Economist Arnold Kling wonders why some analysts who seem to lament the repeal of Glass-Steagall don't also openly plump for its return, or have a coherent theory of how its lack contributed to the Current Crisis:
People are not specifically arguing that Glass-Steagall was wonderful regulation. Instead, they are waving around Glass-Steagall in order to make a vague, generic claim that regulation works and deregulation fails.
...In contrast, I say that housing policy, securitization, and regulatory capital arbitrage were at the heart of the crisis. I propose changing housing policy to stop trying to use cheap, lenient mortgage credit to promote affordable housing. I propose disconnecting the feeding tube of government support from the mortgage securities market. And I propose attempting to make failure of financial institutions a viable, credible option for regulators. There is a connection between my proposals and what I see as the causes of the crisis.
[Others seem to think that] financial regulation is a thermostat, which you can set on "more" or "less." As long as you turn it toward "more," everything will be fine. Never mind what actually caused the crisis (regulatory capital arbitrage) and what was actually irrelevant to the crisis (the erosion of competitive boundaries between commercial and investment banking). Just adjust the regulatory thermostat to "more."
Arnold Kling talking bailout over at Reason.tv.
As if to cement my new hypothesis that 2009 is shaping up to be a replay of 1998–sitting Democratic administration robustly defended by its allies against right-wing alt media allegations of wrongoing that in some key cases turn out to be true; media becomes suddenly fascinated by the nefarious backgrounds/motivations/finances of the president's antagonists, who "have not accepted the results of the election"–along comes Bill Clinton to give a big "you bet" to the notion that there's a "vast right-wing conspiracy" out to get Obama, too.
Sure it is. It's not as strong as it was because America has changed demographically. But it's as virulent as it was.
That "demographically" was a nice touch all its own, but what really bakes my noodle here is the former president's apparently limitless chutzpah in doubling down on a phrase that was famouly used by his wife to deny charges he was having sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky. Don't make me go to the tape! OK, let's go to the tape, if only to remember what a bad year that really was:
LAUER: [...] There has been one question on the minds of people in this country, Mrs. Clinton, lately, and that is what is the exact nature of the relationship between your husband and Monica Lewinsky. Has he described that relationship in detail to you?
CLINTON: Well, we've talked at great length, and I think as this matter unfolds, the entire country will have more information. But we're right in the middle of a rather vigorous feeding frenzy right now. And people are saying all kinds of things, and putting out rumor and innuendo. And I have learned over the last many years, being involved in politics, and especially since my husband first started running for president, that the best thing to do in these cases is just to be patient, take a deep breath and the truth will come out. But there's nothing we can do to fight this fire storm of allegations that are out there.
LAUER: Has he described to you what [his relationship with Lewinsky] was?
CLINTON: Yes. And we'll find that out as time goes by, Matt.
But I think the important thing now is to stand as firmly as I can and say that, you know, the president has denied these allegations on all counts, unequivocally. And we'll see how this plays out. [...]
I mean, Bill and I have been accused of everything, including murder, by some of the very same people who are behind these allegations. So from my perspective, this is part of the continuing political campaign against my husband. [...]
LAUER: So when people say there's a lot of smoke here, your message is where there's smoke...
CLINTON: There isn't any fire, because think of what we've been through for the last six years and think of everything we've been accused of. [...]
LAUER: If he were to be asked today, Mrs. Clinton, do you think he would admit that he again has caused pain in this marriage?
CLINTON: No, absolutely not. And he shouldn't.
You know, we've been married for 22 years, Matt. And I have learned a long time ago that the only people who count in any marriage are the two that are in it.
We know everything there is to know about each other, and we understand and accept and love each other. And I just think that a lot of this is deliberately designed to sensationalize charges against my husband, because everything else they've tried has failed. And I also believe that it's part of an effort, very frankly, to undo the results of two elections. [...]
I mean, look at the very people who are involved in this. They have popped up in other settings.
This is—the great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president. A few journalists have kind of caught on to it and explained it. But it has not yet been fully revealed to the American public. And actually, you know, in a bizarre sort of way, this may do it.
I don't for a minute want to go back to the terrible old days of independent prosecutors investigating presidential semen stains, or first ladies being grilled on morning TV about the conditions of their marriage. But the above is a handy and always-timely illustration that the flame-the-messenger strategy for dealing with allegations emanating from opposing political camps is not only a way to change the subject and marginalize critics, it can and will be used to spread lies about the people holding power. Even if the liar in question isn't aware of the exact truth.
Reason on that magical four-word phrase here.
The interim president of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, has received rough treatment from the Obama administration, European Union, and the American media. Manuel Zelaya, the ousted president, was ordered arrested by the country's supreme court for attempting to violate a constitutional limitation on presidential terms (a Bolivarian lesson learned from his comrade in Caracas), but as the Cato Institute's Juan Carlos Hildago argued in Forbes, it wasn't "a coup" and, contra Obama, is wasn't illegal. But now Micheletti, who will not run in the forthcoming election and seemed to be sticking to his limited role as caretaker president, has decided that it is time to suspend democracy and start acting like the wannabe caudillo he replaced. As Hidalgo notes at the Cato Institute blog, the government has fallen into Zelaya's carefully laid trap:
Once again, and as a response to the return of deposed president Manuel Zelaya to Tegucigalpa, the interim government of Honduras has overreacted by decreeing a 45-day suspension of constitutional guarantees such as the freedom to move around the country and the right to assemble. The government is even imposing some restrictions on freedom of the press. More disturbingly, today the army shut down a radio station and a TV station supportive of Zelaya.
As I’ve written before, these measures are unnecessary, counterproductive and unjustified. While Zelaya’s supporters are known for repeatedly relying on violence, their actions have been so far contained by the police and the army. Zelaya himself is secluded at the Brazilian Embassy, and while he is using it as a command center to make constant calls for insurrection, the authorities have so far been in control of the situation.
One of the most troubling aspects of the suspension of constitutional guarantees is that they effectively obstruct the development of a clean, free, and transparent election process. Let’s remember that Honduras is holding a presidential election on November 29th, and many regard this electoral process as the best way to solve the country’s political impasse, particularly at an international level.
More on Micheletti's idiotic and undemocratic move against the media here.
The Sun-Sentinel reports:
FORT LAUDERDALE - Police will conduct a commercial vehicle checkpoint Tuesday. The checkpoint will be from 7 to 11 a.m. on the 900 block of West State Road 84. Vehicles will be randomly chosen and drivers will be asked for valid paperwork and driver's licenses.
And here's the kicker:
No delays are expected.
Tipster Andrew Mayne says it best: "Now that's what I call optimistic. Will they be doing these checks while driving alongside cars and having paperwork handed to them through open windows?"
Merrill D. Peterson, a distinguished scholar of Thomas Jefferson and former chair of the University of Virginia's history department, died last week at the age of 88. I learned a lot from his Bancroft Prize-winning book The Jefferson Image in the America Mind, which chronicled the use and abuse of Jefferson's ideas and legacy in the decades after his death, including in the fierce debate over slavery. Peterson also edited the Library of America's superb edition of Jefferson's Writings. And on a libertarian note, Peterson praised Albert Jay Nock's wonderful book Mr. Jefferson as "the most captivating single volume in the Jefferson literature." Here's a nice anecdote from the University of Virginia's announcement of Peterson's death:
A long-time friend and fellow teacher, Paul Gaston, credited Peterson with pioneering the recruitment of black faculty at a turbulent time in Virginia history. His speech on the steps of the Rotunda during a 1965 "Sympathy for Selma" civil rights march, Gaston recalled in 2005, "was one of the greatest speeches that has ever been made."
"He linked Jefferson's principles and legacy of freedom to the Civil Rights Movement," Gaston said. "It really made me proud to know him."
From our October issue, Veronique de Rugy reports on a vicious fight between United Parcel Service and its main private competitor in the delivery business, FedEx, over archaic labor rules that classify the companies based on their favored forms of transportation.
Mild mannered grocer Mr. Whipple was constantly trying to prevent his customers from copping a surrepititious feel of the Charmin toilet paper. But it wasn't their fault -- shoppers found the plush TP irresistably soft. In addition, by stocking such an addictive product, Mr. Whipple was, in fact, a toilet tissue pusher. Now, it turns out that Mr. Whipple was killing the planet too. As the Washington Post explains:
It is a fight over toilet paper: the kind that is blanket-fluffy and getting fluffier so fast that manufacturers are running out of synonyms for "soft" (Quilted Northern Ultra Plush is the first big brand to go three-ply and three-adjective).
It's a menace, environmental groups say -- and a dark-comedy example of American excess.
The reason, they say, is that plush U.S. toilet paper is usually made by chopping down and grinding up trees that were decades or even a century old. They want Americans, like Europeans, to wipe with tissue made from recycled paper goods.
It has been slow going. Big toilet-paper makers say that they've taken steps to become more Earth-friendly but that their customers still want the soft stuff, so they're still selling it....
"It's like the Hummer product for the paper industry," said Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We don't need old-growth forests . . . to wipe our behinds."
But the battle against plush TP is just the latest front in the potty war. Not satisfied with their low-flush toilet victory, some green activists now want to ban all flush toilets as menaces to the planet.
Go here for whole Washington Post article on the dangers of plush TP.
Here's what you were reading last week at Hit & Run:
Corpse of a Thousand Houses, by Tim Cavanaugh (9/23)
More on ACORN and Eminent Domain Abuse, by Damon W. Root (9/23)
The "Tenther" Smear, by Radley Balko (9/21)
It All Depends on What Your Definition of Tax Is, by Jacob Sullum (9/21)
An ACORN in the Media's _____, by Matt Welch (9/23)
Bunnie Huang has an interesting post about the shanzhai of China, a sprawling network of tiny operations run by hacker-entrepreneurs. They're notorious in the West for making name-brand knockoffs, but Huang argues that their copying serves as a base from which much genuine innovation takes place:
An estimate I heard places 300 shanzhai organizations operating in Shenzhen. These shanzai consist of shops ranging from just a couple folks to a few hundred employees; some just specialize in things like tooling, PCB design, PCB assembly, cell phone skinning, while others are a little bit broader in capability. The shanzai are efficient: one shop of under 250 employees churns out over 200,000 mobile phones per month with a high mix of products (runs as short as a few hundred units is possible); collectively an estimate I heard places shanzhai in the Shenzhen area producing around 20 million phones per month. That's an economy approaching a billion dollars a month. Most of these phones sell into third-world and emerging markets: India, Africa, Russia, and southeast Asia; I imagine if this model were extended to the PC space the shanzhai would easily accomplish what the OLPC failed to do. Significantly, the shanzai are almost universally bootstrapped on minimal capital with almost no additional financing — I heard that typical startup costs are under a few hundred thousand for an operation that may eventually scale to over 50 million revenue per year within a couple years.
Significantly, they do not just produce copycat phones. They make original design phones as well....These original phones integrate wacky features like 7.1 stereo sound, dual SIM cards, a functional cigarette holder, a high-zoom lens, or a built-in UV LED for counterfeit money detection. Their ability to not just copy, but to innovate and riff off of designs is very significant. They are doing to hardware what the web did for rip/mix/burn or mashup compilations. The Ferrari toy car meets mobile phone, or the watch mixed with a phone (complete with camera!) are good examples of mashup: they are not a copies of any single idea but they mix IP from multiple sources to create a new heterogeneous composition, such that the original source material is still distinctly recognizable in the final product. Also, like many web mashups, the final result might seem nonsensical to a mass-market (like the Ferrari phone) but extremely relevant to a select long-tail market. Interestingly, the shanzhai employ a concept called the "open BOM" -- they share their bill of materials and other design materials with each other, and they share any improvements made; these rules are policed by community word-of-mouth, to the extent that if someone is found cheating they are ostracized by the shanzhai ecosystem.
To give a flavor of how this is viewed in China, I heard a local comment about how great it was that the shanzhai could not only make an iPhone clone, they could improve it by giving the clone a user-replaceable battery.
If you'd like to see something like that take off in the United States, be forewarned: In addition to the risk of intellectual property suits, America's shanzhai might get in trouble with the local zoning authorities.
My personal favorite shanzhai story is of the chap who owns a house that I'm extraordinarily envious of. His house has three floors: on the top, is his bedroom; on the middle floor is a complete SMT manufacturing line; on the bottom floor is a retail outlet, selling the products produced a floor above and designed two floors above.
[Via Kevin Carson.]
If a prosecutor manufactures evidence, then uses that evidence to falsely convict someone who spends the next 25 years in prison, should the prosecutor be susceptible to a lawsuit? Believe it or not, writes Senior Editor Radley Balko, it's still an open question. But as Balko reports, in November the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Pottawattamie v. McGhee in order to resolve it.
Here are the top five most popular Reason.com columns from last week:
The Internet's New Enforcer: The FCC chairman appoints himself top cop on the World Wide Web, by Peter Suderman (9/23)
A Shake to the System: New research into "shaken baby syndrome" could put hundreds of convictions in peril, by Radley Balko (9/21)
The Body Politics: On health-care reform, Democrats have become their own worst enemy, by Peter Suderman (9/25)
Marching with Michael Moore: After a rally, union toughs get a sneak peak of Capitalism: A Love Story, by Sean Higgins (9/21)Coverage Story: Does the cost of uncompensated care justify forcing people to buy health insurance? by Jacob Sullum (9/23)
As noted in today's links, film director Roman Polanski was arrested over the weekend in Zurich and is being held in Switzerland pending an extradition request from the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.
In 1978, Polanski pled guilty to unlawful sex with a minor (a 13-year-old girl who he gave drugs and booze to and who testified she had repeatedly said no during the act) and then skipped out of the country before his sentencing. For details and context surrounding the Polansky case, read Bill Wyman's eviscerating review of the 2008 documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. Wyman argues convincingly that the film whitewashes the details of the rape and is essentially an apologia for the famous director. Which means the film is of a piece with much of the media's treatment of Polanski (typically as a deeply troubled but ultimately misunderstood sprite;see image, for example).
The Los Angeles Times has published a strange piece attacking California's justice system for bothering to go after Polanski in times of fiscal crisis:
With the state Legislature forced to make dramatic cuts in the prison budget and a three-judge federal panel having recently ordered California lawmakers to release as many as 40,000 inmates in response to the scandalous overcrowding of the California state prison system, it seems like an especially inauspicious time for the L.A. County district attorney's office to be spending some of our few remaining tax dollars seeing if it can finally, after all these years, put Roman Polanski behind bars.
Whole thing here. This strikes me as an incredibly lame argument (indeed, it's simply the inverse of the old Washington monument ploy, when the feds respond to any potential cut in revenue by claiming they will have to shut down the Washington monument first) and one predicated upon an overriding empathy for an artiste who is perceived as having been unfairly hounded into self-imposed exile due to uptight bourgeois morality. I'm curious as to whether the LA Times would be similarly disposed if the guilty party had been, say, a Catholic priest? Or whether, as Patterico notes, the Times would describe a priest who had pled guilty merely as "accused of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl," as the Times just did in a headline?
