Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2009 July 15-31

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ALBA Gold! Another Caudillo Wants to Be Prez for Life

We have noted the anniversary of the moon landing (or, if one believes investigative journalist Whoopi Goldberg, the "moon landing") and the anniversary of Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg's failed plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, though understandably overlooked Sunday's celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. At a parade celebrating this ignominious start of a decade of civil war, Nicaraguan President (and Latin America's number one Gary Glitter impersonator) Daniel Ortega shouted to his followers that Barack Obama was planning to finish what Ronald Reagan started—and Violeta Chamorra thought she finished. "[The Americans] are going to try and invade Nicaragua. Come and try to invade Nicaragua! Come and try and defeat this people! But we will never be defeated."

The Ortega kleptocracy, rejected by voters in 1990 in the country's first honest election in a bazillion years, returned to power in 2006 with a plurality (38 percent) of votes. Now, following the lead of his fellow leftist leaders in the region like Hugo Chavez, Rafael Correa, Manuel Zelaya, and Evo Morales, Ortega wants to stay in power beyond what is constitutionally permitted.

The Christian Science Monitor reports:

Speaking in front of hundreds of thousands of Sandinista loyalists Sunday at a rally to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the leftist revolution he helped lead, Mr. Ortega called for a constitutional referendum on scrapping presidential term limits.

It's the latest in a series of moves to consolidate power by leftist leaders allied together in the Venezuelan-led Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America (ALBA). Critics decry such measures as undemocratic, but Ortega, Mr. Zelaya, and other leftists say that taking the decisions to the people is the purest form of democracy and that they must band together against the conservative powers that have traditionally run things in the region.

Last year, Brookings Institution scholar Kevin Casas-Zamora warned that, yet again, Nicaragua was on a "downward spiral towards authoritarian rule under Ortega's watch." Not much has changed since the first revolutionary iteration of Soviet-backed Sandismo. I always appreciated that Ortega's thugs so desperately desired democratic legitimacy and so often used the language of democracy when lording over an obviously undemocratic experiment in modern caudilloism. Bayardo Arce, a member of the 1979 ruling junta, told the Washington Post soon after the revolution that "We support freedom of the press. But, of course, the freedom of the press we support will be a freedom of the press that supports the revolution."

Transparency Not Needed for TARP Funds After All

The Washington Examiner reports exactly just how much the federal government has paid thus far for bank bailouts:

The federal government has devoted $4.7 trillion to help the financial sector through its crisis, a level of assistance equal to about one-third of the overall U.S. economy, a watchdog report said Monday.

Under the worst of circumstances, the report said, the government's maximum exposure could total nearly $24 trillion, or $80,000 for every American.

The figures are part of a tough new quarterly report to Congress from special inspector general Neil Barofsky, who accuses the Treasury Department of repeatedly failing to adopt recommendations aimed at making one component of the government financial rescue effort more accountable and transparent.

In that same report, Barofsky criticized the Treasury for not taking the steps to ensure accountability through transparency in how the TARP money is being used; something Obama promised numerous times during the campaign. "The very credibility of TARP (and thus in large measure its chance of success) depends on whether Treasury will commit, in deed as in word, to operate TARP with the highest degree of transparency possible," Barofsky told the Examiner.

The question now: As TARP is doled out to the banks, will Obama make good on his promise?

More from Reason about Obama's promise of transparency here.

Obama to Banks "Say You're Sorry. And Say It Like You Mean It."

During an interview with PBS on Monday, President Barack Obama discussed the status of the economy, while taking a shot at unrepentant banks:

Well, here's what happened. You had a Wall Street that took excessive risks, acted irresponsibly and almost dragged the entire economy into a depression...The problem that I've seen, at least, is you don't get a sense that folks on Wall Street feel any remorse for taking all these risks. You don't get a sense that there's been a change of culture and behavior as a consequence of what has happened. And that's why the financial regulatory reform proposals that we put forward are so important.

So the real reason behind TARP is revealed: Wall Street needed an attitude adjustment. And until bankers are sufficiently sorry, the sentence is "regulatory reforms."

Read the whole thing.

1938: Africans Need Bednets, Vitamin A, Clean Drinking Water. Sound Familiar?

From a paper called "Can the West Save Africa?" [PDF] by William Easterly, comparing findings about Africa's technological troubles from one Lord Hailey in 1938 with a 2005 U.N. Millennium Project report:

Says Easterly:

All of the above seem to forget that technology does not implement itself. Technical knowledge needs people to implement it—people who have the right incentives to solve all of the glitches and unexpected problems that happen when you apply a new technology, people who make sure that all the right inputs get to the right places at the right time, and local people who are motivated to use the new technology. The field that addresses all these incentives is called economics.

Via Bill Goodwin's Google Reader.

The Giving Fish

John Schwenkler has asked his readers to nominate the world's most overrated children's books. He starts the ball rolling with Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree:

I guess that this is a pretty common target in these kinds of discussions, but damn is it ever deserved. Tree loves boy. Boy loves tree. Boy grows up. Boy exploits tree. Tree takes it all silently, growing less happy with each lonely year. Boy gets old, tree is a stump, boy sits on tree, no apologies. I mean, I get the point: the tree loves the boy. But heck, even Jesus was able to rise triumphant when all was said and done; couldn't Silverstein have made the love at least a little more, you know, mutual?

That book is a common target, so much so that I have to wonder whether we've been missing the point of it all these years. Silverstein had a dark sensibility and a wicked sense of humor. Maybe he set out to write a bleak fable about kids who selfishly milk their elders for every drop they've got. Is it possible that he finished the manuscript, looked at it with satisfaction, and said to himself, Yep, that boy sure was a bastard?

Well, it's probably a mistake to dwell on authorial intent. One of the pleasures of reading is finding your own meanings in the text, and that applies to children's books as much as adult literature. Teachers may read The Poky Little Puppy to teach kids the virtue of following the rules, but I can't possibly be the only boy who noticed that the poky puppy came out ahead. (He missed out on one helping of strawberry shortcake, but he got five helpings of both rice pudding and chocolate custard. You do the math.) On that note, I'd like to make my own nomination for the overrated-kids'-books list: a schlocky little story by Marcus Pfister called The Rainbow Fish.

This one wasn't around when I was a boy, so I didn't learn about it til my daughter was born (four years ago today!) and we received a flood of books as gifts. It's about a beautiful fish covered with shiny scales who doesn't have any friends until he gives the scales away. "Finally," Pfister concludes, "he had only one shining scale left. But now, as he swam off to play with his friends, he was the happiest fish in the sea." The book has been condemned as socialistic for its sharing-is-good message, but that isn't my problem with it. I don't think the story's core moral is It's good to share, no matter what the author intended. The real lesson here is You can buy friends.

The book has a bunch of sequels, none of which I've read. But I'd like to imagine that the second tale begins like this: "With virtually all his scales gone, the Rainbow Fish lay abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. His so-called friends had taken all they could, and now he was as lonely as before." Sort of an aquatic Giving Tree.

New at Reason: Ron Bailey on California's Climate Change Economic Denialism

Environmental activists often brand doubters of future catastrophic climate change as deniers, seeking to evoke the public's repugnance toward Holocaust deniers. However, many environmentalists and their fellow travelers in Congress and state legislatures are engaging in a little denial of their own. Specifically, they deny that cutting greenhouse gases will be economically damaging. Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey looks at climate change economics denialism in the Golden State.

Read all about it here. 

The Economist and Ron Paul on Auditing/Abolishing the Fed

Ron Paul speaks with The Economist about his "antipathy toward the Fed," his self-education in Austrian economics, his 2008 Presidential campaign, the Brüno run-in, the political prospects for a Fed abolition proposal (terrible), and his "devotion to gold."

In the background: Dr. No's bill to allow Congress to audit the Fed (which now has more than 250 co-sponsors). The Economist interviewer calls the bill "potentially quite dangerous" because it "weakens the Fed's political independence." Listen to it yourself:

Via The American Conservative's "Post Right" blog.

Two weeks ago, Reason's Tim Cavanaugh blogged the death-by-procedure of a Senate-side proposal to audit the Fed.

Gillespie on HotAir's Ed Morrissey's Show Right Now; Watch Below

Trouble viewing? Go here now.

Update: Have pulled the autoplay vid, but go above to watch an arhive.

“We would have liked to hear her boldly defend the idea of the Constitution as a living document, one that changes with the times.”

Were last week's confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor a squandered opportunity for the left? The New York Times thinks so:

At times, she too willingly ceded ground to her conservative questioners. We wish she had spoken out forthrightly in favor of empathy, a quality President Obama has said he is looking for in his judicial nominees. We would have liked to hear her boldly defend the idea of the Constitution as a living document, one that changes with the times. And we would have preferred if she had used the hearings to explain to the public that the much-mentioned distinction between judges making and applying the law has little meaning.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it? For a more useful take on where the Sotomayor confirmation fell flat, don't miss Radley Balko on how nobody at the hearings was interested in talking about criminal justice or the rights of the accused.

New at Reason: Jacob Sullum on What Americans Can Learn from Britain's Surveillance State

From our August-September issue, Senior Editor Jacob Sullum reviews Ross Clark's The Road to Big Brother: One Man's Struggle Against the Surveillance State.

Read all about it here.

A Challenge to Lefty Bloggers: State Your Limits

Several years ago, Matt Welch put up a "pro-war libertarian quiz" in an effort to get pro-war bloggers to go on record stating their limits when it comes to what powers they'd give the government in fighting terrorism.

In that spirit, I'd like to pose a similar query to the lefty blogosphere/opinionsphere on the growth and size of government. Every initiative announced by the Obama administration pushes us further into uncharted territory on both fronts, so it would be interesting to see what if any actual limits lefty opinion makers would put on the size, cost, and influence of the federal government. At what point would you be willing to finally say, "Okay, we've gone far enough"?

Note that the intent here is to find your limits, not what you consider to be ideal.

Next week, I'll post links to any responses to the survey.

Progressive Taxation

Currently, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans make 19 percent of the country's income and pay 37 percent of the taxes. The top 10 percent pay 68 percent. The bottom 50 percent of earners pay 3 percent of taxes. (Note: These figures don't include payroll taxes.) Most on the left believe the current tax system isn't progressive enough, so they'd presumably favor shifting the tax burden up the income scale. But what is  your limit? Should the top 1 percent pay 60 or more percent of the government's costs? More than 80? What's the maximum percentage of earners who should pay no income tax at all?

• Inflation

What's the maximum acceptable rate of inflation? How high would the inflation rate need to be for you to say, "This new government program is great, but we can't print anymore money to pay for it"?

• National Debt as a Percentage of GDP

Currently, the federal debt stands at about 80 percent of GDP. That's the highest percentage since the early 1950s. What is the maximum percentage of debt related to GDP that you'd be willing to accept?

• Federal Spending as a Percentage of GDP

For most of the last 50 years, annual federal spending has held at about 20 percent of GDP, the annual deficit at 2 percent. The CBO projects that by 2020, spending will soar to 26 percent of GDP, and the annual deficit to 7 percent. This is before factoring in the cost of Obama's health care plan. What percentage of spending with respect to GDP would you consider too high? The annual federal deficit?

• Unfunded Liability of Entitlement Programs

Right now, Social Security and Medicare face a $106.4 trillion future liability above and beyond what current payroll taxes would be able to fund. Before we start talking about new entitlements, where should we put the celing on unfunded future entitlement liability? That is, how much higher can that $106.4 trillion figure rise before you'd be willing to say, "Hold on, great as this new entitlement idea sounds, I'm not sure we can afford it"?

• Income Equality

As noted above, currently the richest 1 percent of Americans earn about 19 percent of the country's income. The bottom 50 percent of earners make 13 percent. Most on the left believe these figures are too lopsided. So where should they be? Presumably, the answer is somewhere between where they are now and the point at which every earner in the country makes the same amount of money. To phrase the question another way, at what point would you be willing to say the government has gone far enough when it comes to redistributing income? What is an acceptable level of income inequality?

• Individual Tax Rates

The top federal income tax bracket currently stands at 35 percent. What's the maximum top tax rate you'd be willing to endorse? Where should the cutoff be for the top bracket (it's currently $372,950)? Factoring in state and local taxes, the average tax burden on the wealthiest Americans in some states will approach 60 percent if the Democrats' health plan passes. What's an appropriate upper limit on that figure?

• Average Tax Rate

According to a new World Bank report (PDF), the average U.S. tax rate is 46.2 percent, putting us 102 out of 178 countries (meaning 101 countries have a lower total tax burden than the U.S.). Again, how high would you be willing to let that figure climb?

