Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 February 22-31

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He's a Cowboy, Baby

Here is an actual headline from this morning's New York Daily News: "Mitt Romney personally recruited Kid Rock to campaign event." It's accompanied by this photo:

Here's Kid Rock's video for his song "American Bad Ass":

Colorado Medical Marijuana Users Got the Full SWAT Treatment Because of Their Legal Plants

It's legal medicine under state law — and it's on the potential full-legalization track for 2012  — but Colorado has had some issues with federal raids of their medical marijuana dispensaries in the last few years especially. However, a raid on the home of legal two medical marijuana users has made the residents fighting-mad. Chuck Ball says police used excessive force on him and his roommate on February 10. According to KRDO News Channel 13:

"They acted like they were coming for a big terrorist," said Ball.... "They came in here, drug me across the kitchen floor and handcuffed me," said. "They kept telling me to shut up." 

The raid required "at least 13" SWAT officers (which you can see on the home's surveillance video here). Once there they allegedly handcuffed Ball and his roommates, including fellow medical marijuana patient Lynda Glandorf (who doesn't seem to have arrived until later). Residents say police broke some items in the house, singed one of the dog's fur with a flash-bang grenade and scorched the floor, and kept Ball and a neighbor handcuffed for 25 or so minutes. Ball also says they "ripped off [his] shirt" and generally screamed at him as he tried to explain that he was disabled and that he and Glandorf had permission to grow their plants. 

And after that, no arrests were made or charges were filed, because the patients were not growing more than Colorado state law permitted after all. Supposedly a handgun was found,  but Glandorf denies this.

In this video, Ball and Glandorf describe the raid in their own words. It's a long one, though. One of the key parts is around 15 minutes in where they show off what they describe as the top of the flash-bang grenade, as well as another twisted chunk of metal from the weapon.

Further details from KRDO reveal that when the police came to the home previously (at around 10 p.m. on Christmas 2011), Ball and Glandorf showed their medical marijuana cards, but refused to let officers in because they didn't have a warrant. This, says Colorado Springs police spokesperson Barbara Miller, is kind of dubious:

"If you have nothing to hide, most people would open the door and say, 'Yes, please come in and and let's dispel any information you have because it's false." 

Miller, however, told Reason that she understood that the reaction to a so-called "knock and talk" on Christmas was understandable, and she might have done the same thing. And also that she "really appreciate[s] everybody's constitution rights" and "everybody should use them." However, according to KRDO:

Miller said officers smelled a very strong presence of marijuana in the home, and continued their investigation. Miller said police found out that someone living in the house had a prior felony weapons charge, and also noted that the electric bill was very high for the property."That's really important when you're talking narcotics because that's a tell-tale sign that they're doing a grow there," said Miller. Miller said that SWAT officers did knock on the door and gave enough time for someone to answer before going in [during the February 10 raid]."If you look at the video, it does look like maybe it's a large police presence," said Miller. "But if you put yourself in a police officer's shoes, they've been to many of these where you never know how it's going to play out, if weapons are involved, if someone's going to use it."

Colorado Springs Indyblog tells the story of the raid from the viewpoint of the other roommate, Glandorf. After the Christmas would-be search that Glandorf and Ball declined to accept:

Glandorf says she heard nothing further from the police until Feb. 10, when she found herself pulled over by a detective who had been following her for some way. The officer told her the department's Tactical Enforcement Unit was minutes away from raiding her household, partially based on another tip (that came from someone with a personal ax to grind, according to Glandorf). And he wanted to ask a few questions about its contents.

Ball and Glandorf say that "shrapnel" from the flash-bang hurt their dog. Miller is quoted as saying that's not possible because flash-bangs don't produce shrapnel. (She stressed to Reason that she didn't have the technical knowledge to talk further, and she wasn't there, however. She also said that she didn't want to describe the unnamed roommate's previous weapons charge as "a violation." So things are a bit vague at the moment, but Miller's official statement, including on the weapons allegation, can be found here.)

Regardless of all the details, flash-bangs are explosive and dangerous (and occasionally deadly) to human beings, so it doesn't seem impossible that something-which-is-not-technically-shrapnel but was caused by the weapon injured the dog. At 26 minutes into the video above, Ball demonstrates what he says is the welt that the grenade gave his dog. Another one supposedly had a chunk of something impeded under its skin and fur which caused swelling.

In other ill-advised Colorado Springs police actions, a 2009 SWAT raid lead to an October 2011 lawsuit by a 71-year-old woman who suffered a heart attack after police used a flash-bang while she was bed-ridden. So maybe using them on two dogs and a man who has multiple screws in his back is indeed overkill, especially when nobody here seems to have even violated state law. 

Mostly Jacob Sullum on Colorado's troubles with the feds on medical marijuana law. And Radley Balko on the dangers of flash-bang grenades.

For Fewer Crushed Children, Feds Mandate Rear-View Cameras For All Cars by 2014

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has mandated that all vehicles come equipped with a rear-view camera by 2014, The New York Times and Bloomberg Businessweek report. The impetus for this mandate came from KidsAndCars.org, "a nonprofit group that pushed the government to begin tracking" backover accidents, which occur when a driver doesn't see a pedestrian in his or her blind spot while backing up.

According to the Fact Sheet for Backovers on KidsAndCars.org, 70% of backover accidents involving small children occur when a parent or other relative is driving the car.

Other statistics for backover accidents are much less heartrending, calling into question the need for government intervention. According to The New York Times article:

[R]egulators say that 95 to 112 deaths and as many as 8,374 injuries could be avoided each year by eliminating the wide blind spot behind a vehicle. Government statistics indicate that 228 people of all ages — 44 percent of whom are under age 5 — die every year in backover accidents involving passenger vehicles. About 17,000 people a year are injured in such accidents.

With costs for the new regulation estimated at $2.7 billion a year or $200 per vehicle, that's $12 million per life saved if the regulation were 100 percent effective. Bloomberg Businessweek reports a more generous reduction in deaths, by 146 a year. But even then, the cost per life saved is still $18.5 million. That's almost five times the lifetime earnings of someone with a professional degree, nine times the amount someone would earn with a bachelor's degree and fifteen times the amount someone would earn with just a high school diploma, based on data from 1999.

The financial costs of this regulation would come in addition to the $1,300 per car from the Obama recent changes to the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) law; not to mention every local police department's favorite revenue generators, brake light and seat belt laws.

Obviously people should be careful while driving, but all of these regulations add to the cost of production and ultimately make American-built cars less competitive. Besides that, Bloomberg reports that "back-up cameras are already a standard feature on 45 percent of 2012 passenger-car models, according to data compiled by Edmunds.com, an auto-market research company," showing that voluntary enterprise was moving in this direction prior to the mandate. Furthermore, it's an inefficient solution:

The length of a rearview blind spot depends on the car’s make and the driver’s height. On coupes and sedans, which sit low to the ground, the blind spot can be as little as four feet. On taller SUVs, it can be 20 feet or more. By requiring cameras on all cars, NHTSA imposed an expensive, “one-size-fits-all solution” to the problem, Bergquist contends.

This reveals a certain laziness in the decision-making. Legislators put minimum effort into finding the most cost-efficient solution to this problem and failed to consider that car design isn't really their job in the first place. Clearly, when considering the fact that most backover accidents involve the parent or relative of a child, the right course of action would be legislation that prohibits parents and relatives of children from driving in the first place.

Read about more silly, commerce-killing regulations, thinking of the children, and how to back it up the right way.

Ronald Bailey on Churches Seeking Government Handouts

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum asks, "What kind of country do we live in that says only people of nonfaith can come into the public square and make their case?" Santorum is just wrong. Americans have always welcomed people of faith to come into the public square to make their case, but many would like religious groups to stop begging the government for alms whlie there. Leaving aside the possibility that everyone will come to their senses and dramatically reduce the size and scope of government immediately, Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey argues that empowering people through various social service vouchers could greatly reduce church/state conflicts. 

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Will the Unpopularity of ObamaCare Matter to the Supreme Court?

At the Volokh Conspiracy, Randy Barnett highlights a new USA Today/Gallup poll which finds that a majority of Americans disapprove of the Obama administration’s health care overhaul. As the Gallup description reports, “Americans overwhelmingly believe the ‘individual mandate,’ as it is often called, is unconstitutional, by a margin of 72% to 20%.”

Let’s assume these numbers are accurate. Will they matter to the nine justices of the Supreme Court when they actually vote on the individual mandate’s constitutionality later this term? As the old saying goes, the justices do follow the election returns. Plus, as Barnett observes, if the numbers are correct, “these results do suggest that the Court is unlikely to face a strong backlash should it hold the individual mandate unconstitutional.” We'll see.

Reason Writers on MSNBC: Matt Welch Talks With Melissa Harris-Perry About Rick Santorum, Libertarianism, Religion, Affirmative Action, and More

On Saturday, Feb. 25, Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch appeared on Melissa Harris-Perry's interesting new MSNBC weekend show for a series of wide-ranging conversations and panel discussions about the intersections of philosophy, policy, and constitutionality. Just under 40 minutes:

No Sex Tape, No Outing in Tyler Clementi Case

One reason some people think Dharun Ravi deserves harsh punishment for spying on a college roommate who later committed suicide is the persistent misconception that he made video of Tyler Clementi's homosexual encounter publicly available. A week after Clementi killed himself in September 2010, The New York Times reported that Ravi "used a camera in his dormitory room to stream the roommate's intimate encounter live on the Internet." The story was headlined "Private Moment Made Public, Then a Fatal Jump." The New York Daily News said Ravi "spied on [Clementi's] gay tryst and streamed it live with a webcam." ABC News claimed Ravi "secretly filmed [Clementi] during a 'sexual encounter' in his dorm room and posted it live on the Internet." The headline: "Victim of Secret Dorm Sex Tape Posts Facebook Goodbye, Jumps to His Death." Presumably based on such reports, Ellen Degeneres declared that Clementi "was outed as being gay on the Internet and he killed himself."

But as testimony during Ravi's trial has confirmed, there was no sex tape, and the images were never available to the general public. On the evening of September 19, 2010, Ravi set the webcam on his computer to automatically accept video chats, then went across the hall to a friend's room, where they saw a few seconds of Clementi and his visitor kissing, fully clothed, before shutting off the feed. The images were not recorded, and they were not transmitted anywhere except across the hall. The New York Times summary of the case, last updated on February 24, nevertheless still says Ravi "secretly used a webcam to stream Mr. Clementi's romantic interlude with another man over the Internet." Technically, I suppose that's true, in the sense that any video chat is streamed over the Internet. But the implication—that Ravi enabled the whole world to see what Clementi was doing in their room—is false.

In his measured and illuminating New Yorker article about the case, Ian Parker also notes that Clementi was not trying to hide his sexual orientation, so it's hard to see how Ravi could have outed him. Although Clementi was upset about his roommate's spying, Parker writes, "there's little to support the idea that he was mortified by the thought that he'd been outed." He suggests "the enduring false belief that Ravi was responsible for outing Tyler Clementi, and for putting a sex tape on the Internet, can be seen as a collective effort to balance a terrible event with a terrible cause."

Look for more about Ravi's prosecution in my column tomorrow.

Obama Touts Detroit Bailout, Romney and Santorum Stay Neck and Neck, DOJ Considers Investigating NYPD's Muslim Fetish: P.M. Links

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Cop Shoots Dog: Three Stories to Wreck An Animal Lover's Day

February saw police officers in New Mexico, Florida, and Virginia unnecessarily shoot family pets, including a playful Australian Shepherd that bit an officer's shoe, a guard dog that was shot dead while the owner was away, and a brown and white mutt that was shot for being off-leash in a public park. 

From New Mexico: Victoria Baca called the New Mexico State Police earlier this month to file a complaint about an online scam. The dispatcher said she would send an officer to Baca's home sometime that day. Baca said she would be out running errands, and for the officer to call when he was on his way to her house. When the officer eventually called, it was to let Baca know that he had jumped her fence while she was out shopping and shot her dog for biting him. Baca and her kids founds the 11-year-old pooch on their front porch, where—too heavy to lift—she stayed for several days. (KOB4)

From Florida: When the Jones's dog Baxter, a six-year-old Australian Shephard, escaped from their house, their neighbors in Pembroke Pines called the police. Baxter made it back to the house before the police arrived, and ran out again when the officers approached the front door. Here the stories diverge: Cameron Jones, 13, says Baxter barked at the two officers. The police say Baxter bit one of them on the shoe. Either way, one of the officers drew his gun and shot Baxter, who is recovering at an animal clinic. According to Sergeant Chris Chacon-Chang of the Pembroke Police Department, "It's a good shoot. The officer was being attacked." (WPLG10)

From Virginia: Radford University student Joseph DeMasi and another student were walking their dogs off-leash in a city park when a Radford Police Department Officer, responding to a call about two unleashed dogs, shouted for their attention and told them to restrain their pets. DeMasi's dog Copper and the other student's dog initially ran toward the officer. The other dog stopped when called for, but Copper continued to run. According to DeMasi, "there was no barking or growling,” and the dogs were "10 to 15 yards away" when the officer fired his gun. According to the officer, Copper "launched" himself. After shooting Copper, the officer followed DeMasi to an emergency animal clinic, where, "He told me I’m lucky his aim wasn’t better and I’m lucky my dog isn’t dead." DeMasi says he then made a crack about the officer's grammar and was forced onto his knees with his hands behind his back. A police spokesman "declined to address those allegations, stating they were inappropriate to discuss." (Collegiate Times)

Gene Healy on Megalomania

Nobody who wants the presidency too badly ought to be trusted with it. George Washington struck the right note in his first inaugural: "No event could have filled me with greater anxieties" than learning of his election. Unfortunately, writes Gene Healy, the modern presidential campaign calls forth characters with delusions of grandeur, a flair for dissembling, and a bottomless hunger for higher office.

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No One Knows What the Heck Will Happen in Michigan Tonight

Although Intratrade is favoring Mitt Romney 54 percent to be Michigan's primary winner today, the polls are divided. Dan Calabarese of the Michigan View reports :

Public Policy Polling had Romney up by 2 on Saturday, now it has Santorum up by 1. The (Steve) Mitchell poll did exactly the opposite.

So to summarize, everything is within the margin of error and no one has any idea who is going to win.

You could say it's a win for Santorum already, no matter how it comes out, because he wasn't even supposed to be close. But of course, polls don't mean anything. Only votes do, and none of those have been counted yet. We also don't know how much of Santorum's total will end up coming courtesy of his new best friend. It's kind of hard to make the case that you humiliated the front runner when you enlisted the help of the dark side to do it, but I'm sure he'll make the case anyway and his other new best (if very temporary) friends in the MSM will be only too glad to help him out.

Of course, as Calabarese notes, Michigan voters will need to take a nice long shower to wash all the crap off once this is all over. Michigan allows voting across party lines in the primary, something that has opened the door to Democratic mischief and introduced a bit of a wild card in tonight's result. For example, reports Calabarese, racist ad author Joe DiSano is doing robo-calls telling Democrats to vote for Rick Santorum because he would be an unelectable trainwreck of a nominee. And Rick Santorum, incidentally, is just fine with that.

