Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 January 15-31

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ABC, Others Project Gingrich Win in SC as Polls Close

ABC calls the South Carolina primary for Gingrich over Romney. The network doesn't say who filled out the other slots.

8.22: OK, the projections are currently Gingrich (41 percent), Romney (28 percent), Santorum (17 percent), and Paul (13 percent).

Nick Gillespie Talks Ron Paul & S.C. with Judge Napolitano on Freedom Watch

I was on Fox Business' Freedom Watch on January 17, talking about Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), today's South Carolina GOP primary, and what comes next for Dr. No (who will surely not win today) and the other Republican candidates.

The short version? The fight for the soul of the GOP is between the libertarian message of Paul on the one hand and all the other status quo candidates on the other, whether we're talking Romney, Gingrich, or Santorum. However the party faithful tip in the South Carolina vote - and in the contests to come - Paul's message of an actually limited government provides the only true alternative not just to how Democrats govern but Republicans as well.

About 4 minutes.

S.C. Early Signals: Gingrich in First (or Second); Paul in Second (or Third); Where's Newt's Freddie Contract?

Palmetto state voters are giving Newt Gingrich a new lease on life, according to this exit-poll tease that I would view with a grain of salt. 

That same poll is showing a Ron Paul surge to second place.

Gallup, on the other hand, has Mitt Romney at 31 percent, Gingrich at 23 percent, Ron Paul at 14 percent and Rick Santorum at 12 percent. (Smaller percentages divided among erstwhile candidates.) 

Gingrich has been demagoguing Romney's history as a private capital manager with a class-war attack so Marxist and idiotic that it drove Peter Suderman to write history's most cringe-inducing headline. Romney hits back by demanding to know how much money Gingrich sucked out of the taxpayers as court historian to the failed, Depression-causing GSE Freddie Mac. Romney tells Politico: 

I'd like to see what the report was that he provided to Freddie Mac. I'd like to see what he advised. He said he was an historian and just provided historical information, then he said he told them what they were doing was somehow not going to work. I'd like to see the report. He also said that he was one of the authors of the Reagan revolution economically and created these jobs. Now that we've looked at the Reagan diaries and seen he's mentioned only once and in a way where Reagan said he was wrong, I'd like to see what he actually told Freddie Mac. Don't ya think we ought to see it? This is a big issue. We've got Washington insider talking about Freddie Mac, let's see what his report was to Freddie Mac, what he said to them, what advice he gave them.

South Carolina has eight electoral votes. Counting every caucus/primary so far, we're still talking about states with a total of 19 out of 538 electoral votes. Yet in the pseudo-science of electoral probability, this has already been enough to cut the GOP candidate field by half. 

Ron Paul on the Crest of South Carolina

The world seems to agree Newt Gingrich is poised to take that momentum of coming in fourth in Iowa and New Hampshire to the toppermost of the poppermost in South Carolina (his 10-point polling gain the past week in that state a mystery too hideous for me to want to contemplate), even as Gingrich is canceling appearances there from lack of attendance at the same location Paul draws 1,000.

We'll see today if Gingrich's miracle is real, and we'll find out at the end of the month if his generally underfunded campaign has the cash to capitalize on it (though he did get over $3 million in ad buys in the state from his Sheldon Adelson-funded SuperPAC).

But on the morn of the first day of the rest of campaign 2012, some Paul tidbits:

*Daily Paul documents what it sees as media attempts to more or less pretend Ron Paul wasn't at the last debate. (I watched various Fox analysts last night handicapping what might happen today, including predictions that the polling-fourth Santorum might come in second, that didn't mention Paul was in the race at all.)

*The official Paul campaign hasn't fought very hard for this state, only opening an official office there last week, with most on-the-ground efforts being coordinated, in typical Paul fan style, by the grassroots, Details on their efforts from Washington Examiner:

Everything about Charleston for Ron Paul is volunteer-led and donation-based. Donations from supporters pay for water, electricity, refreshments and campaign materials. Sometimes, members of the group receive leftover materials from official Paul offices in other states, but the majority of the yard signs, bumper stickers, buttons, literature, Paul DVDs and pocket constitutions they pass out are purchased online from the official campaign store.....

Charleston for Ron Paul prefers the official Paul campaign to stay unaffiliated. And the Paul fans have done such an effective job of spreading the word about their organization that dozens of people were standing outside in line for signs last night, [Charleston for Ron Paul leader James] Tredmentozzi said. Mid afternoon today eight volunteers were at the office putting together yard signs and making Get Out The Vote Calls – the same number of volunteers who were making calls at Mitt Romney’s official Charleston office today at approximately the same time.

Likewise, Charleston for Ron Paul’s rogue status hasn’t stopped it from getting access to resources necessary to run a competitive campaign here. Under Tredmentozzi’s guidance, the group purchased voter lists and identified potential supporters and donors by pulling public FEC records of previous Paul donors in South Carolina.

“Who from Mitt Romney’s campaign is doing that? Who from Rick Santorum’s campaign is doing that? Who from Newt Gingrich’s campaign is doing that? Nobody, yet [Ron Paul’s] not getting the time of day,” [activist Wilton] Elder said.

*At Slate, Dave Weigel reports that signs in public and bodies at rallies in South Carolina indicate Paul will not do nearly as well there as he did in Iowa and New Hampshire.

*CNN on Paul campaign strategy moving forward, where another big southern state, Florida, will also not get much official attention.

*Looking ahead, the campaign announces big ad buys in Minnesota and Nevada.

*ABC on Paul's Minnesota strategy:

Paul’s campaign today announced a “substantial” purchase of airtime in the mostly ignored caucus state of Minnesota, the site of Paul’s 2008 counter-convention as Sen. John McCain received the GOP nomination. The purchase is another installment in Paul’s plan to seize caucus states where other candidates haven’t campaigned, and it follows airtime purchases for four separate TV ads in Nevada, announced in October.

Paul has already spent money on direct mail in the caucus states of Nevada, Maine, Colorado, North Dakota and Washington, as well as Louisiana, ABC’s Jonathan Karl reported this month.

The ad promotes Paul’s rebel image as a slasher of government agencies who will stand up for his views, unlike other politicians, who wimp out “like little Shih Tzus.”

The ad is slickly produced and, thanks to an electric-guitar soundtrack and a deep-voiced narrator, it sounds like a promo spot for classic-rock radio, or a TV commercial for a monster-truck rally. Government agencies explode-evaporate onscreen. The words “Later, bureaucrats. That’s how Ron Paul rolls” are spoken.

Minnesota won’t hold its caucuses until Feb. 7, after South Carolina, Florida and Nevada have voted. So why is Paul buying ads there already, when other candidates are laying groundwork in the earlier states?

Paul’s is the only campaign that is overtly as concerned with delegates and long-term gains as it is with early-state wins and popular momentum. Like Barack Obama in 2008, Paul’s strength lies in dedicated followers who know the rules and can organize at caucuses and the county, congressional-district, and state conventions where caucus states will select their delegates to the August Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

“Ours is the only campaign with the resources, organization and stamina to defeat establishment candidate Mitt Romney in a 50-state race,” Campaign Manager Jesse Benton said.

Fresh off a $13-million quarter of fundraising, Benton might be right. As early states go, Paul’s campaign is betting on Nevada, ABC’s Jason Volack reported this week...

*The Boston Globe on Paul's support from active-duty military.

*Jon Basil Utley in the American Conservative on how when it comes to Paul evangelicals love war more than they care about social conservatism.

*TV's right-wing talk show parody Stephen Colbert, who polls more favorably than all the candidates, tells Morning Joe (after a Rumplestiltskin and Herman Cain joke or two) he "really likes Ron Paul," for what it's worth:

Reason's Ron Paul archives. My forthcoming book, Ron Paul's Revolution.

Salman in No Rush to Die….

...decided to skip the Jaipur Literary Festival, the most prestigious confab of its kind in the region, after some churlish Muslim clerics protested his visit and demanded that the Indian government revoke his visa. Rushdie, who has attended the event many times in the past without any fuss, is a bona fide Person of Indian origin and doesn’t need a visa, making it difficult for India’s craven, vote-grubbing government to oblige. But Rushdie himself bowed out after intelligence authorities informed him that the kingpin of the Mumbai underground -- and it’s an open secret that they were referring to Dawood Ibrahim, a Muslim -- had dispatched two paid assassins to “eliminate” him. In light of this, Rushdie said in a written statement, “it would be irresponsible of me to come to the Festival; irresponsible to my family, to the festival audience, and to my fellow writers.”

But Rushdie’s fellow writers Amitava Kumar, Hari Kunzru, Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi refused to be cowed and, against the wishes of the festival’s organizers, took turns reading passages from the Satanic Verses, in defiance of a two-decade-old ban.

Rushdie arguably did the sensible thing in cancelling his visit, especially given all that he endured during the fatwa years when he was forced into exile. But I can’t help wishing he had been a bit more foolish and shown up -- if for no other reason than to put the Indian government, the festival’s organizers and other authorities on the spot, forcing them to protect him and his free speech rights or lose face internationally. His presence might well have derailed the festival. But an event that depends on free speech rights needs to stand up for these rights from time to time. Instead, Rushdie’s decision gave all these invertebrates a face-saving way out.

Incidentally, the only Indian political party that has criticized the pusillanimity demonstrated by all levels of government -- national, state and local -- and has firmly defended Rushdie’s rights, is the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).

Thanks to Salil Tripathi for his helpful Facebook feeds on the issue.

What’s the Conservative Case for Upholding ObamaCare?

At the Volokh Conspiracy, George Washington law professor Orin Kerr has a very interesting post explaining why at least some conservatives would want the Supreme Court to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's individual mandate. As Kerr notes of his own legal views, while he does believe that “Supreme Court doctrine has erroneously permitted the federal government to become too big and play too intrusive a role in American society,” he is also “a Burkean conservative” who accepts the stabilizing role that precedent plays in our judicial system. Therefore he’s not at all convinced that the legal challenge to the health care law should succeed. Here’s a snippet of his argument:

I’m acutely aware of the Supreme Court’s long struggle to identify principled and workable limits on the scope of the Commerce Clause. History has shown that it’s surprisingly hard to do that, and that unprincipled or unstable lines don’t last and just destabilize the law for a short window before being rejected. My comfort with the Court striking down the mandate therefore varies considerably based on how the Court could do it. Let’s imagine, hypothetically, that the Supreme Court strikes down the mandate but does not identify any genuinely principled or workable doctrine to justify it. The Court’s decision merely reopens the hornet’s nest of line-drawing problems that the Court has long struggled with in the Commerce Clause setting, with the significant likelihood that in 20 years the Court will abandon its reasoning. In that case, the Burkean conservative part of me would be dismayed by the Court’s decision. Sure, the federalism guy side of me would be happy, but it would be outweighed by my Burkean objections.

Conservative legal activists have been carrying on versions of this debate for a long time. On the one hand there's the longstanding conservative case for judicial restraint and for letting democratic majorities have their way. That view says that the Supreme Court should defer to Congress and let President Obama’s signature legislative achievement stand (future lawmakers are of course free to repeal the law under this view). On the other hand, there are those—including Justice Clarence Thomas—who argue that the text of the Constitution (as they understand it) should always trump precedent, no matter what sort of destabilizing effects that may have on the legal system.

Chief Justice John Roberts arguably has a foot in each camp. He’s described himself as a believer in “judicial modesty,” an approach that gives heavy weight to both precedent and consensus. Yet as he argued in his Citizens United concurrence, sometimes precedents do deserve to die:

... if adherence to a precedent actually impedes the stable and orderly adjudication of future cases, its stare decisis effect is also diminished. This can happen in a number of circumstances, such as when the precedent’s validity is so hotly contested that it cannot reliably function as a basis for decision in future cases, when its rationale threatens to upend our settled jurisprudence in related areas of law, and when the precedent’s underlying reasoning has become so discredited that the Court cannot keep the precedent alive without jury-rigging new and different justifications to shore up the original mistake.

Setting aside the merits of these various approaches for the moment, what all of this tells us is that a solid Supreme Court majority against the health care law is no sure thing.

Romney Prepares to Lose South Carolina, Feds End Investigation of Chevy Volt Fires, Senate Shelves PIPA: P.M. Links

Solyndra Destroys Brand-New Equipment

Solyndra, the bankrupt Fremont, California maker of tube-component solar panel that lost $518 million in a taxpayer-guaranteed loan approved by the Obama Energy Department, is disposing of its assets the old-fashioned way: by throwing them in the garbage. 

As I have noted in the past, one of the many things that made Solyndra a bad bet was that its signature product was a rack of glass tubing you were supposed to put on your roof in all weather. I have secretly worried that I might be overstating that case, but as you can see in this report from CBS News in San Francisco, Solyndra tubes shatter like champagne glasses when dropped into a dumpster. I hate to think what these babies will do when subjected to sleet, icy rain and other weather conditions that apply, I'm told, outside of sunny California. 

Solyndra lawyers and the bankruptcy conservator claim that throwing out these fragile parts makes sense because they are not worth storing. But in an excellent piece of investigative work, CBS reporter Elizabeth Cook catches up with a parts reseller and a Santa Clara University researcher, both of whom tried to purchase or just receive the dumped products and got turned down. 

