Foreign Policy with a fun quiz demonstrating the longterm consistency of Ron Paul, from the 1980s to now, on gold, spending, foreign intervention, Austrian economics, Cuba, and the like.
An excerpt from their intro set-up:
Long before he was calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and arguing for friendship rather than war with Iran, Paul was the only member of the House of Representatives to vote against a 1981 resolution on U.S. efforts to resolve a conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Lebanon. "We need less meddling in the internal affairs of other nations, not more," he explained.
In fact, while Paul is now running as a Republican candidate (just how long the ideological strain he represents will remain in the party is unclear), he sounds remarkably similar to how he did in 1988, when he won less than half a million votes as the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate after temporarily leaving the GOP.
Take technology, for instance. In 1987, he told Texas Monthly that "we're going to start testing our TV in smaller states, on off-channels, and on cable television. People who are looking for ideas tend to be watching independent stations and cable." By the 2008 election, when cable television had long since gone mainstream, Paul was channeling his message through the next edgy, disruptive innovation: the web.
Or take this interview in 1988 with a 53-year-old Paul. Sure, he's younger. But if you close your eyes and ignore the references to communism, you might just lose yourself in time. There's the same ardent, amused, and slightly squeaky talk of honoring the Constitution, taking a wrecking ball to federal institutions (especially his arch nemesis, the Federal Reserve), reining in out-of-control government spending, restoring a bright future for the country's debt-saddled youth, doing away with foreign aid, and turning America's gaze back toward its own shores and national defense.
The history of Paul and more is explained in my forthcoming book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.
On Sunday, as part of his campaign against Backpage.com, the online classified-ad service owned by Village Voice Media, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof told the story of "Alissa," a former underage prostitute who "escaped that life and is now a 24-year-old college senior planning to become a lawyer." Kristof reported that "Alissa says pimps routinely peddled her on Backpage," beginning when she was 16. He quoted Alissa as saying, "You can't buy a child at Wal-Mart, can you? No, but you can go to Backpage and buy me on Backpage." The headline for a video accompanying the online version of Kristof's column says, "Age 16, She Was Sold on Backpage.com." Kristof claimed "court records and public officials back Alissa’s account."
But as Village Voice Media (VVM) points out, Alissa turned 16 in 2003, and "Backpage.com did not exist anywhere in America in 2003." The company adds that Alissa, who testified that she had been compelled to work as a prostitute in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Atlantic City, said she left prostitution in August 2005, and "in the summer of 2005 Backpage.com did not exist in Boston, New York, Philadelphia or Atlantic City." VVM says Kristof could have found this out readily enough:
He could have read the court transcripts. He could have read the testimony of A.G. (the victim). He could have read the testimony of FBI agent Tamara Harty. He could have Googled the case and read the coverage in The Boston Globe which reported: "Soon after meeting (agent) Harty in 2005, (she) was moved out of state to a home for troubled youth."
Neglecting to do any of the above, Kristof could still have asked us.
Instead, says VVM, Kristof "concocted a story to suit his agenda." Kristof responds on his blog:
Alissa turned 16 at the end of 2003....All during 2004, she was 16 years old, traveling up and down the east coast being pimped. Backpage operated in at least 11 cities during 2004, including Miami and Fort Lauderdale, both of them cities Alissa where [sic] says she was pimped on Backpage. Then at 17, as Backpage expanded to 30 cities including Boston, she was pimped even more broadly on Backpage — and also in Village Voice print ads, she says.
Moreover, contrary to what the Voice says, Alissa continued in the sex trade until 2007, when she got out for good. Backpage was steadily expanding and becoming a major force in this period, and pimps routinely used it to sell her, she says.
VVM says Alissa did not mention any of these details in her court testimony. According to the October 2010 Boston Globe story to which VVM refers, Alissa (dubbed "Jessica" by the Globe) left prostitution in 2005, not 2007, and the case against her pimps "covered incidents that happened between 2001 and 2005." By 2007, when Kristof now claims she "got out for good," she would have been 19 or 20.
Do any of these details matter? Only if you accept Kristof's premise that VVM is responsible for criminal misuse of Backpage.com. That logic would also make Craigslist responsible for the deaths of men lured to their deaths by online job ads, Louisville Slugger responsible for assaults aided by its bats, and GM responsible for bank robberies in which its products are used as getaway cars. Kristof concedes that "many prostitution ads on Backpage are placed by adult women acting on their own without coercion," and he says "they're not my concern." Yet he cites the National Association of Attorneys General, which routinely equates all prostitution with slavery, to back up his claim that Backpage.com is "the premier Web site for human trafficking in the United States," and he joins those bullying busybodies in demanding that VVM stop accepting "adult" ads, suggesting that advertisers should boycott The Village Voice until it does. All this while admitting that "Backpage's exit from prostitution advertising wouldn't solve the problem." It would, however, force Kristof to pick a new scapegoat.
- Mitt Romney won Illinois, he got Jeb Bush's endorsement, yet everybody spent the day talking about Etch A Sketches.
- Even the sponsors of the "Stand Your Ground" law think the killing of Trayvon Martin wasn't justified.
- French police are right now trying to bring in the allegedly al-Qaeda-tied man who is suspected of killing seven people.
- So says a new study: A majority of Mexicans approve of their government's crackdown on drug cartels, but very few believe that the government is "winning."
- Gawker muses on why Mike Daisey's lies are unforgivable but not so when David Foster Wallace and David Sedaris tweak the truth.
- "The poll did not ask about Ron Paul's wife, Carol."
- The Hunger Games opens on Friday and people are already counting the money it will make. (Hint: probably a lot of it.)
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In a pair of decisions today, the Supreme Court ruled that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel can be violated when defendants reject favorable plea bargains based on bad legal advice. One case involved Galin E. Frye, a Missouri man accused of driving with a revoked license in 2007. Because his lawyer neglected to inform him of a plea deal offer under which he would have served 90 days in jail for a misdemeanor, Frye ended up pleading guilty to a felony and was sentened to three years in prison. The other case involved Anthony Cooper, who in 2003 was charged with shooting a woman in Detroit. After his lawyer erroneously told him the government could not prove intent to kill because all four bullets struck the victim below her waist, Cooper rejected a plea deal involving a sentence of four to seven years. He went to trial, was convicted, and is instead serving 15 to 30 years.
The Court already had ruled that the right to counsel applies to the acceptance of plea bargains. Writing for the five-justice majority in Lafler v. Cooper, Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by the Court's four Democratic appointees, rejected the argument that "a fair trial wipes clean any deficient performance by defense counsel during plea bargaining," saying that position ignores the reality of how criminal cases typically are handled:
Criminal justice today is for the most part a system of pleas, not a system of trials. Ninety-seven percent of federal convictions and ninety-four percent of state convictions are the result of guilty pleas....The right to adequate assistance of counsel cannot be defined or enforced without taking account of the central role plea bargaining plays in securing convictions and determining sentences.
Kennedy, joined by the same four justices, applied similar logic in Missouri v. Frye.
Speaking from the bench for the four dissenters, Justice Antonin Scalia worried that "today's opinions open a whole new field of constitutionalized criminal procedure: federal plea-bargaining law." Dissenting in Lafler, he elaborated on his concerns:
The ordinary criminal process has become too long, too expensive, and unpredictable, in no small part as a consequence of an intricate federal Code of Criminal Procedure imposed on the States by this Court in pursuit of perfect justice....The Court now moves to bring perfection to the alternative in which prosecutors and defendants have sought relief. Today's opinions deal with only two aspects of counsel's plea-bargaining inadequacy, and leave other aspects (who knows what they might be?) to be worked out in further constitutional litigation that will burden the criminal process. And it would be foolish to think that "constitutional" rules governing counsel's behavior will not be followed by rules governing the prosecution's behavior in the plea-bargaining process that the Court today announces " 'is the criminal justice system.' "...Is it constitutional, for example, for the prosecution to withdraw a plea offer that has already been accepted? Or to withdraw an offer before the defense has had adequate time to consider and accept it? Or to make no plea offer at all, even though its case is weak—thereby excluding the defendant from "the criminal justice system"?
Scalia thus implicitly concedes that prosecutors, by and large, use plea bargains to dodge the safeguards that are supposed to protect defendants' rights. Given that reality, it hardly seems outrageous to insist that defendants have minimally competent counsel in deciding whether to accept the risk that comes with the "pursuit of perfect justice" (which in any case falls far short of that goal in practice).
In the July issue of Reason, Timothy Lynch discussed how plea bargains, a "standard operating procedure" that "was not contemplated by the Framers," came to dominate the criminal justice system. Last fall I noted that the penalty for going to trial has risen in the last few decades because of mandatory minimum sentences. Last week I wondered what would happen if a substantial percentage of defendants nevertheless insisted on that right.
Earlier today, I was on the great Fox Business show Varney & Co., talking with host Stuart Varney.
Here's the writeup:
"If Democrats are complaining that Paul Ryan's budget doesn't spend enough," says Reason's Nick Gillespie, "the real problem is it spends too much."
Gillespie appeared on Fox Business' Varney & Co. to discuss the controversial budget plan. Gillespie notes that Ryan's plan envisions the feds spending $3.5 trillion in fiscal year 2013 and $4.9 trillion in 2022. In no year does revenue match outlays, guaranteeing deficits and higher debt. "Paul Ryan's budget says we're going to spend an average of 20 percent of GDP each year for the next decade while bringing in 18 percent of GDP on average....It's better than Obama's plan, but it ain't good."
More on the Ryan budget here.
An Aiken, South Carolina, a middle school teacher has been placed on administrative leave this month after the mother of a 14-year-old student complained about a "pornographic" book that had been read aloud in class.
That book, apparently, was the well-known erotic classic Ender's Game.
The teacher read from two other books as well—an Agatha Christie novel and a young adult Western. The school district requires teachers to clear reading material for kids in advance, and that may not have happened in this case.
But for crying out loud, people, it's Ender's Game. Being 14- or 15 years-old means you are the perfect audience for the book—wait another year or two and you are already a little too old to identify with Andrew Wiggin. As a former (ever-so-slightly) disaffected teenager who hit the Orson Scott Card pretty hard in middle school, I cannot speak highly enough about its salutary effects as an introduction to science fiction (and anti-authoritarianism, to boot).
Come to think of it, the other gateway drug book I indulged in right around the same time was The Fountainhead. (Which, in case you don't know, has some actual naughty bits in it.) I found Ender's Game on my own, but The Fountainhead was given to me by an English teacher, along with a suggestion that I enter the Ayn Rand Institute's essay contest. Why? Because she wanted to corrupt my young mind with porn. Nope! Because she was a pretty good teacher who made a pedagogical call about my readiness to be exposed to some big ideas. That's how these things are supposed to work.
Worse, administrative leave and professional freedom were the least of that beleaguered teacher's worries last week; the police were called in, too. So how did one dumb parent wind up getting the cops involved in what should have been an uncontroversially awesome book recommendation? The mom actually called the cops herself, after initiating discussions with the school. But even if she hadn't:
State law requires that school administrators must notify local law enforcement officers whenever possible criminal activity is alleged. This is the third time in recent months that police were notified of an alleged incident by a parent before the school district reported it to law enforcement.
Luckily, the teacher won't face charges and the police investigation is already closed.
Based on a recent survey, Harris Interactive reports that "many Americans [are] ambivalent over laws aimed at healthy living." That's a kind way of putting it. The results actually suggest that Americans' views on the subject are incoherent.
Eighty-one percent of the respondents "somewhat" or "strongly" agreed that "people should take personal responsibility for their own actions and be free to make their own decisions, even if they suffer as a result." At the same time, 86 percent supported "requiring drivers and passengers in the front seats to wear seat belts," 82 percent supported "requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets," 80 percent supported "banning smoking in restaurants and other enclosed public places," 78 percent supported "requiring restaurants to show nutritional information on menus," 73 percent supported "requiring bicyclists to wear helmets," 68 percent supported "regulations to reduce salt in packaged foods," and 62 percent supported "banning the use of trans fats in restaurants." While some of these policies, such as government-imposed smoking bans and mandatory calorie counts, could be described as "consumer protection" measures, they are all essentially paternalistic, aimed at preventing adults from accepting risks the government deems unacceptable.
