified. Consequently, Morrison could happily assure the assembled Oxford catastrophe mavens, "We are not going the way of the dinosaurs." Why because the Spaceguard Survey has not turned up any NEAs near the size of the one that likely killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. That asteroid measured between 10 and 15 kilometers and blasted the 180 kilometer-wide Chicxulub crater. Proposals to have the Spaceguard Survey expand to detect NEAs as small a 100-meters are now being considered. Morrison groused that NASA has spent only $ 4 million on Spaceguard and argued that the magnitude of the risk merits a budget of half a billion dolars.
Morrison pointed out that asteroid strikes are the only natural hazard that in principle can be completely eliminated. Thanks to the Spaceguard Survey, humanity will likely have decades of warning before an impending collision. Once alerted, missiles could be used to nudge a threatening asteroid so that it misses the earth. In this regard, Morrison cited an apt quotation from the poet Lord Byron:
"Who knows whether, when a comet shall approach this globe to destroy it, as it often has been and will be destroyed, men will not tear rocks from their foundations by means of steam, and hurl mountains, as the giants are said to have done, against the flaming mass? - And then we shall have traditions of Titans again, and of wars with Heaven."
But before becoming too complacent, keep an eye out for reports on the 210-330 meter asteroid Apophis-there's a 1 in 45,000 chance that it could hit the earth on April 13, 2036. Measurements in the next 3 to 4 years will determine just how big a chance of a collision there is.
Gamma Ray Bursts
Technion physicist Arnon Dar warned of another space hazard--gamma ray bursts (GRBs). GRBs were originally detected by U.S. military satellites that were checking to see if the Soviets were testing nuclear weapons. GRBs are beams of highly energetic photons produced when a gigantic star goes supernova. Dar described a GRB beam hitting the earth would be like a kiloton bomb per square kilometer going off at the top atmosphere. He speculated that some of the earlier mass extinctions, such as the Permian extinction in which perhaps 90 percent of all life died out might have been caused by GRBs.
So are there any stars likely to go supernova nearby? Dar pointed out that the gigantic star Eta Carinae at a distance of 7,500 light years has been extremely unstable of late. Eta Carinae is 100 times more massive than the sun and 5 million times brighter. When it goes it will be a hypernova. Dar then gave us the good news: Eta Carinae's axis is pointed away from the earth, so the GRB beam it will generate when it dies will be aimed far from us. However, don't get too complacent about GRBs. Future of Humanity Institute research fellow Anders Sandberg mentioned that some astronomers are worried that we may be looking down the barrel of gamma ray gun when the WR 104 binary located 8,000 light years away goes supernova.
If asteroids aren't likely to get us, maybe comets will. William Napier from the Center for Astrobiology at Cardiff University in Wales noted that long-period comets-those that originate in the Oort Cloud beyond Pluto-have generally been thought to constitute around 1 percent of the risk of catastrophic collision. Napier argues this is big underestimate. Napier's main concern is dark comets. Dark comets do not sport showy ejection tails like Halley's Comet does, but are much stealthier. Because they are dark, they are very hard to detect. Napier pointed out that the IRAS-Araki-Alcock comet was detected only two weeks before it came within 0.03 astronomical units of the earth (about 230 earth diameters) back in 1983-the closest of any known comet since 1770.
Napier argues that the record of large impact craters suggests that the earth experiences periods of cometary bombardment every 36 million years or so. He attributes the episodes to the sun's periodic passage through galactic plane where contact with molecular clouds dislodges comets from the Oort cloud surrounding the solar system. He believes that the earth is currently in a bombardment episode. "We have comet problem because they are hard to detect which means that we would have months or weeks of warning at most," said Napier.
Next up from the Oxford Global Catastrophic Risks conference are pandemics and nuclear war.
As nuclear doom approaches, Dr. Strangelove in the eponymous 1964 movie outlines a plan to President Merkin Muffley to create underground refuges for several hundred thousand Americans to survive in the post-apocalypse world.
Strangelove explains how computers could be used to select those who would survive based on health, youth, sexual attractiveness and necessary skills. Every doomsday cloud must have its silver lining. As Strangelove adds:
"Of course it would be absolutely vital that our top government and military men be included to foster and impart the required principles of leadership and tradition. Naturally, they would breed prodigiously, eh? There would be much time, and little to do. But ah with the proper breeding techniques and a ratio of say, ten females to each male, I would guess that they could then work their way back to the present gross national product within say, twenty years."
Here at the Oxford Glolbal Catastrophic Risks conference, George Mason University economist and Future of Humanity Institute research fellow Robin Hanson took seriously the notion that a plan to establish refuges to preserve a remnant of humanity might be a good idea when it comes to surviving potential existential threats. Hanson noted that wars seem to be obeying a power law relationship--most of the harm derives from infrequent big wars, not the accumulated casualties of small wars. The power law relationship also seems to hold for other disasters such as epidemics and earthquakes. So perhaps a truly cataclysmic war that could lead to the extinction of human beings lies in the future. One way to prevent humans from going extinct from such global war might be to create refuges. If worse came to worst, the refugees would emerge and revert to hunting and simple farming, but humanity would live to fight (cooperate) another millennia.
Hanson is famous for his work on using prediction markets as a way to aggregate dispersed information. As Hanson explained, "Markets are an open invitation to search out and fix bias and walk away with money." At the conference, Hanson suggested the intriguing possibiity of using something like a prediction market to forecast imminent Armageddon. To boil it down, the idea is that one could sell tickets that would admit one to the refuge(s) in the event of a global catastrophe. If the price for the refuge tickets begin to spike, then head for the hills.
Other cheery posts on Global Catastrophic Risks will follow through the weekend.
Off-Message Quote of the Week
“The Muslims have said either we kneel, or they’re going to kill us.”
- McCain spokeshero Bud Day (whom I believe has permanently glued his Medal of Honor to his shirt)
The Week in Brief
- Bob Barr kept up his offensive on John McCain over judicial appointments.
- Dick Heller tried to register his guns.
- The GOP opened up its platform online and was promptly overrun by Ron Paul supporters. Seriously, they didn't see that coming?
- Congress's other Dr. No headed back to Congress.
- Barack Obama made advances in the war on poverty.
- Congress overrode the president's Medicare veto.
Below the Fold
- Tom Knapp, a Libertarian who's un-endorsed Barr (and is running as the Boston Tea Party's VP candidate), has interesting ruminations on the purity fight within the movement.
- Richard Spencer reviews Grand New Party.
- Ben Friedman tells Obama how to handle Iran.
- The Algernonization of the Right continues apace.
- Naomi Klein vs Jonathan Chait: the long-awaited sequel to Bambi vs. Godzilla.
The new issue of the Believer includes—of all things—a Gentle
Giant appreciation by Rick Moody. The perfect excuse to post
SATURDAY UPDATE: I think Ed Morrissey is rattling the chains too wildly here. So: When she left the presidential race, Hillary Clinton's close allies bought hillary2012.com. Is it evidence that she wants Obama to lose? I seriously doubt it. One, her Senate re-election bid is coming in 2012. Two, if Clinton is as Machiavellian as the Right spent the last 20 years saying she was, would she actually telegraph her Obama doltschuss plan by buying a web domain? It's more likely her team bought the domain to stop Clinton's more Alex Forrestian followers from launching their own "defeat Obama now and get Hillary later" site. (Party Unity My Ass, the much-hyped if little-populated anti-Obama group, geared up days after this web domain was purchased.) Obama's fundraising and consistent poll lead over McCain are dripping pesticide over any left-wing or Clinton revanchist movement to stop him.
Oh, and who's that at Netroots Nation in Texas?
California's ballot measure to ban gay marriage is failing.
The Field Poll survey firm found 51 percent of voters oppose the measure, which proposes an amendment to the state's constitution recognizing marriage as only between a man and woman, while 42 percent were in favor.
The biggest measure of how the marriage issue has faded is, I
think, the lack of interest in this California measure. Go back and
read media clips from this point in 2004: it was like firecrackers
had been placed under every church pew in America. Yet California
opposition to gay marriage has dropped 20 points in eight years (61
percent voted to define marriage as one-man-one-woman in 2000) and,
eh, the "Protect
Marriage" folks seem lost. Initiative supporters have raised
$2.3 milion in a state where the last serious contested statewide
race (the 2004 Senate race) cost about $22 million.
Headline explained here.
Russ Mitchell at Portfolio.com blogs about the impending close of the greatest Internet radio service in the history of Internet radio services—Pandora.com:
The [record] labels are intent on charging so a high price for streaming royalties that Pandora and its even-weaker peers would be forced out of business. That appears to be exactly what the labels want, despite the fact that research shows these kind of services actually increase record sales, as listeners discover new music and reconnect with old favorites.
Pandora and others are willing to pay royalties but need rates low enough to make enough profit to keep the service going. Such royalties historically have been set by government. Pandora is trying to get the attention of Congress, while making clear that Pandora's demise would cause internet radio to be dominated by the likes of Clear Channel. In other words, a faceless company's idea of mass hit entertainment shoved down our earholes.
I agree with Mitchell that the average big name record company can't tell its ass from a hole in the ground (Record company visits Grand Canyon, wonders, "Why is everyone taking pictures of my ass?"), but I'd rather see Pandora crash and burn than condone continued government interference in a rates dispute.
What do you think, H&R pundits?
Brian Doherty wrote here on Radiohead and the future of music without record companies.
In his second dispatch from the Oxford Global Catastrophic Risks conference, Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey looks at whether or not humanity will survive the 21st century.
68 percent of Americans believe in angels and 38 percent believe in UFOs. So what's not to like about a panel featuring early stage investors known as angel investors talking about strange new spacecraft?
Remember the NewSpace nerds* from Las Vegas? This weekend, these scrappy commercial space entrepreneurs, investors, and engineers have gathered in Virginia's slightly-less-sparkly Crystal City and I stopped by to see if they're still up to their old tricks.
Having a conference in a down-at-the-heels commercial district just outside D.C. offers up a pleasing metaphor for an industry that has mixed feelings about its runt position at the government teat.
Asked about the impact of government money on a small space company, one panelist raised his crossed fingers in front of him, as if to ward off evil. Another panelist, former venture capitalist Marco Rubin, said "Government money is the cheapest form of money. But I’ve seen it become crack cocaine for some serial entrepreneurs.” Certain kinds of government contracts can be a "culture killer" for companies that value being "light, nimble, and entrepreneurial," says Andrew Nelson, COO of the space firm XCOR Aerospace. Nelson also suggested that government cash-dependent companies grow more slowly than their fully-private counterparts.
But then all the panelists acknowledged that most large, successful space companies eventually depend on government revenue to survive, at least in part. So public/private it is, at least in the long run. NASA doesn't seem to be selling tickets yet, but there's plenty of action if you have some spare cash and want to reserve your seat on a quickie space flight now.
More info on real Space Angels and NewSpace 2008 panelist Guillermo Söhnlein here.
Awesome retro cartoon Space Angel here.
*I use the term nerd with the greatest affection and approbation.
Writing in The Times (London), cultural critic Clive Davis offers a great introduction to the brouhaha over John McWhorter's new book All About the Beat: Why Hip-Hop Can't Save Black America. As Davis tells it, McWhorter's beef isn't with the misogyny, violent imagery, and bling so essential to today's hip-hop, it's with the lefty politics of "conscious" rap and the liberal academics that have embraced it as the vanguard of revolutionary change:
Nothing could be further from the truth, McWhorter argues. Far from being truth-tellers, he says, so-called "conscious" rappers recycle endless clichés and conspiracy theories about inner-city blight, the drugs trade and Aids. Instead of generating a desire to change the system, rappers and their acolytes in the media and academia simply encourage a sense of passivity. "Insisting that things are still so simple that black people need to get together and rise in fury against an evil oppressor makes for entertaining hiphop," he writes. "It sounds good uttered fiercely and set to a driving beat. But this way of parsing things does not correspond to what black America really needs today, as opposed to what it needed 50 years ago."
Turns out that McWhorter even likes some rappers. In one of the article's better details, we learn that he "occasionally listens to Snoop Dogg while cooking dinner."
But the real action comes a few paragraphs later, when Clive Davis empties the clip on New York jazz lord Wynton Marsalis, who has denounced hip-hop as "ghetto minstrelsy" and as "a safari for people who get their thrills from watching African-American people debase themselves." Here's Davis:
Brave words. The problem with Marsalis's assessment, however, is that the kind of retro-jazz he has championed in the past two decades is, bluntly, an overreverential facsimile of the music of 40 or 50 years ago. Although his restless campaigning on behalf of jazz has paid dividends in the creation of a splendid new performing base at the Lincoln Center, in New York, it is still not entirely clear whether the venue will ever amount to more than a museum for the well-heeled Manhattan middle class, black and white.
Whole thing here.
(Via the great Arts & Letters Daily)
After a "wrong-door" drug raid in Harlem led to the death of 57-year-old Alberta Spruill in 2003, New York City officials promised to implement reforms with respect to the use of confidential informants, and institute checks to verify that narcotics officers and SWAT teams were hitting the right residences.
But as civil rights attorney Joel Berger and I explained in the Wall Street Journal a couple of years ago, the city soon reneged, claiming that the promised reforms were merely discretionary, and could be revoked at will. Soon enough, stories of wrong-door raids began popping up in the newspapers again—and have since.
There were two more in the Bronx this week.
The NYPD is admitting it was wrong when officers broke down the doors of two apartments in the Bronx during a pair of misguided drug raids.