Better Health-Care Talking Points Needed

Poor Republicans. You'd think they'd have an easy enough time opposing a trillion-dollar overhaul of a health-care system in which the vast majority of people are actually fairly satisfied with their coverage. Health-care reform isn't exactly going smoothly for the Democrats, but internal strife is at least as much a factor as Republican opposition, which has been reduced to opportunistic recitals of consultant-scripted talking points and Alfred E. Newmanesque admissions by RNC Chair Michael Steele that he "doesn't do policy." 

I think the GOP's message that we can't afford to get health care wrong has some merit, but in general, Republicans don't seem to have the foggiest idea about what they actually think about health care—except that they're happy to bash Obama if it might prove politically helpful. What might Republicans do to get a clue? It may be that they've already been marginalized to the point that their tactics won't matter all that much. But if they're looking to regain some relevance with a different message, they could do a lot worse than listen to Arnold Kling, a guy who, unlike Michael Steele, actually knows an awful lot about free-market health-care reform.

England's Green and Surveilled Land

The BBC has some pretty graphics charting, on the basis of information from various UK municipalities, the growth of CCTV on Airstrip One. It's not pretty:

One of the most dramatic revelations is that both the Shetland Islands Council and Corby Borough Council—among the smallest local authorities in the UK—have more CCTV cameras than the San Francisco Police Department....

The borough of Wandsworth has the highest number of CCTV cameras in London, with just under four cameras per 1,000 people. Its total number of cameras—1,113—is more than the police departments of Boston [USA], Johannesburg and Dublin City Council combined.

The kicker: This follows the revelation that there are "almost one million fewer CCTV cameras in the UK than previously thought."

Also, check out this Beeb video on the ambiguities of CCTV—how many cameras there are, how effective the system is at stopping and solving crimes, and how large the opportunity cost of surveillance spending is.

Link via Boing Boing.

Reason has been onto this surveillance thing for a while. Senior Editor Radley Balko blogged about a CCTV music video last year, and Brendan O'Neill wrote about the (British) right to "excessively noisy sex" for Reason in May. Way back in 1997, Brian Taylor wrote about the arrival of limey-style CCTV in America.

Reason Writers Around Town: Matt Welch & Nick Gillespie's Online Discussion of Their Wash Post Op-Ed on Obama's Flagging Agenda

On Sunday, July 19, Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch wrote a Washington Post op-ed about the flagging fortunes of President Barack Obama, whose popularity has been faltering along with the prospects for many of his key legislative agenda items. Go here to read the op-ed.

On Monday, July 20, Welch and Gillespie did a live online chat with Post readers. Snippets below and here's a link to the whole thing.

Washington, D.C.: What alternatives are the GOP or Blue Dogs offering to the multiple health care plans currently under consideration in the House and Senate? What ideas do the Blue Dogs have to control costs? Are they willing to give up their pork barrel projects to help move the process along?

Nick Gillespie: I think one alternative that will gain ground is the idea of severing the tie between employer and health care in the form of killing the tax break for employer based programs. We live in a world in which individuals are expected to shop for and pay for houses, cars, retirement, you name it. We should be in charge of finding and paying for out health care. Both single-payer utopians and business interests want to can employer-based health care, so it will happen. And it will help usher in an age of actual competition for patients and cut costs while raising service. Just like it has in every other industry.

_______________________

Arlington, Va.: I thought your comparison of Obama to Bush on using a Crisis to jam through legislation was spot on. With Bush, everything was a security crisis and we passed bad laws. Between the media love affair with the President, the huge Democratic Congressional majority and the Republican inability to mount a real opposition, what can the average person do to make sure we aren't stuck with bad policies? I'm feeling helpless.

Matt Welch: I'm not normally in the business of advising people how to act, but since you asked, I have always heard from everyone involved in government work that one of the most surprisingly effective things a citizen can do is HARASS YOUR CONGRESSCREATURE. The House of Representatives is a sensitive organ, and when a bunch of people start shouting at a Rep about such and such policy, they tend to take note, and even change votes.

_______________________

Chicago: "Being a small government, pro-choice, pro-open borders, pro-drug legalization, etc. libertarian is for me a pre-political question."

Yeah, that's all good, but that's a pipe dream. How do you respond to the accusation that libertarians are living in a fantasy world?

Matt Welch: Guilty as charged! Which is to say, I don't wake up every morning agonizing over the gap between my wishlist and the goings-on in professional governance. I prefer the fantasy of my own tastes and instincts -- and the collective fantasia of all of us doing/thinking/acting in whatever private/non-violent way we choose -- over the "reality" of what is at the end of the day a cartelized racket that aims to professionalize small differences and bum me out with my own money.

(Puts down bong)

At any time, in any government, there is some belief that is so far removed from policy so as to seem impossible. And yet it becomes law within a decade. I think we're on the verge of that with legalizing pot. When that blessed day comes, we'll have the fantasy-livers, in part, to thank.

_______________________

Rolla, Mo.: Do you see escalating fiscal irresponsibility of the U.S. Government?

If so, has any portion of the government distinguished itself as less irresponsible (Democrats, Republicans, Congress, Executive, FED, Treasury, etc.)?

Do you see any way hyperinflation can be avoided?

Nick Gillespie: Like the Von Trapp family children, each branch and agency of/in government disappoints and enrages in its own special way. Under Bush we saw the GOP sell its soul (and they believe in souls!) for votes and power; the Dems came back into the majority with a frenzy of farm spending that was just awful. The boys at the Fed are always too smug for their own good, etc.

Where I do see some hope is in the electorate, which is quickly gaining an education in what happens when you cede too much control or give too much power to government. There's a reason why independents are growing in numbers and the Dems and Reps are shrinking.

______________________

For the full discussion, go here.

Getting Sued by Musicians: A McCain-Palin Tradition

Sen. John McCain and the Republican Party have apologized to (and presumably paid) Jackson Browne for their use of his 1977 song "Running on Empty" during the 2008 presidential campaign without obtaining the singer's permission. According to the Guardian:

The apology and pledge [to obtain usage rights to music in the future] were released today along with an announcement of a settlement with Browne over a federal copyright infringement lawsuit filed last year in Los Angeles. Browne sued McCain and the national and Ohio Republican parties for using part of his song Running on Empty to mock Democrat Barack Obama's proposed energy policies in an internet advert....

The musician's suit stated that Browne was concerned that use of his music would cause people to conclude he was endorsing McCain, even though the 60-year-old singer is a self-described liberal.

Chuck BerryThe Foo Fighters, and Van Halen have all been down that brambly path already. If this keeps up, soon the background music at all Republican campaign events will just be a loop of "McCain-Palin Tradition" and "Raisin' McCain." Strongest case for loose IP laws ever.

In the August-September print edition of Reason, Damon Root noted (briefly) Hank Williams, Jr.'s long tradition of political remixes.

Betting on the Weather Tells You Nothing About Climate Change

Baseball prognosticator and electoral pollster Nate Silver has issued a "challenge to climate change skeptics" in the form of a bet. He was evidently moved to do so by his irritation at conservative Powerline blogger John Hinderaker's grousing about the weather in Minneapolis as "a year without a summer." Being a southerner, Minneapolis is far from climatically optimum (average annual temperature 45 degrees) for me. Silver points out that for the last month temperatures in Minneapolis have been totally typical for the city. 

Silver is also annoyed that some conservative bloggers imply that climate change is overblown by citing recent low temperatures in their neighborhoods. Clearly, such bloggers are confusing weather with climate. In a quest for "accountability" in the climate change debate, Silver offers the following bet:

1. For each day that the high temperature in your hometown is at least 1 degree Fahrenheit above average, as listed by Weather Underground, you owe me $25. For each day that it is at least 1 degree Fahrenheit below average, I owe you $25.

2. The challenge proceeds in monthly intervals, with the first month being August. At the end of each month, we'll tally up the winning and losing days and the loser writes the winner a check for the balance.

3. The challenge automatically rolls over to the next month until/unless: (i) one party informs the other by the 20th of the previous month that he would like to discontinue the challenge (that is, if you want to discontinue the challenge for September, you'd have to tell me this by August 20th), or (ii) the losing party has failed to pay the winning party in a timely fashion, in which case the challenge may be canceled at the sole discretion of the winning party.

Of course, Silver's bet also confuses weather with climate. It's a bet on nothing other than the random fluctuations of local temperatures around seasonal averages. If Silver really wants to wager on climate change there are a number of open bets available over at the Long Now Foundation's Long Bets site. 

Just for the record, between June 21 and July 20, AccuWeather reports that the average temperature has fallen one degree or more below average in Charlottesville, Va., for 25 days and was above by one degree on just 5 days. 

If Silver and others want actual information on global temperature trends visit the University of Alabama at Huntsville's satellite data site here and here or to the Remote Sensing Systems' data site

Bernanke's Inflation-Fighting Plans: Don't Worry, He'll Know When To Start Worrying

Lest you worry that the extra trillion bucks the Federal Reserve has pumped into the economy in the past year might mean inflation down the line, Fed Chair Ben Bernanke details some of his planned techniques for helping neutralize those bucks when the time comes. From a Reuters report:

Chief among [the Fed's inflation-busting plans] is the Fed's ability to pay interest on the reserves that banks hold at the Fed, Bernanke said. The interest rate the Fed pays on those reserves sets a floor under short-term rates.

If the Fed raises that rate, it can discourage banks from lending because banks will not want to lend money at rates lower than they can earn from the Fed, he explained.

Bernanke said the U.S. central bank also has other ways to raise short-term interest rates and limit the broad growth of money in the financial system.

For instance, it can arrange so-called reverse repurchase agreements with financial firms. The Fed would sell securities from its portfolio, taking cash out of the system, with an agreement to buy them back at a higher price at a later date.

The Fed could also offer "term deposits" similar to certificates of deposit to banks. Bank funds held at the Fed in such instruments would not be available for lending.

He also said the Treasury could issue securities and leave the funds on deposit with the Fed. Alternatively, he said the Fed could sell some of the securities it has accumulated.

He assures us, however, that the time to think about shrinking the money supply is still far in the future. Let us hope he manages to figure out when that proper time is correctly, or weep for every dollar you are stuck with.

New at Reason: Tim Cavanaugh on the Shifting Frontiers of Animal Rights

Animal cruelty legislation presumes that nonhuman creatures are more than inanimate property but less than creatures with full-fledged rights. But as Contributing Editor Tim Cavanaugh writes in our August-September issue, if we grant that pit bulls have a compelling right not to be tormented for entertainment, what of a beagle’s right not to be bred as a chimera in pursuit of nebulous science fiction benefits that may never come to pass? And shouldn’t the catalog of animal rights increase as we move up the scale of intelligence?

Read all about it here.

Breaking: Obama Instructs Advisers to Speak Only in Cliches Until 2012...

According to a Wash Post article published yesterday, President Barack Obama, who is reportedly giving 110 percent in his fight for health care reform to calm the demographic tsunami about to hit future generations like a ton of bricks, has told his closest and most unnamed advisers to speak only in cliches (which are only cliches because they are so true).

Snippets from a story titled "President Is Set to 'Take the Baton'":

...the White House has launched a new phase of its strategy designed to dramatically increase public pressure on Congress: all Obama, all the time....

"Our strategy has been to allow this process to advance to the point where it made sense for the president to take the baton. Now's that time," said senior adviser David Axelrod. "I don't know whether he will Twitter or tweet. But he's going to be very, very visible."

Another senior White House aide added: "It's time to raise the stakes on this."...

"We don't do doom-and-gloom," Axelrod said....

"We're swimming upstream against a culture of failure on health care in Washington," said one adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity [to avoid responsibility for his mixed metaphors]....

"It's getting hotter, and there are bumps, but we are closer to health-care reform than ever before," [Rahm] Emanuel said.

More here.

Creative Destruction? Why That's Just Fab!

On the Fast Company site, Jamais Cascio reviews the rapid progress being made in desktop manufacturing:

Take a design for a simple product--an engine part, for example, or a piece of silverware, and feed it into a computer. Press "print." Out pops (for a sufficiently wide definition of "pops") a physical duplicate, made out of materials plastic, ceramic, metal -- even sugar. Press "print" again, and out comes another copy--or feed in a new design, for the next necessary object.

It may sound like a scene from a low-rent version of Star Trek, but it's real, and it's happening with increasing frequency. This process goes by a few names, but it's most commonly known as "3D Printing" (the older name, "rapid prototyping," no longer captures the range of uses, while the other alternative name, "fabbing," is a little too cyberpunk for the moment). While the process has been around since the mid-1980s, the cost of 3D printers has been dropping quickly, and now range to well under $10,000. If that still sounds like a lot of money, you're right--but don't forget, it was when laser printers dropped to this price range in the mid-1980s that the desktop publishing revolution kicked off.

