Art Caden presents nine principles of bizarro economics.
The Harlan Institute’s Josh Blackman highlights a Los Angeles Times story on Oakland’s new ordinance allowing for the industrial production of marijuana. As Blackman notes, certain local businesses aren't so thrilled:
In a classic case of Baptists and Bootleggers, or perhaps Baptists and Stoners in Oakland’s case, existing growers of marijuana are displeased, and oppose the opening of these factories.
Read the rest here. And check out Reason.tv’s great interview with economist Bruce Yandle, who originally developed the concept of “bootleggers and Baptists” to make sense of the strange coalitions that form around government regulations:
Reason’s August-September cover story explored different answers to the question “Where Do Libertarians Belong?” From the beginnings of the self-conscious libertarian movement in America in the late 1940s, writes Senior Editor Brian Doherty, the overriding imperative was educating the public in the ideas of libertarianism, and thereby making more libertarians. And as Doherty explains, in the face of a political and policy world where the rigorous application of libertarian ideas is seen as outragous, that is still the most important libertarian task.View this article
Do Americans hate taxes more than they love entitlements? Do Republicans have an actual governing agenda? Why are progressives so disappointed with Obama? At Bloggingheads, Reason Associate Editor Peter Suderman and Talking Points Memo reporter Brian Beutler discuss these questions and more. Approximately one hour.
A Connecticut judge has ruled that Quinnipiac University cannot replace its volleyball team with a cheerleading squad without violating Title IX of The Education Amendments of 1972—which requires schools receiving federal funding to provide equal resources for male and female sports—because cheerleading is not a sport. According to USA Today:
U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill says competitive cheerleading is too underdeveloped.
Wednesday's ruling comes in a lawsuit filed by members of the volleyball team at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. The players sued after the school announced last year that it would eliminate the team for budgetary reasons.
The school replaced it with a competitive cheer squad to stay in compliance with the 1972 federal law that mandates equal opportunities for men and women in athletics.
I just find it hard to believe that cheerleading is not a sport, but synchronized swimming is.
Ah, the petty tyranny of power-tripping officials in small towns:
Elmhurst officials are considering creating a "disturbance and disorderly conduct" violation after a resident accused of rolling her eyes and sighing was ejected from a public meeting.
City Attorney Don Storino has been directed by the city’s finance and council affairs committee to look at various sources including “Robert’s Rules of Order,” Illinois state statutes and policies adopted by other municipalities for a legal definition of disorderly conduct and disruptive behavior.
He is expected to report his findings to the committee on July 26.
Ald. Stephen Hipskind said Darlene Heslop rolled her eyes and sighed while attending a June 14 committee meeting. Heslop, who was asked to leave the meeting, said she favors adding a definition of disorderly conduct to the municipal code.
“I’d like for them (city officials) to have a better understanding of the open meetings act and its meaning and to understand what disorderly conduct is,” she said.
Under state law, disorderly conduct is “an act in such unreasonable manner as to alarm or disturb another, or to provoke a breach of the peace.”
Heslop, who was asked to leave the meeting during discussion of a proposal for the city to hire a state lobbyist, which she opposes, said she hopes adding the definition will help city officials better understand “what the public is entitled to” when attending a city meeting or conducting city business.
Thanks to T.J. Brown for the tip.
What happens when video of a routine police procedure is posted online? In the case of a Missouri SWAT raid, outrage, anger, and a viral sensation viewed over 1.2 million times.
Reason Magazine Senior Editor Radley Balko sat down with Nick Gillespie to discuss the raid, the video, and the fallout.
Approximately 10 minutes. Shot by Meredith Bragg and Dan Hayes. Edited by Bragg.
* Senate candidate Carly Fiorina flips on unemployment extension, tells the O.C. Register that she's changed her mind and would now vote to give more federal money to states so they can keep paying people not to work. Stated reasons: In the first place Californians are suffering, in the second place she doesn't answer to the GOP, and in the third place her vote wouldn't have made a difference in the first place.
* By a small majority, Californians support gay marriage. Dan Walters takes a fresh look at the passage of Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that outlawed same-sex marriage, and brings up the often overlooked point that a large turnout by nonwhite voters during President Obama's 2008 election actually helped Prop 8 to victory.
* Will Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger break Reagan's 11th Commandment and support Jerry Brown? Will voters, who give him a 22 on the Tomatometer Field Poll, care?
* Schwarzenegger names Republican appellate court justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye to replace retiring Ronald George as Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. If you're in the mood for a five-year-old puff piece on Canti-Sakauye ("As a judge, Tani's most memorable cases are when juveniles are tried as adults. Those are difficult cases and stay with her.") you came to the right place.
* Sordid backstairs intrigue leads L.A. Department of Water and Power to withhold $73.5 million it owes to the city. The public utility monopoly refused to cough up the second part of an annual payment it makes to the city's general fund after L.A. City Council refused to let it jack up rates.
While numerous big name producers and actors have, in the past, expressed interest in adapting Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged for the big screen, nothing has ever materialized. Shortly before his rights to the film were set to expire, however, producer John Aglialoro began filming the first in a trilogy of movies based on the epic novel. The crew wrapped up the principal photography phase of production yesterday. Yet, with a budget of only $5 million and a relatively inexperienced cast and crew, there are questions about whether they can produce a quality adaptation. It appears as though Hollywood has shrugged, once again. Big Hollywood recently payed a visit to the set to get the inside scoop:
Big Hollywood has enjoyed two visits to the film's set, which our own Charles Winecoff will be writing more about soon, but due to the fact that much of what we're reading in the media regarding the film's production doesn't coincide with what we've seen and heard for ourselves, I asked producer Harmon Kaslow to help set the record straight.
Much has been made of the film's reported budget of $5 million, especially for a project major studios have shied away from out of budgetary concerns. Like most smart producers, Kaslow won't talk specifics, but there's more to the story than the $5 million:
"The amount expended on the movie is far north of $5 million. The movie is based on Part 1 of the book (the book has 3 parts) … so the film is based on about 27% of the book." […]
In a Sunday piece for Daily Finance, Bruce Watson took some pretty hard shots at the production claiming it's nothing more than a desperate and cynical rush job using an inexperienced director in order to allow Aglialoro to hold onto the film rights, which were set to expire last month had filming not begun. I asked Kaslow about this directly:
"John Aglialoro finally decided to marshal the production because it was apparent that a studio would not …
"While the rights would revert back to the estate if production did not commence by June 14, 2010, the goal of the producers is to produce a film worthy of epic nature of the novel that will satisfy the millions of persons who have read the book, but also appeal to a wide audience (so as to introduce them to the Ayn Rand's work).
"During the course of Aglialoro's efforts to get the film into production, the project had definitely attracted a number of very reputable directors … however, given Johansson's passion for the material and desire to execute a faithful cinematic vision of the book, the producers believe they found a director that most will believe is a diamond in the rough." […]
No one, including the "Atlas" producers, can predict how a project will ultimately turn out, and that's true whether your budget is $5 million or $200 million. And no one would argue that the challenges involved in bringing such an ambitious and epic story to the screen aren't made that much more difficult with with limited resources, including taking a chance on a director making his theatrical feature debut. However, from all we've seen and from our discussions with the producers, director, and cast, there's no doubt that everyone involved is passionate about telling this story and most importantly, dedicated to remaining true to Ayn Rand's philosophical vision — which would've likely have been compromised bigtime by a major studio.
So will the film live up to expectations despite limited resources? *Shrugs* Who is John Galt?
For more on Rand, be sure to check out Reason's extensive archive.
Stanford University climate scientist and fierce "climate warrior" Stephen Schneider died of an apparent heart attack while on a flight from Sweden to London on Monday. Schneider has long been at the forefront of arguing for massive government intervention to address man-made global climate change. In a recent interview in Stanford Magazine, Schneider opined about the differences between ideologues and scientists:
[Q.] How do you respond to the perception that scientists are friends of the leftand enemies of the right?
[A.] Scientists get associated with the left not because they're really in the left. It's because they have a particular belief system that is more likely embraced by Democrats: people not on the far left—because the far left is just as crazy radical in its deep belief as the far right—but middle-center left. [There is a] great American divide. The deep red states, the ones who want to teach creationism as if somehow belief was science, when science is method, are in what I call the faith-trust value system, where evidence that overthrows deep faith is somehow a real violation of their deep ethics. Those of us in science come from a completely different paradigm—much more likely in California, especially coastal California, and New York and the deep blue states—which I call doubt-test, where no matter how cherished our beliefs, if you have enough evidence kicking you in the face to the contrary, you change your mind. That is blasphemy to certain groups. This is in my view a fairly dangerous value dichotomy because in the end, if you absolutely cling to absolute values, then all you get is subjugation and violence. That's where we end up with wars and with radical movements that cannot compromise and kill first.
Scientists also create some of their own trouble because we're a very snooty, elitist bunch, and we believe [in] a very high-knowledge entry barrier before you're even entitled to have an opinion over technical issues. Part of that entry barrier is high because we're so incompetent in explaining things simply. You really do have to know what you're talking about before you have an opinion on facts, but you also have to explain the facts simply. If you use metaphors, you can get the average person in an hour to know what they need to know to make a good value judgment.
Fair enough. In testimony at a 2003 OECD workshop on climate change, Schneider stated [pdf]:
My own personal value position, given the vast uncertainties in both climate science and impacts estimations, is to enact (and act on) policies to slow down the rate at which we disturb the climate system. This can both buy us time to understand better what may happen -- a process that will take many more decades -- and lead to the development of lower-cost decarbonisation options... Slowing down the pressure on the climate system is the “insurance policy” against a number of potentially dangerous irreversibilities and abrupt non-linear events.
However, Schneider's preference for a precautionary approach (a.k.a. raising the price of energy and slowing down economic growth) in addressing climate change is ideological, not a fact about the world. Perhaps a better "insurance policy" would be to speed up economic growth, thus endowing future generationa with the wealth and new technologies to address whatever climate change occurs.
In any case, climatologist Roger Pielke, Sr., who frequently disagreed with Schneider, sadly notes:
He and I have interacted for several decades and I was always impressed by his openness to engage in scientific debate. Even when we disagreed on issues, he permitted my views to be heard, such as the time, in his capacity as Editor-in-Chief of the journal Climatic Change, I was able in 2002 to present a paper on problems with the IPCC assessment report. He published a companion article at the same time by Mike McCracken, and I have urged climate scientists to read both of these perspectives. Steve’s openness allowed this constuctive scientific debate to occur.
To get a sense of how Schneider personally balanced climate and economic risks, take a look at his Edge interview here.
Reason Senior Editor Radley Balko will appear on tomorrow night's episode of Penn & Teller's Bullshit!. The episode focuses on the criminal justice system. See a tease below.
The show airs on Showtime Thursday night at 10 pm ET.
Transparency, certainty, and an end to taxpayer-funded bailouts. As President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill into law this morning, that’s what he promised would result from the Democrats’ massive overhaul of financial sector rules. That might be nice if it were true. But it’s tough to argue that rules the administration barely understands will add transparency to the system, and even tougher to argue that the law grants certainty—for everyone “from bankers to farmers to consumers,” as Obama claimed—when so many of its key decisions are left to regulators to figure out sometime later. If anything, the law’s game of regulatory kick-the-can creates vastly more regulatory uncertainty; witness the shutdown of various bond markets as ratings agencies urge financial services companies not to use their products until they have a better idea of how to calculate the new liabilities the law gives them. As for Obama’s precious farmers—no politician can resist their earthy charms—it’s not clear how or whether they’ll be affected by the new rules. But that’s exactly the point: Right now, many individuals and industries are deeply uncertain about how the new rules will play out. That makes them worried, and those worries affect their behavior.
As for those nasty taxpayer-funded bailouts, Obama stood strong: “There will be no more taxpayer-funded bailouts. Period,” he said, explaining that “there will be new rules to make sure that no firm is somehow protected because it is too big too fail.” This is true except for the small fact that the law actually reinforces too-big-to-fail—and grants the big banks that are expected to fall into that category lower borrowing costs that end up being financed by taxpayers.
So despite promises of stability and financial protection, Obama and the bill’s authors have given little more than a vague promise to study up on the problems—the law responds to nearly all the toughest issues by calling for new studies—and come up with a some to-be-determined way to fix things eventually. Maybe. Perhaps. At some undetermined point in the future. But still: Certainty! Transparency! It’s all so clear now, isn’t it?
When I sent my column to Creators Syndicate this week, I wasn't sure how to treat bullshit and dickhead, two words featured in the 2nd Circuit's decision overturning the FCC's ban on broadcast indecency. Newspapers generally like to replace the last three (or middle two) letters in shit (and fuck) with hyphens or asterisks—a policy that has always seemed rather silly to me, since there's no mystery about what the missing letters are. But in this case the appeals court spelled out all the naughty words, and it seems especially absurd to shield readers of a newspaper column about a court decision from words that appear in that decision. I also thought that maybe bullshit had, like BS, become acceptable as a slightly stronger variation on nonsense, balderdash, poppycock, and pishposh. (It's the name of a TV show, after all.) Evidently I was wrong: My editor thought it was best to take the cautious route of censoring bullshit, bullshitter, and even dickhead (which the FCC had certified as totally OK for prime time [correction: I see that dickhead made it through, so maybe the FCC has a firmer grasp of "contemporary community standards" than I thought]). He also added a warning about the language, perhaps to cover Milk Nymphos and Storm Squirters 2, porn movie titles that do not include any forbidden words but might, "in context" (as the FCC likes to say), be a little too suggestive for squeamish newspaper readers.
The more I think about these rules, the less sense they make to me. (For an interesting exploration of language taboos, I recommend the 2006 documentary Fuck.) This press release nevertheless made me proud to be an American:
New Profanity Filter Battles the F-Word in Living Rooms
ROGERS, Ark., July 21 /Christian Newswire/ -- Just one week after a federal appeals court opened the door for the F-word to be used freely on broadcast TV, an Arkansas company says they have a solution: Filter the words out on your own.
TVGuardian, LLC is just this week receiving shipment of the first of their new profanity filters -- boxes that connect to TVs and automatically filter out foul language.
"It's now clear families can't rely on broadcasters to provide profanity-free TV," says TVGuardian, LLC President Britt Bennett. "Families have to take matters into their own hands to protect themselves from obscenity."
A second new model is due to be released next month, one that works with high definition TV. Both new models are available on the company website, www.tvguardian.com.
What's new about the new models? "New software, new boxes, now in HD, and a new rental program," says Bennett. "Families can now rent TVGuardian for as low as $6.99 a month."...
