Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 January 22-31

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Shopping for guns and votes in Tallahassee

Tallahassee, Fla - Gun issues have not played a major role in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. They are barely on the radar this go around. At the Tallahassee Gun Show, attendees ranked Second Amendment cbelow issues like the economy and "the Constitution." Only two of the four remaining candidates mention the Second Amendment prominently on their sites: Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. 

From Gingrich's site:

The right to bear arms is a political right designed to safeguard freedom so that no government can take away from you the rights which God has given you.

From Santorum's site:

Coming from Pennsylvania, a state with a rich heritage of hunting and fishing, Senator Santorum understands firsthand the importance of preserving our constitutionally protected rights found in the 2nd Amendment. Senator Santorum fights to preserve this tradition, and will work to ensure these rights are not infringed upon.

Most of the voters I talked to at this show were supporting Santorum or Ron Paul. Nobody liked Romney but all said they would probably end up voting "against" President Obama. The organizers of the event barred me from talking to people or taking pictures inside the actual show so we talked in the parking lot. 

Dave Young, 52, of Tallahassee said he struggled between Paul and Santorum before eventually going with the latter. "Definitely not big government Romney or Newt. Both of them are self confessed progressives and progressives are just slow-motion socialists. I agree with what Dr. Paul says but I liked what Santorum said about the Constituion," he said. 

"It's nice to see that gun sales across the country are way, way up," said Young, adding that gun issues comprise about 80 percent of his political decision-making. 

One gentlemn, who professed his love for Reason but declined give his name because he is a lobbyist, said he was pretty sure he would vote for Paul.  "I can't freaking stand Gingrich. I would fucking voting for Obama before I'd vote for Gingrich. He's a disgraced, failed politican," he said.  

The lobbyist said the Second Amendment was not a factor in the primary because so many states have liberalized gun laws. All the talk about Obama coming to take everyone's guns away was a non-issue. "I've seen no indication of anything in that direction," he said. 

Not everyone voting for Paul said they were voting because of his economic policy. 

"I don't think we need to be involved in everyone's business," said Charles Fogg, a Vietnam Vet and gun collector.

"We got people here we could be spending money on. Like health insurance. I believe that universal health care should be done in the United States," he said. 

Not exactly something you hear from your typical Paul voter. 

Gingrich Promises Puerto Rican Statehood, Cuban Spring at Orlando Event

ORLANDO — After keeping evangelical Puerto Ricans and bored Tea Partiers waiting in a half-empty church sanctuary for nearly an hour on Saturday, Newt Gingrich arrived at the Centro de La Familia in Orlando and promised to support Puerto Rico's bid for statehood; agitate for a Cuban spring; instruct Congress to repeal Sarbanes-Oxley, Obamacare, and Dodd-Frank; and personally shake the hand of—and take a picture with—every person in the room. 

Before Gingrich arrived at the center, Puerto Rican men in suits roamed the sparsely populated sanctuary and women wearing their Sunday Best gently fanned themselves with signs that read, "Don't believe the liberal media," while Chris Tomlin classics "Better Is One Day" and "We Cry Holy" trickled out of the PA system. The crowd came alive as Don Carlos Méndez, mayor of Aguadilla City, Puerto Rico, took the stage to introduce Gingrich. 

"I do believe that Newt Gingrich is going to be the next president of the United States," Mendez said, to wild applause. "And I do believe that Callista, his wife, Callista Gingrich is going to be a wonderful first lady. The best first lady ever!" 

Gingrich took the stage, shook Mendez's hand, and introduced a surprise endorsee, a "county commissioner" who wanted to "say a word or two." While Mendez's endorsement brought the house down, the second, supposedly more local one, resulted in a few lazy claps: The commissioner was from Longwood, which is not only not a part of Orlando, but not even in the same county. 

With endorsements out of the way, Gingrich got down to the business of bashing rival Mitt Romney for being in Wall Street's pocket. "My competitor on Tuesday has money power," he said. "There's no question on Tuesday he can raise more money from Wall Street than I can. What I want to have is people power. I want to ask each one of you to go out on Facebook, and Youtube, and Twitter, and on email, even by telephone and talking to people face to face—the old fashioned way," Gingrich said, because "this is a very important election."  

Gingrich then dipped his toe into policy, saying that repealing Dodd-Frank would "help housing get better literally overnight. It wouldn't get healthy, but it would get better." The real problem with Dodd-Frank, Gingrich said, is that people can't get housing loans. Perhaps if Floridians' chief problem were not repaying the loans they currently have, this proposal would have gotten some more applause. As it was, Gingrich went from Dodd-Frank, to Obamacare, to Sarbanes-Oxley without getting much applause (and absolutely none for Sarbanes-Oxley). 

The former House speaker struck his first chord by promising to support Puerto Rican statehood. "I want you to know that if the people of Puerto Rico have a referendum, and they vote for statehood, I will work with Congress to ensure that we work through that. I think in every way we have an opportunity here—I'm not urging people to vote one way or another, I think people in Puerto Rico have to make their own mind up—I will work with the governor and we will work with the Congress."

Perhaps under the impression that all Spanish speakers care about Cuba, Gingrich then promised to ignite a "Cuban spring."

"I find it amazing that President Obama can look east thousands of miles to Tunisia, Libya and Syria, but he can't look south 90 miles," Gingrich said (getting absolutely no applause from the largely Puerto Rican audience). "And I just think we've been far too slow and far too passive. You have my committment that we will work very aggressively and very directly in helping the people of Cuba, and also frankly in helping the people of Venezuela, where we have an opponent in Huge Chavez, where we need to do something to make sure he is not effective in undermining the United States." (This line got quite a bit of applause.)

Gingrich then laid out a case for not nominating a moderate, saying the GOP nominated moderates in 1996 and 2008. "I think frankly that Romneycare and Obamacare are so close together," Gingrich said, putting his left and right pointer fingers together, "that you could never distinguish them in a debate." 

"So I think we need somebody out here," he said, spreading his arms wide. From the crowd, a young Puerto Rican woman yelled, "That's you!" 

Why More People Should Ride Mass Transit

How many public transit expert/advocates actually ride on public transportation? 

I have met more than three folks, in and out of the establishment media, who speak with authority about mass transportation yet somehow can never get around to using it in the heat of their daily struggles. Judging by this storied Onion headline, I’m guessing others have met such people as well. 

But how frequently, really, are we getting our fix of transit-solution bloviation from people with no practical experience of the “systems” they’re diagnosing and claiming to cure? 

I wonder this every time an expert makes the case for more intelligently planned transit networks featuring smarter coordination throughout the hub or loop or grid. There’s one thing you learn by your second day of using transit when you actually don’t have a choice: For every transfer in your itinerary, you need to double the time allotted for the trip. 

You may end up getting lucky with your transfers and not using up all that time. In a recent Reason.tv video, comedian Watt Smith did so well with his LAX-Burbank run that former Los Angeles Times transit reporter turned Transportation Authority flack Steve Hymon accused him of underestimating how crappy the L.A. transit network really is. (Third item down; the pride is back, Steve!) 

But the reality of transit use in the non-hypothetical universe is that you don’t need smarter hubs or better coordination or more efficient transfers. You don’t need experts planning out more brilliant three- and four-transfer itineraries. You need more shit running more frequently to more destinations. 

In Slate, transportation writer Tom Vanderbilt reviews a new book from a transport expert named Jarrett Walker. Vanderbilt is the author of the very good book Traffic, a fun-tasmagorical whirligig of novel concepts and unexpected tidbits (at one point our diminutive cousins the ants are marched in to demonstrate some point about high-volume and narrow-volume passageways) that you wouldn’t want to bet any actual money on. 

Vanderbilt uses a heady-sounding dichotomy (“system” vs. “empathy”) to pit Walker against another transit expert named Darrin Nordahl. Apparently Nordahl believes you have to make transit a more comforting experience whose aesthetic speaks to riders’ sense of meaning and urban folkways, while Walker says you just have to make it more reliable and functional. Toward the end of the piece, Vanderbilt makes what seems like a reasonable point: 

But if the question is what’s going to get the most people on transit in a city, what’s going to move the most people, it seems to have less to do with the quality of the experience than the quantitystudies routinely find increases in transit usage linked to things like metropolitan employment numbers, fare costs, frequency of service, and gas prices. Trolling the Yelp! reviews for San Francisco’s BART system, for example, while one sees the occasional knock for cleanliness, most people focus on things like ease of use (wayfinding and ticketing), connections, price, parking. Perhaps that’s because our expectations are so low; one budget-strapped and beleaguered transit planner countered Nordahl’s vision of a “fun” transit experience with this: “I’m just trying to give people transit experience.” Or perhaps there’s an empathic component to a good system. What warms a city dweller’s heart more, for example, than a local train waiting across from an express for a quick transfer? Or transit that comes so often you rarely think about it? Conversely, a trolley car that comes once an hour—and rarely on time—no matter how droll in appearance, hardly raises the quality of life of those waiting for it.

Judging from this passage (and not having read either Walker’s book or Nordahl’s) I’d say Walker has the more sensible point. But then Walker speaks up on his blog, to explain that when he talks about reliability, he doesn’t mean you should actually let people provide a variety of approaches for taking customers where they want to go: 

"Massive redundancy" may be fine if you're a megacity, though even there, its effectiveness may be a feature of the peak that doesn't translate to the rest of the day.  Anywhere else, services need to work together as a network.  Even in London, New York, Paris, Hong Kong and Berlin, that's really what's happening. 

This is what happens when your mind is full of smart networks and transit-oriented growth. The proper word here is not “redundancy” but “competition.” To the owner of a taxi medallion or a member of the Transport Workers Union, minibuses, gypsy cabs, rolling chairs and pedicabs are all redundant, because you’re already providing all the service a customer could legitimately need. If some abuelita is stuck in the rain for 45 minutes waiting to make one of your smart connections, well, that just shows you need more money so the system can be more efficiently planned. 

If more people traveled on mass transit more frequently, this would be obvious. Transit doesn’t suck because it lacks central planning. It sucks because it’s artificially scarce. 

Related: L.A. Times fails to correct California Gov. Jerry Brown's claim that Abraham Lincoln build the transcontinental railroad during the Civil War — proving yet again that you get more accurate information from AMC original series than from the Times

Ron Paul in the Florida Grassroots: Flea Markets and "Sign Bombs"

Tallahassee, Fla.—Costco cashier Daniel Saindon's flea market booth stands out like a sore thumb.

Surrounded by vendors hawking discount DVDs, buck knives, and cheap memory cards, Saindon's booth champions the presidential candidacy of the libertarian Texas congressman. The 31-year-old, wearing a Ron Paul baseball tee, regrets not setting up the booth sooner but says he just didn't have time. "It's sort of last minute. I wanted to help in some way," he says. 

Saindon estimates that he spent nearly $120 on his Tallahassee Flea Market booth and accompanying campaign materials. He also received some support from the local Ron Paul Meet Up group. When asked about Paul's lack of campaigning in the state, Saindon says he wasn't really bothered by it. "I am totally confident in his decisions. I am sure he's doing whatever he's doing for a reason."

Meanwhile, the other members of the Paul Meet Up group were 15 miles away conducting a "sign bomb" at a major intersection. Local coordinator Stephanie Foster was with them holding signs and motioning to drivers at every red light who looked even slightly interested in what they were doing.  

Foster, 36, was recently let go from her pharmaceutical research job but says campaigning for Paul has helped keep her spirits up. The severance package from her employer has helped, too. "It's like I am getting paid to campaign!" she says. 

Like Saindon, she is OK with Paul not campaigning in the Sunshine State.

"There's been a lot of effort to use grassroots efforts that don't cost him anything," she tells me.

Foster, an Obama voter in 2008, credits Paul with bringing her to libertarianism. Before she discovered Paul she still had faith in "social programs helping people."

Foster also says she would be happy with Paul finishing in third place since he had not campaigned in the state. "If he polls 10 or 12 percent that means it was a success because he is spending almost no money here at all."

Fear and Loathing in the Florida Primary

Jacksonville, Fla.—A five hour drive on the back roads of the Sunshine State will tell you that this is a very different primary contest than either New Hampshire or Iowa. In a state renowned for its tackiness, there are surprisingly few yard signs planted next to pink flamingos. Major intersections are devoid of mounted 4' X 8' signs and there are no rows of useless roadside signs either. Even the billboards that pollute your view don't display a single political ad.

While driving from Tampa to Jacksonville I listened to conspriacy theorist Alex Jones on WTAN, a low-wattage AM station based in Clearwater Beach. The bulk of the ads were about survival seeds, gold, and how we need to prepare for the time when we are all sent off to FEMA camps. There were no political ads, however, not even for Ron Paul, who is Jones' favorite candidate.

At the Radio Shack in Keystone Heights I saw one pro-Gingrich and two anti-Gingrich ads on television during the 10 minutes I spent shopping for a power converter. The clerk was puzzled about why I came "all the way from Boston" to her town. 

"I am here to cover the primary," I told her.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I am so sick of it already," she said.

Another Gingrich ad came on the TV.

"Ug," she groaned. 

The media landscape here is dominated by Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. I've heard nothing from either Paul or Rick Santorum on local radio or television. While Paul and Santorum did well in the earlier, smaller states because they pressed the flesh, they won't have that same success here. Paul's decentralized supporters are doing their own thing, but that approach is even more low-budget than Paul's official campaign operations. Standing on overpasses waving Ron Paul signs and handing out "super brochures" is just not the same as dropping $10 million into a television and radio camapign.

Given its size and reduced number of delegates, Florida is an expensive place for candidates with smaller budgets. Since Paul has a long-term game plan his decision not to play here makes sense. 

Florida Jeep Owners for Ron Paul

St. Augustine, Fla.—With early voting underway here polling places are buzzing with activity. I stopped by the St. Augustine Beach City Hall, one of the five St. John's County early voting stations, to talk to voters as they were leaving the polls on Friday. In the hour I spent there I counted six votes for Mitt Romney, four each for Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, and two for Rick Santorum. One gentleman, Lance Thate, arrived at the polling place in a bitchin' Jeep with a large Gadsden flying off of it. Active in the Tea Party movement and local real estate, Thate, 75, said he was voting for Ron Paul even though he has "argued against him for five years" with his son. Oh, and he isn't much of a Marco Rubio fan.

Suzi Woods of St. Augustine, meanwhile, was more supportive of Mitt Romney, particularly due to his performance in Thursday's debate. 

Reason.tv Replay: 3 Reasons Not to Get Worked Up Over Super PACS

Original Release Date: January 26, 2012:

Everybody and their brother – even Stephen Colbert - is freaking out about “super PACs,” which are an outgrowth of the Citzens United decision in 2010.

Traditional political action committees (PACs) are subject to federal limits on how much money donors can give in specific election cycles. Super PACS allow groups such as nonprofit corporations and unions to spend unlimited money on political speech as long as they don’t coordinate their activity with the official campaign of a given candidate.