Right now, most 3D printing is limited to single-material objects (as designer Sven Johnson noted on Twitter, we're now starting to see two-material 3D printers). Most systems use (often proprietary) plastics, but a few use metal "toner." The latter is turned solid by a variety of high-tech means, from sintering with lasers (for simple objects) to using high-energy electron beams to melt the metal into dense, high-strength parts.

On the near horizon, however, are systems that would allow for multiple material inputs, and those that allow the use of electroactive and electronic polymers. Although plastic electronics fall way behind traditional silicon processors when it comes to speed, they're moving into the "just good enough" category, raising the tantalizing possibility of being able to print out basic electronic products--sensors, RFID-type tags, even simple communication devices--by the middle of the next decade.

As the technology improves and prices fall, Cascio forsees a world in which "the kinds of personalized products now available to those with the right money and know-how may soon be available to everyday people." Needless to say, this could bring the same sort of disruption to manufacturing that we've already seen in the news and entertainment industries. But it also "offers the potential for the ultimate 'maker' culture, where commercial products are bought off of iTunes-like online stores and printed at home, while eager hardware hackers play with design tools and open-source hardware systems to make entirely new material goods."

Caveat: My knowledge of this subject is limited to what I've read in Cascio's article and in Neil Gershenfeld's equally enthusiastic book Fab. If you've got a more skeptical take on the tech's prospects, please share it in the comments.

Mitteleuropa's Generation '89 Fires a Warning Shot Across Obama's Bow

Here's a fascinating, old-school-style "open letter" to Barack Obama from a gaggle of Central European anti-communist luminaries, including Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, and Mart Laar. The primary concern of the wide-ranging document (which has Havel written all over it) is re-invigorating NATO and the transatlantic relationship. But it's also an expression of deep anxiety about Russia and energy security, a broadside against foreign policy "realism," and a lament not only for the waning domestic influence of Generation '89, but for two decades of American leaders for whom a Central Europe mindset was a basic orientation. Some excerpts:

America's popularity and influence have fallen in many of our countries as well. Public opinions polls, including the German Marshall Fund's own Transatlantic Trends survey, show that our region has not been immune to the wave of criticism and anti-Americanism that has swept Europe in recent years and which led to a collapse in sympathy and support for the United States during the Bush years. Some leaders in the region have paid a political price for their support of the unpopular war in Iraq. In the future they may be more careful in taking political risks to support the United States. We believe that the onset of a new Administration has created a new opening to reverse this trend but it will take time and work on both sides to make up for what we have lost. [...]

However, there is a danger that instead of being a pro-Atlantic voice in the EU, support for a more global partnership with Washington in the region might wane over time. The region does not have the tradition of assuming a more global role. Some items on the transatlantic agenda, such as climate change, do not resonate in the Central and Eastern European publics to the same extent as they do in Western Europe. [...] 

And then there is the issue of how to deal with Russia. Our hopes that relations with Russia would improve and that Moscow would finally fully accept our complete sovereignty and independence after joining NATO and the EU have not been fulfilled. Instead, Russia is back as a revisionist power pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics and methods. At a global level, Russia has become, on most issues, a status-quo power. But at a regional level and vis-a-vis our nations, it increasingly acts as a revisionist one. It challenges our claims to our own historical experiences. It asserts a privileged position in determining our security choices. It uses overt and covert means of economic warfare, ranging from energy blockades and politically motivated investments to bribery and media manipulation in order to advance its interests and to challenge the transatlantic orientation of Central and Eastern Europe.

We welcome the "reset" of the American-Russian relations. As the countries living closest to Russia, obviously nobody has a greater interest in the development of the democracy in Russia and better relations between Moscow and the West than we do. But there is also nervousness in our capitals. We want to ensure that too narrow an understanding of Western interests does not lead to the wrong concessions to Russia. [...]

[W]e must not neglect the human factor. Our next generations need to get to know each other, too. We have to cherish and protect the multitude of educational, professional, and other networks and friendships that underpin our friendship and alliance. The U.S. visa regime remains an obstacle in this regard. It is absurd that Poland and Romania -- arguably the two biggest and most pro-American states in the CEE region, which are making substantial contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan -- have not yet been brought into the visa waiver program. It is incomprehensible that a critic like the French anti-globalization activist Jose Bove does not require a visa for the United States but former Solidarity activist and Nobel Peace prizewinner Lech Walesa does. This issue will be resolved only if it is made a political priority by the President of the United States.

Whole thing here; link via Jonah Goldberg. I wrote about Havel for the magazine back in 2003. Contributing Editor Cathy Young's most recent assessments of the U.S.-Russia relationship can be found here, here, and here.

"...And Now a Message from the Health Administration Bureau..."

Twitterer digitalruse points to this video from the Sam Adams Alliance about what comes next in health care deform:

Ultimate hat tip: J.D. Tucille of the blog Disloyal Opposition

Should the Government Decide How Much Your Life is Worth?

Want to know how much a year of your life is worth in cold, dollar terms? Just ask the government! And not only will they give you the value of your life, they'll tell you the value of everyone else's—because in the government's view, they're all the same. Sound frightening? It should. But if Princeton bioethics professor Peter Singer gets his way, that's essentially what will happen.

In a long article in the New York Times Magazine, Singer argues that, because it's a scarce resource, we must ration health-care. I actually agree. Where I depart from Singer, however, is that I think that, as much as is possible, rationing shouldn't be done by the government.

Singer's essay is basically just a long-form defense of the QALY (quality adjusted life-year) measure that government review boards like Britain's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) use to determine what treatments ought to be funded. Governments that determine treatments using the QALY assign a dollar value to a year of perfect health (in Britain, it's about $50,000 a year) and then generally reject treatments that don't provide enough value. This means, among other things, that expensive treatments for older individuals are less likely to be funded. From a rational economic standpoint, spending, say, $200,000 to save the life of a 78-year-old only expected to live three more years really is less efficient than spending the same amount on a 30-year-old who's likely to live 40-some more years.

What's wrong with this approach? Beyond the inevitable disputes between economists about what a year of life is actually worth, the bigger issue is that the QALY standard results in an essentially command-and-control approach to health-care distribution: Rather than let individual preferences and agreements work out prices and reach an equilibrium, the government simply sets the value of a year of good life for all people, without differentiating between them, and extrapolates from there. I agree that, in the end, we do have to make economic decisions about the value of life. But shouldn't those be decisions made by individuals, their families, and their doctors? Do we really want bureaucrats in Washington handing down indiscriminate dictates on what a year of productive, healthy life is worth? Must everyone be blindly herded into the same pen?

To the extent that we have the government involved in health-care decision-making, we probably should expect some level of rational economic prioritizing. But this seems to me like an argument to keep the government out of these decisions as much as possible. Singer, on the other hand, argues that we should extend Medicare to all Americans, institute a QALY standard, and then let individuals buy supplemental insurance to cover any additional care they want. Never mind that in Britain and Canada, both of which use rationing boards, bureaucratic territoriality has made it extremely difficult to get private care, Singer's idea would still mean that most health-care decisions are made using the government's standardized, impersonal life-year valuation.

Singer, who's made his name as a contrarian bioethicist willing to take unpopular positions, seems to want credit for boldly admitting that we can come up with a dollar value to human life. But we all do this, implicitly, with every health-care and safety choice we make. The question isn't whether or not life can be assigned a value—it's who should do so.

Previously, I wrote about the problems with the QALY standard here.

How to Cut State Spending: Increase It (Ohio Edition, But Fill In Your State's Name Here)

Like most states, Ohio is in a jam, what with a budget deficit, high unemployment, and slumping economy. It operates on a two-year budget cycle and in fiscal years 2008-9, the state spent $49.8 billion. Now, they've just signed a new budget. A tough budget that reflects a lot of tough decisions, hard choices, and yadda yadda yadda.

The result? In fiscal 2010-11, the state will spend an estimated $50.5 billion. How does that happen? Read on, McDuff:

[Gov.] Strickland said the budget he and lawmakers passed makes education a priority and tries to protect children, the elderly, and the disabled at a time when many state programs have sustained deep cuts.

The final bill, which missed its June 30 deadline for the first time in 18 years, ultimately cut state aid to public education slightly, from $8 billion this year to $7.5 billion next year and $7.2 billion in fiscal year 2011. Authors of the new school funding formula say it will eventually allow the state to take on a bigger share of school costs, leaving less to be paid by local levies.

When you count one-time federal economic stimulus dollars, public education funding rises by $502 million over the two-year budget cycle.

What with all that cutting going on, you'd think that spending might actually, you know, drop. This is the fakest cutting seen outside Angelina Jolie's performance in Girl, Interrupted. But go Buckeyes.

Prepare for, oh, about 49 other versions of this story, some already published and some still in production. The one thing you will not find anywhere is a story about a state that actually cuts (as in decreases year-to-year) spending.

All of those responsible should immediately read Reason's senses-shattering saga, "Failed States: After a long spending binge, governors go begging for a handout. It won't be their last."

Times are tough, but the real reason why state finances are in the Johnny-on-the-Spot?

In the five years between 2002 and 2007, combined state general-fund revenue increased twice as fast as the rate of inflation, producing an excess $600 billion. If legislatures had chosen to be responsible, they could have maintained all current state services, increased spending to compensate for inflation and population growth, and still enacted a $500 billion tax cut.

Instead, lawmakers spent the windfall. From 2002 to 2007, overall spending rose 50 percent faster than inflation. Education spending increased almost 70 percent faster than inflation, even though the relative school-age population was falling. Medicaid and salaries for state workers rose almost twice as fast as inflation.

And if you want to understand more fully the pressures exerted on increased spending, check out Reason.tv's "Hasta La Vista, Arnold: What California's Economic Mess Means for America," the biggest Schwarzenegger disaster flick ever (go here for embed code, HD, iPod, etc. versions).

Reason Writers Around Town: Radley Balko on Cops Shooting Dogs for The Daily Beast

Over at The Daily Beast, Reason senior editor Radley Balko surveys a number of recent stories where police have shot and killed the family dog, and ponders why lethal force is often the cops' first option instead of the last. Excerpt:

If dangerous dogs are so common, one would expect to find frequent reports of vicious attacks on meter readers, postal workers, firemen, and delivery workers. But according to a spokesman from the United States Postal Service, serious dog attacks on mail carriers are vanishingly rare. Bites do happen, but postal workers are given training on how to distract dogs with toys, subdue them with voice commands, or, at worst, incapacitate them with Mace. Mail carriers are shown a two-hour video and given instruction on how to recognize and read a dog's body language, how to differentiate between aggressive charging and playful bounding, and how to tell a truly dangerous dog from a merely territorial one.

Few police departments offer this kind of training, though groups like the ASPCA and the Humane Society say they'd be more than happy to provide it. "New York is the only state I know of that mandates formalized training, and that's during academy," says Joseph Pentangelo, the ASPCA's assistant director for law enforcement, who also served 21 years with the NYPD before retiring in 2001. "There are some individual departments in other parts of the country that avail themselves of our training, but not many. Not enough."

Reason Morning Links: California Budget Deal, Criminal Charges for Parents of Fat Kids, Famed Black Professor Arrested for Breaking Into His Own Home

• Gov. Schwarzenegger, lawmakers reach budget deal in California.

Harvard African-American Studies Professor Henry Louis Gates arrested for breaking into his own home, getting understandably angry with officer who confronted him.

GOP courting Democrats for bill that would allow citizens of states with laxer gun laws to carry across state lines.

South Carolina case triggers debate over criminal sanction for parents who allow children to get obese.

Obama will miss self-imposed deadline on Gitmo detainees, will likely miss promised date for closing the facility, too.

Reason.tv: Is Your iPod Unpatriotic?—Why America shouldn't "Buy American"

Is your iPod unpatriotic?

Its 451 parts are made in dozens of nations, and creating the little doodads employs thousands of foreigners. Final assembly is done in China-a country that right-wingers and left-wingers alike fear is an economic threat to the U.S.

As the recession worsens, maybe patriotic Americans should be smashing foreign-made iPods in protest. Or at least hiring bikini-clad American women to do the job, which is exactly what Reason.tv did. Our patriotic, sledgehammer-wielding bikini bandits headed to California's Venice Beach to smash some foreign-made iPods to make a political statement about saving American jobs.

Maybe the United Steelworkers Union (USW), one of the biggest "Buy American" backers would like to hire these patriotic ladies for their next rally.

