Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 February 15-31

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The 12 Biggest Customer Service Failures of the Year

At 247WallStreet.com, Charles B. Stockdale tallies up the dozen retailers that suffered the biggest declines in customer service rankings in 2011. 

It’s a pretty interesting list, including some companies that are actually customer service winners with plenty of room to spare: Amazon’s rating, which Stockdale derives from the American Customer Satisfaction Index, went down 1.1 percent, but the online bookseller started by hero of freedom Jeff Bezos still has the highest score among all e-commerce and retail trade companies.

There are also a few expected basement dwellers (such as CVS, which in my experience offers a shopping experience even less pleasant than Rite-Aid’s); both Wals (-green and –Mart); one company whose ranking may only be dropping because more people are shopping there and absorbing the low-rent ambience (Dollar General, which I’d doubt anybody ever patronized for the friendly service and about which Stockdale concedes "[C]ustomer satisfaction concerns have done little to slow sales"); most of an entire sector (Office Depot and Staples, which together make up the majority of the U.S. office supplies market, clocking in at number 8 and number 7 respectively);  and at Number One by a wide distance, our era’s greatest cautionary tale of customer service gone wrong: 

12. Amazon.com
11. Charles Schwab
10. Winn-Dixie
9. CVS Caremark
8. Office Depot
7. Staples
6. Dollar General
5. Expedia
4. Walgreen
3. Barnes & Noble
2. Walmart
1. Netflix

Full story, with comments. Any such list that doesn’t include Time Warner Cable and every broadband/telecom company in the solar system should be viewed with suspicion. But again, this is just a list of 2011’s biggest decliners, not the worst of the worst. 

Who else sucks? Should Reason’s server squirrels be on the list? Bellyache in the comments. (And if you like our service, tell a friend!)

Naloxone Reverses Drug Overdoses, Saves 10,000 Lives

Since 1996, naloxone has reversed 10,171 drug overdoses, saving thousands of lives, according to a new study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Naloxone hydrochloride (also known as Narcan) stops an overdose on opiates and helps restore regular breathing and consciousness. Once injected, naloxone can reverse an overdose as quickly as under a minute. Since naloxone is an opiate antagonist, it's not effective to stop an overdose on cocaine, alcohol, or benzodiazepines.

First approved by the FDA in the 1970s, naloxone was used only in emergency rooms and ambulances. But thanks to community-based programs, the drug has seen wider distribution in 15 states and Washington, D.C. According to the CDC, there is a direct correlation between harm reduction policies and saving lives:

Nineteen (76.0%) of the 25 states with 2008 drug overdose death rates higher than the median and nine (69.2%) of the 13 states in the highest quartile did not have a community-based opioid overdose prevention program that distributed naloxone.

Nationwide, drug overdose deaths have tripled since 1990. In 2008, there were over 36,000 drug overdose deaths. This actually topped car crashes as the leading cause of accidental deaths. That same year, more than 20,000 people died from a prescription painkiller overdose. Nevertheless, Eliza Wheeler, one of the authors of the report and program manager at the Harm Reduction Coalition (HRC), was ultimately optimistic:

Thousands of fatal overdoses occur every year, but this report shows that we can reduce overdose deaths by giving members of the community the right information, training, and tools.

Indeed, naloxone has enormous potential to save even more lives: Almost three-quarters of the drug overdoses in 2008 were from opiates. Because of this, Sharon Stancliff, the medical director of the HRC, wants naloxone to be sold over-the-counter. Time magazine explains the reasoning:

The drug is safe and nonaddictive and it cannot be misused (indeed, it blocks the action of opioids, so it produces the opposite of a high), and so the more places it is available, the more likely that it will be within reach when needed. The possibility of a wider market would also be likely to spur more manufacturing of the drug.

To further stop overdoses, more states could pass "Good Samaritan" laws. This medical amnesty legally protects those who call 911 and report a drug overdose. So far, only New York, New Mexico, Connecticut, Illinois, and Washington state have enacted Good Samaritan laws.

Reason on drug policy. For more on harm reduction, check out the Drug Policy Alliance and the Harm Reduction Coalition.

Homeschooling is Not Progressive-Friendly Because it Allows An Awful Lot of Choice

Last week at Slate, Dana Goldstein offered her views on how homeschooling is in opposition to good, progressive values. The headline and sub were not subtle: "Liberals, Don’t Homeschool Your Kids: Why teaching children at home violates progressive values."

Goldstein, well, she's peeved about folks like writer Astra Taylor who has a print essay in N+ about her experiences with unschooling under super-hippie parents, as well as Taylor's explorations of off-beat education options such as Albany's Free school.

But, writes Taylor's fellow-lefty, Goldstein, pointing out the rigidity and excessive rules that often come with public schooling is a "caricature." 

This overheated hostility toward public schools runs throughout the new literature on liberal homeschooling, and reveals what is so fundamentally illiberal about the trend: It is rooted in distrust of the public sphere, in class privilege, and in the dated presumption that children hail from two-parent families, in which at least one parent can afford (and wants) to take significant time away from paid work in order to manage a process—education—that most parents entrust to the community at-large....

Homeschooling is so unevenly regulated from state to state that it is impossible to know exactly how many homeschoolers there are. Estimates range from about 1 million to 2 million children, and the number is growing. It is unclear how many homeschooling families are secular, but the political scientist Rob Reich has written that there is little doubt the homeschooling population has diversified in recent years.* Yet whether liberal or conservative, “[o]ne article of faith unites all homeschoolers: that homeschooling should be unregulated,” Reich writes. “Homeschoolers of all stripes believe that they alone should decide how their children are educated.”

Basically, if you do have the privilege or the luck or the hard-work or whatever it is to be able to homeschool, you should feel very guilty about that. What's frustrating even from a moderate standpoint is that Goldstein is not even critiquing so-called radicals who might want to abolish the public school all-together. Goldstein disapproves of homeschooling simply as an option. In the progressive world, we all go down together.

And though Goldstein mentions that nobody wants to sacrifice their child on the altar of fixing a bad school, she basically says that's what real progressives must do. No exceptions for physical or mental disability or behavior problems or learning problems or horrible schools or, God forbid, religious or political reasons needed. Simply, if you feel yourself drawn to the left side of the aisle and drawn to homeschooling, ask yourself, as Goldstein does "Could such a go-it-alone ideology ever be truly progressive—by which I mean, does homeschooling serve the interests not just of those who are doing it, but of society as a whole?" She says no. (Goldstein, we can assume, makes serious decisions about herself and her family only after considering the effect it will have on society as whole.)

Taylor, by the way, wrote an online response to Goldstein which demonstrates that she is no education anarchist. She approves of public schools and even condemns supposed "austerity." She also, however, make this libertarian-lite argument:

This is why I think unschooling poses a fundamental challenge worth considering—even if it is utopian and uncompromising and undesirable on a mass scale. Today, conventional wisdom has it that the solution is more, never less. We need more teachers, more textbooks, more discipline, more preparation, more class time, more tests, more metrics, more accountability, more excellence and success (but again, according to what standard?). Since the 1960s the school day and academic year have both lengthened considerably. The amount of homework assigned to a first grader has more than doubled since 1981, a surge that has even caused the New York Times to sound the alarm. Too many schools have become warehouses holding hordes of young people who are monitored by security guards and police, subjected to an ever-increasing number of tests and pre-fab programs of study, and offered diminishing educational opportunities in the fine and liberal arts....

What intrigues me about the history of radical pedagogy and the unschooling tradition is that its proponents were and are not afraid to challenge the conventional wisdom, to dream of different ways of doing things, to take seriously words like “freedom,” “autonomy,” and “choice”—inspiring and important ideals that have been all but ceded to the political right in recent decades.  Unschooling, I’ll readily admit, is not the answer to our nation’s educational woes. But taking a closer look at the radical margins may help us ask better questions about what we really want from our educational system and how to go about getting it.

Atlantic's always-dependable Conor Friedersdorf offers his own refutation of Goldstein today. Friedersdorf is also less-than-radical (though he does break out a Hayek quote!) and is entirely sensible. Friedersdorf writes that with all the questions of which school system is best, "I'd bet on the diversified system, the one where there are always competitors with different models to measure public schools against." With all of the problems in the world, it's just irritating that Goldstein would bother to disapprove of homeschooling as simply one more option of many. We could debate many more radical education solutions, but how can you fight against people so completely disinterested in even a modicum of choice?

Reason on homeschoolin' and regular educatin'!

FDA to Investigate Breathable Caffeine Shots

At the urging of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will review the safety of Aero Shots, a new breathable caffeine product. The product allows users to ingest about 100mg of caffeine—roughly the amount of caffeine in an average large cup of coffee—in a powdered "shot" from a lipstick-shaped container. 

“FDA will review information brought to the agency’s attention about this product” in order to see "whether regulatory action is warranted," the agency reportedly said in a statement released to the press. It's not clear what actual information, if any, was brought to the FDA's attention, unless Sen. Schumer's latest round of ban-happy grandstanding counts. Schumer has focused his attention on worries that club-goers might rely on the boost provided by the caffeine shots to party longer into the night, which sounds like fun for those who enjoy clubbing, but not a matter that should concern the FDA. 

Schumer doesn't really have any evidence that the product is harmful, but that is exactly what seems to concern him. He warns that the product's "effects have never been examined by independent regulators to determine their impact on the human body and in combination with alcohol, especially for adolescents.” Of course, adolescents are already free to consume caffeine in soft drinks and coffee, often in far larger doses than come from an Aero Shot. Those who frequent Starbucks, for example, have the opportunity to purchase single cups of coffee with an average of 330mg of caffeine, more than three times the amount in one of the shots. 

An ABC News report on the FDA decision quotes University of Florida professor Dr. Bruce Goldberger expressing similar concerns about youth access and the possibility that "you could mix it with alcohol in a social setting." Given the recent hysteria over the caffienated alocoholic beverage Four Loko, this is sadly not surprising. But the ongoing freakout over the possibility that someone might mix caffeine and alcohol will surely vex America's many whiskey-and-Coke drinkers. 

No matter what, it's telling that the primary worry about breathable caffeine does not seem to be that the product itself might be harmful but the fear that someone might somehow hurt themselves by mixing it with an entirely separate product. 

Here's Reason.tv on why the feds, encouraged by legislators like Sen. Schumer, banned Four Loko:

White House Blames GOP for Keystone Pipeline's Demise, Newt Gingrich Still Running For President, Supreme Court Takes up Affirmative Action Case: P.M. Links

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Ronald Bailey on America's Ethnic Makeup 2050

Whites will become a minority of the American population by 2050, according to Census Bureau projections. But Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey argues that the turning point has already happened. He tallies up all the descendants from immigrant groups that were once not considered "white" and adds them to the current federally recognized ethnicities. According to the definitions applied by nativists a century ago, 60 percent of the current population is not "white." And that's a good thing. 

View this article

Tolls, Not Taxes: How Americans Want to Fix Traffic Jams

"Communist China has way more cases where the private sector is involved in building roads than the United States does," says Reason Foundation transportation economist Adrian Moore.

Moore sat down with Reason to discuss transportation policy in general and the results of the January Reason-Rupe poll in specific. The Reason-Rupe poll is a quarterly national survey of Americans and the latest iteration focused on transportation issues.

Among the main results:

-Nearly 50 percent of respondents say that for them congestion has worsened over the last five years, and over 50 percent think it will get even worse in the next five years.

-Only 12 percent use transit with any regularity and the number who telecommute is about the same
as those who carpool.

-65 percent think the government generally spends transportation funding ineffectively.

-77 percent oppose raising the federal gas tax.

-58 percent think new lanes or new highways should be funded with tolls rather than tax increases, and 59 percent say they would pay a toll if it would save them a significant amount of time.

The full results, along with an explanation of methodology and analysis by poll director Emily Ekins, is online here.

About 10 minute; filmed by Zach Weissmueller and Sharif Matar, and edited by Matar.

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

Why Solyndra Hasn't Killed Government's Appetite for Green Pork: Cavanaugh on Russia Today

The other day I appeared on Russia Today to talk about the green lobby and the unwinding of the environmental consensus with Headline News host Kristine Frazao

Topics we got to in the eight-minute segment: 

Why isn't the Keystone pipeline in Pennsylvania? 

Is the Green Lobby a special interest

How many more Solyndras are out there? 

Does nuclear power really need subsidies to survive? 

How far has the Energy Department (formerly Atomic Energy Commission; please excuse my flubbing of the old name on camera) strayed from its mission when Secretary Steven Chu's energy plan [pdf] spends more than half the budget on Solyndra-style loan guarantees, subsidies for industries that don't need help, and a "science" slush fund that will provide more money for college professors to take sabbaticals? Could somebody with more wit than Chu do a better job of defending the energy package?

How many millisieverts of political radiation are being emitted by the failure of the Obama Administration's green energy programs? 

Topics we did not get to in the eight-minute segment: 

Why did President Obama ignore the greatest genius on earth when His Fullness expressed concerns about the still-aborning the Solyndra debacle? Were OMB staffers' jokes about Solydra funny ha-ha or funny strange? If Jared Bernstein avoids talking about a problem does it make a sound? 

Who's smearin' who in this East Anglian Heartlandian trash-talkin' hill o' beans world? (Actually we seem to have gotten an answer to that one.) 

From bringing unemployment back up to 9 percent to explaining why Solyndra was a good investment: Is there anything Tim Geithner can't do? 

Was Club For Growth justified in criticizing Rep. Fred Upton (R-Michigan) even though Upton has a smoking hot niece? Does smoking hotness contribute to carbon emissions? 

Topics that have come up in the few days since the eight-minute segment: 

If 2.7 million imaginary workers lost 2.7 million imaginary green jobs, would the proper environmental response be to give them an imaginary 99 weeks of unemployment? 

Why do environmentalists hate kit foxes

Is Chu going down over new documents that indicate he intervened to make sure industrial real estate giganticorp Prologis got a $1.4 billion loan guarantee for installing Solyndra's fragile, overpriced, inefficient solar panels on its own roofs? 

View the whole segment above or go to YouTube

Iran: Is the Media Ready to Supply the War?

Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi thinks he's seeing deja vu all over again in the way the Iranian threat is being spun. Some details:

As a journalist, there’s a buzz you can detect once the normal restraints in your business have been loosened, a smell of fresh chum in the waters, urging us down the road to war. Many years removed from the Iraq disaster, that smell is back, this time with Iran.

You can just feel it: many of the same newspapers and TV stations we saw leading the charge in the Bush years have gone back to the attic and are dusting off their war pom-poms....

The news “hook” in most all of these stories is that intelligence reports reveal Iran is “willing” to attack us or go to war – but then there’s usually an asterisk next to the headline, and when you follow the asterisk, it reads something like, “In the event that we attack Iran first.”

An NBC report [Salon's Glenn] Greenwald also wrote about put it this way: “Within just the past few days, Iranian leaders have threatened that if attacked, they would launch those missiles at U.S. targets.”