But for all the bellyaching, here are three good reasons not to get worked up over super PACS.

1. Billionaires don’t need them to influence elections.

In the wake of an anti-Mitt Romney documentary from Winning Our Future, a group tied to billionaire Sheldon Adelstein, The New York Times fretted that the film – which has had little or no effect on Romney’s candidacay – “underscores how [Citizens United] has made it possible for a wealthy individual to influence an election.”

Actually, it’s always been legal for rich people to spend what they want as long as they make “independent expenditures” that aren’t coordinated with official campaigns. Billionares don’t need super Pacs to get their message out. But super PACS may just let the rest of us have our say.

2. Super PACS Go Negative – and That’s a Good Thing!

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose campaign finance legislation was rendered moot by Citizens Unitedcomplains that super Pacs not only flood elections with money but flood it with negative messages. McCain, who lost a run for presidency, admits that negative campaigning works, but doesn’t like the tone.

Yet study after study shows not only that negative advertising works with voters, but that negative ads actually contain more information than gauzy paeans to American and the virtues of the candidates who pay for such spots.

3. Super PACS Take Power Away From the Parties.

There’s no question that super PACs seek to benefit some candidates by taking aim at others. Adelstein, the moneybags behind the anti-Romney documentary, is known to be a Newt Gingrich fan.

But as long as super PACs don’t coordinate with candidates or official party apparatchiks, they take messaging out of the hands of party leaders and spread it around elsewhere in a way that has got to be more representative of more views of more voters.

Super PACs are the latest casus belli in the push for controlling specifically political speech in the name of making elections fairer. There’s no doubt that they are a loophole arising from the last round of campaign finance reform and the attempt to limit the amount of money politicians would have to raise to get their message out.

It’s time to recognize that the only way to stop creating new loopholes is by ending the always ineffective laws designed to lower the cost office-seekers need to spend to buy our votes.

About 3 minutes long. Written and narrated by Nick Gillespie. Produced by Meredith Bragg.

Go to Reason.tv for downloadable versions of our videos.

Reason on campaign finance.

For more 3 Reasons videos, go here.

Newt and Romney Turn the American Dream Into the Spartan Nightmare

A rare moment of agreement between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney during last week's GOP debate was on the DREAM Act. The bill, which has been languishing for years thanks to GOP opposition, would allow undocumented minors—brought to this country by their parents through no fault of their own—a path to citizenship if they pursued military service or a college degree. Both candidates endorsed the military service provision but rejected the college degree route.

And acting presumably on the theory that half an enchilada is better than no enchilada, Rep. David Riverva, R-Miami, yesterday sponsored the Adjusted Residency for Military Service (ARMS) Act that would do just that, giving anyone “willing to die for America” a chance to live in America.

Nothing, however, could be further from the American spirit than this shameless glorification of Spartan self-sacrifice.

Sparta was a martial republic in ancient Greece that gave full citizenship rights only to its soldiers who were groomed from childhood to live and die for the city-state. But the whole point of the American Constitution is not to cultivate citizen soldiers but to guarantee the life and liberty of individuals so that they can pursue their own happiness as they see fit. The highest civic duty of Americans, at least when the country is not facing an imminent threat, is to their own individual projects and dreams. They can certainly choose to devote themselves to some cause bigger than themselves, but the government has to stay neutral among those causes.

 By making military service a condition of citizenship, Newt and Mittens are signaling that an individual’s life is worth more if he or she sacrifices it for the country. The contributions that individuals make to their families, neighbors and communities in the course of improving their own lives—by getting an education, taking up a job—are somehow less noble and morally worthy.

This is the Spartan mentality writ large. It is the elevation of the collectivist mindset over the spirit of individualism that has animated this country. And when the self-appointed defenders of the American Constitution are the ones doing such elevating, it might be time to give them citizenship rights to the lunar colony that one of them wants to build.

Superstar 1st Amendment Lawyer Floyd Abrams on Why Free Speech is an All or Nothing Deal

Great interview by Jonathan W. Peters of First Amendment Hero Floyd Abrams. A snippet:

What’s the most serious threat today to free expression?

...there’s too much legislation and regulation adopted on the basis of content. One example would be the rights of broadcasters. They are relegated to a second level of protection, to being judged by standards that couldn’t survive First Amendment scrutiny if applied to newspapers, the Internet or other outlets.

One thing that troubles me is the willingness of too many people to be selective in their support for First Amendment norms, because of their political or ideological views. The First Amendment doesn’t work that way—its protections don’t vary according to whether the left or right will benefit from a particular case. The Nation magazine invited me to a forum in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Someone at the forum said, “The wrong people are winning First Amendment cases. What can we do about it?” My answer was, “Maybe you ought to change your political views to conform with your First Amendment views, rather than the other way around, trying to change the First Amendment to conform with your political views.

Abrams means what he says. Here's his take on Citizens United and the largely uninformed criticism of the seemingly obvious notion that people don't lose their speech rights when they form corporations:

I was very surprised by criticism of the idea that corporations should receive any First Amendment protection at all, as if the entities I’ve represented through the years—the New York Times, NBC and CBS—weren’t corporations.

I’ve been surprised, too, by the degree to which the Citizens United opinion has been treated as if it had no roots at all, as if no prior cases indicated that the speech at issue should be protected. And most of all, I’ve been shocked at the notion that people who claim to defend the First Amendment would acquiesce in the idea that a politically oriented group might be criminally sanctioned for producing a documentary criticizing a candidate for the presidency of the United States.

And just to throw some seltzer into the mix, here's Abrams, who represents the Directors Guild, on why he doesn't think the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) was the problem that most of us online types thought it was:

The basic proposition that we should take steps to shut down entities that are nothing but infringing does not threaten the First Amendment. That’s not censorship.

Abrams grants that he's "by no means expert" on the technological issues posed by SOPA (and its analogue, PIPA), which is no small admission, since there are serious questions as to exactly how shut-down mechanisms on alleged infringement would be handled and exactly how allegations would be settled. Similarly, it's far from clear what constitutes entities that are "nothing but infringing." Etc.

Read the whole thing here.

Florida Republicans Hit the Polls Early

Jacksonville, Fla.—Why does Florida, the fourth largest state in the union, have only 50 delegates up for grabs in Tuesday's Republican primary? Quite simply, the state crossed the powers that be. Florida violated the rules passed by the Republican National Committee that require Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada to be the first four states to vote in the nominating contest and was therefore stripped of half of its delegates. If Florida had followed the rules the state would be sending 100 delegates to the Republican convention in Tampa this August. 

The official GOP critiera for determining how many delegates each state gets at the convention are pretty complex. You can read all of it here

If the primary drags on can we expect a fight over the reinstatement of Florida's delegates?

Possibly, though after last night’s debate it is increasingly difficult to see how there could be a brokered convention in Tampa. This race would need to maintain its intensity well beyond March 6's Super Tuesday vote for the reinstatement issue to be raised in the same forcefull way it was back in 2008 on the Democratic side. In that race, delegates were so precious that both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigned in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Of course, history also tells us that the threat of reduced delegate numbers goes out the window after it becomes clear who the nominee is going to be. In 2008, both parties reinstated Florida’s delegates, ensuring that they would get access to the convention floor, voting rights, and, of course, crucial hotel space.   

Meanwhile, Florida Republicans have been busy since last Saturday voting for their preferred candidate. Florida has been doing this early voting thing mostly problem free since 2004 and this year's process comes to a close on Saturday afternoon. Over 32 states allow some variation of early voting. In Florida it means you can vote anywhere in your county as many as 10 days but no fewer than two days before the election. In addition, the Sunshine State also allows for "no questions asked" absentee voting. Unlike my native Massachusetts, where county government is nearly non-existent, Florida's county governments handle all election activity.

While Florida makes it very convenient for people to vote, there are still roadblocks when you get to the actual polling station. There was an army of poll workers at the two voting stations I visited in Ponce de León's old stomping grounds of St. Augustine. Outside of every voting station in Florida is a sentry known as a poll deputy. He is usually a retired law enforcement agent and it is his job to make sure no funny business goes on outside the polling place. Next up is an inspector who asks questions but seems mostly to act as a second line of defense against voter fraud. 

Once you make it past these guardians of democracy you have to show some form of ID to get your actual ballot. Fortunately for would-be voters, many forms of ID are acceptable for voting purposes in Florida.

"It's easier to manage people over an eight day period rather than managing all of those people on one day. It's so much easier," said Vicky Oakes, supervisor of elections for St. John's County. Oakes described the early voter turnout this year as "good so far."

Tim Cavanaugh Talks Golden State Stagnation on Good Day L.A.

Reason.com managing editor Tim Cavanaugh appeared this morning on FOX 11 Los Angeles.

Topic: California Gov. Jerry Brown's is pushing for steep tax hikes even though the state's economy has shown no signs of recovery and its unemployment rate is still the second-highest in the nation

More than two-thirds of Californians support tax increases, according to a Public Policy Institute of California pollster who uses the phrase "Therein lies" so it's clear he knows what he's talking about. 

The Tax Foundation reports that California's tax climate is the nation's third-worst for business. 

Brown says they've been saying the same thing since Jerry Ford was president. 

Cavanaugh pontificates from the heart of Hollywood: 

 

Newt Gingrich's Florida Poll Numbers Sagging, Five More Eurozone Countries Downgraded, Facebook to Go Public, Iran Threatens its Own Oil Embargo: P.M. Links

Ron Paul Roundup: Campaign in Maine, Praise By Palin; Winning the Younger (Jack) Welchs and Blackedout Again

*The Bangor, Maine Daily News on Paul dealing with his bad polls in Florida by campaigning in Maine:

Declaring the “freedom movement alive and well,” Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul kicked off a two-day statewide tour in Bangor on Friday with the hope of convincing enough delegates to support him at Maine’s caucuses, which begin next weekend.

Paul, the 76-year-old Congressman from Texas, is the only current GOP candidate who has yet to win a state’s primary or caucus, but he has been racking up delegates in many states and hopes to continue that trend in Maine.

“We came where the action is, in Maine,” he said to raucous applause from about 300 people packed inside the Union Street Brick Church in downtown Bangor. “We came to get delegates and that’s the name of the game. That’s how you win elections.

“We deal in ideas and very important ideas, but I’ve also discovered that the best way to promote ideas is to win elections, too.”

During a 30-minute speech, Paul touched on a number of his campaign themes including personal freedoms, limited government and ending U.S. involvement in foreign wars.....

He stressed his preference to repeal the Patriot Act and his opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act.

“The Internet is the weapon of liberty as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

He also said he thinks airport security scanners are a government overreach in the wake of Sept. 11.

“These are illegal, unconstitutional searches of our bodies where it doesn’t make us any safer whatsoever,” he said. “That we need to change.”.....

Paul is the only candidate to visit Maine so far in 2012...

*Former GE CEO Jack Welch and wife Suzy are getting into the weeds of GOP power plays by calling on Ron Paul to drop out, while also noting the GOP must be sure he doesn't go away mad because of the power of his fans and ideas--and admit all their kids are Ron Paul people.

*Sarah Palin tells John Stossel that Ron Paul "is the only one who has been so adamantly passionate about doing something about the suffocating debt, about doing something about reining in government growth and actually slashing budgets - $1 trillion a year, he's been specific about until we get our hands around this - I respect that."

*John Hudson at The Atlantic notices a mainstream media Paul blackout back in effect:

After a brief spike in interest, the mainstream media coverage of GOP candidate Ron Paul is back to nearly nothing, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. This week, less than 5 percent of all campaign stories focused on Paul, the lowest point since Dec. 11. when strong performances in Iowa and New Hampshire helped stoke some interest. Over the same period, Paul's performance in the polls has only improved, going from the single digits to 12.7 percent, putting him nearly even with Rick Santorum, in the current RealClearPolitics average.

But in Pew's weekly study, Paul has been heading in the opposite direction. Pew tracks a list of 52 mainstream news outlets across broadcast television, cable news, newspapers, radio and the 12 most popular news sites to measure exposure. As you can see from the graph below, the downward trajectory of coverage volume has been steep for Paul, as the star of New Gingrich rose following his decisivevictory in South Carolina and strong polling in Florida.   

Ron Paul's (pretty uniformly great) debate performance last night, mostly just the Ron Paul parts (and some of the others riffing off of Ron):

 

My forthcoming book, Ron Paul's Revolution.

Free Markets Save the Planet

A startling new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) reveals a free-market way to thwart climate change: Create a free market in energy. Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA, estimates that 37 nations spent $409 billion on fossil fuel subsidies in 2010. (By comparison, renewables received $66 billion in that same year.) Impressively, if fossil fuel subsidies were eliminated, this would avoid 750 million tons of CO2 by 2015, and could potentially save over 2.5 gigatons of carbon by 2035. The latter is 70 percent of what the European Union currently emits. In total, by ending these distortions in the energy market, the world could reduce half of the carbon emissions necessary to stop a 2°C (3.6°F) rise in global temperatures.

Writing in Slate, Matthew Yglesias expands on what this means for climate policy:

If roughly half of what needs to be done can be achieved simply by eliminating economic distortions—economic distortions that would be unwise even if there were no concern about pollution—then the whole framework of a trade-off between prosperity and sustainability is largely misguided.

With that in mind, here's a simple proposal to fix those UN climate confabs that meet every year and do precious little. Rather than focus on vague, trumped-up emission targets, how about international agreements to phase out energy subsidies? The other half of carbon reductions could be attained by more market-based approaches, like cap-and-dividend or a carbon tax that was guaranteed to be revenue-neutral. In addition, switching from dirtier fuels (e.g. coal) to energy sources with a low-carbon footprint, like renewables, nuclear, and natural gas, would also slow emissions.

Unfortunately, ending these subsidies would be quite difficult. According to the IEA report, most of these fossil fuel subsidies are in non-Western nations, and thus are less inclined to care about global warming. The top energy subsidizer is Iran, which spends over $80 billion each year, half for oil. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, Russia, India, and China round out the rest of the top five.

The most common justification for maintaining these subsidies is that they reduce energy costs for the poor. But like so many other government programs, fossil fuel subsidies are socialism for the rich. Only 8 percent of these subsidies actually goes to the poorest 20 percent, with the vast majority benefiting the middle and upper classes. Even if global warming isn't a super serial problem (as this recent Wall Street Journal op/ed argues), ending these subsidies would restore some fairness and fiscal sanity for these nations' budgets.

However, the main, unspoken reason for these subsidies is that artificially cheap energy pacifies the masses. This allows regimes to entrench their power. It's unsurprising that dictatorships like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia have some of the lowest gas prices in the world. Unfortunately, market-minded reformers who try to eliminate subsidies usually must face an angry public. For example, Nigeria was recently racked with nationwide riots after Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan ended fuel subsidies. While prices doubled for Nigerians, this move is expected to save $8 billion and significantly reduce corruption and cronyism within the Nigerian government.

Reason on global warming.