Meanwhile, Politico's Darren Samuelsohn and Glenn Thrush figure out that the real villain in the Solyndra scandal is the Koch brothers

Typically, the kickoff ad in a presidential reelection campaign has a gauzy, upbeat, “Morning in America” vibe. Not this one — it was a pointed response to a $6 million ad campaign, paid for by the Koch brothers-linked nonprofit group Americans for Prosperity, which hits Obama on the semi-scandal surrounding the now-defunct, government-subsidized maker of solar power components.

It’s clear Obama’s campaign staff in Chicago sees the Solyndra attacks as a real threat in 2012, and wants to define the narrative before the Koch brothers harden public opinion against Obama. Fairly or not, the issue is likely to be a centerpiece of anti-Obama attacks — it offers both the whiff of scandal and an object lesson on the perceived evils of big-government overreach under an activist Democratic president.

Interestingly, Samuelsohn was not too long ago targeted himself by Solyndra dead enders for paying too much attention to the demi-semi-hemi-scandal. Maybe they brought in this Thrush guy for "balance." In any event, the Kochs will have to spend 86.3 times as much as they have so far to get justice for the half-billion-dollar Solyndra swindle. 

"You Can Smell China’s GDP in the Air"

In the aftermath of Solyndra, politicians have been looking for new reasons to justify government financing for renewable energy. Since green jobs have been a bust and many Americans don't care about climate change, beating China is the new raison d’être du jour.

In 2010, the Chinese government was the top spender on green energy projects worldwide, with $34 billion—almost double what the Unites States spent. It evens plan to create a new energy "superministry." As part of its next five-year plan (because those always work), China plans to spend almost $475 billion by 2017. Currently, China produces more wind turbines and solar panels than any other nation. The sheer number of the latter have led to accusations of "dumping" and ruining America's solar industry, with some solar manufacturers aggressively lobbying for tariffs. (Luckily, a rival coalition of solar businesses is lobbying to stop these tariffs, since starting a trade war in the middle of a recession is probably not the best idea.)

Green with China envy, environmentalists claim "America is losing the clean energy race," and naysayers are "un-American." Of course, few can top Thomas Friedman, whose now infamous September 8, 2009 column oozes orgasmic China envy:

There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today. One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power.

Unfortunately for these watermelons, China uses incredibly tiny amounts of renewable energy. Writing in The Washington Post in April 2011, Bjorn Lomborg elaborates:

The explosive recent growth in Chinese solar and wind generation equates to going from zilch to a small fraction: Wind today generates just 0.05 percent of China’s energy, and solar is responsible for one-half of one-thousandth of 1 percent.

The avoided carbon emissions from all of China’s solar and wind generation—even maintained over the entire century—would lower temperatures in 2100 by 0.00002 degrees Fahrenheit. That is the equivalent, based on mainstream climate models, of delaying temperature rises at the end of the century by around five hours.

Plus, despite all that green spending, China is an industrial hellhole, with abysmal air quality and smog. Or as the Chinese government calls it, "heavy fog" or "light pollution." According to a study by the World Bank, exposure to outdoor air pollution kills 350,000 people each year prematurely, while indoor air pollution claims another 300,000 in China. In addition, the rate of lung cancer has increased by over 60% in the past decade, even though smoking levels have stagnated. Chinese air quality has deteriorated to the point where even basic visibility is a problem, cancelling flights and closing down highways. Some Beijing residents joke, "you can smell China's GDP in the air." 

The main culprit for this miasma is coal. In a report publicized by Xinhua News Agency, 60 percent of the particulates responsible for smog come from coal generation. Over 70 of China's energy consumption comes from burning coal, equal to 3.2 billion tons in 2010. That's almost half of all coal burned on the entire planet. Of course, this massive increase in air pollution is a by-product of China's rapid economic growth--over 1,000 percent since 1978. Since cheap, abundant energy is necessary for prosperity, China has few options for cleaner energy sources. Wind and solar are still more expensive than coal, with the latter costing twice as much. Until renewables can reach “grid parity,” i.e., the same price for electricity provided by the grid, low-carbon sources like nuclear power and natural gas will become supreme in the Middle Kingdom.

Reason on pollution and renewable energy. Matt Welch on the "banal authoritarianism" of Thomas Friedman. And here's reason.tv with the "skeptical environmentalist" himself, Bjorn Lomborg.

Cathy Young On Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party

In the Long Island Newsday, Reason contributing editor Cathy Young says the Tea Party movement and Occupy Wall Street shared some important traits — for better and worse: 

Both tea partyers and occupiers see themselves as true representatives of the people -- "Middle America" or the "99 percent" -- and as defenders of the country's core values: liberty for the tea party; equality for the occupy protests. Both see themselves as anti-establishment rebels. Both direct their ire at a ruling class that has usurped power and corrupted politics: economic and corporate elites for occupy activists, cultural and intellectual elites for tea party supporters.

The truth, too, is that each movement reflects some legitimate concerns that attract the sympathy of many people who aren't activists. Bureaucratic bloat and the fattening of the welfare state do pose a danger not only to individual freedom but to creativity, innovation and wealth creation. Shrinking opportunities for the middle class do threaten the American dream, with upward mobility stalled for too many.

Unfortunately, it's equally true that each movement's dark side is far more than just a radical fringe. The activists' rhetoric and actions, on both the left and the right, give ample ammunition to their enemies.

Full article

Obama, President of Debt

The federal government could hit its legal debt limit again right before this year's presidential election, according to Reuters:

The latest $1.2 trillion increase in the U.S. debt limit may not last through November's election and could provide fresh ammunition for Republicans to attack President Barack Obama on what they see as a particularly vulnerable point - spending.

Based on current deficit rates and borrowing estimates, some analysts say the United States could reach the debt ceiling again before the November 6 vote. This would force the U.S. Treasury to turn once more to accounting maneuvers to avoid the unthinkable: asking Congress for another increase as the presidential election campaign reaches its crescendo.

What's the president's plan to deal with the nation's mounting, unsustainable debt? Keep piling it on. Via Economics 21, a look back at how the Congressional Budget Office scored President Obama's 2012 budget proposal:

Here's what the CBO thinks the future would hold if the president's budget proposal was enacted, as summarized by the folks at E21:

Deficits over the next two years. If the President’s proposals were enacted, the federal government would record deficits of $1.4 trillion in 2011 and $1.2 trillion in 2012. Those deficits would amount to 9.5 percent and 7.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), respectively. (By comparison, the deficit in 2010 totaled 8.9 percent of GDP.)

Deficits over the next 10 years. The deficit under the President’s proposals would fall to 4.1 percent of GDP by 2015 but would generally rise thereafter. Compared with CBO’s current-law baseline projections, deficits under the proposals would be higher. By 2021, the deficit would reach 4.9 percent of GDP, compared with 3.1 percent under CBO’s baseline projections. Over the 2012–2021 period, deficits under the President’s budget would total $9.5 trillion, compared with $6.7 trillion under those baseline projections.

Comparison with the Administration’s Estimates. CBO’s estimate of the deficit for 2011 under the President’s budget is $220 billion less that the Administration’s figure, mostly because of lower estimates of outlays. In contrast, largely because of lower projections of revenues, CBO’s estimate of cumulative deficits over the 2012–2021 period is $2.3 trillion greater than the Administration’s.

Debt. Under the President’s budget, debt held by the public would grow from $10.4 trillion (69 percent of GDP) at the end of 2011 to $20.8 trillion (87 percent of GDP) at the end of 2021, about $2.8 trillion more than the amount in CBO’s baseline projections.

That is to say: the Obama Administration’s record on the short-term fiscal balance is as poor as their record on the long-run fiscal challenge. The CBO projects that the Administration’s budget will result in steadily rising debts and deficits as far as the eye can see — and that’s based on the assumption that the economy will run into no future recessions.

As I wrote last year when the CBO's assessment of the White House budget plan was first released, the president's budget is built on what you might call the rosy scenario system—a sort of cross-your-fingers-and-hope-nothing-goes-wrong approach to budgeting. What's worse is that under the president's plan, all those rosy scenarios will only barely keep us afloat; even if nothing goes wrong, and the economy chugs along at an unlikely pace, the country's fundamental fiscal problems won't be resolved.

Get Your Space Junk Away From Our Satellites. Please.

In a statement released Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that "the long-term sustainability of our space environment is at serious risk from space debris and irresponsible actors." Uh oh.

Ensuring the stability, safety, and security of our space systems is of vital interest to the United States and the global community. These systems allow the free flow of information across platforms that open up our global markets, enhance weather forecasting and environmental monitoring, and enable global navigation and transportation.

Unless the international community addresses these challenges, the environment around our planet will become increasingly hazardous to human spaceflight and satellite systems, which would create damaging consequences for all of us.

Translation: All that Soviet space junk up there is threatening U.S. satellites. And if you thought a day without Wikipedia was bad, you really don't want to experience a day without functioning space-based systems. So let's get together and figure this out. Just one hitch, says State: 

the United States has made clear to our partners that we will not enter into a code of conduct that in any way constrains our national security-related activities in space

The U.S. isn't too keen on sharing 100 percent of what we know about which objects are where in space, since that list would include—among other things—all of our satellites. Plus, many of the technical solutions that currently exist to deal with the debris problem are basically anti-satellite weapons by another name. Which gets really awkward really quickly in international diplomacy.

So what exactly will happen next is a bit of a mystery, even to space debris nerds like space lawyer Jim Dunstan of the Mobius Legal Group. He wryly notes, "Every international discussion of this that I’ve seen has many zeros attached to the back end of it. Many of the people who look at this tend to be members of national or international space organizations who can’t walk down the street without it costing a billion dollars."

But Dunstan holds out hope for cooperation between the U.S. and Russia nonetheless. "The Russians are far better capitalists than we are.," he says. "If you were to walk up to them and say: Here’s a private approach to do this, and not only can we limit your liability for this debris, we might even be able to pay a little bit to do this—they’d listen."

We'll see.

Hey! If you haven't checked it out yet, get your mitts on a copy of Reason's Very Special Space issue. (Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds is calling it "awesomely good.") Meanwhile, Matt Welch will play "Rocket Man" on the guitar and tell you what you're missing in Reason's February edition:

Occupy the Courts: The Irony of Protesting Against Free Speech

Morning Edition on NPR ran a segment on the many protests today against free speech held in honor of the second anniversary of Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court. The protests are organized by the Occupy the Courts movement which aims to amend the Constitution in order to gut the First Amendment's protection of free speech. Amusingly, the NPR segment does include this great line about today's anti-free speech demonstrations from Institute for Justice attorney Steve Simpson:

"People banding together in groups and exercising their right to free speech, to protest a court decision that held that people should be able to band together in groups and exercise their right to free speech — that's a little bit ironic."

Ironic? Well, yes. 

For more background, read my colleague Jacob Sullum's brilliant article on the Citizens United case, You Are Now Free to Speak About Politics.

Sheldon Richman on SOPA and Internet Censorship

Last week the acronyms SOPA were unheard of, much less decipherable, by most people. Yet the other day a groundswell of opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act, led by Wikipedia, Google, and other Internet entities, was powerful enough to persuade a significant number of members of Congress to abandon their active or tacit support for the legislation. The juggernaut heading toward greater government control over the Internet met massive resistance and will now have to undergo renovation to regain its momentum. But as Sheldon Richman observes, we may be certain that those who seek this control will not give up easily.

View this article

9th Circuit Sees No Anti-Corruption Rationale for Limiting Contributions to Recall Campaigns

The Institute for Justice looks likely to win its challenge to the contribution limits imposed on recall campaigns in Washington state. I.J. is representing the Recall Dale Washam Committee, which tried to remove Pierce County's assessor-treasurer from office. The committee ran afoul of an $800 contribution cap by accepting the help of Tom Oldfield and Jeff Helsdon, two Tacoma attorneys who did pro bono work for the recall campaign. Yesterday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the rule, finding that "the plaintiffs have satisfied their burden…to demonstrate that the contribution limit is likely an unconstitutional and harmful burden on the plaintiffs' rights of free speech under the First Amendment." The limit applies to in-kind contributions such as legal work as well as cash, making it impractical for grassroots groups with shoestring budgets to mount successful recall campaigns. In Washington recalls have to be based on charges of "malfeasance or misfeasance," as determined by a judge, meaning that litigation is necessary to get a recall measure on the ballot. The 9th Circuit rejected the state's argument that the limit on donations prevents corruption or the appearance of corruption, saying "neither the State nor amici [have] presented any evidence showing that contributions to recall committees in Washington raise the specter of corruption, and certainly not in this case.” Bill Maurer, executive director of I.J.'s Washington chapter, comments:

Washington's law was the ultimate incumbent protection scheme: It made it impossible to recall the most abusive elected officials. Today's decision clearly recognizes that this law improperly interferes with the ability of Pierce County citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights in recall campaigns. Now we are one step closer to ensuring that all Washingtonians wishing to exercise the right of recall will not be hampered by artificial restrictions on their speech.

Gary Johnson, Third Parties, and So-Called Joke Candidates

Though former Gov. Gary Johnson has dropped his bid for major party acceptance, he is still poking at Democrats and Republicans both as he reaches for the Libertarian Party's nomination. Recently he told Huffington Post that yes, even "Mickey Mouse would poll 15 percent against Romney or Obama." People are that fed up, suggests the ex-Republican.

Bold words from a fellow who is technically polling lower than television comedian Stephen Colbert, at least according to Public Policy Polling.