Mitt Romney Declines to Set His Hair on Fire in Order to Get Voter Support

Mitt Romney knows that's it's "very easy to excite the base with incendiary comments," and while some of his GOP rivals—not that anyone in particular comes to mind—might be willing to "say really outrageous things" in order to pander to the base, Romney isn't that kind of candidate. He has standards. "I'm not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support," he said in Michigan this morning. Via the cable-news capturers at TPM:

If he won't set his hair on fair, then what will he do? Well, he'll declare his intention to pursue large federal spending cuts, but won't say which programs he'll slash to meet his goals. He'll say he plans to reduce tax rates by cutting loopholes from the tax codes, but won't say which ones. He'll use military procurement process as an example of government's inherent waste and inefficient spending, and then argue that we should set a minimum floor on defense spending as percentage of the total economy. He'll describe Medicare as a burden on the budget that's on the path to bankruptcy, and then vow to reverse Obama's Medicare cuts. So it's true enough, I suppose. Romney doesn't pander to the base by saying really outrageous things. He panders to the base more straightforwardly, by telling them exactly what they want to hear. 

Do Dolphins and Whales Have Rights?

Last week, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), held a session on expanding rights for dolphins and whales. Since cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) are highly intelligent animals and very social, some scientists and ethicists argued cetaceans deserve legal protections as "non-human persons." The panelists outlined a "Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans," which among other rights, would recognize whales and dolphins' right to life, an undisturbed natural environment, and the right to not be held in captivity. So say goodbye to whale sushi and SeaWorld.

To support cetacean rights, the panelists listed evidence for dolphin and whale intelligence. Scaled for size, cetacean brains are almost as big as human brains. Cetaceans can also recognize themselves in a mirror. Humans, elephants, great apes, and magpies are the only other species who have that trait. Cetaceans also communicate with each other and grieve for their dead.

Dr. Lori Mano, of Emory University and one of the co-authors of the declaration, expands on changing perceptions toward cetaceans:

Once you shift from seeing a being as a property, a commodity, a resource, to a person, an autonomous entity that has a right to life on his or her own terms, the whole framework shifts...this is not about harvesting resources, this is about murder.

Back in September 2011, A. Barton Hinkle covered many of the arguments and rebuttals to animal rights, including moral agency and marginal cases. One thinker Hinkle did not mention in his article was Murray Rothbard. In The Ethics of Liberty, Rothbard criticized the notion of animal rights, writing:

In short, man has rights because they are natural rights. They are grounded in the nature of man: the individual man's capacity for conscious choice, the necessity for him to use his mind and energy to adopt goals and values, to find out about the world, to pursue his ends in order to survive and prosper, his capacity and need to communicate and interact with other human beings and to participate in the division of labor. In short, man is a rational and social animal. No other animals or beings possess this ability to reason, to make conscious choices, to transform their environment in order to prosper, or to collaborate consciously in society and the division of labor.

For Rothbard, the act of homesteading demonstrates rationality. Since Homo sapiens can homestead, but animals can't, animals do not have rights.

While this is certainly true for many animals, the distinction between human and cetacean is not so clear-cut. Dolphins use tools to hunt, turning conch shells into traps and sea sponges into probes and protective gear. There have also been a few cases of cooperative hunting and role specialization. In addition, mother dolphins have also been seen teaching their daughters how to use these tools. Michael Krützen, a researcher at Zurich University, and one of the first observers of this behavior, has labelled this training a "cultural transmission." 

More impressively, dolphins have been known to delay gratification and plan for the future. The Guardian explains how one dolphin even outsmarted humans:

At the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, Kelly the dolphin has built up quite a reputation. All the dolphins at the institute are trained to hold onto any litter that falls into their pools until they see a trainer, when they can trade the litter for fish. In this way, the dolphins help to keep their pools clean.

Kelly has taken this task one step further. When people drop paper into the water she hides it under a rock at the bottom of the pool. The next time a trainer passes, she goes down to the rock and tears off a piece of paper to give to the trainer. After a fish reward, she goes back down, tears off another piece of paper, gets another fish, and so on. This behaviour is interesting because it shows that Kelly has a sense of the future and delays gratification. She has realised that a big piece of paper gets the same reward as a small piece and so delivers only small pieces to keep the extra food coming. She has, in effect, trained the humans.

Perhaps so long as animal rights are defined as negative rights, they can be compatible with libertarianism. David Graham, a libertarian writer and animal rights advocate, continues in this vein:

Unlike incoherent positive rights, such as the 'right' to education or health care, the animal right is, at bottom, a right to be left alone. It does not call for government to tax us in order to provide animals with food, shelter, and veterinary care. It only requires us to stop killing them and making them suffer.

Depending on the level of rationality, intelligence, and pain sensitivity an animal has, the more rights it should have. Under this ethical framework, a whale or a dolphin would more or less be the moral equivalent of a young child, the mentally handicapped, and possibly a fetus, depending on the latter's stage of development. Cetacean rights and fetal personhood advocates could become unlikely allies in the years ahead. 

If cetacean rights are taken seriously, protecting whales and dolphins would mean everything from stopping whaling and ocean pollution, to developing safe havens in international waters, free from human interference. Building on the latter, some advocates even support the creation of a "cetacean nation," most prominently, John C. Lilly. A heterodox thinker, Lillly was the creator of the isolation tank and one of the pioneers in LSD experimentation and human-dolphin interspecies communication. As Lilly envisioned, a cetacean nation would formally encode protecting whales and dolphins, with the ultimate goal of gaining formal recognition by the United Nations.

Cetacean rights activists also want all whales, dolphins, and porpoises free from aquariums and theme parks. As Mike Riggs wrote a few weeks ago, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) recently tried to free killer whales from SeaWorld. PETA argued the orcas were "enslaved," which would violate the 13th Amendment. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. district court judge dismissed Tilikum v. SeaWorld for lack of standing, remarking that "the clear language and historical context reveal that only human beings, or persons, are afforded the protection of the Thirteenth Amendment." 

In addition, Tilikum was not a sympathetic plaintiff: He's been involved with the deaths of three SeaWorld trainers. If Tilikum were granted personhood, wouldn't he be liable for murder? Or at the very least, manslaughter? If convicted, Tilikum would get prison time, and since he couldn't be imprisoned on land, he would serve his sentence in a tank.  A tank at, say, SeaWorld.

Reason on animal rights.

A. Barton Hinkle on Virginia's Personhood Bill

Republicans in Richmond should not be terribly proud that they are one small step above Nancy Pelosi. “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it,” Pelosi said about Obamacare in 2010. GOP lawmakers evidently did not know, until it was pointed out to them by noted medical experts such as comedian Jon Stewart, what was in the ultrasound bill they were poised to pass last week. Even the legislation’s sponsor, State Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, admitted she had “no concept” about the true extent of her bill, writes A. Barton Hinkle, and she wasn’t sure she believed it after being told. 

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Words That Shouldn't Be Used in a Sentence: Paul Krugman in Playboy!

Nobel prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is in the current issue of Playboy, talking about everything you can imagine.

If nothing else, this interview is the end of the idea that some people read Playboy for the articles.

Snippets:

KRUGMAN: I was pretty much listening to the golden oldies station with 1960s and 1970s music, Fleetwood Mac being about as modern as I got. And then for some reason after Arcade Fire won the Grammys, I said, “Gee, what is this?” I was shocked. Oh my God, there’s music being made now that is really good. It didn’t all go away around the time I turned 35. And so that opened me up a lot. Arcade Fire is just the one that provides the most solace. It’s gorgeous stuff.

PLAYBOY: You like Feist too.

KRUGMAN: Feist. The New Pornographers are probably technically better than Arcade Fire. But what the hell? It’s all good.

PLAYBOY: It sounds like it gives you some hope and uplift.

KRUGMAN: Yeah. And to be honest, I have a crush on the women in Arcade Fire.

Hmm, Krugman's good at math, so take it seriously when he notes that one band is "probably technically better" than another. Such a nuanced insight.

The material doesn't get a lot more cogent when he turns to his area of expertise:

The fact is the Great Depression ended largely thanks to a guy named Adolf Hitler. He created a human catastrophe, which also led to a lot of government spending. As you know, I’m famous for worrying about space aliens. It looks like it has to be some forcing event. Obviously you don’t operate on that basis, so what people like me will do is keep hammering on this stuff and hopefully it will eventually break through. The safety net has been enough to avoid mass suffering, to muffle it. People are exhausting their savings. 

Krugman is never slow to push a variation on the broken-windows fallacy. Indeed, just a few days after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, he wrote a Times op-ed reminding Americans of the upside to the 1941 Pearl Harbor attacks:

Ghastly as it may seem to say this, the terror attack -- like the original day of infamy, which brought an end to the Great Depression -- could even do some economic good....Now, all of a sudden, we need some new office buildings. As I've already indicated, the destruction isn't big compared with the economy, but rebuilding will generate at least some increase in business spending.

Thank gawd for small catastrophes. In the Playboy interview, Krugman waxes characteristically about how great the threat of an alien invasion would be, as it would create lickety-split a full-employment plan for all humanity. But alas, he sighs, we can't even get a new Hudson River tunnel built because we don't invest in infrastructure and education. As if massive increases in government spending haven't been happening lo these past few centuries. Between 2000 and 2010 alone at the federal level, spending increased something like 60 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars between 2001 and 2010.

As a point of fact, it's wrong - and popular - to argue, as Krugman does, that World War II ushered in a brave new world of economic boom times. Listen to the interview we did with George Mason economist Russell Roberts (who also co-authored the great Keynes-Hayek rap videos). As Roberts notes, "war spending takes real resources out of the economy" and the idea that a world of nearly universal male conscription and rationed goods is a prosperous one requires a suspension of disbelief few can muster. And, stresses Roberts, the U.S. economy actually took off in a big way in the later 1940s when government spending shrank dramatically and Keynesians cried of impending disaster.

The most interesting parts of the interview are when Krugman, that consumate maverick punk, derides Obama as "establishment" and when he veers oh-so-close to opening up his critique of all that went wrong to include state actions. Consider:

If you’re asking why people were buying those houses, it’s because the money was being made available. Why was the money being made available? You had a whole machine making it seem as if dicey loans were actually safe, and a fair bit of predatory stuff was also going on. People were being pushed into mortgages they were told they could afford because they didn’t understand the fine print. Of course there was the slicing and dicing and tranching and making subprime toxic waste appear as triple-A bonds.

"The money was being made available..." Indeed, and by whom? What pray tell was the role of government housing policy, government-sponsored enterprises, and the Federal Reserve? Krugman walks right up to the edge and then veers away quickly into blather about deregulation and whatnot.

Read the whole thing - or just look at the pictures - here.

Why is the Economy Growing So Slowly? Q&A with AEI's James Pethokoukis

"Considering that we had this big Tea Party movement in 2010, there has been very little talk about actually cutting spending," says American Enterprise Institute's James Pethokoukis, "except that Mitt Romney doesn't want a lunar colony."

Pethokoukis is a former Reuters columnist and widely read blogger, who covers economics, politics, and fiscal policy. He sat down with Reason.tv's Nick Gillespie to talk about tax reform, cutting spending, and why slow growth is the biggest problem facing the U.S. economy.

Approximately 6 minutes.

Shot by Joshua Swain and Meredith Bragg; edited by Jim Epstein. 

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

Jacob Sullum on Obama’s Indefinite Detention of Suspected Terrorists

Do you see a problem with a law that authorizes indefinite military detention of anyone the president identifies as an enemy of the state? For President Barack Obama, the problem was clear: The law did not give him enough discretion. As Senior Editor Jacob Sullum explains, in December 2011, Obama signed the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, having dropped a veto threat after Congress added language promising that the law would not affect the FBI’s “criminal enforcement and national security authorities.” Obama, like his predecessor, wants the leeway to keep terrorism suspects in civilian custody, and maybe even give them a trial, if he so chooses. Those of us who are not the president, Sullum writes, are apt to be more concerned about the law’s “affirmation” of his unchecked power to lock us up and throw away the key.

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Burma Punks Way, Way Punker Than U.S.-Brand Punks

For your all-important daily dose of America hey, is not that bad, or if you're aching for an authoritarian regime to vicariously rebel against, check out this article in Spiegel Online (via Gawker) on the trials and serious tribulations of being a punk in Burma. Back in (London) punk's heyday Johnny Rotten may have been knifed in the hand by fans of Queen Elizabeth, but it's still just a whole other level of punk rock when you're doing it in one of the least free places on earth.

Der Spiegel:

The punk band Rebel Riot stands on a makeshift stage in an abandoned restaurant on the outskirts of downtown Rangoon, Burma's largest city. They wear their hair spiked straight up and studded leather jackets. "Saida! Saida! Saida!" singer Kyaw Kyaw barks into the microphone, "Resistance! Resistance! Resistance!" The drummer pounds away at his set while the guitars reverberate through the room. "No fear! No indecision! Rage against the system of the oppressors!" Kyaw Kyaw howls.

Meanwhile, about 50 fellow punks, none much older than 25, are romping around in front of the stage wearing T-shirts that say "Fuck Capitalism" or "Sex Pistols." They jump around wildly and fling themselves to the ground. The air is hot and sticky. The entire crowd sings along: "Resistance! Resistance! Resistance!"

In Burma, punk is far more than just a superficial copy of its Western counterpart. Here, what is probably the most rebellious of all subcultures in the Southeast Asian country is going up against one of the world's most authoritarian regimes. Punk gives young Burmese a chance to symbolically spit in the face of the hated government, which took power in 2010 in the wake of what was widely considered a fraudulent election. Although the government has shown initial signs of greater open-mindedness, which included the release of political prisoners in recent months, Burma is still far from a state that embraces the rule of law.

Read the rest here.

And check out the band Rebel Riot who sound just as authentically terrible as early Sex Pistols or Slits.

And definitely, definitely check out Michael C. Moynihan and Reason.tv's 2009 interview with Gorki Águila, lead singer of Cuban punk rock band Porno Para Ricardo. 

 

Should Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Apologize for Putting Fortune Cookies in its Taste the Lin-Sanity flavor?

Question of the day: Should Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream apologize for putting fortune cookies in its "Taste the Lin-Sanity" flavor?

From ABC News via the great Allahpundit of Hotair:

The company tweeted, “On behalf of Ben & Jerry’s Boston Scoop Shops, we offer a heartfelt apology if anyone was offended by our handmade Linsanity flavor that we offered at our Harvard Square location....Our intention was to create a flavor to honor Jeremy Lin’s accomplishments and his meteoric rise in the NBA, and recognize that he was a local Harvard graduate. We try to demonstrate our commitment as a Boston-based, valued-led business and  if we failed in this instance, we offer our sincere apologies.”

The ice cream featured fortume cookie bits and lychee flavored honey in vanilla yogurt and was only offered in a Harvard Square store. The fortune cookie bits have since been replaced with waffle cone excresences, which seems like a slam at another Bostonian (Mitt Romney).

For more background, there's the Asian American Journalists Association widely discussed guidelines for dealing with Jeremy Lin in the press. Among the "DANGER ZONES" that AAJA warns against:

FOOD: Is there a compelling reason to draw a connection between Lin and fortune cookies, takeout boxes or similar imagery? In the majority of news coverage, the answer will be no....

The AAJA guides have been widely mocked as the quintessence of PC and in many ways they are (the suggestion that anyone was about to write a headline titled "Me Love You Lin Time" is bizarre, as is the group's tutorial on the role of "driving" in basketball lingo). By the same token, who would have guessed that ESPN would publish a "chink in the armor" headline? More to the point, AAJA is correct to suggest that using "lazy pun(s)" should be avoided. All writing tends to be lazier than my Irish relatives, but sports writing lays the cliches on thicker and heavier than my late Grandma Guida's mascarpone-blanketed desserts.

Speaking of writing cliches:

In an article at Psychology Today about the l'affaire Ben & Jerry's - cleverly titled "A Pint of Racism" - psychiatrist Ravi Chandra, asks:

Would they serve up a Martin Luther King or LeBron James watermelon flavored ice cream? I think not.

