After describing how 24 armed and armored cops “quickly seized control of the cavernous [Gibson] guitar factory” during a wood-import-related raid on August 24, Los Angeles Times reporter Neela Banerjee wonders why raiding a century-old maker of beloved musical instruments could have led to “unanticipated results” for the Obama Justice Department:
Weeks later, the raid has generated publicity worthy of a rock concert. Groups like the "tea party" and the GOP, and VIPs like House Speaker John A. Boehner and Rush Limbaugh, have grabbed ahold of it as an extreme example of how government regulations are strangling American enterprise.
Republicans see the seizure of 10,000 fingerboards, 700 guitar necks and 80 guitars as an easy-to-grasp anecdote that helps illustrate their campaign to shrink federal government, roll back environmental regulations and reduce funding for the Environmental Protection Agency.
This story is on the front page of the Times’ objectively pro-deforestation print edition and is grouped in the “news” subfolder in the paper’s website. Yet it’s shot through with unsupported opinion, pushed arguments, elisions and dubious claims. (Also, is the copydesk now scare-quoting tea party as a rule? I never thought anybody could top the Washington Times’ beaten-but-unbowed retention of homosexual “marriage” – but even they eventually gave that one up.)
I’m guessing maybe the Times finds man-bites-dog value in the idea that Republicans are standing up for rock ‘n’ roll guitar makers when we all know Republicans never listen to anything but Lawrence Welk in their country clubs. That’s the only explanation I can think of for Banerjee’s treating the Gibson hubbub as a novelty.
A few minutes of thought should have made it clear why this story blew up: It’s about how federal officers conducted two raids against a successful and law-abiding company without filing any charges. They have done this while the country is in a severe recession that has not spared Gibson’s base of Nashville, Tennessee. The company, which seeks to maintain a relatively progressive and pro-environment posture (as CEO Henry Juszkiewicz does in his comments to Banarjee), makes a product that is coveted by consumers, highly regarded by its users and recognizable to most people with an interest in popular music. And the purpose of the raid was to investigate whether the laws of another country – India, from which Gibson imports its fingerboards and which has provided Juszkiewicz with a letter attesting to the legality of the purchases – were violated. I’m more of a Fender man myself, but I can pretty easily see why the vast right-wing conspiracy has found an eager audience for commentary on this outrage.
Banerjee of course is following the lead of Media Matters for America, for which the fall of every sparrow is the result of a Fox News conspiracy. MMFA’s Jocelyn Fong wages a prolix struggle against reality in this to-be-sure-laden attempt to reveal Gibson’s festering GOP underbelly. (Key sentence: “But Juszkiewicz does not appear to be a major Republican donor.”)
Banerjee doesn’t fare much better. She counterposes strong evidence (Juszkiewicz’s letter from the relevant government mentioned above) with weak evidence (paraphrased contentions from unnamed “industry and environmental experts”) in he-said-she-said paragraphs. She glides over the fact that the Department of Justice not only failed to file charges but recently downgraded its demands to a request for some face time with Gibson executives. She blames President Bush.
And she treats Juszkiewicz’s PR counteroffensive (which Nick Gillespie noted a while back) as something odd, maybe even ominous. This is what’s so irritating about this article: not the bias but the unneeded complexity of it. Gibson is big in the guitar world but it doesn’t exactly qualify as Big Business. It does about $111 million in annual revenues and employs 2,800 people. Like most of us, it is struggling to get by in the Obama economy. And it’s been raided by the cops twice for no apparent reason. And the cops refuse to give back the stuff they confiscated. As they say in L.A., Juszkiewicz is the rooting interest. Why is this so hard to understand?
Related: R.I.P. Les Paul, hero of freedom.
Longtime readers may recall that I wrote a column six years ago about New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman in which I found that he had, among many other curious things, quoted Johns Hopkins academic Michael Mandelbaum in more than 65 separate pieces of writing. Well, they've now eliminated the middle man and co-authored a new book called That Used To Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World it Invented and How We Can Come Back. I have a review essay coming in a forthcoming issue of Reason (though I highly recommend Andrew Ferguson's effort in The Wall Street Journal), but there is a recurring theme in this look-out-China's-comin' book that's worth drawing attention to. You can see it on pages 278-79:
The second change [away from our previously well-functioning political system] is the loss of confidence in our institutions and in the authority of their leaders across the society. Related to this is a shift in how the society sees people in authority, whether politicians or scientific experts–a shift from healthy skepticism to cynical suspicion of everything and everyone. This shift makes generating the kind of collective action we need to solve our big problems [...] that much more difficult.
The third shift in values is a weakening of our sense of shared national purpose, which propelled us in–and was reinforced by–the struggle against fascism in World War II and against communism in the Cold War. [...] [A]lthough the Cold War had its dangers and excesses, and although no one should wish for its return, it did bring one benefit, whose importance becomes all the clearer in hindsight: It fostered a feeling of American solidarity, a shared sense of the national interest, as well as a seriousness about governance, which could rally the country to do important and constructive things at home and abroad.
And on page 287:
It isn't just scientists and those regarded as experts who suffer from a lack of credibility. People in positions of authority everywhere have less influence than in the past. [...]
This augurs badly for the task of meeting the major challenges our country faces because our institiutions, including but not limited to the federal government, are crucial for the collective action that is required in each case. If the public doesn't trust these institutions, they can't be effective. Where the nation's institutions are concerened--especially government--a healthy, necessary skepticism has given way to corrosive cynicism.
And on 290-91:
[I]n the past we also thought of ourselves as, first and foremost, citizens of the United States. Americans: That used to be us.
The new information technology has helped to erode this particular value. With hundreds of television channels in every cable package and millions of websites that anyone with an Internet connection can visit, our national attention is far more fragmented than it once was. In today's media world we have far more choices than ever before, but also much less common information. And with the new electronic technology that we all use, while communication is much easier, we spend more time alone–texting while walking down the street, eyes down, and listening to an iPod all the while.
During the Cold War era, especially in its early years when memories of World War II were fresh, national unity and the readiness to make sacrifices when and where necessary seemed to most everyone to be matters of national survival.
It is striking to me how much these concepts, and the rhetoric they're clothed in, resemble that of John McCain and David Brooks-style "National Greatness Conservatism" (in addition to the type of Matt Miller "radical centrism" that Lucy Steigerwald blogged about earlier this week). And I really thought I'd never see the day when the deep Cold War political divisions that defined the first 21 years of my life would be treated like a much-lamented era of bygone unity, but there we are.
Let's see, the exaltation of "authority" and "national unity" and "sacrifice" over the messy independence of individuals...isn't there a word for that?
Looking ahead to the 2012 presidential race, one might assume that Nader has little to be cheerful about.
Yet he says there is one candidate who sticks out—who even gives him hope: Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. [...]
"Look at the latitude," Nader says, referring to the potential for cooperation between libertarians and the left. "Military budget, foreign wars, empire, Patriot Act, corporate welfare—for starters. When you add those all up, that's a foundational convergence. Progressives should do so good."
I thought I'd bring up the subject of Ron Paul with Nader after seeing the two jointly interviewed on Fox Business Channel in January. Nader had caught me off guard when he identified an emergent left-libertarian alliance as "today's most exciting new political dynamic." It was easy to foresee objections that the left might raise: if progressives are in favor of expanding the welfare state, how well can they really get along with folks who go around quoting the likes of Hayek and Rothbard?
"That's strategic sabotage," Nader responds, sharply. "It's an intellectual indulgence....If they're on your side, and you don't compromise your positions, what do you care who they quote? Franklin Delano Roosevelt sided with Stalin against Hitler. Not to draw that analogy, I'm just saying—why did he side with Stalin? Because Stalin went along with everything FDR wanted." [...]
"Libertarians like Ron Paul are on our side on civil liberties. They're on our side against the military-industrial complex. They're on our side against Wall Street. They're on our side for investor rights. That's a foundational convergence," he exhorts. "It's not just itty-bitty stuff." [...]
There are nascent movements underway to bring disaffected progressives into Ron Paul's fold. A new organization called Blue Republican, advertised on the Huffington Post and elsewhere, urges Democrats to pledge their support for Paul. While Nader isn't willing to endorse Paul's candidacy at this point, during our interview his praise grew increasingly effusive. "Ron Paul has always been anti-corporate, anti-Federal Reserve, anti-big banks, anti-bailouts," Nader says. "I mean, they view him in the same way they view me on a lot of these issues. Did you see the latest poll? He's like two points behind Obama."
Whole thing here, including some interesting Ron Paul quotes about his approach to religion.
Don't for a second believe that a politician is destined to lose re-election simply because he has been an unmitigated disaster. That would be unfair to your senator or your congressman, and it certainly wouldn't be fair to countless two-term presidents. Any elected official can overcome self-induced failure with a little help. And as David Harsanyi observes, the Republican Party seems determined to give President Obama all the reelection help he needs. Given the GOP's deeply flawed slate of primary candidates, Harsanyi writes, Obama can win a second term.View this article
An earlier blogpost at Hit & Run cited reporting from Investor's Business Daily that U.S. Department of Energy is rushing to finalize loan guarantees for nine green energy projects before the deadline at the end of the month. So far, DOE has announced two projects backed by taxpayer guarantees totalling about $1 billion. According to the press release for the first project, the DOE is offering:
...a $737 million loan guarantee to Tonopah Solar Energy, LLC to develop the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project. The solar project, sponsored by SolarReserve, LLC, is a 110 megawatt concentrating solar power tower generating facility with molten salt as the primary heat transfer and storage medium.
Total jobs: 600 construction and 45 permanent.
For the second project, the DOE is offering:
... a $337 million loan guarantee to Mesquite Solar 1, LLC to support the development of an innovative photovoltaic solar generating project. The optimized 150 megawatt (MW) alternating current photovoltaic (PV) solar generation project will be located in Maricopa County, Arizona....
Total jobs: 300 construction jobs. Oddly, there appears to be some reticence about mentioning any "permanent jobs" associated with the project in the press release. Fortunately, another DOE website was more forthcoming, listing 7 operating jobs for the project.
Of course, DOE bureaucrats are so clever at "investing" in innovative projects that the loan guarantees will never actually be paid out. But just for fun, let's parse how much job bang these projects are supposedly getting for the billion bucks.
Dividing 952 jobs into $1.074 billion, the cost per job would be about $1.1 milion and change. During the halcyon era of fiscal stimulus, Obama administration defenders actually argued that government spending would produce jobs at a cost of only $63,000 per copy. However, data in a February, 2011 report by the Congressional Budget Office suggested that government spending had actually stimulated job creation or salvation at a cost of around $225,000 each.
So if these DOE backed green energy projects were to go bust, that would imply that each job would cost taxpayers about four times more than those allegedly created by the stimulus. But surely that could never happen.
In a story notable not just for a lack of puppy death, a couple in Roswell, New Mexico, were recently rattled by the abrupt arrival of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, guns out, at their door.
The woman, Nancy Parker, told KRQE news that she was shocked and frightened by the experience, which was apparently motivated by "a citizen's tip." What is more surprising is the following:
My husband asked, 'Do you have a warrant? Who are you looking for?' and they said, 'Gerald Sentell,'" Parker said. "We don't even know this person."...
Parker said she and her husband were wary of cooperating because they weren't sure what was going on.
When asked if she thought the officers could have been impostors, Parker replied, "Yes. That's very much what we thought, and that's why my husband said no, you're not coming in this house without a warrant."
The agents apparently took no for an answer and left. The DEA dubbed all of it "procedure."
Reason on DEA mischief.
Yesterday we had fun with the Times of New York's preposterous claim that the Obama Administration has been "forthcoming" in the House Solyndra investigation. In addition to my list of both subtle and overt efforts to cover up the White House's glaring failures of due diligence and disinterested governance, it turns out other executive-branch agencies have been doing their glacial best to avoid providing information to the American people and their elected representatives. Here's a handy timeline from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce:
Timeline of Energy and Commerce Committee Investigation
February 17, 2011 - Committee Leaders submit a letter to Energy Secretary Chu seeking documents and information about the $535 million loan guarantee that the DOE Loan Guarantee Program awarded Solyndra, Inc. DOE complies with the request.
March 14, 2011 - Committee Leaders submit a letter to OMB requesting key documents and information concerning the review of the Solyndra loan guarantee. A two week deadline is set.
March 17, 2011 – Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations holds a hearing on DOE Recovery Act Spending.
March 28, 2011 – OMB fails to meet the Committee deadline.
June 7, 2011 – After weeks of back and forth, an in camera review takes place with Committee staff and OMB staff. OMB selected eight emails between OMB and DOE to make available to Committee staff, and refused to produce the rest of the emails or the agreed-upon internal OMB emails and documents.
June 23, 2011 - Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns responded in a letter to OMB after it refused to share requested documents by the Committee regarding the Solyndra loan guarantee investigation. Solyndra submits document to Committee, "Exceeding Expectations: Solyndra Today."
June 24, 2011 - The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing regarding OMB’s Role in the DOE Loan Guarantee Process. Sole witness Jeffrey Zients, Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget was a no show. A full timeline of committee investigators back and forth with OMB can be found HERE.
July 11, 2011 - Committee staff conduct a second in camera review. Committee staff asked OMB about the production of the other categories of documents sought by this Committee, specifically, OMB’s internal communications and documents relating to Solyndra, and its communications with the White House. As the OMB had done for months, OMB staff refused to provide and answer about whether they would produce these materials, and instead maintained that the OMB-DOE communications sufficiently show whether or not OMB had has done its job with regard to Solyndra.
July 12, 2011 - Energy and Commerce Committee leaders announced the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations were to hold a business meeting on Thursday, July 14, 2011 to consider a motion authorizing the issuance of a subpoena for certain records of the Office and Management andBudget relating to the Department of Energy’s issuance of a loan guarantee to Solyndra, Inc. on September 2, 2009.
July 13, 2011 - Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns wrote a letter to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to provide a final opportunity to avoid the issuance of a subpoena. OMB refused.
July 14, 2011 - The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a business meeting to consider the issuance of the subpoena. The Subcommittee voted to issue the subpoena 14 to 8. A letter from Solyndra's CEO Harrison regarding the company's finances is entered into the hearing record.
July 15, 2011 – The subpoena is issued to OMB, setting a July 22, 2011, deadline.
July 22, 2011 – OMB fails to meet the subpoena’s dealing. Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns informs OMB that they have failed to comply with thesubpoena issued on July 15, 2011 regarding the Solyndra loan guarantee. Chairman Stearns requested that OMB produce the documents no later than 9:00 a.m. Monday, July 25, 2011.
July 25, 2011 – OMB fails to produce the documents by 9:00am deadline.
August 2011 – OMB agrees to produce all documents necessary to the Committee's investigation, with appropriate safeguards relating to proprietary information. Production continues.
August 31, 2011 – Solyndra announces it will file for bankruptcy, Committee leaders comment.
September 1, 2011 - Committee leaders ramp up investigation, press White House for documents.
September 8, 2011 – Committee leaders comment on FBI raid of Solyndra.
September 10, 2011 – In an e-mail, Solyndra company lawyers assure Committee investigators that Solyndra execs would voluntarily answer Committee questions.
September 14, 2011 – Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee holds a hearing on "Solyndra and the DOE Loan Guarantee Program." Executive Director of DOE's Loans Programs Office Jonathan Silver and OMB Deputy Director Zients testify. Subcommittee investigators release emails indicating corners were cut and OMB was rushed in approving Solyndra loan. White House Press Secretary attempts to dismiss concerns that White House pressure OMB on loan guarantee as "scheduling matter."
September 20, 2011 – Committee leaders express concern to Energy Secretary Steven Chu as his agency prepared to dole out nearly $9 billion in loan guarantees by September 30, 2011. TheLeaders request financial details for 14 loan guarantees DOE is poised to award loans to.
September 21, 2011 – Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee members seek answers from Solyndra investors. In the letters to Argonaut Private Equity and Madrone Capital Partners, members are seeking all materials related to now-bankrupt Solyndra’s $535 million loan guarantee, the company’s cancelled initial public offering, the $75 million credit facility, the February 2011 loan restructuring, the company’s bankruptcy, as well as materials related to communications with the Obama administration.
September 21, 2011 – Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee members seek all materials related to communications between the DOE and White House, as well as all communications between DOE and the Treasury Department.
September 23, 2011 – Solyndra CEO and CFO invoke the Fifth Amendment during Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing on “From DOE Loan Guarantee to Bankruptcy to FBI Raid: What Solyndra's Executives Knew.”
Interesting that Solyndra's attorneys made the promise that their clients would voluntarily testify after the FBI raid. At that point you would expect any intelligent lawyer to recognize that the only viable option is to remain silent (as Solyndra execs Brian Harrison and W.G. "Bill" Stover ended up doing). This suggests that Solyndra's incompetence extends to its legal representation.
President Obama's obstructive and delaying actions are an insult to taxpayers who want to know why they were made to spend half a billion dollars on a pie-in-the-sky green-jobs company that subsequently went bankrupt. As a once and future flack I find this behavior personally offensive just for the way it ignores best practices for crisis management — with the expected result that the scandal continues to get worse while the subject fails to take control of the narrative.
For example, California (proud home of Fremont-based Solyndra) has frozen its own program of green-energy corporate welfare, with state Treasurer Bill Lockyer saying, "In light of recent events, we owe it to taxpayers to see if there is more we can do to make sure we don't give their money to companies headed for a fall, or companies that take California's money and run to other states to create jobs." You will recall that Golden State taxpayers also gave $34 bmillion to Solyndra during the Schwarzenegger administration. In Obama's U.S.A., all Americans get the government Californians deserve.
And in D.C., it turns out the Internal Revenue Service also gave Solyndra a boost in 2009. CaliforniaWatch.org has a great story that illustrates both the logrolling that is still going on under ARRA Stimulus and the absurd, pseudo-scientific micromanagement that results when the government is shoving money out the door:
The U.S. tax code has long allowed buyers of solar panels to deduct a portion of the installation cost from their taxes. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, that credit was boosted from 10 percent to 30 percent through 2016.
But in August 2009, the IRS also determined that companies buying Solyndra products would qualify for another 30 percent tax credit – as long as they were installed on roofs painted white to reflect the sun. At the time, only Solyndra was selling products that would work on so-called "cool roofs."
Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and former director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, had been pushing the cool-roofs model as a low-cost way to adapt to global warming and reduce the so-called “urban heat island effect.”
But green-job subsidies make up a beast so vast it can only die in sections. While reasonable people all over the country are moving on from this regrettable error, Chu's Energy Department today approved another $1 billion in corporate welfare for a Sempra Energy solar project in Arizona and Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project.
In the latest Reason-Rupe survey, respondents who self-identify as Republicans were asked if they were voting today in the 2012 Republican primary for president, which of the following candidates would they favor? Ron Paul and Mitt Romney tied for first place among Republican respondents aged 18-29 with 19 percent each. Older Americans are most likely to favor Mitt Romney or Rick Perry. Young Americans are also more likely than older Americans to say they do not know for whom they will vote, at 22 percent.
Ron Paul's ability to gain favor among young Republicans may foreshadow a re-shaped Republican coalition in years to come.
If you were voting today in the 2012 Republican primary for president, which one of the following candidates would you favor? (Asked of self-identified Republicans)
Click here for full survey results.
The Reason-Rupe Q3 2011 poll collected a nationally representative sample of 1200 respondents, aged 18 and older from all 50 states and the District of Columbia using live telephone interviews from August 9-18 2011. The margin of sampling error for this poll is ± 3 percent. The margin of error for the GOP presidential race numbers is ± 4.79 percent. Interviews were conducted with respondents using both landline (790) and mobile phones (410). Landline respondents were randomly selected within households based on the adult who had the most recent birthday. Sample was weighted by gender, age, ethnicity, and Census region, based on the most recent U.S. Census data. The sampling frame included landline and mobile phone numbers generated using Random Digit Dialing (RDD) methods and randomly selected numbers from a directory-listed sample. Click here for full methodological details. NSON Opinion Strategy conducted the poll’s fieldwork. View full methodology.
