Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2011 January 1-31

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John Boehner, the Libertarian-Maker

Earlier today, Nick Gillespie noted new Speaker of the House John Boehner fecklessness when it comes to thinking about how to cut spending. Turning his comic acid on Boehner, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi frequently echoes how libertarians always think of partisan governance of whatever variety.

There's barely two reflexive liberal head-bows to the notion of "why doesn't Congress just do good for the little guy?," sops to his audience in what is mostly a righteous assault on government-as-it-is, and as how libertarians would note it pretty much always is and always will be. Some highlights:

Voters are fatigued...by the increasingly infuriating fact that no matter which party is in power, the leadership inevitably borrows like dice addicts on the Vegas strip and uses the money to pay for huge Frankensteinian initiatives that bloat the size and power of the federal government, often without semblance of sense or plan....

"Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, the Patriot Act — practically any significant piece of legislation that came out of the Bush presidency, it was a joke," says Chris Littleton, who heads a coalition of 58 Tea Party groups in Boehner's home state of Ohio.

The anger of Tea Partiers like Littleton erupted when they suddenly realized that their elected leaders in Congress had developed a primary allegiance not to constituents back home or even to ideology, but to themselves and their own dissolute, pay-for-play, you-scratch-mine, I'll-scratch-yours intramural bureaucratic calculus....

[Boehner] crossed the aisle to co-author the No Child Left Behind Act, a grotesque and grotesquely expensive expansion of federal power that helped jack up the federal education budget by an astounding 80 percent in the first five years of Bush's presidency, then voted for the obscene Medicare Part D, a staggering $550 billion handout to the pharmaceutical industry — two portentous initiatives that helped turn the Republicans into the new party of big government.....

The Troubled Asset Relief Program — the $700 billion bailout of the absurdly irresponsible megabanks that got us into the financial crisis — is a classic example of what Boehner is all about, expressing perfectly his tenuous position vis-à-vis the hard-line anti-spending Tea Party base that thrust him into power. Boehner, who over the course of his political career has collected nearly $4 million from the finance and insurance sectors, backed TARP from the start, summoning his full rhetorical arsenal to argue for the bill.

Taibbi gets interesting on the tensions between the GOP powers that be such as Boehner and the Tea Party activists that the GOP depends on moving forward:

Boehner's irrepressible hackosity is a serious problem for the Republican establishment, which desperately needs a more convincing con man to stave off voter anger on the right. In this regard, the contrast between Boehner and Littleton, the Tea Party leader in Boehner's home state, is interesting. The two men live in the same place, the small township of West Chester near Cincinnati, so Littleton is very familiar with Boehner. But Littleton's opinion of the Republican establishment couldn't be lower: It was precisely programs like the Medicare drug benefit bill and No Child Left Behind, programs he considers unacceptably wasteful and intrusive, that moved him to get into politics. "These were all Republican programs," Littleton says. "If you look at Republican congressmen from Ohio, they all voted for this stuff."....

...in some states the Republican Party fought...fiercely against the Tea Party; in Ohio, the party spent nearly $1 million campaigning to stop Tea Party candidates from assuming jobs at the state level. "They hate us more than they hate the left," says Littleton. "The left's just an enemy. We present a legitimate threat to them."...

When Littleton met with party leaders after the election and asked what programs they are willing to cut, he was brushed aside. "We're going to be discussing that in April," he was told.

"I thought to myself, 'You campaigned on an entire platform of cutting government spending, and you don't know what you're going to be cutting until April?'" Littleton pauses. "I don't trust these guys — whether it's Boehner or anybody else."....

America is so broke, there's no longer really any money in the Treasury to give away — the job of overseeing corporate handouts that used to belong to the leaders of Congress has now moved to the Federal Reserve, which itself is so broke that it has to invent dollars out of thin air before it can give them away to influential billionaires....The new speaker represents an increasingly endangered class of Beltway jobholders who know how to raise money and get elected, but not much beyond that. He now finds himself the party's last line of defense against millions of angry voters who, for the first time in recent memory, are at least attempting to watch what Congress is up to.

Why Would Gun Owners of America Support Gun Rights?

Fox News reports that the ACLU of South Dakota is challenging a state law that prevents legal U.S. residents from obtaining permits to carry handguns, arguing that it violates the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection. The plaintiff is Wayne Smith, who was born in the U.K. but has lived in the U.S. for 30 years. He had no trouble obtaining a carry permit until the South Dakota legislature added American citizenship to the requirements in 2002. Why the change? "We went back and listened to the testimony from 2002," says South Dakota Secretary of State Jason Gant, "and it was in response to 9/11 as well as wanting to make sure that only U.S. citizens were receiving these permits." The first reason does not make much sense to me (did carry permits play some crucial role in the hijackings that I've forgotten?), and the second reason is tautological. Evidently South Dakota legislators decided to make U.S. citizenship a requirement for carry permits so that only U.S. citizens could obtain carry permits.

Whatever their reasons, says ACLU of South Dakota Executive Director Robert Doody, the requirement is unconstitutional:

All persons are guaranteed equal protection under the Constitution regardless of what their status is. Everyone should be treated equally by the government. And in this case we know that there are United States Supreme Court decisions out there that say that alienage is one of the highest standards of strict scrutiny, so if a state or government makes a decision based on pure alienage then that would run afoul of the 14th Amendment.

The ACLU of Kentucky won a similar challenge in 2008, and "constitutional attorney Noel Francisco" tells Fox News that Smith has a strong case:

Legal resident aliens—that is, non-citizens who legally live in the United States—have constitutional rights. No one, for example, would say that a state could prohibit a legal resident alien from freely practicing his religion or engaging in free speech. Thus, if Mr. Smith does not have a criminal background or hasn't done anything else that disqualifies him from getting a permit, it's not clear to me how a state could prohibit him from getting a permit when it allows an otherwise similarly situated citizen to get one.

So who's against this defense of Smith's gun rights? Gun Owners of America, which brags of being "the only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington." (The wishy-washy National Rifle Association, by contrast, is cheering Smith on.) GOA Executive Director Larry Pratt worries that "they want to make it so illegal aliens have the same rights as everybody else...every little bit chipping away." And what's Smith's problem anyway? "If the guy wants to enjoy the full benefit of residing in the United States," says Pratt, "become a citizen. He's been here for 30 years. What's he waiting for?" Presumably the same goes for legal residents who want to practice their religions or speak freely.

Health Care and Taxes and Spending, Oh My!

Earlier today I noted that the Congressional Budget Office’s rough score of the House’s health care repeal bill projected that repealing the PPACA would increase the deficit. Given that the CBO had previously scored the health care overhaul as reducing the deficit, that’s not surprising. This afternoon, the CBO provided a bit more information on the proposal's total revenue and spending effects to go with its score:

We have been asked to provide the revenue and direct spending components of that total. Extrapolating the estimated budgetary effects of the original health care legislation and accounting for the effects of subsequent legislation, CBO anticipates that enacting H.R. 2 would probably yield, for the 2012-2021 period, a reduction in revenues in the neighborhood of $770 billion and a reduction in outlays in the vicinity of $540 billion, plus or minus the effects of forthcoming technical and economic changes to CBO’s and JCT’s projections. [bold added]

Republicans asked for these figures, and they are currently sending them around to the media. But in a way, this update isn’t terribly revealing. Tabling the law’s budget gimmickry for a moment, it’s straightforward addition and subtraction: If you get rid of a lot of spending but get rid of even more revenue—otherwise known as taxes—you’ll end up making the deficit larger. At the same time, it does effectively highlight the fiscal foundation on which the health care overhaul was built: A big spending increase, and a giant chunk of added tax revenue.

New at Reason: Katherine Mangu-Ward on the Dangers of Bipartisan School Reform

We are in for a season of grisly partisan bloodletting—or at least some pretty fierce jello wrestling—over health care, budgets, and pork, if the coverage of the opening days of the 112th Congress is any indication of things to come. But when it comes to education policy, politicians and pundits are inexplicably full of sunny optimism. Senior Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward brings some rain to the bipartisan parade.

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Stop Making Laws Named After People Who Die

Civil rights lawyer and Foundation for Individual Rights in Education co-founder Harvey Silverglate (Reason archive here) has a great piece up at Forbes about still another legislative attempt to restrict speech in the name of protecting students. Excerpt:

Few American institutions best the Congress in the destructive practice of turning a human tragedy into an assault on liberty. Exhibit A is the ongoing effort to ratchet up anti-bullying measures on campus—with potentially dire consequences for campus free speech. [...]

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) and Rep. Rush Holt (D., N.J.) have authored a bill—dubbed "The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act"—that aims to prevent future incidents of collegiate "bullying" by dramatically expanding the scope of existing anti-harassment regulations. First introduced in November during the last Congress' lame-duck session, Representative Holt stated this week that the bill will be reintroduced in the new Congress.

Even if well-intentioned, this proposed legislation is deeply flawed: Its restrictions are redundant, frustratingly vague, and dangerously broad. If enacted, the law would further erode college students' speech rights, a foundational tenet of liberal education.

The supreme irony is that, under state and federal laws, genuine bullying is already a violation. The extreme conduct that precipitated Clementi's suicide—broadcasting a fellow student's private sexual encounters—is a felony in New Jersey, as in many other states. Both students, one of whom was Clementi's roommate, now face state charges of felonious invasion of privacy. [...]

[T]his bill would replace a comparatively precise definition of harassment with a vague one, inviting punishment of speech protected by the First Amendment. Since most students would not risk their college careers, much less their freedom, on the altar of free expression, they will inevitably avoid hot button and taboo subjects during the very years when students' urge to explore the world of ideas is at its apex. [...]

FIRE has learned in its decade of experience that charges of "harassment" are already easily the most abused tool to punish speech on campus. This occurs even under the current, considerably narrower definitions than those contained in the proposed legislation.

Link via Silverglate's partner in freedom, Greg Lukianoff, who wrote for Reason in February 2010 about how "P.C. Never Died."

Latin America Needs Free Trade & Drug Legalization

In the 1990s, it seemed as if individual rights, deregulation, free trade, and sound currency were taking hold in Latin America, a region finally on the rise after decades of coups, repression, and violence.

But in the 21st century, left-wing strongmen have made a comeback: Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Bolivia's Evo Morales, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, Ecuador's Rafael Correa. Other countries in the region are headed in the wrong direction. Authoritarianism has been on the rise in Argentina ever since the economy collapsed (yet again) in 2002. Mexico’s violent drug war is escalating. In Cuba, the transfer of power from one Castro brother to the other hasn’t helped the economy or stopped human rights abuses.

What went wrong?

Reason.tv’s Nick Gillespie sat down with Mary Anastasia O’Grady, a member of the Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board and a Journal columnist specializing in Latin America, to talk about the outlook for the region - and how free trade and drug legalization would go a long way to solving Latin America’s problems.

Approximately 6 minutes.

Produced and shot by Jim Epstein and Adam Jensen. Edited by Epstein and Joshua Swain.

Go to Reason.tv for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube channel to receive automatic notification when new material goes live.

Does the First Amendment Protect Tour Guides? Philadelphia Says No.

Next week attorneys from the Institute for Justice will appear before the federal 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals to challenge a Philadelphia law requiring tour guides to pass a government test and receive a government license before offering tours of the city. Is this a case of occupational licensing abuse, or is the City of Brotherly Love just offering some legitimate protection from the scourge of lawless storytelling? The Institute for Justice makes its case in the video below:

That Didn't Take Long

This BBC article lays out Defense Secretary Robert Gates' plan to trim $78 billion from the Pentagon budget over the next five years. It's the biggest cut since 2001, and focuses mainly on eliminating outdated and unneeded weapons systems. But I direct your attention to the last paragraph:

The major weapons programmes cuts are likely to encounter opposition from US congressmen and senators in whose constituencies the arms are manufactured.

"I'm not happy," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon told reporters. He said the cuts were greater than defence companies had been expecting.

So assuming the BBC quoted McKeon correctly, immediately upon taking power, the allegedly anti-waste, anti-spending GOP handed the Armed Services Committee over to a congressman whose reaction upon hearing about a round of proposed defense cuts was . . . concern for the well-being of defense contractors.

New at Reason: Cathy Young on the Price of Dissent in Putin’s Russia

When the new trial of former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky began in March 2009, many Russian and Western commentators noted that the outcome would be a measure of how strong the Kremlin neo-autocracy is—and how much power is still wielded by its architect, President-turned-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Others put it more bluntly and pessimistically: as long as Putin was in power, Khodorkovsky would never leave prison alive. As Cathy Young reports, so far the pessimists are proving correct.

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If You Thought Passing ObamaCare Would Reduce the Deficit, You’ll Probably Believe that Repealing It Will Increase the Deficit

Democrats, faced with an effort by House Republicans to repeal the health care overhaul, have once again seized on the argument that the health care law will reduce the national deficit. And once again, they’re pointing to projections made by the Congressional Budget Office in order to make their case.

The CBO’s report is hardly surprising: Last year it said that if the law were executed exactly as planned, it would reduce the deficit. This year the congressional scorekeeper is saying that if the law were repealed, it would increase the deficit. The scores for last year’s bill also included a number of warnings and caveats, noting that the scores only estimate what will happen if the legislation remains unchanged and the proposed cuts and efficiency gains are implemented successfully. The rough score for the repeal bill includes a similar cautionary note:

As with all of CBO’s cost estimates, these estimates—both for the first 10 years and beyond—reflect an assumption that the provisions of current law would otherwise remain unchanged throughout the projection period and that the legislation being considered would be enacted and implemented in its current form. CBO’s responsibility to the Congress is to estimate the effects of proposals as written and not to forecast future legislation. However, current law now includes a number of policies that might be difficult to sustain over a long period of time. If those policies or other key aspects of the original legislation would have subsequently been modified or implemented incompletely, then the budgetary effects of repealing PPACA and the relevant provisions of the Reconciliation Act could be quite different—but CBO cannot forecast future changes in law or assume such changes in its estimates.