They found nothing, and it turns out both homeowners were innocent.
Officials say the apartments never should have been raided, and they admit the search warrants were based on lies from a confidential informant.
Police say that three separate times, the drugs from his alleged undercover buys were really drugs that were hidden under his clothing. Cops were fooled, and because of it, two local residents were traumatized.
On Saturday, when Eyewitness News began questioning cops about the story, they adamantly insisted there were undercover drug buys in both apartments.
Now, after repeated calls to the NYPD, their story has changed. They now tell Eyewitness News that they can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there were any undercover buys in the apartments, just a confidential informant who allegedly lied.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, police say, "We've initiated an investigation which has resulted in the informant being arrested for possession of narcotics. The investigation is continuing regarding his conduct leading up to these two search warrants."
They also say surveillance video shows the informant, who was supposedly searched beforehand by cops, reaching into his undergarments three separate times, exchanging the cops' money for hidden drugs, then allegedly walking out of the building.
Why didn't they check the surveillance video before conducting the raids? And how thoroughly could they possibly have searched this informant if he was able to hide drugs in his clothing? Moreover, if they were this sloppy while using this informant, how do we know other cops in the city aren't making similar mistakes with other informants? This particular informant has been the source of information for at least a dozen other drug raids.
Once again, the larger point here is that these raids are too violent and dangerous, the margin of error too small, and the tips and investigations that lead to them too subject to mistakes and bad information for them to be used on nonviolent drug offenders.
Dick Heller showed up at the District of Columbia Courts with his gun in his hand. Sort of. Yesterday the victorious plaintiff in Heller vs. D.C. showed up downtown to register his gun but hesititated to bring it with him; cops told him to show up packing. So this morning at 9 a.m. Heller rendezvoused with advisors Dane von Breichenruchardt and Brad Jansen carrying his 1911 single-action Colt .22 revolver in a cherry-red vinyl case. "Concealed carry!" Heller said. "It doesn't look so bad, does it?"
The three men walked over to the courts to greet a small throng of libertarian activists and reporters from local news amd NRANews.com. "There were more cameras yesterday," mused von Breichenruchardt. "There were vans outside"—he waved his hand and pointed to the curb—"just more reporters, generally." There were just enough reporters to pack the room when Heller entered and handed the gun over to police to start what became a 90-minute registration process.
Heller emerged from the courts with a thumbs up: He'd met with partial success. The city had taken finger prints, administered a 20-question exam, and subjected the gun to a ballistics. He could take the gun home as long as it was empty and trigger-locked. But he'd have to come back in a week with two passport photos, and wait for the city to process the rest of his information with a background check. Part of the reason for the delay is the city's law defining "machine guns"—anything that loads from the bottom or can hold more than 12 rounds at a time qualifies. "It's in the city's hands now," Jansen said.
Heller milled around with reporters for about 30 minutes, taking questions about whether he'd join a hypothetical lawsuit to roll back the rest of the gun restrictions. He would, but, in the words of Jansen, he hopes "the city gets it right this time" without that. On why he registered the colt: "I bought it because it was the gun they used in Gunsmoke," Heller said. "That used to be our culture."
I asked Heller about the petitions circulating his name as a
Libertarian Party candidate for delegate against incumbent Democrat
Eleanor Holmes Norton. (Heller is the treasurer of the D.C. LP.) He
The Washington Post reports that Dick Heller, whose lawsuit resulted in the Supreme Court decision overturning the District of Columbia's gun ban, yesterday tried to register his .22-caliber revolver, which is one of the few handguns D.C. does not consider a "machine gun," but was turned away because he did not bring the weapon with him. Today he is trying again, having been assured that a) he has to bring the gun (kept for him by a friend in Maryland) to the police station in order to register it and b) he won't be arrested for carrying an unregistered gun if he does so.
According to D.C.'s reading
of its "machine gun" ban, Heller's .45-caliber pistol has to remain
in Maryland, since it, like any other handgun capable of accepting
clip magazine that holds more than 12
rounds, qualifies as a machine gun. Dane von Breichenruchardt,
president of the Bill of Rights Foundation, calls this restriction
"foolishness" and notes that D.C.'s leaders are "trying to find as
many ways as they can to make the [registration] process as
difficult and unattractive as they can." He predicts the city will
find itself back in court soon. "Mayor Fenty promised us he would
follow the letter and spirit of the law," he says. "He has
According to the Post, so far Heller is the only D.C. resident who has tried to register a handgun. One major barrier, in addition to the city's burdensome regulations and uncertainty about the risk of arrest, is the complete absence of legal gun dealers:
Because, under federal law, buyers can purchase handguns only in the states where they live, D.C. residents cannot legally purchase and take delivery of firearms until a licensed firearms dealer sets up shop in the District. Officials said that one dealer is in the process of reactivating his license and that others will probably obtain licenses eventually.
Eventually, it will be possible for D.C. residents to buy pistols in other states and have dealers in those states ship the guns to dealers in the District for delivery.
In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Bob Barr took John McCain to task for his lousy judicial philosophy, arguing that conservatives shouldn't get too excited at the prospects of a McCain-appointed Supreme Court. For one, McCain doesn't think that the First Amendment protects all forms of political speech, which is only a problem, I suppose, if you hold the quaint opinion that the Constitution means what it says. Then there's McCain's sweeping view of presidential power:
In fact, if Mr. McCain nominated someone in his own image, the appointee would disagree with not only the doctrine of enumerated powers, which limits the federal government to only those tasks explicitly authorized by the Constitution, but also the Constitution's system of checks and balances, and even its explicit grant of the law-making power to Congress.
Mr. McCain has endorsed, in action if not rhetoric, the theory of the "unitary executive," which leaves the president unconstrained by Congress or the courts. Republicans like Mr. McCain believe the president as commander in chief of the military can do almost anything, including deny Americans arrested in America protection of the Constitution and access to the courts.
Interestingly, Barr suggests that cats and dogs won't start living together under an Obama Court:
Nor is it obvious that Barack Obama would attempt to pack the court with left-wing ideologues. He shocked some of his supporters by endorsing the ruling that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own firearms, and criticizing the recent decision overturning the death penalty for a child rapist. With the three members most likely to leave the Supreme Court in the near future occupying the more liberal side of the bench, the next appointments probably won't much change the Court's balance.
Finally, after some throat clearing about the risk of "judge-made rights," Barr makes a great point about the judiciary's duty to check the other branches:
However, the Constitution sometimes requires decisions or action by judges—"judicial activism," if you will—to ensure the country's fundamental law is followed. Thus, for example, if government improperly restricts free speech—think the McCain-Feingold law's ban on issue ads—the courts have an obligation to void the law. The same goes for efforts by government to ban firearms ownership, as the Court ruled this term in striking down the District of Columbia gun ban.
Charlie Lynch is the owner of a medical marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay, California. Though the business is legal under state law, Lynch was arrested in July of last year for violating federal drug laws. Last month, he was featured in the Drew Carey documentary below. As the video explains, Lynch is facing extra charges for giving medical marijuana to 17-year-old Owen Beck, who used the drug to treat the symptoms of bone cancer.
Lynch faces up to 100 years in prison. His trial begins Tuesday.
Check Lynch's website for more information on his case, including directions to the courthouse where he'll be tried.
From our August/September issue, Managing Editor Jesse Walker interviews Francesca Coppa about the vidding underground, where movies, television shows, and other bits of footage are remixed and re-edited into something else entirely.
In October 2006 The New Republic's John Judis wrote the single best magazine piece I have read about John McCain's foreign policy. The article's meat − 5,700 words detailing McCain's late-'90s conversion from Vietnam Syndrome pol to Neoconservative poster boy − provided good reportorial material I used in my own book. What made it all the more interesting, on some level, was that this point-by-point indictment was sandwiched between an intro about what a charmingly accessible guy McCain is, and this almost pathetically hope-despite-the-times conclusion:
If McCain is willing to reconsider his most basic belief about Vietnam, he could still change his mind about Iraq. It's true that little he said to me suggests he will adjust his worldview in the near future, but McCain has surprised his critics before. Perhaps he will do so again.
Well, now Judis has finally lost his religion.
All of which reminds me of something I've intended to do since reading this month-old post by Jay Rosen about an experiment in "crowdsourcing" a list of quality campaign coverage: Namely, provide a rough Top 10 of online-findable pieces of journalism about John McCain, whether pro or con or indifferent. Note: There'd be a bunch of quality pro-McCain Weekly Standard stuff in here, if only their archives weren't so horrible. Here goes:
1) The Life Story of Arizona's Maverick Senator McCain, by the Arizona Republic, Oct. 3, 1999 (updated March 1, 2007). A monster, novella-length bio.
2) Neo-McCain: The Making of an überhawk, by John Judis, The New Republic, Oct. 9, 2006. A one-stop shop for analysis of McCain's foreign policy evolution.
3) Prisoner of Conscience, by Todd Purdum, Vanity Fair, February 2007. Snapshot of the tensions nagging at McCain's conscience, the compromises he makes on the campaign trail, and the limits to the phrase "we cannot fail."
4) P.O.W. to Power Broker, a Chapter Most Telling, by Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, Feb. 27, 2000. Chronicles the messy edges of McCain's life between returning from Vietnam and entering Congress, with an emphasis on his wife-replacement process.
5) The Subversive: A Question of Honor, by Michael Lewis, New York Times Magazine, May 25, 1997. Go ahead − try not to like the guy after reading this!
6) I Liked a Pol, by Michael Lewis, New York Times Magazine, Nov. 21, 1999. In which one of our finest journalists chronicles and defends a man-crush so deep that A) McCain invited Lewis to come live with him, and B) at long last (and after scores of thousands of words) Lewis finally recused himself from covering his good friend.
7) Race Against Himself: Is John McCain Trying to Lose? by David Grann, The New Republic, March 13, 2000. A shrewd bit of psychoanalysis that rises far beyond the usual campaign-coverage guesswork.
8) The War Secrets Sen. John McCain Hides: Former POW Fights Public Access to POW/MIA Files, by Sydney Schanberg, APBnews.com, sometime in 2000. A startling tale of McCain's little-reported antics before, during and after the POW/MIA hearings in Congress.
9) Opiate for the Mrs.: When Laws Are Broken, Somebody's Got to Be Punished. In the Case of Cindy McCain, That Somebody is Tom Gosinski, by Amy Silverman, Phoenix New Times, Sept. 8, 1994. Hit the refresh button on this one any time you hear a happy post-facto spin either on Cindy McCain's drug habit/thievery, or John's harmless little anger problem.
10) McCain Pressed FCC in Case Involving Major Contributor, by Walter Robinson, Boston Globe, Jan. 5, 2000. Little-remembered fact: Back when his "transcendent issue" was the "iron triangle" between corporate fatcats, lobbyists, and pols, McCain was busted several times (and usually by Walter Robinson first) for having a campaign full of lobbyists, and a record of intervening on behalf of campaign contributors.
This is by no means definitive, etc., and I hope you list some other good pieces in the comments!
Undercover Maryland State Police officers repeatedly spied on peace activists and anti-death penalty groups in recent years and entered the names of some in a law-enforcement database of people thought to be terrorists or drug traffickers, newly released documents show.
The files, made public yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, depict a pattern of infiltration of the activists' organizations in 2005 and 2006. The activists contend that the authorities were trying to determine whether they posed a security threat to the United States. But none of the 43 pages of summaries and computer logs - some with agents' names and whole paragraphs blacked out - mention criminal or even potentially criminal acts, the legal standard for initiating such surveillance....
The only potentially unlawful activity mentioned anywhere in the documents, [Maryland ACLU director Susan Goering] said, were two instances of nonviolent civil disobedience. In one, activists refused to leave a guard station during a protest at the National Security Agency after bringing cookies and drinks for the guards, and in the other, they hatched a plan to place photographs of soldiers who died in Iraq on the fence surrounding the White House.
My favorite detail: One of the groups infiltrated was the Committee to Save Vernon Evans. Because nothing says security threat like a bunch of Quakers trying to get a local prisoner off death row.
During the years in question, incidentally, Maryland's governor was Bob Ehrlich, a Republican occasionally rumored to be a libertarian.
Elsewhere in Reason: a similar scandal in Colorado.
Elsewhere not in Reason: The ACLU posts the Maryland documents.
Yesterday a federal judge said the Pentagon may proceed with its trial of Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former driver, despite his lawyers' argument that procedural protections for defendants appearing before military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay remain constitutionally inadequate. Among other things, they object to the admissibility of hearsay and of evidence obtained through what The New York Times diplomatically calls "coercive interrogation methods." They also argue, pretty plausibly, that prosecuting Hamdan for conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism, offenses that were not added to the list of crimes that could be tried by military courts until four years after he was captured, violates the Constitution's prohibition of ex post facto laws. But at least Hamdan, a Yemeni who was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 and has been held at Guantanamo since then, will get to raise these issues in federal court after he's convicted. (Is there any point in pretending he might not be convicted?) Not so Ali al-Marri, a legal U.S. resident from Qatar who was arrested in Peoria, where he was studying computer science, in December 2001. The government has no plans to prosecute al-Marri; it just wants to keep him locked up.
