Just so there's no misinterpretation: I am absolutely in favor of death panels. I hope the death panel that decides my own case will refuse, on principle, to let my unproductive carcass be a continuing burden to the living. I've often thought, if immersive past-life regressions ever become possible, that I'd like to be a becchino, one of the disposers of corpses and near-corpses during the medieval plagues.
Reich, who never misses a chance to be sanctimonious and/or blue-nosed, aims to tell us the true truth rather than the political truth, and sure enough, he says something the Democrats would rather you not hear: The death panel concept did not originate in the mind of free-verse poetess Sarah Palin:
"We're going to let you die" is hard to interpret in any other context than that of a death panel. I know we're all post-modern and Lakoffian and "framing" and stuff, but when you say "we" you're still referring to a group, right? Presumably this group will include more than one person but fewer than six billion people. So if it's not a panel, what is it? A committee? A nation? A consultancy? A czar? A cabinet-level department or just an agency of HHS? A government-sponsored enterprise? A blue-ribbon commission?
Barring murder, accident and suicide, whoever pays for your medical care will have some authority over how quickly you die. If HR 3200 did not contain any discussion of death panels, that would be the scandal.
With Obama sliding in another 13,000 troops (please note in that link to a Washington Post story the always-objective paper's permanent "AfPak War" story hed and subhed, with subhed reading "combating extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan"--that's speaking approved euphemisms to power, Post!) and Gen. McChrystal thinking that another 80,000 might be needed to really do the job, whatever that is, right, a good moment to read Andrew Bachevich's Boston Globe op-ed on the stakes for America's future in the decision Obama has to make on the future of our, er, endeavors in Afghanistan:
Implementing the McChrystal plan will perpetuate the longstanding fundamentals of US national security policy: maintaining a global military presence, configuring US forces for global power projection, and employing those forces to intervene on a global basis....at its core, the McChrystal plan aims to avert change. Its purpose - despite 9/11 and despite the failures of Iraq - is to preserve the status quo.
Hawks understand this. That’s why they are intent on framing the debate so narrowly - it’s either give McChrystal what he wants or accept abject defeat. It’s also why they insist that Obama needs to decide immediately....
If the president assents to McChrystal’s request, he will void his promise of change at least so far as national security policy is concerned. The Afghanistan war will continue until the end of his first term and probably beyond. It will consume hundreds of billions of dollars. It will result in hundreds or perhaps thousands more American combat deaths - costs that the hawks are loath to acknowledge.
As the fighting drags on from one year to the next, the engagement of US forces in armed nation-building projects in distant lands will become the new normalcy. Americans of all ages will come to accept war as a perpetual condition, as young Americans already do. That “keeping Americans safe’’ obliges the United States to seek, maintain, and exploit unambiguous military supremacy will become utterly uncontroversial.
A piece I wrote back in the dawn of the Iraq war on "how being a hawk means never having to say you're sorry."
To his legion of online supporters, Obama's first foreign policy coup was caving to Russian pressure on missile defense, they claimed, in exchange for Moscow's assistance in applying sanctions on Tehran. Brendan Nyhan argued that Obama didn't "appease" Moscow because the move was "part of a quid pro quo in which Russia agreed to support tougher sanctions against Iran." Ubiquitous liberal blogger Matt Yglesias scoffed that, contra Obama's critics, in the "real world, Obama’s approach is working" by getting Russia behind the administration's Iran policy. In Salon, Juan Cole argued that Obama "has been rewarded with greater Russian cooperativeness on Iran." "The US right wing accused Obama of a failure of nerve," Cole wrote, "But in fact his move was shrewd and gutsy, since he predisposed Russia to increased cooperation with the US in regard to Iran's nuclear research program."
It would have perhaps been shrewd (but not "gutsy") had the Russians not played the neophyte president like a fiddle. Reuters:
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned major powers on Wednesday against intimidating Iran and said talk of sanctions against the Islamic Republic over its nuclear programme was "premature". Putin, who many diplomats, analysts, and Russian citizens believe is still Russia's paramount leader despite stepping down as president last year, was speaking after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Moscow for two days of talks.
"There is no need to frighten the Iranians," Putin told reporters in Beijing after a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
Michael Moore recently visited George Washington University to do some capitalist-style promotion for his new flick Capitalism: A Love Story and got a little more than he bargained for during the audience Q&A. Check out the clip below where college libertarian Chad Swarthout gets Moore to admit that the real problem is “corporatism” and “giving too much power to government.”
In a feature for The American Conservative, Managing Editor Jesse Walker profiles Jerry Brown, the once and (possibly) future governor of California.View this article
When he started his first organic food store in Austin, Texas in 1978, Whole Foods Market CEO and co-founder John Mackey had no idea that he would eventually usher in not just a revolution in how we shop but in what we buy. If you dig being able to buy dozens of types of once-exotic apples, or cheese, or wine, or soaps, or countless other items, you can thank Mackey in part for helping to create cathedrals of commerce that have vastly enriched our day-to-day lives and vastly expanded our palates. (Full disclosure: Mackey has contributed to Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website.)
In August, Mackey became one of the most controversial businessmen in America when he penned an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal outlining his company's free-market-oriented health care system and offering eight concrete reforms that would reduce costs and improve access. Noting that health care is not "a right" as that term is properly understood, Mackey forcefully argued that increasing government intervention into health care is precisely the wrong thing to do: "The last thing our country needs is a massive new health-care entitlement that will create hundreds of billions of dollars of new unfunded deficits and move us much closer to a government takeover of our health-care system. Instead, we should be trying to achieve reforms by moving in the opposite direction—toward less government control and more individual empowerment."
The response from the left to Mackey's op-ed was swift: Advocates of single-payer health care, union activists, and others called for protests at and boycotts of Whole Foods, despite the fact that the company provides affordable and well-regarded coverage to its employees.
As a cutting-edge entrepreneur who is comfortable quoting astrological signs and Ludwig von Mises, who practices veganism and sells some of the best meat in America, and who chases profits and is an outspoken advocate of charitable giving, Mackey confounds conventional political categories. As an advocate of what he calls "conscious capitalism," Mackey is that rarest of businessman: an articulate and passionate defender of free enterprise and free individuals.
In late September, Mackey sat down with Reason's Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie to talk about health care reform, corporate social responsibility (on which Mackey has written for Reason), why government interventions rarely achieve their goals, and how Mackey came to his unstinting belief in free markets.Approximately five minutes. Shot by Dan Hayes and Meredith Bragg. Edited by Meredith Bragg.
This is an abridged version of an hour-long conversation with Mackey. For the full interview and downloadable versions, go here or click below.
Whatever the science editors at the New York Times were on when they published this story, I want some. In what's definitely the weirdest Times story I've read this week, it seems that two noted physicists are floating the theory that problems with the Large Hadron Collider, the world's biggest atom smasher, area result of sabotage by unknown forces... from the future. Great Scott!
There's little explanation as to how this might be happening, but the idea's originators do have an idea why: The LHC was designed to allow scientists to produce a particle called a Higgs boson, which some have theorized might result in serious calamity, like, for example, the end of the world. Nature, the two scientists suggest, is not willing to let that happen.
No, I am not making this up. From the NYT:
A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather.
...According to the so-called Standard Model that rules almost all physics, the Higgs is responsible for imbuing other elementary particles with mass.
“It must be our prediction that all Higgs producing machines shall have bad luck,” Dr. Nielsen said in an e-mail message. In an unpublished essay, Dr. Nielson said of the theory, “Well, one could even almost say that we have a model for God.” It is their guess, he went on, “that He rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them.”
This malign influence from the future, they argue, could explain why the United States Superconducting Supercollider, also designed to find the Higgs, was canceled in 1993 after billions of dollars had already been spent, an event so unlikely that Dr. Nielsen calls it an “anti-miracle.”
Wouldn't this mean we're in one of those time-travel paradoxes, like in the third Harry Potter movie, or every other episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation? Maybe not! Instead, it would be more like the first Back to the Future, in which Marty McFly has to travel back in time and ensure that his parents get together so that he will eventually be born.
While it is a paradox to go back in time and kill your grandfather, physicists agree there is no paradox if you go back in time and save him from being hit by a bus. In the case of the Higgs and the collider, it is as if something is going back in time to keep the universe from being hit by a bus. Although just why the Higgs would be a catastrophe is not clear. If we knew, presumably, we wouldn’t be trying to make one.
The cheap crack here would be to ask why the future couldn't come back and sabotage health-care reform instead (or maybe it is!). Instead, however, I'll leave you with what's sure to be the most important question for libertarians: What might this mean for the singularity?
Previously at Reason, Ron Bailey asked whether European physicists might destroy the world (short answer: so far, no).
UPDATE: A colleague reminds me of this helpful web application, which determines whether or not the LHC has destroyed the world yet. Sometimes I really have no idea how anyone did anything before the Internet.
Over the past decade, no group has done more to combat the muzzling of expression on college campuses than The Foundation For Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which was started by Reason contributors Alan Kors and Harvey Silverglate.
Next Thursday in Manhattan, FIRE is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a dinner emceed by former Reason editor Virginia Postrel and featuring speakers Eugene Volokh and Nat Hentoff.
If you're in the area, check it out. Details are here.
And click below for a recent Reason.tv interview with FIRE president Greg Lukianoff.
You'd think the U.S. would want to make it easy for would-be tech entrepreneurs to set up shop in our country, no matter where they were born. After all, the whole thinking up interesting stuff and then figuring out how to make money on it is supposedly America's speciality, right?
Sadly, huddled entrepreneurs from overseas yearning to be free find it increasingly difficult to get visas. The U.S. does offer visas appropriate to entrepreneurs, but they're tricky to get, take a long time, and have to be renewed every two years.
Meanwhile, Chile has spotted an opportunity and taken up the slack, offering an entrepreneur's immigration package for anyone who will invest $500,000 over five years. Vivek Wadhwa, an entrepreneur turned academic, obviously went on some sort of junket, but his praise for the program over at TechCrunch seems genuine, and the Chilean system puts America to shame:
What really struck me was how many Chileans I met who boasted of their country being a “land of immigrants.” Everyone told stories about how Chile was built by immigrants and welcomed the world’s most skilled and most oppressed. This reminded me of how America used to be before the xenophobes started blaming immigrants for all their own shortcomings and misery.
Here are the terms:
So what do you get for your $500,000? To start with, they’ll give you a visa. You can stay as long as you want – even permanently. You need to submit a business plan but you have a lot of latitude for what’s an acceptable business....
How about workforce incentives? Chile has you covered. The government will pay you (as an approved entrepreneur) up to $25,000 for the first year of “training costs” for any locals you hire. By the way, Chile has some excellent engineering schools so it’s not terribly difficult to pick up a good Java or C# programmer. They typically make $15,000-30,000 per year. Can’t find the local talent you want? Chile will subsidize your efforts to bring folks from Sunnyvale, Mumbai or wherever you may find them. And you can train these folks on Chile’s dime as well....
How about for H-1B immigrants or other talented folks who want to move to Chile? Simple. Get a legitimate tech job and they’ll give you a visa, no questions asked.
More immigration stories here.
How can Americans be expected to wrestle with the myriad dangers that confront them each day? Insalubrious cereal? Unregulated garage sales? Pools of death? Sometimes, writes David Harsanyi, it's too much to process.View this article
Via Instapundit comes this Hotair/Ed Morrissey vid and transcript of Hardball host Chris Matthews musing about someone "jam[ming] a CO2 pellet into [Limbaugh's] head and he’s going to explode like a giant blimp." You know, just like Yaphet Kotto at the end of the Roger Moore Bond flick Live And Let Die. Seriously. Morrissey notes:
No surprise here from the classiest cable network to drag anchor in the ratings, but consider if someone on Fox had offered this kind of fantasy musing on air about a liberal show host — say, Keith Olbermann or Matthews himself. The Left would have screamed about fascism and brownshirts, and of crypto-signaling for assassinations and the like.
That's all true, but then Morrissey goes too far:
Live and Let Die? Matthews is into the Roger Moore Bond films? That explains a lot, actually.
Au contraire: I am surely not the only filmgoer - or even libertarian - who agrees that when it comes to Bond, nobody did it better than Roger Moore (and possibly his epigone Pierce Brosnan). I understand that this is a minority position, though not as extreme as the George Lazenby gambit, but I'd rather watch Moore suavely ham his way through, say Octopussy than Sean Connery sleepwalk through Thunderball. Indeed, I'd rather catch Escape to Athena than virtually any Connery movie, although there's no denying that late Connery efforts such as Medicine Man and Rising Sun are pure comedy gold.