Thousands of Ecuadorians, Ghanaians, and Thais want to come to the United States to work. Without them, we'll have lower overall productivity, reduced economic value, and fewer delicious, delicious restaurants. And that's just fine with the Obama administration (and the entire GOP presidential field).
Michael Clemens, an economist at the Center for Global Development, reviewed research on emigration from poor countries and found that increasing labor mobility by just a small amount—allowing 5 percent of people in low-income countries to emigrate—would increase global GDP by several trillion dollars a year. That's more than the added value that would result from eliminating all policy barriers to the global flow of goods and capital, as he stressed in a blog post about the paper.
One reason that even just a little more emigration by low-income workers would add so much value is that people would become much more productive if you could pick them up off the globe and set them back down in a different place:
Take a male construction worker in the capital of Ghana. There isn’t much you could do to greatly raise his economic productivity in Ghana; access to better tools or training might make him modestly more productive. But if you let the exact same person emigrate to work at a construction site in any big U.S. city, his economic productivity would rise roughly 700% to 1,000%.
Luckily, we don't need some kind of deity to move people around like chess pieces on the surface of the Earth, because so many people are willing to emigrate of their own accord. In his paper, "Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk?"*, Clemens noted the incredible demand for visas through the U.S. Diversity Visa Lottery, which awards emigration slots mainly to people from developing countries. "In fiscal year 2010," he wrote, "this lottery had 13.6 million applications for 50,000 visas—272 applicants per slot."
And even though both labor unions afraid of losing jerbs and Fencers consumed with xenophobia often claim otherwise, gains from open borders don't go to only migrants. Saying so, Clemens said, would be "like saying that the economic gains from the immigration of Google founder Sergei Brin are limited to the increase in living standards experienced by Brin himself and his son."
Moreover, apart from stars like Brin, lower-skill workers convey a range of economic benefits to non-immigrant workers, including lower their cost of living, raise female labor force participation, and raise the productivity of investments in new business.
Yet we still turn them away in droves.
Reason's Shikha Dalmia has documented the current administration's fourfold increase in employer raids for illegal immigrants, as well as how pretty much every GOP candidate sees Mexicans as "the new untouchables of American society."
*The paper's title references a lame economics joke. Which is redundant.
Two economists walk down the street and see a $20 bill lying on the sidewalk. The first economist says, “Look at that $20 bill.” The second says, “That can’t really be a $20 bill lying there, because if it were, someone would have picked it up already.” So they walk on, leaving the $20 bill undisturbed.
The Institute for Justice released a new report today titled “Government Unchecked: The False Problem of ‘Judicial Activism’ and the Need for Judicial Engagement.” It’s a sobering read. As authors Clark Neily and Dick Carpenter observe, “courts are allowing a substantial amount of unconstitutional regulation to go unchecked.” How substantial an amount? Consider the following numbers taken from the report, which reveal just how rare it is for the judiciary to act as a check on government overreach:
- Congress passed 16,015 laws from 1954 to 2003. The Supreme Court struck down 104—or just two-thirds of one percent.
- State legislatures passed 1,029,075 laws over the same period. The Court struck down 455—or less than one twentieth of one percent.
- The federal government adopted 21,462 regulations from 1986 to 2006. The Court struck down 121--or about a half of a percent.
- In any given year, the Court strikes down just three out of every 5,000 laws passed by Congress and state legislatures.
- The Supreme Court overturned earlier precedents in just two percent of the cases it considered from 1954 to 2010.
The latest Reason-Rupe poll asked respondents to use their own words to identify what the government spends the most money on. The following graphic depicts their responses with word size corresponding to frequency. The bigger the word, the more people who mentioned that particular kind of spending.
Please name a few of the things that you think the federal government spends the most money on.
Click here for full survey results.
The Reason-Rupe Q3 2011 poll collected a nationally representative sample of 1200 respondents, aged 18 and older from all 50 states and the District of Columbia using live telephone interviews from August 9-18 2011. The margin of sampling error for this poll is ± 3 percent. The margin of error for the GOP presidential race numbers is ± 4.79 percent. Interviews were conducted with respondents using both landline (790) and mobile phones (410). Landline respondents were randomly selected within households based on the adult who had the most recent birthday. Sample was weighted by gender, age, ethnicity, and Census region, based on the most recent US Census data. The sampling frame included landline and mobile phone numbers generated using Random Digit Dialing (RDD) methods and randomly selected numbers from a directory-listed sample. Click here for full methodological details. NSON Opinion Strategy conducted the poll’s fieldwork. View full methodology.
Glenn Greenwald hypothesizes about why left-leaning outlets like NPR and The New York Times have been less than supportive in their coverage of #OccupyWallStreet:
Some of this anti-protest posturing is just the all-too-familiar New-Republic-ish eagerness to prove one's own Seriousness by castigating anyone to the left of, say, Dianne Feinstein or John Kerry; for such individuals, multi-term, pro-Iraq-War Democratic Senator-plutocrats define the outermost left-wing limit of respectability. Also at play is the jingoistic notion that street protests are valid in Those Bad Contries but not in free, democratic America.
A siginificant aspect of this progressive disdain is grounded in the belief that the only valid form of political activism is support for Democratic Party candidates, and a corresponding desire to undermine anything that distracts from that goal.
The Washington Examiner has a bracing editorial up about the propensity of liberal commentators to say that cutting government spending will kill people.
"To be a little melodramatic, the budget would kill people," New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently told CNN about House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's Path to Prosperity. "No question." With the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund set to run out of money Thursday, and with none of the federal government's 12 appropriations bills signed into law so far, you can expect a lot more melodramatic quotes like this one in the coming weeks.
Liberal assertions that cuts in government spending will cause certain death are nothing new. Sixteen years ago this week, Krugman's fellow columnist Bob Herbert warned New York Times readers that the welfare reform bill Republicans were then debating in the Senate "would hurt many people, would kill some and would help no one."...
More recently, the Washington Post's Ezra Klein accused Sen. Joe Liebermann, I-Conn., of being "willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands" because he threatened not to vote for Obamacare.
The reality, of course, is a bit different. As the Examiner notes, Krugman and Herbert offered no data to suggest how folks would die. In the case of the welfare reform deplored by Herbert and many others back in the day, it seems to have been a rousing success with exactly no body count. Far from being some draconian budget exercise, the Ryan budget (alas) envisioned spending $3.6 trillion in fiscal 2012 and $4.7 trillion in 2021. The notion that not passing Obamacare would kill "hundreds of thousands," the Examiner notes drily, was based on a "flawed study."
I don't doubt that Republicans cry mass murder (or its equivalent) when folks talk about cutting their preferred spending, whether it's "defense" or farm subsidies or abstinence-only education or whatever. National security hawks certainly get the vapors when commie-symp-pinkos such as Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) grant that the Pentagon's budget is fattier than bargain-brand baloney.
It's amazing how nobody seems serious about cutting the freaking budget. Even the budget cutters aren't particularly hard-core on the issue, which sorta-kinda explain why government spending keeps on going up.
But to get back to the opening gambit: Do budget cuts kill people?
Consider at least this much. The most-recent flap over a possible government shutdown centered around funds for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which oversees federal response to earthquakes, fires, floods, and other natural disasters. This is an agency whose track record is as horrible as its budget seems pretty flush. In 2001, the director asked for $3.6 billion (not sure he got it; it's hard to find the agency's data online) and Wikipedia reports its 2008 budget at $5.8 billion.
In any case, the recurrent criticism of FEMA, which probably added to the death toll of Hurricane Katrina through its widely noted incompetence ("Heckuva job, Brownie!"), has little to do with dollars per se. The plain fact is that federal government spending on virtually everything is way, way up since, say 2000. Whether you slice it as percentage of GDP, inflation-adjusted dollars, amount per targeted recipient, you name it, we're spending tons more than we were only a decade or so ago. If people are going to drop dead if that amount of dough gets trimmed at all, it's not really about money. As with many things, maybe most things, especially when it comes to government, it's the people and the organizational structure that is the problem.
When someone predicts that “our soils will become barren” and “the dairy industry will be destroyed,” you might think a wrathful god is unleashing a cattle plague. But as Senior Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward explains, in 1886, the year those threats were registered in the Congressional Record, the source of deadly danger was no deity. It was margarine.View this article
In my column today, I mention last month's 1st Circuit ruling (PDF) reaffirming that the First Amendment protects the right to record the public acts of public officials, including police officers. Notably, the appeals court, which was dealing with a case in which a bystander was charged with eavesdropping after he recorded an arrest he happened to witness on the Boston Common, made no distinction between "members of the press" and the average joe:
It is of no significance that the present case...involves a private individual, and not a reporter, gathering information about public officials. The First Amendment right to gather news is, as the Court has often noted, not one that inures solely to the benefit of the news media; rather, the public's right of access to information is coextensive with that of the press....
Moreover, changes in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw. The proliferation of electronic devices with video-recording capability means that many of our images of current events come from bystanders with a ready cell phone or digital camera rather than a traditional film crew, and news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status.
This point is frequently overlooked, since people tend to think that the press in "freedom of the press" refers to professional journalists employed by news organizations, as opposed to a technology of mass communication, which nowadays certainly includes blogs as well as newspapers and TV stations. The restrictions on political speech overturned by the Supreme Court in Citizens United, for example, included an exemption for media corporations, as if that took care of any First Amendment concerns.
Sean Higgins over at Investor's Business Daily is reporting that the U.S. Department of Energy may be on the verge of shoving $6.5 billion more in federal subsidies to support nine green energy projects:
The number of full-time, permanent jobs they would create? According to the DOE's own figures, a grand total of 283. That is nearly $23 million per job.
It's also a drop in the bucket toward the five million green jobs President Obama promised as a candidate in 2008.
It's not clear how many of the loans will get approved. The DOE refused comment prior to the Thursday announcements.
In the last week, the DOE has approved three loans totaling $624 million and creating 110 permanent jobs. But two other big loan projects totaling nearly $2 billion reportedly fell through. ...
So far, the DOE has issued over $10 billion in loan guarantees for 21 projects — including Solyndra — and claims to have created about 2,300 permanent jobs.
That the funds are loans, not grants, is often cited by green jobs fans. But the Solyndra failure has underscored the risks.
Nadia Habib is a star psychology student in her junior year at Stony Brook University in New York. She has no criminal record. Her Bangladeshi father, a Queens cab driver who's lived in New York for 20 years, has a green card, and her three siblings are all U.S. citizens. But because Habib was 20 months old when her mother brought her to the U.S., both she and her mother are scheduled to be deported tomorrow.
Habib didn't learn she was undocumented until she was in high school, and her mother has been seeking asylum for the two of them since then. Earlier this month, their final appeal was denied. “We have to be there with 50 pound of baggage each and have our passports and be ready to leave or they can detain us,” Habib told a CBS affiliate in New York last week. She told the New York Daily News:
"If we have to leave I'd be leaving my three siblings, my father and my entire life," Habib said. "It would mean losing a lot, everything basically, of what we have."
"I don't even know if I were to go back what I would do - I can't even speak the language," said Habib. "My mom's just scared."
Habib's friends at Stony Brook, Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY.), and the New York State Youth Leadership Council (a student group that fights for undocumented youth) have all appealed to Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Habib's behalf. Yet under President Barack Obama's softer deportation policy, Habib and her mother shouldn't need an army of sympathizers to stay in the U.S. Immigration officials now have additional "prosecutorial discretion" in determining who to deport. That phrase means ICE officials will not be punished for deprioritizing undocumented workers who have family in the U.S., hold down good jobs, or are in school, but are technically in violation of U.S. immigration law. From the White House blog:
Today, [DHS] announced that they are strengthening their ability to target criminals even further by making sure they are not focusing our resources on deporting people who are low priorities for deportation. This includes individuals such as young people who were brought to this country as small children, and who know no other home. It also includes individuals such as military veterans and the spouses of active-duty military personnel. It makes no sense to spend our enforcement resources on these low-priority cases when they could be used with more impact on others, including individuals who have been convicted of serious crimes.
So DHS, along with the Department of Justice, will be reviewing the current deportation caseload to clear out low-priority cases on a case-by-case basis and make more room to deport people who have been convicted of crimes or pose a security risk. And they will take steps to keep low-priority cases out of the deportation pipeline in the first place. They will be applying common sense guidelines to make these decisions, like a person’s ties and contributions to the community, their family relationships and military service record. In the end, this means more immigration enforcement pressure where it counts the most, and less where it doesn’t – that’s the smartest way to follow the law while we stay focused on working with the Congress to fix it.
By Napolitano's own standards, Nadia Habib and her mother, Nazmin Habib, perfectly fit the profile of immigrants who shouldn't be deported. To a lesser degree, so does Paula Godoy, a Guatemalan woman who was scheduled to be deported on her American-born kids' first day of school after she was stopped while driving with a suspended license. After spending her life savings on legal advice and bidding goodbye to her kids, Godoy was granted a six month stay the day she was supposed to be deported. Habib, who is scheduled to meet with ICE officials about her appeal tomorrow, could get the same "lucky break." But that's hardly the outcome promised by Obama's softer deportation policy.
GenomeWeb is reporting that the National Human Genome Research Institute has handed out nearly $6 million grants to various bioethicists to figure out what the moral thing to do is in the following situation:
The core questions in this area concern whether scientists should provide [research] participants information about their risks for diseases or conditions that were discovered while their genomes were being analyzed for research purposes....
There is a split in the research community about whether or not it is ethical to return results to participants, according to NHGRI, with some believing that there is an obligation to reveal to participants genomic information if it is medically significant and interventions could be taken to prevent a disorder. But others view such sharing as unethical, particularly if participants were told that they would not be contacted, if the information relates to a disorder that has no interventions, or if there are questions about the significance of the information.
Yes, participants should be told about any health risks
uncovered by genomics researchers unless they
agreed otherwise. For example, I have signed up for the Personal Genome Project which explicitly tells me in the consent form [PDF] to which I agreed:
Any information, data, analyses or other materials created or prepared by the PGP from such tissue samples or specimens, including, without limitation, your DNA sequence data, cell lines and the results of any research or analysis performed by or in collaboration with the PGP, are the property of and owned by the PGP and not by you. However, consistent with the goals of the PGP and this consent form, the PGP will attempt to make this information, data or materials, including your DNA sequence data, cell lines and other related analyses and materials, freely available to you and/or to the public as described in this consent form. Ultimately, however, it will be the PGP’s decision – consistent with the requirements imposed by this consent form, Harvard Medical School and applicable law – when and whether to make available such information, data and materials. The PGP is unable to guarantee if, when or in what form you will receive access to any information, data or materials as part of your participation in this study.
I stand ready to resolve the next bioethical issue at a cost of considerably less than $6 million. Just ask me.
In 1949, President Harry Truman signed the Housing Act, which gave federal, state, and local governments unprecedented power to shape residential life. One of the Housing Act's main initiatives - "urban renewal" - destroyed about 2,000 communities in the 1950s and '60s and forced more than 300,000 families from their homes. Overall, about half of urban renewal's victims were black, a reality that led to James Baldwin's famous quip that "urban renewal means Negro removal."
New York City's Manhattantown (1951) was one of the first projects authorized under urban renewal and it set the model not only for hundreds of urban renewal projects but for the next 60 years of eminent domain abuse at places such as Poletown, New London, and Atlantic Yards. The Manhattantown project destroyed six blocks on New York City's Upper West Side, including an African-American community that dated to the turn of the century. The city sold the land for a token sum to a group of well-connected Democratic pols to build a middle-class housing development. Then came the often repeated bulldoze-and-abandon phenomenon: With little financial skin in the game, the developers let the demolished land sit vacant for years.
The community destroyed at Manhattantown was a model for the tight-knit, interconnected neighborhoods later celebrated by Jane Jacobs and other critics of top-down redevelopment. In the early 20th century, Manhattantown was briefly the center of New York's black music scene. A startling roster of musicians, writers, and artists resided there: the composer Will Marion Cook, vaudeville star Bert Williams, opera singer Abbie Mitchell, James Weldon Johnson and his brother Rosemond, muralist Charles Alston, writer and historian Arturo Schomburg, Billie Holiday (whose mother also owned a restaurant on 99th Street), Butterfly McQueen of "Gone with the Wind" fame, and the actor Robert Earl Jones.
Designating West 99th and 98th Streets a "slum" was bitterly ironic. The community was founded when the great black real estate entrepreneur Philip Payton Jr. broke the color line on 99th Street in 1905. Payton, also credited with first bringing African Americans to Harlem, wanted to make it possible for a black man to rent an apartment, in his words, "wherever his means will permit him to live."
A couple years after Payton moved his first tenants into West 99th and 98th Streets, the black orator Roscoe Conkling Simmon marveled that African Americans for the first time were living in "the most beautiful and cultured neighborhood in New York City...because back of them stands organized and sympathetic capital."
Fifty years later, the federal bulldozer tore that neighborhood apart.
Written, produced, shot, and edited by Jim Epstein. Narrated by Nick Gillespie.
Approximately 6.30 minutes.
In 2008, the Kaiser Foundation's annual survey of employee health benefits reported that employer-sponsored insurance premiums for families were up by five percent. Family premiums for employer-sponsored insurance rose by five percent again in 2009, and by about three percent in 2010. In Kaiser's 2011 survey, the first report a full year after the passage of ObamaCare, family premiums are up by nine percent.
What accounts for this dramatic spike? At Forbes, Avik Roy suggests some reasons:
First, the blizzard of new mandates and regulations on private insurers has, and will continue, to drive premiums up. If you force every restaurant to serve fancy organic vegetables, restaurants will have to charge higher prices for the food on their menus. Same goes for insurance.
Second, Obamacare contains significant tax increases that will get passed down to consumers in the form of increased premiums.
...Third, insurers know that Obamacare’s insurance price control regulations areset to go into effect for 2012, and are doubtlessly trying to get in as big a price increase as they can before the process of premium increases becomes completely politicized.
So the time-delayed regulations intended to bring health insurance premiums down may have encouraged insurers to hike premiums in the short term in order to start from a higher baseline once the rules kick in.
Perhaps that's just a temporary effect. Will the law's roundabout system of price controls succeed in keeping the cost of health insurance down once they actually go into effect? In the long term, I wouldn't count on it, at least not unless broader economic factors change considerably. Mandatory medical loss ratios, which require insurers to spend a certain percentage of their premium revenue on federally defined clinical services, end up giving insurers an incentive to increase premiums. And when Massachusetts attempted to enforce health insurance rate reviews that are in many ways more powerful than those in the law, the result was that the state's biggest health insurers ended up operating at a loss—which obviously isn't a sustainable situation.
The Kaiser report looked at employer-sponsored benefits. But reports from several states, as well as the Congressional Budget Office, project that once ObamaCare is fully operational, the biggest premium increases will be in the individual insurance market.
- From the WSJ: "Solyndra's cash-flow problems in late 2010 had previously come to light but it was not known that the company technically defaulted on its loan and violated its agreement with the U.S. government."
- Terror watch lists are forever, according to a trove of FOIA'd FBI documents: "Even a not-guilty verdict may not always be enough to get someone off the list, if agents maintain they still have 'reasonable suspicion' that the person might have ties to terrorism."
- By a slight majority, Pennsylvania voters want to preserve the state's winner-take-all Electoral College system.
- DoD officials try to walk back a statement by Admiral Mike Mullen, in which he accused the Pakistani government of sponsoring violence against the U.S.