There’s a weird set of internalized assumptions that media members bring to stories like this Iran business. In fact there’s an elaborate belief system we press people adhere to, about how a foreign country may behave toward the U.S., and how it may not behave....

We have a....gentleman’s code, a “Westernized industrial power” code if you will, that operates the same way. In other words, our newspapers and TV stations may blather on a thousand times a day about attacking Iran and bombing its people, but if even one Iranian talks about fighting back, he is being “aggressive” and “threatening”; we can impose sanctions on anyone, but if the sanctioned country embargoes oil shipments to Europe in response, it’s being “belligerent,” and so on....

now the public openly embraces circular thinking like, “Any country that squawks when we threaten to bomb it is a threat that needs to be wiped out.” Maybe I’m mistaken, but I have to believe that there was a time when ideas like that sounded weird to the American ear. Now they seem to make sense to almost everyone here at home, and that to me is just as a scary as Ahmadinejad.

A specific New York Times story from over the weekend seems to feed into a "We gotta do something about Iran" narrative, pointing out that while many mumble that, well, Israel can take care of Iran if it's really a mortal threat to them (which not all Israeli decisionmakers believe is true, and one former Mossad chief thinks such an attack on Iran would be a terrible idea) by arguing that Israel just doesn't have what it takes to take them out:

 Should Israel decide to launch a strike on Iran, its pilots would have to fly more than 1,000 miles across unfriendly airspace, refuel in the air en route, fight off Iran’s air defenses, attack multiple underground sites simultaneously — and use at least 100 planes.

That is the assessment of American defense officials and military analysts close to the Pentagon, who say that an Israeli attack meant to set back Iran’s nuclear program would be a huge and highly complex operation. They describe it as far different from Israel’s “surgical” strikes on a nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007 and Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981.

“All the pundits who talk about ‘Oh, yeah, bomb Iran,’ it ain’t going to be that easy,” said Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, who retired last year as the Air Force’s top intelligence official and who planned the American air campaigns in 2001 in Afghanistan and in the 1991 Gulf War.

Speculation that Israel might attack Iran has intensified in recent months as tensions between the countries have escalated....

The possible outlines of an Israeli attack have become a source of debate in Washington, where some analysts question whether Israel even has the military capacity to carry it off. One fear is that the United States would be sucked into finishing the job — a task that even with America’s far larger arsenal of aircraft and munitions could still take many weeks, defense analysts said. Another fear is of Iranian retaliation.

“I don’t think you’ll find anyone who’ll say, ‘Here’s how it’s going to be done — handful of planes, over an evening, in and out,’ ” said Andrew R. Hoehn, a former Pentagon official who is now director of the Rand Corporation’s Project Air Force, which does extensive research for the United States Air Force.

Michael V. Hayden, who was the director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2006 to 2009, said flatly last month that airstrikes capable of seriously setting back Iran’s nuclear program were “beyond the capacity” of Israel, in part because of the distance that attack aircraft would have to travel and the scale of the task.

Still, a top defense official cautioned in an interview last week that “we don’t have perfect visibility” into Israel’s arsenal, let alone its military calculations....

The rest of the story has more on the technical and logisitical difficulties, but to me the political point of this story is more important than those details: that various U.S. military-industrial complex pundits wanted the New York Times to let us know an Iranian war likely can't be just an Israeli thing.

Earlier this month, a Bipartisan Policy Center report by Charles S. Robb, the former Democratic senator from Virginia, and Charles F. Wald, a retired Air Force general, recommended that the Obama administration sell Israel 200 enhanced GBU-31 “bunker busters” as well as three advanced refueling planes.

The two said that they were not advocating an Israeli attack, but that the munitions and aircraft were needed to improve Israel’s credibility as it threatens a strike.

Should the United States get involved — or decide to strike on its own — military analysts said that the Pentagon had the ability to launch big strikes with bombers, stealth aircraft and cruise missiles, followed up by drones that could carry out damage assessments to help direct further strikes. Unlike Israel, the United States has plenty of refueling capability. Bombers could fly from Al Udeid air base in Qatar, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean or bases in Britain and the United States.

Nonetheless, defense officials say it would still be tough to penetrate Iran’s deepest facilities with existing American bombs and so are enhancing an existing 30,000-pound “Massive Ordnance Penetrator” that was specifically designed for Iran and North Korea.

“There’s only one superpower in the world that can carry this off,” General Deptula said. “Israel’s great on a selective strike here and there.”

Steve Chapman questioned the threat of Iran here at Reason earlier this month.

400 Veterans March for Ron Paul, Peace, and to Memorialize Lost Comrades

[Update: Edited the quote regarding veterans who have committed suicide.]

On February 20, libertarian activist and Iraq War veteran Adam Kokesh, and Nathan Cox, co-founder with Kokesh of Veterans for Ron Paul, hosted a rally and march for veterans and active duty service members who support the Texas Congressman for the 2012 Republican nomination. The "Ron Paul Is the Choice of the Troops" rally began at noon in the Sylvan Theater by the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.. Troops marched on the White House in a 48 x 8 formation, totaling 384, and they were joined by roughly a hundred supporters and observers.

Many people at the event were new to politics, yet they had traveled from out of state to participate in the rally. I spent some time with John, a teacher from Long Island, who told me that he came to support Ron Paul because of the financial meltdown of 2008. "I worked for Morgan Stanley in 2007. That's how I saw it coming. All that reckless betting." He said that in the aftermath of September 11, he supported the Iraq War. "I was eighteen. My dad is a fireman. But I got duped in the Iraq War. Most of us did. The same thing is happening now with Iran." He cited the rational self interest of Iranian authorities as reason to discount them as a threat to the United States, a much more powerful entity capable of causing disproportionate damage in response to any provocation. "That's what I try to teach my students. I say, they're crazy, but they're not stupid. You don't get to be a dictator by being stupid." John said he won't vote for any candidate who supports war at this point. "Look, I don't want to fight, so why am I going to vote for someone who's going to make someone else go and fight?"

I also spoke to Kristin from Toms River, New Jersey, who was at the rally "to support the troops and Ron Paul" with her husband and four of their children. She told me she has two nephews in the military, one in the Marines and one in the Air Force. When asked if she and her husband had been libertarian before hearing about Ron Paul's political platform, she smiled and said, "We are now." Like John, the teacher from Long Island, Kristin and her husband had never donated to a campaign or cared about politics before, "but now, every time there's a money bomb, we're right there."

To Kristin, the presidential candidate's ethos of sound money, free enterprise, and a peaceful foreign policy trumps her prior disinterest in elections. "Ron Paul's message is so clear. It's back to the basics. It's the same as it was twenty or thirty years ago, and it's as true as it was when Thomas Jefferson said it before him. It stands the test of time."

It's clear that Paul's messaging galvanizes the support of the idealistic. I was able to speak to a young man who asked not to have his name published after the controversy over the participation of active duty service members in the march. He first read the United States Constitution in French in his home country of Senegal when he was a teen. This is why, he said, he chose the United States as his new home when President Abdoulaye Wade came to power in 2000. "I love freedom," he said. He came here to learn about a people who support "truth, being free, and not telling lies," but that he has come to see a less virtuous side after twelve years. "I really believed in that. I miss that. I call it a mirage."

Ron Paul has restored the service member's belief in his own ideals. "He was the first person I heard talking about the Constitution, about the real America. I'm taking time to look at it even more now because of Ron Paul...." It was worth it, he said, to fly up for the day from his base in the South, because "if we don't figure this out, someone else will come in and show us. That's how empires are. They go up and then they go down."

The Troops for Ron Paul followed their rally with a march on the White House at around 2:30 PM. When they got there, their chant of "Ron Paul Revolution" overpowered other, smaller protests taking place, including this one by Iranian U.S.-designated terrorist group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK):

The troops did an about-face in front of the White House and held a salute for over half an hour; one second of salute for every soldier who has died in the global war on terror. Different durations of the salute were dedicated to different causes within the issue of needless loss of life, including "every soldier who has committed suicide while Barack Obama was their commander in chief" and a period of prayer for the dead. The crowd of over five hundred people stayed silent; there was only the wind, the click of cameras and the wail of a crying baby somewhere behind the formation.

Read about Ron Paul's ideas, public demonstrations, and how not to support the troops.

Santorum 2008: "Satan has his sights on the United States of America"

From Drudge comes this blast from Rick Santorum's past. In 2008, the current GOP presidential frontrunner (kinda/sorta) dropped into Ave Maria University in Florida and told a group of folks:

"Satan has his sights on the United States of America!...Satan is attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity, and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition."

More here.

Hat Tip: Washington Times 24/7

This may well round out the Santorum trifecta. Previously, the former senator had railed against non-marital sex and the dangers of online gambling

Fact-Checking the Fact Checkers: Mitt Romney, President Obama, and the Stimulus

The Washington Post’s Fact Checker column takes Mitt Romney to task for claiming that “three years ago, a newly elected President Obama told America that if Congress approved his plan to borrow nearly a trillion dollars, he would hold unemployment below 8 percent.” After all, it wasn’t President Obama who said this, but his economic advisers, and they didn’t even know that we actually needed roughly a zillion times more stimulus! Here’s the Post

Far from being anything that Obama said, the Romney campaign acknowledges that this 8 percent figure comes from a staff-written projection issued Jan. 9, 2009 — before Obama had taken the oath of office.

…Romer, after she left the White House in 2010, said that the estimate of the impact of the stimulus bill was accurate but that the 8 percent “prediction was so far off” because economic conditions were so much worse.

“We, like virtually every other forecaster, failed to anticipate just how violent the recession would be in the absence of policy, and the degree to which the usual relationship between GDP [gross domestic product] and unemployment would break down,” Romer said.

The bottom line? The Bernstein-Romer report “was not an official government assessment or even an analysis of an actual plan that had passed Congress.” Three Pinocchios! 

Romney’s statement probably wouldn’t make it through a decent magazine fact checking without being reworded. But the same essential point could be made without introducing errors: Even if Obama himself didn’t tell America that an economic stimulus package would reduce unemployment to 8 percent, top administrations officials projected that figure in a report that was released to the public.  

The Post is correct that Romney gets at least one detail wrong: Obama himself did not explicitly make the claim. But after he’d won the election, Obama’s top advisers projected, in an official capacity, that an economic stimulus of almost exactly the size of the one that eventually passed would reduce unemployment to 8 percent before the end of 2011.

The report in question was released on January 9, 2009, just a few days before President Obama was sworn into office, when both he and his team were already busily working on their plans for the country. The very first page lists Romer as the “Chairman - Nominee - Designate” of the Council of Economic Advisers, the the top job on president’s team of official economic counselors; Bernstein is listed as representing the “Office of the Vice President elect.” There’s no question, in other words, that this was a report produced by representatives of an incoming administration working in an official capacity.

The report’s projections, meanwhile, were based on a $775 billion stimulus plan, and the opening line refers to key employment goals “enunciated by the President-Elect concerning the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.” It would be absurd to suggest that the plan considered in the Romer-Berstein report was anything other than an early version of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise known as the economic stimulus package, that would pass just a few weeks later.

Does it matter that Romer, along with other defenders, have since attempted to excuse their projections by arguing that they didn't know the true depth of the economic collapse? Not really. It shouldn't even provide much comfort to diehard stimulus backers, as it reveals the weakness of the macroeconomic forecasting that stimulus plans rely on. 

Sure, Romney is wrong in the particulars of his criticism of how the president sold the stimulus. But he’s wrong in all the ways that don’t matter, and right in the way that does.

That said, Romney is far less of a stimulus critic that he appears to want potential voters to believe. In fact, as I noted in my March feature story on Romney, he seems to be fine with economic stimulus just as long as it’s designed to his specifications. In his 2010 book, No Apology, Romney has no apparent complaints about the $152 billion stimulus plan passed in 2008 by President Bush; he also says that following that plan, “another stimulus was called for.” He even has some nice things to say about the stimulus legislation passed by President Obama, writing that “the stimulus that was passed in early 2009 will accelerate the timing of the start of the recovery”—just not as much as it would have if it had been designed differently.

The line Romney takes on the stimulus in his book barely counts as a complaint. Yes, the initial stimulus projections made by incoming Obama administration economic staffers turned out to be bunk. But it's not clear what Romney would have done differently, except perhaps tweak the tax and spend balance and some of the implementation details. But as campaign trail attack lines go, "I would have implemented the stimulus somewhat differently!" isn't much of a rallying cry. 

Update: The Examiner's Philip Klein reminds me via Twitter that President Obama did say in a speech pushing passage of his recovery plan that "if nothing is done...unemployment will reach double digits."

ABC Calls Unmanned Drones "Robot Heroes," Fails to Mention They Sometimes Kill Innocent Children

Due to the wall-to-wall coverage of Whitney Houston's death, I almost missed ABC Nightline's report last week on the domestic use of unmanned drones. Titled "Who is Watching You? Military drones are being used by everyone from real estate agents to paparazzi," the report attempts to highlight privacy concerns about the use of unmanned drones on domestic soil. In the process, reporter Jim Avila shamelessly glorifies our use of armed drones elsewhere. 

"Drones: Once our unmanned heroes in war zones, are now in the hands of real estate agents," Avila intones as ABC plays footage of a realtor using a drone to show a property. “These are the closest cousins of terrorist-fighting, robot heroes in Agfhanistan and Iraq,” Avila says later in the segment. (More Avila drone euphemisms: "An engineering marvel"; "a rare secret weapon.")

The privacy issue, Avila says, "makes the new domestic drones as unintentionally dangerous to Americans and their privacy as they are intentionally lethal to terrorists overseas.” It would behoove ABC, in a five-minute segment, to illustrate our ocassional misuse of these "rare secret weapons," and the fact they sometimes kill people who are not terrorists.  

In November, Clive Stafford Smith did exactly that for The New York Times when he reported on the tragic death of 16-year-old Tariq Aziz: 

The next day, the jirga lasted several hours. I had a translator, but the gist of each man’s speech was clear. American drones would circle their homes all day before unleashing Hellfire missiles, often in the dark hours between midnight and dawn. Death lurked everywhere around them.

When it was my turn to speak, I mentioned the official American position: that these were precision strikes and no innocent civilian had been killed in 15 months. My comment was met with snorts of derision.

I told the elders that the only way to convince the American people of their suffering was to accumulate physical proof that civilians had been killed. Three of the men, at considerable personal risk, had collected the detritus of half a dozen missiles; they had taken 100 pictures of the carnage.

In one instance, they matched missile fragments with a photograph of a dead child, killed in August 2010 during the C.I.A.’s period of supposed infallibility. This made their grievances much more tangible.

Collecting evidence is a dangerous business. The drones are not the only enemy. The Pakistani military has sealed the area off from journalists, so the truth is hard to come by. One man investigating drone strikes that killed civilians was captured by the Taliban and held for 63 days on suspicion of spying for the United States.

At the end of the day, Tariq stepped forward. He volunteered to gather proof if it would help to protect his family from future harm. We told him to think about it some more before moving forward; if he carried a camera he might attract the hostility of the extremists.