There are arguments against continuing to pursue Polanski, not least of which is the fact that he made a civil settlement with his now-middle-aged victim who has publicly forgiven him. So some measure of restitution has been acheived. But the idea that California is in a budget crisis surely isn't a legitimate reason to forego legal action against a non-consensual crime.
Update: In shocking conformity to Hollywood uber Alles mentality, HuffPost bloggers line up squarely behind Polanski. Examples:
Arresting Roman Polanski the other day in Zurich, where he was to receive an honorary award at a film festival, was disgraceful and unjustifiable....
The 13-year old model "seduced" by Polanski had been thrust onto him by her mother, who wanted her in the movies. The girl was just a few weeks short of her 14th birthday, which was the age of consent in California. (It's probably 13 by now!) Polanski was demonized by the press, convicted, and managed to flee, fearing a heavy sentence.
I met Polanski shortly after he fled America and was filming Tess in Normandy. I was working in the CBS News bureau in Paris, and I accompanied Mike Wallace for a Sixty Minutes interview with Polanski on the set. Mike thought he would be meeting the devil incarnate, but was utterly charmed by Roman's sobriety and intelligence.
Joan Z. Shore, Women Overseas for Equality
The story of what Polanski suffered even before the unspeakable trauma of having his pregnant wife Sharon Tate butchered in the spooky twilight of the turbulent Sixties makes me believe that overall, he's as much victim as predator himself.
Can you imagine living in the Krakow ghetto during the Nazi Occupation, and at the tender age of ten watching both your parents shuttled off to concentration camps, only to have your mother die in one?...
I can't help musing that here in America, we drove away Chaplin for all those years, and though Polanski's crime was much harsher and more defined, I, for one, would welcome having him back among us once he's paid his debt to society. Maybe he could even help us make better movies again.
Of course, the diminutive Pole has had his share of stinkers (example: 1988's Frantic was most ordinary)....
John Farr, "Writer, editor and lecturer on timeless film" (actual bio line at HuffPost)
Like bears to honey or zombies to brains, politicians find something irresistible about soda taxes. President Obama recently told Men's Health magazine that he thinks a "sin tax" on soda is "an idea that we should be exploring." San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom moved to impose a fee on stores for selling sugary drinks, only to admit that his plan was probably illegal. In December, New York Gov. David Paterson proposed a 18 percent tax on full-sugar soda to help cover a budget shortfall. After a public outcry, he claimed he was just raising awareness about childhood obesity. In Sunday's Washington Post Senior Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward debunks five myths about soda taxes.
In today's Washington Post, Bjorn Lomborg, who heads up the Danish think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus Center, argues that imposing steep immediate cuts on carbon dioxide emissions in an attempt to slow man-made global warming will cause far more harm than it will do good. Why? First, the costs of carbon rationing would far outweigh the benefits. And second, such cuts could provoke a damaging "green" trade war. To get a sense of what would be involved in trying to achieve even moderate carbon dioxide reductions, Lomborg looks at the case of Japan:
Japan's commitment in June to cut greenhouse gas levels 8 percent from its 1990 levels by 2020 was scoffed at for being far too little. Yet for Japan -- which has led the world in improving energy efficiency -- to have any hope of reaching its target, it needs to build nine new nuclear power plants and increase their use by one-third, construct more than 1 million new wind-turbines, install solar panels on nearly 3 million homes, double the percentage of new homes that meet rigorous insulation standards, and increase sales of "green" vehicles from 4 percent to 50 percent of its auto purchases.
Japan's new prime minister was roundly lauded this month for promising a much stronger reduction, 25 percent, even though there is no obvious way to deliver on his promise. Expecting Japan, or any other nation, to achieve such far-fetched cuts is simply delusional.
The new international goal, agreed upon by the big economies at the G-8 meeting this summer, aims to keep the increase in the planet's average temperature under 2 degrees Celsius above what it was in pre-industrial times. What would this cost?
Imagine for a moment that the fantasists win the day and that at the climate conference in Copenhagen in December every nation commits to reductions even larger than Japan's, designed to keep temperature increases under 2 degrees Celsius. The result will be a global price tag of $46 trillion in 2100, to avoid expected climate damage costing just $1.1 trillion, according to climate economist Richard Tol, a contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change whose cost findings were commissioned by the Copenhagen Consensus Center and are to be published by Cambridge University Press next year. That phenomenal cost, calculated by all the main economic models, assumes that politicians across the globe will make the most effective, efficient choices. In the real world, where policies have many other objectives and legislation is easily filled with pork and payoffs, the deal easily gets worse.
And then there is the looming prospect of a "green" protectionism. Already several European leaders have suggested that countervailing tariffs be imposed on imports from countries that refuse to ration carbon. And there are provisions in the Waxman-Markey climate change bill passed by the House of Representatives in June that would do the same thing. The result?
The struggle to generate international agreement on a carbon deal has created a desire to punish "free riders" who do not sign on to stringent carbon emission reduction targets. But the greater goals seem to be to barricade imports from China and India, to tax companies that outsource, and to go for short-term political benefits, destroying free trade.
This is a massive mistake. Economic models show that the global benefits of even slightly freer trade are in the order of $50 trillion -- 50 times more than we could achieve, in the best of circumstances, with carbon cuts. If trade becomes less free, we could easily lose $50 trillion -- or much more if we really bungle things. Poor nations -- the very countries that will experience the worst of climate damage -- would suffer most.
In other words: In our eagerness to avoid about $1 trillion worth of climate damage, we are being asked to spend at least 50 times as much -- and, if we hinder free trade, we are likely to heap at least an additional $50 trillion loss on the global economy.
Lomborg's bottom line:
To put it bluntly: Despite their good intentions, the activists, lobbyists and politicians making a last-ditch push for hugely expensive carbon-cut promises could easily end up doing hundreds of times more damage to the planet than coal ever could.
Go here to read the whole Lomborg op/ed. See Lomborg's recent reason.tv interview discussing climate change costs and benefits here. And take a look my recent column asking "Is Government Action Worse Than Global Warming?"
Over at National Review Online, Kevin Williamson makes a good point about the motivations of financial-sector actors and regulators:
The fallacy implicit in the conventional argument for more robust financial regulation is that animal spirits—the whole menagerie of greed, panic, pride, thrill-seeking, irrational exuberance—distort only profit-seeking activity. But they are at least as likely to distort efforts to regulate profit-seeking activity. In truth, the animal spirits of regulators probably are more dangerous than those of Wall Street sharks: Competition and the possibility of economic loss constrain players in the marketplace, but actors in the political realm have the power to compel conformity and uniformity among those under their jurisdiction. The entire economy is yoked to their animal spirits, and the housing bubble was a consequence of that fact. We have bred an especially dangerous hybrid creature in the "too big to fail" private corporation, the bastard offspring of a union between Wall Street's animal spirits and Washington's....
Which isn't to say that the regulatory enterprise is inherently hopeless: There are better and worse regulations, and there are more intelligent and less intelligent applications of them. But our legislators and regulators are much more likely to be swayed by their resentment of Wall Street paychecks than by well-reasoned analysis of our present regulatory defects, and we will solve "problems" such as CEO pay that are not, probably, problems.
Last March, Sally Harpold, an Indiana grandmother of triplets, bought two boxes of cold medication in less than a week. Together, the two boxes contained 3.6 grams of pseudoephedrine, putting her in violation of the state's methamphetamine-fighting law, which forbids the purchase of more than three grams by one person in a seven-day period.
Police came to Harpold's home, arrested and handcuffed her, and booked her in a Vermillion County jail. No one believes Harpold was making meth or aiding anyone who was. But local authorities aren't apologizing for her arrest.
“I don’t want to go there again,” [Vermillion County Prosecutor Nina] Alexander told the Tribune-Star, recalling how the manufacture and abuse of methamphetamine ravaged the tiny county and its families.
While the law was written with the intent of stopping people from purchasing large quantities of drugs to make methamphetamine, the law does not say the purchase must be made with the intent to make meth.
“The law does not make this distinction,” Alexander said...
Just as with any law, the public has the responsibility to know what is legal and what is not, and ignorance of the law is no excuse, the prosecutor said.
“I’m simply enforcing the law as it was written,” Alexander said...
It is up to customers to pay attention to their purchase amounts, and to check medication labels, Alexander said.
“If you take these products, you ought to know what’s in them,” she said.
Harpold's photo was put on the front page of the local paper as part of an article about the arrest of 17 people in a "drug sweep." Alexander has generously allowed Harpold to enter a deferral program. If she commits no crimes in the next 30 days, her arrest will be wiped from her record. She'll still have to pay court costs and attorney fees.
I'll leave it to Vigo County Sheriff Jon Marvel to (unintentionally) put an exclamation point on the absurdity.
“Sometimes mistakes happen,” Marvel said. “It’s unfortunate. But for the good of everyone, the law was put into effect.
“I feel for her, but if she could go to one of the area hospitals and see a baby born to a meth-addicted mother …”
Because clearly the best way to prevent meth-addicted babies is to arrest women who buy cold medication for their grandchildren.
From The Foundation For Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) comes this video with Dave Barry, whose work has been deemed "patently offensive" and censored by some college administrators:
Read Reason's great 1994 interview: "All I think is that it's stupid: Dave Barry on laughing at Very Big Government."
• Another shot is fired in what may soon be a full-blown Chinese-American trade war.
• Israelis and Palestinians clash at a sacred site.
• Bill Clinton claims a vast right-wing conspiracy is targeting President Obama.
• William Safire dies at age 79.
• Michigan faces a possible government shutdown.
• Hollywood wins the fight over which federal department will host Obama's IP czar.
When it comes to cigarettes, writes Steve Chapman, the federal government can blow smoke with the best of them. That became clear the other day, when the Food and Drug Administration announced it was prohibiting the sale of cigarettes with candy or fruit flavors. As Chapman notes, when it comes to escorting kids into addiction, such cigarettes are more like the eye of a needle than a gateway.
Yesterday I wrote about a woman in Michigan who was being harassed by state bureaucrats for watching her neighbors kids without a license.
Several readers sent a similar story from Britain about two families who took turns watching one another's children. Apparently, British authorities determined that the reciprocity amounted to a form of compensation, and ordered them to end the arrangement.
The case is now under review.
Sara Corbett has written a wonderful story for The New York Times Magazine that I almost finished. It tells of the capture and publication of Swiss shrink and mystic Carl Gustav Jung's Liber Novus. This big and heavy red-leather book with thick pages was Jung's notebook through a 16-year exploration of the life of the mind (the mind, sadly, being his own). It contains full-color Blakean vision paintings, dreams and hallucinations written out in a careful Motörhead-type script, and the seeds of all Jung's best-known ideas. Variously described as the "nuclear reactor for all [Jung's] works" and something to read "cover to cover without stopping to breathe scarcely," the notebook has been locked up in a Zurich bank safe deposit box for decades but will be published by W.W. Norton in time for Halloween.
When I hear the name "Jung" I generally back quickly toward the nearest exit, making a cross with two index fingers, taking the safety off my pistol and mixing myself a stiff drink all at once. (I do it by summoning the anima of six-armed Kali from the collective unconscious, a trick I picked up one night in an abandoned nunnery in Avignon.) Also Corbett, in her heroic efforts to anthropomorphize the book, deploys fancy words I'm not sure she knows the definitions of, so that the Red Book has been "cosseted behind the skeins of its own legend," but while there it has "fulminated as both an asset and a liability."
That having been said, the Jungians I have known, almost to a woman (for in my experience Jungians are almost always woman, though Corbett's story, maybe because it treats the top echelons of a religion, features only males), have been good, thoughtful, more or less honest people. I'm very excited that Jungians have their own real holy book now, and wish them the best in promoting their faith. In fact, I hope the various American Jungian institutes, even in these hard times, will put some money toward getting Corbett a movie deal. (Prestige all the way: Anne Hathaway as Corbett and Jean-Louis Trintignant as the ghost of Jung.)
Finally, I find the Red Book concept itself to be the grooviness of the fabulicity. Why doesn't everybody have a Red Book?
State bureaucrats threaten to fine, jail a Michigan woman for watching her neighbors' kids.
Lisa Snyder of Middleville says her neighborhood school bus stop is right in front of her home. It arrives after her neighbors need to be at work, so she watches three of their children for 15-40 minutes until the bus comes.
The Department of Human Services received a complaint that Snyder was operating an illegal child care home. DHS contacted Snyder and told her to get licensed, stop watching her neighbors' kids, or face the consequences.
"It's ridiculous." says Snyder. "We are friends helping friends!" She added that she accepts no money for babysitting...
A DHS spokesperson would not comment on the specifics of the case but says they have no choice but to comply with state law, which is designed...
...wait for it...
...to protect Michigan children.
The steady stream of celebrity stories about prescription drug abuse makes Americans keenly aware of the dangers of overdosing on medications like OxyContin and Vicodin. And from President Obama's Drug Czar to California Attorney General Jerry Brown, politicians are calling for greater power to monitor doctor-patient relationships in order to fight the "epidemic" of prescription drug overdosing.
But maybe the real epidemic is underdosing. Countless Americans suffer with severe chronic pain because doctors are afraid to treat them properly.
Michael Jackson's death unleashed a flurry of media stories about all aspects of the pop star's life, including his alleged prescription drug abuse. On the same day countless millions watched Jackson's star-studded memorial service, reason.tv interviewed another musician.
Seán Clarke-Redmond, a man who enjoyed an active live before the neurodegenerative disease ALS, often referred to as Lou Gerig's disease, rendered him nearly immobile-he can no longer even play the piano.
The disease also left him in almost constant pain. Redman is prescribed some medication, but not nearly enough to keep his pain under control. Dr. Frank Fisher says Redman's case is an appallingly common one.
"Chronic pain in America is an enormously under treated disease," says Fisher, a Harvard-trained physician. "It's a public health disaster."
Pain specialists like Fisher and patients' groups like the Pain Relief Network battle law enforcement officials who are forever on the lookout for "pill mills" and patients who misuse pain medicine. Fisher notes that the same medications so often associated with celebrity addiction are the same medications that combat pain most effectively.
Fisher has treated his patients with high doses of opioids-that is, until a swat team raided his clinic and threw him behind bars.
"They were trying to give me 256 years to life," says Fisher who argues that fear of prosecution often prevents doctors from treating chronic pain patients effectively.
What allows doctors' medical decisions to be overruled by police?
"What we're dealing with is a mass insanity," says Fisher. "We call it the war on drugs."
"When Cops Play Doctor" is written and produced by Ted Balaker and hosted by Nick Gillespie. Director of Photography is Alex Manning, Associate Producers are Hawk Jensen and Paul Detrick.
Approximately five minutes. For embed code, downloadable versions, and more, go here.