Religion and the Republican Debate

Daniel McCarthy at American Conservative has some interesting thoughts on attitudes about religion shown in last night's GOP debate:

Political Christians today have a hard time understanding the religious configuration of the early United States. The difficulty is that the least conventionally religious Americans of the day were often political allies of people we would now identify as ancestors of the Religious Right. Deists and Baptists alike did not want to be taxed to support established Anglican or Congregationalist churches, and there was a strong strain of anti-clericalism and emphasis on individual judgment among both the philosophers and the extreme Protestants. Total disestablishment and liberty of conscience were policies that appealed to both types; each was absolutely confident that within a generation it would inherit the earth if the marketplace of religious ideas were left free.

Most Americans did not take as hard a line on church-state relations as Jefferson, Madison, and the devout among their allies did; the poles of opinion back then were those who saw establishment in anything less than a “wall of separation” and those who thought that a vague but public Christianity was an indispensable prop to civil order. Even those poles did not always attract the alliances you might expect; a doubting Unitarian like John Adams was quite firmly on the side of a civil — but certainly not established — Christianity.

It’s fair to say that Ron Paul is very much in line with Madison and Jefferson. (Indeed, one suspects a President Paul, like Madison, would have reservations even about declaring a day of thanksgiving and prayer — where does the Constitution say the president should do that?) It would be interesting to see a politician who could articulate the civil Christian point of view in anything other than a rote manner. Alas, instead we have Gingrich, Romney, and Santorum.

“If the First Amendment means anything, then school officials cannot prohibit students from handing out gifts with Christmas messages due to the religious content of those messages.”

The Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro describes what’s at stake in the case of Morgan v. Swanson, which the Supreme Court may decide to take up this term:

If the First Amendment means anything, then school officials cannot prohibit students from handing out gifts with Christmas messages due to the religious content of those messages. Nonetheless, the Fifth Circuit held en banc that student speech rights are not “clearly established,” and that, therefore, two Plano, Texas officials could invoke qualified immunity to shield themselves from liability for doing so....

Student speech rights were clearly established by the foundational student-rights case of Tinker v. Des Moines School District (1969), wherein the Court held that student speech cannot be suppressed unless the speech will “materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school,” subject to limited exceptions. Such exceptions include lewd or vulgar speech, or speech that may reasonably be viewed as advocating unlawful drug use. Certainly the student speech at issue here, which included Christmas greetings written on candy canes, and pencils and other small gifts with messages like “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” does not fall under those exceptions.

Read all about it here.

Sheldon Richman on Obama’s Bogus Case for Tax Fairness

In his State of the Union speech Tuesday night President Barack Obama played the fairness card in calling for higher taxes on upper-income people. He said: “[W]e need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of Members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes.” But why does Obama—or any other politican—get to decide what constitutes fairness? As Sheldon Richman observes, calling something just does not make it so.

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"The war on drugs is a war on people." Meet Law Enforcement Against Prohibition's New Anonymous Blogger, an Active-Duty Cop

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition's (LEAP) newest blogger, one Officer Anonymous, pulls no punches about his disgust over the drug war. Via The Raw Story, he relates his very first drug arrest which involved a minor traffic stop.

The guy, I think he had a defective taillight or something. He was sober, polite, respectful, no problems, and my training officer said, ‘Oh yeah, he’s gonna have drugs.'

The guy okayed a vehicle search and turned out to have some (non-specific) hard drugs on him. Officer Anonymous felt guilty even then that the man was facing seriously jail time and he thought "This is not the war on drugs I thought it would be."

LEAP is a kick-ass organization, with an added uncomfortable-awesome quality for those of us who are nervous about cops in general, because they're pretty much the embodiment of those good apples trying to make up for the rotten rest of the barrel. But they're not just the cops who have learned to regret some of their drug war moments post-retirement. They also have active-duty cops, or at least this new fellow.  He's staying anonymous, though, in order to save himself from getting in trouble. This doesn't seem like a bad career move in a world where a U.S. Border Patrol agent was recently  fired for simply discussing the possibility of legalization.

It's hard to feel sympathy for certain cops, particularly those who started off their careers perpetuating what could arguably called one of libertarians' biggest pet issues (for good reason). Which is why it's good for me to see Major Neil Franklin, the executive director of LEAP, speak about the death of his comrade, Edward Toatley at the Baltimore Police Department. Toatley was killed while making an undercover purchase of cocaine from "a mid-level drug dealer." Franklin tends to tear up when he speaks about it (both in the video below and when I saw him speak at an anti-drug war rally near the White House this summer), and it's pretty difficult not to feel a pang of sympathy. Cops get fed propaganda, too. Some of them just believe that they're fighting for all us little people; fighting the scourge of drugs. That doesn't excuse or erase what they do, but it makes them a little easier to forgive when they wake up, as Franklin, Officer Anonymous, and the rest of LEAP's members have done.

I can't decide if I wish Officer Anonymous would stand up and express his disapproval of the drug war, or better yet, quit his police job altogether  — which I assume still requires him to participate in the drug war to some extent  — or whether he's doing more good shining a light on what's happening behind that blue line.

More words from Anonymous' LEAP blog, some of which bring optimism:

Despite my current silence, I believe a paradigm shift regarding the drug war is quietly occurring in every law enforcement agency in this country, thanks in large part to the efforts of LEAP.  This paradigm shift is palpable— I can see it, feel it, and on occasion I hear it slip out from fellow officers and even supervisors once in a blue moon.  I firmly believe things are about to change in this country, and when they do, those within law enforcement will be jumping off this drug war rat ship like it was on fire.  And the jumpers will proclaim that they knew the drug war was wrong the whole time.  But alas, I am not here to judge or point fingers at those wearing badges—I wear one too.  I too am riding on that drug war rat ship.  Gladly, I will be jumping off that rat ship with everyone else.  In the meantime, I can point no fingers, except at myself.  

Check it out. And check out Reason on LEAP and on the drug war. Also, Nick Gillespie and Reason.tv's interview with Franklin on the occasion of the dug war's official 40th anniversary this summer:

Mitt Romney's Defense of RomneyCare Sounds Suspiciously Like Obama's Defense of ObamaCare

When former Sen. Rick Santorum accused Mitt Romney of having signed a health care overhaul virtually identitical to ObamaCare, Romney responded with a lengthy defense of the plan he signed as governor of Massachusetts. 

I've noted the many similarities between the two plans before. But the resemblance extends beyond the plans themselves: Igor Volsky at ThinkProgress noticed how much Mitt Romney's defense of RomneyCare last night resembled President Obama's defense of ObamaCare, and put together the following video to highlight the similarities:

This isn't even a complete compilation of the similarities. During last night's debate, Romney also defended his plan from charges that it resembled ObamaCare by arguing that in Massachusetts, "there's no government plan." He's used this line before, but it's never helped distinguish Romney's health overhaul from Obama's: There's no "government plan" in ObamaCare either, or at least no more of one than there is in RomneyCare. Both ObamaCare and RomneyCare rely on a regulated market and an expansion of Medicaid. Nor is Romney the only one to point this out in order to defend the structure both plans share: In his State of the Union address earlier this week, President Obama touted the fact that "our health care law relies on a reformed private market, not a government program."

In the end, Romney only ended up reinforcing the similarities between his plan and President Obama's. It's hard to make a convincing case that the RomneyCare is somehow dramatically different from ObamaCare while relying on virtually the same arguments employed by ObamaCare's most prominent defender. 

Granted, this isn't exactly a new thing for Romney. In May of last year, he gave a major speech defending RomneyCare and attacking the president's plan. But Romney's big defense of his own plan turned out to be virtually indistinguishable from a defense of ObamaCare

Attn: New York Reasonoids! Come See a Benefit Reading of Václav Havel's The Memorandum Tonight!

Tonight at 8 pm at the 45th Street Theatre in New York, NY, the Human Rights Foundation is sponsoring a staged reading of the late playwright/president's great free-expression satire The Memorandum. Proceeds go to the HRF, which Havel used to chair. Go the event's Facebook page for more details.

My report from Havel's funeral is here; I wrote an appreciation of his life back in 2003.

Is Longevity Research Inherently Immoral?

New Zealand-based bioethicist Nicholas Agar argues in Slate that the need to vet risky treatments to increase healthy human lifespans implies using healthy poor people as experimental subjects. If this is so, then the longevity enterprise is inherently unethical. Agar explains:

It’s not too difficult to entice those suffering from diseases of aging into clinical trials. For example, people with Alzheimer’s recognize that they have a terrible illness. They understand that many experimental drugs don’t work—that some may actually make them sicker. They view such risks as warranted.

Human trials of experimental therapies for aging as a disease are a different matter. The potential benefits may be huge, but so, too, are the risks. Furthermore, to prove that new therapies can extend the life spans of people free of any significant disease of aging, researchers will need to carry out tests on similar people—that is, experiencing healthy aging. Convincing such people to undertake risky treatment will be challenging.

As example of a risky anti-aging treatment, Agar then cites the proposal by theoretical biogeronlogist Aubrey de Grey to prevent cancer by halting the lengthening of telomeres. Telemores are the caps at the ends of chromosomes that become shorter as cells divide - when the telomeres have dwindled away, the cells stop dividing and become senescent. This telomere dwindling is thought to have evolved as a way to prevent a cell from turning cancerous. In fact, it turns out that most cancer cells reboot the genes that lengthen telomeres which then enables them to proliferate as tumors. Agar assumes that this treatment might work as advertised, but how do we find out? 

Agar writes:

....I would rather not be the first to test it after they’re done with the mice and monkeys.

I suspect that people interested in SENS [Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence] are likely to be especially averse to the kinds of risks involved in clinical trials. They are, after all, being enticed by the promise of millennial life spans. Why would they sign up for dangerous clinical trials for anti-aging therapies when there’s another option—paying others to do their dirty work? Unlike in some fictional portrayals, there won’t be a single “cure” for aging that, once discovered, can be safely given to anyone who wants and can pay for it. Scientists will develop multiple therapies targeting distinct types of age-related damage. Each will need extensive testing, and there will inevitably be many false turns and disappointments along the way. Anti-aging researchers will need to be well-supplied with healthy human test subjects. A general recognition of the scientific possibility of radically extending human life spans will bring a sense of urgency. Human trials must happen ASAP if safe anti-aging therapies are to arrive in time to arrest the death spiral of biological decay awaiting today’s 40-year-old supporters of SENS.

I suspect, then, that human guinea pigs for anti-aging trials will come disproportionately from the poor and disempowered.

So will the poor be conscripted as longevity research guinea pigs? Maybe not. Agar has a rather static view of biomedical research and what will be possible for future longevity researchers to know and test beforehand. Of course, proposed longevity treatments will first be extensively tested and perfected in animal models. Further, a vastly expanded bioinformatics enterprise will become crucial to understanding the ramifications of proposed anti-aging interventions. As scientific understanding improves, the risk-benefit calculations of various prospective treatments will shift in favor of proceeding.

Let's take a closer look at Agar's objection to telomere treatments as a longevity boosting strategy. In fact, researchers are already considering ways to target telomere regulation as a way to treat and cure cancer. Assuming that de Grey's hypothesis is correct, one side benefit of this research might be not only a cure for cancer but also treatments that lengthen healthy lifespans. In other words, cancer research could become longevity research. People with cancer would be happy to be enrolled in research that could result not only in cancer cures, but longer healthier lives as well. Most anti-aging research will piggy-back on biomedical research aimed at curing diseases. 

Interestingly, some other researchers believe that ever dwindling telomeres cause cellular aging and argue that restoring telomeres could lengthen healthy lifespans. In fact, researchers at Harvard reported in 2010 that lengthening telomeres in genetically modified mice boosted their healthy lifespans.

So, according to Agar, next come the experiments on hapless poor people, right? Hardly. As it turns out some rich people who are eager to extend their lives are already paying considerable sums to take a supplement, TA-65, which has been shown to lengthen telomeres in humans. No poor people need apply. 

Newt Gingrich vs. the Rule of Law

In an essay for the Hoover Institution journal Defining Ideas, James Huffman, a professor at Lewis and Clark Law School, sympathizes with Newt Gingrich's complaints about judges who legislate from the bench or rewrite the Constitution but criticizes some of the presidential candidate's proposed solutions, saying they would threaten liberty by undermining judicial independence. Huffman faults Gingrich for perpetuating "the now commonplace dichotomy of judicial activism versus judicial restraint," noting that properly applying the Constitution may mean overriding actions by the executive or legislative branch (as Gingrich himself implicitly concedes). "We could use more of the right kind of judicial activism," Huffman writes. "Judicial reform, founded on the activism/restraint dichotomy evident in the Gingrich plan, actually threatens liberty—the very first of Gingrich's stated concerns."

Huffman welcomes the idea that Congress and the president should take their oaths to uphold the Constitution more seriously, instead of leaving such concerns to the courts. He quotes Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-Ore.), who when asked about the constitutionality of ObamaCare's individual health insurance mandate replied, "Well, um, I'm not a lawyer...that's why we have courts. Congress often passes laws that are of dubious or questionable constitutionality." Huffman condemns that mentality: "All federal officials take a constitutionally mandated oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. Taking action without confirming its constitutionality violates that oath." But Huffman challlenges Gingrich's suggestion that Congress and the president can trump the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution with their own, ignoring decisions with which they disagree. "Where a dispute involving the executive or legislative branch is before a court having jurisdiction and can only be resolved by interpreting the Constitution," he says, "the court must be the final arbiter of constitutional meaning or one of the parties becomes a judge in its own cause, and the rule of law is abandoned to the rule of man."

Huffman also questions Gingrich's proposal that Congress impeach judges who make decisions it does not like, saying that would invite "inappropriate political intervention in the judicial function":

Furthermore, it is probably unconstitutional. The Constitution allows for impeachment for "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors." If deciding a constitutional question wrongly—in the opinion of a majority of House members and two-thirds of the Senate members—constitutes a high crime or misdemeanor, impeachment will become a political threat against all manner of federal officials (including presidents) on the basis of alleged unconstitutional action. While it may be persuasive that purposeful unconstitutional action is a high crime and misdemeanor, can we anymore rely on the president or members of Congress than on federal judges to say what is unconstitutional?

Huffman notes Gingrich's admiration for FDR, whose anti-judicial campaign was aimed at evading constitutional limits on federal power. "It seems passing strange," he writes, "that Gingrich, the self-proclaimed candidate of liberty and limited government, would look as a role model to the president who launched the inexorable expansion of the federal government." It seems strange only if you assume that Gingrich is a principled advocate of limited government, as opposed to an opportunistic, power-hungry weasel who considers civil liberties a nuisance, thinks grandiose is a compliment, and sees government as a tool to achieve whatever goals strike his fancy.

More on Gingrich's court-sacking plan here. Huffman elaborates on the need for judicial activism here. Damon Root made a similar point in a 2005 Reason article.