Chandra undercuts whatever case he may be making by sliding into a sticky wicket of cliches and three-care-pile-up of mangled metaphors from which there is no safe harbor or indeed escape:

If they would have checked out who Jeremy Lin was, they would know he loves In N' Out Burgers, Denny's and Now-and-Laters (he often sports a Now-and-Later stained tongue). If they would have asked Jeremy what his flavor should be, maybe he would have said Mint Chocolate with Now-and-Later chunks. Now that's money. And reality.

Once again, Asian America refuses to be defined by your raciststereotypes. If they had called this "Chinese Restaurant" flavor - well, maybe that would be ok.

But this has bad taste written all over it.

By the same token (er...), I suspect that former ABA/NBA star Darryl Dawkins - dubbed "Chocolate Thunder" by Stevie Wonder, who unlike most of us doesn't see people in terms of color - would be pretty jazzed by a flavor in his memory. Especially if the royalties would spring him from having to show up at bar mitzvahs and communion parties.

It is passing strange that although America is a far more tolerant and appreciative-of-diversity place than it was 30 years ago we still get particularly riled up over clearly accidental uses of language. I'm not sure of the precise connection between advancement in terms of social acceptance and regression in terms of speech coding, but language used on shows such as All in The Family is verboten everywhere in mainstream America. Are things better now because we police seemingly every possible infraction of racial and ethnic insult or in spite of that?

Has "Linsanity" (the sports phenomena, not the ice cream) started a useful conversation about race, ethnicity, and U.S. history that will outlive what will surely be an ultimately disappointing season for the New York Knicks (yes, I'm taking bets)? I don't think so, but it has offered up articles such as this one, which strangely implies that Asian-American jokes are somewhat allowed because Asian Americans haven't pushed back on their white masters in the same way that blacks and LGBT folks have (thereby reinscribing the stereotype that Asians are submissive).

Must-read: Tim Cavanaugh's 2002 classic, "E Pluribus Umbrage: The long, happy life of America's anti-defamation industry."

Update: Veronique de Rugy reminds me that Ben & Jerry's has been a big supporter of the Occupy Movement, which isn't suprising. What should that ice cream flavor consist of? Here's one list that suggests among other ingredients, "99 Percent Vanilla" and "Unemploy-mint."

Is RomneyCare Working?

Here’s the latest good news about RomneyCare, the 2006 Massachusetts health care overhaul that served as the model for President Obama’s 2010 reform: It might not wreck the state’s budget quite as fast as previously thought.

As Ezra Klein noted yesterday, a new analysis of the 2010 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) data by Fred Bauer indicates that health premiums in Massachusetts are not rising as fast as they were. The most favorable statistic? After several years of family health insurance premiums rising faster than the national average, average family premiums in the Bay State actually dropped slightly in 2010. As The Boston Globe noted last December, instead of boasting the most expensive employer-sponsored family health insurance premiums in the U.S., as it did in 2008 and 2009, the state's 2010 premiums are merely in the top quintile, coming in at number nine. By other measures, Massachusetts' premiums are still rising, though the rate of growth slowed in 2010.

Klein argues that this means that “RomneyCare is working. Across the board.” But at minimum, I think it’s too early to tell. Bauer notes—and Klein quotes—that between 2006 and 2010, “employer-sponsored health-care premiums for a family rose about 19% in Massachusetts, while they rose about 22% in the US as a whole.”

This suggests a four-year shift starting in the year that RomneyCare passed. But in fact, between 2006 and 2009 family premiums in Massachusetts rose faster than in the rest of the nation: Bay State premiums were 108 percent higher than the U.S. average in 2006, 112.1 percent higher in 2008, and 113 percent higher in 2009 (no data is available for 2007). The favorable comparison to the U.S. growth rate is accomplished by the change in the final year.  So far, at least, this isn’t a trend—it’s a blip.

With individual premiums, the story is similar, though the difference is even less dramatic. Bauer notes that although “health-insurance premium growth did not slow as much for individuals as it did for family plans… it still did slow in absolute terms and relative to the nation as a whole.” He continues:

By the 2008-2010 period, the individual premium in Massachusetts grew about 5% slower than it did for the US (Bay State premiums grew 11.9% while US premiums grew 12.6%), so the gap between the two premium growth rates did narrow over the period. 

As with family premiums, however, the change that makes the story is in 2010. From 2006 through 2009, Massachusetts average individual premiums rose steadily faster than the national rates, going from 108 percent of the national average in 2006 to 112.8 percent in 2009. But in 2010, the growth rate dropped: Bay State premiums came in at 109.6 percent of the national average. Once again, the work is done by a single year.

And what happened during that single year? For one thing, the economy was in the midst of a miserable recession: The crash at the end of 2008 led to layoffs and thrift throughout 2009. Given the lag in premium-setting cycles, the corresponding changes in premiums would’ve shown up most prominently in 2010.

What else happened in 2010? As Bauer notes, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and his insurance commissioner underwent a very public fight over rate increases in the small group health insurance market, rejecting nearly 90 percent of proposed increases under emergency legislation. The insurers eventually settled and limited their rate hikes, despite a judgment by an appeals panel overturning the administration’s rate caps for one of the state’s insurers. Bauer argues that the rate hike fight does not “fully explain” the drop in family premiums. Surely, however, it explains some of it; in the short term, political pressure and price controls can reduce prices, even if such controls are not sustainable long-term cost-control measures. And for a time, they can also exert more subtle pressure throughout a system, acting as an implicit threat. 

And price controls typically reveal themselves in other ways, which is why it’s worth asking what those premiums were actually buying. Part of the explanation for the dip in 2010 prices may simply be that insurers and employers were scaling back in terms of what they were buying. In April of 2010, amidst both the specific fight over rate hikes and a broader climate of worry about the state’s rising health care costs, The Boston Globe reported that health insurers in the state were beginning to limit access to popular but expensive hospitals; one way to cut back on premiums is to cut back on services.

Meanwhile, in a presentation on premium trends in private health insurance sponsored by the state’s Division of Health Care Finance and Policy last June, Dianna Welch noted that premiums in the state weren’t merely increasing: consumers, in response, were also buying substantially less insurance. That can disguise the growth of premium prices—what she calls “buy down.”

Think about it this way (these numbers are hypothetical): In 2010, you buy a plan for $100. In 2011, you have the option to either buy the same plan for $106 or pay $103 for a less comprehensive plan than in 2010 sold for $90. If you take the latter option, you’re actually paying a lot more, on a unit basis, despite the smaller dollar increase. It’s not clear how much buy down accounted for the 2010 figures, but we know it was already happening in the years prior:  Welch notes seeing “significant” buy down in 2008 and 2009.

Finally, it’s worth noting that during the same series of presentations, which reviewed data through all of 2009 and preliminary data from 2010, Massachusetts officials and influencers did not view the state’s health spending trends as successful. Over the course of three days last summer, various policy bigwigs in the state heard from a who’s who of Massachusetts’ health policy hotshots. Here's a sampling of what they said about the state's health system. 

Jeffrey Sanchez, Chairman of Massachusetts Joint Committee on Public Health:

There’s one graph that I enjoy bringing out to groups throughout my district, and even throughout the Commonwealth. It’s that Mass taxpayer foundation pie chart that shows how much our health care costs were in 2000 as opposed to how much we’re spending now. In 2000, we were spending about 20% of our costs.  Now, we’re up to, what, 34, 35%? It’s just unsustainable.

 JudyAnn Bigby, the state’s Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services:

Just in case people don’t know, we spend nearly $37 billion annually on health care in Massachusetts. Given that number, it’s no surprise that it’s the number one player in Massachusetts. Between 2007 and 2008, spending overall increased by nearly 5%. That growth was highest in the private market, at about 6%...

Jay Gonzalez, from the Executive Office for Administration and Finance:

Health care costs are eating up a bigger and bigger share of the state budget. In 1998, fiscal ’98, it was about 21% of all state spending. Next year, it will be about 40% of all state spending.   Based on our analysis, if things just continue to go the way they have been going, by 2020, just eight years beyond next year, it will be 50% of the state budget. It is crowding out everything else state government needs to do. ...We’re on a path that if we continue, we will end up being -- government will end up doing nothing more than providing health insurance, which obviously is not an acceptable result.

...I just want to end by making clear, in case I haven’t already, health care costs, and the growth trend in health care costs, threaten the very viability of government. Everything government does is threatened if we do not address this challenge.

This is not a picture of a system that is working—or even on the verge of working. It is not a system that’s on an obvious track to success, or that has shown mostly positive signals. As recently as last summer, armed with data running through all of 2009 and the early part of 2010, these officials—most of whom have voiced some generalized support for Romney’s health overhaul and its insurance expansion—did not perceive a state health system that was in any way fiscally sound. Which suggests that the 2010 data does not tell us that the Massachusetts health system is firmly headed in the right direction; at very best, it suggests that the system may have taken a single step towards somewhat slower cost growth. If so, this would be welcome news. But nationally, premium growth declined in 2010, dropping to about three percent after several years running at five. In 2011, however, they shot way up, rising by nine percent. Which suggests that this brief slowing of the Bay State’s premium growth may well be just a temporary stopover on the too familiar road to fiscal ruin.

Ray LaHood Has No Idea What Constitutes a Driver Distraction

Which is more of a distraction while driving: holding a phone up to your ear, or having a stranger pull up behind/beside you and lay on the horn for no apparent reason? Most of us would say the latter. Most of us are not Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who recently told local D.C. radio station WTOP that he likes to drive around D.C. on the weekends and further distract distracted drivers: 

"I drive around on the weekends in Washington," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood tells WTOP about his informal road patrols.

When he sees what he describes as "my biggest source of irritation" -- somebody on a cellphone, LaHood takes action.

"What I've been doing is kind of honking at somebody if I see him on a cellphone."

LaHood says it's his way of "taking personal responsibility" to reduce driver distractions.

I could be wrong, but I doubt that honking at strangers "reduces driver distractions."

A.M. Links: Bob Barr Says Libertarians Should Vote for Gingrich, Romney Falls Further Out of Favor With Actual Conservatives, Private Banking Is Dead

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New at Reason.tv: "Margaret Thatcher, Meryl Streep, & The Iron Lady: Fact vs. Fiction" 

Shikha Dalmia on the Foreign Aid Flap Between Britain and India

It is customary in India to refuse a gift several times before reluctantly accepting it. But as Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia observes, India wasn’t playing social games recently when it tried in vain to end decades of British giving. What this flap eloquently demonstrates is the futility of foreign aid: Countries that most need it can’t use it effectively, and countries that can use it effectively don’t need it.

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California Republican Party Convention: Monday Afternoon Quarterbacking

I was in the Bay Area this weekend to check out the California Republican Party Convention. So were a great many other journos — especially on Saturday, when presidential hopeless Newt Gingrich got into town, and the Hyatt filled up with national media and reporters from the big California newspapers. 

The result: lots of double-bylined stories telling readers what Newt Gingrich said in a speech that was video-recorded by dozens of sources and is readily available in full to anybody with a connection to the internet. 

There were also some interesting bits of coverage, many of those collected by Jon Fleischman’s Flash Report blog, the indispensable resource for Golden State Republican news. Here are some samples. 

Fox & Hounds Managing Editor Ashley Hemkin wishes Ron Paul supporters would take their energy, enthusiasm and organizational skills and go bother somebody else

As California Republican Party’s spring convention Saturday’s lunch was about to commence, featuring presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, hundreds of Ron Paul supporters stormed into the Hyatt. Paul’s supporters took over the main display area at the hotel, and crammed into balconies and stairways. Their chanting could be heard throughout the hotel, halting conversations, committee meetings and luncheon attendees... 

Sure, these outbursts get press (obviously I am helping his campaign by writing this) but is it helping Paul get closer to clinching the nomination? The cost and coordination of hundreds of people is expensive and laborious.

Why not take those resources and energy to blanket nearby neighborhoods and identify supporters. Knocking on doors can change election results up to 8% experts say.  Maybe these campaign supporters could even join us at the CRP convention and educate attendees on why Ron Paul is the best candidate using reason and intelligence.

Jerry Roberts of CalBuzz interviews Newt Gingrich on immigration, women and why the state with the most voters in it has almost no impact on the primaries: 

Do you think California’s going to matter in the end?

Yes. I think Texas and California coming late virtually guarantees that nobody’s going to have a majority before. Listen, I came to this convention to literally outline why I think California will be in play this fall. I’m going to talk about energy, I’m going to talk about Afghanistan and I’m going to talk about putting California in play.

Tireless Sacramento Bee reporter Torey van Oot has plenty of minutiae about insurance regulations and oil-drilling royalties, as well as a good play-by-play of the convention floor fight

Conservative activist Mike Spence created the Conservative Republicans of California in the aftermath of a divisive leadership fight at the California Republican Assembly, a 75-year-old group that bills itself as the "conscience of the Republican Party." The charter allows the new group, which includes several GOP legislators, to use the party's insurance policy, reserve space at the convention at a lower cost and assign one delegate to vote on party matters.

Spence's effort to place a vote to charter his new organization on Sunday's general session agenda stalled in a committee earlier in the weekend. CRP Chairman Tom Del Beccaro initially tried to block his move to bring up the issue on the floor as the end of the session neared. A voice vote on whether to take up Spence's motion was too close to call, leading Del Beccaro to ask opposing camps to congregate in different areas of the hotel banquet room so the votes could be counted without a roll call. Del Beccaro, who had argued that the procedural issue should be worked out in a committee, was out-voted by delegates and the charter was approved after continued debate on the merits of the group.

Flash himself is happy with the way that floor fight turned out

This go around, there was a major run at the platform by party moderates, seeking to water down the platform by reducing its length and making it far less specific in many policy areas, and eliminating some areas at all.  The well-funded effort (by Charles Munger, Jr., son of Warren Buffet’s business partner, and now the Chairman of the Santa Clara County GOP) to water-down/moderate the platform was defeated in a rather high-profile platform committee meeting at the CRP’s Fall ’11 convention in Los Angeles.  At this convention the critics of a conservative party platform did not choose to engage in what would have been a public drubbing, and the conservative draft platform was adopted without any meaningful opposition.

I want to thank the many conservative activists who played some role in this victory. 

Patch.com's David Carini notes that Tim Pawlenty was as encouraging to the anemic Golden State GOP as you'd expect a Jim Nabors lookalike from the Gopher state to be: 

“If I can be a conservative governor in Minnesota, we can do it anywhere,” he said, noting that Minnesota has elected liberal politicians such as Al Franken and Walter Mondale.

He told Californians that they live in the most entrepreneurial and innovative state in the country, and they must fight to keep it that way, arguing that only lower taxes and less government intervention will stimulate the economy.

San Francisco Chronicle culture blogger Beth Spotswood objects to the lack of food for reporters

Having had enough of that, we headed down to the ‘banquet’ which was held in the ballroom. As “press” we weren’t actually allowed to dine at the banquet. The press was escorted through a separate door and seated along the wall. We were expected to simply watch Republicans eat.

I was unexpectedly impressed by Pawlenty’s quiet but on-target comments to the California GOP; heartened by the brief signs of life Ron Paul supporters and the convention's Liberty Caucus brought to the convention; and pessimistic about the California Republicans’ ability to admit they have a problem.

This last part remains a topic of dismal consideration. I’m not a Republican or a conservative, but nothing good can come of the Democrats’ tight and tightening grip on nearly all areas of California politics. Most states need a third party. California needs a second. 

Here's Fleischman interviewed a while back by Reason.tv:

Here are Ron Paul supporters halting conversations, committee meetings and luncheon comments — most of which were focused on the problem of lack of enthusiasm among Republican voters: 

Sponsor of Florida Bill to Drug Test Public Workers Says Being An Elected Official Is Totally Different

It's hard to know who to root for in a case like this; a potential bill in Florida would allow all public workers to be drug tested (tight budgets permitting) —except, that is, members of the Florida state legislature, one of whom just happens to be the sponsor of said bill. 