The only such policy opposed by most respondents was "putting a new tax on soft drinks with high sugar content," which only 38 percent supported. Majorities (65 percent and 76 percent, respectively) also opposed "employers not hiring people who smoke because it could cost more to insure them" and "employers not hiring people who are obese because it could cost more to insure them." Assuming these folks would support banning those policies, we do start to see a thread of consistency: People like the government to impose their tastes, values, and preferences on recalcitrant businesses.
Two of the policies mentioned in the survey, "banning texting while driving" (favored by 91 percent of respondents) and "banning the overall use of cell phones while driving" (70 percent), are aimed at protecting other people. The remaining two are aimed at protecting minors: "requiring the vaccination of young children against mumps, measles, whooping cough, TB, polio and other diseases" (favored by 86 percent) and "requiring the vaccination of children ages 11-12 against HPV, the virus that can cause cervical cancer" (61 percent). While these four policies are not necessarily justified, the rationales for them are fundamentally different from the rationales for making people wear motorcycle helments or stopping them from buying food containing trans fats.
Harris Interactive blurs these important distinctions, asking people whether "laws, policies and programs like those listed in the previous question are sometimes necessary to prevent us from being hurt by the actions of other people who cause accidents or do other dangerous things" (81 percent said yes) and whether "laws, policies and programs like those listed in the previous question are turning us into a 'nanny state' where we rely too much on the government to protect us from danger" (61 percent thought so). By lumping together private action with government action, policies aimed at protecting children with policies aimed at protecting adults, and policies aimed at protecting people from each other with policies aimed at protecting people from their own risky decisions, the pollsters promote the incoherence on which they remark.
For more on seat belt and motorcycle helmet laws (in particular, why resistance to the latter has been much more successful than resistance to the former), see my 2005 Reason feature "Freedom Riders." For more on public health paternalism, see my 2007 essay "An Epidemic of Meddling."
[Thanks to Vic McDonald for the tip.]
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Thanks again, everybody!View this article
“The brain secretes thought as the liver secretes bile,” asserted 18th century French physiologist Pierre Cabanis. Last week, the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies convened a conference of neuroscientists and philosophers to ponder how our brains secrete thoughts about ethics and morality. Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey reports on what neuroethics has to say about free wiil, our ethical values, and the moral stories we tell each other.View this article
The New York Times notes the debate about "stand your ground" self-defense laws triggered by the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in Sanford, Florida:
Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, says that his organization tracks laws in 21 states that extend the self-defense doctrine beyond the home. The usual label for such laws—"stand your ground"—is politically charged, he said, suggesting that a more apt label would be "Shoot first, ask questions later."
Because that description is not politically charged? Even if it turns out that George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Martin on the night of February 26, did so without justification, that does not necessarily mean Floridians were better off with a narrower definition of self-defense.
Judging from the evidence so far—in particular, Zimmerman's police call and the cellphone conversation that Martin had with his girlfriend right before the shooting—Martin would still be alive if Zimmerman had not been so eager to play cops and robbers. Although Zimmerman (who is Hispanic) singled Martin out as suspicious before he confirmed the teenager was black, that does not mean race played no role in how the encounter ended. Martin, who was staying in the neighborhood at the home of his father's girlfriend and was coming back from a convenience store where he had bought candy and a drink, was understandably angry that Zimmerman was following him and treating him like a criminal, and probably scared as well. But the crucial question in distinguishing between self-defense and criminal homicide is what happened during the ensuing altercation, when Zimmerman, who emerged from the fight with a bloody nose and a cut on the back of his head, claimed he feared he might be killed or seriously injured. Since Martin is dead and there seem to be no other eyewitnesses, that claim would be hard to assess regardless of how Florida defined self-defense. If Zimmerman said Martin knocked him down and tried to grab his gun, for example, the no-longer-binding duty to retreat presumably would not apply. And even if Zimmerman could easily have gotten away, it does not seem likely that he "shot [Martin] in cold blood," as an attorney for the boy's family asserted. The shooting may have been unjustified, but it seems to have happened in the heat of the moment.
The Times concedes that Florida's 2005 law "has been used judiciously and fairly in many cases, where it was clearly self-defense," but adds that "other cases have left prosecutors scratching their heads." The fact that prosecutors do not like the law is hardly surprising; the whole point of the statute is to protect people from prosecution in cases where they act in self-defense but cannot prove they had no opportunity to flee. That change makes things harder for prosecutors by design. The question, if we are judging the law purely on a cost-benefit basis, is whether it enables more bogus self-defense claims than legitimate ones. The Times presents no evidence that it does, although it does cite a few cases that sound questionable, such as this one:
The attacker, who was in a car, could have driven away. The victim was unarmed but had angered the attacker earlier in the night, and then he had leaned into the car.
That, of course, is the prosecutor's description. The Times also reports that the law "is increasingly used by gang members fighting gang members, drug dealers battling drug dealers and people involved in road rage encounters." Why should any of those situations preclude a legitimate self-defense claim? Drug dealers do get attacked, after all, and their line of work should not mean they have no right to resist (leaving aside the point that such violence is an utterly predictable feature of the black market created by prohibition). Even if there were a prima facie case that the "stand your ground" principle helps guilty people more often than innocent ones, that would not be the end of the matter. Our system of justice deliberately makes it hard to convict people, with the understanding that some guilty people will therefore go free. "Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer," Blackstone famously declared, and while his ratio may be debatable, the general thrust of his argument usually appeals to progressives, except when the right to armed self-defense is involved.
"When I come into a house with buyers, I start picking it apart," says San Diego's Jim Klinge, known on the internet as 'Jim the Realtor,' a wise-cracking real estate agent who posts his honest, painful, and sometimes hilarious assessment of bank-owned properties on his Youtube channel.
While both the Bush and Obama administration have advocated programs aimed at keeping people in their homes , Klinge argues that this is the exact wrong approach and is only prolonging the agony in the housing market.
"If they wanted to do what was best for the market, they would just unleash the floodgates and let it rip," says Klinge. "It would cause a frenzy of buying to see all of these bank deals, and people would come running."
Reason.tv met up with Klinge for a walkthrough of a bank-owned property in North San Diego County, where he pointed out some of the issues with the home and talked about the past, present and future of the housing market. When does he think the market will bounce back and bring values back up to peak levels?
"We need to be prepared for it being never," he says. "I hate this whole investment thing. Buy a house because you like it and you want to raise a family. The good news is, I think today's buyer is exactly that."
About 4 minutes.
Interview by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Paul Detrick. Edited by Weissmueller.
Visit Reason.tv for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube channel to receive automatic notifications when new material goes live.
Mitt Romney snagged another win in the GOP primary last night, picking up at least 41 of the 54 electoral votes in Illinois. His campaign continues to sell a message of electability, arguing that Romney is the primary contender with the best shot at beating President Obama in the general election.
Relatively speaking, that may be true enough: Romney's chief rival in the polls is Rick Santorum, who seems unlikely to have any serious chance of a victory against Obama in November.And at this point, it's a near certainty that Romney will be the GOP nominee. He'll grind out a primary victory one electoral vote at a time.
But it remains hard to accept a strong version of the general election electability argument given Romney's long, slow slog toward probable primary victory. Even with recent wins, Romney still won't clinch the nomination for at least another two months, according to The New York Times:
Mr. Romney came here hoping to provide a convincing enough victory to be able to accelerate his move toward directly confronting the president, leaving the intricacies of the delegate fight to his campaign advisers. Yet unless his Republican rivals decide to step aside, Mr. Romney will not be able to move beyond the primary campaign for at least two more months.
Indeed, Romney is a remarkably weak frontrunner. As Newsweek's Andrew Romano noted recently, the former Massachusetts governor is on track to become the least liked major party presidential nominee on the books:
[Romney] currently boasts the worst primary-season favorable-unfavorable split of any major-party nominee of the last 36 years (at least). There have been roughly 20 polls released in the last two months; only one gives him a positive favorable rating. The rest of the surveys show Romney’s unfavorables outstripping his favorables, often by as many as 20 percentage points. On five occasions, his unfavorable rating has topped 50 percent; his favorable rating has fallen into the 20s five times as well. As of March 12, when the last of these polls was released, Romney was averaging 49.6 percent unfavorable to 37.6 percent favorable—a gap of 11.7 points.
The depth and duration of Romney’s favorability dip is unprecedented, even during a heated primary battle. More often than not, the eventual winner enjoys positive favorable ratings the March-April before the election. Carter was at 74 percent favorable on March 27, 1976; Reagan was at 41 percent favorable to 34 percent unfavorable on April 18, 1980; George W. Bush was at 63 percent favorable to 32 percent unfavorable on March 10, 2000 (a split that was unchanged a month-and-a-half later); and over the month of March 2008, Obama’s favorable rating outstripped his unfavorable rating by an average of 19 percentage points.
Romney isn't only having trouble selling the base on his candidacy. He's also having trouble generating enthusiasm from already elected GOP legislators and other party leaders, reports Politico:
On Thursday morning, Romney’s biggest supporters on Capitol Hill are supposed to come out with their best donors to help the GOP front-runner deepen his cash base. But the RSVP list is looking thin.
Even though the fundraiser is expected to raise $400,000, the figure organizers say is the goal, only 27 of the nearly 80 lawmakers that endorsed Romney had signed on to raise money just two weeks ahead of the event, according a document obtained by POLITICO.
The response reflects an uncomfortable reality for Romney: some Republicans are willing to pony up cash to help him beat President Barack Obama, but that doesn’t mean he’s widely loved.
One of Romney's biggest problems has always been that it's difficult to imagine many Republicans picking him as their first choice for the nomination. Even many those who are most supportive of him would probably have preferred one of the white knight candidates who did not run. As a result, Romney was always destined to be a second-best pick, a backup plan when nothing else will work. Right now, the Republican party is letting out a long, frustrated sigh as it prepares to settle for the candidate it has rather than a candidate it wants.
The administration isn't serious about the debt, because like most politicians, Barack Obama doesn't care. Not a whit. Democrats are willing to move heaven and earth for the things they do care about. They were prepared to whip up political turmoil and put the presidency and Congress on the line to pass Obamacare. Yet they won't risk offering a budget, lest anyone glimpse their priorities. And we could tax all the millionaires into poverty, writes David Harsanyi, and it wouldn't make a dent without reforming spending.View this article
The Supreme Court handed down a major win for both property rights and due process rights today in the case of Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency. At issue was the EPA’s use of so-called administrative compliance orders, which are government commands that allowed the agency to regulate the use of private property without also subjecting its actions to judicial review. In a 9-0 ruling, with the majority opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia and separate concurring opinions filed by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court declared that these EPA actions must be subject to judicial review. Here’s a key portion of Scalia’s majority opinion:
the Government notes that Congress passed the clean Water Act in large part to respond to the inefficiency of then-existing remedies for water pollution. Compliance orders, as noted above, can obtain quick remediation through voluntary compliance. The Government warns that the EPA is less likely to use the orders if they are subject to judicial review. That may be true—but it will be true for all agency actions subjected to judicial review.... And there is no reason to think that the Clean Water Act was uniquely designed to enable the strong-arming of regulated parties into “voluntary compliance” without the opportunity for judicial review—even judicial review of the question whether the regulated party is within the EPA’s jurisdiction.
Read the full opinion here. For more information on the case, see my December 2011 column “The EPA vs. the Constitution” and check out Reason.tv’s “Sackett v. EPA: How One Couple’s Battle Against the Feds Might Protect Your Land.”