And remember, although the CBO does not technically forecast changes based on implementation failures or future legislation, it has nonetheless put up what amounts to a flashing neon sign indicating that it believes there is a significant chance that the law’s long-term savings won’t come through: In last summer’s alternative budget scenario—widely considered to be the more realistic scenario produced by the office and a better picture of the nation’s actual fiscal future—the CBO included the assumption that much of the law’s planned long-term savings would not pay off.

So despite the salience of deficit politics, this is not an argument that’s likely to give Democrats much traction: If you thought the CBO’s initial scores were the most likely guess about the law’s deficit effects, you’ll probably buy the argument that repealing the law will expand the deficit. But if instead you thought the CBO’s initial scores were the product of successful efforts by the bill’s Democratic backers to game the scoring process, you’ll probably remain skeptical of the Democrats’ argument that keeping the law in place is the deficit-reducing, fiscally responsible thing to do.

ObamaCare’s High Risk Pools: “Like giving a party to which no one comes.”

Lots of people expected that the high-risk pools created by the new health care law would turn out to be underfunded. Medicare’s chief actuary, Richard Foster, warned that the state-based health insurance plans, which were designed to provide coverage for individuals with preexisting conditions, would run out of money in 2012, and possibly sometime this year. And a number state governors warned that the program could become a fiscal liability.

Part of the thinking was that the pools might become deluged by a flood of individuals wanting to enroll. After all, these plans allowed individuals to sign up regardless of preexisting conditions, but at rates that weren’t substantially higher than a typical individual market plan. Foster estimated that about 375,000 individuals would sign up for the plans. Instead, so far, just 8,000 people have signed up for the plans, according to a December report in The Washington Post. A number of state plans have fewer than 100 members. Yet somehow that hasn’t entirely prevented fiscal problems:

Montana is one of a few states in which the medical bills from those who have joined are huge. New Hampshire's plan has only about 80 members, but they already have spent nearly double the $650,000 the state was allotted in federal money to help run the program, said J. Michael Degnan, its director.

The spending, Degnan speculated, might slow down if it turns out that the early bills reflected a burst of pent-up need for care. HHS agreed to give New Hampshire more money, he added.

Remember what The Boston Globe remarked about Massachusetts’s continually cash-short Medicaid program? “The money, it seems, is never enough."  If nothing else I think it's impressive that, despite the ultra-low enrollment, New Hampshire has managed to burn through a multiple of its alloted funding already. Dramatically under-used and way over-budget? That takes effort. 

But Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services is stepping up efforts to enroll more people: According to The Post, it’s “launching an aggressive marketing campaign” in a number of states with low enrollment. If beneficiaries don’t seek out the government, the government will seek to find them.

I confess to being fairly surprised about the low enrollment numbers, which are wildly divergent from what was projected, and in a direction that almost no one on either side of the political debate suspected. But NCPA President John Goodman thinks it’s a predictable outcome. He describes the program so far as “like giving a party to which no one comes”:

While a lot of people are surprised by these numbers, I am not. Here is why. Don’t you think it is a bit odd for the White House to send out an appeal to victims so they can identify themselves? That’s not normally how the political system works.

The more usual scenario is: victims unite and form interest groups; they lobby Congress, write letters, testify, etc; and eventually the pressure become so great that Congress legislates.

When have you ever heard of that entire process in reverse? When has Congress ever before decided it wants to do something and then conducted a nationwide search to find people who will benefit?

Thanks to David Brooks for the pointer.

New at Reason: Kurt Loder on Nicolas Cage's Season of the Witch

The movies of Nicolas Cage are a crapshoot, writes Kurt Loder. Fans of this fine but wayward actor never know what to expect when they enter the theatre. Will it be a winner like Leaving Las Vegas or dire junk like Ghost Rider? Cage’s determination to work a lot, plus his shaky taste in scripts and his heavy debt to the IRS, practically guarantee there’ll be more of the latter sort of picture than of the former. And as Loder explains, Cage’s latest, a medieval sorcery exercise called Season of the Witch, inclines more toward the flaming-motorcyclists school of cinema than that of heartbroken alcoholics.

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Good News: Another Green Doom Disproved -- Plastic Doesn't Outweigh Plankton in the Oceans

Do you carry your own bags to the grocery now? And do stores give you inferior paper bags in which to carry your shopping booty? The campaign against cheap sturdy plastic bags is spreading around the globe driven in part by stories about how they are clogging up the oceans. Exhibit one in the anti-plastic campaign is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Using its usual rhetorical restraint, this is how Greenpeace describes the plastic apocalypse:

The trash vortex is an area the size of Texas in the North Pacific in which an estimated six kilos of plastic for every kilo of natural plankton, along with other slow degrading garbage, swirls slowly around like a clock, choked with dead fish, marine mammals, and birds who get snared. Some plastics in the gyre will not break down in the lifetimes of the grandchildren of the people who threw them away.

I am happy to report that new research once again shows that environmentalist predictions of doom are a bit exaggerated. As ScienceDaily reports:

There is a lot of plastic trash floating in the Pacific Ocean, but claims that the "Great Garbage Patch" between California and Japan is twice the size of Texas are grossly exaggerated, according to an analysis by an Oregon State University scientist.

Further claims that the oceans are filled with more plastic than plankton, and that the patch has been growing tenfold each decade since the 1950s are equally misleading, pointed out Angelicque "Angel" White, an assistant professor of oceanography at Oregon State.

"There is no doubt that the amount of plastic in the world's oceans is troubling, but this kind of exaggeration undermines the credibility of scientists," White said. "We have data that allow us to make reasonable estimates; we don't need the hyperbole. Given the observed concentration of plastic in the North Pacific, it is simply inaccurate to state that plastic outweighs plankton, or that we have observed an exponential increase in plastic."

White has pored over published literature and participated in one of the few expeditions solely aimed at understanding the abundance of plastic debris and the associated impact of plastic on microbial communities. That expedition was part of research funded by the National Science Foundation through C-MORE, the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (http://cmore.soest.hawaii.edu/).

The studies have shown is that if you look at the actual area of the plastic itself, rather than the entire North Pacific subtropical gyre, the hypothetically "cohesive" plastic patch is actually less than 1 percent of the geographic size of Texas.

"The amount of plastic out there isn't trivial," White said. "But using the highest concentrations ever reported by scientists produces a patch that is a small fraction of the state of Texas, not twice the size."

Another way to look at it, White said, is to compare the amount of plastic found to the amount of water in which it was found. "If we were to filter the surface area of the ocean equivalent to a football field in waters having the highest concentration (of plastic) ever recorded," she said, "the amount of plastic recovered would not even extend to the 1-inch line."

Putting plastic in the ocean is not OK, but exaggerating it effects distorts how we set proper priorities in addressing real environmental problems. By far the biggest environmental problem for the oceans is overfishing which is the result of the lack of private property in fisheries.

Unfortunately, showing this new Green scare is mostly an overhyped legend will probably have no effect on policy. We will all continue to be forced to engage in ritual plastic hate  Whole ScienceDaily article here.

Licensed, Safe Mexican Truck Drivers to Invade U.S., Teamsters "Deeply Disappointed"

Since 2009, Mexican trucks hauling imports have been banned from U.S. roads, despite provisions in 1994's North American Free Trade Agreement which should have give both sides of the border access to each other's highways and byways. Mexico was understandably ticked at this development—widely viewed as a sop from Democrats to their union supporters—and expressed their sadness by imposing $2.4 billion in additional tariffs on U.S. goods imported to Mexico.

Finally, the Obama administration has made some headway, offering a new plan yesterday that would get Mexican drivers out on our streets, conditional on various safety inspections and permits. This move has won Obama approval from a unlikely corner: Democratic enemy and foreign-funded menace numero uno: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s past time that we kept our word and complied with the promise we made to allow carefully inspected trucks to move across the border,” Thomas J. Donohue, the president of the chamber, said in a statement.

Not everyone is happy, of course:

“I am deeply disappointed by this proposal,” the [Teamsters] union’s president, James P. Hoffa, said in a statement. “Why would the D.O.T. propose to threaten U.S. truck drivers’ and warehouse workers’ jobs when unemployment is so high? And why would we do it when drug cartel violence along the border is just getting worse?” Mr. Hoffa also raised safety concerns.

Talk of safety concerns is disingenuous. Nobody is talking about letting this dude loose in the streets of El Paso. This fight is about protectionism and domestic politics, not safer roads or drug violence. (In fact, the limited number of Mexican drivers who operated in the U.S. from 2007 to 2009—as part of a pilot program killed by the Obama administration—actually had better safety records than their American counterparts.) Forcing Mexican trucks to unload their cargo at the border and reload it into identical trucks that happen to driven by Americans is absurdly wasteful, and it's a practice that has gone on for far too long. Try not to get too weirded out by your bizarro world friends and enemies on this issue, Obama administration.

And never forget: Long haul truckers aren't the only Mexican large vehicle operators under attack. Tacos!

Memo to Speaker Boehner: If You Won a Congessional Majority Because You Pledged to Cut Spending and You Can't Think of a Single Program to Cut Now, Please Go Home

That Congress botched its first-ever public reading of the Constitution is worrisome, but less so than the fact they've spent the past 200 or so years radically misinterpreting it (especially over the past 80 or so years, as the Commerce Clause has become more stretched out than the waistband on former Speaker Dennis "Coach" Hastert's jockstrap.

But c'mon, John Boehner: The only reason you're wielding that comically oversized gavel as Speaker of the House at all is because of public revulsion at outta-control federal spending. And you can't think of one program to cut?

From an interview with NBC's Brian Williams:

WILLIAMS: Name a program right now that we could do without.

BOEHNER: I don’t think I have one off the top of my head.

Vid and more here.

That's not exactly an ambush, bub. It's right up there in the softball sweepstakes with Katie Couric asking Sarah Palin to name a newspaper she reads or two Supreme Court decisions she disagrees with.

The GOP got kicked to the curb in 2006 because they were up-to-the-neck-complicit with the profligate and stupid spending (and bellicose) ways of George W. Bush. If after four years in the supposed wilderness you get power and the first thing you do is walk back the suggestion that you're gonna cut $100 billion out of fiscal year 2011 (still without a budget!), and then your main guy bumbles the query above...well, you're not winning any fans among the growing ranks of independents (read: crypto-libertarians) who want a smaller government that does less and costs less.

If Boehner is looking for programs to trim to the bone and cut altogether, he should check out the special 3D issue of Reason mag, which features no fewer than 14 (fourteen!) "way to dismantle a monstrous government, one program at a time."

And if he wants a 10-year plan to balance the budget without raising taxes, he ought to check this out (a more-detailed version will appear in an upcoming ish of Reason).

At the top of this post is Reason.tv's stunningly and depressingly prescient video, "Countdown to Disappointment: Don't Expect the New Congress to Cut Spending."

Hat tip to Boehner bumble: Alan Colmes.

And as long as we're talking about Boehner (my very congressman in southwestern Ohio, alas), I might as well entreat Reason.com readers to help us make more politicians cry by supporting our attempts to defend and expand the world of "Free Minds and Free Markets." Click below or go here and make a tax-deductible contribution to our efforts.

Reason Morning Links: Hello to Bill Daley, Goodbye to Ellen Weiss, A Passing Wave at the Constitution

  • Barack Obama picks a new chief of staff.
  • A former CIA officer faces charges for leaking classified material to the press.
  • Packages ignite in two government buildings in Maryland, leaving two workers with slightly burnt fingers.
  • Congress collectively reads the Constitution, though most legislators don't stick around for the whole thing.
  • NPR's news editor resigns following a review of the Juan Williams affair.
  • Egyptian Muslims show solidarity with Coptic Christians by serving as shields at Christmas Eve masses.
  • Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to slow the growth of the military budget (but not actually reduce it) by cutting in some areas and increasing others.
  • The Richmond police accidentally release their homeland security and crowd control guides to local anarchists.

Reasoners on the Tube: Radley Balko, Nick Gillespie on Freedom Watch tonight, 8pm ET

Reason's Radley Balko and Nick Gillespie will appear on Fox Business's Freedom Watch with Judge Napolitano. Balko will be discussing out-of-control drug raids, and a reportedly (and thankfully) mustache-less Gillespie will be part of the show's Freedom Fighters panel discussion.

Go to the show's site for more info.

New at Reason: Friday Funnies

In the latest edition of Friday Funnies, Henry Payne previews the coming year in airport security.

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Reasoner on the TV: Nick Gillespie on Fox & Friends at 7.15am ET; Varney & Co. at 10.15am ET

Reason's Nick Gillespie will appear on Fox News' Fox & Friends at 7.15am ET today and then on Fox Business' Varney & Co. at 10.15am ET.

Check your local cable listings and the Fox websites for more info.

"No one said loving free markets was easy."

Over at Bloomberg and National Review, Reason columnist and Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy discusses how the very businessmen who benefit from capitalism often try to hamstring competition. A snippet:

The truth is there is nothing most business people like less than free markets.

Think about it. Competition is good for consumers because it keeps prices low while increasing the quality and choices of products and services. Yet competition is hard work for businesses. They have to fight for customers by innovating and evolving in ways that consumers demand.

To avoid the gritty work of fighting it out in a free market, organized private interests -- such as Louisiana’s licensed funeral directors -- lobby the government for special regulations, preferential tax treatment and laws that keep out competition. They lobby lawmakers to constrain the same free markets in which they originally achieved success.