"Every other nation during this economic downturn is directing their stimulus money inward," thunders USW's Billy Thompson at a rally in West Virginia. "Now if they can do it, why in the hell can't we?"

Actually, we are. President Obama's $800 billion stimulus package came equipped with a "Buy American" provision, and more than 500 state and local governments have signed "buy American" resolutions. And that may be just the beginning of the protectionist push.

Reason.tv went to a Washington, D.C. event where business owners and activists learned how to lobby for more protectionist laws. "If you want to sell it here, build it here," says one participant who referrs to those who ignore the "buy American" imperative as "uneducated, ignorant people."

And shouldn't we be patriotic purchasers? That's what car ads, draped with Old Glory and heartland visuals, suggest. What could be more patriotic than buying a Jeep Patriot? With American automakers hurting so badly, that's got to help America.

"That's nonsense," says George Mason University economist-and Cafe Hayek blogger-Donald Boudreaux.

"The Jeep Patriot, despite it's name is actually less American than some Toyota products. It's literally impossible-at least in any practical sense-to ‘buy American.'"

Boudreaux argues that Americans should buy whatever products they choose; neither guilt nor laws should push them to buy American. "The thing that is most distinctively American is freedom. To insist that Americans should not be free to buy good from foreigners that's very anti-American."

And what about your iPod?

Even though plenty of foreigners have jobs thanks to it, so do 14,000 Americans whose duties include designing and marketing the little buggers. So the iPod is a product of America and the world, and these days that describes nearly all the items we buy.

Welcome to the iPod economy, where just about everything is made everywhere.

After hearing the whole story, Reason.tv's bikini bandits decided to put down their protectionist sledgehammers. Will America's people, pundits, and politicians follow suit?

"Is Your iPod Unpatriotic?" is written and produced by Ted Balaker and hosted by Nick Gillespie. Field producer is Hawk Jensen and director of photography is Alex Manning.

Associate Producers are Meredith Bragg, Paul Detrick, and Dan Hayes, with additional photography provided by Nathan Chaffetz and Dan Haas.

And introducing reason.tv's Bikini Bandits: Alexandra Fulton, Chuki Lord, and Amber Waddick.

Approximately nine minutes. For embed code and iPod, audio, and HD versions, go here.

Obama Brutally Rejected by Health-Care Crush

Obama, like a lot of liberal health-care reformers, has had a long-running hospital crush on Minnesota's Mayo Clinic. As Mary Katherine Ham points out, over the course of making the case for his brand of health-care reform, he's cited it repeatedly as a model for the sort of reform he hopes to achieve. But alas, his love is unrequited: Mayo posted a statement on its institutional health-policy blog today indicating that the organization doesn't care for the proposals currently being floated by Obama and Congressional Democrats:

Although there are some positive provisions in the current House Tri-Committee bill—including insurance for all and payment reform demonstration projects—the proposed legislation misses the opportunity to help create higher-quality, more affordable health care for patients. In fact, it will do the opposite.

In general, the proposals under discussion are not patient focused or results oriented. Lawmakers have failed to use a fundamental lever—a change in Medicare payment policy—to help drive necessary improvements in American health care. Unless legislators create payment systems that pay for good patient results at reasonable costs, the promise of transformation in American health care will wither. The real losers will be the citizens of the United States.


In other words, thanks for your interest, Obama, but let's just be friends

Last week, Steve Chapman wrote about the problems with a public health-insurance option, and John Stossel argued that more health care won't solve our nation's health-care problems

Bob Barr Celebrates Death of "So-Called Barr Amendment"

The City Paper reports on weed in Washington:

Last week, the House of Representatives at long last voted to kill the Barr Amendment—a rider banning D.C.’s implementation of a medical marijuana initiative passed in 1998. It was originally sponsored by Georgia congressman Bob Barr and has been attached to the annual District budget for a decade.

And now a press release from the Libertarian Party, featuring Barr, who is once again contrite for his past Republicanisms:

“While I in fact sponsored the initial appropriations limitation in 1998, the years since then have witnessed such a dramatic increase in federal government power and an unprecedented decrease in individual liberty, especially since 2001, that I have come to realize that such limitations as the so-called “Barr Amendment” are not and cannot be justified. It has become necessary to reevaluate the power of the federal government that I and others once were able or willing to justify, and do what we can to roll back the tide of government control."

Welcome to the party, Bob.

Too Diverse to Fail

According to a report in The Boston Globe, a small-circulation, Boston-based newspaper focusing on that city's black community "plans to accept a $200,000 loan from the city to stay afloat, despite criticism that the money could compromise its impartiality during an election year." The Bay State Banner, which ceased publication last month because of declining ad revenues, is the city's only black-owned newspaper. The news comes a week after a group of minority-owned broadcasters petitioned Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for federal aid, warning that "Minority-owned broadcasters are close to becoming an extinct species."

The Globe, itself clinging to life, asks if an infusion of government cash will effect the paper's  independence:

Kelly McBride, an ethics specialist who trains journalists at the Poynter Institute in Florida, said publications that take public money to fund their operations whether in the form of a grant, loan, or tax break are risking public trust that they are impartial and independent.

“If they’re still getting loan money and this paper is covering the election, that could get pretty sticky,’’ she said.

When the paper ceased publication, one Boston Phoenix writer lamented the extinction of the Banner but pointed out that, despite its reputation as a scrappy and original voice in the Boston media landscape, it relied heavily on Associated Press content and produced mediocre local coverage:

That said, the overall quality of the Banner's local coverage is uneven. A recent piece on the opening of the new cultural center at the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB) failed to seriously engage the concerns that have been raised by the society's critics; it read, instead, like a glorified press release. And the ISB story wasn't an anomaly. Plenty of the Banner's component parts on any given week — e.g., the In the News section, which gives a pat on the back to local individuals who've been fêted for their achievements — seem, at first glance, better suited to a small-town community newspaper than a big-city weekly.

A few months back, Reason.tv wondered why the government would support an industry that consumers are rejecting:

Carter Was Right About Malaise! And We're Wrong About Obama and Cardigans!

Over at Ballon Juice, John Cole takes umbrage at Matt Welch and my Sunday Wash Post op-ed about Obama's flagging domestic agenda. Go here to read our piece and go here to check out a live (now dead) chat on same. The short version: Obama can either become a latter-day Jimmy Carter or a Bill Clinton, depending on how he chooses to govern. If he remains a crisis-mongerer a la George Bush, hello one term.

The Juice man speaketh:

Yeah—Obama sucks because the minority hates him, the economic crisis he inherited will last into next year, and because the decades of mistakes will take more than a few weeks to correct. I suppose the most annoying thing about the Carter comparison is that it comes around the anniversary of the malaise speech, and you should read it again to see how much of what Carter was right then about, he is still right about today:

What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.

I'd start by condemning Reason HQ and forcing sneering glibertarians to go Galt.

Whole post, plus an update in which Cole defends cardigans and slags libertarian fashion (if there is such a thing).

Obama did not simply inherit the "economic crisis." As a senator, he aided and abetted it for as long as he was in office and certainly by voting for TARP. And as we pointed out in the Post piece, his gutless signing of a pork-laden omnibus spending bill and an emergency war supplemental don't exactly increase Obama bona fides as anything other than a budget buster. Indeed, read Obama's own budget to see the prez's own take on just how big a hole in the economy his proposed plan will create over the next decade.

As for Carter, let's agree on this much: The problem in Washington isn't that the government is incapable of action. There's way too much action going on, much of it ill-thought-out and most of it destructive of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Carter had his moments for sure. The deregulation of interstate trucking and airline ticket prices are among the two best policy shifts of the past 40 years or so. The malaise speech is not one of his, or the country's, high points. For more on that, read Ron Bailey on the matter.

For more on Obama's flagging numbers, go here.

"They were willing to trade cocaine for cigarettes"

The Wall Street Journal reports that cash-strapped states are beginning to crack down on cigarette smuggling, a practice that basically involves legally purchasing cigarettes in a low-tax state, then reselling them tax-free in places like New York, where smokers pay $4.25 in taxes per pack. So how's that working out for our elected officials? The Journal says it's costing taxpayers big time:

In one recent case, an undercover investigation by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance led to the arrests of 18 residents of Nassau and Queens counties. Investigators from the tax department posed as cigarette bootleggers and sold illegal, untaxed cigarettes to a network of store owners, including two 7-Eleven operators. The operation cost state and local governments $2.1 million in uncollected taxes.

A similar incident took place in Fairfax, Virginia when police arrested two men accused of attempting to distribute cocaine. The suspects were caught trying to exchange one kilogram of cocaine with an undercover agent for 3,000 packs of cigarettes. "They were willing to trade cocaine for cigarettes," Edgar Domenech, head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told the Journal.

What we have here is a classic lose-lose situation. Levying high taxes on a popular commodity like cigarettes creates not only a black market, it also turns otherwise innocent people—who are just trying to circumvent an oppressive and confusing tax system—into criminals. Furthermore, cracking down on these criminals involves a whole slew of other resources (courts, police, etc.) that drain government funds.

Increasing taxes on cigarettes has become a popular option for states in the struggling economy, but doing so won't be the answer to budget woes. Indeed, with smokers in some states apparently valuing cigarettes more than cocaine, I'm guessing the smugglers aren't going anywhere—except maybe jail, that is.

Reason coverage of cigarette smuggling in 1995 here.

Screw the Moon Landing. Celebrate (Would-Be) Hitler Killers!

Once you're done remembering the moon landing (or, in the case of my generation, watching people much older than you remember the moon landing), take a moment to think about Claus von Stauffenberg and the anti-Nazi German resistance. Their July 20 plot to kill Hitler went down 65 years ago today.

To call von Stauffenberg a libertarian would be wildly inaccurate. "Catholic conservative aristocrat" would be more accurate (see pic at right for evidence). And his associates were a mixture spanning the entire non-Nazi German political spectrum, including some less-than-savory bits. That aside, their work—the attempted assassination of one of the great tyrants of the 20th century—was surely a blow struck in defense of liberty and humanity, and worth remembering as such.

There aren't any awe-inspiring pictures or videos or obscenely detailed interactive online exhibits to accompany this anniversary, but the German Resistance Memorial Center in Berlin has an English-language website with plenty of information on the Resistance and their July 20 coup.

New at Reason: Shikha Dalmia on the Dangers of the Employee Free Choice Act

With the installation of Al Franken in the Senate and yet another change of heart by Sen. Arlen Specter, Democrats might well have a filibuster-proof majority to secure the top item on Big Labor's wish list: The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). So far the act's elimination of secret ballot elections for unionization has garnered most of the critical attention. But as Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia notes, EFCA contains another controversial provision: compulsory arbitration. This would be no less destructive to the rights of employers and workers, and the economy as a whole. Exhibit A: Michigan.

Read all about it here.

Is Anti-Pot Hysteria Waning at the Times?

Yesterday The New York Times ran a Fashion & Style article about marijuana that, in the usual fashion and style of drug scare stories, begins and ends with cautionary anecdotes of addiction. The story hypes the alleged hazards of rising cannabis potency, which it says may be "contributing to higher addiction rates," without quoting experts who question that claim or pointing out that marijuana users tend to compensate for higher THC content by smoking less. At the same time, the piece makes several concessions that undermine the anti-pot thesis. It notes, for example, that the percentage of pot smokers among Americans admitted to drug treatment has "increased significantly" in the last decade or so but allows that "57 percent of those admitted for marijuana addiction treatment were ordered to do so by law enforcement." (The significance of that concession would have been clearer had the Times mentioned that arrests for marijuana possession increased dramatically during the same period.) Here are a few other points that are not likely to show up in a DEA press release:

Addiction experts agree marijuana does not pose as serious a public health problem as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. The drug cannot lead to fatal overdose and its hazards pale in comparison with those of alcohol....

Advocates and even some addiction specialists say cannabis is an effective treatment for medical and emotional problems, and can even help some battling addictions to harder drugs.

The risk of addiction, they say, is less problematic than for alcohol and other drugs. For instance, of the people who had used marijuana, only 9 percent became addicted, according to a 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, a nonprofit research organization on science and health. Of those who drank alcohol, 15 percent became addicted. For cocaine, the figure was 17 percent, and heroin, 23 percent....

Many people can smoke marijuana every day without ill effects, advocates say, just as many casually drink wine in the evening....

Marijuana withdrawal is not nearly as severe as withdrawal from most other drugs. Giving up drinking can cause fatal seizures....

Some doctors specializing in treating addicts would rather prescribe marijuana for anxiety and insomnia than sleeping pills or Valium and Xanax, which are highly addictive.