Under department policy and the manufacturer's guidelines, San Francisco police are supposed to test the accuracy of their breathalyzer devices every 10 days. But the public defender's office has found that the department hasn't tested those devices in six years. The district attorney's office has now joined in the investigation, and officials say they may have to void hundreds, possibly thousands, of DUI convictions.
The new Paul Ryan/congressional GOP budget has been released. As a starting point, consider this: The Ryan plan says that we will spend $3.6 trillion this year while bringing in $2.4 trillion in FY2012. In contrast, President Obama's budget says that we will shell out $3.8 trillion in FY2012 and bring in $2.5 trillion.
In brief, the Ryan plan is not as bad as President's Obama budget, which wants to spend $3.8 trillion in FY2013 and envisions spending $5.8 trillion in FY2022. Over the next 10 years, Obama assumes that federal spending would amount to 22.5 percent of GDP while revenues would average just 19.2 percent of GDP. That ain't no way to run a country.
In this sense, Ryan's plan is slightly better but still doesn't pass the laugh test. He would spend $3.5 trillion in 2013 and $4.9 trillion in 2022 (all figures in the post are in current dollars unless otherwise noted). Spending as an average of GDP would average 20 percent of GDP and revenue would amount to just 18.3 percent. Go here to read the whole plan; figures on outlays and revenue are in Table S-1.
Ryan's budget proposes a new tax plan and zeroes out spending on President Obama's health care; it doesn't add nearly as much debt either. As Reason's Peter Suderman noted yesterday, it also includes a plan to very gradually shift Medicare to a system of premium support subsidies that would kick in over time (that is, by 2050). All of that is interesting and worthy of debate. And certainly it shows some level of seriousness that is almost completely lacking from the president's own plan. And let's not even talk about the sad-sack Senate Democrats, who haven't passed a budget in three years and whose leader (if he deserves the title), Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said that his crew won't be voting on a budget resolution for 2013 because last year's debt deal is good enough.
Yet Ryan's plan is weak tea. Here we are, years into a governmental deficit situation that shows no sign of ending. How is it that Ryan and the Republican leadership cannot even dream of balancing a budget over 10 years' time? All of the discussion of reforming entitlements and the tax code and everything else is really great and necessary - I mean that sincerely - but when you cannot envision a way of reducing government spending after a decade-plus of an unrestrained spending binge, then you are not serious about cutting government. If Milton Friedman was right that spending is the proper measure of the government's size and scope in everybody's life, then the establishment GOP is signaling what we knew all along: They are simply an echo of the Democratic Party.
And keep in mind that reducing government spending isn't simply an ideological point of pride. Government spending crowds out private spending, which tends to be more efficient and effective. Raising taxes to pay for government spending (or even to reduce deficits) is a tough slog. Former Obama chief economist Christina Romer's reputation-making works shows that raising taxes 1 percent of GDP to cut deficits leads to a 3 percent reduction in GDP. And as Veronique de Rugy has written, the most-proven way countries with advanced economies have reduced debt-to-GDP ratios is by cutting spending. It's not by raising spending and raising taxes.
The feds can't control revenue (though they are more hopeful than a racetrack tout betting on a crippled nag in the last race of the day), they can't control the economy (try as they might), they can't control the weather (here's hoping, anyway). The one thing that they can control is what we spend next year. And the year after that. And the year after that. A budget that zooms from spending $3.5 trillion to $4.9 trillion over the next decade - and never once envisions a year in which outlays and revenue pass each other like strangers in the night - is not serious from a fiscal point of view.
There are other plans out there that manage to balance the budget while maintaining defense spending, social welfare spending, and other things at manageable levels. Back in the May 2011 issue of Reason, Veronique de Rugy and I offered one up that would bring balance to the budget over 10 years essentially by keeping spending constant while revenue crept back up to the historical average. It wouldn't be hard and it wouldn't kick grandma off the cliff or open up Montana to Islamic terrorists from Mexico. It would require trimming the fat from a budget that's more bloated than a circus fat man. Check it out now. Others, such as Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and the Republican Study Committee, have offered up plans that would balance the budget and create a far more stable framework for getting on with the 21st century. Check them out too.
Predictably, the Ryan plan is being assailed by Democrats as the equivalent of pulling the plug on old people's Medicare-provided Rascal scooters and worse. But the problem with it isn't that it doesn't spend enough. It's that it spends too much.
Update: I appeared on Fox Business' Varney & Co. to discuss the Ryan budget. Here's the clip:
- Dog bites man Democrats attack Paul Ryan's budget plan.
- Mayor Michael Bloomberg has "outlawed...food donations to homeless shelters because the city can’t assess their salt, fat and fiber content."
- OWS is tearing itself apart.
- Roughly 800 homes damaged in Mexico quake.
- Fifty-two percent of Virginians oppose ultrasound bill.
- Pressure mounts for Sanford police to arrest George Zimmerman.
- Al-Qaeda claims responsibility for attacks in Iraq that killed 46.
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New at Reason.tv: "Mark Frauenfelder on DIY Super-Humanism, Unschooling and the Future of Print Journalism"
If you came of age in the late 90s, like white-boy hip-hop, and loathe Mitt Romney, you'll love "Will the Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up (feat. Eminem)," by Australia's Hugh Atkin.
I'll be on Fox Business' Varney & Co. this morning around 10.30am ET. Please tune in!
The topic will be the new Paul Ryan/GOP budget plan (more on that in a later post!).
Watch Reason's Matt Welch talk with Varney below:
French police are laying siege to an apartment building in Toulouse right now where the alleged killer of seven people is said to be holed up and not going gently. From The New York Times:
The man told police negotiators that those killings, as well as the fatal shootings of three French paratroopers in recent days, were to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and to protest French military deployments abroad, according to investigators and Interior Minister Claude Guéant, who was at the site of the raid on Wednesday morning.
The suspect, identified as a French national from Toulouse who said he belonged to Al Qaeda, fired several volleys at security forces ringing the five-floor apartment building in which he had barricaded himself, about two miles south of the Jewish school where the four people were killed on Monday. Three officers were slightly wounded, Mr. Guéant said.
The suspect is a 24-year-old French citizen who was arrested in Afghanistan a few years ago but escaped during a mass jailbreak. The Telegraph's Fiona Govan has updates:
11.23 Some reports now suggest that Mohammed Merah, the alleged Toulouse gunman, is 23, not 24, as previously stated. We will try to clarify this and update.
11.18 Ghulam Faruq tells Reuters that Merah was detained by security services on Dec 19, 2007 for bomb making offences. He escaped from captivity during an insurgent attack on the jail where he was being held.
11.08 Breaking news from Reuters: alleged gunman Mohammed Merah was previously arrested for planting bombs in Kandahar, Afghanistan, according to Ghulam Faruq, the director of prisons in Kandahar. He was sentenced to three years in prison but escaped in a mass jailbreak in 2008 orchestrated by the Taliban, Furuq told Reuters.
After Dharun Ravi was convicted of "bias intimidation" crimes that carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, many people wondered why he had rejected a plea deal that would have kept him out of jail. Ravi's lawyer explained that the 20-year-old defendant's parents "didn’t believe their son acted with hate, or bias, and they didn't want him labeled like that for life." Apparently, says Senior Editor Jacob Sullum, they did not realize you can be convicted of a hate crime without hating anyone.View this article
Still-fighting Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul hit Los Angeles today for two fundraisers and an appearence on NBC's Tonight Show starring Jay Leno.
His lunch appearance was before well over 150 folk paying $350 a head at the Burbank Airport Marriott. The attendees got a chance for a personal photo with Paul, plus a half-hour speech with 15 minutes of Q and A from the candidate.
Everyone seems happy to stand near Paul for their photo; a couple of people force hugs on him which he gamely accepts. He is thanked, thanked often, and told "You are so right" by his fans. This crowd is young-skewing; no more than a handful of over-60s, and the usual range from mohawked Hispanic young men to well-composed Asian woman, on the whole a crowd more well-dressed and bourgeois in appearance than the typical Paul roadside sign-waving crowd.
Paul's talk was standardly non-standard--not canned and in his usual discursive lack-of-order, but nothing shocking or surprising to his fans.
Among the highlights: He stresses the primacy of understanding the unity of rights, property and civil; how pleased he's been at seeing the growth in energy and enthusiasm of the freedom movement since his 2008 run; he hits Romney for his support of the NDAA, and says that he couldn't even consider ever backing another candidate unless their views on foreign policy, monetary policy, and civil liberties had shifted to match his, while holding open the possibility of "building coalitions without selling out viewpoints."
Paul even, perhaps jokingly, floats the idea that perhaps not all the votes are being fairly counted in caucus and primary elections so far. He talks a bit about China, not to mark them as our trade or even possibly military enemy as others on the right tend to do, but to praise them for trading and investing around the globe while we attempt to dominate it. He mocks recent GOP House leadership plans to balance the budget for being too little and too slow. He stresses that his message of shrinking government and increasing liberty shouldn't be seen as a sacrifice, but rather a benefit to all who aren't trying to live off special privileges. He says libertarians need to stress that they don't lack humanitarian bonafides, and that belief in private property and free markets are the greatest guarantee of increased prosperity for most if not all.
He ended assuring us that his campaign is "alive and well and we'll keep pursuing" victory.
In the Q and A Paul was asked about running third party, as an option for his supporters if not himself. He responds that of course you should "do whatever you want to do" but that you should do so understanding the huge odds in terms of barriers both legal and ideological against succeeding that way.
I chatted with a few attendees who didn't mind being on-record, including a local graphic designer, Meg Snow, who was part of a large group of L.A.-based Paul fans all running for positions on the Los Angeles County GOP's Central Committee, which they hope to turn into a Paulite stronghold. Snow says she remains optimistic about the campaign even while not expecting a Paul GOP victory. Why? Because she's seen the extent to which his running has "opened up so many people's eyes and ended their apathy."
I also ran into "radical Republican" and longtime Paul fan Rick Williams, running this year for the federal Senate from California, and the campaign manager for another locally based Paul fan seeking federal office this year, Christopher David, who wants to be the GOP challenger to Henry Waxman.
I talked to an Air Force Captain who wanted to be identified only by first name, Josh, there with his wife (also with the Air Force) and a friend. He said that in the parking lot on their base, they see plenty of Paul bumper stickers, none for his opponents. He's working on a master's thesis concerning issues of Chinese/American trade relations and is concerned with what might happen if the Chinese lose faith in the value of the dollar.
I run into ex-Congressman Bill Dannemeyer from Orange County, who has gotten more concerned with New World Order-type conspiracy theories since leaving office, he tells me, while maintaining his staunchly old-fashioned Christian conservatism. "God will not be mocked," he tells me twice, while granting that Christian morality is not for the state to impose. He tells me he thinks Paul is one of America's greatest patriots. Paul fanhood bridges many gaps in American ideology and politics, to be sure.
I overhear one woman telling her tablemates she's an auditor; "audit the Fed, please!" someone yells across the table. That's a Paul crowd for you.
Later, I and a New York Times reporter also on the Paul beat tag along behind Paul's black Suburban to the Burbank NBC studio where the Tonight Show tapes. Paul was there with his wife Carol and two granddaughters and a couple of staffers. Leno stops in pre-show for a surprisingly educated pre-chat about politics with Paul.
Paul did well during his two full segments of the show, though he didn't really fall back on trying to sell himself and his philosophy to undecided voters very vigorously. He was cheerful, and reacted jovially to a visual gag involving dueling photos of him and Santorum shirtless (Paul looked more fit, decidedly) and Paul's head imposed on a clip of a kung fu master kicking ass.
Paul fielded a complicated abortion question nicely (while doubtless giving both sides of the debate something to be unhappy with in his nuanced stance, anti-abortion but not calling for a federal government solution to it), tried to explain exactly what might happen at a brokered convention where his campaign's efforts in trying to ensure that even many delegates committed by the rules to voting for someone else on first ballot are Paul fans at heart could lead to a surprising endgame. He defended the right of all Americans, whether in corporate organizations or not, to support and speak out on politics, saying the real problem with money in politics is how much politics controls Americans' money, not that money controls politics.