She got that right, sadly. De Rugy runs through the literature and gives example after appalling example, from coffin cartels to sugar barons to "small" businesses that are able to marshal millions of dollars to lobby the government for protection from competition. She also links to a Reason.tv video about Los Angeles' crackdown on mobile food trucks, which have been instigated by bricks-and-mortar restaurants. Milton Friedman put it this way in Reason in 1974:

The case for free enterprise, for competition, is that it’s the only system that will keep the capitalists from having too much power. There’s the old saying, “If you want to catch a thief, set a thief to catch him.” The virtue of free enterprise capitalism is that it sets one businessman against another and it’s a most effective device for control.

A few years back economist Luigi Zingales and Raghuram Rajan wrote Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists, a book-length treatment of the subject that provides one of the best histories of the rise of capitalism and classical liberal political economy I've encountered. I highly recommend it.

UFC Fighter Earns a Visit from the Secret Service

Jacob Volkmann, a lightweight mixed martial arts fighter affiliated with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, isn’t very fond of President Obama’s health care reforms. The Teutonic tough guy, who in his non-brawling life is a Minneapolis chiropractor, told an interviewer last week that Obama’s “not too bright” and that "someone's gotta knock some sense into that idiot” (watch the video below). When asked if he was a Palin fan (because if you think the health care bill makes care less efficient, you must be a fan of the Alaskan reality show star), Volkmann said no, explaining that he thought the new health care regulations made his business more difficult. And that’s when the Secret Service paid him a visit:

“It happened on Tuesday, I was coaching youth practice, and then two guys came up and one of the other coaches that was helping me out, they said there was a cop and another guy out there waiting for me,” Volkmann told MMAWeekly.com. “I went out there and the guy introduced himself and said he was from the Secret Service and he wanted to ask me some questions about UFC 125 and my quote. He said there were people calling in to D.C. telling them that somebody, me, was threatening the President....”

“This guy had the whole interview on a piece of paper and it had my picture and everything,” said Volkmann. “He was like ‘is this what you said?’ and I said, ‘yes it is.’ He’s like ‘I want to let you know I’m a little embarrassed for coming here and doing this because obviously nothing happened.’ He actually apologized for coming, but he had to come. He wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to D.C to hurt the President.
“The thing is, I got home and I checked my e-mail and I had about 20 e-mails and one of them, one of ladies had actually contacted the FBI and the Secret Service, and she was telling me that she was going to do it....”

“People were misunderstanding the point of view I was going for with the health care plan. That’s why they were getting so upset. I’m thinking about the provider, I’m a chiropractor, so I’m thinking about my point of view, not everyone getting insurance. They don’t have to worry about getting denied, which is good I guess, just not good for health care providers,” he said.

A Drug-Sniffing Coin Would Be Cheaper

As Radley Balko noted this morning, a recent Chicago Tribune investigation found that drug-sniffing dogs used in traffic stops by Illinois police departments were wrong more often than they were right. In 56 percent of the cases where the dogs "alerted" to cars, police found no drugs or drug paraphernalia. The dogs' defenders say they may be detecting traces of drugs that used to be in the cars, but even they concede that is not the whole story. As detailed in the Tribune article, poor training of dogs and their handlers, coupled with cops' unconscious signals to the animals, seems to account for a large portion of these fruitless searches. "The dogs are only as good as the handlers," one expert tells the Tribune. A Republican state legislator (and former prosecutor) who wants to create certification standards for drug-detecting dogs calls them "probable cause with four legs."

That's because the Supreme Court has said a dog sniff, though it does not qualify as a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, can be used to justify a physical inspection that does. In the case of a traffic stop, that means detaining a motorist for a half-hour or more while cops pull apart his car, looking in the trunk and the glove compartment, checking under the rugs, digging into the seats, going through bags, and attempting to locate hidden compartments. This is a pretty inconvenient, time-consuming, privacy-invading, and humiliating ordeal to impose on someone if the only basis is a tip from an animal who is usually unreliable.

The Supreme Court's decisions in this area assume otherwise. "A dog sniff conducted during a concededly lawful traffic stop that reveals no information other than the location of a substance that no individual has any right to possess does not violate the Fourth Amendment," wrote Justice John Paul Stevens for the majority in Illinois v. Caballes, a 2005 decision upholding the use of drug-detecting dogs during routine traffic stops. That decision built on United States v. Place, a 1983 ruling that said "subjecting luggage to a 'sniff test' by a well-trained narcotics detection dog does not constitute a 'search' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment" because it "discloses only the presence or absence of narcotics, a contraband item."

These decisions assume that dogs are furry machines that virtually never malfunction, indicating the presence or absence of drugs with something like 100 percent accuracy. But as Justice David Souter, one of the two dissenters in Caballes, pointed out, "the infallible dog...is a creature of legal fiction." Souter cited examples from court cases of dogs with error rates of up to 38 percent. "Dogs in artificial testing situations return false positives anywhere from 12.5 to 60% of the time," he added. The Chicago Tribune study provides further evidence that Place and Caballes are based on a myth. The Supreme Court is allowing police to search people's luggage and vehicles based on a probable cause generator that may be wrong most of the time.

I discussed Caballes in a 2005 column. Julian Sanchez teased out some of its implications in a 2007 Reason cover story. More on the myth of the infallible police dog here and here.

More on the Botched Drug Raid in Massachusetts

Here's a statement from the Framingham, Massachusetts Police Chief Steven Carl on the botched drug raid I blogged about this morning:

At 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday, January 5, the Framingham Police SWAT Team served a search warrant at 26 Fountain St. in Framingham. During the service of the search warrant Mr. Eurie Stamps was tragically and fatally struck by a bullet which was discharged from a SWAT officer’s rifle. Despite immediate intervention by tactical medics, he died at the scene.

The officer involved has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the District Attorney’s Office’s independent investigation into the justifiability of the shooting.  Our condolences are with Mr. Stamp’s family for the heartbreak they are understandably enduring and we will await the findings of the investigation before taking any additional administrative action.

According to the Middlesex District Attorney's Office, the investigation will take three to four weeks and the identity of the Framingham officer who shot Stamps will not be released until the investigation is complete.

Interesting wording. Stamps wasn't killed by a cop. Rather, Stamps was "fatally struck by a bullet which was discharged from a SWAT officer’s rifle." I'm also fairly certain that if Mr. Stamps had been the one whose gun discharged a bullet that fatally wounded a SWAT officer, Mr. Stamps' name would have been released to the public rather quickly. And Carl's initial statement to the press would have been less ambiguous.

It now seems clear that Stamps wasn't the target of the raid, and that he wasn't armed. These raids are dangerous, they're volatile, and they have a very thin margin for error. I report on a lot of wrong door raids here. But this one shows why they're an inappropriate use of force to serve warrants for nonviolent crimes even when the police have the right house, and they actually find their suspect with illicit drugs. SWAT tactics are appropriate when you're using their inherent violence to defuse an already violent situation. When they're used to serve drug warrants, you're creating violence where none existed before. The consequences are predictable. People die—cops, drug dealers, people mistaken for drug dealers, and bystanders.

Even if you support the drug war, it isn't any more difficult to get high in Framingham, Massachussets today than it was last week. So what purpose do the 150 or or so drug raids per day in this country serve, other than to inflict government-sanctioned violence on people suspected of consensual, ultimately political crimes?

If this case plays out like most of those before it, Eurie Stamps' death won't change a damn thing. His will be just another body on the growing pile of drug war collateral damage.

New at Reason: Michael C. Moynihan on Defending the Right to Offend

Last month, the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes Reason magazine, Reason.com, and Reason.tv, held an event celebrating free speech in New York. The idea behind the event was to draw attention to Reason's ongoing work in defense of free expression and to call for a new free speech movement that reaches beyond traditional categories of left and right.

In a piece written for the occasion, Michael C. Moynihan argues that opposition to censorship must be evenly applied, without special consid­eration to group feelings, without ideological exception—whether it's those demanding a religious exemption from criticism or the insistence that the religious be exempted from property rights protections, out of "respect" for the victims of terrorism.

View this article

If Only There Were Some Way to Discourage the Marketing of Dangerous Substitutes for Banned Drugs...

Writing in Nature, Purdue University pharmacologist David Nichols regrets the role that his research on psychoactive substances has played in the market for "legal highs" that simulate the effects of banned drugs.  In particular, he believes gray-market chemists used information from papers he published on 4-methylthioamphetamine (MTA) in the 1990s to synthesize the drug, which they sold in tablets nicknamed "flatliners" as a substitute for MDMA (Ecstasy):

Some people who took them died. Now, any knowledgeable person who had carefully read our papers might have realized the danger of ingesting MTA. It not only caused the release of serotonin from neurons, but also prevented the breakdown of this neurotransmitter, potentially leading to a dangerous serotonin syndrome that can sometimes prove fatal. My laboratory had shown that rats perceived the effects of MTA as being like those of ecstasy. It seemed that that was the sole motivation for its illicit production and distribution to humans. I was stunned by this revelation, and it left me with a hollow and depressed feeling for some time. By 2002, six deaths had been associated with the use of MTA. It did not help that I knew some of these fatalities were associated with the use of multiple drugs, or had involved very large doses of MTA. I had published information that ultimately led to human death....

Thankfully, most of the other molecules we have published on could not kill, at least not at reasonable dosages. But at very high doses, or mixed with other substances, they could become part of a lethal mix.

We never test the safety of the molecules we study, because that is not a concern for us. So it really disturbs me that 'laboratory-adept European entrepreneurs' and their ilk appear to have so little regard for human safety and human life that the scant information we publish is used by them to push ahead and market a product designed for human consumption.

While Nichols blames himself (a little) and the rogue chemists who profit from his work (a lot), he does not even mention the role that drug prohibition plays in creating this sort of hazard, and neither does the A.P. story prompted by his Nature commentary. Under a saner legal regime, companies would openly and transparently compete to provide the psychoactive effects people want at the lowest possible risk. Instead we have laws that criminalize production and possession of well-known substances that can be consumed in appropriate doses with minimal risk, encouraging "laboratory-adept entrepreneurs" to seek out unfamiliar (and therefore quasi-legal) substitutes that may turn out to be substantially more dangerous.

John W. Huffman, the chemist who synthesized three of the compounds that were recently banned by the DEA because of their use in ersatz marijuana, reacted with similar dismay to the way his inventions were adapted, warning that "they are dangerous, and anyone who uses them is stupid." Speaking of fake pot, four retailers in Minnesota are challenging the DEA's emergency ban, arguing that the agency did not present enough evidence to justify the decision and failed to consider its impact on small businesses like theirs, which derive a large share of their income from "incense" sold under names such as Spice and K2. Like the head shop owner who insists his wares are for use with tobacco or "legal  herbs," the retailers say it's not even clear these products have psychoactive effects. "They say people are buying it to use it as incense, which they use for comfort," says a pharmacologist hired by the businesses. "The belief that you can get high from it is fueled by the newspapers."

Speaking of prohibition-related dishonesty, A.P. quotes University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Arthur Caplan, who compares the dangers posed by the work of researchers like Nichols and Huffman to the hazards of publishing too much information about nuclear or biological weapons. He says Nichols' experience "should lead to more careful thinking about the unintended consequences of scientific advances." I'm no bioethicist, which may be why I perceive an important difference, in kind as well as degree, between helping people get high (even if they occasionally kill themselves in the process by taking huge doses or mixing drugs) and helping people blow up cities or spread deadly plagues.

Another example of prohibition's pernicious substitution effects: fake speed.

Reason.tv: Slashing Spending in Post-Soviet Slovakia - Q&A with Richard Durana

Since the end of communism in 1989, Slovakia has experienced rapid economic growth by privatizing industries and liberating its markets, allowing its citizens to enjoy the same standard of living as their Western European neighbors. However, government spending is still out of control.

Richard Durana, director of the Slovakia Institute for Economic and Social Studies and the project The Price of the State, sat down with Reason.tv to explain how his group is working to educate Slovaks that many services currently provided by the government could be delivered more efficiently by the private sector.

Approximately 5.03 minutes.

Interviewed by June Arunga. Camera by Jim Epstein and Josh Swain. Editing by Swain.

Go to Reason.tv for HD, iPod, and audio versions of this and all our videos, and subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube channel to receive automatic notification when new content is posted.

Teachers Union Head Wishes Everyone Could Just Get Along

Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, has a piece up at HuffPo complaining that bad school reformers are causing all of this telegenic conflict. Collaboration is vastly preferable, says Weingarten, even if it doesn't make for heart-wrenching documentary footage.

And collaboration has its place. But all of the instances of successful collaboration Weingarten cites are merely successes in creating collaborative projects.

Because the district and the union had built a relationship based on trust, they...took on the very difficult task of crafting a new form of school governance, and, together, have taken promising steps to turn around these schools.

Working with other Appalachian Ohio school districts, [the union ahe the district] have joined forces to create a comprehensive model to transform rural education and improve student outcomes.

She offers no direct evidence that student outcomes have actually improved—not even links to outside sources. There are two reasons for this: 1) Teachers unions around the country have systematically opposed data-driven analysis, so she can't cite improved test scores as a simple way to convey improved quality of education because that would imply that test scores could also be used in hiring and firing decisions, as well as teacher pay. 2) Despite repeated claims that the goal is to produce better outcomes for students, that goal is often subordinated to the task of making sure all of the relevant grown-ups are getting along nicely—without all of that conflict Weingarten deplores.

Those who are serious about improving schools recognize that conflict is a destructive force, especially in the lives of children. Indeed, in my many years as a teacher and union leader, I have never seen a district that produces great results for students in an adversarial, us-versus-them environment. And mass firings, school closures and attacks on teachers are not the formula for successful schools.

Conflict does not automatically yield destruction, and the kind of "adversarial, us-versus-them environment" that Weingarten laments is only possible when both sides decide to tangle. When it comes to education, both sides are quite often acting in good faith, trying to do what's best for kids. But there is legitimate disagreement about the best methods. Conflict isn't a sign of dysfunction in education reform. It's a sign that both see that there is a lot at stake, and are unwilling to go along to get along.