And incidentally, I take it all back after watching the trailer for Live and Let Die:
Update: Regarding some of the comments, below: Yes, it's always time for Zardoz!
Score one for California Gov. Schwarzenegger for having a sense of humor, anyway.
After TMZ caught first lady Maria Shriver violating the Schwarzenegger-signed law against talking on a cell-phone handset while driving, the Austrian Oak Tweeted: "Thanks for bringing her violations to my attention, @harveylevintmz. There's going to be swift action." WCBS TV asked the crucial follow-up:
Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear says that by "swift action," the governor means he'll ask his wife not to hold the phone while driving.
The non-haha part of the story, aside from how it provides yet another example that nuisance laws are made to be followed primarily by people who look like criminals, is that Schwarzenegger this week, in the midst of his state's ongoing financial free-fall, signed still another round of largely idiotic laws. A surface-scratching list:
* An anti-paparrazi law making it "a crime to take and sell unauthorized photos of celebrities in 'personal or familial activity,' and also target[ing] media outlets that purchase those photos, with violators facing fines of up to $50,000."
* A law requiring gun sellers and ammunition dealers to create and maintain a registry of all paying customers.
* A law requiring DUI convicts in four counties to install ignition-interlock breathalyzer devices on their cars.
* The Dogfighting Prevention Act, which "will substantially increase the penalties for spectators caught attending a dogfighting event to up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine."
* A law prohibiting health insurance company from charging more for women than men.
* A law increasing the penalties for illegal fishing and poaching to "at least $5,000 and as much as $40,000 with a year in county jail."
* A law increasing by tenfold the fines for improperly using disabled placards to park in those sweet blue spots.
* A law allowing football's San Francisco 49ers to ignore the requirement that they solicit competitive construction bids for their new stadium.
* The Donda West law, making "health checks and a written clearance mandatory before being allowed to undergo plastic surgery in the state of California."
* A law reinforcing existing regulations that school buses "turn off idling engines within 100 feet of a school."
* A law creating a new "sustainable" label for seafood, contingent on fishing practices.
* A law that "increases penalties for charter bus operators who fail to comply with safety and licensing regulations."
I could go on all day–there are hundreds of the things.
Earlier this week, the health-insurance lobby released a report making the case that four provisions in the health-care reform bill would cause premiums to rise much faster than they would otherwise. Democrats in Congress didn't take kindly to the last-minute attack, and now at least one has apparently decided it's time to strike back:
The long-simmering tension between insurers and congressional Democrats is erupting into open warfare, with lawmakers stepping up their push to revoke a key federal protection for the insurance industry.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday will call for an amendment to the health care reform bill that would remove the long-standing antitrust exemption for insurers, echoing a push by other Democrats to crack down on the industry.
The article says that Schumer's move is "more political than practical," which probably translates into "not likely to pass." And to some extent, the insurers brought this on themselves. They know how the Washington game is played (or should, anyway). But it's still suggestive about the way legislators respond to industries that attempt to disrupt their grand plans—in this case, with a show of force and an implicit threat.
When Bob Dole, Bill Frist, Tommy Thompson, and Louis Sullivan weighed in on health care reform, they weren't necessarily motivated by pure public-spiritedness. Tim Carney reports:
Former Republican Health and Human Services Secretaries Louis Sullivan and Tommy Thompson, along with former Senate Majority Leaders Bill Frist (a doctor) and Bob Dole, received plaudits in the president's weekly radio address for exhibiting "the spirit of national purpose" and for understanding "that health insurance reform isn't a Democratic issue or a Republican issue, but an American issue that demands a solution."
Media outlets dutifully carried the Democratic story line: Four important Republicans are backing Obama, but GOP lawmakers remain in lockstep for partisan political readings.
Obama, along with ABC News, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press and nearly everyone who reported on the GOP support for Obamacare, left out the salient detail that these pro-"reform" Republicans are lobbyists, consultants and directors for the drug companies, hospitals and other health care corporations that stand to profit from Obama's reform.
Via Instapundit comes this Mickey Kaus take on public-sector unions:
The justification for public sector unionism is way weaker than that for private sector unionism. "[Government] workers are not extracting a share of the profits but rather a share of taxes," as former N.Y. Liberal Party leader Alex Rose puts it. And the right to strike, in the hands of key public unions, approaches a blackmail power. But the political strength of the unions is such that even most Republicans, at the state and local level, are scared to question them. They gelded Arnold Schwarzenegger. You want to be next?
Read the whole thing, which looks at how public-sector union members are pulling away from average workers in terms of compensation.
Watch "Hasta La Vista, Arnold: What California's budget mess means for America" for details on how unions have bankrupted the Golden State.
• U.S. military reports best recruiting stats in 35 years.
• Senate to vote on measure that would require the Census to exclude illegal immigrants.
• House Financial Services Committee starts measure overhaul of financial regulation.
• French government has 17-member committee spend 18 months researching a French-appropriate term for cloud computing.
Why on the outside? Because it will make it easier to enforce the decree that "all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half hour," as the new dictator of San Marcos declares in Woody Allen's Bananas (1971). Venezuela's maximum leader and the world's chief proponent of Bolivarian Revolution, Hugo Chavez, is making Allen's parody look almost prescient. For example, Chavez recently denounced golf as a bourgeois sport and wants to nationalize his country's courses to provide housing and parks for the poor. As Cybergolf reports:
"I respect all the sports, all of them, but there are sports and there are sports," Chavez told supporters on his national TV show, Aló Presidente ("Hello, President!"), this summer. "Can someone tell me, 'Is this a sport of the people?' "
"Noooooo," government officials in the audience replied.
Of course, this wouldn't be the first time that a politician has tried to rile the plebes with a fake controversy in order to distract a restive population from his country's real problems.
The head of the Norwegian panel that awarded President Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize defended the choice in really lukewarm language. The AP reports that Thorbjorn Jagland cites "Obama's efforts to heal the divide between the West and the Muslim world and scale down a Bush-era proposal for an anti-missile shield in Europe" and concludes:
"All these things have contributed to — I wouldn't say a safer world — but a world with less tension."
Over at The Daily Beast, Elaine Lafferty reports on one of the other Nobel finalists, the Afghan doctor Sima Samar, and makes a strong case that she should have gotten the prize. Certainly, Samar's efforts at bringing health care to her misbegotten country earned her the ire of communists and Taliban leaders alike, deserve to be better known. A snippet:
Openly opposed to religious extremism and questioning Sharia law, Samar has noted that high incidence of bone fragility among Afghan women is due to an absence of sunlight because of the forced wearing of the burqa. She was driven from office by death threats when a Mullah announced a fatwa on her and called her Afghanistan's Salman Rushdie.
And watch Reason.tv's recent video, "Obama Wins Nobel Prize And...":
Last week the House of Representatives approved the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which President Obama promises to sign it as soon as it passes the Senate. In more than a decade of lobbying for the law, says Senior Editor Jacob Sullum, its supporters have never shown that state officials are letting people get away with murder, or lesser crimes of violence, when the victims belong to historically oppressed groups. Instead they have presented the legislation as a litmus test of antipathy toward violent bigots and sympathy for their victims. Given this framing, Sullum says, it’s surprising the law’s opponents managed to resist it for so long, when all they had on their side was the Constitution and basic principles of justice.View this article
As I noted on Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) claims the latest version of the federal hate crime bill, which the House passed last week and the Senate is expected to approve any day now, includes "protections for freedom of speech and association" that are "stronger" than the language in the version passed by the House last April. That's the reverse of the truth. Last spring's version said "evidence of expression or associations of the defendant may not be introduced as substantive evidence at trial, unless the evidence specifically relates to that offense." The American Civil Liberties Union cited this safeguard in reversing its longstanding opposition to the bill. By contrast, the current version (PDF) says "nothing in this [bill] shall be construed to allow prosecution based solely upon an individual’s expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs or solely upon an individual’s membership in a group advocating or espousing such beliefs" (emphasis added).
Since all the crimes covered by the bill are acts of violence that already are illegal under state law, this assurance amounts to nothing. No serious critic of the bill argues that it will punish people solely for the things they say or the groups they join. But it's hard to deny that it will mete out additional punishment based on such factors, which will be cited as evidence that victims were chosen "because of" their race, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual preference, or gender identity. Despite Pelosi's assurances, the bill clearly states that "courts may consider relevant evidence of speech, beliefs, or expressive conduct to the extent that such evidence is offered to prove an element of a charged offense or is otherwise admissible."
As I argue in tomorrow's column, this means that people will, in effect, be punished for their beliefs—i.e., be subject to harsher federal penalties (as well as double prosecution) because of the opinions they express about blacks, Jews, women, gays, etc. The bill's promise that nothing in it "shall be construed or applied in a manner that infringes on any rights under the first amendment" does not change this basic reality. As interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, the First Amendment does not prohibit laws that enhance penalties for existing offenses based on expressive conduct presented as evidence of bigotry, as opposed to laws that criminalize expressive conduct itself.
In a July 14 letter (PDF) to the Senate, the ACLU objected to the weakening (or, as Pelosi would have it, the strengthening) of the bill's freedom-protecting language. Among other things, it warned that "if there is no specific prohibition on the admissibility of speech or membership evidence that is not specifically related to the offense, there is a significant danger that membership in a group—religious or nonreligious—that espouses discriminatory beliefs could be used to turn an otherwise unremarkable act of violence into a federal hate crime." The ACLU's position is that a defendant's speech should be considered relevant only if the government shows that it is "directly related to the underlying crime and probative of the defendant’s discriminatory intent."
But in the end, although Pelosi clearly misrepresented the direction in which the bill moved, I don't think the requirement favored by the ACLU would make much difference in practice. A prosecutor could easily (and plausibly) argue that a website where the defendant rails against homosexuality is "directly related" to the charge that he punched someone "because of" his sexual orientation. Likewise, a defendant's membership in a white supremacist group probably would be deemed "directly related" to the charge that his attack on a black man was racially motivated. If so, there's no avoiding the reality that such defendants are punished extra severely because of the objectionable beliefs they express.
The version of the hate crime bill passed by the House last April is here. The version passed last week is here (PDF); it's now part of the 1,158-page National Defense Authorization Act, so you have to skip down to "Division E" (page 1059). More on hate crime laws here.
It involves New York man Glenn Marcus and whether his bondage and discipline relationship with one of his voluntary "slaves" was truly voluntary. The specific issue in the appeal to the Court is more procedural, though, as summed up by the always useful ScotusBlog:
Whether the Second Circuit departed from the Court’s interpretation of Rule 52(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure by adopting as the appropriate standard for plain-error review of an alleged ex post facto violation whether there is any possibility that the defendant could have been convicted based exclusively on conduct that took place before the enactment of the statutes in question.
It seems that the U.S. is upset because it lost an appeal of Marcus' original conviction because some of the actions before the jury in Marcus' trial happened before the law he was convicted of violating, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, had been passed.
The U.S. thinks that if at least some of the conduct happened after the law was passed, the conviction should stand, although the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals (including now-Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor) thought otherwise. From the government's petition:
The Second Circuit has adopted an incorrect approach for determining when a criminal defendant may obtain relief on a forfeited claim that his conviction was based on conduct that preceded the enactment of the relevant statute. The court of appeals concluded that, "even under plain error review," reversal is mandatory "whenever there is any possibility, no matter how unlikely, that the jury could have convicted based exclusively on pre-enactment conduct."
Marcus' claim was "forfeited" because he neglected to raise it at the original trial, which meant the Second Circuit could have ignored it, but chose not to.
The heart of Marcus' reasoning why the Second Circuit's reversal of his conviction should stand, and not be knocked down by the Supreme Court as the U.S. is arguing:
The Second Circuit’s decision is aligned with holdings of other circuits. For example, the
Seventh Circuit recently decided that plain error review should presume prejudice where there is "any possibility" of a different outcome in the absence of the error. Finally, this Court has always entrusted plain error review to the sound discretion of each circuit court. Thus, even if slight differences exist among the circuits in the review of such claims, further examination by this Court is not needed because uniformity is not required for a procedural rule. As a consequence, the petition for certiorari, to vacate the judgment and remand for reconsideration, should be denied.