PPP has Colbert at 13 percent nationally and Johnson at 7 percent, which is admittedly somewhat higher than you might expect for a man who got more or less screwed over by some of the biggest polling and media outfits when they incessantly lumped him under "other" and declared that he had not earned a place in the debates.

Notes Yahoo News, a Colbert or similar candidacy is not always unserious:

"If there were ever an election cycle when a television character would not be considered a joke, it would be this one," [PPP director of polling Tom] Jensen said. "Americans are disgusted with the candidates on both sides, and fed up with politics. I actually think if Stephen Colbert were to run as an independent, and keep talking about the issues he's been talking about the last week or so for the next 10 months, he'd probably do pretty well in a general election. Certainly not well enough to win, but well enough to justify his third-party candidacy."

The poll showed that Colbert would actually hurt Obama more than Romney, shrinking the president's current five-point lead over Romney to within the poll's 3.7 percent margin of error.

Colbert, who is from South Carolina, spent the day rallying with Herman Cain, that former would-be-GOP-candidate who danced on the edge of being hilarious, but could never fully commit until now. Cain remains on the ballot in South Carolina, while Colbert in his Citizens United-mocking, SuperPAC-funded journey towards the fake presidency, couldn't manage to get there. Cain's various terrible political stances are are least no longer alarming now that his media moment is over.

Huffington Post probably asked Johnson about a third partier's chances for success because a new Washington Post shows maybe higher support for the idea of a third party than you might think. The people who want one least are Democrats. The people who wants one most are, ahem, independents.

Washington Post:

Some 48 percent think there is a need for a third way in party politics, and just as many, 49 percent, say not so. Overall, 22 percent say they would definitely vote for a third party candidate with whom they agreed on most issues; another 46 percent would at least consider it. Fewer than three in 10 would flatly rule it out.

The full poll results can be found here. Reason-Rupe polls have also found that the young and the libertarian-leaning are more likely to support or considering voting for a third party candidate.

It's often tempting to just sayof course all political campaigns are an unfunny joke so why not vote for a funnier joke? Though, there is one worthwhile candidate; The great humorist Dave Barry, who has been running for president unceasingly since sometime in the '90s, is a libertarian and once did an amazing Reason interview, which would almost make me consider my non-voter's stance. Within it Barry manages to be smart and human about the drug war, prostitution prohibition, and government job creation. Spoiler alert, he hates all those things, but go read the interview in full anyway.

So yes, all politicians are fundamentally ludicrous, but if we're not going to get rid of them, I guess more competition amongst them can't make things much worse. I think there's a book about that?

Anyway, commenters, what say you? Will you throw your vote away on a comedian, a cartoon character, or Herman Cain? Would you consider it?

While you mull that over, watch this video where former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra explains how his 1979 San Francisco mayoral campaign is "no more or less of a joke" than anyone else's. He came in fifth, by the way. 

Reason on Gary Johnson; and on third parties and fringe candidates

Helping Newt Gingrich Imagine Something More Despicable

Last night during the CNN Republican presidential candidate debate, former Speaker of the House and current narcissist-in-chief Newt Gingrich dared to blurt out

"To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine," Gingrich told King, the moderator of the debate."

He's kidding, right? Surely some people will find it "despicable" for Newt to have cheated on his wife for six years. And some might think it "despicable" for a man to be lecturing others on immorality while he is at the same exact moment cheating on his wife. And how about arguing with your first wife over the details of the divorce you're seeking while she is in the hospital recovering from surgery? Maybe that's just a teeny bit "despicable." 

And what about having the sheer gall to claim on the Christian Broadcasting Network - of all places - that your serial infidelities occurred because of how "passionately" you felt about this country and "how hard you worked." That may not be "despicable," but surely it is one of the more pathetically self-aggrandizing excuses for bad behavior heard in public recently. And then, in that same interview, Newt implied that God had forgiven him for his "inappropriate" behavior. 

And perhaps the Creator has seen fit to forgive Newt. And that's fine, but that would simply mean that Divine Providence has lower standards than I do. 

Ranking Economic Freedom with The Heritage Foundation's James Roberts

"Economic Freedom peaked about seven or eight years ago in the U.S. and has been dropping since then," claims James Roberts, Heritage Foundation Research Fellow and co-author of the 2012 Index of Economic Freedom.

For over a decade the Heritage Foundation has been ranking countries based on a number of indices, including open markets, regulatory efficiency, and the size and scope of government. Due primarily to costly regulations and rapid government expansion, the tenth-place United States’ declined in the rankings for the fourth straight year, behind Hong Kong (#1), Australia (#3), Switzerland (#5), Canada (#6) and Ireland (#9).  Even Maruritius, a small island off the coast of Africa, was seen as a more economically free.

Roberts sat down with Reason’s Matt Welch to discuss the Index, the state of free enterprise in the world, and the decline of economic freedom in Europe and North America.

About 6:30 minutes. Shot by Meredith Bragg and Joshua Swain and edited by Bragg.

Visit Reason.tv for downloadable versions, and subscribe to our YouTube Channel  to receive notifications when new material goes live.

Tim Cavanaugh on Gingrich's Counterculture McGovernik Ethics: RT Big Picture

The other day an actor friend of mine told me he got a small part in A Streetcar Named Desire

"That's great," I said. "I heard that's a good show. What's it about?" 

"It's about this doctor who takes a crazy lady to a nuthouse," he said. 

That's what's going on in this appearance on Thom Hartmann's The Big Picture.

It starts out being about ABC's news ethics in adding the Marianne Gingrich interview to the Public Trust's permanent collection. 

For Hartmann, it's about the racial disparities in political sex scandals, as seen in the title of the attached video. 

For me, it's all about whether law enforcement agencies should take an interest in whatever erotic refinements Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana) may have purchased from another consenting adult. 

Maybe Newsweek's Eleanor Clift stays on topic. 

You be the judge

Video: Florida Cop Beats 66-Year-Old Man With Dementia

Earlier this week we told you about a police officer in Melbourne, Florida, who brutally attacked 66-year-old Albert Flowers before placing him under arrest for battery of a police officer. The incident happened in October, but Flowers' case didn't come to light until someone from the Melbourne Police Department leaked the raw dash-cam footage from Officer Derek Middendorf's cruiser. (Middendorf, the offending officer, allegedly turned his dash-cam off before getting out of the car; it may simply be the case that he tried to delete it. Either way, the footage was rescued from his harddrive and leaked). Courtesy of FloridaToday.com, you can now watch raw video from the dashcam:

Peter Suderman, Revealed, at FishbowlDC

Beloved Reason Associate Editor Peter Suderman, author of our March 2012 cover profile on Mitt Romney (that you can have special access to here), has been given the Q&A treatment by FishbowlDC. Excerpt:

What’s your dream job? Aqua Teen Hunger Force voice actor, maybe? Or editor at an awesome libertarian magazine. [...]

Top three life moments: Getting married. Meeting my wife for the first time. Making the cover of the local paper dressed up as Obi-Wan Kenobi after seeing Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. [...]

Have you ever had a tarot card reading? No, but if the CBO gave personalized long-term outlooks, I would definitely be up for that. [...]

Tell us a secret not many people know about you. I briefly played bass in a theatrical metal band (that didn’t actually play much metal) called Metal Spike. My stage name was Professor Gorefest. [...] 

Who should just call it a day? Kathleen Sebelius. I could defend the health care overhaul better than she does, and I spend most of my time writing about how the law is terrible.

Read the whole thing here.

Rick Santorum v. Ron Paul on Constitutional Interpretation: Santorum Fail

An item over at the Weekly Standard blog quotes Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum as taking his rival hopeful Ron Paul to task for his too narrow interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. In fact, the sanctimonious Santorum states:

My understanding of our founding documents and the purpose of this country is different. I would argue that [Paul’s] understanding of the Constitution was similar to the French Revolution and the French understanding of the Constitution. 

So what does Santorum mean by this? Well, he suggests that he wants to incorporate the Declaration of Independence into his version of Constitutional interpretation. Why? Santorum argues:

Ron Paul has a libertarian view of the Constitution. I do not. The Constitution has to be read in the context of another founding document, and that’s the Declaration of Independence. Our country never was a libertarian idea of radical individualism. We have certain values and principles that are embodied in our country. We have God-given rights. 

The Constitution is not the “why” of America; it’s the “how” of America. It’s the operator’s manual. It’s the rules we have to play by to ensure something. And what do we ensure? God-given rights. And so to read the Constitution as the end-all, be-all is, in a sense, what happened in France. You see, during the time of our revolution, we had a Declaration of Independence that said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, [that they are] endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Hmmm. "Not about radical individualism?" Why not? Because Santorum claims: 

So we were founded as a country that had God-given rights that the government had to respect. And with those rights come responsibilities, right? God did not just give us rights. He gave us a moral code by which to exercise them. 

See, that’s what Ron Paul sort of leaves out. He leaves out rights and responsibilities that we have from God that this Constitution is to protect. And he says, “No, we just have rights, and then that’s it.” No, we don’t. America is a moral enterprise….

So Santorum goes on about "rights and responsibilities" allegedly derived from the Declaration of Independence.

However, you will not find the words "responsibility" or "responsibilities" in the text. You will find "right" and "rights" mentioned 10 times. For what it's worth "God" and "Creator" and "divine Providence" are mentioned once each. 

So what about Santorum's canard about Paul's failure to include insights from the Declaration as resulting in an allegedly radical French interpretation of the U.S. Constitution? Here Santorum demonstrates his historical ignorance again: 

The French had 21, I think, constitutions, but their constitutions were initially patterned after the American Constitution. Gave radical freedom, like ours does. But their founding document was not the Declaration of Independence. Their founding watchwords were the words, “liberty” and “fraternity.” Fraternity. Brotherhood. But no fatherhood. No God. It was a completely secular revolution. An anti-clerical revolution. And the root of it was, whoever’s in power rules.

Just like the French constitutions cited by Santorum, our Constitution does not mention God or any of His many euphemisms in its text. But what about Santorum's claim that there as "no God" mentioned in the French Republic's "founding document"?  Well, that's just wrong. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was adopted by the National Assembly in 1789 as it plainly states....

... in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being....

So both American and French declarations mention euphemisms for the divine, and both American and French constitutions do not. 

Seems like Paul knows a bit more about the Constitution than does Santorum. 

Etta James, RIP

Say goodbye to a singer so talented she could make an Eagles song sound good:

Here she is covering Tammy Wynette. Here she is covering Ray Charles. Here's her most famous hit, in which she reinvigorated an old Glenn Miller song. And here's her obit in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Steven Greenhut on Jerry Brown’s Failed Vision for California

In his State of the State speech on Wednesday, California Gov. Jerry Brown referred to the growing chorus of Californians complaining about a brain drain to Texas and other states with more favorable tax and regulatory climates as “declinists” with dark visions of the future. Sorry, writes Steven Greenhut, but the true declinists are the ones who stick to the same path of taxing, spending, regulating, and suing the life out of the productive and entrepreneurial class. Gov. Brown is not just a declinist but a denialist, who believes that the same old policies that led to the current mess will lead us to a bright new future.

View this article

California Supreme Court to Resolve Questions About Regulating Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

This week the California Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases that should help clarify the rules for supplying medical marijuana. In October the 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned Long Beach's licensing system for dispensaries, saying it conflicted with the federal Controlled Substances Act because it went "beyond decriminalization into authorization." In November the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that California's laws allowing medical use of cannabis do not bar local governments from banning dispensaries within their jurisdictions. The first decision made regulation of dispensaries legally problematic, while the second offered a straightforward way to avoid the hassle. The upshot was a boost for local bans. In Los Angeles, for example, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich is pushing a "gentle ban" on medical marijuana that would allow cultivation by patients and caregivers but prohibit over-the-counter sales.

Who Needs SOPA? Four Ways to Look at the Megaupload Bust

In an internationally coordinated strike yesterday, the Department of Justice killed Megaupload, a file-sharing site that the DOJ says accounts for four percent of all Internet traffic and an even more significant amount of the web's IP piracy. Seven employees are charged in the DOJ's indictment, and Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom (ne Schlitz) along with three other employees were arrested in New Zealand. Here are some takeaways from the fall of Megaupload.

1.) The bust undermines the need for the Stop Online Piracy and Protect IP Acts, a case Sam Biddle makes at Gizmodo:

Let's also think about the timing of this bust. It's a pretty spectacular coincidence that the Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property was able to destroy a copyright villain without any help from SOPA or PIPA the day after the internet's giant SOPA protest. Do you hear that, lawmakers? The law, as it stands right now was able to kill Megaupload.com, no draconian censorship powers required. The power you have now—with due process—is achieving the things you say you want to do. Your IP is protected. Online piracy was stopped, except for the dozens of Megaupload rivals like HulkShare and MediaFire. And I wouldn't be surprised if they're next.

2.) While the RIAA (and MPAA) may be losing the PR battle over SOPA and PIPA, the indictment suggests they've got a good charm offensive going within the DOJ. Nate Anderson writes at Ars Technica that certain charges in the Megaupload indictment sound like favors to the recording industry:

It's full of strange non-sequiturs, such as the charge that "on or about November 10, 2011, a member of the Mega Conspiracy made a transfer of $185,000 to further an advertising campaign for Megaupload.com involved a musical recording and a video." So?

The money probably paid for a video that infuriated the RIAA by including major artists who support Megaupload. Megaupload later filed claims in US courts, trying to save the video, which it says was entirely legal, from takedown requests. (The RIAA has long said the site operators "thumb their noses at international laws, all while pocketing significant advertising revenues from trafficking in free, unlicensed copyrighted materials.")