L.A. Times Sides with Antonin Scalia

Later this month, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will speak before members of the House of Representatives at the invitation of Tea Party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). According to many liberal critics, this move signifies nothing less than an unholy union between the legislative and judicial branches. “Justice Scalia should protect the integrity of the Court and cancel his appearance at this blatantly partisan, right-wing event,” declared Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron. Similarly, The Nation’s John Nichols asserted, “the justice has removed any doubt about his ideological preference within the Republican Party.”

Do they have a point? The Los Angeles Times thinks not. As the paper argues today in an unsigned editorial:

These objections strike us as far-fetched. We have no doubt that Scalia's conservative views were a factor in Bachmann's decision to invite him. But that doesn't mean that by accepting, Scalia is endorsing her agenda or promising by a nudge and a wink to vote her way. Even so, if some representatives worry about Scalia's lecture being interpreted as a "tea party" event, they can dispel that impression by showing up.

We disagree with many of Scalia's views, such as his archaic belief that women aren't protected against discrimination by the 14th Amendment. Still, he is a learned and provocative legal thinker. If Congress is going to conduct an adult education course on the Supreme Court, his views belong in the curriculum. But so do those of his liberal colleagues. If Bachmann won't extend an invitation to them, one of her colleagues should. Meanwhile, let Scalia speak.

Global Temperature Trend Upate: December 2010 - Warmest Year Or Not?

Every month University of Alabama in Huntsville climatologists John Christy and Roy Spencer report the latest global temperature trends from satellite data. Below are the newest data updated through December, 2010. Last year finishes in a statistical tie with 1998 as the warmest year in the past 32 years. As Spencer notes: 1998 (+0.424 deg. C) barely edged out 2010 (+0.411 deg. C), but the difference (0.013 deg. C) is nowhere near statistically significant.

Global climate trend since Nov. 16, 1978: +0.14 C per decade

December temperatures (preliminary)

Global composite temp.: +0.18 C (about 0.32 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for December.

Northern Hemisphere: +0.21 C (about 0.38 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for December.

Southern Hemisphere: +0.15 C (about 0.26 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for December.

Tropics: -0.22 C (about 0.40 degrees Fahrenheit) below 30-year average for December.

November temperatures (revised):

Global Composite: +0.27 C above 30-year average

Northern Hemisphere: +0.37 C above 30-year average

Southern Hemisphere: +0.17 C above 30-year average

Tropics: -0.12 C below 30-year average

(All temperature anomalies are based on a 30-year average (1981-2010) for the month reported.)

Notes on data released Jan. 6, 2011:

2010 finished in a photo finish with 1998 for the warmest year in the 32-year satellite temperature record, according to Dr. John Christy, professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. 2010 was only 0.013 C cooler than 1998, an amount that is not statistically significant.

Both 1998 and 2010 were years in which an El Nino Pacific Ocean warming event raised temperatures around the globe. In recent months a La Nina Pacific Ocean cooling event has been building; temperatures in the tropics were cooler than seasonal norms for both November and December.

Annual Global Average Anomaly

(Warmest to Coolest)*

 1. 1998  +0.424 C
#2. 2010  +0.411 C
 3. 2005  +0.251 C
 4. 2002  +0.220 C
 5. 2009  +0.187 C
 6. 2003  +0.185 C
 7. 2006  +0.175 C
 8. 2007  +0.168 C
 9. 2001  +0.112 C
10. 2004  +0.104 C
11. 1991  +0.025 C
12. 1987  +0.018 C
12. 1995  +0.018 C
14. 1988  +0.017 C
15. 1980  -0.003 C
16. 1990  -0.017 C
17. 1981  -0.040 C
18. 2008  -0.041 C
19. 1997  -0.044 C
20. 1999  -0.051 C
21. 1983  -0.056 C
21. 2000  -0.056 C
23. 1996  -0.071 C
24. 1994  -0.104 C
25. 1979  -0.165 C
26. 1989  -0.202 C
27. 1986  -0.239 C
28. 1993  -0.240 C
29. 1982  -0.245 C
30. 1992  -0.284 C
31. 1985  -0.304 C
32. 1984  -0.348 C

*Compared to 30-year seasonal norms

The globe continues to warm unevenly, with warming increasing as you go north: The Arctic Ocean has warmed an average of 1.66 C (about 2.99 degrees Fahrenheit) in the past 32 years. By comparison, the Antarctic continent has cooled about 0.29 C (more than half a degree Fahrenheit) during the same time.

The continental, contiguous U.S. has warmed by about 0.67 C (about 1.21 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1979.

Climate trends since November 1979
(Degrees C per decade)

Globe   Land   Ocean
+0.14  +0.18  +0.12

 NH     Land   Ocean
+0.21  +0.24  +0.17

 SH     Land   Ocean
+0.08  +0.07  +0.08

Trpcs   Land   Ocean
+0.08  +0.10  +0.07
(The tropics extend from 20N to 20S latitude)

NoExt   Land   Ocean
+0.27  +0.28  +0.25
(NoExt goes from 20N to 85N latitude)

SoExt   Land   Ocean
+0.07  +0.04  +0.08
(SoExt goes from 20S to 85S latitude)

NoPol   Land   Ocean
+0.47  +0.44  +0.52
(The North Polar region is from 60N to 85N latitude)

SoPol   Land   Ocean
-0.07  -0.09  -0.06
(The South Polar region is from 60S to 85S latitude)


Technical Note:

Beginning with this Global Temperature Report, the baseline period used to determine seasonal norms changes. It has been the 20-year (1979 to 1998) period at the beginning of the satellite record. Starting this month the report will use a new 30-year (1981 to 2010) reference average to match the climatological period normally used with climate data by the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization.

"This will not affect the long term trend, which is the most important of the numbers we produce, but will 'reshuffle' anomalies to reflect the new base period," said Christy.

As Christy's colleague Roy Spencer further explains:

This change from a 20 to a 30 year base period has 2 main impacts:

1) because the most recent decade averaged somewhat warmer than the previous two decades, the anomaly values will be about 0.1 deg. C lower than they used to be. This does NOT affect the long-term trend of the data…it only reflects a change in the zero-level, which is somewhat arbitrary.

2) the 30-year average annual cycle shape will be somewhat different, and more representative of “normal” of the satellite record than with 20 years; as a result, the month-to-month changes in the anomalies might be slightly less “erratic” in appearance. (Some enterprising person should check into that with the old versus new anomaly datasets).

Insane Cable News Posse

Bill O'Reilly waxes theological:

O'REILLY: I'll tell you why [religion's] not a scam, in my opinion: tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can't explain that.

SILVERMAN: Tide goes in, tide goes out?

O'REILLY: See, the water, the tide comes in and it goes out, Mr. Silverman. It always comes in, and always goes out. You can't explain that.

Glad we've settled that! Next on The O'Reilly Factor: "Fucking Magnets, How Do They Work?"

'There Is No Definition of a Mental Disorder'

Gary Greenberg's recent Wired article about the anxiously anticipated and repeatedly delayed fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DMS-5) begins with a revealing admission. "There is no definition of a mental disorder," Allen Frances tells him. "It's bullshit. I mean, you just can't define it....These concepts are virtually impossible to define precisely with bright lines at the boundaries." Frances should know. As the lead editor of the current DSM, Greenberg writes, he is literally "the guy who wrote the book on mental illness."

But the fact that there is no precise, workable, meaningful definition of mental disorders will not stop the APA from trying once again to catalog them. As Greenberg observes, too much is at stake to stop now, including psychiatry's legitimacy, drug companies' profits, and the ability of mental health professionals to get paid for their work by picking a code out of the APA's bible. Frances himself is not suggesting that the APA stop the "bullshit"—only that it proceed a little more carefully. He regrets that DSM-IV, the revision he oversaw, preciptated a 40-fold explosion in diagnoses of bipolar disorder in children, who ended up taking powerful psychotropic drugs with uncertain long-term effects "even if they had never had a manic episode and were too young to have shown the pattern of mood change associated with the disease." He worries that something similar might happen if DSM-5 includes a "pre-psychotic" disorder that psychiatrists will be keen to treat preventively with drugs. In a 2009 Psychiatric Times essay, Frances warned that an emphasis on early intervention would encourage the "wholesale imperial medicalization of normality," producing "a bonanza for the pharmaceutical industry" while imposing on patients the "high price [of] adverse effects, dollars, and stigma." Robert Spitzer, the lead editor of DSM-III, seems to have similar concerns about reckless definitions, complaining that the revision process has been excessively secretive.

For his part, Greenberg, a psychotherapist and the author of Manufacturing Depression: The Secret History of a Modern Disease, walks to the precipice of calling psychiatry a pseudoscience before turning back:

The authority of any doctor depends on their ability to name a patient's suffering. For patients to accept a diagnosis, they must believe that doctors know—in the same way that physicists know about gravity or biologists about mitosis—that their disease exists and that they have it. But this kind of certainty has eluded psychiatry, and every fight over nomenclature threatens to undermine the legitimacy of the profession by revealing its dirty secret: that for all their confident pronouncements, psychiatrists can't rigorously differentiate illness from everyday suffering. This is why, as one psychiatrist wrote after the APA voted homosexuality out of the DSM, "there is a terrible sense of shame among psychiatrists, always wanting to show that our diagnoses are as good as the scientific ones used in real medicine."

Since 1980, when the DSM-III was published, psychiatrists have tried to solve this problem by using what is called descriptive diagnosis: a checklist approach, whereby illnesses are defined wholly by the symptoms patients present. The main virtue of descriptive psychiatry is that it doesn't rely on unprovable notions about the nature and causes of mental illness, as the Freudian theories behind all those "neuroses" had done. Two doctors who observe a patient carefully and consult the DSM's criteria lists usually won't disagree on the diagnosis—something that was embarrassingly common before 1980. But descriptive psychiatry also has a major problem: Its diagnoses are nothing more than groupings of symptoms. If, during a two-week period, you have five of the nine symptoms of depression listed in the DSM, then you have "major depression," no matter your circumstances or your own perception of your troubles. "No one should be proud that we have a descriptive system," Frances tells me. "The fact that we do only reveals our limitations." Instead of curing the profession's own malady, descriptive psychiatry has just covered it up.

The descriptive approach says nothing about etiology, and Greenberg suggests it is not necessarily helpful in determining treatment. He describes a conversation with a former APA president who had recently diagnosed a patient with "obsessive compulsive disorder" after seeing her for a couple of months. He did so purely for insurance purposes (something Greenberg himself admits doing in Manufacturing Depression). The psychiatrist tells Greenberg that the label did not change the way he treated the patient, but "I got paid."

Yet Greenberg is not hopeful about the National Institute of Mental Health's efforts to identify the brain abnormalities underlying "mental disorders," thereby transforming psychiatry into "clinical neuroscience" (which is what Thomas Szasz, a much more radical critic of psychiatry, says the field would be if it were a legitimate branch of medicine). In the end, Greenberg concludes that the "provisional" judgments embodied in the DSM are the best that can be accomplished for the foreseeable future. He notes that more rigorous branches of medicine also have evolving disease definitions. For example, "diabetes is defined by a blood-glucose threshold, one that has changed over time."

True enough, but the indicator for diabetes can be measured objectively with a biological test. While the causes of diabetes, whether Type 1 or Type 2, are not completely understood, there are clear risk factors and plausible theories that can be investigated further. The disease has a predictable course, and it can be reliably treated. How many of the "mental disorders" listed in the DSM satisfy these criteria? The "imperial medicalization of normality" that worries Frances (and Greenberg) is possible precisely because DSM descriptions are unmoored from the sort of evidence on which standard medical diagnoses are based. And while psychiatrists and other mental health practitioners concede among themselves the "provisional" nature of the DSM, that is certainly not the impression they give to the people they label.

I considered some of these issues in a 2005 review of Szasz Under Fire: The Psychiatric Abolitionist Faces His Critics.

Medicaid: Can’t Get Enough of Your Love Money, Baby

Someone at The Boston Globe is catching on.

The paper opens its latest piece on the Bay State's Medicaid woes with the line: “The money, it seems, is never enough.” No kidding! It goes on to explain just how fiscally wrecked the state’s Medicaid program is:

Governor Deval Patrick approved a record $9.6 billion last July for the state’s health insurance program for the poor — sufficient, he assumed, to last a year. But the program’s costs quickly outpaced expectations, forcing the governor to approve an additional $329 million in October and then seek $258 million more, which lawmakers approved last week.

And even that may not last, with six months remaining in the budget year.

The ballooning cost of Medicaid is one of the biggest challenges facing Massachusetts and other states, which have seen demand for the program jump during the recession as increasing numbers of unemployed residents enroll in the subsidized insurance plan.
With Massachusetts confronting an estimated $1.5 billion shortfall in the coming budget year, Patrick has said he is committed to financing the program, known as MassHealth. But he has acknowledged that it cannot continue to grow at this rate.

This isn’t a new problem for the state, which has already killed a slew of benefits in hopes of keeping spending on the program down:

Massachusetts last summer slashed dental benefits for MassHealth recipients, forcing hundreds of thousands of poor, elderly, and disabled residents to visit community health centers, instead of their regular dentists, for fillings, root canals, dentures, and other routine procedures. Bigger cuts or restrictions loom.

Normally when Medicaid costs shoot up, states alter eligibility requirements to keep enrollment levels manageable. But part of the problem states like Massachusetts are having is that the PPACA’s rules prohibit altering Medicaid's eligibility requirements in ways that make it more difficult to get into the program. So states are reacting to the wild cost increases they’ve seen over the last few years but cutting benefits instead. It hasn’t solved the problem.