While the Supreme Court will, I hope, stick to the procedural issues, what most people care about in this case is the naughty stuff, so yes, the original conviction involved a woman in a "slave" relationship with Marcus which had, she claimed--after the fact and without justification, says Marcus--shifted from consensual to actually abusive somewhere along the line. Here are some of the details, from Sullum's 2008 blog post:
The first time Jodi met Glenn Marcus, he whipped her and used a knife to carve the word slave on her stomach. During the next five years she kept coming back for more, engaging in BDSM sessions with him that included handcuffing, branding, whipping, and choking. Marcus posted photographs of the sessions on his website, which also featured Jodi's diary entries. In October 1999, she testified, she had "a moment of clarity," and from then on her relationship with Marcus was nonconsensual. Yet she continued to meet with him periodically for four more years, moving from the Midwest to Maryland and later to New York City at his behest. She also worked on his website. She said Marcus at one point told her he would show her pictures to her family and the news media if she left him. She also claimed that she overheard Marcus threaten to harm the family of Joanna, another BDSM partner.
Most of the world, including President Barack Obama, woke up last Friday to quite a surprise. But the real story, writes Lene Johansen, is that Thorbjørn Jagland, the new committee chair of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, wanted to start his tenure with a splash. He had promised insiders a winner that would gain international recognition. And so this year's winner did.View this article
A new United Nations report concludes that individuals have the right to control their own bodies, except when they want to sell one of their organs. Let’s be crystal clear: It is heinously wrong to treat people like slaves, coercing their labor without voluntarily agreed upon compensation. Science correspondent Ronald Bailey asks: Are poor people who sell their organs coerced?View this article
Apparently it's tough to keep patients afflicted with deadly and highly communicable tuberculosis coming back to complete their treatment. So a while back New York City started offering incentives for doing a full course of anti-TB meds.
But now the Big Macs-for-meds deal is bumping up against another "public health" campaign. Gothamist reports:
Since 1993, the city's Health Department has been giving out fast food restaurant coupons to TB patients, as an incentive to get them to return to clinics for six-month treatment programs. It's a bit awkward, because this is the same Health Department that's launched an aggressive, multi-pronged public health campaign to educate consumers about junk food. Start the countdown for the first lawsuit from a TB patient who contracts diabetes!
In fact, protecting New Yorkers from communicable diseases is one of the few legit functions of the Health Department. Here's hoping the fear of charges of hypocrisy won't stop the city from pursing a program that seems to work. ("Since offering incentives, TB cases have declined by more than 75 percent in NYC. Of course, it's unclear to what degree the incentives directly contributed to the decline," says Gothamist.)
TB celeb and floppy haired poet John Keats clearly foresaw this development when he penned these immortal lines:
Give me women, wine, and hamburgers
Untill I cry out "hold, enough!"
You may do so sans objection
Till the day of resurrection:
For, bless my beard, they aye shall be
My beloved Trinity.
UPDATE: From the comments, far better poetry+burger parodies than mine:
A Happy Meal is a joy for ever:
Its tastiness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
Our TB quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
And from The Squatting Fields:
THE BIG MACS are gone.
And those who saw the Big Macs are gone.
Those who saw the Big Macs by thousands and how they held the two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun
with their hands, their great heads down chewing on in a great pageant of dusk,
Those who saw the Big Macs are gone.
And the Big Macs are gone.
Over six years ago Bruce Ratner—a top political contributor and law school friend of then Gov. George Pataki—asked Pataki to use eminent domain to seize 22 acres of prime Brooklyn real estate and hand them over for his Atlantic Yards development plan. These 22 acres happened to include Daniel Goldstein's home and the homes and businesses of his neighbors. Tomorrow, New York's highest court will hear their landmark case challenging this abuse of eminent domain. As Goldstein explains, private developers have no right to his home.View this article
The New York Times’ Shaila Dewan has filed an interesting report from West Memphis, Arkansas, where three young boys were found horrifically murdered 16 years ago, and where three teenagers—dubbed the West Memphis Three—were convicted of the crime in a sham trial that relied on false testimony, moral panic over heavy metal music, and an “occult expert” with a mail-order PhD. As Dewan tells it, after years of denying that the teenagers could possibly have been railroaded, many locals are now willing to accept that a terrible miscarriage of justice might have occurred:
To Shaun Hair, 30, who left West Memphis for college after the killings, it was a jolt to hear friends and neighbors begin questioning the verdict. “I was like, ‘That’s stupid, quit buying the hype,’ ” he said.
But when Mr. Hair, who returned to the area in 1999 and now works as a criminal defense lawyer, re-examined the case, he found it troubling. “If I were the defense attorney,” he said, “I would want a retrial.”
Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Misskelley are serving life sentences; Mr. Echols is on death row. Their convictions were based on an error-riddled confession by Mr. Misskelley, who later recanted, and testimony about satanic cults. Scant physical evidence was presented.
Just to be clear about it: Despite leading questions and repeated prompts from the police officers who were present, the “confession” of 17-year-old Jesse Misskelley—a high school dropout with an IQ of 72—was wrong about virtually every significant aspect of the crime. Misskelley claimed that the boys were anally raped, though the medical examiner found no such evidence. He said the boys were bound with rope (it was shoelaces), that only their hands were tied (they were tied hand to foot), and that one boy could kick his legs “up in the air.” Misskelley repeatedly stated that the killings took place in the morning and that the victims had skipped school—yet the victims were present in school until 2:45 p.m. that day. As Mara Leveritt, author of the best book on the case, has written, "Every detective in the room knew, even if Jessie did not, that the statement was absurd." Yet it was Misskelley’s words that directly led to the arrests of the other two.
For more on this outrageous case, see here.
As the Senate Finance Committee prepared to vote on its health-care overhaul bill today, the only major question was how Olympia Snowe, the one Republican who's expressed any interest in supporting the Democrats' health-care reforms, would vote. Now we know: She's on board—at least for now.
What does this mean for reformers? I basically agree with Phil Klein, who writes:
In her statement, Snowe emphasized that this was merely one step in a long process, and that her vote today should not be used to forecast her final vote....While expressing several reservations about the bill, she said, "When history calls, history calls."
This is a good headline for Democrats today, but it doesn't solve the underlying friction between moderate and liberal members of Congress. The ability to attract one Republican may stregthen Baucus's hand during negotiations with Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Chris Dodd (representing the HELP Committee) and embolden Blue Dogs in the to oppose the inclusion of a government-run plan in the House. Everything will hinge on whether House liberals cave in on their demand for a government plan, or dig in.
Seems to me that what Snowe's really doing here isn't so much voting in favor of the bill, but voting to give the bill a hearing on the Senate floor. As she indicated in her statement, her yes vote now doesn't necessarily mean she'll vote yes later. This preserves her leverage by keeping outsiders wondering whether she'll provide the bill any small amount of bipartisan backing. For now, at least, she wants debate to continue.
Gorki Águila is blunt in his assessment of Fidel Castro's half century of revolution: "Communism is a failure. A total failure. Please, leftists of the world-improve your capitalism! Don't choose communism!" Águila, a Havana resident, wears homemade anti-government t-shirts, frequently denounces the Castro brothers as geriatric tyrants, and heads up perhaps Cuba's only explicitly political punk band, Porno Para Ricardo. And because of his stubborn belief in free speech, he is routinely arrested on charges of "social dangerousness." Tired of his anti-regime music, Cuban authorities made the rare decision to grant Águila a visa to travel abroad, perhaps hoping that he wouldn't return.
In September, Reason.tv's Michael C. Moynihan caught up with Águila on the Washington, D.C. leg of his American promotional tour to talk about his music, the origins of Porno Para Ricardo, and how long it takes to get Led Zeppelin records in a totalitarian society.
Approximately 7 minutes. Shot by Meredith Bragg. Edited by Dan Hayes.
For podcast and downloadable versions of this video, click here.
In a point/counterpoint for US News & World Report, Reason Senior Editor Radley Balko debates Rep. Carolyn McCarthy over the wisdom of a federal ban on texting while driving.
Balko argues it isn't clear that texting behind the wheel is a national epidemic, and that, in any case, a ban would fail to address other driver distractions, give police another reason to make pretext stops, and be impossible to enforce.
Cato's Michael Cannon spells out the thorny political landscape now facing would-be reformers in Congress:
- "The Left and the health care industry both want universal health insurance coverage."
- "But universal coverage is so expensive that Congress can’t get there without taxing Democrats."
- "But if congressional leaders pare back those taxes, they lose the support of the health care industry, which wants its subsidies."
That means industry pushback, which means reform becomes a difficult vote for many Democrats. And that may mean reforms built around universal-coverage just don't work. Read Cannon's whole post here.
- The White House spars with Fox News.
- Senate Finance Committee to vote on Baucus health care bill today.
- Regulators, private firms take aim at payday lenders.
- Obama quietly increases troop deployments to Afghanistan by another 13,000.
- Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson gets in touch with his inner jingo.
From the L.A. Times:
Wealthy U.S. taxpayers, concerned about an Internal Revenue Service crackdown on the use of secret overseas bank accounts as tax havens, are rushing to meet a Thursday deadline to disclose those accounts or face possible criminal prosecution.
The concern was triggered this summer when Switzerland's largest bank, caught up in an international tax evasion dispute, said it would disclose the names of more than 4,000 of its U.S. account holders.
The decision shattered a long-held belief that Swiss banks would guard the identities of its American customers as carefully as they did their money, and it raised concern that other international tax havens might be next.
Under an amnesty program, the IRS is allowing taxpayers to avoid prosecution for having failed to report their overseas accounts. As a result, tax attorneys across the nation have been besieged by wealthy clients who are lining up to apply even though they will still face big financial penalties. [...]
"It's crazy busy," said Pasadena tax attorney Phil Hodgen, who for a brief period in September stopped accepting new clients because he was overwhelmed with amnesty requests. "These people are calling, saying, 'I can't sleep at night.' "
Some 3,000 U.S. residents have voluntarily disclosed their foreign bank accounts to the IRS this year, compared to fewer than 100 in 2008, said one U.S. government official who asked not to be identified.
The Wall Street Journal has a nice editorial today criticizing New York for the Atlantic Yards land grab:
The anti-Kelo wave is cresting in New York this week as plans for a new basketball arena clash with the property rights of state voters in a watershed state court case.
In Goldstein v. New York State Urban Development Corporation, residents and business owners are challenging the state's use of eminent domain to condemn private property in a Brooklyn neighborhood for the benefit of a private developer. Spawned by developer Forest City Ratner, the "Atlantic Yards" project would build a new venue for the New Jersey Nets, along with office towers and apartment buildings.
According to the state and developer, this qualifies as a "public use"—the designation required to justify the seizure of private property under the law. Once limited to public projects like roads or bridges, "public use" has become an evolving legal concept that considers assorted "public benefits" provided even in a private development. Under that standard, nearly any new building project would qualify if it could be judged more appealing than current occupants of the property.
The Wash Post reports on burgeoning efforts by the Obama administration to butt into even more aspects of everyday life and treat us all as if we have the brainpower of Joe Biden. "A handful of Obama appointees," writes the Post, "are awakening a vast regulatory apparatus with authority over nearly every U.S. workplace, 15,000 consumer products, and most items found in kitchen pantries and medicine cabinets."
Near the top of the list? The dread menace of Cheerios, the burp-inducing breakfast cereal that lies (lies!) about its crunchety goodness and heart-helping properties. Or at least needs to run clinical studies on more unwilling children:
FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg and deputy Joshua M. Sharfstein -- both with backgrounds running public health agencies -- notified General Mills that it was violating the law with its two-year-old marketing campaign that said Cheerios can lower cholesterol by 4 percent. The FDA said the company was essentially making a drug claim, which would require clinical studies and agency approval before a product is put on the market. The food giant has removed that claim from its Web site and a spokeswoman said it is in discussions with the FDA.
While the FDA began looking into Cheerios before Obama's election, several lawyers who represent food and drugmakers said they think the agency under Bush would never have taken action against General Mills.
And God bless pistachio nuts? No, god damn pistachio nuts!
In June, Sharfstein defied pistachio producers and told the nation to stop eating the nuts out of concern over potential salmonella contamination, even though no illnesses had been reported and just one company was involved.