3.) This could be the first indictment of many for file-sharing sites, including the legitimate ones. Ernesto at TorrentFreak points out that Megaupload did not provide a search function for users. For me to find a file, someone first had to post the link in a searchable third party space (forum, blog), or send it to me directly. This is how the majority of file-sharing sites work, including the legit ones. Yet the DOJ claims that Megaupload did this to “conceal the scope of its infringement” (and has internal emails to back up its claim). Who else can they make this claim about?

4.) Law-abiding Megaupload users got screwed, as Ian Paul notes at PC World:

Megaupload users are crying foul after their personal files, not necessarily copyright-infringing material, stored with the file-sharing service was seized on Thursday along with a trove of illegally distributed copyrighted works.

Some of those users took to Twitter complaining about the loss of their files, as first reported by TorrentFreak. "I had files up there...gone forever..and they were personal recordings! No copyright infringement!" said Twitter user J. Amir. Another user complained that her work files were now gone, and others used more colorful language to describe their predicament.

A better strategy is to use services from trusted and well-known companies without any obvious connections to piracy, such as Google Docs, Microsoft's SkyDrive, and Box. Dropbox is also a great choice since it installs a folder on your hard drive with all your content, so if Dropbox were to ever go down you're less likely to lose files.

Keep in mind that when you use these services you also make it easier for the government, and possibly hackers, to peer into your files without your knowledge -- but that's a discussion for another day.

Bottom line: if your cloud service offers file storage on the front end and shows pirated video out the back, don't be surprised if your files vanish one day.

This is why users should start thinking now about what to do when the DOJ comes knocking at the door of their current file-sharing service. Lifehacker has some suggestions.

Special One-Time Offer! Read Reason's Great March 2012 Cover Story on Mitt Romney Right the Hell Now!

As Reason subscribers know, there is a gap between the moment a new issue lands in the mailbox, and when it becomes available online. This is partly because YOU SHOULD TOTALLY SUBSCRIBE RIGHT NOW IT IS ONLY $14.97 A YEAR WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU.

For example, our great February special space issue is being rolled out online for the rest of the month of January. (Please do not make a February/January joke here; the magazine-world spits on your "logic.")

What I'm getting at here, is that our March cover story, a great Peter Suderman piece of analytical reporting entitled "Consultant in Chief: Instead of planning to cut government, Mitt Romney is repackaging the same old Republicanism," is being made specially available to all of you, in advance of the mailman, for the price of your valid e-mail address. It is essential reading for anyone trying to figure out just what kind of president Mitt Romney would make. Click here and follow the instructions, and the article will be yours.

You're welcome.

Reason Writers at the Movies: Peter Suderman Reviews Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Associate Editor Peter Suderman reviews Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, an adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel about a young boy dealing with the death of his father in the World Trade Center on 9/11, in today's Washington Times:

It almost doesn’t matter whether “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is a good movie or a bad one. It’s a 9/11 movie, so how one reacts will inevitably hinge to some extent on individual feelings about the terrorist attacks that stunned and shocked Americans a decade ago.

As it happens, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is not a good movie, despite some strong performances. Instead, it’s something of an ungainly misfire—an unfortunate, occasionally enraging, mix of Hollywood treacle and twee Brooklyn literary gimmickry.

Whole thing here.

Read Reason's Nick Gillespie on why art failed us after 9/11

New Poll: Americans Aren't Ready for Another War

For those tuning into the myriad Republican presidential debates over the past few months, they may have been surprised to learn that many GOP candidates believe a military intervention in Iran could be likely.

Yet despite the cheers the candidates received for taking hawkish foreign policy stances with Iran, a recent Rasmussen poll finds that only 35 percent of Americans favor using military force if sanctions fail to prevent Iran from developing their nuclear capabilities.

This finding is especially interesting given that 81 percent of Americans think it is either somewhat or very likely that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon in the near future, and that 63 percent of Americans do not believe it is very or at all likely that stiff economic sanctions will effectively force Iran to disband its nuclear program.

Although 76 percent of Americans believe that Iran is a serious national security threat to the United States, only 35 percent are ready to favor military intervention. This means that even though most Americans believe it's quite likely Iran will develop a nuclear weapon and that economic sanctions will fail to work, they aren’t willing for Americans to engage in another military intervention. This suggests that Americans may recognize there are other means to promote peace, prosperity, and American defense, besides intervening militarily.

The Q3 2011 Reason-Rupe poll can illuminate this hesitance among a majority of Americans to engage in another war. First, 61 percent believe the U.S. uses its military force in foreign conflicts too often. Furthermore, 62 percent are not convinced that the war in Iraq has been worth it, while 65 percent do not believe that keeping troops in Afghanistan until 2014 will make the U.S. any safer.

Americans are drained from the costs of war in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and right now they don’t seem willing to engage in another conflict. Americans may be willing to consider other means to promote national defense, besides military intervention and economic sanctions. Perhaps keeping the military strong here at home and promoting free trade abroad could be a consideration.

Rasmussen Reports
1,000 Likely Voters
Conducted January 17-18, 2012

How likely is it that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon in the near future?

42% Very likely
39% Somewhat likely
  7% Not very likely
  2% Not at all likely
10% Not sure

How likely is it that stiff economic sanctions against Iran will force Iran to disband its nuclear program?

  6% Very likely
21% Somewhat likely
46% Not very likely
17% Not at all likely
10% Not sure

Suppose that diplomatic efforts fail to prevent Iran from continuing to develop its nuclear capabilities. Should the United States use military force to prevent Iranfrom developing nuclear weapons?

35% Yes
38% No
27% Not sure

How serious a national security threat is Iran to the United States?

33% Very serious
43% Somewhat serious
16% Not very serious
  2% Not at all serious
  6% Not sure

 NOTE: Margin of Sampling Error, +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence

"Either Mr. Romney isn't smart enough to realize that these two lines of attack are inconsistent, or he does realize they are inconsistent and is cynical enough to think that voters aren't smart enough to realize they are inconsistent."

FutureOfCapitalism's Ira Stoll on last night's debate, and how Romney "manages to denounce ObamaCare as a 'Medicare-cutting monster' while also styling himself as the defender of 'free enterprise' against President Obama's vision of a 'European-style social welfare state.'"

Reason on Romney's health care quadruple-talk here. Ira Stoll's Reason archive here.

What John Stossel Reads

As part of The Atlantic's "What I Read" series, our favorite weekly TV news show-haver (and reason.com columnist) gives a nice shout-out to the rabble, while revealing a perhaps-surprising fondness for the art of violence:

When I first wake up, I turn on Fox & Friends or Imus in the Morning. On my BlackBerry, I start with The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. For the subway ride, I read on my Kindle so I don't have to elbow people turning the pages. At work, I always read CATO @Liberty and Reason's Hit and Run. I don't always look at the bylines but Reason's Matt Welch really expands my brain and I like Katherine Mangu-Ward, Jacob Sullum and Shikha Dalmia too. I also read The New Republic, The Week, Forbes and National Review. I stopped reading Newsweek and Time because I couldn't find anything that wasn't banal or liberal pap—though I will say Newsweek has gotten better since Tina Brown took over. I like Howard Kurtz. The Nation has gotten too stupid for me: the same dreary stuff over and over. I read The Atlantic only once a month but I probably wouldn't if Scott weren't there. (Those long articles take a lot of time.) I also read Mediaite for media gossip, the Bleacher Report for mixed martial arts and Intrade.com, where people bet on world events and politics (I find it much more accurate than what political commentators predict). 

On TV, I watch Modern Family, NCIS, and Ultimate Fighting. I was a high school wrestler and I've always been fascinated with which martial art is superior. You have to be good at all of them. For awhile, the jujitsu specialists clobbered everyone. Then people found out defenses. Then the boxers won and people figured out how to get around punches. Then the wrestlers won for awhile. 

Read the whole thing, including some digs at libertarian-baiter Jonathan Chait, here. Then re-read Stossel's classic 2004 Reason cover story, "Confessions of a Welfare Queen."

A. Barton Hinkle on Romney's Tax Rate

Mitt Romney says he pays about 15 percent in federal taxes. Received opinion suggests we all ought to be just horrified by this. After all, even billionaire investor Warren Buffett professes to be dismayed that because (like Romney) he makes a lot of money in the stock market, and the tax rate on capital gains is lower than the tax rate on ordinary income, he pays a smaller slice of his income in taxes than employees who make much less. Romney, on the other hand, doesn’t want to raise the capital-gains tax rate. Left-wingers think this is laughable on its face, writes A. Barton Hinkle. But the realities of inflation and double taxation prove Romney right.

View this article

A.M. Links: Newt Lashes Out at Media (Again), Jim DeMint Remains Neutral, Hackers Retaliate Over Megaupload Bust

Do you want hot links and other Reason goodies delivered to your inbox twice a day? Sign up here for Reason's morning and afternoon news updates.

New at Reason.tv: "The Foie Gras Fight: Animal Cruelty or Animal Rights Propaganda?"

Henry Payne on the Sinking of the U.S.S. Economy

We know what sank the Costa Concordia, says Henry Payne. If only we could figure out what sank the U.S.S. Economy.

View this article

GOP South Carolina CNN Debate Open Marriage Thread, Post-Rick Perry Edition!

Well, this one won't be lacking in entertainment value, will it?

Newt surges! Marianne dishes! Perry '86es! Santorum wins Iowa after all, maybe! Ron Paul...has a hot air balloon taken down. And those are just the headlines from today.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer, as usual, is ready to ask the hard questions (and upload them to YouTube). Such as:

The four remaining candidates have been beating up on each other in recent days. Will they have the guts to blast their opponents when they are standing right next to them?

No due respect to Wolf, there are some other interesting brain-ticklers, such as:

* Will John King's inevitable so-long Marianne question be a win, a win-win, or a positively Friedmanesque win-win-win for Newt Gingrich in the near-term of the South Carolina primary?

* Will Ron Paul continue to attack only his non-Romney competitors, will he finally direct fire toward the decidedly non-libertarian Mitt in the hope that a Gingrich comeback victory in the S.C. punctures the whole electability bubble, or will he just spend the debate hopping up and down on Rick Santorum's fingers?

* Will Paul be challenged for not hi-fiving the Osama bin Laden assassination, not understanding the grave threat of a nuclearized Iran, not knowing who wrote his retarded old newsletters, or all of the above? In every case, DRINK!

* Will we really waste time bashing a private equity firm for not being a full-employment factory?

* Will there be any mention of the following non-trivial subjects: The Euro-zone fiscal crisis, the America-zone fiscal crisis, the drug war-fueled civil war in Mexico, the drug war-fueled drug war in America?

* What will be averaged elapsed time between "Hey Mitt, how come you totally 180'd on this particular position?" and him totally changing the subject–10 seconds, five, or three?

I would ask more, but we're up against the clock here, and y'all need some time to work out the rules of the drinking game.

Your Final Four:

Mitt Romney: Profile, Reason coverage page

Newt Gingrich: Profile, coverage

Ron Paul: Profile, coverage

Rick Santorum: Profile, coverage

No live-blogging here currently planned; we may catch up later.

The Controversial Ron Paul: The GOP and Assange, Israel and the NDAA

Presidential candidate Ron Paul is a man embroiled in many controversies. Let's survey some of the more recent ones:

*Ron Paul wins the coveted Wikileaks endorsement, as Julian Assange tips his hat to Paul as a particularly important public supporter in an interview with Rolling Stone.

*Paul continues to court controversy with his own party in the New York Times:

Asked whether he believed he would have the leverage to make Republicans more willing to accommodate his supporters and positions, he said: “I don’t know how they’re going to handle it. Because we’re very precise on what we would like, and I can’t imagine all of a sudden one of the other candidates changing their position on their desire to go to war constantly.”

He added: “How much leverage do I have? How many more votes am I going to get? You know, the more pressure they feel, the more they might be willing to look at some of those issues. We want to change things.”

*Which is why William Kristol, conservative thought leader and editor of The Weekly Standard, says Ron Paul should leave the Republican Party, and that the Republican Party should feel no worries about letting him go. Kristol thinks losing Paul's forces would hurt them no more than did driving Pat Buchanan to the Reform Party in 2000 hurt them. Those who confuse Buchanan's backward-looking culture war brigades with the current forward-looking small-government, sensible spending and foreign policy forces coalescing around Paul are, I think, misreading the future of their Party and American politics. Ignoring the candidate of your Party most favored by those under 40 (as Paul was in New Hampshire) can't be good for its long-term future.

*Reid Smith in the American Spectator argues that Paul could avoid some controversies with the Republican base by re-casting his foreign policy arguments:

 if I'm Ron Paul, I'd re-emphasize the waste associated with America's enduring responsibility to foreign states that are more than capable of handling regional security threats on their own -- but choose to free-ride on the American taxpayer's dime. While this tact won't suit staunch advocates of our current foreign policy who insist that the liberal institutional order is imperiled absent a ubiquitous projection of American power, I'd argue this is the only way to actually beat Obama on foreign policy....

For better or worse, Paul -- and Paul alone -- enjoys the opportunity to say something different. Unfortunately, he has a nasty habit of pushing things way past the line of conventional thinking, and into a realm of devil's advocacy previously unimaginable in mainstream conservative debate....I'll maintain that it's not "crazy" to link an unsustainable national debt with the fact that we continue to spend defense dollars at a rate comparable to, or exceeding, the first half of the 1940s.