To make things worse there’s a bigger fiscal roadblock on the horizon: Over the summer, the expanded Medicaid funding that started in the stimulus is scheduled to run out, leading to a funding “cliff” that will only make current fiscal troubles worse. As it is, states relying on that money are already in a grace period: The extra stimulus money was initially supposed to run out last summer, but after a lengthy struggle, Congress relented and extended the padded funding levels by a year. With Republicans running the House, it’s not clear that states will win a similar battle this time around.

Yet despite the program’s ongoing cost programs (not to mention its dubious record on health outcomes), Democrats in Congress chose to use it as the vehicle for half of the PPACA’s health coverage expansion. Congress instructed the federal government to pay for the majority of that expansion, but by the end of the decade, some states will still be on the hook for billions in extra Medicaid costs.

The money, it seems, is never enough.

Reasoner on the TV: Nick Gillespie on Stossel Tonight at 9pm ET

In addition to spots on Parker Spitzer, Freedom Watch, and Red Eye, Reason's Nick Gillespie also has a cameo on tonight's episode of Stossel, which airs on Fox Business at 9pm ET and again at midnight ET.

Though Gillespie has never tasted Four Loko, Joose, or Moon Shot Ale, he defends your right to drink caffeinated alcoholic beverages as long as you don't wake him up drunk and speeding in the middle of the night to tell him that you really really really - no, really - appreciate him for doing so.

Read John Stossel's Reason col on the stupidity of banning such beverages here.

Watch Reason.tv's Why the Feds Banned Four Loko (and is your favorite beverage next?).

Bureaucracy in Space

NASA last month issued a set of loose conceptual rules for private companies that might take over from its own space shuttles in moving astronauts to the international space station. (At only 39 pages, it's very loose indeed for government regulatory work). Some of the points of the certification requirements:

The LOC probability distribution for the ascent phase of a 210 day ISS mission shall have a
mean value no greater than 1 in 1000
b.  The LOC probability distribution for the entry phase of a 210 day ISS mission shall have a
mean value no greater than 1 in 1000

"LOC" is the polite bureaucratese for "loss of crew," that is, killing the astronauts.

The CCTS [Commercial Crew Transportation System] shall provide the capability to isolate and/or recover from faults identified during system development that would result in a catastrophic event....

The CCTS shall provide the capability for autonomous operation of system  and subsystem functions, which, if lost, would result in a catastrophic  event.
Rationale: This capability means that the crewed system does not depend on communication with Earth  (e.g., mission control) to perform functions that are required to keep the crew alive.

The CCTS shall provide the capability for the crew to readily access equipment involved in the response to emergency situations and the capability to gain access to equipment needed for follow-up/recovery operations.
Rationale: Fire extinguishers are one example of the type of equipment needed for immediate response to a fire emergency.  "Ready access" means that the crew is able to access the equipment in the time required without the use of tools.  The ready access time will depend on the phase of flight and the time to effect of the hazard.  Ready access also accounts for suited crewmembers if the equipment could be needed during a mission phase or operation where the crew is suited.  A contamination clean-up kit is an example of equipment needed for follow up/recovery operations.

It's all refreshingly everyday, like the most convincing science fiction. The era of the space taxi is dawning. Katherine Mangu-Ward wrote last month on NASA's efforts to make room for private space flight companies.

Yet Another Reason to Legalize Prostitution

Former madam Kristin Davis reviews the new Lifetime movie about the "craigslist" killer, which oddly calls the convicted murderer an "alleged" criminal and fails to name his victim.

I believe that prostitution should be decriminalized, if not legalized, so that women who are victims are afforded legal protection and can call the police if they are victimized. Let’s not forget that Phillip Markoff was found to have the trophies of dozens of women he victimized. If one of them felt comfortable calling the police, then Julissa Brissman would still be alive and this man would have been caught.

Although we kid ourselves that we live in a progressive society, we are still quite closed-minded. Lifetime did not give Julissa a name because society doesn’t place any value on the lives of sex workers. Because they commit crimes, they are automatically deemed to be less valuable members of society.

Whole piece at The Daily Caller here.

Davis ran for governor of New York last time around on a platform of legalizing pot, prostitution, and poker (well, gambling more broadly). She talked to Reason.tv about her libertarian beliefs during the campaign. Check out the vid here.

New at Reason: John Stossel on the Government’s War on Caffeinated Alcoholic Drinks

Recently some college kids started drinking pre-mixed combos of alcohol and caffeine with names like Four Loko and Moonshot '69. Naturally, hysterical news reports followed. Then, as night follows day, the Food and Drug Administration ordered beverage companies to lose the caffeine or shut down. John Stossel explains why these prohibitionists should just leave us alone.

View this article

No Aquatic Mad Max in Australia

Writing in spiked, Tim Black contrasts the coverage of the Queensland floods with the actual conditions on the ground:

as the coverage of Queensland's misfortune has unfolded, the hype and fear-stoking has increased: the number of people in need of evacuation is supposedly in the thousands; myriad unscrupulous looting types are waiting in the watery wings; saltwater crocodiles have supposedly been sighted making their way into Rockhampton; and, as a headline in the UK's Daily Telegraph declared, residents are 'facing a plague of deadly snakes as waters rise'. Given the Old Testament tone of some of the coverage, it is little wonder Queensland treasurer Andrew Fraser told reporters that 'in many ways, it's a disaster of biblical proportions'....

The reality, however, has been a little different. People have not panicked. And many have not fled. It is telling that in Rockhampton, the largest town severely affected by the flooding, an evacuation centre was established for a possible 1,500 people. On 2 January, it housed just 50. In fact, according to Queensland premier Anna Bligh, so far around 4,000 people have been evacuated. This is certainly not an insignificant number - about the population of a biggish village - but it is certainly not the mass exodus reporters were forecasting.

The same goes for the anticipated epidemic of looting. Rather than people seizing an opportunity to nick stuff, as some commentators disparagingly assumed, the police revealed that thefts and break-ins are actually below average for the New Year period.

Queensland residents, despite the taxing conditions, have simply been far more reasoned and composed than many in the media and the authorities seemed to anticipate.

For more on human resilience in the face of disasters, go here, here, here, and here.

Grandpa Killed in Drug Raid

Still light on details at the moment, but it looks like we have another innocent man gunned down in a botched drug raid.

The 68-year-old grandfather of 12 who was killed yesterday by a Framingham police SWAT team in an early-morning drug raid was a retired MBTA worker described by shocked neighbors as the “nicest guy in the world.”

Eurie Stamps was not the target of the search warrant, according to the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, and his death at the hands of police is under investigation.

Authorities said Stamps lived at the house with a woman whose son and another man were arrested in the raid on drug charges...

Police wouldn’t say whether the shooting was justified. No weapons were recovered from the home, prosecutors said, and the suspects do not face weapons charges.

After Stamps was shot, police called an ambulance and gave him first aid, authorities said.

Joseph Bush fan, 20, the son of Stamps’ com panion, Norma Bushfan, was arrested outside the house as police initiated the raid. Bushfan allegedly was carrying eight baggies of crack and $400 in cash. Devon Talbert, 20, was arrested in a rear bedroom.

More to come, I'm sure.

Does the House Health Care Repeal Bill Present an Opportunity For Democrats to Defend ObamaCare?

Now that House Republicans are moving to pass a bill fully repealing last year’s health care overhaul, the debate has turned into a Bizarro-world negative image of last year’s biggest legislative fight. Before the PPACA’s passage, Republicans were arguing that the bill shouldn’t become law because it wouldn’t reduce the deficit and it would cut Medicare. They were also fairly effective in criticizing Democrats for focusing on an unwieldy and unpopular piece of legislation rather than on finding ways to encourage job creation.

These days, as the House moves towards a repeal vote on January 12, Democrats are using a strikingly similar set of talking points against Republicans. They’re warning that repealing the law would cut Medicare benefits and add to the deficit. And they’re complaining that Republicans are pushing a base-driven repeal effort when they should be focusing on—you guessed it—creating jobs.

Democrats have also kept one weapon from their pre-passage rhetorical arsenal: the argument that voters will finally begin to support the law if reminded of some of the specific, popular consumer benefits it contains. For example, take a look at this Politico report on Democratic Rep. Peter Welch, who earlier this week sent a letter to his fellow Democrats urging them to defend the law:

Welch sees it as a crucial opportunity for Dems to hammer home what consumers like about reform. “The health care debate is going from the general ‘Obamacare’ rhetoric to specific, real benefits for real people,” he told PULSE in an interview. “We’re going to fight like hell to preserve those benefits.”

In column earlier this week titled “Bring on the health-care fight,” Eugene Robinson said much the same thing: Repealing the unpopular law, he wrote, “sounds fine, until you actually look at the pieces. Already in effect are parts of the reform package that no self-interested politician is going to vote to take away.”

Liberal confidence about the law's prospects for popularity has often soared higher than warranted. Robinson's basic argument—that because certain elements of the bill poll well, Democrats ought to be able convert those warm feelings into popularity for the whole legislation—was made frequently before the law passed, but it wasn’t all that successful. As Philip Klein reminds us, “Democrats tried to make these arguments throughout the health care debate and the 2010 elections to no avail.” And a big part of that, I suspect, is that it was an attempt to paper over the law’s trade-offs. 

Think of it this way: After support dipped for Bush’s proposed Social Security overhaul, it probably would have been possible to poll specific elements—stabilizing Social Security's finances, offering more choice and control—and find majority support, especially with the right phrasing. Yet I suspect that most liberals opposed to Bush’s plan would have responded that regardless of how the public views specific parts of the proposal, it’s the entire package that matters, and, on the whole, the entire package doesn’t have enough support.

And that’s essentially what’s going on with the health care law: There may be specific provisions that people like, but when you look at the law as a whole, there’s more opposition than support—a fact that has been consistently true since sometime during the summer of 2009. Polling isn’t as thorough on the question repeal, but over the last few months, Rasmussen has put out several polls showing support at or near 60 percent. Democrats may see this bill as an opportunity to defend the law, but if their history with this rhetorical tactic is any guide, it won’t work very well, and for obvious reasons: The law, as a whole, just isn’t popular, and a large portion of the public would like to see it repealed. The House repeal bill is a straightforward way to take advantage of these facts.

Wesley Snipes Has Got Nothing on Romanian Witches

Gawker relates the story of a tax revolt that could only happen in Romania:

The Romanian government is trying to pull the country from recession, and part of the plan is to start taxing witches. In turn, witches are casting spells on the president using dead animals and cat feces. That doesn't sound good.

Today, about a dozen witches are converging on the Danube River to place a hex on the government for the action it took on Saturday, whereby witches are now required to pay 16 percent income tax. One witch told the AP that "evil will befall them." Another witch who is particularly upset, Queen witch Bratara Buzea (pictured), is preparing to cast a spell made up of cat shit and a dead dog: "We do harm to those who harm us. hey want to take the country out of this crisis using us? They should get us out of the crisis because they brought us into it."

The president of Romania, Traian Basescu, is already highly superstitious and wears purple on Thursdays because, by invoking the "violet flame," the president and other government officials believe they are warding off evil spirits and spells.

I wrote (sympathetically!) about Basescu and heart-gobbling witches back in 2005. Link via the Twitter feed of Nathaniel Clarkson.

Set Tivos to Stun: Gillespie on Parker/Spitzer, Freedom Watch, & Red Eye Tonight!

Reason's Nick Gillespie will be on CNN's Parker/Spitzer tonight. He'll also be on Fox Business' Freedom Watch with Judge Andrew Napolitano and Fox News' Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld.

Consult your cable guide and interwebs for more information.

Here's Gillespie's recent Reason.tv interview with former Reagan budget director David Stockman on why Reagan failed, TARP was B.S., and Ron Paul, Murray Rothbard, and Ludwig von Mises are worth checking out big time.

Reason Morning Links: A New Mini-Surge in Afghanistan, Speaker Boehner, Drug Dogs and False Alerts

New at Reason: Steve Chapman on the Return of the Minivan

Minivans became popular in the 1980s because they offered so many things—abundant seating, ease of entry for young children, decent fuel economy, and cargo space without excessive bulk. For a generation in its fertile years, they were the solution to every need.

Well, every need except one. They didn't satisfy the perennial urge of many baby boomers to believe they are cool. And as Steve Chapman writes, the urge to be awesome has apparently carried over to Generation X. That explains why automakers are trying so hard to convince today's young parents that basic, functional transportation is not a fate worse than fiery death.

View this article

The Fraud Behind Autism-Vaccination Scares

In 1998, the British medical journal Lancet published a study linking autism to childhood vaccines authored by Andrew Wakefield and others. Last February, Lancet retracted the article amid concerns of its accuracy. In May, Wakefield was stripped of his British medical license and now another journal has wrapped up an investigation that concludes that Wakefield cooked the data for all 12 of the patients discussed in his hugely influential article.

An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study's author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study -- and that there was "no doubt" Wakefield was responsible....

Wakefield has been unable to reproduce his results in the face of criticism, and other researchers have been unable to match them. Most of his co-authors withdrew their names from the study in 2004 after learning he had had been paid by a law firm that intended to sue vaccine manufacturers -- a serious conflict of interest he failed to disclose. After years on controversy, the Lancet, the prestigious journal that originally published the research, retracted Wakefield's paper last February.

More here.

Last May, in the wake of controversy, Reason.tv asked whether vaccines cause autism. The short answer is no. Here's our take:

How Much Energy Do We "Waste" Transporting Non-Local Foods?

Eating local may be good for your sense of the type of person you are, or for your local growers, but locavores should be reminded it isn't necessarily a great good to the cause of energy conservation or greenhouse gases. Agricultural economists Jayson Lusk and F. Bailey Norwood in their essay "The Locavore's Dilemma" posted at Liberty Fund's "Library of Economics and Liberty" site, sum up:

The truth is that the energy expended transporting food is relatively unimportant. According to USDA-ERS data, consumers spent $880.7 billion on food in 2006. Only four percent of these expenditures can be attributed to post-farm transportation costs. One recent study indicated that over 80 percent of the global-warming impacts of food consumption occur at the farm, and only ten percent are due to transportation.7 After an extensive literature review, other researchers have concluded that "it is currently impossible to state categorically whether or not local food systems emit fewer [greenhouse gasses] than non-local food systems.