Note that the proposed regulatory buttinskyism extends far beyond foodstuffs into all manner of basic banking practices, workplace rules, you name it. The potential savior of nanny-stateism run amok? Cass Sunstein, the head of the Office of the Office of Information and Regulatory Policy and the so-called Regulatory Czar, who was somewhat controversial as an appointee:
The regulators still face significant hurdles if they want to dramatically expand government's reach. Most proposed regulations have to be vetted by a central White House office headed by another new appointee, Cass R. Sunstein, whose embrace of cost-benefit analyses may mean he will discourage expensive new rules. Some efforts to expand regulation are sure to face legal challenges from industry. And the private sector is likely to assert that new regulations would be an additional burden in a weak economy.
Light a candle for Czar Sunstein. Read the whole article which is frustrating and depressing, and as predictable as those bad cartoons about Obama's Nobel Prize win. Hope and Change = Treating Us Even More Like Children.
Watch a libertarian defense of Sunstein by George Mason University's Frank Buckley.
Yeah, I don't get it either, but here's a Dutch editorial cartoon on the topic of Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
For a mug's gallery of other equally inscrutable and/or awful cartoons on the same there, go here.
And for Reason.tv's rapid-response video, originally released last Friday around 2pm and has already pulled over 80,000 views, just click below.
For past Reason disquisitions on the fine art of editorial cartooning, go here.
The mysteries of Washington can be both perplexing and wondrous, writes David Harsanyi. If you watched noted alchemist Sen. Max Baucus conjure up health care gold last week, you probably know what Harsanyi means. One of the many assumptions in the Baucus plan is that there would be continual cuts in physician reimbursements, cuts that Congress never has allowed and precious few onlookers believe would be politically palatable. So without a major attitude adjustment in Washington, this savings is pure fantasy.View this article
Oafish Congressman Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who famously claimed that opponents of ObamaCare want uninsured Americans to "die quickly," tells MSNBC that he is the Bob Dylan of the 111th Congress:
"Comparing what Joe Wilson did to what I did, it's not the same. What I did is like a Bob Dylan protest song; what Joe Wilson did is like a belch."
Would Hattie Carroll have died if Medicare was available in 1963? If Grayson is like Dylan, is he more Self Portrait-era or Down in the Groove-era, which features Kip Winger, the Roman Polanski of hair metal, on bass? Below, the video of Grayson embarrassing himself on MSNBC:
Paul Dragos Aligica, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center and former graduate student of Elinor Ostrom, winner of the 2009 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, explains why Professor Ostrom’s groundbreaking work represents a systematic attempt to transcend the basic dichotomy of modern political economy.View this article
In September, the European Union banned the sale of 100-watt incandescent light bulbs, with lawbreakers facing up to $70,000 in fines. Over the next few years, bans on lower-wattage bulbs kick in. In the United States, similar legislation comes into play in 2012. The idea is to kickstart the market for compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), which use less energy than conventional incandescents. Although CFLs present any number of problems (even beyond a much higher initial cost), governments all over the globe are determined to make them the new standard.
Invented in its modern form by Thomas Edison in 1879, the light bulb became synonymous with a brilliant idea. Now, it seems, it's just one more symbol of a nanny state that increasingly dictates more choices in our public and private lives.
"Light bulbs vs. The Nanny State" is produced by Meredith Bragg and Nick Gillespie. Approximately two minutes. Go to Reason.tv for downloadable versions.
From our November issue, Editor in Chief Matt Welch writes that November 1989 was the most liberating month of arguably the most liberating year in human history. Yet two decades later the country that led the Cold War coalition against communism seems less interested than ever in commemorating, let alone processing the lessons from, the collapse of its longtime foe.View this article
The insurance industry group AHIP is circulating a new study arguing that key elements of the proposed health-care overhaul will significantly raise premium prices for the insured. Democrats on the Hill, naturally, aren't happy. The reaction from the spokesman for Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee was typical: He called the report "untrue, disingenuous and bought and paid for by the same health insurance companies that have been gouging too many consumers for too long."
Two points on this.
The first is that the report does seem, at first glance, to be somewhat selective in what it chooses to report. It doesn't actually look at the bill as a whole; instead, it looks at four provisions likely to raise premium prices. It also makes some odd assumptions about how consumers will react to new regulations. That doesn't mean the report is wrong that premium prices will rise. State-level experience with insurance-market regulations like guaranteed issue and community rating suggests they will. But it's worth remembering that the report doesn't provide a complete overview of any of the bills now making their way through Congress.
The second point, and the more important one, is that, judging by the AHIP spokesman's comments on Fox News this morning, the insurance industry's intention here isn't necessarily to oppose reform. Instead, I suspect AHIP is hoping to push legislators to make the individual mandate—the requirement that everyone purchase health insurance—even stronger.
It's obvious why insurers would favor such a rule: What industry wouldn't want a law requiring just about everyone to buy its product? Thing is, health insurance mandates are only as powerful as their penalties, and, in the most recent Senate Finance Committee bill, the penalty for not buying insurance is relatively low. As NPR explained last week, "there would be no penalty for going without insurance in 2013. And the fines imposed starting in 2014 would amount to $200 for an adult, rising a few hundred bucks each year to $750 in 2017. Insurance would costs thousands of dollars a year, so the math isn't very pretty for the risk pool."
A weak mandate means insurers would be stuck with all sorts of expensive new requirements, but with fewer new individuals purchasing their product—meaning less money coming in to offset the cost of those pricey regulations.
Now, I'm not in favor of a mandate, and the experience of Massachusetts—which now has both a mandate and the highest insurance premiums in the country—indicates that mandates won't necessarily bring premium prices down.
But, as far as I can tell, the insurance industry mainly just wants to bring people into the system and is willing to play ball with other regulations if it can do so. Seems likely that its real gripe here isn't so much that industry regulations are too onerous—it's that the requirement for the rest of us isn't strong enough.
The Wash Post reports on Joey Coon, who works at the Cato Institute and is a vet who served in Iraq, and his successful effort to bring his translator to the U.S.:
They became good buddies during the war, the young American soldier and his invaluable Iraqi translator, an easygoing guy who could spot dangers in the shadows and calm jittery nerves in the streets.
When it was time to go home, Joey Coon, then an Army National Guard sergeant, set up an e-mail account for his translator, Bandar Hasan. He gave his friend a quick lesson on how to use it so they could stay in touch.
Joey didn't expect much. Bandar wasn't familiar with computers. But he did call on occasion, and the two joked about him coming to America one day, an idea that seemed far-fetched.
That all changed one morning when Bandar called Joey, his voice tense, his message urgent. He was no longer a translator, he was on the run and in fear of his life.
"He was very scared and worried and thought he was in a lot of danger," Joey says, recalling how this conversation differed from others. "It was less about two guys joking, 'Hey buddy, won't it be fun when you come to the U.S.,' and more like 'Joey I need to get the heck out of here!'"
Joey knew Bandar had risked his life for him and other American soldiers.
Now he was determined to do all he could to save him.
Newark, Delaware, 6-year-old Zachary Christie was so excited about the all-in-one eating tool he got when he joined the Cub Scouts that he brought it to school so he could use it at lunch. Anyone familiar with the "zero tolerance" idiocy that has swept the nation in the last decade can guess what happened after that. The only real question is whether Zachary was expelled or merely suspended. Answer: He was suspended for 45 days. But he might have been better off if he had been expelled, because a new state law gives school officials some discretion in expulsion cases involving students who unknowingly violate rules against weapons and drugs. The legislators neglected to address suspensions. The front-page New York Times story about the incident quotes "zero tolerance" defenders who say distinguishing among offenders based on intent can be dangerous:
Some school administrators argue that it is difficult to distinguish innocent pranks and mistakes from more serious threats, and that the policies must be strict to protect students.
"There is no parent who wants to get a phone call where they hear that their child no longer has two good seeing eyes because there was a scuffle and someone pulled out a knife," said George Evans, the president of the Christina district's school board....
Charles P. Ewing, a professor of law and psychology at the University at Buffalo Law School who has written about school safety issues, said he favored a strict zero-tolerance approach.
"There are still serious threats every day in schools," Dr. Ewing said, adding that giving school officials discretion holds the potential for discrimination and requires the kind of threat assessments that only law enforcement is equipped to make.
Evans' concern might be grounds for a uniform rule against knives, but it does not justify treating all violators the same, regardless of age or intent. And contrary to Ewing, you don't need police training to tell the difference between an overeager Cub Scout with a nifty camping tool and a budding thug who brings a switchblade to school in anticipation of a fight.
Here's what you were reading last week at Hit & Run:
The Breitbart Dilemma, by Matt Welch (10/7)
Probation, Fine, and Financial Ruin: The Penalty for Not Committing a Crime, by Jacob Sullum (10/8)
Weed in Review, by Peter Suderman (10/5)
Praise Our Nobel Laureate, You Churlish Anti-American, by Michael C. Moynihan (10/9)
Michael Steele's Medicare Mistake, by Peter Suderman (10/6)
Writing in the journal World Affairs, the great Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati criticizes Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz for his take on the current economic crisis:
Stiglitz made a much-cited claim that the current crisis was for capitalism (and markets) the equivalent of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Now, we know that all analogies are imperfect, but this one is particularly dicey. When the Berlin Wall collapsed, we saw the bankruptcy of both authoritarian politics and an economics of extensive, almost universal, ownership of the means of production and central planning. We saw a wasteland. When Wall Street and Main Street were shaken by crisis, however, we witnessed merely a pause in prosperity, not a devastation of it.
(Via Arts & Letters Daily)
He's overseen an overly aggressive police department responsible for a number of botched police raids, including the now infamous 2008 raid on Berwyn Heights, Maryland Mayor Cheye Calvo. He's shown an aversion to transparency and accountability and a callousness towards the people victimized by his deputies' misconduct. So what's the next move for Prince George's County Sheriff Michael Jackson?
As Senior Editor Radley Balko reports, Jackson is running for higher office.View this article
Whether it's the loose confederation of Washington-oriented groups that have played an organizational role or the state-level activists who are channeling grass-roots anger into action back home, tea party forces are confronting the Republican establishment by backing insurgent conservatives and generating their own candidates - even if it means taking on GOP incumbents.
"We will be a headache for anyone who believes the Constitution of the United States ... isn't to be protected," said Dick Armey, chairman of the anti-tax and limited government advocacy group FreedomWorks, which helped plan and promote the tea parties, town hall protests and the September ‘Taxpayer March' in Washington. "If you can't take it seriously, we will look for places of other employment for you."
"We're not a partisan organization, and I think many Republicans are disappointed we are not," added Armey, a former GOP congressman.
What Reason.tv saw at the 9/12 march:
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), one of the most market-friendly members of Congress, decided to spend his vacation alone on a tropical island for a week "sandwiched between town halls and constituent meetings." Cue "no man is an island" libertarian humor.
By day two, he's gone Piggy, lighting a fire with magnifying lens. By day three he's writing numbers on the shells of hermit crabs with a Sharpie, just for fun. Also, reading about occasions when the phrase blood in the water is a literal concern—and not just trash talk at a meeting with a pale dudes in suits—makes you appreciate civilization a lot.
Would have been better if Flake had played this low-key, I think, rather than handing off his vacation snaps for a Washington Post slideshow. On the other hand, then we would have been deprived of what may be the only instance of libertarian survivalist beefcake known to man.
Go ahead commenters, prove me wrong on that last point.
Here are the five most popular Reason.com columns from last week. Read them for the first time or once more:
Scenes From a Crackdown: Police overkill at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, by Radley Balko (10/5)
From Guns to Butter: How a Second Amendment case can help restore economic liberty, by Jacob Sullum (10/7)
Marching with Michael Moore: After a rally, union toughs get a sneak peak of Capitalism: A Love Story, by Sean Higgins (10/5)
Chicago Wins By Losing: Why losing the Olympics is a blessing in disguise for the Windy City, by Steve Chapman (10/5)
Ready for Her Close-Up: Re-examining Ayn Rand's place in American intellectual and cultural life, by Nick Gillespie (10/7)
This weekend, Comcast, after fixing one inexplicable problem with my home's on-demand service over the phone, sent a service tech out to look at the TiVo in my living room. He spent a lot of time on the phone with someone who I'm pretty sure was a Comcast tech but may have been a friend or family member, mumbled a lot, and walked in and out of the house without explaining what he was doing. Eventually, he left without fixing the problem, saying only that Comcast would call to schedule a further appointment with an "elite" tech by the end of day, and that I should be prepared for the possibility that it might just be that my TiVo, at just a year and a half old, is too old for their most recent upgrade. Needless to say, Comcast has yet to call to schedule that next appointment.