Even the opening anecdote about a writer in Manhattan who "started smoking pot when she was 15" and calls it "a slow form of suicide" falls short of the typical tale of degradation, destitution, and disease:

"I would come home from work, close my door, have my bong, my food, my music and my dog, and I wouldn't see another person until I went to work the next day," said Joyce..."What kind of life is that? I did that for 20 years."

From this account, I gather that Joyce has been gainfully employed her entire adult life and that her job pays well enough for her to afford her own apartment in Manhattan, one that is well-stocked with food and has a nice sound system. Scary stuff.

Even more encouraging than the article's relatively restrained tone is the online debate to which it links. The Times asked five drug policy experts to address the question of whether "addiction will rise" if "marijuana is legal." The general thrust of their answers is "maybe," but every participant is careful to note that prohibition also carries costs that have to be taken into account, and all of them seem to support more-liberal marijuana policies, ranging from decriminalization of possession for personal use to legalization of production and sale. Since the Times presumably tried to represent a wide array of opinion, the consensus against the status quo is striking.

[Thanks to Tom Angell at LEAP for the tip.]

Bad Health-Care Reform Won't Just Be Bad Now, It Will Continue to Be Bad For a Really Long Time

I haven't been terribly impressed with Republican opposition to health-care reform, which seems driven far more by political concerns than actual policy disputes. Just as Obama wants to pass a health-care bill, any health-care bill, to retain his political strength, Republicans seem to be looking at the debate primarily as an opportunity to take down a political opponent who desperately needs to pass a health-care bill this year in order to keep his edge. So most of the talk of not rushing the legislative process, for example, is being done largely in hopes that it will slow down the reform train enough that it will eventually just shut down altogether. But despite the GOP's blatant political opportunism, they do have a worthwhile point, one articulated by RNC Chair Michael Steele in today's New York Times:  


The blunt-spoken Mr. Steele expressed astonishment that Congress, pressed by Mr. Obama, was trying to complete its ambitious health-care plans before its summer recess begins in the first week of August, saying, “If we screw this up, it could last a generation.”


Steele can be a goof, but in this case, he's right. As previously noted, the incentives for Democratic leadership—and even more for Obama—are simply to pass a bill, the bigger the better, no matter what's actually in it. The Washingtonese excuse for this is usually "it will create a framework," but that just translates into "we just want to pass something, declare victory, and then spend a while basking in the warm glow of fawning press coverage." But Steele's right: If a bill gets passed now, it—and all of the problems that Congress shrugged their shoulders at when they passed it—will be with us for decades. And, as years of tinkering with Medicare and Medicaid have shown, Congressional "fixes" usually just end up making them worse. Like unwanted house-guests and new movies starring Keanu Reeves*, once problematic government programs are put into place, it's almost impossible to get rid of them.  
 
Browse Reason's complete archive of health-care coverage here.  
 
*Granted, Point Break is pretty awesome.  

New at Reason: Greg Beato on Survival Television

From our August-September issue, Contributing Editor Greg Beato explores the meaning and popularity behind Out of the Wild, Man vs. Wild, and other survival television shows.

Read all about it here.

'Prince of Pot' Case Drawing to a Close

Last week two employees of Marc Emery's Vancouver-based cannabis seed business finalized a deal with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle that allows them to avoid prison. Michelle Rainey and Gregory Williams, who were indicted four yours ago, will each serve two years of probation in Canada. Their former boss, a libertarian political activist and drug reform financier known as Canada's Prince of Pot, has been fighting extradition to the United States but is now expected to plead guilty. He says prosecutors have agreed to recommend a prison sentence of five years, compared to the 20 years or more he could have gotten. Because many of his customers were Americans, Emery was charged with conspiracy to cultivate marijuana in the U.S.; in Canada, by contrast, his seed business operated openly for more than a decade along with hundreds of similar operations, attracting little interest from the government, which happily accepted the tax revenue it generated.

The Seattle Times notes that Emery and his supporters "accused the Justice Department of indicting him and his employees for political reasons," an allegation that "federal prosecutors have vehemently denied." Last week a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office insisted that "we went after [Emery] for his criminal activities, not for his political views." Yet when Emery was arrested in 2005, Karen Tandy, then head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, crowed that the U.S. government had dealt "a significant blow" against "the marijuana legalization movement," bragging that "drug legalization lobbyists now have one less pot of money to rely on."     

Previous Reason coverage of the Emery case here.

[Thanks to Michelle Rainey for the tip.]

U.S. out of Okinawa!

Hooray! American troops are leaving Okinawa, only a half-century too late. Oh wait:

The plan...includes transferring 8,000 Marines now stationed on Okinawa — roughly half the Marines who are there — to Guam. When the House Armed Services Committee drew up its fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill last month, however, Democrat Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii added a provision to require that wages paid to construction workers on Guam preparing for the Marines' arrival be based not on the local scale but on wage rates in Hawaii, which are two-and-a-half times higher. Abercrombie says his provision is needed to bring skilled U.S. workers to the island, particularly unemployed Hawaiians. However, the Congressional Budget Office estimates it would add about $10 billion to the transfer's cost.

CQ Politics link via The Weekly Standard's blog.

Shem Walker, Drug War Casualty

Last week, an undercover New York City police officer participating in a drug buy shot and killed 49-year-old Shem Walker during an altercation at Walker's home in Brooklyn. Police say Walker, described by family and neighbors as an ex-con who had reformed, apparently thought the officer was a drug dealer or a vagrant. When the officer didn't respond to Walker's verbal demand to leave his property, apparently because he was wearing earphones to monitor the drug buy, Walker tried to forcibly remove him from Walker's front stoop. The two got into an altercation. A second undercover officer then joined the fight, at which point the first officer shot and killed Walker.

The tension escalated Thursday when Walker's family held a vigil on the same porch several days later. The family says that as they gathered, an NYPD officer pulled up and demanded identification. When several members refused, the officer called for backup. More officers arrived, and the vigil eventually erupted into shouting and shoving between the family and police. Police and family accounts obviously differ on who or what instigated the shoving. But it seems like a bad idea to send an officer to demand ID from participants in a vigil honoring an unarmed man who was killed by police just days earlier. Or, for that matter, putting undercover drug cops on private property in the first place.

Walker's death is reminiscent of the Isaac Singletary incident in Florida from a couple of years ago. Singletary was shot and killed by undercover officers conducting a drug buy on his front lawn. He had confronted the officers with a rifle, thinking they were drug dealers. Those officers were cleared of any wrongdoing. Singletary's family has filed a lawsuit.

Do Government "Investments" in Scientific Research Pay Off?

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released the results of a poll that, among other things, asked Americans what they thought of government spending on scientific research. The poll found that a majority of Americans are big believers in the efficacy of government-funded research. As the Pew Center reported:

For its part, the general public endorses the idea that government outlays for research are necessary for scientific progress. Six-in-ten (60%) say “government investment in research is essential for scientific progress”; only about half as many (29%) say “private investment will ensure that enough scientific progress is made even without government investment.”

As is often the case with opinions about the role of government, there is a substantial partisan divide in views of government investment in scientific research. Fewer than half of conservative Republicans (44%) say that government investment in research is essential for scientific progress; 48% of conservative Republicans say private investment will ensure that scientific progress is made. By comparison, 56% of moderate and liberal Republicans, 59% of independents and a much larger majority of Democrats (71%) say that government investment in research is essential.

Scientific progress is a somewhat nebulous idea, but the Pew pollsters went on to ask if Americans thought that government "investments" in science "pay off" in the long run or not?  The pollsters found:

Regardless of whether they see government investment as essential to scientific progress, large majorities say that government investments in science do pay off. Nearly three-quarters of the public (73%) say that government investments in basic scientific research pay off in the long run, while a similar percentage (74%) holds that investments in engineering and technology pay off in the long run.

Opinions about these investments vary little across political and demographic groups. Eight-in-ten Democrats (80%) say that government investments in basic science research pay off in the long run, as do 72% of independents and 68% of Republicans. Views about whether government engineering and technological investments pay off largely mirror those about basic science investments.

One way to think about how government "investments" in science might "pay off" is to ask whether or not they end up increasing the growth rate of a country's gross domestic product. However, there is some evidence that government-funded scientific research is not the engine for growth the proponents claim it is. As I reported more than a year ago:

The issue is complicated, but what evidence is available is damning. In particular, Kealey cites a 2003 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report, The Sources of Economic Growth, which finds "a marked positive effect of business-sector R&D, while the analysis could find no clear-cut relationship between public R&D activities and growth, at least in the short term." This finding mirrored a 2001 OECD working paper which showed that higher spending by industry on R&D correlates well with higher economic growth rates. In contrast to the academic truisms about the need for federal funding, the study found that "business-performed R&D...drives the positive association between total R&D intensity and output growth." The OECD researchers noted that publicly funded defense research crowded out private research, "while civilian public research is neutral with respect to business-performed R&D."

In other words, government funded civilian research didn't appear to hurt the private sector but there was not much evidence that it helped, at least in the short term. The report concluded, "Research and development (R&D) activities undertaken by the business sector seem to have high social returns, while no clear-cut relationship could be established between non-business-oriented R&D activities and growth." Economic growth associated with R&D was linked almost entirely to private sector research funding. The OECD report did allow that perhaps publicly funded research might eventually result in long-term technology spillovers, but that contention was hard to evaluate. The 2003 OECD study also noted, "Taken at face value they suggest publicly-performed R&D crowds out resources that could be alternatively used by the private sector, including private R&D."

A 1995 analysis done by American University economist Walter Parker also finds that government funding crowds out private research. "Once private research is explicitly controlled for, the direct effect of public research is weakly negative, as might be the case if public research has crowding-out effects which adversely affect private output growth," concludes Parker. 

Go here for complete Pew survey results and here for my column on "The Failure of Scientific Central Planning."

The Cattle-Branding Approach to Releasing Music

Frequent Reason contributor Mike Riggs has an interesting article in the Washington City Paper about one of the ways record labels try to keep reviewers from leaking music onto the Internet before an album is formally released. The story isn't about intellectual property law so much as it's about an effort to enforce a boundary by private means, and whether the method is doing more to help the companies or to hurt them. (If you want to have an interesting argument about IP history, though, Google up "common law right before publication" and start arguing from there.)

In related news, a (rumored!) advance quote (full context unknown!) from an interview in SCMagazine has a spokesperson for the Recording Industry Association of America saying that digital rights management is dead. Make of that what you will.

Last Week's Top 5 Hit & Run Posts

Here are the top five most popular Hit & Run posts from last week:

Pic of the Day (Mid-1930s' Edition): Economic Suicide Girls Get Tattooed For the NRA! by Nick Gillespie (7/14)

Is Barbara Boxer the Orville Faubus of the Climate Committee? by Michael Moynihan (7/16)

"Suffering Under Capitalism" to Be Replaced By New, Better Type of Suffering, by  Michael Moynihan (7/17)

First-Pitchgate Redux: Barack Obama, For All His Faults, Already Clearly a Better President Than Gerald Ford, by Nick Gillespie (7/15)

Sotomayor on Second Amendment Incorporation, by Damon W. Root (7/14)

Moonwalking for Real — 40th Anniversary Edition


Ignore all the hype about the alleged need for new government sponsored manned space missions. As a commemoration of the event, just enjoy the newly cleaned up video from Apollo 11's landing on the moon 40 years ago here.

New at Reason: Radley Balko on the Lack of Crime Discussion at the Sotomayor Hearings

Last week's confirmation hearings for Obama Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor featured discussion of gun control, affirmative action, abortion, and gay marriage, as well as many an utterance of the phrase "wise Latina." One thing that wasn't much discussed, however, was criminal justice, at least beyond a few Democrats boasting of Sotomayor's record of ruling against criminal defendants.

Reason Senior Editor Radley Balko explains that that's because as far as most national politicians of either party are concerned, there's really only one acceptable position on crime: We need to get tougher on it.

Read all about it here.

Reason Writers Around Town: Katherine Mangu-Ward in NYT on Dialing and Driving

At the New York Times debate blog, Senior Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward mixes it up with a traffic expert, a couple of psychologists, and the head of the National Safety Council on driving while dialing, texting, chatting, or otherwise using a cellular device.

She writes:

We humans are also notably bad at comparing concentrated costs with diffuse benefits. It’s easy to tally up the costs of dialing while driving — there are accident reports and mortality figures. But it’s much harder to add up all the benefits.

Think of every carpool disaster averted, grocery list amended, or stress-relieving traffic update made possible by the use of cellphones in cars. Think of every kid who got through to his mom, every long-distance relationship maintained, every roadtrip rescued. True, these aren’t matters of life and death, but billions of tiny gains in happiness and reductions in stress are too often overlooked in public policy debates.