Steven Greenhut on the Political Cowardice of Barack Obama

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night was the latest reminder that the state of political discourse in America is shockingly low, writes Steven Greenhut. It was a vivid reminder of the shoddy thinking so common at the highest level of the federal and state governments and why we are—in the more precise, but less lofty words of a former president—in deep doo doo.

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There is Hope for Education in America! Andrew Campanella Tells Us Why

"We can't do this to kids. We are paying far too much money for a public education system that isn't working," says Vice President of National School Choice Week Andrew Campanella.  

Everyone knows that the U.S. education system is in trouble. Campanella offers a few words on how school choice week can help with promoting "access to better options and empowering parents and kids." 

According to Campanella, the U.S. ranks 35th in the world in math and literacy.

"Other countries are not just nipping at our heels educationally, they've lapped us," Campanella says.

Campanella contends that school choice offers real solutions to raising the bar and educating the next generation, and that it's not just empty words. 

Reason on education.

About 3 minutes. Produced by Sharif Matar and Tracy Oppenheimer.

Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason's YouTube Channel to get automatic notifications when new material goes live.

Follow Reason on Twitter. 

Newt Gingrich Despicability Watch

Former Speaker of the House of Representatives and current Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich infamously managed to deflect questions about his alleged request that his second wife agree to an "open marriage" so that he could continue to sleep with the younger woman who now happens to be his third wife. In the South Carolina debate Gingrich ginned up fake outrage to bluster at the debate moderator: 

"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." 

It may not be as despicable as cheating on your second wife while lecturing the rest of us on "family values," but this nugget of Gingrichian claptrap from yesterday's Florida debate qualifies: 

Governor Romney owns share -- has an investment in Goldman Sachs, which is today foreclosing on Floridians. So maybe Governor Romney in the spirit of openness should tell us how much money he's made off of how many households that have been foreclosed by his investments? And let's be clear about that."

Newt. Really? 

Tim Cavanaugh on Putting Men on Mars

To understand why genetic engineering is the only way humanity can conquer Mars and the rest of the solar system, consider what the current version of Homo sapiens will have to endure on a trip to the Red Planet. Any crew dispatched on the 18-to-30-month mission to Mars will face highly elevated risks of cancer, tissue degradation, bone density loss, brain damage, pharmaceutical spoilage, and other health threats. The journey outside Earth’s magnetic field will expose astronauts to solar flares and cosmic radiation at levels that have not been surveyed since the end of the Apollo missions (the longest of which lasted just 12 days). Arrival on Mars, a geologically inert body with one one-hundredth of Earth’s atmosphere and no shielding from solar radiation, will provide little relief and will probably introduce some secondary radiation risk from solar rays reflected off the Martian surface. Still, writes Tim Cavanaugh, the romance of sitting on Mars is pretty powerful, and leading space entrepreneurs want to make it happen.

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Don't Panic Over Global Warming

That's the message in a Wall Street Journal op/ed today signed by sixteen prominent scientists. The scientists note that warming has been less than predicted by climate models:

Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now. This is known to the warming establishment, as one can see from the 2009 "Climategate" email of climate scientist Kevin Trenberth: "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't." But the warming is only missing if one believes computer models where so-called feedbacks involving water vapor and clouds greatly amplify the small effect of CO2.

The lack of warming for more than a decade—indeed, the smaller-than-predicted warming over the 22 years since the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began issuing projections—suggests that computer models have greatly exaggerated how much warming additional CO2 can cause. 

For some background on global temperature trends, University of Alabama in Huntsville climatologists John Christy and Roy Spencer did an analysis in December, 2011 of 33 years of satellite temperature data and report

Globally averaged, Earth’s atmosphere has warmed about 0.45 Celsius (about 0.82° F) during the almost one-third of a century that sensors aboard NOAA and NASA satellites have measured the temperature of oxygen molecules in the air.

This is at the lower end of computer model projections of how much the atmosphere should have warmed due to the effects of extra greenhouse gases since the first Microwave Sounding Unit (MSU) went into service in Earth orbit in late November 1978, according to satellite data processed and archived at UAHuntsville’s ESSC.

“While 0.45 degrees C of warming is noticeable in climate terms, it isn’t obvious that it represents an impending disaster,” said Christy. “The climate models produce some aspects of the weather reasonably well, but they have yet to demonstrate an ability to confidently predict climate change in upper air temperatures.”...

“Part of the upward trend is due to low temperatures early in the satellite record caused by a pair of major volcanic eruptions,” Christy said. “Because those eruptions pull temperatures down in the first part of the record, they tilt the trend upward later in the record.”

Christy and other UAHuntsville scientists have calculated the cooling effect caused by the eruptions of Mexico’s El Chichon volcano in 1982 and the Mt. Pinatubo volcano in the Philippines in 1991. When that cooling is subtracted, the long-term warming effect is reduced to 0.09 C (0.16° F) per decade, well below computer model estimates of how much global warming should have occurred.

Since warming is not proceeding as forecasted by the climate models, the scientists writing in the Journal conclude:

Speaking for many scientists and engineers who have looked carefully and independently at the science of climate, we have a message to any candidate for public office: There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to "decarbonize" the world's economy. Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically.

A recent study of a wide variety of policy options by Yale economist William Nordhaus showed that nearly the highest benefit-to-cost ratio is achieved for a policy that allows 50 more years of economic growth unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls. This would be especially beneficial to the less-developed parts of the world that would like to share some of the same advantages of material well-being, health and life expectancy that the fully developed parts of the world enjoy now. Many other policy responses would have a negative return on investment. And it is likely that more CO2 and the modest warming that may come with it will be an overall benefit to the planet.

The whole WSJ op/ed is well worth reading.

For more background, see also my recent column, Weathering Man-Made Climate Change which concludes with these observations: 

...between 1970 and 2008, 95 percent of deaths from natural disasters occurred in developing countries. Bad weather produces death and destruction largely when it encounters poverty....

First, recent research indicates that man-made climate change has not been nor is it likely to be a big contributor to losses stemming from weather disasters in the next few decades. Second, boosting the wealth of poor people through economic growth is their best protection against meteorological disasters in the long run, whether fueled by future man-made climate change or not.

And also my 2009 column, Is Government Action Worse Than Global Warming? Short answer: Yes. 

New Congressional Budgeting Plan: Use Savings From Cutting Imaginary Spending to Pay for Real Spending

Counting savings from projected war spending is Washington’s favorite budget gimmick, and both Republicans and Democrats have used the ploy to beef up the official deficit reduction tallies on various budget plans. The trick is simple enough: Thanks to a quirk in its budgeting rules, the Congressional Budget Office assumes that annual war spending will continue at the 2011 rate of $159 billion a year and cost $1.8 trillion over the next decade. But no one in either party expects war spending to continue at those levels; the Obama administration has already said it expects war costs to drop by $50 billion this year. That leaves a little more than $1 trillion over the next decade that’s built into the budget, but that no one expects will actually get spent. “Cut” that spending, and you “reduce” the deficit by the same amount—despite the fact that the spending was never really going to occur. It's a trillion dollar deficit freebie. 

But why does it have to be used to reduce the deficit? Some members of Congress have asked the same question, and are now considering a different plan: Instead of congratulating themselves for cutting the deficit by zeroing out spending that was never going to happen, they’re considering using the “savings” from cutting that imaginary spending to pay for other (real) spending—on the Medicare “doc fix.” Via Sahil Kapur at TPM:

House Republicans are coming around to the Democrats’ plan for permanently ending the Medicare “doc fix” problem — a $300 billion and growing albatross around the nation’s neck that virtually everybody believes needs to be fixed. The option is now on the table, key Republicans tell TPM, just one month after some of those same lawmakers dismissed it as a senseless Washington gimmick.

Last fall Democrats began pushing the idea to pay for a full repeal of the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) formula with war savings from troop drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Republicans didn’t much care for it, but Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) hopped on board during the Super Committee negotiations, and has since been working behind the scenes to win GOP support.

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA), the co-chairman of the GOP Doctors Caucus, which leadership usually defers to on this issue, last month slammed the war savings offset as “funny money” and a “Ponzi scheme.” But Tuesday after the State of the Union, he was singing a different tune.

“The SGR — we need to come up with the money to bring the baseline back to zero,” Gingrey told TPM. “The Overseas Contingency Operation fund [the OCO], you know, could we consider using that money as an offset? I want to look at that very closely. There’s a lot to say for that.”

“You might say that using the overseas contingency fund is a little bit of smoke in mirrors, but quite honestly, the SGR is smoke in mirrors,” he argued. “Let’s trade one flawed system for the other, if you will. Let’s bring it back to zero, and start fresh, and do the right thing.”

It’s like a game of budget gimmick twister! 

Lots more on Washington's never-ending attempts to "fix" the doc fix here and here

Work for Reason.tv!: Deadline Extended

2012 Searle Film Fellowship at Reason.tv 

Application Deadline: January 27, 2012 February 17, 2012

Reason.tv—the online video journalism project of the Reason Foundation—is seeking talented individuals interested in advancing the message of Free Minds and Free Markets through video journalism and related multimedia productions. Reason’s top priority is talent: established and aspiring producers, videographers, editors, researchers, and marketing professionals will all be considered.  

The Searle Film Fellowship at Reason.tv is a year-long, full time position that gives aspiring video journalists the opportunity to create substantive, original content that explores the ideas of free minds and free markets.  Initial responsibilities will depend on experience and could range from research assistance to video editing to producing independent pieces to developing marketing and distribution plans.  Fellows will also participate in training in production techniques appropriate to their skill level. Fellowships are full-time salaried positions with benefits; salary will depend on experience.    

Resourcefulness, a willingness to pick up miscellaneous tasks, and reliability are a must. The ideal candidate will also have a strong interest in libertarian ideas, the field of documentary filmmaking or video journalism, familiarity with shooting and editing, and content distribution and marketing.

Applicants at any level of experience will be considered.  Individuals who are able to work from one of the Reason offices (in LA or DC) are preferred, but telecommuters will also be considered. To apply, please submit the following materials in a single pdf file via email to amy.pelletier@reason.org by January 27, 2012:

  • A cover letter with a summary of your experience and an explanation of your interest in Reason.tv,
  • A resume, including contact information for three references.
  • Three one-page segment sketches you would like to produce (or help produce) at Reason.tv.  The format, style, and level of detail are at your discretion.    
  • Samples of your work, if applicable to your level of experience. If available online, include links in the email; if you prefer to mail a reel, please send TWO copies to: Reason Foundation, Attn: Amy Pelletier, 3415 S Sepulveda Blvd, Suite 400, Los Angeles, CA 90034. 

Please direct questions about the fellowship and application process to Amy Pelletier at amy.pelletier@reason.org

Reason Writers on Freedom Watch: Matt Welch Talks Rand Paul & the TSA With Judge Napolitano

On Wednesday, Jan. 25, I appeared on Judge Andrew Napolitano's great Freedom Watch program to talk about the even-more-interesting-than-you-initially-thought case of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) getting detained by airport security:

A. Barton Hinkle on Virginia vs. the Federal Health Care Takeover

If you're married to a gambling addict, you don't do him any favors by lending him money or telling the bank you were the one who blew the mortgage at the track. Likewise, writes A. Barton Hinkle, Virginia should not enable Washington's addiction to big government, epitomized by the federal takeover of health care, by setting up a state insurance exchange. If D.C. is going to dictate the terms, why should the commonwealth foot the bill?

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NAACP Head Ben Jealous on Ron Paul: "We've Found Common Cause with Libertarians..."; Plus, New Newsletter Allegations

Delayed hat tip to Slate story: Alan Vanneman, whose blog is always worth checking out.

Former Reason scribe, now with Slate, Dave Weigel caught up with the head of the NAACP, Ben Jealous, and asked him a question about Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).

Slate: Ron Paul answered a question about his old newsletters by saying he was the most anti-racist candidate: He wanted fair criminal justice reform. Did you buy it?

Jealous: We've found common cause with libertarians across the South, for years. In Texas, Ron Paul's state, we've passed a dozen progressive criminal justice reforms last year, working with the Tea Party. In South Carolina we got one-to-one on crack versus powder, which we couldn't get Congress to do when Democrats controlled it. In Georgia, we just pushed through the biggest review of criminal justice policy in the entire country, again, working with a Tea Party governor and Tea Party supporters. Criminal justice reform is, if you will, the big silent agreement in this country. It's ideas like treatment instead of incarceration appeal from libertarians to liberals alike, to progressives and conservatives alike.

If you divide the Tea Party, it divides into three groups: The libertarians, the fiscal conservatives, and the social conservatives. And when you go them and say rehab is seven times more effective than prison, they pay more attention. The pot-smoking wing pays attention. The Christian conservatives, who are very involved in prison ministry, already know it. So Ron Paul has a point that policies he is promoting, on criminal justice reform, are policies that need to be discussed and would have a positive impact on the black community.

Emphasis added. More here.

Hat tip: Alan Vanneman.

In a related story, The Washington Post reports allegations today that while the congressman may not have written the racist newsletters that went out under his name for years, "he always got to see the final product. . . . He would proof it." That comes from Renae Hathaway, who worked at Ron Paul & Associates, the publisher of the newsletters. The same article cites another Paul business associate who says, "I just do not believe he was either writing or regularly editing this stuff.’’

Paul's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, tells the Post that when it comes to the racist material, Paul “abhors it, rejects it and has taken responsibility for it as he should have better policed the work being done under his masthead."

If you've read Reason's 2008 story, "Who Wrote Ron Paul's Newsletters?," there isn't much new in the Post account, which itself indicates a problem. At this point, the only one who can end interest in the story is Ron Paul himself.

I wish that Paul would be more forthright in naming the people behind the newsletters (and if he doesn't remember off the top of his head, he could certainly burn a few more calories in finding out). I don't think that Ron Paul is a racist and I agree the NAACP's Jealous that Paul's policies are in most ways far more beneficial to black Americans than those pursued by the rest of the Republican presidential field, the Democrats, and President Obama. Indeed, Paul is the only would-be GOP presidential nominee who is clearly against the drug war, which disproportianately affects African Americans. The economic freedom he promulgates, especially when concerning licensing regulations that hurt very small, low-capitalized ventures such as hair-braiding and taxi services, would similarly help low-income blacks as much or more than any other group in America.

Yet when you go back and look at the actual newsletters, the level of offensiveness and sheer stupidity is stunning. In one "Survival Report," for instance, the writer defends "Poor Marge Schott!," the rancid owner of the Cincinnati Reds who defended Hitler, railed against "sneaky goddamn Jews," and at one point whined about "million-dollar niggers" (one of whom, Eric Davis, had helped the Reds win the 1990 World Series). Schott was fined for such comments and eventually squeezed out of baseball. The writer of the Surivial Report likens such actions to being prosecuted for "thought crimes from the novels of Orwell and Huxley [sic]." While regularly arguing that businesses are private spaces that can set their own rules for employment and service, the writer argues that "Schott's leftist critics have no concern for the First Amendment." What's more, people who get bent out of shape by racist language "never seem to mind whenever someone uses the Creator's name in vain?" The writer also doesn't bother quoting Schott's slurs, a classic strategy in defending the indefensible.