TVGuardian was invented by Rick Bray in 1997, and the company produced more than 400,000 units before discontinuing production in order to pursue licensing. They successfully licensed their foul language filtering technology into over 12 million DVD players. Their return to the marketplace with new set top boxes comes after a nearly three year absence.
"I used to be more hopeful about the future of TV for our children," says Bennett. "But now that even the F-word is allowed? At any time of day? It looks like we'll be in business for a while still."
Contrary to Bennett's implication, it's quite unlikely that TV networks will start recklessly tossing F-bombs into people's living rooms, because they don't want to alienate viewers. There are plenty of family-friendly options available on cable, which has always been legally free to transmit profanity-laced dialogue between SpongeBob and Patrick or Maggie and the Ferocious Beast. But for those extra-cautious parents who do not entirely trust the standards of children's channels or the TV rating system (on which the omnipresent yet little-used "V-chip" relies), TVGuardian offers another option (in addition to relying on DVDs and streaming video, turning the TV set off, or even not buying one to begin with, an option that some strains of cultural conservatives have been known to exercise). Whatever you may think of TVGuardian's approach, it is vastly preferable to the attitude of former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, who in 2005 defended the commission's censorship this way: "You can always turn the television off and, of course, block the channels you don't want....But why should you have to?"
With midterm elections approaching, President Barack Obama has gone on the charm offensive, claiming Republicans are demonstrating a "lack of faith in the American people." But as David Harsanyi writes, what mysterious brand of public policy has Obama employed that exemplifies this sacred trust between public officials and the common citizen? Was it the administration's faith in the wisdom of the American parent that persuaded it to shut down the voucher program in Washington, D.C.? Was faith in American industry behind the Democrats' support of a stimulus bill that was predicated almost entirely on preserving swollen government spending at the expense of private-sector growth?View this article
"When did women exchanging bodily fluids and a little light bondage become the most obscene thing in the land?" asks Constance Penley, a University of California at Santa Barbara professor well-known for her classes on pornography.
That question may be answered this week when porn producer John Stagliano's federal obscenity trial enters its second week. Stagliano faces up to 32 years in prison for distributing the adult films Milk Nymphos, Storm Squirters 2: Target Practice, and a promo reel for a trailer for Belladonna's Fetish Fanatic Five via his website for Evil Angel Productions (adults only).
(Full disclosure: Stagliano has been a donor to Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website.)
Emboldened by the Stagliano trial, a group of anti-pornography organizations recently held an event to demand a new "War on Pornography." "We have a war on pornography and we're going to win it," declares Patrick Trueman, a former Department of Justice prosecutor and leader of the War on Pornography Coalition. "The pornographers know exactly what they're doing and they're not going to respond to anything but the stick of the law," adds Donna Rice Hughes, founder of Enough is Enough.
But Reason.tv speaks with others, including an adult film actress and fetish film director, who promise to resist the anti-porn crusaders. And there is a bigger issue at stake, says Marty Klein, author of America's War on Sex: The Attack on Law, Lust and Liberty. "The right to see South Park, may actually depend on the right to watch Butt Busters 3," says Klein. "If people want to have the right to do what they want to do, they have to protect the rights of other people to do what other people want to do."
"Obscenity vs. Freedom of Expression" is produced and edited by Hawk Jensen, field produced by Dan Hayes, with camera work by Dan Hayes, Hawk Jensen, Alex Manning, Joshua Swain and Zach Weissmueller. Production Assistants are Sam Corcos and Jack Gillespie. Approximately 7.30 minutes.
For a 2008 Reason.tv interview about the case, go here.
To watch Reason.tv's "Lady Chatterley, Milk Nymphos, & John Stagliano," go here.
Go to Reason.tv for downloadable versions of this and all our videos, and subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube channel to receive automatic notification when new material goes live.
Glenn Reynolds writes in Popular Mechanics about The War on Photography in Public Places:
What should you do if you're taking photos and a security guard or police officer approaches you and tells you to stop? First, be polite. Security people have tough jobs and probably mean well. Ask them what legal authority they have to make you stop. (If you're in a public place, like a street, a park, etc., they have none; if you're in a private place, such as a shopping mall, they may have a basis for banning pictures.) Krages advises those hassled by security guards to threaten to call law enforcement. If it's an actual police officer who's telling you to stop shooting, ask to speak to a superior. And remember--you never have a legal duty to delete pictures you've taken.
More importantly, we need better education among security guards and law enforcement. In Britain, the country's police chiefs' association is attempting to educate officers about the rights of photographers. So far, nothing like that has happened in the U.S., but it should. Trying to block photography in public places is not only heavy-handed and wrong but, thanks to technology, basically useless. With the proliferation of cameras in just about every device we carry, digital photography has become too ubiquitous to stop. Let's have a truce in the war on photography and set our sights on the real bad guys. Who, it seems, don't carry cameras anyway.
As Matt Welch noted earlier, the only direct reference to “shutting down” Fox News in The Daily Caller’s story this morning was a question by UCLA law professor Jonathan Zasloff, who asked “is there any reason why the FCC couldn't simply pull their broadcasting permit once it expires?” But as the Progress & Freedom Foundation's Adam Thierer points out, there’s a really easy answer to that question: Yes, there's most definitely a reason why the agency couldn't pull the permit; Fox News is a cable channel and therefore not licensed by the FCC.
Here’s my (potentially) controversial—but on the record!—question: Do we need the FCC at all?
Oil spills are bad, but in a column for the Times (London) Matt Ridley argues that science shows that the natural world often recovers from the damage of oil spills with alacrity. As evidence, Ridley cites some lessons from previous spills:
First, be careful not to do more harm than good. When the Torrey Canyon was wrecked off Cornwall in 1967, spilling 120,000 tonnes of oil, the British government not only bombed the wreck (and missed with one bomb in four), but sprayed 10,000 tons of detergents, which were much more damaging to marine life than the oil itself, then bulldozed the oil and detergents into the sand on some beaches where it persisted for longer than if it had been exposed to the elements.
The mistake was repeated in 1989, when the Exxon Valdez spilled about 40,000 tonnes in Prince William Sound. Thousands of volunteers were sent out to wash rocks with hot water, which helped kill lots of microbes that would otherwise have eaten the oil.
Speaking of microbes, do not underestimate nature’s powers of recovery. After most big oil spills, scientists are pleasantly surprised by how quickly the oil disappears and the marine life reappears. This is true even in Alaska, where the sheltered waters, low temperatures and abundant wildlife conspired to make the slick damaging and persistent. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says on its website: `What scientists have found is that, despite the gloomy outlook in 1989, the intertidal habitats of Prince William Sound have proved to be surprisingly resilient.’ A scientist who led some of the research into the Exxon Valdez says that `Thoughts that this is going to kill the Gulf of Mexico are just wild overreactions’.
When the Braer went aground off Shetland in 1993 and spilled 85,000 tonnes of oil, storms quickly dispersed the oil, so the effect on most of the local wildlife was barely measurable. As one scientific report drily noted, after running through a list of undetected effects on birds, shore life and seabed creatures, `five otters were found dead in the oil spill area. However, three of these were killed by vehicles, one was recovered before the oil could have reached it and the cause of mortality of the fifth did not appear to be oil contamination.’ (One of the road kills was allegedly caused by a television crew’s car.)
This rapid recovery was also a signature of the last big Gulf rig spill, the Ixtoc 1 disaster off Mexico in 1979. Although the number of turtles took decades to recover, much of the rest of the wildlife bounced back fairly rapidly. `To be honest, considering the magnitude of the spill, we thought the Ixtoc spill was going to have catastrophic effects for decades’, Luis Soto of the National Autonomous University of Mexico told a newspaper this year. `But within a couple of years, almost everything was close to 100 percent normal again.’ The warm waters and strong sunshine of the Gulf of Mexico are highly conducive to the chemical decomposition of oil by `photo-oxidation’, and are stuffed full of organisms that actually like to eat the stuff – in moderation.
Read the whole op/ed here. Read Ridley's superb article "Ideas Having Sex" in the July issue of Reason. I highly recommend, Ridley's new book, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. And join Ridley on the first ever Reason Cruise [video] this February.
Disclosure: I am proud to be mentioned in the acknowledgments of the book.
If you thought that the Daily Caller's Day One haul was an inartfully cobbled together and raw material-averse series of listserv conversations–including a long, see-no-evil-enabling tangent about compiling an open letter–that obscured the headline-making point about a respected-in-some-quarters journalistic hothead trying to convince his bretheren to tar Karl Rove or Fred Barnes or any of an apparently bottomless list of Republicans with the super-toxic label of "racist" (that is, when not smashing their faces into plate-glass windows)...then you'll be even less impressed by Day Two.
The headline is pure conservative link bait–"Liberal journalists suggest government shut down Fox News"!–but what follows directly is:
A) National Public Radio producer Sarah Spitz saying she'd "Laugh loudly like a maniac and watch his eyes bug out" if Rush Limbaugh had a heart attack in front of her.
B) Various people in the summer of 2009 referencing fascists and Beer Hall putschers when discussing townhall protesters (in much weaker terms than you could see all over the public discourse back then).
C) A complaint that "blogger Ed Kilgore didn't even bother to grapple with [Victor Davis] Hanson's arguments" about immigration. And then finally,
D) A closing seven-paragraph section that at last brings up the subject of the headline. And not very convincingly, either.
The Daily Caller asserts that "members of Journolist discussed whether the federal government should shut the channel down," but the only quote that rises close to that suggestion is Guardian (UK) columnist Daniel Davies saying "In order to have even a semblance of control, you need a tough legal framework." Time's Michael Scherer says "I agree," but it's not clear with what. UCLA law prof Jonathan Zasloff, the DC claims, "suggested that the federal government simply yank Fox off the air," but his initial quote actually suggest the opposite–"Do you really want the political parties/white house picking which media operations are news operations and which are a less respectable hybrid of news and political advocacy?"–and his smoking-gun quote ("I'll take that risk") is untethered from any shutting-down-Fox context. From all I can tell in the last three paragraphs, Zasloff, Scherer, and The New Republic's John Judis are talking not about closing Fox News, but whether or not the White House should tactically choose which news organizations are allowed in its press briefings.
At least this time the Daily Caller has produced some raw material (including one unlovely piece by Reason alum Dave Weigel), though there's no reason to suspect we're seeing the entirety of the relevant conversation, let alone the discussion in any kind of sensible order. And it's only there, in an e-mail from the all-influential Zasloff, do we see anything to corroborate the scare-headline. It is this:
I hate to open this can of worms, but is there any reason why the FCC couldn't simply pull their broadcasting permit once it expires?
None of the other discussion seems to be referencing this can of worms directly.
Right-of-center investigative journalism is going to have to tie up its loose ends a helluva lot tighter than this (and that) if it aims to persuade anyone from outside its camp. The real spade-work on the JournoList trove is not just fishing for a single chunk of Drudge-bait, but tying an off-the-record listserv conversation with a coordinated flurry of on-the-record commentary. Locker-room trash-talk can be fun to spy in on (in a train-wreck kind of way), but if there's a real opinion-journalism scandal underneath any of this it will lie in attempts, concscious or unconscious, to foist political message discipline on disparate and unsuspecting audiences. This ain't that.
UPDATE: Daniel Davies makes an appearance in the comments!
UPDATE II: Dave Weigel points to some apparent discrepancies in the way his contributions were portrayed.
Last week an appeals court in New York overturned the federal ban on broadcast indecency, and a judge in Washington, D.C., dismissed obscenity charges against porn impresario John "Buttman" Stagliano. Senior Editor Jacob Sullum says the two cases show that prohibiting vaguely defined categories of speech undermines the rule of law as well as freedom of expression.View this article
Little noticed in the story of the Oakland police layoffs and the city's ensuing crime spree is that less than six years ago Oaktown voters approved a tax specifically to pay for more cops.
As Damon Root earlier explained, the city has laid off 80 officers.
One argument against rule by ballot initiative is that it creates situations like this one, wherein funds are pre-committed in ways that make nimble budgeting (never a high priority at City Hall) impossible. In the event, Measure Y's benefits were remarkably slow to show up, and the city is now considering a new pair of ballot initiatives to create another parcel tax and to "fix" Measure Y.
At the Defending Measure Y blog, Marleen Lee offers this assessment:
Let’s just review what we got with Measure Y. So far, it has cost us over $100 million. We were promised full staffing at 802 for 10 years. What did we get? Full staffing at 802 for less than five months out of five years. And now the City has to abandon Measure Y. So we got 63 officers for less than 5 months, for a price tag of $100 million. Ripoff of the century. Nobody in their right mind would support another parcel tax under those circumstances.
I'm not confident of Lee's $100 million figure, in large part because data on Measure Y revenues and expenditures are as opaque as only a major California city government can make them. Such a large failure -- after voters had shown the commitment to "taxing themselves" that good government believers call for -- helps explain why there is so little sympathy for the police officers' union. At East Bay Express, Robert Gammon applauds the city council for rejecting the Oakland Police Officers Association's no-layoff, no freezes, no-cuts proposals:
The council also deserves credit for rejecting the unreasonable no-layoffs demand. In reality, it was a poison pill. The reason is that if tax measures planned for the November ballot fail (a definite possibility even if the union had given up the no-layoffs demand), the city will have to lay off 120 cops — or request even more concessions from the police union. Both options would have been impossible if the city agreed to the no-layoffs plan.
At his own blog, City Council Member Ignacio de la Fuente explains how little the OPOA is willing to give:
I firmly believe in and will continue to push for management tools and technological enhancements within our police department because I believe that until we have these critical systems in place to accurately measure and analyze police workloads, deployment tactics, response times, and real-time crime stats, we will never know how many officers Oakland needs.
Systems such as GPS devices, In-car video cameras, and Comstat are being used by cities and police departments all over the country to not only enhance officer and public safety but also to make officers more accountable to citizens...
Delaying the implementation of these tools is costing taxpayers’ money, the same way the City’s lack of urgency to balance this budget has driven us into an even deeper financial hole.
I recognize and agree that Public Safety is a core function that ought to be a priority of local governments but in an effort to avoid laying off police officers, I have for months been urging the Oakland Police Officers Association (OPOA) to come to the negotiating table and agree to contribute to a portion of their pensions. Today their contribution is zero. A 9% contribution from police sworn personnel would save the City approximately $7.3 million per year. This figure is equivalent to the annual cost of 36 fully loaded (salary & benefits) police officers. Thus far the Oakland Police Officers Association (OPOA) has been unwilling to agree to this concession and have said publicly that they will “not agree to any concessions that include layoffs”. There is no logical way that we could guarantee there wouldn’t be layoffs when we have even bigger budget deficits next year and the following year, and meanwhile, the police and fire departments continue to make up more than 70% of the general purpose fund costs for the entire city.