*Techdirt is upset with Paul's campaign for suing to try to find the identity of the creator of the fake anti-Huntsman, allegedly pro-Paul YouTube video:

 the Paul campaign has now filed a lawsuit in the federal courts, in the Northern California district, seeking to identify whoever created and uploaded the video -- alleging trademark infringement and defamation. Even more ridiculous is that he's filed for expedited discovery to try to unmask those uploaders quickly. This is all sorts of bizarre and not particularly smart. It also seems to go against a bunch of Paul's main points -- including his belief in state's rights over federal (he's suing in federal court, not state court, using some questionable theories) and his support of the First Amendment -- which, many courts have pointed out, includes the right to speak anonymously.

Even more specifically, on the actual details of the lawsuit it's difficult to see how this is a trademark claim in any way, since it's questionable how this is a "use in commerce" (necessary for trademark law). Second, the defamation claim is just bizarre. As a public figure, the bar for defamation is crazy high -- and he'd likely have to prove that the video was made maliciously to make him look bad. That seems like a massively high hurdle....

Finally, what good does filing this lawsuit do? I can't figure out any conceivable argument under which filing the lawsuit makes sense. Not only is it on questionable legal theories and contrary to his core statements on Constitutional support, but it also simply calls more attention to the offensive video and brings the story back into the news cycle, after he's been trying to distance himself from it. No doubt, the video is stupid, but this lawsuit may be even dumber. 

*How progressives should feel about Paul is a matter of continuing controversy, and will be. Natural News offers 10 reasons progs, liberals, and Dems should dig him.

*Paul's position on Israel--that foreign aid to it (and everyone else) should be cut, and that this might actually make them better off, is also quite controversial. The Jewish Daily Forward is arguing that even a Paul that doesn't win the nomination might influence presumptive nominee Romney in a way they won't like.

To the contrary, Judd Weiss argues at his Hustle Bear site that a Ron Paul vision for U.S. attitudes toward Israel is also good for Israel:

We don’t have a homeland yet. Not unless we’re independent to make our own decisions. This aid comes at a heavy price. Our sovereignty and our ability to pursue our best interests should be for sale to no one. Certainly not for $3 Billion.

The Republican Jewish Coalition has strongly disapproved of Ron Paul, refusing to allow him to join their presidential debate they hosted on December 7. This is a mistake. If Republican Jews are going to remain consistent with their small government principles, they must oppose welfare for their causes just as they oppose welfare towards causes of other groups. As all limited government advocates know: welfare makes one dependent and weak.

Israel believes that it is dependent on America. This is not true. The people of Israel are capable and competent. They’ve been tested, and they’ve proved themselves many times. If Jews around the world are capable of raising hundreds of millions of dollars each year just to send students on a free trip to Israel, they are certainly capable of managing the lack of $3 Billion in annual US Aid....

In 1981, when the UN and most of the world, including the entire US congress and Ronald Reagan, condemned Israel for attacking a Nuclear Reactor under construction in IRAQ, at a time when Iraq was our ally against Iran, Ron Paul was the only single congressman to support Israel. Ron Paul DOES NOT want to destroy Israel, he is the only one who will free Israel from the shifting whims of the American public.

*And on one of the more shocking non-controversies (that is, you hear very few people arguing against it in prominent places) of our time, the hideously tyrannical elements of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Ron Paul tried to remind his colleagues how they've just let the very basics of civilized rule of law out the window.

In doing so he reminds all of us that we're going to miss him next year when he isn't in Congress any more to say these sorts of things from the hall of Congress. As he introduces legislation to repeal Sec. 1021 of the NDAA, saying "sadly too many of our colleagues are willing to undermine our Constitution...it is critical we identify and apprehend those...targeting attacks against Americans, but why do we have so little faith in our judicial system?....Let us not abandon what is so unique and special about our system of government" in the process of fighting terror:

For all you wanted to know about Ron Paul and more, see my forthcoming book Ron Paul's Revolution.

Uncle Sam Tells Americans How to Get Out of Debt

After saddling the country with as much new debt as the rest of the world combined in one year flat, one would think that Uncle Sam wouldn’t have the cojones to dish out debt advice to others. But one would be wrong. In an unwitting self-parody worthy of Froma Harrop on The Daily Show, the Federal Trade Commission has created a step-by-step web guide for Americans “Knee-Deep in Debt.”

The first step, says the agency, which represents a government that went over 800 days without passing a budget, is: create a budget! Get a “realistic assessment of how much money you take in and how much money you spend,” it lectures those in financial doo-doo, seemingly oblivious of the fact that its own bosses have promised $60 trillion to a $100 trillion more in entitlements than the country has money to pay for.

It continues:

[L]ist your "fixed" expenses — those that are the same each month — like mortgage payments or rent, car payments, and insurance premiums. Next, list the expenses that vary — like entertainment, recreation, and clothing. Writing down all your expenses, even those that seem insignificant, is a helpful way to track your spending patterns, identify necessary expenses, and prioritize the rest.

Prioritize! Who knew that the word even existed in the federal lexicon? But “irony” obviously does not because the FTC, with a straight face, goes on to offer advice for those who are not “disciplined enough to create a workable budget and stick to it.”  And by this it doesn’t mean our elected representatives.

And its advice is not that over-extended Americans call their credit card company and demand that it raise their credit limit every time they max out their card, as Uncle Sam has done 75 times since 1962. It suggests that they consider —wait for this!—“debt settlement.” And if no one is willing to settle, then the option of last resort is bankruptcy, although it warns its repercussions can be “long-lasting and far reaching.” No kidding!

No word on whether the White House of Capitol Hill have glanced at the guide. Or maybe they are waiting for the agency to create one for those “Neck-Deep In Debt But Too Stupid to Know And Too Obtuse to Care.”

Nick Gillespie and Veronique de Rugy’s “19 percent plan” on how the federal government can live within its means, as it tells the rest of us to do, here.

Anthony Randazzo and Harris Kenny on how local and state governments are not living within their means here.

H/T: Harris Kenny

The Obama Administration Halts 1600 Deportations

Back in August, the Obama administration said that officials can pick and choose when it comes to prioritizing deportations of illegal immigrant. Those who should be bothered first were not those with strong ties to communities, those with family in the U.S., or those who have not committed violent or property-related crimes. Basically there was a lurching towards a logical policy, at least in theory and in memo-form.

This meant that around 300,000 illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. had the opportunity to maybe stay and work. But that is of course easier said than done, the bureaucracies move so slow, and so there were still plenty of horror stories to sustain any open-border advocate.

And really, the narrative that Obama is some kind of crazy leftist who welcomes all illegal immigrant is fundamentally absurd when you consider that his administration has had more people deported in three years than George Bush had in eight. (And less we forget, the GOP debates were once a haven of surreal tolerance re illegal immigration.)

But according to Bloomberg, maybe the Department of Homeland Security is getting somewhere, or at least giving it a try:

In a pilot program begun last month to speed reviews, 30 federal prosecutors in Denver and Baltimore reviewed 11,682 cases and recommended closing 1,667 of them, said the official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the initiative. The recommendations are being given to judges handling the cases of the detainees.

Federal lawyers are undertaking a slower review of an additional 280,000 deportation cases in the rest of the country, the official said.

Adds The Washington Post:

Critics of the review and the discretion policy have said President Barack Obama is circumventing Congress to change immigration policies.

In a statement Thursday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith again called the policies “backdoor amnesty.”

“The results from the pilot programs show that President Obama’s backdoor amnesty only works for illegal immigrants, not Americans,” Smith said. “Nearly 2,000 illegal and criminal immigrants in Denver and Baltimore have been granted backdoor amnesty that allows them to remain in the U.S. and apply for work authorization. And this administration routinely grants work authorization to 90 percent of illegal immigrants when their cases have been administratively closed.”

The DHS official said that only illegal immigrants who would have been eligible to apply for a work permit before their deportation case was suspended will now be eligible. The official did not say how many people may be eligible.

“If you can apply for a work permit under existing law, you can apply now,” the official said, adding that closure of the deportation case will not automatically qualify someone for a work permit.

Reason on immigration.

Rick Perry Endorses Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul Skips Pro-Life Forum to Vote Against Debt Ceiling Increase, FBI Shuts Down Megaupload: P.M. Links

Kurt Loder Reviews Haywire and Red Tails

Haywire is an old-school spy-versus-spy espionage tale. It would be nice if the story (scripted by Lem Dobbs, who previously wrote Soderbergh’s Kafka and The Limey) made a little more sense; at some points you might wish it made any sense at all. Red Tails tells an important World War II story of brave black soldiers chafing at the constraints of government-enforced racial segregation. It’s gratifying to finally see such a story told, with a complement of able black actors, in a movie to which the name of Tyler Perry is not appended. So it’s too bad, writes Kurt Loder, that the picture is so resolutely old-fashioned, meanderingly paced, and afflicted with distracting absurdities.

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Why I’ll Miss Rick Perry

It’s not the cowboy boots

It’s not because now I can’t sell my almost-new copy of Fed Up

And it certainly isn’t his ideological contributions to the Republican primaries, where – beyond being challenged to name a cabinet-level department, protecting the nation from gays flaunting their special rights, calling Solyndra a country, and claiming that a key American ally is run by Islamic radicals – Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s signal achievement was to join the bizarro consensus that the president who killed Osama bin Laden and pursued Somali pirates while pursuing an unconstitutional war in Libya and ordering a record number of drone assassinations is soft on terrorism. 

What I’ll miss is being able to believe Rick Perry is an effective governor

For a good ten years now, the Lone Star state has been the Gallant to California’s Goofus – the state that is closest in size, demographics, economic mix, and to some degree climate. Yet Texas has been on the grow all that time. Its public finances are in better shape than California’s. It is attracting businesses and population; California has been losing business and its population growth over the last ten years has been flat and possibly negative. Texas was spared both the highs of the real estate bubble and the lows of the crash, while California was rivaled only by Florida for land stupidity. 

For a while (and in the face of several relatives in Texas who assured me all along that Perry was a buffoon), I could actually believe these better conditions were the result of wise public policy. And some may be. There’s a compelling case that the state’s relative lack of zoning laws helped rein in the real estate price extremes (though I still like the novelty of the argument that Emperor Augustin I saved Texas homeowners). And it’s not a mystery that a state with a part-time legislature, a constitutionally weak governor and a pattern of arm’s-length local government would be in better fiscal shape than the People’s Republic of California. 

But the real casualty of Perry’s presidential run is the idea that governors in California or any other state should be looking to him for an example. His failure to launch went beyond the usual range of campaign screwups to a level of nincompoopery that wise people should avoid. 

"Stand With Governor Walker"

More evidence that America is ______________.

The Obama Administration’s Prosecutorial Overreach

The Cato Institute’s Walter Olson highlights several recent high-profile losses suffered by the Obama Justice Department in its overzealous enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, “the law that criminalizes many of the sorts of official payments that alas typify the business climate across much of the globe.” As Olson notes, “DoJ’s most stinging embarrassment of all came last month” in a decision that included this rebuke from federal Judge Howard Martz:

it is with deep regret that this Court is compelled to find that the Government team allowed a key FBI agent to testify untruthfully before the grand jury, inserted material falsehoods into affidavits submitted to magistrate judges in support of applications for search warrants and seizure warrants, improperly reviewed e-mail communications between one Defendant and her lawyer, recklessly failed to comply with its discovery obligations, posed questions to certain witnesses in violation of the Court’s rulings, engaged in questionable behavior during closing argument and even made misrepresentations to the Court.

Tim Cavanaugh On the End of High-Speed Rail

"The way high-speed rail projects have been collapsing around the world," writes Reason.com managing editor Tim Cavanaugh, "you’d think they were corrupt, outrageously expensive, fiscally ruinous, poorly planned government efforts to build a 19th century means of transportation for which there’s no demand." As bullet trains fizzle overseas and public support dwindles at home, the next step is for voters and politicians to realize that high-speed rail is not a good idea poorly executed. Failure is built into the concept. 

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Obama Wants to Merge Some Agencies, Steal Power from Congress

There's been some anxious vomiting on the Internet recently about a speech last Friday, in which President Barack Obama announced his intention to seek the power from Congress to merge separate federal agencies.

[The government] has often grown more complicated and sometimes more confusing. I'll give you a few examples. There are five different entities dealing with housing. There more than a dozen dealing with food safety...as it turns out, the Interior Department is in charge of salmon in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in salt water.

(Watch the video of Obama's speech to small business owners.)

Despite mentioning the above redundancies, the initial proposal addressed only departments having to do with trade and commerce. Soon afterward Management and Budget Director for Management Jeff Zients gurgled hints about merging the food agencies as well. Obama acknowledged that Presidents Hoover through Reagan (PBUH) had this power as well and promised to "only use this authority for reforms that result in more efficiency, better service, and a leaner government," but something's still, well, fishy.

The trade and commerce agency merger isn't actually likely to reduce inefficiency, debt, or confusion. Some circus-types have even made crystal ball predictions about the administration's secret intention to dismantle the Small Business Administration (SBA) altogether and thereby destroy the economy, lead to the extinction of freshwater salmon, split the moon, and maybe even let the terrorists win. So why would Obama want to possess this terrible power? A handy rule of thumb: Any time a government official does something that appears to be totally asinine and unnecessary on the surface, there's probably a behind-the-scenes deal that explains the whole thing.