Instead of reaffirming the importance of our relationship with Israel, writes David Harsanyi, President Barack Obama has renewed our membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council, presided over by exemplars of self-determination and human dignity, such as Libya, Syria, and Angola. But shouldn't the U.S. stand with those nations—like Israel—that already value the basic tenets of a free and peaceful society?
As President Barack Obama ponders the moral case against tossing more young American soldiers into the Afghan abyss, he faces several political obstacles, including some of his own making. But as Terry Michael writes, the president's decision about Afghanistan is not a political choice. There are thousands of young lives at stake, individuals who will be sent to risk death and injury. And the choice of stepping up this horror—rather than drawing it down—will engender bitter hatred from Afghans caught in the crossfire.
As health-care reform struggles to stay afloat, Democrats are desperate to pin the blame on Republicans. But as Peter Suderman writes, the truth is that no matter how much Democrats gripe, it's their own fault.
This week the federal government warned that "substantial levels of cocaine" may be contaminated by levamisole hydrochloride, an anti-parasitic agent used in animals that kills white blood cells, leaving people vulnerable to potentially fatal infections. A.P. reports that the tainted cocaine has killed at least three people in the U.S. and Canada, while dozens of others have been sickened. Additional cases are expected to be reported once the problem is more widely publicized. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, "the percentage of cocaine specimens containing levamisole has increased steadily since 2002, with levamisole now found in over 70 percent of the illicit cocaine analyzed in July." Based on data from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), A.P. estimates that "30 percent of all U.S. cocaine seizures are tainted with the drug." The story suggests that traffickers are using levasimole, which raises dopamine levels, as a cheap way of boosting the impact of weak cocaine.
Here is the response of DEA spokesman Paul Knierim: "I think the message is the same: Don't use cocaine; it's a dangerous drug."
Had Knierim been working for the federal government in the 1920s, this is how he would have responded to reports that methanol, a government-mandated adulterant in industrial alcohol, had blinded and killed people who accidentally drank it in black-market booze: "I think the message is the same: Don't drink alcohol; it's a dangerous drug."
There's no question that both cocaine and alcohol are dangerous (in some doses, in some circumstances, for some people); there is also no question that banning them makes them more dangerous. "It's not like you can put [a warning about levamisole in cocaine] on the bottle," a poison control official tells A.P. More to the point, you won't find levamisole in legal, pharmaceutical cocaine, just as you won't find methanol in the whiskey you get at your local liquor store. The main reason for that is not government regulation (although there's none of that in a black market) but the need to compete for customers in a legal, open market where fraud and negligence are punished not only by law but by the loss of business.
By making such competition impossible, prohibition creates uncertainty about the quality and purity of drugs, and more aggressive enforcement only makes the problem worse. To the extent that the government succeeds at its avowed goal of reducing cocaine purity, for example, it encourages more use of levamisole, resulting in more disease and death. Anyone who supports this policy has to accept the resulting casualties as a necessary cost of deterrence. Some must die so that others, seeing their example, will think twice about using drugs the government has deemed intolerable.
[Thanks to Tom Angell at LEAP for the tip.]
Reason.tv's Nick Gillespie appeared on Fox News' Freedom Watch with Judge Andrew Napolitano on Wednesday, September 23 and discussed tea party protests, the death of conservativism, and the future of libertarian politics.
Approximately 10 minutes. Edited by Meredith Bragg.
Go here for embed code, downloadable versions, and more videos.
And go here for the official site of Freedom Watch, including archives of shows.
LA Timesman Tim Rutten is the Tor Johnson of culture critics: a slow, lumbering space zombie who takes forever to get to whatever inelegant point he's making (typically a coupla-three weeks after it's relevant). And talk about subtlety! Here he is on the RDIB (recent descent into boorishness):
Our recent descent into boorishness didn't begin on the political platform but on the stage—not with our politicians but with our stand-up comics. Sometime in the late 1950s, the taste for comedy based on edgy political satire (think Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl) mutated into shtick based on insult (think Don Rickles and Jackie Mason). People, as it turned out, found it highly entertaining to watch other people being insulted.
It was, in economic terms, the commoditization of incivility.
It wasn't long before foundering AM radio found a savior in the proto-shock jock, Howard Stern, who turned rudeness and transgressive humor of every sort into a morning staple for millions of Americans. Incivility the commodity had found a broad new market, built on the animating insight that people found insults entertaining.
Oddly, despite taking a couple of weeks to comment on Rep. Joe Wilson's idiotic and churlish outburst during Barack Obama's congressional address, Rutten couldn't rouse himself to throw in the obligatory Serena Williams comment, perhaps because the role tennis has played in coarsening the culcha upsets his easy morality play (I think it's fair to say that Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and Ilie Nastase did as much to legitimize boorishness as Don Rickles, Jackie Mason, and Howard Stern—who, by the way, was funnier and more insightful into the American psyche at his peak than St. Lenny ever was).
Are people more, er, expressive than they used to be? Yes, in all sorts of ways. Are we a "coarser" society than in the past? I'm not so sure. Depends on how you define it (wasn't Joe McCarthy coarse? LBJ?). Does the coarseness flow one way, toward the Glenn Becks and GOPpers of the world? Certainly not, even in Congress, where Dems en masse can boo the president and Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) can say from the floor George W. Bush and the Republicans send our kids to Iraq "to get their heads blown off for the President's amusement."
But at least Joe Wilson wasn't wearing flip-flops.
Writing at the website Secular Right, the Manhattan Institute's Heather MacDonald has a provocative post on how "Republicans denounce identity politics, except when they engage in it themselves." A snippet:
Is it too much to hope that Republican criticism of Obama stay within a zone of rationality and dignity? Yes, the Democrats demonized Bush, but that doesn't mean that Republicans have to respond in kind. Why not be icily factual and coldly respectful, rather than hysterical and hot-headed? Both parties seem to have forgotten the Clinton and the Bush eras. Democrats, in portraying right-wing hyperventilation over Obama as a manifestation of covert hostility to blacks, forget the insane Clinton conspiracy theories that grew like kudzu even in the highest reaches of Republican opinionizing. Only this year has the right-wing obsession with the Clintons appeared to have finally and thankfully petered out. But Republican pundits, in portraying Obama as an unprecedented danger to the country-on Wednesday, Mark Levin announced: "We've never been in this situation before at least in modern times . . . They intend to use the system against you"-forget their own dire warnings about the Clintons as the end of civilization.
From our October issue, Senior Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward explains how new laws aimed at kneecapping payday lenders will end up hurting the poor.
Washington, D.C.'s Metropolitan Area Transit Authority fired Metro bus driver Carla A. Proctor this week after Proctor struck a jogger earlier this month. The jogger was just released from intensive care at a local hospital.
It's good to know nearly killing someone was—finally—enough to get Proctor out from behind the wheel of a public bus. Her record to that point:
• Proctor had five off-the-job traffic tickets in January alone, including driving an unregistered, unlicensed vehicle.
• In 2003, Proctor got off a bus she had been driving to check a sticky door without first assuring the bus was parked. The bus rolled down a hill without her, damaging eight vehicles, including the bus. Metro paid out $27,000 in damages.
• Also in 2003, Proctor turned into oncoming traffic, at which point her car was struck by another vehicle. Proctor's car went flying into a fast food restaurant, injuring two women.
• In 2004, Proctor crashed another Metro bus, this time into a parked vehicle, injuring a 72-year-old pasenger.
Given the impressive record of the Metro workers union in helping scofflaws avoid discipline, it wouldn't be all that surprising to see Proctor back on the job.
Back in 2007, D.C. Metro General Manager John B. Catoe, Jr. promised new scrutiny for Metro bus drivers after Metro had five pedestrian fatalities from 2003 to 2006, and three more early in 2007 (New York City, by contrast, had just one bus v. pedestrian fatality over that period). The Washington Post wrote at the time:
[Catoe] said he will begin to monitor drivers -- knowing when they are stopped for speeding, drunken driving and other violations while on duty -- by coordinating with the motor vehicle departments of Maryland, Virginia and the District. Although many transit agencies already do this, Metro supervisors have no way of knowing whether operators have broken the law unless drivers tell them or the violations are caught on police cameras.
Despite the Proctor fiasco, recent stories about Metro bus drivers chatting on cell phones while driving, Metro train operators opening doors on the wrong side (a potentially fatal mistake), and of course the disastrous Red Line crash in June that killed nine people, Metro's board of directors voted 5-1 yesterday to grant Catoe a new three-year contract.
Mexicans don't feel too good about their country these days: More than two-thirds think the country's crime, drugs, economics, and corruption are "a big problem." But most agree that things look greener on the other side of the border fence.
Most believe life is better in the United States. Close to six-in-ten (57%) say that people who move from Mexico enjoy a better life in the U.S., up from 51% in 2007. And the vast majority of those who are in regular contact with friends and relatives living in the U.S. say those friends and relatives have largely achieved their goals.
A substantial minority of Mexicans say that if they had the means and opportunity to go live in the U.S. they would do so, and more than half of those who would migrate if they had the chance say they would do so without authorization.
Not only do they want to be with us, Mexicans love our president:
In a pattern found throughout much of the world, President Barack Obama receives considerably more favorable reviews than his predecessor, George W. Bush. Interestingly, however, Mexico is one of the few countries included in the survey where the U.S. as a country receives higher marks than President Obama or the American people.
Sadly, Obama is following in his predecessor's footstep, with continued crackdowns on illegals.
Mark Perry at the American Enterprise Institute reins in the time-travelers who think we have to go back to the Great Depression to find economic times as relentlessly awful as today. Some perspective:
A Google News search shows that the phrase “since the 1930s” has been used 7,454 times in the last month, and the phrase “since the Great Depression” has been used almost 6,000 times in the last month, and most of these news references are comparisons of today’s economic and financial conditions to the 1930s and the Great Depression. In contrast, the phrase “since the 1980s” has been used only 758 times in the last month.
....Compare for example some of the key economic variables today to the peaks for those variables in the early 1980s...
We are not even yet anywhere close to the economic conditions of that period. For example, the prime rate was more than six times higher in 1980 compared to today, core inflation in 1980 was six times higher than today, the unemployment rate in November and December of 1982 was more than a percentage point higher than the August 2009 rate, the 30-year mortgage rate in 1981 was almost four times higher than today’s 5 percent, the car loan rate in 1981 was 2.5 times higher than today, and real gas prices were 32 percent more expensive in 1981 than today....
Perry goes on to, somewhat blithely I think, hint that we may be about to enjoy a period of unrestrained economic growth similar to the one that finished out the 1980s after that grim nadir of 1982. Still, as the assumption that quick, generous, and extensive government action, takeovers, and megaspending are needed to rescue us from Great Depression II dominates the policy debate, the reminder that we got out of a worse economic dilemma 27 years ago without such panicked reactions is helpful.
It's not just Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann bringing the crazy on cable news. Check out this short clip of Ed Schultz, who has an almost unwatchable show on MSNBC (with the creative title "The Ed Show"), clarifying Republican objections to ObamaCare:
If President Barack Obama wants to regain the momentum on health care reform, writes Shikha Dalmia, he will have to do more than just refrain from impugning the motives of his opponents. He will actually have to listen to them and do what he said he would during his campaign: put affordable coverage within the grasp of more Americans without forcing them to purchase it, without raising their taxes, and without breaking the federal bank.
Allow me to re-edit the lede of Paul Krugman's latest columny, an attempt to pre-emptively marginalize those who disagree with another sweeping federal proposal:
So, have you enjoyed the debate over health care reform? Have you been impressed by the civility of the discussion and the intellectual honesty of reform opponents supporters?
If so, you'll love the next big debate: the fight over climate change.
Early on in the health care debate, you'll recall, Krugman posited that opponents were primarily motivated by the same "racial anxiety" that underpins the "'birther' movement," and thus should be treated with even more disdain than California Republicans. As always, removing people from the argument is easier than arguing with them.
Hence, opponents of Waxman-Markley either "still claim that there's no such thing as global warming, or at least that the evidence isn't yet conclusive," or "that doing anything to limit global warming would destroy the economy." Also, they probably like Glenn Beck, "who seems to be challenging Rush Limbaugh for the role of de facto leader of the G.O.P." (Someone apparently forgot to tell Krugman that Beck prefers Barack Obama to John McCain.) Therefore, "It's important...to understand that claims of immense economic damage from climate legislation are as bogus, in their own way, as climate-change denial." And finally, "the campaign against saving the planet rests mainly on lies."
It's telling that, as in the health care debate, Krugmanesque supporters of cap-and-trade–which, it's worth mentioning, has never worked–are eager to place the burden of proof for a massive policy overhaul on the shoulders of a broadcast shock-jock. If he was interested in engaging the best arguments against Waxman-Markley, he might start with the archive of Reason Science Correspondent Ron Bailey, who (unhelpfully!) can't be categorized under any of Krugman's caricatures.
Start with Bailey's "Cap-and-Trade Delusions: Proponents need to stop pretending cap-and-trade will cost nothing and create tons of jobs," proceed to "Energy Price Deceit: Congress tries to hide its cap-and-trade energy price increases," then for a main course tuck into Bailey's classic June 2009 cover package on alternative energy, which delves into (among many other things) the various past, current, and future prices of all the cleaner-energy technologies that Krugman et al are relying on without ever demonstrably studying.
If a health-care overhaul clears the U.S. Senate this year, the key vote may be a former drug industry lobbyist who has helped raise millions of dollars from drug companies and insurers.
Paul Kirk, chosen by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to fill the seat of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy until a special election in January, will be the 60th Democratic senator, and he looks like a reliable vote for President Barack Obama's push to overhaul the health-care sector.
Kirk could deliver the 60th vote on health care—crucial to break a potential Republican filibuster—which would be fitting for a "reform" effort that will enrich the drug industry and could provide a boon for private insurers.
From 1996 through the end of 1999, Kirk lobbied on behalf of drug maker Hoechst Marion Roussel, which later changed its name to Aventis. Kirk, a lawyer at law firm Sullivan & Worcester, was the only registered lobbyist on Hoechst's account for those four years, in which the drug maker paid more than $150,000 for his lobbying on "FDA Reform legislation."
Kirk wrote on the forms that he lobbied only the U.S. Senate.
This is precisely the sort of revolving door Obama promised to shut down: Kirk was a top staffer for Kennedy, became a well-paid private sector lawyer, and then lobbied Kennedy's colleagues and presumably Kennedy on behalf of the very companies being regulated.
The GOP is looking to block Kirk's appointment on constitutional grounds.
Reason's Ron Bailey wrote about the corporate welfare buried in cap-and-trade legislation here, and noted how the Podesta family has benefited from energy lobbying here. I wrote about how the Obama administration empowers lobbyists here.
From USA Today:
Nearly $10 billion in stimulus aid to repair the nation's tattered highways has largely bypassed dozens of metropolitan areas where roads are in the worst shape, a USA TODAY analysis shows.