It should be noted that Oakland police work can be violent; last year the department suffered the horrific murders of four officers in a single day. In the current dust-up a union official has managed to make even that tragedy into farce. Mish Shedlock (who counsels bankruptcy for the overwhelmed city) quotes the OPOA's president:
"Every time you lay us off, there's a gun to the citizen's head as well," said Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association...
[Sgt. Arotzarena] compared the slaying of four officers in the line of duty in March 2009 to Tuesday's layoffs, saying the 80 were released "not by the hand of a gun, but by the hand of a pen."
In the Real Clear Markets article that Damon cited earlier, Josh Barro calls for federal aid that would be tied to a basket of reforms:
The federal government is in a position to provide a helping hand to strained localities. But it must combine that help with a demand for reforms that make local government more sustainable and efficient -- so that no city has to say it can't afford a large enough police force because it has to pay each officer $162,000 per year.
I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree... The best way for the federal government to help Oakland and other cities out of their respective jams is to keep its mouth shut and its pockets closed. Nobody makes concessions except under duress. Barro sensibly suggests that states should outlaw public-sector collective bargaining, but Washington is in fact moving that ball in the wrong direction. Right now, 21 states prohibit or limit public sector bargaining rights. (That group includes Virginia and Maryland, the two states that sandwich Washington, DC.) But they stand to lose these restrictions under a Senate bill with the translated-from-Burmese title Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act (S 3194). The bill has six Republican supporters.
For those of you who didn't watch it, the clip begins with title cards that declare that Shirley Sherrod, until this week the Georgia director of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "admits that in her federally appointed position, overseeing over a billion dollars...She discriminates against people due to their race." The footage that follows supposedly supports that narrative.
It turns out that the story Sherrod tells in the clip actually took place 24 years ago, and that she was working for a private organization at the time, not the USDA. Also, in context it's clear that her anecdote was about overcoming prejudice, not celebrating it; the tale ends with Sherrod recognizing that she wants to help poor people of all colors, not just blacks. It's equally clear that her audience understood that this was the point of the story.
Nonetheless, after the video went viral Sherrod's bosses quickly ousted her from her job. Breitbart's site now wants to focus on why the USDA and/or the White House pushed her out the door with so little evidence. Not a bad topic, but first you might want to acknowledge the fact that your entire story has fallen apart.
The punchline: The first three words in Breitbart's original post were "Context is everything."
Update: The fallback position for Breitbart's die-hard defenders is that the point of the story isn't Shirley Sherrod; it's the NAACP audience that responds with "laughter and cheers" when she describes her attitude toward the white farmer she was initially reluctant to help.
Even if that summary were true, it wouldn't change the fact that the edited clip falsely claims that Sherrod "discriminates against people due to their race" while "in her federally appointed position, overseeing over a billion dollars." But it isn't true. In the full video, her story begins with this statement: "When I made that commitment, I was making that commitment to black people and to black people only. But you know God will show you things, and he'll put things in your paths, so that you realize that the struggle is really about poor people." So the audience knows going in that it's a redemption story, and it knows what the moral will be.
Anyway, the church-style affirmations that you hear clearly mean I understand, not Hooray. If she was testifying about overcoming a cocaine addiction, you'd hear the same sounds, complete with laughter at the appropriate junctures. But only a fool would think the audience is enthusiastic about drug abuse.
John Stagliano was cleared of all charges today in a federal obscenity prosecution that could have put him behind bars for 32 years. After hearing the prosecution's case, the judge declared that there was not enough evidence to continue the trial, throwing out all charges.
Reason.tv caught up with Stagliano outside the courthouse just minutes after the decision.
For more on the Stagliano case, obscenity, and freedom of expression, go to here.
Is Paul Revere still relevant in contemporary America?
Joel Miller, author of The Revolutionary Paul Revere, says he is. Miller sat down with Reason.tv Editor in Chief Nick Gillespie to discuss the man, his famous ride, and his relationship to the contemporary political landscape.
"There are an awful lot of corollaries to people today who are frusrated with government," says Miller. And that's nothing new: "You go back throughout English history you'll find uprising after uprising about taxes..."
Approximately 10 minutes. Shot by Meredith Bragg, Josh Swain and Dan Hayes. Edited by Swain.
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Mark Frauenfelder, is editor-in-chief of MAKE magazine, founder of the collaborative weblog Boing Boing, and author of the book Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World. He sat down with Reason.tv's Ted Balaker to discuss cigar box guitars, the value of mistakes, and what the Do-It-Yourself movement can teach us about education.
Approximately 9 minutes. Shot by Alex Manning and Paul Detrick. Edited by Austin Bragg.
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The sinister dictators of Cuba, Fidel and Raul Castro, are getting a fair amount of good press for releasing a handful of political prisoners that committed no crime. A few things to keep in mind, for those celebrating the great “humanitarian gesture”—the one designed to head off Western criticism following the death of hunger strikers. The prisoners, all jailed for "political offenses," were allowed to leave prison provided they left Cuba—the cause for which they have risked their lives—and relocated to Spain. 11 prisoners were released to Spanish authorities, though many others refused to surrender their citizenship in exchange for their freedom. At a press conference in Spain, a small group of recently arrived dissidents urged the European Union to keep pressure on Cuba, noting that “their release was not a gesture of good faith but ‘a desperate action’ by the Cuban government.”
So how were conditions in Cuban prisons? According to this asshole at Harvard Law School's Criminal Justice Institute, the Cuban prison system is "far more humane than Western propaganda would have the uninformed public believe," nor do those lucky enough to be incarcerated "have to pay for their education, medical, dental or hospital care, or any other activities they experience." Imagine not having to fork over your $18 monthly salary for "activities" like beatings and the bi-weekly rotten food buffet!
In an interview with Bloomberg, recently-released prisoner Normando Hernandez Gonzalez explained what was wrong with all of this "Western propaganda" about prison conditions:
“The first month I spent in jail, I only ate eight times because the food they gave us was subhuman and so rotten that if you offered it to a dog, he’d turn away. For refusing to wear prison overalls, I was sent to a dark cell for 101 days without seeing the light of day. There wasn’t a single inch of my skin that wasn’t covered in septic mosquito bites. I was forced to sleep on the concrete floor with rats and cockroaches crawling over me.”
Incidentally, Gonzalez was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his association with the Camagüey College of Independent Journalists.
Miami Herald columnist Andreas Oppenheimer pooh-poohs talk of a “new era” from Cubans held hostage by the Castro brothers:
…[M]ost important, the Cuban regime is not even talking about modifying articles 72 and 73 of its criminal code, an Orwellian legislation that allows it to put people behind bars before they committed a crime on the mere suspicion that they may commit one in the future.
Nor is the regime ready to consider changing its law 88, which allows it to imprison people for writing anything that can be interpreted as critical of the government, or its various laws banning freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to travel within the country or abroad, independent unions, and political parties.
When I asked José Miguel Vivanco, head of the Human Rights Watch advocacy group's Americas department, whether Cuba's latest announcement amounts to a "new phase" in Cuba, he said: "We are obviously very happy for the prisoners and their families, but I am not going to congratulate a government for imprisoning people that shouldn't have been imprisoned in the first place."
A study recently published online by the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research finds that switching to snus (Swedish-style oral snuff) is by far the most popular method for quitting smoking in Norway. Furthermore, it is much more effective than using nicotine replacement products sold by pharmaceutical companies. Examining survey responses from about 1,800 current cigarette smokers and about 1,800 former smokers, researchers led by Karl Erik Lund of the Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research found that nearly one-third had used snus in their last quit attempt. They were almost three times as likely to have succeeded as the smokers who used the next most popular method, nicotine gum (used by 18 percent of the respondents). The only method that looked more effective than snus was varenicline (sold in the U.S. as Chantix), a prescription drug that is designed to block nicotine's psychoactive effects (and that now carries a daunting FDA warning). Measured by abstinence rates, varenicline was about five times as effective as nicotine gum, but it was used by only 1 percent of the respondents.
Lund and his co-authors speculate that snus—which is banned in most of the E.U. but available in Norway, Sweden, and the U.S.—is more popular and more effective than the pharmaceutical products because "the nicotine dose is almost the same as for cigarettes," because snus "tastes of tobacco and thus has a sensory effect that medicinal nicotine products perhaps lack," and because "the choice of brand, aesthetic rituals of use, and visibility can represent social positioning and self presentation." In short, snus is a closer substitute for cigarettes. Not surprisingly, people who quit smoking by switching to snus are also more likely to continue using the substitute than people who quit with nicotice replacement products. But since the hazards posed by snus are tiny compared to the hazards posed by cigarettes, the health benefit is undeniable—unless you are one of the many anti-smoking activists and public health officials who continue to deny or obscure this truth because you're afraid of what consumers will do with the information.
"In light of all the available evidence," two prominent American tobacco researchers concluded in 2007, "the banning or exaggerated opposition to snus in cigarette-rife environments is not sound public-health policy." Now that the Food and Drug Administration is in charge of regulating tobacco products, it will be making decisions that determine the extent to which snus can compete not only with cigarettes but with pharmaceutical products such as nicotine gum. If it really is guided by science and by public health principles, it will allow snus to be marketed as a safer alternative to cigarettes, and it won't try to suppress information like the results of this study. But I wouldn't bet on it.
Addendum: A commenter claims "the heart is still at just as great a risk with snus as it is with cigarettes." This is just the sort of misinformation that snus alarmists tend to foster. While some research has indicated a link between snus and heart disease, the level of risk found in those studies is substantially lower than the risk associated with cigarette smoking. More-recent research suggests the use of snus does not measurably raise the risk of heart disease: A 2009 study reported in the Journal of Internal Medicine found "there was no association between use of snus and risk for cardiovascular disease." In any case, there is no denying that the overall hazard posed by snus is far lower than the hazard posed by cigarettes. A 2007 Lancet study found "there was little difference in health-adjusted life expectancy between smokers who quit all tobacco and smokers who switch to snus." The authors of the study discussed in this post note that "nicotine uptake from snus instead of from cigarettes has the potential for reducing harm by at least 90%."
[Thanks to Bill Godshall for the tip.]
The Gulf oil gusher may be capped (for now), but “many of the world's greatest environmental catastrophes continue, with no end in sight,” according to Foreign Policy magazine. Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey argues that while Foreign Policy identifies five true catastrophes, it fails to grapple with the main problem behind what is causing them.View this article
Paul Caron points us to a new paper by Cardozo Law’s Edward Zelinsky on the tax provisions of the PPACA. The short version? The law may not be as radical a departure from the current system as some critics contend, but it doesn’t solve the fundamental cost-control problems of the current system. From the abstract:
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (HCERA) do not alter the status quo as much as their advocates and their detractors contend nor do PPACA and HCERA resolve the fundamental challenges confronting the U.S. health care system, including the problem of escalating health care outlays. In important respects, PPACA and HCERA will exacerbate that problem. [bold added -PS]
Four factors underpin this sobering assessment. First, PPACA and HCERA, while significant, are more incremental in nature than either their proponents or their opponents acknowledge. These laws build upon—indeed, extend—the existing systems of private health insurance and employer-provided health care. Second, many provisions of PPACA and HCERA have delayed effective dates. It is an open question whether future Presidents and Congresses will allow these deferred provisions to go into effect as scheduled. Third, key provisions of PPACA and HCERA are enormously complex. By virtue of such complexity, these laws will impose prodigious enforcement burdens upon the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and equally immense compliance obligations on taxpayers, in particular, small businesses and many individuals of modest means. The prospects for a complexity-induced political backlash to PPACA and HCERA are considerable. Fourth, these acts merely postpone the tough decisions that must be made about health care and about health care costs in particular. These laws’ efforts to control health care outlays are tepid and deferred. Moreover, PPACA and HCERA, by expanding access to medical services, will increase demand for such services and thereby stimulate health care expenditures.
I think this is a useful way of understanding the law; although the PPACA adds a number of significant elements to the U.S. health care system (in particular, the exchanges), it’s primarily an entrenchment and expansion of the existing system. Given the failures of that system, though, that presents a serious problem.
As for rising costs, Zelinsky is right to frame the difficulty as one of political uncertainty: the biggest fiscal risk is that, in the future, Congress will not follow through on provisions it was clearly afraid and unwilling to implement in the near term. On this point, it’s worth singling out what Zelinsky says about the Cadillac tax, which is supposed to hit high-value health care plans starting in 2018:
Equally evident is Congress’ reluctance to stimulate this confrontation with health care costs any time soon. If, as Harold Wilson famously said, “a week in politics is an eternity,” the decision to delay the “Cadillac” plan excise tax to 2018 evinces a pronounced reluctance to actually require voters to confront health care costs anytime soon....There is a serious question whether the excise tax on high cost plans will ever go into effect: Given the palpable reluctance of President Obama and the members of the 111th Congress to force their constituents to confront the tax on “Cadillac” plans any time soon, why should we expect a future President and the senators and representatives of the 115th Congress to let this tax go into effect in 2018?
The fact that the Cadillac tax was delayed isn't proof that it won't ever be implemented, but it's a strong sign of the political difficulty of allowing it to take effect, and, in general, of the barriers to implementing cost-control mechanisms. It’s obviously not possible to know with any certainty how Congress behave years into the future, or what other factors may come into play over the years, but given what we know about both the new health care law and about American politics, skepticism that the PPACA will work as well as advertised seems appropriate.
Steven Greenhut, Editor in Chief of CalWatchdog.com and author of the new book, Plunder! How Public Employee Unions are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation sat down with Reason.tv's Ted Balaker to discuss the widening gap between public and private sector employment.
Approximately 9 minutes. Shot by Alex Manning and Paul Detrick. Edited by Austin Bragg.
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The SPEECH Act has all the earmarks of bad legislation, starting with the strained acronym in its name (which stands for "Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage"). Its chief sponsors in the Senate include Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). Worst of all, it passed the Senate unanimously yesterday and is expected to win easy House approval within a few days. Has anything good ever emerged from such circumstances?
Well, now something has. The SPEECH Act, aimed at discouraging "libel tourism," would let Americans block enforcement of foreign defamation judgments on First Amendment grounds. The law was championed by Israeli-American criminologist Rachel Ehrenfeld, who faced a British lawsuit by Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz over her 2003 book Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed—and How to Stop It. Other writers, including Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt, have likewise been grabbed by the long arm of British libel law, which is much more plaintiff-friendly than U.S. law (although that may change). The Guardian sums up the issue:
Many places, including Britain, currently have stricter libel laws than the US, leading to libel tourism, where plaintiffs search for a jurisdiction most likely to be sympathetic to their case. Some human rights campaigners and legal scholars saying the practice is used by the rich and powerful to stifle dissent and criticism. The growth of publishing on the internet has sparked fears that libel tourism will grow rapidly in coming years.