In June 2003, a month before al-Marri was scheduled to be tried on charges of credit card fraud and lying to the FBI, President Bush issued an order that described him as an Al Qaeda operative and transferred him to military custody. Since then he has been imprisoned at the Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina. This week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit agreed that President Bush has the authority to classify people arrested in the U.S. as enemy combatants and detain them indefinitely. It reversed a contrary 2007 ruling by a 4th Circuit panel that said the government had to transfer al-Marri back to civilian custody, after which he could be tried for whatever crimes he may have committed. "The President cannot eliminate constitutional protections with the stroke of a pen by proclaiming a civilian, even a criminal civilian, an enemy combatant subject to indefinite military detention," the court said then, adding that such a power "would effectively undermine all of the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution."
In this week's decision (PDF), by contrast, five members of the court said Congress implicitly authorized the military detention of suspected Al Qaeda members, including those arrested in the United States, when it approved the use of military force against the terrorist network and its Taliban allies. Therefore, "if the Government's allegations about al-Marri are true," his detention is legal. A different five-judge majority said that, assuming the other majority is right about the president's legal authority, al-Marri "has not been afforded sufficient process to challenge his designation as an enemy combatant." The government's case against him consisted of nothing but a 2004 declaration by an intelligence official asserting that al-Marri was an al-Qaeda "sleeper agent" who had agreed to "facilitate terrorist activities and explore disrupting this country's financial system through computer hacking."
Now the Supreme Court, which has said "due process demands that a citizen held in the United States as an enemy combatant be given a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral decisionmaker," will have to decide whether that right also applies to legal residents and exactly what it entails. Civil libertarians may not like the procedures that ultimately emerge from all this litigation. But at least the courts have definitively rejected the Bush administration's circular "enemy combatant" logic, whereby people accused of terrorist connections lose any right to challenge the accusation because terrorists don't deserve due process.
While the recession means hard times for most people, it's a godsend for the repo man, the person who shows up—often unexpectedly—to snatch your property when you're behind on payments.
At [Repo man Charlie Clarke's] employer, Fort Lauderdale boat repossessor and auctioneer National Liquidators, business has tripled in the last 18 months as higher maintenance fees, fuel and docking costs—as well as the real-estate crisis—have put boat owners behind on payments.
"Before the house, everything else goes,'' says Clarke, a former navy engineer who's never seen more boats in five years on the job. He has taken small motorboats, sailboats and multimillion-dollar yachts. For the 63-footer he takes on this day, its loan hasn't been paid for months, with $200,000 overdue.
I grew up in a Florida neighborhood where repos were a daily occurrence long before the housing bubble burst, and as such, I view folks like Clark with a mixture of disgust and awe: they make their money off saps who can't pay the bills, but they do so with incredible efficiency. As Bryan Burrough points out in his Vanity Fair story about the collapse of Bear Stearns, one person's (or company's) bad news, is another person's cause for celebration.
Katherine Mangu-Ward blogged here about the repo man's alleged credit crunch cohort: payday lenders.
...Why are so many newspapers cutting editorial cartoonists? In the LA Times, James Rainey bleats:
"Cartoonists are disappearing like brunet anchors at Fox News—about a hundred are scratching out a living today, compared with about double that a couple of decades ago. And this presidential election cycle has been less engaging for their absence....
I don't know if Rainey's numbers about cartoonists at papers are on target, but I do know as a consumer of cartoons (and a publisher of three excellent guys who work at papers—Chip Bok, Henry Payne, and Scott Stantis) that I haven't noticed much difficulty in finding cartoons all over the place. But Rainey's lamentation sounds like a case for hiring the handicapped. Here's his gloss on what all those cashiered cartoonists might have brought to Election 2008:
"McCain's reputed explosive temper is a tantalizing prospect," said Steve Kelley of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, "as is Obama's abiding belief that there is no problem so simple that government can't find a way to waste enormous resources failing to fix it."
On the visual side, Kelley sees something of a replay of the 1996 election between President Clinton and Sen. Bob Dole. In shorthand: "Mr. Charisma against the guy who yells at kids to stay off his lawn."
I'm worried that the loss of cartoonists—and their verve and vitality—continues to numb- and dumb-down an audience that doesn't need any help sinking into complacency.
I'm not immediately familiar with Kelley's work, but I look forward to his anthology, which I suspect will be titled Antidote to Laughter. McCain's reputed explosive temper! Obama's abiding belief in whatever. I haven't felt this numb or dumbed-down since my Special K days. Joe Montana's textual poaching of Ziggy has more depth to it.
I might have asked The Times cartoonist to sketch out this problem but—oops—the paper ditched Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Ramirez in 2005 for reasons that remain murky. Ramirez was not replaced—part of an un-proud tradition at Tribune Co., which owns The Times and has been paring away cartoonists with some abandon.
Here's an example of Ramirez's work, which means to my mind the Trib made the right call:
The latest blow to the diminishing art comes in Raleigh, N.C., where the News & Observer recently decided to make 33-year veteran Dwane Powell part-time and restrict him to local issues.
What will be lost? The kind of zingers Powell fired with regularity which, in recent weeks, included: a lampoon of Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton as bulls led around by the rings in their noses by a Wall Street steer,and an acid take on GOP alienation—a pair of Republican elephants so distraught over McCain they are prepared to jump into the abyss from a (flat) Planet Neocon.
Zingers, we hardly knew ye! Rainey's complaint here. And take a look at the cartoon used to illustrate his piece if you need further convincing that cutting their jobs ain't a good thing for art, democracy, the environment, and special ed programs everywhere:
I look forward to Rainey's future commentary on how the lack of radio drama gutted American democracy in way from which we've never fully recovered. And lest we forget, please recall the outpouring of trenchant commentary (read: craptacular eulogizing) from the quills o' cartoonists in the wake of Tim Russert's passing.
And while we're on that subject, let me pimp for the feller who is, to my mind, the best editorial cartoonist on the job today, The Onion's "Kelly":
Ohio State's John Mueller has outlined an elegant, reasonable, sensible approach to terrorism policy (pdf). Which of course is why it will get very little consideration in Washington. Mueller's premises:
1. The number of potential terrorist targets is essentially infinite.
2. The probability that any individual target will be attacked is essentially zero.
3. If one potential target happens to enjoy a degree of protection, the agile terrorist usually can readily move on to another one.
4. Most targets are "vulnerable" in that it is not very difficult to damage them, but invulnerable in that they can be rebuilt in fairly short order and at tolerable expense.
5. It is essentially impossible to make a very wide variety of potential terrorist targets invulnerable except by completely closing them down.
And his policy prescriptions:
1. Any protective policy should be compared to a "null case": do nothing, and use the money saved to rebuild and to compensate any victims.
2. Abandon any effort to imagine a terrorist target list.
3. Consider negative effects of protection measures: not only direct cost, but inconvenience, enhancement of fear, negative economic impacts, reduction of liberties.
4. Consider the opportunity costs, the tradeoffs, of protection measures.
Via Bruce Schneier.
In the latest edition of Friday Funnies, Scott Stantis profiles Barack Obama's shift to the center.
"SWAT Team Looks for Purse Snatcher"
Tim Cavanaugh spells it out, using the old-timey tactic of reporting, over at the not-downsized-yet Opinion L.A. blog.
The Federal Trade Commission has proposed (PDF) withdrawing its blessing from the tar and nicotine yields included in cigarette advertisements because these machine-generated numbers are not good indicators of what smokers actually absorb:
The current yields tend to be relatively poor predictors of tar and nicotine exposure. This is primarily due to smoker compensation, i.e., the tendency of smokers of lower-rated cigarettes to take bigger, deeper, or more frequent puffs, or to otherwise alter their smoking behavior [e.g., by subconsciously covering ventilation holes] in order to obtain the dosage of nicotine they need.
The differences between the way a machine smokes in a laboratory and the way people smoke in real life have been acknowledged since the FTC first approved the "FTC method" for measuring tar and nicotine yields in 1966. But the issue has received increasing attention during the last couple of decades. After studies confirmed that the official yields are unreliable indicators of individual exposure, anti-smoking activists and trial lawyers began to argue that the numbers are inherently fraudulent, part of a scam in which tobacco companies trick consumers into believing that "light" cigarettes are less dangerous than full-strength brands. Since the research indicates that "light" cigarette smokers only partially compensate for lower yields, they should still take in less tar than they otherwise would, but any health advantage is smaller than initially hoped. A better approach would have been to increase the nicotine-to-tar ratio, rather than reducing both yields.
In response to these concerns, the FTC now wants to "withdraw its guidance...indicating that factual statements of tar and nicotine yields based on the Cambridge Filter Method generally will not violate the FTC Act." Under its proposed rule, cigarette makers could not assert or imply FTC approval of the yields, and they probably would stop using them entirely, fearing that the commission would deem them misleading. This shift in policy is overdue, but the FTC is less than forthright about its own complicity in making tar and nicotine yields ubiquitous in cigarette ads. The commission says its "1966 guidance does not require companies to state the tar and nicotine yields of their cigarettes in their advertisements or on product labels." But as epidemiologist Ronald Davis and his colleagues noted in a 1990 American Journal of Public Health article (PDF), the story is a little more complicated:
Since 1971, all major cigarette manufacturers have voluntarily disclosed the tar and nicotine yields of cigarette brands in advertisements. The cigarette industry agreed to "voluntary" disclosure after the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had proposed a regulation that would have required such disclosure. This agreement does not apply to cigarette packages.
So if advertising tar and nicotine yields amounts to fraud, it's a fraud that was not only endorsed but in effect required by the federal government. That did not stop the federal government from suing the tobacco companies over their "light" cigarette marketing. Nor did concerns about compensatory smoker behavior stop activists and legislators from trying to authorize the Food and Drug Administration to order reductions in nicotine content, a policy that would make cigarettes more hazardous by increasing the amount of toxins and carcinogens absorbed for a given dose of nicotine.
In an online Q&A session sponsored by The Washington Times, Brendan Conway dares to ask Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr the question on everyone's mind: Has he seen Borat yet? Barr's reply:
It's still true that I haven't seen the movie. I also hear that he's making another film so we're on the lookout to make sure that we don't get taken again. ;) My staff does its best to get as much background information before an interview takes place. They did the same for "Borat's" interview. They called the numbers provided, found a web site through a search and felt it was legitimate. Clearly that was not the case. While it was in good fun and no harm was done, I'm not a fan of this style of movie making as the terms are not honestly presented to the person or group being interviewed.
You have to give Barr credit for signaling (twice) that he understands Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan was a comedy. I'm not sure if that proves he has a sense of humor—something I wondered about last year, after Barr discussed his Borat appearance with Arlen Specter during a Senate hearing on the privacy implications of data mining. It might just be that Barr realizes people like a politician who can take a joke. Also note this exchange from a Village Voice interview last May:
VV: Do you have a good sense of humor about it?
BB: Hell yeah! If you can't have a good sense of humor about this business, the way I look at it, you have no business being in politics.
It's been a busy week in Barrtopia. Declan McCullugh reported from Las Vegas on FreedomFest and Barr's promise to be the candidate of privacy.
Barr focused almost exclusively on privacy and eavesdropping--and argued that both major parties are far too surveillance-happy. "Both of them will continue down the same track," Barr said, noting that both McCain and Obama supported last week's bill to immunize telecommunications companies that illegally opened their networks to government snoops.
Congress' legislative rewrite of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is "not about surveilling al-Qaida," Barr said. "It's about surveilling U.S. citizens in America." He added, for good measure: "This administration is the most anti-privacy, the most anti-individual freedom, in our nation's history, certainly in my lifetime."
"The best way to control the populace is to take away their privacy," he said. "The digital age, and what will come after that, makes it much, much easier for the government to abuse those powers and erode the Fourth Amendment."
Today, Barr attended the launch of Al Gore's We campaign, and fired off his impressions for the press.
I commend Mr. Gore for his efforts and leadership in this area, and urge Senators Obama and McCain to join me in studying, debating, and finding solutions to the problem of energy needs, consumption and effects. The American people deserve to hear all of our views and proposals on this issue and others. I am particularly pleased that Mr. Gore agrees that the public debate of this issue should include me so that the American people can make an informed choice after hearing a range of views. However, the fact that neither of the two major party candidates attended this event may indicate their unwillingness to address this important issue. Mr. McCain, for example, seems to have adopted already the internationalist approach and relying on the cumbersome and costly “cap and trade” formula and he may therefore be unwilling to engage in a real debate that would reveal how flawed that approach truly is.
After that, Barr got on the phone for an inaugural blogger conference call. Ed Morrissey has the rundown and some thoughts.
Barr, it should be emphasized, sounds eminently more reasonable and competent than Ron Paul. Even on issues where I’d disagree, Barr gave reasoned, thoughtful answers, as opposed to the kind of conspiracy-theory kookiness Paul spouted at debates and in interviews. The Libertarian Party has its most credible candidate in years, if not ever. However, unless he suddenly finds a way to organize Libertarians and convince vast swaths of Americans to start pitching money into the kitty, his best hope will be to influence the major-party candidates to start addressing some of the legitimate concerns of the Libertarian Party.
I missed all but 10 minutes of the call, sadly, but I had a reason: lunch with three Indiana LP candidates for U.S. House, state Senate, and state House. Rex Bell, who's making a second run at the 54th district House seat after scoring 15 percent in his 2006 race, told me that he'd love for Barr to come to the state and campaign for him. "Four years ago, nobody asked me about our presidential candidate," he said. "At the booth at the last fair I went to, people were asking me. Even if they hadn't heard about Barr. They wanted a new candidate. They don't like either of the major party choices." (EDIT: Added the last part of what Bell said to make this clear.)
Also, Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney talks to Newsweek.
