Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2009 November 1-31

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After Ayn Rand Week, the Healing Begins

How little you have to do to get into the feature well of a slick magazine these days. Thomas Mallon's takedown of Ayn Rand in The New Yorker is not online, but it is so phoned-in and lacking in protein that even this synopsis of the article feels padded.

There's 1943-vintage prissy caviling about Rand's writing style. ("It is, in fact, badly executed on every level of language, plot, and characterization.") There's 1957-vintage hyperventilating about the author-as-dictator. ("[T]he narrative voice of this implacably anti-Communist author is a bellows of Stalinist bad breath.") There is much guilt by association. (Mallon treats Alan Greenspan's distancing himself from Rand as an indictment of Rand rather than of Greenspan.)

But there is no attempt to engage the material or address its continuing popularity. Kurt Vonnegut, in most ways the anti-Rand, said a person who attacks a book is like a person who puts on armor to attack a banana split. Mallon's war on Rand's heterodoxies leads to some unintentionally interesting dead ends. When he declares that Rand's fiction belongs "in the crackpot pantheon of L. Frank Baum" and "is no closer to the canon of serious American novels than Galt's Gulch is to Brook Farm," is Mallon implying that there's some canon of American lit in which The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is not taken seriously, at least as a book with plenty of historical and sociological interest?

Mallon condemns as typically Randian overwriting the following passage, which describes The Fountainhead protagonist Howard Roark using a blowtorch: "it seemed as if the blue tension eating slowly through metal came not from the flame but from the hand holding it." Had Mallon been willing to venture an original opinion, he might have been able to make something out of this. King Vidor's adaptation of The Fountainhead is a completely entertaining movie, and as this nicely composed shot indicates, part of the movie's success lay in Vidor's finding ways to translate Rand's purple descriptions into interesting images:

 

Though the tool and the scene differ from the above passage, the movie works very hard to take Rand's evocation of modernist architecture, strong/silent males, and glamorous blondes completely seriously. If you're writing an assessment of Rand's enduring popularity, you'd at least want to take into account the interplay between style and philosophy -- an area in which Rand is remarkably similar to her contemporaries the Existentialists, who were loved at the time and are remembered today as much for their cigarettes and leather jackets as for anything they had to say about the relationship of existence and essence.

"Rand may be," Mallon continues, "in an aesthetic sense, the most totalitarian novelist ever to have sat down at a desk." It's worth remembering that there were, in fact, real totalitarian novelists: Fyodor Gladkov and many others for the Soviet Union, Kurt Eggers, Hans Baumann and a few others for Nazi Germany. They wrote actual, approved propaganda and curried artistic favor with their respective dictator/critics.

But by talking about the "aesthetic sense," Mallon may be moving toward a legitimate insight. Jean-Luc Godard criticized Steven Spielberg along the same lines, saying, "He gives you an emotional situation, then tells you how you have to respond to it." The difference is that Spielberg's post-1990 output has mostly been aimed at justifying establishment opinion. (You can't go wrong saying World War II veterans were brave, the Holocaust was horrible, and the Arab-Israeli conflict is complex.) Mallon may believe that Rand's propaganda merely aimed to flatter Americans' belief in themselves as rugged individualists, but he doesn't say so. In any event, the messages Rand was sending were very much at odds with the views of mid-century political scientists, literary dons, and most other keepers of establishment opinion. If she's a totalitarian, who's the Maximum Leader?

All interesting questions. Unfortunately, Mallon doesn't want to ask them. His purpose is to tell you Ayn Rand's books aren't worth reading, which is not particularly daring, given that this view of Rand is still widely shared among middlebrow thinkers. But it's a weird goal for a writer to have. You might even call it totalitarian.

No Health Insurance? Go Directly to Jail.

As the House moves forward with debate on its trillion-dollar-plus health care bill today, it's worth remembering what's at stake: The House bill would give the government the power to require that every individual buy health insurance, pay a penalty for choosing not to comply—or potentially be sent to jail.

Now, jail isn't a certainty; depending on the infraction, fines are also an option. And, looked at another way, all this really means is that the government  continues to retain the authority to lock up those who don't pay their taxes. But still, this is a stark reminder that when liberals talk about "health care as a right," what they really mean is "health insurance as a requirement."

Even When I Thought it Was Stimulation, I Knew it Was the Banks All Along

Arnold Kling tries to explain recent Fed policy actions re: injecting reserves into the economy and simultaneously paying banks interest on reserves to high school students, and comes to a sobering conclusion:

In spite of all the sophisticated rhetoric about "quantitative easing" and "new tools for monetary policy," the only way that I can understand what the Fed was doing is to say that the goal was to stimulate bank profits, not the economy. If your goal were to stimulate the economy, you would inject enough reserves to do that and not pay interest on reserves. That might require buying some long-term bonds or mortgage securities, but not the hundreds of billions that the Fed actually bought.

Everything the Fed has been doing over the past fifteen months makes sense if you think of their goal as transferring wealth from taxpayers to banks. If you try to explain it as an attempt to implement an expansionary monetary policy, you won't even get past my high school students.

My November Reason magazine feature on the new political war against the Federal Reserve.

Are Americans Really Saving More?

Although officials on President Obama's economic team continue to claim that the personal savings rate of Americans is increasing, this rate has actually been declining since May. In fact, it's possible that a recovery in personal savings that began late in the Bush Administration ran out of steam early in the Obama Administration. Here is how the numbers have been trending since December:

These numbers are subject to regular, substantial change as the Bureau of Economic Analysis gets more complete data. For example, the May peak was initially claimed to be a full percentage point higher, at 6.9 percent, than it is now. September's 3.3 percent will be subject to revision up or down -- and all the revisions made to monthly statistics this year have been down.

Yet the rising personal saving rate continues to be a favorite talking point about the recovery. On Sunday, Treasury Sec. Tim Geithner made the claim his closing comment in an interview with Meet the Press's David Gregory:

You're seeing them do the rational thing, David, you're seeing Americans start to save again. After a long period where people were not putting enough aside against the risk of a recession or a job loss, you're seeing people start to save again. And that's a healthy, necessary adjustment. It'll help make sure the growth is more stable, more sustainable in the future.

Geithner and others are right about one thing. The personal savings rate is a little more than one percent higher now than it was in 2005:

However, the frequent revision of these numbers means that even the uptick in personal savings over the last four years may be less dramatic in relative terms. For example, while many ignoramuses (including this ignoramus) have claimed that the American savings rate entered negative territory in the early years of the 21st century, this is not true. The personal savings rate has not been negative on an annual basis since the Great Depression. On a monthly basis, the rate has gone negative only once, in September 2001 -- and even this is debatable given some changes in accounting related to the 9/11 attacks.

Finally, there is not much meaning encoded in month-to-month changes in the savings rate. The claim that Americans are upping personal savings as part of the recovery -- in addition to being logically faulty, given the Administration's exertions to drive the recovery by increasing spending on real estate, new cars and other items -- is unsupported. If anything the data point to a trivial increase in savings, which began under the previous administration.

This Is the Modern World

This month's edition of Cato Unbound tackles one of the most interesting questions historians have: Where did modernity come from? Stephen Davies leads off with a revision and synthesis of several classical liberal theories about the issue; his essay has attracted a friendly critique from Jack Goldstone, one of the scholars whose work Davies drew on and revised, and some more scathing criticisms from Anthony Pagden, who doubts many of Davies' premises. Jason Kuznicki will weigh in with another response to Davies next week, and then Davies will answer his critics. Watch it all unfold here.

Executive Pay Caps We Can Believe In

Writing at The Freeman, economist Bruce Yandle (listen to him talk about his famous “Bootleggers and Baptists” article here) makes the case for capping a certain type of executive pay:

Yes, it is high time that pay and investment guidelines be mandated for all top level executives who may in the normal course their daily work push the entire economy too close to or even over the edge of systemic risk falls. If nothing else, this Great Recession has taught us that top executives can practically capsize the economy.

But the chief concern is not with presidents and vice presidents of too-big-to-fail banks and other bailed-out enterprises. As large as they are, they are small potatoes relative to the big generators of systemic risk. The critical concern is with top government executives who can create national and international panic, lay the groundwork for international inflation or deflation, and just by voting and writing regulations can change the risk profile of entire industries.

We taxpayer/investors demand a set of risk-sensitive compensation guidelines that will mandate pay and wealth-management rules for all federal government top executives starting with the president of the United States and all cabinet members and their deputies. While we’re at it let’s include all members of Congress and every member of the commissions and boards that manage the nation’s independent agencies, including, of course, the board of governors and chairman of the Federal Reserve System.

New at Reason: Shikha Dalmia on What's Wrong with Ayn Rand

Love her or hate her, you can't deny that Ayn Rand is experiencing a revival. Yet as Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia writes, Rand's entire project involved liberating the individual from the yoke of collectivism and creating the social, moral, and political conditions in which he could live a fully actualized life. But is self-actualization through productive work—the ultimate goal of this liberation for Rand—all there is to a happy life?

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Morally Hazardous Hikes

Tracie Cone of the Associated Press reports:

Last month two men and their teenage sons tackled one of the world's most unforgiving summertime hikes: the Grand Canyon's parched and searing Royal Arch Loop. Along with bedrolls and freeze-dried food, the inexperienced backpackers carried a personal locator beacon -- just in case.

In the span of three days, the group pushed the panic button three times, mobilizing helicopters for dangerous, lifesaving rescues inside the steep canyon walls.

What was that emergency? The water they had found to quench their thirst "tasted salty."

If they had not been toting the device that works like Onstar for hikers, "we would have never attempted this hike," one of them said after the third rescue crew forced them to board their chopper. It's a growing problem facing the men and women who risk their lives when they believe others are in danger of losing theirs.

"Rescue officials are deciding whether to start keeping statistics on the problem," Cone writes, "but the incidents have become so frequent that the head of California's Search and Rescue operation has a name for the devices: Yuppie 911." The unnecessary calls range from the accidental ("very often the beacons go off unintentionally when the button is pushed in someone's backpack") to the ridiculous ("a woman who was frightened by a thunderstorm"). Apparently, poor incentives have taken a system conceived as a way to help people beset by catastrophe and turned it into an overused, potentially overstretched service invoked at the drop of a hat. Now where have we seen that before?

Bonus comparison: If the health insurance angle ain't doing it for you, maybe you'd rather think of the beacons as a metaphor for bank bailouts:

"Now you can go into the back country and take a risk you might not normally have taken," says Matt Scharper, who coordinates a rescue every day in a state with wilderness so rugged even crashed planes can take decades to find. "With the Yuppie 911, you send a message to a satellite and the government pulls your butt out of something you shouldn't have been in in the first place."

As one rescue worker told Cone, "We are now entering the Twilight Zone of someone else's intentions."

Lame Lobsters Cause Bad Loan Policy

Remember 2008 when congressional Democrats really, really, really wanted to pass the stimulus? At the time, they needed to snag a few Republicans to get the bill through. Meanwhile, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) really, really wanted federal money to give to lobstermen in her state, since lobsters aren't big sellers when everyone feels poor.

Thus the American Recovery Capital program was born. The $255 million loan program for small businesses has an expected 60 percent default rate. That's largely because the program is explicitly targeted at businessmen who can't pay back loans.

From today's Washington Post under the bleak headline "SBA bailouts draw little notice," the details of a loan plan that only makes sense in a world gone mad:

The loan program offers an unprecedented 100 percent guarantee to banks, vs. the SBA's standard 75 percent. The loans' anticipated default rate is 60 percent, compared with the agency's average 10 percent. And all of the funds must be used to repay other delinquent loans—another first for the SBA.

"Logic tells you this is a bad idea. By definition these businesses are already failing, but we are lacking standards right now; our world has been turned upside down," said Barry Bosworth, an economist with the Brookings Institution.

The WaPo piece wraps up by pointing out that programs like this are almost impossible to kill once they exist, so we should probably just get used to Snowe's lobster pork.*

*Wow, "lobster pork" is pretty much the ultimate in treif.