According to the Huffington Post:

Rep. Jimmie Smith (R-Lecanto), the bill's sponsor, said he supports drug testing for lawmakers, but requiring them to pee in cups like everyone else would violate their constitutional rights. In an email to The Huffington Post, Smith cited the U.S. Supreme Court's 1997 decision in Chandler v. Miller, which struck down tests for political candidates in Georgia.

While he "strongly" supports drug testing for legislators, Smith said, "being elected to office is completely different from being hired by a company or agency."

Some of Smith's Democratic colleagues think his bill would set a double standard. "I firmly believe we have to lead by example," Rep. Joe Abruzzo (D-Wellington) said last week, according to the Miami Herald. "The day that I have to go take a [drug] test as a state representative is the day that I'll support this legislation."

Discouraging everyone from working in government is tempting, but the usual tedious hypocrisy of this kind of bill applying to everyone except its sponsors and passers kind of diminishes the schadenfreude of pestering small-time government employees. (Chandler v. Miller, by the way, was brought before the court by members of the state Libertarian Party.)

2011 saw more than 30 attempts (mostly by Republicans) to pass bills which would drug test people applying for various forms of government aid. A handful of admittedly awesome Democrats responded with attempts to mandate drug-testing of legislators, most memorably in Georgia.

Smith has some legal precedent in his arguments, and he's even man enough to take the piss-test himself if it comes to that:

"To this date, the Supreme Court has only heard two cases relating to drug testing employees, and both of these were held constitutional," Smith said. "The Supreme Court is the ultimate law of the land, and, to date, drug testing of state employees has not been found unconstitutional."

Nevertheless, Smith stressed that he's not opposed to taking drug tests as a member of the Florida Legislature.

"In fact, just last week at the demand of some constituents, I gladly paid $40 out of my own pocket to take a drug test and passed this test," he said. "I will continue to make these results available in my office to any constituent who is interested in viewing them. My constituents are my boss, and if asked, I will gladly take a drug test."

Many people who object to the potential legislation say it's wrong and more to the point, it's likely to be instantly killed by lawsuits. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) already issued two executive orders which were stopped by lawsuits (including one by the Florida American Civil Liberties Union, who argued the Fourth Amendment violation angle) last fall. One of those was the controversial bill to test every single welfare applicant in the state.

Reason on drug tests, Jacob Sullum in 2002 on why people suddenly became so jazzed about drug tests (follow the money, as usual, is part of the reason).

Azerbaijan Is Demolishing Veterans' Apartments to Build Venue for Eurovision 2012

Last year, singers from Azerbaijan won the 2011 Eurovision Singing Contest, meaning that their country would host the international competition this year in late May. To celebrate, authorities decided to forcibly evict some residents of Azerbaijan's capital city of Baku, destroy their apartments and build a performance venue in their place. In a February 17 report, Human Rights Watch questions whether illegal expropriation is the best course of action in preparing the capital for a celebratory, feel-good international contest:

"Hosting Eurovision means the Azerbaijani government can showcase Baku to thousands of visitors and millions of television viewers," said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "However, the event is overshadowed by the illegal evictions, expropriations, and demolitions for hundreds of local residents forced out of their homes."

Indeed. There is a vast difference between the citizens' reality and the government's fantasy of hosting Eurovision 2012 in Baku, apparent from the videos below.

The government's version of the capital city, a glamorous convertible-topped hybrid of East and West, ancient and modern:

And the reality of Eurovision in Baku, courtesy of Human Rights Watch:

Some already doubt the country's qualification to host Eurovision based on its gay rights record. A group of Armenian pop singers are also considering boycotting the contest because of their home country's marred history with Azerbaijan.

Nevertheless, the Azerbaijani government has pressed on in the demolition while residents, many of them military service members and their families, are still living in the complex.

Notes the Human Rights Watch report:

The Gusseinov family had entered into the forced sale of their apartment, but the family remained because the sale had not been finalized. Meanwhile, the demolition of the roof and 9th floor caused a giant pipe to fall into Gusseinov’s apartment. Gusseinov, who had celebrated his daughter’s wedding on February 12 in the apartment, had to abandon many of his possessions because he did not have enough time to pack and move. ...

The authorities offered Gusseinov 300 manat (approximately US$380), to rent a temporary apartment.

The Azerbaijanis can't seem to get a break. Spiegel Online reports that the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the organizer for the Eurovision contest, denies any responsibility for the forced evictions:

EBU officials insist that they didn't ask anyone to build new venues or to raze old buildings. In fact, they say, they have only now approved Crystal Hall, on a site that was previously wasteland, as the venue for the event. Besides, they add, the city has shown them that the redevelopment plans that require tearing down existing structures were made before Azerbaijan won the contest last May, thereby securing the right to host this year's contest.

The company in charge of producing the contest is also washing its hands of uprooting the lives of Azerbaijani families just to put on on a pretty face for the international community:

Jörg Grabosch, the head of Brainpool, the German company that will produce the giant television show for the Azerbaijanis, has nothing but praise for the speed at which the arena is being built. "The loss of the buildings isn't a tragedy," he says, suggesting that the gray apartment towers didn't look pretty anyway.

Read more about governments stealing people's homes and rights abuses in Central Asia.

Kickstarter Kicks the NEA's Butt in Arts Funding

Kickstarter, a nifty website that bills itself as a "funding platform for creative projects," plans to hand off $150 million in cash to artsy-fartsy projects of all shapes and sizes in 2012, co-founder Yancey Strickler told TPM last week. The money comes from individual donors who voluntarily give to specific projects.

The 2012 budget of the National Endowment for the Arts is $146 million.

Jus' sayin.

Reason.tv on three reasons not to fund art with taxpayer dollars:

Reason's Greg Beato is So Bored with the NEA.

Via tipster and trickster Andrew Mayne.

Arab Americans, Muslim Americans Dig Ron Paul!

From the invaluable campaign reporting of Yahoo's Chris Moody comes this tale of Republican triumph for Ron Paul. Even though his campaign is not doing any specific outreach on this score, Muslim Americans and Arab Americans are saying yes to Dr. No:

"[Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have] come out against practically every position that the Arabs in the community support," said Nasser Beydoun, the former head of American Arab Chamber of Commerce in Dearborn. "I don't think Republicans are focused on immigrants in general or Arab Americans. They're too busy catering to the fringes of the party."

Yahya Basha, a medical doctor in Royal Oak, Mich., and a board member of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, told Yahoo News he was frustrated with the lack of outreach from the presidential campaigns, and although he is committed to supporting former Mitt Romney, he expects a sizable number of his fellow Muslim and Arab Republicans in Michigan to cast a vote for Paul on Tuesday.

"As a group, we like Ron Paul," he said.

Moody charts the decline in warm relations between Muslims and the Party of Lincoln:

...76 percent of [Muslims] approve of President Barack Obama's job performance, according to an August 2011 Pew survey. Almost half of the Muslims surveyed in the poll said they found Republicans to be "unfriendly" to the faith.

The relationship between followers of Islam and the Republican Party was not always so contentious. In the 2000 presidential election, before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the civil liberties crackdown and wars that followed, 7 in 10 Muslims supported the candidacy of former President George W. Bush, according to a poll at the time taken by the Council on American-Islamic Relations....

"One side may be disappointing," [James Zogby of the American Arab Institute] said, "but the other side is scaring the hell out of you."

Read the whole thing here.

Warren Buffett Sticks up for Banks, "Bullied Outcast" Opens Fire at School, Michigan Muslims Campaign for Ron Paul: P.M. Links

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Ira Stoll on the Capital Gains Tax Rate

The founder of the Vanguard group of mutual funds, John C. Bogle, who says he is a lifelong Republican, is calling on Congress to raise capital gains taxes to the rates that apply to ordinary income. "As a general policy, equalize the taxes, raise the taxes on capital gains," Mr. Bogle said earlier this month in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Betty Liu. Mr. Bogle has a lot of wisdom about investing, writes Ira Stoll, but on the question of capital gains, he's wrong. 

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Pot Legalization Initiative Qualifies for Colorado Ballot

Today the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012, a.k.a. Amendment 64, officially qualified for the November ballot in Colorado. "If approved by voters," the Drug Policy Alliance reports, "the initiative would decriminalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and older statewide and would allow small-scale cultivation for personal consumption. It would also permit the Department of Revenue or local governments (cities and counties) to design and implement regulations for controlling sales of marijuana to adults." DPA notes that "Colorado now joins Washington as one of two states to qualify a legalization initiative in 2012, while several other states are hoping to follow suit."

More on the Paul/Romney Non-Alliance

Lefty site ThinkProgress has added to the scrum of speculation about a Paul/Romney alliance with a chart--a chart!!--that "proves" (without giving a single example of what they count as an attack) that Ron Paul in the debates had never attacked Mitt Romney.

As I've written before, I certainly think these examples of Paul specifically criticizing specific things Romney said--on Afghanistan and the NDAA and military "spending cuts"--might qualify as "attacks" but again I have no idea what ThinkProgress's criteria are, so there's not much more I can say about that. Specific attacks on his opponents out of his own mouth, unless he's asked or is directly responding to a dumb thing his opponents just said, isn't a dominant part of Paul's style regardless.

I wrote at length about the lack of meat behind these alliance accusations here and here.

Here is the graphic for the Romney-attacking Moneybomb I wrote of in the first link above:

Jack Hunter at the Paul campaign web site quotes Rand Paul on his part in fanning people's suspicions about this "alliance":

The media speculation about some supposed cooperation between the Ron Paul campaign and Mitt Romney has gotten completely out of hand....During a radio interview this morning in Chicago, Sen. Paul said:

“If there’s a secret deal they’re keeping it secret from me, I think that’s mostly internet chatter and fun for people to speculate on…”...

I think the story kind of got misrepresented, because you know when I was asked, every time I’m asked these kind of questions, these are hypothetical questions, I always say you know what? I still have my first choice in the race and that’s Ron Paul. My first choice would be a Ron Paul presidency and my first choice for a position would be an unofficial adviser to a Ron Paul presidency…

But when they push and push and push, and say ‘What about Romney? Would you do it?’ I mentioned that it would be an honor, and what I meant by that is sort of like if you were nominated for an academy award, what’s your response? You’d say “It’s be an honor to be nominated’ and so I think it would be silly for me not to say that if anybody considered me that I’d be honored by it, but I think it was somewhat overblown, it sort of fits into this sort of cabal that people write about…

That there’s this big strategy between Ron Paul and Romney, really the Ron Paul strategy as far as I’m aware of it is to gather delegates and to try to win, and one of the unwritten stories really is that Ron Paul may have already won a couple of states but people haven’t realized it because the delegates haven’t been allotted in Iowa yet, and we still think there’s an reasonable chance we can win Iowa we they count the delegates, we think there’s a reasonable chance we can win Maine when they count the delegates...

The world is full of dark mysteries and sneaky tricks, and it's possible Ron Paul's campaign is in secret alliance with Mitt Romney, the Axis Powers, Victor von Doom, and the Reptilians. Let's just say that the supposed evidence presented for it by his other opponents and press speculators doesn't prove their case.

Bonus Paulian: Paul "amuses" Momma, a tough crowd if ever there was one:

While "Momma" is not mentioned, you still might appreciate my forthcoming book, Ron Paul's Revolution.

Can Lesbians Commit an Anti-Gay Hate Crime?

Earlier today, in response to my post about Dharun Ravi's "bias intimidation" trial, a reader wondered: What if Ravi were gay and spied on his roommate's makeout session out a "prurient interest in watching homosexual sex"? Objectively he would have done exactly the same thing, but he could hardly be accused of acting out of a bias against gay people. Right? Not so fast. The Boston Herald reports that three lesbians were recently arraigned on charges of "assault and battery with intent to intimidate" for beating a gay man while using "insulting homophobic slurs" (as opposed to complimentary slurs?). The attorney for one of the women says the man provoked the fight with racial slurs. The attorney for the two other women, who are sisters, says they did not even know he was gay. Their mother "told reporters the alleged attack 'can't be hateful' because both her daughters are lesbians." Wrong! "Someone who is Jewish can be anti-Semitic," explains Sarah Wunsch, an attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts. "The mere fact that someone is a member of the same class doesn't mean they could not be motivated by hatred for their very own group."

Yes, that's the American Civil Liberties Union, many of whose members unfortunately do not see how punishing people for their bigoted motives amounts to punishing them for their beliefs. Reason contributor Harvey Silverglate, a Boston criminal defense attorney who served for years on the board of the ACLU of Massachusetts, would like to set them straight. "My guess is that no sane jury would convict [these women] under those circumstances," he tells the Herald, "but what this really demonstrates is the idiocy of the hate-crime legislation....If you beat someone up, you’re guilty of assault and battery of a human being. Period. The idea of trying to break down human beings into categories is doomed to failure."

California Senator Introduces Bill to Reduce Drug Possession Crimes to Misdemeanors

Nifty-sounding new bill introduced into California Senate by Sen. Mark Leno. From his office's press release:

Senator Mark Leno introduced legislation that revises the penalty for simple drug possession under state law from a felony to a misdemeanor. The new legislation, SB 1506, does not apply to anyone involved in selling, manufacturing or possessing drugs for sale. The bill would help alleviate overcrowding in state prisons and county jails, ease pressure on California’s court system and result in millions of dollars in annual savings for both state and local governments....

SB 1506 will significantly reduce prison and jail spending, allowing local and state government to dedicate resources to probation, drug treatment and mental health services that have proven most effective in reducing crime. It will also help law enforcement rededicate resources to more serious offenders. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates reducing penalties for drug possession will save counties about $159 million annually, in addition to yearly savings for the state totaling $64.4 million.

The bill is co-sponsored by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), Drug Policy Alliance, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

Across the country, 13 states, the District of Columbia, and federal laws treat drug possession as a misdemeanor. Drug crime is not higher in those states....

The bill will be heard in policy committees in the Senate this spring.

Truly sensible drug policy needs to aim at reducing legal penalties for sales of drugs as well, and just get the government out of the expensive and destructive business of regulating our choices on what we can eat. But it's an encouraging bill worth watching out for nonetheless.

Full text of the bill.

[Hat Tip: Drug Policy Alliance's Meghan Ralston]

Reason's copious archives on drug policy and the drug war.

Mark Bittman: Government Is 'on Our Side' When It Stops Us From Eating What We Want to Eat

New York Times columnist Mark Bittman, who last year expressed enthusiasm for the "fun" and "exciting" project of micro-managing other people's diets via carefully calculated taxes and subsidies, today asks: Why not start with poor people? Bittman likes the idea of preventing food stamp recipients from using their taxpayer-funded scrip to buy products that do not meet with his approval. But he would not stop there:

Added sugar is not the only dangerous food. But unlike animal products, for example, which we also overconsume, it has no benefits. Yet we down it at the rate of 150 pounds per person per year, and while scientists argue whether it is addictive in humans (it meets the criteria for addiction in animals), it is most certainly habit-forming. [Robert H.] Lustig and his co-authors suggest [in a recent Nature article] that actions like imposing taxes on added sugar or establishing a minimum age for purchase of sodas (they mention 17 in their paper) would reduce consumption.

The question "Is this necessary?" is unavoidable. But as obesity and its consequences ravage our health care system, we struggle not only with our own diets but also with preventing our children from falling into the same traps...

We need the government on our side. It must acknowledge the dangers caused by the most unhealthy aspects of our diet and figure out how to help us cope with them, because this is the biggest public health challenge facing the developed world.