The ACLU makes the case for the SPEECH Act here (PDF).
From our August-September issue, Senior Editor Jacob Sullum explains how Arizona's new immigration law encourages the police to emulate controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio by seizing upon any excuse to hunt for illegal immigrants.View this article
Constance Penley is a professor of Film and Media Studies at University of California at Santa Barbara and co-director of the Carsey-Wolf Center for Film, Television, and New Media. Penley specializes in film history and theory, feminist theory, and cultural studies. She is especially well-known on campus for her controversial classes on pornography, where she analyzes the ways in which blue movies play with moral and social taboos.
Penley was slated to be an expert witness in the obscenity trial of pornographer John Stagliano, who faces up to 32 years in jail and $7 million in fines for distributing three adult movies. The judge in Stagliano's case disallowed Penley and Lawrence Sank from testifying for the defense.
Reason.tv's Hawk Jensen sat down with Penley to discuss the history of pornography, obscenity laws, and the case against John Stagliano, whom Penley has called "the Woody Allen of porn."
Approximately 8 minutes. Produced by Hawk Jensen and filmed by Zach Weissmueller.
For more on Stagliano's prosecution, go here.
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The Manhattan Institute’s Josh Barro says public sector unions are making life a little worse in Oakland, California:
This month, Oakland laid off 80 police officers, just over 10 percent of its total force, in order to balance the city's budget. As a result, the city's police chief says cops will no longer respond to 44 categories of crimes, including grand theft. The city's elected officials regret the change but say they simply cannot afford to maintain current staffing levels. Whether that's true depends upon your definition of "afford."
At current levels of compensation, yes, Oakland cannot afford to maintain a police department with 776 employees. That's because total compensation for an OPD employee averages an astounding $162,000 per year. But at a more reasonable level of pay and benefits, Oakland could afford to maintain its force, or even grow it....
What's going on in Oakland is an example of a phenomenon being seen across the country: states and cities choosing between providing services to the public or maintaining luxury compensation for public employees. More often than not, public employee unions have been winning this fight, forcing service cutbacks.
Avik Roy makes a frequently overlooked point: Numerous studies suggest that Medicaid, the federal-state partner program that provides health coverage to low-income individuals, produces sub-par health outcomes. And that’s not only when compared with private insurance. In numerous studies looking at health outcomes for patients with specific maladies, Medicaid recipients fare worse or no better than those who have no insurance at all. And the cost for those outcomes is enormous; in 2008, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers, Medicaid accounted for more than a fifth of total state spending.
Care to take a guess where fully half of the health insurance expansion in ObamaCare comes from? That’s right: According to the CBO’s projections, 16 million individuals are expected to enter Medicaid by the end of the decade. In some cases, that means that individuals who were previously on private health insurance will end up being shifted to Medicaid. And more broadly, it means that, thanks to the new health care law, taxpayers will be dramatically expanding their commitment to a struggling, government-run health insurance system that in many cases provides demonstrably worse patient outcomes.
Reason.tv's Nick Gillespie joins an all-star libertarian panel with John Stossel and former Reason Editor in Chief Virginia Postrel on Judge Napolitano's Freedom Watch to discuss the libertarian influence on contemporary American politics, on July 17, 2010.
Approximately 6 minutes.
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Gene Healy with some details from the trial regarding the 2007 plot to blow up JFK Airport:
Last week, federal jurors in Brooklyn heard tapes from an undercover informant in what one prosecutor called one of "the most chilling plots imaginable," a 2007 Islamist plan to detonate underground fuel tanks at JFK International Airport.
On the tapes, defendant Russell Defreitas promised "high-tech," "ninja-style" tactics that included releasing rats in the main terminal to distract security. "We got to come up with supernatural things," he told the informant.
Despite his bluster, Defreitas seemed unaware of the technical difficulties involved in igniting hardened underground pipelines, and he never secured explosives.
The JFK plotters' trial follows May's attempted Times Square bombing, in which Faisal Shahzad -- trained in explosives at an al Qaeda camp in Pakistan -- failed to set off a bomb made of gas cans, propane tanks, fireworks and nonflammable fertilizer.
You ever get the feeling that some of these guys aren't the sharpest scimitars in the shed?
One imagines Count Floyd intoning about "the most chilling plots imaginable." Healy is following up on observations from Daniel Byman and Christine Fair in The Atlantic, which Jesse Walker blogged about last month.
Looks like Delaware Dave Weigel won't be the only member of the recently shuttered JournoList to be made professionally uncomfortable by the selective publication of inflammatory statements made to the ostensibly private listserv of several hundred D.C.-centered liberal journalists and commentators. Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller has unearthed some of JournoList's chatter during the high points of the controversy over Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Excerpt:
Employees of news organizations including Time, Politico, the Huffington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Guardian, Salon and the New Republic participated in outpourings of anger over how Obama had been treated in the media, and in some cases plotted to fix the damage.
In one instance, Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent urged his colleagues to deflect attention from Obama's relationship with Wright by changing the subject. Pick one of Obama's conservative critics, Ackerman wrote, "Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists."
Michael Tomasky, a writer for the Guardian, also tried to rally his fellow members of Journolist: "Listen folks–in my opinion, we all have to do what we can to kill ABC and this idiocy in whatever venues we have. This isn't about defending Obama. This is about how the [mainstream media] kills any chance of discourse that actually serves the people." [...]
Thomas Schaller, a columnist for the Baltimore Sun as well as a political science professor, upped the ante from there. In a post with the subject header, "why don't we use the power of this list to do something about the debate?" Schaller proposed coordinating a "smart statement expressing disgust" at the questions Gibson and Stephanopoulos had posed to Obama.
"It would create quite a stir, I bet, and be a warning against future behavior of the sort," Schaller wrote.
Tomasky approved. "YES. A thousand times yes," he exclaimed.
The members began collaborating on their open letter. Jonathan Stein of Mother Jones rejected an early draft, saying, "I'd say too short. In my opinion, it doesn't go far enough in highlighting the inanity of some of [Gibson's] and [Stephanopoulos's] questions. And it doesn't point out their factual inaccuracies....Our friends at Media Matters probably have tons of experience with this sort of thing, if we want their input."
Jared Bernstein, who would go on to be Vice President Joe Biden's top economist when Obama took office, helped, too.
As this whole episode describes a world utterly alien to me–listservs, major-party affiliation, political team identity, desire to help out politicians–I am experiencing this mostly as a consumer of entertainment news (with the caveat that I have met several of the people involved). There is a certain poetry, however, to seeing Joe Conason's name associated with it all.
From the NY Times:
While many communities are fearfully contemplating extensive cuts, Maywood, [California] says it is the first city in the nation in the current downturn to take an ax to everyone.
The school crossing guards were let go. Parking enforcement was contracted out, City Hall workers dismissed, street maintenance workers made redundant. The public safety duties of the Police Department were handed over to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
At first, people in this poor, long-troubled and heavily Hispanic city southeast of Los Angeles braced for anarchy.
Senior citizens were afraid they would be assaulted as they walked down the street. Parents worried the parks would be shut and their children would have nowhere to safely play. Landlords said their tenants had begun suggesting that without city-run services they would no longer feel obliged to pay rent.
The apocalypse never arrived. In fact, it seems this city was so bad at being a city that outsourcing — so far, at least — is being viewed as an act of municipal genius.
“We don’t want to be the model for other cities to lay off their employees,” said Magdalena Prado, a spokeswoman for the city who works on contract. “But our residents have been somewhat pleased.”
HT: Blame it on Vanneman!
A few years back, Sandy Springs, Georgia did something similar. Read about it here.
As one of the editors of Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow runs one of the best-known blogs on the planet. As the author of best-selling young-adult novels such as Little Brother and the new For The Win, he has his pulse on what it is like to be growing up in the 21st century. As a writer who simultaneously publishes his work online for free and via a traditional bookseller (Tor), he is at the bleeding edge of creating what he calls 21st century art: "contemporary art that is made to be copied."
In July Reason.tv's Nick Gillespie talked with Doctorow about raising free-range children, the future of copyright, and what makes Boing Boing tick.
Approximately 5.26 minutes. Shot by Gillespie and edited by Josh Swain.
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Kenneth Vogel on the Mark Williams affair:
When a group called the National Tea Party Federation took it upon itself to read California radio host Mark Williams and the Tea Party Express out of the insurgent movement because of Williams's mocking and racially tinged attack on the NAACP, the media seized on the episode as evidence of the tea party movement's struggle to purge racism from its ranks.
But for tea party organizers, who for months have grappled with what they contend are false allegations of racism, the incident highlighted a problem they believe is a more serious threat to the tea party's longevity and effectiveness: the petty political disputes among rival leaders and groups competing, sometimes clumsily, to be the voice of a decentralized movement.
To be sure, most tea party activists and leaders agreed with the need to condemn Williams's attack, but the spectacle of the media breathlessly covering a self-appointed tea party spokesman being cast out of the movement by a self-appointed tea party police agency left many activists and leaders concerned that the movement is losing its grass-roots grounding.
"If we're not successful, it'll probably be due to groups like (National Tea Party Federation and Tea Party Express)," predicted Everett Wilkinson, coordinator of the South Florida chapter of the influential Tea Party Patriots umbrella group.
His group's local coordinators voted not to associate with either the Tea Party Express or the federation because, as Wikinson puts it, those groups "aren't holding meetings in local restaurants across the country to plan local rallies. They're the people who are drawing salaries and are sending out e-mails asking for money."
Whole thing here.
This week, Reason Senior Editor Radley Balko is participating in an online debate over the legalization of gambling, sponsored by the Economist. Balko's opponent is Les Bernal, executive director of Stop Predatory Gambling.
That's 12-year-old Jasmine Palmer, speaking her mind to agents from the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office, Los Angeles County Sheriff, Ventura County Sheriff, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture. She was objecting to the loss of her third computer in an early morning raid on her family's Ventura County farmhouse. They stand accused of selling raw milk goat cheese to members-only food clubs.
During the last 30 years, the per-student cost of K-12 education has more than doubled in real dollars, with no academic improvement to show for it. Meanwhile, everything the Internet touches gets better: listening to music on iTunes, shopping for shoes at Zappos, exchanging photos on Flickr. Kids live on the Internet, writes Senior Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward. So why aren’t they learning online too?View this article
Sure, the big spenders running Congress and the White House have had a little too much fun with the national credit card. But is their opposition likely to be any more frugal? Occasional politically convenient bouts of deficit-intolerance aside, it’s increasingly tough to hold out much hope for the GOP on the deficit-reduction front. Not when the GOP’s top man in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, backs up fellow Republican Senator Jon Kyl in saying that tax cuts don’t reduce revenue and never need to be offset with spending cuts. And not when two other GOP Senators answer questions about how they’ll cut the deficit a lot like Lost’s producers answered questions about the four-toed statue and the smoke monster: We promise we have a plan—you’ll just have to trust us.
Over the course of several minutes, both Sessions and Cornyn were unable or unwilling to discuss what Republicans would specifically do on the deficit, etc., if they take back control of Congress. Sessions said that the GOP would: 1) ensure that the government live within its means, and 2) read the actual legislation. But when NBC’s David Gregory demanded specifics and details of painful choices Republicans were willing to make, Sessions didn’t offer a single one.
Instead, when Sen. Cornyn got asked what he would cut, he gave the exact same lame excuse that Obama has been offering: We have to wait until December, when the president’s fiscal commission gives its report. So the politics of meaningful cuts are so tough that GOP Senators who’ve been sounding the alarm about deficits refuse to actually spit out some possibilities? Somehow we’re supposed to smile big and trust that, after the election, Senate Republicans will finally decide that the time is right to make cuts they're now so afraid of that they refuse to even mention them?
Alternately, are Republicans in the Senate simply so bereft of ideas that they have to rely on a Democratic president’s broken commission? That’s not very inspiring either, especially when there actually are substantive Republican ideas for solving the long-term debt, deficit, and entitlement problem.
Gridlock may offer the best possible solution—the surpluses of the Clinton years came as Washington started arguing more and spending less—but if this sort of pandering and evasion is what the GOP has to offer, it’s probably worth asking: How long can you gripe about deficits without being willing to even talk about possible specific ways to reduce them? A number of Senate Republicans seem determined to help us find out.
From the Wall Street Journal, the rich advantages to civil society of high unemployment: picketing and demonstrating on the cheap.
the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters is seeking paid demonstrators to march and chant in its current picket line outside the McPherson Building, an office complex here where the council says work is being done with nonunion labor.
"For a lot of our members, it's really difficult to have them come out, either because of parking or something else," explains Vincente Garcia, a union representative who is supervising the picketing.
So instead, the union hires unemployed people at the minimum wage—$8.25 an hour—to walk picket lines. [One hired picketer] says he's grateful for the work, even though he's not sure why he's doing it. "I could care less," he says. "I am being paid to march around and sound off."
Protest organizers and advocacy groups are reaping an unexpected benefit from continued high joblessness. With the national unemployment rate currently at 9.5%, an "endless supply" of the out-of-work, as well as retirees seeking extra income, are lining up to be paid demonstrators, says George Eisner, the union's director of organization. Extra feet help the union staff about 150 picket lines in the District of Columbia and Baltimore each day.
Online postings recruit paid activists for everything from stopping offshore drilling to defending the Constitution.....
The union's Mr. Garcia sees no conflict in a union that insists on union labor hiring nonunion people to protest the hiring of nonunion labor.
He says the pickets are not only about "union issues" but also about fair wages and benefits for American workers. By hiring the unemployed, "we are also giving back to the community a bit," he says.
Not entirely certain from the reporting whether it's true that this is a unique situation in a time of high joblessness--I'd be surprised if it is--but even unions recognize that union workers are sometimes just too pricey for the job.
Approximately 5.35 minutes.
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We aren’t allowed to smoke in bars, to puff on those disgusting clove cigarettes, to call them "lights" or "mediums" or "mild," nor can we advertise them anywhere, lest kids want to emulate a tuxedo-wearing camel. No one really noticed when it all changed, except the endless flood of people who thanked the government because their "clothes no longer smell like smoke" when returning from a bar (Non-government solution: Wash your clothes before wearing them again). Now, it would be unfair to compare the fun-destroying Bloombergians with Hamas—I wouldn’t dare—but, seeing the success of smoking bans across the United States and Europe, the coup-mongers in Gaza City have cracked down on the smoking of shisha in public. From The New York Times:
A spokesman for the Hamas police, Ayman al-Batniji, said that the ban applied only to women and that it was in line with “the Palestinian people’s customs and traditions.” But many cafe owners said they had been ordered to ban water pipes for both men and women.