- Jared Loughner will be held for an additional eight months before his trial starts. A court psychologist says she can make him sane during that time.
- How to find the weirdest stuff on the Internet.
New at Reason.tv: "How Housing Policy and Public Pensions are Bankrupting America"
Two weeks ago, an Illinois judge dismissed eavesdropping charges against Michael Allison, who was charged with five felonies punishable by up to 75 years in prison for recording his own conversations with police and other local officials. Senior Editor Jacob Sullum says the case vividly shows how the Illinois Eavesdropping Act, the target of a constitutional challenge that was recently heard by a federal appeals court, undermines transparency, civil liberties, and legal equality.View this article
"The day that facts start winning in Washington is the day I don't have to do my job," says Reason Foundation's director of economic research Anthony Randazzo. Randazzo and policy analyst Adam Summers spoke at a panel at FreedomFest 2011 called "Shooting Elephants: Government Pensions & Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac."
At the heart of the current economic crisis is a housing meltdown that Randazzo says was underwritten by misguided government policies designed to increase home ownership rates. When you look at the data, he argues, there's little reason to believe that owning makes more sense than renting from a variety of perspectives. Yet the government's push to create an "ownership society" ended up first inflating an unsustainable market.
Summers focuses on the role that public pensions play in state and local budget shortfalls. Routinely based on "wishful thinking rather than what is reasonably foreseeable," Summers says public-sector wages and benefits need to brought into line with the private sector and that states such as Utah are providing a workable model of reform.
Shot by Jim Epstein and Zach Weissmueller and edited by Joshua Swain.
About 44 minutes long.
This week Vladimir Putin announced that he plans to be the president of Russia—again—just as soon the formality of an "election" is done with this coming spring. Such leadership decisions are made by a small elite which divvy up power and money amongst themselves. Until the 19th century, the world was ever thus. Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey, just back from Russia, reports that economic science suggests that Putin and his cronies are just doing what comes naturally.View this article
For the first time in his 2012 presidential campaign, and the third time ever, Ron Paul visited The Daily Show on Sept. 26 where host Jon Stewart -- who certainly leans left and tends to mock right -- was endearingly respectful of the Texas Congressman; so much so that Stewart spent several minutes of the interview sarcastically urging Paul to advocate war with Iran and start flip-flopping on issues in order to get more media attention.
Certainly a little credit for Ron Paul's recent press goes to Stewart, who has mocked Paul, but earlier in August took some time to brilliantly rant that Paul was being treated like "the 13th floor in a hotel," even after he came in a close second in the Ames, Iowa straw poll. (Paul himself later hat-tipped Stewart.)
In the Monday interview Paul was genial -- as was Stewart -- and was his usual, earnest, mostly on-point self. It was nice to see him get more time and more relaxed format than having to cram lectures on sound money into seconds of debate time.
Paul said some overtly libertarian things such as "I fear the wars on drugs a lot more than I fear the drugs themselves." And Stewart pushed Paul on legalizing heroin (in a less contemptuous version of the GOP debate moderator's standby of "really, you believe that?") and his defense of pure capitalism.
One of Stewart's final questions, "So oppression is not okay for the federal level, but when your state wants to oppress you --?" was a good one because it showed Stewart not just interviewing in incredulous circles, and because it highlighted something even libertarians and mixed Paul sympathizers have worried over.
Around the internet, the third meeting of everyone's favorite liberal moderate populist and everyone's favorite libertarian Republican provoked different responses than Stewart's genuine respect for Paul's consistency. Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic somewhat sympathetically said the too-principled Paul can't get the nomination and wrote, (with some implied fears of a small government dystopia, or at least a mess):
One reason I'd be more comfortable voting for President Gary Johnson than President Ron Paul is that I've studied how he governed. In New Mexico, Gov. Johnson inherited a state that looked dramatically different than the one he'd have created if he was inventing things from scratch. But his principled skepticism of certain state agencies didn't result in a dysfunctional bureaucracy or a citizenry suddenly faced with pothole filled streets and garbage collecting on the sidewalks.
Not all commentators were so delicate. The American Prospect's Paul Waldman is offended by the left's occasional Paul sympathies on issues like the Middle East or the drug war. So he got right down to it with the headline "Ron Paul, Crazy Person." Waldman's core objections are illustrated with this Paul quote from the The Daily Show interview:
The regulations are much tougher in a free market, because you cannot commit fraud, you cannot steal, you cannot hurt people, and the failure has come that government wouldn’t enforce this. In the Industrial Revolution there was a collusion and you could pollute and they got away with it. But in a true free market in a libertarian society you can’t do that. You have to be responsible. So the regulations would be tougher.
Except that Paul also said in the interview:
I think the environment would be better protected by strict property rights...All you have to say is you have no right to pollute your neighbor's property, water, air, or anything and you wouldn't have the politicians writing the laws and exempting certain companies. They come, they write the laws, then they exempt themselves and then they trade permits to pollute the air.
You could get into some good libertarian debates about environmentalism (go ahead, commenters), but Paul was trying to define cronyism and did fairly well there, in a way that could potentially appeal to the more leftish. But Waldman preferred the previous quote which better fit his interpretation of Paul -- who was obviously saying a world of low-to-no government would be a utopia.
Paul is generally treated like the eccentric but cute uncle in the presidential race, and liberals favorably inclined toward Paul’s views on defense and foreign policy are less likely to criticize him than they are some other Republican candidates. But we don’t say often enough that his views about economics are every bit as bizarre and extreme as Michele Bachmann’s views on the Rapture or Rick Perry’s views on Social Security.
Finally, a September 27 Los Angeles Times post points to a new CNN poll and sums up just how baffled some people are by this Paul-is-serious-stuff:
If you are looking for signs of President Obama’s vulnerability, there are plenty to be found in the latest CNN poll. But one number stands out: If that hypothetical election were held tomorrow, Obama would beat Ron Paul—yeah, that Ron Paul—by just four points.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and then-National Economic Council Director Larry Summers warned President Obama in October 2010 that the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program was dangerously short on due diligence.
According to three reporters from the Los Angeles Times:
At a White House meeting in late October, Lawrence H. Summers, then director of the National Economic Council, and Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, expressed concerns that the selection process for federal loan guarantees wasn't rigorous enough and raised the risk that funds could be going to the wrong companies, including ones that didn't need the help.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu, also at the meeting, had a different view. Under pressure from Congress to speed up the loans, he wanted less scrutiny from the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget, or OMB...
In late October 2010, administration officials took their opposing views directly to Obama. In preparation, a memo was drafted by Summers, who remained wary of the program, and two others who were more supportive: then-energy advisor Carol Browner and Ron Klain, then chief of staff to Vice President Joseph Biden. The memo laid out their different concerns and options to fix a "broken process" for getting loans approved.
Warning that the program could "fail to advance your clean-energy agenda" by investing in companies that didn't need help, the memo proposed alternatives, including diverting the funds into grants available to the entire industry. By contrast, Energy Department officials wanted to end the "deal by deal" reviews by the Treasury and OMB, the memo said.
As evidence like this continues to pile up, the Obama Administration’s media defenders can’t abandon the idea that Solyndra’s failure was capitalism’s fault and therefore not foreseeable by officials who were doing their best in good faith. In the Washington Post, Dana Milbank allows that the Solyndra loan guarantee and bankruptcy wasn’t President Bush’s fault before explaining that, really, it was Bush’s fault:
This doesn’t mean that Bush is to blame for Solyndra or that the Obama administration should be absolved. Obama, whose administration gave the company the loan guarantee, deserves the black eye that Republicans have given him over the half a billion dollars squandered on the company. But the Republican paternity of the program that birthed Solyndra suggests some skepticism is in order when many of those same Republicans use Solyndra as an example of all that is wrong with Obama’s governance.
“Loan guarantees aim to stimulate investment and commercialization of clean energy technologies to reduce our nation’s reliance on foreign sources of energy,” Bush’s energy secretary, Sam Bodman, announced in a press release on Oct. 4, 2007. The release said the Energy Department had received 143 pre-applications for the guarantees and narrowed the list down to 16 finalists — including Solyndra. Bodman said the action put “Americans one step closer to being able to use new and novel sources of energy on a mass scale to reduce emissions and allow for vigorous economic growth and increased energy security.”
Bush’s Energy Department apparently adjusted its regulations to make sure that Solyndra would be eligible for the guarantees. It hadn’t originally contemplated including the photovoltaic-panel manufacturing that Solyndra did but changed the regulation before it was finalized. The only project that benefited was Solyndra’s.
It’s certainly fair to point out, as Ira Stoll did at Reason yesterday, the Republican angles in the Solyndra debacle. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-California) recently made the self-contradicting claim that it’s OK to "ask for money from whatever pool is available to help their constituents" as long as the process is "truly competitive and is without political interference" – and while Daily Kos manages to miss the irony of that comment, Kos is also right to point out how widely the cancer of corporate welfare has spread.
But this New York Times editorial is so inaccurate it must be intentionally misleading:
The United States, which three years ago led the world in investments in clean energy, has now fallen behind China and Germany, which provide far more generous subsidies. The failure of a single company — and anyone who knows anything about transformative technologies knows there will be failures — is no reason to stop our efforts to catch up.
There are important issues here that need a hard look. The Justice Department is investigating whether Solyndra was upfront about its problems with investors. A House committee is asking whether the company’s loan application was hurried along by Obama officials so that the White House could trumpet its job creation efforts.
The administration claims to have exercised due diligence and seems to have been forthcoming in responding to Congress. The company has been decidedly less so; two senior executives, citing the Justice Department inquiry, took the Fifth Amendment when they appeared before a Congressional committee on Friday.
Leave aside the economically illiterate notion that the United States is in some kind of race with other countries to dominate green industry – as if the marketplace were a flag-waving Olympiad or the Cold War’s fictional “missile gap.” The claim that the White House “seems to have been forthcoming in responding to Congress” flies in the face of all known facts about this case. To wit:
The Obama Administration has provided no explanation for its behavior toward Solyndra over the last twelve months – which includes having Department of Energy officials apparently sit in on board meetings.
Former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel claims not to remember anything about Solyndra, while the president’s spokesman says he hasn’t been briefed on the matter.
When the Department of Energy and the Office of Management and Budget finally coughed up officials to testify to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, they sent two guys who were not even around when the original loan guarantee was decided.
After the House investigation made Solyndra a national story, the administration unleashed a series of its own investigations, the only practical effect of which was to make it virtually impossible for the company’s executives – whom Los Tiempos now blames for not cooperating – to testify.
And the obstruction continues. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has not divulged any information about the Solyndra scandal. Nor has top adviser Valerie Jarrett. Last week, the House committee requested Solyndra-related correspondence among the Department of Energy, the White House and the Department of Treasury. The DoE now is apparently saying it won’t be able to make its deadline for turning over those documents. I have calls and emails in on this report, but if the Energy Department is really claiming this, it is absurd given that the company’s troubles have been known since the beginning of this year and Solyndra has been a major news story since the end of August.
The Bush Administration was at least this “forthcoming” during the Valerie Plame scandal. Why was The New York Times so stingy with its praise back then?
Back on Planet Earth, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Debra Saunders dismantles the newest package of Solyndra excuses. (And when San Francisco is Planet Earth, you know you’re in trouble.)
The Central Park Conservancy, a private charity formed by philanthropists and activists in 1980 to address deplorable conditions in the park, has been an unbelievable success.
Once a park in disrepair with lawns that were more aptly referred to as dustbowls, Central Park has resumed its rightful place as a major attraction in New York City—thanks primarily to the $430 million in private money that has poured into the park over the last three decades, supplementing (and dwarfing) $120 million in government funds.
After celebrating the success of the project, The New York Times drops the obligatory quote about why private funding cannot work for parks elsewhere:
“The more difficult question,” said Alyson Beha, the [non-profit New Yorkers for Parks'] director of research, planning and policy, “is what about all these other parks that don’t have the private money and are not located in wealthy neighborhoods?”
Most parks don't have the good fortune to be surrounded by highrises full of some of the richest people in the world. But that doesn't make the Central Park model any less instructive for parks everywhere.
For one thing, people donate to similar preservation efforts all around the globe, not just in their home communities. The Nature Conservancy's home page states front and center: "We're working with you to make a positive impact around the world in more than 30 countries, all 50 United States and your backyard."
But even if people are only willing to donate to park conservation efforts in their backyards, the public option doesn't look too promising at the moment. We Are Out of Money, federal budget woes threaten national parks funding, and many state park systems face funding crises. If you're against privatizing parks, let alone mere public-private partnerships for park management, the alternative may not be publicly-funded parks—it may be no parks at all.
California has slashed funding for its state park system by $11 million for next year alone, as Reason's Harris Kenny has noted, and the state is considering any and all options for privatization or public-private partnerships. Oklahoma has privatized some of its park system in recent years, but federal requirements mire further progress. And Utah, Arizona, Idaho, Colorado, and Washington have had to cut services, trim staff, or increase fees.
A 2007 report from the free market environmentalist Property and Environment Research Center also documented the success of the Central Park Conservancy—and not just in Manhattan. Cities around the world—from countries as varied as Brazil, Turkey, and Chile—have followed the Conservancy's blueprint.
As a board member of the Conservancy, John Stossel has documented some of its efforts for Reason.
"School choice is winning, in America, folks," argues Reason Foundation education analyst Lisa Snell, who tallies up all the ways that voucher programs, charter schools, and more are making incredible improvements in the quality of American education. "We're broke," explains her Reason colleague, Harris Kenny, who says that privatizing and contracting-out many jobs done by public-sector employees will not only save money but increase service levels for taxpayers.
Snell and Kenny spoke as part of the first "Reason Day" at FreedomFest. Reason magazine editor and Declaration of Independents co-author Matt Welch moderates the discussion. Held each July in Las Vegas, FreedomFest is attended by around 2,000 libertarians and advocates of limited government. Reason.tv spoke with over two dozen speakers and attendees and will be releasing interviews over the coming weeks. For an ever-growing playlist, go here now.
About 50 minutes. Shot by Alex Manning and Zach Weissmueller and edited by Sharif Matar.
Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube channel to get automatic notifications when new material goes live.
Detroit News business columnist Dan Howes reports that the Obama administration has prodded Ford Motor Co. to pull its TV ad featuring a Ford (pick up) buyer saying that he wasn’t going to buy a vehicle from any company that received a government bailout because that was un-American. Notes Howes:
[T]he White House questioned whether the copy was publicly denigrating the controversial bailout policy CEO Alan Mulally repeatedly supported in the dark days of late 2008, in early '09 and again when the ad flap arose. And more.
With President Barack Obama tuning his re-election campaign amid dismal economic conditions and simmering antipathy toward his stimulus spending and associated bailouts, the Ford ad carried the makings of a political liability when Team Obama can least afford yet another one. Can't have that.
The ad, pulled in response to White House questions (and, presumably, carping from rival GM), threatened to rekindle the negative (if accurate) association just when the president wants credit for their positive results (GM and Chrysler are moving forward, making money and selling vehicles) and to distance himself from any public downside of his decision.
In other words, where presidential politics and automotive marketing collide — clean, green, politically correct vehicles not included — the president wins and the automaker loses because the benefit of the battle isn't worth the cost of waging it.
President Obama had assured everyone that just because GM and Chrysler got close to $100 billion in government money didn’t mean that the government would start bullying the companies to do its bidding. But evidently bullying their rivals that didn’t take government money is just fine.
One nit to pick with Howes’ otherwise excellent account: He implies that Ford did not reject bailout money out of some high-minded principle. It was quite happy to accept government help to “retool” its plants in the past. But the “retooling” money that Howes is alluding to was meant to help the auto industry meet the government’s hugely expensive CAFÉ mandate. Of course, Ford is not unsullied by government money. No company is or can be given the complex web of government regulations and subsidies that governs economic activity. But the bailout was not just like any other government handout. It was a handout that explicitly, expressly propped up Ford’s failing rivals and therefore implicitly penalized it. Not allowing Ford to market that fact to distinguish itself from them is tantamount to imposing a double jeopardy on it.
Ford’s campaign to sell cars has to yield to the president’s campaign to sell himself. How is that for free enterprise and free speech in America?
Hat Tip: Sean Higgins, Investors Business Daily.
In his latest column, Gene Healy makes the case for abolishing the Department of Homeland Security. Shuttering DHS doesn’t mean ending legitimate federal counterterrorism functions, Healy explains, it means undoing a giant, costly government reorganization that left us no safer and considerably less free.View this article
Political operative Roger Stone--who, in past lives was one of Richard Nixon's dirty tricksters, a close confidant of former HUAC lawyer Roy Cohn, spinmeister for Donald Trump's various presidential exploratory committees, pseudonymous male fashion columnist, Eliot spitzer's bete noir, and right-hand man to former New York madam-turned-gubernatorial candidate Kristin M. Davis--has endorsed Gary Johnson's presidential bid.
In a post titled "The STONEzone endorses Gov. Gary Johnson for President," Stone writes about seeing Johnson debate nationally for the first time in Florida:
The most interesting thing in the debate was the national debut of Governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico, a pro-pot, anti-war libertarian with a record of cutting taxes and spending and creating more jobs than Mitt Romney in Massachusetts or Governor Rick Perry in Texas.
The STONEzone formally endorses Governor Gary Johnson for the Republican nomination for president in this very posting. Be sure to read this exceptional profile on Governor Gary Johnson from GQ.
This is one of the more novel endorsements I've seen, something the Johnson campaign apparently also recognizes, as they just sent out an email blast touting Stone's support. See Reason.tv's fantastic interviews with Stone, who has Nixon's face tattooed between his shoulder blades:
Received wisdom says conservatives are the ones driven by anger—Republicans took the House last year because 2010 was another “year of the angry white male,” and all that. But in August remarks about class warfare that have gone viral on the left, Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic candidate for a Senate seat from Massachusetts, is visibly seething.
But here’s the really funny thing, writes A. Barton Hinkle. Warren’s comments—her rage and resentment and sarcasm—amount to little more than a takedown of a position that nobody holds.View this article
It looks likely the Supreme Court will rule on ObamaCare's individual mandate before the next election. Via Politico:
The Obama administration chose not to ask the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to re-hear a pivotal health reform case Monday, signaling that it’s going to ask the Supreme Court to decide whether President Barack Obama’s health reform law is constitutional.
The move puts the Supreme Court in the difficult position of having to decide whether to take the highly politically charged case in the middle of the presidential election.
The Justice Department is expected to ask the court to overturn an August decision by a panel of three judges in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that found the law’s requirement to buy insurance is unconstitutional. The suit was brought by 26 states, the National Federation of Independent Business, and several individuals.
Since the ruling, the Justice Department had until Monday to ask the entire 11th Circuit to review the case. Administration lawyers didn’t file the paperwork by the 5 p.m. deadline, so the ruling would stand unless the Justice Department asks the Supreme Court to step in.
A number of observers had expected that the Obama administration would ask for the 11th Circuit to re-hear the case in order to delay a ruling by the Supreme Court until after the election. But it looks like they wanted to get it over with, and highlight the Court's ruling, whatever it turns out to be.
Does this suggest that the administration is confident that it will win when the Court rules on the mandate? Perhaps. Opponents of the mandate have always faced an uphill battle, and while the case against the requirement has probably gotten stronger as various courts have ruled in its favor—remember, even critics originally expected challengers to have virtually no chance at all—it's probably still true that the odds favor the administration.
But even for the most knowledgable observers, predicting a Supreme Court ruling months in advance is mostly a guessing game. We don't even know with absolute certainty that the Court will agree to hear the case at all, although it would be very surprising if they didn't.