A clue lies in plans to move the head of the SBA to the Cabinet, where she'll be personally accountable to the president alone. According to the proposal, Congress will give an up-or-down vote on the mergers, but the power to actually do the merging will now be executive. If the executive gets this power back, it sets a precedent by which he or she could make more bids for yet more powers over yet more agencies.

Read more about the U.S. business environment, downsizing the government, and mergers.

Factchecking Obama's Green Jobs Ad

President Barack Obama's campaign has released its first ad for 2012. The ad emphasizes his record on energy independence (hours after rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline) and green jobs. To deflect attention from Solyndra, the ad cites a Brookings Institution study claiming "America's clean energy industry" has "2.7 million jobs" and is "expanding rapidly."

Not quite.

First, that 2.7 million figure is the number of "clean jobs" in the economyThis may sound like arcane hairsplitting, but Brookings defines clean jobs as jobs that "produce good and services with an environmental benefit." That is a much bigger category than jobs in the renewable energy sector, which counts only 140,000 jobs, according to Brookings.

In addition, many of these clean industries are already well established. From a report I co-authored with Todd Wynn for Cascade Policy Institute:

Surprisingly, the top sector for clean jobs was not installing sleek new solar panels or manufacturing electric cars, but “waste management and treatment” (386,000 jobs). In other words, trash collectors. Rounding out the rest of the top four were “mass public transit” (350,000 jobs), conservation (315,000), and “regulation and compliance,” i.e., government employees (141,000). Should the 21st Century economy really depend on hiring more trash collectors, bus drivers, and bureaucrats?

Since many of these 2.7 million clean jobs had already been created, this is a far cry from then-Sen. Obama's 2008 campaign promise "to create 5 million new green jobs."

The "expanding rapidly" claim is debunked, once again, by Brookings. From 2003-2010, the rate of growth for clean jobs was 3.4 percent. The rest of economy was 4.2 percent. Brookings does note that many clean tech startups have been growing "at torrid pace, albeit from small bases." But the clean tech sector is heavily dependent on government financing, so even these startups are in jeopardy. Alex Trembath, a policy associate at the Breakthrough Institute, describes "the coming clean tech crash:"

Our research shows that over 70 percent of the federal policies and funding support for clean energy that has catalyzed the recent growth of the industry is expected to lapse in the next three years, or has already expired. And make no mistake--clean energy is an industry dependent on government subsidy: tax credits, depreciation and other subsidies compose one third or more of the total after-tax value of most solar, wind or other renewable energy projects, for example...as these public investments fade away, we are now more likely to witness a clean tech crash than a clean tech revolution.

For more energy Cassandras, read Ronald Bailey on green jobs and Tim Cavanaugh on Solyndra.

If you want to know more about green job creation schemes, read Reason, plus the full Cascade report, "The Dirty Secret Behind Clean Jobs."  A personal favorite from that report: Shepherds Flat wind farm, which received $1.2 billion in subsidies, but will create only 35 permanent jobs.

If Poker Is a Public Health Issue, What Isn't?

In a front-page story published yesterday, The New York Times notes that the Justice Department's recent reversal concerning the reach of the Wire Act may encourage states to legalize online poker and other forms of Internet gambling. While the Times suggests the payoff for state treasuries will be modest, it also notes that legalization will help protect consumers:

Supporters of online gambling say the current estimates may undercount how many people would play poker online. Many of the forecasts are based on how many people have played on illegal Web sites in the past. But placing bets on illegal Web sites requires a leap of faith — that the electronic cards are shuffled fairly, that other players cannot see your hand and that the Web site will pay you if you win. Legal, well-regulated Web sites, supporters say, would attract more players.

In fact, the proposal to legalize online poker in Iowa is more about protecting consumers than about raising money, said State Senator Jeff Danielson, a Democrat from the Cedar Falls area who is drafting a bill. “We are not doing this to expand our state budget," he said. "Our purpose is to make sure every Iowan who wants to play poker has a fair game, has protections, and, if they win, is able to retain those earning in a fair and safe way."

So far, so good. But the Times immediately adds that "Iowa has studied the potential impact of online poker on public health." In what sense is poker a "public health" issue? The 2011 study to which the Times refers, "Internet Poker: A Public Health Perspective," explains:

Numerous studies have shown associations between problem gambling and a variety of adverse consequences or comorbid conditions including substance use and abuse, emotional and mental health problems, physical health problems, relationship difficulties, criminal behavior, financial problems, and loss of productivity… As with many other conditions, the adverse consequences associated with problem gambling behaviors affect not only the gambler but also the gamblers’ social groups such as family, friends, coworkers, and community members. In a recent survey, 22% of adult Iowans said they have been negatively affected by the gambling behavior of a family member, friend, or someone else they know.

See? Heavy gambling, itself a "condition," may lead to health problems, and its consequences may affect other people. Hence poker is a public health issue. This sort of slippery reasoning is troubling, notwithstanding the fact that the Iowa report is a pretty evenhanded discussion of how legalization might affect gambling patterns. A concept of "public health" that is broad enough to encompass poker is broad enough to encompass anything. The phrase becomes synonymous with "public welfare" or “the common good," an empty vessel big enough to accommodate all manner of meddling. But while it is generally understood that different people have different concepts of public welfare or the common good, based on value judgments as well as facts, "public health" lends a quasi-medical, pseudoscientific patina to moralistic and paternalistic policies, making them seem like the products of empirical investigation and expert knowledge, not to be questioned by laymen. Add to that illusion of objectivity the assumption that "public health" threats require a government response (an assumption that stems from the field’s roots in fighting communicable diseases), and you have a pretty potent recipe for tyranny.

For more on this theme, see my 2007 Reason essay "An Epidemic of Meddling," which cites gambling as an example of public health's wide reach. The idea that poker is analogous to malaria seemed novel in 1999, when the addiction specialists David Korn and Howard Shaffer published "Gambling and the Health of the Public" in the Journal of Gambling Studies. Now it is taken for granted, at least in The New York Times.

Terry Michael Explains Why a Libertarian Democrat Would Vote for Mitt Romney

He flip-flopped on health insurance. He’s interventionist. He backed off gay rights. He has no serious immigration plan. He supports the drug war. He’s coldly analytical, but with a loving family. "I’m not talking about Mitt Romney," writes Terry Michael. "It’s my deeply disappointed view of President Barack Obama, as both a libertarian and a former 'professional Democrat' (I was party press secretary in the 1980's.) I was hoping—obviously, against hope—that Obama would move my party in a back-to-the-future Jeffersonian liberal direction." But Obama hasn't, and now Michael may cast his first ballot for a Republican since he began voting in 1968. 

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Reason.tv: The Foie Gras Fight - Animal Cruelty or Animal Rights Propaganda?

Chicago tried banning it. Now California wants to do the same. But what's so controversial about foie gras, the fattened liver of a duck or goose that many diners consider a delicacy?

"Foie gras is universally cruel," says animal rights activist and founder of the Animal Protection and Rescue League Bryan Pease.

Pease led the fight against foie gras in California, which often got ugly and scary, but he feels that it was all worth it now that the ban on the production of the food product will go into effect this summer.  

"This isn't a product that anyone thinks should be consumed, really," says Pease, "except for a small group of chefs and promoters."

Mark Pastore, owner of Incanto restaurant in San Francsico, believes that animal activists, who have threatened him and Incanto's chef Chris Cosentino, bullied their way into a legislative victory through intimidation and inflated rhetoric.

"I believe that the only way to deal with bullying tactics is to stand up to them," says Pastore, who started serving foie gras after his fellow chef had acid thrown on his car and received a threatening video of his family and notes reading "stop or be stopped" from anti-foie gras activists.  

So is the process of force-feeding ducks to produce foie gras cruel, as Pease alleges? Not so, says lawyer and director of Keep Food Legal, Baylen Linnekin. 

"Foie gras is not the result of cruel practice," says Linnekin. "It's a bird that can digest or can swallow a fish whole--a large fish." He also points out that ducks and geese are migratory birds that gorge themselves on food in nature before a winter migration, which is how foie gras, a dish dating back to ancient Egypt, came about in the first place.

The animal activists seem to have won the California foie gras fight for now, but Linnekin says that in the wake of the overturned Chicago ban, he's still optimistic about the future of food freedom.

"Ultimately, choice trumps," says Linnekin. "It should, and it does. Individual rights are the most important things we have as Americans."

Written and produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Christopher Sharif Matar and Zach Weissmueller.

Approximately 6 minutes.

Visit Reason.tv for downloadable versions, and subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube Channel to receive automatic updates when new material goes live.

Arizona's Governor Will Implement Her State's Medical Marijuana Law

The Drug War Chronicle reports that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, whose federal lawsuit challenging her own state's medical marijuana law was dismissed two weeks ago, says she will not appeal that decision and plans to implement the law. In a statement (PDF) released last Friday, Brewer says:

It is well-known that I did not support passage of Proposition 203, and I remain concerned about potential abuses of the law. But the State's legal challenge was based on my legitimate concern that state employees may find themselves at risk of federal prosecution for their role in administering dispensary licenses under this law. Last week, to my great disappointment, the U.S. District Court of Arizona dismissed the State's lawsuit on procedural grounds and refused to provide clarity on the likely conflict between Proposition 203 and federal drug law.

Remember how we got to this point. The State of Arizona was fully implementing the provisions of Proposition 203 last spring. That's when Arizona was among a host of states that received letters from the U.S. Department of Justice threatening potential legal ramifications for any individual participating in a medical marijuana program, even in states where it had been legally approved. Specifically, the Arizona letter – dated May 2, 2011 – warned that "growing, distributing and possessing marijuana in any capacity, other than as part of a federally authorized research program, is a violation of federal law regardless of state laws that purport to permit such activities."

Would state employees at the Department of Health Services, charged with administering and licensing marijuana dispensaries, face federal prosecution? This was the basis for calling a "time out" in order for the State to seek a straightforward answer from the court. With our request for clarification rebuffed on procedural grounds by the federal court, I believe the best course of action now is to complete the implementation of Proposition 203 in accordance with the law.

The Justice Department certainly deserves blame for muddying the waters with threatening letters affirming the federal government's authority to continue enforcing marijuana prohibition in states that allow medical use of the drug. To this day, it remains unclear whether Attorney General Eric Holder's repeated assurances that federal prosecutors would not focus their resources on medical marijuana dispensaries that comply with state law amount to anything in practice. At the same time, state employees have never been prosecuted for implementing a medical marijuana law, only one of the U.S. attorney letters mentioned them (and then only because Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire asked about their potential legal exposure), and Arizona's U.S. attorney specifically disclaimed any intent to prosecute dispensary regulators. That sort of action would unnecessarily escalate the conflict between state and federal officials over this issue, with damaging political repercussions for the Obama administration. And as the ACLU has shown, it is not at all clear what the legal grounds for such a prosecution would be. None of this guarantees it will never happen, but the possibility is remote enough that U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton was correct to deem it a phantom menace for now. Other states, including Colorado, New Jersey, Delaware, and Vermont, have proceeded with plans for licensed dispensaries despite the federal threats. The fact that Brewer did not, despite her professed commitment to federalism, suggests she was motivated more by antipathy to her state's law rather than by concern for state employees.

Nick Gillespie on Why the Final Frontier Isn’t Just for Loners and Misfits

Despite the early 1960s popularity of the TV series Lost in Space (reportedly John Kennedy Jr.’s favorite show as a tyke), NASA never seriously considered launching a family into orbit. Space might have been the New Frontier, writes Nick Gilliespie, but in the early days of manned flight, there never seemed to be quite enough room for the wife and kids. No wonder, then, that space is finally regaining its glamour as a new breed of visionaries start to sell it as fun for the whole family.

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Norway’s Nanny State Abandons All Pretense of Cultural Sensitivity And Goes Psycho

India’s NDTV reports that Norway’s protective services have taken away an Indian couple’s children for…Beating them? Nahin. Molesting them? Ikke. OK, then, some serious neglect must be involved? Ne.

The couple’s crime is that they hand-fed their one- and three-year-olds, a practice that is common in their country. As the father explained, “when the mother is feeding with a spoon there could be phases when she is overfeeding the child.” But apparently the authorities determined that what they were doing was force-feeding and took away the children (who do not look over weight in the picture). Another rap against the parents was that their children slept in the bed with them, another common practice in their culture.

The parents have not been allowed to see their kids for eight months.

Norway’s protective services have a history of excesses. A 2005 UN report criticized Norway for taking too many children in public care. "The amount was 12,500 children and Norway is a small country," notes Svein Kjetil Lode Svendsen, a lawyer.

But if "over-eating" or "over-feeding" is a crime, then most Americans are criminals as far as Europe is concerned. So doesn't the U.S. need to launch a pre-emptive attack to defend its way of life or something?

Be that as it may, as the Norwegian authorities are putting away people for eating with their hands, Culver City’s Roy Choi of A-Frame fame finds people who eat with silverware like “fingernails on a chalkboard.”

Choi, who was inspired by Hawaiian cuisine, has made utensils optional in his restaurant, reports The New York Times. “Though a basket of silverware is provided at each table, when the grilled pork chop or market salad arrives, servers advise customers that they’ll be missing out if they pick up a fork.”

Can't Western folks just agree on everything and spare us Easterners the cultural confusion?

H/T: Geeta Sood.