Half of the nation's worst roads are in counties that will only get about 20% of the stimulus money allocated by state and federal officials for street repairs. Although the worst roads are in just a handful of counties, they account for 11,000 miles of pavement so rough the government has branded them as unacceptable....
The result is that counties with the worst roads won't get much more repair money than counties with better roads. The 74 counties with half of the nation's bad roads will split $1.9 billion, records show; counties with no major roads in bad shape will split about $1.5 billion.
And don't expect major urban areas with terrible roads, such as Detroit, New York, and Dallas to get much at all, according to USAT.
• As police and demonstrators clash at the G20 summit, Gordon Brown declares the organization will become "the world's main economic governing council." Barack Obama says it will supplant the G8. On today's agenda: charges against Iran.
• The initial AP report about Bill Sparkman, the Census worker recently found dead in Kentucky, does not appear to have been fully accurate.
• Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is hospitalized.
In the latest edition of Friday Funnies, Henry Payne profiles the next generation of electric cars.
My feature in the October Reason, "The Paranoid Center," has prompted a response from the liberal blogger David Neiwert (whose book The Eliminationists was, in turn, critiqued in my article). He singles out two of my points for criticism, starting with my argument that "Accusing Glenn Beck or Bill O'Reilly of validating right-wing violence isn't so different from accusing pornography of validating rape, Ozzy Osbourne of validating teen suicide, or Marilyn Manson of validating school massacres." Writes Neiwert:
Actually, it is quite different from that. Because what The Eliminationists describes is not artistic expression or mere point of view, but rather ideological exhortation -- rhetoric specifically intended to inspire both belief and action. The former has only a tenuous causal connection at best, while the latter has a long and well-established causal connection to violent behavior.
Surely Walker doesn't believe for a minute that radical anti-Israeli speech emanating from Hamas has no connection to the suicide bombers who board buses in Tel Aviv. It's hard to imagine anyone not acknowledging that radical Jihadist anti-American speech doesn't inspire Al Qaeda's acts of terrorism. Nor even that the Ku Klux Klan race baiters of the '20s and '30s didn't help inspire various acts of lynching and "race rioting".
Accusing Beck and O'Reilly of validating right-wing violence isn't like connecting Marilyn Manson to Columbine -- which is to say, connecting something that only tenuously could be said to actually inspire or advocate violence. It's much more like connecting radical imams to 9/11.
Neiwert is conflating several different categories of speech here. There are direct exhortations to violence, of the sort deployed by jihadists or by propaganda broadcasts in Rwanda. And then there's what we've seen in some right-wing (and left-wing) outlets here in America: jokes about violence, deliberately over-the-top rhetoric that casually invokes violence, and harsh rhetoric that does not invoke violence but might help the violently inclined choose a target. Whatever you think about any of that speech, it's a stretch to say it's "specifically intended to inspire both belief and action," if by action you mean actual violent attacks. It's even more of a stretch to suggest such speech inspired all of the crimes that pundits have attempted to link to it. Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are not known for denouncing the Holocaust museum.
Just as important, Neiwert doesn't acknowledge all the ways speech can be received. He argues that when extremists see
someone like Bill O'Reilly or Glenn Beck or Lou Dobbs repeating for a mass national audience things they believed were only understood by people like themselves, it has not only a powerfully validating effect, but even moreso a permission-giving one. Just as hate-crime perpetrators believe they are acting on the secret wishes of their larger communities, violent extremists have a need to believe that they are acting heroically, on behalf of their nation or their "people." Mainstream validation tells them they are supported.
This is one conceivable reaction such broadcasts could spark in such circles, but it is hardly the only one, and Neiwert offers no evidence that it is dominant or even common. Words are influential, but they influence different people in different ways; it would take a really extensive sociological study to establish whether talk radio and TV do more to fan Americans' violent instincts or to tamp them down. Whatever else might be said about Glenn Beck's "9-12 Project," for example, it could easily absorb energy that otherwise would go to more aggressive pursuits. Reihan Salam has gone so far as to argue that "Beck's occasionally loopy warnings about socialist totalitarianism and the coming American civil war actually inoculate his viewers against truly extreme sentiments. You couldn't invent a better government stooge than Beck." Salam notes that because Keith Olbermann was willing to explore the claim that the Republicans stole the election in Ohio in 2004, "true believers treated him as an honest broker. And when Olbermann eventually moved on, they did too, for the most part." Beck did something similar when he raised those dubious yarns about FEMA concentration camps before dismissing them.
My point isn't that Salam is necessarily right. It's that his hypothesis is as at least as plausible as Neiwert's, and that both could very well be true for different listeners and viewers, along with a host of other reactions. Media effects are complicated, and you can't reduce them to simple push-pull reactions. (And if that argument sounds familiar, it's because some of us have said the same thing when the speech in question is an Eminem record or Natural Born Killers.)
Neiwert also takes me to task for writing that he "uncritically embraced the idea that the militia movement began in 1992, so it's easy for him to imagine a progression from the old lynch mobs to the right-wing '80s underground to the '90s militias to Republicans who tolerate militia-style arguments." He replies:
I'm not sure what in the hell Walker is talking about here. Nowhere have I suggested that the militia movement began in 1992. And I haven't uncritically embraced anyone's theories about their origins. After all, I was there and reported on them at the time. I've been reporting on them since.
Walker seems oblivious to the fact that my first published book was a study of the "Patriot" movement of the 1990s from a Northwestern perspective, titled In God's Country. It was published by a small academic press, so I can't blame him if he hasn't read it. But a little research would have revealed to him that the book is based on my on-the-ground reportage involving the extremist right in the Northwest dating back to the 1970s and picking up in the early '90s....
What I can tell you is what I laid out in the book, with the full body of evidence: that the militias were actually an outgrowth of the larger "Christian Patriot" movement that became an umbrella term for the American extremist right in the mid-1980s. The militias were seen as a means to recruit new believers from the mainstream, by appealing to their "libertarian" ideals and their fears about guns and government power.
First things first: Elsewhere in the article I distinguish two origin stories for the militias of the '90s. One, presented by the historian Robert Churchill in To Shake Their Guns in the Tyrant's Face, says that the movement began to congeal in 1994 as a reaction to the one-two punch of Ruby Ridge and Waco -- and, more broadly, to the paramilitarization of policing, a phenomenon Radley Balko writes about frequently in Reason. The other narrative says that the militias evolved directly from the racist right of the '80s, and that the turning point was a conference in Estes Park, Colorado, in 1992. Neiwert clearly accepts the idea that the militias were a direct sequel to the earlier radical right, and he has written elsewhere that the Estes Park conference played a pivotal role in the transformation (and has quoted, with apparent approval, an SPLC statement that the gathering was where "the contours of the militia movement were laid out"). If he doesn't think the word "began" captures his view of what happened, I accept the amendment: The belief I'm disputing, after all, is that the militias were not so much a new movement as a new mask for an earlier crusade. As Neiwert sums up the story, "They love to present a normative front that is non-threatening and whose deep radicalism is not immediately apparent. But eventually the real agenda emerges."
Neiwert will be happy to hear that I'm familiar with In God's Country. I have my disagreements with it, some of them substantial, but I think it's an impressive book: a rich, nuanced, and empathetic portrait of a political movement. But it isn't the militia movement that's being depicted -- not as a whole, anyway. The book is a regional portrait of the "Christian Patriot" subculture in the inner northwest, a milieu that overlaps with the militias but by no means subsumes them. (A rough comparison: The New Left overlapped with the counterculture, but there were plenty of New Leftists who hated hippies and plenty of hippies who rejected left-wing politics.) Many, maybe most of the groups that Neiwert covered in detail weren't militias at all, and most of the ones that were militias hailed from the millennarian wing of the movement. (Churchill divides the militias into two tendencies, the constitutionalists and the millenarians. The former emphasized civil liberties and organized in public, while the latter emphasized apocalyptic conspiracy theories and often organized in secret cells. The second segment was also more likely to tolerate racists.) Furthermore, one of the militias that Neiwert profiles -- the Militia of Montana -- had unusually close links to the racist right. Its co-founder John Trochman was, as far as I'm aware, the one notable militia leader who reportedly attended that gathering in Estes Park (though he denies that he was there), and he has past associations with the white supremacist community.
In other words, Neiwert has shown us part of the picture, but not all of it. I too spoke with my share of militiamen and read my share of militia literature in the '90s, both as a reporter who occasionally covered that segment of society and as a libertarian bumping into the fringes of my own movement. The camo-clad rebels that I encountered were angry about gun control, land use regulations, and police abuses, particularly the disastrous ATF and FBI raids at Waco. (And, yes, they were often angry about an assortment of conspiracy theories, some of them deeply bizarre.) They showed no sign of being driven by racism or anti-Semitism; I'm pretty sure some of them were Jewish, and others attempted to build bridges to radical blacks. The impression I got from them was that the racists in the militia scene resembled the Maoist and Trotskyist sects that attempt to attach themselves to any remotely popular cause on the left.
I'm not claiming that my experience outweighs Neiwert's. I'm saying we were feeling different parts of the elephant. As a libertarian, I was more likely to meet militia types with a constitutionalist outlook, just as a journalist in the region where the Identity movement is strongest was more likely to meet militiamen in the Christian Patriot mold. I think Churchill makes a good case that the constitutionalists were a much stronger strain in the movement than Neiwert imagines.
A final thought. Suppose, for the same of argument, that Neiwert is right about the militias' origins -- that they were invented by militant racists aiming to recruit mainstream Americans "by appealing to their 'libertarian' ideals and their fears about guns and government power." If that were true, the bigots' plot was surely a failure. Whatever its origins, the militia movement of the '90s had a life of its own, and the chief issues that commanded its attention didn't have anything to do with race. Indeed, its cause celebre was the confrontation at Waco, where roughly half of the 80 Branch Davidians killed were not white. (The body count included five Asians, six Hispanics, and 28 blacks.) To make one last '60s comparison: Students for a Democratic Society began as the youth arm of a far-from-militant band of social democrats called the League for Industrial Democracy. With time SDS exploded in both size and activity, breathing new life into several political perspectives -- but not into the League, which embodied the Old Left the kids were rejecting.
Which brings the discussion full circle. You can't predict what autonomous audiences will do with the signals they receive: not an Ozzy Osbourne song, not a Glenn Beck broadcast, and not a call to form citizen militias.
Ronald Radosh claims there is new evidence that former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers ghostwrote President Obama's early memoir Dreams From My Father.
Ghostwriting as I understand it can take many forms. The literary issue is unimportant to Radosh and his source -- Ingram's magazine editor and Nazi hunter Jack Cashill -- who are concerned only with placing Ayers and fledgling author Barack Obama together. (Candidate Obama disowned Ayers and denied that they had an extensive relationship.)
I am interested in the literary issue. I read and enjoyed Dreams From My Father, and to the extent President Obama disappoints me (a very limited extent, as the Obama Administration has mostly been what I expected), he disappoints me by not being more like the character in the book.
Author Obama did not conceal his hard-left inclinations or his family's history of socialistic politics. But he repeatedly dramatized his own disaffection with the buttoned-down liberal consensus. (Maybe this is some thumbprint of the New Leftist Ayers?) The narrative is basically a series of epiphanies about the failures of parents, grandparents, male role models, friends and finally mentors, with the climax (which was a little anti-climactic) being the narrator's graduation from these many imperfect schools. I hadn't really expected, but had hoped, that the Barry who hung out with lesbian marxist poets and punk rock performance artists might take a little more of a burn-baby-burn attitude toward institutions that were, for example, sacred to both Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill.
President Obama, on the other hand, governs as the answer to the question historians have been puzzling over for decades: What if Adlai Stevenson had taken it back in '52? If Obama were the radical demagogue I keep hearing he is, he'd probably be more relevant. Consensus politics have never been deader, yet Obama keeps ruling as if we're in some great age of the vital center.
As for who wrote the book, I'm just a simple caveman, but aren't questions like this one the reason President Wilson invented authorship attribution and statistical text analysis software?
Ah, yesterday. It was a more innocent time. Back then, my colleague Ron Bailey could write this:
Ron's naivete turns out to be utterly charming in retrospect. As a story in today's Washington Post reveals, he clearly should have added "corrupt" to the list:
Ted G. Loza, [chief of staff to D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1)] was taken into custody at his home in the 1400 block of Columbia Road NW and is scheduled to make an appearance Thursday in the District's federal court. A dozen federal agents raided Loza's offices at city hall just hours after arresting him.
The charges stem from alleged bribes Loza took from an unidentified person in the taxicab industry, court papers show.
Someone identified in court papers as "Individual Number 1" wanted to limit the number of taxi licenses, in order to make a planned exception for hybrid cars more valuable.
Councilman Graham initially said he was worried that the city would be "overrun" by cabs. Hooey. There is one reason, and one reason only, to favor licensing schemes like this one—if you are an industry insider who wants to keep competition out.
Wait, scratch that. There's one other reason: If you're getting "a stream of things of value" including "cash, the use of vehicles and trips," from the folks in reason number one, you'll probably back a licensing plan, too.
Adding to Ron's tally of "I'm from the government and I'm here to help" items, this is Edition 5,243,683. Stay tuned for for the inevitable edition 5,243,684 in this ongoing series.
On Wednesday, September 16, Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch appeared on PBS' The Newshour with Jim Lehrer to discuss whether criticism of Barack Obama's politicial agenda is, as former President Jimmy Carter has asserted, due to racial animosity.
Approximately 15 minutes. Edited by Meredith Bragg.
As the buffoonish Chavez acolyte Manuel Zelaya camps out in the Brazilian embassy, the Wall Street Journal reports that "roving bands of his supporters [have] set up roadblocks around the capital, smashed windows, and engaged in sporadic battles with police and army troops." As the Wall Street Journal Europe observed, the rigged elections in Iran and the subsequent murder of pro-democracy protesters produced little reaction in the European Union—it was "too early" for such a decision, according to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt—but Brussels swiftly applied economic sanctions on the new government in Honduras, while recently lifting diplomatic sanctions against the Cuban dictatorship. And now Zelaya, taking a page from fellow nutter Kwame Ture's playbook, is accusing the Israelis (!) of poisoning him with radiation. The Miami Herald reports:
"We are being threatened with death,'' he said in an interview with The Miami Herald, adding that mercenaries were likely to storm the embassy where he has been holed up since Monday and assassinate him....
Zelaya was deposed at gunpoint on June 28 and slipped back into his country on Monday, just two days before he was scheduled to speak before the United Nations. He sought refuge at the Brazilian Embassy, where Zelaya said he is being subjected to toxic gases and radiation that alter his physical and mental state.
The Obama administration too has turned the screws on the de facto government in Tegucigalpa, which forced Zelaya out of the country after his administration ignored a supreme court decision halting a plebiscite on extending term limits:
The U.S. State Department sought to tighten the pressure on the Micheletti government last week by canceling $30 million in non-humanitarian aid, revoking the visas of political leaders who supported Zelaya's ouster and seeming to close the door on recognizing the result of the Nov. 29 presidential and congressional elections.