What this suggests, then, is that regardless of Court's decision, the administration wants to ensure that ObamaCare in general and the mandate in specific will be major issues in the 2012 election. And that presumably means that they've got their arguments ready and are confident they'll work. If the mandate is upheld, Obama will claim constitutional victory, and argue that Republicans pursued a frivolous challenge in service of political gain. If not, he'll presumably argue that the challenge itself represented a partisan attack by political foes who aren't interested in fixing the health care system and that America's court system has become hopelessly biased by an extremist conservative judiciary that's in the thrall of the Republican party.
To some extent, ObamaCare would've become a major campaign issue anyway. But with a definitive ruling on the mandate now likely next summer, it's virtually guaranteed that the law, and the Court's decision to either uphold the mandate or strike it down, will become major election-season battles.
It's an odd decision in some respects. A Supreme Court decision in the administration's favor could help them make the case for the law. But given the mandate's deep unpopularity, it also might provoke a backlash. Regardless, a favorable decision is in no way a sure thing.
More to the point, the White House hasn't been terribly successful defending its most significant legislative achievement so far. Perhaps the administration is simply hoping this will play well with a base it needs to motivate in order to win. But ObamaCare's base isn't all that big: Pollster.com's poll aggregate reports that only 38 percent of the public currently support the law. But for whatever reason, the administration seems to have decided that it wants to make the case for ObamaCare yet again.
One of the most dismaying moments of last week’s GOP presidential debates was how Rick Perry handled Michele Bachmann’s broadside against him for allowing college-bound children of unauthorized aliens to pay in-state tuition rates in Texas. She insinuated that he was forcing Texas taxpayers to subsidize the college education of illegals. And he accused her of “not having a heart” which sounded more like a mea culpa than a response. But the issue of course is not Bachmann’s heart but her head.
In-state tuition is not a welfare program as Bachmann made it out to be. Public universities are supported by the taxes of state residents—legal and illegal. In-state rates are simply an acknowledgement of the fact that residents have already pre-paid part of the fee when their children go to college. Asking any resident, regardless of status, to pay the full tuition would be requiring them to pay twice for the same service. Yet this is precisely what denying unauthorized aliens in-state tuition does. As the Wall Street Journal notes this morning:
Lower in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities aren't akin to welfare for the indigent; they're not means-tested. They're a discount for residency. The same logic applies to hunting or fishing licenses.
Immigration status aside, state residents are thought to be deserving of a subsidy because they pay sales taxes, property taxes and other fees to support state institutions that non-state residents don't pay. Especially in a state like Texas that has no income tax, illegal aliens are more likely to bear a larger share of the tax burden than their counterparts in most other states.
Most children of illegal immigrants—some 73%, according to the Pew Hispanic Center—are U.S. citizens by birth. But as of 2008 there were 1.5 million children in the U.S. who are illegal. The Supreme Court has ruled that these children are entitled to a K-12 education. Lawmakers in Texas, which is home to the nation's second-largest illegal population after California, determined that tuition breaks for these residents made economic sense. So did the state's business community, which lobbied for the measure on the grounds that a better-educated population would translate into stronger economic growth.
State tax officials estimated that increased college enrollment by illegal immigrants would be budget neutral. (Emphasis added). It would bring in new students who would pay tuition, and those students who graduated would produce increased tax payments to the state. A college graduate's lifetime earnings are nearly double those of someone with only a high school diploma. The Dallas Morning News has reported that in 2009 illegal immigrants who were taking advantage of the tuition subsidy were 1% of the state's million-plus college students. The program is hardly the draw on state coffers that critics have claimed.
Perry should have reminded Bachmann that this country fought the Revolutionary War to defend the principle of “no taxation without representation.” But unauthorized aliens pay taxes even though they have no representation. Denying them in-state tuition on top of this would mean effectively allowing taxpaying residents who can vote to exploit another set of taxpaying residents who can’t vote.
So if Bachmann is at all interested in fairness and upholding bedrock American principles, here are her choices: She can either offer citizenship to unauthorized aliens so they can represent themselves and pay in-state tuition. Or she can stop collecting taxes from them. Perry should have said to her that he would revoke in-state tuition for illegals provided she made this her campaign slogan: “taxing illegals should be illegal.”
My previous column on how illegals pay more in taxes than you think here.
Richard Epstein, the distinguished legal scholar and former University of Chicago law school colleague of Barack Obama, is no fan of the president's recently proposed American Jobs Act:
What is so striking about Obama’s shopworn rhetoric is its juvenile intellectual quality. His explanation for how the AJA will create jobs is a non-starter because he does not explain how we get from here to there. As in so many other cases, the president thinks that waving a wand over a problem will make his most ardent wishes come true, even when similar earlier efforts have proved to be dismal failures. This dreadful hodgepodge of a bill will likely be dead-on-arrival in Congress, but it remains a patriotic duty to explicate some of its worst provisions.
The most evident feature of the AJA is that it is a combination of ill-conceived, disparate measures. The wandering quality of the bill makes it impossible to cover all of its silliness, but it is possible to focus on some of the core job provisions, all of which kill the very jobs that the AJA is supposed to create.
Read the whole piece here. Watch Epstein discuss his former colleague with Reason.tv below:
The black box warning is the strongest statement the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can require a drug company to issue. It is reserved for cases of serious or life threatening side effects. So it was a big deal in 2004 when the FDA forced drug companies to add a such a warning about increased suicidal thoughts in teens to a wide variety of antidepressants. The move was in response to some highly publicized 2003 findings about Paxil, one popular antidepressant.
That warning caused a dramatic drop in anti-depressant use by teenagers—20 to 30 percent. The results, according to a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research:
Teen suicides increased:
Youth suicides had been flat or declining among 10-19 year olds in the years preceding the warnings, but in 2004, 10-19 year old girls experienced a sharp increase in suicides, of over 30 percent.
Depressed teens, primarily girls, experienced a drop in their grades, opening up an achievement gap between depressed and non-depressed teens that didn't exist before the warnings:
We find that in 2002 and 2003 adolescents with probable depression had grade point averages .14 to .20 points higher than adolescents with depression in the latter half of 2004 and 2005.
Use of illegal drugs by depressed teens increased:
In all cases but binge drinking, substance use was twice as common in the depressed adolescents compared with their non-depressed peers....
Among girls, the FDA advisories and decline in the treatment of depression increased the use of illicit drugs by 5.4 percentage points and increased nonmedical prescription drug use by 4.3 percentage points.
Depressed kids also got in more trouble:
Fighting and stealing both rose disproportionately among depressed adolescents in the post period. Fighting rose by 6.5 percentage points and stealing rose by 4.6 percentage points in the full sample, although the effects on stealing were driven entirely by depressed girls.
In other words, it looks like the FDA should consider a black box warning for its black box warning.
For more on depression, read this excellent 2007 piece by Will Wilkinson.
Some researchers in Britain are planning to test a system in October in which a hose held up by a helium balloon spews water into the atmosphere. The SPICE experiment (Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Enginieering) is a baby step toward evaluating a proposal to cool down the planet by injecting sulfur particles high into the stratosphere where they would reflect sunlight back into space. This idea mimics a proposal made in Reason back in 1997 by physicist and sci-fi writer Gregory Benford and more recently suggested by Nathan Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures project.
Now a bunch of activist groups (congregated at the website Hands Off Mother Earth) is asking other groups and individuals to sign an open letter urging the British government to stop the experiment. Why? The letter asserts:
We believe that such research is a dangerous distraction from the real need: immediate and deep emissions cuts. Some of the global political and ecological dangers of stratospheric aerosol injection have been identified through modeling studies and examination of the impacts of sulphuric dust emitted by volcanoes. Those impacts include the potential for further damage to the ozone layer, disruption of rainfall, particularly in tropical and subtropical regions, and potentially threatening the food supplies of billions of people. Furthermore, emergent SRM [solar radiation management] technologies will leave high levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, worsen ocean acidification and condemn future generations to continue a high-risk, planetary-scale technological intervention that is also likely to increase the risk of climate-related international conflict. The involvement of organizations and/or corporations associated with the military – as is Marshall Aerospace – increases that risk.
If this experiment is allowed to go ahead, many governments of the global South and many civil society organizations will conclude that the UK is not negotiating in good faith to reduce emissions, but is instead preparing to proceed down an alternative, very high-risk technological path. We hope you will make clear that is not the case.
What the opponents overlook is that this preliminary research is aimed at finding out just how risky this type of geo-engineering is. I suspect that one of the biggest risks they fear is that geo-engineering might actually work well. As Princeton Rutgers University environmental scientist Alan Robock has observed [PDF]:
"If humans perceive an easy technological fix to global warming that allows for 'business as usual,' gathering the national (particularly in the United States and China) and international will to change consumption patterns and energy infrastructure will be even more difficult."
The activists already assume that man-made global warming is a big problem. If that is so and there's a significant chance it might come on faster than is currently projected, it is just plain stupid to oppose research that could lead to the development an emergency cooling system for the planet.
Michigan Republicans and Tea Party activists have set their sites on bringing right-to-work legislation to the Great Lakes state. As Shikha Dalmia explains, a right-to-work law would allow workers to join unionized companies without having to pay mandatory union dues. It is far from a done deal, Dalmia writes, but 22 states already have such laws, and that it is even on the table in the union capital of the country shows the new political reality confronting organized labor.View this article
So the latest threat of a federal government shutdown - this one over increasing FEMA spending at the expense of something else - has apparently passed for a while. Because FEMA looked under the couch cushions and realized it can probably get by until the end of the fiscal year, which ends on September 30. That means that a spending bill that was stuck on this issue was passed. Sort of.
Last week, FEMA officials said they expected funds to run out by Tuesday. By Monday, they had changed course and said the $114 million remaining in the Disaster Relief Fund would be enough.
“It’s important to remember that these are only estimates and the fund fluctuates due to a number of factors that are beyond our control, including the number of additional disaster survivors who register for assistance, as well as additional survivors that become eligible for assistance,” said a FEMA spokesman in an e-mail. “It’s also important to remember that this estimate assumes that no new disasters strike between now and when the fund may reach zero.”
Whew. There was much rejoicing among senators who otherwise were facing the dread prospect of coming up with so
me way of trimming as little as $1.6 billion from something else in order to pass a spending bill that would have covered more funding for FEMA. Here's the overcooked human egg noodle and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.):
Senators accepted the news gratefully.
But, he added, the Republican principle that “before we spend taxpayers money we should have a real accounting of what’s actually needed” is still on the table.
And here's Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in a typical understatement and absolutely Costanzanian "jerk-store" line:
“Had we agreed to what the House wanted to do, the next time would people say you had to cut education before you help the earthquake victims,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York at a press briefing after the vote.
But before any of us thinks this story is done, chew on this:
The Senate passed the spending bill, 79 to 12, but with the House in recess and out of Washington, some procedural hurdles remain. To make the Oct. 1 deadline, the House can hold a voice vote in a pro forma session this week – a move that would not require all House members to return to Washington.
But that will extend the government-shutdown deadline only to Oct. 4. To fund government through Nov. 18 will require a vote of the full House when it returns next week. Reports suggest that House leaders are already throwing their support behind the bill.
More here. So let's check back next week and see what's up, right?
This is Greek-level style incompetence. It is not about partisanship or the harsh new tone of politics or anything like that. To pretend that the federal government can't pass budgets is to ignore the fact that they are not presenting budgets for votes in the first place, especially in the hallowed hall of the Senate, where the budget chairman Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) has manifestly failed to do his job for at least the past couple of years. He's supposed to drag some sort of carcass of a budget across something like a finish line, and he hasn't. He's got his excuses why the dog ate his budget but the plain fact is that he completely blew his April 1 deadline for getting a resolution in play. The president put a budget out and so did the House Republicans. Conrad gave a speech. On July 11.
If the government can keep spending absent bipartisan chumminess, they should be able and willing to come up with some sort of plan that adds even the smallest amount of stability to just how much that's going to be.
"There's government failure and there's market failure," says Barron's economics writer Gene Epstein. "Government failure is far more prevalent."
At FreedomFest 2011, Reason's Nick Gillespie sat down with Barron's columnist Epstein to talk about his book Econospinning and the failure of what Epstein seens as widespread crony capitialism or "crapitalism." Characters such as former Countrywide Financial CEO Angelo Mozilo, says Epstein, don't really operate in a true profit-and-loss system. Rather, they make money through primarily through political connections and gaming a system they help to rig in the first place.
Held each July in Las Vegas, FreedomFest is attended by around 2,000 libertarians and advocates of limited government. Reason.tv spoke with over two dozen speakers and attendees and will be releasing interviews over the coming weeks. For an ever-growing playlist, go here now.
Scroll down for downloadable versions, and subscribe to our YouTube Channel to receive notifications when new material goes live.
About 6 minutes. Interview by Nick Gillespie. Camera by Jim Epstein and Zach Weissmueller. Edited by Alex Manning.
- Wall Street occupiers enter week two of their mission to "end the influence money has over our representatives in Washington."
- And that pepper-spraying cop? Yeah, he has a record of roughing up protesters.
- Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs downsizes its coffee cups, from 12 ounces to 10 ounces.
- Will the Super Committee actualy save America money? Probably not.
- WaPo discovers what it's like to be scheduled for deportation on your American-born kids' first day of school.
- Oklahoma moves to piss-test welfare recipients.
- The EPA says it needs roughly a quarter of a million more inspectors.
New at Reason.tv: "ManBearPig, Climategate and Watermelons: A conversation with author James Delingpole"
From our October issue, Senior Editor Jacob Sullum reflects on the new 50th anniversary edition of Thomas Szasz’s landmark book The Myth of Mental Illness. As Sullum observes, half a century after Szasz first declared “there is no such thing as ‘mental illness,’” his radical critique of psychiatry continues to be relevant.View this article
An alleged embezzlement scandal has left major California politicians without funding and could pose a serious challenge to the Democratic Party’s total control of the Golden State.
Kinde Durkee, campaign treasurer for many mostly Democratic California pols, was arrested at the beginning of this month on charges that she had swiped $677,000 from the account of Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Santa Ana). The Durkee case has much broader implications for California Democrats, however. Her clients – a complete list of whom has been collected by the Sacramento Bee – include Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Long Beach), Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Disneyland) and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
In addition to the money that Durkee seems to have re-appropriated (including most or all of Sanchez’ $379,000 “war chest”), the criminal investigation has led to a freeze on accounts for other politicians and organizations – including the L.A. County Democratic Party, which claims to be “the largest local Democratic Party entity in the United States.” The L.A. Times reports on the prospects for local Dems in the era of the perpetual campaign:
"It couldn't happen at a worse time," said Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Long Beach), who is expected to face Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro) in a tough June primary in a newly drawn district. "I hope for my sake, and for all of my colleagues, that we're able to recoup the funds."
More than a dozen state and federal candidates in next year's election have had funds frozen. Scores of others who have not announced their plans or will not be on the 2012 ballot also employed Durkee, which complicates their efforts to promote themselves now by, for example, spending money to raise funds for future races.
Party officials may not be able to provide their usual help. The Los Angeles County Democratic Party lost $220,000 to Durkee and has $85,000 more stuck in related legal limbo. Durkee also handled the finances of numerous smaller Democratic clubs that provide campaign foot soldiers and are now scrambling to meet payroll.
Some things of note:
The Durkee scam has gotten a bit of national attention, but it’s got long tentacles. DiFi is rich as Croesus, and she is already laying out cash to maintain her position. But the threat to incumbents is real. This is California, so the threats will come mostly from other Democrats. (Note that Richardson’s big worry is about fellow Democrat Janice Hahn.) But it could also open up some avenues for Republicans. Your best bet to follow that, and other California GOP trends, is Jon Fleischman’s The Flash Report.
A bunch of Dems are now going to the Federal Election Commission and the state’s creepily named Fair Political Practices Commission to ask for waivers on fundraising and spending rules. Theoretically, there shouldn’t be a problem with pols going back to their donors for more money, but almost to a one we are talking about supporters of tighter campaign finance restrictions.
Sanchez and Feinstein both voted for McCain-Feingold. Now incumbents are seeking exemptions from the laws they voted onto the books, but their claim of special circumstances is not persuasive. Neither the Internal Revenue Service nor the California Franchise Tax Board would give you a break on your income taxes just because you were the victim of a thief. Why should officeholders get to break the rules just because they were robbed?
Nor are these circumstances particularly special. Durkee did not sneak up and bonk the Democrats over the head. She has been a highly connected and powerful figure in California politics for more than a decade. Many Democrats still have praise for her work. You could call this a situation where the inclination of California politicians to associate with criminals has accidentally created the “level playing field” incumbents always claim to want. That’s all the more reason to treat the campaign finance woes of Cal Democrats as a jolly and welcome event.
A few years back, former FEC Chairman Brad Smith talked to Reason about the insanity of campaign finance reform laws:
Locals increasingly see Western humanitarian interventions abroad as "intrusive and disempowering," according to a World Disasters Report released last week by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Many companies that do business abroad couldn't agree more, which is one reason they're worrying less about corporate social responsibility and instead focusing on working with locals, the report notes.
Even aid evangelists consider much Western corporate do-gooderism to be little more than a thick coat of (RED)-washing or P.R. Instead of focusing on charming their Western patrons, some international companies are turning to would-be aid recipients, seeing them as able people who make successful business partners.
The report highlights a few examples, including a joint yogurt-making venture between the microfinance group Grameen Bank and French food company Groupe Danone. Another example involves smallholder farmers becoming part of a global supply chain:
[British charity] Oxfam argues that the long-held belief that smallholder farmers do not respond to market opportunities is unfounded. Although the main priority for many poor farmers is feeding their families, they remain motivated to produce and market surplus crops. Oxfam has a successful history of working with the private sector to bring smallholders into markets. One example is collaboration with a Sri Lankan company, Plenty Foods, which is integrating 1,500 farmers into its supply chain. The company estimates that sourcing supplies from smallholders has been a key factor in its annual growth of 30 percent for the past four years. At the same time, the farmers have better access to land, credit and technical support—as well as markets—and their incomes have increased accordingly.
Both Mother Jones and Media Matters find it darkly telling that Fox News and the Daily Caller have expressed worries over a potential War on Salt, provoked by the FDA's recent pledge to further look into the matter of health and sodium intake.
The Mother Jones blog -- headlined "The War on Salt is the New Death Panels" -- is mostly just scornful of the supposed fearmongering at work here. Whoever is in charge of their twitter even further goaded the official Fox News account in this tweet.
Here is Media Matters' highlighted quote of the Fox News exchange, with the full video at the link.
BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): I know you know the war on terror is going on, and you've accepted that. Can you accept the war on salt? It's official.
[T]here is an official war on salt, despite recent studies that show that salt really isn't that bad for you.
CARLSON: So the FDA has opened up now a formal inquiry into salt reduction, so what is that going to mean? Will we now see that you can't eat salt in your own home, potentially? I mean, you know, they've already done that with smoking, et cetera. Not really sure. The interesting thing is, some people are actually told to eat more salt -- like me. Eat more salt, your blood pressure is too low. So, you know, you can't really just apply this across the board for everyone.
KILMEADE: Right. Well, there's a new study that shows, they did a study, and they showed -- studied people over long term, 3,700 people. They showed over time, cardiovascular death rate was highest among those with less salt. Can you please put that in before we start a war on salt?
DOOCY: So the thing is, the science is not settled, and yet, the government has a bee in their bonnet. They want us to stop eating so much salt and sugar and stuff like that. The food police are rearing their head now that they have called for public comments on how to achieve salt reduction across the country. Goodie.
Yes, the tone is ominous, the phrasing is slightly weird. But why all the left-wing fearmongering over the dangers of right-wing food police fearmongering?
Mother Jones' final words:
Keep in mind that even if the FDA came out with rules, it wouldn't be deploying salt cops to your local Big Boy to confiscate all the salt shakers. It would merely be setting guidelines about the amount of salt in processed, packaged foods—the kind of foods where people unknowingly consume all kinds of sodium currently...