I'm not sure what difference Bittman perceives between "addictive" and "habit-forming." Although cigarettes, for instance, were once said to be the latter but not the former, scientists have long since abandoned that distinction. In any case, these labels do nothing to illuminate the public policy issue, which is whether the government has any business trying to stop us from eating sugar (or other politically incorrect food ingredients). Bittman believes it does, so deeply that he does not even think it necessary to offer a reason or anticipate possible objections. Notice that he asks whether such meddling is "necessary," not whether it is legitimate, and even then does not answer the question. Instead Bittman suggests that people are addicted to sugar, which he thinks means they have no choice but to consume it and therefore must be rescued from this self-destructive habit by benign overseers like him. That is how he imagines the government is "on our side" when it uses force to stop us from eating what we want to eat. Bittman knows that we do not really want to eat sugar, or at least that we should not want to eat sugar, which in his mind is more or less the same thing.

Iran: Still Not Making Nuclear Weapons

On Saturday, where all the really vitally important news gets buried, the New York Times reminds us:

Even as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program, American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.

Recent assessments by American spy agencies are broadly consistent with a2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned itsnuclear weapons program years earlier, according to current and former American officials. The officials said that assessment was largely reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and that it remains the consensus view of America’s 16 intelligence agencies.

At the center of the debate is the murky question of the ultimate ambitions of the leaders in Tehran. There is no dispute among American, Israeli and European intelligence officials that Iran has been enriching nuclear fuel and developing some necessary infrastructure to become a nuclear power. But the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies believe that Iran has yet to decide whether to resume a parallel program to design a nuclear warhead — a program they believe was essentially halted in 2003 and which would be necessary for Iran to build a nuclear bomb. Iranian officials maintain that theirnuclear program is for civilian purposes.

In Senate testimony on Jan. 31, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, stated explicitly that American officials believe that Iran is preserving its options for a nuclear weapon, but said there was no evidence that it had made a decision on making a concerted push to build a weapon. David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director, concurred with that view at the same hearing. Other senior United States officials, including Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have made similar statements in recent television appearances.

Those fretting about the "enrichment activities" should be aware of the huge, huge gap between fuel-grade enrichment and weapons-grade enrichment, as discussed here, and here in a less politically charged context.

See my blogging from last week on the New York Times' fretting in a Sunday paper story (traditionally more widely read) that Israel alone couldn't take out this dangerous nuclear program. Which, as this Saturday article explained, doesn't seem to even exist.

How Dharun Ravi Could Get 10 Years for Expressing Unapproved Views

Dharun Ravi is on trial in New Jersey for spying on his college roommate. Although the Newark Star-Ledger says "Ravi is not charged in connection with [Tyler] Clementi's death," it is doubtful that he would have been charged at all if Clementi had not jumped off the George Washington Bridge on September 22, 2010. That was three days after Ravi, monitoring their Rutgers University dorm room via a webcam, watched Clementi kiss a male visitor and two days after Ravi tweeted that he "saw my roommate making out with a dude." If Clementi had not killed himself (for reasons that remain unclear), Ravi surely would not be facing the prospect of 10 years in prison for "bias intimidation."

But now that he is, his fate may hinge on his opinions about homosexuality. "He's not homophobic," Ravi's attorney, Steven D. Altman, insisted during his opening statement on Friday. "He's not antigay." When the prosecution called four Rutgers students to testify that "his roommate's sex life had been very much on [Ravi's] mind and that the spying had relied on advance planning," The New York Times reports, "Mr. Altman elicited from those same witnesses testimony that Mr. Ravi had shown no hatred of gays or of Mr. Clementi." It is safe to say that if Ravi had told his friends "man, I hate queers," or had simply endorsed the biblical view of homosexuality, those sentiments would have been used against him. This is how "hate crime" statutes, which enhance penalties for existing offenses based on bigoted motives, end up punishing people for their beliefs.

Ravi (who, like Clementi, was an 18-year-old freshman at the time) has claimed he activated the webcam on his computer that night because he did not trust the older man visiting Clementi and wanted to keep an eye on him. Altman emphasized that Ravi and a friend, Molly Wei, caught just a few seconds of Clementi kissing the other man. Ravi also said he was joking when he tweeted that he planned to watch the two again two nights later. But even if we discount Ravi's mitigating explanations, he is guilty, at worst, of being an immature jerk—not the sort of thing people usually got to prison for. Ravi's comments to friends suggest that if he was picking on his roommate, it was probably because of Clementi's social awkwardness rather than his sexual orientation. Is the second motivation 10 years worse than the first? 

More on hate crime laws here. For an in-depth discussion, see my 1992 Reason article "What's Hate Got to Do With It?" (PDF).

President Clarence Thomas?

At The Daily Beast, UCLA law professor Adam Winkler tells Republicans to stop hoping for a Paul Ryan or Chris Christie presidential campaign and instead throw their weight behind “a more inspired and game-changing pick: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.” Winkler writes:

Unlike the flip-flopping Mitt Romney, Thomas is a true conservative who could appeal to all of the segments of the Republican coalition. Tea Partiers would see Thomas as one of their own. Not only has he been a consistent voice to curtail the power of the federal government but his wife Ginni, a Tea Party activist herself, has been a leader in the fight to repeal Obama’s healthcare reform law. Wall Street Republicans would be buoyed by Thomas’s opposition to environmental regulation and his free market philosophy.  Blue-collar workers could embrace Thomas’s up-by-his-bootstraps story of rising from incredible poverty–until he was 7, his home had no indoor plumbing–and his votes to end affirmative action and preserve the Second Amendment. Evangelicals will like that he’s against abortion, gay rights, and limits on prayer in school.

Thomas is also very smart. When he first joined the Supreme Court, some people thought he would just mimic Justice Antonin Scalia, the intellectual leader of the Court’s conservative wing. Over the years, however, Thomas has become a powerful voice for his brand of constitutional conservatism and has proven himself a more devout believer in originalism than even Scalia. Today, it seems as if Scalia is more likely to follow Thomas.

Read the rest of Winkler’s “analysis” right here.

As for the likelihood of this scenario coming true, I’m going to endorse the prediction of Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Adler, who remarks, “Whatever else may happen this election year, I’m fairly confident we’ll never find out whether Prof. Winkler is correct.”

Tim Cavanaugh on Washington’s Lousy Real Estate Portfolio

These are tough times for government real estate policy. In December the Securities and Exchange Commission indicted six former executives from the failed government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, including former Fannie CEO Daniel H. Mudd and former Freddie CEO Richard F. Syron, on charges of fraud, alleging that the GSEs misled investors and the government in statements claiming they had minimal holdings of low-quality and subprime mortgage loans. It’s no surprise to see federal housing bureaucracies failing, observes Reason.com Managing Editor Tim Cavanaugh. They just need to fail faster.

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The Not-Really-Fleeting Expletive That Wasn't Bleeped at Last Night's Oscars

Did you have a sad last night when the deserving Brad Pitt lost out for Best Actor to eyebrow-gymnast Jean Dujardin (John of the Garden) for expressing all of two emotions in a charming but overrated silent movie? Me too! But at least Brice de Nice got away with saying in French what the Federal Communications Commission thinks is deserving of a six-figure fine in English. It's at the end of this clip:

Money section:

If George Valentine could speak, he'd say "Wow! Putain! Génial! Merci! Formidable!"

Why, it's like those French have a different word for everything!

Putain is not a back-handed reference to Vichy shame-receptacle Philippe Pétain, but rather the most flexible of French curse-words, meaning literally (of course!) "whore" (but with more of a cunty vibe), and also, as in last night, a celebratory interjection, a la "Fuck yeah!" It is in every case a vulgarity, and as such sometimes funny. In Dujardin's amped-up barking, it served mostly as a timely reminder that–as anyone who has sat through a César Awards ceremony can tell you–ye olde Cinéma Français should not be confused with high-toned, above-it-all sophistication.  

But the true moral of the story is that government censorship, or the threat thereof, has no place in self-congratulatory awards broadcasts, or any other broadcast for that matter. If the Academy, or ABC, feel strongly enough on their own to bleep out a stray "fucking amazing," that's on them. But even a happy "Putain!" is considerably more vulgar, and yet we all wake up the next day mostly unscathed.

Luckily, the Supreme Court will soon consider not just the FCC's "fleeting expletives" doctrine, but the whole government enterprise of policing indecency. Read about that here.

Congrats to Reason.tv Actor Dan Lindsay, Winner of Best Doc Oscar for Undefeated!

Reason is happy to extend congratulations to Dan Lindsay, who took home an Oscar last night for co-directing Undefeated, winner of the Academy Award for best documentary. The film follows the travails of the Manassas Tigers, an inner-city high school football team that struggles to overcome a legacy of failure and shame with the help of a volunteer coach (read a typical rave review here).

It's great to see Lindsay get such praise and no matter how far he goes, he'll always have a special role in the memory of Reason.tv, where he memorably appears at "guy in grey t-shirt" in our own Battleship Potemkin, the 2008 short parody we called "Where's My Bailout?"

Here's the trailer for Undefeated:

Lindsay's co-director, TJ Martin, created controversy by dropping only the second f-bomb at the Oscars, the fleeting expletive "fucking amazing."

The Wash Post reports:

“That was not the classiest thing in the world,” [Martin] added [backstage]. “However, it did come from the heart.”...

The other director, Daniel Lindsay, noted that they really wanted to dedicate their award to the people of West Memphis, where the high school football documentary was set. Their speech was cut for time before they were able to do that.

Here's "Where's My Bailout?", which originally aired on October 29, 2008:

For more on "Where's My Bailout?," go here. And for more of Lindsay as an actor check him out in the award-winning short film, Cute Couple, which like the Reason.tv vid, was directed by Courtney Moorehead Balaker. It's a quarter of an hour extremely well-spent, regardless of how much work you've got to do on Monday morning after staying up too late watching the Oscars.

Romney & Santorum Besting Obama in Swing States

Via Instapundit.com comes the latest polls from USA Today on match-ups between President Obama and GOP would-be presidents Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum:

In the poll, Obama lags the two leading Republican rivals in the 12 states likely to determine the outcome of a close race in November:

• Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum tops Obama 50%-45% in the swing states. Nationwide, Santorum’s lead narrows to 49%-46%.

• Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney edges Obama 48%-46% in the swing states. Nationwide, they are tied at 47% each.

Off the cuff remarks that assume a second term is in the bag can't be helping with swing voters, but health-care reform is apparently a big part of the problem:

The poll suggests that the president’s popularity is dampened by his expansive health care reform law, which 53 percent of voters in swing states and half of voters nationwide perceive as a bad thing. That’s versus just 38 percent of voters in swing states and 42 percent of voters nationwide who see the health care bill favorably.

Those USA Today quotes above come courtesy of Jammie Wearing Fools.

The USA Today polls are contradicted by the summaries of national (as opposed to swing state) surveys at Real Clear Politics, which has Obama tied or over his GOP rivals (including Rep. Ron Paul). Check those out here.

Reason Writers on Bloggingheads: Matt Welch Talks With Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry About the Euro and Other Calamities

On Friday, Feb. 24, Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch conversed with Parisian Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry of Business Insider and The American Scene about the latest and neverending Euro crisis, and how it looks from the ground. Other topics included the EU's historical success in averting war, and the Republican race for president; go to the Bloggingheads.tv page to see topics broken down into bite-sized chunks. Or just watch the full 50 minutes below:

A.M. Links: Taliban Attacks U.S. Base in Retaliation for Burnt Koran, Conservative Governors Worry About Culture War Backlash, Obama Administration Funds NYPD's Muslim Surveillance Program

  • More murder, riots, and bombs in Afghanistan over the weekend, catalyzed by military occupation a burnt book
  • GOP governors worry that culture-warring is going to hurt them.
  • NYPD uses federal drug-war funds to spy on Muslims
  • Rick Santorum makes nice with Tea Partiers, Mitt Romney makes awkward.
  • Newt Gingrich preaches.  
  • Feds increase pressure on California to drive medical marijuana underground.

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New at Reason.tv: "Margaret Thatcher, Meryl Streep, & The Iron Lady: Fact vs. Fiction"

Steve Chapman on Pain at the Pump

In the field of petroleum, location is everything. If you want to find oil, you don't drill in Rhode Island. And if you want to find wisdom about gasoline markets, you avoid Washington, D.C. In good times, the confusion and folly of our elected leaders have only limited impact. But when pump prices rise to painful levels, as they have lately, writes Steve Chapman, you can safely assume that whatever politicians say and do will be poorly conceived and ill-motivated.

View this article

Oscar Roundup 2012: In My Day, the Show Was Hosted By IRVING Crystal

For those of you who didn't stay up for all 48 hours of the ceremony, this year's Oscar for Best Picture went to The Artist, which I think is a Mel Brooks movie starring Marty Feldman and Dom DeLuise. Other winners included Christopher Lloyd Guest Plummer, for Beginners, and Meryl Streep, for The Iron Lady. In the evening's biggest disappointment, Streep did not accept her award by announcing "I AM IRON LADY" and blasting some Black Sabbath.

Hugo won five Oscars, and a guy named Oscar won five Hugos. In one of the documentary categories, an Iranian movie defeated a Holocaust movie, which is just the sort of scenario Rick Santorum has been warning us about. And Billy Crystal, who was originally slated to appear this year in the In Memoriam montage, instead did an almost lifelike turn as the program's host. The Academy hopes to replicate this success next year, when it exhumes Bob Hope.

Romney Bug Report

Thanks to Mitt Romney, politicians will never again assume that feigning interest in NASCAR is a surefire way to show the common touch:

Two days away from a critical primary in Michigan, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney detoured to Daytona International Speedway on Sunday....Does he follow the sport?

"Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans," he said. "But I have some friends who are NASCAR team owners."

Wikileaks Strikes Again, Dumps Hacked Emails from Global Security Firm Stratfor

Tomorrow morning 25 media organizations across the globe (including Rolling Stone and McClatchy here in America) will publish stories based on a massive cache of emails obtained by Wikileaks. According to a press release on the Wikileaks website, the emails are from the private security firm STRATFOR, which is based in Texas and does contract work for various federal agencies (including the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense) as well as corporate espionage. Here's more from that press release

The emails show Stratfor’s web of informers, pay-off structure, payment-laundering techniques and psychological methods, for example:

"[Y]ou have to take control of him. Control means financial, sexual or psychological control... This is intended to start our conversation on your next phase" – CEO George Friedman to Stratfor analyst Reva Bhalla on 6 December 2011, on how to exploit an Israeli intelligence informant providing information on the medical condition of the President of Venezuala, Hugo Chavez.

The material contains privileged information about the US government’s attacks against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and Stratfor’s own attempts to subvert WikiLeaks. There are more than 4,000 emails mentioning WikiLeaks or Julian Assange. The emails also expose the revolving door that operates in private intelligence companies in the United States. Government and diplomatic sources from around the world give Stratfor advance knowledge of global politics and events in exchange for money. The Global Intelligence Files exposes how Stratfor has recruited a global network of informants who are paid via Swiss banks accounts and pre-paid credit cards. Stratfor has a mix of covert and overt informants, which includes government employees, embassy staff and journalists around the world.

The material shows how a private intelligence agency works, and how they target individuals for their corporate and government clients. For example, Stratfor monitored and analysed the online activities of Bhopal activists, including the "Yes Men", for the US chemical giant Dow Chemical. The activists seek redress for the 1984 Dow Chemical/Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal, India. The disaster led to thousands of deaths, injuries in more than half a million people, and lasting environmental damage.