Q: There are quite a few prominent third-party candidates running this year, including your former fellow Congressman from Georgia, Bob Barr, over at the Libertarian Party. Is he basically the conservative version of you?
A: The only thing I would say about Bob is that it's interesting that Georgia is so well-represented in the non-major party lineup. Of course, I worked in the Congress for a long time with Bob Barr and, in fact, members of the Libertarian Party have reached out to me on several occasions this year and I expect there will be more mutual reaching.
Q: So you might actually be working together on some issues?
A: I didn't say that.
Q: What does mutual reaching mean then?
A: It means that where there is the possibility of having discussions, then I wouldn't turn down discussions. There's nothing afoot, if that's what you mean. I would take it issue by issue, and see what the future brings.
After 2.4 million votes cast, the survey of history's "greatest Russian" is coming down to the wire. Top three contenders? Tsar Nicholas II, Stalin, and Lenin, of course. The (London) Times has details:
The Soviet tyrant and Second World War leader is battling Tsar Nicholas II for first place in The Name of Russia, a domestic version of the BBC series Great Britons. Stalin had been well ahead in the online vote until the show's producer appealed to members of a popular Russian social networking site to back Nicholas II.
The Tsar edged in front tonight as communists and monarchists whipped up support for their candidates. Stalin has received almost 263,000 votes so far, against more than 267,000 for Nicholas II.
Lenin, the Tsar's nemesis, was third with nearly 187,000 votes. The top dozen included Peter the Great, Pushkin, Catherine the Great, Yuri Gagarin, Boris Yeltsin and Ivan the Terrible.
Leader of the Communist Party in St. Petersburg, Sergei
Malinkovich, was excited about a potential victory for party hero
'Koba' Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili:
"If he wins, we will ask the Russian Orthodox Church to consider canonising Stalin. Lenin was a Communist for the Church, but Stalin was a real national leader. For us, he is like Napoleon is to the French."
reason science correspondent Ronald Bailey is in England to report on Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute, which is hosting a conference on global catastrophic risks. Will the world end with a bang or a whimper? Fire or ice? And just who is Sir Crispin Tickell and why is headlining the conference's first night?
BLDGBLOG's Geoff Manaugh has a great post about those anomalous pieces of terrain that exist outside conventional systems of sovereignty. An excerpt:
[Neal Ascherson] discusses nation-states from the early 20th century through to the end of the Cold War. During that time, we read, there were a number of "less durable spaces" -- for instance, the "parallel but unlicensed institutions" of Solidarity-era Poland. He points out that, "in the early 20th century, there were a number of spaces which were not absolutely unpopulated but whose allocation to empires or nation-states was undecided."
From an imperial standpoint, these unofficially recognized lands and institutions -- mostly rural and almost always located near borders -- represented "a dangerous breach in space." They were "intercellular spaces," we're told, and they functioned more like "gaps, crevices, interstices, [and] oversights" within much larger systems of sovereign power.
In fact, these "unlicensed" spaces "appear whenever some new international system attempts to demarcate everything sharply, menacingly and in a hurry."
A follow-up post lists several such territories, including the smugglers' republic of Cospaia, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, and the intricate web of enclaves that is the town of Baarle-Hertog.
Elsewhere in Reason: James Scott's theory of "nonstate spaces."
The other day I wondered whether the District of Columbia, which ostensibly is trying to comply with D.C. v. Heller, would impose such burdensome restrictions on gun ownership that it would end up back in court on the losing end of another Second Amendment lawsuit. It's worse than that: The district won't even let Dick Heller, whom you may recall as the plaintiff in the case that led the Supreme Court to overturn the D.C. handgun ban, register his handgun. As I feared, the district's position is that all handguns that accept magazines holding more than 12 rounds—meaning "all bottom-loading guns," according to a local news report—are prohibited under D.C.'s ridiculously broad "machine gun" ban. So even though Heller's pistol is a semiautomatic with a seven-round clip, it might as well be an Uzi as far as the district is concerned.
"Assuming that Heller is not disqualified from the exercise of Second Amendment rights," the Court said in Heller, "the District must permit him to register his handgun." This "machine gun" bullshit seems like open defiance.
[Thanks to albo for the tip.]
Global inequality is declining:
Linked to the current mood, commentators often depict an embattled and shrinking middle class, with sharply rising financial inequality. However, globally, this is simply not true. One of the most startlingly positive phenomena for many generations continues to unfold around the world. We are in the middle of an explosion of the world’s middle class.
As two of my colleagues, Dominic Wilson and Raluca Dragusanu, showed in a paper Goldman Sachs published last week (The Expanding Middle: The Exploding World Middle Class and Falling Global Inequality), about 70m people a year globally are entering this wealth group, as defined by those on incomes of between $6,000 and $30,000 (€3,800-€19,000, £3,900-£15,000), in purchasing power parity terms.
The phenomenon may continue for the next 20 years, with this global middle accelerating to 90m a year by 2030. If this happens, an astonishing 2bn people will have joined the ranks of the middle class. This demonstrates that, contrary to widespread opinion, global inequality is declining significantly, not increasing.
Andrew Leonard of Salon's excellent How the World Works says Americans don't care because "localism always prevails."
Working class voters in Ohio, for example, are unlikely to care that the world is getting richer, when in their own country, the concentration of wealth is progressively skewed towards the top end of the spectrum. For global inequality trends to make any kind of psychological difference to the psyche of those "in the west" a sense of a shared global identity is required. But we don't have that. We are riven by nationalist, cultural, and racial identity politics. We do not see ourselves as one world.
Sure, localism often trumps globalism, but who gets to define the boundaries of "local"? Coalitional solidarities are malleable. My great grandparents thought of themselves as Neapolitan, and had they stayed in Italy, they would have come to see themselves as Italian. Their great great grandchildren might well have called themselves European. Christian minorities in Northern Burma don't willingly identify with any particular nation state, but they do identify with a global religious network. The hypothetical Ohio voter probably has no way to relate to the Indian middle class right now, and he isn't going to vote differently because Goldman Sachs says standards of living are rising in China. But there is nothing necessary or permanent about that.
Oklahoma County, Oklahoma Commissioner Brent Rinehart is facing
a tough reelection campaign. He's been accused of abusing his
office for personal gain, and will go on trial in the fall on
felony campaign finance charges. But apparently, this is all
a conspiracy of homosexuals, liberal do gooders, and good ol' boys
to force Rinehart out of office. Rinehart lays out his case
in a comic book he's sending out to voters, which—you may be
surprised to learn—he wrote
AP coverage here. And here are a couple of sample pages from Rinehart's masterpiece:
The Marvel No-Prize for "stupidest column of the day" goes to (drum roll) this slithering heap of offal by Susan Estrich, better known to you and me as the brains behind the Dukakis landslide. In the middle of an argument that boils down to "gee, the election is sort of close," Estrich worries that the "Bradley effect" of white voters lying about their support of black candidates will sink Obama.
The experience of the primaries, not to mention that of other African-American candidates, suggests that polls tend to overstate, not understate, support for black candidates.
For a debunkinging of the "other African-American candidates" nonsense, go here.
With the exception of Indiana, every pre-primary poll in a major state showed the race between Obama and Clinton to be closer than it turned out to be.
This is true, but not to the benefit of Hillary Clinton. Here's what the polls said, then what the voters said, in all of the big states from the end of February to the end of May.
Three conclusions: One, Obama never got a lower share of the vote than the final poll average projected, and the closest he came was winning 44 percent of the Ohio vote when polls had him at 43. Two, on average Obama outperformed Clinton in beating the spread predicted by pollsters. Her biggest surge was a 3-points-bigger-than-expected Ohio win; he won by 10 points better than expected in Wisconsin. Third, Obama beat those spreads by outperforming expectations among white voters. He won a majority of the white vote in Wisconsin, pre-Jeremiah Wright. He won whites in Oregon, post-Wright. Which segues nicely into more Estrich nonsense.
Recent polls showing America to be as racially polarized as ever don’t exactly give comfort to those who would dismiss the concern that some voters may be telling pollsters one thing and then doing something very different when they actually mark their ballots.
But they're not doing that! In Indiana, for example, Clinton won 78 percent of the white voters who said "race was important" in their vote—that was 10 percent of all white voters. In West Virginia, the site of Obama's biggest primary defeat, 21 percent of whites said race was important and they broke 84-9 for Clinton. The voters who actually have a problem with Obama's race are saying so when they vote against him.
Compare this to the 1982 race for governor of California between George Deukmajian and Tom Bradley. It was a complicated election, because conservative turnout was surging ahead of what polls projected as people came out to beat the anti-handgun Proposition 15. In the final Field poll, 3-4 percent of whites actually said they were voting against Bradley because he was black. But that same poll showed Bradley winning 47-41, with Deukmajian gaining, just presumably not by enough to overtake Bradley. There is no example of a similar reversal happening to Barack Obama in any 2008 primary; indeed, there's no example of a black candidate in 2006 (there were six such statewide candidates) underperforming the polls so badly. And yet people say that there is, and get paid for it.
From our August/September issue, Timothy B. Lee argues that, in the name of fighting illegal downloads, the music industry has created a big incentive to download music illegally.
Update: Between the time this story went to press and this posting, Microsoft has announced plans to support PlaysForSure customers through 2011. For more information, go here.
As Damon Root noted yesterday, Dennis Henigan of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence argues that D.C. v. Heller "may well prove more symbol than substance," since "the lower courts are likely to interpret [it] as giving a constitutional green light to virtually every gun control law short of a handgun ban." This is quite different from the position Henigan took before the decision came down, when he portrayed the prospect that the Supreme Court would declare the D.C. gun ban unconstitutional as a threat to every existing firearm restriction.
Back in February, Heller backer Robert Levy took the same cautious position he continues to hold, telling Capitol Weekly the case "lays the framework for challenging gun laws nationwide" but adding that such challenges would not necessarily be successful, since upholding the Second Amendment does not mean overturning all forms of gun control. "Bob Levy has a very strong vested interest in making statements like that," Henigan replied. "He wants to make this case seem as unthreatening as possible." And now so does Henigan, although his stance as a litigator may conflict with the Brady Center's fund raising appeals.
Writing in the Northwestern University Law Review, University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds and Samford University law professor Brannon Denning are similarly cautious in predicting the consequences of Heller. They note that the decision could turn out like U.S. v. Lopez, the 1995 ruling in which the Supreme Court signaled that it was ready to begin enforcing constitutional limits on Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce. The "federalism revolution" heralded by that seemingly momentous decision, Reynolds and Denning write, "essentially petered out in the face of lower-court resistance" even before the Court itself abandoned the effort in Gonzales v. Raich, the 2005 medical marijuana case. They offer two major reasons to hope that Heller's fate will be different:
Perhaps most important is the fact that there was virtually no coordinated follow-up litigation to Lopez on the part of the public interest bar. Most of the litigation was opportunistic: Lopez was cited in just about every appeal on behalf of those convicted of federal criminal offenses, who, as a group, rarely present the most sympathetic face. By contrast, several lawsuits were filed challenging gun control laws in other communities within hours of the Heller opinion's publication. Given the stakes, interest groups challenging local laws have greater incentive than individual criminal defense attorneys to ensure that only the best cases with the cleanest facts are brought.
Moreover, there was relatively little public interest in Lopez or the Commerce Clause. The Second Amendment, on the other hand, is among the most significant provisions of the Bill of Rights from the standpoint of public engagement. The public interest groups sponsoring follow-up litigation will have every incentive to publicize lower court attempts to evade or blunt the effect of Heller and can try to choose cert-worthy cases from among those to be litigated. Given popular interest, the media and elected officials will have an incentive to monitor lower court implementation of Heller.
Maryland, like most states, would like businesses to open up shop within its borders. So the state put up a nice little website with all the great things about doing business in Maryland.
The “Choose Maryland” site said Maryland has a “quality workforce … key to achieving corporate goals” and pointed out that private-sector union membership in Maryland is below the national average and that between 1990 and 2001, unions won representation rights for only 1 percent of the total new firms.
Naturally, hilarity ensues and everyone has to apologize for stating the obvious.
Of course, touting low union membership is unacceptable. But a little South-bashing never hurt anyone:
“Outraged e-mails are flying across the state’s entire labor movement,” Maryland Politics Watch’s Adam Pagnucco wrote. “We cannot believe that rhetoric typical of Georgia and Oklahoma would be sanctioned at any level inside the [Gov. Martin] O’Malley administration.”
More reason on unions here.
Alan Vanneman blogs a Human Events-related sales pitch from truthteller Ann Coulter:
"If you've been wondering why the financial industry has been in meltdown—and taking your 401(k) or investment portfolio down with it—now you know.
Let's face it: The former frat boys who populate Wall Street today understand economics about as well as the pinko professors whose courses they snored through.
That's why betting their entire industry on "subprime" loans to people with no jobs and no collateral made sense to them—and why betting the entire U.S. economy on the likes of Hillary and Obama makes sense to them now.
These jokers don't even know what's in their own self-interest, much less yours. Trusting them with your money is like trusting Bill Clinton to babysit your underage niece."
I'm not sure I understand, much less agree with, Coulter on financial markets, but is it wrong of me to want her to replace Ben Bernanke at the Fed?
The City of Seattle had this great idea a while back: Let's invest millions of dollars in free public toilets that open up with the push of a button and self-clean after each use, so that people don't have to, er, patronize a store in order to relieve themselves. But Seattle residents trashed the toilets, and now the city is closing its dilapidated, techno-riffic outhouses and selling them on eBay:
[T]he restrooms, installed in early 2004, had become so filthy, so overrun with drug abusers and prostitutes, that although use was free of charge, even some of the city’s most destitute people refused to step inside them....