Fox's use of the "science isn't settled argument" when it comes to salt. Sound familiar? In this case, the network managed to find one study that contradicts the vast majority of scientific research that indicates excessive salt intake is unhealthy, and then used it to create the impression that the conclusion is somehow controversial. It's something that Fox does regularly when the subject is climate change, too. And just like in that example, it's entirely false.
Ha ha ha. Armed agents of the government being deployed to prohibit consumer choices! Someone has been reading too much infowars.com.
It's not even whether these writers have heard about incidents like armed raids against sellers of raw milk, the last several decades of the drug war, or even this fellow named Michael Bloomberg. The not-so-subtle thesis of both these articles is that the moment something is proven or suggested to be harmful by enough experts, to resist heavy-handed regulations (or to fear them) is to be anti-science.
The LA Times wrote this weekend that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is probing LA County jails for cases of misconduct by deputies, including inmate beatings. From the Times:
Federal authorities are investigating allegations of inmate beatings and other misconduct by deputies in Los Angeles County jails, with FBI agents going so far as to sneak a cellphone to an inmate to get reports from inside, according to law enforcement sources.
Federal officials declined to discuss details of their probes in the largest jail system in the nation. The lockups are already under federal court oversight for overcrowding and poor conditions and are due to absorb thousands of offenders who previously would have been housed in state prisons.
The jails have been plagued with problems over the last decade, including inmate riots, killings, antiquated facilities, huge settlements and even the formation of a gang-like deputies clique. Inmate accusations of beatings are common within the many facilities that make up the department's jail system, but most are unsubstantiated.
Just south of LA, the Orange County jail has had its own share of misconduct over the past decade. Reason TV looked at the fatal beating of inmate Michael Patrick Lass at the mens central jail in the piece, You're Killing Me! Was a police-related jailhouse death an accident or a homicide?.
Republicans have been celebrating the bankruptcy of taxpayer-funded solar energy company Solyndra as a scandal that will taint the Obama administration and its “green jobs” push. But as Ira Stoll points out, it’s not just Democrats who are entangled in this one.View this article
As David Kirby and I found in our analysis of Tea Party supporters at the Virginia Tea Party Convention in 2010, and published in Politico, the Tea Party is not one homogenous blob of ideologues. Many political scientists and political pundits who have not examined the data wrongly conclude the Tea Party is the GOP’s base of extreme fiscal and social conservatives. Instead, examination of nationwide survey data reveals the Tea Party has at least two major groups: one libertarian leaning and the other socially conservative. These two groups agree on most things economic, but disagree when it comes to social and cultural issues.
The recent Reason-Rupe poll also finds two groups among those who self-identify as supporters of the Tea Party, with 41 percent leaning-libertarian and 59 percent socially conservative. Tea Partiers generally agree on economic issues and abstract role of government questions. However, a split emerges on whether government has a role in promoting traditional values in society or if the government should not promote any particular set of values.
There are demographic differences between the two groups, with the libertarian-leaners less likely to attend religious services, more likely to come from the Northeast, with slightly higher educational attainment in some cases, and younger.
Although Tea Partiers overall are de-branded Republicans, libertarian-leaning Tea Partiers are even more so. The plurality response to partisan identification is 44 percent “Independent” compared to 39 percent “Republican.” When independents are asked which way they lean, most Tea Partiers lean Republican. Consequently, 39 percent of libertarian-leaning Tea Partiers are Republican and 29 percent lean Republican; in contrast, 57 percent of socially conservative Tea Partiers are Republican and 20 percent lean Republican.
Libertarian-leaners voiced more intense support for allowing workers the choice to opt out of Social Security and Medicare. They are also more likely to favor raising the retirement age than socially conservative Tea Partiers. They are less confident in the department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are also more likely to believe "misguided" regulations rather than the "lack of" regulations led to the troubled housing market.
Libertarian-leaners are much more likely to support a presidential candidate who is fiscally conservative and socially liberal. They are also more likely to consider voting for a third party candidate.
The New York Times highlights the impact of mandatory minimum sentences on plea bargains during the last few decades. While defendants have always risked a more severe punishment by pleading not guilty (hence the basis for plea bargains), the penalty for insisting on a trial has increased dramatically as legislators have ratcheted up sentences since the 1980s. The Times cites an assault case in which a Florida man rejected a plea bargain that included a two-year sentence and now, after prosecutors ramped up the charges, faces life in prison if he is convicted. In another Florida assault case, a man who claimed to have acted in defense of his family turned down a deal that involved five years of probation, only to receive a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence after he was convicted. Laws requiring such sentences effectively give prosecutors, rather than judges, the power to determine a defendant's punishment by deciding what charges to bring. Largely as a result of this shift in power, the Times says, the percentage of cases resolved through plea bargains has increased substantially:
The National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Va., found that the percentage of felonies taken to trial in nine states with available data fell to 2.3 percent in 2009, from 8 percent in 1976....
The Bureau of Justice Statistics, after studying partial data on state-court felony prosecutions nationwide, found that from 1986 to 2006 the ratio of pleas to trials nearly doubled.
The shift has been clearer in federal district courts. After tougher sentencing laws were enacted in the 1980s, the percentage of criminal cases taken to trial fell to less than 3 percent last year, from almost 15 percent, according to data from the State University at Albany’s Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics. The explosion of immigration prosecutions, where trials are rare, skews the numbers, but the trend is evident even when those cases are not included.
Nearly nine of every 10 cases ended in pleas last year.
As part of our July package on "Criminal Injustice," Timothy Lynch explained the pernicious impact of plea bargaining, noting that the popular understanding of American justice "is wildly off the mark" because only a small percentage of cases actually go to trial. In the same issue, Julie Stewart reviewed recent progress toward sentencing reform.
The heart of Miller's argument:
[T]he Democrats’ timid half-measures and the Republicans’ mindless anti-government creed can’t begin to get us there. Both parties are prisoner to interest groups and ideological litmus tests that prevent them from blending the best of liberal and conservative thinking. And neither party trusts you enough to lay out the facts and explain the steps we need to take to truly fix things — in fact, their pollsters tell them that if they do, you’ll vote them out.
Correct identification of national problems frequently leads to truly terrible suggested solutions. Such as: Children are getting screwed by the generation who is currently in power, so:
A crusade to amend the constitution to lower the voting age would inspire a generation that’s being robbed by the adults in power to enter the arena and raise its voice.
Meaning we should definitely:
Require national service. The conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr. was right: The proper response to the blessings that are every American’s patrimony is gratitude. It’s only right that this be expressed through a period of mandatory service of some kind by every young American...
Also, let's cut defense, sort of:
I’d insist we spend seven times more than China – but not nine times more, as our two political parties want; 13 times more than Russia, but not 17 times more; and 26 times more than Iran, North Korea and Syria combined – but not 33 times more. The result would be an annual military budget of $550 billion, not $700 billion.
Capitalism is enriching the lives of millions in Asia, but we need tariffs against China and:
[W]e should use government funds to create millions of short-term, labor-intensive service jobs in fields like education, elder care, public health and safety, and urban infrastructure maintenance. I would also put Americans to work on the countless roads, bridges, airports, schools and sewer systems across the country that need to be modernized.
But these are actually only the most entertainingly awful of Miller's ideas. Fellow Washington Post writer Greg Sargent helpfully points out that most of the bold agenda -- calls for moderate solutions on health care and tax cuts; being a "smart hawk" --sounds an awful lot like the Democrats's platform already. Sargent writes:
I’m open to the claim that the Democratic Party has failed to do a few of the things these commentators would like to see a third party undertake. But I’d argue it’s still incumbent on them to at least acknowledge and reckon with the fact that Dems are far closer than the GOP to filling the fabled ideological middle — as they themselves define it — that supposedly necessitates the need for a brave third party candidate to articulate a third way
Sargent is right that Miller's suggestions aren't radical enough to warrant a third party. But the implication throughout is still your between the radical GOP or the moderate Democrats. A real change from the political status quo is not even a consideration for either writer.
James Delingpole is a bestselling British author and blogger who helped expose the Climategate scandal back in 2009. Reason.tv caught up with Delingpole in Los Angeles recently to learn more about his entertaining and provocative new book Watermelons: The Green Movement's True Colors. At its very roots, argues Delingpole, climate change is an ideological battle, not a scientific one. In other words, it's green on the outside and red on the inside. At the end of the day, according to Delingpole, the "watermelons" of the modern environmental movement do not want to save the world. They want to rule it.
Approximately 10 minutes.
Produced by Paul Feine and Alex Manning.
James Miller, a theater professor at the University of Wisconsin in Stout, is a fan of Firefly, Joss Whedon's short-lived science fiction series. Evidently Lisa A. Walter, the school's chief of police, is not. After Miller put a Firefly poster on his office door, Walter removed it, perceiving it as a clear and present danger to public safety. The poster shows Nathan Fillion as Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds, captain of the spaceship at the center of Firefly. Superimposed over the image of Reynolds is a line he utters in the first episode: "You don't know me, son, so let me explain this to you once: If I ever kill you, you'll be awake. You'll be facing me. And you'll be armed." (This is Reynolds' response to a question from a prospective passenger: "I'm trying to put this as delicately as I can...how do I know you won't kill me in my sleep?") In a September 16 email message to Miller, Walter explained that "it is unacceptable to have postings such as this that refer to killing." When Miller asked her to "respect my first amendment rights," Walter claimed the poster was not covered by the First Amendment:
Speech can be limited on a reasonable expectation that it will cause a material and/or substantial disruption of school activities and/or be constituted as a threat. We were notified of the existence of the posting, reviewed it and believe that the wording on the poster can be interpreted as a threat by others and/or could cause those that view it to believe that you are willing/able to carry out actions similar to what is listed. This posting can cause others to fear for their safety, thus it was removed.
To protest Walter's censorship, Miller put up an orange warning poster parody that shows the outline of a cop beating a prone man. "WARNING: FASCISM," it says in big type. "Fascism can cause blunt trauma and/or violent death," it continues in a box at the bottom. "Keep fascism away from children and pets." At this point Walter chuckled, seeing the error of her hasty decision, and apologetically returned Miller's Firefly poster. Just kidding. She took down the new poster too, explaining her rationale in a September 20 email message:
The posting depicts violence and mentions violence and death. The campuses threat assessment team met yesterday and conferred with UW System Office of General Counsel and made the decision that this posting should be removed. It is believed that this posting also has a reasonable expectation that it will cause a material and/or substantial disruption of school activities and/or be constituted as a threat.
Miller has been summoned to discuss "the concerns raised by the campus threat assessment team" with Raymond Haye, interim dean of his college, on Friday. Meanwhile, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is asking the administration to back off and respect Miller's freedom of speech. It notes that, contrary to Walter's implication, neither of Miller's posters constitutes a "true threat," which is a statement in which "the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals."
Former Office of Management and Budget chief Peter Orszag has had it up to here with democracy:
To solve the serious problems facing our country, we need to minimize the harm from legislative inertia by relying more on automatic policies and depoliticized commissions for certain policy decisions. In other words, radical as it sounds, we need to counter the gridlock of our political institutions by making them a bit less democratic.
What's the big problem with democracy? Well, for starters, not enough deficit spending. Yes, really. Orszag complains that it's hard to just run up the federal credit card tab as high as he wants to, even though "virtually all responsible economists agree" that America, despite running record-setting deficits in recent years, needs bigger deficits in the short term.
Virtually all responsible economists agree that we should be aiming to reduce the deficit in the long-term but not in the short-term. We need an even larger deficit in 2011 and 2012, to support a weak economy—but a much smaller deficit in 2020 and 2050, to put the nation back on a sustainable fiscal course. Yet our polarized political system has proved incapable of reaching a consensus on this common-sense approach.
What we need, then, are ways around our politicians. The first would be to expand automatic stabilizers—those tax and spending provisions that automatically expand when the economy weakens, thereby cushioning the blow, and automatically contract as the economy recovers, thereby helping to reduce the deficit.
That "virtually all responsible economists" label is quite convenient. Who isn't broadly in favor of following the guidance of responsible economists? But is there any doubt that Orszag, with his unflappable faith in the Bigger Deficits Now strategy, would label just about any economist who didn't favor higher short-term deficit spending as "irresponsible"? Peel away the cute anti-democracy framework, then, and Orszag has done little more than argue that America should be governed more by empowered technocrats who agree with...Peter Orszag.
Indeed, Orszag goes on to argue that "a significant part of the response to polarization and gridlock must involve creating more independent institutions"—independent commissions and panels, presumably packed with people of Orszagian mindset.
This isn't the first time Orszag has put his faith in the power of independent commissions. As Obama's first OMB director, he put forth a budget that he admitted didn't meet the administration's stated own deficit reduction goals without relying on the eventual recommendations of the president's fiscal commission. Orszag staked a lot on that budget plan: “Frankly I feel like my credibility is on the line in the document that we put out,” he told Bloomberg shortly before the budget's release. At the end of 2010, the commission released its recommendations. They were essentially ignored—just as Orszag's self-serving plea to turn policymaking over to more powerful technocrats should be.
In an America where a whopping 66 percent of adults hold an unfavorable view of 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin (according to a recent Bloomberg poll), author Joe McGinniss has done something truly remarkable, writes Nick Gillespie. He actually makes the short-serving former Alaska governor and widely panned reality TV star a slightly more sympathetic character, at least for the regrettable time one wastes reading The Rogue, McGinniss’ sketchily sourced compendium of low blows and inconsistent accusations.View this article
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, former Reason staffer Michael C. Moynihan reviews The Dictator’s Handbook, a new account of how dictators (and democratic leaders) stay in power. As Moynihan writes:
So how is it that undemocratic leaders—who exploit, imprison and brutalize their subjects—frequently maintain power for far longer periods than their democratic counterparts? Autocrats, the authors argue, need only reward only a small class of loyalists—the army, judiciary, an inner circle of advisers—who will reliably suppress opposition. While democrats likewise dispense rewards—sweetheart contracts, farm subsidies, welfare payments—they are constrained by a system of government that requires the loyalty of fickle voters. This ensures that if a leader accumulates wealth and power in a few hands, his job security weakens....
And how about those well-meaning debt-forgiveness campaigners? While it might seem intuitively true that clearing balance sheets helps poor countries, "The Dictator's Handbook" suggests that pardoning debt obligations tends to entrench authoritarian leaders and retard the development of democracy. With a wounded economy, autocrats find it more difficult to bribe their small group of key supporters.
Read the whole review here.
Your tax masters at work, ladies and gentlemen:
The House and Senate last week intended to pass a bill to keep the government funded through November 18 and provide emergency funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). But Democrats and Republicans disagreed over whether it's necessary to cut funding for other programs to pay for the FEMA expenses, and they failed to pass the bill. Now, if Congress doesn't pass the spending bill by Sept. 30, the government would be forced to shutdown.
The Senate on Friday rejected the House version of the bill, which would have allocated about $1 trillion in government funding, including about $3.7 billion for FEMA disaster aid. The Democratic-led Senate voted against the House bill because it includes $1.6 billion in Republican-proposed spending cuts targeting the Department of Energy's Advanced technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program. The program gives loans to car companies to pay for things such as factory upgrades and the development of new, green, fuel efficient technology, and Democrats say the cuts would cost up to 10,000 jobs.
Things to note: We're broke as a country. If Congress can't find $3.7 billion in offsets for unexpected spending, then we're totally screwed. And note that as idiotic as the Dems are being, the Republicans are still $2.1 billion short in cuts to offset the FEMA dough.
Most of the coverage of this story has been about the politics - is it good for the GOP or the president/Dems if the government shuts down, even for a day? I don't really care about that. What I do know is that when you a government that hasn't passed a budget for the fiscal year that ends in a few days and there's no prospect for putting one together for the coming year, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong. And explains perfectly why we're in this mess.
Reason.tv on 2009's record-setting budget deficit:
- Occupy Wall Street protesters had some run-ins with the NYPD over the weekend. In one case, an officer allegedly pepper-sprayed a peaceful group of female protesters without provocation. And this after one of the girls said, "We're here for you too, we know your pensions are being cut, your friends are losing their jobs."
- With the Solyndra scandal still above the fold, the White House has banned journalists from its Silicon Valley fundraisers.
- Speaking of fundraisers: Googlers are giving money to Republicans now!
- Steven Pinker's must-read WSJ essay from Saturday: "Why brutality is declining and empathy is on the rise."
- Chicago Tribune editorial board comes out against ag subsidies: "The money pouring into Corn Belt bank accounts isn't just setting a record. The latest government figures show farm income blowing past the previous high of $84.7 billion in 2004 to top $100 billion this year. Land values have soared and debt is being paid down aggressively."
- The IMF needs a bailout.
- Leaderless former cartel thugs are now extorting Mexico's teachers, causing hundreds of schools to close their doors.
New at Reason.tv: "CATO's David Boaz on What America Can (and Shouldn't) Learn From the French Revolution"
Although the debate over Barack Obama’s national identity ended with the release of his long-form birth certificate, questions about his political identity continue. Is he a socialist, a New Deal liberal, a neoliberal, a neoconservative, or just an unprincipled coward? Does he want an accountable or monarchical executive branch? Does he side with investment bankers or with foreclosed mortgagers?
Obama’s apparent inconsistency on several issues has helped fuel the public debate over his beliefs. But as historian Thaddeus Russell observes, if anything in Obama’s rhetoric and policies has been constant, it is his devotion to the American empire. Throughout the presidential campaign, Obama promised to fulfill the mission of his heroes, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy: strengthening American influence across the world. Obama declared that, like the globalist American leaders of the past, “we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events.”View this article
As the disappearance of half a billion taxpayer dollars in the Solyndra bankruptcy continues to draw public outrage and bipartisan congressional attention, deniers are pretending they can't see the basic outlines of the story.
In the Times of New York, columnist Joseph Nocera says there's nothing to see here because the FBI investigation of Solyndra (which, like the investigations by the Departments of Energy and Treasury, was initiated by President Obama's executive branch, not by the congressional Republicans Nocera talks about) probably won't result in any convictions of Solyndra executives:
If Brian Harrison and W. G. Stover, the two Solyndra executives whotook the Fifth Amendment at a Congressional hearing on Friday, ever spend a day in jail, I’ll stand on my head in Times Square.
It’s not going to happen, for one simple reason: neither they, nor anyone else connected with Solyndra, have done anything remotely criminal. The company’s recent bankruptcy — which the Republicans are now rabidly “investigating” because Solyndra had the misfortune to receive a $535 million federally guaranteed loan from the Obama administration — was largely brought on by a stunning collapse in the price of solar panels over the past year or so.
Meanwhile, Grist writer David Roberts gives his own version of the Sgt. Schultz defense in an interview with Salon:
What is the basic Republican narrative in this case, and what exactly is being alleged about the Obama administration?
As is typical in these kind of faux scandals, it can be hard to tell exactly what is being alleged. There's just a lot of sort of sturm und drang and hand-waving going on. But if you drill down, basically what Republicans are saying is that it was knowable that this company was in trouble and had a terrible business model but because it was politically connected, Obama officials leaned on the Department of Energy to rush through the approval for the loan guarantee. The broader charge is, "This is what you get for propping up the kinds of energy that are dependent on subsidies. This is what you get when the federal government mixes itself up with specific funding decisions and picking winners and losers and so on."