The U.S. is the 800-pound gorilla in Honduras; more than half of Honduras' trade is with the U.S. The U.S. also has a military base in Honduras, the brightest Hondurans study in the U.S. and Hondurans speak English as a point of pride.
In December 2005, Iraj Isaac Rahmim returned to Iran for the first time in 27 years. By coincidence, it was only months after Mahmood Ahmadinejad's election to the presidency. Two years later, Rahmim returned to Iran for a second visit, and as he reports, things had taken a startling turn for the worse.
Liberal political linguist George Lakoff, last noted around these parts for positing that Democrats suffer politically for clinging to "Enlightenment reason," has come up with a magical formula for "ending minority rule" in Democrat-dominated California: Change the two-thirds requirement on tax votes to a simple majority. His case:
In no other state can a ruthless minority cause the chaos, disruption, pain and near-bankruptcy that our state has suffered. A majority of the voters can end the tyranny of the minority.
Democracy means majority rule. One sentence will do the job.
Of course, there will be a blowback. Conservatives will say, as they always do, that this is just a ruse to raise taxes.
But this is about democracy, not about how or whether revenues are raised. What the majority of citizens want, a majority of elected representatives will enact. The question is simple: Do you want democracy?
In related news, The Onion Tweeted yesterday:
BREAKING: Democrats Hoping To Take Control Of Congress From Republican Minority In 2010
The Idaho Statesman reports:
Protesters in Idaho and all around the country suggest President Barack Obama is waging war on capitalism, gun ownership and even small-town values.
But no one is accusing him of assaulting the traditional resource values of the American West - not even the Idaho Cattle Association, which was ready for the fight after Obama was elected last November....In fact, in the most high-profile Western decisions so far - on wolves and salmon - the Obama administration followed the lead of Republican George W. Bush.
It was a stark difference from the start of the past two Democratic administrations.
Jimmy Carter attempted to kill Western water projects in his first year. Clinton sought sweeping grazing and mining reform.
But nine months into his first year, Obama has avoided the anger often generated by Democrats on Western land and wildlife policies.
"The Obama people have learned from Clinton's first 90 days," said Idaho Democratic U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick.
Read the whole thing here. From a libertarian perspective, this is a mixed bag -- it's good to avoid new regulations, not so good to keep those subsidies in place. But it certainly suggests the Democrats are taking their western strategy as seriously in office as they did on the campaign trail. Whether that's good for liberty remains an open question.
From Russ Smith of Splice Today:
It appears certain that [New York Times columnist Paul] Krugman's disappointment with Obama will only be ratcheted up in the coming year—after all, he originally favored John Edwards for president last year—and the only question is how harsh his columns will be. He concludes: "It's time for the president to realize that sometimes populism, especially populism that makes bankers angry, is exactly what the economy needs."
Well, nuts to that, is my view, and it's a welcome spectacle to see the clueless Sen. Max Baucus get battered from all sides with his health care bill (which is tax-heavy and confusing), and receive little support from Obama, Harry Reid or Pelosi. Still, this is why I grudgingly read Krugman (everyone needs an occasional shot or two of Castor Oil): he tells Obama and his advisers what they don't want to hear.... Krugman's a loyal opposition within a (too) loyal majority.
The Fox affiliate in Seattle breathlessly reports that "bakini baristas" in Everett, Washington, were "caught selling more than just coffee." Evidently hot caffeinated beverages are not the only attraction at drive-through coffee stands run by sexy women in bikinis. (In its next exposé, Q13 Fox will reveal that customers do not go to Hooters just for the food.) In "the culmination of a two-month investigation by the Everett Police Department," five women are accused of carrying the concept a little too far by baring boobs, butt, and bush for bonus bucks. Police charged them with violating the city's adult entertainment ordinance and with "multiple counts" of prostitution, which in Everett is defined broadly enough to include "any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person" for money. The women face up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine on each count.
The intro to the TV report, which tells a story the ostensibly shocked correspondent declares "unbelievable," promises to let viewers watch as "a camera catches a local bikini barista baring it all." But all you get is a blurry shot of a fishnet-clad chest. What do you expect for nothing?
[Thanks to Dagny T. for the tip.]
When John Stossel announced that he was leaving ABC for Fox, some readers complained about his "bias." But as Stossel writes: "Every reporter has political beliefs. The difference is that I am upfront about mine."
The Department of Health and Human Services orders Humana Corp to stop sending out letters to its members claiming that elements of the current health care reform plan flailing about in Congress could cause them to "lose many of the important benefits and services that make Medicare Advantage plans so valuable," claiming the letters are "misleading and confusing."
The Wall Street Journal claims that the Congressional Budget Office should, by those standards, be hit with a similar gag order:
On Tuesday, the Congressional Budget Office director told Mr. Baucus's committee that its plan to cut $123 billion from Medicare Advantage—the program that gives almost one-fourth of seniors private health-insurance options—will result in lower benefits and some 2.7 million people losing this coverage.
Imagine that. Last week...Jonathan Blum, acting director of a regulatory office in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), said that a mailer Humana sent its customers [making a similar point] was "misleading and confusing to beneficiaries, who may believe that it represents official communication about the Medicare Advantage program."
Mark Tapscott at the D.C. Examiner sees this government attempt to hush up Humana's communications with its customers as a disturbing sign of "soft tyranny," apparent in more than one part of the health care debate particularly:
The companies were ordered "to end immediately all such mailings to beneficiaries and to remove any related materials directed to Medicare enrollees from your website."
The bureaucrats added this blunt threat: "Please be advised that we take this matter very seriously and, based upon the findings of our investigation, will pursue compliance and enforcement actions. ...."
Those, my friends, are the words of soft tyranny. How much longer before it becomes a hard tyranny?
History - and the words of progressives themselves - suggest not long. Consider New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman's telling admiration for the communist thugs who run the Chinese government:
"One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonabley enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century."
That in a nutshell is the totalitarian temptation that plagues all who would use the power of the state to impose their vision of the good society on the rest of us.
At his coming out speech this week, the new head of the Federal Communications Commission appointed himself top cop on the Internet (as chronicled by Reason's own Peter Suderman). By threatening to apply the I know it when I see it standard for discriminatory violations of "open access" to the Internet, chairman Julius Genachowski follows in the footsteps of many regulators before him. But, as the University of Chicago's Richard Epstein writes in a tidy and prescient section from his new book from folks at the Free State Foundation, the plan to defend and strengthen markets via discrete bureaucratic meddling is nearly always doomed to fail:
A similar pattern is at work in the modern debates over net neutrality. The defense of that position starts out as a plea to end discrimination. Yet there is little evidence that the new dose of regulation will produce any gains in the short run. In the long run, we can expect a repetition of the sorry performance of the FCC (or, for that matter, Congress) with respect to broadcast rights to work its way through the law of net neutrality. The sad truth is that the parties who seek to develop sophisticated and sensible schemes for state control quickly lose control over the administrative process to persons whose ambitions for state control are not bound by any fine-grained rationale. The dangers for this predictable drift usually suffice to err on the side of caution. Stated otherwise, the expected rate of depreciation of sound public norms that rely on administrative discretion is high. There are too many pressure points to keep the rascals at bay. So the recommendation here is to follow classical liberal principles that treat all state intervention as a mistake until it is shown to be a good. More practically, and much to the point of the current public policy debate: Keep private control over broadband pipes by abandoning the siren call for net neutrality.
Extra points for use of the word "rascals" in a discussion of the dull, dull (yet important!) topic of net neutrality.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a salty tooth. According to The New York Times, Bloomberg liberally salts his pizza, throws so much salt on his morning bagel that "it's like a pretzel," and "likes his popcorn so salty that it burns others' lips." In a sane world, no one would care about such trivia. But in a world where paternalistic busybodies like Bloomberg tell people how to live their lives and do not hesitate to use force (in the form of smoking bans, cigarette taxes, and trans fat prohibition, for example) when scolding fails, the mayor's eating habits are newsworthy. The Times rightly perceives a contradiction between the mayor's salty diet and his administration's campaign against salt, which has included "asking restaurants and food manufacturers to voluntarily cut the salt in their dishes by 20 percent or more, and encouraging diners to 'shake the habit' by asking waiters for food without added salt."
The Times also suggests there's a tension between the city's rule requiring the prominent posting of calorie counts on restaurant menu boards and the mayor's fondness for hot dogs, fried chicken, cheeseburgers, and "burnt bacon and peanut butter sandwiches." The mayor's aides emphasize that he makes up for his overindulgences by cutting back the next day and manages to keep a trim figure. Bloomberg says the calorie-count rule is all about informing consumers, who are then free to make their own choices. "I like a Big Mac like everybody else," he says. "I just want to know how many calories are in it."
Since that information was already available on the McDonald's website and on posters and handouts in the chain's restaurants, Bloomberg's explanation does not ring true. The menu board mandate is not aimed at providing calorie counts to people who want them; it is aimed at changing the behavior of people who prefer to eat in blissful ignorance. The Times reports that the writer Nora Ephron, a pal of Bloomberg's, "hates the new calorie counts." Ephron says the menu board requirement "takes the fun out of everything." But she adds, "The mayor's concerns are larger than mine." Yes, the mayor has to worry about all those poor, benighted souls who, unlike him and his buddy Nora Ephron, cannot be trusted to count their own calories and manage their own salt intake.
I attacked mandatory calorie counts in a 2008 column. In my 2003 Reason article about the Center for Science in the Public Interest, I noted the weak scientific basis for broad appeals to cut back on salt.
[Thanks to Tricky Vic for the tip.]
At July's FreedomFest in Las Vegas, Reason magazine Editor in Chief Matt Welch sat down with the chairman of the Libertarian Party William Redpath to discuss what went right (and wrong) in the LP's 2008 electoral season, how the government's response to economic tumult is shaping policy, and the hopes for a freer, more individualistic society.
"Some people say, 'Don't you get kind of depressed sometimes,'" jokes Redpath, "and I say, "We'll have a libertarian society someday, when it's imposed on us by the Chinese government....Ultimately, if our politicians don't have the cojones to step up and make the tough decisions they need to make, our foreign creditors are going to make them for us."
Approximately 10 minutes. Shot and edited by Dan Hayes.
Click here for embed code and downloadable versions.
The Associated Press has an anecdote-based story out about how "Tough political realities quiet youth 'Obamamania.'" Sample:
"It's one thing to get excited about a presidential candidate. It's another thing to become a responsible citizen," says Jennifer Donahue, political director for the New Hampshire Institute Of Politics. She and other political analysts thinks they have yet to prove themselves.
Professors and students themselves also are noticing the quiet on college campuses, which were hotbeds for "Obamamania" during the campaign.
"They're supportive, but in a bystander kind of way," says Laura Katz Olson, a political science professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. [...]
An AP-GfK poll conducted earlier this month found that two-thirds of 18- to 29-year-olds rated such reform as "very" or "extremely" important. So far, though, the proposed health care overhauls have failed win the support of a good number of them. Only about half of them said they approved of the way the president was handling health care and only 38 percent said they supported health care plans being discussed in Congress.
Not sure I find this convincing, though I did predict it.
Link via Instapundit.
Slate's Jack Shafer writes of alt-media's hottest star, Big Government's Andrew Breitbart:
One of the great strengths of American journalism is that it will accept contributions from everybody from amateurs to entertainers (I'm looking at you, Jon Stewart) to gadflies to billionaires to activists to students to genocidal tyrants. The system is so delightfully open that even pornographers can spill worthwhile journalistic ink. That Breitbart comes swinging a political ax should bother nobody, unless the journalism published in Mother Jones, The Nation, the Huffington Post, Salon, the New Republic, the American Prospect, Reason, the Weekly Standard, or the National Review gives them similar fits. Viewing the world through an ideological lens can sometimes help a journalist to discover a story.
Breitbart proved this week that his site can make news without having anybody play dress-up when he posted the full transcript and audio of an August National Endowment for the Arts conference call. In it, NEA honchos urge artists to push President Obama's political agenda. That's news by anybody's measure, including the New York Times'. Give the man two cheers. If he keeps up the good work, toss him a third.
Bonus video: Breitbart and Red Eye host Greg Gutfeld tell how they were turned down for Reason jobs once upon a time.
Last April, in the case of Nordyke v. King, a 3-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the Second Amendment protects the individual right to keep and bear arms against infringement by state and local governments. The case dealt with a 1999 Alameda County, California ordinance banning the possession of firearms on county-owned property, a law enacted primarily to keep gun shows away from the county fairgrounds. Today, an 11-judge panel from the 9th Circuit will rehear arguments in the case. Here's what the 9th Circuit wrote in April and should reaffirm now:
We therefore conclude that the right to keep and bear arms is "deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition." Colonial revolutionaries, the Founders, and a host of commentators and lawmakers living during the first one hundred years of the Republic all insisted on the fundamental nature of the right. It has long been regarded as the "true palladium of liberty." Colonists relied on it to assert and to win their independence, and the victorious Union sought to prevent a recalcitrant South from abridging it less than a century later. The crucial role this deeply rooted right has played in our birth and history compels us to recognize that it is indeed fundamental, that it is necessary to the Anglo-American conception of ordered liberty that we have inherited. We are therefore persuaded that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Second Amendment and applies it against the states and local governments.
• Financial crisis on the agenda as G-20 summit kicks off in Pittsburgh today.
• Census worker hanged in Kentucky, with the word "fed" written on his chest.
• FDA ban on flavored cigarettes takes effect today.
• Obama administration to use existing law to support its argument for indefinite detention of terror suspects.
• ACORN sues filmmakers, Breitbart.com for taking, distributing undercover videos.
In most states, if you get locked up by mistake and want financial compensation, you have to go to court or to the legislature, neither of which is obligated to give it. Yet as Steve Chapman writes, the 5th Amendment to the Constitution says the government may not take your property without paying just compensation. So if you're entitled to fair market value for being deprived of your house, shouldn't losing a large share of your time on Earth be worth something as well?
All signs point to a new flood of real estate foreclosures that no amount of government sandbagging will prevent. Sources of trouble:
• A record 7.58 percent of U.S. homeowners with mortgages were at least 30 days late on payments in August, says Equifax, up from 7.32 percent in July. Delinquencies are not only rising from month to month, but rising at a faster pace. More than 41 percent of subprime mortgages are delinquent. (That's quite an increase from 2007, when I took heart from the fact that only 10 percent of subprime mortgages were in default. But, well, at least the glass is still more than half full, right?)