Smoking large water pipes called shisha, usually with bowls of flavored tobacco, is a longstanding pastime here.
Plainclothes members of the Hamas security services have been inspecting cafes along the Gaza City beachfront, including men-only establishments like Al Shera Café, where men go to drink coffee, tea and soft drinks while playing cards.
Want to have fun in Gaza City? Try to find the small, terrified union of Palestinian vintners, who make horrible wine away from the prying eyes of the morality police. If you are a Hamas volunteer, pulling guard duty, you can always eat ecstasy.
A pilot study of MDMA (a.k.a. Ecstasy) as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, reported online today in the Journal of Psychpharmacology, suggests the drug can be a useful adjunct to psychotherapy. The researchers, led by South Carolina psychiatrist Michael Mithoefer, randomly assigned "twenty patients with chronic posttraumatic stress disorder" to receive either MDMA or a placebo while participating in two eight-hour "experimental psychotherapy sessions." As measured by a "Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale," 83 percent of the subjects who received MDMA showed statistically significant improvement, compared to 25 percent of the controls. No negative reactions were observed. Mithoefer and his co-authors conclude that "MDMA-assisted psychotherapy can be administered to posttraumatic stress disorder patients without evidence of harm, and it may be useful in patients refractory to other treatments."
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, which supported the study, notes:
Before MDMA became used recreationally under the street name Ecstasy, hundreds of psychiatrists and psychotherapists around the world administered MDMA as a catalyst to psychotherapy. MDMA was criminalized in the US in 1985...Several decades later, this study is the first completed randomized, double-blinded clinical trial to evaluate MDMA as a therapeutic adjunct in any patient population.
The financial crisis appears to have awoken a host of Bolsheviks from their post-cold war slumber. Free markets and deregulation have been blamed for everything from the housing bubble to the Gulf oil spill.
This is, of course, nothing new. Check out the December 1975 issue of Reason, where Charles G. Koch wrote: "Anti-capitalist feelings in the United States are probably more virulent today than ever before." But there's mounting evidence that free markets aren't just more efficient than more controlled economies, they're fairer too.
In March, Reason's Ronald Bailey wrote about a study from the University of British Columbia, which shows a direct correlation between market institutions and how fairly people treat one another.
Now, a new study from Purdue University suggests that free markets may also produce fairer wages:
The conventional wisdom is that the free market for labor, which determines the pay packages, cares only about efficiency and not fairness. We present an alternative theory that shows that an ideal free market environment also promotes fairness, as an emergent property resulting from the self-organizing market dynamics. Even though an individual employee may care only about his or her salary and no one else's, the collective actions of all the employees, combined with the profit maximizing actions of all the companies, in a free market environment under budgetary constraints, lead towards a more fair allocation of wages, guided by Adam Smith's invisible hand of self-organization.
From the press release:
In the new work, the researcher has determined that fairness is integral to a normally functioning free market economy.…
His theory describes how goal-driven "rational agents," or people, will behave in a free market economic environment under ideal conditions.
"The bottom line is that the free market does care about fairness," he said. "Clearly, the next step is to conduct more comprehensive studies of salary distributions in various organizations and sectors in order to understand in greater detail the deviations in the real world from the ideal, fairness maximizing, free market for labor."
What's the cultural and political significance of the dying utterances of people condemned to death?
Reason.tv's Nick Gillespie sat down with Robert K. Elder, author of The Last Words of the Executed, to discuss the final words people executed by the state, ranging from Sarah Goode, a victim of the Salem Witch Trials, to Gary Gilmore, the Utah murderer who became a pop phenomenon in the 1970s, to Karla Faye Tucker, a killer who famously said she had an orgasm every time she swung a pick axe into flesh during a brutal double murder.
Approximately 8.30 minutes. Shot by Dan Hayes, Meredith Bragg and Josh Swain. Edited by Josh Swain.
In his final dispatch from the obscenity trial of adult filmmaker John Stagliano, Richard Abowitz reports on how the government’s case fell apart in court and why it’s time for the Justice Department to disband the pointless Obscenity Prosecution Task Force.View this article
“Science and religion are not in contradiction, they don’t need to be,” says Dr. Francisco J. Ayala. “They are like two windows through which we look at the world.”
Dr. Ayala is the recipient of the 2010 Templeton Prize; given to a person who has made an exceptional contribution to the study of spiritual realities. He donated the $1.5 million monetary portion of the prize to the University of California, Irvine, to create a scholarship fund.
Ayala has the unique experience of studying both science at Columbia University and theology at a seminary in Spain. Since leaving his graduate studies, he has become a leader in the world of genetics and evolution. He now teaches and conducts research in evolutionary biology at the University of California, Irvine.
Topics include keeping science and religion separate in schools, the morality in human cloning and whether humans have free will. Approximately 9 minutes.
Interviewed by Ted Balaker. Shot by Hawk Jensen and Zach Weissmuller. Edited by Paul Detrick.
Let’s hope you didn’t really like your health care plan anyway, because if the health care overhaul in Massachusetts is any indication—and given that it’s the model for ObamaCare, it probably is—getting too attached might be a bad idea, especially if you work at a small business:
The relentlessly rising cost of health insurance is prompting some small Massachusetts companies to drop coverage for their workers and encourage them to sign up for state-subsidized care instead, a trend that, some analysts say, could eventually weigh heavily on the state’s already-stressed budget. Since April 1, the date many insurance contracts are renewed for small businesses, the owners of about 90 small companies terminated their insurance plans with Braintree-based broker Jeff Rich and indicated in a follow-up survey that they were relying on publicly-funded insurance for their employee
It’s not entirely clear how strong this trend is right now, but it tracks with what many expect to occur widely as the PPACA swings into effect: Many businesses, especially those that employee fewer individuals, will choose to drop health coverage for their employees. Indeed, the CBO projected that about 3 million individuals would be shifted off their current employer-provided insurance, and many experts I've spoken to recently think that number is likely to be low. And the bulk of that shift is expected to come from small-business employees. That's because small businesses (defined as having fewer than 50 employees) don’t have to pay a penalty to drop their coverage. So if employees can get subsidized insurance through the state, there’s little financial incentive for small employers to keep giving health benefits. The article quotes the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Larry Levitt as saying that “struggling business [sic] don’t necessarily feel the need to offer coverage to attract workers.” Well, struggling or not, they certainly don’t when the state offers those workers a subsidized insurance option.
And as we’ve already seen, larger businesses may have incentives to drop coverage, too—even factoring in the penalties they'll have to pay for not providing insurance. AT&T, for example, calculated that it could save $1.8 billion by shifting its employees into a public program. Now, not every business will immediately kill health coverage under the law, but as time goes on, and the potential savings add up, it will be tougher and tougher for businesses, small and large, to keep offering coverage. Which means that those, contrary to Obama’s promise, under the PPACA, those who like their health care plans may not actually be able to keep them.
* Tea Party foofaraw that dominated the news this weekend centers on Sacramento's own Mark Williams. But wait! Is there really a central Tea Party government that can expel him? And is talk radio washout Williams a true tea party leader or just one of Randolph Bourne's ambitious and aggressive classes in search of a bigger role in the destiny of the world?
* Even the L.A. Times doesn't believe Controller John Chiang's punchcard excuse for not instituting minimum wage for state workers.
* Democrats find a tax they can't support: State Party stands as neuter on Prop 19, the legalize-and-tax-pot initiative.
* CalPERS board president Rob Feckner responds to criticisms, claims Reason and Stanford "conjured" the fund's half-trillion-dollar liability. This is in response to Adam B. Summers "How California's Public Pension System Broke and How to Fix It." [pdf]
Via Ed Morrissey at Hot Air comes news of a forthcoming report that finds the feds have screwed up their takeover of GM and Chrysler. Specifically, the inspector general of the TARP program faults the government for pushing to close so many dealerships so quickly (and notes that GM did not apparently follow its own guidelines for which dealers to shut down). Take it away, Cap'n Ed:
Barack Obama put Steve Rattner in charge of running his auto bailout program, a man who had just as much experience in the auto industry as Obama did: he drove a few cars. Rattner had to make a quick exit after just a few months when it became known that he was the target of a federal probe into questionable activities regarding the New York pension fund — and his replacement had just as much experience in the auto industry as Rattner did.
What was the main entry on Ron Bloom’s resume? He was a union negotiator.
Let’s keep this in mind when Democrats insist that government can run industries better than the markets themselves. Not only did the White House purposely evade bankruptcy laws in cutting sweet deals for unions during the bailout, but they also destroyed jobs in the process out of incompetency.
They both have layers? They both make you cry? They both stink? Nope. The Wrap reports that the financial regulation bill President Obama plans to sign this week "adds...box office futures to onions as the only items that can't be traded as commodities in the U.S." Why? Because the movie industry objected to the concept of betting on films' box office performance, which it argues is really a form of gambling (say it ain't so!):
[Motion Picture Association of America] President and Interim CEO Bob Pisano said future trading serves "no public interest and, to the contrary, can significantly harm the motion picture industry and impose new, substantial costs that do not exist today. These are proposals that ought to be under the jurisdiction of the federal gambling and gaming laws, not the federal commodity trading laws. It is unfortunate that the CFTC [Commodity Futures Trading Commission] has now given the go-ahead to a new gambling platform that could be plagued by financial irregularities and manipulation."
Because the CFTC said there was nothing wrong with movie futures training, the MPAA demanded swift congressional action. But over at When Falls the Coliseum, Ricky Sprague argues that the law does not go far enough:
The MFT ban is a good first step. But naturally I would like to see the government do more to help protect vital American jobs, by banning other practices that negatively impact the entertainment industry. For instance, those "weekend box office predictions" at such irresponsible websites as boxoffice.com, Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood Daily, The Wrap, and Box Office Guru create perceptions of failure even before a movie opens. If a film doesn't "track well," a confused public might be under the mistaken impression that a film isn’t worth their patronage.
When a movie, any movie, fails at the box office, we're all a little poorer for it.
Furthermore, the so-called film critics that openly criticize films can also create the illusion that a film isn't worth seeing. This dangerous practice is causing some films to make less money than they would otherwise.
Naturally, I would not want to violate anyone's First Amendment rights. But I do believe that the government can empower the industry by using certain tools to help put an end to speech that negatively impacts American jobs. For instance, there are some films, such as "Toy Story 3," and "Inception," that most film critics agree are of very high quality, and worth audience patronage. Yet there are some film critics, most notably Armond White, who seem to want nothing more than to be contrary, and to attempt to persuade people not to pay to see these films by writing unnecessarily negative reviews that fly in the face of popular sentiment.
A "Rotten Tomato Law" would provide for the removal of negative reviews of films that have an aggregate critic score higher than 80%. The same would apply to films with lower scores, as well. Critics would be encouraged to write more positive reviews, to help get a film’s rating into the "certified fresh" range. These films should be supported by everyone, as their success is vitally important to our economy. After all, if a lighting man is out of a job, he cannot purchase the breakfast oatmeal that is manufactured in those states where they grow corn.
Addendum: For those who wondered why onion futures can't be legally traded, it's for the same arbitrary reason movie futures can't be: The industry, worried that futures trading was cutting into its profits, lobbied for a statutory ban, which it got in the form of the 1958 Onion Futures Act.
Here's what you were reading last week at Hit & Run:
Willie Brown On "Out of Control" Civil Servants, by Tim Cavanaugh (7/13)
Happy World Population Day: Some Environmentalists Halfway Get It, by Ronald Bailey (7/12)
Big Runaway Toyota Surprise: Drivers, Not Electronics, at Fault, by Ronald Bailey (7/13)
Panthermania, by Jesse Walker (7/14)
Der Spiegel on a Stalinist "Rock Star," by Michael C. Moynihan (7/12)
From Chuck Plunkett of The Denver Post, re: Reason's Nick Gillespie appearance at the Independence Institute's fantastic annual Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms party outside Denver, Colorado. The bash's slogan is "Enjoy Your Freedoms While You Still Can":
This year’s ATF featured Nick Gillespie, editor of Reason.com and Reason.TV, an urbane sophisticate who, until Saturday, had never fired a gun, and who failed to hit a single flying clay disk in the few rounds he attended before sneaking away to crib out his presentation on a hotel memo pad....
Gillespie is a true intellectual, who can, before finishing his lunch, discuss how “The Great Gatsby” might be written today, switch to a riff on free-market reasons for supporting a value-added tax, reference economic studies that detail the “self-correcting” tax distribution in European countries that have applied a VAT, chart from memory the nation’s deficit spending patterns since the Great Depression, and all while handling a pretend-I’m-interested discussion with a political candidate whose conversation is limited to repeating the phrase, “It’ll be a real dog-fight, in every sense of the word.”...
While Gillespie began by mocking the more out-there recent excesses of the Nanny State (such as bans on “fish pedicures”), his goal was to argue that such debates were mostly trivial symptoms of a larger ill....
Gillespie said, one of the dangers of prosperity and comfortable living is that you can get soft-headed.
When you’re hungry and struggling, you tend to focus on the necessary.
When you live with plenty, you have to remember to focus on the necessary.
And so it is that our freedoms are being threatened by lawmakers and supporters with “collectivist” ambitions that could slow our progress and diminish our prospects, Gillespie warned....
So, Gillespie exhorted the crowd, raise your children to be responsible and mindful of the rewards available to them. Raise them to resist the impulse of over-reaching politicians who wish to limit our freedoms.
And enjoy your day.
Friday's dismissal of obscenity charges against John Stagliano is great news, since no one should be threatened with prison for distributing pornography produced by and for consenting adults. But the outcome should not be read as a victory for the First Amendment. As the account by Mark Kernes of Adult Video News makes clear, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon's decision to stop the trial after the prosecutors presented their case hinged on their incredibly sloppy work in linking Stagliano to the sale and interstate shipping of the two films at issue in the case. Leon ruled that the government had not presented enough evidence for the jurors to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Stagliano himself had anything to do with approving the content of the films or distributing them. It seems that if the prosecutors had been a little more careful in laying that foundation, the trial could have proceeded, in which cases the jurors still would have been asked to pass judgment on whether Milk Nymphos and Storm Squirters 2 appeal to "the prurient interest," are "patently offensive" according to "contemporary community standards," and lack any "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." As I argued last week, such utterly subjective judgments have no place in a court of law.
Go here for Reason's coverage of the Stagliano case.