Reason's Ron Bailey wrote at length on the silliness of "food miles" obsession back in November 2008.

Bank of America vs. Citizens of America

Fortune on the this week's quasi-stealth bailout of the Bank of America from America's Toxic Twins, Fannie and Freddie:

critics of the giant banks....charge that Monday's rally-stoking mortgage-putback deal between Bank of America (BAC) and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is nothing more than a backdoor bailout of the nation's largest lender. It comes courtesy, they say, of an administration struggling to find a fix for the housing market while quaking at the prospect of another housing-fueled banking meltdown.

Monday's arrangement, according to this view, will keep the banks standing -- but leave taxpayers on the hook for an even bigger tab should a weak economic recovery falter. Sound familiar?....

And you don't need to be a conspiracy theorist to see that austerity talk in Congress means no more upfront support for financial firms. At a time of double-dipping house prices and nearly 10% unemployment, you can see where some people might find themselves devising new ways to prop up BofA and its housing-exposed rivals JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Wells Fargo (WFC) and Citi (C).

....how sharp is Freddie if all it can do is squeeze a $1.28 billion payment out of a giant customer in exchange for relinquishing fraud claims on $117 billion worth of outstanding loans? The very best its million-dollar executives can do is claw back a penny on each bubbly subprime dollar?

That seems pretty weak even given that this is Congress' favorite subsidy dispenser we're talking about.

"How Freddie can justify this decision to settle 'all outstanding and potential' claims before any of the private-label putback lawsuits have been resolved is beyond comprehension," says Rebel Cole, a real estate and finance professor at DePaul University in Chicago. "This smells to high heaven and they should be called out."

Dan Indiviglio at The Atlantic explains more about why this deal between BofA and Fannie and Freddie is good for Bank of America, and bad for Citizens of America:

Some people who aren't familiar with the mortgage market might have gasped as they read the news that Bank of America would pay $3 billion to government-sponsored mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. After all, $3 billion sounds like a lot of money. "Maybe BOA is finally getting what it deserves," some naive bank-haters might have exclaimed. In fact, paying this sum is an incredible win for the bank. The penalty is so small that it's effectively insignificant.

For starters, it's important to remember that Bank of America also means Countrywide. After purchasing the ailing mortgage company in 2008, Countrywide's problems became BoA's problems. And according to the press release, this $3 billion loss provision the bank is taking should cover all Countrywide/BoA mortgages sold or guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie during the housing bubble.

How much is that? According to a Washington Post article on the story, it covers a BoA-Countrywide portfolio of about $530 billion held by Fannie and Freddie. That puts the loss rate on these loans that BoA will be responsible for at less than 1%. You don't need to be a mortgage analyst to know that a 1% loss doesn't begin to characterize housing's deterioration....

This settlement has a few implications. The most significant is that Fannie and Freddie are essentially admitting that the vast majority of their losses are their fault. The cost of the bailout alone to taxpayers is expected to easily exceed $150 billion. If it obtains a measly $12 billion or so from banks, that puts its responsibility at roughly 92%....

But the second possibility is that banks were, in fact, shady and Fannie and Freddie could legally push more of its mortgage losses to the banks, but has chosen not to do so. Why take such a strategy? The companies' willingness to let banks off easy could be politically-driven. It could be a sort of backdoor bailout.

This latter possibility demonstrates the unfortunate situation the government has gotten itself into through its decision to stand behind Fannie and Freddie. On one hand, it doesn't want to see financial stability or the housing market thrown back into chaos. So it doesn't want to be too hard on the financial industry. On the other hand, it's duty is to act to minimize the loss to taxpayers from Fannie and Freddie.

If this settlement is a backdoor bailout, then the government has prioritized stability over taxpayers, again.

Reason's own Tim Cavanaugh been beating Fannie and Freddie about the neck and shoulders with his cane with regularity, always to marvelous effect: read up on the continuing scam of the century.

Pundits From Our World and an Alternate Dimension Look at Libertarianism, Like and Loathe

Ross Douthat at the New York Times admits that while too much libertarianism would be too much, a little more than we got could be just right.

Meanwhile Ezra Klein at the Washington Post reports from an alternate universe apparently without loose Federal Reserve monetary policy, revolving doors between big finance and big government, and a history of "too big to fail bailouts." And in a further sci-fi twist that really starts to get a bit much, it's simultaneously a world where the government doesn't spend half of health care dollars, doesn't shape the costs or extent of insurance coverage with its tax laws and regulations, doesn't artificially limit the number of people who can sell medical services, and where people buying health care know or even have any way of knowing the costs of what they are paying for beforehand.

From that world, he blames libertarianism for the financial crisis and out of control health care costs.

Klein does know--mentions it four times in about 800 words--that rich people and their influence are benefiting from and pushing libertarian ideas in that world, and I suppose this one as well. I feel for him: If only, if only, there were any power and money pushing the idea that government should spend more and do more. Well, that could make an interesting little sci-fi story in and of itself, I guess.

"No one ever accused Waxman of having a light touch"

The Cato Institute’s Walter Olson celebrates the changing of the guard at the House Energy and Commerce Committee:

While others wish the new Congress well today on its swearing-in, I plan to light a 100-watt incandescent bulb and hoist a caffeinated alcoholic beverage in honor of a different milestone: starting today, the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee will no longer be under the control of Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Some lawmakers can talk a decent game about lean ‘n’ smart regulation, but no one ever accused Waxman of having a light touch. (The 900-page Waxman-Markey environmental bill, mercifully killed by the Senate, included provisions letting Washington rewrite local building codes.) He’s known for aggressive micromanagement even of agencies run by putative allies: his staff has repeatedly twisted the ears of Obamanaut appointees to complain that their approach to regulation is too moderate and gradual. More than any other lawmaker on the Hill, he’s stood in the way of any meaningful reform of the 2008 CPSIA law, which piles impractical burdens on small makers of children’s products, thrift stores, bicycles and others.

'I Wish I Could Talk in Technicolor'

Don Lattin, author of The Harvard Psychedelic Club (which Nick Gillespie reviewed in the May issue of Reason), presents "some extraordinary and rare TV footage about LSD research in 1950s." In the first six minutes,  psychiatrist Sidney Cohen interviews a certifiably "stable and well-balanced" woman, the wife of an employee at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Los Angeles (where the research was conducted), before and after she has taken a 100-microgram hit. The experience she describes includes familiar themes such as gorgeous colors, geometric patterns, microscopic particles suddenly visible, and a sense of transcendence, oneness, and ineffability:

I can see everything in color. You have to see the air. You can't believe it....I've never seen such infinite beauty in my life....Everything is so beautiful and lovely and alive....This is reality...I wish I could talk in Technicolor....I can't tell you about it. If you can't see it, then you'll just never know it. I feel sorry for you.

Today all this may sound hackneyed, but what's striking about this woman's account is that her expectations were not shaped by the huge surge of publicity that LSD attracted in the next two decades. Although she had not heard what an LSD trip was supposed to be like, her experience included several of the features that later came to be seen as typical—a reminder that, as important as "set and setting" are, "drug" matters too.

Despite the similarity between this woman's description of her experience and testimonials from acid aficionados of the '60s and '70s, her presentation is so calm and nonthreatening that it is hard to imagine how anyone could perceive this drug as an intolerable danger to society. Had hers been the public face of LSD in the '60s, would it still have been banned?

New at Reason: Brian Doherty on the TSA's Intrusions on American Dignity

The new scanning technologies rolled out by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are undignified and meant to be. The illusion of choice surrounding their use is intended to funnel us into an even more undignified situation. Be exposed electronically in full, or physically molested, or go back home. These are unprecedented demands on Americans moving through the theoretically free world, not some penitentiary or asylum.

But the principles behind the TSA’s new strategies are very old. Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon is being built in miniature, but with an even wider angle of view. While the 19th-century utilitarian philosopher Bentham dreamed of a system that could keep watch at all times over particular classes in need of surveillance—he was thinking of prisoners, students, and workhouse denizens—the American Panopticon gazes upon any air traveler without regard to criminal background or mental history.

Senior Editor Brian Doherty explores the TSA's apparent political philosophy, and the heartening, though so far ineffective, resistance to it.

View this article

"Are You Serious Right Now?": The Daily Show on San Fran Happy Meal Ban

The Daily Show takes on the San Fran Happy Meal ban.

The highlight—from an interview by Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandv with Happy Meal-hating Supervisor Eric Mar:

Mandv: Would it be hard to pass a law to force Netflix to send Super Size Me to every parent in San Francisco?

Mar: You can't force Netflix, a private company, to do something like that.

Mandv: Are you serious right now?

Mar: We have no power to force Netflix or a private company like that to change a business practice.

For lots more on the ban and its unlikely opponents, go here. For Reason.tv's video on the ban, go here.

Via the Center for Consumer Freedom.

He Was the Only One in the Room Who Was Professional Enough to Sue the DEA

Last week a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration by Lee Paige, the DEA agent who literally shot himself in the foot with an allegedly unloaded gun while talking about firearm safety to a roomful of Florida children—right after announcing, "I'm the only one in this room professional enough...to carry this Glock 40." In a complaint he prepared on his own, Paige claimed DEA officials made him a "target of jokes, derision, ridicule, and disparaging comments," ruining his career as an undercover agent and motivational speaker, by releasing a widely viewed video of the 2004 incident. U.S. District Judge Jack Shanstrom said Paige had failed to present any evidence regarding the source of the video. Rather than celebrate a court victory for the DEA, let's just watch the video one more time.

Reason.tv: Lobsters Invade D.C.!

When the Washington D.C. City Council loosened the rules governing food trucks back in 2007, it led to a culinary explosion in the nation’s capital, enabling District lunch-goers to chow down on bulgogi tacos, pork banh mi, gourmet pizza, and more.

Never known as a place for retail innovation, D.C.’s roving lunch scene is starting to compare favorably with such culinary hotspots as New York and Los Angeles, which has been cracking down on its legendary food trucks via a bevy of arbitrary regulations.

D.C.’s bricks-and-mortar restaurants have done their part to lobby for rules that would hobble the new competition, including pushing for a law that would keep food trucks out of entire neighborhoods.

In December 2010, Reason.tv grabbed lunch from the Red Hook Lobster Pound, one of the District's best-known food truck, to find out why customers were willing to stand in line for an hour in 30-degree weather and fork over $15 for lobster rolls.

Approximately 2 minutes.

Produced, Shot and Edited by Jim Epstein and Joshua Swain.

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.

How a Part-Time Blogger Changed the Face of Baseball's Hall of Fame

Today, the great 1970s and '80s pitcher Bert "Be Home" Blyleven (stats here) was elected by baseball writers into the sport's Hall of Fame in his 14th and penultimate year of initial eligibility. Though my ignorant colleague Nick "Ed Kranepool" Gillespie remains a Blyelven denialist, there had long been a strong case that the Dutch-born curveballista was the most deserving player on the outside of Cooperstown looking in. And therein lies a great story of potential interest even to people who despise all sports.

Seven years ago, the president and chief investment officer of Lederer & Associates Investment Counsel in Long Beach, California, a guy by the name of Rich Lederer, began spending some of his off-hours writing analysis on the Interwebs about Blyleven's overlooked case. As John Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com wrote this morning:

Blyleven has climbed steadily in the Baseball Writers' Association of America voting since the founding of Lederer's website. Blyleven, who polled below 30 percent on his first six times on the ballot, reached 74.2 percent last year. That did not happen by accident. [...]

[Lederer] targeted the people whose opinion of Blyleven mattered most — the hundreds of sportswriters who form the Hall electorate.

So, Lederer wrote and blogged and analyzed. He called and emailed writers. He even attended the winter meetings once — direct marketing, if you will. He targeted writers who had a national profile and might therefore influence other votes.

It has been a grassroots campaign, unlike any other in the Cooperstown annals. Lederer is demonstrating that a part-time blogger — an entity unknown to most sports fans and journalists one decade ago — can shape opinion within one of the game's most traditional organizations. [...]

"The Internet flattens the world a little and allows someone like me to have a say, an audience, and indirectly participate in the discussion," Rich Lederer said. "I enjoy that. If not for the Internet, it would be next to impossible for me to have an impact on those types of things."

What's especially fun about this Army of Davids moment is watching the petulant and defensive reaction from sportswriters who know they are on the losing end of history.

More on Lederer's Quixotic campaign here, here, and here. I grew up down the street from Rich (our families were close), and interviewed him on my personal website back in 2005.

Sex In America: New Survey Results Reported

The new results from the National Survey of Sexual Health are now out. Done in the spring of 2009, the survey reports on the sexual behaviors of 5,865 American adolescents and adults ages 14 to 94. Researchers at Indiana University's Center for Sexual Health Promotion found:

  • There is enormous variability in the sexual repertoires of U.S. adults, with more than 40 combinations of sexual activity described at adults’ most recent sexual event.
  • Many older adults continue to have active pleasurable sex lives, reporting a range of different behaviors and partner types, however adults over the age of 40 have the lowest rates of condom use. Although these individuals may not be as concerned about pregnancy, this suggests the need to enhance education efforts for older individuals regarding STI risks and prevention.
  • About 85% of men report that their partner had an orgasm at the most recent sexual event; this compares to the 64% of women who report having had an orgasm at their most recent sexual event. (A difference that is too large to be accounted for by some of the men having had male partners at their most recent event.)
  • Men are more likely to orgasm when sex includes vaginal intercourse; women are more likely to orgasm when they engage in a variety of sex acts and when oral sex or vaginal intercourse is included.
  • While about 7% of adult women and 8% of men identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, the proportion of individuals in the U.S. who have had same-gender sexual interactions at some point in their lives is higher.
  • At any given point in time, most U.S. adolescents are not engaging in partnered sexual behavior. While 40% of 17 year-old males reported vaginal intercourse in the past year, only 27% reported the same in the past 90 days.
  • Adults using a condom for intercourse were just as likely to rate the sexual extent positively in terms of arousal, pleasure and orgasm than when having intercourse without one.