Schott didn't deny making offensive comments, instead usually argued that she was joking or taken out of context. She worked in a business whose long history of institutionalized racism is still rightly a touchy subject; no one with half a brain could be surprised that she would get sanctioned for such loose talk, or eventually kicked out of the ownership club for good. Poor Marge Schott? Eh, I don't think so.

As I wrote in late December, I don't think the newsletters invalidate Paul's candidacy or his years of principled small-government legislating. But they remain disturbing and, more to the point, show a real failure of leadership first in their existence and second in his unwillingness to get to the bottom of a story that troubles some of his most sympathetic followers. His unwillingness to settle things once and for all is a sad reminder that no politician is perfect, even one who wants to cut $1 trillion from next year's budget.

Reason Writers on the World's Greatest Network: Matt Welch Talks About the Eternal State of the Union on WGN

Yesterday, I went on the Mike McConnell show on Chicago's WGN Radio to talk about my patched-together State of the Union address from the last half-century. You can listen to the interview here.

A.M. Links: Romney Creams Gingrich, Ron Paul Talks Sense on Cuba, Syrian Government "Massacres" Women and Children

  • Gingrich bombed at last night's debate, now destined to lose Florida. 
  • Ron Paul calls for an end to Cuba embargo; polls say he's wise to do so
  • Eyes turn to Sen. Marco Rubio as GOP VP pick.  
  • Mitt Romney overpaid in taxes, says...The New York Times
  • More on Twitter's new censorship policy
  • Syrian forces commit more monstrous acts

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New at Reason.tv: "3 Reasons Not to Get Worked Up Over Super PACs"

Smart City Logic: Ten Tall Buildings Worth More Than 20,000 Family Homes

California will abolish its despotic, ruinous redevelopment agencies this coming Wednesday, and as VR Day approaches, devourers of the commonweal are beginning to panic. 

“The legal foundation of Hollywood's recent revival is about to come apart,” Hollywood Reporter's Daniel Miller writes in a jeremiad that details some of the ravages the erstwhile film colony will endure. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences may have to build its outdoor movie theater on only 3.5 acres it owns along Vine Street, without buying an adjacent property. The adjacent property (at the corner of Vine and De Longpre) may be sold to the highest bidder. A theater across from MacArthur Park may not get rehabilitated.

Miller is unusual among supporters of the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles (CRA/LA) in that he ventures outside Downtown and Hollywood (where hundreds of millions of public dollars have been spent to build large structures) and mentions an abandoned project in Leimert Park – the “ongoing renovation of the Vision Theatre, which was built in 1930 and was used as part of the 1932 Summer Olympics athletes’ village.” 

Other redevelopment defenders focus exclusively on Hollywood (where the CRA spent $31 million in 2010 alone) and Downtown (where it spent $44 million – $6 million more than it collected in property tax increments after more than half a century of supposedly working to raise property values). I have the bad taste to concentrate on Liemert and other areas south of Interstate 10, less tony locations where the CRA creates vacant lots by the baker’s dozen.  

So what has urban renewal redevelopment actually accomplished? At the Curbed LA blog, one Dando Guerra photoshops a picture of the downtown skyline to show “What the Downtown LA Skyline Would Look Like Without the Community Redevelopment Agency of LA.” 

 

I have nothing against Curbed LA, which is a great source of overpriced white elephants designed by fancypants architects, but a “neighborhood and real estate blog” should at least acknowledge that the signature Bunker Hill development in Downtown L.A. was achieved through the uprooting of 20,000 residences. This is not just progress-hating, Mike Davis-type history. Kevin Starr writes about it too. If Downtown is the CRA’s most successful project, that’s an even sharper indictment of the agency. 

Assuming for the sake of argument that none of the buildings in the lower half of that picture would have been built without the helping hand of an unaccountable government agency empowered to destroy people’s homes, that would still mean that L.A.’s redevelopment agency exiled tens of thousands of residents and continues to spend millions every year to build a skyline that is exactly as impressive as Houston’s….

…considerably less artistic than Philadelphia’s… 

…and neither as impressive nor as artistic as Abu Dhabi’s*…

You will say that I am cherrypicking outrages, damning the CRA for its failed projects and refusing to acknowledge its successful ones. 

I say Downtown L.A. is, by any measure of return on public investment, a failure. It has one structure with a memorable exterior (the “Library” building) and one with a memorable interior (the Westin Bonaventure). These buildings have been duly catalogued, respectively, in the movies Independence Day and True Lies. Downtown is a magnet for neither new business nor tourism. It is dominated by large government office buildings. It’s no coincidence that Occupy L.A., big labor rallies, the homeless and the L.A. Times all condensed Downtown. The area has only very recently, through events like the well attended monthly “Art Walk,” begun to attract anybody who has any other choice of destination. I have never known a traveled person who would rank Downtown L.A. in even the second tier of American downtowns. 

This is no knock on the region known around the world as “Los Angeles,” a varied and formerly dynamic place that remains attractive because its downtown is such an afterthought. It’s just not a really big secret that Downtown L.A. is a national joke. The more redevelopment defenders make their case, the more they show what a failure redevelopment was. 

* Thanks to commenters Zuo and Timon19 for pointing out my ignorant Dubai/Abu Dhabi mixup. Just when I'd mastered the Dallas/Fort Worth split and learned the difference between Linden and Rahway.... 

Chip Bok on the GOP Primary

Chip Bok on how Gingrich is redefining the GOP primary. 

View this article

Ron Paul Campaign: “We’re Not Dropping a Lot of Money in Florida. It’s All Grassroots.”

Jacksonville, Fla.—Ron Paul's national press secretary, Gary Howard, spoke to Reason after Thursday's GOP debate about the Ron Paul campaign's plans for Florida and beyond, including Paul's decision to fly to Maine immediately after the debate in order to resume campaigning in the Pine Tree State.

Ron Paul Supporters Clash With Fans of Koran-Burning Pastor Terry Jones Outside GOP Debate

Jacksonville, Fla.—Ron Paul may not be mounting much of a preisdential campaign in Florida but that didn't stop his supporters from making the most visible showing outside of tonight's debate at the Univeristy of North Florida. More than an hour before the hall started filling up over 200 Paul backers were marching around the campus and making noise from the beds of pickup trucks. Support for the other major candidates was mostly absent, which left a void that fringe candidates and pranksters were more than happy to fill. 

The most notable was the Florida-based Koran-burning pastor turned presidential candidate Terry Jones, who preached his hard-right message surrounded by a dozen supporters in white t-shirts. Meanwhile, members of the Occupy Wall Street movement ran around in Guy Fawkes masks mic-checking and doing whatever else it is that they do now that their camps are mostly gone. Snarky college kids entertained themselves by carrying signs for Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert.

Mix these four groups of people together and this is what you get:

Several campus police officers descended on the scene after the debate itself began, although nothing beyond people yelling incoherently at one another appeared to happen. It also turned out that some of the Paul supporters were not big fans of the Jones crew's zombie-like chanting. 

Oh, and Paul supporters were hawking these shirts

First Moonbase Primary Open Thread

Will Gingrich fly us to the Moon? 

Will Romney continue the paddling of Newt's plump ass he delivered in the last debate? 

Will Santorum froth? 

Will Wolf Blitzer give any air time to [OTHER CANDIDATE]? 

Some recent coverage might help you puzzle out these and other questions: 

Ron Paul polling in dead last in the Sunshine State. (Which he is very openly not campaigning in.) 

Reason/Rupe polling on why Newt Gingrich (Newt Gingrich!) is ahead

Why Romneycare sucks

Newt! In Space! 

Did we mention that Ron Paul is avoiding the sunbirds

And when will someone think of the SuperPACS

For all other questions, speak up in the comments. 

Update: Well it's vaguely surprising that they got into an argument where each one claimed to be less anti-immigrant. 

Ron Paul just scored a decent point: Obama's Latin America policy is "abysmal" because it's exactly the same as previous Latin America policy.

Too bad the Latin America thread is dying down without anybody bringing up the War On Drugs. 

8:30: Whether government contributed to the housing bubble: Another question on which only Ron Paul can speak intelligently. (Which is no guarantee that he will.) 

8:32: Looks like the show of hands was pretty underwhelming when Gingrich used the "Do you know anybody who's been foreclosed" ploy.

8:34: Gingrich's trying to wriggle out of his Freddie Mac historiographical lobbying is shameless. 

8:36: Ron Paul got the first big round of applause by saying he's not interested in Romrich's GSE entanglements. Does that mean everybody's bored by the GSEs, or do they just like hearing about the Fed? 

8:39: Blitz Wolfschmidt promises space after the commercials. I wasn't just teasing with the title of this thread!

8:40: Jesus H. Christmas, Wolf, Romney's taxes? 

8:43: Romney is making Gingrich look like a tool, I think. 

8:45: Debates are so much better with a raucous audience. The spectacle of an establishment media dinosaur like Blitzer trying to keep the conversation on trivialities, and getting booed by a bunch of voters, give me hope for this country. 

8:49: A little common sense for Blitz von Wolfsschanze: If you have to tell people "This is substance," it's not substance. 

8:51: Hey, Ron Paul, I want to repeal the 16th Amendment too. Let's talk! 

8:53: Paul gets a great point out of the medical records follies: We really do have age discrimination laws, and they really are ridiculous. 

8:55: Paul got the laugh line, but Romney made the best point: A moonbase would be ruinously expensive. 

9:02: Oh by the way, now's a great time to read Reason's Special Space Issue, on newsstands now! 

9:11: With his Romneycare attack, Santorum stumbles into the strongest case against Romney: that he has no leg to stand on against President Obama. 

9:15: There's a real problem with Romney's argument that the people of Massachusetts like Romneycare by "about three to one." That's the exact problem with Social Security, Medicare, Defense, and so on. They're cancers on the economy but the voters will never get rid of them. 

9:20: Folks, I have met Carlos Gutierrez, and he is so unimpressive that even in a crowd of unimpressive people he stands out as more unimpressive than most. 

9:23: O Jesus, Wolf, the First Lady? The Queen of America? This is your "substance"?

9:25: From the Twitter feed of one Mary Mauldin: "I would love for Newt to say let's talk about Fast&Furious, Solyndra, Keystone anything...but these obnoxious questions." I'd love for anybody to bring these up. 

9:28: Can we pass an amendment to outlaw family-pimping by politicians? 

9:30: Hey Romney, I think the X Games were one of the great showcases of the human spirit. What will you do to bring back the X Games? 

9:38: Palestinian Americans exist? And they're Republicans? 

9:39: (Just kidding. One thing I like about having a bunch of Arabs in my family and friend networks is that Arabs are almost always super-rightwingers when scratch the surface.)

9:41: I'm a big fan of J-Pod's Twitter feed, and here's a reason why: "One reason I like Mitt Romney is he thinks I'm a Gentile."

9:44: Don't-forget-the-diacritical alert: Dig Matt Welch's interview with the Santorum-namechecked Luis Fortuño. 

9:49: Hey Santorum: It's not just the owners manual. It's also the supreme goddamn law of the land. 

9:54: Beating-Obama question favors Ron Paul: Even though Romney is the most electable because of the electableness of his electability, Ron Paul actually outpolls Obama

9:56: Was it really only two hours? It feels like 36. 

9:59: So for the umpteenth time we're going out with no discussion of Fast and Furious, Solyndra or Keyston XL. Focus on Obama, boys, focus on Obama! 

9:60/10:00: Thanks a lot, folks. I want my two hours back. 

Late-Breaking Debate Open Thread! Florida! Knife-Fight!

Comment away, commenters!

Oklahoma Moves to Ban "Food or Products Which Use Aborted Human Fetuses"

A new Oklahoma bill would ban "the sale or manufacture of food or products which contain aborted human fetuses." Seriously.

Oklahomans can thank state senator Ralph Shortey for introducing this vital bill. Shortey has also introduced some other unconventional bills, like expanding asset forfeiture against undocumented immigrants, attacking birthright citizenship, and even pandering to birthers. The entire bill (SB 1418) is posted below:

AS INTRODUCED

An Act relating to food; prohibiting the manufacture or sale of food or products which use aborted human fetuses; providing for codification; and providing an effective date.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF OKLAHOMA:

SECTION 1.     NEW LAW     A new section of law to be codified in the Oklahoma Statutes as Section 1-1150 of Title 63, unless there is created a duplication in numbering, reads as follows:

No person or entity shall manufacture or knowingly sell food or any other product intended for human consumption which contains aborted human fetuses in the ingredients or which used aborted human fetuses in the research or development of any of the ingredients.

SECTION 2.  This act shall become effective November 1, 2012.

Obvious jokes aside, this bill is essentially a backdoor ban on embryonic stem cell research. The phrase "any other product intended for human consumption" is decidedly vague. After all people "consume" medicines, vaccines, and other therapies, so those treatments developed from embryonic stem cells could also be banned. This would stymie scientific research for embyronic stem cells, which have significant potential, like literally helping the blind see.

Indeed, while Shortey admits he hasn't heard of any companies using fetuses in their products, he believes the media isn't focusing on the stem cell ban:

People are thinking that this has to do with fetuses being chopped up and put in our burritos...That's not the case. It's beyond that. 

There are companies that are using embryonic stem cells to research and basically cause a chemical reaction to determine whether or not something tastes good or not.

The bill's inspiration came after Shortey read an email from the pro-life Children of God for Life, which claimed that PepsiCo was using embryonic stem cells to test its products. More specifically, HEK 293, a stem cell commonly used in research. Apparently, PepsiCo was partnering with Senomyx, a biotech firm, to test taste receptors. The Miami New Times has more on this R&D:

The company is using isolated human taste receptors in the form of proteins to identify flavors and enhance them.

Gwen Rosenberg, vice president of investor relations and corporate communications for Senomyx, described the process as "basically a robotic tasting system." She depicted rows of little plastic square dishes with hundreds of tiny indentations in each dish. A protein is placed in each indentation, then a flavor. If the protein reacts to the flavor, the results are charted. If the new flavor (of which the company has more than 800,000) is successful with the protein test, the company then conducts taste tests with (live) adult humans.

In some respects, this bill is similar to Oklahoma's ban on Sharia law (which was just overturned). Both prohibit something many Americans are against (eating babies, Sharia law), while cloaking a more unpopular provision. While the ban on Sharia went viral, there was little mention of how that constitutional amendment would have also outlawed considering international law when deciding court cases:

The courts shall not look to other legal precepts of other nations and cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or Sharia law.

Reason on stem cell research. Ronald Bailey on how stem cells, unlike Soylent Green, aren't people.