New at Reason: Brian Doherty Interviews Sociologist Howard Campbell on the Juarez/El Paso Drug War Zone

The Mexican city of Juarez, on the U.S. border at El Paso, Texas, has been suffering from wild waves of drug war-related violence in the past few years. Howard Campbell, a professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Texas at El Paso, just came out with a book, Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juarez that sheds light on the background of what he calls the "drug war zone" that binds Mexico and the United States.

Senior Editor Brian Doherty interviewed Campbell about how the drug war is destroying Mexico, and why it can never succeed in its ostensible goal of preventing the sale and possession of certain drugs.

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A Revolution in Europe

In the latest print edition of The New Republic (not online, alas), Anne Applebaum reviews Christopher Caldwell's new book on Islam and Europe, Reflections on a Revolution in Europe. I read it a few months ago and happily noticed that, unlike many shrill commentators on this issue, Caldwell actually did an enormous amount of on-the-ground research (when I was living in Sweden, he stopped by Timbro, my former employer, to talk about the situation in Stockholm and Malmö) and speaks a handful of European languages. For those of us that are reflexively pro-immigration in the United States—and if I were to hazard a guess, I would say the Caldwell is not one of those fearful of "Mexifornia"—he provides a compelling and convincing argument as to why the situation in Western Europe is rather different than the one in Texas and Southern California. Here is Applebaum giving the reader a rough précis of Caldwell's argument:

Caldwell's is a complicated argument, with both religious and social elements, not all of which I am qualified to judge. Among other things, he notes that Muslim dislike of European attitudes to women and sex leads Muslim men--even second-generation Muslim men--to import wives from their home countries. The imported wives, who often do not speak European languages, in turn tend to preserve the customs of the home countries in their adopted countries for another generation. He also observes a phenomenon that historians of American immigration would certainly recognize: in practice, contact with European culture has tended to make Muslims more conservative, not more liberal, about the culture they remember from the past. Their children and grandchildren, meanwhile, are able to keep in touch with that culture in a way that previous generations never could, through the easily manipulated world of satellite television. Back in Bangladesh, young people may long to be "modern" and go to nightclubs, but in the Bangladeshi enclaves of London, one sees a much different sort of Islamic world on Al Jazeera.

Applebaum gives Caldwell a fair hearing, and seems to broadly agree with his diagnosis of Europe's current immigration challenge. And she is also right to point out that his argument is far more complex and nuanced than one can possibly convey in 3000 words. But diagnosis and prescription and rather different things; Applebaum sees a rosier future, one in which Europe's intergrationist impulse and the benefits of liberal society eventually overwhelm the tribal and illiberal:

Perhaps because I belong to the group of people who fondly and naovely imagine that Islam may evolve--every other monotheism has--I am not entirely persuaded by Caldwell's elegant pessimism. There are multiple examples--many multiples of examples--of Muslim immigrants who have integrated seamlessly into Europe. I am thinking of the secular and sophisticated Iranians of Paris, the Pakistani shopkeepers on British high streets, even individuals such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, one of Europe's most fervent exponents of Enlightenment values. All have succeeded because some elements of European life--the entrepreneurial tradition and the blandishments of capitalism; the cosmopolitan cultural scene; the large role given to public intellectuals, particularly those who have something new to say--are well suited to the absorption and the cultural adaptation of outsiders. I do not see why Muslim immigrants will remain magically immune to all the integrationist influences that have shaped other immigrants into contented citizens of Western societies.

There are also some historical precedents. As noted above, the habit of importing spouses from the old country was also practiced by American immigrants--Jewish, German, Irish--some of whom also remained isolated in their own communities into two, three, or more generations. But these groups were finally integrated, partly through the lure of prosperity--in the end you had to speak English in order to get on--and partly through schools and peer pressure. Caldwell is right when he notes that Europeans always underestimate how deeply conformist American society is, and how much overt pressure there has always been to assimilate; but it is not impossible to imagine that a few changes in Europe could make a big difference. Indeed, that ban on the veil in schools in France is now widely perceived as an enormous success, precisely because it has tended to accelerate the assimilation of Muslim girls (and thus it might eventually be possible to drop it). Nor is it impossible to imagine that Europe could recover from the current recession--from which, with the exception of Britain and Ireland, it has suffered less drastically than the United States--and that a subsequent burst of economic growth could pull immigrants into the mainstream.

Time Traveling, Anti-Physics Saboteurs Now Enlisting the Aid of Birds?

A few weeks back, I wrote about the argument put forth by two respected physicists that the Large Hadron Collider was failing due to sabotage from the future. Absurd, right? Except that more evidence just keeps piling on: According to reports, the LHC has undergone a series of troubles, and recently shut down due to a bird dropping a piece of bread into a key section of the machine:

The Large Hadron Collider, the world's most powerful particle accelerator, just cannot catch a break. First, a coolant leak destroyed some of the magnets that guide the energy beam. Then LHC officials postponed the restart of the machine to add additional safety features. Now, a bird dropping a piece of bread on a section of the accelerator has, according to the Register, shut down the whole operation.

Of course, if those scientists are right, we should be thanking the errant bird for doing its part to save the world. 

Previously at Reason, Ron Bailey examined whether the LHC might cause the end of the world. (And for the easily panicked, if you're ever uncertain about whether or not it has, you can always find out here.)

Kids Today, With Their Briar Pipes and Fancy Cigars

Last week New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products that takes effect in February. This ordinance goes beyond the arbitrary, irrational federal ban on flavored cigarettes, since it also covers cigars, pipe tobacco, and smokeless tobacco. As with the federal ban, the official rationale is that the newly prohibited products appeal to children. According to the Staten Island Advocate, "health experts say [flavored tobacco products] are a blatant attempt to hook young people on a dangerous product." Michele Bonan of the American Cancer Society calls them "Big Tobacco's training wheels," while Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) says banning them is necessary "to protect the children of New York City."

The rest of the city council evidently was swayed by this argument, since all but one member voted for the ban. Yet Bonan and Quinn have no idea what they're talking about, and they have no evidence to back up their bald assertions. Are they seriously maintaining that cherry-flavored pipe tobacco, which you may recall your grandfather smoking, is part of a plot to lure teenagers into nicotine addiction? Do they honestly believe that the kids today are into rum-flavored cigars, or that they are sneaking into Nat Sherman to score the latest offering from CAO or Drew Estate?

Like the federal ban, the New York City ban makes an exception for one kind of flavored tobacco product that really is widely consumed by teenagers: menthol cigarettes. And since selling tobacco to minors is already illegal (as the lone dissenter on the city council noted), the only sales that will be blocked by the ban will be sales to adults. Still, it's for the kids.

More on flavored tobacco products here.

 [via The Rest of the Story]

Reason Writers Around Town: Nick Gillespie in the American Conservative on William Carlos Williams' In the American Grain

The American Conservative is running a symposium on great works that have been neglected. Participants inlcude David Bromwich, San Tanenhaus, Florence King, and Reason's Nick Gillespie, who writes:

Is any major American writer fading faster than William Carlos Williams, who had the bum judgment to write a five-book epic poem about Paterson, New Jersey, of all godforsaken places? Williams is best remembered, if at all, for his “red wheel/barrow/glazed with rain/water” and his introduction to Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems, which is more than most poets, and certainly most Garden State loyalists such as myself, deserve.

But at least one Williams work deserves to be read by every American and every citizen of the world who aspires to be American or understand the place: 1925’s In the American Grain, a wide-ranging collection of essays, fragments, and prose poems that challenged and exploded the very idea of national identity. Eric the Red, Ponce de Leon, the French missionary Sebastian Rasles, the Indian princess Jacataqua—they are real Americans by Williams’s count, as are Poe, Lincoln, and Aaron Burr, whose antinomianism infuses our historical experiment with its greatness, peril, and often self-defeating arrogance.

“They say, they say, they say,” Williams’s Burr utters near the end of his life. “Those two little words have done more harm than all others. Never use them ... never use them.” Williams’s meditation on what it meant to be living in the New World was written at the start of the American Century, but it continues to speak loud and clear to our current confusion over our place in the world.

Read the whole symposium here.

Reason.tv: Goddess of the Market Author Jennifer Burns on Ayn Rand

Reason Senior Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward recently sat down with Jennifer Burns, an assistant professor of history at the University of Virginia and author of the new book Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right.

Shot and edited by Meredith Bragg.

This is part of the Reason.tv series Radicals For Capitalism: Celebrating the Ideas of Ayn Rand.

Go here for more information, other videos, and related materials. Go here for downloadable versions of this video.

Work Boots Give the Economy a Kick

Last week the Obama administration issued a report that attributed 640,000 "saved or created" jobs to spending authorized by the $787 billion stimulus package that Congress approved in February. "Although President Obama initially said that 90 percent of the jobs created by the stimulus program would be in the private sector," The New York Times notes, "the data suggests that well over half of the jobs claimed so far have been in the public sector." Indeed, most of the jobs cited in the report are public school positions, and "some school districts said that they might not have actually laid off teachers without the stimulus money." The Times is too polite to add that the rest of the school districts—the ones that claim they're sure these jobs would have been cut but for the federal money—are lying. Counterfactual assumptions about teacher jobs may be the biggest source of uncertainty in the report, but it is by no means the funniest. Consider:

  • The report claims the purchase of a $1,000 lawn mower to cut grass at the Fayetteville National Cemetery in Arkansas saved or created 50 jobs.
  • "Many Head Start programs reported saving the jobs of employees who in fact had simply been given raises with stimulus money."
  • "A $7,960 contract for a 'Basketball System Replacement' in Ohio claimed three jobs."
  • A sewer project in Douglas County, Wisconsin, somehow has created 100 jobs, even though it hasn't begun yet.
  • "C3T Construction Co., a general contracting company in Milwaukee, listed 24 jobs retained for projects on which no work had begun and no stimulus money had been received."
  • "Owners at five Section 8 housing complexes in Madison and Milwaukee reported saving 38 jobs with more than $540,000 in additional rental assistance for low-income residents, though they acknowledged no new jobs were created."
  • "A Kentucky shoe store reported that it had created nine jobs with an $890 order for work boots."

If you've come across other striking examples of fudging or fraud in the job report, point them out in the comments.

In Washington, It's Always Opposite Day

Unintended consequences seem to be the order of the day: In addition to Martin Feldstein's piece positing that health-care reform might actually incentivize people to drop their insurance until they get sick (thus shrinking the risk pool and increasing premiums), former Bush budget official James Capretta has a useful post explaining how the a Medicare payment system originally designed to encourage more doctors to become general practitioners produced the opposite result—and led to the situation we have today, in which Congress is trying to simultaneously fix one major health-care mistake and pass another one:

In the late 1980s and 1990s, the Medicare bureaucracy set out to reform the way physicians are reimbursed for providing services to the program’s enrollees. The idea was to shift more resources toward generalists, who were then thought to be undercompensated for spending time with patients, and to control overall costs by limiting the growth of aggregate payments to growth in the size of the U.S. economy. After several years of study, lengthy payment regulations were issued, including a predecessor to the SGR formula, which had immediate and profound financial consequences for nearly every practicing physician in the United States.

And so what happened? The exact opposite of what was intended. Instead of encouraging more physicians to enter into primary care, the Medicare physician-fee schedule has rewarded more specialization. The fee schedule only controls prices, not volume. As Medicare’s administrators have tried to hold down costs with fee cuts, specialists increased their share of the pie with more tests and procedures, at the expense of primary-care reimbursement rates. Not surprisingly, the trend of physicians entering specialist practices has accelerated dramatically in the last twenty years. Moreover, overall costs have never been brought under control. With volume soaring, the SGR formula governing annual fee updates has gone completely off the rails. In 2010, fees are supposed to get cut by 21 percent unless Congress overrides it yet again. To secure the AMA’s endorsement of their health-care bill, House leaders are planning to scrap the SGR component of the physician fee system altogether, at a cost of more than $200 billion over a decade.