Read the whole debate here.

Last Week's Top 5 Hits at Reason.com

Here's what you were reading last week at Reason.com:

SWAT Gone Wild in Maryland: A botched raid on a small-town Maryland mayor exposes widespread abuse by the state's SWAT teams, by Radley Balko (7/13)

Science Fiction 'Czar': The disturbing intellectual record of Obama's science czar, by David Harsanyi (7/15)

Trivial Pursuit in Washington: Do we really need federal laws governing carry-on luggage, college football, and switchblades? by Steve Chapman (7/15)

Health Care Competition: If the policy elite really wanted to cut costs, they would deregulate medicine, by John Stossel (7/16)

The 'Public Option' Health Care Scam: Why Obama's plan won't work, by Steve Chapman (7/16)

The Good News: Despite Duff Economy, Big City Murder Rates Drop

From the Washington Post:

Violent crime has plummeted in the Washington area and in major cities across the country, a trend criminologists describe as baffling and unexpected. 

The District, New York and Los Angeles are on track for fewer killings this year than in any other year in at least four decades. Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis and other cities are also seeing notable reductions in homicides.

"Experts did not see this coming at all," said Andrew Karmen, a criminologist and professor of sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

In the District and Prince George's County, homicides are down about 17 percent this year.

Criminologists have different theories about why crime is down so much, although many agree that the common belief that crime is connected to the economy is false.

Baltimore and Dallas are two big cities that are not enjoying a drop in murders. Much of the rest of the Post article is D.C. police chief Cathy Lanier crowing about how her department's techniques are the reason for the drop, including bigger cash payouts to citizens for tips that lead to convictions, and deeper embedding of beat cops into communities.

Obama's Hypocrisy on School Vouchers and Responsible Parenting

President Barack Obama spoke last week at a gala event celebrating the NAACP's 100th anniversary. After some words of praise for the group's history and accomplishments, his focus shifted to the youth of today:

To parents, we can't tell our kids to do well in school and fail to support them when they get home. For our kids to excel, we must accept our own responsibilities. That means putting away the Xbox and putting our kids to bed at a reasonable hour. It means attending those parent-teacher conferences, reading to our kids, and helping them with their homework.

That certainly sounds good, but as the Cato Institute's Adam Schaeffer reminds us, Obama recently turned his back on a group of students and parents struggling to succeed in one of the country's worst school districts:

This, from the man who supports killing the DC voucher program, the ONLY education reform empirically proven to work through multiple random-assignment studies. These are thousands of young lives we are talking about.

This, from a man who sends his daughters to one of the most expensive private schools in the country, rather than the miserably failing and unsafe schools in their backyard.

Make no mistake, President Obama knows exactly what he's doing and what his action and inaction means.

Back in May, Reason.tv's Nick Gillespie and Dan Hayes spent some time with Mercedes Campbell, one of the 1,700 students in the DC voucher program that Obama effectively killed. Click below to see her side of the story.

I'll Take My Alleged Bad Faith Over Jonathan Chait's Actual Bad Facts

The New Republic's Jonathan Chait accuses Nick Gillespie and I of writing in bad faith this weekend when we urged Barack Obama to govern more like post-1994 Bill Clinton than mid-malaise Jimmy Carter: "One of the most tiresome forms of opinion commentary is bad-faith advice to a political figure from a writer who is utterly opposed to his ideological goals." For instance, we allegedly "urge Obama to abandon the platform that he ran on" when we implore him to stop "throwing money all over the economy."

I don't know much about Jon Chait's faith (aside from the fact that as of 2006 he had so much faith in John McCain that he wrote the following couplet: "Go ahead, senator, flip-flop away. I know you're with us at heart")...so let's stick to verifiable claims.

First, is "throwing money all over the economy" really the "platform" that Barack Obama ran on? No, it is not.

Here is Obama on Oct. 15, 2008, more than three weeks after George W. Bush wet his pants over the financial crisis:

What I've done throughout this campaign is to propose a net spending cut....I have been a strong proponent of pay as you go. Every dollar [in spending] that I've proposed, I've proposed an additional cut so that it matches.

Now, that's a "goal," ideological or not, that I can totally get behind. In fact, I wrote as much in a column after the election, not as "bad faith" advice to a politician, but genuine (if desperate) hope that the politician might stick to his words on an issue I care about. So much for that.

Chait, after quoting our line about how Obama is "doubling down on his predecessor's big-government policies and perpetual crisis-mongering," then uncorks this howler of a non-sequitur*:

Funny, if Obama really were following in Bush's footsteps, you'd think that the few remaining defenders of the Bush legacy might be at least somewhat favorably disposed toward him, rather than railing hysterically against him.

In fact, Gillespie wrote a piece about Bush's legacy in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year. It was entitled "Bush Was a Big-Government Disaster." Meanwhile, I despised the guy so much already in 2004 that I voted for John freakin' Kerry.

Chait also criticizes us for urging Obama "to admit that he's to blame for massive budget deficits," when we do no such thing (in fact, in the fourth paragraph can be found this: "Obama has inherited an awful economy [and] dizzying budget deficits"). Truthiness notwithstanding, this critique builds to Chait's climax:

But this is the sort of absurdity you get when people write opinion articles pretending to offer sympathetic political advice to a politician whose goals they abhor. If the Libertarian Party ever wins the White House, I promise not to write columns advising the president to raise taxes on the rich, expand health care coverage and start regulating assault weapons.

First, who the hell was being "sympathetic," and second, since when does opinion writer Jonathan Chait not write columns advising a president he doesn't agree with from making different policy decisions? I still remember the Bush administration (hell, I remember editing Jon Chait columns at the L.A. Times during the Bush administration!), and I do not recall the man sitting on his hands out of some kind of bizarre good-faith deference. Nor would I want him to.

* UPDATE: Commenter Hugh Akston points out that this could be more of a, "if their thesis was true, Karl Rove would be applauding" type of argument. Which, if true, is not a "non-sequitur," but just a weird argument (we should not be surprised that heavy political operatives oppose politicians from the opposing party, and in fact many non-apparatchik conservatives, such as David Brooks, have murmured praise in Obama's general direction).

Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie Live Chat Online at WashingtonPost.com, 11a.m. ET Today!

Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch and Reason TV/Online Editor Nick Gillespie will do a live online chat today at 11a.m. to discuss their assessment of President Obama’s domestic agenda, which appeared as an op-ed in Sunday’s Washington Post Outlook section. Here’s an excerpt:

Barely six months into his presidency, Barack Obama seems to be driving south into that political speed trap known as Carter Country: a sad-sack landscape in which every major initiative meets not just with failure but with scorn from political allies and foes alike. [...]

The key to understanding Obama's predicament is to realize that while he ran convincingly as a repudiation of Bush, he is in fact doubling down on his predecessor's big-government policies and perpetual crisis-mongering. From the indefinite detention of alleged terrorists to gays in the military to bailing out industries large and small, Obama has been little more than the keeper of the Bush flame. Indeed, it took the two of them to create the disaster that is the 2009 budget, racking up a deficit that has already crossed the historic $1 trillion mark with almost three months left in the fiscal year. [...]

In the same way that Bush claimed to be cutting government even while increasing real spending by more than 70 percent, Obama seems to believe that saying one thing, while doing another, somehow makes it so. His first budget was titled "A New Era of Fiscal Responsibility," even as his own projections showed a decade's worth of historically high deficits. He vowed no new taxes on 95 percent of Americans, then jacked up cigarette taxes and indicated a willingness to consider new health-care taxes as part of his reform package. He said he didn't want to take over General Motors on the day that he took over General Motors. [...]

What the new president has not quite grasped is that the American people understand both irony and cognitive dissonance. Instead, Obama has mistaken his personal popularity for a national predilection toward emergency-driven central planning.


Read the whole thing here.

Go here to participate in the live chat.


Reason Morning Links: A Subsidy for Banks, a Surge in Afghanistan, and a Suit Against George Bush

• Surprise, surprise: Many banks misuse their TARP subsidies.

• The Securities and Exchange Commission's case against Mark Cuban is dismissed.

• The Drug Enforcement Administration unleashes its own surge in Afghanistan.

• Former Guantanamo prisoners prepare to sue George W. Bush.

• Four more banks shut down.

• South African scientists launch clinical trials for an AIDS vaccine.

New at Reason: Steve Chapman on the Virtues of Supreme Court Silence

Millions of Americans tuned in last week to Sonia Sotomayor's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. What did they learn? "Nothing," Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe told The New York Times. Actually, writes Steve Chapman, we did learn something—that we should stop inviting Supreme Court nominees to testify in confirmation hearings.

Read all about it here.

The Madness of Crowds is an Extraordinary Popular Delusion

Michael Bond has written a richly detailed article for New Scientist about the psychology and behavior of crowds. Here are some extracts, but you should read the whole thing:

The "unruly mob" concept is usually taken as read and used as the basis for crowd control measures and evacuation procedures across the world. Yet it is almost entirely a myth. Research into how people behave at demonstrations, sports events, music festivals and other mass gatherings shows not only that crowds nearly always act in a highly rational way, but also that when facing an emergency, people in a crowd are more likely to cooperate than panic. Paradoxically, it is often actions such as kettling [a police tactic of corraling an entire crowd into a small area] that lead to violence breaking out. Often, the best thing authorities can do is leave a crowd to its own devices....

What are the lessons from all this? One of the most important is that the current approach to managing crowds, which is all about control and containment, can be counterproductive. Police tend to assume that people in crowds are prone to random acts of violence and disorder, and treat them accordingly. But aggressive policing is likely to trigger an aggressive response as the crowd reacts collectively against the external threat. This is why many researchers consider kettling to be a bad idea. "You're treating the crowd indiscriminately, and that can change the psychology of the crowd, shifting it towards rather than away from violence," says [Clifford] Stott. He has found that low-profile policing can significantly reduce the aggressiveness of football crowds, and that if left alone they will usually police themselves.

Emergency services should also take note: in a situation such as a terrorist attack or fire, a crowd left to its own devices will often find the best solution. Attempts to intervene to prevent people panicking, such as restricting their movements, could make panic more likely. The key, says [Tricia] Wachtendorf, is to give crowds as much information as possible, as they are likely to use it wisely.

There's "no question," Bond concedes, "that being part of a group can sometimes lead people to do appalling things that they would usually abhor" and that "the cover crowds offer can attract individuals who are intent on causing trouble." Nonetheless, "crowd violence is actually extremely rare." And intrusive crowd management can make such disorder more rather than less likely.

Reason Writers Around Town: Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie in the Washington Post Asking "What's Next, Mr. President—Cardigans?"

Writing in the Washington Post's Sunday Outlook section, Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch and Reason TV/Online Editor Nick Gillespie give an appraisal of the president's suddenly imperiled domestic agenda, and ask whether he'll accelerate down the road toward Jimmy Carter, correct his course in the direction of Bill Clinton, or continue muddling along the road paved by George W. Bush. Excerpt:

Barely six months into his presidency, Barack Obama seems to be driving south into that political speed trap known as Carter Country: a sad-sack landscape in which every major initiative meets not just with failure but with scorn from political allies and foes alike. [...]

The key to understanding Obama's predicament is to realize that while he ran convincingly as a repudiation of Bush, he is in fact doubling down on his predecessor's big-government policies and perpetual crisis-mongering. From the indefinite detention of alleged terrorists to gays in the military to bailing out industries large and small, Obama has been little more than the keeper of the Bush flame. Indeed, it took the two of them to create the disaster that is the 2009 budget, racking up a deficit that has already crossed the historic $1 trillion mark with almost three months left in the fiscal year. [...]

In the same way that Bush claimed to be cutting government even while increasing real spending by more than 70 percent, Obama seems to believe that saying one thing, while doing another, somehow makes it so. His first budget was titled "A New Era of Fiscal Responsibility," even as his own projections showed a decade's worth of historically high deficits. He vowed no new taxes on 95 percent of Americans, then jacked up cigarette taxes and indicated a willingness to consider new health-care taxes as part of his reform package. He said he didn't want to take over General Motors on the day that he took over General Motors. [...]

What the new president has not quite grasped is that the American people understand both irony and cognitive dissonance. Instead, Obama has mistaken his personal popularity for a national predilection toward emergency-driven central planning.

Read the whole thing, with accompanying timeline.

Update: Welch and Gillespie will do a live online chat about this story at the Washington Post's website at 11a.m. ET on Monday, July 19. Go here for details.