But the militants never had the chance to harm him. On Monday, he was killed by a C.I.A. drone strike, along with his 12-year-old cousin, Waheed Khan. The two of them had been dispatched, with Tariq driving, to pick up their aunt and bring her home to the village of Norak, when their short lives were ended by a Hellfire missile.

"Hero" is perhaps too strong a title for a piece of technology, especially considering that it ocassionally kills children. 

Futhermore, the privacy threat posed by aerial surveillance is not hypothetical. We've already seen, as in the case of New Mexico man Norman Davis, whose home was raided after a National Guard helicopter spotted marijuana plants on his property, that law enforcement agencies currently use aerial surveillance technology in violation of the Fourth Amendment. It's probably even fair to say that challenges to domestic use of unmanned drones by law enforcement will be on Fourth Amendment grounds; yet Avila makes no mention of that amendment in his report. 

No Explanation but Corruption for Wanting to Cut Beer Taxes?

Mother Jones reporter Tim Murphy notes that Rick Santorum supported cutting the federal excise tax on beer when he was a Pennsylvania senator and attributes that position to campaign donations from the industry:

From 1995 through 2006, Rick Santorum was one of the upper chamber's biggest beneficiaries of beer industry cash. Wholesalers, brewers, and their top executives filled Santorum's coffers with at least $80,000 in campaign donations. And they got their money's worth: Four times during his two Senate terms Santorum pushed to cut the beer excise tax [which had been doubled in 1990] by half, over the protests of economists and public health experts who say that a lower tax would lead to a loss of revenue and lives.

In practice, it is hard to distinguish between the quid pro quo corruption Murphy suggests and the common (and usually lamentable) legislative impulse to defend the interests of local employers. Murphy notes that "Big Beer is big business in Pennsylvania, home to major breweries like Rolling Rock, Yuengling, and Keystone." Either way, the goal—retaining power by getting re-elected—is pretty much the same.

For all I know, Murphy is right about Santorum's motivation. But it seems strange that he does not even entertain the possibility that Santorum supported lower beer taxes because he thought beer taxes should be lower. Why dismiss that explanation out of hand? Because everyone knows that beer taxes should be raised, not cut (emphasis added):

"The name of the game is to deflect attention at all costs from the fact that really we should be raising beer taxes and the most brilliant way to do that was devised by the beer industry by creating this 'roll back the beer tax' campaign," explains Michele Simon, president of the industry watchdog Eat Drink Politics....

According to public health researchers, when the beer industry saves money, the rest of society ends up picking up the tab.

Lowering the beer excise tax "would lead to an increase of sales of alcohol and an increase in drinking, and that would lead to an associated or proportionate increase in the health problems associated with alcohol," says Alex Wagenaar, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida who has studied the impact of the tax on public health. "It's chronic disease for people that drink heavily, it's also, just for people that occasionally drink more than a very small amount, [an] increased risk for car crashes, pedestrian injuries, fights and assaults and things like that."

That's one way of looking at it. But as someone who has given the beer industry a lot of money over the years but has never received any of it back, I disagree with this collectivist analysis. It seems to me that "sin taxes" are fundamentally unjust because they punish the responsible majority for the misdeeds of a minority. If my own beer consumption does not impose costs on others, why should I have to pay a levy supposedly aimed at recouping those costs? In my view, Santorum took the wrong position because he called for cutting the beer tax in half, as opposed to eliminating it altogether. I realize Tim Murphy, Michele Simon, and Alex Wagenaar disagree. But the strength of their conviction does not transform an opinion into a fact.

New Rasmussen Poll: 58 Percent Oppose $10,000 Subsidies to Electric Car Buyers

A recent Rasmussen poll finds 58 percent of Americans are opposed to providing $10,000 subsidies to those who buy electric cars. This is at odds with President Obama’s recent budget proposal to provide $10,000 subsidies to Americans who purchase electric cars to offset the typical cost of $32,000-$42,000 per car. The President hopes that this policy endeavor will result in getting one million electric cars on the road by 2015.

Opposition to this policy increases to 65 percent when the total cost of the program ($10 billion dollars) is considered. 73 percent oppose allowing those making over $150,000 a year eligible for this subsidy. This is quite relevant given that General Motors CEO Dan Akerson reports the average Chevy Volt buyer makes $170,000 per year.  Only 13 percent approve of a subsidy to this income group.

It remains unclear whether Americans oppose this subsidy policy because they believe the electric car industry can make money on its own. Although 58% oppose the subsidy, only 46% believe the electric car industry can make money without government subsidy. Instead, Americans seem to oppose the subsidy regardless of whether they believe the industry needs government subsidies to continue. 

Partisan breakdowns reveal that Republicans oppose the subsidy 77 percent to 14 percent, but Democrats favor it 46 percent to 39 percent. Primary support comes from self-identified liberals with 63 percent favoring. In comparison 78 percent of conservatives and 53 percent of moderates oppose the subsidy. 

Question Wording

Electric cars are more expensive than traditional cars, with base costs ranging from $32,000 to 42,000. A proposal has been made to give $10,000 government subsidies to the purchasers of electric cars. Do you favor or oppose government subsidies to encourage the purchase of electric cars?

29% Favor
58% Oppose
13% Not sure 

The Obama administration hopes to have one million electric cars on the road by 2015. To reach that goal, the subsidy program could cost the federal government $10 billion. Do you favor or oppose having the federal government spend $10 billion over four years to subsidize the purchase of electric cars?

26% Favor
65% Oppose
10% Not sure

Should people who earn more than $150,000 per year receive a $10,000 grant from the government to reduce the cost of purchasing an electric car? Or should people who earn more than $150,000 a year pay for the full cost of the car themselves?

13% Yes, they should receive a $10,000 grant from the government
73% No, they should pay for the full cost of the electric car
14% Not sure

Will the electric car industry ever make money on its own or will it always require government subsidies to stay in business?

46% Electric care industry will make money on its own
28% Electric care industry will always require government subsidies
26% Not sure

Source: Rasmussen

The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on February 18-19, 2012 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

Pretzel Crisps: A Brand or a Generic Term?

Trademark disputes that make the news usually involve an upstart allegedly infringing on the rights of an established company. But in a case noted by The New York Times, a small company is seeking to protect trademark rights that are disputed by a big competitor. Frito-Lay, the snack food giant, is trying to stop Warren and Sara Wilson from obtaining a trademark for Pretzel Crisps, the thin, cracker-like pretzels they invented. Frito-Lay, which "has tried unsuccessfully to sell its own flat pretzels," argues that pretzel crisps is a generic term that cannot be registered as a trademark. "Like ‘milk chocolate bar,'" it told the Patent and Trademark Office in 2010 , "the combination of 'pretzel' and 'crisp' gains no meaning as a phrase over and above the generic meaning of its constituent terms." That seems dubious to me, since I have encountered the phrase only in the context of this particular product, which was introduced in 2004. Before then, according to the Times, there was no such thing as a cracker-thin pretzel. But an expert consulted by the Times says Frito-Lay might have a case:

F. Scott Kieff, a law professor at George Washington University, said the case could go either way. Princeton Vanguard, he said, "will have to show that there is some secondary meaning to the term ‘pretzel crisp’ out there in the relevant population that goes beyond simply provoking thoughts of thin pretzels that are crispy and refer to something specific."

In any case, it seems clear that Frito-Lay (which declined to comment for the Times story) is mainly interested in hurting a competitor, as opposed to preserving the freedom to call its own future entrant in this category (assuming it ever comes up with a version people want to buy) "pretzel crisps":

"The big companies will do this to rough up their competitors," said Barton Beebe, a professor at the New York University Law School who specializes in intellectual property law. "If they can't win in the marketplace, they try to soften them up with legal fees and distract them. Even if they lose the case, it's a Pyrrhic victory because the small company has wasted so many resources.”

For Pretzel Crisps, Princeton Vanguard [the Wilsons' company] already has spent $1 million on legal fees.

"This fight," Warren Wilson tells the Times, "is about a big company that wants to dominate the snack food category by crushing a little company like ours rather than by competing with us."

Ron Paul Hits the Coastal Elite Big Time: A Mostly Positive Profile in the New Yorker

Former pop music critic and successful warrior against "rockism" Kelefa Sanneh delivers a long, long profile of Ron Paul in the New Yorker, hitting the campaign trail with him in Maine and Nevada and surveying the shape of his career. Newsletters are mentioned without being treated as the most important issue about Ron Paul, and intelligent questions are raised about his mysterious lack of appeal to the mysteriously departed "Tea Party" movement.

Some highlights that pick up the flavor of the piece:

During Paul’s visit to Maine, he paid a visit to Colby College, in Waterville, where he was introduced by Paul Madore, a conservative activist and his state campaign chair. Madore began his introduction on a combative note, assailing “the A.C.L.U. and other leftist organizations” for “forcing us to constantly apologize for our Christian heritage.” In fact Paul and the American Civil Liberties Union agree at least as often as they disagree, and they have worked together in the past. (In 2009, the A.C.L.U. sued the Transportation Security Administration on behalf of a staffer for Ron Paul’s nonprofit organization, Campaign for Liberty, who was briefly detained in an airport after hesitating to explain why he was carrying a box of cash.) When Paul got to the podium, he thanked Madore for the introduction, but, near the end of his speech, he pushed back. “Liberty is liberty,” he said. “Some people would use it for different religious values or no religious values—just so they get to make their choices.” A few minutes later, before inviting his supporters to pose for pictures with him, he remembered something important. “I forgot to talk about the campaign,” he said, grinning. “I’d like to get your vote next week.”   

My own experience on the (lack of) branded or self-conscious "Tea Party" action while on the road with Paul in the past year supports what Sanneh writes here:

In “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism” (Oxford; 2012), the political scientists Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson take the measure of the recent amorphous uprising. They find that, despite a focus on economics, Tea Party groups often entertain “socially conservative moral arguments” and don’t generally identify as libertarian. “The Tea Party came, during much of 2010, to be (misleadingly) portrayed as a formidable, independent political movement that threatened to overturn the two-party system,” they write. In fact, Tea Party supporters tended to be indistinguishable from conservative Republicans—the energy was new, but not the ideology. Individual Tea Partiers have become influential within the Republican Party, especially at the local level, but few people now view the movement as a threat to the political duopoly. This election season, no viable Tea Party Presidential candidate has emerged, and the Tea Party itself has been all but invisible, subsumed within the broader Republican electorate.

And Sanneh hits home why the much-feared Obama-elevating Paul third party run is unlikely:

There is only one politician whom Paul regularly praises in his speeches—a man he coyly refers to as a “senator from Kentucky.” If Paul sees a future for himself in the Republican Party, it is through his son Rand, who might have an easier time than his father in attracting traditional conservatives to his cause. (During his campaign for the Senate, for example, Rand Paul declined to rule out using force to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.) Unlike most politicians on the verge of retirement, Paul can’t accurately claim that he has nothing to lose by breaking with the party that has been his home for all but one of his years in politics. Hope for his son’s prospects—and a disinclination to put him in an awkward position—might be enough to keep Paul from ending his political career with another third-party campaign. If he split the vote, indirectly helping to reëlect Obama, it might be a long time before Republicans were willing to get behind anyone named Paul.

That this long, detailed, mostly accurate and fair piece appears in such a bastion of establishment cultural and non-professional intellectual chatter as the New Yorker is yet another sign of the mainstreaming of libertarian ideas that has been encouragingly moving forward for the past decade or so, and a sign of how the Paul campaign, while not the only force behind that mainstreaming by any means, is at the very least an important and positive part of it.

For much, much more on all this, read my out-in-May book on Paul and the Paul movement, Ron Paul's Revolution, and my April cover story in Reason magazine.

Extremism in the Defense of Climate "Alarmism" Is No Vice?

Last week, climate change "alarmists" were deliriously claiming to have uncovered the dastardly plans of the climiate change "deniers"* at the free-market Heartland Institute to "undermine" true climate science. At the center of this new "scandal" were supposedly internal documents from the Institute outlining its nefarious plans and exposing its evil paymasters. Now comes prominent "alarmist"* Peter Gleick, founder of the Pacific Institute, who admits that he deceitfully posed as someone else in order to obtain documents from the Heartland Institute. As the New York Times reports:

Dr. Gleick distributed the documents to several well-known bloggers and activists who support the work of mainstream climate scientists and who have denounced the Heartland Institute as a center of climate change denial. The document release, which lit up the Internet last week, was cast by some bloggers as the work of a whistle-blowing Heartland employee or ex-employee who had access to internal papers, when it was in fact orchestrated by Dr. Gleick, a Yale- and Berkeley-trained scientist and environmental activist who says that he was frustrated with Heartland’s anti-climate-change programs.

Dr. Gleick denied authorship of the most explosive of the documents, a supposed strategy paper that laid out the institute’s efforts to raise money to question climate change and get schools to adjust their science curricula to include alternative theories of global warming. 

The "strategy paper" was the most explosive since it explicitly outlined what would appear to be a self-consciously dishonest effort to "undermine" climate science. The Heartland Insitute has strongly denounced the "strategy paper" as a fake. At the Huffington Post, Gleick admits

At the beginning of 2012, I received an anonymous document in the mail describing what appeared to be details of the Heartland Institute's climate program strategy. It contained information about their funders and the Institute's apparent efforts to muddy public understanding about climate science and policy. I do not know the source of that original document but assumed it was sent to me because of my past exchanges with Heartland and because I was named in it.

Given the potential impact however, I attempted to confirm the accuracy of the information in this document. In an effort to do so, and in a serious lapse of my own and professional judgment and ethics, I solicited and received additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under someone else's name. The materials the Heartland Institute sent to me confirmed many of the facts in the original document, including especially their 2012 fundraising strategy and budget. I forwarded, anonymously, the documents I had received to a set of journalists and experts working on climate issues. I can explicitly confirm, as can the Heartland Institute, that the documents they emailed to me are identical to the documents that have been made public. I made no changes or alterations of any kind to any of the Heartland Institute documents or to the original anonymous communication.

The upshot is that it would appear that Gleick was so excited by the anonymously sent "strategy paper" that he decided that he must resort to "a serious lapse of [his] own and professional judgment and ethics" to further expose the wicked plans of the Heartland Institute. Basically, it looks like Gleick's confirmation bias ("I just know that the Heartland folks are wittingly evil") overcame whatever sense of morality and fair play that he may harbor. To paraphrase, Gleick apparently concluded that extremism in the defense of climate "alarmism" is no vice. 

Atlantic Senior Editor Megan McArdle has done two really insightful and careful analyses, here and here, of the "strategy document" in which she pretty much proves (to my satisfaction at least) that it is a fake. 

It does bear mentioning that the "alarmists" often claim that the shadowy campaign attacking true climate science (it is "settled") is being paid for by Big Oil. The Heartland documents reveal no donations from Big Oil, and the Koch Foundation (see Koch derangement syndrome) donation appears to be targeted toward health policy, not energy or climate policy. 

This is just the latest episode in the sorry and increasingly poisonous politics of global warming. 