The irony of the situation seems to be lost on House Democrats: Congress is moving to repeal a prime example of health-care central planning run amok while simultaneously extending federal control to every corner of American health care.

Ron Paul Running Mates: A Lament

Yesterday Brian Doherty blogged about the eternal recurrence of the third party. Meanwhile over at RonPaul.com, they're running a running mate poll for 2012. (The poll doesn't specify whether we are talking about a major party run or a third party run.)

The list is pretty dispiriting, simply as a catalog of prominent libertarian/libertarian-friendly/libertarian-tolerant politicos (although several on the list may not even meet those basic criteria).

For a fun bonus activity, tally up the number of truthers and/or birthers on the list in the comments section.

If Ron Paul runs for President in 2012, who should be his running mate?

  • Adam Kokesh
  • Rand Paul
  • Michael Badnarik
  • John McCain
  • Lew Rockwell
  • Michele Bachmann
  • Mitt Romney
  • Alan Grayson
  • Michael Bloomberg
  • Cynthia McKinney
  • Jim DeMint
  • Pat Buchanan
  • Jesse Ventura
  • Sarah Palin
  • Gary Johnson
  • Mel Watt
  • Mark Sanford
  • Glenn Beck
  • Mike Huckabee
  • Alex Jones
  • Dennis Kucinich
  • Andrew Napolitano
  • Chuck Hagel
  • Wayne Allyn Root
  • Lou Dobbs
  • Other (specify below)
  • Peter Schiff
  • Chuck Baldwin

FYI: At the moment, Andrew Napolitano and Peter Schiff are the front runners.

Higher Premiums, Less Coverage?

Could health-care reform actually lead to fewer people being insured? Harvard economics professor Martin Feldstein argues that the answer is yes:

A key feature of the House and Senate health bills would prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to anyone with preexisting conditions. The new coverage would start immediately, and the premium could not reflect the individual's health condition.

This well-intentioned feature would provide a strong incentive for someone who is healthy to drop his or her health insurance, saving the substantial premium costs. After all, if serious illness hit this person or a family member, he could immediately obtain coverage. As healthy individuals decline coverage in this way, insurance companies would come to have a sicker population. The higher cost of insuring that group would force insurers to raise their premiums. (Separate accident policies might develop to deal with the risk of high-cost care after accidents when there is insufficient time to buy insurance.)

The higher premium level would cause others who are currently insured to drop coverage, pushing premiums even higher. The result would be a spiral of rising premiums and shrinking numbers of insured.

Now, as Feldstein explains, there are already fines built into the bill to prevent this. But for many people, those fines won't be enough to keep them in the insurance pool:

Consider: 27 million people are covered by health insurance purchased directly, i.e. outside employer-based plans. The average cost of an insurance policy with family coverage in 2009 is $13,375. A married couple with a median family income of $75,000 who choose not to insure would be subject to a fine of 2.5 percent of that $75,000, or $1,875. So the family would save a net $11,500 by not insuring. If a serious illness occurs—a chronic condition or a condition that requires surgery—they could then buy insurance. Since fewer than one family in four has annual health-care costs that exceed $10,000, the decision to drop coverage looks like a good bet. For a lower-income family, the fine is smaller, and the incentive to be uninsured is even greater.

Feldstein thinks all of this could lead to greater subsidies, or perhaps a more dominant public option. I think it's possible he's underplaying the psychological cushion of having insurance, as well as the fact that people like having insurance to help pay for routine care (as I've noted before, many people in the U.S. understand health insurance as essentially a form of medical pre-payment). But no matter what, the larger point seems pretty clear (if not surprising): The potential unintended consequences for this version of health-care reform are huge.

Reason Morning Links: ObamaCare, the PATRIOT Act, a Climate Bill, and More

• The Fort Hood shooter is alive after all.

• At least 10,000 tea partiers protest ObamaCare in Washington.

• The House Judiciary Committee defies the White House by rejecting the PATRIOT Act's "lone wolf" provision.

• The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passes cap and trade while Republicans boycott the vote.

• Investigators "increasingly doubt" that the census worker found dead in Kentucky was killed for political reasons.

• Former NYPD chief Bernie Kerik pleads guilty to eight felonies.

• A political bargain falls apart in Honduras.

• Venezuela cracks down on violent video games.

New at Reason: Friday Funnies

In the latest edition of Friday Funnies, Chip Bok looks at Obama's plans for a second stimulus.

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Third Parties: Always on the Horizon

The Hill gathers an august panel of politics watchers to muse on whether election 2009 shows there's gas in the ol' rusty Third Party tank. Some observations, from the realistic to the conspiratorial to a practical suggestion for change:

David Boaz: "...the two parties have pretty well locked up the political system. The noted political scientist Theodore Lowi wrote back in 1992, "One of the best-kept secrets in American politics is that the two-party system has long been brain dead -- kept alive by support systems such as state electoral laws that protect the established parties from rivals and by federal subsidies and so-called campaign reform. The two-party system would collapse in an instant if the tubes were pulled and the IVs were cut." But those tubes are firmly locked in place. Ballot access rules, campaign finance regulations, the ban on party cross-endorsements, direct government subsidies to the major parties, and other election rules make it very difficult to launch an independent candidacy or a third party."

John F. McManus, president of the The John Birch Society: "In 1966, Georgetown University Professor Carroll Quigley....wrote: "Instead, the two parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can 'throw the rascals out' at any election without leading to any profound or extensive shifts in policy."  This is surely what has occurred at the top of the two major political parties. It would be helpful to America if voters would seek alternatives to the Dems and Reps at all levels.  But public awareness of political realities, while steadily increasing, is still far from where it ought to be to effect a needed return to the principles that made our nation great."

Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote: "It's time for policymakers to acknowledge Americans' growing restlessness with the major parties. That's why in the long-term, elections in Minnesota's twin cities may have more influence on our politics than this week's higher-profile races. In Minneapolis, instant runoff voting (IRV) earned high praise in its first use for elections for mayor and city council, while neighboring St. Paul became the latest city to adopt IRV, joining Memphis, Oakland and San Francisco...

We should expect rising totals for third parties and independents -- and without IRV, more frustrated voters and distorted outcomes. In New Jersey, support for independent Chris Daggett plunged primarily because of voter fears that a vote for him would be "wasted" and "spoil" the election, as indeed Jon Corzine's campaign apparently was counting on. In such multi-candidate races, IRV upholds majority rule by allowing voters to rank candidates in order of choice and using those rankings to simulate a traditional two-round runoff if no candidate wins a majority."

Past Reason magazine pieces by me on third parties as consumption expenditure and on the promise of ballot fusion.

The Party of Discipline

I have been bleating on about this since theater critic Frank Rich's intemperate-stroke-incoherent column about the "Stalinists" opposing Dede Scozzfava, but here is yet another example of a sinister political party purging its more moderate members:

Democratic Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu is out as keynote speaker for the Palm Beach County Democratic Party’s annual fund-raising dinner next week because party leaders dislike her stance on health care reform, county Democratic Chairman Mark Alan Siegel said today.

Landrieu, a moderate who recently described herself as “extremely concerned about a government-run, taxpayer-funded, national public plan,” has not committed to voting to cut off a likely Republican filibuster and forcing a vote on the legislation.

Democrats need 60 votes to invoke “cloture” and force a vote.

“We just didn’t want to have a keynote speaker who’s not committed to cloture. It would have just been wrong,” said Siegel, who said party higher-ups and rank-and-file members had voiced displeasure with the choice of Landrieu as a keynoter.

Full story. This, incidentally, is referred to by its practitioners as enforcing "party discipline," which is rather different than a "plan to purge moderates."

Ft. Hood Shooting Discussion Thread

Thought it might be a good idea to give you H&R readers a thread to discuss the Ft. Hood shootings.

The latest as of this posting:

  • At least 12 dead, 31 injured.
  • One gunman, identified as Army Major Malik Nadal Hasan, is reported dead.
  • Two other suspects are in custody.

Here's the Google News feed, sorted by date.

What Do Pot Arrests Accomplish?

In the January 2008 issue of Reason, I compared trends in marijuana arrests to trends in marijuana use and concluded that "there is no clear relationship between the number of arrests and the number of pot smokers." That is, it did not seem to be the case that a) increases in use were driving up arrests or b) increases in arrests were driving down use. In the November issue of The Bulletin of Cannabis Reform, Jon Gettman takes a more detailed and sophisticated look at the numbers and reaches much the same conclusion:

The most important characteristic of marijuana arrests in the United States is that they have been steadily increasing over the last 20 years with little or no impact on the level of marijuana use in this country....Marijuana arrests have nearly doubled from 1991 to 2008, increasing by 150% during the 1990s and increasing steadily in recent years, producing an annualized change of 6.56% per year during this period. Overall, levels of marijuana use in the United States have remained fundamentally unchanged during this period.

The implication is that the risk of arrest has gone up. By my calculation, comparing annual arrests to annual users, it has roughly doubled. But Gettman argues that "the overall marijuana arrest rate of between 3% and 6% of users is not enough to represent a meaningful deterrent." He also notes that the risk is not evenly distributed:

While the marijuana-use rate for African-Americans is only about 25% greater than for whites, the marijuana possession arrest rate for blacks is three times greater. This is not a regional disparity, but is seen in every state and most counties.

Looking across jurisdictions, Getmann finds little evidence that relatively lenient treatment of pot smokers is associated with higher levels of use or that relatively harsh treatment is associated will lower levels of use. He estimates that "marijuana arrests cost state and local governments $10.3 billion in 2006."

The whole report is here (PDF). And in case that does not satisfy your appetite for marijuana arrest numbers, the Marijuana Policy Almanac, which includes "state rankings and individual reports for all 50 states plus the District of Columbia," is here.

I considered the latest marijuana arrest figures in September.

New at Reason: Jesse Walker on the Baby Einstein Refund

After the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood organized a class action lawsuit, the Walt Disney Company offered a refund to parents who purchased its Baby Einstein videos under the impression that they were educational. Managing Editor Jesse Walker asks: Is this a victory against corporate fraud or just a triumph of the buttinskis?

View this article

... Jason, Freddy, God, Spock, Chucky...

Add the Almighty Creator of the Universe to the long list of beloved characters who have survived their own deaths. At Obit mag, Nathan Schneider resurrects the "death of God" movement of the 1960s. This theological school is best remembered today by a Time mag cover story that was quoted in Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby and misquoted in Bernie Taupin's lyric for "Levon" (which also wrongly attributes the quote to The New York Times; Taupin is correct, however, in noting that Mars is cold as hell).

But there was a lot more to the death of God school, including some heady-sounding theosophy that approaches pretty closely to Hazel Motes' Church of Truth Without Jesus Christ Crucified:

"It was as though the country itself was possessed by a theological fever," recalls Emory University professor Thomas J. J. Altizer, the most shocking of the “death of God” theologians, "one in which the most religious nations in the industrial world had suddenly discovered its own atheism." Like a good heretic, he traces his insight to a haunting vision of Satan himself, which he then came to interpret through the dialectical goggles of Blake, Hegel, and Nietzsche. By way of them, he concluded that modernity's turn away from a supernatural God represents a culmination of Christ's incarnation and death on the cross. Just as that death led to a resurrection, the death of God opens the way for a renewal of faith, one based in the fuller affirmation of temporal life and creativity. "In matters theological as well as personal," wrote Altizer's colleague Mark C. Taylor, "he simply cannot imagine a death that is not a resurrection."

Altizer took pains to insist that, Satanic inspiration notwithstanding, his ideas lie within the bounds of orthodoxy. His landmark book bore a puzzling title: The Gospel of Christian Atheism. "The intention throughout this voyage," he explained, "is to seek a truly radical and yet nevertheless fully Christian theology." He was serious about calling his message "gospel" -- he meant it as good news.