Stratfor has realised that its routine use of secret cash bribes to get information from insiders is risky. In August 2011, Stratfor CEO George Friedman confidentially told his employees: "We are retaining a law firm to create a policy for Stratfor on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. I don’t plan to do the perp walk and I don’t want anyone here doing it either."

Stratfor’s use of insiders for intelligence soon turned into a money-making scheme of questionable legality. The emails show that in 2009 then-Goldman Sachs Managing Director Shea Morenz and Stratfor CEO George Friedman hatched an idea to "utilise the intelligence" it was pulling in from its insider network to start up a captive strategic investment fund. CEO George Friedman explained in a confidential August 2011 document, marked DO NOT SHARE OR DISCUSS: "What StratCap will do is use our Stratfor’s intelligence and analysis to trade in a range of geopolitical instruments, particularly government bonds, currencies and the like". The emails show that in 2011 Goldman Sach’s Morenz invested "substantially" more than $4million and joined Stratfor’s board of directors. Throughout 2011, a complex offshore share structure extending as far as South Africa was erected, designed to make StratCap appear to be legally independent. But, confidentially, Friedman told StratFor staff: "Do not think of StratCap as an outside organisation. It will be integral... It will be useful to you if, for the sake of convenience, you think of it as another aspect of Stratfor and Shea as another executive in Stratfor... we are already working on mock portfolios and trades". StratCap is due to launch in 2012.

The Stratfor emails reveal a company that cultivates close ties with US government agencies and employs former US government staff. It is preparing the 3-year Forecast for the Commandant of the US Marine Corps, and it trains US marines and "other government intelligence agencies" in "becoming government Stratfors". Stratfor’s Vice-President for Intelligence, Fred Burton, was formerly a special agent with the US State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service and was their Deputy Chief of the counterterrorism division. Despite the governmental ties, Stratfor and similar companies operate in complete secrecy with no political oversight or accountability. Stratfor claims that it operates "without ideology, agenda or national bias", yet the emails reveal private intelligence staff who align themselves closely with US government policies and channel tips to the Mossad – including through an information mule in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Yossi Melman, who conspired with Guardian journalist David Leigh to secretly, and in violation of WikiLeaks’ contract with the Guardian, move WikiLeaks US diplomatic cables to Israel.

Ironically, considering the present circumstances, Stratfor was trying to get into what it called the leak-focused "gravy train" that sprung up after WikiLeaks’ Afghanistan disclosures:

"[Is it] possible for us to get some of that ’leak-focused’ gravy train? This is an obvious fear sale, so that’s a good thing. And we have something to offer that the IT security companies don’t, mainly our focus on counter-intelligence and surveillance that Fred and Stick know better than anyone on the planet... Could we develop some ideas and procedures on the idea of ´leak-focused’ network security that focuses on preventing one’s own employees from leaking sensitive information... In fact, I’m not so sure this is an IT problem that requires an IT solution."

Like WikiLeaks’ diplomatic cables, much of the significance of the emails will be revealed over the coming weeks, as our coalition and the public search through them and discover connections. Readers will find that whereas large numbers of Stratfor’s subscribers and clients work in the US military and intelligence agencies, Stratfor gave a complimentary membership to the controversial Pakistan general Hamid Gul, former head of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service, who, according to US diplomatic cables, planned an IED attack on international forces in Afghanistan in 2006. Readers will discover Stratfor’s internal email classification system that codes correspondence according to categories such as ’alpha’, ’tactical’ and ’secure’. The correspondence also contains code names for people of particular interest such as ’Izzies’ (members of Hezbollah), or ’Adogg’ (Mahmoud Ahmedinejad).

Stratfor did secret deals with dozens of media organisations and journalists – from Reuters to the Kiev Post. The list of Stratfor’s "Confederation Partners", whom Stratfor internally referred to as its "Confed Fuck House" are included in the release. While it is acceptable for journalists to swap information or be paid by other media organisations, because Stratfor is a private intelligence organisation that services governments and private clients these relationships are corrupt or corrupting.

STRATFOR recently made headlines when its servers were hacked by Anonymous

As for the value of the intel: Eamon Javers of ABC News and author of a book on corporate espionage tweets, "This stratfor stuff is incredible. There will be days and days of material out of this email dump by wikileaks." Meanwhile, The Atlantic's international editor Max Fisher tweets, "STRATFOR is a joke and so is wikileaks."

Reason.tv on Wikileaks: 

T-Paw Surprises With Best Speech of Cal GOP Confab

If you were looking for somebody to say last rites for a political party, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty would be the logical choice. His aged-but-unlined face, patiently pedantic affect and low-blood-pressure delivery all give Pawlenty the air of an amiable parish priest. 

But after a grueling California Republican Party convention dominated by doubts about the continuing viability of the Golden State’s GOP, Pawlenty’s final-night speech to about 200 party faithful turned out to be the only address that fit the occasion. Rather than denying or rationalizing the party’s looming extinction in the country’s most populated state, the erstwhile Republican presidential candidate merely encouraged the depleted GOP to buck up.

After reciting a long history of Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party dominance in Minnesota – a history that stretches dismally from Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy through Walter Mondale and into the glorious present of Al Franken – Pawlenty concluded, “So don’t whine to me about how hard it is for Republicans in California.” 

Pawlenty has moved on from his defeat in the primary to become co-chairman of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, and that combination of blandsome political muscle generated just one good joke: Pawlenty proposed that his presidential campaign memoir be subtitled “All the way from Minnesota to Iowa.” But he makes as compelling a case for Romney as you’re likely to hear: that the former Massachusetts governor is a proven business success, that he has no hint of personal scandal, and that he has not “spent the bulk of his adult life in Washington or in a parasitic relationship with Washington.”

Given that the only extant presidential candidate at the GOP convention in the Bay Area was Freddie Mac historian Newt Gingrich (whose long and dismal lunchtime speech Saturday was eclipsed by a Ron Paul eruption outside the dining hall), the depiction of Romney as a political outsider was momentarily persuasive. 

But that’s the real problem for the Republicans. Aging, compromised, morally bankrupt RINOs are no longer just a subgroup within the party. They are the default setting of the party. This is especially true in California, where Republicans happily vilify Barack Obama and Jerry Brown but somehow can’t get around to opposing high-speed rail, fighting the cap and trade system that came in this year, or in any other serious way distinguishing themselves from the Democrats. Worse still, the GOP actually opposed Brown’s efforts to abolish redevelopment agencies

The Republicans’ inability to engage the Tea Party or the broader libertarian insurrection has been a problem everywhere, but in California, where the Tea Party never happened, the party of Reagan and Prop 13 has almost no libertarian mojo. Given the California GOP’s crisis of demographics and relevance, that’s a real problem. Pawlenty acknowledged as much in a conclusion that tried to embrace the range of conservatives from social cons and defense hawks through Tea Partiers and libertarians. “We don’t have a big enough Republican Party in California,” Pawlenty said, “to be throwing people overboard.” 

This captures the predicament of the California GOP. The party is marginal and becoming more so, but the leadership is deathly afraid of the one proven source of Republican energy and enthusiasm – because that source is considered too marginal. If the California Republicans continue distancing themselves from the libertarian movement, they will continue to suffer, and so will everybody else who has to live in a state where one party has absolute power and the other refuses to compete. 

Margaret Thatcher, Meryl Streep, & The Iron Lady: Fact vs. Fiction

"When I first heard of this movie," says John Blundell, "I immediately was a little worried because of Meryl Streep's own ideas and polices and so on that are very distinctly not Thatcherite."

As a longtime Margaret Thatcher ally, few people are in a better position than John Blundell to assess the veracity of the Oscar-nominated bio-pic, The Iron Lady. The former head of influential free-market organizations such as The Institute of Economic Affairs, The Institute for Humane Studies, and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation , Blundell is also the author of Margaret Thatcher: A Portrait of the Iron Lady (2007) and the new Ladies for Liberty: Women Who Made a Difference in American History .

On the eve of the 2012 Academy Awards ceremony, Blundell sat down with Reason.tv to discuss the controversy surrounding the film (which depicts its titular character in the throes of demenita), Streep's widely praised performance, and the continuing power of Thatcher's social and political legacy.

"I must admit," he says, "to being pleasantly surprised. I think overall Margaret comes out of this process with her reputation enhanced and, of course, Meryl Streep's reputation hugely enhanced."

About 5.30 minutes. Produced and edited by Meredith Bragg.

Subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube Channel to receive automatic updates when new material goes live.

The Cheyenne Army

New frontiers in disaster preparation:

House Bill 85 passed on first reading by a voice vote. It would create a state-run government continuity task force, which would study and prepare Wyoming for potential catastrophes, from disruptions in food and energy supplies to a complete meltdown of the federal government.

The task force would look at the feasibility of Wyoming issuing its own alternative currency, if needed. And House members approved an amendment Friday by state Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, to have the task force also examine conditions under which Wyoming would need to implement its own military draft, raise a standing army, and acquire strike aircraft and an aircraft carrier.

The aircraft carrier is a nice touch. I suppose if it's a big enough disaster, Wyoming might become a coastal state.

Elsewhere in Reason: Disaster-prep lunacy in Bossier Parish, Louisiana.

Hundreds of Ron Paul Supporters Occupy Cal. GOP Convention

The cloud of dread and hopelessness that has hung over the California Republican Party convention was blown away at noon today as Republican Ron Paul supporters stormed the Hyatt in Burlingame and raised the atrium with cheers of wild enthusiasm. 

The Paul rally briefly injected exuberance into a funereal convention being held by a failed and dying state party. Throughout the morning, Republicans had grumbled about the dim prospects for the party at the local, state and national levels. 

Though the state party leadership is trying to focus voters on one or two unifying issues in this vast state of 34 million people, local party officials note that the California Republican Party does not have the infrastructure to run a statewide campaign. Tim Holabird, a director for the Lassen County GOP, noted that his Republicans are facing far different issues  than those of Los Angeles and San Francisco or even the Central Valley (which is where the very faint voice of the California Republican Party can be heard best – usually complaining about the shortage of government-subsidized water). 

Nor has there been much optimism about candidates at the top of the ticket. Though one CAGOP staffer said all the presidential candidates had been invited, only Newt Gingrich accepted. During lunch today, Gingrich and failed presidential candidate Herman Cain both bombed as speakers, getting only sporadic applause, polite laughter, and a brief, unsuccessful attempt at a “Newt Newt Newt” chant. 

Gingrich’s unfresh face had until this afternoon been the only emblem of the California GOP’s dismal future. Convention attendees griped about the lack of young Republicans, the party’s low voter registration, their own inability to loosen the Democrats’ grip on every level of power, and the lack of enthusiasm generated by any of the party’s candidates.  

Meanwhile, the party’s hostility to freedom-oriented politics was best embodied by attendee Craig Newton, a retired prison guard on full pension who told this reporter he’d like to “punch” a Ron Paul supporter or a Democrat “in the face.” 

That came to a ringing stop with the Ron Paul rally, which was the weekend’s first sign of life. Paul supporters took over the main display area at the hotel, and crammed into balconies and stairways. 

Rick Williams, a West Hollywood candidate for Diane Feinstein’s Senate seat, led chants of “End the Fed” and “Nobody But Paul,” but the local libertarian movement was the real driving force behind the occupation, which was quickly dispersed by police and hotel security. 

Other conventioneers I spoke with disdained the Paul supporters. Several offered verbal support for the police as the Paul supporters were removed. But all acknowledged that this was the first evidence of true enthusiasm of the weekend. Although the regular conventioneers accused the Paul supporters of being outsiders, most of the ones I spoke with were registered Republicans and in some cases active party members. Marcus Negron, a Santa Cruz GOP central committee member, claimed to have worked for the Republican Party for 20 years, and Williams is a registered candidate in the Senate primary. (He is not the party favorite; that title belongs to Elizabeth Emken, whom the state GOP considers its best weapon against the formidable DiFi.)

After about half an hour, police removed the Paul supporters to the front of the hotel. There, under the leadership of San Francisco Libertarian Starchild, a remnant of Paul fans marched to the 101 Freeway. Paul supporters will be holding events throughout the convention.

Scent of Death, Gingrich at California GOP Convention

In America’s most populous state, the Republican Party could barely turn out 250 supporters for a banquet as an extremely glum California GOP Convention got underway tonight. 

Golden State Republicans have plenty of reason to be despondent.  The California Republican Party has been called "woefully weak" and "out of sync with most state voters." Republican legislators are barely hanging on to the one-third hold they still have in Sacramento, and the Democrats used a recent redistricting to make sure that the GOP loses even that. The Democratic leader of the California State Senate predicts the Democrats will take enough seats in this year’s election to remove the only tool (a requirement that new taxes be subject to a supermajority vote) that the Republicans have to check left-wing legislation. Demographically the California Republican Party is positioned far from all the growth areas. 

These structural defects are clear in the convention at a Hyatt in Burlingame. The population is almost entirely middle-aged and elderly, and there don’t even seem to be a large number of youthful interns providing valet services to delegates. (The Ron Paul campaign – which the kids these days really "grok" is barely visible here.) 

In interviews, none of these folks – including vendors, county leaders, delegates, would-be proxy delegates, and at least one irate member of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association – expressed optimism about the state party’s future. Republican registration is down to 30.4 percent, and in comments earlier tonight, Tom del Beccarro, the new chairman of the state party, was unable to articulate a vision to get that figure up. 

Del Beccarro took over the leadership of the California Republicans a little less than a year ago, when the party’s abysmal condition had just been starkly demonstrated by 2010 congressional elections that saw the California GOP lose congressional seats in the midst of a nationwide Republican tidal wave powered by the Tea Party. The new chairman is facing a massive challenge in trying to reverse the party’s decline

When asked about that challenge and the likely prospect of an even stronger Democratic stranglehold after November, the chairman replied, "I don’t think it’s going to be a very good Democratic year. " Del Beccarro said he plans to "make this a statewide election on an idea that will coalesce voters." He cautioned against trying to run more than 170 separate races, and said only a "statewide election on a popular issue" will work. 

But despite his emphasis on a "positive vision," Del Beccarro was short on big ideas. His statewide issues boil down to two: a spending cap and an attempt to restrict the power of "special interests" in upcoming ballot initiatives. He proposed getting more Republican voters through standard registration drive tactics and a "candidate toolbox." Asked about Republicans failure to thwart the Democrats when they gamed this year’s redistricting, the state GOP chairman accused Democrats of misrepresenting themselves on local panels. Least promisingly of all, he took the Republicans’ weakness as a selling point: "The Democrats have the Assembly, the Senate and the governorship," he said. "They can’t point any fingers."

This is a common theme at the convention, where attendees lament the power of Democrats but don’t seem hopeful about changing. Both tonight’s dinner speakers – Rep. Darrell Issa (San Diego) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Bakersfield) – conceded that the Democrats are in full control of California. 

"Don’t blame us; we’re powerless" doesn’t seem like a strong campaign theme. Of the presidential candidates, only Newt Gingrich will be putting in an appearance at this weekend’s confab. (Former hopefuls Herman Cain and Tim Pawlenty are also lurking somewhere.) It’s striking to see such lack of enthusiasm even among the cadre. In the state of Ronald Reagan (whose image is everywhere here), the Republicans are near death. 

NIck Gillespie Talking Election 2012, Independent Voters, with Jon Caldara of Independence Institute

The awesome Independence Institute in Denver, Colorado invited me out west last week to debate Ann Coulter about whether libertarians and conservatives could and should work together to defeat liberals such as Barack Obama. (Read about the debate here.)

II's head honcho Jon Caldara, who moderated the debate with his characteristic wit and smarts, worked me over on his public television show, The Devil's Advocate before the debate.