• About 1.2 million loans out there are in limbo: The borrower is in serious default yet the bank has not started the foreclosure process. Another 1.5 million are in early stages of the foreclosure process but the bank hasn't yet taken possession of the home. Counting these and loans that are highly likely to end up in default, one analyst estimates three million to four million foreclosed homes will come on the market over the next few years. And don't believe the freshwater economists when they tell you there's no such thing as a free lunch: Some 217,000 Americans have not made a mortgage payment in one full calendar year, but their lenders have yet to begin the foreclosure process.
• Option ARM recasts (not resets, as Calculated Risk explains) are as much of a time bomb as ever, with nearly all borrowers in this class making only minimum payments and negatively amortizing their mortgages.
• Something called the National Consumer Law Center criticizes state mortgage-mediation schemes as well as the Obama Administration's Home Affordable Modification Program, which at last count had managed to prevent 235,247 homes from coming onto the market. However, data from the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency indicate that even when these programs succeed, about half of all the renegotiated loans end up back in default soon afterward.
In those cases, the renegotiation has made things worse for everybody. The lender ends up with lower payments in the short term and then has to foreclose on a less-valuable property at some point in the future. The borrower gets no financial upside and (though he or she gets the use of a subsidized domicile for some period of time) is encouraged to stay in a losing situation when immediate foreclosure would have been a more merciful option. Prospective buyers get locked out as dumb lenders, deadbeat borrowers and the government all collude to keep the price of the house artificially inflated. And taxpayers have to spend $75 billion (the budget of HUD's Making Home Affordable program) for the privilege of making it all happen. The best option for all concerned would be to get the deadbeat out of the house as quickly as possible, but nobody is doing that.
Put it all together, and throw in mainstream media outlets that as recently as June were calling for mortgage haircuts specifically to allow people to keep borrowing against their houses, and you've got the mother of all perfect storms mixed with the crack cocaine of third rails on steroids. The foreclosure wave may seem all tired and 2008, but it's hotter than ever.
Update: Because commenter hmm brings up the Coming Commercial Real Estate Hyperpocalypse, which is the elephant in the room of all swords of Damocles spreading like wildfire; and also because like a golem I screwed up Jim the Realtor's title in my latest print column, I urge you to run, don't walk, to give two thumbs up to this tour of ghost malls by Jim the Realtor®.
Wired reports on a fascinating new study showing how eyewitness memory can be influenced by video. Participants in the study were paired with a partner (who was actually part of the research team) to play a gambling-based computer game. The participants bet money on their own ability to answer multiple choice questions. The game relied on participants to honestly pay back money they'd earned when they got a question wrong.
After they had finished with the questions, the participants were told that their partner had cheated, even though the partner hadn't. One group of students were then shown a video that had been digitally altered to make the partner look as if he had actually cheated. Though they were told to only report their partner if they were 100 percent sure he had cheated, and that the partner would be punished based on their decision, about half the participants who viewed the video still reported their partner for cheating. The second group wassn't shown the video, but only told of its existence. Just 10 percent of them still reported their partner for cheating.
The article may overstate the study's lessons a bit, at least in their relevance to the criminal justice world. It seems unlikely that many criminal cases are tainted by video digitally manipulated to show obvious guilt—even if you're cynical enough to believe law enforcement officials would try it, I'd think it would be pretty easy for someone with expertise in video editing to detect. But the broader point—that eyewitness memory is highly susceptible to suggestion—is worth heeding, and has been confirmed in numerous other studies.
The Politico's entry in the "Ron Paul Revolution" marches on category:
Paul’s son Rand is running competitively in the Kentucky Senate race to succeed Republican Jim Bunning, even though the GOP establishment has lined up behind Secretary of State Trey Grayson. Peter Schiff, an economic adviser to Paul’s presidential campaign, has raised $1 million in his bid to win the Republican nomination against Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.).
In Texas, a Ron Paul acolyte could have a decisive impact in the Republican gubernatorial primary between incumbent Rick Perry and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. In California, a businessman who backed Paul’s presidential campaign has emerged as a serious contender against Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), who is a top GOP target.
In total, Paul’s political action committee — the Liberty PAC — will be unveiling a slate of 10 endorsed candidates this fall and is currently in the process of interviewing candidates to determine their electability.
While I first predicted such a movement of Paulite politicians back in my February 2008 Reason magazine cover story on Ron Paul, and am thrilled to see it seeming to come true, we should remember that so far the movement is a lot of promise and a lot of interesting possibilities on the horizon and no actual electoral victories. Still, it still seems possible that Ron Paul 2008 will read in the future like Barry Goldwater 1960 (that is, the year he first achieved widespread national attention and began inspiring acolytes, not the year he won the presidential nomination).
For the past six years, filmmakers Suki Hawley and Michael Galinksy have been working on a documentary called Battle of Brooklyn, which tells the story of a group of Brooklyn, New York property owners who have been fighting state and local officials who want to seize their land on behalf of real estate developer Bruce Ratner. In response to the ongoing ACORN scandal and recent reports discussing ACORN's ties to the Ratner development, the filmmakers have released a fascinating and highly relevent scene from their forthcoming documentary. From their description:
This scene comes about 40 minutes into the film. By this point the audience has witnessed the announcement of the project as well as growing community opposition to it. In addition, the vast majority of condo owners in the footprint of the proposed project have sold their apartments to the developer in order to avoid having them seized via eminent domain. The main character of the film, Daniel Goldstein, has refused to sell and has become one of the main organizers trying to stop it.
In this scene, Daniel attends a press conference announcing an agreement reached between Acorn and Forest City Ratner--in which the developer has agreed to make half of the units in the proposed project "affordable". Further, it is agreed that Acorn will be involved in monitoring the project as well as marketing the "affordable" units. For this work they will be paid.
At the press conference on May 19th, 2005 Bertha Lewis, the head of NY ACORN (currently the head of the national organization), declares that ACORN is working with the current tenants to make sure that they are not pushed out and treated fairly by the developer. Answering a question she further states that there will be apartments set aside for those displaced by the project.
After the event, Daniel Goldstein confronts her with the fact that tenants are already being pushed out. She admits that ACORN hasn't actually talked to any of the tenants yet. She then argues that the developer has nothing to do with greedy landlords forcing out tenants before they buy the property.
At July's FreedomFest in Las Vegas, Reason magazine Editor in Chief Matt Welch sat down with the chairman of the Libertarian Party William Redpath to discuss what went right (and wrong) in the LP's 2008 electoral season, how the government's response to economic tumult is shaping policy, and the hopes for a freer, more individualistic society.
"Some people say, 'Don't you get kind of depressed sometimes,'" jokes Redpath, "and I say, "We'll have a libertarian society someday, when it's imposed on us by the Chinese government....Ultimately, if our politicians don't have the cojones to step up and make the tough decisions they need to make, our foreign creditors are going to make them for us."
Approximately 10 minutes. Shot and edited by Dan Hayes.
Click here for embed code and downloadable versions.
This week, representatives from the world's largest economies will meet in Pittsburgh for the G-20 Summit. President Barack Obama recently praised the city as "a bold example of how to create new jobs and industries while transitioning to a 21st century economy." Yet as Bill Steigerwald writes, for at least the last 30 years, Pittsburgh's power brokers have wasted billions of federal and state tax dollars on a series of destructive urban renewal schemes, redevelopment boondoggles, and wasteful mass-transit projects.
In her latest Forbes column, Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia writes:
[I]f Obama wants to regain the momentum on health care reform, he will have to do more than just refrain from impugning the motives of his opponents. He will actually have to listen to them and do what he said he would during his campaign: put affordable coverage within the grasp of more Americans without forcing them to purchase it, without raising their taxes, and without breaking the federal bank.
The newly formed Los Angeles Collective Association claims an existing city moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries since 2007 is ""unreasonable, discriminatory and overly broad" and files a lawsuit to end it. Much more background and links over at my California news and politics blog "City of Angles."
I didn't have much space in my column about the proposed individual health insurance mandate to discuss its constitutionality. Given the way the Supreme Court has interpreted the Commerce Clause since the New Deal, it probably would uphold a federal requirement that every American buy medical coverage, on the theory that individual decisions about whether to buy insurance, in the aggregate, have a substantial impact on interstate commerce. But that does not mean such a mandate would be constitutional—i.e., that it should be upheld. The misbegotten idea that regulating interstate commerce includes regulating (or prohibiting) any activity (or inactivity) that might affect interstate commerce gives Congress carte blanche to do anything not explicitly prohibited by the Constitution and renders its enumerated powers superfluous.
Even given the Supreme Court's rulings in this area, it would break new ground to say that the decision to refrain from engaging in intrastate commerce (by going without health insurance) triggers the clause authorizing Congress to regulate interstate commerce. Misguided as they were, both Wickard v. Filburn, the 1942 case involving wheat, and Gonzales v. Raich, the 2005 case involving medical marijuana, at least dealt with production of a commodity traded in interstate commerce (although both the wheat and the marijuana were grown for personal use and never crossed state lines). In this case, by contrast, the "act" triggering federal involvement is not commerce, not production, and not even an act. It is the failure to engage in a particular transaction. The difference might not give pause to a majority of the Court, but it is discernible.
In a Washington Post op-ed piece last month, Bush administration lawyers David Rivkin and Lee Casey argued that the health insurance mandate would exceed the power granted by the Commerce Clause as the Supreme Court has defined it. Washington and Lee law professor Timothy Jost and Georgetown University law professor Randy Barnett (who represented Angel Raich in the medical marijuana case) debated that proposition at The Politico last week. Barnett, Ilya Somin, and Jonathan Adler discuss the proposed mandate's constitutionality at The Volokh Conspiracy here, here, and here. Peter Urbanowicz and Dennis G. Smith deal with the issue at greater length in a recent Federalist Society paper (PDF).
After President Obama's declaration last week that:
I have always been a strong believer in the power of the free market.
...I'm taking everything I hear from politicians on this topic with a Bloomberg-sized helping of salt. But, for what it's worth, here's Mama Grizzly herself telling some Hong Kong businessmen what's what on the financial crisis from the Palin perspective:
Conservatives need to defend the free market system and explain what really caused last year’s collapse. According to one version of the story, America’s economic woes were caused by a lack of government intervention and regulation and therefore the only way to fix the problem, because, of course, every problem can be fixed by a politician, is for more bureaucracy to impose itself further, deeper, forcing itself deeper into the private sector.
I think that’s simply wrong. We got into this mess because of government interference in the first place. The mortgage crisis that led to the collapse of the financial market, it was rooted in a good-natured, but wrongheaded, desire to increase home ownership among those who couldn’t yet afford to own a home. In so many cases, politicians on the right and the left, they wanted to take credit for an increase in home ownership among those with lower incomes. But the rules of the marketplace are not adaptable to the mere whims of politicians....
Lack of government wasn’t the problem. Government policies were the problem. The marketplace didn’t fail. It became exactly as common sense would expect it to. The government ordered the loosening of lending standards. The Federal Reserve kept interest rates low. The government forced lending institutions to give loans to people who, as I say, couldn’t afford them. Speculators spotted new investment vehicles, jumped on board and rating agencies underestimated risks.
Relive the Palin moment here.
Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty appeared on The O'Reilly Factor last night to discuss whether the United States should pull out of Afghanistan. Also appearing: Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).
In his first big speech as President Obama's new FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski began by singing the Web's praises. "Today," he said, "we can’t imagine what our lives would be like without the Internet—any more than we can imagine life without running water or the light bulb." On this point, writes Peter Suderman, nearly everyone can agree. Unfortunately, Genachowski drew exactly the wrong lesson from this initial insight: Rather than see the Net's growth and integration into everyday life as evidence that government intervention isn't necessary, the Internet's chief regulator took the opposite view—that the web's size and scope make government meddling a necessity.
Arthur Laffer, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed arguing against the tight-money explanation for the Great Depression, gives some tax and tariff history:
The Smoot-Hawley tariff of June 1930 was the catalyst that got the whole process going. It was the largest single increase in taxes on trade during peacetime and precipitated massive retaliation by foreign governments on U.S. products. Huge federal and state tax increases in 1932 followed the initial decline in the economy thus doubling down on the impact of Smoot-Hawley. There were additional large tax increases in 1936 and 1937 that were the proximate cause of the economy's relapse in 1937.
In 1930-31, during the Hoover administration and in the midst of an economic collapse, there was a very slight increase in tax rates on personal income at both the lowest and highest brackets. The corporate tax rate was also slightly increased to 12% from 11%. But beginning in 1932 the lowest personal income tax rate was raised to 4% from less than one-half of 1% while the highest rate was raised to 63% from 25%. (That's not a misprint!) The corporate rate was raised to 13.75% from 12%. All sorts of Federal excise taxes too numerous to list were raised as well. The highest inheritance tax rate was also raised in 1932 to 45% from 20% and the gift tax was reinstituted with the highest rate set at 33.5%.
But the tax hikes didn't stop there. In 1934, during the Roosevelt administration, the highest estate tax rate was raised to 60% from 45% and raised again to 70% in 1935. The highest gift tax rate was raised to 45% in 1934 from 33.5% in 1933 and raised again to 52.5% in 1935. The highest corporate tax rate was raised to 15% in 1936 with a surtax on undistributed profits up to 27%. In 1936 the highest personal income tax rate was raised yet again to 79% from 63%-a stifling 216% increase in four years. Finally, in 1937 a 1% employer and a 1% employee tax was placed on all wages up to $3,000.
Because of the number of states and their diversity I'm going to aggregate all state and local taxes and express them as a percentage of GDP. This measure of state tax policy truly understates the state and local tax contribution to the tragedy we call the Great Depression, but I'm sure the reader will get the picture. In 1929, state and local taxes were 7.2% of GDP and then rose to 8.5%, 9.7% and 12.3% for the years 1930, '31 and '32 respectively.
As Jerry Lewis told Martin Short, that hurt.
Laffer ends by acknowledging that he's worried about similar behavior in the current Decession (is that term ok with everybody?), but doesn't give much evidence that the states or the feds have begun actually increasing tax rates (or even tariffs) to these suffocating degrees.
In fact, I'm fairly certain a new approach to government has taken hold in the 21st century: a relic of dotcomonomics, in which revenues don't matter and instead you pursue "mindshare" or "first mover status" or some other phantasm. The genius of the Bush and Obama administrations has been to deny that the question "how are you going to pay for all this" exists at all.
Consider, Reason's excellent October roundup of dismal scientists, in which there are several references to a post-TARP policy that allows the Federal Reserve Bank to pay interest on bank reserves. From the Silicon Valley's own Jeffrey Rogers Hummel:
This seemingly technical change not only gives banks an incentive to hold reserves rather than make loans; it also essentially converts reserves into more government debt. Fiat money traditionally pays no interest and therefore allows the government to purchase real resources without incurring any future tax liability. Economists refer to this revenue from creating money as seigniorage. Federal Reserve notes will continue to earn no interest. But now the seigniorage that government gains from creating bank reserves will be much reduced, if not entirely eliminated.