Update: Heartland Institute press release on Gleick's confession:

"Earlier this evening, Peter Gleick, a prominent figure in the global warming movement, confessed to stealing electronic documents from The Heartland Institute in an attempt to discredit and embarrass a group that disagrees with his views.

"Gleick's crime was a serious one. The documents he admits stealing contained personal information about Heartland staff members, donors, and allies, the release of which has violated their privacy and endangered their personal safety.

"An additional document Gleick represented as coming from The Heartland Institute, a forged memo purporting to set out our strategies on global warming, has been extensively cited by newspapers and in news releases and articles posted on Web sites and blogs around the world. It has caused major and permanent damage to the reputations of The Heartland Institute and many of the scientists, policy experts, and organizations we work with.

"A mere apology is not enough to undo the damage.

"In his statement, Gleick claims he committed this crime because he believed The Heartland Institute was preventing a "rational debate" from taking place over global warming. This is unbelievable. Heartland has repeatedly asked for real debate on this important topic. Gleick himself was specifically invited to attend a Heartland event to debate global warming just days before he stole the documents. He turned down the invitation.

"Gleick also claims he did not write the forged memo, but only stole the documents to confirm the content of the memo he received from an anonymous source. This too is unbelievable. Many independent commentators already have concluded the memo was most likely written by Gleick.

"We hope Gleick will make a more complete confession in the next few days.

"We are consulting with legal counsel to determine our next steps and plan to release a more complete statement about the situation tomorrow. In the meantime, we ask again that publishers, bloggers, and Web site hosts take the stolen and fraudulent documents off their sites, remove defamatory commentary based on them, and issue retractions."

*What each side calls the other.

A. Barton Hinkle on the Underwear Bomber and Civilian Trials

Something remarkable didn’t happen last week: Nobody blew up Detroit. This is a stunning development. It is stunning because Detroit is the city where, on Thursday, a federal judge sentenced Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to life behind bars. This is not what was supposed to happen, writes A. Barton Hinkle. Three years ago, a lot of people—Republicans and conservatives, mostly—were pulling their hair out in (pardon the term) sheer terror at the very thought of trying terrorist suspects in civilian court.

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D.C.'s "Love Affair With Marijuana"

There's a pretty darned good cover package in the current issue of Washingtonian magazine about "Washington's Love Affair With Marijuana." Here's a fun quote:

"This is a town where I could probably kill 200 major careers if I wanted to be a complete prick," says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which is headquartered on K Street. "Politicians, members of Congress and the Senate, many of their principals—legislative directors, chiefs of staff, communications directors—people in the private sector, Cato Institute, American Enterprise Institute, Brookings, police, any number of notable journalists from television, print, radio, many brand names most Americans would recognize pretty quickly—I've smoked with all of them. There is more smoke in DC closets than there is sex."

Disclosure: I have never smoked pot with Allen St. Pierre. Least not that I remember.


For many, a hit before bedtime eases insomnia. "Better pot than Ambien," the PR exec says. For others, it calms the tensions of the 80-hour workweek.

"For people who have really high-producing, high-stress jobs, it's like this is my break in order to release a lot of the stress," says a 37-year-old who used to work in politics. She smokes with friends "in high-ranking government positions, including a friend who interacts with the President every day." [...]

Washington is "schizophrenic" when it comes to marijuana, says Allen St. Pierre: There are plenty of people here who smoke pot, but not many who will talk about it.

"We wear gold marijuana lapel pins when we lobby," St. Pierre says. "In DC, everyone thinks I'm Canadian. They'll go, 'Oh, hey—maple leaf!' And I go, 'No, no, cannabis leaf,' and the immediate facial reaction is either a quirky smile or a furrowing brow as if someone just put a stinky cheese under their nose."

Whole package here. Reason on marijuana here.

Snoop Dogg, Ayn Rand, & Amnesty for Immigrant Marijuana

Libertarian columnist Ron Hart recounts his travels:

On this trip to L.A., I sensed that there is a growing, but still closeted, group of entertainers who will confess to being libertarian after a drink or two. They tell you this with faces that say, "Please, I beg of you, just don't tell Clive Davis, Harvey Weinstein or Stephen Spielberg."

None other than Snoop Dogg, whose lyrics might expose him as a free-market capitalist, famously said that he had his "mind on my money and my money on my mind" (Ayn Rand would be proud of him). Snoop is leading the change for celebs.

Furthering the evolution of thought by Snoop Dogg, he boldly came out and said he backed libertarian Ron Paul for president. Snoop agrees with Ron Paul on a broad range of positions, from the legalization of pot to making marijuana legal. He also likes Paul’s immigration policy in that if a bail of pot washes up an U.S. shore from Mexico, it is immediately granted asylum.

It may not be raining libertarianism in the entertainment business, but thank Snoop Dogg for drizzle.

Read the whole OC Register col here.

When Not to Taser a Frantic and Handcuffed Suspect

The Florida Highway Patrol officer who put Danielle Maudsley in a coma was only steps behind her as she fled the FHP station, her hands cuffed in front of her.

Officer Daniel Cole was close enough, and—at 267 pounds—big enough, that had he simply heaved himself in her general direction, he likely could have tackled Maudsley. Or, if he wanted to keep his uniform clean, he could've broke into a run and grabbed her.

Instead, he Tasered her in the back, sending Maudsley into a fall that ended with her head cracking against the asphalt. 

According to the Tampa Bay Times, "doctors have told Maudsley's family she likely will never wake up." According to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokesperson, "the trooper's actions were legal and within the scope of his duties."

The video of the incident is below. 

Robert Poole on Fixing America’s Freeways

If you work anywhere in America outside of New York City, chances are you drive to work. That means you battle congestion twice every weekday. Rest assured that it’s not your imagination: traffic is much worse than it used to be. Is there a solution to this growing problem? From our March issue, Robert W. Poole Jr., director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation, explains how the private sector is reinventing our expressways, one lane at a time.

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Watch Matt Welch Debate Jonah Goldberg About Libertarians and Conservatives

On Feb. 8, Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch debated National Review/American Enterprise Institute author Jonah Goldberg on the topic of "Are Libertarians Part of the Conservative Movement?" You can now watch the hour-long debate in its entirety:

Is It Steak Yet? No, But Vat-Grown Burgers Might Be Hitting Your Plate By Year's End

For those of who expected the 21st century to be a world of wonders as limned in David Bowie songs and Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space, the cavalry may be arriving. And by cavalry, I mean test-tube White Castles:

Speaking at the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Vancouver yesterday afternoon (SUNDAY), Prof [Mark] Post [of Maastricht University] said his team has successfully replicated the process with cow cells and calf serum, bringing the first artificial burger a step closer.

He said: "In October we are going to provide a proof of concept showing out of stem cells we can make a product that looks, feels and hopefully tastes like meat."

Hopefully tastes like meat...where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, at Burger King's drive-thru. Burgers may be in the pipeline but it's gonna take steak a while longer:

Creating different cuts, such as steaks, would be more problematic because to grow thicker strips of meat would require an artificial blood supply, he added....

The only person to have tried the lab-grown meat so far is a Russian journalist who snatched a sample of pork during a visit to Prof Post's lab at Maastricht University last year and declared himself unimpressed.

That first burger won't come cheap. The research behind it is expected to run a total about 250,000 euros. But just to make the whole situation a wee-bit more disturbing than it needs to be, there's this:

The work is being financed by anonymous and extremely wealthy benefactor who Prof Post claims is a household name with a reputation for "turning everything into gold".

Whole story here.

We at Reason have been licking our chops for vat-grown meat since at least 2005, when we raised questions about whether vegans could eat the stuff and whether celebrity meats were in the offing. Get your stomach churning by reading our list of articles about what will certainly become one of the next great battlegrounds in a world where salt, butter, and soda pop are on a culinary hit list.

And check out what happened when lobsters invaded DC - in the form of very tasty sandwiches:


A.M. Links: Afghans Rally Over Burned Korans (Again), Greece Gets Eurozone Bailout (Again), Dominique Strauss-Kahn Questioned About Hotel Sex (Again)

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New at Reason.tv: "Reason with Kennedy" 

Shikha Dalmia on Mitt Romney’s Troubled Michigan Homecoming

Michigan was supposed to be the state where Mitt Romney cakewalked his way to the Republican nomination. After all, he was born and brought up here by a father who served as a three-term governor. Instead, observes Shikha Dalmia, Romney is stumbling. And whether or not he recovers might depend on his ability to do something that so far has completely eluded him: offer a vision. Making tribalistic appeals and brandishing his resume, as he’s been doing, isn’t working so far—and might never work.

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Ira Stoll on Why Capitalism Is Here to Stay

At the height of the financial crisis in late 2008 and early 2009, a wave of articles declared the end of capitalism. A half-dozen reporters writing about the issue called Allan Meltzer, who since 1957 has been teaching about capitalism at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Five of the calls he answered. The sixth was from a reporter of Die Zeit, the German weekly, who, as Professor Meltzer recalls it, asked, “Professor, what do you think about the end of capitalism?” Professor Meltzer replied that that was the stupidest question he’d been asked in 50 years. Meltzer's new book, Why Capitalism?, reviewed by Ira Stoll, explains why capitalism is actually here to stay. 

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Romney Up But Santorum Not Down in the Wolverine State

Public Policy Polling, the polling outfit that last week had Mitt Romney 15 points behind Rick Santorum in Michigan, one of Romney’s multiple home states, now has him behind by “only” four points. This is certainly hopeful for the Romney camp because a Michigan loss will essentially eviscerate his main claim for being the Republican nominee: electability. But a Michigan win won’t necessarily mean that Romney is more electable than Santorum (although, for the record, I don’t give a rat’s ass about Santorum, his electability or his sweater vests). That’s because Romney’s improving prospects in the Wolverine State might have more to do with Newt Gingrich than Romney himself. Here’s what the PPP found:

Gingrich's continued presence in the race is helping Romney a lot. If he dropped, 45% of his supporters would go to Santorum, compared to only 29% for Romney and it would push Santorum's lead over Romney up to 42-33. 47% of primary voters think Gingrich should drop out while only 40% believe he should continue on, but he's certainly not showing any indication he'll leave.

Santorum's advantage over Romney seems to be a reflection of voters being more comfortable with where he is ideologically. 48% of voters think Santorum has more similar beliefs to them, compared to only 32% who pick Romney on that question. 63% of primary voters think Santorum's views are 'about right' compared to only 42% who say that for Romney. 37% believe that Romney is 'too liberal.'

Point to note: Gingrich keeps inviting other candidates to get lost while Michigan voters want him to get lost.

Other interesting poll highlights:

  • The tightening over the last week is much more a function of Romney gaining than Santorum falling. Santorum's favorability spread of 67/23 has seen no change since our last poll, and his share of the vote has dropped only 2 points from 39% to 37%. Romney meanwhile has seen his net favorability improve 10 points from +10 (49/39) to +20 (55/35) and his vote share go from 24% to 33%.
  • Romney's bailout stance isn't hurting him. 34% of voters say they're more likely to vote for someone opposed to the bailout, while only 27% consider that opposition a negative. 35% say it doesn't make a difference to them either way.
  • Romney's still not convincing anyone that he's a Michigander- only 29% of voters consider him to be one, while 62% do not. But given that he's risen in the polls over the last week without making any progress on that front, it looks like it doesn't really matter whether or not Michigan Republicans consider him to be one of their own.
  • This is still an extremely volatile race. 36% of voters say they could change their minds in the next week. 69% of Romney's supporters are strongly committed to him, compared to only 63% of Santorum's backers. With momentum on his side and a more reliable group of supporters there are plenty of reasons to think Romney can continue this comeback and win next week.

Steven Greenhut on Pro-Union Activism by California’s Attorney General

California Attorney General Kamala Harris is a close ally of the public sector unions, who are doing all they can to stop the state's burgeoning pension reform movement. So when the group California Pension Reform submitted two voter initiatives that would rein in the unsustainable costs of the state’s pension system, Harris decided to behave as a political operative and besmirch the office she holds by distorting the official descriptions that most voters rely upon when making their voting decision. It’s certainly OK to hire a Democratic hack to wage a slash-and-burn anti-reform campaign, writes Steven Greenhut, but it’s another thing entierly to abuse the office of attorney general and rig the process.

View this article

Protect the Dead; Screw the Living (Definitely Not the Dead)

Problem: Fearing criminal charges, people sometimes move the bodies of friends or acquaintances who die of drug overdoses, complicating official investigations. Solution: Make it a crime to move the bodies.

An Illinois bill sponsored by state Rep. Dan Beiser (D-Alton) would make "unauthorized removal of a corpse" a Class 4 felony, punishable by up to three years in prison. "In recent months," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, "Metro East prosecutors have filed charges of drug-induced homicide against several people who allegedly supplied drugs to people who died of overdoses. Police regard the sites as crime scenes." If police were not so eager to file charges in such cases, some of these people might still be alive, because bystanders would be less afraid to call for help or bring overdose victims to the hospital. Then there would not only be less incentive to move corpses without authorization; there would also be fewer corpses. 

While coming up with exactly the wrong solution to the overdose problem, Beiser noticed that Illinois had never bothered to criminalize sex with a corpse. His bill would correct that oversight, making it a Class 2 felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison, to do the deed with the dead. Madison County, Illinois, State's Attorney Tom Gibbons "said a law prohibiting sex with a corpse is needed out of respect for the dead." How many unprosecutable cases of necrophilia have Illinois police come across in the state's entire history? At least one. Gibbons "said he has been told there was one such case in the county many years ago that could not be prosecuted for lack of such a law."

In 2010 Brian Doherty noted the movement to protect Good Samaritans from criminal liabiity in drug overdose cases.

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]

Joshua Swain and Katherine Mangu-Ward on How to Save a Tree House from the Zoning Board

When Spc. Mark Grapin returned from a tour of duty in Iraq with the Army National Guard in 2011, he promised his sons—Sean, 9, and Eric, 11—that he would build them a tree house before he shipped out again. Grapin, who lives in Fairfax County, outside Washington, D.C., called the county and asked about any building codes that might apply. “The guy kind of laughed me off the phone,” he says. So Grapin got to work, spending dozens of hours and $1,400 on materials. But little did he know that a second set of bureaucrats, the Fairfax County zoning board, should have been consulted before construction began. An anonymous complaint from a neighbor triggered a county investigation into the unapproved structure, and in September the Board of Zoning Appeals voted 4-3 to deny Grapin the necessary permit. The tree house was then slated for the wrecking ball. With time running out before the veteran would be sent back into the field, he went to the local media for help, triggering outrage nationwide.

View this article

Montana Medical Marijuana Providers Get What Passes for Lenience Under Our Drug Laws

The Missoulian reports that medical marijuana providers who were raided by the feds last year in Montana are receiving sentences somewhere between what they deserve (not time at all) and what federal law prescribes (five to 40 years in prison). Since compliance with state law is no defense in federal court, their convictions would be pretty much assured if they went to trial, where they would not even be permitted to say why they were growing or distributing marijuana. Hence all of them so far have opted for plea agreements, under which prosecutors and judges are letting them serve much less time than they would if convicted of drug offenses carrying mandatory minimum sentences:

They faced mandatory minimum sentences of at least five years in prison on some charges, with maximum penalties of 40 years and fines ranging as high as $5 million.