Neither of these columns really merits a refutation, but since it's an overcast day:
Nocera sets up a straw man and then dares to say it's full of straw. Nobody was talking about criminal activity until Eric Holder's Department of Justice, Steven Chu's Department of Energy and Timothy Geithner's Department of the Treasury started tearing through Solyndra's files. It's extremely suspicious that the executive branch has taken such a hot interest in a company none of its highest officials have been briefed on or even claim to remember -- an interest that is conveniently timed to interfere with a very productive congressional investigation. Yesterday this interference bore its first fruit as Harrison and Stover used the FBI investigation as a pretext for their refusal to testify. Nocera doesn't even know what story he's opining about, let alone what the story means.
Roberts' declaring the issue a "faux scandal" out of the gate doesn't invite much response beyond pointing out that the English language has a perfectly good word, "fake," that you can use in place of "faux." In fact, if you "drill down" you don't find Republicans "saying" Solyndra's poor market prospects were "knowable." They're trying to figure out how much of it was known when the Obama Administration committed $535 million of your money to the company. So far, they have been trying to find it out without cooperation from President Obama, Energy Secretary Chu, top advisor Valerie Jarrett, former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel or anybody from DoE or Office of Management and Budget who was actually involved in the loan.
Despite these handicaps, the investigation by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Michigan) has already provided immense public service. In fact, the House investigation that began in February may have been instrumental in bringing Solyndra's problems to light and preventing the company from burning through another $469 million in public funds. (Certainly the feverish and strange behavior of the DoE this past spring and summer indicates how the administration has been playing catch-up with the congressional probe.)
In a more sober piece for Time, Brian Walsh explains why the Solyndra story continues to grow even while Nocera and Robertson say it's fading away. Among other things, the knowability Robertson scoffs at was not as unknowable as all that:
Solyndra's solar modules didn't use silicon—and a couple of years ago, when the loan guarantees were being considered, silicon prices were high and the company's business model might have seemed sound. Silicon prices fell sharply, and suddenly Solyndra was at a major competitive disadvantage—a turn of events that led directly to its collapse.
Unlucky, perhaps, but [investment banker Michael] Butler believes Energy officials should have seen it coming. "Most market people thought that silicon prices were going to fall," he says. "This was not a hard call."
The unpredictable collapse of silicon prices is a fairly recent effort at Solyndra denial. It is no more persuasive than previous attempts to blame Bush and blame The Chinese. But at least it's an effort. Deniers like Nocera and Robertson aren't even trying.
Update: I didn't follow the whole when-will-MSNBC-say-"Solyndra" too closely, but it looks like the Lean Forward newsnet has finally bent over and accepted the news. First order of business: Resurrecting the 12-days-discredited claim that President Bush is the one who made the loan.
Officials in Montebello, an eastern Los Angeles County town of 64,000 with a long history of public-money hanky-panky, misspent $31 million in public funds between 2005 and 2010, according to two new audits from California’s fiscal controller.
An audit of Montebello’s redevelopment agency [pdf] and another one of the city’s “special gas tax street improvement fund” [pdf] “found $31 million in questionable spending, loans, and fund transfers,” says state Controller John Chiang.
Montebello is one of the group of “Gateway Cities” that includes the unpopulated industrial town of Vernon (which was the subject of a recent move by the state legislature to revoke its city charter) and Bell (which became a national scandal last year after the L.A. Times revealed its city manager’s salary of nearly $1 million a year).
Montebello’s interim city administrator quit this spring after a falling out with the existing political leadership. In a recent issue of Reason I discussed how the city managed to spend $1 million to put up an Applebee’s in the late nineties, and apparently things have been going downhill since then.
Only the names of the family-friendly restaurants have changed. From the RDA report:
In May 2009, a city manager incurred expenditures of $1,315 of RDA funds for the purchase of Dodgers tickets and parking passes, and $788 for dinner in Las Vegas. The same city manager also received per-diem reimbursement for the dinner in Las Vegas. This city manager also incurred $3,112 in petty cash reimbursements from the RDA during July and September 2009, of which approximately $600 was for lunches. It should be noted that the city manager approved all of these expenditures.
That would be former city manager Richard Torres, whom we last met making $211,921 in a roundup of local city managers. Torres gave up his job in November 2009 and was replaced by one Nick Pacheco, who lasted only a month before being replaced Randy Narramore. Narramore lasted until July of 2010, when he was replaced by Peter Cosentini, who appears to be the first city manager/administrator to make a serious effort to get to the bottom of the city’s financial secrets. After quitting in April, Cosentini was replaced by the developer Larry J. Kosmont, who is still serving as the interim city administrator.
Kosmont reached out to Reason (on an unrelated development story) a few months ago, but after some back and forth decided he did not have legal clearance to speak with us after all. I hope we’ll be able to get some insight from him on Montebello’s fiscal follies.
Meanwhile, the Whittier Daily News catches up with Torres and reveals that one of the challenged lunch expenses was for a meal at Chuck E. Cheese’s:
Torres said City Council members frequently asked him to meet at local eateries to discuss city business.
"The council's preference, more than others, was to meet for breakfast or lunch," Torres said. "I had a standing breakfast meeting each week to meet with (former councilwoman) Kathy Salazar."
Torres said he met at Chuck E. Cheese's with former councilwoman Mary Anne Saucedo- Rodriguez on one occasion, because she was baby-sitting her grandchildren.
The city tried to challenge the lunch complaint in the state report. The state controller’s office responds:
The SCO finds it hard to believe that the City Administrator met with an official from another city at a pizza parlor known to be child friendly to discuss Montebello City Council or Redevelopment Agency agenda items.
Most of the towns in this part of the county are specimens of government that would be considered sub-par by national standards, but they’re more or less normal by L.A. standards. Assembly Speaker John Pérez ultimately failed in his bid to disincorporate Vernon, but the effort was a dire warning. Bad as these places are as independent polities, they would probably be even worse off as part of the phenomenally corrupt and inept City of Los Angeles.
This week New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, responding to criticism of the city's crackdown on pot smokers, issued a directive that instructs officers to stop arresting people for publicly displaying marijuana after tricking them into committing that offense. Well, that's not quite the way he put it. Here is what he said:
The specific circumstances in question include occasions when the officers recover marihuana pursuant to a search of the subject's person or upon direction of the subject to surrender the contents of his/her pockets or other closed container. A crime will not be charged to an individual who is requested or compelled to engage in the behavior that results in the public display of marihuana....To support a charge [of public display], the public display of marihuana must be an activity undertaken of the subject's own volition. Thus, uniformed members of the service lawfully exercising their police powers during a stop may not charge the individual with [public display] if the marihuana recovered was disclosed to public view at an officer's discretion.
In New York state, possessing up to 25 grams (nearly an ounce) of marijuana is a citable offense akin to a traffic violation, but publicly displaying marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor. Research by Queens College sociologist Harry Levine suggests that New York City police routinely pad their arrest numbers by converting the former offense into the latter, either by removing marijuana in the course of a pat-down or by asking/telling people they stop to empty their pockets, backpacks, or purses. Kelly is telling them to cut it out.
Strange that it took so long. As Levine has shown, marijuana possession arrests increased dramatically under Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, mainly as an outgrowth of a "stop and frisk" program that targets black and Hispanic neighborhoods. Not surprisingly, the arrestees are overwhelmingly black and Hispanic. In New York blacks are five times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as whites, even though survey data indicate they are no more likely to smoke pot.
Kelly's directive may be aimed at pre-empting a legislative solution. Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) and state Sen. Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo) have introduced a bill that would treat public display the same as possession for small amounts of marijuana, thereby reducing the opportunity for phony-baloney arrests.
[Thanks to Eric Sterling for the tip.]
A fraud case in Arizona raises the issue of whether police need a search warrant to use "stingrays," devices that enable them to locate people's mobile phones by mimicking cell towers. The FBI used a stingray to find Daniel David Rigmaiden, who is accused of stealing $4 million by filing phony online tax returns. It obtained two court orders authorizing use of the device to zero in on his mobile broadband card. One was a pen register/trap and trace order, which requires only that a law enforcement agency certify that the surveillance is relevant to an investigation. The classic use for such orders is obtaining the phone numbers dialed by a target or the numbers from which he receives calls, information the Supreme Court says is not protected by the Fourth Amendment because you voluntarily relinquish it to the phone company. (The restrictions for this kind of surveillance, such as they are, were imposed by statute.) The FBI says it also obtained a search warrant to use the stingray, based on a showing of probable cause. Rigmaiden's lawyers argue that the order was not a proper search warrant becase it did not specify the technology to be used and allowed the FBI to delete the information it collected. In any case, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies maintain that a search warrant is not legally required to use a stingray.
The legal question is whether stingrays—which can track someone to his home (as in Rigmaiden's case) or to other places where he has a reasonable expectation of privacy—is more akin to a pen register or trap and trace device, which can be used without a warrant, or to a wiretap, which requires a warrant. It seems strange that demanding someone's records from a third party would require less of a showing than using a device that requires no cooperation or physical intrusion. Yet that is the implication of the Supreme Court's 2001 ruling in Kyllo v. U.S., which held that police need a warrant to monitor the infrared energy emitted by a home. Using a stingray is analogous to thermal imaging in the sense that both can reveal information about what is going on inside people's houses, a domain the Fourth Amendment specifically mentions. (In fact, a stingray is arguably more intrusive, since it works by drawing signals from phones, as opposed to passively measuring heat.) But the Fourth Amendment also mentions "papers," a concept that should cover information we entrust to third parties for specific purposes. Because the Supreme Court has said the Fourth Amendment does not apply to such information, it receives only the protection that Congress decides to give it.
[Thanks to Tricky Vic for the tip.]
Animals having rights is a contentious notion, and there is a strong argument against it: Rights belong to moral agents, and animals lack moral agency. Driven by instinct, they lack the higher-order thinking skills that enable people to choose between courses of action. But as A. Barton Hinkle observes, this argument also has some weaknesses.View this article
If you gave ear to last night’s Republican debate and are not sure what all the “nein-nein-nein” business was about, former Godfather’s Pizza executive Herman Cain explains it all in the text of a campaign video:
Our tax code is the 21st century version of slavery
The I.R.S. has become the overseer of the American people.
In a Herman Cain Administration, April 15th would no longer be a day to be dreaded.
My 9-9-9 economic growth and jobs plan is a major step towards tearing the chains off the backs of the American people.
9% - Corporate Flat Tax
9% - Personal Flat Tax
9% - National Sales Tax
We have got to supercharge the growth of this economy.
Take the current tax code and replace it with a nine-percent tax on corporate profits, a personal flat tax of nine-percent – the tax code goes away; you don’t have to fill out all those crazy forms – and a nine-percent national sales tax.
We will all be able to say, “Free at last! Free at last!”
We will replace oppression with prosperity.
If 10% is good enough for God,
then 9% should be just fine for the
Earlier this year, Cain was still describing his plan for a national sales tax as the “Fair Tax.” At that time he made no mention of supplementing the Fair Tax (which he then calibrated at 23 percent) with corporate and personal income taxes.
Earlier this year I gave unenthusiastic assessments of the Fair Tax. I received about 30 emails in addition to hundreds of comments about my assessments of the Fair Tax. The most frequent objections to my view seemed to be:
1) My complaint that the Fair Tax bill H.R. 25 is more than 100 pages long was superfluous because the 30-word Sixteenth Amendment went on to generate hundreds of thousands of pages of tax code.
2) I am letting the perfect be the enemy of the good by objecting that neither H.R. 25 nor any other versions of the “Fair Tax” in public actually repeals the Sixteenth Amendment.
3) Who cares if “prebate” isn’t really a word, Prof. Smartyboots?
Cain mercifully eschews talking about the prebate these days, but if 9-9-9 is the current iteration of the Fair Tax, I was too kind in my earlier assessments. Not only has Cain avoided tying his national sales tax to even a vague promise of future repeal of the 16th Amendment (as H.R. 25 does); he doesn’t even want to suspend, let alone repeal, the income tax.
In fact, 9-9-9 is a significant step back from the Flat Tax proposals Republican business candidates used to offer in the Clinton era. In 1996 Steve Forbes got attention for supporting a no-exemptions income tax pegged at 17 percent. That wasn’t perfect, but at least it would have reduced the number of distortions the IRS causes in the private economy.
Now Cain would have you believe that in exchange for a near-halving of a flat tax target that was vaporware when Steve Forbes proposed it, we should agree to give Congress the same power of taxing all business transacted in its jurisdiction that now belongs to your local city hall or governor’s mansion? (And yes, Fair Taxers, I know that the Fair Tax proposal is to give the states the taxing authority and make them responsible for kicking up national sales tax revenues to D.C. I say D.C. has the power and I say the hell with it.)
I know our commenters often feel unappreciated, but I think we have a pretty intelligent group. Please tell me I’m not the only one who sees what can possibly go wrong with this plan. I’ve tasted Godfather’s pies and I already know I wouldn’t buy a pizza from Herman Cain. I sure as hell wouldn’t buy a national sales tax from him.
At the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, George Mason University economist Donald Boudreaux argues that the “regime uncertainty” theory developed by libertarian economist Robert Higgs presents “one of the most powerful challenges to any Keynesian diagnosis of economic ailments.” As Boudreaux explains:
Higgs' careful look at the data on the Great Depression and World War II convinced him that (1) a U.S. economy producing genuine prosperity wasn't restored until 1946, and (2) investors hunkered down, especially from 1935-40, because New Deal regulations -- along with President Franklin Roosevelt's increasingly vocal hostility to enterprise and successful risk-takers -- created too much uncertainty about how government would treat profits and wealth accumulation.
The "regime uncertainty" -- described by Higgs as "a pervasive uncertainty among investors about the security of their property rights in their capital and its prospective returns" -- unleashed by actual and threatened New Deal interventions made private innovation and entrepreneurial effort simply too unattractive. So private investment spending largely ground to a halt during FDR's reign.
The "Great" was thus put into the Great Depression.
Read the full story here. Watch Higgs discuss Arthur Ekirch’s classic history The Decline of American Liberalism with Reason.tv’s Nick Gillespie below.
It is no longer illegal for a California bartender to put a basil leaf in a bottle of gin.
On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown of California announced that he had signed Senate Bill 32, which overturns a legal vestige of Prohibition that made it unlawful to infuse alcohol with fruits, vegetables, herbs or spices. Such infusions have been popular in the country’s best cocktail bars for several years, and the old rule became a nuisance early last year when State Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control agents started warning bars like San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch that they were breaking California law with their house-made tinctures and bitters.
And better still, you can get that drink you've been waiting for made with lemongrass-tobacco-bacon bitters (or whatever) tonight!
The bill contains an “urgency clause,” which means bars can start slinging their infused concoctions immediately
Tim Cavanaugh reminds us that Gov. Brown's tenure has not been all libertarian sunshine and freedom lollipops.
And Reason.tv documents the plight of the less fortunate bartenders (and alkies) in Virginia:
Canada, which has long taken a less repressive approach to marijuana than its neighbor to the south, is showing that it can be mindlessly draconian too. "Under the Tories' omnibus crime legislation tabled Tuesday," notes Province columnist Ethan Baron, "a person growing 201 pot plants in a rental unit would receive a longer mandatory sentence than someone who rapes a toddler or forces a five-year-old to have sex with an animal." But Canada still has a long way to go before it equals the absurdly harsh drug sentences we enjoy here in the U.S. The new mandatory minimum penalties include six months for growing six to 200 marijuana plants and one year for more than 200; the maximum penalty for cultivation of any amount is 14 years. Under U.S. law, by contrast, growing fewer than 50 plants can get you up to five years, while 50-99 plants can get you 10; 100 plants will get you a five-year mandatory minimum (10 times the Canadian penalty) with a maximum of 40 years, and 1,000 or more will get you a 10-year mandatory minimum with a maximum of life. Canadians are such pussies.
[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]
Is America poised for another revolution?
"35 years ago, when I was a college student," Baoz reminisced, "the first libertarian speaker I ever heard said 'We are going to have hyper inflation. Buy gold and guns. That's the only thing that will save you.' And our political system averted that disaster."
At FreedomFest 2011, Reason's Nick Gillespie sat down with Boaz to discuss revolution (American and French), the way out of the current fiscal crisis and the recent rise of liberty-loving youth.
Held each July in Las Vegas, FreedomFest is attended by around 2,000 libertarians and advocates of limited government. Reason.tv spoke with over two dozen speakers and attendees and will be releasing interviews over the coming weeks. For an ever-growing playlist, go here now.
Approx. 6:50 min. Shot by Zach Weissmueller and Jim Epstein and edited by Meredith Bragg.
It's always fun to go back and reread old New York Times articles about how, on the campaign trail in 2008, President Obama vowed "in speech after speech" to "bring down premiums by $2,500 for the typical family." And then you can follow up with reports like this one, via the Columbus Dispatch:
Ohioans who buy individual insurance policies could see their premiums jump 55 to 85 percent in 2014 when key provisions of the new federal health-care law kick in, according to a new report.
Rates also are expected to increase for those with employer-sponsored coverage but not nearly as much.
Lt. Gov. and Department of Insurance Director Mary Taylor today announced the findings of the report commissioned by the state to analyze how the law will impact Ohio consumers, businesses and insurance market.
The analysis by Milliman Inc. projected that premiums on policies offered through small businesses could increase 5 to 15 percent while the cost of insurance through large employers may jump 3 to 5 percent.
The report's findings were announced by Ohio's Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, who has been an outspoken critic of the law. But they're similar to the results of a recent state-ordered report on ObamaCare's effects produced for Wisconsin. And that one was ordered by a Democratic governor who went on to front a pro-ObamaCare messaging group and a Massachusetts consultant who helped design both the president's health care overhaul and its Bay State predecessor. That report also projected that health coverage in the state would increase substantially, and the Ohio report expects the same.
Are these projected increases just a fact of life given rising health care and insurance prices? Not at all, according to the Dispatch's report: "The increases do not include medical inflation which has been pushing health care costs up about 7 to 8 percent a year." But I suspect you won't hear speech after speech about that.
Police in Prichard, Alabama, arrested an 80-year-old woman for selling crack cocaine on Wednesday. According to a video report from NBC Local 15 (which brags in it report that it was the only TV station with a cameraman on scene during the arrest--wonder how that happened?), Ola Mae Robinson was arrested after Prichard police searched her house and found crack cocaine and prescription drugs. Robinson, who was previously arrested in 2007 for possessing crack and prescription drugs with intent to distribute, wasn't put in handcuffs, because she needed a walker and neck support to make it from her house to the police cruiser.
Here's the end of Local NBC 15's report:
Prichard's Police Chief Jimmie Gardner says it's never easy to arrest an elderly person,
"It's tough because for all of us, we look up to the elderly community to be smarter, wiser, and responsible but unfortunately, I think she has a long history and age hasn't made a difference," says Gardner.
But age has made a difference for Ola Mae physically.
"All I want to do is take my behind and sit it down somewhere," she said.
And she will be able to in Metro Jail.
Charming kicker, Local 15. The Smoking Gun also wrote up the arrest, unearthing some nauseating trivia in the process: "Despite her advanced age, Robinson is not, remarkably, the oldest crack dealer named Ola Mae. That distinction goes to Floridian Ola Mae Agee, who was sentenced last October to 18 months in prison. Agee, who was 87 at the time of her conviction for cocaine distribution, died in prison last December."
In today's Washington Times, Associate Editor Peter Suderman reviews the new adaptation of Michael Lewis's 2003 book, Moneyball.
What does it take to win at major league baseball? Drive, passion, certainty, conviction, intuition, experience, talent, practice, money - they’re all important. But in “Moneyball,” it turns out that the key to winning games is mostly just math.
Ostensibly, “Moneyball” is a sports film. But it’s really a movie about management and decision-making, about business strategy and execution, about the power of numbers and our capacity to use them to our advantage. Even more than that, it’s a movie about science, about information, about the triumph of rationalism over superstition.
That may not sound very exciting. How emotionally engaging could a movie about math and management really be? And yet despite - or perhaps because of - its nerdy analytical sensibility, “Moneyball” pulls out a big win without seeming too calculated. You might say it’s statistically significant entertainment.