“I’m not going to lie: I used to smoke crack in there,” said one homeless woman, Veronyka Cordner, nodding toward the toilet behind Pike Place Market. “But I won’t even go inside that thing now. It’s disgusting.”
Why did the plan fail? For starters, the people who used the toilets—transients and druggies—didn't have to pay for them:
Seattle officials say the project here failed because the toilets...were placed in neighborhoods that already had many drug users and transients. Then there was the matter of cost: $1 million apiece over five years, which because of a local ordinance had to be borne entirely by taxpayers instead of advertisers.
I should probably check with reason's Ron Bailey on this, but I think Seattle scripted its own commons tragedy.
A coalition of 400 AIDS and human rights groups are drawing attention to the ways officials around the world have fanned rather than contained the spread of AIDS. For example:
HIV and AIDS services geared toward men who have sex with men and toward sex workers are also hampered by punitive laws and abusive government practices. Officials charged with enforcing prostitution laws routinely extort bribes, confessions, testimony, and sexual "favors" from sex workers.
There's a drug angle, too:
effective measures to reduce HIV infection, such as needle-exchange programs and medication-assisted treatment with methadone, are banned by law in many countries or undermined by abusive police practices. Police abuse, sometimes amounting to torture, keeps people who use drugs away from basic HIV-prevention services, even where government policy supports these services. Police also routinely extort money and confessions from people who use drugs, sometimes using the mere possession of syringes as an excuse to harass or arrest drug users or outreach workers providing services to them.
Similarly, cops in some countries "confiscate condoms from AIDS outreach workers, and use them as evidence of sex work or sodomy." Presumably they don't use them when coercing coitus from actual prostitutes.
In a front-pager with the promising headline of "Fed's Crisis Role Spurs Questions of Overreach," the Washington Post casually tosses off this paragraph-two axiom:
In the past few months, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke has burst through long-standing boundaries on what the Fed does. Bernanke's actions − many taken reluctantly − have repeatedly pulled the world from the brink of financial catastrophe[.]
Really? Bernanke has saved not just the United States but the world from multiple financial catastrophes? I wonder which ones in particular, and how a newspaper goes about confirming such a thing as incontrovertible fact?
When Bernanke took the reins at the Fed, Senior Editor Brian Doherty assembled a team of worthies to ask: Can we bank on the Federal Reserve?
On June 19, Barack Obama opted out of public financing. I interpreted this as a sign that his coffers were overflowing, and that the combined efforts of NPR pledgers, English lit professors, union heavies and chastened ex-Hillary donors (b-b-b-but I wanted to be ambassador to Laos!) would power him to a massive fundraising haul. Smart conservative Patrick Ruffini disagreed:
The rumor now is that Obama has raised $30 million. A number like this not be a problem but for the fact that Obama opted out of the public financing system with a smug look on his face that suggested a gusher of cash in the offing. With him formally capturing the nomination in June, that doesn't seem to be happening. In fact, Obama's opting out is starting to look at best premature and at worst a complete strategic blunder... if it were really impressive, they wouldn't be holding it back.
And so on—there's more throat-clearing at the link. The hot topic at a conservative book party I went to last week (among the politicos, at least) was whether Obama's fundraising would dip below the $22 million he raised in May.
Because of your generosity and commitment, we're reporting to the press today that this campaign is in a very strong financial position. In the month of June, supporters like you helped raise $52 million.
Basically the right and the press got snowed: Obama held back the numbers to lower expectations and to shame McCain's total of $22 million. For some perspective, look at John Kerry's fundraising in 2004. In June, he raised $34 million. So Obama's raising two-thirds more than Kerry was, and McCain is raising one-third less. It's even darker for McCain when you realize he raised only $1 million more in June than he raised in May—Obama beat his May total by about 150 percent.
I bring this up not only to shame the complacent right that is ever expecting something to fly out of space and derail Obama, but to tramp some more dirt on the grave of the public financing system. Yesterday, Ben Smith reported the latest matching funds released by the FEC.
John Edwards: $4,057,452.60
Joe Biden: $1,135,035.94
Dennis Kucinich: $970,521.05
Chris Dodd: $514,173.62
Ralph Nader: $411,187.85
Duncan Hunter: $353,527.32
Those numbers for Hunter and Nader are comparable to what they actually raised in the primary season—more than Nader raised, I believe. Anyone want to argue that the FEC was reflecting the voice of the people? Anyone still want to argue for this system?
The Hepburn Act of 1906, for which he worked lustily, strengthened the Interstate Commerce Commission's grip on the railways − a step that led eventually to the dilapidation of the railroads and to Amtrak.
As for the 1906 Food and Drug Act, which established the FDA, its principal beneficiaries (so Milton and Rose Friedman contend in Free to Choose) were the meat-packers, who were glad to have taxpayer-subsidized help in ensuring the quality of their cattle.
Roosevelt's dance with the command economy culminated in his "New Nationalism" manifesto. In the suitably visionary precincts of the John Brown Cemetery in Osawatomie, Kansas, on a hot day in August 1910, the ex-president mounted the tripod and lamented, in lugubrious and apocalyptic tones, the "absence of effective state" in America. He called for a paternalist form of government that would "control the mighty commercial forces" of the Republic. [...]
Roosevelt argued that laissez-faire economics had been superseded by a new, more efficient gospel of administrative supremacy. Edmund Morris, who in Theodore Rex was manifestly hypnotized by his hero's sound and fury, argued that "the outdated system of laissez-faire ... was accelerating out of control." So, at any rate, Roosevelt believed. Rather than use government to promote freer, more competitive markets, he used it to promote government itself. The state, not the market place, was his ideal.
Five years ago in reason, Michael McMenamin made the case for T.R.'s foreign policy record being one of admirable restraint.
The leader of the Roman Catholic Church speaking at a youth conference in the country that produced Midnight Oil:
The world's natural resources are being squandered in the pursuit of "insatiable consumption," Pope Benedict XVI said Thursday in a speech urging followers to care more for the environment and reconnect with the principle of peace
Benedict, speaking to more than 200,000 pilgrims gathered for the Roman Catholic church's youth festival, expanded on a theme that has led him to be dubbed "the green pope." The crowd, massed on a disused wharf in Australia's largest city, regularly erupted in cheers that gave the event the feel of a sporting event.
"Some of you come from island nations whose very existence is threatened by rising water levels; others from nations suffering the effects of devastating drought," the pope said, referring to global warming.
He noted that during his more than 20-hour flight from Rome to Sydney he had a bird's eye view of a vast swath of the world that inspired awe and introspection.
"Perhaps reluctantly we come to acknowledge that there are also scars which mark the surface of our earth: erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world's mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption," he said.
Types of "poison" are afflicting the world's social environment, he said, such as substance abuse, along with the exaltation of violence and sexual degradation, for which he blamed television and the Internet.
I'm sure there's nothing like a 20-hour first-class flight over the planet to give a fella real perspective about how much the Intertubes are degrading everything.
Pope Benedict slags gay marriage here.
From the AP:
In Bushitler's America, even the hippies are mad as hell!
Has Barack Obama flip-flopped on Iraq? Steve Chapman takes a look.
Need still more reason to dislike Tennessee law enforcement officials? How about having your memory wiped? From Channel 4 in Nashville:
For almost two years, [Nashville] Metro police have had the option of calling for a needle loaded with a strong sedative to control the most unruly people they encounter on the street....
The drug is called Midazolam, which is better known as Versed. People who have had a colonoscopy have probably had a shot of the drug for the procedure.
"The drug has an amnesia effect, and we use that therapeutically because one of the nice ways to take care of the discomfort is to make people forget that they've had it," said biomedical ethics and law enforcement expert Dr. Steven Miles....
"It's something that in the medical community and in the EMS medical community is very common. It's a given. When I surveyed the major metropolitan areas around the country, I think only two cities were not actively using it," said [Dr. Corey Slovis, Nashville’s emergency medical director].
Read the whole thing here.
And no, this is not an alternative to being Tasered. Channel 4 reporter Demetria Kalodimos interviewed Dameon Beasley, who said that officers injected him with the drug only after failing to shock him into submission.
The Onion steps up its economics coverage:
A panel of top business leaders testified before Congress about the worsening recession Monday, demanding the government provide Americans with a new irresponsible and largely illusory economic bubble in which to invest.
"What America needs right now is not more talk and long-term strategy, but a concrete way to create more imaginary wealth in the very immediate future," said Thomas Jenkins, CFO of the Boston-area Jenkins Financial Group, a bubble-based investment firm. "We are in a crisis, and that crisis demands an unviable short-term solution."...
Congress is currently considering an emergency economic-stimulus measure, tentatively called the Bubble Act, which would order the Federal Reserve to begin encouraging massive private investment in some fantastical financial scheme in order to get the nation's false economy back on track.
Current bubbles being considered include the handheld electronics bubble, the undersea-mining-rights bubble, and the decorative-office-plant bubble. Additional options include speculative trading in fairy dust—which lobbyists point out has the advantage of being an entirely imaginary commodity to begin with—and a bubble based around a hypothetical, to-be-determined product called "widgets."
The most support thus far has gone toward the so-called paper bubble. In this appealing scenario, various privately issued pieces of paper, backed by government tax incentives but entirely worthless, would temporarily be given grossly inflated artificial values and sold to unsuspecting stockholders by greedy and unscrupulous entrepreneurs....
Whole thing here.
How massive were the House and Senate votes to override President Bush's veto of the Medicare bill—the one that prevented a cut in doctors' fees by cutting payouts to insurance companies? This massive:
The vote in the House was 383 to 41, with 153 Republicans defying the president. In the Senate, the vote was 70 to 26, with 21 Republicans voting to override.
The elephant stampede away from the president was wholly unsurprising. The Times picks a representative quote explaining why:
The political dynamic was illustrated by Representative Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado, a conservative Republican who boasted that she was voting against the wishes of her party. “I am proud to continue my fight against the White House on behalf of Colorado doctors and seniors,” Mrs. Musgrave said.
This is one of the reasons why I don't expect the libertarian flank of the GOP to take over if/when McCain loses, and why the Huckabeethatian/Douthabeesque version of conservatism is going to get a hearing instead. The only times Republicans can confront social policy from the right are 1)during crises where the left has mismanaged the economy and 2)during wartime when the GOP is at full strength. The party's in a crouch now, and it will be in six months, so expect lots of cave-ins like this.
Over at Talking Points Memo, Senior Editor Kerry Howley explains how Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam's Grand New Party endorses the politics of exclusion.
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence's Dennis Henigan has written a very interesting response to Robert Levy's Cato Unbound essay on the future of gun rights after D.C. v. Heller. Essentially, Henigan argues that the Court's conservatives have mangled the Constitution in order to reach a preferred outcome that will have little real world impact:
Although we will no doubt see an avalanche of Second Amendment claims (most by criminal defense lawyers on behalf of their clients seeking to avoid indictments and convictions for violations of gun laws), generally the lower courts are likely to interpret Heller as giving a constitutional green light to virtually every gun control law short of a handgun ban. Regardless of whether the Heller majority's newly discovered right eventually is incorporated as a restraint on the states, its significance may well prove more symbol than substance.
While it certainly makes rhetorical sense for Henigan to downplay the victory (and link it to criminals and their shady attorneys), it's not at all clear that the lower courts will see (or will continue to see) things his way. As David Kopel noted in reason after Heller came down, "Rome was not built in a day, and neither is constitutional doctrine."
For most of our nation's history, the U.S. Supreme Court did nothing to protect the First Amendment; it was not until the 1930s when a majority of the Court took the first steps towards protecting freedom of the press. It would have been preposterous to be disappointed that a Court in, say, 1936, would not declare a ban on flag-burning to be unconstitutional. It took decades for the Supreme Court to build a robust First Amendment doctrine strong enough to protect even the free speech rights of people as loathsome as flag-burners or American Nazis.
Moreover, the importance of the Court finally recognizing that the Second Amendment secures an individual right—not a collective one—shouldn't be minimized. And I must say, I find it pretty hard to believe that Henigan and his associates at Brady are really so lackadaisical about the incorporation of the amendment against the states. Chicago officials, on the other hand, are gearing up to protect the city's handgun ban in court. As deputy corporation counsel Benna Solomon told the Chicago Tribune, "We are prepared to aggressively litigate this issue and defend this ordinance."
Two new proposals on the table in San Francisco:
Smokers would find it harder to buy their cigarettes and light up in public under two proposals under consideration by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
Mayor Gavin Newsom has proposed prohibiting tobacco sales in pharmacies, including Walgreens and Rite Aid. The city's public health chief said the proposal is modeled after rules in eight provinces in Canada but has not been tried anywhere in the United States.
Supervisor Chris Daly has proposed legislation that would vastly limit areas where people can smoke.
Gone would be smoking in all businesses and bars, which now make an exception for owner-operated ones.
Gone too would be lighting up in taxicabs and rental cars, city-owned vehicles, farmers' markets, common areas of apartment buildings, tourist hotels, tobacco shops, charity bingo games, unenclosed dining areas, waiting areas such as lines at an ATM or movie theater, and anywhere within 20 feet of entrances to private, nonresidential buildings.
Mitch Katz, director of the Department of Public Health, said he strongly supports both measures - even if they are angering business owners who say it's one more example of San Francisco City Hall overstepping its bounds.