Why do I bring this up? Because Comcast is a key player in the debate over net neutrality, and it's important for those of us who're skeptical of mandated neutrality to be open about the failures in the ISP market. The broadband market has advanced with remarkable speed in the U.S. -- just a decade ago, it was rare to have broadband in homes; now it's common -- but is not some sort of high-speed utopia.
On the other hand, when neutrality advocates like Jeffrey Rosen treat Comcast as some sort of monopolist, they're wildly exaggerating the problem:
This problem is especially acute in the United States because of our lack of competition among broadband companies in most markets. In many towns, Comcast (or its regional equivalent) is the only plausible supplier of broadband.
It's probably true that there are a handful of rural localities in the U.S. where Comcast is effectively the only option. But FCC data shows that 98 percent of zip codes have at least two broadband providers and 88 percent of zip codes have four or more broadband providers. Competition isn't perfect, but it's a lot stronger than people think.
Rosen is worried that Comcast, as a monopolist, might start, say, charging for access to Facebook, or blocking Verizon's websites. But even if you agree that Comcast is a monopolist, why try to fix the problem through regulation when it might be resolved through competition?
Franchise reform, which would make it far easier for broadband providers to enter new markets, would go a long way to doing that. In Texas, reform has already led to significant improvements, provoking consumer reactions like the following: "The company that had a monopoly had lousy services until competition came, and then they improved their services." Imagine that!
Rosen also takes issue with Comcast's throttling of Bittorrent file-sharing software:
Two years ago, Comcast, America’s second-largest high-speed Internet provider, blocked BitTorrent, a popular peer-to-peer file-sharing application that could be used to distribute (among many other things) high-definition TV video that would compete with Comcast’s video services. The obstruction was discovered by an amateur singer who wanted to share public domain performances of barbershop quartets with his fellow aficionados. After initially denying that it was blocking BitTorrent, Comcast, which was literally denying access to the King James Bible, claimed that it wasn’t blocking the file-sharing application, but merely delaying it to conserve bandwidth as part of "reasonable network management." The Comcast case is a model for the free-speech battles of the future, where Internet and wireless providers may want to favor certain content providers over others in order to maximize profits at the expense of consumer choice.
This is, indeed, a problem. But it's a problem has a lot less to do with net neutrality and lot more with honest business practices. It's one thing for Comcast to limit usage of certain application -- it's quite another for them to deny doing so. But again, neutrality doesn't seem like much of a solution. The fix is to make sure that Comcast clearly discloses the limits of the service it offers -- not force into a predetermined network management scheme.
Rosen also doles out silly bits like this:
You might think that a decision to block the King James Bible would violate the First Amendment, or at least raise important constitutional concerns. But, if Comcast, a private company, is blocking a particular technology, rather than discriminating against particular speakers, there’s no state action and no obvious peg for a First Amendment lawsuit.
Well, no, you wouldn't think that, and the only reason to bring this up at all is to cast Comcast in an ominous light. Just as Wal-Mart can throw out a guy who walks in wearing a sandwich board with the words FUCK GOD scrawled on it, network owners can limit or decline to service certain applications. That's how private property works.
Indeed, the biggest neutrality controversy going right now is whether or not wireless data providers -- the folks who provide mobile Internet to your iPhone or Blackberry -- will be subject to neutrality regulations. In particular, there's been uproar over Apple's decision to block the Google Voice application from its iPhone app store. But again, the Wal-Mart analogy applies. Just as it would be unreasonable to force Wal-Mart to carry every brand or type of good that someone submits, it's unreasonable to expect the same from the Apple store. I'd even agree with Jerry Brito that selectivity can be a good thing, as it suggests carefulness and diligence.
So I'm with neutrality advocates when they complain about crappy ISPs like Comcast, and I'm happy to require Comcast to fully disclose its network management practices, as they now seem to do. But net neutrality, I think, is hardly the best way to resolve these issues; as others have said before, it's a solution in search of a problem.
Update: Julian Sanchez takes me to task for using sketchy FCC data about broadband competition, which he says is seriously misleading. I actually think the presence of half-decent 3G could help keep faster ISPs honest, at least in some cases, but fair enough. Even still, I don't think we ought to set policy under the assumption that Internet service is an essentially monopolistic business. Instead, we ought to look for ways to free up markets to increase competition. And, as Sanchez says, we ought to be cautious about how regulations might affect future circumstances: "With 4G rollouts on the horizon, we may actually get adequate broadband competition in the near-to-medium term, and might want to be wary about rushing into regulatory solutions that not only assume the status quo, but could plausibly help entrench it."
Last week, attorneys for special ed student Marshawn Pitts released the security video below, which shows Pitts being beaten by Christopher Lloyd, a police officer in Dolton, Illinois who was working security at the school. Pitts' attorneys say Lloyd administered the beating because Pitts hadn't tucked in his shirt, as required by the school's dress code.
When the video first emerged last week, the Dolton police department refused to release Lloyd's name. With good reason. Lloyd is in jail in Indiana. He was arrested last month for raping an Indiana woman at knife point. He had also threatened the woman weeks earlier, but apparently wasn't arrested or disciplined for it.
But it gets worse. Lloyd was also fired last year from another suburban Chicago police department . . . for killing his ex-wife's husband in front of their children. The town of Robbins fired Lloyd after the February 2008 shooting, but Chicago police bought Lloyd's claim that the shooting was self-defense, so he was never charged. That enabled Lloyd to find work at the Dalton police department 11 months later.
According to a lawsuit filed by Lloyd's ex-wife, autopsy reports contradict the police investigation. The autopsy shows that Lloyd shot the man 24 times. When contacted by the Chicago Tribune, a spokesman from Chicago PD said details of the department's investigation of the shooting "could not immediately be found."
According to Time's Michael Scherer, CNN has a new commercial out promoting star anchor Anderson Cooper:
The new promo...consists of a woman's voice, pitching Cooper's show as, essentially, a liberal alternative to Fox News: "I'm a lifelong Democrat," she says, "and that's why I watch Anderson Cooper." [...] The voice goes on to say that Cooper is the person she can turn to hold "right wing" conservatives accountable.
I guess you'll have to tune elsewhere for TV journalism that holds accountable those who actually hold power.
So what cable news programs are people watching?
In September, according to Nielson, the top thirteen cable news shows were on Fox, led by the networks conservative pundits: The O'Reilly Factor (2.6 million households), Sean Hannity (2.1 million), Glenn Beck (2.2 million), and the less political Greta Van Susteren (1.8 million). The top non-Fox shows are CNN's Larry King (921,000), Countdown with Keith Olbermann (881,000) and Rachel Maddow (827,000). Only then, in the 17th spot, does Anderson Cooper make a showing, with 746,000 households in the 10 p.m. hour.
Link via Jay Rosen's Twitter feed.
At a Human Rights Watch dinner in DC on Saturday, President Barack Obama reiterated his campaign pledge to end the discriminatory "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prevents gays and lesbians from serving openly in the all-volunteer military.
We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve the country... We should be celebrating their willingness to step forward and show such courage.
Who knows? When he finally gets elected and has strong, even unassailable majorities in Congress, maybe his dream will become a reality. And maybe he'll also take on the Constitution-bending Defense of Marriage Act, which essentially undercuts federalism by undercutting the impact of state-level experimentation with the issue of gay marriage (another great progressive Clinton-era legacy).
Reason on one of the dumbest policies ever created.
• The Nobel prize in economics goes to Ben Bernanke Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson.
• Sheriff Joe Arpaio loses some of his immigration enforcement powers.
• Local governments rescind or postpone smoking bans.
• Turkey normalizes relations with Armenia.
• Happy Uniform Holiday #3!
One of the pet campaigns of the public health scolds is forcing restaurants to provide accessible nutritional information about their offerings. In 2008, the city of New York passed a law mandating calorie data on fast-foot menus and menu boards, on the assumption that better knowledge would make for healthier eating. But as Steve Chapman writes, the early evidence suggests that people don't choose high-calorie fast foods because they don't know any better. They choose them because they like them, and they don't really care if others disapprove.View this article
Calculated Risk picks up on an important, valuable trend: Market interventionists no longer disguise their goal of propping up excessive real estate prices.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) leads the cheer with this explanation of why it's good that Federal Housing Administration is intentionally guaranteeing bad loans: "I don't think it's a bad thing that the bad loans occurred. It was an effort to keep prices from falling too fast. That's a policy."
Sadly, the evidence is as clear in their actions as it is in their words. From CR's wrapup:
The FHA insuring "bad loans" for buyers with a high probability of default.
The first-time home buyer tax credit (the FTHB makes no sense from any other economic perspective).
Delaying foreclosures, first with moratoriums and then with "trial modifications".
We could probably include the Fed buying GSE MBS to lower mortgage rates, and other policies like increasing the "conforming loan" limit to $729,750 in high cost states.
Intentionally encouraging loans with high default rates (insured at taxpayer expense), and the FTHB tax credit (especially allowing buyers to use the credit as a down payment) have stimulated demand. And delaying foreclosures has restricted supply.
This has had the desired effect of pushing up asset prices, especially at the low end.
It is "a policy", but is it a good policy?
You may have your own answer to that rhetorical question. But at least Frank and other inflationists are describing the policy overtly, without pettifogging about working families and how foreclosures hurt neighborhoods. They just want to keep real estate prices up. It goes no deeper than that.
As noted the other day, real estate life support is more than just a soaking of taxpayers. It's an actual class war, with a clear set of beneficiaries (homeowners, and in particular "homeowners" with heavy debt loads) and a clear set of victims (home buyers). I don't have a lot of confidence in home buyers as a group capable of getting a political voice. But at least the argument is out in the open.
Cease to doubt that Larry Summers, current director of the Obama Administration's National Economic Council, can split atoms through sheer brilliance of thought. Of Ryan Lizza's swoon for Summers in El Neoyorkino I say only this: Unintentional mixed metaphors in strategic locations are sure evidence that you're being fed merde de boeuf, and this article ends with the sentence, "Obama and his team have pulled the economy back from the abyss, but they will get credit only when it has been rebuilt." Also the piece helpfully corroborates a prominent anecdote about Summers' intriguing to prevent Austan Goolsbee's dissent from entering the discussion of the Chrysler bailout.
But Summers buffs will come away more convinced than ever that the NEC director's intellectual giganticism is of such scale that America faces a clear way forward: We must give Larry Summers one of our South Pacific holdings as his own country, Geniustan, where he can be President, General Secretary, Admiral of the Ocean Sea and First Lady. Summers' Castle-Bravo-class yields of thermonuclear excogitation are just too powerful to be handled safely within the nation's borders.
Whole article. Wear protective gear and goggles.
If the world was stunned to learn that President Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, it will be even more amazed by all the awards that are still coming his way.
A Reason.tv Rapid Response video. Approximately two minutes.
Written and produced by Meredith Bragg and Nick Gillespie.
Subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube Channel.
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Original air date: 2.12PM ET on October 9, 2009.
Via Probably Bad News:
From a blog titled "Where Hip-Hop and Libertarianism Meet," a rapper's case against the Federal Reserve:
(This shouldn't be taken as an endorsement of either the message or the music. Rather, it should be taken as a sign of my general inability to resist any novelty rapper who manages to semi-cogently reference Andrew Jackson, Keynes' animal spirits, the discount window, and currency elasticity.)
In The New York Post, Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch argues that "Giving Americans trophies is a funny way of punishing us for being self-centered." Excerpt:
As Obama said yesterday morning, his administration seeks "a new era of engagement, in which all nations must take responsibility for the world we seek."
Yet "taking responsibility" ultimately means guaranteeing their own security and fighting their own wars -- and fixing their attention on world problems, instead of on the nation that disproportionately tries to address them. The first step down that long road lies not with America, but with the countries who love to love/hate us.
Surely, it will be a sign of responsibility and self-respect when the citadels of European respectability choose to lavish awards on those citizens of the world who actually accomplish great things -- rather than on the American they think might do good someday. Sadly, judging from yesterday's news, that day is still far, far away.
In a review that originally appeared in The Washington Times, Brian Doherty assesses Jennifer Burns' new biography of Ayn Rand, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, and finds that the most important thing to remember about Ayn Rand and the American right is that Rand wasn't part of it.View this article
Listening to NPR's truly awful coverage of the Norwegian Nobel Committee's truly awful decision to give President Obama the Peace Prize, I heard this segment, in which Morning Edition hosts Renee Montagne and Steve Inskeep, along with NPR correspondents Don Gonyea and Rob Gifford, discuss the implications of the president's $1.4 million cash windfall. According to NPR's analysts, the choice was made because Obama is more like a European social democrat than our previous president. Or something. As far as I can tell, this strikes both hosts and guests as a perfectly reasonable use of Alfred Noble's cash.