More than 40 people in the northeastern United States died during Hurricane Irene. Earlier this year, a series of tornadoes wrought death and devastation from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to Joplin, Missouri. Wildfires have burned over 3.5 million acres in Texas. And across the world in Somalia, tens of thousands of children are reported to have died of starvation and millions of people are acutely malnourished following a drought. But as Reason Foundation Vice President of Research Julian Morris observes, despite these depressing headlines, deaths due to extreme weather are actually way down. As a new Reason Foundation study reveals, global deaths from extreme weather events have fallen by over 90 percent since the 1920s, in spite of a more than hundredfold increase in reported incidence of such events.View this article
Even before former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson's "shovel-ready work" (or lack thereof from Obama) quip, a handful of media was still paying attention to his presidential campaign. They're paying a bit more now, mostly thanks to the vital question of whether Johnson lifted the joke from Rush Limbaugh or not. (Slate's Dave Weigel, of course, was already paying attention.)
CBS News dubbed the joke one of the wins from the Fox News/Google debate. Johnson himself, however, was the only candidate not personally relevant enough to be included in the night's winners or losers column.
Count GQ for inclusion in the Gary, we remembered you were still running before you made a dog poop/Obama economics joke column. They did a nice write-up of Johnson for their November issue. The author, Lisa DePaulo pulls off a non-slobbering political profile, (Esquire, take note) that also avoids condescension, in spite of the focus being mostly on the moments where Johnson and his tiny entourages have their credit cards declined and the numerous times Johnson is not recognized in hotel rooms and at a bike shop. The latter, however, might be where the most athletically legit presidential candidate in recent memory should be campaigning:
The guys send Gary downstairs to have his seat adjusted. Five minutes later, they follow him down the steps.
"You climbed Mount Everest?" Turns out they've been doing a little Googling.
"I did." He's very Zen about this. "Cool. And you smoked pot?"
"I did," says Gary.
He's fiddling with the bike. But they want to know more about Mount Everest. And how he plans to fix the economy. And handle the deficit. "This is what I love about New Hampshire," says Gary, and happily outlines his main—and most radical—position: to slash the federal budget by 43 percent. That's the number it would take to erase the deficit right now. This can be done, he says. Ya think? And he'd do it by, among other things, eliminating the Department of Education (he says he'd give all those billions to the states, minus 43 percent, and let them decide what's best, because "this whole idea that Washington knows best? That's why we're bankrupt"); bringing our troops home, particularly from all peaceful countries (he's thinks it's absurd that we have tens of thousands of troops in Europe); and "rebooting" the federal tax code with a "fair tax" that would abolish the entire IRS ("Imagine that!") and would tax consumption, not income, "because it's, well, fair."
Now the bike-store guys want to know whether he thinks he can beat Obama. "My contest is in the primary," he tells them.
"That sucks," says one of the guys.
"Yes, it does. But life's a journey."
He squeezes the tires. "Looks good." Then he lifts the bike and carries it up the steps. He is halfway out the door to the parking lot when suddenly he stops and turns around. "Listen," he says, "I only mentioned that president thing so you wouldn't think I'd steal your bike." Brinck and Matt simultaneously roll their eyes. He's apologizing for mentioning "that president thing"?!
"It's okay, man. You got our vote."
Read the rest here.
Outside Online has a similar profile of Johnson, which points to the man's political credibility (he was a popular governor, after all), asks why he's getting no attention, and then probably answers the question with quotes like this:
It’s the substance of his ideas that matters, he insists, not the style. I asked him if he’d ever considered getting a media coach. “No,” he said. “Then people wouldn’t be seeing me. They’d be seeing someone else’s idea of me.”
A familiar name also opined on Johnson in the same article:
“Gary represents the future that we want to live in,” says Nick Gillespie, the editor of the libertarian magazine Reason, “which is a world where all sorts of interesting mixing is going on, and where people are left alone to live their lives as they see fit.”
Both profiles read like Johnson himself comes across; puzzled that an experienced, government-trimming candidate with no scandals or obvious gaffes to his name is not getting any serious attention, but not nearly political or self-aggrandizing enough to turn martyr over it.
Solyndra executives Brian Harrison and W.G. “Bill” Stover made their much-anticipated Fifth Amendment pleas before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce this morning.
C-SPAN has a recording of the whole appearance up, and I have to say that for a show whose outcome you knew all along, it’s still kind of a disappointment.
1. I hope Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colorado) is taking something for that cold.
2. Why partisanship is good for America: Tiny Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California) is in full Republicans-did-it-too mode, but his recitation of GOP congresspersons who begged for green pork in their districts (starting around the 22-minute mark) is pretty great.
3. Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Texas) has the day's best grandstanding around the 33 minute mark: "I only wish we could have invested a little more money in crime-scene tape and taken it down there and encircled their building."
4. Where is Nobel laureate Steven Chu while all this is going on? As I noted earlier this week, the two Department of Energy officials who testified last week had no connection to the approval of the Solyndra loan. Sending them to the House was an insult. The Secretary of Energy needs to get in there and take his clean-energy lumps.
5. For that matter, where is Valerie Jarrett, the Prof. Moriarty of the Obama Administration?
6. Waxman’s claim that committee members are “badgering the witnesses” by asking Harrison and Stover to answer questions is, well, pretty rich.
7. Enjoyable as this spectacle is, it makes me a little sad. I’ve worked for a bunch of startups over the years, and the excitement and optimism when you’re putting a company together doesn’t really exist anywhere else in grownup life. True to the statistical norm, all my startups (so far) have ended in tears, and there’s usually some supply of second guessing and hard feelings involved as well. (There’s already some of that among former Solyndrites.) But to see a company end in this level of shame and public humiliation is moving, even though the shame and humiliation are well deserved.
This week Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) sent Attorney General Eric Holder a letter complaining about the Justice Department's "misleading statements pertaining to the government's interpretation of surveillance law." For months Wyden and Udall, both members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have been warning that the Obama administration relies on a "secret interpretation" of the PATRIOT Act to justify surveillance that the general public does not realize is happening. The interpretation involves Section 215 of the law, which authorizes the FBI to demands business records or any other "tangible things" it deems useful "for an authorized investigation...to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities." Cato Institute privacy specialist Julian Sanchez (a Reason contributing editor) has made a plausible case that Wyden and Udall—who cannot be too specific without revealing classified information—are referring to the use of Section 215 as a legal authority for the mass collection and analysis of cell phone geolocation data. The public would indeed be surprised to learn that the government is dredging these data without individualized suspicion, based on nothing more than the secret, cursory approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
But instead of addressing "the gap that currently exists between the public's understanding of government surveillance authorities and the official, classified interpretation of these authorities," Wyden and Udall say, the Justice Department pretends the gap does not exist. A DOJ spokesman, for example, recently declared that "Section 215 is not a secret law, nor has it been implemented under secret legal opinions by the Justice Department." But it has been implemented based on secret interpretations of the law by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. "In our judgment," the senators write, "when the government relies on significant interpretations of public statutes that are kept secret from the American public, the government is effectively relying on secret law."
You’ve read the novel. You’ve seen the film in theaters. Now don’t miss your chance to own Atlas Shrugged Part I on DVD!
This very special Collector’s Edition DVD, produced in conjunction with Reason.tv, features the complete Atlas Shrugged Part I film PLUS original video content from Reason Foundation, including:
- Exclusive Reason.tv video recorded behind the scenes during the filming of Atlas Shrugged Part I.
- Interviews with Nathaniel Branden, author of My Years with Ayn Rand, and Barbara Branden, author of the The Passion of Ayn Rand.
- Expert commentary on Rand and her ideas by Reason Foundation co-founders Bob Poole, Tibor Machan, and Manny Klausner.
- Insight into the central question “Who is John Galt?” by Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty, author of Radicals for Capitalism, and the actors and producers of the Atlas Shrugged Part I.
From our October issue, Associate Editor Damon Root reviews the new documentary Battle for Brooklyn, which chronicles New York’s shameful eminent domain abuse on behalf of real estate tycoon and New Jersey Nets co-owner Bruce Ratner.View this article
Bill Kristol reacts to last night's debate:
A third e-mailer Thursday evening, watching the debate, was reminded of Yeats’s “The Second Coming:”
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
There’s some truth to that. But I can’t help wondering if, in the same poem, Yeats didn’t suggest the remedy:
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Sounds like Chris Christie.
As Jim Poniewozik pointed out, "I think Bill Kristol just endorsed Chris Christie by comparing him to the Antichrist." A lesson for all pundits: If you're going to spout a cliché -- and as great a poem as "The Second Coming" is, quoting it is as clichéd as prefixing a word with "cyber" -- you should think hard about what the words you're using actually mean.
Look, I can testify from personal experience that speaking on live television is hard, especially if there are people watching. Your brain is constantly making a dozen contradictory calculations at once...How much time do I have? Do I answer the question literally? What's the broader point I should be making? Is there some juicy one-liner I absolutely need to stick in there? How do I differentiate myself from the rest of the panel? Am I remembering to smile? Speak in complete sentences and not like a Valley Girl? Relax, Matt, relax! So...very...thirsty....OH GOD WHAT DO I DO WITH MY HANDS?!?!? Sometimes you just can't talk good, or trail off sentences, or even admit to forgetting the question.
Whatever the cause, if you can't slap Mitt Romney silly for being a flip-flopping used car salesman, you can't win the GOP presidential nomination.
Until recently, the federally designed Internal Classification of Diseases included about 18,000 medical classification codes for health providers to use during the billing process. An updated version of system has...a few more. Via The Wall Street Journal:
A new federally mandated version will expand the number to around 140,000—adding codes that describe precisely what bone was broken, or which artery is receiving a stent.
It will also have a code for recording that a patient's injury occurred in a chicken coop. (See code.)
Indeed, health plans may never again wonder where a patient got hurt. There are codes for injuries in opera houses (see code), art galleries (see code), squash courts (see code) and nine locations in and around a mobile home (see codes), from the bathroom to the bedroom.
It's not clear how many klutzes want to notify their insurers that a doctor visit was a W22.02XA, "walked into lamppost, initial encounter" (or, for that matter, a W22.02XD, "walked into lamppost, subsequent encounter").
Why are there codes for injuries received while sewing, ironing, playing a brass instrument, crocheting, doing handcrafts, or knitting—but not while shopping, wonders Rhonda Buckholtz, who does ICD-10 training for the American Academy of Professional Coders, a credentialing organization.
Well, you can't say it's not thorough. Complete article here.
Abduction has a slick, twisty story and some strong actors—Jason Isaacs, Maria Bello, Alfred Molina. But the movie is consistently subverted by a teen-flick insistence on having its star, 19-year-old Taylor Lautner of the Twilight series, bare his famous torso at regular intervals and utter humid, teenish things like, “Inside, I just feel different.” And while there are clear similarities to the Bourne movies, among others, Kurt Loder reports that nothing was able to salvage this misbegotten film.View this article
Note to all those serious folks who mock USA Today as a candy-colored throwaway: Al Neuharth's fever dream regularly produces some of the best reporting on fiscal malfeasance (and more).
To wit, today's top-o-the-page expose on how state legislators pump up their retirements in ways that should get them run out of statehouses on a rail.
It's difficult to summarize, so take a peek at some of these nuggets:
Most workers must retire from their jobs before getting retirement benefits. But Thomas used a one-sentence law that he and his colleagues passed in 2002 to let legislators receive a taxpayer-funded pension instead of a salary after serving for 30 years....
Texas...lawmakers there haven't raised their pay since 1975. They convene every other year and get a $7,200 annual salary. But because of a law they passed in 1981, their pension is based on whatever the lawmakers decide to pay Texas trial judges.
Since 1981, Texas lawmakers have nearly tripled a judge's salary — and, by extension, their own pensions — raising the pay from $42,500 to $125,000.
Legislators also removed a sentence that limited their pensions to 60% of a judge's salary. Now, the pensions can equal 100% of a judge's salary....
In some states, lawmakers add expenses, per diem allowances and stipends to their base salaries. That inflates the compensation that's used to calculate retirement benefits, which are typically a percentage of final pay. In other states, legislators have written a special definition of salary that applies only to their pensions. Additional tactics include:
•Basing pensions on salaries legislators are not paid or were paid in non-legislative jobs.
•Collecting state pensions while also collecting legislative paychecks.
•Retiring earlier — at a younger age or after fewer years — than other state workers, or with richer benefits.
Kentucky legislators add their annual allowance for stationery — up to $1,500 for senators and $750 for House members — plus another $15,000 to $17,000 a year in expense payments to the salary on which pensions are based. Mississippi legislators get two pensions that on average add up to 165% of their salary. Connecticut lawmakers can increase their pensions up to 50% by including mileage reimbursements that add as much as $15,500 a year to the salaries used to calculate their pensions.
- Pending the outcomes of an FBI civil rights investigation and an internal Fullerton PD probe, four of the six officers complicit in the death of Kelly Thomas will remain on paid administrative leave.
- Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) becomes the first Republican to sponsor the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.
- Did the GOP debate audience boo a gay soldier last night? No, one person did. Did Rick Santorum answer the question horribly? Yes, apparently, because he did not begin his answer with, "I thank you for your service."
- Bank of America is looking to dump $880 million in commercial real estate--at a discount!
- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner are set to face off yet again over a stopgap measure that would keep the government running.
- DOJ denies retoractive severence pay to gay and lesbian soldiers expelled from the military prior to repeal of DADT.
New at Reason.tv: "What We Saw at the Troy Davis Protest in D.C."
The new book The Morality of Capitalism, out from The Atlas Network, details the role of limited government, individual rights, and free enteprise in improving living conditions around the globe.
In the video above, Leonid Nikonov lays out how the Soviet Union systematically degraded its citizens and how crony capitalism has replaced full-blown socialism. Contributors to the book (order a copy today) include Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey and Nobel laureates Mario Vargas Llosa and Vernon Smith.
In the latest edition of Friday Funnies, Chip Bok examines the troubles surrounding Solyndra.View this article
Are you tired of Republican debates yet? At tonight’s Fox/Google-sponsored GOP showdown in Orlando, Texas Gov. Rick Perry sure acted like he was. The man was clearly in need of some wake-up juice. He yawned. He pondered. He talked slow—even for Rick Perry. By the end of the debate, he was trying to figure out how to “mate” Herman Cain with Newt Gingrich for his veep slot. Who's ready for Rick Perry-Hernewt Caingritch in 2012?
Don’t think that match-up has a catchy enough ring to it? How about Gary Johnson-Ron Paul? The former New Mexico governor and multi-instance Reason feature subject, asked to quickly pick his running mate from the crew on stage, picked Dr. No. He also proposed balancing the budget by cutting federal spending by 43 percent (!) more or less immediately, and delivered the night’s most memorable one-liner: “My next door neighbor's dogs have created more shovel ready jobs that this administration.”* There is no such thing as shovel ready!
Speaking of dogs, that’s who this debate was for. Literally. The Fox News anchors who moderated the showdown announced early on that they’d changed the time’s-up sound from the last debate after multiple complaints that the previous ding sounded too much like a doorbell—and was freaking out viewers’ puppies.
With a bit of moderator prodding, they tussled on Social Security, on ObamaCare, on their flip-flops, and their respective books—which may not be entirely fair, given that Mitt Romney seems to have read Rick Perry’s book, while it’s not clear that Perry has.
The biggest squabble between the two was probably about immigration. When Romney went after the Texas governor’s record—in particular, his decision to allow immigrant children to attend state schools at in-state tuition rates—Perry repeated his call for “boots on the ground” at the border. Of the two, he was the immigration moderate.
There were a handful of unexpected moments scattered throughout the night—Michelle Bachmann responding to a follow-up tax question by saying that Americans have a right to keep every dollar they earn, but also noting that “obviously” we need to collect revenue to run the government; Jon Huntsman delivering a lengthy disquisition on his dislike of green energy subsidies...only to finish by noting that, “if there were a way to get the ball rolling” on alternative energy, he would be for it.
But aside from Johnson’s entry, the debate was fairly stale, especially for those of us who’ve slogged through previous prime-time podium parties. Despite his recent surge in the polls, Ron Paul seemed less of a factor than in prior outings, perhaps in part because of the welcome absence of many ask-a-libertarian gotchas. Newt Gingrich continued to question the questions, as if running for debate ombudsman (or, given his stated desire to “control 100 percent of the border,” some sort of deity). Former pizza executive Cain once again mentioned “the Chilean model,” which you should not Google at the office, and touted his 9-9-9 plan to deliver nine pizzas for nine dollars in nine minutes, or something. There were word clouds, and graphs showing which federal departments poll respondents most wanted to get rid of. Rick Santorum was there too.
But overall, Rick Perry had the right idea. This debate was a snooze.
Watch Reason.tv editor Nick Gillespie's interview with Gary Johnson:
The Federal Reserve Bank's plan to buy longer-term government debt has been greeted by a stock market plunge, mixed employment data and negative commentary from experts whose confidence in Fed wizardry has vanished.
After yesterday’s Fed Open Market Committee meeting, the central bank announced its plan for a repeat of the Kennedy-era “Operation Twist,” in which then-Fed Chairman William McChesney Martin, Jr. sold shorter-duration debt while purchasing longer term debt:
To support a stronger economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at levels consistent with the dual mandate, the Committee decided today to extend the average maturity of its holdings of securities. The Committee intends to purchase, by the end of June 2012, $400 billion of Treasury securities with remaining maturities of 6 years to 30 years and to sell an equal amount of Treasury securities with remaining maturities of 3 years or less. This program should put downward pressure on longer-term interest rates and help make broader financial conditions more accommodative. The Committee will regularly review the size and composition of its securities holdings and is prepared to adjust those holdings as appropriate.
Last week I discussed the twist strategy and its attendant uncertainty risks. The new/old strategy and many more of the supposedly smart tools Fed Chairman Bernanke has at his disposal make the effects of Fed strategy much harder to predict. They do, however, make the Fed’s intentions clear. Bernanke, as I noted months ago, is trying to micromanage a reinflation of the real estate market, ignoring the mountain of evidence that real estate remains overvalued.
The failure of the twist strategy has already begun. The Dow lost 500 points today and closed down nearly 400. International stock markets have also tanked. Although new jobless claims are down slightly (an announcement related to but not caused by the Fed’s new policy), there is no evidence suggesting this will reduce unemployment, which grew and remained high during the previous two episodes of quantitative easing.
This has not stopped various stooges from defending the failed Fed chief. In The Nation, William Greider accuses “right-wingers” of “attacking Ben Bernanke for “taking modest steps to bolster the economy.”
Meanwhile, never-informed D.C. princeling Matt Yglesias says Republicans who recently sent a critical letter to Bernanke were “urging him not to take any steps to help the economy” – a mischaracterization that charmingly recalls David Horowitz’ 2002 slander against opponents of the invasion of Iraq: “100,000 Communists March On Washington To Give Aid and Comfort to Saddam Hussein.”
Beyond the religious faith implicit in these claims – it bears repeating that there is not a shred of evidence that any of Bernanke’s or Treasury Secretary Geithner’s actions over the last 36 months have “helped” or “bolstered” the economy – there’s an added irony. I’m old enough to remember when leading liberal lights took pride in opposing the machinations of central banks and the international financial consensus. In 1999, after protesters smashed a few Starbucks windows in Seattle, Greider said the riot “woke up America and maybe the world.” I don’t know what’s changed since then to make Greider want to stand up for a “private club for deal-making among the most powerful interests, portrayed as a public institution searching for international ‘consensus.’"
The Fed's grim outlook for the U.S. economy and data showing China's contracting factory sector drove U.S. stocks down 3 percent on Thursday on fears of a global recession.