Walter Cronkite, RIP

Walter Cronkite has died at age 92. My parents watched him when I was a boy, so his avuncular-grandpa image was imprinted on me early; to this day, I can't read the phrase "Dow Jones Industrial Average" without hearing it in the old anchor's baritone. I had no idea what the Dow was back then, but it was comforting when Cronkite talked about it. If the country had to have a collective father figure, he was well suited for the job.

The problem was that we didn't need a national father figure. The very phrase "the man America trusted" makes me uneasy. Surely it's good that the country has grown too skeptical to put so much faith in a single newsreader.

The Cronkite personality cult reached its strangest moment in the election of 1980, after Hugh Sidey wrote this passage in Time:

Last week a group of concerned Americans clustered around a television set in Chicago for an updating on their own state primary. Their focus was not on a local luminary but on Walter Cronkite, who had come to the provinces and set up his majestic broadcast booth. His noble gray head appeared at the bottom of the screen, a gigantic red, white and blue map of the U.S. spread out behind him. Not since George C. Scott opened the movie Patton had such a dramatic entrance been filmed. There were quiet gasps among the appreciative Chicagoans.

Cronkite for that second or two consumed everybody who watched. He was everything the real world was not. Cronkite was truth, stability and reality. "My God," one of the viewers muttered, "why don't we get it over with and elect Cronkite President?"

It was a joke, of course. But it was a wistful what-if of a joke, and it resonated. Time soon ran letters hailing the idea. "He knows more about national and international problems than any other two candidates put together," declared one reader, "and, as a duty, I think he would accept the miserable job." Four years later, the newsman was still fending off suggestions that he run for the office and "make a difference." Can you imagine anyone spouting such a fantasy about any of our anchors today? Maybe Stewart or Colbert, but not someone who delivers the news with a straight face.

And that's good. Cronkite's influence was a product of the three-network era, a time we should be happy to have put behind us. I'm sorry to see the man die, but I'm glad no one was able to fill his shoes.

Recently at Reason.tv: The Case Against College Entitlements & MythBusters' Adam Savage

President Barack Obama has declared that his administration aims to make college affordable to everyone by greatly expanding government aid to middle class families. The Washington Post says that Obama's higher education proposals, which include creating a brand new Pell Grant entitlement, "could transform the financial aid landscape for millions of students while expanding federal authority to a degree that even Democrats concede is controversial."

But what if President Obama has it backwards? What if America is sending too many people to college?

A recent study found that "Nationally, four-year colleges graduated an average of just 53% of entering students within six years." If 40 percent of students who enter college drop out before graduation and over 50 percent of students take six years to graduate, perhaps Obama is focusing on the wrong issue. 

Reason.tv's Michael C. Moynihan sat down with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and the American Enterprise Institute's Charles Murray, author of the recent book Real Education, to analyze how Obama's higher-education plans will impact the economic and cultural future of the United States.

For embed code, an audio podcast, and iPod and HD versions click here.

For a YouTube version of this video, go here.

"The Case Against College Entitlements" was produced by Michael C. Moynihan and Meredith Bragg. Approximately 5 minutes long.

At the Las Vegas-based Amazing Meeting, Reason magazine's Matt Welch recently sat down with Adam Savage, co-host of the enormously popular and captivating Discovery Channel series MythBusters.

Each week, Savage and Jamie Hyneman, aided by a crew of demolition experts and special effects whizzes, delve into mysteries of the moment: Does anything that happens in a James Bond movie have a basis in reality?; was the moon landing faked?; is there such a thing as "beer goggles"?; and much, much more. As important, they explain the science behind many complicated phenomena and rarely miss an opportunity to blow things up real good.

Savage talks about the genesis and success of the show, now in its eighth season, and discusses whether people are becoming more or less skeptical in an increasingly interconnected world. Does the faster flow of information mean the bad crowds out the good?

Approximately 8 minutes. Shot and edited by Dan Hayes.

Go here for embed code, iPod, HD, audio versions, and more videos.

"Suffering Under Capitalism" to Be Replaced By New, Better Type of Suffering

According to the Southtown Star, a local Illinois newspaper owned by the Chicago Sun-Times, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a radical Islamist group exposed in Ed Husein's recent memoir The Islamist, is coming to a the Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn for a conference dedicated not the elimination of "Jewish power" or the restoration of the Muslim caliphate (though I suspect these pressing concerns will be addressed), but to declare the end of capitalism:

Although the group dismisses democracy - the theme of Sunday's conference is the "Fall of Capitalism and the Rise of Islam" - they hope to elect one Muslim worldwide ruler, or caliph, and hold that person accountable.

The conference, widely believed to be the first of its kind in America, includes lectures titled "The Suffering Under Capitalism" and "Ownership and Distribution of Wealth in Islam."

Checkout the impressive production values of this Hizb America video promoting the event. It features all the typical b-roll of American decadence—money, divorce, lack of beards—plus a shot of the classic Dead Kennedy's album "Plastic Surgery Disasters":

For those wishing to celebrate the "fall of capitalism" with a ballroom full of lunatics, show up at the Hilton Hotel in Oak Lawn, Illinois between 11AM and 5 PM this Sunday!

'We Do Not Advocate Attempting to Glue the Leader of the Free World to His Chair'

Yesterday former Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) told legislators at a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council in Atlanta that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel should put "Gorilla Glue" on the Oval Office desk chair because "our globe-trotting president needs to stop and take a break and quit gallivanting around." Today the Gorilla Glue Company, eager to seize a marketing opportunity, sent out this press release:

The Gorilla Glue Company Responds to Zell Miller's Recent Comments  

We Do Not Advocate Attempting to Glue the Leader of the Free World to His Chair

News Facts

In response to Zell Miller's recent comments, The Gorilla Glue Company sends letter to President Obama.

  • The response was sent today from the desk of Peter Ragland, President, The Gorilla Glue Company.
  • The Gorilla Glue Company does not advocate the gluing of President Obama to his chair with their product. 
  • The quality adhesive products produced by the company are for the toughest building and repair jobs.
  • Gorilla brand products are created with strength and toughness as the goal.
  • The Gorilla Glue Company is a family owned business located in Cincinnati, Ohio. 
  • Gorilla Glue represents just the type of growing small business that President Obama mentions as the job creators in our country. 
  • Gorilla Glue continues to: create new jobs, boast of no lay-offs, provide healthcare for all full-time employees and proudly make all products in the USA.

Quotes

Attributed to Peter Ragland, President, The Gorilla Glue Company:

  • Zell Miller's recent comments have thrust our product and company into the limelight. 
  • While our products are known for being strong and tough we certainly would not advocate attempting to glue the Leader of the free world to his chair.

Note, by the way, that the Associated Press consulted a couple of black leaders (the Rev. Joseph Lowery and state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, head of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials), about whether the reference to "Gorilla Glue" should be deemed racially offensive. I'm hoping that was a joke.

Joe Biden on the Stimulus: "Come see what I see"

Vice President Joe Biden has once again put in his two cents about the economic stimulus. Via The Washington Post:

"To those who say that our economic decisions haven't saved jobs, it simply hasn't worked, I say, 'Look around you,' " Biden said in his appearance at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Cantor's Richmond area district.

"I say, 'Don't let your opposition to the Recovery Act blind you to the results. Come see what I see.' Look, workers rehired, factories reopened, cops on the street, teachers in the classroom, progress toward getting our economy back on the move."

Well said, Mr. Vice President. Of course, never mind the fact that the unemployment rate for June was 9.5 percent (the highest it's been in over two decades), and all signs point to double digit unemployment before any improvement is expected.

With nearly one in 10 Americans currently unemployed, maybe Biden should go see what they see before declaring the stimulus a success.

Crazy Biden Statement Not Quite as Crazy as it Sounds (But Still Probably Wrong)

Drudge is currently leading with a headline quoting Vice President Joe Biden as saying that "we need to spend money to keep from going to bankrupt." Crazy, right? Well, not exactly. Spending money in the short term to make an inefficient system more efficient can actually reduce spending in the long term. Imagine, for example, a parking garage run by attendants who collect the money. It might cost tens of thousands of dollars to install an automated system in which machines collect the parking fees. But over the long term, the automated system might then be less expensive than the continued expense of paying hourly workers wages and benefits. For manufacturers, building a new factory might require a tremendous initial outlay that could go on to earn all that money and more back over time. For a government beset with rising health-care costs, it's not actually insane to think that some up-front spending on reorganization, new technology, or some other innovation might produce efficiencies that create savings in the long term. 

Problem is, the health-care legislation currently being considered won't save money. In fact, it's likely to make the budget crisis even worse. Now, admittedly, as far as I can tell (I've not seen a complete transcript), Biden didn't specifically say that we had to buy into current health-care reform proposals in order to save ourselves from bankruptcy. But the event in question was held in large part to support health-care reform, and the CBO has said that rising health-care expenditures are the chief cause of the country's dire budgetary outlook. So it certainly sounds as if that's what he was talking about. And if that's the case, he wasn't wrong in theory—spending now can produce savings later—but it certainly looks as if he was wrong in specific. 

What's Wrong With Health-Care Reform: A Recap

The House has yet to vote on a final bill, and the Senate has yet to release any complete legislation, but the various health-care reform proposals are starting to shape up. And, not surprisingly, there's quite a bit to worry about. Here's a recap of the major objections currently making the rounds:

It will not save money. In fact, according to CBO director Douglas Elmendorf, it will "significantly expand the federal responsibility for health-care costs," exacerbating rather curing the dire, health-care driven budget problems we already face. As Ron Bailey pointed out earlier today, this is the result when you use official government cost estimates. And as the Massachusetts experiment with universal coverage taught us, the true cost of any universal-coverage oriented health-care overhaul is likely to be far higher than projected.

It will likely shift people away from their current health-insurance plans. Depending on the final details surrounding the proposed public plan, some people will almost certainly end up moved away from their current plans. At a bare minimum, Obama's promise that individuals will be able to keep their current health-insurance is misleading

It will raise taxes. On people who make too much money, perhaps. Or perhaps on people who make money off of rental units. Or maybe, if Senate Finance Chairman and health-care poobah Max Baucus has his way, it will tax the middle class by way of their employer-provided health benefits. No matter what, any bill will cost a lot of money, so someone's going to pay for it. 

It will be tough on small and medium-sized businesses. According the Wall Street Journal, under the current House plan, "all but the smallest businesses" would be slapped with "a penalty equal to 8% of payroll if they fail to provide health insurance to workers." Meanwhile, the drug industry, which Obama promised to "take on" during the campaign, has extracted endless concessions, and supposed liberal villain Wal-Mart would make out rather well by using legislation as a weapon against its competitors

It will pave the way for health-care shortages. There's widespread agreement that the current system of medical provider payments in Medicare and Medicaid is a mess. But depending on how the plan shakes out, reduced doctor payments might essentially result in a system of health-care price controls, potentially causing shortages in care. Even if the system were set up so as not to reduce payments now, one can easily imagine anxious government officials cutting payments in the future in response to unexpected cost overruns like we've witnessed in Massachusetts.

New at Reason: Shikha Dalmia on Why Developing Countries Won't Act on Climate Change

There is a perfectly good reason developing countries are unwilling to follow the West's climate change agenda, writes Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia. What those countries are being asked to do is more awful than climate change's implications—even if one accepts all the alarmist predictions.

Read all about it here.

Moon-Landing Myths

Even more annoying than mindless space boosterism is mindless space conspiracy theorism. Commenters in my recent post about Buzz Aldrin mentioned his five-fingered response to a particularly obnoxious moon-landing troofer.

Yesterday, National Geographic offered a more civil and comprehensive (if ultimately less-satisfying) response to the long-legged theory that the moon landing was faked on a Hollywood sound stage. Dragging up eight old canards based on pictures from the Apollo 11 moon walks, National Geographic quickly dispenses with ("busts") them:

You can tell Apollo was faked because...the American flag appears to be flapping as if "in a breeze" in videos and photographs supposedly taken from the airless lunar surface. 

The fact of the matter is..."the video you see where the flag's moving is because the astronaut just placed it there, and the inertia from when they let go kept it moving," said spaceflight historian Roger Launius, of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. 

As comforting as it might be to imagine that all of the Apollo program money is stuffed into a NASA-sized mattress somewhere in Houston, it just ain't so. The moon landing really did happen. It really did cost that much.

Last weekend, Matt Welch interviewed one of the real "myth busters," Adam Savage, at the Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas. Reason.tv has the footage here. Ron Bailey explains why America won't be going back to the moon until it's profitable here.