From our August-September issue, Nick Gillespie talks interest-group politics, union control of the Democratic Party, immigration, and the Velvet Underground with contrarian author and blogger Mickey Kaus.View this article
These were the most popular columns at Reason.com last week:
Where Do Libertarians Belong? A reason Debate, by Brink Lindsey, Jonah Goldberg, & Matt Kibbe (7/12)
Mystery Train: How has California's high-speed rail project survived for 14 years without a plan, a budget, or a single accomplishment? by Tim Cavanaugh (7/13)
Who's Afraid of Federalism? Gay marriage and the 10th Amendment, by Jacob Sullum (7/14)
Star Witness Makes a Liar out of Stagliano's Prosecution: Bombshell testimony from an FBI agent is just the latest travesty in an error-riddled prosecution that should be thrown out of court, by Richard Abowitz (7/16)
The Trial of John Stagliano: This week's momentous obscenity case shows that Obama's Justice Department is no different than Bush's when it comes to pornographic speech, by Richard Abowitz (7/12)
If you only glanced at Jesse Walker's one-sentence description this morning of the Obama administration stating that the health care mandate is indeed a tax, and did not click through to the New York Times article, you are missing out on some seriously stinky White House propaganda. Here is the core five-paragraph lie; seems that the mandate is "absolutely not a tax increase"...unless you have to defend it in a court of law:
In a brief defending the law, the Justice Department says the requirement for people to carry insurance or pay the penalty is "a valid exercise" of Congress's power to impose taxes.
Congress can use its taxing power "even for purposes that would exceed its powers under other provisions" of the Constitution, the department said. For more than a century, it added, the Supreme Court has held that Congress can tax activities that it could not reach by using its power to regulate commerce.
While Congress was working on the health care legislation, Mr. Obama refused to accept the argument that a mandate to buy insurance, enforced by financial penalties, was equivalent to a tax.
"For us to say that you've got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase," the president said last September, in a spirited exchange with George Stephanopoulos on the ABC News program "This Week."
When Mr. Stephanopoulos said the penalty appeared to fit the dictionary definition of a tax, Mr. Obama replied, "I absolutely reject that notion."
This bit of brazen bullshittery has retroactive implications on the 2008 presidential campaign. Back then, according to the political science thumbsucker The Obama Victory: How Media, Money, and Message Shaped the 2008 Election, John McCain–surprisingly–had some momentum in mid-October that threatened to put him within striking distance. The proximate cause? Obama's "share the wealth" comment to Joe the Plumber, and the resulting suspicion that the Democrat was a "tax-and-spend liberal." How did Obama rebut what turned out to be a prescient charge? The book identifies three ways:
1) By "consistently stat[ing] that only those couples and businesses making more than $250,000 would see a tax increase."
2) By "hammer[ing] home the misleading assertion...that, if elected, the Republican presidential contender would raise most people's taxes by making employer-provided health benefits taxable for the first time."
3) By leveraging Obama's massive fundraising advantage to broadcast a series of reassuring messages to the nation that made him look presidential and reiterated his many soon-to-be-broken economic policy promises. The two- and 30-minute spots were called "Defining Moment," and if you have a strong stomach, you can watch the shorter version below:
The Obama campaign also was able to take advantage of what the book almost charitably describes as "McCain's uneven performance during the early days of the Wall Street meltdown."
So to sum up: McCain accurately dings Obama for being a tax-raiser. Obama responds by reiterating tax pledges he wouldn't keep, while specifically (and "misleadingly") attacking McCain for raising taxes with his health care plan. The ruse works–for most of the campaign, opinion polls showed that more people believed McCain was likely to raise taxes than Obama. Then, after the election, when Obama's successfully passed health care plan imposes a new tax, he denies this fact in literally absolutist terms, until his administration is challenged to defend it in court.
It's breathtaking. And not in the good way.
A final note about the book I'm taking this stuff from: The authors, Kate Kenski, Bruce W. Hardy and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, are altogether credulous when it comes to defending Obama against McCain's charges. For instance, they state that "McCain's messages magnified public belief in the false argument that the Democratic ticket would raise taxes on more than those specified in his plans." It is perhaps not surprising, then, that when Jamieson was invited by The New York Times to give the president some advice over the weekend, the title on her squib was "Explain Broken Promises."
Reason has been all over the mandate/tax propaganda; start here.
Politico has a poll out that compares responses from real Americans (non-DC "elites") and fake Americans (DC elites). The results include:
Only 27 percent [of 1,011 adults polled nationwide] believe the country is headed in the right direction, compared with 61 percent who think the nation is on the wrong track. Likewise, when asked whether the national economy is heading down the right or wrong track, just 24 percent chose the right track, compared with65 percent for the wrong track.
Yet among the 227 Washington elites polled, more think the country is on the right track, 49 percent, than the wrong track, 45 percent. On the economy, 44 percent of elites think the country is on the right track, compared with 46 percent who believe it is not.
To qualify as a DC elite, you had to live in the DC area, pull in $75,000 or more a year, have a college degree or more, and work in some sort of political or public policy career. There are areas of overlap (health care) but mostly divergent views on the people, policies, and topics in play.
Full poll results here (pdf).
In a related story at Politico, Jim Vandehei and Zachary Abramson suggest one reason for the divergence is that DC, now the country's wealthiest metro region, is a boomtown compared to the rest of the country.
In May, unemployment in metro Washington hit 6 percent — an uptick from April’s rate for the area but well below the national average of 9.5 percent and far milder than the May rates of the shattered manufacturing towns of the Midwest, including Flint, Mich. (at 14.7 percent), Elkhart, Ind. (at 13.7 percent) and Rockford, Ill. (at 13.9 percent).
As noted in today’s morning links, the White House is now saying that ObamaCare’s health insurance mandate is an exercise of Congress’ Tax Power. But what happened to the argument that Congress could require every American to purchase health insurance as part of its authority to regulate interstate commerce? After all, that’s what the Patient Protection and Affordable Act actually says, including the declaration that “the individual responsibility requirement...is commercial and economic in nature, and substantially affects interstate commerce.” As Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett points out, the abandonment of the Commerce Clause argument is a pretty stunning turnaround from the Obama administration:
If the Commerce Clause claim of power were a slam dunk, as previously alleged, would there be any need now to change or supplement that theory? Maybe the administration lawyers confronted the inconvenient fact that the Commerce Clause has never in history been used to mandate that all Americans enter into a commercial relationship with a private company on pain of a “penalty” enforced by the IRS. So there is no Supreme Court ruling that such a claim of power is constitutional. In short, this claim of power is both factually and judicially unprecedented.
So what about the Tax Power argument? Here’s Barnett again:
[C]alling this a tax does not change the nature of the “requirement” or mandate that is enforced by the “penalty.” ALL previous cases of taxes upheld (when they may have exceeded the commerce power) involved “taxes” on conduct or activity. None involved taxes on the refusal to engage in conduct. In short, none of these tax cases involved using the Tax Power to impose a mandate.
So, like the invocation of the Commerce Clause, this invocation of the Tax Power is factually and judicially unprecedented. It is yet another unprecedented claim of Congressional power. Only this one is even more sweeping and dangerous than the Commerce Clause theory.
Former Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), now a D.C. lobbyist, warned that a robust bloc of rabble-rousers spells further Senate dysfunction. "We don't need a lot of Jim DeMint disciples," Lott said in an interview. "As soon as they get here, we need to co-opt them."
[Hat tip: good ol' John.]
- Obama on the insurance mandate: It's a tax after all.
- A mysterious clampdown takes more than 70,000 blogs offline.
- The authorities step up their raids on private food clubs.
- A rebellion in Arizona overthrows the reign of the automated speed cameras.
- The FEC fines Vice President Joe Biden $219,000.
- The National Tea Party Federation expels Mark Williams for writing a racist blog post.
- BP update: uh oh.
The Transportation Security Administration deserves credit for its Secure Flight program, aimed at curbing mistakes on its no-fly list. The American Civil Liberties Union, likewise, warrants praise for suing on behalf of travelers who were wrongly snared. But as Steve Chapman writes, there is a better option that would eliminate this problem, as well as others: Get rid of the no-fly list entirely. For that matter, get rid of the requirement that passengers provide government-approved identification just to go from one place to another.View this article
"What, if anything, will the Fed do," Mike Larson asks at DailyMarkets.com, "if the economy craps out again?" The long answer is that there's not a lot the Fed can do with the next quantitative easing campaign that it hasn't already done with the first. The short answer is who cares:
But again, my answer is that whether the Fed goes hog wild printing money or not, it won’t matter much to the real economy. It’ll probably boost gold prices. It’ll likely hammer the dollar. And it could temporarily boost stocks, even in the face of lousy fundamentals.
But all the kings horses, all the kings men, and even a further ballooning of the Fed’s balance sheet - currently around $2.3 trillion vs. $900 billion before the credit crisis burst onto the scene - won’t matter to most Americans.
Private companies aren’t firing workers and hoarding cash because interest rates are too high. They’re doing so because there’s too much factory and labor capacity.
Consumers aren’t cutting back on spending because loans are too expensive. They’re doing so because they just went on the wildest debt-fueled spending binge in U.S. history, and they’re trying to repair their balance sheets.
Look, we’ve had twin bubbles in stocks and housing over the past decade and a half. They both popped. The fallout will be with us for a long, long time.
It's poignant that the Fed really has been doing everything right by Chairman Ben Bernanke's lights. In May, when talk of recovery was still bringing rubes into the tent, the Fed's balance sheet peaked at $2.333 trillion. Bernanke actually managed to reduce it slightly in the following weeks. But now he's gone off that diet.
As always, 'twas beautiful land what killed the beast. Foreclosures and sob stories are still piling up, and the real estate market is plunging so fast it's now clear the whole country is built on an Indian burial ground. In an effort to stop real estate from going where it wants to go, the Fed is rapidly buying up mortgage-backed securities. Soon the Fed will reach its current commitment to buy $1.25 trillion in debt from the former GSEs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Here's a metaphor I haven't seen used in the context of the Great Credit Unwind: Bernanke is now entering the second of two hot dog-eating competitions, but in this round buns and condiments are included. Much as I'd like to say this is going to be the hot dog-eating competition where somebody actually explodes, I think Bernanke will pull it off. The world hasn't lost its taste for American debt, and America hasn't lost its taste for running it up. Yes, yes, it can't go on forever, but for the Fed's purposes it only needs to go on until they can claim the Great Repression is over and have somebody believe them.
Via Instapundit, here's an excellent col by John Merline on AOL News who points out just where the mega-deficits come from at the federal level: Excessive spending.
As the chart nearby shows, since 1950, tax revenues have been remarkably stable. Despite endless machinations, reforms, tweaks to the tax code, new breaks, tax hikes and tax cuts, tax revenues as a share of the total economy (called gross domestic product, or GDP) have stuck steadily at right around 18 percent.
What has changed is spending....
Deficit hawks pretty much have only one option -- spending cuts. And that means digging into entitlements, particularly Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, which consume a huge and ever-growing share of the federal budget.
Merline's argument is as airtight as it is unpopular among folks who want to believe that we can spend until the cows come home and still eat steak every night. Or something like that.
John Stagliano was cleared of all charges today in a federal obscenity prosecution that could have put him behind bars for 32 years. After hearing the prosecution's case, the judge declared that there was not enough evidence to continue the trial, throwing out all charges.
Reason.tv caught up with Stagliano outside the courthouse just minutes after the decision.
For more on the Stagliano case, obscenity, and freedom of expression, go to here.
Union buzz: United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council endorses pot legalization Proposition 19.
Gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman's home in Atherton (God's country!) attracts a protest by 1,100 nurses.
L.A. Times runs puff piece on John Chiang, the state controller who has been fighting Gov. Schwarzenegger on all efforts to rein in public employee compensation...
...and reveals that Sen. Barbara Boxer has 11 times as much cash on hand as challenger Carly Fiorina.
Ed Mendel of CalPensions.com wonders if Schwarzenegger might roll back a massive 1999 increase in public pensions and finds a fun relic: a brochure promising that state payments to the pension fund (which have since increased by 2,400 percent) would not go up.
If you aren’t a regular reader of The Daily Mail, you’re likely unaware of the wonderfully named Raoul Moat, an English sociopath who, upon release from prison in early July, shot and wounded his ex-girlfriend, killed her partner, and blinded a police officer with a shotgun blast to the face. After a more efficacious team of armed British police surrounded Moat in the village of Rothbury, the former nightclub bouncer graciously shot himself in the head, despite the best efforts of his friend Paul Gascoigne, the alcoholic former soccer star, who brought the gunman “a can of lager, some chicken, a mobile phone and something to keep warm.”
Then something odd(er) happened. Despite never having been a member of a faddish lefty protest group (a la Mumia Abu-Jamal), a small movement memorializing Moat blossomed online. A Facebook page was created; flowers were piled in front of his house and at the site in Rothbury where he killed himself; the Birmingham-based hip-hop outfit TripleR released a repulsive track called “A Tribute to Raoul Moat” on YouTube.
It would have been advisable to ignore this small explosion of chav outrage, but Prime Minister David Cameron took the bait, calling on Facebook to remove the tribute to Moat and denouncing his sympathizers from the floor of the Commons. The Facebook page is the project of Siobhan O’Dowd, a semi-literate woman from Burnley, a town with the dubious distinction of electing the first BNP county council representative in Britain. O’Dowd, whose life has not been previously marked by success, managed to attract over 35,000 members. Between bottles of Buckfast Tonic Wine, declaring that Moat was a “legend,” and being denounced by the PM, O’Dowd spoke with TalkSport radio during which she defended, in the cadence of Vicky Pollard, the murderer because “'He kept from eyes of police for a week--that were funny.” (The full interview below.)
When pressured by members of Cameron’s government to remove the group, Facebook did the right thing, arguing that while some might find the group and many of the comments left on the page offensive, the website “is a place where people can express their views and discuss things in an open way as they can and do in many other places, and as such we sometimes find people discussing topics others may find distasteful, however that is not a reason in itself to stop a debate from happening.''
It is good to see a company like Facebook stand up for free and robust...errr...wait a minute. Perhaps the defenders of freedom at Facebook, the corporate Voltaires who bravely provide an online forum for opinions “others may find distasteful,” think we forgot about this:
LAHORE, Pakistan — Pakistan lifted a ban on Facebook on Monday after officials from the social networking site apologized for a page deemed offensive to Muslims and removed its contents, a top information technology official said.
The move came almost two weeks after Pakistan imposed the ban amid anger over a page that encouraged users to post images of Islam's Prophet Muhammad. Many Muslims regard depictions of the prophet, even favorable ones, as blasphemous.