Leno's regard for Paul seems real--he keeps getting invited back. Leno's handling of Paul was respectful even where it was funny: the gags were never at Paul's expense, and he was given open opportunities to critique sharply his opponents.
Paul's own sense of humor was intact; backstage he and his team were riffing off the question of what Paul's Secret Service handle might be (although he pointedly refuses to spend taxpayer money by asking for or using such protection) and he offers "Tiger" (complete with little growl), "Ernesto," a latinized version of his middle name ("Why? I don't know!"). I suggested a shoutout to the serious Austrian econ fans: "Ludwig." ("Only you and I will get that.")
Paul and his wife Carol also shared a serious moment backstage, musing quietly over some active duty soldiers they met at the earlier fundraiser, who were being sent off to Afghanistan, one for a return engagment, one afraid to even inform his parents. Paul meets a lot of active duty military and veterans, and his concern for their fates in wars he considers dumb and unconstitutional and immoral weighs on him. He asks me if I tend to read Lawrence Vance, a writer he appreciates, who writes frequently on anti-imperialist and non-interventionist foreign policy themes.
Paul had a private, smaller, higher-ticket fundraiser in L.A. in a private home after the Leno show to which no press were invited. Such personal-appearance fundraisers had not been a huge priority in the past for the campaign, I was told, but were likely to be more of one moving forward.
While press accounts this week poke at the campaign for actually spending the money they have and for not constantly breaking monthly records (Gingrich, meanwhile, is actually in debt, which Paul staunchly avoids), they think they will do OK moving forward, with the next Paul moneybomb planned for March 23. It is likely that their serious money and candidate time will be aimed down the line more at the big-delegate-ticket states of Texas and California, where a district-focused strategy can win him delegates in a state where winning specific congressional districts wins you delegates.
For much, much more on Paul see my forthcoming book, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired, and my April Reason magazine cover story, "The Ron Paul Moment."
And here is the video of Paul's Leno appearance tonight, in full. Watch that tie pop!
America’s Promise Alliance, an education-for-the-children foundation set up in the 1990s by Colin and Alma Powell, held its 2012 summit, “Building a GradNation,” in my DC hotel this week. The featured guests included a range of CEOs, school apparatchiks, politicians, the Powells, George Lucas, and plenty of specimens of a type that has mercifully become extinct almost everywhere except Washington, DC: pear-shaped men under 30 who still rock the blue-blazer/ecru slacks/buttondown shirt look.
There have been panels on “transforming” public schools, using early education to “put our children on the path to success” and other topics, as well as a screening of Lee Hirsch’s ubiquitous new documentary Bully. (You need to spend some time around a school these days to understand how out of hand the hysteria over bullying – which administrators are more interested in talking about than in solving when it actually comes up – has become.)
I’ve been stalking the conference hoping to party with George Lucas, and while that didn’t work out, I’m struck by how out of sympathy I am with the APA’s seemingly unobjectionable goals. As Alma Powell writes in her letter to attendees:
Together we have accomplished so much. High school graduation rates continue to improve nationally and across many states and school districts
But we have much more work to do to meet our Grad Nation goals. We know we cannot have economically thriving communities when large numbers of our children are still not thriving in school.
And the summit is where we start: reporting (and celebrating) our progress, sharing what works, creating vital connections, gaining new tools and knowledge, and recommitting ourselves to the job ahead.
My question: Why is raising the graduation rate so important? APA notes that dropout rates are falling and graduation rates are up in the majority of states. This is nice to know, but school doesn’t agree with everybody. And even in this high-skill, high-tech universe where busboys are supposed to be working in the knowledge industry, there’s still only a tiny fragment of work-related craft that you actually learn in high school.
This morning, CNBC siren Maria Bartiromo led a panel on “the economic impact of the dropout crisis,” which really confirmed the circularity of the argument: We need an educated workforce because otherwise our workforce won’t be educated.
Stuart Thorn, president and CEO of Carrollton, Georgia-based Southwire, a manufacturer of electrical wire and cable, made the point that his company only hires high school graduates. His doing-good-by-doing-well argument was that the company needed to influence the national movement of graduation rates in part so that workers can “make 50 percent more over the course of their careers.” This very loose statistic is an average, and it doesn’t really tell you anything about what a high school diploma will do for any particular person.
And of course, the reason possessors of high school diplomas make more on average is that so many companies won’t hire non-graduates. Thorn has every right to demand an education minimum for his employees – though I’m not sure figuring out how high a ball will bounce on its fifth bounce if on the first bounce it reaches a height of 125 inches and on each subsequent bounce it reaches a height 2/5 of the previous bounce is a skill you really need to make copper wire. But this is an attempt to nationalize a private goal.
The rest of the panelists continued the theme. DeVry Inc. president Daniel Hamburger pinned the crisis on the fact that “our government is so budget-challenged,” while Miami-Dade public school superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho fumed that the morning’s talk had featured “more discussion of this problem than in all the presidential debates.”
Even if I had confidence in Rick Santorum’s ability to solve the dropout crisis, I still wouldn’t be sure it was a crisis. Or rather, it’s a self-created crisis. We need to get graduation rates up because we have put so much false value on graduation as a goal unto itself, without asking whether any particular person actually needs a diploma to live a complete life, how unmotivated students slow down more motivated students, or why we’re so eager to keep kids in a system that is universally described as “failing” and “broken.” The fastest way to solve the dropout problem is to remove the stigma of dropping out.
Reason will take to the high seas in 2012 for our second annual cruise—and this time, we'll explore the magnificent Gulf of Alaska August 11-18 aboard Holland America's luxurious Westerdam!
If you caught the buzz about last year's Reason's cruise, you know that this is a chance to spend time getting to know some of the libertarian world's most original thinkers. Speakers on this year’s Reason cruise include Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch, Reason.tv Editor in Chief Nick Gillespie, pioneering UC Santa Barbara evolutionary psychologists Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, alternative American historian Thaddeus Russell, Reason Associate Editor and Obamacare-debunker Peter Suderman, and Reason economic columnist and Mercatus Center senior research fellow Veronique de Rugy.
The Westerdam is renowned for its warm hospitality, larger-than-average staterooms, outstanding food, and world-class service. As part of Holland America's luxury Vista class, this is one travel experience that you won't soon forget.
For more information, or to register today, visit www.reasoncruise.com
Trayvon Martin is the unarmed 17-year-old youth who died after being shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Florida. Martin was black; Zimmerman is a white Hispanic. The shooting has led to a number of charges of racism and the NAACP is holding a meeting tonight in Orlando with Al Sharpton, the MSNBC host and activist who says:
"For a lot people, this is a Southern town that tried to play by its own set of rules," he said. "It's almost like it goes back to the 'good old boy days' and that is why it's important that citizens learn what has happened. This is outrageous."
Here is a short audio snippet from a 911 call that Zimmerman made before the shooting happened. Does Zimmerman use a racial epithet?
- Today is the Illinois primary! Here are five points CBS would like you to consider about the cut-throat, neck-and-neck, dog-eat-dog contest for 54 Illinois delegates and the leadership of the free world and stuff.
- 7.6 earthquake hits Mexico, thankfully there are no reported injuries.
- Obama is going to check out the DMZ for the first time, maybe he'll finally end that Korean war awkwardness.
- This gets worse and worse: Trayvon Martin was on the phone with his girlfriend when he was shot and killed.
- The Supreme Court wonders whether juvenile offenders should ever be given life without parole.
- Ron Paul is still getting dollars, 3.3 million of them in February, in fact. Rmoney lived up to his name and raised about nine million.
- Robert DeNiro's joke that America may not ready for a white First Lady is apparently a big deal, especially to Newt Gingrich.
Citing my comments on last week's verdict in Dharun Ravi's "bias intimidation" trial, Kenneth Jost, Supreme Court editor at CQ Press, notes that "libertarian and conservative critics" (progressives too) complain that hate crime statutes "infringe on freedom of expression" (as well as freedom of conscience), although such arguments have been rejected by the Supreme Court. Jost says Ravi was "found guilty of anti-gay conduct," not anti-gay views. That is partly because he does not seem to have harbored anti-gay views, as I pointed out last week and will discuss further in my column tomorrow. In any case, Jost argues that "Ravi was rightly held responsible for making his roommate feel vulnerable to all the harm that anti-gay prejudice can bring about" by "singling out Clementi as different...because of his sexuality." To my mind, this emphasis on Clementi's (presumed) feelings, rather than Ravi's intent, is one of the case's most troubling aspects.
Jost notes that Ravi faces up to of 10 years in prison but seems to think that would be excessive. Michelangelo Signorile says so explicitly, while defending the verdict:
I don't want to see Ravi deported, nor getting a ten-year prison term, the maximum sentence for his crimes.
But the bottom line is that Ravi was offered a plea deal in which he would have avoided jail time as well as deportation. Instead, he and his legal team put faith in what they thought was a homophobic judicial system, one that would slough off hate crimes against gays—as it had so many times in the past—and once again validate the "gay panic" defense, which in this case was dressed up as the "teen prank" defense.
That's one way of looking at it. Or you could say Ravi refused to plead guilty, even though it would have kept him out of jail and (probably) in the country, because he did not think he had committed a hate crime. As Ravi's father told Newark Star-Ledger columnist Mark Di Ionno right before the verdict:
There is a principle here. My son was not raised to have hate in his heart. We are not hateful people. My wife and I are not like that. We have not raised our family to be like that. I know my son, and he is not a hateful person. Whatever he did to Tyler was not out of bias toward him.
In a CNN essay, George Washington University law professor Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor, argues that people see Ravi as an anti-gay bigot because they assume his webcam spying drove Clementi to suicide:
A lot of people want a pound of flesh from Ravi because they blame him for Clementi's death. Tyler's reaction was tragic, and it was idiosyncratic. It is possible to deeply mourn Clementi's death and also to acknowledge that he probably had issues other than Ravi. No judge in the country would have allowed a homicide prosecution, because, legally speaking, Ravi did not cause the death, nor was it reasonably foreseeable. Of the millions of people who are bullied or who suffer invasions of privacy, few kill themselves.
Citing Butler at TechDirt, Mike Masnick compares Ravi to Lori Drew, a middle-aged woman who was blamed for driving a 13-year-old girl to suicide by creating a fake MySpace persona that befriended her before turning on her. Because Drew had broken no laws, local prosecutors in Missouri declined to charge her with anything (imagine that!), but that did not stop federal prosecutors in California from trying to lock her up for violating MySpace's terms of service. "Punishing people based on others' suicides is a mistake," Masnick says, "because whether or not your actions are seen as criminal depends almost entirely on how someone else reacts to them." Furthermore, "the incentive then is actually for kids to seriously hurt themselves, if someone acts in a mean way towards them, as that increases the likelihood of the bully getting punished."
[Thanks to Hans Bader for the Jost link.]
[UPDATE II: Via the comments, another non-private version of the altercation]
[UPDATE: Sorry folks, the Youtube poster just made the video private. A brief description: A small St. Patty's day celebrant appears to insult a giant Chicago cop. After a brief yelling match, the cop lifts the small man off his feet by his throat, carries him across the street, pushes him to the ground (by his throat) and arrests him.]
Fun fact: Florida is one of 19 states where hitting kids who are participating mandatory public schooling with a paddle is completely legal in some districts. While some schools seek parental permission, those signatures—or lack thereof—may not hold much weight when a principal gets peeved:
Last year, the principal at Joyce Bullock Elementary sent home a waiver asking parents for permission to paddle students. [Parent Tenika] Jones says she didn't sign it, but her son, Geirrea Bostick, was paddled anyway.