Kurt Loder on The Grey and Man on a Ledge

What will it take to finally bring humankind together, writes Kurt Loder, to unite us all in respect and appreciation and a sense of shared purpose? How about a pack of vicious wolves intent on tearing us to bloody shreds? Judging by The Grey, director Joe Carnahan’s new deep-freeze thriller, that might do it.

Man on a Ledge, meanwhile, is a tight little crime thriller—a heist-movie variant—with a few small problems and one big one. Given the top-notchness of the supporting actors here assembled—particularly Ed Harris—the casting of doughy Sam Worthington in the lead seems crucially ill-advised. True, Worthington was also the nominal star of James Cameron’s Avatar; but really, who will ever think of that techno-epic as a Sam Worthington film?

View this article

Indiana About to Become the 23rd State in the Country to Embrace Right-to-Work

After weeks of tantrums and hissy fits by Democrats, the Republican-controlled Indiana House last night passed, 54-44, a right-to-work bill that will make it illegal for unions to collect mandatory dues from non-members, a big blow to the ability of unions to collect funds and sway elections.  Governor Mitch Daniels, who wasn’t an enthusiast of the bill going in, has nevertheless pledged to sign it after the Senate, which is also in Republican hands, passes it next week.

Indiana will become the 23rd state in the country—and the first in the Rust Belt—to embrace such a law, something that has huge implications for the future of unions in the Midwest. Wisconsin and Ohio have already scrapped the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions, and Indiana’s move has made a frontal assault on the power of private sector unions in the region, which is why unions and their Democratic allies are livid.

They tried to do everything in their power to stall the Indiana bill—including refusing to show up for legislative debate without which a vote could not be held. But when that tactic fizzled, they made one final stand last night, taking to the floor of the House to condemn the bill.

Democratic Rep. Linda Lawson accused Republicans of trying to destroy her union-heavy community, demanding to know what Republicans from agricultural districts would do if she came into their communities and said “‘no more cows’ and ‘no more pigs’?”

No word yet on how the UAW feels about having its members compared to “cow” and “pigs.”

Be that as it may, the fact of the matter is that if the record of other right-to-work states is any evidence, this bill, which Gov. Daniels is expected to sign by Feb. 5, will give Indiana’s economy a real competitive edge over other Midwestern states, forcing them to consider similar bills. For example, as I noted some months ago, there is a credible effort afoot to make Michigan a right-to-work state, something unthinkable even five years ago given the near-complete chokehold of unions on this state for over half a century.

Democrats and unions complain that the bill will destroy working-class jobs and wages. But the truth is that, between 2000 and 2010, employment in right-to-work-states increased 2.3 percent and dropped 4 percent in non-right-to-work states. Likewise, personal income grew 57.5 percent in right-to-work-states compared to 40.5 percent in non-right-to-work states.

Ron Paul Polling Last in Florida, Bob Dole Slaps Newt, Twitter to Censor Tweets: P.M. Links

  • Ron Paul is polling behind Rick Santorum (and everybody else) in Florida
  • Dole on Newt: A "one-man-band who rarely took advice."
  • Romney accidentally withheld Swiss bank account info
  • Rick Perry's brief and clueless presidential run has him polling behind Barack Obama...in Texas.
  • Newt: Reagan "passed the torch" to me. 
  • Twitter to censor tweets at the behest of autocratic regimes.

Should the Government Release the Osama Bin Laden Death Photos?

Judicial Watch, the conservative legal outfit founded by former Reagan administration attorney Larry Klayman, has filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking the Obama administration to release photos of the death of Osama Bin Laden at his compound in Pakistan last year. At the blog of Legal Times, Mike Scarcella reports that the government is refusing to comply:

The department filed court papers (PDF) Wednesday in a public records suit in Washington asking U.S. District Judge James Boasberg to keep the photos out of the public domain.

DOJ attorney Marcia Berman of the Civil Division’s federal programs branch said the photos “reveal specific intelligence activities and methods and specific military methods, tools, equipment, and techniques employed during or after the operation” that killed bin Laden in May.

“For over two decades, bin Laden was the leader and symbol of al-Qaida, a terrorist organization at war with the United States,” Berman said. “The mere release of the images could be interpreted as a deliberate attempt by the United States to humiliate bin Laden, which could trigger violence, attacks, or acts of revenge against the United States.”

Update: This post originally misidentified Larry Klayman as the current president of Judicial Watch. That role is now occupied by Tom Fitton.

Greg Beato on How the Government Is Watching What You Eat

The history of government dietary advice is a history of failure and escalation, writes Greg Beato. It started in 1894, when Congress funded research efforts by W.O. Atwater, a professor of chemistry at Wesleyan University, to determine the nutritive value and costs of various foods. After Atwater’s unsuccessful efforts, a steady stream of government pamphlets and posters urged America to fuel itself more strategically, but ultimately, the country’s poor eating habits persisted. The latest doomed federal initiative is called SuperTracker, an online tool from the Department of Agriculture that allows users to set and maintain dietary goals. Isn’t it time for the government to stop watching what we eat?

View this article

The New Yorker Has a Sobering Look at the Whys of America's Prison-Industrial Complex

There are two million Americans currently in prison, with six or seven million under some kind of "judicial supervision" such as parole; Adam Gopnik at The New Yorker asks,"How did we get here?"  

Gopnik covers a lot of ground in "The Caging of America." He notes the nastiness of U.S. Prisons — including the scores of thousands of prison rapes a year (if not more), as well as the new popularity of solitary confinement— the great mystery of the falling crime rates of the past three decades, and condemns the war on drugs (at least on marijuana).

Gopnik, on one theory as to why our justice system is rife with misery and injustice:

William J. Stuntz, a professor at Harvard Law School who died shortly before his masterwork, “The Collapse of American Criminal Justice,” was published, last fall, is the most forceful advocate for the view that the scandal of our prisons derives from the Enlightenment-era, “procedural” nature of American justice. He runs through the immediate causes of the incarceration epidemic: the growth of post-Rockefeller drug laws, which punished minor drug offenses with major prison time; “zero tolerance” policing, which added to the group; mandatory-sentencing laws, which prevented judges from exercising judgment. But his search for the ultimate cause leads deeper, all the way to the Bill of Rights. In a society where Constitution worship is still a requisite on right and left alike, Stuntz startlingly suggests that the Bill of Rights is a terrible document with which to start a justice system—much inferior to the exactly contemporary French Declaration of the Rights of Man, which Jefferson, he points out, may have helped shape while his protégé Madison was writing ours.

The trouble with the Bill of Rights, he argues, is that it emphasizes process and procedure rather than principles. The Declaration of the Rights of Man says, Be just! The Bill of Rights says, Be fair! Instead of announcing general principles—no one should be accused of something that wasn’t a crime when he did it; cruel punishments are always wrong; the goal of justice is, above all, that justice be done—it talks procedurally. You can’t search someone without a reason; you can’t accuse him without allowing him to see the evidence; and so on. This emphasis, Stuntz thinks, has led to the current mess, where accused criminals get laboriously articulated protection against procedural errors and no protection at all against outrageous and obvious violations of simple justice. You can get off if the cops looked in the wrong car with the wrong warrant when they found your joint, but you have no recourse if owning the joint gets you locked up for life. You may be spared the death penalty if you can show a problem with your appointed defender, but it is much harder if there is merely enormous accumulated evidence that you weren’t guilty in the first place and the jury got it wrong. [Emphasis added]

Gopnik also comes to this heartening conclusion about prisons:

[O]ne piece of radical common sense: since prison plays at best a small role in stopping even violent crime, very few people, rich or poor, should be in prison for a nonviolent crime. Neither the streets nor the society is made safer by having marijuana users or peddlers locked up, let alone with the horrific sentences now dispensed so easily. For that matter, no social good is served by having the embezzler or the Ponzi schemer locked in a cage for the rest of his life, rather than having him bankrupt and doing community service in the South Bronx for the next decade or two.

The rest here. It's a longish read, but an excellent overview of what Reason called "America's national disgrace" in our "Criminal Injustice" Issue from July 2010. (I can boast freely, because I was not involved in the production of it.) 

(Hat tip to John from the Department of Homeland Security.)

Is Backpage Responsible for Kidnapping and Rape?

In a New York Times column that begins with the horrifying story of "Baby Face," a 13-year-old runaway forced into prostitution by a pimp who advertised her on Backpage.com, Nicholas Kristof assails Village Voice Media, which owns the classified ad site, for profiting from such crimes. He quotes Brooklyn prosecutor Lauren Hersh, who says "Backpage is a great vehicle for pimps trying to sell girls," and sums up the situation this way: "When Baby Face ran away from her pimp and desperately knocked on that apartment door in Brooklyn, she was also in effect pounding on the door of the executive suites of Backpage and Village Voice Media. Those executives should listen to her pleas."

The emotional punch of Kristof's opening anecdote should not blind readers to the illogic of his argument. Village Voice Media is morally responsible for the crimes against this girl, he implies, because its ad service facilitated them. By the same reasoning, Craigslist is responsible for the deaths of men who respond to employment ads that serial killers use to lure their victims. It would be neither fair nor sensible to respond to such crimes by banning job ads. Yet Kristof thinks the solution to the kidnapping and rape of girls like Baby Face is for Backpage to eliminate its "adult" section, as the attorneys general of 48 states have demanded. He is not fazed by the fact that Craigslist, responding to similar pressures, eliminated its "adult services" section in 2010, after which the world's oldest profession continued unabated. The problem, Kristof says, is that the sex ads moved to Backpage. And what will happen to the ads if Backpage follows Craigslist's example? "It's true," he concedes, "that there's some risk that pimps will migrate to new Web sites, possibly based overseas, that are less cooperative" with law enforcement agencies. But he thinks "that's a risk worth taking," because "the present system is failing." In short, nothing we've done until now has worked, so why not try more of the same?

As Daniel Fisher points out at Forbes, the reality of sex marketing is more complicated than Kristof admits. While Craigslist no longer has an "adult services" section, for example, thinly veiled sex-for-money ads have migrated to the "personals" section, where they are harder to monitor. "Want to find more professionals quick?" Fisher writes. "Search for 'Asian massage' on Google, or 'site:facebook.com escorts new york.'" Fisher argues that Village Voice Media has been unfairly singled out for criticism, especially since it cooperates with police, endeavors to make advertisers traceable by requiring credit card numbers, and "responds to subpoenas within hours." In fact, he says, that is how police identified Baby Face's pimp, who had written "a plain-vanilla personal ad for 'labor day weekend fun' with a 21-year-old."

Fisher hastens to add, "I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with trying to shut down the vigorous market for human flesh." Well, I am saying that, if by "the vigorous market for human flesh" he means the exchange of sex for money. It makes as much sense to ban prostitution because some prostitutes are forced into the trade as it does to ban agriculture because farms have been known to use slaves. Far from helping victims like Baby Face, prohibition forces the entire market underground, making it harder to enforce the distinction between minors and adults or between willing and coerced participants. Prohibition forces prostitutes to work in dangerous conditions, picking up customers on the street or covertly connecting with them online, and makes it harder for them to seek legal remedies when they are cheated or abused. These hazards, similar to those seen in black markets for drugs and gambling, are not inherent to the business of selling sex; they are inherent to the policy of using force to suppress peaceful commerce. Since these dangers are entirely predictable, prohibitionists like Kristof should be reflecting on their role in perpetuating them, instead of making scapegoats out of businesses that run classified ads.

Ener1 Goes Bankrupt, Becomes Second or Third Next Solyndra

After spending $55 million of a $118.5 million grant from Stephen Chu’s Department of Energy, Ener1, an Indianapolis-based maker of batteries whose facilities were toured by Reason’s Ronald Bailey in 2010, has declared bankruptcy

Ener1, which got the grant for its EnerDel subsidiary, is another candidate in the increasingly competitive race to become the Next Solyndra. Bailey took that bet in early November, but I believe the title had already been won by the Bay State’s own Beacon Power the day before Bailey’s pick. However, since Beacon only spent $39.5 million of its DOE-guaranteed loan, Ener1 has a higher cumulative score. 

One thing we know. It’s going to be a long time before we see the last Solyndra

Although Ener1 received taxpayer money from the Obama Administration and President Obama unwisely tried to advance his green pork agenda in the State of the Union address, the president did not, as has been suggested elsewhere, single out Ener1 in the speech. The company he referred to is Energetx Composites, a maker of turbine blades headquartered in Holland Michigan, the Tulip City. 

Here are the president’s reference to battery companies: 

In three years, our partnership with the private sector has already positioned America to be the world's leading manufacturer of high-tech batteries. Because of federal investments, renewable energy use has nearly doubled....

I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here. We have subsidized oil companies for a century. That's long enough. It's time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that's rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that's never been more promising. 

These could be construed as references to Ener1, as Obama only mentioned a “California business that will put a thousand people to work making solar panels” in his 2010 speech. This seems unlikely, because Ener1’s poor condition has been known at least since November. Then again, I get the feeling the president doesn’t read Reason. 

Here is the reference to Energetx, which Obama praised for creating jobs rather than for being a viable business: 

When Bryan Ritterby was laid off from his job making furniture, he said he worried that at 55, no one would give him a second chance. But he found work at Energetx, a wind turbine manufacturer in Michigan. Before the recession, the factory only made luxury yachts. Today, it's hiring workers like Bryan, who said, "I'm proud to be working in the industry of the future."

An Energetx spokesman tells me the company is up and running and has no derogatory financial information to report. He would not comment on Energetx’ (‘s?) profitability, but said the company had sold more of its turbine blades in 2011 than in 2010. 

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, also works the State of the Union angle: 

Only two days after President Obama highlighted federal investments in high-tech batteries in his State of the Union address, Ener1 joined Solyndra, Beacon Power, Evergreen Solar, SpecrtaWatt, and AES in bankruptcy – all recipients of taxpayer dollars.  We have a national debt exceeding $15 trillion, and the Administration is borrowing money from China to waste on subsidies for companies that are not viable.  It is interesting that Ener1 made the filing after the President touted subsidies for batteries given that the Administration asked Solyndra to hold off the announcement of job losses until after the 2010 elections.

Update: Stearns keeps the fun coming, revealing enthusiastic White House support for Ener1, a now-embarrassing ARRA stimulus brag, and the inevitable Kinsleyan gaffe from Vice President Joe Biden:  

Vice President Biden visited Ener1 one year ago, January 26, 2011, the day after the President pledged in his State of the Union address to put one million advanced technology vehicles on the road by 2015 with the help of taxpayer funding. On several occasions, Biden called the company “Enron one” during his visit, invoking a seemingly unintentional but ultimately prescient reference to the collapse of the energy giant Enron. The company was also ranked number 67 in the White House Report100 Recovery Projects that are Changing America.

A Majority of Americans Think ObamaCare's Individual Mandate is Unconstitutional

What do most Americans think about the constitutionality of ObamaCare's individual mandate to purchase health insurance? According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey released this morning, a majority believe that it's unconstitutional and expect the Supreme Court to overturn the provision later this year. Kaiser reports that 54 percent of respondents said that in their own opinion, the requirement to purchase insurance or pay a fine was unconstitutional, while just 17 percent said they thought it was constitutional; 29 percent said they didn't know. A similar number, 55 percent, said they expected the Supreme Court to rule against the provision. 