Read the whole article for more interesting stuff, including a Baalist-sounding call for "a renaissance of festivity and fantasy to bring the divine back."

Some quotable person said he couldn't be an atheist because that would require a god for him not to believe in. This seems to be the next logical step along that path: an atheism that requires a god, then requires the god to disappear, so you can better appreciate the world without god. I think there are less fussy ways to arrive at that conclusion, but maybe there are hidden depths in Altizer's argument.

Anyway they thought Chucky and Leprechaun were dead too, but they were wrong!

New at Reason: John Stossel on Bias in Journalism

Every journalist has a point of view. So why, writes John Stossel, "am I the one called biased?"

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Should Researchers Be Obliged to Return Genetic Data to Research Participants?

The Genomics Law Report asked that question in a recent roundtable of researchers, bioethicists, and lawyers. In his commentary, Daniel MacArthur, a scientist with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, asserts:

... withholding medically useful (or even simply intellectually interesting) information from research subjects even if they request it – is ethically problematic. In the absence of convincing evidence that disclosure of results causes harm, I would argue that the default position should be that research participants have complete access to their own genetic data if they request it.

Absolutely right. Early on bioethicists (in the grip of an unwarranted genetic determinism themselves or fearing that the public might be) argued that such dangerous information should be kept away from people who might misunderstand it or misuse it.  It turns out that ordinary people can handle even dire genetic information without freaking out.

I addressed the issue of genetic testing paternalism back in 1999 in my article, "Warning: Bioethics May Be Hazardous to Your Health."

Deep Dish Media Criticism

In today's Wall Street Journal, Instapundit Glenn Reynolds outlines the basics of deep dish, Chicago-style media criticism. He starts with the case of several Northwestern kids targeted by Cook County prosecutors because they are journalism students—but not, the Chicago officials maintain, journalists—working with the Innocence Project to expose the wrongful convictions, like that of Anthony McKinney, who has spent 31 years in a Chicago jail after a false confession. Sez Reynolds:

The Cook County prosecutors' actions are certainly shameful. But they may be excused for thinking that attacks on media critics are, in today's political era, business as usual. Indeed, they need look no farther than the White House, whose occupant has sometimes styled himself the nation's chief media critic.

It is, after all, the Obama administration that declared that its critics at Fox News Channel are not real journalists, and that Fox is not a "legitimate news organization." In doing so—as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs admitted with a reference to "brushback pitches" in baseball—the White House's goal was just the same as that of the prosecutors in the president's native city: To chill criticism, and to get journalists to think twice before stepping up to the plate.

Reason's own Radley Balko has been all over this story as well.

Reason.tv: Reason Foundation Co-Founder Tibor Machan on Ayn Rand

Tibor Machan was one of the founding partners in Reason Enterprises, which began publishing Reason magazine in 1971, three years after its creation. He became editor in the spring of 1971 and worked with the magazine through the '70s and '80s as an associate editor and senior editor. In 1978 he co-founded the Reason Foundation with Manny Klausner and Bob Poole. Today Machan holds the R. C. Hoiles Chair of Business Ethics and Free Enterprise at the Argyros School of Business & Economics at Chapman University in Orange, California. 

"I think that for Ayn Rand to have survived and made a life for herself, she almost needed that edgy personality, otherwise she would have been destroyed," says Machan, who was born in Hungary in 1939. At 14 years of age, his father smuggled Machan out of the country, fearing the Hungarian communist government. His background helps give Machan insight into how the intellectual mind of Ayn Rand functioned. "Her unpleasantness," he says, "ultimately can be fully justified given the treatment she was given when she came out the Soviet Union, told the truth about that country, and nobody paid attention." In 2000, Machan wrote Ayn Rand exploring all the major themes of Ayn Rand's philosophical thought.

Approximately six minutes. Interview by David Nott, camera by Alex Manning, and editing by Hawk Jensen.

This is part of the Reason.tv series Radicals For Capitalism: Celebrating the Ideas of Ayn Rand. Go here for more information, other videos, and related materials. Go here for downloadable versions of this video.

Voices of Gitmo

This ACLU video profiles the Gitmo prisoners detained, tortured, and then released without charge.

You might keep the recent 2nd Circuit ruling Jacob Sullum wrote about yesterday in mind while watching.

The War on Drugs and the "Crisis in Black America"

Over at The Root, Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow John McWhorter compiles an interesting list of books on race that he thinks haven’t received the attention they deserve. There’s some provocative stuff here, but his comments on Ethan Brown’s Snitch: Informants, Cooperators and the Corruption of Justice really stand out:

Brown got a lot of press for his 2005 book, Queens Reigns Supreme: Fat Cat, 50 Cent, and the Rise of the Hip-Hop Hustler, about hip-hop and murders. Predictably, his next book, unconcerned with 50 Cent and his secrets, didn’t get as much attention—but it was much more important, investigating the culture engendered by the War on Drugs. If there were no War on Drugs, I sincerely believe that within a single generation, there would be no perceptible “crisis in black America,” and this book shows much of why that’s true. The War on Drugs turns whole neighborhoods against the cops—with no discernible benefit after more than 30 years. Brown’s book is very The Wire–except the people he writes about are real.

Speaking of The Wire, McWhorter echoes a point here that Wire co-creator David Simon made to Reason’s Jesse Walker in 2004:

Look. For 35 years, you've...marginalized a certain percentage of your population, most of them minority, and placed them in a situation where the only viable economic engine in their hypersegregated neighborhoods is the drug trade. Then you've alienated them further by fighting this draconian war in their neighborhoods, and not being able to distinguish between friend or foe and between that which is truly dangerous or that which is just illegal. And you want to sit across the table from me and say 'What's the solution?' and get it in a paragraph? The solution is to undo the last 35 years, brick by brick. How long is that going to take? I don't know, but until you start it's only going to get worse.

Part-Time Deregulators

First, let's give credit where it's due:

By a vote of 37 to 32, the House Financial Services Committee moved to permanently exempt companies worth less than $75 million from the auditing provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a change that was promoted by the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

The amendment was criticized by senior Democrats, including Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the chairman of the committee. But at a news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Frank defended Mr. Emanuel's involvement, saying he had helped to negotiate a substantial narrowing of the provision.

The companies that would be permanently relieved of auditing requirements under Sarbanes-Oxley have repeatedly won temporary exemptions from the Securities and Exchange Commission. The amendment approved by the committee was sponsored by two New Jersey congressmen, John Adler, a Democrat, and Scott Garrett, a Republican. Supporters said the more stringent auditing provisions were overly burdensome to small companies and that easing them would encourage job growth.

Before you decide the administration has become a band of born-again deregulators, here's the context of the exemption:

The bill, part of a broader effort to overhaul the regulatory system in response to the crisis in the financial markets, would provide new powers and increased resources to the Securities and Exchange Commission....It would also give the Federal Reserve a lead role in directly supervising many of the largest financial conglomerates.

For more from Reason on Sarbanes-Oxley, go here.

Reason Morning Links: UN Pulls Staff From Afghanistan, American Officials Convicted in Italy, Cash for Clunkers Post-Mortem

The Monkeys vs. the Red-Light Machines

The Washington Post Style section, when not producing in-house fisticuffs or front-page examinations of A-Rod's snot, is capable of some useful reporting. Such as within this feature today on red-light cameras:

A handful of cities used them a decade ago. Now they're in more than 400, spread across two dozen states. Montgomery County started out with 18 cameras in 2007. Now it has 119. Maryland just took the program statewide last month, and Prince George's is putting up 50. The District started out with a few red light cameras in 1999; now they send out as many automated tickets each year as they have residents, about 580,000. [...]

Red-light or speed cameras or both are banned in all or part of 14 states. The Republican governor of Mississippi kicked them out of the Magnolia State earlier this year. The Democratic governor of Montana did the same in July. Sulphur, La., put the issue to a vote in April -- and 86 percent of the populace voted to get rid of them. [...]

Nationwide, there have been something like 11 elections on automated enforcement. Your vote total: Revolting Peasants 11, Machines 0.  [...]

One guy who lives outside of Phoenix, Dave Vontesmar, hated the cameras so much he put on a monkey mask to drive to work every day, to keep the front-facing cameras from identifying him. Racked up 37 tickets that could amount to $6,500 in fines. Says the state can't prove it's him, which it has to do in his state. [...]

Fairfax County, which got rid of its cameras several years ago, saw bigger reductions of fatal accidents than Montgomery County did with its cameras -- fatal traffic accidents were down in Fairfax by 19 percent in 2007 and another 46 percent in 2008. (The cameras have since been reinstalled at several intersections in Northern Virginia.)

Fatalities in Montgomery County's camera zones, meanwhile, inched up, from two to three. Pedestrians struck by cars went up, too, from a four-year average of 15 to 22 last year.)

Reason on red-light cameras here.

New at Reason: Steve Chapman on the Myth of a Polarized America

If you watch cable TV news channels or listen to politicians, writes Steve Chapman, you get the impression of a country not so much politically divided as verging on civil war. Here's a solution to that problem: Stop watching cable TV news channels and listening to politicians. As Chapman argues, using them as a gauge of how divided we are is like using the National Hockey League to estimate the level of violence in America.

View this article

Get Ready For Election 2010!

C'mon, election 2009 is so yesterday! Congressional Quarterly points us to 10 highly vulnerable congressional candidates for next year. (Not too late to enter these races yourself if you are so inclined!)

These likely defeats are mostly for sitting Dems, and are a necessary reaction in a sense to how good a year for them 2008 was. The logic is simple:

...to build the big majority that they currently enjoy, the Democrats had to push into some strongly Republican territory. And just as Bush played a big role in the Democratic sweeps of the past two cycles, you can expect that President Barack Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi will play starring roles in TV attack ads next fall targeting vulnerable Democrats.

Of the nine Democrats on this list, six represent districts that voted for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) over Obama for president in 2008. Freshman Reps. Bobby Bright (D-Ala.) and Walt Minnick (D-Idaho) each represents a district that favored McCain by a margin of 26 points.

The other three most vulnerable Democrats are from districts that swung to Obama but favored Bush at the top of the GOP ticket in 2004.

If, as Republicans argue, 2010 will be a more favorable year for their party, several at-risk Democrats will have their tenures cut short. Even if the Democrats regain some momentum, it wouldn’t be surprising if some of these Members get sent packing because history is not on their side: The party in the White House almost always loses seats in the midterm elections.

"The public option is displacing private insurance."

What happened when Florida instituted a government-run insurance option in response to rising property insurance premiums? Alex Tabarrok points us to the following history lesson by the Independent Institute's Randall Holcombe:

After Hurricane Andrew hit Florida in 1992 some Floridians were having difficulty purchasing homeowners’ insurance.  (The reason: rates are regulated, and at the regulated rates some properties are too great a risk.)  So, the state government formed Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, which is owned and operated by the State of Florida.

As originally envisioned, Citizens would charge rates above those charged by private insurers, to make Citizens the insurer of last resort.  Nevertheless, Citizens found plenty of customers.

After two bad hurricane seasons in 2004 and 2005 property insurance rates in Florida rose, and in his campaign for the office, current Governor Charlie Crist promised voters that if elected he would see that their property insurance bills “dropped like a rock.”

One tactic he used was to change Citizens’ rate structure so it was competitive with private insurers.  His idea, like President Obama’s idea with health insurance, is that with a public option, private insurers would have to keep their rates in line or risk losing customers to the government insurer.

That’s what’s happened in Florida. Today about 30% of homeowners’ policies are written by Citizens, which is the largest property insurer in the state.  It’s about to get bigger too.  The largest private insurer, State Farm, had a rate request rejected last year, and now is pulling out of the state altogether (for property insurance; they’ll still insure your car).  As the largest private insurer pulls out over a three-year period (that period negotiated with the state), Citizens will get an even larger share of Florida’s property insurance.

Everybody in Florida knows Citizens is a fiscal time bomb.  Already, every Florida insurance policy (on homes, boats, cars, etc.) pays a surcharge that goes to Citizens, but Citizens still doesn’t have sufficient reserves to weather a major hurricane.  When one comes, Florida taxpayers will be on the hook for the bill.