He was 5 at the time and it was his second week of preschool. Gierrea says the principal spanked him twice for slapping another boy on the school bus. He says the principal first told him to take his jacket off. "Then [she] spank me on my booty," Gierrea says. "I cried all the way home. It was really hard."
Gierrea's mom says the paddling left welts on Gierrea's bottom, and she was outraged.
"If I would have hit my son how she hit him, I would have been in jail, I would have been on the news, I would have been messed up trying to get my children back," Jones says. "She whipped him up and to me that's child abuse."
Jones is in the process of suing the Levy County School District for paddling her son without her permission. But Robert Rush, an attorney at the law firm representing Jones says state law does not require schools to get parental consent.
For wiser (and perhaps slightly hasty) words on the subject, let's turn to neuroscientist Steven Pinker, who has authored a book on the dramatic decline of violence over the course of human history. We tend to think of wars and other violent conflict between adults, but violence against children goes into the tallies, too. Ironically, Pinker notes that an increase in education corresponds to a decline in violence:
The other thing that happened in the second half of the 20th century is that more people went to school for longer periods of time. There was a huge increase even in traditional media, like book publishing. More recently, we have the Internet, and social media, and all of those developments. But we just live in a more intellectualized world, and certain customs that were just defended—either by sheer tradition or by appealing to religious sources like the Bible, or they just felt selfishly to be ways of getting what we want, such as getting rid of annoying behavior by children, or rape in the case of sexuality—the more you think about what it’s like to be a victim of those forms of exploitation, the more you try to apply some kind of rationally designed rules that apply to everyone, the more you’re going to get rid of those forms of traditional oppression and violence.
Enjoy the full Pinker-Bailey exchange at Reason.tv:
From the Associated Press:
A bill designed to enact President Barack Obama's plan for a "Buffett rule" tax on people earning more than $1 million a year would rake in just $31 billion over the next 11 years, according to an estimate by Congress' official tax analysts obtained by The Associated Press. That would be a drop in the bucket of the over $7 trillion in federal budget deficits projected during that period.
The figure is also miniscule compared to the many hundreds of billions the government earns from the alternative minimum tax, which Obama's budget last month said he would replace with the Buffett rule tax.
Writing at Time magazine, Yale Law School lecturer Adam Cohen takes notice of New York City landlord James Harmon’s legal challenge to the city’s rent stabilization law. As Cohen sees it, rent control and rent stabilization are both perfectly constitutional, but he still worries that Harmon may attract five sympathetic votes from the Supreme Court. He writes:
The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld rent control, going back to 1921. In 1988, in Pannell v. San Jose, it ruled 6-2 that San Jose’s law did not violate the Constitution — in an opinion written by the very conservative then Chief Justice William Rehnquist. In 1992, in Yee v. City of Escondido, the court unanimously rejected a claim that a rent-control ordinance was an unconstitutional taking of property — just the issue Harmon is raising.
These rulings should settle the question. But rent-control opponents clearly think they have a chance, given how pro-corporation the court is today.... They argue that rent control unconstitutionally deprives landlords of the right to charge as much rent as they want. They like to point to extreme cases of people benefiting who do not need it — like the actress Faye Dunaway, who until recently had a $1,048.72-a-month one-bedroom on the Upper East Side of Manhattan
Cohen is wrong to suggest that the constitutional argument about rent control is simply about letting landlords charge “as much rent as they want." In fact, it's a question about the meaning of the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause, which reads, "nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation." In 2010 the Supreme Court held that the Fifth Amendment’s just compensation requirement is triggered “when a state regulation forces a property owner to submit to a permanent physical occupation.” That’s the issue in this case. Does the city’s rent stabilization law amount to a permanent physical occupation of James Harmon’s property?
There’s strong evidence that it does. Not only do Harmon’s rent stabilized tenants get to occupy their apartments for life and even get to name their own successors to the leases (family members must live two years in the apartment to qualify), New York law prevents Harmon from putting the property to any other lawful use. For one thing, his building is landmarked, which means he can’t evict his tenants and tear the structure down. Also, his land is zoned residential, so even if the landmark law didn’t apply, he would still be forbidden from starting over with a grocery store or some other land use. Finally, even if he wanted to demolish only the rent-stabilized apartments, he would still be required to pay his evicted tenants a $5,000 stipend and provide them with “an equivalent or superior housing accommodation at the same or lower regulated rent in a closely proximate area to the building.” That last requirement is of course preposterous. As I noted in my recent column on the case, there are no rent stabilized one-bedroom apartments available for $1,000 a month at or near West 76th Street and Central Park West. Harmon would never be able to lawfully relocate those tenants. In short, the evidence says he is being forced “to submit to a permanent physical occupation of his property.”
Since FDR, few second-term presidents have been capable of great mischief. Obama may have done most of the real damage he's capable of already. Of course, there's still the matter of undoing the grave damage that's been done and the fact that, should the GOP take the presidency, unified Republican government will present its own challenges. Whatever happens in November, writes Gene Healy, the work will have to go on.View this article
"You know, I studied mechanical engineering in school and I ended up becoming a journalist. I can name a dozen people right now that I think are amazing people who didn't go to college," says editor of Boing Boing Mark Frauenfelder.
He sat down with managing editor of Reason.com Tim Cavanaugh to talk about alternatives to public school and education in the real world.
Frauenfelder is also the editor of Make magazine, whose newest issue takes a look at do-it-yourself superhumanism, a way of modifying human capabilities through gadgets. Some of the gadgets include a device to play Guitar Hero only using the muscles in your arm and an ankle strap that directs you to where you want to go using cell phone vibraters and GPS.
Cavanaugh and Frauenfelder finally discuss the future of print journalism and why putting a magazine out in 2012 is still a good idea.
About 9:48 minutes.
Camera by Tracy Oppenheimer, Paul Detrick, and Zach Weismueller. Edited by Detrick.
The title of David Brooks' column about Robert Bales—the Army sergeant who slaughtered three Afghan women, nine Afghan children, and four Afghan men; then burned several of their bodies—is “When the Good Do Bad.” Without claiming to know anything the rest of us don't, Brooks blames the rosey worldview of secular humanism and argues that “in centuries past”
most people would have been less shocked by the homicidal eruptions of formerly good men. That’s because people in those centuries grew up with a worldview that put sinfulness at the center of the human personality.
According to this older worldview, Robert Bales, like all of us, is a mixture of virtue and depravity. His job is to struggle daily to strengthen the good and resist the evil, policing small transgressions to prevent larger ones. If he didn’t do that, and if he was swept up in a whirlwind, then even a formerly good man is capable of monstrous acts that shock the soul and sear the brain.
Was this the same "whirlwind" that swept up Maj. Nidal M. Hasan in 2009, and led him to kill 13 Americans at Ft. Hood? Not according to Brooks, who wrote at the time:
Major Hasan was portrayed as a disturbed individual who was under a lot of stress. We learned about pre-traumatic stress syndrome, and secondary stress disorder, which one gets from hearing about other people’s stress. We heard the theory (unlikely in retrospect) that Hasan was so traumatized by the thought of going into a combat zone that he decided to take a gun and create one of his own.
There was a national rush to therapy. Hasan was a loner who had trouble finding a wife and socializing with his neighbors.
[This] absolved Hasan — before the real evidence was in — of his responsibility. He didn’t have the choice to be lonely or unhappy. But he did have a choice over what story to build out of those circumstances. And evidence is now mounting to suggest he chose the extremist War on Islam narrative that so often leads to murderous results.
To recap: The white man who killed brown people after seeing brown people kill white people “was swept up in a whirlwind”; the brown man who killed white people after hearing about white people killing brown people “chose the extremist War on Islam narrative that so often leads to murderous results.”
Meanwhile, the headline of the Times four-page profile of Bales is “At Home, Asking How ‘Our Bobby’ Became War Crime Suspect.” (Clearly, Bales’ family members are not regular Brooks readers.) The first sentence of that piece goes like this: “He was not the star, just a well-regarded young man who seemed to try to do the right thing.” Not until the eighth paragraph does the Times tell us that Bales was once arrested for assaulting a woman; nowhere do they tell us that at the time of enlisting, Bales was under investigation for defrauding an elderly Ohio couple of their live savings.
Neither Brooks nor the 10 reporters who the Times tasked with redeeming Bales names the victims of the "massacre." That burden is take up by Al Jazeera, who somehow managed to carve out enough Internet real estate to remind readers that Afghans have names, relationships, &c:
Many mainstream media outlets channelled a significant amount of energy into uncovering the slightest detail about the accused soldier – now identified as Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. We even know where his wife wanted to go for vacation, or what she said on her personal blog.
But the victims became a footnote, an anonymous footnote. Just the number 16. No one bothered to ask their ages, their hobbies, their aspirations. Worst of all, no one bothered to ask their names.
In honoring their memory, I write their names below, and the little we know about them: that nine of them were children, three were women.
Mohamed Dawood son of Abdullah
Khudaydad son of Mohamed Juma
Shatarina daughter of Sultan Mohamed
Zahra daughter of Abdul Hamid
Nazia daughter of Dost Mohamed
Masooma daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Farida daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Palwasha daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Nabia daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Esmatullah daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Faizullah son of Mohamed Wazir
Essa Mohamed son of Mohamed Hussain
Akhtar Mohamed son of Murrad Ali
Haji Mohamed Naim son of Haji Sakhawat
Mohamed Sediq son of Mohamed Naim
The IRS has taken upon itself a task no one asked it to do: regulate small, independent tax preparers. And like any federal regulation worthy of the name, its rules are byzantine, unnecessary, redundant, legally dubious, and hostile to free enterprise. The rules require anyone who accepts payment for filling out income-tax returns to register, pay fees, take special tests, and complete annual continuing-education requirements. Special interests, writes A. Barton Hinkle, will be exempt from the rule.View this article
Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican Chairman of the House Budget Committee, released his latest budget proposal today. In many ways, the plan resembles the budget proposals Ryan has been putting forth for years. One major differnence, however, is that he's updated his Medicare plan to resemble the joint plan he recently put forth with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden. Ryan's old plans called for converting Medicare into a premium-support system driven exclusively by private competition. The change would be gradual: the current system would be preserved for seniors currently in the system and anyone less than a decade out of Medicare.
Ryan's new budget would also retain a "traditional" government-run Medicare option that seniors could buy into with their premium support payments. I have some serious concerns about this option. But it does offer a likely budgetary future that is significantly better than the current status quo. Here's what the Congressional Budget Office has to say about Medicare under the Ryan plan:
Under the specified paths, by 2030, 39 percent of Medicare beneficiaries would be subject to the spending constraints established for the program (that is, they will have entered the program in 2023 or later); that share would rise to 91 percent by 2050. Net federal spending on Medicare—including offsetting receipts, which are mostly payments of premiums—would be 4¼ percent of GDP in 2030 and 4¾ percent in 2050, CBO calculates. In contrast, by 2050, net Medicare spending would grow to 6½ percent of GDP under the baseline scenario and to 7¼ percent of GDP under the alternative fiscal scenario.
Two things stand out about this passage. The first is how gradual the transition from today's single-payer Medicare system to a fully premium support driven system would be: In 18 years, more than 60 percent of the Medicare population would still be enrolled in the current system. Nearly four decades from now, large remnants of today's system would still exist, with nearly 10 percent of Medicare enrollees still enrolled. And even that doesn't capture the glacial slowness of the change. Under Ryan's updated plan, many seniors would still be enrolled in a premium-supported version of government-run Medicare. It is hard to describe this as a radical change to the system.
And yet as gradual as the transformation would be, the budgetary effects would be significant—4.75 percent of the economy in 2050 compared with 7.25 percent under the CBO's more realistic alternative budgetary scenario.
There is a case to be made for making more rapid changes to Medicare: GOP Sens. Rand Paul, Jim DeMint, and Mike Lee recently released an imperfect plan to shift Medicare beneficiaries into a version of the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan that relies on transitioning to a system made up exclusively of private insurance plans almost immediately. As a result, that plan could produce significant budget savings much more quickly. But even Ryan's plan to gradually transform the system would, in the long run, produce substantial savings.