A summary table of the survey results is below:

Go here to see a larger version of the summary table.

Go here to download a variety of research articles based on the survey published in the October 2010 issue of The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Via All Things Human newsletter.

This Week in Innocence

This week, Cornelius Dupree Jr. became the 21st man in Dallas County, Texas to be exonerated after doing time for rape or murder.

DNA test results that came back barely a week after Cornelius Dupree Jr. was paroled in July excluded him as the person who attacked a Dallas woman in 1979, prosecutors said Monday. Dupree was just 20 when he was sentenced to 75 years in prison in 1980.

Now 51, he has spent more time wrongly imprisoned than any DNA exoneree in Texas, which has freed 41 wrongly convicted inmates through DNA since 2001 — more than any other state.

"Our Conviction Integrity Unit thoroughly reinvestigated this case, tested the biological evidence and based on the results, concluded Cornelius Dupree did not commit this crime," Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins said.

Dupree is expected to have his aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon conviction overturned Tuesday at an exoneration hearing in a Dallas court.

Dallas County itself actually has had more exonerations than all but a handful of states—the product of the long reign of notorious prosecutor Henry Wade, a fortuitous accident that preserved biological evidence going back to the late 1970s, and, probably most importantly, the election of Watkins, a DA who has made it a priority to look through old cases for possible mistakes. My interview with Watkins here.

California Supreme Court: Cell Phone Searches Don't Need a Warrant

Awful 4th amendment decision yesterday in California that searching one's cell phone data does not require a warrant, in a time and place where a cell phone is more like a computer than a phone. Ars Technica with the details:

The ruling comes as a result of the conviction of one Gregory Diaz, who was arrested for trying to sell ecstasy to a police informant in 2007 and had his phone confiscated when he arrived at the police station. The police eventually went through Diaz's text message folder and found one that read "6 4 80." Such a message means nothing to most of us, but it was apparently enough to be used as evidence against Diaz (for those curious, it means six pills will cost $80).

Diaz had argued that the warrantless search of his phone violated his Fourth Amendment rights, but the trial court said that anything found on his person at the time of arrest was "really fair game in terms of being evidence of a crime."

In its review of the case, the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment didn't apply to the text messages on Diaz's cell phone at the time of arrest. The court cited a number of previous cases wherein defendants were arrested with all manner of incriminating objects—heroin tablets hidden in a cigarette case, paint chips hidden in clothing, marijuana in the trunk of a car—which did not require a warrant to obtain. The court said that the phone was "immediately associated" with Diaz's person, and therefore the warrantless search was valid.

Some on the Court sensibly dissented, as Ars Technica sums up, arguing that:

the court majority's opinion would allow police "carte blanche, with no showing of exigency, to rummage at leisure through the wealth of personal and business information that can be carried on a mobile phone or handheld computer merely because the device was taken from an arrestee's person. The majority thus sanctions a highly intrusive and unjustified type of search, one meeting neither the warrant requirement nor the reasonableness requirement of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution."

Some background on past national precedent on cell phone searches:

The courts have gone back and forth in the past on how much privacy protection should be given to data that can be found on a citizen's cell phone. A Pennsylvania District Court ruled in 2008 that law enforcement must get a warrant before acquiring historical records of a cell phone user's physical movements. The same year, the 9th Circuit Court said that the text messages of a police officer had to meet the standards of a reasonable search before law enforcement could access them. In 2010, however, the US Supreme Court said that government employers have the right to read transcripts of employees' e-mails, IMs, texts, and other communications, and that the Fourth Amendment wouldn't protect them from a government search.

Julian Sanchez's classic 2007 Reason magazine cover story on technology and the 4th Amendment, now more than ever!

Obama May Break One Promise to Keep Another

The New York Times reports that President Obama is considering breaking one campaign promise—that he would eschew extreme claims of executive power—in order to keep another—that he would close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Instead of vetoing a military spending bill that forbids the use of taxpayer money to transfer prisoners from Guantanamo to the United States for trial, he may issue a signing statement declaring that the restriction unconstitutionally impinges on his authority as head of the executive branch and commander in chief of the armed forces. The Times says it is "unclear whether the administration would actually carry out a detainee transfer despite the restrictions, or whether it would merely assert, as an abstract matter, that Mr. Obama had the authority to do so."

Either way, this plan seems inconsistent with Obama' criticism of his predecessor's claims to sweeping executive powers, which George W. Bush said gave him the authority to ignore laws impeding his war on terrorism. Candidate Obama rejected "the view, suggested in memoranda by the Department of Justice, that the President may do whatever he deems necessary to protect national security." He supported legislation requiring congressional approval to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, and he said the president is bound by bans on torture and warrantless surveillance, congressional limits on troop deployments, human rights treaties approved by the Senate, and (most directly relevant in this context) statutes governing the detention and trial of suspected terrorists. Furthermore, he strongly criticized Bush's promiscuous use of signing statements:

While it is legitimate for a president to issue a signing statement to clarify his understanding of ambiguous provisions of statutes and to explain his view of how he intends to faithfully execute the law, it is a clear abuse of power to use such statements as a license to evade laws that the president does not like or as an end-run around provisions designed to foster accountability.

I will not use signing statements to nullify or undermine congressional instructions as enacted into law. The problem with this administration is that it has attached signing statements to legislation in an effort to change the meaning of the legislation, to avoid enforcing certain provisions of the legislation that the President does not like, and to raise implausible or dubious constitutional objections to the legislation. The fact that President Bush has issued signing statements to challenge over 1100 laws—more than any president in history—is a clear abuse of this prerogative. No one doubts that it is appropriate to use signing statements to protect a president's constitutional prerogatives; unfortunately, the Bush Administration has gone much further than that....

I reject the use of signing statements to make extreme and implausible claims of presidential authority.

If Obama nevertheless issues a signing statement declaring his authority to move prisoners from Guantanamo to the U.S. despite a law forbidding such transfers, he will have a hard time arguing that he is not trying to "nullify or undermine congressional instructions as enacted into law." He presumably will say that he is trying to "protect a president's constitutional prerogatives," but that is also what Bush said. So it all comes down to whether this is an "extreme and implausible" claim of presidential authority. Since closing Guantanamo is a symbolic move that may not have any real effect on detention policies (particularly in light of the president's assertion that he can keep detainees imprisoned with or without trial, and whether or not they're convicted), I'd rather Obama break that promise than abandon any pretense of executive humility.

New at Reason: David Harsanyi on Congress and the Constitution

The new Congress opens its session this week with a reading of the U.S. Constitution. David Harsanyi applauds the effort. After all, he writes, it is vital that members of Congress fully immerse themselves in the document if they’re going to circumvent it effectively.

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Did Eric Cantor's Criticism of ObamaCare's Budgeting Cross a New Line for the GOP?

Is Eric Cantor, the GOP’s new House Majority Leader, accusing the Congressional Budget Office of bad faith for its health care scores? A report in The New York Times suggests that Cantor is pioneering a new and especially harsh criticism of the congressional scorekeeper. According to the piece, Cantor “crossed beyond the Republicans’ longstanding criticism of the health care law in his indictment of the Congressional Budget Office” when he “accused the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on Wednesday of misrepresenting the cost of the recently enacted health care law at the behest of Democrats in Congress.”

This wouldn’t be entirely surprising given reports that another top House Republican, Speaker John Boehner, is still unhappy with CBO director Douglas Elmendorf because of the office’s health care scores. And it would be a mistake on Cantor’s part if it were accurate. But I’m not sure that the Times correctly characterized the Majority Leader’s remarks.

Cantor, via a spokesman, has already told the Times that the intent of the remarks was not to bash the CBO. And, more importantly, the quotes the Times provides don’t suggest that that’s what Cantor was doing. I haven’t seen a complete transcript, and I’m told the remarks were not recorded by C-SPAN, but according to the NYT’s report, Cantor argued that the score was a product of “gimmicks.” That’s hardly a novel criticism; Rep. Paul Ryan said much the same thing, in greater detail, at last year’s health care summit. Nor is it really a criticism of the CBO’s work. The standard criticism of the health care scoring process has been that although the CBO does solid work, it is constrained in the way it scores legislation, and Democrats employed a variety in gimmicks in order to game those constraints.

According to the piece, Cantor also said the following:

First of all, about the budget implications, I think most people understand that the C.B.O. did the job it was asked to do by the then-Democrat majority, and it was really comparing apples to oranges....It talked about 10 years worth of tax hikes and six years worth of benefits. Everyone knows beyond the 10-year window, this bill has the potential to bankrupt this federal government as well as the states. So that speaks to the budget implications of that.

This is not the most elegant or precise explanation of why the CBO’s scores are probably not the most accurate real-world guess as to the budgetary effects of the health care law. Indeed, Cantor’s explanation of the way the law packaged just six years of benefits into the CBO’s ten-year scored window confuses deficit reduction with total cost. At least in theory, it’s possible for a bill to spend a lot of money and still bring down the deficit if the bill also makes cuts and brings in new revenue in excess of the spending. That particular trick was employed to keep the total cost of running the program for ten years down; starting the bulk of the benefits, and thus the bulk of the spending, four years into the ten-year window means that you’re really only measuring six years of cost in the ten-year score.

But if you look past the awkward phrasing, Cantor’s statement was hardly new: Rep. Paul Ryan, who has praised the CBO’s work on many occasions, said much the same thing, as did former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin—another critic of the new legislation who has also defended the work of his former employer.

So Cantor offered a somewhat mangled version of a familiar critique of the law’s score. But contrary to the description provided by the Times, it doesn’t seem like a novel or particularly aggressive criticism of the CBO. Indeed, in saying that “most people understand that the CBO. did the job it was asked to do by the then-Democrat majority,” Cantor seems to be nodding to the idea that the CBO was constrained and the Democrats are to blame for gaming the scoring process. 

(Thanks to Aaron Carroll for first noting the article.)

NY Times Flips its Whig Over Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-Ind.)

From a flattering profile of GOP Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who once upon a time ran the Hudson Institute and was in the Bush admin of all places:

Mr. Daniels, who took office in 2005, has reduced the number of state workers by 18 percent and held spending growth below inflation. He has raised the sales tax to help make up for a property tax cut. Largely as a result, Indiana finds itself in better fiscal shape than many other states....

He says he avoids using the phrase “waste, fraud and abuse” because “it’s too glib — there’s no wand you can wave.” He says military spending should be cut. He called the Republicans’ recent attacks on Democratic efforts to slow Medicare’s cost growth “not a proud moment for our party.” He had kind words for the Tea Party but pointed out that it did not have a solution....

To deal with the huge projected deficits, he favors major changes to Medicare and Social Security, rather than any increase in taxes.

Benefits should be cut for high-income and healthy people. The gradual increase in Social Security benefits over time should be cut, so that tomorrow’s retirees get the same benefits (after adjusting for inflation) as today’s. And the eligibility age of both programs should increase.

Today’s children “will live to be more than 100,” he told me. “They’ll be replacing body parts like we do tires.”

Daniels is a smart and effective leader who is a serious thinker about history, politics, and policy. There's something wrong with a political press that can never stop talking about his height (or relative lack of) and his comb-over. Despite the recent bunch of White House occupants, the presidency has never been a beauty contest (though if truth be told, that might explain Franklin Pierce's victory). Billy Barty could get elected president if he had a good vision of government.

Daniels likes to quote former Reason editor in chief Virginia Postrel's great late '90s book, The Future and Its Enemies, which looks at the world through the eyes of "stasists" and "dynamists." Daniels is definitely a dynamist, which is not the same as a libertarian per se (though there's a lot of overlap).

Mr. Daniels likes to describe himself as a Whig, after the 19th-century political party whose modernizing agenda attracted Abraham Lincoln and Henry Clay.

Mr. Daniels says the government must be aggressive at doing things the private sector cannot, like improving schools and building roads. “The nation really needs to rebuild,” he said. As a good Whig would, he has pushed all of Indiana onto daylight saving time — so that the time no longer maddeningly changes as you drive around the state — and he’s consolidated some unwieldy local governments.

Whole Times piece here.

One of the knocks on Republicans in general is that they're not interested in governing. Rather, like Newt Gingrich, they want to bitch and moan all the time and get the first-class ticket on Air Force One but basically screw off once they reach power. Daniels, like former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, is a Republican who knows how to govern and can do it well. Unlike characters such as Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney and Rudy G., these guys show serious follow-through and provide a starting point for the right-hand side of the 2012 election that won't make libertarians put a shotgun in their mouths.

Check out more praise of Daniels as the right man for the current moment. Even more about Daniels here.

New at Reason: Dr. Jeffrey A. Singer on the “Death Panel” Revelation

Before passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act last year, Congress removed a provision that would have financially rewarded health care providers for having annual end-of-life counseling discussions with patients. Over the Christmas holiday weekend, The New York Times revealed that the Obama administration’s Medicare regulators have restored this highly controversial provision through new regulatory guidelines. In other words, writes Dr. Jeffrey A. Singer, the executive branch is enacting by regulatory fiat what the legislative branch explicitly opted not to enact.

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Proposed GOP Budget Cut Figures Were Just Hypothetical

That $100 billion in cuts Republicans promised? What they really meant was more like $50 billion

Many people knowledgeable about the federal budget said House Republicans could not keep their campaign promise to cut $100 billion from domestic spending in a single year. Now it appears that Republicans agree.