The legislature knows this, and actually passed a bill last year that would have done a great deal to solve the problem by partially deregulating rates private insurers could charge.  State Farm would have stayed in Florida had that bill taken effect, but it was vetoed by the Governor.  The public option is displacing private insurance.

Now, it's not clear that something similar would happen immediately if the House's variant on the public option for health insurance became law. According to the CBO, under the House bill, the public plan would actually have higher premiums than private insurance options, and only about 6 million people would be enrolled. But if Congress eventually decided to "fix" this by forcing premium rates down by, say, pegging reimbursement fees to Medicare, as many of the most liberal legislators want to do now, it's more than plausible that we could see a similar situation develop in the health insurance market. 

About Last Night: Lefties and Limbaughism

After that insufferable morning of spin—everyone is claiming victory, no one conceding defeat—perhaps it is time to warn our friends on the left to avoid that most hideous post-election Limbaughism. Let us remember that after McCain's 2008 defeat, Rush told his listeners that it was the abandonment of Reaganism, the reaching out to moderates, that destroyed Republican chances for a third straight term in the White House. It was an incoherent argument (which I attacked here), but one with which foot soldiers of the GOP liked to soothe their nerves. A sample Limbaugh rant, frequently repurposed by the deluded party apparatchik:

We're going to get some rank and file, average American Democrats that are going to vote for McCain.  But these hoity-toity bourgeoisie... Well, they're not the bourgeoisie, but... Well, they are in a sense. They're following their own self-interests, so I say fine. They have just admitted that Republican Party "big tent" philosophy didn't work. It was their philosophy; it was their idea. These are the people, once they steered the party to where it is, they are the ones that abandoned it.

It only requires a teaspoon of common sense, available to even the most causal "Dittohead," to rubbish Limbaugh's class war-infused argument. Which amounts to this: had McCain only been more conservative, had he only left Lebanon in 1983, and fired the air traffic controllers, Americans would have ditched this Marxist, socialist, syndicalist, communist, Maoist, Khmer Rougist called Obama and elected Goldwaterbot3000.

But after the Republican surge in Virginia and New Jersey, the Limbaughs of left are using the same dumb argument, accusing losing Dems of not being sufficiently left-wing, and thus keeping those independents from voting for a Republican who once advised women to stop ruining America with their "jobs." Or whatever.

That sage of Democratic politics, Markos Moulitsas, says that if candidates aren't more lefty, aren't willing to punch below the belt, his robot brigades of Nation-reading lefties will "sit home" and let guys like Bob McDonnell win. (By the way, can you trust a party that elevates this dope to a position of importance?) According to the nuanced kids at ThinkProgress, the Democrats flamed out so dramatically in deep purple Virginia because Creigh Deeds wasn't progressive enough. Because the charisma-deficient Deeds didn't publicly endorse the requisitioning of grain, wage class war on the Richmond kulaks, and "did not run as a progressive reformer," say the Thinkers, all those people that came out for Obama in 2008 stayed at home and read Chomsky. Well, no. They stayed home because it was a Virginia governor's race, no celebrities told them if they didn't vote they would likely die of some horrible disease, and Deeds ran a terrible, boring campaign.

And if you realize that such arguments make no sense, why just not try the White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs explanation, which also seems generally representative of professional Democrats. Here it is, condensed by ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper on Twitter: "Shorter Gibbs: NY-23 has national ramifications, NJ and VA were entirely local."

The (Doctor) Fix is In

From Politico:

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the House plan to prevent cuts to doctors' Medicare reimbursement rates would cost $210 billion over 10 years, according to a just released analysis.

The big price tag is no surprise and was the main reason House Democrats introduced the so-called "doc fix" legislation separately from their $1.2 trillion reform bill—Dems were trying to keep the cost of the reform bill as close to President Obama's target of $900 billion as possible.

I've heard the argument that removing this provision from the larger health-care legislation, as House Democrats did, isn't really a cheat (or at least not one that matters) because the doctor fix doesn't have anything to do with the rest of what's in the health-care reform bills. That's strictly true, but I also think it was in the original House bill for a reason: It's the offering Democrats are using to buy the support of doctors, who don't want to see their Medicare reimbursements cut. By putting it in the original bill, I think Democrats signaled pretty clearly that they think the two are related—but now that CBO-certified deficit neutrality has become their major concern, they're trying to back away.

New at Reason: Nick Gillespie on Sarah Palin

Two new books about Sarah Palin—Sarah from Alaska and The Persecution of Sarah Palin—attempt to explain why the hockey mom from Wasilla, Alaska, drives both detractors and fans alike to something approaching insanity. But as Nick Gillespie writes, neither book quite fully explains the oversize reaction to Palin.

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The Myth of the Infallible Police Dog

In Caballes v. Illinois, the 2005 Supreme Court decision that upheld the use of drug-sniffing canines during routine traffic stops, dissenting Justice David Souter noted that "the infallible dog...is a creature of legal fiction." Since false "alerts" seem to be fairly common, Souter warned, it's not safe to assume that signals from police dogs reliably indicate the presence of illegal substances, a premise underlying the Court's conclusion that a dog sniff does not count as a "search" for Fourth Amendment purposes. Now the myth of the infallible police dog is receiving attention in a new, even more troubling context: the "dog-scent lineup," in which a dog is expected to match a suspect's smell to olfactory evidence from a crime scene. Such tests, which can be compromised by cross-contamination of samples or by involuntary cues from handlers or detectives, do not merely provide pretexts for otherwise illegal searches; they can put innocent people in jail.

A front-page story in today's New York Times highlights several such cases in Texas. One man spent eight months in jail after a dog-scent lineup falsely implicated him in a triple homicide. Another was locked up for nine months after a police dog allegedly connected him to a series of robberies, even though security camera footage showed someone else. In both cases, the dog handler was Fort Bend County Sheriff's Deputy Keith A. Pikett, who consults widely throughout the state. The Innocence Project of Texas estimates that 15 to 20 people are in prison based mainly on Pikett's testimony, even though the FBI cautions that dog-sniff tests "should not be used as primary evidence." Rex Easley, a lawyer representing a man who was falsely accused of murdering his neighbor based on one of Pikett's lineups, calls the deputy a "charlatan" who "devised an unreliable dog trick to justify local police agencies' suspicions." The head of a British police dog unit who reviewed footage of the lineup that implicated Easley's client told the Times, "If it was not for the fact that this is a serious matter, I could have been watching a comedy." Pikett declined to be interviewed for the Times story.

I discussed Caballes in a 2005 column. Julian Sanchez considered the implications of its reasoning in a 2007 Reason article. This year Radley Balko noted the incredible forensic feats performed by police dogs under the supervision of the late Florida canine handler John Preston.

Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on Ayn Rand at Forbes

In her latest Forbes column, Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia takes a look at Ayn Rand’s legacy. People read Rand when they are young and are deeply moved, Dalmia notes, only to outgrow her by mid-life. This has profound and unfortunate political consequences, Dalmia writes, because it becomes “difficult to build a strong and growing anti-government movement based solely on Rand's philosophy, when the older cohort of her followers is falling off on a regular basis."

But why is it that Rand’s appeal wears out? Is it because most readers are irrational and weak, as Rand’s followers believe? Or is there something missing in Rand’s message?

Read the whole column here to find out.

Rand Paul Takes Polling Lead

Over at the blog In the Agora, Joshua Claybourn notes that libertarian (and Ron Paul offspring) Rand Paul has taken an early polling lead for the Republican nomination to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.). Paul has already raised far more money than his opponent, Kentucky's GOP establishment-backed Secretary of State Trey Grayson. But Paul has also been able to convert dollars into poll points. He has jumped 14 points in the last three months.

Claybourn, an attorney and writer just across the Ohio River in Evansville, Indiana observes:

Rand Paul is a strong states’ rights advocate who wants the federal government out of people’s lives. He opposes federal drug laws and says the U.S. government should not outlaw gay marriage because only churches should be in the marriage business. He is skeptical of foreign interventionism and doggedly Constitutional about any engagement. But more than anything he likes talking about fiscal issues and the need to scale back government intrusion in economics and reform the nation’s fiscal policies...

Libertarian intrusions into Republican primaries are nothing new. But what separates Rand Paul from most other libertarian candidates (including his father) is that Rand is not a novelty act. He is a known commodity as a long-time practicing ophthalmologist in western Kentucky. Along with tremendous intellectual heft, Rand is a polished public speaker with a professional presence. In short, he is an ideal candidate for the libertarian cause.

All of which would explain why the national GOP is trying like hell to make sure he doesn't get the nomination.

New at Reason: David Harsanyi on the Rise of Free-Market Populism

The rise of free-market populism in this country finally has manifested in an election, writes David Harsanyi. And judging from the hyperbolic reactions, you know it's a political movement with staying power.

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Never Trust a Man in a Cape

President Obama expects Afghan President Hamid Karzai—freshly legitimized by an election featuring fraud so massive that it led to a runoff from which his only remaining opponent recently withdrew, fearing more of the same—to crack down on official corruption. The New York Times reports that "the administration wants Mr. Karzai and the Afghan government to put into place an anticorruption commission to establish strict accountability for government officials at the national and provincial levels." How strict? Not very:

Some American officials and their European counterparts would like at least a few arrests of what one administration official called "the more blatantly corrupt" people in the Afghan government. 

Administration officials declined to provide the names of people they wanted to see arrested and acknowledged that such arrests were a long shot...

"A couple of high-profile heads on a platter would be nice," said one European diplomat involved in Afghanistan.

The Times notes that "the more blatantly corrupt" officials include "Mr. Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade" and "one of Mr. Karzai’s running mates, Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim, a former defense minister who is also suspected of drug trafficking." So Obama and other Western leaders are hoping for, at best, a few token arrests, which they admit are unlikely to happen. Obama calls this "a 'new chapter' in the legitimacy of the Afghan government."

If our president were serious about reducing official corruption in Afghanistan, he might consider the role played by the prohibitionist drug policy that made illicit opium production the country's biggest industry. But despite shifting tactics, the Obama administration continues to wage the war on opium, which enriches and strengthens the Taliban insurgency even as it puts drug traffickers in positions of power. 

Matt Welch on the Jerry Hughes Show From 2-3 pm EDT, Talking Politics and Such

You can listen to the syndicated broadcast "Conceived in Liberty" at this link.

No Legal Remedy for Government-Arranged Torture of Innocent Travelers

On Monday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit rejected Maher Arar's attempt to hold federal officials responsible for his "extraordinary rendition." Arar, a Canadian telecommunications engineer, was detained during a 2002 layover in New York based on mistaken suspicions that he had ties to Al Qaeda. After holding him for two weeks, American officials shipped him off to Syria, where he was imprisoned for a year and tortured. The Canadian government, which supplied the erroneous information that led to Arar's detention and rendition, later cleared him of any involvement in terrorism and paid him $11 million in compensation and legal fees. In 2007 Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, without exactly apologizing, acknowledged that the case was not "handled as it should have been." But according to the 2nd Circuit's ruling, Arar has no remedy under U.S. law for the violation of his rights.

The appeals court said Arar cannot sue under the Torture Victim Protection Act because it requires a showing that U.S. officials were acting "under the color" or foreign law; Arar's allegation that they conspired with Syrian officials to have him tortured, the seven-judge majority said, was not enough. The court also rejected Arar's claim that the Constitution itself (specifically, the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause) gives him a cause of action. Since 1971 the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed people to sue government officials for violations of their constitutional rights in certain circumstances even without explicit statutory authorization. But the 2nd Circuit said the foreign policy and national security issues associated with extraordinary rendition counseled against extending this principle, known as the Bivens doctrine, to cases like Arar's:

If a civil remedy in damages is to be created for harms suffered in the context of extraordinary rendition, it must be created by Congress, which alone has the institutional competence to set parameters, delineate safe harbors, and specify relief....When a case presents the intractable “special factors” apparent here...it is for the Executive in the first instance to decide how to implement extraordinary rendition, and for the elected members of Congress...to decide whether an individual may seek compensation from government officers and employees directly, or from the government, for a constitutional violation. Administrations past and present have reserved the right to employ rendition, and not withstanding prolonged public debate, Congress has not prohibited the practice, imposed limits on its use, or created a cause of action for those who allege they have suffered constitutional injury as a consequence.