But the sentences handed down so far, all the result of plea agreements that saw some charges dropped, have been considerably shorter, ranging from six months to 18 months.

And in one case where attorneys agreed on sentencing guidelines of 24-30 months for each of three men, a federal judge in Helena halved the minimum, sentencing them instead to a single year. Senior Judge Charles Lovell criticized the guidelines as "excessive," making particular mention of the fact that the three men, who operated businesses in Helena and Great Falls, believed their work to be legal under state law.

As I noted in a 2009 column, complying with state law (or sincerely believing that you are) does not get you off the hook in federal court, but it can earn you some lenience at the sentencing stage compared to ordinary marijuana offenders. In 2003 U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer sentenced Ed Rosenthal, who grew marijuana for patients in Oakland, California, with the city's approval, to a day in jail (which he had already served). In 2009 U.S. District Judge George Wu sentenced Charlie Lynch, who ran a dispensary in Morro Bay, California, to a year and a day. Both judges used a "safety valve" provision for low-level offenders to avoid the five-year mandatory minimum triggered by the amount of marijuana involved.

When your crime involves nothing more than growing a plant or selling its produce, of course, your freedom should not hinge on your customer's health or a judge's sympathy. What a sad commentary on our legal system it is when prison sentences of six months, a year, or a year and a half for doing something that violated no one's rights seem almost enlightened compared to the usual practice.

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]

Coulter vs Gillespie at The Independence Institute's Founder's Night in Colorado

Last Thursday, I had the honor of participating in a live debate with Ann Coulter at the 27th annual Founder's Night event for Colorado's Independence Institute, one of the most truly awesome state-based think tanks in this sweet land of liberty.

If and when audio, video, and secret drone footage becomes available, we''ll post it here. In the meantime, here's a report from The Colorado Observer that gets the flavor of the friendly but often spirited argument between myself and the author, most recently, of Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America

Snippets from the Observer:

Drawing both admiration and occasionally scorn from the diverse audience due to their widely varying opinions, both could agree on the most important issue in the 2012 election cycle.

“I object to having this discussion at all when we’re facing financial Armageddon,” said Coulter in her opening remarks. “It’s silly to even talk about these things, whether it’s gay marriage or contraception.”

“The spending problem is not due to women, it’s not due to men, it’s due to humans, mostly politicians. It’s in the form of entitlements,” declared Gillespie.  He pointed to Medicare, Medicaid, and defense spending. “That’s what we need to be focusing on if we want to reduce the amount of government, the amount of borrowing, and hence the amount of future control over our lives via taxes and redistribution.”

Coulter and Gillespie...tackled civil unions and gay marriage, one of the hot button social issues at both the national and local level. Colorado’s state Senate passed legislation supporting civil unions out of committee this week.

“I don’t think there is a difference,” Coulter argued when asked if civil unions and gay marriage remained substantially different. “Protecting gay rights is done by contracts,” said Coulter. She said she respected the collective wisdom of state referenda that have consistently shot down such legislation, favoring the “civilizing” effect of the institution of marriage. “Marriages should be protected.”

“The difference between same sex marriage and civil unions is what you pay the caterer,” quipped Gillespie. “Gay marriage is upon us and will continue in the future. The poll numbers are there. Gays are moving into a place of legal equality under the law. That is right and proper and good,” Gillespie maintained....

The speakers differed on the impact of third parties in presidential elections. “Whoever wins this election, it’s not the Libertarians’ fault,” joked Gillespie, who quickly added the important caveat that voters should stay true to their principles. “If you can’t vote what you believe in the privacy of the ballot, move to Russia.”

“No one is saying you can’t vote what you believe. This country is going to be Russia if you don’t get rid of Obama,” Coulter countered.

Whole thing here.

Nick Gillespie, Judge Napolitano Bust Myths of US Presidents

Note: A year ago on the late, lamented Freedom Watch with Judge Napolitano, I sat down with the judge, Fox News' Monica Crowley, and historian Tom Woods to discuss the best and worst of U.S. presidents. Click above to watch the lively discussion and read the original writeup below.

Reason.tv editor in chief Nick Gillespie appeared on a special President's Day episode of Jude Napolitano's Freedom Watch alongside author Monica Crowleyand historian Tom Woods to discuss the perceived legacies of several U.S. presidents. Is Jefferson really a suitable libertarian icon? Was Woodrow Wilson the country's first technocratic president? Why is FDR revered by Progressives? Who really killed JFK? And did Reagan's governance match his small-government rhetoric? Gillespie and his fellow panelists discuss these topics, and more.  Air Date: February 21, 2011.

Approximately 27 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.

A.M. Links: Nuke Inspectors Pressure Iran, Greece Nears a Second Bailout, MSM Discovers Ron Paul's Delegate Strategy

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New at reason.tv: "Kennedy on Whitney Houston, Adele, &...Michelle Obama?"

Reason.tv Replay: Whitney Houston, Adele, &...Michelle Obama?


Original release date: February 17, 2012

What do Whitney Houston, Adele, the First Lady - plus crooner Tony Bennett and fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld - have in common?

KYSR DJ and former MTV VJ Kennedy connects the dots as Houston fans prepare for the songbird's funeral, Adele polishes her six Grammys, and Michelle Obama hula-hoops her way across the nation, pushing kids to eat less and exercise more.

About 3 minutes.

Written by Nick Gillespie and Kennedy, who also hosts. Edited by Meredith Bragg.

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

Steve Chapman on China Phobia

Among those who sorely miss the Cold War, China serves as an endless source of fear and loathing. And while it's true that as long as it remains an authoritarian state, China is not going to be our BFF. But it is not fated to be an enemy, writes Steve Chapman, unless we decide to make it one.

View this article

Ron Paul Leads Obama In Iowa, According to New Poll

A new poll of Iowans shows three of the four remaining GOP primary candidates ahead of President Obama in a head-to-head contest—and Ron Paul winning by the largest margin. The results of the latest Iowa Poll show the Texas Congressman up by seven points over Obama, while Mitt Romney's two point lead over the president is within the poll's margin of error. Santorum leads the president by four points. The Des Moines Register reports:

The Republican with the biggest lead: Ron Paul, who would defeat Obama by 7 percentage points, 49 percent to 42 percent. Rick Santorum, winner of the 2012 Iowa caucuses, leads Obama 48 percent to 44 percent. Mitt Romney, edged in the caucuses by Santorum, leads Obama 46 percent to 44 percent.

The president defeats only Newt Gingrich, 51 percent to 37 percent.

Maybe Ron Paul is the most effective not-Romney after all

More on the poll here

Paul Wins Washington County, Still Loses Maine

East Machias, Maine - Ron Paul won the controversial Washington County caucus by a 2-1 margin, but it does not appear that the results will be enough to give the libertarian Republican his first ever statewide win as a presidential candidate. Results from other Maine caucuses are still being computed, but as of this moment Mitt Romney is poised to confirm his prematurely declared victory in Maine by somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 votes.

Paul finished first in Washington County with 167 votes, followed by 86 for Romney, 59 for Rick Santorum, and a paltry five for Newt Gingrich. Two votes went to unnamed candidates.

The Washington caucus was originally scheduled to take place with all the other Maine caucuses last weekend, but was postponed due to inclement weather. After the results for the rest of the state were in, it became unclear whether the Maine Republican Party would even include Washington County. The county chairman, Chris Gardner, had made it clear that his county would be counted. "Today is about assuring our voices our heard," County Chairman Chris Gardner said. "As you can see we are a county that needs to be heard."

The controversy surrounding whether the Washington County votes would be tallied became a focal point for the Paul campaign. All week pro-Paul websites were leveling accusations of voter fraud. The Daily Paul, a popular Paul activist website, implored rural Maine voters to turn out. Paul supporters were wearing stickers that said "You Will Count ME," a play on the abbreviation for Maine.

A person close to the Paul campaign, speaking on background, told me that efforts in Washington County were largely driven by the grassroots. "I would say it's been 70% grassroots, 30% campaign here," the Paul campaigner said. "I am very confident we will win the delegates here. This stuff, it's a beauty contest."

Maine has 24 delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Three of those are already spoken for by state party officials, while the remaining 21 will be awarded at the state convention in May. "We've got a large number of delegates, a large number of delegate chairs," said Paul Madore, chairman of Paul’s Maine campaign. "We're optimistic that they will be able to find delegates for Ron Paul."

Madore, dressed more like a college professor than a party boss in his corduroy jacket and tie, was pleased with the result of the Washington County caucus even though it probably won't be enough to push Paul into first place. "We're optimistic, but this is a victory for us here," he said. "Washington County is solidly behind Congressman Paul and this is what we need to remember."

The uproar over how the caucuses were handled will lead to some changes in the hierarchy of the state Republican Party. Paul sympathizers will be there to make sure that happens, Madore says. "Ron Paul supporters have to understand what happens in a caucus, what takes place in a county committee, and how things are run in order to keep the movement going in the right direction," he said.

Mitt Romney's campaign, meanwhile, was pleased that Maine remains in the victory column, and expressed eagerness to compete for delegates in the next stages. "We take each state very seriously and we go in with no preconceived notions," said Greg Gallivan, a Romney campaign aide in Maine. "We go into each state and then we need to perform well in each state. We don't like to preordain by any means."

Before the caucus began Romney supporter and RNC committee member Ron Kaufman said that the results of the caucus did not matter much, but it would still be good to win. "It's a beauty contest, there are no delegates awarded," Kaufman said.  

When asked about the large Ron Paul presence at the caucus he said, "God Bless 'em. The enemy is at 1600 Pennsylvania avenue, it's not other folks trying to get other Republicans elected." 

Iranian Web Designer Faces Imminent Death After Judicial Swindle

Earlier this month, I wrote about Saeed Malekpour, an Iranian-born Canadian resident who was issued a death sentence by the Iranian Supreme Court for creating photo-uploading software that was then used without his knowledge to upload pornography. Despite the enusing uproar, Iranian authorities have continued in their effort to take his life. 

Yesterday, the Saeed Malekpour Campaign, whose aim is to earn the software developer a fair trial in Iranian courts, issued a press release stating that the situation has become dire:

Saeed Malekpour, a Canadian Resident from Iran who has been living with the threat of death in Evin prison since October 2008, can be executed at any moment. When Saeed Malekpour’s lawyers visited the Revolutionary Court two days ago to follow up on their client’s case file, they discovered that the file containing the death sentence ruling was no longer there, and it was not in the possession of the Supreme Court either. Saeed Malekpour’s lawyers were informed that this only meant that the case file was sent to the Circuit Court for Execution of Sentences.

One of the lawyers said: "...Since Saeed Malekpour’s sentence is in the possession of the Circuit Court for Execution of Sentences, this means that they are capable of executing Saeed at any moment they wish."

Malekpour's case has been mired in bureaucratic convolution up to this point. After a torturous back and forth between the Iranian Supreme Court and a lower court over the lack of evidence needed to properly evaluate the charges, the Supreme Court finally approved the death sentence by a 3-2 ote. The problem, says Maryam Yazdi, coordinator for the Saeed Malekpour Campaign, is that the three judges who upheld the death sentence had never been seen in the judicial branch of the Iranian government. They are believed to be members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the paramilitary force responsible for terrorizing Iranians in the street and for extracting Malekpour's apocryphal confessions. These confessions are, incidentally, the only evidence against him in the case. How these three men inserted themselves into such a crucial part of the judicial process is anybody's guess. According to Nayeb Yazdi, they "came out of nowhere."

In the normal judicial process in Iran, defense lawyers would have had an opportunity to review the case one last time before it moves on to the Circuit Court for Execution of Sentences, given that "the death penalty is an irreversible punishment," says Nayeb Yazdi. Even if the lawyers saw the file, "they couldn't do much.... With the file open, they would be able to make sure everything is in order, but this case has been illegal and out of order from the start, so obviously they [the authorities] don't want that. The regime has done a very tricky thing." Now that Malekpour can legally be executed as soon as they find the right gallows (for in Iran, public hangings are common), "Saeed's only hope for survival is the international community."

The Canadian Parliament gave a unanimous vote on a motion "expressing concern for Saeed's situation," which was "their strongest move yet." Amnesty International called for Malekpour's release last month. The State Department, European Union, and the Foreign Affairs offices of Britain, Canada, and Italy have issued official statements condemning the death sentences of Malekpour and other people in prison on Internet-related charges.

Nayeb Yazdi emphasizes that "This is a sensitive time in Iran. The political and economic time is tense." The unrest has led to calls to boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections, "yet the government has no protests in the street to crack down on anymore. Everyone has moved online, so they [the regime] are cracking down on the Internet." This has involved increasingly stringent censorship and the creation of a cyber army branch of the IRGC, in addition to increased arrests and death sentences for Internet users. "Executing Saeed would instill the maximum amount of fear in people," Yazdi says. "They would really think twice before plugging in [to the Internet]. If Saeed were executed for these Internet charges, it would set a huge precedent."

Read more about problems in Iran and the Middle East here, here, and here.

Russian City Bans Protests Held by Toys

[Update: I incorrectly claimed that protests have contested President Vladimir Putin's reelection when in fact they contest the parliamentary election results. Change made below.]

Political activism has reached new heights (well, technically new lows) in Russia: Colorful little plastic geegaws have entered the arena of conflict.

Russian authorities banned public demonstrations by groups of dolls, action figures, and toys, with special disdain for those not made in Russia. The ban was prompted by the appearance in Barnaul of dozens of toys holding banners that questioned the Russian status quo last month in response to controversies over accusations of fraud in the recent parliamentary elections. According to Andrei Lyapunov, a spokesman for the Siberian city of Barnaul, quoted in the Guardian:

"Toys, especially imported toys, are not only not citizens of Russia but they are not even people."

Go figure.

A recent petition to hold another protest was rejected, but this isn't nearly the end of it, the Guardian reports:

The response to the original ban is typical of the new wave of demonstrations in Russia characterised by witty banners and a degree of absurdist humour. After a mass Moscow rally in December, the protest was re-enacted with Lego models and posted on YouTube within days. Toy rallies have caught on and taken place in four other Russian towns in the wake of the Barnaul protest.


And if you see a tiny puff of smoke, be careful, there may have been a toy suicide bombing. 

Previously: In Iran, the government won't let you buy Simpsons figurines but a pro-regime company will sell you a a replica of the downed American spy plane.

Sheldon Richman on Negative Versus Positive Rights

What we have in the debate over employer-provided contraception is a clash not between two liberty interests, but rather between two rights-claims – one negative, the other positive. All that is required for the exercise of a negative right (to self-ownership and, redundantly, liberty and one’s legitimately acquired belongings) is other people’s noninterference. But the fulfillment of positive rights requires that other people act affirmatively even if they don’t want to, writes Sheldon Richman. Say, by providing products or paying the bills. 