"Tobacco remains the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the U.S. - period," he said. "It's government's responsibility to protect people from obvious risks."
On Wednesday, July 16, starting at 6 p.m., please join the D.C.-based staff of reason at a happy hour to celebrate:
• The birth of Editor in Chief Matt Welch's first child, Izidóra.
• reason's strong showing at the 50th Annual Southern California Journalism Awards. Nominated for a total of 11 awards, we snagged three first places (for best news organization website, best news/investigative article, and best magazine feature/commentary); five second places; and three honorable mentions.
• The release of our August/September issue.
We will also be celebrating the contributions of Senior Editor Kerry Howley, who will be leaving our staff in August to pursue an M.F.A. in nonfiction at the University of Iowa.
We will be meeting at The Big Hunt, 1345 Connecticut Avenue, NW, just south of Dupont Circle, from 6 p.m. until you say the fun stops.
Drink and food specials throughout the night, and the back patio will be open for smokers.
See you on the 16th!
Slate's Christopher Beam has a horrible secret. It was he who started this "terrorist fist jab" nonsense, when he quoted a commenter at the right-wing website Human Events accusing Michelle Obama of being a Hezbollah sleeper agent. Or something. This led to the now-infamous Fox News fembot comment that "everyone seems to interpret [the gesture] differently," but some have suggested that it is a secret terrorist greeting. Beam's apologia for introducing the "fist jab" meme makes for interesting reading:
The morning after Obama locked up the nomination, I was writing a "Trailhead" item that mocked the media's difficulty in figuring out what to call the now famous gesture. "Fist-pound," "knuckle-bump," and "fist-to-fist thumbs up" were among the funnier examples, but one of them−"Hezbollah-style fist jab"−was particularly risible. It came from the Web site for Human Events, a hard-right weekly. Unfortunately, I failed to note that its provenance was not the magazine itself but a reader comment posted below an unrelated column by Cal Thomas. I linked the phrase to the column but didn't explain that the words weren't Thomas'.
Many "Trailhead" readers clicked through to Thomas' column and, not finding the phrase there, assumed that Thomas or his bosses had wiped it from his column. What really happened, it seems, is that Human Events removed the reader comment after many other readers posted comments taking offense and/or debunking it. These latter comments remained, while the comment that provoked the outrage vanished into thin air, creating further confusion about its origin.
From anonymous web comment to New Yorker
cover to denunciations of David Remnick as an insensitive elitist.
Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates advises that "White people step away from the
sepia-toned crayons" and stop drawing the Obamas, and upbraids
Remnick for not understanding satire, which, he writes, must trade
in "exaggeration" to be successful. And this particular New Yorker cover "exaggerates nothing." Well, I'll
leave it to our clever commenters to quibble with Coates'
definition of satire, but an image of Obama in the oval office,
turban-clad, burning the American flag beneath a portrait of Osama
bin Laden strikes me as, well, a pretty obvious
Besides, Coates argues, the "broader body politic" will not get the joke and, therefore, the cartoon is dangerous. It is a familiar (and unconvincing) argument. As Remnick observed, this is the most frequent criticism the magazine has received: "People say, well, I get it, but I'm afraid that so-and-so is not going to get it." Satire, then, mustn't be too complicated, lest its meaning be ambiguous, lest it turn the country rubes even more racist.
Strained headline reference here.
Update: Ta-Nehisi Coates emails with a clarification and a few sensible points:
For the record, I don't think that the cartoon is dangerous at all, and I highly doubt that it'll convert anyone who was going to vote for Obama into a McCain voter. I do think it's bad satire though, not because it doesn't exaggerate Barack Obama, but becase it doesn't exaggerate the smears about him. It's literally is just a reflection of those smears. Nothing else. It's almost like a joke that's all setup and no punchline.
Anyway, I feel sort of dumb for even writing that post. I got lumped in with all the other nitwits who are running around talking about how they're now going to cancel their New Yorker subscription. You don't have to agree with my argument--indeed and completely open to my reading of the cartoon as being off. But I want to be clear about what my argument is. I don't think the cartoon does any damage. I don't think it's "racist." I don't think the NYer is part of some nefarious plot. I just, Didn't. Like. The picture. Seriously, nothing more than that.
If you haven't read Coates's terrific piece in The Atlantic on the "audacity of Bill Cosby’s black conservatism," take 20 minutes and do so now.
Last month Scott Conover was driving on Highway 421 in Mountain City, Tennessee, when he saw a Johnson County sheriff's deputy, Starling McCloud, on the side of the road near a Mustang he had just pulled over. For reasons that remain somewhat mysterious, Conover decided to take a picture of McCloud with his iPhone. According to McCloud and Mountain City police officer Kenneth Lane, who stopped at the scene to assist McCloud, Conover turned his Hummer around after passing the traffic stop and came by again slowly, telling McCloud, "Smile. I'm going to take your picture."
Question: What crimes did Conover commit? If your answer is "none," you may not be qualified to be a sheriff's deputy in Johnson County, Tennessee. McCloud counted three: "unlawful photographing in violation of privacy," "pointing a laser at a law enforcement officer," and "disorderly conduct."
The first charge is clearly groundless, since it applies only to a photograph taken where "there is a reasonable expectation of privacy" (i.e., not on a public road) if the photograph "would embarrass or offend an ordinary person" or if it was "taken for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification." By Conover's account, McCloud added his own provision to the law, saying, "It's illegal to take a picture of a law enforcement officer." The laser charge also seems to be baseless, assuming Conover is telling the truth when he says, "At no time did I have a laser. I had an iPhone." The disorderly conduct charge is based on Conover's refusal to delete the picture of McCloud, something the deputy had no right to demand.
"This officer asked the male subject to hand over the camera or delete the picture," McCloud reported (PDF). "The male subject said he was not going to do anything and got irate." Officer Lane confirmed (PDF) McCloud's account:
Deputy McCloud then asked the driver to delete the picture and told him he could leave....This man became very irate and started cursing. Deputy McCloud asked Mr. Conover just to delete the picture and he refused. This officer heard the woman in the passenger seat say, "Just delete it." Two children were sitting in the back seat as well.
My favorite part: According to Mountain City police officer Ben May, who also stopped by the scene, as Conover was being handcuffed and carted off to jail, he "demanded that his daughter take another picture." May added (PDF), "I then seen a young girl take a picture of the subject, Deputy McCloud, and myself." Evidently the little girl was not arrested.
Conover sounds like a bit of a dick, frankly, but McCloud, who misapplied the law and abused his authority, is more than just a private dick; he's a public menace. As Conover told WJHL, a local TV station, "This guy maliciously arrested me, charging me with phony charges that he don't even understand himself." WJHL notes that "taking photos is protected by the First Amendment." And as much as McCloud might wish it were otherwise, there is no law against annoying police officers.
[Thanks to Paul Armentano for the tip.]
Stephen J. Dubner at the New York Times' Freakonomics blog posted this letter from a reader. It's chock full of suggestions for improving the New Jersey Turnpike, including the construction of a Milton Friedman "rest spa":
The citizens of New Jersey must decide how to manage a financial crisis that has resulted from both decades of wishful thinking and their leaders’ lack of political courage. A major source of anxiety is the future of the New Jersey Turnpike. Following are a few ideas for improving the finances of the Turnpike Authority, which may have escaped the notice of the planners.
1. Thorstein Veblen would instantly recognize New Jerseyans’ need to be conspicuous consumers. How else to explain the holiday mobs at Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom? The Turnpike already comprises both car and truck lanes north- and south-bound between exits 8A and 18. Why not convert the car lanes to first class? The surcharge will provide the same function as toll roads in Texas and Colorado (and alas! the late Concorde) that provide faster travel options for those who … er, think it’s worth it. And we can do it with minimal adverse travel impact by adding an EZ-Pass Express receiver at the entrances to the first class lanes. If traffic gets bad in steerage, then presto! More people will pay the surcharge. And if that is successful, maybe we can attract Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse to the first class service areas, I mean spas. We can name the first one after Milton Friedman (BA, Rutgers U., 1932)....
reason founder Robert Poole wrote about an America without toll booths here.
From an interesting true-crime tale in The Washington Monthly:
In the previous year, nearly twenty defendants in other Baltimore cases had begun adopting what lawyers in the federal courthouse came to call "the flesh-and-blood defense." The defense, such as it is, boils down to this: As officers of the court, all defense lawyers are really on the government's side, having sworn an oath to uphold a vast, century-old conspiracy to conceal the fact that most aspects of the federal government are illegitimate, including the courts, which have no constitutional authority to bring people to trial. The defendants also believed that a legal distinction could be drawn between their name as written on their indictment and their true identity as a "flesh and blood man."
Judge Davis and his law clerk pored over the case files, which led them to a series of strange Web sites. The flesh and blood defense, they discovered, came from a place far from Baltimore, from people as different from [black defendant] Willie Mitchell as people could possibly be. Its antecedents stretched back decades, involving religious zealots, gun nuts, tax protestors, and violent separatists driven by theories that had fueled delusions of Aryan supremacy and race war in gun-loaded compounds in the wilds of Montana and Idaho.
How were such ideas transmitted from the radical right to the black underclass? The Monthly's writer, Kevin Carey, points to the prison system:
Some collected the documents [the Montana-based separatists] the Freemen filed during their trial and began offering them for sale via advertisements in "America's Bulletin," a newsletter espousing Posse-style anti-government theories that is widely distributed throughout the prison system by white supremacists.
In October 2004, a prisoner named Michael Burpee arrived at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in downtown Baltimore. Burpee had recently been convicted in Florida of trafficking PCP to Maryland. Hoping for leniency, he pled guilty, only to receive a twenty seven-year prison sentence dictated by harsh federal sentencing guidelines. Desperate for a way out, he began listening to someone--presumably a fellow prisoner--who explained how the charges were all part of a secret government conspiracy against him. Then Burpee was brought up on new federal drug charges in Maryland, and shipped north. He carried with him a pile of documents that were remarkably similar to those that had been filed by the Montana Freemen....
Like the Midwestern farmers before them, the Baltimore inmates were susceptible to the notion that the federal government was engaged in a massive, historic plot to deprive them of life, liberty, and property. Such suspicions are prevalent in certain pockets of the black community--that year, a study from the Rand Corporation found that over 25 percent of African Americans surveyed believed the AIDS virus was developed by the government, and 12 percent thought it was released into the population by the CIA. And black separatist groups like the Nation of Islam--also fond of conspiracy theories--have long cultivated members through the prison system; some of these groups have explicitly adopted the language of constitutional fundamentalists. Given these developments, Levitas told me, "I'm surprised this didn't happen sooner."
That's a fascinating conveyer belt. I'm not sure it was the only one. This is not the first time conspiracy theories identified with far-right groups, including white supremacists, have found their way into black America. I've heard similar ideas, for example, from some offshoots of the Moorish Science Temple. And while that was recent enough to have possibly been influenced by Burpee, it isn't my only enounter of that kind.
In the late '90s, when I was writing a lot about pirate radio, I met several black radicals who defended their right to operate unlicensed stations using "sovereign citizen" arguments that I had seen, in almost identical form, in the right-wing fringes of the libertarian movement. Still earlier in the '90s, I stumbled on the curious cultural zone where black militants intersected with the militia milieu, which I then described in an article for Chronicles. (Unfortunately, the only copy of that story that I can find online is a garbled version someone posted to a UFO list, with all the paragraph breaks missing, the last line removed, and who knows how many other screwups in the transcription.) I've seen evidence suggesting that similar ideas were traveling from white populists to black populists -- or, if you prefer, being adapted and reconfigured by black populists -- even earlier.
The really interesting thing about the Monthly story is that when Mitchell tried to use those ludicrous homebrewed legal theories, they may have...worked. Sort of.
None of these arguments had a prayer of overturning the charges. But they had an impact nonetheless. They made a long, complex trial longer and more complex still. Seeking the death penalty is rightfully arduous--it requires legal justifications for the penalty itself, enhanced scrutiny over jury selection, an additional penalty phase after a conviction, and so on. Conspiracy charges create further legal burdens. And the way Mitchell et al chose to deal with their attorneys--not dismissing them outright, but asking them to sign a peculiar "contract" that would essentially prohibit them from mounting a defense--created more problems. If the defendants weren't dealt with carefully, they might be able to appeal by claiming that they had been inadequately represented....
By mid-2007, the federal prosecutors were starting to run low on a vital resource: time. As years go by, memories fade, police officers retire or transfer, informants change their mind, and juries wonder why, if the case is so straightforward, it took so long to make. On September 6, 2007, prosecutors withdrew the death penalty for all four defendants.
[Via Matt Kaune.]
As the good people at Americans for Tax Reform are quick to remind me, today is "the date of the calendar year on which the average American worker has earned enough gross income to pay off his or her share of spending and regulatory burdens imposed by government on the federal, state and local levels."
So treat yourself to a beer—or your drug of choice—tonight (perhaps at the reason happy hour). You deserve it. And when you think about all the terrible days you have had at work already this year laboring in the service of Uncle Sam, you might need to have another.
Radley Balko has a few questions on guns, public choice theory, and patriotism for presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain.