"In response to our protest, Facebook has tendered their apology and informed us that all the sacrilegious material has been removed from the URL," said Najibullah Malik, secretary of Pakistan's information technology ministry, referring to the technical term for a Web page.
Facebook assured the Pakistani government that "nothing of this sort will happen in the future," Malik said.
Bonus audio of Siobhan O’Dowd on TalkSport. If any non-chav readers can transcribe the whole conversation, I’ll send you a copy of New Threats to Freedom, featuring myself, Katherine Mangu-Ward, Anne Applebaum, Christopher Hitchens, and many other clever folks, for free! Because I haven’t a clue what she is on about.
It's going to take a lot more than a trillion new dollars to bring the kind of inflation Ben Bernanke wants. The chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank thought he had the problem licked just a few months ago, but now, for the third straight month, the "core" consumer price index (excluding food and energy) has fallen. That 1/10th of a penny you're now saving on every dollar? Don't spend it all in one place.
"Why am I surrounded by idiots?" Bernanke demands, deep in his undersea money lab. With inflation hawks questioning his every move and disloyal Fed underlings urging an interest rate hike, Bernanke finds himself unable to do the one thing he's spent his career preparing to do: save the world by throwing money at it.
Like many supergeniuses, Bernanke is in trouble because his plan is too brilliant. It really is possible to create inflation if you have the will. Just print another trillion or two, stop paying banks to keep that money in their vaults, and the country will be flooded with dollars. The problem is that the Fed keeps trying to micromanage the inflation, explode the monetary base without anybody noticing. But at some point you have to commit to devaluation of your currency. The moment to strike is now: Personal savings rates have been increasing for the last three months [all pdfs] measured. There are still millions of jobs to save or create. It's time to send a clear message: We're going to keep printing money until you stop saving it.
As part of Reason’s continuing coverage of the federal obscenity trial of John Stagliano, we decided to find out what our nation's lawmakers think about the issue. All of them. Yesterday, we called every U.S. senator’s office to ask them whether the Department of Justice should pursue cases like this, even at the cost of national security (as one FBI agent testified).
We made contact with most of the senators' press secretaries—or at least their voice mail boxes. For a dozen or so, we followed up with emails. We told them our deadline. Most of them said they would get back to us. Every single one them broke that promise.
What's worse is that many of the people we talked to seemed skeptical, confused, or suspicious about why we would want to talk to their senators in the first place. “Is this man from Idaho,” asked a staffer from the office of Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). “Was his business based in Idaho?” The young lady seemed surprised at our contention that a federal legislator should have an opinion on, well, federal law. The closest we got to an answer was Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), whose press secretary at least engaged in some minimal back-and-forth emailing, which ended abruptly once she established that we were talking about pornography.
So there you have it: Not one senator will stand up for a pornographer’s right to produce movies featuring consenting adults spraying bodily fluids on each other. Ninety-nine of them have no excuse for their silence. The other is Robert Byrd. (Too soon?)
Read tons more from Reason on John Stagliano here.
Follow Richard Abowitz's Twitter feed for up-to-the-minute updates.
The Wall Street Journal reports on the latest legal twist in the backlash against Arizona's controversial new immigration crackdown:
A lawyer for a Phoenix police officer told a federal court Thursday his client could be sued for racial profiling if he enforces Arizona's new immigration law. It is the first hearing in a series of legal challenges filed over the controversial crackdown which has divided law enforcement in the state and across the country.
Officer David Salgado, a 19-year veteran of the Phoenix police department, could also lose his job if he fails to enforce the new law, his attorney said....
"If he enforces the law, he can be sued. If he doesn't enforce the law, he can be sued" by a private citizen, said Stephen Montoya, the attorney for Mr. Salgado. His client "is caught between a rock and a hard place," he said.
Reason's econ columnist is all over the joint today, starting with a piece in the Washington Examiner entitled "To deal with debt, we have to stop lying about it." Sample:
The following criteria should provide some guidance to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform in assessing the quality of the solutions it puts forward.
These criteria are simple: 1. Do the recommendations really cut spending rather than focus on cutting the deficit? 2. Do the recommendations allow for political carve-outs? 3. Do the recommendations fix the budget gimmicks?
These criteria address the three major issues that put us in our current state of fiscal irresponsibility. We have overspent; we have made excuses for our overspending; and we have lied about our overspending.
She also has a new piece up at The American, about what happens "When Debt Flies Off the Charts." Starts like this:
At a time when Paul Krugman and other Keynesians are arguing against austerity measures and in favor of more stimulus money, it is worth asking how bad the country's financial situation is. The answer, unfortunately, is: really bad.
De Rugy also took time out of her morning to throw cold water on a Barack Obama Recovery Summer ribbon-cutting over at National Review, and also sit for an interview about stimulus jobs on C-SPAN's Washington Journal, which you can watch below at the link.
Read de Rugy's Reason archive here.
For the country music fans in the Reason audience: Hank Cochran, 1935-2010.
Is Paul Revere still relevant in contemporary America?
Joel Miller, author of The Revolutionary Paul Revere, says he is. Miller sat down with Reason.tv Editor in Chief Nick Gillespie to discuss the man, his famous ride, and his relationship to the contemporary political landscape.
"There are an awful lot of corollaries to people today who are frusrated with government," says Miller. And that's nothing new: "You go back throughout English history you'll find uprising after uprising about taxes..."
Approximately 10 minutes. Shot by Meredith Bragg, Josh Swain and Dan Hayes. Edited by Swain.
Scroll down for downloadable iPod, HD, and audio versions of this and all our videos, and subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube channel to receive automatic notification when new material goes live.
As the federal obscenity trial of John Stagliano drives deep into the week (and the Constitution and the most basic freedoms of individuals to live peacefully), take a peek at what obscenity used to look and sound like. Here's some clips from the forthcoming movie about Allen Ginsberg's trial over Howl:
Reason.tv on Lady Chatterley, Milk Nymphos, & John Stagliano.
Reason.tv on Obscenity v. Freedom of Expression.
And when the seemingly incompetent prosecution team that is hounding Stagliano and wasting our money and shredding our Constitution is old and on their death beds and their grandchildren come to ask, What did you do during the War on Porn?, I hope that they will pause for a long time and then, like a movie Nazi dying in a Brazilian estate 50 years after V-E Day and an unjustly long and comfortable life, they will break down in tears and confess that they did horribly bad things.
New legal challenges to state and local laws restricting Second Amendment rights allowed by last month's decision in McDonald v. Chicago are rolling out.
From the same team of lawyer Alan Gura and institutional plaintiff Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) that fought and won McDonald comes Kachalsky v. Cacase. Details from the SAF press release:
The Second Amendment Foundation has filed a federal lawsuit against Westchester County, New York and its handgun permit licensing officers, seeking a permanent injunction against enforcement of a state law that allows carry licenses to be denied because applicants cannot show “good cause.”
SAF is joined in the lawsuit by Alan Kachalsky and Christina Nikolov, both Westchester County residents whose permit applications were denied. Kachalsky’s denial was because he could not “demonstrate a need for self protection distinguishable from that of the general public.” Nikolov’s was denied because she could not demonstrate that there was “any type of threat to her own safety anywhere.”...
Under New York Penal Code § 400.00, handgun carry permit applicants must “demonstrate good cause for the issuance of a permit,” the lawsuit alleges. This requirement violates the Second Amendment, according to the plaintiffs.
“American citizens like Alan Kachalsky and Christina Nikolov should not have to demonstrate good cause in order to exercise a constitutionally-protected civil right,” noted SAF Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb. “Our civil rights, including the right to keep and bear arms, should not be subject to the whims of a local government or its employees, just because they don’t think someone ‘needs’ a carry permit...."
And from a far more unexpected place, the American Civil Liberties Union in Florida is suing the Broward County sheriff's office pro bono to help a man get his guns back. Details from the Sun-Sentinel (Full disclosure: I was a paperboy for the Sun-Sentinel when I was 12 years old.):
That the ACLU, a long-time target of conservatives' scorn, is supporting gun ownership is "a breath of fresh air," said Marion P. Hammer, board member of the National Rifle Association....
Is this new alliance a sign of the apocalypse?
Not really, says Fort Lauderdale attorney Barry Butin, a cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Florida's Broward Chapter who is representing the gun owner, Pompano Beach retiree Robert Weinstein.
Two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have affirmed the right to maintain guns in the home.
"Under the Second Amendment, he has a right to have his guns in his house. He's not a convicted felon," Butin said. "It is unusual for the ACLU. But the ACLU supports all constitutional rights. We don't pick and choose."....
Weinstein, a retired bar and restaurant owner from Hartford, Conn., had his weapons seized in February after Dana, his wife of 61 years, died. He told the Broward Medical Examiner's Office that he wanted to "blow his head off," according to a sheriff deputy's report.
He said he was upset because three weeks after Mrs. Weinstein died, her ashes still hadn't shown up at the funeral home that was to bury them.
Weinstein's call to the medical examiner prompted a visit from a sheriff's deputy, who took the widower to a hospital for evaluation.
Weinstein said he agreed to surrender his Colt semi-automatic .25-caliber pistol and his Wesson .357 revolver, along with ammunition and holsters, for safekeeping after authorities insisted on it.
A hearing on his petition is scheduled before Circuit Judge Dale Ross on Monday.
Robert Weinstein insists authorities took his comment about killing himself out of context. And although Florida's Baker Act allows people with mental illnesses to be involuntarily admitted to a hospital, that did not happen to him.
Butin said he has a doctor's letter certifying that Weinstein is not a threat to himself. His client also has a clean Florida criminal record.
Weinstein, who said he learned to shoot in the military, said his guns were only kept for protection.
Of course, the ACLU does pick and choose where its attention and resources go and doesn't defend all constitutional rights with the same attention and vigor. Which makes it all the more interesting, and better, that now another ACLU affiliate now has its eyes on the Second Amendment. (The Texas ACLU also acted in defense of Second Amendment rights back in 2007, as Jacob Sullum blogged.) My Reason Online piece about the McDonald decision and its meaning.
In May a Missouri police raid that was captured on video went viral. As of this writing, the video had been viewed more than 1.2 million times on YouTube. It lit up message boards, blogs, and discussion groups around the Web, unleashing anger, resentment, and, regrettably, calls for violence against the officers involved. Reason Senior Editor Radley Balko has been writing about these raids, including some that claimed the lives of innocent people, for five years. And as he explains in our August-September issue, there’s never been a reaction like this one.View this article
In a stretch of barren desert alongside Interstate 8 near Gila Bend that has become a corridor for human and drug smuggling, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and about 100 men staged a crime-suppression operation Thursday.
Arpaio brought with him a belt-fed .50-caliber machine gun that can shoot accurately up to a mile as a display of the kind of force he would use if anyone hurts a deputy.
"I am trying to send a message to Mexico," he said. "We will not take anyone hurting our deputies. We will fight back."
No word if Arpaio also brought his armored personnel carrier, which has been known to careen out of control and smash into lowly citizen automobiles.
Arpaio isn't the only sheriff sporting a .50-caliber machine gun. As I wrote in 2008, Richland County, South Carolina Sheriff Leon Lott has one too, mounted to Lott's own APC. He calls it "The Peacemaker." I consulted an expert on the appropriateness of the weapon:
Charles Earl Barnett, a U.S. Marines veteran and retired police major who has served on several United Nations and NATO military and peacekeeping missions, says a .50-caliber machine gun is “completely inappropriate” for domestic police work. It “causes mass death and destruction,” Barnett says. “It’s indiscriminate. I can’t think of a possible scenario where it would be appropriate.”
I didn't specifically ask him at the time, but I'm guessing Barnett would not be inclined to make an exception for "shooting at Mexicans."
(Hat tip: Say Uncle)
Before the stimulus was passed, White House officials touted estimates that said that blasting cash into the economy would give the economy a boost and help create jobs. Now, lo and behold, a report from the administration’s Council of Economic Advisers says that, yes, in fact, the stimulus has worked largely as expected. How did the CEA come to this conclusion? By plugging numbers into an economic model very similar to the one they used to predict that the stimulus would create jobs. Thanks to the model’s reliance on multipliers—which predict that each dollar of government spending will produce more than a dollar of economic activity—the result is that money spent is assumed to have generated beneficial effects.
As economic prophesying goes, this is a rather clever trick; the initial prediction is basically guaranteed to on target, or pretty close. But as reliable information about the effect of the stimulus, it’s about as useful as a psychic hotline. As Harvard economics professor Greg Mankiw explains:
The CEA took a conventional Keynesian-style macroeconomic model and used those set of equations to estimate the effect the stimulus should have had. Essentially, the model offers an estimate of the policy's effect, conditional on the model being a correct description of the world. But notice that this exercise is not really a measurement based on what actually occurred. Rather, the exercise is premised on the belief that the model is true, so no matter how bad the economy got, the inference is that it would have been even worse without the stimulus. Why? Because that is what the model says. The validity of the model itself is never questioned.
As the CEA report notes on page nine, it’s actually rather similar to the Congressional Budget Office’s reporting on the stimulus, although CBO director has been up front enough about his organization’s methodology to caution that his office’s reports do not constitute an independent check on the initial predictions. In the end, the best we can say about the stimulus is that no one really knows if it’s working, or how well. So every time a government official touts the economic benefits of the stimulus, it’s worth remembering that a prediction that a program would work is not the same as proof that it does.
During the last decade, with encouragement (and financial assistance) from the federal government, the share of school districts that randomly test students for drugs has nearly tripled, from about 5 percent to 14 percent. According to the Supreme Court, such testing is constitutional as a condition for participating in sports and other extracurricular activities, and the logic of these rulings suggests it would also be constitutional if imposed on the entire student body. But is it effective? A new Education Department report (PDF) supplies an answer: not very.
That conclusion is based on a study in which 36 high schools were randomly assigned to a "treatment" group, which meant they began testing students during the 2007-08 school year, or to a "control" group, which meant they delayed drug testing until after the study was completed in the spring of 2008. For advocates of testing, the most impressive finding is that 16 percent of students subject to spot urine checks, when surveyed in 2008, reported using drugs in the previous month, compared to 22 percent of students participating in the same activities at schools that did not have drug testing. Some of this difference may be due to a reduced willingness of students whose urine is under surveillance to be candid about their drug use. In any case, the difference is only six percentage points, although it sounds more impressive if you call it, as supporters of testing surely will, a 27 percent decline in drug use. They also can cite this study as evidence that drug testing does not discourage participation in extracurricular activities.
But here are some other things this study did not find:
Are students who are subject to MRSDT [mandatory random student drug testing] less likely to report that they will use illicit substances in the future than comparable students in high schools without MRSDT?