If the government is cutting itself off from free money, I ain't complaining. But as a former dotcommer and a dedicated servant to our president, I have to ask, Boss, how are you monetizing this economic-savior business?
In the midst of a drug raid on a house that apparently took nine full hours and cost $4,000, cops apparently were distracted by Wii bowling. Reports say they started the game up within 20 minutes of entering the house and spent hours playing it.
In my column today, I note that the Senate Finance Committee's health care bill calls the penalty for failing to buy medical insurance an "excise tax." A.P. points out that the House health care bill calls its penalty a "tax on individuals without acceptable health care coverage." A.P. also quotes experts who note that the method of collecting the money reinforces the language used by Congress:
"If you put something in the Internal Revenue Code, and you tell the IRS to collect it, I think that's a tax," said Clint Stretch, head of the tax policy group for Deloitte, a major accounting firm. "If you don't pay, the person who's going to come and get it is going to be from the IRS."...
"The fact that it is imposed on people and they have no choice in paying it, and the fact that it's administered through the tax system all make it look like a tax," [Roberton] Williams [of the Tax Policy Center] said.
President Obama, loath to admit he has forsaken his "firm pledge" not to raise taxes on middle-income Americans, nevertheless insists these financial penalties are not taxes:
The White House on Monday reiterated that it doesn't view the fee as a tax. Officials said Americans are already paying as much as $1,000 a year in higher medical costs to subsidize caring for the uninsured, and would save money if lawmakers pass the health overhaul. They noted that lower-income people would get federal help to buy insurance and avoid the penalty.
"People would be required to get health insurance, just as they are required to have auto insurance or to send their children to school," said White House spokeswoman Linda Douglass. "A fee would only be imposed on those few who could afford to purchase insurance, but refuse to do so."
These points seem irrelevant to the issue the White House is ostensibly addressing. First, the requirement to buy insurance can itself be fairly described as a tax: a state-compelled payment of money in exchange for a state-subsidized benefit. (According to A.P., the Tax Policy Center's Williams "sees no distinction between the requirement to get coverage and the fines themselves.") Second, the fact that you can avoid a tax by changing your behavior does not mean it is not a tax. You don't pay gasoline taxes if you don't buy gasoline, you don't pay property taxes if you don't own real estate, and you don't pay income taxes if you don't earn income. Does that mean these are not taxes either?
It's fun to watch Obama squirm as he tries to avoid admitting that his campaign promise is null and void. But that's not the only reason to take an interest in this issue. If these penalties are not taxes, what they hell are they? Civil penalties? Criminal fines? Either of those alternatives would make collecting them more complicated and provide the people subject to them with more opportunity to resist. Which is presumably why Congress decided to call them taxes.
Ryan Grim reports that the Defund ACORN Act could end up defunding much, much more:
The congressional legislation intended to defund ACORN, passed with broad bipartisan support, is written so broadly that it applies to "any organization" that has been charged with breaking federal or state election laws, lobbying disclosure laws, campaign finance laws or filing fraudulent paperwork with any federal or state agency. It also applies to any of the employees, contractors or other folks affiliated with a group charged with any of those things....
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) picked up on the legislative overreach and asked the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) to sift through its database to find which contractors might be caught in the ACORN net.
Lockheed Martin and Northrop Gumman both popped up quickly, with 20 fraud cases between them, and the longer list is a Who's Who of weapons manufacturers and defense contractors.
Call me a cynic, but I'll bet this means the legislation will get a quiet bipartisan detoothing. But I'm enjoying the thought that it'll survive as written, expelling not just the pimp assistance industry but some of the country's sleaziest corporate welfare queens from the public trough.
Next week the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce whether it will hear a First Amendment challenge to a Colorado law that requires groups to register with the government and reveal their donors if they take positions on ballot measures. The law applies not just to groups that are established to support or oppose initiatives but also to any organization that has "a major purpose" of doing so. In this case, the Independence Institute, a state think tank, created a website, published op-ed pieces, and sponsored radio ads opposing two 2005 initiatives aimed at weakening restrictions on taxes. The Institute for Justice, which is representing the Independence Institute, notes that "more than 500 nonprofits...likewise weighed in on the measures," almost all of them on the other side. The Independence Institute "was the only nonprofit dragged into court to defend against charges—filed by a member of the campaign supporting the referenda—that it engaged in political speech without first registering with the government."
I.J. argues that the reach of Colorado's registration requirement exceeds what the Supreme Court has allowed, since it includes groups that are not mainly involved in election campaigns. It also argues that the donor disclosure requirement violates "the right to engage in anonymous speech and association," since in initiative campaigns there is no danger of quid pro quo corruption, the rationale for disclosure in the context of election campaigns for public officials. These arguments were rejected by the Colorado District Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals; the Colorado Supreme Court declined to hear the Independence Institute's appeal. "America should be a place of robust political debate," says I.J. lawyer Bill Maurer, "and nonprofit groups should be an important part of that discussion, but today's campaign finance laws are being used to harass nonprofits into silence; they're being used to stifle American political debate."
Correction: I.J.'s Lisa Knepper informs me that the group's press release erred in saying that the Supreme Court will decide next week whether to hear this case. The case has not been scheduled for conference yet.
At an AARP-hosted forum earlier this summer, Obama reassured seniors that "nobody is talking about reducing Medicare benefits."
Does that mean the president thinks Congressional Budget Office head Doug Elmendorf is a nobody? Because, contra Obama, Elmendorf says that the plan put forward by the Senate Finance Committee, "would reduce the extra benefits that would be made available to beneficiaries through Medicare Advantage plans."
I'm not sure it's worth defending Medicare against cuts (even if they are probably imaginary), but this sort of direct contradiction from an agency as respected as the CBO isn't going to do much to calm seniors' fears.
Your mileage will vary, but for my money the most entertaining part of the ACORN undercover video sting–which, dollar for dollar, has been the most impactful piece of journalism this year (that I'm aware of anyway)–is watching Respectable News Outlets approach the controversy with radiation-resistant tongs. For instance, the New York Times' reliably pompous Dean Baquet:
"For Glenn Beck to devote 45 minutes of his show to ACORN and Van Jones says more about his news judgment than mine," said Dean Baquet, Washington bureau chief of the New York Times.
"He's not a newsman and that's not a news show," Baquet continued. "He's not trying to cover the economy, two wars, health care, the aftermath from one administration to another, negotiations with Iran or North Korea."
Note what he's doing there: While reluctanctly acknowledging his own organization's slow response to a story, Baquet haughtily attacks the news values of the organizations that got it first. Accountability journalism!
When the Washington Post got around to writing about the fake pimp/ho documentary combo, it was soaked in what's-their-real-motives innuendo:
O'Keefe insists that he and Giles's work was done independently and rejects liberal suggestions that the videos were bankrolled by conservative organizations. He does, however, acknowledge receiving help and advice from a conservative columnist and Web entrepreneur. [...]
Though O'Keefe described himself as a progressive radical, not a conservative, he said he targeted ACORN for the same reasons that the political right does: its massive voter registration drives that turn out poor African Americans and Latinos against Republicans.
Even when WashPost Ombudsdman Andrew Alexander agreed with critics of the paper's coverage on the topic, he could only do so with a big to-be-sure about the nassty right wingersses:
It's tempting to dismiss such gimmicks. Fox News, joined by right-leaning talk radio and bloggers, often hypes stories to apocalyptic proportions while casting competitors as too liberal or too lazy to report the truth.
But they're also occasionally pumping legitimate stories.
One of the more convincing non-coverage defenses came from Austin American-Statesman Editor Fred Zipp ("First, it's a local story set elsewhere," he explained last week). But Zipp couldn't leave well enough alone:
Second, we're not Fox, and we resist letting Fox set our agenda. The story is only now beginning to catch fire among the news sources that we trust. As they offer stories that dissect ACORN, its activities, the origin of the controversy and the credibility of its principal antagonists, we will publish them.
At best, this is an example of outsourcing news judgment. At worst, it's a classic example of pointless (and, likely, politically one-sided) media shadowboxing. As an editor, by definition you set your "agenda"; defining yourself in opposition to others' is a game that has no logical conclusion, and says more about who you are pre-emptively biased against than what you tangibly stand for. Does Zipp offer equal resistance to agenda-setting from The Huffington Post? The Daily Kos? Texas Monthly?
A final bit of tut-tutting–directed equally at those who initially broke, publicized, and consumed the story–comes from reliably yawn-inducing L.A. Times media columnist James Rainey:
Should news organizations be using this kind of subterfuge to get stories? If so, when? And when such hidden-camera theatrics come over the transom, how closely should they be scrutinized before they are thrown open to the public?
The answers -- surprise, surprise -- are not so simple. [...]
[T]he Society of Professional Journalists has set a standard that deception should be used only when every other reporting approach has been exhausted and only then in certain cases, most notably to reveal a severe social problem or to prevent people from being harmed. [...]
Yet no legitimate news organization can claim editorial integrity if it merely regurgitates information from political activists without subjecting the material to serious scrutiny.
"The role of gatekeeper and arbiter is the main role left for the mainstream media," said Jane Kirtley, professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota. "If they are not at least doing that, they might as well give up."
Some news outlets have taken that responsibility on earnestly, but others, notably Fox News and its commentators, have taken a pass. They've offered little context and less proportion in recycling the ACORN story, day after day. [...]
Does any of this mean ACORN gets a clean bill of health? Hardly. But it suggests that the full scope of the story, and a fair and balanced look at an organization that clearly has some problems, has not yet emerged. [...]
Make-believe can be a powerful tactic for video stings and commentators out to stir the pot.
But then, journalists are supposed to take the raw material and meld it into something more meaningful. That requires context, proportion and, above all, a sense of reality.
These gatekeepery examples of pretzel logic are by no means monolithic–see Jon Stewart, or Ken Silverstein at Harpers, for example. But they illustrate a tendency that's been mostly dominant since long before Matt Drudge published information about Monica Lewinsky's dress: Newspapers, especially those with national aspirations, still lack the ability to process or even talk about news that emanates from frowned-upon pockets in the great media ecosystem. And in hiding behind the shield of News Judgment, they all too frequently advertise the fact that theirs is being proven inadequate.
See Greg Beato's great column on the ACORN sting here.
This week, prepping for the upcoming Copenhagen climate change talks, Dr. Steven Chu, our erstwhile energy secretary, crystallized the administration's underlining thinking by claiming that the "American public ... just like your teenage kids, aren't acting in a way that they should act. The American public has to really understand in their core how important this issue is." But as David Harsanyi writes, since when did Cabinet positions come equipped with a handbook detailing how Americans "should act"?
The federal ban on flavored cigarettes, imposed by the same law that authorized the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products, took effect yesterday. The New York Times reports that the FDA is sending mixed signals about whether the ban also covers small flavored cigars:
At a news conference on Tuesday, agency officials were deliberately vague when asked whether the ban would apply to the growing market of flavored small cigars like Swisher Sweets or cigarillos like Black & Mild, which can have flavors like apple and chocolate.
F.D.A. agents visited a tobacco store in Mobile, Ala., on Saturday and told the owner that the flavoring ban included cigarillos like Black & Mild, according to Norman Sharp, president of the Cigar Association of America.
Another cigar store owner told Mr. Sharp that an agency representative called last week to tell her to remove every flavored tobacco product from her shelves that "looked like a cigarette" but could not define what that meant, Mr. Sharp said.
In a letter to manufacturers, the agency said the ban applied to all cigarette-like tobacco products even if they "are labeled as cigars or as some other product." And in another document to manufacturers, the agency wrote that it was "examining options for regulating both menthol cigarettes and flavored tobacco products other than cigarettes."...
Dr. [Lawrence] Deyton [director of the FDA's new Center for Tobacco Products] was asked several times on a conference call with reporters if the ban applied to any small cigars or cigarillos. "According to the law, if something is wrapped in a tobacco leaf, that would not be considered..." he said and then stopped and added, "Hold on just a second."
After a delay, Catherine Lorraine, a lawyer in the agency's tobacco center, got on the call and said that if consumers believe a product is a cigarette, then the law defines it as one no matter how it is wrapped or labeled.
"We will be looking at products on an individual basis to determine if it meets that aspect of the legislation," Ms. Lorraine said.
If a consumer believes a product is a cigarette, even if it is not manufactured or marketed as such, that makes it a cigarette? Evidently tobacconists are now expected to read their customers' minds.
The rationale for this arbitrary ban is that flavored cigarettes appeal to minors and therefore cannot be tolerated, even though most of the people who consume them happen to be adults. (The law makes an exception for menthol cigarettes, which are an important source of profit for Philip Morris, the only tobacco company that supported the law.) The same logic condemns not only "alcopops" (sweet malt beverages) but any alcoholic beverage sweeter than a martini.
From early on, the White House planned to head off special interest opposition to its health-care overhaul by making deals with key industry players. It's impossible to say how it might have worked out had the administration not used this tactic, but it doesn't look like cutting deals is working out quite as well as they planned:
The first big fight over the Senate Finance Committee’s health care legislation erupted Tuesday night: a rollicking brawl over a deal that the Obama administration cut with the pharmaceutical industry to achieve $80 billion in savings on drug costs over 10 years, money that would help pay for the legislation.
Top House Democrats have hated the deal from the get-go. Senate Democrats are now bitterly divided.
As a frequent rider in DC cabs, I'm nearly apoplectic! Two exceptionally stupid and mendacious DC City council members, Jim Graham and Muriel Bowser, want to impose a medallion system on DC taxis. Why? As the Washington Post notes:
Graham said the bill is aimed at protecting the market of District cabs. The council member said he is concerned that, without regulation, the city, which he said has more than 8,000 taxicab operators, will be overrun with taxis. Graham said that more than 300 additional taxicab operators are licensed annually.
Just exactly why would DC residents want to have fewer taxis? If more drivers are entering the market doesn't that suggest strongly that supply has not yet equalled demand? In protest, a 1,000 taxi drivers went on strike against the bill. The Post reports:
Ali Tahmaseb, who has been driving a District cab for 26 years, fears that even with options the bill will hurt his livelihood. He shares [Dominion Cab driver Larry] Frankel's concerns and said that the rate to operate a taxi could go from about $30 a day to more than $100 a day if the bill is passed.
"This bill would enslave us," he said Tuesday while standing with other protesters.
The whole Post article detailing this sad example of deep economic ignorance can be found here.
Associate Editor Damon W. Root will be speaking at the 2009 New York Students for Liberty Conference at Columbia University on October 10. Additional speakers include Competitive Enterprise Institute founder Fred L. Smith, Jr., economist Mario Rizzo, and political scientist Nigel Ashford. The conference focuses on students but is open to everyone interested in liberty. Registration is required.
Click here for registration and additional information. Click here for a complete list of Students for Liberty's 2009 Regional Conferences, including conferences in Chicago, Tempe, Austin, Winston-Salem, Philadelphia, and Boston.