View this article

Where Dr. Paul's Inflation Might Be

Shikha Dalmia asked earlier today: "Where is Dr. Paul's Inflation?," focusing on the most recent measures of core CPI rise, which are not alarmingly high.

Economist Bob Murphy explained a few months back from a roughly Paulite perspective why he and others fear that the stunning rise in monetary base is indeed likely to eventually show itself in unignorable price inflation. While the numbers, as they always do, have shifted, the logic goes like this:

To understand the potential problem, we need to review some basic facts. Back in the fall of 2008, when Lehman collapsed and the entire financial system appeared in jeopardy, the Fed began bailing out investment banks through massive asset purchases and extraordinary lending operations. These activities rescued the major banks that would otherwise have gone bankrupt, by taking bad assets off their books (at inflated prices) and by propping up the new "market" price of the assets remaining on their books.

When the Fed buys an asset, it writes a check on itself. This action creates new electronic reserves in the banking system. For example, if the Fed buys $10 million in mortgage-backed securities from Joe Smith, then Smith will deposit the check in his own checking account. His bank will credit Joe Smith's checking balance by $10 million, but at the same time the bank'saccount with the Fed itself will rise by $10 million too.

At any time, regulations insist that commercial banks in the United States keep a minimum amount of reserves set aside in order to "back up" the demand deposits (think of checking accounts) of their customers. For example, if a commercial bank's customers think they have a total of $1 billion in their checking accounts, then the Fed's regulations force the commercial bank to keep (roughly) $100 million set aside in reserves....

Notice that "excess reserves" are historically very close to zero. This reflects the tendency (assumed in textbook discussions of "open market operations") for commercial banks to quickly lend out any reserves they have, over and above their legally required minimum. Yet as the chart above clearly indicates, since the onset of the present crisis the commercial banks have notbeen making new loans. Instead, they have allowed the huge injections of new reserves to sit parked at the Fed.

There are several (possibly overlapping) explanations for this break from the past. Keynesians such as Paul Krugman argue that this was the predictable outcome during a liquidity trap. Proponents of MMT (modern monetary theory) argue that the economic textbook discussions have things upside down, and that banks are never constrained by reserves when deciding on making new loans. Quasi monetarists lament the Federal Reserve's decision in October 2008 to start paying interest on excess reserves — a policy whereby the Fed actually bribes banks not to make loans to their customers. Free-market guys like Mish (as well as some card-carrying Austrians) have argued all along that significant price inflation was never on the table, so long as the financial system worked through a painful process of deleveraging.

Regardless of their specific explanations for why commercial banks hadn't been lending out the trillion-plus in new reserves Bernanke created, just about every pundit agreed that this fact was a major reason that what seemed to be incredibly inflationary policies weren't leading to skyrocketing prices.

Murphy thought back in August that the reserve-leaking was about to start happening in spades, which does not seem to be the case; in fact the latest figures show excess reserves continue to pile up, increasing by nearly 50 percent in the past year, as has the monetary base, by slightly slightly more. So as long as that leakage isn't actively happening, the inflationary effects predicted by Paul are staved off, goes the story.

And let us not forget the possibility of Cantillon effects, as Murphy says:

we must remember that there are millions of different prices in the economy. The specific impact of money creation on various sectors can be very different, and operate on different time frames.

For example, during the present crisis, we had the Fed create more than a trillion dollars on behalf of rich investment bankers. At the same time, middle- and lower-class households were plagued by high unemployment, large debts, and underwater homes. In this environment, it's not surprising that the various rounds of "quantitative easing" went hand in hand with huge jumps in stock and commodity prices, but were muted in the retail sector.

If and when the inflation arises, by the way, it will not be some nutty "lucky guess" by someone who just keeps repeating himself; it will because Paul (and the Misesian monetary tradition from which he derives) recognized what he saw as the necessary end of the process the Fed has been indulging in for years now. But there are reasons within the logic of the story (for which, admittedly, Paul is far from the most complicated and sophisticated explainer on the stump) that we aren't crushed by high inflation yet. (Though, as many in the comment threads pointed out, that core CPI figure doesn't match most people's experience actually buying the things they buy the most in the real world these days, food and energy.)

Casino Mogul Gives Gingrich PAC Another $10 Million, Journalists Quit Journaling to Work for Obama, FBI Foils Its Own Terrorist Plot: P.M. Links

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Tim Cavanaugh Talks Green Lobby On Russia Today: 4 PM Eastern

Reason managing editor Tim Cavanaugh will talk about the green lobby with Kristine Frazao today on Russia Today's Evening News with Kristine Frazao


Why isn't the Keystone pipeline in Pennsylvania? 

Is the Green Lobby a special interest

How many more Solyndras are out there? 

Who's smearin' who in this East Anglian Heartlandian trash-talkin' hill o' beans world?

Does nuclear power really need subsidies to survive? 

Is Energy Secretary Steven Chu's energy plan [pdf]  as ridiculous as he made it sound yesterday?

Was Club For Growth justified in criticizing Rep. Fred Upton (R-Michigan) even though upton has a smoking hot niece? Does smoking hotness contribute to carbon emissions? 

Time: Today, 4 PM Eastern, 1 PM Pacific. 

Place: Russia Today. Check local listings. 

Update: D'oh! Did not show at 4 PM but will cablecast at 7 PM Eastern (4 PM Pacific) and be up on the cybernational YouTubes later tonight. 

Citizenship for Sale: St. Kitts and Nevis, Plus Seasteading

St. Kitts and Nevis is one of only two nations, along with the island of Dominica, that formally sell citizenship ("citizenship-by-investment"). As tax consultants Henley & Partners points out, these West Indies locales are very enticing for libertarians:

The Government grants tax breaks, guaranteed repatriation of profits and concessions on import duties. There are no income or capital gains taxes, no net wealth taxes and no inheritance or gift taxes in St. Kitts & Nevis.

Plus, unlike the Free State Project in frigid New Hampshire, St. Kitts and Nevis are islands in the Caribbean.  And Lysander Spooner fans can rejoice: There's even a secession movement for Nevis to split away from St. Kitts.

To become a full-fledged Kittian, future citizens have two options: You can 1) donate at least $250,000 to the Sugar Industry Diversification Fund (a program that assists retired and displaced sugar workers) or 2) buy upwards of $400,000 worth of real estate on those islands. After filing a bit of paperwork and waiting as little as three months, you become a citizen of St. Kitts.

Meanwhile, Dominica has a basic investment price of $75,000, but its passport is less valuable for international travel. In addition, Austria, the home of Hayek, Mises, Schumpeter, and Bruno, has a similar, albeit unofficial citizenship-by-investment program. Austrian citizenship has been offered to those of  "extraordinary merit," which can include investing over $10 million in Österreich. But Henley's CEO cautions:

The candidate has to have all the right trimmings...It's been done, it's possible, but it's fairly rare.

In addition to the minimal tax burden, Kittian citizenship is surprisingly useful for globetrotting. Henley & Partners have a Visa Restriction List, which ranks the countries where citizens can travel visa-free.  On that list, Austria is 6th, St. Kitts and Nevis is 28th, and Dominica is 54th. (Meanwhile, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland are tied for first, with the United States and Ireland in fifth.) So while Kittians can travel visa-free to fewer countries than Americans, they can still travel to the E.U. and Canada and even visit Cuba for up to three months without a visa.

Since the United States is the only industrialized country that taxes income earned abroad, more Americans are beginning to renounce their citizenship. In the words of one offshore tax attorney:

It's not enough to just move your assets anymore...Today, you have to move your ass.

Back in 2011, 1,788 Americans renounced their citizenship—a sevenfold increase from 2008. However, even those who renounced their American citizenship might still have to pay taxes. (Yes, the IRS is that powerful. Needless to say, always consult an attorney before doing anything that might provoke the wrath of the United States government.)

All this has some intriguing implications for seasteading. Currently in the planning stage, seasteads are ocean-based, self-governing communities popular among libertarians and Peter Thiel. Set in international waters, one goal is to escape the regulatory clutches of the state and experiment with polycentric law. Yet unless American-born seasteaders renounce their citizenship, they would still be liable to pay taxes to the United States. By investing in Kittian or Dominican citizenship, sovereign individuals could obtain some much needed legal protection. (Being completely stateless can be a real burden.)

If there's actually a surge in anarcho-capitalist Kittians, this would be a double irony: Thomas Jefferson's rival and national bank advocate Alexander Hamilton was born on Nevis, while St. Kitts and Nevis are technically still governed by the Queen of England.

Reason on seasteading. The Seasteading Institute on why it won't become Rapture.

Fracking Doesn't Harm Drinking Water, Study Says.

Citizens who are concerned that fracking -- pumping a mixture of water, sand, and small amounts of chemicals into deep wells to break open natural gas and oil supplies -- should be happy with the findings of a new study just released at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference today. As ScienceNow reports

A controversial method of drilling for natural gas, called fracking, has boomed in recent years—as have concerns over its potential to cause environmental contamination and harm human health. But a major review of the practice, released today, uncovered no signs that it is causing trouble below ground. “We found no direct evidence that fracking itself has contaminated groundwater,” said Charles Groat of the University of Texas, Austin, who led the study. ...

As part of the review, 16 researchers at UT Austin, in fields ranging from air quality to hydrology, reviewed the scientific literature and regulatory documents for three major areas of fracking, in Texas, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania and New York. They could not find evidence of drilling fluids leaking deep underground, and methane in water wells in some areas is probably due to natural sources. The team did not see a need for new regulations specific to fracking, but for better enforcement of existing regulations of drilling in general—such as those covering well casing and disposal of wastewater from drilling.

The report did identify problems that can occur with drilling any hydrocarbon well:

The report...suggests that problems aren't directly caused by fracking, a process in which water, sand, chemicals are pumped into wells to break up deep layers of shale and release natural gas. Instead, the report concludes, contamination tends to happen closer to the surface when gas and drilling fluid escapes from poorly lined wells or storage ponds.

For more background on the science and policy of fracking, see my columns, What the Frack!, and Natural Gas Flip-Flop

Kennedy on Whitney Houston, Adele, &...Michelle Obama?

What do Whitney Houston, Adele, the First Lady - plus crooner Tony Bennett and fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld - have in common?

KYSR DJ and former MTV VJ Kennedy connects the dots as Houston fans prepare for the songbird's funeral, Adele polishes her six Grammys, and Michelle Obama hula-hoops her way across the nation, pushing kids to eat less and exercise more.

About 3 minutes.

Written by Nick Gillespie and Kennedy, who also hosts. Edited by Meredith Bragg.

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

The Dumbest Generation: Gen Y's Political Stupidity In a Single Chart

A new survey from the Pew Internet Center confirms every suspicion I harbor about people my age: Despite unprecedented access to information, technology, wealth, and food, we are basically retarded. 

That young people voted for Obama en masse in 2008 is excusable; he was young and charismatic while John McCain was (and still is) repulsively old and cranky. (Insert obligatory Churchill paraphrase here.)

Everything else on that chart is an indictment of our right to vote. If only 50 percent of young Obama voters (between the ages of 18-29) believe Obama has not changed "the way Washington works," it stands to reason the other 50 percent believe he has. This means half of young Obama voters either do not know "how Washington works," or they are stupid.

Of the young Obama voters who believe The One has failed to Revolutionize Politics In America, only 25 percent blame Obama for (presumably) bolstering the system he inherited with kevlar, handouts, and IOUs. That is a very tiny percentage of young people—probably only a dozen or so. If they have not all become public choice extremists in the last three years, or pledged their allegiances to Ron Paul, I hope they stay home in November (it would also be fitting if they cast a resigned vote for Obama out of fear that Rick Santorum will take away all the condoms).

The other 60 percent of you are dead wrong. Sure, Congressional Republicans are appalling in their own way, but so much of what's abhorrent about "the way Washington works"—crony capitalism, regulatory overreach, needless wars, bankster fellatio, the systemic violation of civil liberties—comes straight from Obama's mouth to your ears via various and sundry federal agencies. 

For a smattering of what Obama's done that should appall young progressives, see: 

- Oh Hey Look, the President Is Fibbing About Getting Money From Lobbyists

- Obama's War Record Should Appall Progressives: The president is following in George W. Bush's disastrous footsteps.

- Why Is Obama Championing Sexist Progressive Era Laws?

- Congress, Obama Codify Indefinite Detention

- The Obama Administration’s Prosecutorial Overreach

- Obama's Administration Continues Its Record of Criminal Cases Against "Leakers"

- Obama Admits U.S. Drone Program Exists, But It's Definitely Just for Special Terrorist Occasions

- Obama's Phony Tax Reform

- Obama's Crony Capitalism

- Bummer: Barack Obama turns out to be just another drug warrior

- Obama's Thought Police: The trouble with the White House's "Attack Watch" initiative

The good news, Gen Y, is that it is not too late to form a different opinion. Obama has done it quite a few times since you elected him.

(See the entire Pew survey.)

David Cameron's Drug-Induced Idiocy

Writing in The Telegraph, Tom Chivers notes that British Prime Minister David Cameron's drug policy views changed even more dramatically than Barack Obama's once he took power. In 2005, when Cameron was seeking to lead the Conservative Party, he advocated "alternative ways—including the possibility of legalisation and regulation—to tackle the global drugs dilemma." He added: "Politicians attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator by posturing with tough policies and calling for crackdown after crackdown. Drugs policy has been failing for decades." Today Cameron illustrates his own observation about politicians:

Every time [it is confronted with pro-reform evidence], the Home Office deadbats with bland statement on the lines of: drugs are bad, mmmkay. This time it's: "We have no intention of liberalising our drugs laws. Drugs are illegal because they are harmful – they destroy lives and cause untold misery to families and communities. Those caught in the cycle of dependency must be supported to live drug free lives, but giving people a green light to possess drugs through decriminalisation is clearly not the answer. Through the cross-government drug strategy, we are taking action through tough enforcement, both at home and abroad, alongside introducing a temporary control power and robust treatment programmes that lead people into drug free recovery."

If you managed to read all the way through that, you'll notice it says nothing whatsoever about the evidence, despite my specifically asking for a response to the BMJ, WHO and IJDP studies and the Portugal experience. The Home Office, and the Government, is deliberately ignoring the reality of the drug laws' failure.

More on British prohibitionist orthodoxy here and here.

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]

How Government Corrupts Gambling

Washington, D.C., was supposed to be one of the jurisdictions closest to taking advantage of the Justice Department's recent reversal regarding federal law and online gambling. But last week the D.C. Council nixed the iGaming program, which would have allowed District residents to play poker, blackjack, and bingo online. The plan ("approved in 2010 in an amendment added to a budget bill at 2:17 a.m.," The New York Times notes) was misbegotten to begin with, since it involved extending the government's lottery monopoly instead of simply legalizing online gambling and allowing businesses to compete for customers. The Times reports that the selection of a vendor to operate the gambling monopoly was clouded by charges of cronyism, corruption, and spiteful obstruction:

The turmoil began in 2007 after earlier security breaches allowed individuals to claim prizes for lottery tickets they never bought. As a result the city decided to put the contract for running the lottery out to bid, for the first time in years. But the process quickly became ensnared in procedures requiring Council approval for large contracts. Critics say the requirement, created as a check on mayoral power, encourages influence-peddling.