This obviously doesn't tell us whether or not the provision is or isn't constitutional. But by highlighting the continuing widespread skepticism of the mandate, it tells us plenty about how the public thinks of the requirement.

Attn, DC Reasonoids! Celebrate National School Choice Week Tonight at 6:30pm!

Celebrate the latest developments in school choice with Reason at our DC office on Thursday, January 26 from 6:30pm to 8:30pm. We'll have a lineup of education speakers including Reason Foundation Director of Education Lisa Snell and Heritage Foundation Senior Policy Analyst Lindsey Burke.

  • What: Reason Celebrates National School Choice Week
  • When: Thursday, January 26 from 6:30pm - 8:30pm
  • Where: 1747 Connecticut Ave. NW

Beer, wine, and light refreshments will be served. Space is limited and RSVPs are required. Please go here to reserve your space.

Here's Lisa Snell for Reason.tv with 3 Reasons School Choice is Growing:

Police Charge Canadian Blogger With Criminal Libel...for Criticizing the Police

Last summer Charles LeBlanc, a resident of Fredericton, New Brunswick, who seems to be the sort of character people politely describe as a "well-known local gadfly," said something uncomplimentary on his blog about a Fredericton police officer. It is not clear exactly what he said, or why it was fundamentally different from all the invective LeBlanc has hurled at local cops and politicians over the years. But he says it prompted an eight-man raid of his apartment last Thursday, during which the Fredericton Police Force, the same agency he has repeatedly and vociferously criticized, seized his computer as evidence of "defamatory libel." In Canada that redundant-sounding offense is not a tort but a crime, punishable by up to five years in prison. LeBlanc has agreed to appear in court on April 20.

University of New Brunswick law professor Jula Hughes tells the Fredericton Daily Gleaner it is very unusual to pursue libel as a criminal matter, even in Canada. In such a case, she says, the burden is on the defendant to prove the truth of his allegedly libelous statement. Another possible defense is to argue that the defendant sincerely believed the statement to be true, since the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that intent is an element of criminal libel. The Daily Gleaner paraphrases Julian Walker, who "teaches a course in free speech and the free press at St. Thomas University in Fredericton," as saying "it seems awkward a police officer would be the one to launch a defamatory libel case."

Fredericton City Councillor Jordan Graham agrees, telling CBC News:

Civil liberties, I do believe, are being attacked here—whether it's a concerted effort, or it's an attempt to just scratch an itch....I think that if you're going to be going after members of the media or people that promote public discussion through criticism with this law, it creates concerns about how honest of a dialogue we can have with people and with government, and I think that's a fundamental liberty we all have to have....The real problem isn't about whether or not we like what Charles is saying. That to me is not the issue here. It's whether or not he should be able to say it and how we deal with that as a society....I have a huge problem with this being a criminal issue.

Even assuming that a criminal investigation is appropriate, Graham says, the Fredericton police should not be handling it because they have a clear conflict of interest. On his blog Graham writes:

Leblanc has been an activist that calls out government on what he thinks is wrong. His comments are colorful and in some cases kooky, but they never incite harm....Leblanc has frustrated a lot of people, but I believe in his sincere goal: he wants tomorrow's government to be better than today's, which according to his plan, should be better than yesterday's. Prior to this whole fiasco, he referred to the police as being fascist and operating like the KGB. It sounds crazy coming from him on his bright picket signs, but now it's less funny....Whether it was intended or not, the City of Fredericton is sending a message that nuisances will be silenced, and that people should think twice about taking on the state....I find this type of behavior to be morally reprehensible and a giant step back for political discourse in Fredericton. We're all fools if we don’t think the next journalist to call out the police isn’t going to be looking over their shoulder.

At least as scary as the raid itself is the fact that Graham feels a need to explain at length (as you will see if you read the whole post) that 1) freedom of speech is important to the proper functioning of a liberal democracy, 2) people have a right to freedom of speech even if we don't like what they say, 3) empowering police to arrest people who criticize them might have a chilling effect on speech. It's a miracle that someone like the Hayek-quoting Graham can get elected in a political culture where these points remain controversial.

Emily Ekins on Why Newt Gingrich Is Winning GOP Votes

Why is disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich enjoying a second surge in popularity among Republican voters? As Reason Foundation Director of Polling Emily Ekins explains, Gingrich’s string of solid debate performances helped him convince undecided voters, some Romney and Santorum supporters, and evangelical Christians that he would be a formidable match against President Barack Obama.

View this article

RomneyCare Is a Mess. But It Might Still Represent the Best Case Scenario for ObamaCare.

Here’s what we know about RomneyCare, the 2006 Massachusetts health policy overhaul signed by Mitt Romney that served as the model for President Obama’s 2010 reform law: Insurance coverage in the Bay State were already high relative to the rest of the states, but since the law passed, coverage rates have gone up further, to somewhere between 94 and 98 percent, depending on how it’s measured. Following the coverage expansion, utilization of various health care services has gone up, and so, in turn, has the cost of health care and the price insurance. At this point, many, perhaps most, experts agree that the current cost trajectory for the state is unsustainable.

A new study on the Massachusetts overhaul by health policy researchers at Harvard and the University of Minnesota confirms all of this, and puts it into worrying perspective: This may be the best possible outcome for a RomneyCare/ObamaCare-style health policy overhaul.

The study, which was published in the journal Health Affairs, used evidence from annual phone surveys of Massachusetts residents. It found that following the passage of RomneyCare, utilization of many health services increased: Adults under the age of 65 were more likely to have made multiple doctor visits, seen a doctor for preventive care, or found time to see a dentist or health care specialist. Costs, accordingly, have gone up. “Massachusetts continues to struggle with escalating health care costs,” the authors write, “reflecting the decision to defer addressing costs in the 2006 legislation so as not to hold up the expansion in coverage.”

Given the similarities between RomneyCare and ObamaCare, it’s worth noting that while it’s true that the legislation did little to control costs, that wasn’t what was promised when it was passed. Then-Gov. Romney’s public pitch promised that the law would provide “affordable health insurance” and that “the costs of health care will be reduced.” But as the study reports, health care costs in the state continue to grow faster than inflation, and there is “reason to be concerned about employer-sponsored insurance premiums”—employer sponsored insurance being the state’s main vehicle for coverage—“because health care costs in the state continue to rise.”

Yet despite all this spending, the study reports only weak evidence to suggest that anyone is getting healthier:

The survey used for this study had a single question about health status: “In general, would you say that your health is excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor?” ... We found strong and sustained gains in the share of nonelderly adults in Massachusetts who reported their health as very good or excellent, with an increase from 59.7 percent in 2006 to 64.9 percent in 2010.

This doesn’t tell us much of anything. Increases in self-reported health are not the same as increases in objective health measures. As we know from an ongoing study of Medicaid in Oregon, the newly covered are likely to immediately report feeling healthier, even if they’ve received no medical benefit from the coverage at all. This suggests that much of the increase in self-reported health comes from the psychic benefits of coverage rather than from significant objective improvements in health.

And unlike the Oregon Medicaid study, there’s no evidence to suggest that the law is reducing the amount of people who are having trouble paying medical bills. The authors report that “in 2010 the share of adults who reported problems paying medical bills was not significantly different from 2006, at nearly one in five adults.” While there were minor fluctuations over the years, “there was no sustained improvement in problems paying medical bills.”

Meanwhile, the program is on the road to fiscal ruin. Failure to deal with the larger cost problem means that the system simply doesn’t work as is:

Going forward, the success of health reform under the Affordable Care Act in Massachusetts, and in other states, will depend on the ability of policy makers and stakeholders to come together to take on the considerable challenge of reining in health care costs. Massachusetts has the opportunity to lead the way here, as the state did in the push toward universal coverage. The pre-2010 status quo is not a sustainable option for Massachusetts or the nation. [bold added]

Here’s the kicker: RomneyCare was enacted in a favorable political environment with some measure of bipartisan support. Most polls still show that a majority of the state’s residents support the law. And yet year after year, the state has struggled to pass the sort of reforms that various health wonks and RomneyCare boosters think could save the system. And year after year, those efforts have failed. (This leaves aside the growing evidence that such reforms may not work at all.)

The contrast between the Bay State's amenable reform environment and the negative national reaction to the law is important. “Massachusetts’s 2006 reform effort was built on many years of incremental reforms, with bipartisan political support, strong commitment to reform across stakeholders, and a strong economic environment,” the study says. That should serve as a warning for those who an easy road ahead for President Obama’s federal version of the law. As the authors note, “Few—if any—states, including Massachusetts, are starting to implement the Affordable Care Act in such favorable conditions.”

In other words, RomneyCare isn’t sustainable without substantial reform. But even in the most favorable plausible political environment, those reforms have yet to prove viable. Despite its many failures, RomneyCare may represent the best case scenario for ObamaCare. And it still isn’t working.

3 Reasons Not To Get Worked Up Over Super PACs

Everybody and their brother – even Stephen Colbert - is freaking out about “super PACs,” which are an outgrowth of the Citzens United decision in 2010.

Traditional political action committees (PACs) are subject to federal limits on how much money donors can give in specific election cycles. Super PACS allow groups such as nonprofit corporations and unions to spend unlimited money on political speech as long as they don’t coordinate their activity with the official campaign of a given candidate.

But for all the bellyaching, here are three good reasons not to get worked up over super PACS.

1. Billionaires don’t need them to influence elections.

In the wake of an anti-Mitt Romney documentary from Winning Our Future, a group tied to billionaire Sheldon Adelstein, The New York Times fretted that the film – which has had little or no effect on Romney’s candidacay – “underscores how [Citizens United] has made it possible for a wealthy individual to influence an election.”

Actually, it’s always been legal for rich people to spend what they want as long as they make “independent expenditures” that aren’t coordinated with official campaigns. Billionares don’t need super Pacs to get their message out. But super PACS may just let the rest of us have our say.

2. Super PACS Go Negative – and That’s a Good Thing!

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose campaign finance legislation was rendered moot by Citizens United, complains that super Pacs not only flood elections with money but flood it with negative messages. McCain, who lost a run for presidency, admits that negative campaigning works, but doesn’t like the tone.

Yet study after study shows not only that negative advertising works with voters, but that negative ads actually contain more information than gauzy paeans to American and the virtues of the candidates who pay for such spots.

3. Super PACS Take Power Away From the Parties.

There’s no question that super PACs seek to benefit some candidates by taking aim at others. Adelstein, the moneybags behind the anti-Romney documentary, is known to be a Newt Gingrich fan.

But as long as super PACs don’t coordinate with candidates or official party apparatchiks, they take messaging out of the hands of party leaders and spread it around elsewhere in a way that has got to be more representative of more views of more voters.

Super PACs are the latest casus belli in the push for controlling specifically political speech in the name of making elections fairer. There’s no doubt that they are a loophole arising from the last round of campaign finance reform and the attempt to limit the amount of money politicians would have to raise to get their message out.

It’s time to recognize that the only way to stop creating new loopholes is by ending the always ineffective laws designed to lower the cost office-seekers need to spend to buy our votes.

About 3 minutes long. Written and narrated by Nick Gillespie. Produced by Meredith Bragg.

Go to Reason.tv for downloadable versions of our videos.

Reason on campaign finance.

For more 3 Reasons videos, go here.

Newt! In! Space!

Yesterday, GOP hopeful Newt Gingrich dropped some "grandiose" thoughts about space policy on an eager Cocoa, Florida, audience. Among his proposals:

By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent based on the moon. And it will be American.

We will have commercial near-Earth activities—that includes science, tourism, and manufacturing—that are designed to create a robust industry precisely on the model of the development of the airlines in the 1930s. Because it is in our interest to acquire so much experience in space that we clearly have a capacity that the Chinese and the Russians will never come anywhere close to matching.

By the end of 2020, we will have the first continuous propulsion system in space capable of getting to Mars in a remarkably short time, because I am sick of being told that we have to be timid and I am sick of being told that we have to be limited to technologies that are 50 years old. 

(See the video here.)

There's a reason Newt is talking space right now: Florida is the state to win, and Florida has a lot of NASA-dependent jobs that are currently in jeopardy due to the end of the shuttle program and shifting priorities in space. Which means his implicit message is one of big government spending on a big government program. By all accounts of the speech, Gingrich conveniently neglected to mention how his moon base and Mars mission were going to be funded.

But many of his explicit points were excellent—and consistent with the current push for more reliance on the private sector—especially the 10 percent of NASA's budget he proposed setting aside for prizes to encourage private spending and innovation. But will Newt break the NASA-national greatness connection that congressional Republicans hold so dear? Probably not.

Gingrich isn't a newcomer to this issue. He has been geeking out on space for a long time. He even founded the congressional Space Caucus. And in this month's print edition, Rand Simberg names Gingrich as a star that might align to produce decent space policy:

Can space policy be fixed? Not without the national will to do so. It would take either real visionaries making policy decisions or some sort of existential crisis (e.g., an asteroid with our number on it) to break out of the policy logjam. But the chances of the former are not as low as one might think. Had Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) not switched parties seven years ago while being allowed to keep his seniority, the 88-year-old defender of the status quo would not be the current chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Instead the chairmanship would have fallen to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who has defended the administration’s space policy. Rohrabacher will almost certainly take over when Hall retires or is term-limited out in five years. If Newt Gingrich by some miracle wins the GOP presidential nomination and the White House, he would be the most space-conversant commander in chief in American history. So the stars might yet align.

In the speech, Newt cops to the weirdest space thing he's ever done: proposing a Northwest Ordinance for the moon—if ol' Luna gets 13,000 residents it become eligible for statehood. But earlier this month, before Newt was much more than a presidential punchline, Mother Jones dug up an arguably weirder interest: Sex in space

in his 1984 book, Window of Opportunity (and again in his 1994 book, To Renew America), he suggested that private space flight would open up business opportunities for space tourism—specifically for honeymooning couples. As he put it: "Imagine weightlessness and its effects and you will understand some of the attraction."

Of course, Reason has been on that beat for a while. And one more time in case you haven't heard: Reason's Very Special Space issue is on newsstands now.

John Stossel on What Obama Should Have Said in His SOTU Address

If Obama really wanted, as he says, a society in which “everybody gets a fair shot,” he would work to shrink government so that the sphere of freedom could expand. Instead, he expands government and raises taxes on wealthier people, as though giving politicians more money were a way to make society better. Instead, the interventionist state rigs the game on behalf of special interests. What should Obama have said in his speech? Here’s what John Stossel wishes he’d said. 