That's the conundrum posed by an article over at the transhumanist H+ magazine on using calorie restriction (CR) to increase human lifespans. A lot of research finds that feeding some critters, like worms, flies, and lab mice, about two-thirds of what they would otherwise prefer to eat dramatically increases their lifespans. The idea is that this mechanism evolved as a way to keep individuals alive through lean times until they could reproduce once food is again available. So it's not too surprising that starving animals have less interest in sex.
The article in H+ suggests that many human practitioners of calorie restriction also suffer from shrunken libidos. Worse yet, perhaps permanent starvation will not actually increase the lifespans of practitioners:
So what about those glowing reports which purport to have demonstrated that caloric restriction doubles the lifespans of mice and rhesus monkeys, as well as giving them glossy pelts? Surely we can put up with a bit of mental confusion, even failing erections, in exchange for a longer life, as long as it’s of high quality –- otherwise we’ll end up like poor Tithonus, who was granted immortality but not youth and dwindled into a shriveled husk before the gods in their whimsical mercy turned him into a cicada. And it does seem that caloric restriction decreases such banes of extended human lifespan as diabetes and atherosclerosis. Well, there’s something interesting going on, all right, but not what people (like to) think.
In biology, details are crucial and mice are not humans. In Eldorado Desperadoes I: Of Mice and Men [See Resources], I explained at length why non-human studies are proof of principle at best, irrelevant at worst. Laboratory mice and monkeys are bred to reproduce early and rapidly. They’re fed rich diets and lead inactive lives –- the equivalent of couch potatoes. The caloric restriction studies have essentially returned the animals to the normal levels of nutrition that they would attain in the wild. Indeed, caloric restriction of wild mice does not extend their lives and when caloric levels fall below about 50%, both lab and wild mice promptly keel over,.... In the rhesus studies, lifespans appeared extended only when the investigators counted a subset of the deaths in the animal group they tested.
So what about calorie restriction and sex? Combing through the research literature, I came across an article in the journal of Manhattan studies, New York magazine, that addressed this topic:
“Before CR, I was, if anything, hornier than most men,” says Michael [a calorie restrictor]. “But some people find that when they go on very severe CR, their classic male libido—that sort of aaaargh-there’s-a-pretty-woman-I-can’t-stop-my-neck-from-moving libido—goes down.” And Michael, it turns out, is one of those people.
“I’ve often thought that if you could explain to women that on CR, men will improve their sexual performance but decrease their skirt-chasing behavior so they only have eyes for you, who they’re in love with, women would be like, ‘I’m cutting your calories, honey. Half your dinner tomorrow,’” April [Michael's calorie restrictor wife] resumes.
Damn it! Why does everything have to be a trade-off?
Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has a Nobel Prize (in physics) and big plans for the environment as part President Obama's "Green Team."
He also has a stunningly paternalistic and off-putting view of typical Americans like you and me:
Speaking on the sidelines of a smart grid conference in Washington, Dr. Chu said he didn't think average folks had the know-how or will to to change their behavior enough to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
"The American public... just like your teenage kids, aren't acting in a way that they should act," Dr. Chu said. "The American public has to really understand in their core how important this issue is."
And like a fast-learning pol, he knows how to follow up offensive comments with phoney-baloney lip service via spokespeople:
Energy Department spokesman Dan Leistikow added: "Secretary Chu was not comparing the public to teenagers. He was saying that we need to educate teenagers about ways to save energy."
Scott Stein observes:
Are you kidding me? Just how stupid does Dan Leistikow think people are? Chu's intended meaning can't be disputed. Chu's entitled to his opinion, and some might agree with him that Americans are like misbehaving teenagers. But no one can read his statement and think "he was saying that we need to educate teenagers about ways to save energy." Don't try to convince us that this is what he meant. It's insulting. We know what he meant. We can read.
Over at PJTV's Poliwood, filmmaker Lionel Chetwynd and screenwriter Roger L. Simon have a spirited and interesting discussion about the NEA's participation in a controversial telecon with artists and about public funding of the arts. Click above to watch (approx. 14 minutes).
• Obama expected to give blunt speech to United Nations today.
• White House considering new strategy in Afghanistan war.
• Attorney General Holder may raise standards for federal government to invoke state secrets.
• FBI criticized for destroying its files on Walter Cronkite two years ago.
President Obama's main justification for requiring every American to buy health insurance is that uninsured people unfairly impose costs on their fellow citizens. Senior Editor Jacob Sullum argues that Obama greatly exaggerates the extent of these costs, concealing the real motivation for the individual health insurance mandate while dodging moral and constitutional questions about it.
The L.A. Times editorializes for reforming the forensics system:
In 2006, Congress charged the National Academy of Sciences with studying the application of forensic science in the U.S. judicial system. Its findings, released last year, are grim. Almost every branch of forensics but DNA testing -- hair and fiber analysis, arson investigations, comparisons of bite marks -- lacks the extensive scientific research and established standards to be used in court conclusively...
In February, the science academy issued a report calling for Congress to create a national institute of forensic science, and there is more than enough evidence that one is desperately needed. As an independent agency, not part of the Justice Department, it would be charged with conducting research, setting national standards for forensic disciplines and enforcing those standards. Right now, standards vary wildly. An expert in San Diego, for example, might testify that a fiber is similar to one found at a crime scene, while an expert in San Bernardino might testify that a match is impossible to determine.
Advances in forensics have revolutionized the judicial system, aiding both prosecutors and defense attorneys, exonerating the innocent and confirming the guilty in ways that were impossible just a generation ago. The patchwork state of forensic science should not become an excuse to shy away from its use; rather, the nation should invest in the rigorous research required to standardize techniques and application.
I'm generally skeptical of the "blue ribbon panel" approach to public policy, but there are really two issues that need addressing here, and one of them could actually be addressed by the sort of federal agency the Times endorses.
That problem, as the Times explains, is setting a baseline for what sort of forensic evidence ought to be admitted at trial, and establishing what level of certainty a specialist should be permitted to convey to a jury about his conclusions. The faux science of matching bite marks left on skin to human teeth, for example, should never be admitted into evidence. There's simply no science to support it. A fiber expert can convey important information to a jury, but should be required to accurately describe the limited evidentiary value of a fiber match. The other problem you see occurs when a forensics specialist testifies truthfully and accurately, but in closing arguments, a prosecutor (and less often, a defense attorney) will exaggerate the degree to which the expert's testimony implicates or vindicates the defendant.
If a federal standards-setting agency can survey the latest scientific research to issue guidelines trial judges then use to determine what evidence should and should not be allowed, and that appeals courts can then consult when determining when improper or scientifically unsupported testimony was wrongly allowed into evidence or improperly exaggerated by a prosecutor in his closing—that all seems like a good thing. It seems unreasonable to expect a trial judge to keep up on the latest forensic and medical research. I don't see much problem in having a government agency ensure that we're using good science in criminal cases.
But the other problem with forensics is the bias—intentional and otherwise—and human error that creeps into crime lab work. A standards-setting federal agency isn't going to be able to do much about the forensics specialist who gives testimony that falls within the parameters of the agency's general guidelines, but was influenced, perhaps subtly, by the fact that he reports directly to the DA or state attorney general, or he's a private specialist whose opinions might be influenced by who's paying for his services.
That's a problem that calls for the more comprehensive sorts of reforms that economist Roger Koppl recommended in a 2007 report for the Reason Foundation (this site's publisher). Koppl and I also wrote a condensed version of his recommendations for Slate.
R.J. Reynolds, which last year voluntarily stopped buying magazine ads for its cigarette brands, has begun advertising Camel Snus, an American version of Swedish-style oral snuff, in magazines such as Maxim, Rolling Stone, and Sports Illustrated. "None of us would say the risk of snus products is the same as smoked products," Johns Hopkins pharmacologist Jack Henningfield tells The New York Times, "because it's not." That depends on which "us" Henningfield has in mind. Anti-smoking activists and public health officials have a dishonorable history of deliberately obscuring the huge differences in risk between cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. "If [smokers] switched 100 percent from cigarettes," Henningfield concedes, "there is likely a harm reduction." Since the health risks associated with snus are tiny compared to the hazards of cigarettes, that's a pretty grudging understatement.
Henningfield worries that the way R.J. Reynolds is marketing its snus packets—as a means for smokers to enjoy tobacco in situations where they're not allowed to light up—could be "harm increasing if people delay quitting because of them." Harvard public health professor Gregory Connolly likewise complains that "Camel clearly is not marketing snus as a replacement product; it's a complementary product." They do not acknowledge, and the Times fails to note, that the new law authorizing the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products prohibits R.J. Reynolds and other companies from marketing snus as a safer alternative to cigarettes. That's one of the provisions R.J. Reynolds has challenged in its First Amendment lawsuit. It also seeks to overturn a ban on the use of pictures, color, or logos in publications seen by substantial numbers of minors (more than 2 million or more than 15 percent of readers). That rule, which has not taken effect yet, would bar even the current snus ads.
More on smokeless tobacco here.
Oil imports now count for almost 80 percent of American consumption and cost some $300 to $400 billion yearly. They wreck our trade balance, subsidize many of our enemies, and add to our already mountainous foreign debt. But as Jon Basil Utley writes, new oil drilling in Alaska and off America's coasts would create hundreds of thousands of American jobs and billions of dollars in real tax revenue for Washington.
Reason magazine senior editor Brian Doherty, along with Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich, hash over the war in Afghanistan with Bill O'Reilly tonight on Fox News's The O'Reilly Factor, as talk of an enormous troop increase resounds.
The show airs at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. eastern, adjust for local times.
The mantra of would-be health care reformers is that the U.S. spends much more on health care than other industrialized countries, yet America ranks below average on major health indicators, including infant mortality and life expectancy.
Well, yes. Reformers generally imply that our dysfunctional and expensive health care system is to blame. Not so fast, say University of Pennsylvania demographers Sam Preston and Jessica Ho. In a recent study they conclude:
Life expectancy in the United States fares poorly in international comparisons, primarily because of high mortality rates above age 50. Its low ranking is often blamed on a poor performance by the health care system rather than on behavioral or social factors. This paper presents evidence on the relative performance of the US health care system using death avoidance as the sole criterion. We find that, by standards of OECD countries, the US does well in terms of screening for cancer, survival rates from cancer, survival rates after heart attacks and strokes, and medication of individuals with high levels of blood pressure or cholesterol. We consider in greater depth mortality from prostate cancer and breast cancer, diseases for which effective methods of identification and treatment have been developed and where behavioral factors do not play a dominant role. We show that the US has had significantly faster declines in
mortality from these two diseases than comparison countries. We conclude that the low longevity ranking of the United States is not likely to be a result of a poorly functioning health care system.
Citing the Preston and Ho study, New York Times science journalist John Tierney notes:
But there are many more differences between Europe and the United States than just the health care system. Americans are more ethnically diverse. They eat different food. They are fatter. Perhaps most important, they used to be exceptionally heavy smokers. For four decades, until the mid-1980s, per-capita cigarette consumption was higher in the United States (particularly among women) than anywhere else in the developed world. Dr. Preston and other researchers have calculated that if deaths due to smoking were excluded, the United States would rise to the top half of the longevity rankings for developed countries.
Back in 2008, I cited some of the same evidence and arguments in my column, "Accidents, Murders, Preemies, Fat, and U.S. Life Expectancy." After listing our many unhealthy proclivities, I optimistically concluded:
Taking all these unhealthy proclivities into consideration, the American health care system is most likely not to blame for our lower life expectancies. Instead, American health care is rescuing enough of us from the consequences of our bad health habits to keep our ranking from being even lower.
To repeat, Preston and Ho conclude:
The question that we have posed is much simpler: does a poor performance by the US health care system account for the low international ranking of longevity in the US? Our answer is, “no”.
Barack Obama and his aides often complain about the lack of competition in health insurance markets. So why not let insurers compete across state lines? Wolf Blitzer asks top White House adviser David Axelrod and finds that, essentially, the answer amounts to, "Uh, erm, because, well, we—Hey, look! A blimp!"
Okay, so it's not quite that bad, but as far as I can tell, Axelrod offers nothing approaching an actual reason for refusing to allow competition across state lines. Instead, he mixes anxious babble about "symbolic expiditions" with platitudes about the interests of consumers and unspecified "disruptions" and whether a national insurance market would be "endemic to the kind of reform" the White House is trying to pass. In other words, the White House opposes it, but he doesn't know why.
But here's the key line from Blitzer: "If the president wanted greater competition, he could change the law and let health insurance companies compete nationally." That's not quite true—Congress would need to be involved; the president couldn't do it unilaterally—but the president certainly could support reforms aimed at tearing down barriers to nation-wide competition. But as we know, he's not—despite, from the looks of this segment, having little reason not to.
Today, President Barack Obama opened the United Nations climate change summit in New York City. The goal of this week's meeting is a new global treaty aimed at getting developed countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent below the level they emitted in 1990. But as Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey reports, activists want the U.S. and other developed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 per cent below 1990 levels. Leaving aside the possible impact of such dramatic cuts on the economy, Bailey writes, is it even possible for Americans to cut emissions enough to reach the goal in the next decade?
I'm the average American: Take 30 percent of my paycheck and I'll shrug. Nationalize the car companies and I'll change the channel to cartoons. Add 10 cents to the cost of my Cherry Coke and, so help me God, I will start a revolution.
It doesn't make a lick of sense, but that's the way people are. Tea parties notwithstanding, trans fat regulations, smoking rules, parental advisory stickers, and light bulb bans have long been some of the best recruitment tools libertarians have.
For a handy case study, take a look at what happened to the
folks over at Slate. The 2008 staff voting record
went like this: Obama-55, McCain-1, Bob Barr-1, Not McCain-1. But
Daniel David Plotz finds
that his beloved Fresca is being nonsensically threatened by the
nanny state, and everyone starts feeling awfully...libertarian:
For a long time, the only discernible libertarian around here was Jack Shafer, a man unable to wean himself from speech, guns, and other annoying constitutional amendments. But lately, other folks seem to be getting a bit Ayn Randy. On Saturday, Jacob Weisberg blew the whistle on New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for trying to ban outdoor smoking in public parks ("First They Came for the Marlboros"). Yesterday, Daniel Engber went after the hypocrisy and overreaching of soda-tax advocates. And I've become such a knee-jerk defender of burgers and fries that I'm tempted to seek funding from the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
These shifting sands make William Saletan nervous. He writes:
What's going on here? Most of us used to be good liberals. Are we getting conservative in our old age?
I'd say it's the opposite. We're what we were five or 10 years ago: skeptics and fact-mongers with a bias for personal freedom. It's the left that's turning conservative. Well, not conservative, but pushy.
Read the whole thing, a tidy summation of why of the use of phrases like "market failure," "distributed costs," and "time-inconsistent preferences" should—and do—make liberty-lovers nervous.
A couple of soda tax rants do not a full-fledged libertarian make, of course. But we'll take allies where we can.