No, 34 percent of students subject to MRSDT reported that they "definitely will" or "probably will" use substances in the next 12 months, compared with 33 percent of comparable students in schools without MRSDT.
Do students who are subject to MRSDT report different perceptions of the consequences of substance use than comparable students in high schools without MRSDT?
No, on two measures of students' perceptions of the positive and negative consequences of using substances, students subject to MRSDT did not report having different perceptions of the consequences of substance use relative to comparable students in high schools without MRSDT....
Does the MRSDT program have spillover effects on the substance use or other outcomes of students who are not covered by the MRSDT policies?
No, the MRSDT program had no spillover effects. For example, 36 percent of students not covered by the MRSDT policy in treatment schools and 36 percent of comparable students in control schools reported using a substance in the past 30 days.
Does the MRSDT program affect the number of disciplinary incidents reported by schools?
No, the MRSDT program had no impact on school-reported disciplinary incidents. For example, treatment schools reported an average of five instances per 1,000 students of distribution, possession, or use of illegal drugs compared with four such instances in control schools.
Here are the conclusions I draw from this evidence:
1. Teenagers, like adults, are willing to trade their urine for things they value.
2. The threat of losing that benefit deters them, to some extent, from using drugs.
3. That does not mean they have suddenly seen the light about the virtues of a drug-free life, as shown by the fact that they are no more likely to take a negative view of drugs and no less likely to plan on using drugs in the future.
4. Not surprisingly, the plainly goal-oriented abstinence of students participating in extracurricular activities has no modeling effect on other students, who don't see anything to gain from keeping drug metabolites out of their urine.
Most important, there is no evidence that the measured reduction in drug use among students subject to testing has prevented any real-world problems (such as "disciplinary incidents"). If all that testing accomplishes is that 6 percent of football players or glee club members start smoking pot less often, the payoff hardly seems worth the cost in terms of money, effort, and indignity. Worse, these programs train students to go along with the government's arbitrary requirements, sacrifice their privacy on the slightest pretext, and keep their reservations to themselves while secretly maintaining politically incorrect attitudes. These are not the habits of a free society.
[via the Drug War Chronicle]
The National Academy of Sciences is today releasing a new report, Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millenia, which finds that continued emissions of greenhouse gases will lock in higher global temperature increases. The press release offers these details from the report:
Although some important future effects of climate change are difficult to quantify, there is now increased confidence in how global warming of various levels would relate to several key impacts, says the report. It lists some of these impacts per degree Celsius (or per 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) of global warming, for example (these apply for 1 C to 4 C of warming):
* 5 percent to 10 percent less total rain in southwest North America, the Mediterranean, and southern Africa per degree Celsius of warming.
* 5 percent to 10 percent less streamflow in some river basins, including the Arkansas and Rio Grande, per degree Celsius of warming.
* 5 percent to 15 percent lower yields of some crops, including U.S. and African corn and Indian wheat, per degree Celsius of warming.
While total rain is expected to decrease in some areas, more of the rain that does occur is expected to occur in heavy falls in most land areas (3 percent to 10 percent more heavy rain per degree Celsius). In addition, warming of 1C to 2 C (1.8 F to 3.6 F) could be expected to lead to a twofold to fourfold increase per degree in the area burned by wildfire in parts of western North America, the report says. Warming of 3 C (5.4 F) would put many millions more people at risk of coastal flooding and lead to the loss of about 250,000 square km of wetlands and drylands. And warming of 4 C (7.2 F) would lead to far warmer summers; about nine out of 10 summers would be warmer than the warmest ever experienced during the last decades of the 20th century over nearly all land areas.
... Emissions reductions larger than about 80 percent, relative to whatever peak global emissions rate may be reached, would be required to approximately stabilize carbon dioxide concentrations for a century or so at any chosen target level.
Further, stabilizing atmospheric concentrations does not mean that temperatures will stabilize immediately. Warming that occurs in response to a given increase in the CO2 concentration is only about half the total warming that will ultimately occur. For example, if the CO2 concentration stabilizes at 550 ppmv, the Earth would warm about 1.6 C on the way to that level; but even after the CO2 level stabilizes, the warming would continue to grow in the following decades and centuries, reaching a best-estimate global "equilibrium" warming of about 3 C (5.4 F).
Just one observation, climatologists still hotly dispute (adverb, bad as it is, intended) whether or not the planet was 2 to 4 degrees warmer on average than it is today during the Holocene Climatic Optimum, some 6,000 to 9,000 years ago.
Go here for the whole report.
* Libertarian Party: Ridiculous Pornography Trial Violates Constitution
* Wendy McElroy: The Federal Screwing of John Stagliano
* Amanda Hess, Washington City Paper: Who Brought Milk Enemas to DC?
* Charlie Butts, OneNewsNow: [Former Bush Administration Porn Prosecutor Calls] Obscenity Case 'Critical'
* Mark Kernes, AVN: Stagliano Obscenity Trial Hits its Midpoint
* Jason Kuznicki, Washington Examiner: Buttman Is on Trial. What About the Rest of Us?
* Aurora Snow, AVN: Trial and Error in the Nation's Capital
Watch Nick Gillespie's 2009 interview with John Stagliano below:
In his latest dispatch from the obscenity trial of John Stagliano, Richard Abowitz reports that bombshell testimony from the prosecution’s star witness, FBI Special Agent Daniel Bradley, reveals that either Bradley, Judge Richard Leon, or federal prosecutor Pamela Satterfield has lied. As Abowitz explains, the case is falling apart; there is now not a single element of the government's evidence that has not been tainted in multiple ways.View this article
Worried about the next economic meltdown? Don’t get your hopes up. Congress’ new scheme to prevent the next economic crisis isn’t more of a plan to say that they’re against economic crises—and figure out how to stop it later:
“I would say that nothing in this bill would have prevented the previous crisis — the one we are working our way through right now,” said William Isaac, former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. "And it clearly won't prevent the next crisis."
The law sets broad guidelines for the existing patchwork of regulators—including the Federal Reserve, Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission — and establishes bodies to oversee consumer protection and monitor “systemic risk.”
Those regulators have been tasked with writing the specific rules of the road governing limits on risk-taking by financial firms and previously unregulated trading. Other provisions are supposed to make it easier to liquidate large institutions that pose a risk to broader financial system. A new consumer protection bureau is supposed to guard against lending abuses.
But it will take years before the impact of the law is known. That’s because most of the specific regulations have yet to be written.
“The devil is in the details: There are a lot of unanswered question that were thrown to regulators," said Jay Brown, a professor of corporate and securities law at the University of Denver. “The reason it was thrown to regulators is because there are no answers. So for example: What’s too big to fail? Nobody knows the answer to that.”
But the regulators will figure it out, right? After all, they were so effective in the last crisis. Er. I mean...
Under the new law, banks and other financial institutions will be overseen by a council of regulators. That group will be charged with identifying the kinds of “systemic” risks that spun out of control in the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Bros. in the financial panic of September 2008.
But there’s little to be gained by entrusting that task to the same regulators who failed to spot the causes of the panic the first time, said Isaac, the former FDIC head.
“If a bank went to the regulators and said, ‘We’ve got a good idea: we’re going to put our lending officers in charge of risk management,’ that bank would be put out of its misery immediately,” said Isaac. “That’s what the government just did. It put the regulators in charge of assessing their own performance. It’s a very bad system.”
How about the big banks? At least we’re not going to continue to favor them taxpayer-funded advantages, right?
The new law also sets up different rules for big banks—those with more than $10 billion in assets—and the rest of the industry. That means a handful of banks will continue to enjoy “too big to fail” status—complete with an implicit government guarantee that lowers their borrowing costs and gives then a competitive edge, according to Hurley.
“It enshrines for the foreseeable future that there are two parts of the financial system,” he said. “There are the six largest banks, which account for about 60 percent of the financial system, and then there is everybody else, from regional banks down to credit unions. The top six get a subsidy in the form of lower borrowing costs. And everybody else pays for it.”
For three more reasons why the new financial reform law won’t work, check out Reason.tv.
From our August-September issue, Managing Editor Jesse Walker reviews the new biography Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One. Part vaudeville showman and part ward leader, Walker writes, Rush Limbaugh straddles the line between politics and popular culture. He is the most notable example of a political species that emerged only recently: a person whose power derives not from his constituents but from his fans.View this article
Have I mentioned what a pleasure it is to read this week's 2nd Circuit broadcast indecency decision? Download the pdf and take a look. It's as good a summary as you'll find of why the Federal Communications Commission's attempts to regulate dirty words are caught in a double bind, either too vague to pass constitutional scrutiny or too narrow to stop the sorts of speech that the rules were designed to prevent. I know nothing else about the jurisprudence of Judge Rosemary S. Pooler, but if this is typical of her work, I'm a fan.
The indecency rules are rooted in the Supreme Court's Pacifica decision (1978), which upheld the FCC's right to sanction a station for airing a George Carlin routine at two in the afternoon. The routine in question is often known as "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television," and because those seven words stand at the center of this legal thicket there's a misconception that there's a simple list of verboten terms that you can't say on the air, a clear-cut collection of do's and don'ts that anyone can easily obey. There isn't. In the first decade following the Pacifica ruling, the FCC did stick to prohibiting the seven words in Carlin's monologue, but in 1987 the agency announced that this had led to "anomalous results that could not be justified." Translation: The rule allowed broadcasters to say offensive things as long as they avoided a few specific words, and the FCC didn't like to have its hands tied. So the commission adopted a looser standard, and while it initially remained relatively restrained in how it applied the revised rules, all caution went out the window with the great indecency crackdown of the '00s.
That's the context in which the 2nd Circuit Court declared the indecency regs "impermissably vague" earlier this week. To illustrate the arbitrariness of the regulations, Judge Pooler cited a puzzling series of decrees:
[W]hile the FCC concluded that "bullshit" in an "NYPD Blue" episode was patently offensive, it concluded that "dick" and "dickhead" were not. Other expletives such as "pissed off," "up yours," "kiss my ass," and "wiping his ass" were also not found to be patently offensive. The Commission argues that its three-factor "patently offensive" test gives broadcasters fair notice of what it will find indecent. However, in each of these cases, the Commission's reasoning consisted of repetition of one or more of the factors without any discussion of how it applied them. Thus, the word "bullshit" is indecent because it is "vulgar, graphic and explicit" while the [word] "dickhead" was not indecent because it was "not sufficiently vulgar, explicit, or graphic." This hardly gives broadcasters notice of how the Commission will apply the factors in the future.
The confusion was only compounded when the FCC declared that sometimes a fleeting "fuck" or "shit" is acceptable, as long as it's either "bona fide news" or "demonstrably essential to the nature of an artistic or educational work." And the confusion was really compounded when the same commission that created the "bona fide news" standard also insisted that "there is no outright news exemption from our indecency rules."
The FCC still argues that it needs a loose standard to prevent indecency from assaulting American ears, lest broadcasters find creative new ways to be offensive that avoid the proscribed words. Here is Judge Pooler's response, which by itself is almost enough for me to wish someone would put her on the Supreme Court: "The observation that people will always find a way to subvert censorship laws may expose a certain futility in the FCC's crusade against indecent speech, but it does not provide a justification for implementing a vague, indiscernible standard."
In the latest edition of Friday Funnies, Chip Bok looks at the government's new strategy for creating green jobs.View this article
- BP stops the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
- Goldman Sachs settles with the SEC.
- Democratic fundraiser Hassan Nemazee is sentenced to 144 months in prison.
- Lynne Stewart, the lawyer convicted in 2005 of aiding terrorists, sees her sentence extended from 28 months to 10 years.
- One health care model to avoid: North Korea.
As noted by Jesse Walker, former Reasonoid Dave Weigel, guest blogging over at Andrew Sullivan’s place, is certainly right that conservatives are overplaying this New Black Panther Party (NBPP) non-story, with hopes that foot soldiers in the Beck Army will cast ballots against the ghost of Huey Newton and Fred Hampton in the midterms. It’s a shopworn (and often effective) tactic. When I lived in Sweden, the deeply anti-American tabloid Aftonbladet would run front page, 30 point type stories on Fred Phelps’s “church,” failing to point out that Westboro Baptists’ congregants were almost all family members and could fit into the back of a Cooper Mini.
But my comrades on the left, those denouncing the absurd NBPP story as a “new Southern Strategy,” those expressing outrage that conservative blogs and media would exploit the lunatic fringe for electoral gain (what has D.C. become??), might have noticed an uptick in stories on supposed Tea Party racism. Surely the persistence of such stories couldn’t be motivated by politics? Indeed, this morning’s Express, the freebie published by the Washington Post and distributed throughout D.C., splashed the Tea Partiers-are-racist accusation on its front page. As those who have read my periodic columns on the movement know, I’m something of a skeptic of Tea Partyism; too many lazy conflations of socialism, communism, tsarism, and Nazism, for starters. But I have defended them against the charge of racism in the past—there are clearly racists present at some of these rallies, but no evidence that it is endemic or anything but an embarrassing minority—and the way MSNBC (Weigel’s current employer) treats the Tea Party racists is not unlikehow Meghan Kelley treats the NBPP. And as Jesse Walker observed, nor is it unlike how the media treated the so-called “Hutaree Militia.”
But let’s end on an unfunny note. Here is lunkheaded “spoken word artist” and DEA stooge Henry Rollins, writing at Vanity Fair, on the "racist" Tea Partiers and the NBPP:
You racists need to stop hiding. Come on out! Be who you are. At least have the guts to stand up for your convictions, like a man standing in front of a voting location yelling that he hates crackers. Who the hell knows what was bugging that guy? Why, I just love crackers—graham, saltine—I’m gonna get me a whole big bunch of crackers out of a box, or whatever, and I’m gonna squash ‘em on my face and let ‘em run off my chin!
Why Vanity Fair, home to some very fine writers, allows this level of retardation on its website is beyond me. But you can read the rest of this laugh riot here.
* State version of the first-time home buyer tax credit has already blown through its $100 million cap, and has delivered neither a market boost nor a full tax break for home buyers. And the California Franchise Tax Board has not yet processed a single application, though it plans to do so soon -- using computers.
* University of California network increases enrollment of non-resident, full-tuition students, bringing much-needed revenue to the fiscally troubled UC system. L.A. Times manages to make that sound like bad news.
* Of all the good reasons to sue Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, once and future Gov. Jerry Brown finds a bad one: the GSEs' refusal to participate in a bond-funded clean energy giveaway.
* Did I say "once and future?" Why the year of anti-incumbency probably won't be kind to Jerry Brown.