As they prepare to take power on Wednesday, Republican leaders are scaling back that number by as much as half, aides say, because the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, will be nearly half over before spending cuts could become law.

While House Republicans were never expected to succeed in enacting cuts of that scale, given opposition in the Senate from the Democratic majority and some Republicans, and from President Obama, a House vote would put potentially vulnerable Republican lawmakers on record supporting deep reductions of up to 30 percent in education, research, law enforcement, transportation and more.

Now aides say that the $100 billion figure was hypothetical, and that the objective is to get annual spending for programs other than those for the military, veterans and domestic security back to the levels of 2008, before Democrats approved stimulus spending to end the recession.

I’m somewhat sympathetic to the political reality of the situation; $100 billion in cuts would have been a tall order. But the excuses given here seem designed to test one’s sympathy. Are all figures attached to campaign promises now potentially hypothetical? Were Republicans not aware of the timing of the fiscal year when making the $100 billion promise? At least the feeling isn’t universal: GOP Senator-elect Rand Paul has already responded to the article by saying that $50 billion in cuts isn’t enough.

It's disappointing, but it's not surprising. Here's Reason.tv on why you shouldn't expect the new Congress to cut spending:

Ripping, Mixing, and Burning Twain

The forthcoming n-word-free edition of Huckleberry Finn sounds a bit like a book in my old elementary-school library called The Boys' Sherlock Holmes, which on close examination turned out to be a selection of Holmes stories with the cocaine removed. I agree with my colleague Michael Moynihan that the new Huck is a really dumb idea. I can't say I'm outraged that it exists, though. Bowdlerized editions of Twain are not new -- you'll search in vain for a racial slur here, for example -- and as long as they aren't misrepresented as unabridged editions, I think they're an acceptable byproduct when a book enters the public domain. Alan Gribben isn't a censor so much as he's a bad remix artist. If he had fashioned a book called Huck Finn and Zombies -- or maybe a Garfield Minus Garfield-style prequel called Tom Sawyer Minus Huck, in which Finn turns out to be the Tyler Durden of Hannibal, Missouri -- some of us would be cheering his creativity instead of complaining.

If there's something to fear here, it isn't Gribben's book, which with its initial print run of just 7,500 copies isn't likely to displace the original novel anytime soon. It's the possibility that a school will buy Gribben's inept reimagining of Twain for its library or assign it as the real thing. The most disturbing reaction to the Gribben story comes from The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, who tweeted: "If censoring Huck Finn will help get a great book back on h.s. reading lists, isn't that worth it?" High school can kill great literature as efficiently as censorship does; working in tandem, who knows how much damage they can do?

Reason Morning Links: New Congress Takes Over, Flooding in Australia, Sudan May Split

New at Reason: Jacob Sullum on Abolishing State Liquor Monopolies

This year legislators in Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and Washington are considering plans to privatize liquor sales. In response, defenders of the existing state monopolies cite recent improvements in customer service. But to the extent that the state systems resist privatization by becoming more like real businesses, Senior Editor Jacob Sullum argues, they undermine their reason for existing.

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"That Guy That I Hang Out With Who Used to Be a Slave" Jim

Thanks to the intervention of one Dr. Alan Gribben, American kids will no longer be racist after reading Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and timorous teachers will now feel comfortable assigning a book that once featured 219 instances (according to Gribben) of the word "nigger." Gribben's new edition of Huckleberry Finn will excise all those bits that make people feel uncomfortable—because good literature never, ever makes people feel uncomfortable.

From the AP:

Mark Twain wrote that "the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter." A new edition of "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Tom Sawyer" will try to find out if that holds true by replacing the N-word with "slave" in an effort not to offend readers.

Twain scholar Alan Gribben, who is working with NewSouth Books in Alabama to publish a combined volume of the books, said the N-word appears 219 times in "Huck Finn" and four times in "Tom Sawyer." He said the word puts the books in danger of joining the list of literary classics that Twain once humorously defined as those "which people praise and don’t read."

"It’s such a shame that one word should be a barrier between a marvelous reading experience and a lot of readers," Gribben said.

Yet Twain was particular about his words. His letter in 1888 about the right word and the almost right one was "the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."

Don't read Evelyn Waugh's Scoop or Black Mischief (colonialist and racist); toss the reactionary and sexist Kingsley Amis on to the fire (probably shouldn't read Girl-20; definitely shouldn't read Stanley and the Women); and simply pulp the entire back catalog of George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series, which manages to offend every minority group, every country, every-not-an-Englishman on virtually every page.

In the comments section, please feel free suggest other books that should be rewritten by Dr. Gribben (who should not be confused with Dr. Crippen, who apparently liked Huck Finn just the way he was). And here is a sample of NewSouth Publishing's exceedingly dumb defense of the Twain desecration: 

In a bold move compassionately advocated by Twain scholar Dr. Alan Gribben and embraced by NewSouth,Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn also replaces two hurtful epithets that appear hundreds of times in the texts with less offensive words, this intended to counter the “preemptive censorship” that Dr. Gribben observes has caused these important works of literature to fall off curriculum lists nationwide. 

Today in Broadcast Regulation

Good news on the free speech front:

It's highly likely that you've long since forgotten about a 2003 episode of NYPD Blue that featured a naked woman--in much the same way that it's impossible to determine which eroded rock first led to a civilization-swallowing sinkhole--but the FCC has a long memory for such things, which is why it's been tied up in court pretty much since Dennis Franz was still a thing, trying to enforce a $27,500 penalty it levied against ABC and each of the 45 affiliate sessions who broadcast it.

But today the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan threw out the collective $1.2 million fine, saying it falls under the same decision it reached last July regarding the FCC's fine for "fleeting expletives." According to the ruling, the court sees no distinction between Bono uttering "fucking brilliant" at an awards show and a lingering shot of actress Charlotte Ross' ass, and that the FCC's process of deciding in which contexts such occurrences are permissible is still "unconstitutionally vague." As such, the penalty has been nullified, and once again the FCC is left to try appealing the decision and defend its right to set decency standards.

In another welcome development, President Obama today signed the Local Community Radio Act, thus expanding the number of stations permitted to broadcast on the FM band. It took a drawn-out fight to pass this one, and the bill's supporters had to make some concessions along the way; this analysis from the Prometheus Radio Project is a good summary of what the new law does and does not do.

RT at the Back to the Brecht Center; "Specter of Communism in NYC"

A few months back, I highlighted this silly New York Times puff piece on Manhattan’s Brecht Forum, a place where deluded hippies can hang out with other deluded hippies and read the complete works of Stalin, Lenin, and Ron Karenga. Now the Kremlin-funded television network RT, taking a break from interviews with Alex Jones and its deeply serious warning about the Bilderberg conspiracy, takes its cameras into the Brecht Center, a place of sanctuary for those who have been hideously wrong about everything and want to discuss the “taboo” subject of Communism. Most clueless line in the piece? At the Brecht Center, says RT correspondent Lauren Lyster, you the “hear the discourse left out of many American colleges”—provided you went to Liberty University or Bob Jones.

Daniel Ellsberg Beats the Rap Again!

There are, God bless them, still people protesting the ongoing wars even in the age of Obama. 131 of them were arrested in front of the White House on December 16, including Pentagon Papers releaser Daniel Ellsberg (recently on people's minds in this WikiLeaks age). They were all arrested on the b.s. charge of "resisting a lawful order" (that is, not moving along when told to by cops while petitioning in as close to person as one can get for redress of grievances from the president).

Details from a Veterans for Peace press release:

Forty-Two arrested opted to appear in court and go to trial with the first group appearing in DC Superior Court on January 4, 2011.  Prosecutors from the DC Attorney General's office stated that the Government "declined to file charges due to missing or incomplete police paperwork."  Presiding Magistrate Judge Richard Ringell confirmed that the cases were dropped and defendants were free to leave.

Well, at least those brave officers got rid of that messy display of political speech when they needed to.

A personal account of the experience by one of the arrested, Leah Bulger.

Virginia’s DMV Does Not Approve of Hilarious Cannibalism

Yet another reason to hate the Department of Motor Vehicles: Virginia's DMV has reportedly revoked a man’s custom “Kids First” license plate emblazoned with the letters EATTHE. 

Funny! And likely harmless: The plate had apparently been in circulation for several years with no reported adverse effects. But as Jalopnik explains, someone seems to have gotten the idea that the "plate was advocating something beyond hilarious cannibalism.” Whole sad, humorless story here.

First Wine, Now Beer in (Some) Pennsylvania Supermarkets; Coming Soon: Cats and Dogs Living Together

While researching a column about liquor store privatization, I came across a Philadelphia Inquirer story from a month ago with the intriguing headline "Pennsylvania Supreme Court Upholds Beer Sales at Wegmans Stores." Why did the Pennsylvania Supreme Court take up this issue, which in most states would not be an issue at all? Because under Pennsylvania law there are just two ways to buy beer for off-premise consumption: from an officially anointed distributor (which may sell only by the case, so you had better really like the beer you pick) or from a specially licensed restaurant (which may sell no more than two six-packs at a time, usually at an outrageous markup). Because Wegmans stores include sit-down cafés, the company claimed to fall in the latter category, and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) granted it beer licenses for five locations (including one in my hometown, Wilkes-Barre).  Not surprisingly, the trade group representing beer distributors objected. The state Supreme Court sided with the supermarket chain and the PLCB, concluding that nothing in state law prevents beer-serving restaurants from operating within grocery stores, provided that the eating area meets minimum size requirements and is "clearly indicated by a permanent partition at least 4 feet in height." The court noted that its ruling "may foreshadow the expansion of the practice of large businesses opening restaurants within their facilities," which offers consumers a little more choice in one of the country's most absurdly regulated alcohol markets.

The court's opinion is here (PDF). A couple of years ago I noted the controversy over a proposal to deregulate beer sales in Pennsylvania so that you could buy, say, three six-packs of three different beers. Last year I noted the PLCB's foray into selling wine (heretofore available only in state stores) in supermarkets via semi-automated kiosks. It eventually installed 31 of them, all of which were taken offline for repairs last month, just in time for the holidays.

New at Reason: Ronald Bailey Ponders the Existence of Extraterrestrials

Where are the extraterrestrials? Our galaxy is likely filled with billions of Earthlike planets suitable for the development of life as we know it. Yet scientists, not withstanding the testimony of abductees and UFO sightings, have found no evidence for the existence of alien civilizations. Maybe life is rare. Maybe intelligence is toxic. Maybe aliens are obeying the Prime Directive and ignoring us. Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey ponders the meaning of the Great Cosmic Silence.

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Congress Causes Credit Card Customers to Jump to Sharks

From today's WSJ, George Mason's Todd Zywicki on how Congress has pushed credit card users and bank customers into the arms of payday lenders, pawn brokers, and other less-savory substitutes:

In his letter to shareholders last spring, Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase reported that, "In the future, we no longer will be offering credit cards to approximately 15 percent of the customers to whom we currently offer them. This is mostly because we deem them too risky in light of new regulations restricting our ability to make adjustments over time as the client's risk profile changes." Meet the new payday loan customers.

The whole thing is worth reading.

Me on payday lending and unintended consequences here. Me on the Credit CARD Act here. A video on payday lending featuring Zywicki here.

Ignoring the Constitution Is Easier Than Amending It, Immigration Edition

The New York TimesMarc Lacey reports that a coalition of anti-immigration politicians will be unveiling their plan tomorrow to circumvent the 14th Amendment in an unconstitutional attempt to ban birthright citizenship:

This coalition of lawmakers will unveil its exact plans on Wednesday in Washington, but people involved in drafting the legislation say they have decided against the painstaking process of amending the Constitution and may instead unilaterally restrict the issuing of birth certificates to illegal immigrants’ children in their states. They know a flurry of lawsuits will follow and hope that the resulting legal conflict will be resolved in their favor.

“This is not a far-out, extremist position,” said John Kavanagh, one of the Arizona legislators who is leading an effort that has been called just that. “Only a handful of countries in the world grant citizenship based on the G.P.S. location of the birth.”

“Only a handful of countries.” You know, once upon a time conservatives bragged about the U.S. Constitution and its unique place in the world. Now the anti-immigrant right advocates openly violating the 14th Amendment rather than following its text, history, and original meaning. And just like those “living constitutionalists” on the left, they can’t even be bothered to amend the Constitution, they just reinterpret it to suit their misguided agenda.

Countdown to Disappointment: Don't expect the new Congress to cut spending

Is it too soon to declare the new Congress a failure?

Ever since their midterm election triumph, Republicans have talked tough about cutting spending. Here’s hoping they make good on those promises, but they spouted the same tough talk after their 1994 election triumph and look what happened.

Back then the GOP revolutionaries targeted more than 200 programs for complete and utter elimination. They scored some minor victories (adios helium fund!), but a decade into their “revolution” (and after they gained a Republican president) inflation-adjusted spending on the combined budgets of the 101 largest programs slated for elimination actually increased by 27 percent.  And since then total federal spending has continued to soar, so why should we take Republicans seriously this time?

The countdown to disappointment starts now.

Approximately 82 seconds.

Written and produced by Ted Balaker. Music by Ambient Teknology (Magnatune Records).

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UPDATE: Ed Morrissey sez:

I have no problem with rational skepticism when it comes to political claims and eventual outcomes, but usually I’d like for a fight to get started before I declare it a failure.

He explains why this time there may be reason for more optimism (or less pessimism) and reminds us that the GOP did, at least initially, show some backbone in 1995. The government shutdown was a showdown over spending, after all.

Fair enough, but recall that spending increased more under Clinton's second term than during his first, and that many of today's biggest budget busters (Medicare Part D, Homeland Security, two wars, TARP) were Bush-started and Boehner-approved.

A Primer on Non-Libertarianism