Details writer Ian Daily visits the underside of the Miami bridge that's home to a community of exiled sex offenders:
Fourteen men, ranging in age from 30 to 83, call this place home. Some sleep in cars among the pilings, others in grimy Wal-Mart tents wedged beneath the bridge. Martin, who spent two years in jail after being convicted of exposing himself to a 16-year-old girl when he was 19 or 20 (a crime he says he didn't commit), no longer has to wear the black GPS monitoring device that many of his neighbors do. He finished his five-year probation in 2006, but he can't find a place to live that complies with the county's residency laws. So Martin is forced to live here—in a colony under an overpass where the amenities include a generator, a composting toilet, and a workout area with a bench and free weights—indefinitely, because he and the other men were ordered here by law-enforcement authorities.
"Take a picture if you want," says Martin, showing off his driver's license. The address next to his photo reads UNDER THE JULIA TUTTLE CAUSEWAY.
I first blogged about the sex offender bridge in April of last year.
Slate's William Saletan sized up the Pentagon's Human Performance study and concluded that fears of genetically enhanced super humans are unfounded. Unless, of course, there's something scary about arming soldiers to the teeth and then keeping them awake for three days:
[The study]involved tests of the effects of caffeine on performance for a group of Navy SEALs, following 72 hours of intense training activity with almost total sleep deprivation. A variety of metrics were used, including computer-based tests of reaction speed and mental acuity, psychiatric self-assessment surveys, and marksmanship tests. The test was to determine the optimal caffeine dose to ameliorate the effects of fatigue and stress.
The authors of the report do their best to avoid openly condoning the use of amphetamines without a prescription, with disclaimers like this one:
The use of supplements, primarily to ameliorate sleep deprivation and to improve physical performance, is report[ed] to be common among US military personnel. This behavior is a cultural norm in the US and is recognized, but not endorsed, by the US military. For instance the PX at most military bases stock popular supplements.
But as Saletan points out, it's tricky to condemn amphetamine use when it works so well. This is one instance where the military is a little behind the curve. Attention deficit medications work much better than caffeine does when pulling an all-nighter, as reason contributor Juliet Samuel explained here.
Still unable to dismiss your fears of a military state maintained by superhuman mech warriors? Me too.
A new report from the Heritage Foundation attempts to count the number of laws in the federal criminal code. Author John S. Baker, Jr. estimates we have about 4,500 laws, with another 10,000 if you include federal regulations that can be criminally enforced. But Baker cautions that the code is so Byzantine, vague, and ambiguous, it's really impossible to come up with a reliable figure. The Constitution lays out just three federal crimes, and for 200 years, criminal justice policy was mostly left to the states. That began to change in the 1970s.
Today's federal criminal code is enormous—and growing. Baker also finds that Congress tends to add more laws during election years (surprise!), that federal judges and prosecutors exacerbate the problem by interpreting federal statutes as broadly as possible (sometimes retroactively), and that new federal laws are increasingly lacking a mens rea requirement.
So we have a bewildering federal criminal code that no one person could possibly completely comprehend, the fact that you can be charged for breaking one of those laws even if you weren't aware that what you were doing was illegal, and increasingly leeway and discretion afforded to prosecutors to interpret all of these laws as broadly as possible. Throw in the problem of selective enforcement (there aren't nearly enough resources to prosecute all the crimes on the books), and you have a system where everyone's a potential criminal, but prosecutors can pick and choose whom to target. Federal prosecutors then win convictions in about 90 percent of their cases—and that's only those cases that make it to trial. Ninety-five percent of federal defendants take plea bargains (which doesn't always necessarily mean they're guilty).
Meanwhile, a new paper from the Cato Institute on federal white collar crime explains how federal prosecutors in corporate crime cases are adopting the Spitzer model, and doing away with trials and courtrooms altogether. N. Richard Janis writes that the "combination of draconian sentences, lack of meaningful judicial control over the imposition of sanctions, and the impossible burdens on company officers have jeopardized the very nature of our adversary system of justice." The Cato study says federal prosecutors' enormous leverage under the post-Enron regulatory structure allows them to essentially deputize private corporate counsel to go after targeted employees.
I'd add that the broadly written (and even more broadly interpreted) federal conspiracy and racketeering laws make all of this even worse. If federal prosecutors don't have the evidence to prove the underlying crime, they'll often fall back on conspiracy or mail or wire fraud charges, which are much easier to prove.
I'd been wondering how Michigan was going to pull its way out of what has been, for a few years now, a one-state recession. The answer:
A new state law gives consumers more rights when it comes to gift cards and certificates... Under the new rules, gift cards are good for five years. Retailers can no longer charge an inactivity or other service fee to consumers using or possessing gift certificates. They must also accept gift certificates during a sale, closing or liquidation and disclose all terms and conditions to prospective purchasers.
And if you don't comply?
Retailers violating the law could be on the hook for $250 in fines or actual damages, whichever is higher.
Consumers can file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General's Office or can pursue matters with their own attorney. Retailers must also cover attorney fees, if fined.
A bed and breakfast spokesperson quoted by the Grand Rapids Press thinks it'll be great for business, as it frees them from consumer terrorism after the five years run out. But if Michigan's legislators really care about consumers, why just five years? Why not 10? Why not make them redeemable until we break ground on the Moon colony?
A new Reuters/Zogby poll of likely voters in the presidential race says:
More than a month after kicking off the general election campaign, Obama leads McCain by 47 percent to 40 percent. That is slightly better than his 5-point cushion in mid-June, shortly after he clinched the Democratic nomination fight against New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.
But Obama's 22-point advantage in June among independents, a critical voting bloc that could swing either way in the November election, shrunk to 3 points during a month in which the candidates battled on the economy and Obama was accused of shifting to the centre on several issues....
Voters seem more interested in the economy than anything else:
The economy was ranked as the top issue by nearly half of all likely voters, 47 percent. The Iraq war, in second place, trailed well behind at 12 percent. Energy prices was third at 8 percent.
And what about candidates Ralph Nader and Bob Barr?:
When independent candidate Ralph Nader and Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr, who are both in the process of trying to add their names to state ballots, are included in the survey Obama's margin over McCain grows to 10 percentage points, 46 percent to 36 percent.
Nader and Barr each picked up 3 percent, but nearly all of their support came from McCain.
Los Angeles Times' blogger Andrew Malcolm writes:
When President Bush ordered the surge in January, 2007, [Sen. Barack] Obama said, "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse," a position he maintained throughout 2007. This year he acknowledged progress, but maintained his position that political progress was lacking.
Tuesday, while Obama gave a speech on foreign policy, the New York Daily News was first to notice the removal of parts of Obama's campaign site listing the Iraq troop surge as part of "The Problem." An Obama spokeswoman said it was just part of an "update" to "reflect changes in current events," as our colleague Frank James notes in the Swamp. The update includes a new section on the rise of al-Qaeda violence in Afghanistan.
More, including a video comparing older Obama statements with newer ones by his spokesman, here. Malcolm concludes that this sort of thing is "a reminder of how carefully voters must listen during these last four campaign months." Which is good advice, regardless of the candidate and the issue at hand.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is addressing an NAACP convention in Cincinnati today. His remarks touch on education and here's a preview courtesy of the Cincy Enquirer:
"If I am elected president, school choice for all who want it, an expansion of opportunity scholarships and alternative certification for teachers will all be part of a serious agenda of education reform," McCain said in the excerpts.
"After decades of hearing the same big promises from the public education establishment, and seeing the same poor results, it is surely time to shake off old ways and to demand new reforms," he said. "That isn't just my opinion. It is the conviction of parents in poor neighborhoods across this nation who want better lives for their children."
McCain's rival, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) spoke to the same group on Monday. The Enquirer's gloss: "Obama [said] he would push the government to provide more education and economic assistance, but he also urged blacks to demand more of themselves."
Update: If you're interested in McCain's full remarks to the NAACP, go here. More details from the education section:
When a public system fails, repeatedly, to meet...minimal objectives, parents ask only for a choice in the education of their children. Some parents may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private school. Many will choose a charter school. No entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity.
We should also offer more choices to those who wish to become teachers. Many thousands of highly qualified men and women have great knowledge, wisdom, and experience to offer public school students. But a monopoly on teacher certification prevents them from getting that chance. You can be a Nobel Laureate and not qualify to teach in most public schools today. They don't have all the proper credits in educational "theory" or "methodology"—all they have is learning and the desire and ability to share it. If we're putting the interests of students first, then those qualifications should be enough.
If I am elected president, school choice for all who want it, an expansion of Opportunity Scholarships, and alternative certification for teachers will all be part of a serious agenda of education reform.
That's pretty good rhetoric, for sure (and I say that as someone who would prefer the feds stay out of education). "Education presidents" have a way of disappointing their supporters, but those are some pretty powerful statements and it will be interesting to see if a) anyone really cares what presidential candidates think about education, b) if and how Obama responds, and c) how the teachers unions respond.
In his latest column, Senior Editor Jacob Sullum looks at how "zero tolerance" drug policies have changed America's schools.
Fleming raised more than $920,000 in the run-up to the election, keeping pace with the roughly $1 million raised by Broun.
Both candidates pledged to represent conservative values, with Fleming promising to "walk the walk" for traditional family values and Broun vowing to unravel the federal government's "huge ball of twine of socialism."
Throughout the campaign, Fleming took aim at Broun's votes, calling his philosophy "strange and outlandish." Broun, meanwhile, insisted the votes helped limit the government.
With most of the vote counted, Broun has buried Fleming in a 42-point landslide. Yes, Broun was the guy who wanted to ban dirty magazines on military bases, but that's the rare issue on which he's worse (or as bad) as the rank-and-file Republican.
You support drug testing, huh? What are you hiding?
[Thanks to Mark Noble for the tip.]
Yesterday the District of Columbia unveiled new firearm rules that are meant to comply with the Supreme Court's recent ruling overturning D.C.'s 32-year-old handgun ban. The proposed legislation makes an exception to the ban for handguns kept in the home for self-defense, and it "clarifies that no carry license is required inside the home." It also "clarifies" the storage rule for firearms, saying a gun can legally be unlocked and loaded "while it is being used against [a]reasonably perceived threat of immediate harm to a person." Otherwise "firearms in the home must be stored unloaded and either disassembled [or] secured with a trigger lock, gun safe, or similar device." The mention of gun safes is new and, depending on the kind of safe, could allow faster retrieval of a weapon in an emergency. But the requirement that even guns in safes be kept unloaded seems like an unreasonable impediment to self-defense that could be open to challenge.
The city continues to maintain that "most semiautomatic pistols" remain illegal under D.C.'s "machine gun" ban, which bizarrely covers not just automatic weapons but "any firearm which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily converted or restored to shoot...more than 12 shots without manual reloading," even if each trigger pull fires just one round. As I pointed out last month, there is no shortage of pistols that fire 12 or fewer rounds, but I don't know how many of them "can be readily converted" to fire more than that. If the city claims any handgun that can accept (or be modified to accept) a magazine holding more than 12 rounds is prohibited, would that cover "most semiautomatic pistols"? All handguns except "revolvers and derringers," as the Violence Policy Center argues?
Meanwhile, the procedure for legally owning whichever handguns are allowed sounds pretty onerous:
a. A District resident who seeks to register a handgun must obtain an application form from MPD's Firearms Registration Section and take it to a firearms dealer for assistance in completing it.
b. The applicant must submit photos, proof of residency and proof of good vision (such as a driver's license or doctor's letter), and pass a written firearms test.
c. If the applicant is successful on the test, s(he) must pay registration fees and submit to fingerprinting. MPD will file one set of fingerprints and submit the other to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for analysis and criminal background check.
d. MPD will notify the applicant whether all registration requirements are satisfied. At that point, the applicant returns to the Firearms Registration Section to complete the process and receive MPD's seal on the application.
e. The applicant takes his or her completed application to a licensed firearm dealer to take delivery of the pistol. If the dealer is outside the District, the dealer transports the pistol to a licensed dealer in the District to complete the transaction.
f. The applicant takes the pistol to the Firearms Registration Section for ballistics testing. When testing is complete, the applicant may retrieve the pistol and take it home.
The question is whether D.C. will make it so difficult to possess guns and use them in self-defense that it will end up back in court on the losing end of another Second Amendment lawsuit.
[Thanks to John Kluge for the tip.]
On Monday, Michael Moynihan blogged about an interview with John McCain that the New York Times published over the weekend. I thought there were a couple of exchanges* worth further note in these worrying times of Freddie/Fannie bailouts, loose talk about re-regulation, seemingly limitless imperial responsibilities, and libertarians tiring of being kicked to the curb by the Republican Party:
Q: How do you think of yourself as a conservative? Do you think of yourself more as a Goldwater conservative or Reagan conservative or George W. Bush conservative?
Senator John McCain: A Teddy Roosevelt conservative, I think. He's probably my major role model; we could go back to Lincoln, of course. In the 20th century Teddy Roosevelt. I think Teddy Roosevelt, he had a great vision of America's role in the 20th Century. He was a great environmentalist. He loved the country. He is the person who brought the government into a more modern − into the 20th century as well. He was probably engaged more in national security slash international affairs that any president ever been. [...]
Q: Roosevelt wasn't really a small government person. He saw an active role for government. What thing in your record would you say are in a similar vein of using government to do things that....
Mr. McCain: Campaign Finance reform − obviously he was a great reformer − is one of them. Climate change is another. He was a great environmentalist [...]
Q: Was it a good idea for the federal government to intervene in Bear Stearns?
Mr. McCain: I think we had to. American is in extremely difficult economic times. I agree with literally every expert on the economy: If Bear Stearns had collapsed it would have had a ripple effect in the market. And that's why this latest mortgage crisis with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, are − excuse me, with the home loan mortgage people − is that we worry of the ripple effect of their collapse. [...]