Mike Riggs notes below that the Department of Justice is investigating the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old kid, in a gated community in Sanford, Florida. Martin was shot by neighborhood watch captain named George Zimmerman, who was known for calling the cops frequently.
From USA Today:
George Zimmerman, 28, claims he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last month in self-defense during a confrontation in a gated community. Police have described Zimmerman as white; his family says he is Hispanic and not racist.
Zimmerman spotted Martin as he was patrolling his neighborhood last month and called the police emergency dispatcher to report a suspicious person. Against the advice of the dispatcher, Zimmerman then followed Martin, who was walking home from a convenience store with a bag of candy in his pocket....
Authorities may be limited by a state law that allows people to defend themselves with deadly force.
Under the old law, people could use deadly force in self-defense only if they had tried to run away or otherwise avoid the danger. Under the new law, there is no duty to retreat and it gives a Floridian the right "to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force," if he feels threatened....
Prosecutors can have a hard time making a case if there is no one else around to contradict a person who claims self-defense, said David Hill, a criminal defense attorney in Orlando. So far, Sanford police have said there is no evidence to contradict Zimmerman's claims.
The death has sparked calls for Zimmerman's arrest and both the racial dimension and attitudes toward gun laws have intensified reactions and calls for action.
Some things to think about as investigations by the state and the press get underway:
1. Gun murders are down despite a general relaxing of gun ownership laws over the past couple of decades.
Compared to the 1970s, violent crime of all sorts is down.
2. When Florida in particular relaxed its gun laws, it was widely feared that it would become "the Gunshine State" and would be plagued by gun-related deaths. That hasn't happened, and Florida's gun-death rate is average for American states.
In fact, increases in gun ownership correspond with reductions in crime rates, something that the "more guns, less crime" crowd will say is in fact more than just correlation.
3. Without further information, it remains to be seen what particular role race may have played in the confrontation that led to Martin's death; complicating things is Zimmerman's own ethnicity, which has been reported both as white and Hispanic (according to official government categories, a Hispanic can be white or black). What's not in question is that race will be one of the major frames through which the event is rightly discussed. That's what happens in a country with a legacy of institutionalized racism and persistent problems related to unequal treatment under the law.
We'll talk more about this as more information becomes available.
It’s been a few years since California was considered a national leader in anything except decline. But as Reason.com Managing Editor Tim Cavanaugh notes, with a law signed last year by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and upheld by the state’s Supreme Court in December, California has set an example the rest of the country should follow: abolishing redevelopment agencies.View this article
Yesterday I looked at the Congressional Budget Office analysis of President Obama's 2012 budget framework. Politico headlined an article on the same report: "Exploding debt under Obama's policies." But as CBS News shows today, we've already seen an explosion of debt under Obama:
Mak Knoller of CBS writes:
The National Debt has now increased more during President Obama's three years and two months in office than it did during 8 years of the George W. Bush presidency.
The Debt rose $4.899 trillion during the two terms of the Bush presidency. It has now gone up $4.939 trillion since President Obama took office.
The latest posting from the Bureau of Public Debt at the Treasury Department shows the National Debt now stands at $15.566 trillion. It was $10.626 trillion on President Bush's last day in office, which coincided with President Obama's first day.
The National Debt also now exceeds 100% of the nation's Gross Domestic Product, the total value of goods and services.
(Note that total national debt is slightly different from Debt Held by the Public, which is what the CBO analysis focused on.)
England's Nigel Robinson was trying to download some music when he came across images he believed to be child pornography. So he alerted local police. Shortly afterwards, local child services ordered that Robinson, who has been charged with no crime, should have no unsupervised contact with children, including his own. "It makes you feel as though you shouldn't have reported it in the first place," Robinson said.
- "The National Debt has now increased more during President Obama's three years and two months in office than it did during 8 years of the George W. Bush presidency."
- Tennessee woman who brought gun to 9/11 memorial in New York won't do jail time.
- Unions don't support Occupy Wall Street's May 1 general strike.
- Florida Gov. Rick Scott instructs Florida Highway Patrol to investigate murder of Trayvon Martin.
- GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt switches allegiance from Obama to Mitt Romney.
- Chicago cop: "Your First Amendment rights can be terminated if you’re creating a scene."
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New at Reason.tv: "Charles Nichols Challenges California's Open Carry Ban"
Over at Bloomberg.com this morning, Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia explains what will happen if Michigan bails out Detroit, a city 60 days away from bankruptcy, by giving it the $220 million that Detroit’s elected leaders are demanding without tackling the central problem at the root of Motown’s malaise: A large, unproductive class of city employees living large at the expense of a (vanishingly) small base of productive citizens. She notes:
Detroit’s unions have fought tooth and nail to protect jobs and pay even as Detroiters, reeling from their demands, have rushed to the exit doors. Detroit has lost two-thirds of its population since its peak of 2 million in the 1960s, but the rolls of city employees had until recently shrunk by only about one-third. The city government is the largest employer -- Detroit’s schools next. Employee benefits alone make up half of the city’s general fund costs.
What’s more, Detroit’s public-sector legacy costs are astronomical. They include $5 billion to cover health care and other promises for retirees in decades to come and a billion for the unfunded liabilities to pension funds. This is not surprising given that the city has twice as many retirees as employees. And retirees get deals virtually unheard of in the private sector. For example, firefighters can retire at the ripe age of 55 with 70 percent of their salaries and automatic cost- of-living adjustments along with nearly full health-care benefits.
It would be futile to give Detroit any money without razing this opulent entitlement edifice. Otherwise, a year from now, Detroit will be back rattling its tin cup in Lansing, and Michigan voters will have far less patience for extending any more largesse.
Read the whole thing here.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales’ suspected early March murder of 16 Afghan civilians has been cast as the isolated madness of a single American soldier. In fact, observes Terry Michael, victims in the village of Kandahar are just the latest among six million who have perished in America's wars-of-choice in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and now the Central Asian graveyard of empires, Afghanistan. It’s time for Americans to stop ignoring these millions of non-American war deaths.View this article
Completely divorced from the question of whether a politician's children are fair game for political attack, or even having their existence and life mentioned, this unfolding incident--stories from earlier today about Malia Obama and a gaggle of buddies spring breaking in Mexico (a place normal American kids are advised to avoid) with Secret Service protection disappearing from news sites--seems to indicate the White House can get a wide range of sites to take down stories, even if it is just with gentle persuasion or appeals to some higher standard. And that is highly unnerving.
references to it are disappearing from the Internet — and fast.
Around 3:00 EST, a Telegraph story reporting on the event was the first to vanish (note how the url remains the same in the “before” and “after”)....
Then, the related Huffington Post article was found to be linking back to a completely unrelated Yahoo News page titled “Senegal Music Star Youssou Ndour Hits Campaign Trail.”...
The Yahoo News story that HuffPo links to makes no mention of Malia Obama or her Mexican vacation. That raises two possibilities: either HuffPo has made an error in its link, or Yahoo has also removed its “Malia in Mexico” story. The latter more likely considering that the “-obamas-daughter-spends-springbreak-in-Mexico” url is still present in the Yahoo story.
In fact, consider that the link to the Huffington Post article on Google now goes to the site’s main page. Alas, that story too has been taken down.
In addition to larger news organizations, smaller sites are also removing their stories....Free Republic removed a related discussion thread....
Of these sites, the only one to state a reason for the change was “Free Republic,“ where the Admin wrote ”Leave the kids alone.”
So that raises the question: Why were all these stories being taken down? Is the story false? Were they removed for security reasons?
Consider that the story still lives (as of this publication)* on the site of The Australian, which uses a story from the well-respected AFP (a sort of Associated Press for France).
Blaze link live at the moment I wrote this. Again, check out their full story for screenshot proof.
Today a federal appeals court upheld the new cigarette warning labels that a federal judge in another circuit deemed unconstitutional last month. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit said the warnings, which feature icky color pictures and would cover half of each pack's front and back panels, were justifiable as a way of preventing consumers from being misled by tobacco promotion. Judge Eric Clay, who wrote the rest of the ruling, dissented on that point. "Although the government has demonstrated that an information deficit still exists among potential tobacco consumers, which may render warning-less tobacco products inherently deceptive," he wrote, "it has not adequately shown that the inclusion of color graphic warning labels is a properly or reasonably tailored response to address that harm."
The 6th Circuit also upheld the restrictions on information about the relative risks of tobacco products that were included in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, the same law that mandated the new warning labels. "Contrary to Plaintiffs' assertions," the court said, "the interest that the government seeks to advance through the MRTPR [modified risk tobacco product rule] is not the risk that the public will become overly informed regarding the relative risks of various tobacco products, but instead the risk that the tobacco industry will make fraudulent claims regarding the relative health benefits of the products that it markets." That gloss is misleading, since the law authorizes the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to suppress even truthful information about a "modified risk" product (such as smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes) if it decides such censorship is necessary to protect public health.
Under the law, the FDA is supposed to approve the marketing of a modified-risk product only if it concludes that doing so will "benefit the health of the population as a whole taking into account both users of tobacco products and persons who do not currently use tobacco products." For example, the FDA can forbid risk comparisons between cigarettes and smokeless tobacco if it worries, no matter how improbably, that the health benefits enjoyed by smokers who switch to snus (Swedish-style oral snuff) would be outweighed by the health costs to nonsmokers who are attracted to snus by the knowledge that it is much less dangerous than cigarettes. These regulations are not just about preventing fraud; they are also about serving the FDA's conception of public health, which may mean overriding the interests of individual consumers.
By contrast, the 6th Circuit overturned the tobacco control act's ban on the use of color or pictures in outdoor ads, indoor ads (except those in adult-only businesses), and print ads carried by publications with significant underage readerships. "Although the government can show a substantial interest in alleviating the effects of tobacco advertising on juvenile consumers," the court said, "the provision of the Act banning the useof color and graphics in tobacco advertising is vastly overbroad."
The 6th Circuit's decision is here (PDF). I discussed U.S. District Judge Richard Leon's injunction against the new warning labels earlier this month. After Congress approved the tobacco ad restrictions in 2009, I predicted they would be overturned on First Amendment grounds.
No, it's not Barack Obama this time, but Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who sat down with former war puppet Tony Blair for a wide-ranging interview on the aims of Blair's post-post-colonial Africa Governance Initiative:
The Nobel peace prize winner and president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has defended a law that criminalises homosexual acts, saying: "We like ourselves just the way we are."
In a joint interview with Tony Blair, who was left looking visibly uncomfortable by her remarks, Sirleaf told the Guardian: "We've got certain traditional values in our society that we would like to preserve."
Liberian legislation classes "voluntary sodomy" as a misdemeanour punishable by up to one year in prison, but two new bills have been proposed that would target homosexuality with much tougher sentences.
Blair, on a visit to Liberia in his capacity as the founder of the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), a charity that aims to strengthen African governments, refused to comment on Sirleaf's remarks.
When asked whether good governance and human rights went hand in hand, the British former prime minister said: "I'm not giving you an answer on it."
"One of the advantages of doing what I do now is I can choose the issues I get into and the issues I don't. For us, the priorities are around power, roads, jobs delivery," he said.
With Sirleaf sitting to his left, Blair refused to give any advice on gay rights reforms. He let out a stifled chuckle after Sirleaf interrupted him to make it clear that Blair and his staff were only allowed to do what she said they could. "AGI Liberia has specific terms of reference...that's all we require of them," she said, crossing her arms and leaning back.
Yet again, Brave Sir Tony finds himself unfairly suffering the blowback of an American's cowboy antics, this time those of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose boss won the Noble Prize for Drone Murder Peace:
The gay rights debate erupted in Liberia after Clinton announced in December that America's foreign aid budget would promote the protection of gay rights, prompting speculation that funds would be tied to rights records.