Montagne expresses surprise at the pick, saying that "one might have thought with [Obama], if you saw his name on a list [of nominees], well 'let's get started on this one, he's got eight more years'" (she then tacks on the grudging caveat, "maybe four"). Maybe, Renee. Just maybe. Kind of odd to consider "getting to work" on Obama's Peace Prize when there is no guarantee that he will ever be a worthy candidate. It's almost as if NPR hosts and Norwegian intellectuals actually believe this "change" nonsense.
Gonyea argues that because he is receiving the award for not being George W. Bush, and for changing American foreign policy by continuing super peaceful Predator drone attacks on the Taliban and pouring more troops into Afghanistan, this might "remind swing voters" that "he has done a lot for the United States around the world." Well. Having Norwegian lefties reminding fence-sitting Americans that Obama makes Europeans swoon will probably be as effective as encouraging readers of The Guardian to write condescending letters to voters in Ohio, informing them that most people who pay a television license and subscribe to The New Statesman think George W. Bush is a mentally retarded Nazi.
Host Steve Inskeep says that Obama is "less popular in the Middle East, perhaps, than elsewhere." Perhaps? When President Bush was in office, his poll numbers in Arab countries could be recited from memory, but because NPR understands--and always reminds its listeners—that we are so well loved around the world these days, this curious little perhaps is necessary. To remind the cheerleaders at public radio, the United States' current favorability rating in the Palestinian territories is 15 percent, 14 percent in Turkey, and 25 percent in Egypt and Jordon.
I'm unsure why this morning's announcement surprised political observers in Europe, who have long known that decisions in Stockholm (literature) and Oslo (peace) are often more useful as a reflection of Scandinavian political sensibilities than as an objective measure of diplomatic or artistic achievement. Dario Fo? Rigoberto Menchu? Elfriede Jelinek? Yassar Arafat?
From NPR's Rob Gifford, we are told that there were "a lot of very positive responses" in Europe from leaders like Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy and "former Nobel winners." But, he says, "It hasn't been universally positive; the Taliban, as you might expect issued a statement, saying that President Obama has done nothing for peace." Whose side are you on, fascist? France and Germany's, or the Taliban's? (When Gifford mentions that 1983 Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa criticized the decision as premature, Montagne chuckles and says that this gentle criticism seemed "a little churlish.")
Remember, during the Bush years, when our friends on the left (rightfully) bemoaned those who "questioned the patriotism" of opponents of the war in Iraq? Those who harrumphed that to not support the president was to support the terrorists? Well, that was then. Here is the DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse, speaking to Politico's Ben Smith: "The Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists - the Taliban and Hamas this morning - in criticizing the President for receiving the Nobel Peace prize."
A writer for the left-wing website Media Matter called criticism of Obama's Nobel "anti-American." Eric Boehlert wondered, "Why does the conservative media hate America?" On his website, filmmaker Michael Moore asked the same question: "Your opposition has spent the morning attacking you for bringing such good will to this country. Why do they hate America so much?"
And from the Cannes Palm d'Or winner to the new Nobel laureate, some advice on the way forward in Afghanistan: "That is a problem for the people of Afghanistan to resolve -- just as we did in 1776, the French did in 1789, the Cubans did in 1959, the Nicaraguans did in 1979 and the people of East Berlin did in 1989."
I shall refrain from comment, other than to say this: Yes, he did compare Fidel Castro (not to mention the disastrous authoritarianism of Daniel Ortega) to Thomas Jefferson. And recall that Moore previously compared the Founding Fathers to those delightful patriots who set off IEDs, bombed the Al-Askari Mosque in Samarrah, and use kids as bomb decoys.
So congratulations Mr. President. Perhaps we can dispense with the formalities and present you with Bancroft Prize for the terrific book you will probably write about your presidency—eight years from now.
What does it say about Washington, DC's professional class when out of five people overseeing a $700 billion Treasury Department program, only two of them show any concern for American taxpayers, and one of those two is a member of Congress?
The Congressional Oversight Panel (COP) for the Troubled Asset Relief Program has put out a 210-page report [pdf] on foreclosure mitigation efforts. The amount of special pleading in this report shocks the conscience. COP has an interesting story to tell: that Treasury's decision to commit $50 billion in TARP funds to the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) is a fiasco. But instead of sticking to that truth, COP repeatedly uses the program's failures as propaganda for expanding the program.
We're told, for example, that "the foreclosure crisis has moved beyond subprime mortgages and into the prime mortgage market" and that a crisis once limited to "home flippers, speculators, reach borrowers...and homeowners who were sold subprime refinancings" has now engulfed "families who put down 10 or 20 percent and took out conventional, conforming fixed-rate mortgages to purchase or refinance homes that in normal market conditions would be within their means."
First of all, this is overblown. The most recent OCC Mortgage Metrics Report has prime mortgage default rates at 3 percent -- double the usual average, but unalarming. Rather than bringing in outside reports, though, let's be sporting and find the inconsistencies within COP's own report. On page 30, we learn that "as many as 50 percent of at-risk mortgages also have second liens. Therefore, it is critical that second liens be addressed as part of a comprehensive mortgage modification initiative."
Those second liens, boy, they're like secondhand smoke and gay sex. You're just sitting there minding your own business when some goon comes along, hands you a barrel of money, and then expects you to pay it back. My heart goes out to all those families with fixed-rate confirming loans who put down a large equity portion and yet mysteriously are getting stuck by a greedy second lien holder. And the pixies, the sprites, the leprechauns and the centaurs -- my heart goes out to all of them too.
What makes the report interesting is that it's not the work of conscious idealogues but of earnest good-government believers. In a way, picking out the chop logic and weird passive phrasings (duly aped by the media in, for example, this A.P. piece that says foreclosures are "stalking" innocent home borrowers) is too easy. This is just what happens when smart, honest people try to tell dumb lies. Characteristically, the report brushes past what should be an "oversight" committee's main concern: that Treasury's accounting of TARP expenditures is laughably thin and incomplete.
In fact, it's because Chairwoman Elizabeth Warren (making the case for an improved and expanded program on the YouTubes here) and her cohorts believe they are acting in the nation's best interest that we need to remember something: This is not some nearly theoretical public choice exercise, where the distributed costs to taxpayers are balanced against the concentrated benefits to some group. To the (mercifully limited) extent a foreclosure modification program works, it imposes a very concentrated cost on a very large group: home buyers. There are millions upon millions of Americans out there who want to buy homes and would be able to do so if homes were affordable. If the Treasury Department wants to help out homeowners, it will let house prices lose whatever amount they still need to lose (I'm calling it 30 percent) to make home-buying an attractive proposition again. (And it's worth noting that the Secretary of the Treasury has a direct personal financial interest in supporting inflated home prices.)
And so I suggest you dispense with the main report and skip right down to page 138, where the dissents begin. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R - TX)'s opinion makes the case against expanding foreclosure mitigation programs with great coherence and ample documentation.
Under the headline "Capitalism raises murder rate, says Shizuka Kamei, Japan’s Finance Minister" in the London Times:
Shizuka Kamei, Japan’s new Financial Services Minister, has launched an “astonishing”, full-frontal assault on corporate Japan, in which he charged the country’s largest companies with raising the national rate of family murders.
The domestic murder rate has advanced in Japan, he said, “because companies have stopped treating humans the way they should be treated”....
Mr Kamei’s philosophy appears to hark back to a period of Japanese corporate life when companies were encouraged to think of “sufficient” levels of profits and then circulate the excess throughout the rest of the economy, an often woefully inefficient practice that prompted many outside observers to question whether Japan was a capitalist country at all.
In April the House voted overwhelmingly to dramatically expand the "hate crimes" covered by federal law. Yesterday, for obscure legislative reasons I will not pretend to understand, it did it again. The House, which approved similar legislation four other times in previous sessions without getting the Senate to go along, has now approved the bill as part of a conference report on the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, which the Senate has not passed yet but is expected to approve soon. I must have missed something, because in April the bill was referred to the Senate, where I thought it was expected to pass on its own. The main change I've detected so far is that the bill is now officially called the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, whereas before it was officially called the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act but also known as the Matthew Shepard Act.
Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was beaten to death in Wyoming, and James Byrd, a black man who was dragged to death behind a pickup truck in Texas, were both murdered in 1998. In both cases, their killers seem to have been motivated by bigotry. What else do they have in common? Their murderers were arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison or death, all without the benefit of hate crime laws, state or federal. Hence it is very strange to slap their names on a piece of legislation that is based on the premise that such crimes might go unpunished without a federal law aimed at violent criminals motivated by bigotry. "The hate crimes act," said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), "will hopefully deter people from being targeted for violent attacks because of the color of their skin or their religion, their disability, their gender or their sexual orientation, regardless of where the crime takes place."
Deter people from being targeted? Talk about blaming the victim. What Levin presumably meant is no less ridiculous. Is it at all plausible that the men who murdered Matthew Shepard or James Byrd would have been deterred by the prospect of federal, as opposed to state, prosecution? How many lives can you serve in prison? How many times can you be executed?
Of the categories Levin mentioned, disability, gender, and sexual orientation are new. So is gender identity, which he left out. Just as important as the new categories is the law's ridiculously elastic justification for federal involvement, which greatly expands the crimes that could be taken up by the Justice Department when it doesn't like the verdicts reached (or sentences imposed) by state courts.
State hate crime laws are bad enough, since they enhance penalties for crimes motivated by bigotry, thereby punishing people for their beliefs. A federal law likewise threatens freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, and freedom of association (though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claims that in the latest version of the bill "protections for freedom of speech and association" are "stronger"). It also authorizes double prosecutions for the same crime and usurps powers that the Constitution reserves to the states, as I noted the last time the bill was on the verge of passage.
More on hate crime laws here.
The Local Community Radio Act, a bill to loosen the restrictions on low-power broadcasters, passed out of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet yesterday. This is one deregulatory measure that has more support among Democrats than Republicans, so with the Dems in charge in Washington it might actually become law.
Enterprising work by the Associated Press's Matt Apuzzo and Daniel Wagner reveals Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner's appointment calendar for the year. You will not be surprised to learn where Geithner gets all his ideas. The allotment of secretarial time, in this post-conflict-of-interest era, seems to be based entirely on prior relationships:
After one hectic week in May in which the U.S. faced the looming bankruptcy of General Motors and the prospect that the government would take over the automaker, Geithner wrapped up his night with a series of phone calls.
First he called Lloyd Blankfein, the chairman and CEO at Goldman. Then he called Jamie Dimon, the boss at JPMorgan. Obama called next, and as soon as they hung up, Geithner was back on the phone with Dimon.
While all this was going on, Geithner got a call from Rep. Xavier Becerra, a California Democrat who serves on committees that help set tax and budget policies.
Becerra left a message.
In the first seven months of Geithner's tenure, his calendars reflect at least 80 contacts with Blankfein, Dimon, Citigroup Chairman Richard Parsons or Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit.
Geithner had more contacts with Citigroup than he did with Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the lawmaker leading the effort to approve Geithner's overhaul of the financial system. Geithner's contacts with Blankfein alone outnumber his contacts with Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.
Partly this is explained by the extraordinary clout of these companies. Goldman, JPMorgan and Citigroup are among the dominant players on Wall Street. Their executives can move not just markets but entire economies. Treasury invested heavily in all of them to keep the industry afloat.
But size does not tell the whole story. Treasury has a huge financial stake in North Carolina-based Bank of America Corp., but CEO Ken Lewis appears on Geithner's calendars only three times. Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack also appears three times.
Geithner's relationship with Goldman, JPMorgan, Citigroup and their executives dates to his tenure as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As one of Wall Street's top regulators, Geithner worked closely with executives and built relationships he brought with him to his corner office at the Treasury Department.
John Carney notes that Geithner's list of BFFs doesn't include some of the biggest players in the field, including Wells Fargo. There's also an interesting though imperfect geographical overlap, where your chances of being a FOG increase the closer your headquarters is to New York. More specifically, the more you suck up to Number One TurboTax Recession Warrior, the more power you will have over the taxpayers.
Big congratulations to our esteemed and excellent cartoonist Peter Bagge. One of his publishers, Fantagraphics Books, announces that Fox has ordered a pilot made of a cartoon based on Pete's "The Bradleys" comics and characters.