Take a look by clicking above. Here's the write-up:

Friday night means the Independence Institute's public affairs television show Devil's Advocate. This week host Jon Caldara sits down with Reason.com editor-in-chief and co-author of the book "Declaration of Independents" Nick Gillespie to discuss the decline of the Democrat and Republican parties, and the rise of the "Independent" voter.

Check out the show's archives here.

Listen to Kennedy Interview Matt Welch on KFI 640 AM at 4 PM California Time

Our favorite new pal Kennedy has been guest-hosting on KFI 640 AM's John and Ken show for the past week in Los Angeles, and she's having me on at 4 PM Pacific (7 Eastern) to talk about various things for 20 minutes or so. You can listen live at this link.

Sheldon Richman on the Myth of the Greater Good

Most of us were taught that the ends don’t justify the means. So why is it, writes Sheldon Richman, that most political measures are routinely defended on the sole basis that they will bring about some good consequence that supposedly outweighs the costs? As Richman observes, this happens all the time. A tariff is justified by the help it is thought to give to a struggling domestic industry. A mandate that employers or insurance companies (nominally) pay for women’s contraception is justified in terms of women’s health. Torture is justified as a source of useful information.

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Reason Writers at CNN.com: Matt Welch Calls for Journalists to Treat Warren Buffett With Skepticism

Writing over at CNN.com, Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch makes the case that Warren Buffett, like Deep Throat of Watergate fame, is given a pass by journalists because he tells them what they want to hear. Here's how the piece ends:

I'm not one who thinks that Warren Buffett needs to write a $10 billion check to the government in order to prove his policy sincerity. But it is worth noting that his big 2006 media breakthrough came not by pledging his fortune to the U.S. Treasury, but to private charity. It's clear which vehicle he finds the most effective use of his personal money.

Which suggests an ultimate test for raising the federal tax burden in a way pleasing to Warren Buffett, Barack Obama, and most of the fourth estate: Are we currently getting our $3.8 trillion worth of services? Has the rapidly increasing price tag of government -- from $1.9 trillion in Bill Clinton's last proposed budget -- come with a commensurate increase in quality?

If not, then we need to be cutting and improving government, not having it swallow up more of the private sector. If so, then that's an argument the media should be having, instead of just uncritically high-fiving a billionaire with massive vested interests.

ACLU to U.S. Government: If You Can Brag About Drone Strike Success, You Can Discuss The Program in Court

Early this month the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, against the Department of Justice and various government and sundry in order to force their release of documents about their secretive program of targeted drone strikes— particularly those focused on such technically-American targets as the late Anwar Al-Awlaki.

Secretive — see, that's the thing about the program. The government keeps saying on the record that they can't even officially acknowledge the program, but unnamed sources do tend to pop up in media reports on the program. And then of course there's the fact that President Obama admitted the program's existence during the recent Google+ "hangout" town-hall thing and again at a press conference. So, it's definitely real and it's definitely killing people and government officials definitely talk about it with varying degrees of secrecy and specificity. Except that the government is still arguing in court that the program is so secret that it cannot be discussed in front of a judge. The ACLU's lawsuit says no, you can't have that both ways.

Their ACLU Blog of Rights today:

In response to the ACLU’s FOIA request, the government refused to confirm or deny whether it has any records about the CIA’s targeted killing program or about a Justice Department memo that provided legal justification for targeting and killing Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen born in New Mexico. Yet the government has the chutzpah to sing the praises of the targeted killing program when it thinks doing so will advance its agenda, while insisting that it can’t talkabout the program in front of a federal judge. To be clear, our complaint is not that the government is disclosing information to the press. Indeed, we wish it would disclose more. Our complaint is simply that the government should not be permitted to declare in court that discussing a program would jeopardize national security when it has disclosed the same program to the public.

The New York Times, by the way, is also suing the U.S. Government over the assassination of Al-Awlaki. They want that justification — something beyond "national security" — as well. 

Reason on drones, the war on terror, and the ACLU

Antonio Villaraigosa Failing Upward in a Democratic Party as Vacuous as He Is

The disappointing, unloved mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, has improbably once again become a rising Democratic star. The party has just named Villaraigosa chairman of this summer's Democratic National Convention. He is one of President Barack Obama's 35 re-election campaign co-chairs. Chances are pretty decent that if Obama wins, he'll offer the former Tony Villar a job as transportation secretary when his mayoral term is up in May 2013. And this week Villaraigosa got the star treatment in a New York Times profile with the headline "Los Angeles Mayor Sets Sights on a Bigger Stage."

What's interesting about the Antonio resurgence is that there's absolutely no good reason for it. Unemployment in Los Angeles is worse than the state of California, and projected to remain in the double digits for at least another year. The city's budget shortfall may reach $200 million in 2012. Residents are routinely treated to the twin insults of utility rate-hikes and articles detailing six-figure salaries for members of the public sector unions that run essentially all of local politics. City Hall's love-hate relationship with the months-long Occupy protest on its front lawn was embarrassing and expensive. The mayor is seemingly always getting in trouble for receiving front-row tickets to every event in town. Traffic still sucks, and road quality still resembles Bucharest more than Bonn. And the local political class is a laughingstock.

So what's this all about then? The Christian Science Monitor explains:

For Mr. Obama and the Democratic Party, the benefits could be more immediate. As essentially the emcee of the three-day September convention in Charlotte, N.C., Mayor Villaraigosa will provide instant outreach to Hispanics, who could be crucial in the general election. Moreover, his contacts in the business community are expected to be a boon to Democratic money-raising efforts.

"His appointment is a coup for the Democratic Party," says Barbara O'Connor, director emeritus of the Institute for Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento.  "He will attract Hispanic voters but also a lot of money by virtue of his relationship to business both in Los Angeles and internationally."

A little light on the ol' accomplishments, eh? Watch the strain here from Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials:

"He laid out a priority of cutting crime and reforming the police and he has done that," says Vargas. "He has also addressed the issues of traffic and public transportation...this is very important for Los Angelenos," he says. "And he has strengthened the mayor's role in making education a priority."

Strengthening roles to lay out priorities that address issues! Boo-ya! The New York Times treats Villaraigosa's accomplishments thusly:

Asked to list the disappointments of the past seven years, Mr. Villaraigosa, characteristically, pushed aside the query to respond with a detailed list of what he viewed as under-recognized accomplishments: crime rates at record lows, a rollback of gang activity, a $40 billion mass transit system financed by a half-cent tax he helped persuade voters to pass, and tough environmental regulations.

While there may be some dispute as to how much credit Mr. Villaraigosa deserves for all that — crime is going down across the country — it is a more substantive record than he would have been able to boast about a few years ago.

"People miss a lot of Antonio's accomplishments and also overestimate the ability of the mayor to fix the problems in his midst," said Peter Dreier, a political science professor at Occidental College. "He's been governing at a time when it's almost impossible to be a successful mayor. But he's been as successful as one can hope for."

When even a leftoid Villaraigosa apologist like Dreier can't do much more than complain that governing is just too dang hard, you know the cupboard's pretty bare.

But it's actually worse than that. With the notable exception of school reform, Villaraigosa's policy ideas and priorities are stale even by 1970s standards. If you don't believe me, just go read his Twitter feed: It's filled with WTFery like "So exciting to celebrate 1st unionized carwashes in LA: Vermont Carwash & Navas Carwash" (complete with photo of the mayor under a banner that says "WASH AWAY INJUSTICE"). Or "High speed rail means #jobs today and more transit options tomorrow." Or "#SOTU showed that President Obama will keep fighting for the investments we need. Time for #Congress to do its job. Pass America Fast Fwd."

So no wonder Villaraigosa's star is rising in the Democratic Party: His ideas and track record are almost exactly as poor as the Obama/Biden Pelosi/Reid class of 2008. The only direction to fail is up.

Ron Paul: Loved By the Military, Not Loving Santorum

Ron Paul, as his campaign likes to let you know, gets more donations from active duty military than all his opponents combined. Adam Weinstein at Mother Jones explores why this might be so. Some of the important points:

The lion's share of political contributions by servicemembers and defense industry workers is going to anti-war, "soft on Israel," also-ran candidate Ron Paul. In fact, the battle for their dollars isn't even close: Paul has raised at least $282,868 from individual active-duty servicemembers and Pentagon employees—more than four times what the other three Republican presidential candidates have raised, combined. (President Obama has fared slightly better, drawing $123,644 from that group, but still less than half of Paul's total. For more, jump to the charts below with the numbers by candidate and branch of the armed services.)....

One easy explanation has been that Americans in the service have grown tired of a decade of war and identify with Paul's isolationist anti-interventionist rhetoric. But if the military men and women with whom I spoke this week are any indication, it's hardly that simple. 

While that lead-in primes the reader to expect something contrarian or counterintuitive, in my reading the rest of the voices and analysis Weinstein presents could pretty fairly be summed up as that they are indeed idenitfying with "Paul's anti-interventionist rhetoric," plus that they like that he's a vet himself, but you can decide that for yourself:

Paul's anti-war stance is certainly part of the draw. Last weekend, the group Veterans for Ron Paul 2012 organized an anti-war President's Day march on the White House. That organization's leadership includes notable Iraq Veterans Against the War memberAdam Kokesh, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress as a libertarian Republican candidate in 2010, and Jake Diliberto, a former Marine who's previously worked on Rethink Afghanistan, an anti-war project funded by the left-leaning Brave New Foundation. "I have always been a conservative, and I recognize that I am the kind of conservative that doesn't exist anymore," Diliberto told me. As for what unites servicemembers behind Paul, he said, "It is fair to say, we all do not like the current trajectory of US foreign policy, and we are cynical about US national security policy." He added that he's personally concerned about Obama's "targeted killing campaign" against alleged terrorists.  

One of the speakers at last weekend's rally was retired Air Force Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, a former Pentagon analyst and key figure in revealing how the Bush administration sold the Iraq war based on bogus intelligence."I'm 95% in harmony with Ron Paul's candidacy and his philosophy," Kwiatkowski—who's running for Congress in Virginia as a Republican—told me in an email. "I hold the DoD as a federal bureaucracy in a bit more contempt than he does because I spent way more time in it, and I saw close up the actual conscientious, direct political lying to promote war, invasions and occupations—none of which were sanctioned or even reviewed in accordance with the Constitution."

But Paul's supporters say the candidate's "anti-militarism" shouldn't be confused with being anti-defense. "He's not opposed to the defense of this country. He's not opposed to fighting wars that are declared," a 27-year-old active-duty enlisted soldier in the Army said. (He spoke on condition of anonymity; after a uniformed soldier spoke out at a Paul rally in Iowa, the military warned soldiers about politicking publicly.)

There's a certain irony in supporting a small-government candidate while working for thelargest federal bureaucracy. The politics of it are, well, complicated. "I do wrestle with this conflict of being a Paul supporter while also being a government employee," the active-duty soldier said. "Ultimately, in my support for Paul, I care more for the restoration of the ideals this country was founded upon than my current well-being."....

Soldiers tend to see Paul as understanding the pressures they face better than the other candidates because he's the only one in the group who served in uniform, as a flight surgeon in the Air Force and Air National Guard during the Vietnam era. The libertarian's service gives him "street cred," Kwiatkowski noted. "We often in the military have no idea what the foreign policy or the military policy is. All we know is we get told to do things, and often these things are costly, dangerous, and unproductive, and create more insecurity for us and for the country."

And it's not just the soldiers who dig Paul: strangely, it is military contractors as well:

Meanwhile, Paul's support from defense contractor employees—who donated more than $177,000 to him in 2011—has outpaced that of his competitors, according to Defense News. (Obama leads in that category overall, having pulled in about $348,000.) That may seem downright counterintuitive: Why would workers for companies that profit from war back an anti-pork candidate (self-proclaimed, anyway) who opposes, as Kwiatkowski puts it, "fraud, waste, abuse, warmongering, idiotic leadership, political correctness, and a host of other things"? It's a matter of ideology, military analyst Loren Thompson explained to Defense News. "There's a strong libertarian streak among many in the sector," he said. "Just because people work in the defense industry doesn't mean that they always vote their economic interests."

See Reason's coverage of the Veterans for Paul March on President's Day from Julie Ershadi.

In other Paul news, Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post has a pretty savvy take on the now Santorum-spread meme that Paul and Romney are in a secret alliance:

Rick Santorum and his team came out with a conspiracy theory that Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and Mitt Romney were in cahoots. A source close to the Paul campaign told me last night that the Paul camp sees this as an effort by senior Santorum adviser John Brabender to distract the media from the fact that his candidate was “not ready for primetime.”....

Indeed, on one hand, you can say it was foolish for Santorum to cook up an excuse for his dismal outing. Santorum already has a reputation for being thin-skinned and peevish. This tactic certainly made him seem like a poor sport.

To some extent, however, the gambit worked. When you can get major media figures and longtime GOP operatives tweeting away about non-existent deals (A Cabinet position! A VP slot for Rand Paul!) based on nothing but the accusations of a wounded candidate’s flack, that is no small feat. But, in fact, the explanations for Ron Paul’s very obvious disdain for Santorum, and, to a lesser extent, Newt Gingrich are much simpler than a Roswell-esque theory.

Both campaigns confirm that Paul and Romney are personally friendly, as are their wives. They are both of the same generation, with married kids and grandkids on whom they dote. They’ve both been happily married for decades. (It is widely known that Ron Paul’s wife was friendly with Gingrich’s second wife.)

It is human nature to show greater deference and civility to those whom you like. What the press is missing, however, is the degree to which Gingrich, Santorum and their staffs have acted in ways that the Paul camp would justifiably perceive as dismissive and rude. When I asked Brabender for reaction to the accusation that he was practicing the art of distraction, he e-mailed, “It sounds like something the Romney campaign told the Paul campaign to say.” It is precisely this sort of denigration — that Paul and his staff are unable to think on their own or advance their own interests — that has fueled Paul’s desire to skewer Santorum. The source close to the Paul camp responded, “Once again demonstrates the total lack of respect for Ron Paul, his supporters, and his campaign team held by Santorum and his top advisor. When you build coalitions and treat your fellow Republicans the Santorum-Brabender way you end up losing in the general by double digits in the swing states like Pennsylvania.” You get the picture now?

It has been going on for some time now. Santorum publicly called Paul “disgusting.” Gingrich has been telling others to get out of the race for months. In the debate, an eye-rolling Santorum couldn’t contain his disdain for Paul, who returned the favor with blow after blow to Santorum’s self-image of a “courageous” conservative warrior (wasn’t that self-definition by Santorum an unintentional moment of Newt-like ego?) .

At a staff level, the Romney team, perhaps due to an awareness of the personal relationship between the candidates, has been cordial and professional toward Paul’s people. These things matter.

In summation: Paul has plenty of reasons, both ideological and tactical, to want to crush Santorum and Gingrich, and speculating beyond the evidence that it is the result of some deal or alliance with Romney is not necessary to explain it.

My blogging on the Paul-Romney alliance here and here. My forthcoming book, Ron Paul's Revolution.

Steven Greenhut on the Totalitarian Ethics of California’s Public Sector Unions

Public sector unions in California are fearful of a new pension reform measure referred to by supporters as Comprehensive Pension Reform that has qualified for the June 2012 ballot. But instead of simply gearing up to fight this political battle, the unions petitioned one of those ridiculous commissions that most Californians have never even heard of, the Public Employment Relations Board, which is unfriendly turf for taxpayers. The union said placing the initiative on the ballot amounted to an unfair labor practice, and PERB called for an injunction to stop the election until it could complete its sham proceedings. In other words, explains Steven Greenhut, the unions and this unelected board insist that the people have no right to vote on pension reform. This is just the latest reminder of the totalitarian ethics of a public-sector union movement that doesn’t care about anything other than protecting its benefits.