The winner of the new contract was a joint venture anchored by the Greek gambling giant Intralot. Its local partner, headed by a businessman named Warren C. Williams Jr., had had a series of run-ins with the city, and had antagonized Councilman Jim Graham, whose district included a nightclub Mr. Williams owned.

Mr. Payne's lawsuit says that Council members and Mr. Gandhi wanted a more favored partner. According to the inspector general’s report and e-mails published in The Washington Post, Mr. Graham also made a proposal: he would support the lottery contract if Mr. Williams’s company withdrew from an unrelated housing project with the area transit authority, whose board Mr. Graham served on.

In one e-mail, Mr. Williams's lawyer, A. Scott Bolden, called the overture “very close to corruption, bid rigging and other inappropriate conduct."...

The contract languished until the Council rejected it in December 2008. The city reopened bidding, and Intralot won again, but without a partner. Byron E. Boothe Jr., Intralot’s vice president of government relations, said it became clear the Council would reject Intralot if it lacked a local minority partner.

"That's important to D.C., and so we just understood and it's just part of the process,” he said.

The company selected a start-up called the Veterans Services Corporation and formed a company called DC09; Veterans Services owned 51 percent, and Intralot owned the rest. Veterans Services’ president is Emmanuel Bailey, a Maryland businessman whose mother had worked for the city and was the company chairwoman.

City inspectors certifying Veterans Services' small-business status found the company based in the family room of Mr. Bailey’s mother’s home. Inspectors found no sign of bookkeeping, payroll records or company stationery, according to their report.

Whatever else it shows, this kind of nonsense hardly confirms Frank Wolf's thesis that gambling is inherently corrupting.

Ronald Bailey on Bioconservatives vs. Bioprogressives

The conventional left/right ideological categories are breaking down in our new age of biopolitics, observes Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey. On one side stands an uneasy “bioconservative” alliance of moralizing neoconservatives and egalitarian left-wingers who fear that the new biotechnologies threaten human dignity and human equality. On the other side are “bioprogressives” who welcome the new advancements for their capacity to confer greater freedom to flourish.

View this article

Free Speech? Ya right: Mitch McConnell Is a Poopy-head!

Granted, Jane Mayer had only 7,200 words to work with in her latest New Yorker feature about how Citizens United has imperiled democracy. But is this the best an acclaimed reporter can do with the legitimate First Amendment objections to regulating political speech?

Conservatives cast their opposition to campaign-finance restrictions as a defense of free speech, but one of the cause's biggest champions, Senator McConnell, occasionally revealed a partisan motive. McConnell once opened a college seminar by writing on the blackboard the three ingredients that he felt were necessary to build a political party: "Money, money, and money." In a Senate debate on proposed campaign-finance restrictions, McConnell reportedly told colleagues, "If we stop this thing, we can control the institution for the next twenty years." In the end, McConnell decided to wage his battle through the courts. He and a conservative lawyer, James Bopp, Jr., founded the James Madison Center for Free Speech, which mounted a legal challenge on behalf of Citizens United—yet another outside spending group created by McCarthy’s partner on the Willie Horton ad, Floyd Brown.

The case reached the Supreme Court, and its ruling, issued in January, 2010, rolled back a century of legislation limiting corporate money in federal elections. Citizens United argued, successfully, that political spending was a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment. In the past, the Court had balanced the free-speech argument against the need to protect American democracy from corruption. In Citizens United, a 5–4 decision, the Court essentially ruled that elections wouldn't be corrupted by independent expenditures made by outside groups. They could spend all the money they wanted, as long as the contributions weren't made directly to the candidates' campaigns.

Here's me in July 2010 on the faulty concept of "balancing" the First Amendment against other concerns.

Having once (shamefully!) held Mayer's precise position–free speech objections to campaign finance regulation are specious because screw that Mitch McConnell!–I'll reiterate my recommendation (which occasionally works!) to those who are still in that camp:

Check out the free-speech objections by people who don't want Goldman Sachs to take over the West Wing, or Wal-Mart to bulldoze private residences. I'm talking about anti-corporatist crusaders like Tim Carney, anti-eminent domain-abuse litigators like the Institute of Justice, or even former Federal Elections Commission chief Brad Smith.

And for those many who claim to be First Amendment absolutists while also supporting McCain-Feingold--I'm looking at you, some of my fellow journalists--here's a question that the former begs of the latter: What if you're wrong?

Presuming of course that being wrong about an important topic is actively embarrassing to journalists.

Reason on Citizens United here, including Reason.tv's three reasons not to sweat it:

Ban Alcohol on the Grounds That It Is a Possible Abortifacient?

In today's New York Times, there is an article headlined, "Groups Equate Abortion with Some Contraceptives." Yesterday, a panel of religious folks testified before a congressional committee against the Obama administration's requirement (however finessed) that religiously-affiliated groups offer health insurance that pays for contraceptives. Part of their opposition results from their belief that some contraceptives sometimes act as "abortifacients." As the Times reports:

They contend that methods of contraception including morning-after pills and IUDs can be considered “abortifacients” because, these advocates say, they can act to prevent pregnancy after a man’s sperm has fertilized a woman’s egg.

“We object to the use of drugs and procedures used to take the lives of unborn children,” the Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, said Thursday at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Their reasoning is that life begins the moment an egg is fertilized, and that if a contraceptive has the potential to prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus, it is aborting a life. ...

... Catholic bishops and evangelical leaders say that if there is any chance that a method may result in the destruction of a fertilized egg they will oppose it.

Without arguing about the contestable science, assume that this does occasionally occur. How far are the believers willing to go to prevent people from engaging in activities that increase the likelihood that a fertilized egg will fail to implant? For example, a 2004 study published in The American Journal of Epidemiology reported that alcohol consumption by both females and males increases the risk of "spontaneous abortion." From the abstract: 

Depending on the intake in the cycle of conception and the adjustment factors, female alcohol intake was associated with 2–3 times the adjusted risk of spontaneous abortion compared with no intake, and male alcohol intake was associated with 2–5 times the adjusted risk. Only the adjusted relative risks for 10 or more drinks/week compared with no intake were statistically significant. Both male and female alcohol intakes during the week of conception increased the risk of early pregnancy loss.

By the way, some 60 to 80 percent of naturally conceived embryos fail to implant. 

A. Barton Hinkle on Culture War Propaganda

The Virginia General Assembly’s has passed bills requiring an ultrasound and waiting period before an abortion. Proponents pretend the measure is merely about medical safety. If that were the case, then one would expect physicians to be all for it, writes A. Barton Hinkle. You would think groups such as the Medical Society of Virginia and the Richmond Academy of Medicine would chime in, lending the weight of professional expertise to the cause of patient safety. They haven’t.

View this article

Is Obama's Medical Marijuana Reversal 'Shocking'?

In a new Rolling Stone piece, Tim Dickinson rehearses Barack Obama's reversal on medical marijuana, covering much of the same ground that I did in my October cover story for Reason (which also discusses other disappointing aspects of Obama's drug policies). It's a good summary, featuring outraged quotes from reformers and making the point that Obama, despite his talk of deferring to state law, is arguably worse on this issue than his predecessor. But I think Dickinson makes too much of an anti-marijuana document produced by the Drug Enforcement Administration:

In January 2011, weeks after [Bush administration holdover Michele] Leonhart was confirmed [as head of the DEA], her agency updated a paper called "The DEA Position on Marijuana." With subject headings like THE FALLACY OF MARIJUANA FOR MEDICINAL USE and SMOKED MARIJUANA IS NOT MEDICINE, the paper simply regurgitated the Bush administration's ideological stance, in an attempt to walk back the Ogden memo. Sounding like Glenn Beck, the DEA even blamed "George Soros" and "a few billionaires, not broad grassroots support" for sustaining the medical-marijuana movement—even though polls show that 70 percent of Americans approve of medical pot.

Almost immediately, federal prosecutors went on the attack. Their first target: the city of Oakland, where local officials had moved to raise millions in taxes by licensing high-tech indoor facilities for growing medical marijuana. A month after the DEA issued its hard-line position, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag warned the city that the feds were weighing "criminal prosecution" against the proposed pot operations. Abandoning the Ogden memo's protections for state-sanctioned "caregivers," Haag effectively re-declared war on medical pot. "We will enforce the Controlled Substances Act vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana," she wrote, "even if such activities are permitted under state law."

This juxtaposition suggests the U.S. attorneys were following the DEA's lead, which seems unlikely. In any case, the DEA's position on medical marijuana has never really changed. The July 2010 version of this document, which appeared half a year before the U.S. attorneys' crackdown, is essentially the same as the current version, which (as Dickinson suggests) is essentially the same as the version produced during the Bush administration. Leonhart and her underlings were never on board with the forbearance promised by Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, and neither were the federal prosecutors who are going after growers and dispensaries now. Obama would have had to make an effort to change the status quo, and he clearly didn't think it was worth it.

Was this failure "shocking," as the subhead over Dickinson's story says? That depends on your perspective. When my article on Obama's drug policies came out, Jeralyn at Talk Left had this reaction:

Jacob Sullum has the October cover story at Reason on President Obama: Bummer: Barack Obama Turns Out to Be Just Another Drug Warrior." As if anyone should be surprised.

I'm not. I've been writing since 2007 that he would do little to temper the War on Drugs. I would have called the article "Bummer: Barack Obama Is Still A Drug Warrior."

As I note in my Reason piece, there were indeed warning signs before Obama was elected. But many reformers were genuinely surprised that, with the exception of crack sentences, he turned out to be no better than Bush and in some ways worse. With medical marijuana especially, the political risks of a bit more tolerance seemed small, and there was even a sound conservative/constitutionalist argument for letting states make their own decisions. Obama seems to assume that supporters who care about this issue and other progressive causes he has betrayed (the anti-war movement and civil liberties, for instance) have nowhere else to go, but they could just stay home.

The Drug War Chronicle notes that Delaware has suspended its medical marijuana program in response to federal threats.

Norman Borlaug: Humanitarian Hero Versus Doomsayers

I am always surprised (and disappointed) at the blank looks I get on those occasions when I mention the name Norman Borlaug. As the Father of the Green Revolution, he is the person who probably saved the most human lives in all of history. You would think that Borlaug's accomplishments would would occupy whole chapters in history books. Borlaug died at age 95 back in 2009. 

Henry Miller, over at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, has written up a good brief bio of Borlaug which highlights how doomsaying environmentalists and naysaying bureaucrats tried to derail his ultimately successful efforts to prevent global-scale famines. How did Borlaug launch the Green Revolution? Borlaug directed a plant breeding project funded largely by the Rockefeller Foundation that created high yielding, disease resistant varieties of wheat. What did he achieve? Miller writes:

From 1950 to 1992, the world’s grain output rose from 692 million tons produced on 1.70 billion acres of cropland to 1.9 billion tons on 1.73 billion acres of cropland—an extraordinary increase in yield-per-acre of more than 150 percent. India is an excellent case in point. In pre-Borlaug 1963, wheat grew there in sparse, irregular strands, was harvested by hand, and was susceptible to rust disease. The maximum yield was 800 pounds-per-acre. By 1968, thanks to Borlaug’s varieties, the wheat grew densely packed, was resistant to rust, and the maximum yield had risen to 6,000 pounds-per-acre.

Without high-yield agriculture, either millions would have starved or increases in food output would have been realized only through the drastic expansion of land under cultivation—with major losses in pristine wilderness.

By the way, global per capita grain production leveled off in the 1980s. In 2011, global grain production reached nearly 2.3 billion tons. Borlaug believed that modern crop biotechnology would help spur a new Green Revolution, but worried that doomsayers and bureaucrats would once again try to stop progress. He was right to be worried, as Miller explains: 

The need for additional agricultural production and the obstacles to innovation remain, and in his later years, Borlaug turned his efforts to ensuring the success of this century’s equivalent of the Green Revolution: the application of gene-splicing, or “genetic modification” (GM), to agriculture. As Borlaug and other plant scientists realized, the use of the term “genetic modification” to apply only to the newest genetic techniques is an unfortunate misnomer because plant scientists had been using crude and laborious techniques to obtain new genetic variants of wheat, corn, and innumerable other crops for decades, if not centuries. Products now in development with gene-splicing techniques offer the possibility of even higher yields, lower inputs of agricultural chemicals and water, enhanced nutrition, and even plant-derived, orally active vaccines.

However, small numbers of dedicated extremists in the environmental movement have been doing everything they can to stop scientific progress in its tracks, and their allies in national and United Nations-based regulatory agencies are more than eager to help. Activists have trotted out the same kinds of rumors to frighten rural illiterates that confronted Borlaug a half-century earlier—that gene-spliced plants cause impotence or sterility, or that they harm farm animals, for example. As Borlaug observed about opposition to modernizing agricultural practices in India in 1966, “The situation was tailor-made for demagogues, fear-mongers, second-guessers and hate groups. We heard from them all.” In the twenty-first century, they continue to spew their lethal venom. ...

Borlaug observed that the enemies of innovation might create a self-fulfilling prophecy: “If the naysayers do manage to stop agricultural biotechnology, they might actually precipitate the famines and the crisis of global biodiversity they have been predicting for nearly 40 years.” After slowing the progress of gene-splicing technology by advocating excessive regulation and after filing lawsuits to prevent the testing and commercialization of gene-spliced plants and even vandalizing field trials, activists have had the audacity to accuse the scientists and agribusiness companies of having overpromised technological advances.

Go here to read Miller's whole article on Borlaug's achievements and travails. And for more background see Reason's interview with Borlaug, Billion's Served, from back in 2000. Go here for my 2006 Wall Street Journal review of the Borlaug biography, The Man Who Fed the World

Where is Dr. Paul's Inflation?

Even more than an anti-war warrior, Ron Paul is an inflation warrior. Fighting inflation by eliminating the Federal Reserve and returning to the gold standard has been the one constant in his four-decade-long political career. Indeed, one big reason he jumped into the current presidential race is because he believes that the Fed’s loose monetary policy combined with Uncle Sam’s trillion-dollar-plus stimulus profligacy is certain to produce a dollar catastrophe.

He noted last March:

"I think the wave of the future is inflation. It's just beginning -- to the point that the dollar will be rejected as the reserve currency of the world. If there's a panic out of the dollar you will see the destruction of the dollar rather quickly. The end stages of a currency comes quickly." He continued, "We've seen this in Zimbabwe, Mexico and Central America. Today there's an illusion and false trust in our money."

In June he warned that inflation would “hit 50 percent.”

In August he said: “inflation may get out of control.”