The announcement brought unprecedented attention to homosexuality in a country where until recently gay people and lesbians lived in secret, but generally not in fear for their lives. Since Clinton's remarks, Liberian newspapers have published numerous articles and editorials describing homosexuality as "desecrating", "abusive" and an "abomination."
Many news cycles ago, when Rick Perry slammed the Obama administration for supporting special rights for foreign gays (such as the right not to be executed for liking people with similar private parts), Jacob Sullum wrote: "If it were up to me, the foreign aid budget would start at zero and stay there. But whether or not it is a justifiable use of taxpayers' money, Obama's initiative is not about 'promoting a lifestyle' or 'promoting special rights for gays'—unless you think life and liberty are special rights."
A new study of behavior problems in children prenatally exposed to methamphetamine has prompted predictably alarming headlines that recall the panic about "crack babies," who supposedly were handicapped for life by their mothers' drug use. Those concerns turned out to be wildly overblown, and for years scientists who regret that episode have been warning their colleagues not to make the same mistake with "meth babies." But such admonitions may be no match for researchers' natural tendency to exaggerate the importance of their findings, combined with journalists' constant thirst for a good scare story.
In this case, researchers led by Brown University psychologist Linda LaGasse compared the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) scores of 166 children whose mothers had consumed meth during pregnancy to those of 164 children whose mothers had not. The two groups, drawn from four cities (Los Angeles, Honolulu, Des Moines, and Tulsa), were matched for "race, birth weight, public health insurance, and education," and the kids were assessed at ages 3 and 5 based on an oral questionnaire answered by their caregivers. "This first report of behavior problems in patients as young as 3 years associated with MA [methamphetamine] exposure identifies an important public health problem," LaGasse and her colleagues write in the April issue of Pediatrics. "These effects on behavior problems are quite robust and may have substantial public health implications because problems as noted on the CBCL tend to persist over time and predict later psychopathology and criminal behavior that place tremendous burdens on society."
Sounds serious. If you look at the overall CBCL scores, however, you will see that the exposed and nonexposed kids were virtually indistinguishable. At age 3, the "total problems" score was 52.2 for the exposed children and 51.1 for the comparison group; at 5, the scores were 52.9 and 50.2, respectively. In neither case was the difference statistically significant. The two groups' "internalizing" scores (which include four subscales) also were essentially the same. "There were no effects of MA on the internalizing or total behavior problems scales," LaGasse et al. report.
Instead of concluding that the two groups were basically the same, the researchers focus on a few subscales where there were statistically significant differences. "MA exposure was associated with increased emotional reactivity and anxious/depressed problems at both ages and externalizing and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder problems by age 5 years," they write. The differences range from slightly less than a point to slightly more than a point. "Because CBCL findings are based on caregiver report," the authors concede, "there could be reporting bias." In other words, the mothers or other caregivers who answered the questionnaires may have been more inclined to perceive and report problems precisely because they worried about the potential damage caused by meth exposure. There was a similar weakness in much of the research on children exposed to cocaine in the womb.
Assuming the score gaps reflect real differences, how do we know they are caused by prenatal exposure to methamphetamine? To their credit, LaGasse et al. take into account a bunch of other variables: "prenatal exposure to alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana; birth weight; gender; SES [socioeconomic status]; maternal age; single (no partner); caregiver change; domestic violence; postnatal use of MA; tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana exposure; caregiver psychological symptoms; the quality of the home; child abuse; and study site." But they concede that "our measure of child abuse through caregiver report of Child Protective Services likely underestimates abuse." Likewise, their measure of "caregiver psychological symptoms" (which were associated with children's behavior problems) may not have captured all of the relevant differences between women who smoke meth when they're pregnant and women who don't.
In short, it is not clear from these data that "meth babies" (as several headlines called them) are different from other children in practically significant ways, that they represent "an important public health problem," that they they will "place tremendous burdens on society," or even that meth itself is the cause of any differences that actually exist. Given the cautionary example of "crack babies"—who were stigmatized as dramatically and permanently damaged, while their mothers were singled out for special condemnation and punishment—researchers and the journalists who trumpet their findings should try to be a little more careful this time around.
In the Village Voice, Graham Rayman has a great, detailed story about how the 9/11 industry continues to pick pockets on both sides of the Hudson. One of the biggest money drains is coming in the form of a proposed hike in bridge tolls and PATH train fares:
The Port Authority, a bistate agency that owns the World Trade Center site, initially claimed that the increase was necessary because of maintenance needs in its capital plan. But soon, the real reason emerged: $2.2 billion in more cost overruns at the World Trade Center site.
One World Trade Center is over budget by $186 million, the transit center is $200 million over budget, and other site work is $422 million over estimates from just two years ago. And those costs don't include $500 million the agency is trying to recoup from the September 11 Memorial, the MTA and the state DOT.
In other words, the already gold-plated construction plan for Ground Zero has blown its budget again and the people who are least responsible for the increase, the people who actually pay their taxes and suffer the daily commute into Manhattan, have to come up with the money to pay for it. And they have no choice in the matter. (Construction unions were all for the toll hike, and appeared at the hearing to cheer for it.)
Note that when Rayman says "the people least responsible for the increase," he's really referring to the group that does the most to make New York great and receives the least credit for it: New Jerseyans.
But the building of the new 1 World Trade Center, which at least is underway after more than ten years, is just the most visible of many money holes:
[L]et us consider the National September 11 Memorial and Museum itself, which will cost at least $700 million to build, and will have a $60 million annual operating budget. The Oklahoma City Bombing memorial cost $29.1 million to build. The World War II Memorial cost $175 million.
And despite the name, it's not really a "national" monument, as in something owned by the public. It's actually a private, not-for-profit entity.
The memorial is so expensive that the Port Authority, not known for its frugality, is demanding $150 million from it to cover its own outlays.
The top 11 officials of the September 11 Memorial and Museum make at least $190,000 a year, with four of them—Joseph Daniels, Alice Greenwald, Joan Gerner, and Cathy Blaney—making well over $300,000, tax records show. That's $2.8 million in salaries just for 11 people. And when former general counsel Frank Aiello left in 2009, he got a $180,000 severance payment.
To put it in perspective, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly makes just $210,000, and he only runs the nation's largest police agency and oversees a $4 billion budget.
Lots of recent Reason coverage of 9/11 and its aftermath: About that deadly dust; about American Muslims; about the late Christopher Hitchens. And one oldie from 2001: The history of the original World Trade Center.
Indefinite detainment of American citizens got you down? Never fear, it's already here and it's been here for at least the past six years. The recipients are the one group of people who are possibly even less sympathetic than suspected terrorists; they would be convicted federal sex offenders.
USA Today has a detailed and disturbing account of the rather dubious ways in which these offenders are dubbed "sexually dangerous":
Six years ago, the federal government set out to indefinitely detain some of the nation's most dangerous sex offenders, keeping them locked up even after their prison sentences had ended.
But despite years of effort, the government has so far won court approval for detaining just 15 men.
Far more often, men the U.S.Justice Department branded as "sexually dangerous" predators, remained imprisoned here for years without a mandatory court hearing before the government was forced to let them go, a USA TODAY investigation has found. The Justice Department has either lost or dropped its cases against 61 of the 136 men it sought to detain. Some were imprisoned for more than four years without a trial before they were freed.
Dozens of others are still waiting for their day in court. They remain in a prison unit where authorities and former detainees said explicit drawings of children are commonplace, but where few of the men have received any treatment for the disorders that put them there.
The implication and the motivation for grim laws like Megan's law which allowed for sex offender databases is that pedophiles and other such criminals are repeat offenders. Therefore they are so dangerous that they need to have an eye kept on them even after they have served out their terms in jail.
To take one nasty example of a seemingly perpetual offender:
Jay Abregana stands out. His record was already sordid when the government certified him as sexually dangerous — he had been convicted of mailing pictures of himself having oral sex with a teenage boy and of exposing himself to a 12-year-old in a movie theater. In prison, he was kicked out of a sex offender treatment program after he performed oral sex on five inmates. When he got out, he violated his probation by having "sexual contact " with a 17-year-old in a shopping mall bathroom, and using the Internet to reach out to three other boys , one just 10.
Psychologists certified that Abregana was sexually dangerous in 2007. In 2008, a federal judge ordered the government to release him , concluding the Justice Department couldn't prove his attraction to boys who had reached puberty was a sufficiently serious mental disorder, or that he would have "serious difficulty" not re-offending.
But USA Today also notes some cases of the so-called sexually dangerous for whom it's possible to feel a tiny twinge of sympathy. Or at least those who warrant a moment of consideration that yes, there are different levels of sex offenders:
Andrew Swarm was first diagnosed as a pedophile more than a decade ago. Hecollected child pornography on the Internet, and molested at least three young girls,according to court records . But Swarm also seemed to go out of his way to get caught. He gave one 10-year-old girl he fantasized about what appeared to be an explicit drawing of himself, knowing she would give it to her parents . After he inappropriately touched an 11-year-old, he gave her a note warning that "I want to kiss and touch you in ways that I shouldn't. I need you to make sure I get help and don't have the chance to do this," according to court records.
Swarm said he agonized over his impulses. He tried to get treatment. He tried to get caught. He tried to castrate himself with rubber bands . "I don't go out and molest children. I've never done that," he said. "It was such a misery in the first place to have these feelings. It was a nightmare."
The government certified him as sexually dangerous in 2007. At the time, he was serving a four-month sentence in prison for violating his probation by not telling his probation officer quickly enough that a friend had briefly left him alone with a young child, and that another girl had climbed onto his lap while he was visiting relatives before he shooed her off.
"There was no harm, no foul," said the girl's father, whom USA TODAY agreed not to name to protect his daughter's privacy. He said he and his wife plan to ask Swarm's probation officer whether they can resume visiting him. "I honestly don't think he's dangerous," he said.
The judge who ultimately heard Swarm's commitment case — nearly four years after he was detained — agreed and released him .
The rest here.
There are other cases, such as Joseph Edwards, who assaulted and raped a 15-year-old and was sentenced to 84 months in prison. Which, when you think about what some folks get for non-violent offenses (such as as our friend the former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagovich who will get twice as much time in prison than Edwards for the most assuredly nonviolent offense of various corruption charges.) doesn't seem like much. Why try — and eventually fail — to indefinitely detain Edwards for such a repulsive crime instead of just sentencing someone to a more substantial chunk of time? That way there are at least fewer civil liberties problems and maybe people like Edwards go longer without being back on the street.
Truly violent sex criminals are something that all of us who make up society have to deal with, but as usual, the current system does a poor job of fixing this problem and punishes more innocent people when it fails to fix it.
Graydon Carter, editor of a magazine that charges $189,106 for a full-page four-color advertisement, runs about 87 of the things before you even get to "The Editor's Letter" in the most recent issue. There he inflicts this unintentionally hilarious self-torture upon the world:
As someone who came to New York in the 1970s, I was, like so many of my friends, a certified member of what we now call the 99 percent—and I was a lot closer to the bottom than to the top of that 99 percent. At some point during the intervening years, I moved into the 1 percent. Then came the towering wave of upper-tier wealth that washed over America and particularly New York over the past 25 years. I'm still in the 1 percent, but in the 99 percent of that 1 percent. And again, I'm probably a lot closer to the bottom than to the top.
What's your favorite word in that pretzel salad? Mine's "certified."
You just know Carter is going to work himself up into a righteous hatred of his own class without once examining his own culpability; the only question is how he'll get there:
New York has arguably become the quintessential 1 percent city, a city that has been so given over to the rich that you now have to be rich to live here. [...]
When I moved to [my Greenwich Village] house [in the 1970s], I was, by my reckoning, the only person on the street who went to work in a jacket and tie. Now I'm surrounded by tech moguls, movie producers, and hedge-fund tyros, many of whom are there because they don't want to live on the Upper East Side. What was once a haven for otherwise dispossessed artists, writers, and other assorted misfits is now one of the most expensive Zip Codes in the nation. I couldn't afford the house I live in now if I had to buy it at market rates. I couldn't even afford to buy the apartment I lived in 20 years ago.