New At Reason: Brian Doherty Interviews Journalist Scott Kilman About the Failures of African Food Aid Policy

Although billions have been spent on foreign development and food aid to Africa in the decades since World War II, over half a billion people remain undernourished in Africa today according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture—a number that's 53 percent higher than it was in 1992 when the government first began accumulating such figures.

While the reasons for continuing poverty are manifold, Western government programs such as food aid and agriculture and ethanol subsidies deserve their share of the blame. So argues the new book Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, written by Wall Street Journal reporters Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman. Senior Editor Brian Doherty recently discussed the failures of aid policy with Scott Kilman.

Read all about it here.

NAACP Sets Up Website for Cell Phone Videos of Police Misconduct

This is a great idea:

The initiative includes a bold new online effort, the NAACP Rapid Report System (RRS), a quick, effective way for citizens to report instances of police misconduct, and to help public safety officials move beyond the “tough on crime” policies that have lost their effectiveness. The Rapid Report System will be available starting July 6, through the NAACP website (www.naacp.org).

The user-friendly online RRS form will allow residents to send instant texts, emails, or video reports of police abuse to the association via cell phone. 

The good news is that the technology behind this is only going to get better. Services like Qik already offer live streaming and instant archiving of cell phone videos. The service requires a fairly high-end phone and service plan, but as phones and plans get cheaper, Qik and similar sites are bound to get more popular. If they're smart, the makers of the terrific, inexpensive FlipVideo devices will partner with a cell service provider and come up with a cheap way to give their customers web access.

As we saw in Iran last month, the ability to instantly capture photos and video and store them off-site is an incredibly powerful tool. As more and more people acquire it, police officers will have to approach their jobs with the knowledge that everything they do while on duty can legally be captured and stored on a server they won't be able to access. Confiscating phones and cameras won't work anymore. The law enforcement community shouldn't fight this technology, they should embrace it. It's just as likely to protect the good cops from false reports of abuse as it is to expose the bad ones.

(Hat tip: Popehat)

Government-Sponsored Torture, Illegal Raids, Disappearances

No, not another Dick Cheney black ops scandal. It's Mexico's drug war. And you're helping to pay for it.

The Mexican army has carried out forced disappearances, acts of torture and illegal raids in pursuit of drug traffickers, according to documents and interviews with victims, their families, political leaders and human rights monitors.

From the violent border cities where drugs are brought into the United States to the remote highland regions where poppies and marijuana are harvested, residents and human rights groups describe an increasingly brutal war in which the government, led by the army, is using harsh measures to battle the cartels that continue to terrorize much of the country.

In Puerto Las Ollas, a mountain village of 50 people in the southern state of Guerrero, residents recounted how soldiers seeking information last month stuck needles under the fingernails of a disabled 37-year-old farmer, jabbed a knife into the back of his 13-year-old nephew, fired on a pastor, and stole food, milk, clothing and medication.

In Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, two dozen policemen who were arrested on drug charges in March alleged that, to extract confessions, soldiers beat them, held plastic bags over their heads until some lost consciousness, strapped their feet to a ceiling while dunking their heads in water and applied electric shocks, according to court documents, letters and interviews with their relatives and defense lawyers.

None of this is particularly new. The tactics between the Mexican army and the drug cartels have grown increasingly brutal since 2006, when Mexican President Felipe Calderon quite literally made the drug war a military operation. 

So far, he's won nothing but praise and continued funding from American politicians.

"Sanitizing American agriculture, aside from being impossible, is foolhardy"

Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, Reason Contributing Editor Carolyn Lochhead reports that farmers are destroying plants and wildlife in the name of food safety:

In the verdant farmland surrounding Monterey Bay, a national marine sanctuary and one of the world's biological jewels, scorched-earth strategies are being imposed on hundreds of thousands of acres in the quest for an antiseptic field of greens. And the scheme is about to go national.

Invisible to a public that sees only the headlines of the latest food-safety scare—spinach, peppers and now cookie dough—ponds are being poisoned and bulldozed. Vegetation harboring pollinators and filtering storm runoff is being cleared. Fences and poison baits line wildlife corridors. Birds, frogs, mice and deer—and anything that shelters them—are caught in a raging battle in the Salinas Valley against E. coli O157:H7, a lethal, food-borne bacteria....

Galvanized by the spinach disaster, large growers instituted a quasi-governmental program of new protocols for growing greens safely, called the "leafy greens marketing agreement." A proposal was submitted last month in Washington to take these rules nationwide.

A food safety bill sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, passed this month in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It would give new powers to the Food and Drug Administration to regulate all farms and produce in an attempt to fix the problem. The bill would require consideration of farm diversity and environmental rules, but would leave much to the FDA.

Read the rest here. Reason on food politics here.

(Via Overlawyered.com)

If We Spend Twice as Much on Health Care As Other Countries, and the Government Pays for Half of Health Care Now....

One of the often heard arguments for government health care is that the U.S. spends twice as much as other rich countries on health care and gets worse results. Try this thought experiment: Right now government (federal and state) payments already account for nearly 50 percent of all health care expenditures in the U.S. So if the goal of health care reform is to cut in half what we're currently spending, why not simply outlaw all private insurance and out of pocket expenditures? Problem solved, right? 

Congressional Budget Office Projects Endless Federal Health Care Deficits

President Barack Obama keeps warning that rising health care costs are unsustainable, therefore, we need the government to take over more of our dysfunctional health care system to reduce costs and improve quality. Yesterday, Douglas Elmendorf, the head of the Congressional Budget Office put the kibosh on this rhetorical nonsense. Elmendorf explained to both House and Senate committees that the health care bills they are considering do virtually nothing to reduce costs. In fact, they will be budget busters, making already dismal federal deficits worse rather than better. As the Washington Post reports:

The chairman of the Senate Budget Committee,  Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), also has taken a leading role in the Finance Committee negotiations. Yesterday, when Elmendorf appeared before Conrad's committee to testify about the nation's long-term budget problems, Conrad focused his questions on the House and Senate committee measures, which were drafted without Republican input.

"I'm going to really put you on the spot," Conrad said. "From what you have seen from the products of the committees that have reported, do you see a successful effort being mounted to bend the long-term cost curve?"

Elmendorf responded: "No, Mr. Chairman." Although the House plan to cover the uninsured, for example, would add more than $1 trillion to federal health spending over the next decade, according to the CBO, it would trim about $500 billion from existing programs -- increasing federal health spending overall.

Considering the fact that nearly any goverment program spends more than is initially projected, these new estimates for government health care program deficits are not a surprise to anyone (except for disingenuous Congress critters). Just consider another problem about which Americans are constantly told that throwing more tax dollars at it will solve: public education. 

In 1970, average per pupil spending in constant dollars was around $4,500 and average SAT scores were 537 on the verbal section and 512 for the math section.  By 2006, average per pupil spending more than doubled to $9,400 while SAT verbal scores averaged 502 and the average math score was 518. Sure, sure. The SAT tests a different and expanded group of kids than it did back in 1970.  But even considering that fact, it shows that the hypothesis of throwing more tax dollars at a problem does not improve the quality of government services.

There is only one proven way to lower the costs and improve the quality of goods and services, and that's competition. Unless and until the health care "reformers" on Capitol Hill and in the White House grasp that plain fact, either endless cost increases or stringent health care rationing are inevitable. 

The Gnome in the Garden of Good and Evil

Prosecutors in Nuremberg are trying to decide whether a golden garden gnome making a stiff right-armed salute runs afoul of Germany's ban on Nazi symbols and gestures. Evidently it all hinges on intent: Did the artist who created the gnome, Ottmar Hoerl, mean to honor the Nazis or mock them? Hoerl thinks the meaning is obvious "when one portrays the master race as a garden gnome," adding, "In 1942 I would have been murdered by the Nazis for this work." The authorities are not so sure:

A spokesman for the Nuremberg public prosecutor's office, Wolfgang Traeg, said "we're checking to see if garden gnomes fall into the same clear category as posters that show the swastika crossed out".

He said the aim was to establish whether the artist and the gallery owner had intended the gnome as an endorsement of the Third Reich or as a rejection of Nazi ideology.

Mr Traeg referred to a previous case: a swastika which had been graffitied onto a wall. No prosecution was brought because the picture featured a fist smashing the Nazi symbol.

To play it safe, Hoerl should start kicking over all the Nazi gnomes.

[Thanks to Eric Jon Magnuson for the tip.]

New at Reason: Jesse Walker on How Ordinary People Create Their Own Media During Crises

From our August-September issue, Managing Editor Jesse Walker interviews disaster researcher Jeannette Sutton about how new media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr enable people to communicate and collaborate during crises.

Read all about it here.

How to Succeed as an Ayn Rand Character: The Flow Chart

For Ayn Rand fans with no sense of humor, be warned, this is scurillous, totally unfair, and objectively anti-life. For Rand haters (and Rand fans with a sense of the ridiculous) prepare to enjoy Cracked.com's flow chart on "How to Succeed as an Ayn Rand Character."

[Hat tip: Wirkman Virkkala]

Interested in a Political History of the "Birther" Movement?

Then Reason Contributing Editor David Weigel has many details about the Obama-birth certificate obsessives, over at the Washington Independent. I don't know that I agree with Weigel's contention that the movement "dogs Republicans" (there being so very many other issues that have more bite than a few barkers), but I wholeheartedly concur that this story has legs no evidence will ever trip up, a fact that can't conceivably help the Republican Party unless and until the mother of all Bali birth certificates is magically produced.

Two side notes: 1) I moderated a Freedom Fest panel last week that included Heritage Foundation President Ed Fuelner, Cato Executive Vice President David Boaz, and conservative direct-mail impresario Richard Viguerie, talking mostly about issues of libertarian/conservative faultlines. The very first post-panel question from an audience member was about how the really upsetting thing was Obama's birth certificate (Viguerie, chivalrously, shared the interlocutor's concern). 2) If John McCain had won the presidency, we'd be hearing the same thing, albeit from (mostly) different people.

When It Absolutely, Positively Has To Be There In The Law

UPS and FedEx are waging a war over labor regulation. We have an article in the works on the topic, so I won't get into all the details, but here's the bare bones: FedEx is regulated by the Railway Labor Act, which is not very union-friendly, while UPS falls under the National Labor Relations Act, which is more congenial to organizing. A union-backed bill would change this, so that a significant portion of FedEx's operations would fall under the NLRA. Not surprisingly, UPS likes this idea and FedEx does not.

Enter the American Conservative Union. Politico reports:

The American Conservative Union asked FedEx for a check for $2 million to $3 million in return for the group's endorsement in a bitter legislative dispute, then flipped and sided with UPS after FedEx refused to pay.

For the $2 million+, ACU offered a range of services that included: "Producing op-eds and articles written by ACU's Chairman David Keene and/or other members of the ACU's board of directors. (Note that Mr. Keene writes a weekly column that appears in The Hill.)"...

In the three-page letter asking for money on June 30, the conservative group backed FedEx. After FedEx says it rejected the offer, Keene signed onto a two-page July 15 letter backing UPS.

Politico calls this "pay to play." Keene's group denies that it has received any money from UPS, which makes the situation sound more like "pay or we won't play." You may suggest your own terms in the comments.

So a Democratic bill to help unions = a proxy battle between competing companies = an entrepreneurial opportunity for a right-wing lobby. Multiply those motives by the number of bills before Congress each session -- adding extra for those mammoth pieces of legislation where the stakes are really high, such as cap and trade -- and you'll start to get a sense of what politicking means in practice.

Update: Keene replies to his critics here and answers some more questions here.

New at Reason: Michael Moynihan on Why Seymour Hersh is Still Wrong About Cheney's Hit Squad

It is commonly argued that journalism in the run up to the Iraq War failed the American people because its practitioners placed furtherance of a political agenda over the supremacy of truth. So if the mainstream media in 2002 was hamstrung by sloppy and biased reporting, thereby necessitating a counterrevolution in blogging and online reporting, why, wonders Michael C. Moynihan, are the new media types now so ready to defend the sloppy reporting of Seymour Hersh?

Read all about it here.

Julius Shulman, RIP

He was the photographer of architectural modernism, and a one-man advertisement for the dream of Southern California living. Three pictures:

UPDATE: More on Shulman from the Deeply Glamorous former Reason editor Virginia Postrel.

Reason Morning Links: The Bailout's Big Winners, the Bill for a Health Care Bill, and Fiji's Fight Against Freemasonry

• Health care reformers get a dose of fiscal realism from the Congressional Budget Office.

• JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs are doing quite well with your money.

• A terrorist attack in Jakarta kills at least nine and wounds at least 50.

• Stimulus funds give a financial boost to charter schools.

• They're locking up Freemasons in Fiji. For sorcery.