And be sure to read Fantagraphics new collection of Pete's Reason comics, Everyone is Stupid Except for Me.
Over the summer, the health-care debate focused on the controversy over the so-called "public option"—a government-run insurance plan intended to offer a low-cost alternative to private insurers. But squabbling over the public plan has diverted attention away from the true centerpiece of all current reform efforts: an individual mandate requiring every American to buy health insurance. Yet as Associate Editor Peter Suderman writes, even without any form of public option, a nationwide mandate opens the door to de facto government control over the entire insurance industry—while potentially killing off the low-cost plans that could truly revolutionize American medicine.View this article
If this report from Taegan Goddard is right, it might be:
Red State: "I am told quite reliably that in a meeting today on Capitol Hill, Republican Senators began to rapidly move toward concessions on health care because they are afraid they cannot hold their members. Some Republicans are now thinking of supporting a government program."
It's hard to believe but, according to the Kansas City Star, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS) is urging Republicans to pass the bill over the objections of current Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
Well, it's not that difficult to believe. Dole's been urging Republicans to come to a bipartisan consensus (ie: give up their opposition and vote for the Democrats' overhaul plan) since at least the end of August. Nor is it that surprising that a few Republicans are ready to roll over: Republicans like Chuck Grassley have been itching to vote for health-care reform for years. For a number of Republicans, the policies up for debate have never really been the issue. The sole goal for the GOP those legislators was to deal Obama political defeat. By no means do I think Republican support is sure thing. But now that the CBO has weakened the GOP's case for opposition, it wouldn't at all surprise me if a number of them defected.
Update: Seems I read this far too quickly. As a number of commenters note, Red State already updated to say that the rumors of Republicans caving are "overblown."
Ryan Sager at True/Slant with an interesting perspective, not necessarily one I buy, on what the Nobel committee might have hoped to accomplish with the Peace Prize to the double War president:
The explanation that makes more sense to me is that it's something closer to the old salesman's free-pen trick on a grand scale. A free pen from, say, a pharmaceutical rep to a doctor seems harmless enough. But it triggers a strong reaction in people: reciprocity. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. Social science experiments have consistently shown that giving people thing - even tiny little trinkets - can make them reciprocate in substantial ways. There's a reason this free-pen trick exists, and that's because it works.
President Obama has just received the biggest free pen in the world. I'm not sure what happens to the substantial cash attached to the award, but the prestige is a big free pen in itself. And the intent seems clear enough to me. We, the international community, have bestowed our highest honor upon you. Now, you feel at least a little more inclined to lean in our direction on: global warming, Israel-Palestine, etc.
The Institute for Justice has released a blockbuster new study entitled Building Empires, Destroying Homes: Eminent Domain Abuse in New York, which chronicles the Empire State's infuriating and deeply alarming disregard for property rights. From the introduction:
New York is perhaps the worst state in the nation when it comes to eminent domain abuse—the forcible acquisition of private property by the government for private development. Over the past decade, a host of government jurisdictions and agencies statewide have condemned or threatened to condemn homes and small businesses for the New York Stock Exchange, The New York Times, IKEA, Costco, and Stop & Shop. An inner-city church lost its future home to eminent domain for commercial development that never came to pass. Scores of small business owners have been threatened with seizure for a private university in Harlem and for office space in Queens and Syracuse. Older homes were on the chopping block near Buffalo, simply so newer homes could be built. From Montauk Point to Niagara Falls, every community in the Empire State is subject to what the U.S. Supreme Court has accurately called the "despotic power." This enthusiasm for eminent domain is encouraged by the New York courts, which habitually rubber-stamp condemnations and seem to consider any kind of private undertaking a public use.
Get a downloadable version here.
Yesterday, I discussed the eminent domain abuse behind the Atlantic Yards boondoggle in Brooklyn, and in February I examined Columbia University's shameful use of state power to grab land in Harlem. Both cases are detailed here, along with far too many more.
Later this afternoon, President Obama is scheduled to give a White House speech reiterating his support for the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). Obama first proposed the idea in June as a part of his grand plan to overhaul Wall Street regulations. But as Reason Foundation Policy Analyst Anthony Randazzo writes, in its current form, the CFPA will pile on burdensome new rules, restrict innovation, hurt small businesses, increase the cost of doing business, spawn a massive bureaucracy, and create severe conflicts between state and federal law.View this article
As Brian Doherty noted yesterday, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, along with L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, is now maintaining that all medical marijuana dispensaries are illegal because they sell the drug over the counter. That interpretation of the law has sweeping implications, exposing virtually all of the 800 or so medical marijuana suppliers in L.A. to seizure and prosecution. But Cooley's position differs from those taken by other local officials and by California Attorney General Jerry Brown.
Under state law, patients are allowed to grow marijuana for themselves, or their "primary caregivers" can grow it for them. Last November the California Supreme Court rejected a legal fiction under which many dispensaries had been operating, whereby patients would designate the people selling them marijuana as their primary caregivers. The court said the person who grows marijuana for a patient has to be a bona fide caregiver who is substantially involved in his life and assists him in ways other than supplying the drug. That decision left the "patient collective" as the only legally viable model for dispensaries. Under the 2004 Medical Marijuana Program Act, patients may "associate within the State of California in order collectively or cooperatively to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes." In a dispensary that follows this model, the customers are members of the collective/cooperative, and the money they pay for marijuana is their contribution toward covering the operation's expenses. Cooley argues that such collectives are simply for-profit businesses in disguise. But he also seems to be saying that the only way a collective can be legal is if every member contributes time and effort, as opposed to money. That seems like an unreasonable expectation for patients who go to dispensaries precisely because they are not up to the task of growing marijuana for themselves and don't know anyone who is willing and able to do it for them.
Attorney General Brown, by contrast, agrees that medical marijuana suppliers should not be taking in money beyond what's necessary to cover their overhead and operating expenses, but he does not insist that every member of a collective roll up his sleeves and get to work. The guidelines (PDF) Brown issued in August 2008 say a collective should be nonprofit, should not purchase marijuana from illegal sources (effectively meaning the members have to grow their own supply), and should not provide marijuana to nonmembers. But in Brown's view, the marijuana may be "provided free to qualified patients...who are members of the collective or cooperative," "provided in exchange for services rendered to the entity," or "allocated based on fees that are reasonably calculated to cover overhead costs and operating expenses." That last option is essentially the same as over-the-counter sales, although a collective could take the fees in advance as "dues" rather than taking them at the same time it hands over the marijuana. It's doubtful that rearranging the transaction that way would satisfy Cooley.
Cooley, Trutanich, and other Los Angeles officials (along with officials in cannabis-intolerant jurisdictions such as San Diego) are disturbed by the proliferation of marijuana dispensaries, which they believe are largely or mostly selling pot for recreational use. But since it is notoriously easy to obtain a doctor's recommendation for marijuana in California, even insisting that patients get their pot through genuine collectives (however those are defined) will not prevent people from getting high under the cover of taking their medicine. Yet restricting the ability of doctors to recommend marijuana, aside from violating their right to free speech, would prevent some bona fide patients from obtaining the medicine that relieves their pain, nausea, or other symptoms. The situation reminds me of a conversation I had back in 1993 with Lester Grinspoon, a leading expert on the therapeutic uses of cannabis (and author, with James Bakalar, of Marihuana: The Forbidden Medicine). Grinspoon had concluded that the only way to make marijuana available to all the patients who could benefit from it would be to legalize it generally. He foresaw what would happen if marijuana were legal for medical but not recreational use:
The problems connected with that are so vast that it will not work.... Everybody will be going to the doctor and saying, "Oh, I've got a backache, I've got this, I've got that." The doctors are not going to want to be gatekeepers.
In California, it's not the doctors so much as the cops and prosecutors who are complaining. But the freedom they fear may prove difficult to contain. When I interviewed him for that 1993 article, Richard Cowan, then director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, told me that allowing people to openly obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes would irrevocably change the dynamics of the debate:
The cat will be out of of the bag. That is going to totally change the dynamics of the issue....lf we get medical access, we're going to get legalization eventually. The narcocracy knows this; it's the reason they fight it so much.
The Columbia Journalism Review has an interesting piece up on how "Journalism Should Own its Liberalism." There's much I agree with–particularly the notion that traditional-media reporters should disclose, rather than smother, their political/ideological leanings–and there's much I disagree with, starting with the impotent idea that "Glenn Beck, FOX, and a couple of conservative video reporters have, in effect, forced the editors and ombudsmen at two of the nation's leading newspapers, the Times and The Washington Post, to assume a full-scale defensive posture regarding charges of liberal bias." There's also a meaty chunk in the middle you might find of interest that documents the liberal leaning of newspapers.
The excerpt I'm interested in highlighting, just to get some counter-nominations (or affirmations) going in the comments, is the final paragraph:
Although it is the subject for another essay, the fact is that there are very few good conservative reporters. There are many intellectually impressive conservative advocates and opinion leaders, but the ideology does not seem to make for good journalists. In contrast, any examination of the nation's top reporters over the past half-century would show that, in the main, liberals do make good journalists in the tradition of objective news coverage. The liberal tilt of the mainstream media is, in this view, a strength, but one that in recent years, amid liberal-bias controversies, has been mismanaged.
Who are your favorite conservative reporters, if any?
Link via the Twitter feed of journalism professor Jay Rosen, who adds "conservatives should admit: they don't make good journalists," and "the reason there isn't more of them in newsrooms is: they're wimps."
Health-care reform legislation has benefited from a fair bit of industry support -- the most important effect of which was to suppress industry attack ads. But it looks as if industry deals aren't being honored in the Baucus plan. According to Politico, "both chambers advanced proposals today that conflict with agreements struck with the pharmaceutical and hospital industries." And while those groups holding off for now, that might cause big corporate players to shift into opposition mode if the bill doesn't change soon. Politico reports:
First the Senate Finance Committee moved forward with a vote on its health care reform bill, even though it violates the deal Chairman Max Baucus cut with hospitals to help fund it. The industry said it agreed to $155 billion in reduced Medicare payments if the bill provided insurance coverage to 97 percent of legal residents. Yet the bill introduced by Baucus, and the one that will be voted on Tuesday, only covers 94 percent of them.
But no one’s yelling double cross, as least just yet.
"There’s no unraveling of the deal. We knew this is where we would be. We’re doing everything we can to continue to keep that pressure up. If we’re on the floor and it continues to look like this then … we’re really going to have a problem," said a senior hospital industry lobbyist.
Previously, I noted that many so-called industry "villains" actually support reform.
For more on this insult to every patriotic American, go here.
Congrats to President Barack Obama on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which everyone in the world, with the exception of the committee that decides the award, basically agrees is undeserved. And in fact, must be a total headache for Obama; it's not his fault, but it's totally the sort of thing that creates a backlash among non-Obamamaniacs.
The president will be talking at 10.30AM today. My two cents: He should pull a Le Duc Tho, the North Vietnamese negotiator who declined a joint prize with Henry Kissinger for the simple reason that "his country was still not at peace."
That would not only honor the spirit of the prize, but make it easier for Obama to actually work toward peace.
I'm with Berin Szoka on this one: I find TV commercials that manipulate their soundtracks in order blare at volumes far above the actual programming to be incredibly grating and obnoxious. But does that mean we need the government to step in and start overseeing the dynamic range of our TV and cable broadcasts? Hardly. Yet that's just what Rep. Anna Eshoo would have Congress do. As Szoka explains:
Rep. Anna Eshoo’s Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act (”CALM Act” - HR 1084) would ... require the FCC to issue rules that broadcast and cable TV ads:(1) … shall not be excessively noisy or strident; (2) … shall not be presented at modulation levels substantially higher than the program material that such advertisements accompany; and (3) [their] average maximum loudness… shall not be substantially higher than the average maximum loudness of the program material that such advertisements accompany.
First of all, it's not necessary. It's easy enough to turn your TV off (or even live without one, as Szoka does). And if that's too arduous, there are various technological solutions from companies like Dolby and SRS that help keep TV volumes on a more even keel. And if you're so enraged at the offending advertisement, it's pretty easy to just quit buying from the company behind. Granted, this is usually less effective in the short run. But reputation matters, and companies can be shamed (or deprived of profit) into behavior that aligns better with their customers' expectations.