Four dissenting judges criticized the majority's interpretation of the torture statute and its application of the Bivens doctrine. Judge Guido Calabresi faulted the court for addressing the Bivens claim at all, saying the constitutional question could have been avoiding by sending the case back to the district court for consideration of whether it is precluded by the "state secrets" doctrine:

A holding that Arar, even if all of his allegations are true, has suffered no remediable constitutional harm legitimates the Government’s actions in a way that a state secrets dismissal would not. The conduct that Arar alleges is repugnant, but the majority signals—whether it intends to or not—that it is not constitutionally repugnant. Indeed, the majority expressly states that the legal significance of the conduct Arar alleges is a matter that should be left entirely to congressional whim.

The upshot of this decision, Calabresi said, is that "a person—whom we must assume (a) was totally innocent and (b) was made to suffer excruciatingly (c) through the misguided deeds of individuals acting under color of federal law—is effectively left without a U.S. remedy." He suggested that his colleagues allowed fear of terrorism to cloud their judgment:

When the history of this distinguished court is written, today’s majority decision will be viewed with dismay...In calmer times, wise people will ask themselves: how could such able and worthy judges have done that?

The majority and dissenting opinions are here (PDF). I discussed Arar's experience in a 2006 column. More on the case here

Math Nerd Invokes Tank Man

Encouraging story from Iran, where star math student Mahmoud Vahidnia confronted Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on national television last week, challenging Khamenei on free press, free expression, and the crackdown on last summer's protests.

More encouraging, a week later Vahinia appears to remain not only alive, but free from a jail cell.

Reason.tv: Reason Foundation Co-Founder Manny Klausner on Ayn Rand

Manuel "Manny" Klausner was one of the founding partners in Reason Enterprises, which began publishing Reason magazine in 1971, three years after the publication's creation. He became editor in the summer of 1972 and a senior editor in June 1978. In 1978 he co-founded the Reason Foundation with Tibor Machan and Bob Poole. He remains on the board of the Reason Foundation today, is a stalwart supporter of the Federalist Society, and a libertarian lawyer extraordinaire. 

"Rand is, I think, a very valuable resource in the movement for people who take liberty seriously," says Klausner. "When I was editor of Reason in the early 1970s, we got an article that was submitted that proposed a method for converting the world to libertarianism, and that was by going door-to-door and distributing to every household a copy of Atlas Shrugged. We rejected the article...but it was an example of the kind of impact Rand has had and continues to have on many many people."

Approximately six minutes. Interview by David Nott, camera by Alex Manning, and editing by Hawk Jensen.

This interview is part of the Reason.tv series Radicals For Capitalism: Celebrating the Ideas of Ayn Rand. Go here for more information, other videos, and related materials. Go here for downloadable versions of this video.

Second Amendment Rights and the Election

At The Volokh Conspiracy, gun rights scholar and Reason contributor David Kopel explains why yesterday was a good day for gun rights:

NY-23: Winning Democrat Bill Owens was A-rated by NRA (as was Hoffman)....

By far the most prominent gun control advocate on the ballot this year was Jon Corzine (F). This summer, Corzine twisted lots of legislative arms to win enactment of gun rationing (“one-handgun-a-month”), a silly law that is even sillier in New Jersey, where every handgun purchase requires advance permission from the local police chief. With Christie replacing Corzine, New Jersey gun owners can hope for benign neglect rather than active hostility. The New Jersey Assembly appears to be unchanged.

In sum: A bad night for advocates of gun show restrictions. Another fine night (as were election nights 2006 and 2008) for Democrats with A ratings from NRA. And good news for Second Amendment advocates in blue New Jersey and purple Virginia.

The Maine Chance for Medical Marijuana

Yesterday Maine voters, by a margin of 59 percent to 41 percent, approved Question 5, a ballot initiative that expands the conditions covered by the state's medical marijuana law and establishes a system of state-licensed dispensaries. Maine has allowed medical use of marijuana since 1999. But as in California, the right to grow and possess marijuana was restricted to patients and their "caregivers." Under the new law, nonprofit organizations regulated by the state Department of Health and Human Services will be allowed to operate storefront dispensaries that sell marijuana to patients with doctor's recommendations. While California has many such pot shops, ostensibly operating as patient "collectives" or "cooperatives," their legal status is matter of dispute. Maine now becomes the third state, after Rhode Island and New Mexico, to explicitly authorize a distribution system for medical marijuana. Ten other states, including California, have laws that allow medical use of the plant but are silent or hazy on the question of where patients can get it. As I noted in my column a couple of weeks ago, this lack of clarity means DEA raids on medical marijuana dispensaries may continue despite the Justice Department's avowed intent to avoid prosecution of patients and suppliers who comply with state law.

“It’s great to see Maine leapfrog other states in adopting cutting-edge medical marijuana legislation,” says Jill Harris, managing director of public policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, which backed Question 5.  “What’s especially nice is that the medical marijuana guidelines recently issued by the U.S. Department of Justice provide reassurance to Maine officials that they can implement the new law without fear of reprisal by federal authorities.”

Pagan Republican Wins in Queens, Thanks Odin.

Republican Dan Halloran (that's him at right) won the race New York City Council in Queens yesterday, despite a bunch of last minute articles focused on the fact that he practices Theodism, which involves Norse gods like Odin and Freyr. Says Halloran:

It is our hope to reconstruct the pre-Christian religion of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European peoples, within a cultural framework and community environment.

Score one for tolerance. Sure, it's just the city council. And sure, it's New York. But this guy is a full-on Pagan, for Odin's sake, and he just got elected to a pretty important public office. As a Republican.

Sadly, even the blood-sacrificing privacy-loving Queens councilman can't quite stomach the dirty little atheists of the world:

I don't think any of this is really relevant to the City Council race. It's like talking about what church you pray at. That you understand the divine is the most important part.

Harry Reid Promises There Really is a Health-Care Bill at the End of the Rainbow

Remember at the beginning of the year when President Obama declared that we'd have health-care reform bills passed by the August recess? Not so much, right? Indeed, the whole sticking-to-the-timeline thing hasn't gone so well for Congress' would-be reformers. And now it looks like they're beginning to admit that they may not be able to get a bill passed this year. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is now saying that he's "not going to be bound by timelines," and Democratic sources are telling reporters that getting a bill finished this year is a "no-go."

Opposition strategy on health care has consisted of three parts—delay, delay, and delay—on the theory that the longer this drags on, the less likely it is to pass. I think that theory is basically sound: Pollster.com shows opposition to the health-care bill rising pretty steadily throughout the year. Indeed, this tactic—let's call it the Rolling Stones-strategy—recently pushed public opposition to the plan past the 50 percent mark, proving that for those trying to take down the once-inevitable health-care bill, time is most definitely on their side.

Don't it Make My Blue States Empty?

Suburban theorist (and past Reason contributor) Joel Kotkin has an interesting piece in Forbes positing that we're witnessing a population "exodus" from Blue states. Excerpt:

Net migration, both before and after the Great Recession, according to analysis by the Praxis Strategy Group, has continued to be strongest to the predominately red states of the South and Intermountain West.

This seems true even for those seeking high-end jobs. Between 2006 and 2008, the metropolitan areas that enjoyed the fastest percentage shift toward educated and professional workers and industries included nominally "unhip" places like Indianapolis, Charlotte, N.C., Memphis, Tenn., Salt Lake City, Jacksonville, Fla., Tampa, Fla., and Kansas City, Mo.

The overall migration numbers are even more revealing. As was the case for much of the past decade, the biggest gainers continue to include cities such as San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Rather than being oases for migrants, some oft-cited magnets such as New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago have all suffered considerable loss of population to other regions over the past year.

Much the same pattern emerges when you look at longer-term state demographic patterns. A recent survey by the Empire Center for New York State Policy found that the biggest net losers in terms of per capita outmigration between 2000 and 2008 were, with the exception of Louisiana, all blue state bastions. New York residents lead in terms of rate of exodus, closely followed by the District of Columbia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and California.

Nick Gillespie on the "boredom" of Red states here.

Idiot Box Makes Kids Violent, Says Study # 11,329

Ever since the boob tube was invented, people have been trying to blame it for all kinds of societal ills. The result has been a near constant stream of studies by social scientists proving that TV is just bad, and especially heinous for children. ScienceDaily is reporting a new study about the effects of TV watching on three year-olds:

Three-year-old children who are exposed to more TV appear to be at an increased risk for exhibiting aggressive behavior, according to a report in the November issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Well, maybe. It appears that TV viewing among kids is at an eight year high. But if watching a lot of TV increases aggression, one might think that the deleterious effects would appear in other social statistics, not just chiefly in social psychology studies.

The University of Virginia has rounded up some recent school violence statistics and finds, that for the most part, school violence is way down. It is true that bullying statistics are up, but the researchers suggest that that may be the result of better monitoring and reporting by school officials, rather than actually measuring an increase. It is a puzzle.

Who's the Counterfeiter Now?

As the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement enters its sixth round of secret negotiations, rumors are emerging about the provisions under discussion. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has posted the reports it has heard here; if the leaks are true, the treaty will be filled with measures that, in EFF's words, "have nothing to do with addressing counterfeit products, but are all about imposing a set of copyright industry demands on the global Internet."

The Defamation of Independents

Jacob Sullum's great column this morning on President Obama's broken tax pledge, and his brazen way of abusing the English language in order to falsely insist that he hasn't and won't continue to break it, reminds me of a laughable but unfortunately typical op-ed this weekend from the New York Times' Thomas L. Friedman. Excerpt:

How is it that a president who has taken on so many big issues, with very specific policies — and has even been awarded a Nobel Prize for all the hopes he has kindled — still has so many people asking what he really believes?

I don't think that President Obama has a communications problem, per se. He has given many speeches and interviews broadly explaining his policies and justifying their necessity. Rather, he has a "narrative" problem. [...]

What is that narrative? Quite simply it is nation-building at home. It is nation-building in America. [...]

One of the reasons that independents and conservatives who voted for Mr. Obama have been so easily swayed against him by Fox News and people labeling him a "socialist" is because he has not given voice to the truly patriotic nation-building endeavor in which he is engaged.

So many flawed (yet widely held) assumptions in so few words. Kindled hopes do not true intentions demonstrate. And though a wide swath of the commentariat seems reluctant to even enterain the idea, Obama–like all presidents–tells lies and shatters promises. When you come into office repeatedly promising a "net spending cut" (even after the financial dukey has hit the fan), and then unleash the biggest net spending binge since World War II, it's understandable that a healthy chunk of voters would wonder what you really believe. Particularly when journalistic analysis of the inexperienced politician focuses on the hope-kindling, not the ideology/policy-construction.

And what kind of sheeple-disdaining dillweed explains away the defection of political independents from the Obama-supporting to the Obama-suspecting camps (an important factor in yesterday's elections) as the product of Fox News' magic wand? Did not Murdoch's evil empire exist in November 2008?

Well, at least Friedman will always have China!

Reason Morning Links: GOP Wins in New Jersey and Virginia, Bloomberg Narrowly Wins, Medical Marijuana Approved in Maine

New at Reason: Jacob Sullum on Obama's Broken Tax Pledge

President Obama broke his promise to raise taxes only on the wealthy barely two weeks after taking office, says Senior Editor Jacob Sullum, and he will break it again if Congress passes the health care legislation he wants. But Sullum says Obama has come up with a strategy to avoid the fate of George H.W. Bush: Although he will raise your taxes, he will never admit he is raising your taxes.