People Are Indeed People, and Their Right to Talk About Politics Is Guaranteed by the First Amendment

Saturday marks the two-year anniversary of Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 case in which the Supreme Court lifted restrictions on political speech by unions and corporations. In a story describing pro-regulation agitation tied to the anniversary, The Washington Post helps perpetuate a common and pernicious misreading of the decision, referring to "the Supreme Court’s judgment that corporations have the same rights as people when it comes to political speech." What the Supreme Court actually said is that people do not lose their free speech rights when they organize as corporations, including nonprofit interest groups as well as businesses. The Court said the First Amendment bars Congress from telling the people who run the NRA, the ACLU, Greenpeace, the AFL-CIO, or Walmart that they may not sponsor ads mentioning federal candidates close to an election (the ban on "electioneering communications" imposed by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002) or that they may not explicitly support or oppose a candidate's election (the pre-existing ban on "express advocacy"). To put it another way, the Court said the First Amendment guarantees people the freedom to pool their resources by forming corporations that engage in political speech. These are rights of people, not corporations.

Yet critics of Citizens United bizarrely insist that individual freedom is not impaired by the restrictions they favor. "It's time to stop the unlimited flow of corrupting money into our elections," says a petition circulated by Common Cause (a corporation!). "To do that, we need a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United and declare that only people are people." By endorsing this misrepresentation, Post reporter Dan Eggen in effect sides with the decision's opponents in what is supposed to be an evenhanded news story.

Eggen also misreports the regulatory changes advocated by Mitt Romney, saying the Republican presidential contender "has argued in recent days that contribution and spending limits should be removed for candidates as well." There are no spending limits on candidates (unless they agree to them in exchange for public funding). That is hardly a minor point, since the Supreme Court has been saying since its 1974 decison in Buckley v. Valeo that restrictions on spending amount to restrictions on speech (since you can't communicate a message to a mass audience without spending money) and are therefore inconsistent with the First Amendment. That principle helps explain why the courts have held that "the unlimited flow of corrupting money" decried by Common Cause (referring to advertising by "super PACs") is constitutionally protected.

As I argue in my column this week, the rejection of spending limits also casts doubt on the contribution limits that the Supreme Court upheld in Buckley. The Court's distinction between spending and contributions is like saying the government may not dictate The Washington Post's budget because that would violate freedom of the press but may control the flow of money to the Post (a corporation!) from shareholders, subscribers, and advertisers. In this context, restricting a speaker's income clearly amounts to restricting his speech. The same analysis should apply not only to super PACs, which are free to accept unlimited contributions thanks to court and FEC decisions condemned by Common Cause, but also to political candidates, who are still constrained by contribution caps.

I considered the overwrought reaction to Citizens United in the December 2010 issue of Reason.

Addendum: In a recent interview with Salon, legendary First Amendment defender Floyd Abrams corrects several misconceptions about the decision's impact.

Gingrich Ex: Newt Wanted an Open Marriage

From ABC News:

In her most provocative comments, the ex-Mrs. Gingrich said Newt sought an "open marriage" arrangement so he could have a mistress and a wife.

She said when Gingrich admitted to a six-year affair with a Congressional aide, he asked her if she would share him with the other woman, Callista, who is now married to Gingrich.

"And I just stared at him and he said, 'Callista doesn't care what I do,'" Marianne Gingrich told ABC News. "He wanted an open marriage and I refused."

Marianne described her "shock" at Gingrich's behavior, including how she says she learned he conducted his affair with Callista "in my bedroom in our apartment in Washington."

"He always called me at night," she recalled, "and always ended with 'I love you.' Well, she was listening."

All this happened, she said, during the same time Gingrich condemned President Bill Clinton for his lack of moral leadership.

Perhaps the former speaker was projecting when he named secular college professors and radical Islamists—two demographics that bear the polyamorous stereotype—as leading to America's downfall?

Last time he was confronted by his history of mid-stream horse-switching, Gingrich said, "There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate."

ObamaCare's Imaginary Medicare Savings

Yesterday I noted a new Congressional Budget Office report concluding that Medicare's cost-saving pilot programs didn't end up saving money or improving care. In an article on the same report, The Washington Post's Sarah Kliff says that the results are "a troublesome sign for the health reform law’s soon-to-launch attempts to curb Medicare spending." They are.

And as Cato Health Policy Director Michael Cannon points out, those signs have been apparent for a while, at least for anyone paying attention. Indeed, there's never been much reason to be confident that the various Medicare cuts and delivery system reforms built into the health care overhaul will pay off, which is why organizations ranging from the CBO to the International Monetary Fund to Medicare's own actuaries have expressed skepticism about counting on those savings. But rather than test the effectiveness of those programs first, the Obama administration and its backers in Congress chose to make a bet that the hoped-for savings would eventually pay off, and used them to help fund a substantial portion of a trilion dollar new entitlement. 

Gary Johnson on SOPA: "There are NO problems with the Internet that we want the government to try to fix!"

The campaign homepage of former two-term New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson remains blacked out in protest of SOPA and PIPA. On the other side of the blackout is a short post about the bills:

The article below from the LA Times is just one of many today reporting that we – millions of Americans who see the Internet as a last bastion of freedom – are maybe, just maybe, getting Congress attention about two very bad ideas: SOPA and PIPA.

Kudos to Wikipedia and the thousands of other sites who took action to let people know of these threats to Internet freedom, the flow of information, and the free market. As I have said, there are NO problems with the Internet that we want the government to try to fix!

This evening, as millions of parents find themselves answering their kids’ homework questions without the help of Wikipedia or any number of other sites that have changed the world, I hope everyone will visit Wikipedia, Google.com, or other sites to sign petitions or otherwise let Congress know that we want the government to keep its hands off the Internet.

Presidential candidates who have taken a firm stance against SOPA/PIPA: Johnson (L), Rep. Ron Paul (R) and Buddy Roemer (R). Candidates who have taken a tepid stance: President Barack Obama (D). Candidates who have taken no stance: Everybody else.

More SOPA for you.

Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on the Tragic Truth About India's Caste System

In her latest column for The Daily, Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia explores a question she gets asked frequently in America: Why India’s caste system, a pre-feudalistic division of labor that assigns one’s line of work at birth, has persisted into the 21st century in definace of every civilized notion of justice and equality. The tragic truth, she found after talking to Maya, the dalit who has serviced her family for 35 years, is that it still offers untouchables the best possible life in India. Dalmia notes:

What’s puzzling about the caste system is that it endures without legal force. Unlike slavery, where whites actively relied on authorities to maintain their slave holdings, the caste system is an informal, self-perpetuating institution.

How?

To find out, read Maya’s story here.

Rick Perry Dropping Out

And then there were four:

Rick Perry is telling supporters that he will drop his bid Thursday for the Republican presidential nomination, two sources familiar with his plans told CNN.

And he's endorsing Newt Gingrich. Announcement scheduled for 11 a.m. South Carolina time.

Reason on the startlingly poor presidential campaigner here.

The Upside of the Keystone Cancellation

Property owners along the proposed path will not have to deal with this.

A.M. Links: ABC to Wreck Newt with Ex-Wife Interview, Rick Santorum (Might Have) Actually Won Iowa, Kodak Finally Files for Chapter 11

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New at Reason.tv: "Will The Supreme Court End New York's Rent Control Laws?"

Santorum the New Winner of the Iowa Caucuses

The Des Moines Register reported this morning that a new vote tally effectively eviscerated Mitt Romney’s narrow lead in the primary. It notes:

There are too many holes in the certified totals from the Iowa caucuses to know for certain who won, but Rick Santorum wound up with a 34-vote advantage.

Results from eight precincts are missing — any of which could hold an advantage for Mitt Romney — and will never be recovered and certified, Republican Party of Iowa officials said Wednesday.

GOP officials discovered inaccuracies in 131 precincts, although not all the changes affected the two leaders. Changes in one precinct alone shifted the vote by 50 — a margin greater than the certified tally.

The certified vote totals from Jan. 3 caucuses will be formally released by the Iowa Republican Party Thursday morning.

No doubt the punditocracy will declare the Iowa primary null and void now that the most establishment candidate did  not win.

John Stossel on the Myth of the Rational Voter

Simple answers are so satisfying: Green jobs will fix the economy. Stimulus will create jobs. Charity helps people more than commerce. Everyone should vote. Well, all those instinctive solutions are wrong. It's a problem that in our complex, extended economy, we rely on instincts developed during our ancestors' existence in small bands. In those old days, everyone knew everyone else, so affairs could be micromanaged. Today, we live in a global economy where strangers deal with each other. The rules need to be different. You might think people have begun to understand this, writes John Stossel. But whenever a crisis hits, the natural instinct is to say, "Government must do something." 

View this article

SOPA and PIPA Backlash Delightfully Continues as Six Legislators Take Back Their Support of The Bills

Maybe you're sick to death of all the to-do over SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act and its Senate buddy the Protect Intellectual Property Act or PIPA) or you just really needed your Wikipedia fix today (don't worry, you can still read their SOPA page!). But really, isn't it awesome that people won't shut up about something actually important for once? 

Reason didn't participate, but don't take that as any sort of endorsement of nosy government activities. Nick Gillespie reported earlier today on the protest and how it has drawn support from all sides of the political spectrum.

What's interesting is that powerful people might be listening to this outcry as it's coming not just from the teeming masses, or from civil liberties standbys like Salon's Glenn Greenwald, but from powerful tech people like Facebook founder Mark Zuckeberg, Wikipedia owner Jimmy Wales, and of course the folks at Google.

According to Bloomberg:

Co-sponsors who say they can no longer support their own legislation include Senators Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, and Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat. Republican Representatives Ben Quayle of Arizona, Lee Terry of Nebraska, and Dennis Ross of Florida also said they would withdraw their backing of the House bill.

Wired, who participated in the blackout protest, cautions on too much celebration, however:

But by no sense of the imagination are these bills scuttled, despite Senate websites reportedly buckling under the weight of constituents weighing in against the measure.

Sure, the worst part of the proposals — mandated DNS redirecting of websites deemed dedicated to infringing activity — appear to be history. But there’s still plenty to protest, as we spelled out in an earlier story Wednesday, including possible mandatory orders for the nation’s ISPs to build a version of the Chinese Great Firewall to prevent users from visiting sites such as The Pirate Bay.

Most important, amended proposals are likely to rear their ugly heads soon in response to White House criticism of the Domain Name System features of the bills.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) says he will bring an amended version of SOPA to the House Judiciary Committee sometime in “February.” And Senate action on an amended PIPA, either on the floor or before the Senate Judiciary Committee, is tentatively scheduled next week....

Among other things, the revolt prompted Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who voted in May tomove the Protect IP Act to the Senate floor from the Judiciary Committee, to declare Wednesday that the measure “is not ready for prime time.” A handful of other lawmakers echoed the senior senator’s sentiment.

And Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) introduced a competing measure, with the support of more than a dozen lawmakers, that would open the U.S. International Trade Commission to investigate intellectual-property infringement claims.

All the while, at least 4.5 million internet surfers signed a Google-sponsored petition against both measures Wednesday.

Also, in case you forgot, the MPAA and the RIAA are awful:

The Motion Picture Association of America sent out a factsheet saying “Nothing in the Protect IP Act can reasonably be construed as promoting censorship.”

And the Recording Industry Association of America tweeted “Perish the thought” that students must do “original research” Wednesday because of Wikipedia’s self-inflicted 24-hour outage.

They're also big backers of these bills, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Time Warner, and News Corp, among others with big money and big influence. New Corp overlord Rupert Murdoch has been tweeting freely about this very subject, and if you didn't loathe him before, some of his more recent tweets offer fresh justification to do so.

Former Reasonoid Julian Sanchez, over at Cato, is not ready to declare victory either. Because even if the more controversial elements of the bills, the ones which demand a Domain Name Service (DNS) blocking of "rogue" websites:

The Justice Department and private copyright owners can still seek to have entire foreign sites branded as infringers, triggering an array of remedies that would still deter technological investment and innovation, and still impose serious burdens on American companies and ordinary Internet users. Contrary to the claims of SOPA and PIPA supporters, copyright holders have often been perfectly able to sue the foreign “rogue sites” they cite as evidence new legislation is needed… the problem is that sometimes, they lose. Instead of all that messy litigation, SOPA and PIPA would establish one-sided hearing mechanism that mocks true due process. Any site a single friendly judge deems “rogue” would still be starved of advertising and subscription revenue. American search engines and other “information location tools” would still have to filter their content to redact any links to the shunned site. As Wikileaks has learned, repressive regimes have long known, and the Supreme Court acknowledged inCitizens Unitedeconomic regulation can silence speech (and run afoul of the First Amendment) as effectively as overt censorship.

Whatever meaningful effect this backlash has towards the bills in their more controversial forms, the subject is not going away. The anarchy of the internet is a threat to all lawmakers who don't have a clue what kids of the internet generation are doing with this freedom. Piracy is (debatably) a problem, but never doubt governmental urges to treat hangnail problems with chainsaw solutions.

Reason on copyright

Special Interests Against the Keystone XL Pipeline: A Selection

It's official - the Obama Administration is refusing to allow the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast to proceed. As the State Department press release states: 

Today, the Department of State recommended to President Obama that the presidential permit for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline be denied and, that at this time, the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline be determined not to serve the national interest. 