But this morning Carpe Diem’s Mark Perry, no Keynesian enthusiast, examined the latest CPI report and found that inflationary pressures were falling at the end of last year. Notes Perry:

  1. For the six month period ending July 2011, the annualized inflation rate for CPI: All Items was 4.1%, and that fell to only 1.8% for the six month period ending last month.
  2. For the three month period ending July 2011, the annualized inflation rate for "food at home" was 5.5% and for the three month period ending January 2012, the annualized inflation rate was only 1.0%. Bottom Line: Compared to last summer for the three and six month periods ending in July 2011, inflationary pressures fell significantly towards the end of last year and in the first month of 2012 for the three and six month periods ending in January.  Inflation for food at home has fallen to only 1% (at an annual rate) for the November-January period.  

Likewise, Daniel Hanson on the American Enterprise Institute's The Enterprise blog, no Keynesian shill, earlier this month presented a series of charts -- including the one below -- tracking money supply and core inflation and concluded that the relationship between how much money there is in an economy and how much things cost is not very easy to track because “price changes are influenced by many things other than the supply of money.”

All of this raises this question: Is the runaway inflation that the good doctor has been worried about only a matter of time? Or has he misdiagnosed the corrosive effects that the twin cancers of out-of-control federal spending and over-easy monetary policy might produce on the body economicus?


Bonus Material: Paul Krugman on Paul's Monetary Madness here.

Target Knows Your Daughter Is Knocked Up: More Upsides to Zero Privacy

People are willing to sell information about themselves quite cheaply—a couple of bucks off a grocery bill will get them to consistently use a discount card tied to their names, a coupon for in-store Starbucks coffee extracts a usable email address.

The ideas that stores keep tabs on their customers can seem creepy, but reflect for a moment on this interesting tale from this week's New York Times Magazine in mind:

About a year after Pole created his pregnancy-prediction model, a man walked into a Target outside Minneapolis and demanded to see the manager. He was clutching coupons that had been sent to his daughter, and he was angry, according to an employee who participated in the conversation.

“My daughter got this in the mail!” he said. “She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”

The manager didn’t have any idea what the man was talking about. He looked at the mailer. Sure enough, it was addressed to the man’s daughter and contained advertisements for maternity clothing, nursery furniture and pictures of smiling infants. The manager apologized and then called a few days later to apologize again.

On the phone, though, the father was somewhat abashed. “I had a talk with my daughter,” he said. “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of. She’s due in August. I owe you an apology.”

When people enter new phases of life—graduations, marriages, births—their buying habits are up for grabs. Target uses the mountains of data it collects to identify when those moments are about to occur and get people through their doors and into the habit of shopping at their stores. To do this, they send targeted ads and coupons for precisely the stuff that people in that phase of life want or need to buy.

For now, Target will even accommodate your need not to feel spied on, though I suspect that will diminish over time, much as it has with online advertising.

“We have the capacity to send every customer an ad booklet, specifically designed for them, that says, ‘Here’s everything you bought last week and a coupon for it,’ ” one Target executive told me. “We do that for grocery products all the time.” But for pregnant women, Target’s goal was selling them baby items they didn’t even know they needed yet.

“With the pregnancy products, though, we learned that some women react badly,” the executive said. “Then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We’d put an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers. We’d put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance....As long as we don’t spook her, it works.”

Lots more Reason on the upsides of living in Database Nation.

Via Conor Friedersdorf.

Instapundit's Syllabus for the Occupy Movement

Glenn Reynolds, the wizard behind Instapundit, is also a law prof at University of Tennessee. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Reynolds suggests a syllabus for courses that are starting to be taught about the Occupy Movement. Among the class sessions he recommends:

1) The Higher Education Bubble and Debt Slavery Throughout History. Since ancient times, debt has been a tool used by rulers to enslave the ruled, which is why the Bible explains that the borrower is the slave to the lender. One complaint of many Occupy protesters involves their pursuit of expensive degrees that has left them burdened by student loans but unable to find suitable employment. This unit would compare the marketing of higher education and student debt to today's students with the techniques used to lure sharecroppers and coal miners into irredeemable indebtedness. Music to be provided by Tennessee Ernie Ford.

2) Bourgeois vs. Non-Bourgeois Revolutions: A Comparison and Contrast. The Occupy movement left its major sites—McPherson Square in D.C., Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, Dewey Square in Boston—filthy and disheveled. By contrast, the tea party protests famously left the Washington Mall and other locations cleaner than they found them, with members proudly performing cleanup duties.

This unit would note that social-protest movements are sometimes orderly and sometimes disorderly as a matter of approach, and it would compare the effectiveness and ultimate success of such relentlessly bourgeois movements as the tea party, the pre-1964 Civil Rights movement, Women's Suffrage activists, and the American Revolution, against such anti-Bourgeois movements as the post-1968 Black Power and New Left movements, and the French Revolution.

Which accomplished more lasting good?...

4) Scapegoating and anti-Semitism in mass economic-protest movements. The Occupy movement began as an assault on "the 1%," a shadowy elite of bankers and financiers charged with running the world for their own benefit. Within a few months, the Anti-Defamation League was noting that anti-Semitic statements and sympathies seemed surprisingly widespread within the Occupy encampments. Compare with other such movements that led to similar results. Are such developments inevitable? If so, what strands in Western (and perhaps non-Western) culture account for this?

Read the whole thing (for free!) at the WSJ.

Speaking of anti-semitism, here's Reason.tv talking to a (now-former) L.A. Unified School District employee at Occupy LA:


For more Reason video coverage of the Occupy movement, including Peter Schiff among the protesters and Remy's protest song, go here.

For Reason.com coverage of Occupy, go here.

Mike Riggs on Gary Johnson's Mission to Build a Libertarian-Leaning Coalition

Compared to fellow former Republican Bob Barr, who was tied for the presidential nomination through five rounds of ballots at the 2008 national convention, getting the backing of the Libertarian Party is going to be a cakewalk for Gary Johnson. What about the rest of America? Johnson is hoping to poll high enough to appear with President Barack Obama and the GOP nominee in a televised debate, and pull 5 percent in the general election. But the former two-term governor of New Mexico, writes Mike Riggs, is having a hard time coralling people who lean libertarian, but aren't quite. 

View this article

President Obama’s No-Win Medicare Cuts

Joseph Antos, a health policy scholar at The American Enterprise Institute, helpfully explains the dual problems with the Medicare “cuts” proposed in President Obama’s new budget blueprint: On the one hand, even ignoring the near certainty that Obama’s budget plan won’t ever pass, the cuts aren’t likely to go into effect. On the other hand, if they did, they could screw up health care access for Medicare beneficiaries:

We have eight years of proof that Congress will never allow those payment reductions to go into effect. Unmentioned in the budget is the little matter of the 27.4% reduction in Medicare payments to physicians, scheduled to take effect on March 1. Whenever physician payments grow more quickly than the economy, Medicare is required to cut their fees using the “sustainable growth rate” formula. However, Congress has overridden those formula-driven payment cuts every year since 2003 and the uncollected bills have mounted up. It is now ludicrous to think that Congress could ever allow such a large payment reduction to take effect. It is equally ludicrous to think that Congress would enforce sizeable reductions in payments to hospitals and other health facilities on top of the hundreds of billions in reductions already levied on them by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

But suppose the implausible happened and Congress accepted the president’s cuts. The cumulative effect of the ACA and the 2013 budget would drive providers out of Medicare, making it increasingly difficult for seniors to get the care they need. Medicare’s actuary reported that in 2019 the ACA reductions by themselves would cause 15 percent of hospitals, nursing facilities, and home health agencies to lose money. Piling on with more cuts will only make the problem worse.

So the proposed cuts won't work, because they won't pass. And even if they did, they still wouldn't work, because they'd cause other problems. 

It is imperative that the United States reduce its long-term commitment to spending on Medicare and Medicaid; even the Obama administration admits that in the long run, the country's current commitments are totally unsustainable. But centralized cuts to provider payments are both politically difficult and likely to have significant unintended consequences on health care and access—and yet as I reported in my recent magazine feature on Medicare price setting, policymakers have been trying to control spending by controlling prices for decades without much success. Indeed, Antos, who talked to me for the piece, helped implement one of the major price-setting that he now believes has failed. The problem Antos outlines is the problem with giant-size health entitlements that rely heavily on technocratic price setting, especially as those programs expand coverage and benefits: Policymakers end up having to choose between budget problems and big health system problems. 

A.M. Links: Obama Rakes in $29 Million, U.S. Provides Loan Guarantee to Indonesian Airline, German President Resigns

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New at Reason.tv: "Is Harrisburg's Nightmare America's Future?"

Henry Payne on Mitt Romney and the Fickle GOP

Former front-runner Mitt Romney now can't get the time of day from the GOP, writes Henry Payne. 

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Ron Paul: His Opponents Don't Even Know They've Been Beaten

Business Insider with details on the Ron Paul campaign's stealth efforts for total Republican Party dominance, after explaining again all the reasons to doubt the legitimacy of the announced straw poll vote (nonbinding on eventual delegates) in Maine:

The Paul campaign believes it has won the majority of Maine's delegates....

Caucus chaos has also proved to be fertile ground for Paul's quiet takeover of the Republican Party. Since 2008, the campaign and Paul's Campaign for Liberty PAC have made a concerted effort to get Paul sympathists involved in the political process. Now, tumult in state party organizations has allowed these supporters to rise up the ranks.

"We like strong party leadership when it comes from us," Paul campaign chair Jesse Benton told Business Insider. "Our people work very hard to make sure that their voice is heard."

The fruits of this labor are evident in Iowa, where Paul's former state campaign co-chair A.J. Spiker was just elected as the new chairman of the Iowa Republican Party. Spiker replaces Matt Strawn, who stepped down over this year's Iowa caucus dustup. In Nevada, the state chair has also resigned over caucus disaster, and several Ron Paul supporters are well-positioned to step up to fill the void. These new leaders not only expand Paul's influence at the state level, but also help protect Paul and his hard-won delegates from state party machinations as the delegate-selection process moves to district and state conventions, and eventually the Republican National Convention this summer.

"We are always trying to bring people into the party," Benton said. "I think that is a very positive thing for Republicans. Ron is the person who can build the Republican base, bring new blood into the party. That's how you build the party." 

In Maine, the caucus disaster has made the state GOP prime for a Ron Paul takeover. And that means that Paul's hard-won delegates will be protected as the delegate selection process

"We are taking over the party," Wead told BI. "That's the important thing — and that is what we are doing in Maine."

Daily Beast has more on this angle of Paul's ongoing secret victory, focusing not on the GOP per se but his ideological conquest of the young and the wired:

  According to the Election Oracle, Paul has played online with remarkable consistency, staying entirely in positive territory and avoiding the volatile shifts and dips of his opponents. One reason is obvious: The 20- and 30-somethings who ardently support the free-market platform of the aging candidate are heavy web users who gush about him on political blogs, in news comments and on Twitter. But less clear is how for weeks, Paul, despite his controversial and provocative ideas to massively reign in the size of government, has escaped any online controversy or sustained attack.

To determine its favorability ratings, the Election Oracle tracks 40,000 news sites, blogs, message boards, Twitter feeds, and other social-media sources to analyze what millions of people are saying about the candidates—and determines whether the web buzz is positive or negative. That rating is weighted, along with the Real Clear Politics polling average and the latest InTrade market data, to calculate each candidate’s chances of winning the Republican nomination. (See methodology here.)

The downside of Paul's web popularity is that it isn't quite a representative sample. The positive web rating comes from his enthusiastic fans, but few others are talking about him....

Meanwhile, a CNN poll has Paul coming on top on the question of whether his policies are perceived as good for the middle class, above all his GOP opponents as well as President Obama. See this CNN clip, in which the graphic amusingly places the number one Paul at the bottom of the list:

My forthcoming book, Ron Paul's Revolution.

Relax, Liberal Metalheads. Dave Mustaine Did Not “Endorse” Rick Santorum

All you contraceptive-using headbangers out there can breathe a sigh of relief. Although it was widely reported yesterday that Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine had endorsed social conservative darling Rick Santorum for president, it turns out Mustaine was just the latest victim of the media’s well-known bias against right-wing rockers. According to the statement Mustaine released today:

Contrary to how some people have interpreted my words, I have not endorsed any presidential candidate. What I did say was that I hope to see a Republican in the White House. I've seen good qualities in all the candidates but by no means have made my choice yet. I respect the fact that Santorum took time off from his campaign to be with his sick daughter, but I never used the word “endorse."

So don't go burning your copy of Rust in Peace just yet (burn everything Megadeth released after it, of course, if you already haven't).

Kurt Loder on Thin Ice and The Secret World of Arrietty

Set in the wintry Midwest, Thin Ice is a dark, twisty crime thriller that recalls the Coen brothers’ snowbound Fargo and features colorfully comic performances by Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin, and especially Billy Crudup, who charges the film memorably as a menacing psycho. The Secret World of Arrietty, on the other hand, is a lustrous animated adaptation of English author Mary Nortion’s 1952 fantasy novel The Borrowers, featuring a script co-written by Princess Mononoke director Hayao Miyazaki. It’s a great kids movie, but it’s not in any way just for kids. Kurt Loder reviews them both.

View this article

Rick Santorum: Against Contraception, Against Online Gambling

We know Rick Santorum casts a gimlet eye on contraception because he feels "it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."

Now we know that the GOP presidential candidate - leading his party's nominating race in some polls - is also against online gambling. From the Las Vegas Sun via Jim Geraghty at the National Review, here's Santo's proclamation on the evils of cyberspace wagering:

Just as we’ve seen from a lot of other things that are vices on the Internet, they end to grow exponentially as a result of that. It’s one thing to come to Las Vegas and do gaming and participate in the shows and that kind of thing as entertainment, it’s another thing to sit in your home and have access to that it. I think it would be dangerous to our country to have that type of access to gaming on the Internet.

More, including video, here.

Santorum is against non-marital sex and gambling. What's next, banning step aerobics? Exactly how is this great nation supposedly to unwind?

One point worth making: Santorum makes a classic prohibitionist's mistake. He thinks that the law dictates the status of activity. When it comes to online gambling, Americans already had access to it long before there was definitive ruling on whether it was legal or not.

Prohibition doesn't squelch a targeted activity, even as it can reduce the number of participants. It drives an often-smaller number of people to more desperate measures, and introduces all sorts of criminal or black or gray market problems. And it makes anyone with an problem to seek help. I'd like to have a president who is capable of understanding that, or at least debating it.

Hat tip: Alan Vanneman!

Occupy Wall Street Forms a PAC, CNN Cancels GOP Debate, Underwear Bomber Gets Life Sentence: P.M. Links

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Mandatory Drugs Tests by Record Companies, Media Scoldings, and Other Helpful Suggestions for Preventing Further Whitney Houstons

Creepy media-leech/medical professional Dr. Drew Pinsky has been covering the death of Whitney Houston because that's just what he does.

One of Dr. Drew's recent show guests suggested that record companies start mandatory drug testing. Drew said "I love that." 

It's never as offensive when it's just two people talking, instead of people who get to enact destructive drug laws laws, but still, any actual effects of that benign-sounding policy (say who is going to institute it and how when label folks want to sign and retain major musicians who may not be interested in pissing in a cup) were breezed