View this article

One Man's Judas, Another Man's Purged Moderate

Nothing but worthless Twitter chatter from NY-23, but watching the Obama partisans on MSNBC bemoan the GOP's supposed surrender to the extreme "teabaggers," those who ran a "moderate" Republican like Dede Scozzafava out of the race in a quest for ideological purity, the Stalinists of Frank Rich's fever dreams, are in the very next breath denouncing Joe Lieberman as a Judas figure, a betrayer of progressivism for obstructing a really horrid health care bill. Lieberman is, of course, now an Independent and those who obsess over his supposed betrayal of liberal causes have every right to boo and hiss from the balcony. But the Scozzafava excommunication is, in most important ways, no different. Like Lieberman, she tows the party line on certain issues (gun control, for instance) but offends members of her party that believe, for instance, that support for bailouts and card check are anathema to conservative principles.

But because of Lieberman's willingness to support Republican candidates in the next election cycle, talk show hosts like Rachel Maddow, who is leading the charge against the supposed purging of moderate Republicans by knuckle-dragging teapartiers, hyperventilated that the Senator from Connecticut supported—get this—the moderate Maine Republican Susan Collins! Bipartisanship (or is it post-partisanship?) is when the other guys come to our side, not the other way around.

And one more comment on Sen. Lieberman: I'm an infrequent consumer of cable talk, though it is rather unnerving that I keep finding myself stuck in front of Maddow's MSNBC show, wondering how this awful hack is so frequently praised as a voice of calm, a reasonable liberal rising above the din of all the other cable freakazoids. But is it always this dishonest? Take this example from Friday's show.

MADDOW: That was in addition to Senator Lieberman campaigning against the Democratic nominee for president, which entailed him saying things like this.

CLIP:

ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST:  Is he a Marxist, as Bill Kristol says might be the case in today's “New York Times?”

LIEBERMAN:  Well, you know, I must say that‘s a good question.

Maddow then says that Lieberman called the president a Marxist. But I remembered this exchange (it was reported by ThinkProgress and...no one else), and Maddow has hacked off part of Napolitano's question and most of Lieberman's answer. Here is the original:

NAPOLITANO: Hey Sen. Lieberman, you know Barack Obama, is he a Marxist as Bill Kristol says might be the case in today’s New York Times? Is he an elitist like your colleague Hillary Clinton says he is?

LIEBERMAN: Well, you know, I must say that’s a good question. I know him now for a little more than three years since he came into the Senate and he’s obviously very smart and he’s a good guy. I will tell ya that during this campaign, I’ve learned some things about him, about the kind of environment from which he came ideologically. And I wouldn’t…I’d hesitate to say he’s a Marxist, but he’s got some positions that are far to the left of me and I think mainstream America.

It is unclear if Lieberman thinks it's the elitism or the Marxism bit (or both) that is the "good question," but he politely states that he would "hesitate to say" that he was a commie. Maddow razors out the full response and Judge Napolitano's full question. Check it out, 3:53 in to this clip:

Welcome to Marikafka County, Arizona

The amazing video below was taken on October 19 in Arizona's Maricopa County Superior Court.

As defense attorney Joanne Cuccia discusses her client's sentencing hearing with the judge, Maricopa County Sheriff's Department detention officer Adam Stoddard walks up behind her, and begins sifting through one of her files, which she has placed on the defense table. Remarkably, Stoddard then removes a document from the file and hands it off to another deputy, who then leaves the courtroom with it. They don't even bother to inform Cuccia, who has her back turned the entire time. The judge appears to have missed the incident as well.

But it was all captured on video:

Cuccia was justifiably upset, and requested a hearing. That hearing was last week. According to freelance journalist Nick Martin, who writes at the Heat City blog, Stoddard's story changed several times over the course of the hearing. His main defense was apparently that he spotted "keywords" on the document that made him think it contained threats to the courtroom. The problem with that story is that if you watch the video, he swiped the document from the middle of the file. It wasn't lying in open view. Which leaves open the question of why, in open court, he went snooping through a defense attorney's file in the first place.

I don't know Arizona law, so perhaps a Hit & Run reader with some experience there can help out. Could it possibly be legal for a law enforcement official to meander up to the defense table, begin reading the defense team's files, then take documents from said files without notifying the attorney? That sounds absurd on its face, even for Maricopa County.

It gets weirder. According to Heat City, the purpose of Friday's hearing was to determine if Stoddard had violated the attorney-client privilege of Cuccia's client, Antonio Lozano, and/or if Stoddard should be held in contempt of court. But Judge Gary Donahoe ruled that because the swiped document itself is protected by attorney-client privilege Stoddard wouldn't be able to mount his "keyword" defense, because the contents of the document can't be divulged. According to Heat City, Donahoe said Lozano would have to wave attorney-client privilege if he wanted to proceed with the hearing on whether Stoddard violated his rights.

If this is an accurate portrayal of the hearing, stand back and admire the absurdity: Judge Donahoe is refusing to punish Stoddard for possibly violating Lozano's attorney-client privilege unless Lozano waives his attorney-client privilege.

A Purge Is a Purge Isn't a Purge

Remember Frank Rich's hysterical column Sunday about NY-23, where he accused national figures who are backing conservative candidate Doug Hoffman of "re-enacting Stalinism in full purge mode"? Brendan Nyhan wins the Internet Search of the Day Award by unearthing this rather, ah, different Rich column from 2006.

Republicans Declare Opposition to a Government Takeover of Health Care

The GOP is against a government takeover of health-care. Officially!

House Republicans have released a draft of a leadership-approved alternative health-care reform proposal. And on the very first page, they indulge in a bit of legislative self-actualization by explaining the "purpose" of the bill in the form of a list of all the things it avoids, including "instituting a government takeover of health care."

Well, that's a relief.

So what's in the bill? According to Politico, House Minority Leader John Boehner explained that it would focus less on providing universal insurance and more on driving down costs as a way to expand access.

Boehner said that the 230-page proposal, which blends elements from a number of existing bills, would accomplish this by "letting families buy health insurance across state lines, allowing small businesses to pool together and offer health insurance to their employees at much lower costs, just like big businesses and unions can today, giving states the tools to create innovative reforms that lower costs and ending junk lawsuits that contribute to high health care costs."

Naturally, liberals have been dismissive, portraying it as a handout to insurers that's based on old ideas long proven ineffective.

Given the marginal impact a proposal such as this is likely to make, I suspect most liberal critics are just using this as an easy opportunity to bash the GOP. A bill like this is largely an opposition formality, designed to get a little bit of attention and stake out a swath of alternative-policy territory. I don't care for all of it—the bill's position on Medicare cuts, in particular, shows how dangerous Michael Steele's pandering defense of the program was. But think it's good to see Republicans taking a little more interest in being proactive on health-care policy, and I genuinely hope this is a sign that, in the future, it's not an issue they'll ignore, which is essentially what happened when the party was in power (the 2007 effort to get rid of the employer tax exclusion was probably their best effort, and it was half-hearted).

Yet even now, judging by the purpose statement, the party is defining its bill largely by what it doesn't allow—tax hikes, cuts to Medicare benefits, higher deficits, government takeovers, etc—and focusing less on what it actually does. On health-care, the Republican party is clearly against a lot of things, but it's had a tough time figuring out what it's really for.

See the World Through Stimulus-Colored Glasses

Wondering where all that stimulus money is going? Now you can see for yourself, infographic-style, which bits of your daily life are afloat in government moolah as you walk the mean streets of America.

The makers of the app say:

Layar is an application that overlays your view of the real world with waypoints representing your favorite coffee place, the movie theatre you're trying to find, or in this case, where some of that $787 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is going. If you have an iPhone 3GS or Android device you can install the Layar app for free and then search for "recovery" or "sunlight" within Layar to find this layer. The layer works best near large cities where you are most likely to find recovery contracts.

Via Gizmodo

New at Reason: Ron Bailey on SuperFreaking Out about Climate Engineering

Freakonomics duo Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner discuss engineering proposals to cool the climate in their new book SuperFreakonomics. Their boldness has provoked a firestorm of criticism from ideological environmentalists who fear that such proposals will give humanity an excuse to continue emitting carbon dioxide without feeling the consequences. Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey notes some flaws, but commends the duo for bringing the geoenigineering debate to a wider public.

View this article

Government-Appointed Experts vs. Ignorant Voters on Drug Policy: Must We Choose?

Over at spiked, Reason contributor Brendan O'Neill decries the "revolt of the experts" prompted by last week's dismissal of British "drugs tsar" David Nutt. As I noted yesterday, Home Secretary Alan Johnson fired Nutt from his job as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs after the University of Bristol psychopharmacologist questioned the scientific basis for reclassifying marijuana and thereby increasing the penalties for producing, possessing, or selling it. O'Neill, himself a critic of the war on drugs, sees the assumption that public policy should be based on expert guidance as "a menace to democracy," and he notes that drug laws embody moral judgments as well as scientific conclusions. He argues that "scientific expertise is just as much a barrier to freedom as is government morality."

While I agree that politically empowered technocrats are a threat to liberty, so is democracy unrestrained by constitutional limits and uninformed by science. In this case the distinctions drawn by democratically elected legislators supposedly are based on scientific evidence concerning the relative hazards of different drugs, and Nutt was correct to point out that in fact they are not. While that observation could encourage policies more favorable to individual freedom (e.g., decriminalization of marijuana), it might also have the opposite effect (e.g., by building support for alcohol prohibition). O'Neill is right that much depends on one's views concerning the state's proper role in regulating what people put into their bodies, which is not a scientific question. It really shouldn't be a democratic question either, but as long as it is, surely it is better that public opinon regarding the properties of psychoactive substances be driven by science instead of superstition.

Speaking of politicians' dislike for drug policy advice that casts doubt on the wisdom of the status quo, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition notes that Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has introduced an amendment that would prohibit the National Criminal Justice Commission proposed by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) from considering changes to the drug laws. Webb, who has criticized some aspects of the war on drugs, says the commission should "look at every aspect of our criminal justice system with an eye toward reshaping the process from top to bottom." He has explicitly said that marijuana legalization is one of the policies that should be considered. But Grassley's amendment (PDF), which the Senate may consider on Thursday, says "the Commission shall have no authority to make findings related to current Federal, State, and local criminal justice policies and practices or reform recommendations that involve, support, or otherwise discuss the decriminalization of any offense under the Controlled Substances Act or the legalization of any controlled substance."

Attn, All Rand Fans: Brian Doherty Live Chat NOW

As part of our two-week-long series Radicals for Capitalism: Celebrating the Legacy of Ayn Rand, Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty will be conducting a live chat on Tuesday, November 3 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time/12:00 p.m. Pacific time.

The topic: "Is 2009 the Year of Ayn Rand?"

To participate or follow, simply go to reason.com/reason-live-chat.

For more about the series Radicals for Capitalism, go here. And look for a new Reason.tv video to be posted here every day over the next two weeks.

New at Reason: Veronique de Rugy on the Secret Message of Stimulus Spending

The idea behind the $787 billion stimulus bill, writes Veronique de Rugy, is that government can create jobs by spending money. Which means we should expect the government to invest relatively more money in states that have the highest unemployment rates and less money in states with lower unemployment rates. So has this happened? Let's check the data.

View this article

Queer Victorians

Doug Ireland reviews Charles Upchurch's recent book on homosexuality in 19th century England. Besides detailing the surge in "attempted sodomy" arrests after the 1820s -- a change Ireland attributes partly to a draconian revision in the anti-sodomy statute, and partly to the creation of the London Metropolitan Police Force -- the article pushes back against a common belief about the period:

Previous historical accounts have made the unwarranted assumption that there was little public discussion or public awareness of same-sex activities in Victorian England until late in the century, when a series of notorious cases involving queers culminated in the prosecution and conviction of Oscar Wilde.