And a bevy of special interests are flooding my inbox with congratulatory emails. Below is a selection of comments from them: 

Friends of the Earth: We Won on Keystone XL! 

I wish I could jump out of your computer screen and give you a giant hug right now. 

I can’t do that -- but I do hope you will join me in giving President Obama the giant collective hug of thanks that he deserves for saying no to the Keystone XL and to more dirty, climate-wrecking tar sands oil. 

The press release is signed "in Soldarity" by Kim Hyunh, who is chief FOE anti-Keystone XL campaigner. 

Credo Mobile: Keystone Project Dead, But Not Buried

“It’s a victory that the pressure of activists forced the president to stand up and reject naked political threats from the oil industry,” said Michael Kieschnick, CEO of CREDO Mobile. 

Energy Action Coalition Executive Director, Maura Cowley: 

“President Obama’s decision to stand up to Big Oil and reject the Keystone XL pipeline, despite the bullying of Big Oil, shows a strong commitment to stand with young people fighting for a clean and just energy future."

President of American Rivers, Wm. Robert Irvin: 

"I applaud the President’s decision to reject the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline.  Big Oil and their allies in Congress were pushing to force approval of the pipeline without adequate scientific review and for political gain.  We should never put politics ahead of clean water for Americans."

Tyson Slocum, Director, Public Citizen’s Energy Program: 

"Fortunately, the president has taken a stand against the oil industry and its paid campaign of lies about jobs and energy security. This is the president’s opportunity to start to end the tyranny of oil and start moving toward a new energy economy that protects the climate, creates jobs and respects the health of our families." 

Finally, there was this forlorn email from International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers President Edwin D. Hill: 

"We believe that the decision-making process has been caught up in political gamesmanship.  To those Democrats who oppose the pipeline on well-meaning but misguided environmental grounds and those Republicans who routinely vote against every jobs bill except Keystone, we pose this question: What are your plans to replace the 20,000 jobs that are now on hold?" 

At moments like these one does well to keep firmly in mind satirist Ambrose Bierce's definition of politics:

A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.

New at Reason: Nick Gillespie on Pity The Billionaire, Thomas Frank's diatribe against libertarians, the Tea Party, and "the new austerity"

To hear author Thomas Frank tell it in his new book, Pity The Billionaire, “the main political response to [the financial crisis of 2008] is a campaign to roll back regulation, to strip government employees of the right to collectively bargain, and to clamp down on federal spending.”

Reason's Nick Gillespie suggests that Frank's history is more than a little cracked:

Lest we forget, the major response to the financial crisis in 2008 was the bailing out of Wall Street and the auto companies under a conservative Republican president and the implementation of an $800 billion stimulus plan promoted by a Democratic president.

That’s not to mention a health-care reform package that was routinely described as “historic” and “transformational” at its passage. Ironically, such immediate, massive and — in the case of the stimulus — ineffective actions are in keeping with those of Herbert Hoover. After all, the stimulus failed to achieve any of the targets set by its proponents.

View this article

American Public Wants to Hear Less About "Long," "Negative," and "Dull" Campaign, More About Totally Messed Up Economy

A new poll from the Pew Center for the People & the Press finds that the two groups on either side of that annoying ampersand disagree on how much coverage the 2012 election merits:

Half of Americans say the presidential campaign has been too negative and 55% of the public describe the 2012 contest so far as dull. [The poll] also finds that 57% say the campaign has been too long, while 35% say it has not been too long. This is virtually identical to public evaluations of previous presidential campaigns.

The people would like to hear more about the economy, please. But the press says it's horserace or bust.

Hey look! Reason has our own poll!

Iran Refuses to Return U.S. Drone, Offers Cool Toy Version Instead

In response to President Barack Obama's recent request for the return of an errant unmanned U.S. spy plane that crashed in eastern Iran in late November of last year, Iranian officials have offered a compromise.

Iran plans to keep the original, which totally, absolutely, definitely wasn't a tool in a spying campaign on Iran. (Apparently, the Iranian military still has some business with the actual drone.) But they're more than happy to send a toy replica to the White House. ABC News reports:

Iranian state radio said that the toy model will be 1/80th the size of the real thing. Iranian citizens can also buy their own toy copies of the drone, which will be available in stores for the equivalent of $4.

Those of us who would like to add the mini-drone to our collection of action figures will just have to hope the current sanctions regime doesn't prevent us from getting our hands on one.

Read more about Iran-US relations, spying, and toys.

In Which We Learn That the Government's Innovative Health Policy Reforms Don't Always Work

Today we learned that when the government tries to make America's health care system perform better, it doesn't work very well. It also tends to cost a lot of money. 

Let's start with a new Congressional Budget Office report on Medicare demonstration programs designed to improve both the quality and efficiency of health care delivery. CBO looked at the results of 34 different disease management and care coordination programs, but found that most did not reduce Medicare spending. "On average, the 34 programs had little or no effect on hospital admissions," the budget office explains. "In nearly every program, spending was either unchanged or increased relative to the spending that would have occurred in the absence of the program, when the fees paid to the participating organizations were considered." 

The CBO also looked at four "value-based" payment reforms designed to reduce spending through bundled payments and quality bonuses. The results there were a little better; one of the four programs reduced spending on services related to heart bypass surgeries by about 10 percent. The other three, however, "appear to have resulted in little or no savings for Medicare."

The Congressional Budget Office isn't the only one with bad news for health wonks today. Kaiser Health News reports that in Alaska, the new high-risk pool set up under ObamaCare will end up costing about $10 million to cover just 50 people, or about $200,000 per person—far more than expected. Because ObamaCare's major insurance reforms don't kick in until 2014, the law created a network of state-based pre-existing condition insurance plans (PCIP) to help cover the difficult-to-insure.

Those programs were initially expected to be flooded with entrants and over budget as a result. But as I've noted before, it turns out that expectation was only half right: Enrollment is dramatically lower than expected. Many states, however, are still running far over budget. In California, high-risk pool claims came in three time higher than projected. New Hampshire only managed to enroll about 80 members by December of 2010, but simultaneously managed to spend almost twice the $650,000 in federal money that had been set aside to fund the program. Montana's program covers 296 people, but can't make the program work on the $16 million budget it was given. As in California, the per-member costs turned out to be far higher than expected. All told, nine states have requested additional funding to keep their programs propped up. 

Finally, Politico Pulse notes that hopes for a permanent fix to Medicare' physician fee schedule are being dashed against the rocks of legislative reality once again:

This isn't the way it's supposed to work. Many House lawmakers spent last year hoping to craft a long-term solution for Medicare's buggy SGR formula. What started out as a 10-year roadmap to repeal was shortened to a five-year blueprint with some caveats, and then finally pared down to a two-year patch. Now the bar could be considerably lower. 

Wait a minute: After decades of failed Medicare payment games meant to control spending, including years of failure to permanently fix the "doc fix," it turns out that this won't be the year that legislators and technocrats finally figure out how to make things work? 

Don't worry too much, though. Thanks to Medicare, Medicaid, and ObamaCare, those legislators and bureaucrats will have plenty of opportunity to keep trying. Eventually they'll get it right. Right? 

Read "Medicare Whac-a-Mole," my history of Medicare's many failed attempts to control costs through payment reform

Want to Start a Moving Company in Missouri? You’ll Need Permission from Your Competitors First

At the blog of the Pacific Legal Foundation, attorney Timothy Sandefur describes the legal challenge he’s currently spearheading against a blatant piece of economic protectionism in Missouri. As Sandefur explains,

it’s illegal to run a moving company without getting a state license, but when you apply for a license, the Department of Transportation notifies the existing companies and gives them the chance to object. When they object, you’re required to go through an expensive, time-consuming hearing process to determine whether there’s a “public need” for a new moving company. Yet there’s no law or regulation that defines “need,” so the entire procedure becomes a roadblock in the way of hardworking people...who only want an opportunity to run a business to support themselves and their families.

Call me old-fashioned, but shouldn’t the success or failure of the moving business itself be the sole measure of whether or not there is a “public need” for that business?

Will The Supreme Court End New York's Rent Control Laws?

"If you wanted to destroy a city’s housing - short of bombing - the best way to do it is rent control,” says Cato legal associate Trevor Burrus.

While most cities in America long ago got rid of rent control, New York remains a bastion of government-mandated limits on what landlords can charge renters. About 50 percent of New York’s rental market is affected by rent control or rent stabilization, policies that keep rents artificially low and produce housing shortages, higher overall housing costs, and all sorts of corruption. 

The court case Harmon v. Kimmel may finally bring an end to rent control laws that have been on the books in one form or another since the 1940s. James D. Harmon owns a building in Manhattan where the tenants are paying rents that are about 60 percent below the going market rate. After losing various legal battles at lower levels, Harmon has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear his argument that rent stabilization is a form of takings that should be prohibited under the Constitution. The Court has not yet announced whether it will hear the case but has asked the state and city of New York to respond to Harmon's argument. 

Cato's Burrus wrote a friend of the court brief on the case and explains why rent control and rent stabilization are bad at promoting affordable housing and abridgments of economic freedom.

About 2.34 minutes. Shot and edited by Joshua Swain.

Go to Reason.tv for downloadable versions, and subscribe to our YouTube Channel to receive notifications when new material goes live.

TSA Admits to Humiliating Old Ladies, Still Can't Get Its Stories Straight

In December two old ladies alleged that TSA screeners made them take their clothes off and touched them on their medical devices (a colostomy bag and a back brace; the latter of which was taken from its owner and scanned, like a piece of luggage).

Initially, the TSA denied that screeners at JFK Airport in New York did a single thing wrong. "We truly regret these passengers feel they had a bad screening experience," TSA flack Bob Burns wrote on the agency's blog back in December. 

This counts as an official statement, even if it seems the only thing the TSA Blog does is rebut Drudge headlines and post pictures of the scary things stupid travelers try to transport in their carry-ons (ninja stars! spearguns! the occasional real gun!). Burns acknowledged that it was weird that 85-year-old Lenore Zimmerman was made to take off her back brace, but then said it was her fault because "our officers were told that the passenger was wearing a money belt." Burns then dedicated half a paragraph to explaining the differences between money belts and back braces, because you are an idiot. 

Burns declined to offer a fake apology to 89-year-old Ruth Sherman, who claims she was made to take off her pants so that TSA screeners could touch her colostomy bag, perhaps to make sure that it was really a device for collecting the poor woman's shit, and not a bomb. 

In both cases, the TSA initially said that "screening procedures were followed," and categorically denied that either woman was strip-searched. In a letter that regular people were not meant to see, the agency has walked back the first claim, while maintaining that the two old woman voluntarily took off their clothes: 

In a letter obtained by the New York Daily News, the Homeland Security Department acknowledges that screeners violated standard practice in their treatment of the ailing octogenarians last November.

Assistant Homeland Security Secretary Betsy Markey concedes to state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) that Sherman was forced to show security agents her colostomy bag — a violation of policy.

“It is not standard operating procedure for colostomy devices to be visually inspected, and [the Transportation Security Administration\] apologizes for this employee’s action,” Markey wrote.

The letter says that Sherman, who uses a wheelchair, was escorted into a private area after she voluntarily lowered her pants to show screeners the device.

In the private room, she was patted down and told to show agents the colostomy bag, the letter says.

Markey still maintained that the Florida-based Sherman was never asked to remove her clothing.

“It is not standard operating procedure for colostomy devices to be visually inspected, and [the Transportation Security Administration] apologizes for this employee’s action,” Markey wrote.

Zimmerman was told she had to take off her back brace for it to be screened. That meant lowering her pants and raising her shirt, which the TSA letter says she did "voluntarily." Funny how language works, isn't it?  

Both women responded by alleging that the TSA is still lying. “They asked me to pull my sweatpants down, and now they’re not telling you the truth,” Sherman told the Daily News. “They’re lying,” Zimmerman said. “I don’t have a problem with [screeners checking] the back brace. I have a problem with being strip-searched.”

More on the TSA's record of never doing anything wrong. And speaking of strip searches! 

President Obama Bows to Special Interests: Refuses to Approve Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada

The 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta, Canada, would daily transport more than 500,000 barrels of oil derived from oil sands to the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. already imports about 2 million barrels of oil per day from Canada. Since the pipeline crosses our border the president has the reponsibility to decide if it is in the national interest. President Obama under pressure from the environmental lobby punted on approving the pipeline - bravely putting off his decision until after the elections in November. In December, the Republicans in Congress passed legislation that required the president to make his decision by February 21st. Apparently, he now has.

Proponents of the pipeline point out that the project is shovel-ready and would create 20,000 construction jobs. In addition, the pipeline has passed environmental muster twice already. And the company has agreed to re-site a portion of the pipeline in order to allay exaggerated fears that a leak from it might harm the Ogallala aquifer. Nevertheless, the National Journal is reporting

The State Department is expected to deny a permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline on Wednesday afternoon ....

The announcement is expected at 3 p.m. by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, the sources said.

Rejection of the permit would not necessarily kill the 1,700-mile project to carry oil from Canada's tar sands to refineries in Texas, however.

The Obama administration has said it simply could not adequately review the proposed project in time to meet a 60-day deadline for a decision on the permit imposed by Congress in the payroll-tax package enacted in December.

In a statement emailed to the media, Daniel Weiss, Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress in Washington, DC, praises the decision to further delay the project: 

Today President Obama made a courageous decision that says that special interests will not decide our clean energy future.

Depends on what the meaning of "special interests" is.