Q: Do you think the government is ultimately on the hook for Fannie and Freddie, if the worst-case scenario materializes?
Mr. McCain: I don't think the question is so much, is it on the hook, as much as it is, could we afford to have a collapse? And I keep being asked about a quote, government bailout. I don't know if a government, quote, bailout is necessary now. Because there are other courses of action that are being explored in order to ensure their survival. But I don't believe we can afford to have them fail − because of their impact on the overall economy, and the housing situation which we already know is in dire straits − and I've head that there is various options. I also note with sorrow that their stock continues to go down, and the situation becomes more and more severe.
People often ask me what kind of president I think McCain would make; what would be surprising, etc. With the important caveat that I don't really know, I think many would be startled by just how far (back) to the interventionist economic left McCain would be willing and eager to traverse with an emboldened Democratic majority attempting to "fix" a worsening economy. Yes, he would veto the crap out of some spending bills larded with earmarks; and yes, for my money he has a much more favorable posture toward both entitlement reform and international trade (at least, with those few countries he doesn't want to slap punitive economic sanctions on).
But on Democrat-friendly stuff like government bailouts, global warming legislation, and atrocious nanny-boo proposals to keep "predators" off that Internet thingie he's heard so much about, McCain's foundational and occasionally creepy T.R. crush would mean considerably more than just sticking the Great White Fleet 2.0 under the tent of every tinpot dictator able to photoshop missile-launch pictures. When even Barry Goldwater's own replacement turns down a softball opportunity to give cheap props to a guy so far removed from modern-day politics that the Democratic Party is happy to fertilize his grave with empty praise, it might just indicate something.
* I actually cleaned up some of the punctuation in the NYT transcript; stuff on the level of adding question marks and changing commas into semi-colons.
Libertarian Democrat Terry Michael takes issue with the Wash Post's new maxi-series on the unsolved murder in 2001 of Chandra Levy:
"The Chandra Levy case captivated the world."
You can see those breathless words for yourself if you navigate to a washingtonpost.com web page posted Friday, July 11 touting a 12-part series about a dead intern (yes, you read that correctly: twelve!), the first installment of which was plastered across the front page of the Post's Sunday print edition two days later.
Stop whatever you're doing and think about that. Reporting staffs are being decimated all over the American daily newspaper landscape. Seasoned journalists are being forced into early retirement buy-outs. Hundred-year-old news values--objectivity, fairness, dispassion, fact-based arguments, proportionality--are being trashed in an infotainment media culture that dumbs down public discourse to verbal food fights, featuring talking-pointed-heads on cable "news" channels.
And the paper of record in the capital of the free world, a few miles up the road from where Jefferson and Madison understood the importance of the printed word to our experiment in liberty, has used its investigative and metro staff resources to publish a 12 part (twelve!!!) tabloid-style series pandering to the prurient interests of readers captivated by the unsolved murder of an intern.
reason's Matt Welch defended the Chandra Levy coverage back in August 2001. Read that here.
In a gesture of solidarity with Harlem's many struggling residents, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) has announced that he will vacate one of the four rent-stabilized apartments he currently maintains in the Lenox Terrace luxury complex. The unit in question, a one-bedroom costing Rangel just $630 each month, currently serves as a campaign office, a cozy arrangement that quite clearly violates city and state rent-stabilization guidelines (he's holding on to his two-bedroom, his other one-bedroom, and his studio). But as the New York Times notes, the immaculately dressed Congressman isn't out of the woods yet:
While it appears legitimate for Mr. Rangel to have one rent-stabilized apartment for his home, some Congressional ethics experts question whether his acceptance of the additional units, given at the discretion of the landlord and not generally available to the public, violates the House of Representatives' ban on members accepting gifts of more than $100.
Under House ethics rules, a gift is defined as any "gratuity, favor, discount, entertainment, hospitality, loan, forbearance, or other item having monetary value." And some suggest that the difference between what Mr. Rangel pays for the second, third and fourth apartments and the market rate could fit that definition.
Over at Talking Points Memo, Senior Editor Kerry Howley explains what Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam get wrong about women in their new book Grand New Party.
I'll be on tonight with Attack of the Show's Anna David, and, presumably, some other people. The show starts at 3am on FNC.
In remarks originally delivered at FreedomFest 2008, Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey takes aim at the evidence that allegedly proves intelligent design in nature.
So much of political coverage is hearsay and paraphrase. But actually sitting and listening to politicians talk in order to find out what they think is a fate worse than death. What's a mildly interested political observer to do?
Now, thanks to a super-cool new Google gadget, you can cut to the chase. The Elections Video Search Google Gadget lets you search for keywords in transcribed YouTube videos from the Politicians channel. The gentlemen from Mountain View admit that accuracy is far from 100 percent at the moment—many of the transcriptions are terrible and the videos aren't well-sorted—but it's a start. You can even search just McCain or just Obama clips. And it sits right on your iGoogle homepage, so even the truly lazy can satisfy the smallest tremors of curiosity about what those guys are blathering about.
Via the Official Google Blog
From habeas corpus to the Second Amendment, writes Damon Root, the vigorous use of judicial review isn't just legitimate, it's necessary to help safeguard our rights.
The Drudge Report today is a festival of economic scare stories: DOLLAR DROPS TO RECORD LOW! LINES FOR CASH IN CALIFORNIA! Which bank next? Stocks stay south on fear! Inflation up at fastest pace in 27 years!
Beyond telling us what we already knew − that Matt Drudge and Andrew Breitbart continue to pack more good headlines above the fold than any newspaper in America − what does this tell us? Perhaps that the surprising (to me, anyway) pessimism expressed by seven libertarian-friendly economic observers in our June issue was warranted.
But the Californian in me wonders if we are all (me included!) addicted to millenarial forebodings of impending collapse, all recent history to the contrary notwithstanding. With rare exception (so rare, in fact, that I can't think of one), panics about the United States being lapped economically by Japan, or Europe, or (soon enough) China, end up looking more than faintly ridiculous. As do most predictions of imminent U.S. demise, such as (to throw out one memorable example) this Esquire cover story by Walter Russell Mead warning that:
[T]he economic crisis now sweeping the planet may be the most important event -- and the most dangerous − since the Second World War. [...]
For twenty-five years, the United States has been using its international influence to make the global economic system more and more like the laissez-faire free-market system of the twenties, and now we've got what we wanted: a system that is free to grow rapidly. And − surprise, surprise − free to crash and burn. [...]
Until a few months ago, most [Asian countries] expected to keep getting rapidly richer. Now most of the overwhelming majority face huge economic losses, and for most of them, hope is quickly disappearing. Anger will take its place, and it is all too likely that political leaders in Asia will seek to direct that anger outward − at the United States and its economic allies, who, after all, shaped the international economic system that produced this collapse. [...]
Stock prices could easily fall by two thirds − that's 6,000 points on the Dow − and it could take stocks a decade or more to recover. Many investors could be destroyed; mass liquidation of mutual funds in a panic could wipe out some funds entirely. The carnage among growth funds and such high-flying sectors as Internet and technology companies would be appalling.... Housing prices would plummet, leaving millions of highly leveraged home and apartment owners sitting on mortgages that are worth far more than their homes. Millions of people would lose their jobs, and tens of millions more would watch their wages drop as employers frantically tried to cut back their payrolls. Many cities would face bankruptcy as their revenues collapsed.
That nightmare scenario was published in October 1998. Since then, Asia has been too busy creating scores of millions of jobs and lifting hundreds of millions of human beings out of poverty to get too pissed off at the U.S. and A. NASDAQ has indeed suffered the predicted collapse, but recovered enough to be higher than it was in October 1998 (as is the Dow Jones industrials index). The median home price in the Bay Area was $272,000 in October 1998; now, in a plunging market, the number is all the way down to ... $517,000. And how many millions of American jobs have been created in the last decade? Still, full-time bears eventually guess right during a downturn.
For the record, as someone who both predicted the dollar collapse and believed fervently in the Y2K bug, I think that things will continue to get worse, especially as the housing mess continues to unwind (not soon enough for renters like me and Paul Thornton!) and entitlements continue to swell larger than Al Gore's neck. But I can't help wonder if that's more about a juvenile fondness for train wrecks than a sober assessment of an economy that, despite its many flaws, has consistently outpaced the doomsayers for what, a quarter century now?
Lawyers for a Guantanamo Bay detainee have released a video of a Canadian military official interrogating their client, 16-year-old Omar Khadr (now 21). Khadr, a Canadian citizen, was 15 when U.S. forces captured him after a firefight in Afghanistan, during which he allegedly killed a U.S. soldier with a grenade. Khadr's interrogation is about as explicit as a Miley Cyrus photo shoot, but it's disgusting nonetheless considering that he probably didn't throw the grenade. It's also important to note that while the video blacks out the faces of Khadr's interrogators, a Toronto Star article reveals that they were the worst of the worst:
Khadr's interrogators included members of a unit implicated in the December 2002 beating deaths of two Afghan detainees, named Dilawar and Habibullah, [Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler] said.
Kuebler showed the judge a photograph of Khadr after his capture, with two gaping exit wounds in his chest from gunshots to his back, and said he would have been particularly vulnerable to coercion when he arrived at Bagram.
I'm starting to wonder if the military wanted this to get out in the hope that viewers would question the legitimacy of reports like this one.
Read the Rolling Stone profile of Omar Khadr here. Al Jazeera International footage below:
With the coming and going Robert Mugabe's illegal, murderous, and fraudulent election triumph, the tragedy of Zimbabwe had slipped off the front pages. That's too bad. Christopher Thompson has a first-hand account over at the New Republic of Mugabe's campaign of thuggery.
"I would go at night to the edge of our maize field and listen to them chanting, wondering what was going to happen to us--if they would enter the homestead," said Simon, 25, who asked that his last name not be used for fear of retribution. Then one night in mid-June--as Mugabe's chances of winning the run-off began to look precariously low--the vets finally plowed onto the 100-acre farm, dragging laborers from their huts at night and forcing them to attend impromptu pungwes, compulsory government-loyalty sessions. A simple choice was laid down by the war vets' leader: "Pledge allegiance to Mugabe or we will burn down your house."
Simon and his family were able to escape unscathed via a back road as soon as they saw the vets, many drunk off the local maize-brew chibuku, walk up the red-clay drive and onto the farm they'd owned for two generations. But many Zimbabweans had not been so lucky. At least 85 people, mainly supporters of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), were killed in the violence that ravaged southern Africa's former breadbasket in the run-up to the June 27 vote. Thousands more were injured as Mugabe's notorious "Green Bomber" militia--composed of indoctrinated rural youths--rampaged across the country's undulating north-eastern provinces.
Reporters from the UK's Channel 4 cornered Mugabe at the African
Union summit in Egypt. They deployed an interesting tactic;
refusing to treat Mugabe like a head of state, they asked "how it
felt to steal an election" as his goons pushed and slapped them
When you stop being angry about this, read this: a column in a Ugandan newspaper by Andrew Mwenda, asking why people like, well, me, care about Zimbabwe anyway.
Mugabe is destroying the economy of Zimbabwe and terrorizing its citizens. But he has not threatened his neighbours like Amin did when he invaded Tanzania. Zairean dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, would have died in power had he not financed rebels opposed to Rwanda.
Why then are we hearing calls for freer and fairer elections in Zimbabwe? There was hardly a whisper when Mugabe’s crack units butchered the Ndebele in the mid 1980s. Many people think the current noise is racial because Mugabe has dispossessed white farmers. Actually, it has a lot to do with social capital. White farmers had networks and contacts with influential groups and individuals in Western capitals. They have successfully used this to mobilize international opinion against the Zimbabwean patriarch. The lesson for opposition movements in Africa is that they need to build such networks and contacts in order to have voice.
I think that's true, on both counts, but it wasn't just that Mugabe was attacking whites when world opinion started to swing against him. It was that Zimbabwe was falling so far. The Congo was a basket case that got worse during Mobutu's reign; Zimbabwe was, until Mugabe really started bringing the hammer down in 1999 and 2000, a wealthy African democracy.
Of course, something that might change in six months is the installation of an American president with continental African roots, who has a habit of speaking out in and on African issues in ways that reverberate.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada has declared its support for an individual's right to bear arms, apparently making it the first state affiliate to buck the national ACLU's position on the Second Amendment....
"The Nevada ACLU respects the individual's right to bear arms subject to constitutionally permissible regulations," a statement on the organization's Web site said. "The ACLU of Nevada will defend this right as it defends other constitutional rights."
"This was the consensus," said Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for ACLU of Nevada. "There really wasn't a lot of dissent."
Gary Peck, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada, said an individual's right to bear arms is in the Nevada Constitution, reflecting the state's "long, proud tradition of libertarian skepticism of government overreach."
The Nevada group's statement is here.
Last summer, I posted on the travails of Rustico, a great little restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia trying to get the okay from state alcohol regulators to put frozen beer on a stick on its menu. Virginia had an old law on the books stating that alcohol must be either served in its original container or immediately after pouring. After a year of negotiation, the "hopsicle" returned to Rustico earlier this month. There's also now a bill pending in the state legislature cementing the legal status of the frozen treat.
I had one last night. It was the cherry-flavored pop you see above, made from a Belgian kriek. Very, very tasty.
Also taking effect this month in Virginia: a bill legalizing sangria. That drink was also banned in the commonwealth, due to a post-Prohibition law banning any drink that mixes spirits, wine, or beer. The law technically outlawed martinis and boilermakers, too.