"Investors seem to be waking up to the fact that monetary policy is pushing on a string," said Capital Economics analyst John Higgins. "The stock market and commodities are likely to continue to struggle, given the gloomy outlook for the economy that the Fed openly acknowledged on Wednesday."
Thomas Lam, OSK-DMG chief economist, put the economic impact of the Fed's "twist" operation at less than half a percentage point of added growth -- slightly below a Goldman Sachs estimate.
Even the Fed does not know exactly what to expect, saying it is "difficult to estimate precisely" how much of an economic boost the program will deliver.
By popular demand, your open thread for tonight's GOP debate. Some conversation starters:
* Ron Paul's new ad:
* Gary Johnson's:
* Lucy Steigerwald sets the scene with "Some Reactions to Another Double Helping of Libertarianism."
* Brian Doherty's epic live-blogging of the prior Johnson-participating debate.
* Transcript of said debate (hint: heroin, heroin, heroin!).
* Links to transcripts of more 2012 GOP presidential debates.
* Follow Reason & staffers on Twitter, where there'll be some choice commentary tonight:
Nick Gillespie: @nickgillespie
Matt Welch: @mleewelch
Jesse Walker: @notjessewalker
Katherine Mangu-Ward: @kmanguward
Tim Cavanaugh: @barteldarcy
Peter Suderman: @petersuderman
Damon W. Root: @damonroot
Mike Riggs: @mikeriggs
Lucy Steigerwald: @lucystag
And if you're REALLY REALLY NICE, there might just be some live-blogging here tonight from yours truly.
9:06: It's Perry & Romney, then everyone else. Perry's already running out the clock, Romney's already refusing to answer the question, already making numbered lists.
9:09: What do you consider rich? Read the Reason-Rupe Poll on how your answer to that question affects your ideas about taxation!
9:11: Rick Santorum deftly (and correctly, IMO), pivots right-to-work question to the issue of public sector unionism.
9:12: Newt Gingrich hearts government re-training, and "mandatory training component"!
9:14: Chris Wallace continues to be the best questioner of this election cycle. Huntsman continues to sound like he's getting the remote feed, one or two seconds off.
9:17: First question to a libertarian! And a Tenther, too! "Veto every single bill that violates the 10th Amendment," Ron Paul says, simply. "No authority to control us as individuals with what we do with our personal lives."
9:21: Gary Johnson pivots from Ron Paul question, stresses limited-government, veto-making bonafides, then pins his hopes on a consumption tax.
9:26: Let's go to some Twitter. Greg Gutfeld: "i also started a one man handyman business. That's what I called it." Mark Hemingway: "Gary Johnson is actually a really impressive guy. Unfortunately, he's also kind of a weird, jittery guy." Jennifer Rubin: "Good grief- do we care who's a better libertarian?"
9:32: More Twitter, since I missed the "I actually wrote my book" exchange. Todd Seavey: "Now might be a good time to mention that #Romney playing the Great Defender of #SocSec has only led me to vow not to vote for him."
9:35: Let's eliminate department! Herman Cain votes the EPA off the island. Read Reason on "How to Slash the State." He then switches to a Chile-style Social Security privatization. Going for the Todd Seavey vote!
9:37: The sun rises, the sun sets, Newt Gingrich pointlessly bitch-slaps a reporter, then promotes a new Contract!
9:39: Gary Johnson doing well appealing to fiscal conservatives. We're 40 minutes in, and Ron Paul has been asked one question.
9:41: Rick Perry pronounces "school choice" as if he's just discovered this great new thing. Then weirdly attacks Romney, who swats it away with a "nice try." Paul got a question in there, using the phrase "opt out." Whoops! Good follow-up question reveals Romney's biggest flaw -- he is an inveterate flip-flopper who is finely calibrated to swat away legitimate questions about his record.
9:46: Whoopee! Here comes the fence-building part. Bachmann goes for the "every inch" approach. Also wants to "end the magnets" of, presumably, emergency room care and public education for illegal immigrants, since that's about the only "welfare" left.
9:48: Gingrich: Outsource e-Verify! So techno-tastic. I can't wait until I never see him on television again. Though he did say "modernize the legal immigration system," which is more than 95% of English-firsters bother with.
9:50: Romney--e-Verify, fence, Border Patrol, no magnets, workplace verification.
9:51: Rick Perry--"I don't think you have a heart." It'll be interesting to see how that plays. Crowd boos.
9:53: Santorum asks the right follow-up question: Why should those students be subsidized? The question deserves an answer. Not currently getting one.
9:56: YES! Ron Paul gets the fence-me-in question. And attacks national ID card. And attacks "blam[ing] illegal immigrants for everything." Nice to hear a different point of view.
10:01: Quick check of Twitter shows I missed Perry's "aviation assets on the ground" crack, and Ron Paul's implied reference to birthright citizenship. Also, the Angels got out of a two-out jam that coulda ruined their slim playoff hopes.
10:02: I JUST REALIZED THAT THE LITTLE G-CHAT SOUND THAT HAS BEEN DRIVING ME CRAZY ALL NIGHT IS COMING FROM THE FREAKING DEBATE ITSELF, AND NOT THE LITTLE MAN IN MY EAR. FIE, GOOGLE, FIE.
10:04: Mitt Romney would totally bomb Iran. Also, he really, really wants to be president (that's Peter Suderman's line, but that's the last time I'm crediting it).
10:06: Every part of Rick Perry's body between his chin and his thumbs is paralyzed. He's being a real trooper, considering.
10:08: There have been some lively, valuable GOP debates this season. This ain't one of them. You've GOT to structure this in some other way besides "OK, how much do YOU love Israel and building a border fence and hating Obamacare?" Bad show, Fox.
10:10: "Some kind of investment approach" to government-directed foreign aid has, if anything, an even worse track record than direct aid, FWIW.
10:11: Whoa.... Gary Johnson busts a 43% reduction in military spending.
10:13: Bachmann, who hasn't talked in hours, cuts in to make sure Americans can't travel to Cuba. I won't miss her when she's gone, though I'd vote others off the island first.
10:14: Huntsman steals the America-should-save-America shtick from Ron Paul and Gary Johnson!
10:17: A couple of people in the crowd boo gay soldier who could totally kick their asses. Nice question. Santorum calls it "tragic." Somewhere Dan Savage is cracking up.
10:19: Ron Paul: "We have too many laws already, how are we going to police the day-after pill?"
10:21: I would be willing to sponsor a consitutional amendment to ban word clouds, BTW.
10:23: Though Katherine Mangu-Ward points out, "Have there been any word clouds that didn't include marijuana?"
10:26: Bachmann finally asked about HPV vaccination. Answers it like she's been studying Mitt Romney very closely.
10:30: Big winner tonight: Sarah Palin.
10:32: Rick Perry seems WAAAY too tired to bust Romney on flip-flopping.
10:33: "I know what I stand for, I've written it down, words have meaning." Oh, Mitt Romney, didn't you realize that this debate is being sponsored by GOOGLE???
10:37: Mike Murphy: "Wow. That last Perry bit was painful; looked like The Great Walender trying to cross the high wire after a three day meth bender."
10:38: "HOW ARE YOU GOING TO TURN THIS COUNTRY AROUND????" REALLY??? This is a t-e-r-r-i-b-l-e job of moderation. Reason needs to get into this racket.
10:39: Mitt Romney seems unfamiliar with the concept of kitchen tables.
10:40: Wait, NO OTHER people in the world put their hands on their hearts during the national anthem, Mitt Romney? I'll take the over on that bet.
10:41: Rick Perry should never agree to debates after 6 pm.
10:43: Crowd goes nuts over Barack Obama defeat that looks increasingly less likely as the evening wears on.
10:45: Gary Johnson gets biggest laugh line of the night. Was not expecting that. Then claims consumption tax's elimination of corporate tax will create "tens of millions of jobs." I'm skeptical.
10:47: Gary Johnson picks Ron Paul as his veep: Liberty, freedom, monetary collapse.
10:48: Though I hate Newt Gingrich more than I love life, I do appreciate his clown-nose act on this type of stuff.
10:50: Ron Paul, awkwardly, refuses to take the bait. But he also stakes claim as a "top tier" candidate. Which he is, IMO.
Wrap: Well, America lost tonight. By which I mean the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (very upsetting). And especially Fox News and Google, who cooked up a real turd of a debate, especially compared to Fox's previous effort, which was boffo. At the risk of making way-too-premature analysis....
Mitt Romney's strategy is too look and sound very much like an acceptable-to-non-crazy-people frontrunner. Mission accomplished! Except that he's running to defend Social Security, is maybe even a bigger flip-flopper than his doppleganger John Kerry, and will not rest until every American suffers for his desire to chase the last illegal Mexican across the Rio Grande.
Rick Perry is both sleepy and stiff (I feel your pain, bro!), and at this point seems to be preparing for a vigorous run in 2016. No one cares about Newt Gingrich anymore, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain are early-primary novelties, and Michele Bachmann seems like she's headed that way. Jon Huntsman and Gary Johnson seem to be vying for the media/independent vote, and it will be interesting to see which one (if either) gains some traction in contrarian New Hampshire. Parochially speaking, I think Johnson almost certainly improved his chances of being invited to another debate tonight.
So you have a John Kerry-esque front-runner, a Fred Thompson-style fading favorite, and...this stubborn fella from Texas with the Austrian business cycle theory and the hand-waving and the Constitution. Is the GOP establishment so desperate and scared that they're going to coalesce around a guy none of them trust, let alone the grassroots Tea Party types who have provided 110% of all the political energy in this country the last three years? Is Josh Brolin going to reveal a B game, let alone an A game? What, in this fluid scenario, is Ron Paul's ceiling? And what will he do if he doesn't make (as he kept stressing in his awkward final answer) the "final two"? These are the questions I'm left with after tonight's shindig. Good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow.
Techdirt's Mike Masnick, one of the few bloggers who (along with Public Citizen's Paul Alan Levy and Simple Justice proprietor Scott Greenfield) dared to discuss Arthur Alan Wolk's defamation lawsuit against Reason, implicitly chides us for disabling comments on my recent post describing how the litigation was resolved:
Wolk also promised to sue us if we did not "correct" our post. Instead, we posted a direct reply to Wolk...and never heard from him again....
The Reason post...notes that just because the case has been settled, it "does not mean it never happened, so we are keeping our original posts and adding a link to the joint statement by Overlawyered.com and Wolk." Similarly, we don't believe that there is any benefit to taking down factual posts on historical events, even if they ended in an out-of-court settlement. In fact, we're a bit disappointed that Overlawyered would agree to take down historical posts without a court-ordered reason to do so. Meanwhile, the Reason blog notes that because it does "not want to see any further lawsuits filed as a result of comments on our site," it was disabling comments on that post.
We will neither remove historical posts nor disable comments. As we noted in our last post on Mr. Wolk's email to us, we believe his intent in these lawsuits and threats was to silence people from talking about him—and we do not intend to be silenced by such threats when they do not appear credible to us.
While Masnick's resistance to bullying is commendable, our experience with Wolk vividly shows that credibility, in the sense of a plausible legal theory backed up by evidence, is not necessary to drag someone into expensive, time-consuming litigation. The issue with comment threads, for instance, arose because Wolk accused us of inciting readers to defame him. The alleged defamation consisted of crude jokes that no reasonable person would take seriously, the point of which was to mock people whose first impulse when they see something that offends them is to file a lawsuit. Because the Hit & Run commenters were obviously not asserting any facts, what they said could not have amounted to libel (just as the 1983 Hustler ad parody cartoon depicting a drunken Jerry Falwell having sex with his mother in an outhouse did not amount to libel). Even if the comments had been defamatory, federal law shields websites from liability for statements posted by visitors. None of this stopped Wolk from suing us (along with the commenters themselves) over those remarks as well as our own blog posts. Hence our concern about comment threads getting out of hand and chewing up even more of our time and resources.
If you are curious about the basis for Wolk's other claims, you really should take the time to look at his July 26 complaint (PDF), which rewards close study. It names 40 or so defendants, including pseudonymous commenters such as "Barely Suppressed Rage," "Latter Day Taint," and "Not Arthur Wolk." That last one had me imagining an Abbott-and-Costello-style scene in which a process server attempts to let "Not Arthur Wolk" know he has been sued:
Process Server: Are you "Not Arthur Wolk"?
Man: Yes, I am not Arthur Wolk.
Process Server: You've been served.
Man (looking at papers): Wait a minute. I am not "Not Arthur Wolk."
Process Server (puzzled): So you're Arthur Wolk?
Man: No, I'm not Arthur Wolk.
Process Server: You've been served.
And so on. But I digress. The complaint includes 34 counts, some of them highly creative. According to Wolk, saying mean things about him online constituted not only libel but also "Conspiracy to Engage in Internet Bullying," "Harassment by Internet," "Internet Stalking," "Invasion of Privacy," "Intentional Infliction of Economic Harm," and "Intentional Interference with Contractual, Actual and Prospective Business Relations." My three favorites: "Theft" (because "the defendants have conspired in the name of their perverted sense of nonexistent Constitutional protection for libel, and furtherance of their bizarre reactionary political goals to steal the plaintiff's life and profession from him"), "Conspiracy to Commit Assault" (because "defendants knew or had reason to know that their continuing conduct would cause severe injury to the plaintiff"), and "Extortion" (because "the defendants are attempting to extort something of value from the plaintiff, his reputation, to enhance the visibility and credibility of their websites and to use that destruction as a means to obtain more illegal tax deductible contributions").
The complaint says "the damages suffered by Wolk have been horrific." For instance, he "does not sleep," he "does not show his face at Bar functions," and he "now must carry a gun to protect himself from the nut balls who are incited by these defendants all with the sole intention of causing the lunatic fringe who are devotees of these defendants from [sic] doing him bodily harm." It is no wonder that Wolk worries about "nut balls," given the brave stance he has taken against the vast conspiracy bent on taking him down and destroying the American justice system:
Defendant Reason.com...is one of the mouthpieces for Overlawyered.com and its mentors, Manhattan, Cato and Enterprise, which are co-conspirators, and is the attack dog for inter alia, The Reason Foundation, a euphemism for the policies and goals of the Libertarian Party, a right wing fringe element that espouses what amounts to an abandomnent of the institutions of our Republic and its substitution with a Govermnent by putative journalists, self appointed intellectuals and right wing pundits but whose real goal is to work with Overlawyered.com and Olson, Frank, Manhattan, Cato and Enterprise, and their respective trustees to assassinate the character of individuals chosen for that purpose because they are a threat to the America without laws Reason Foundation wants. Reason Foundation raises funds for their anti-consumer, anti-Government, anti-court, anti-judge and often anti-Semitic, anarchistic views by proving to their donors how vicious they can be on their various media sites including Reason television, Reason.com and Reason magazine. Reason.com attempts to accomplish these ends by re-publishing with new commentary publications of Overlawyered, Frank and Olson for the purpose undermining the civil justice system in the United States, by forming an Internet tag team so if one of them is silenced for their falsity, the other simply republishes with more false and defamatory comment to keep the libel alive. The idea is to whip up a frenzy to prove their dedication to the causes of the Libertarian party, much like the Nazi's of the early 1930s, which will cull more donations from their very rich donors and blind them to the dangers to American institutions of their radicalism. It is believed and therefore averred that employees or agents of Reason.com are the anonymous bloggers.
These outlandish accusations are a more florid version of the theory set forth in Wolk's October 22 complaint (PDF), which avers that we "joined a conspiracy to destroy the good name and reputation of Wolk by inciting a feeding frenzy of internet defamation for the sole purpose of destroying Wolk's reputation and advancing the political and social agendas of Reason," i.e., "tort reform legislation and antiplaintiff, anti-trial lawyers agendas." To back up that conspiracy theory, the complaint cited hyperlinks between websites as evidence of a "co-partnering relationship"—a method that may ultimately implicate the entire World Wide Web in this plot. Although the conspiracy is imaginary, Wolk's outrage at it resulted in a year of costly legal maneuvering, during which we were repeatedly pressured to settle the case by agreeing to censor ourselves. The pressure came not just from Wolk but from a legal system that focuses more on making cases go away than on addressing their merits. Ultimately, Wolk backed down, which is a vindication of sorts for the defiant strategy recommended (and practiced) by Masnick. But while he was never actually sued, we weren't so lucky.
Last month Paul Alan Levy, who was sued (briefly) by Wolk but admirably resisted his "campaign of intimidation against anybody and everybody who reported in unfavorable terms about his litigation," asked, "Has Arthur Alan Wolk Finally Learned That He Cannot Sue Every Critic?" Unfortunately, this is the sort of question you have to ask if you are trying to assess the odds that you will be sued for saying things that reflect negatively on thin-skinned rich people, even when they are not defamatory. The answer has nothing to do with the truth of what you say or the likelihood that the person you offend can actually win his case if and when its merits are finally addressed. In short, credibility does not enter into it.
Again, we are glad this litigation is over and would like to get on with our other work, so we ask readers to exercise self-restraint in their comments so as to forestall any more claims that we are inciting others to libel.
On September 21, a crowd of about 500 people – many of them students at Howard University’s law school - gathered outside the White House to protest the scheduled execution in Georgia of convicted cop killer Troy Davis. On death row for two decades, enough questions had been raised about Davis’ guilt that his death led to an international outcry. In a grim pairing, Davis’ execution was scheduled for the same night as one for Lawrence Russell Brewer, a Texas man guilty of killing a black man in a racially motivated murder.
While some held signs reading "Free Troy Davis," the prevailing sentiment was strictly a moral opposition to the death penalty, which some placards equated to "legal lynching." Somber, emotional, and peaceful, the demonstrators passed the time singing spirituals, reading personal messages from Troy Davis, and eventually engaging in silent prayer.
At 7 p.m., nearby church bells broke the silence, indicating that the scheduled time of execution had arrived. A few tense minutes passed without any news, when someone put a radio up to a megaphone. Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman reported that a stay of execution had been granted, sending cheers throughout the crowd. Moments later, the NAACP's Benjamin Jealous told Goodman that he had spoken with Davis' lawyer and while he had not been executed at the scheduled time, no stay had been granted.
Demonstrators took to their smartphones looking for the latest news, which indicated that the U.S. Supreme Court was considering whether or not to grant a stay. Disappointed and confused, the crowd began a spontaneous march to the Supreme Court, chanting "They Say Death Row! We say 'Hell, No!" The court ultimately declined to intervene.
After arriving at the steps of the Supreme Court, the crowd continued to demonstrate. But at around 9 p.m., rumors percolated throughout the crowd that a delay of a week had been issued and the crowd began to disperse.
By 11:08 p.m., Troy Davis had been executed by lethal injection.
Despite the international attention the case has received, it remains to be seen whether Davis’ execution will affect attitudes toward capital punishment in the United States. United States regarding capital punishment. Currently, 13 states and the District of Columbia do not have a death penalty. The other states and the federal government have capital punishment laws on the books, but not all have executed anyone since 1976, when the Supreme Court lifted a comprehensive ban on the practice. In 2010, there were 46 executions in the United States. The practice remains popular with voters; about 65 percent approved of capital punishment in a 2011 Gallup survey.
Given the executions of Davis and Brewer, capital punishment will certainly be a hot topic at tonight’s debate for candidates vying for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Adding to the mix will be the defense of the death penalty that Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) made in the last debate. After declaring his belief in the "the ultimate justice” for convicted killers, the audience applauded. Given that fewer countries still perform executions - the U.S. is joined by despotic regimes such as Cuba, Iran, and North Korea – it will be interesting to see how the candidates handle the issue.
Produced by Anthony L. Fisher.
About 2.30 minutes
For downloadable versions of this video, links, and other supporting materials, go to http://reason.tv