View this article

What Should a Mayor Do About Police Abuse of Latinos? He 'Might Have Tacos'

On Tuesday the FBI arrested four East Haven, Connecticut, police officers, charging them with conspiracy, false arrest, excessive force, and obstruction of justice. The federal indictment describes a pattern of harassment, violence, and false arrests targeting Latino residents of the city, followed by efforts to cover up the crimes.

Among other things, the indictment alleges that one of the officers attacked a man outside La Bamba, a local restaurant, on November 22, 2008, knocking him to the ground and repeatedly kicking him in the back and legs while he was handcuffed, then arrested him under false pretenses to cover up the assault.

The indictment lists various other examples of assault, bogus arrests, illegal searches, harassment, and intimidation. It refers to Police Chief Leonard Gallo, who has not been charged, as "Co-Conspirator No. 1," alleging that he repeatedly tried to get a local priest who had complained about the police abuses transferred to a different parish.

After the officers were arrested, Gallo's patron, Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr., who reinstated him despite the Justice Department's investigation, said, "I'm still very surprised, and it’s a sickening feeling to have your officers arrested, but nevertheless they're innocent until proven guilty....I have confidence in all the men and women of our East Haven Police Department, from top to bottom." When a WPIX reporter asked Maturo what he might do to improve relations with the Latino community in light of the indictment, he replied, "I might have tacos when I go home. I'm not quite sure yet." He later apologized for the "insensitive and off-collar comment," saying, "I let the stress of the situation get the best of me."

Work for Reason.tv: Applications Due Tomorrow!

2012 Searle Film Fellowship at Reason.tv 

Application Deadline: January 27, 2012

Reason.tv - the online video journalism project of the Reason Foundation – is seeking talented individuals interested in advancing the message of Free Minds and Free Markets through video journalism and related multimedia productions.  Reason’s top priority is talent: established and aspiring producers, videographers, editors, researchers, and marketing professionals will all be considered.  

The Searle Film Fellowship at Reason.tv is a year-long, full time position that gives aspiring video journalists the opportunity to create substantive, original content that explores the ideas of free minds and free markets.  Initial responsibilities will depend on experience and could range from research assistance to video editing to producing independent pieces to developing marketing and distribution plans.  Fellows will also participate in training in production techniques appropriate to their skill level. Fellowships are full-time salaried positions with benefits; salary will depend on experience.    

Resourcefulness, a willingness to pick up miscellaneous tasks and reliability are a must. The ideal candidate will also have a strong interest in libertarian ideas, the field of documentary filmmaking or video journalism, familiarity with shooting and editing, and content distribution and marketing.

Applicants at any level of experience will be considered.  Individuals who are able to work from one of the Reason offices (in LA or DC) are preferred, but telecommuters will also be considered. To apply, please submit the following materials in a single pdf file via email to amy.pelletier@reason.org by January 27, 2012:

  • A cover letter with a summary of your experience and an explanation of your interest in Reason.tv,
  • A resume, including contact information for three references.
  • Three one-page segment sketches you would like to produce (or help produce) at Reason.tv.  The format, style, and level of detail are at your discretion.    
  • Samples of your work, if applicable to your level of experience. If available online, include links in the email; if you prefer to mail a reel, please send TWO copies to: Reason Foundation, Attn: Amy Pelletier, 3415 S Sepulveda Blvd, Suite 400, Los Angeles, CA 90034. 

Please direct questions about the fellowship and application process to Amy Pelletier at amy.pelletier@reason.org

Ron Paul Fights in Maine, Not Florida

The Christian Science Monitor reporting on the Ron Paul campaign's caucuses-over-primaries strategy, which has him campaiging in Maine while most campaign eyes are on Florida:

Why Maine? It’s no secret that Paul is giving Florida a pass, because ad time there is expensive and the state’s electorate skews older, which is not Paul’s best demographic. The Texas libertarian is focusing on caucus states such as Maine and Nevada, where his fervent supporters can more easily out-organize the competition.

But here’s something that has been little noticed in the press: Maine’s caucuses actually begin this weekend. So Paul may be pulling something of an end run about his rivals.

Yes, we know, if you look at the Maine Republican Party’s website, it lists Feb. 11 as the date officials will announce the results of a caucus presidential straw poll.

But if you scroll through the details, you’ll see that the party has established a window of Feb. 4-11 for Maine Republicans to caucus and vote for a presidential nominee and delegates to the state convention. And if you really squint and look at the fine print, you’ll note that the party faithful in some towns have ignored this guidance, and are meeting either before or after the February window.

Lincoln, Lowell, Burlington, Chester, Enfield, Winn, and Howland are holding their joint caucus on Saturday, for example. Millinocket’s is on Sunday (it’s at the Snowmobile Club). Castine’s is not until March 3.

We’re not the only commentator to have noticed this. Josh Putnam, a political scientist at Davidson College who specializes in the election process, discussed this development on his Frontloading HQ blog on Wednesday.

Maine’s situation “is unique, but it isn’t unprecedented,” wrote Mr. Putnam. Caucus states sometimes spread out their process down at the precinct or county level.

“Now, which candidate will make a last minute trip up to Penobscot County before Saturday?” Putnam asked, rhetorically.

We can answer that, can’t we? It’s Paul.

Of course, the stakes are higher in Florida, a winner-take-all primary with a prize of 50 delegates, than Maine, where caucusgoers will select 24 delegates statewide and vote in a nonbinding presidential straw poll. 

Reminder about the results when they are announced in Maine: it's not about that nonbinding straw poll, it's about whose supporters end up delegates.

In other Paul world news:

*The security footage of Rand Paul's brouhaha with the TSA released.

*My 23-year plan pays off: the newspaper where I was opinions page editor in 1989, the Independent Florida Alligatorendorses Ron Paul.

*You can still pre-order my forthcoming book Ron Paul's Revolution.

Matt Welch Discusses the Buffett Rule and His Favorite Beatles Songs on Varney & Co.

Reason magazine Editor in Chief, Matt Welch appeared on Varney & Co. to discuss Warren Buffett's confusion between income tax and capital gains tax and why debt is not a revenue problem but a spending problem. Welch also reveals his favorite Beatles songs. Air date: January 26, 2012.

Approximately 2.34 minutes.

Go to Reason.tv for HD, iPod and audio versions of this video and subscribe to Reason.tv's Youtube channel to receive automatic notification when new material goes live.

Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on Obama's Insourcing Follies

Writing in The Daily this morning, Reson Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia notes that President Obama's pitch to bring lost manufacturing jobs back "home" in his State of the Union address is wrong both on patriotic and economic grounds. “Tonight, my message to business leaders is simple: Ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back to your country, and your country will do everything we can to help you succeed,” he thundered.

But there is nothing patriotic, she notes, in selling out the interests of 300 million American consumers by forcing them to buy more expensive "Made in America" goods in order to protect the jobs of a few American workers.

Besides, American manufacturing jobs are disappearing not because of China's low-cost labor but automation.

She notes:

The fact of the matter is that even though manufacturing employment has declined — America has lost roughly 6 million manufacturing jobs since the sector’s peak in the 1970s — manufacturing output has been going up. Indeed, total output today is 2½ times its 1972 level in adjusted dollars. In 2010, America produced $1.8 trillion in goods (in 2005 dollars) — about $100 billion more than China, but with only about a tenth as many workers, thanks to automation and technological advances that have vastly increased American productivity. Goods that took 1,000 American workers to produce in 1950 now take 177.

The choice for American companies, then, is not between American workers and Chinese workers, but between American machines and Chinese workers.

Read the whole thing here.

Afghanistan: Things Getting Better, If By "Better" You Mean More IEDs Going Off and Hurting People

USA Today reports from America's favorite quagmire:

The number of improvised explosive devices that were cleared or detonated rose to 16,554 from 15,225, an increase of 9%, according to data obtained by USA TODAY. In 2009, total IED "events," as they are known, came to 9,304.

Insurgent reliance on IEDs as their No. 1 weapon meant a rise in concussions and severe wounds to U.S.servicemembers who have been operating on foot to root out Taliban fighters in remote areas. Civilians were increasingly becoming the main victims.

The number of Afghans killed or wounded by IEDs jumped 10% in 2011, compared with 2010, according to figures released by the military command in Kabul. The bombs account for 60% of all civilian casualties, which totaled more than 4,000 killed or wounded in 2011. Insurgents caused more than 85% of those casualties.

As with so many failed government programs, the internal logic of the problem seems to demand expanding the war. Just as "you can't do just one thing," sometimes it's tricky to fight a war on just one country.

The leaky border with Pakistan remains a problem, according to the Pentagon's Joint IED Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, the Pentagon's lead agency for combating makeshift bombs.

Pakistan is the source for 80% of the fertilizer-based homemade bombs in Afghanistan, JIEDDO says. Those bombs cause 90% of U.S. casualties. Jones said IEDs will continue to plague the coalition and civilians. "This is likely due to the ability of insurgents to import IED materials, including triggering devices and ammonium nitrate, from Pakistan," he said.

Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., has pushed Pakistani officials to stem the flow of bombmaking materials...

Meanwhile, Reuters reports on the Afghanistanization of the hated NATO tactic of the "night raid":

The raids enrage entire communities and fuel anti-American sentiment and are politically calamitous for Karzai and his government. Joint Afghan-U.S. raids began in 2009 to try to dampen public opposition.

But Karzai last year told a meeting of leaders from across the country that unless night raids by NATO forces ended, he would not conclude a strategic agreement covering the presence of U.S. soldiers in the country beyond 2014.

In a compromise, Afghan defense officials decided in late December to form special forces -- benignly named the Afghan Partnering Unit (APU) -- to take over raids on private homes as soon as possible, with members selected from commando units.

My past writings on the Afghanistan war.

Robert Zubrin on NASA’s Irrational Approach to Risk

Starting with near zero space capability in 1961, NASA put men on the moon in eight years. Yet despite vastly superior technology and hundreds of billions of dollars in subsequent spending, the agency has been unable to send anyone else farther than low Earth orbit ever since. Why? Because we insist that our astronauts be as safe as possible. Robert Zurin agrees that keeping astronauts safe merits significant expenditure. But how much?

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Ann Coulter, Nick Gillespie Debating Whether Cons and Libertarians Can Get Along, Feb. 16

Screw the Republican candidate debates (yes, there's another one tonight, meaning that the series is about to challenge The Fantastiks for the longest-running, most boring stage show of all time).

On Thursday, February 16, I will debate Ann Coulter on the question: Can fiscal & social conservatives pull together in 2012?

It's happening at the Independence Institute's 27th Annual Founders' Night Dinner, in Glendale, Colorado.

Here's the full info breakdown:

Join us for the 27th Annual Founders’ Night Dinner

Thursday, February 16, 2012

International Ballroom, Infinity Park

Glendale, Colorado

Honoring Jake Jabs, President & CEO of American Furniture Warehouse

with special guests

Ann Coulter and Nick Gillespie

6:00 – 7:00 PM Patron Reception

6:45 PM Doors open for dinner

Tickets:

$150 – Dinner

$250 – Patron (includes entrance to the Patron Reception)

$2,000 – Bronze Table for 8 Guests (includes entrance to the Patron Reception for all 8 guests)

$3,000 – Silver Table for 10 Guests (includes entrance to the Patron Reception for all 10 guests)

$5,000 – Gold Table for 10 Guests (includes entrance to the Patron Reception for all 10 guests)

$10,000 – Platinum Table for 10 Guests (includes entrance to the Patron Reception for all 10 guests)

For more info on the Independence Institute, please go here.

In 2010, I was honored to speak at the Independence Insitute's annual Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms bash (video and writeup here). It's a great group of people when it comes to limiting the size and scope of government and they sure know how to throw a party.

I've mixed it up with Ann Coulter as well, too. Here's a Red Eye show from last April in which the Demonic author and I, along with Greg Gutfeld, Bill Schulz, TV's Andy Levy, and Cougar Town scribe Michael McDonald yakked for an hour:

A.M. Links: Gingrich Allegedly Did Not Love Reagan Enough, Wall Street Owes Taxpayers $132 Billion, K Street Sticks Up for Egypt's Awful Regime

  • Reagan-loving Newt Gingrich allegedly insulted the former president back in the day
  • Wall Street still owes taxpayers $132 billion from TARP.
  • At the moment, Wall Street is (voluntarily) giving most of its money to Obama
  • Washington lobbyists defend Egypt's military crackdown
  • AT&T reels from failed T-Mobile merger
  • Ahmadinejad is ready for nuke talks

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New at Reason.tv: "Supreme Court Decisions to Watch"

Steve Chapman on Obama's Justices vs. Obama

Barack Obama, the law professor who railed against the Bush administration's disdain for privacy, has been to civil liberties what the Hindenburg was to air travel: an unexpected debacle. Time after time, he has chosen to uphold government power at the expense of individual protections. Miracuously, writes Steve Chapman, he has appointed to the Supreme Court people who don't entirely share his taste for aggressive statism.

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Tim Cavanaugh on How to Undo the Damage Caused By Redevelopment

"California’s redevelopment agencies," writes Reason.com Managing Editor Tim Cavanaugh, "have produced something beside corruption, poverty and blight: The RDAs have also run up nearly $30 billion in debt that must be serviced by Golden State taxpayers." Although that debt, and the other damage caused by these agencies, isn't going away, there's a way to help communities and partially compensate the taxpayers: Sell these properties off to the public in small lots. 

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George Washington Would Beat Out Romney as Richest President; John Kerry Would Have, Too

Amid the recent hullabaloo over Romney finally releasing his tax returns—apparently we are less concerned with the privacy of our political candidates—Americans have learned the extent to Romney’s great wealth, estimated between $190-$250 million dollars. However, Aaron Blake at the Washington Post finds that controlling for inflation, in fact George Washington would be the nation’s richest president. John F. Kennedy would have beaten that had he inherited his father’s nearly a billion dollar fortune, and John Kerry would have even beaten that had he been elected president.

In today’s dollars, Washington’s net worth would amount to more than $500 million. Thomas Jefferson, as estimated by 24/7 Wall Street , is believed to have been worth $212 million.

Among presidential candidates and primary contenders, John Kerry likely beats out Mitt Romney with a net worth, as disclosed by his 2004 personal financial disclosure report, at $237-312 million; however, including his wife Theresa Heinz Kerry, their combined net worth is as much as $1 billion. Also notably, 1990s third-party candidate Ross Perot has an estimated net worth of $3.58 billion, and former Republican primary contender Steve Forbes is estimated at $450 million, according to a Wealth X study.

Cathy Young on Copyright Enforcement and Online Piracy

It is commonly claimed that digital piracy causes huge revenue losses. But as Contributing Editor Cathy Young points out, the notion that every illegal download represents a lost sale is frankly absurd. Do owners of intellectual property have a right to collect a profit from every consumer? Consistently applied, such a position should lead to a ban on libraries and make it illegal to lend a book or DVD to a friend—or even to resell used books, CDs, and DVDs. Media corporations and other owners would be far better helped by being savvy about consumers' wants and needs than by draconian and ultimately futile attempts to police the Web.

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