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U.S. Builds WMD Case Against Syria, Shep Fairey Pleads Guilty, Romney Says He Would Raise Medicare Eligibility Age: P.M. Links

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Monetary Apocalypsageddon Update: U.S. Debt to GDP Ratio Over 100 and and Rising

The always nerve-wracking and panic-inducing folk at ZeroHedge are alarmed by some recent U.S. debt news from a few days ago (and maybe you should be too):

Today, without much fanfare, US debt to GDP hit 101% with the latest issuance of $32 billion in 2 Year Bonds. If the moment when this ratio went from double to triple digits is still fresh in readers minds, is because it is: total debt hit and surpassed the most recently revised Q4 GDP on January 30, or just three weeks ago. Said otherwise, it has taken the US 21 days to add a full percentage point to this most critical of debt sustainability ratios: but fear not, with just under $1 trillion in new debt issuance on deck in the next 9 months, we will be at 110% in no time. Still, this trend made us curious to see who has been buying (and selling) US debt over the past year. The results are somewhat surprising. As the chart below, which highlights some of the biggest and most notable holders of US paper, shows, in the period December 31, 2010 to December 31, 2011, there have been two very distinct shifts: those who are going all in on the ponzi, and those who are gradually shifting away from the greenback, and just as quietly, and without much fanfare of their own, reinvesting their trade surplus in something distinctly other than US paper. The latter two: China and Russia, as we have noted in the past. Yet these are more than offset by... well, we'll let the readers look at the chart below based on TIC data and figure out it.

That the Fed is now actively monetizing US debt is beyond dispute (although some semantic holdouts remain - we are quite happy for them). Alas, with China, which has traditionally been the biggest buyer of US paper, no longer buying Treasurys, we are confident that the Fed will have no choice but to be dragged kicking and screaming once again into the fray....

So who is buying? Why Japan and the UK.

Japan and the UK? Hmm, if these two names sound oddly familiar, allow us to refresh one's memory. Behold the pristine leverage condition of both these two countries, in all its glory.

Hint: look at the far left.

So somehow the world's two most indebted countries (recall that Japan is about to in total pass 1 quadrillion debt) are out there and buying up the biggest amount of US debt (after the Fed of course)? Sorry, but while we are amusing by this attempt by the global ponzi regime to keep itself alive (even as Russia and China prudently step aside from the mauling that is sure to follow), whereby the most indebted nations keep buying each other's debt in the most transparent and potentially deadly shell game in history, we are also confident this is unsustainable. 

Peter Suderman wrote the other day about how various GOP candidates would, or would not, help quell the rise in U.S. debt.

Drug Warriors Encourage Mexican Meth Makers to Sharpen Their Chemistry Skills

Seven years ago, before Congress tried to Combat Meth by imposing nationwide limits on sales of cold and allergy remedies containing pseudoephedrine, I noted that you don't need pseudoephedrine to make meth. Now The Texas Tribune reports that the crackdown on pseudoephedrine, which has helped Mexican cartels expand their share of the meth market, is encouraging them to use production methods based on other precursors:

"The Mexicans have moved to an old recipe that existed in the '70s and '80s that is called P2P [for phenyl-2-propanone]," said Jane C. Maxwell, a senior research scientist at the Addiction Research Institute at the Center for Social Work Research at the University of Texas at Austin.

"It uses precursors that have been banned in the U.S. since the 1980s, but the Mexicans have taken up making it,” Maxwell said of ingredients — including a substance called propanone — used to make the drug. "They are making it in mass quantities, and they are damn good chemists."

The old recipe became popular again after Mexico banned the sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, the common ingredients that had been used to make the narcotic. But Mexicans have become increasingly adept at using the old recipe for the drug, which Maxwell likened to a weed in a garden that won’t go away.

In the second quarter of 2010, only 50 percent of Drug Enforcement Administration lab samples of seizures were from the P2P process. But that increased to 85 percent during the third quarter of 2011.

The prevalence of meth production in Mexico was driven home this month when authorities reportedly seized 15 tons of meth on the outskirts of the city of Guadalajara, a known stronghold of Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

"This is a cyclical drug. If you pass a precursor bill it goes down, and then it comes back up again," Maxwell said. "The lesson on this is that we can’t congratulate ourselves for doing away with pseudoephedrine. People keep looking for other recipes."

The utterly predictable adaptability of the black market is, of course, one of the major arguments against prohibition. More narrowly, it shows the pointlessness of the cost imposed on American consumers by restricting access to a cheap, safe, and effective decongestant. Even if you accept the goals of the war on drugs as legitimate, treating cold and allergy sufferers like potential criminals has not advanced them at all and may in fact have increased the hazards associated with domestic meth production. The obvious solution: compound this gratuitous burden by requiring prescriptions for pseudoephedrine. 

I noted the record 15-ton meth seizure two weeks ago.

[Thanks to Vic McDonald for the tip.]

The Super Bowl Measles Epidemic That Wasn't: Reason #4,362 to Get Your Kids Vaccinated

Officials in Indiana have identified 14 cases of measles linked to the Super Bowl, apparently tracable back to two infected pre-game visitors to the Super Bowl village. The Washington Post's On Parenting blog offers a terrifying only-slightly-alternate-reality scenario:

The most disturbing element of the mini outbreak is the potential for might have been. Measles has an incubation period of more than a week, so hundreds of thousands of fans might have been exposed. If the measles vaccine were not as widely used as it is now, this story would not be on a parenting blog. It would be front and center on every news outlet in the country.

In fact, the reason there was an outbreak at all was apparently because of the small but persistent group of people who refuse to vaccinate their children. According to the official quoted by PBS, 13 of those who have been diagnosed with measles in Indiana have said they had previously declined the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

For God's sake people. Stab your kids with needles. Lots of them. Do it now.

Reason's pro-vaccination archive.

Diagnosing the Climate Over at the Wall Street Journal

The latest salvo in the debate between climate change "alarmists"* and "deniers"* over at the Wall Street Journal has been fired. It all began with a January 27 op/ed, "No Need to Panic About Climate Change," by 16 distinguished researchers who are skeptical that humanity faces an planetary emergency. In that op/ed they stated: 

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

The lack of warming for more than a decade—indeed, the smaller-than-predicted warming over the 22 years since the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began issuing projections—suggests that computer models have greatly exaggerated how much warming additional CO2 can cause. Faced with this embarrassment, those promoting alarm have shifted their drumbeat from warming to weather extremes, to enable anything unusual that happens in our chaotic climate to be ascribed to CO2.

Not surprisingly, the proponents of the one true climate science were annoyed and responded on February 1 with a long letter headlined, Check with Climate Scientists for Views on Climate Science. The 38 perturbed alarmists argued that the researchers who wrote the initial op/ed were unqualified to comment on climate science, likening it to the situation of consulting a dentist about cardiology. Contradicting the claim that global temperatures had stalled, the letter noted: 

Climate experts know that the long-term warming trend has not abated in the past decade. In fact, it was the warmest decade on record. Observations show unequivocally that our planet is getting hotter. And computer models have recently shown that during periods when there is a smaller increase of surface temperatures, warming is occurring elsewhere in the climate system, typically in the deep ocean. Such periods are a relatively common climate phenomenon, are consistent with our physical understanding of how the climate system works, and certainly do not invalidate our understanding of human-induced warming or the models used to simulate that warming.

Thus, climate experts also know what one of us, Kevin Trenberth, actually meant by the out-of-context, misrepresented quote used in the op-ed. Mr. Trenberth was lamenting the inadequacy of observing systems to fully monitor warming trends in the deep ocean and other aspects of the short-term variations that always occur, together with the long-term human-induced warming trend.

In any case, I noted in my blogpost on the controversy, Climate Scientists Violate Their Own Advice, that the "real" climate scientists were themselves not above practicing a bit economic cardiology when it comes to recommending policies for addressing climate change. The 38 climate scientists stated:

It would be an act of recklessness for any political leader to disregard the weight of evidence and ignore the enormous risks that climate change clearly poses. In addition, there is very clear evidence that investing in the transition to a low-carbon economy will not only allow the world to avoid the worst risks of climate change, but could also drive decades of economic growth. Just what the doctor ordered.

I noted that none of the 38 signatories seemed to have any explicit expertise with regard to economics or public policy. 

Now, the original 16 skeptical researchers have replied to the reply with a letter headlined, Concerned Scientists Reply on Global Warming. They carry on with the diagnostic metaphor: 

We agree with Mr. Trenberth et al. that expertise is important in medical care, as it is in any matter of importance to humans or our environment. Consider then that by eliminating fossil fuels, the recipient of medical care (all of us) is being asked to submit to what amounts to an economic heart transplant. According to most patient bills of rights, the patient has a strong say in the treatment decision. Natural questions from the patient are whether a heart transplant is really needed, and how successful the diagnostic team has been in the past.

The letter goes on make it clear that the "concerned scientists" are unimpressed with the would-be climate clinicians diagnostic record: 

In this respect, an important gauge of scientific expertise is the ability to make successful predictions. When predictions fail, we say the theory is "falsified" and we should look for the reasons for the failure. Shown in the nearby graph is the measured annual temperature of the earth since 1989, just before the first report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Also shown are the projections of the likely increase of temperature, as published in the Summaries of each of the four IPCC reports, the first in the year 1990 and the last in the year 2007.

These projections were based on IPCC computer models of how increased atmospheric CO2 should warm the earth. Some of the models predict higher or lower rates of warming, but the projections shown in the graph and their extensions into the distant future are the basis of most studies of environmental effects and mitigation policy options. Year-to-year fluctuations and discrepancies are unimportant; longer-term trends are significant.

From the graph it appears that the projections exaggerate, substantially, the response of the earth's temperature to CO2 which increased by about 11% from 1989 through 2011. Furthermore, when one examines the historical temperature record throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, the data strongly suggest a much lower CO2 effect than almost all models calculate.

The Trenberth letter tells us that "computer models have recently shown that during periods when there is a smaller increase of surface temperatures, warming is occurring elsewhere in the climate system, typically in the deep ocean." The ARGO system of diving buoys is providing increasingly reliable data on the temperature of the upper layers of the ocean, where much of any heat from global warming must reside. But much like the surface temperature shown in the graph, the heat content of the upper layers of the world's oceans is not increasing nearly as fast as IPCC models predict, perhaps not increasing at all. Why should we now believe exaggerating IPCC models that tell us of "missing heat" hiding in the one place where it cannot yet be reliably measured—the deep ocean?

Given this dubious track record of prediction, it is entirely reasonable to ask for a second opinion. We have offered ours.

Much of the rest of the letter from the 16 "concerned scientists" is devoted to their description of what they regard as the political chicanery that has engulfed both climate science and public policy discussions of how to address climate change. It's well worth reading. 

For more background on the debate over actual global temperature trends see my January 13 post, Skeptic Wins Global Warming Bet.

*What each side calls the other

Maybe He Just Likes Chatting With Cops

This week the Supreme Court diluted the requirement that police inform detained suspects of their rights prior to questioning, ruling that a prisoner who confessed to sexual contact with a 12-year-old boy after "between five and seven hours" of interrogation was not really "in custody" at the time. The case involved Randall Lee Fields, who was in a Michigan jail on a disorderly conduct charge when he was escorted from his cell to a conference room where he was questioned by two armed sheriff's deputies. He was never given the familiar warning about his right to remain silent, etc., required since 1966 by Miranda v. Arizona for suspects taken into custody. The Court, in a majority opinion by Samuel Alito that was joined by five other justices, focused on the fact that the deputies repeatedly told Fields he was free to leave and return to his cell. But as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her dissent, the circumstances of the interrogation sent a different message (citations omitted):

Fields, serving time for disorderly conduct, was, of course, "i[n] custody," but not "for purposes of Miranda," the Court concludes. I would not train, as the Court does, on the question whether there can be custody within custody. Instead, I would ask, as Miranda put it, whether Fields was subjected to "incommunicado interrogation ...in a police-dominated atmosphere," whether he was placed, against his will, in an inherently stressful situation, and whether his "freedom of action [was] curtailed in any significant way." Those should be the key questions, and to each I would answer "Yes."

As the Court acknowledges, Fields did not invite or consent to the interview. He was removed from his cell in the evening, taken to a conference room in the sheriff's quarters, and questioned by two armed deputies long into the night and early morning. He was not told at the outset that he had the right to decline to speak with the deputies. Shut in with the armed officers, Fields felt "trapped." Although told he could return to his cell if he did not want to cooperate, Fields believed the deputies "would not have allowed [him] to leave the room." And with good reason. More than once, "he told the officers...he did not want to speak with them anymore." He was given water, but not his evening medications. Yet the Court concludes that Fields was in "an interrogation environment in which a reasonable person would have felt free to terminate the interview and leave." 

Critical to the Court's judgment is "the undisputed fact that [Fields] was told that he was free to end the questioning and to return to his cell." Never mind the facts suggesting that Fields's submission to the overnight interview was anything but voluntary. Was Fields "held for interrogation"? Brought to, and left alone with, the gun-bearing deputies, he surely was in my judgment.

The conservative rap against Miranda is that it represented policy making rather than constitutional interpretation, imposing on police departments throughout the country a specific safeguard aimed at countering the coercive circumstances that undermine a suspect's Fifth Amendment guarantee against compelled self-incrimination. But in this case the Court is ostensibly applying Miranda, not questioning or limiting it, and it seems clear that the situation Fields faced was very similar to what the Miranda Court had in mind. After all, why would Fields have submitted to seven hours of questioning in the middle of the night, while repeatedly protesting that he did not want to talk anymore, unless he believed he had no choice? As Radley Balko has noted, stressful conditions like these lead even innocent people to confess.

Lucy Steigerwald on the Death of Kim Jong-il

On December 28, North Koreans bid a formal farewell to Kim Jong-il with a massive, regimented display of ritualized grief. As Lucy Steigerwald notes, photos and video of bawling mourners flooded the state-run media, usually the only source of images from inside the Hermit Kingdom. Western observers were intrigued: Was all this hysteria over the death of one of the world’s worst totalitarians the product of fear, social pressure, or—perhaps most confusing of all—sincere grief expressed according to Korean tradition?

View this article

Drug Trafficking Drug Warrior Could Get 20 Years

Yesterday I blogged about Willie Gandara Jr., an El Paso County Commissioner who was arrested for drug trafficking. Gandara has also been a staunch critic of legalizing drugs and even accused drug policy reformers of having "an ulterior agenda." But on Thursday afternoon, Gandara was indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiracy to distribute more than 110 pounds (50 kg) of cannabis. He could face 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine for each charge.

The El Paso Times lists his charges:

Gandara faces one count of conspiracy to possess marijuana with the intent to distribute, a second count of possession with intent to distribute and three counts of maintaining property for the distribution of marijuana.

Depending on the quality of the weed and assuming Gandara was planning to sell it within Texas, he could have made anywhere from $140,000 to $700,000.

There's another layer of schadenfreude for Gandara. He's been accused of conspiring to distribute 50 kg of weed. But if he were conspiring to distribute only 49 kg, his penalties would have been less severe. Since this would be Gandara's first offense, his prison sentence would have gone from no more than 20 years to no more than five, if convicted. Meanwhile, fines would have been capped at $250,000 per offense, not $1 million. You would think a county commissioner and drug warrior would know more about drug laws.

Unfortunately, the drug war's lack of logic doesn't end there. Marijuana is a Schedule I drug, which according to the DEA, means it has "high potential for abuse, have no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and there is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision." But both meth and PCP are Schedule II.

Reason.tv on marijuana legalization after Prop. 19.