But the larger problem is the assumption this grows out of -- that government's job is to regulate every minor annoyance out the lives of its citizens. That's bad for government, because it gives it unnecessary power and distracts it from legitimate government activity. It's also worse for citizens, who develop an implicit sense that, when problems arise, the way to fix them is to beg Congress, pass a law, wait for new irritations to arise, then wash, rinse, repeat. And in the end, I think that's far more grating and obnoxious than a little volume manipulation from advertisers on the idiot box.
My wife woke me with the ridiculous news that Barack Obama, who has been in office for eight months and achieved no notable peace, won the Nobel Peace Prize.
"Seriously, what has he done?" I asked.
"He gives hope to people, just by being!" she said. It was a joke, but I see that that's indeed part of the Nobel Committee's reasoning:
"Very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future," the committee said in a citation.
Among many other things, this selection illustrates the United States' way-too-oversized role in the world's imagination. And it shows how people–almost touchingly–remain suckers for likeable politicians who replace guys they hated, investing in them a kind of faith mere mortals usually don't merit. As Chili Davis famously (and presciently) said about Dwight Gooden, "He ain't God, man."
The Cartel is a documentary about the need for school choice. Check out the trailer above and go here for more info about the film.
- If you're just waking up, Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
- NASA to begin bombing the moon.
- Federal Housing Authority could be next mortgage backer to get a bailout.
- Meanwhile, Freddie and Fannie are still struggling, and may ask for yet more money.
- D.C. becomes latest gay marriage battleground.
In the latest edition of Friday Funnies, Henry Payne looks at Barack Obama's failed Olympic dreams.View this article
The Treasury Department announces that 500,000 delinquent mortgages have been modified since July. Treasury provides no details on the scale or type of these modifications, so it's impossible to say how many of them reduce the borrowers' monthly payment by an amount (usually 20 percent or more) sufficient to make it somewhat likely that the borrower will not redefault. However abundant historical evidence suggests that roughly 200,000 to 250,000 of these mortgages will be back in default within a year.
Separately, the $75 billion Making Home Affordable program releases its own loan mod report [pdf], which details how the modification universe shakes out according to lender. My own useless bank, Wells Fargo, is now giving second chances to 20 percent of its 60-day-or-more deadbeats.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner notes that the department has hit the half-million mark one month ahead of schedule. That's true. Unfortunately for Geithner, it isn't striking enough to distract audience members from the big Treasury news of the day: The dollar's pummeling in international currency markets.
Which is weird, in a way. Geithner has put a lot more energy into devaluing the dollar than he has into keeping deadbeats in their borrowed houses. But because the government knows people are stupid, he's only allowed to brag about the latter.
Necessary first strike against Moonmen? Unconstitutional attack on the loonies? Torturing nature to find out her secrets? Boondoggle? Big nothing?
Starter topic: Which moon resident are you hoping to see hit by the Centaur upper stage rocket: Martin Landau, Sam Rockwell, William Sylvester, or other?
Bad news from the L.A. Times:
Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said today that all the medical marijuana dispensaries in the county are operating illegally, and that "they are going to be prosecuted."
There are hundreds of dispensaries throughout the county, including as many as 800 in the city of Los Angeles, according to the city attorney's office. They operate under a 1996 voter initiative that allowed marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes, and a subsequent state law that provided for collective cultivation.
Based on a state Supreme Court decision last year, Cooley and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich have concluded that over-the-counter sales are illegal. Most if not all of the dispensaries in the state operate on that basis.
Two years ago, I wrote a column about the Swiss People's Party (SVP) racially-tinged campaign to ban minarets and expel immigrants who commit crimes in Switzerland:
Expelling non-native criminals is hardly a novel policy prescription in Europe. But the SVP went a step further, demanding that the immediate families of criminals under 18-years-old also be deported, leading critics to compare it to the Nazi policy of Sippenhaft—kin liability. Nor is this the SVP's first brush with controversy. A previous ad campaign featured a black hand dipping into a box of Swiss passports (over 20 percent of the population is foreign born), and a recent SVP proposal to ban the construction of minarets has roiled opposition politicians and activists. (Polling data shows that almost half the population supports the minaret ban).
The SVP is still the largest party in the country, and still agitating against the building of minarets in major Swiss cities, an issue that will be settled by referendum next month. But their latest campaign poster urging peoples that minarets be forbidden by law has been branded racist by authorities in Basel and Lausann, both of whom banned the poster from being displayed on city billboards. It is, local politicians say, a "racist, disrespectful and dangerous image." The city council of Zurich approved the posters as protected speech. From the BBC:
Zurich city council said on Thursday that although it disapproved of the "negative and dangerous" poster, it had to be accepted as part of political free speech ahead of the 29 November national referendum.
The city followed the examples of Geneva, Lucerne and Winterthur, who earlier also gave the green light to the use of the SVP's advert.
Here is the offending poster:
Via Hotair comes words that drugstore chains CVS and Walgreen's have pulled a great gift idea:
In CVS stores for less than a week, the Commander in Chia has already gotten the boot.
The chain Tuesday said it is no longer selling the Chia planter modeled after President Obama.
Chia Pet maker Joseph Enterprises launched an ad blitz leading up to the sales of its Chia Obama last week in Chicago, San Francisco and Tampa, Fla., the first time the item was in a major chain since Walgreens abruptly pulled it after a few days of testing last spring.
Walgreens officials said they received a few complaints. CVS would not say why it stopped the sales.
I might be the last literate person on Earth to know this, and if so I'm sure all you friendly folk will tell me so, but just learned via Jack Shafer at Slate the full context of that famously flatulent journalism-aggrandizing quote about our shoe-leather-wearin'-out, fact-checkin' press corps supplying us with an oh-so-important "rough draft of history."
As Shafer explains, in a funny assault on an Atlantic magazine high-level gasbag conference called "First draft of history"(slight wording difference, same idea):
The original phrase was coined by former Washington Post Publisher Philip Graham, who delivered it to Newsweek correspondents in 1963, shortly after the Washington Post Co. purchased the magazine. Far from ballyhooing the greatness of the press and implying that historians owe it some debt, Graham staked a much more modest position. He acknowledged that much of journalism was "pure chaff" but said that "no one yet has been able to produce wheat without chaff." He went on:
So let us today drudge on about our inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of a history that will never be completed about a world we can never really understand.
For the past six years, a group of Brooklyn, New York property owners have battled real estate tycoon Bruce Ratner and his allies in the goverment over Ratner's plans to seize their property via eminent domain and erect a new basketball stadium for the Ratner-owned New Jersey Nets. But as Associate Editor Damon W. Root explains, New York's highest court has an opportunity next week to finally put a stop to this outrageous eminent domain abuse.View this article
...not because of the dirty pictures themselves, but because of what the hysterical adults will do to you if they find them.
The latest case comes from Iowa, where the state's supreme court just upheld the 2005 conviction and sentence of Jorge Canal. While he was 18, a 14-year-old female friend asked Canal to send her a picture of his penis. Even the Iowa Supreme Court acknowledges that the photo was at her request, that the two weren't romantically involved, and that the whole exchange was intended to be a joke. Nevertheless, it upheld Canal's conviction and sentence, which comes with the requirement that he register as a sex offender, likely for the rest of his life.
Dr. Marty Klein of the Sexual Intelligence blog comments:
All these adults were supposedly attempting to protect Iowa’s young people–by punishing this kid who was fooling around with a pal.
So let’s spend a moment in the real world (which none of these adults seem to inhabit). Which is likely to hurt this 14-year-old girl more—seeing a 2-square-inch photo of a friend’s erect penis, or being the reason that this friend will spend time in jail and decades as a registered sex offender? Her life is now ruined (in addition, of course, to his), because of her criminally negligent parents, criminally ambitious prosecutor, and 12 jury members who failed to protect people who needed justice but received only wrath.
For a fine example of the circular logic behind these laws, consider the defense of them Pat Trueman, counsel to a religious advocacy group called the Alliance Defense Fund, gave to a local TV station:
"This was a serious offense. He was producing obscenity and distributing obscenity, and to a minor at that,"...
"But he also has to register as a sex offender -- and [he] may be on that sex offender registry for a lifetime," Trueman adds. "So if anyone had any doubts, sexting is a very serious crime -- and kids better get to know that."
Sexting isn't a "serious crime" because it causes irreparable damage to the senders and recipients of nude photos. It's a serious crime because Iowa lawmakers, prosecutors, and people like Pat Trueman have decided they want to ruin the lives of kids who engage in it.
Be sure to read Nancy Rommelmann's terrific sexting article from our July 2009 issue, "Anatomy of a Child Pornographer."
UPDATE: Link to Dr. Klein's site is fixed.
Because I follow monetary policy and live within a five-minute walking distance of seven pawn shops, I believe I hear more arguments for making gold a key part of my investment portfolio than do most people. But if you get enough false positives, doesn't that make it a national trend? When you search for "Godsend 1980" on the YouTubes, you get this February clip of expert Shakaama, a.k.a. Kevin Cardinalli (spelling NA), explaining the collapse of the dollar and the meteoric rise of gold and silver (which have never gone to zero; I repeat: they have never gone to zero). In this clip, the host recommends a short position on gold, and also gets the recession start-date wrong:
Beware: The sound-picture lag is so off that the whole thing looks dubbed; it's eight and a half minutes long, and the hunched-over-talking-head style needs to end...in 2004. Nor is Shakaama a reliable narrator: Dig his full channel, which includes a surreal and jingoistic defense of the tire tariff. Like all the best hard currency believers, Shakaama lives in Las Vegas, the U.S. (formerly world) capital of Monopoly money.
I cite Shakaama only because I've had the same experience many times now. I say to myself: "Self, there's a bunch of normal people. They're going to be talking about Lady Gaga's ass or how cute their kids are. Maybe they'll be exchanging recipes or favorite inspirational quotes." And instead they're all het up about the collapse of the dollar and precious metals.
Last month, Reason senior editor Michael C. Moynihan talked with Tom G. Palmer, senior fellow at the Cato Institute and vice president of international relations at the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, about his latest book Realizing Freedom: Libertarian Theory, History, and Practice, why we are living in the freest time in human history, and the necessity of libertarian compromise.
Approximately 10 minutes. Shot by Meredith Bragg and Dan Hayes. Edited by Dan Hayes.
For podcast and downloadable versions of this video, click here.
Last month a federal judge sentenced Rosa Martinez, a physician in Yakima, Washington, to a year's probation and a $1,000 fine for Medicare and Medicaid fraud. The fraud occurred when a physician's assistant in Martinez's practice mistakenly charged the government for her services at the physician's rate, which is allowed only when the supervising physician is present, which Martinez wasn't. She said she was unaware of the rule but accepted responsibility for the errors because they occurred on her watch. The overcharges totaled $22. No, that's not a typo. "Clearly," U.S. District Judge Fred Van Sickle said, "this is not any type of overt crime." Noting Martinez's dedication to her patients and her reputation for high-quality pro bono work, Van Sickle declined the prosecution's request to impose community service as part of her sentence, saying, "The kind of work you do is such that imposing some form of community service would not make sense."
This pathetic outcome is all that is left of a federal prosecution that threatened Martinez with up to 20 years in federal prison, portraying her as a taxpayer-bilking drug pusher. The case, launched three years ago by U.S. Attorney James A. McDevitt, stemmed from Martinez's willingness to treat people with histories of illegal drug use for pain, a practice that is not only legal but ethically required. In 2007 a jury acquitted her of prescribing narcotics outside the scope of medicine, failed to reach verdicts on related charges of unlawfully distributing narcotics, and convicted her on eight felony counts of health care fraud. After the trial, Judge Van Sickle dismissed the distribution charges and ordered a new trial on the fraud charges. The Yakima Herald-Republic reports that a medical billing expert hired by Martinez's lawyer "concluded that the convictions were based on misrepresentations by government auditors." According to the lawyer, "it gutted the prosecution's case," which is why McDevitt agreed to a plea bargain instead of retrying Martinez. As for Martinez, she wanted to keep fighting, but she "had run out of money" and assets, having "lost her home in the process of defending herself against the charges."
Keep this case in mind the next time you read about an alleged "pill mill" operator who faces a daunting list of charges that cast every aspect of his practice in a sinister light. More on drug control vs. pain control here.
[Thanks to the Pain Relief Network's Siobhan Renolds for the tip.]
Writing at USA Today, Hoover Institution research fellow Peter Schweizer points out that President Obama's proposed Wall Street "reforms may be pro-business, but they're not pro-free market":
President Obama's proposed reform of Wall Street calls for creating a l