But Upchurch, after a decade of meticulous research, demonstrates that this assumption is palpably false. Earlier examinations of the press in early-and-mid Victorian England relied on indexes and databases built on key words that missed many published reports on same-sex conduct and legal action. But by minutely examining the files of three newspapers with different class audiences between 1827 and 1870, and cross-checking them with court records, official documents, and correspondence, Upchurch has shown that not only was there broad public awareness in these years of sex between men, but that male homosexual conduct was a matter of considerable public discussion.

Naturally, the outlet oriented towards the upper classes prefered to cover cases "in which men of social standing and property successfully defended themselves against 'indecent assault' charges," while the working-class paper "usually gave priority in its coverage to those cases involving men of modest means in some way, usually as accusers of the wealthy."

The book is titled Before Wilde. The rest of the review is here.

“I always remember the fate of Carrie Buck whenever I hear a judge praised for the literary artfulness of his opinions.”

Few Supreme Court justices have been more widely praised for the quality of their writing than Progressive hero Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who sat on the Court from 1902 to 1932. Yet as author and arts critic Terry Teachout recently pointed out, while Holmes may be "the only American jurist whose opinions are by way of being great literature," the "beauty of his style sometimes lent undeserved force to deeply problematic views." For evidence, look no further than Holmes’ infamous majority opinion in Buck v. Bell, which upheld the forced sterilization of a young woman and ended with the judgment “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” As Teachout writes:

I always remember the fate of Carrie Buck whenever I hear a judge praised for the literary artfulness of his opinions. I yield to no one in my admiration for what Walter Lippmann called "the grand style" of Justice Holmes' writings. His was a great personality, one fully worthy of having been enshrined in the pages of Patriotic Gore, and it shines through every opinion that he wrote. But I squirm at the thought that the pith and vigor of his style may have increased the willingness of his fellow justices to order the eugenic sterilization of a teenage girl on wholly specious grounds.

Last year I interviewed legal historian Paul A. Lombardo about his superb book Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell. Lombardo met Carrie Buck shortly before she died in 1983, and he told me there was absolutely nothing abnormal or imbecilic about her. Here’s what Lombardo had to say about Holmes:

Q: Justice Holmes’ ruling shows incredible deference to the state.

A: It’s the most blunt kind of statism. If we can draft you into the Army, he suggests, then we ought to be able to sterilize you. We execute criminals; why can’t we sterilize these people in the asylums? He says, well, we’ve endorsed the idea of vaccinating people in the time of smallpox epidemics. If we can vaccinate them, we ought to be able to sterilize them. He says it’s not too much of a leap from doing a vaccination to cutting the fallopian tubes, as if these two things were somehow equivalent. So Holmes does really break new ground in terms of a radical definition of state power.

[Via Walter Olson]

Reason.tv: Reason Foundation Co-Founder Bob Poole on Ayn Rand

Robert W. Poole Jr. was one of the founders of Reason Enterprises, which began publishing Reason with its January 1971 issue. He co-founded the Reason Foundation in 1978 with Manny Klausner and Tibor Machan and has held many titles with the magazine, including editor, managing editor, executive editor, editor-in-chief, and publisher. He remains on the board of the Reason Foundation today and is the Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow and Director of Transportation Policy.

"Rand really inspired a lot of people who otherwise might have become conservatives, like me," says Poole. "If you go back and look at surveys that were done of libertarians in the 1960s, '70s, and even the '80s, and asked what single book or thought leader most inspired you to become a libertarian, it was always Rand by a large large majority—always a plurality and usually a majority."

Approximately six minutes. Interview by Michael C. Moynihan, camera by Dan Hayes, and editing by Hawk Jensen.

This is part of the Reason.tv series Radicals For Capitalism: Celebrating the Ideas of Ayn Rand.

Go here for more information, other videos, and related materials. Go here for downloadable versions of this video.

How Washington "got it right because it got it wrong" in 1989

Some great observations by the greatest chronicler of the 1989 anti-communist revolutions, Timothy Garton Ash, in The New York Review of Books:

During the first half of 1989, the new US administration of George H.W. Bush was extremely reticent in its response both to Gorbachev and to the changes being pushed forward by a combination of reform communists and dissidents in Poland and Hungary. What we have learned from the Soviet and East European archives confirms that Washington's assessment was, in fact, far too skeptical. (In one of several excellent scholarly essays in the volume edited by Jeffrey Engel, Melvyn P. Leffler notes how then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney suggested that Gorbachev's policies "may be a temporary aberration in the behavior of our foremost adversary.") Nor did Bush set much store by bearded dissidents who looked like something out of Berkeley in the 1960s. Victor Sebestyen, in a book full of sharp snapshots and crisp narrative, has a well-sourced account of the President meeting with the leading Hungarian dissident János Kis in Budapest in July 1989, and subsequently telling aides, "These really aren't the right guys to be running the place." Much better to stick with a preppy reform communist.

Yet even though Washington's cautious attitude partly resulted from a misassessment, this was actually the best possible position it could have taken. This time around, unlike in 1956, no one in Moscow could suggest with even a jot of plausibility that the United States was stirring the cauldron in Eastern Europe. On the contrary, Bush personally urged General Wojciech Jaruzelski to run for Polish president, as a guarantor of stability, and he was obsessed with doing nothing that could derail Gorbachev. Sarotte suggests that American restraint made it easier for the Soviet Union, too, to step back and let events unfold on the ground in East-Central Europe. With some exaggeration, one might say that Washington got it right because it got it wrong.

To give credit where it is due: in the last months of 1989, especially after the fall of the Wall, and throughout 1990, this initial superabundance of caution turned into a combination of entirely deliberate restraint ("don't dance on the Wall!" was the injunction heard in the corridors of the White House and the State Department) and some quite impressive statecraft in support of Helmut Kohl's drive for German unification on Western terms. But for the decisive nine months, from the beginning of Poland's roundtable talks in February to the fall of the Wall in November, the United States' contribution lay mainly in what it did not do. [...]

It is perhaps a characteristic of superpowers that they think they make history. Big events must surely be made by big powers. Yet in the nine months that gave birth to a new world, from February to November 1989, the United States and the Soviet Union were largely passive midwives. They made history by what they did not do. And both giants stood back partly because they underestimated the significance of things being done by little people in little countries.

Link via Alex Massie. Reason on 1989 here.

I'll never forget just how baffled H.W. Bush seemed by events back then. He gave a speech to 100,000 people on Wenceslas Square in Prague on the one-year anniversary of the Velvet Revolution that was almost a masterpiece of mangled cues, from botching the pronunciation of "Vaclav," to piping in Civil War music at a time when the Czechoslovak Federation was beginning to fracture, to prattling on about God to one of the most atheistic countries on earth. Bush was advising Yugoslavia to stay together long after the first shots of that breakup had already been fired, and focusing most of his diplomatic attention (and even Central Europe speechifying) on putting together a coalition for the Gulf War. It's a pretty weird feeling when events are hurtling much, much faster than the participants, let alone superpowers, can comprehend or control.

To Boldly Go Where No Hotel Has Gone Before

My fiancée and I are in the midst of trying to plan our honeymoon. We're narrowing down our options, but I'm beginning to think an entirely new plan may be in order: Wait a couple of extra years, hope to win the lottery, then take our honeymoon in space.

According to MSNBC, the first space hotel is set to open in 2012, and a three night stay—complete with with eight weeks in a tropical locale—will run $4.4 million.

During their stay, guests would see the sun rise 15 times a day and travel around the world every 80 minutes. They would wear Velcro suits so they can crawl around their pod rooms by sticking themselves to the walls like Spiderman.

Galactic Suite Ltd's CEO Xavier Claramunt, a former aerospace engineer, said the project will put his company at the forefront of an infant industry with a huge future ahead of it, and forecast space travel will become common in the future.

"It's very normal to think that your children, possibly within 15 years, could spend a weekend in space," he told Reuters Television.

A nascent space tourism industry is beginning to take shape with construction underway in New Mexico of Spaceport America, the world's first facility built specifically for space-bound commercial customers and fee-paying passengers.

Will commerce manage what government has failed to accomplish and take humanity to the stars? Sure, it's a long shot, but this is how so many innovations first appear—as exotic experiences for the super rich that eventually work their way down to the masses. I don't know if the next generation will really be able to spend a relaxing weekend orbiting the Earth, but I have a lot more confidence in the mad dreams of sci-fi geek billionaires than I do in the bland bureaucratic machinations of government-run space agencies.

Recovery.gov Is Decadent and Depraved, Especially When It Comes To Doling Out Useful Information

Writing over at Big Government, Mercatus Center economist and Reason columnist Veronique de Rugy digs into the compost pile of "jobs created and saved" by the almighty Stimulus:

The most relevant information on Recovery.gov is that most of the jobs created or saved are in the public sector. For instance, according to Vice President Biden, out of the 640,329 jobs, 325,000 went to education and 80,000 to construction jobs. The difference we will soon find out is going to other government jobs.

You need more evidence? 13,080 grants went to the private sector, and 116,625 went to feral agencies.

So even if we assume that the government could create jobs by spending our money, we can see that what this money is being spent on is big government. Or bigger government I should say.

So when you think that, on top of everything, the  government can’t create jobs (here and here), this data is transparently depressing.

Whole thing, worth reading, here.

Here's Reason.tv's interview with Mike Pickett, the CEO of Onvia, whose private-sector website is delivering better and more info on stimulus spending than the government's own.

Reason Writers Around Town: Nick Gillespie on Sarah Palin in The Washington Post

Writing in The Washington Post, Reason's Nick Gillespie reviews two new books about everybody's favorite/most-hated pol, Sarah Palin. A snippet:

No recent political figure has ignited the fury of the chattering classes like former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Shortly after she injected signs of life into the zombified McCain campaign with a rousing speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention, the little-known figure was dissed by Salon's Cintra Wilson as a "power-mad, backwater beauty-pageant casualty" whose conservative ideology made the liberal, feminist writer "feel as horrified as a ghetto Jew watching the rise of National Socialism."

Martin Peretz, the editor in chief of the New Republic, sniffed that the candidate "was pretty like a cosmetics saleswoman at Macy's" and that it was "good to see that the Palin family didn't torture poor Bristol [unmarried, pregnant and 17 at the time], at least in the open."

The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan, a self-identified conservative who calls his Daily Dish "the most popular one-man political blog site in the world," persistently claimed that Trig Palin, the governor's then-4-month-old baby with Down syndrome, was not Sarah's biological child and requested the full release of her obstetrical records, stopping just short of demanding he be sent the placenta for genetic testing. (If President Obama is hounded by a small group of reality-challenged "birthers," who doubt he was born in Hawaii, Palin is certainly the only politician to have given rise to what might be called "after-birthers," who doubt that she delivered her own children.)

Even Palin's defenders had issues with modulation and mental balance. Watching last year's vice presidential debate, National Review's Rich Lowry squealed that Palin's smile "sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America."

[Sarah from Alaska and The Persecution of Sarah Palin...] attempt to explain why the hockey mom from Wasilla, Alaska, drives both detractors and fans alike to something approaching insanity. Each is serious, well researched and well written, but neither quite fully explains the oversize reaction to Palin.

Read the whole review at the Post.

We're Not Saying We Want Special Treatment, We're Just Saying That There Could Be Consequences if We Don't Get Special Treatment

Some of Chicago's aldermen are incensed that they're being subjected to humiliating security searches before entering some government buildings—as if they were just regular people. Delicious quote from Ald. Carrie Austin:

"It’s not a matter of giving anybody any preference. But us that are aldermen — we are the ones who set your budget. If we’re the ones setting your budget maybe we’ll take an adjustment."

New at Reason: Read Our Complete November Issue

Our entire November issue is now available online. Don't miss Matt Welch on the defeat of Communism, Brian Doherty on the movement to curtail the Federal Reserve, Greg Beato on surviving without newspapers, plus our Artifact, the complete Citings and Briefly Noted sections, and much more.

Click here to read our complete November issue.

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