Somewhere along the way, New York became all about money. Or rather, it was always about money, but it wasn't all about money, if you know what I mean.
Yeah, no, I don't. I have many friends who live in New York (some even in Manhattan!), who are roughly my age, and I can say with great confidence that for these people it ain't remotely "all about money." It's an expensive city, and that causes stress, which the 99 percent of people poorer than Graydon Carter respond to by...not buying real estate in Greenwich Village at any time or price.
And if you think Carter's out of touch describing his own city, just wait until he gets his international on:
New York's not Geneva or Zurich yet, but we're certainly heading in that direction.
It gets worse:
London is, too. With every passing year, London is a city that becomes less English and more international—"international" being code these days for business and finance. At some point, even the money people will begin to blanch. The last thing businessmen want to do is sit in a room filled with other businessmen. A room full of money is a pretty boring sight—unless it's yours, of course. A friend of mine has a theory that what billionaires really want to do is pile all their money in their swimming pools and dive in like Scrooge McDuck.
This is what happens when you never get out of the limo. London's internationalness is certainly on display in The City, and in (I'm guessing?) the tea room at Harrod's or whatever, but where it really smacks you in the face is basically everywhere you order a beer, or fish & chips, or some shawarma. London is lousy with Polacks and Pakistanis and people from poorer places who aren't close to being rich but are ready to hustle right the hell now, not unlike those gritty glam days of Graydon's idealized Greenwich youth.
Graydon Carter got rich making journalism and parties about other rich people who make movies and music and architecture and journalism. No harm in that! But can we stop, at long last, pretending that these and only these pursuits are the acceptable pathways to the One Percent Club? Or that only "hedge-fund tyros" (and–shudder–businessmen) are motivated by greed?
Some past Reason visits to Planet Graydon.
"It's unconstitutional to ban an entire class of weapons, one that the public find most useful for self-defense," says Charles Nichols, president of California Right To Carry and the man behind the first lawsuit to challenge California's open carry gun ban.
Nichols sat down with Reason.tv's Tim Cavanaugh to discuss his lawsuit, which is actually targeting the original ban from the 1970s that prohibited the carrying of loaded weapons. They discussed his prospects for success, as well as California's extremely strict gun control laws and how they might hold up in a post-DC v. Heller world.
For more details on this case, go here.
Reason.tv covered the open carry ban back in 2011.
About 6:14 minutes. Interview by Tim Cavanaugh. Edited by Zach Weissmueller. Shot by Paul Detrick, Anthony Fisher, and Weissmueller.
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President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal is primarily a political document—built to highlight the president’s priorities and outline a vision for the country. No one expects it to pass.
But here’s what would happen if it did, according to the Congressional Budget Office: The 2012 deficit would be $1.3 trillion—8.2 percent of gross domestic product and $82 billion higher than the current budget baseline. Next year, the deficit would decline, but still clock in at $977 billion, meaning that federal borrowing would account for more than 6 percent of the country’s total economy. In the following years, deficits would continue to decline, but will still be higher than the budget office baseline by between 1.4 and 1.9 percent of GDP each year.
All told, the nation would wrack up roughly $6.4 trillion in federal deficits by 2022. Federal debt held by the public would increase by half, rising from $10.1 trillion to $15.2 trillion in 2017, and $18.8 trillion by 2022. That’s compared to a baseline scenario in which debt reaches $15.1 trillion in 2022. The debt mountain is huge no matter which of the two scenarios you pick, but it’s larger under Obama’s budget proposal. Politico’s write up of the report ran with the headline: “Exploding debt under Obama policies.”
Of course, as the president’s defenders might point out, the budget office baseline isn’t exactly a likely scenario either. It’s based on a strict interpretation of current law, in which Medicare payments to physicians are cut sharply, income tax rates return to Clinton-era levels, and the alternative minimum tax is unchanged, hitting more and more families.
It has become popular to point out that in this do-nothing scenario—the current law baseline—debt and deficit levels are more manageable in future decades. But policies we aren’t going to follow aren’t very helpful, especially since the baseline scenario keeps the deficit down by letting tax rates rise along with spending. And this scenario simply isn’t going to happen: both parties have committed to extending most if not all of the Bush tax cuts as well as overriding Medicare’s physician payment reductions.
That’s why the CBO also uses an alternative baseline. The CBO’s alternative projects our nation’s budgetary future using a more plausible set of assumptions: "temporary" tax cuts will be extended, Medicare payments to doctors will not be sharply cut, and so forth. It offers something approaching reality when compared to the baseline scenario’s fantasy.
The president’s scenario manages to better the alternative debt scenario—but that’s not saying much. Instead of letting federal debt held by the public stretch past 90 percent of GDP, as in the alternative scenario, the president’s budget plan would hold it down to 76 percent of the economy. (See graph below.)
This is hardly an inspiring picture of the country’s budgetary future. And in the long term, it’s even worse: The budget proposal does not deal with the budget-swallowing U.S. commitments to health spending. As Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner recently admitted, in the long term, those commitments remain “unsustainable.” It is telling that in an election year, given the freedom of knowing in advance that his budget was certain to go nowhere, President Obama chose this framework, and this timid-at-best-approach, to highlight his vision for dealing with America’s debt.
- Hey! There's another important primary tomorrow! This one is in Illinois! Also here is Real Clear Politics' candidate averages if you're some kind of horse-race-following politico weirdo obsessive.
- Horrible French shootings — apparently by the same person or at least the same weapon — leads to France raising its terror alert to their highest level.
- Rick Santorum, equally amazing politicians, "as important" as Tank Man says 1994 Rick Santorum.
- "The state doing the best? New Jersey." Guess before you click. It's not a New Jersey joke, I swear.
- Supreme Court to consider question of sperm and survivor's benefits for children born after dad's death.
- The only place in Mexico where you can legally buy a gun.
- Pirate Bay claims they will start flying "server drones" in order to evade law enforcement.
One of America’s most powerful labor leaders, teachers union president Randi Weingarten, has quietly moved out of New York City, a decision that saved her from paying more than $30,000 in city income taxes that she would have owed if she had stayed. Even if one takes Ms. Weingarten at her word that her move had nothing to do with taxes, writes Ira Stoll, there’s a certain irony to the fact that she absented herself from the city during two peak earning years. It’s Ms. Weingarten, after all, who, more than probably just about anyone else, is responsible for the tremendous increase in spending on New York City schools over the past decade.View this article
Many of the upstream GOP meetings in which actual delegates are selected from precinct to county to state (in those caucus states where the hyped straw poll totals do not define how delegates will vote for candidates in Tampa, on which the Ron Paul campaign places so much emphasis) are happening now, and interesting results are arising.
A survey far and wide, from both news sources and Paul fans own accounts:
*The biggest excitement was in Missouri, where (in echoes of what happened at Nevada's state convention back in 2008) a St. Charles County GOP meeting was actually shut down (with arrests of two Paul supporters and police choppers on the scene) in response to parliamentary challenges from Paul people.
ABC has a good collection of links and anecdotes from that state. Some highlights:
- The Kansas City Star reports that things got contentious in Clay County, too: ”In Clay County, arguments between Paul supporters and others became so intense that the caucus chairman threatened to have voters removed by force. … [Paul supporter:] ‘We raised a number of points of order, points of information, points of parliamentary inquiry, many of which have been ignored.’” http://bit.ly/zV6XxR
- Boone County, which encompasses Columbia and the University of Missouri, elected a slate of Ron Paul-backing delegates, after Paul supporters succeeded in electing their own caucus chair. (That’s a normal part of caucus procedure: the first vote taken is on who will chair the meeting.) One GOP member described the Paul supporters as “loud, boisterous,” and “obnoxious” at the meeting — although the local GOP chairman said things were civil and that GOP officials get along fine with the Paul people there. The caucus elected 48 Ron Paul delegates and 5 Mitt Romney delegates, according to a local GOP official.
- Greene County (a large GOP county in Southwest Missouri, encompassing Springfield) elected a mixed slate of 65 Ron Paul delegates, 40 Mitt Romney delegates, and six Rick Santorum delegates. “A few [caucus attendees] got a little loud,” said Danette Proctor, the county GOP chair who presided over the caucus. “But I just said, ‘Be quiet.’”
- In keeping with what seems to be a trend, a Ron Paul supporter in Lincoln County alleged that GOP officials violated caucus rules in an attempt to silence Paul supporters. Quote from a Ron Paul supporter, as posted on a blog: “They practically ignored the State GOP guidelines and rules. The severely butchered Robert’s Rules of Order.” Note: GOP caucuses (in Missouri, as well as in Iowa) are governed by Robert’s Rules of Order, although Missouri counties can use their own rules … and then adopt new rules after electing a caucus chairman. http://bit.ly/xmimXP
*CNBC on the St. Charles GOP caucus madness:
Before even the opening prayer, police were called in to the caucus in St. Charles County to remove a video camera set up by a Paul supporter against the local rules, said Eugene Dokes, the country Republican chairman. Things went downhill from there. Caucus participants "started to become verbally aggressive with event organizers and police officers," said St. Peters Police Officer Melissa Doss.
"It definitely got wild," Dokes said. "I had to tell a number of people not to approach me, not to come from behind me and not to scream at me. I think there was the possibility of someone trying to inflict personal injury or harm to me."
A couple of minutes of video from the St. Charles scene:
*Brent Stafford, one of the Paul folk arrested at St. Charles, has his own account, with a parliamentarian-riffic batch of details:
I was trying to reconvene the meeting in the gymnasium, according to the rules, and was told I have the leave the gym along with everyone else or I would be trespassing. I went outside and tried to let everyone know we were going to try to reconvene. Some people we trying to go to a nearby park to do so, but the rules are clear the the caucus may only be held in the location printed in the Call to Caucus printed in a newspaper 15 days prior. The ONLY place we could reconvene was at the high school.
I stood on a chair to address the crowd to let them know we were going to reconvene and what we needed to do. At that point I was approached by told I was under arrest....
Eugene Dokes [St. Charles County Republican Committee Chairman] started the meeting by immediately declaring there would be no video or audio recording allowed, and that if anyone refused to stop, they would be removed by police. The entire room of what has been reported as over 2,500 people began booing and demanding that recording be allowed. It was not just Ron Paul people.
Eugene Dokes then refused to commence the meeting until everyone stopped recording. I made multiple attempts to make a point of order to address the situation, but he refused to acknowledge me. He then left the podium and called the police.
There were St. Peters Police, St. Charles Police, St. Charles County Sheriffs, and Missouri Highway Patrol that eventually came into the gymnasium and through threat of arrest made everyone turn off their cameras. Of course many did not.
Eugene Dokes then started to convene the meeting a second time.
Let me digress a moment. We had prepared very well ahead of time. I won't get into all of the details, but the Mitt Romney people agreed to support me for Chairman. This was an incredible vote of confidence in my ability to chair and to convene a fair process. I had also hire the President of the Missouri Association of Parliamentarians who I intended to appoint for that role. I never got that chance.
Eugene Dokes appoint the Creditial Committee, Rules Committee, and Parliamentarian. These are all appointments made by the elected Chairman, not the temporary Chair which is what Eugene Dokes was acting as. The body loudly booed and started making all kinds of points of order and other declarations of disgust at the blatant disregard for the proper process.
He then opened the floor for nominations. I immediately started nominating myself multiple times. He recognized a woman, who was obviously preselected, who nominated Matt Ehlen. At that point about 2,000 people started chanting my name to be appointed. Eugene Dokes ignored that and called a hasty voice vote and declared the one nominee, Matt Ehlen, as the Chair.
Hundreds of people started calling for Division of the vote. Eugene Dokes ignored them all.
Matt Ehlen took the podium and tried to regain order. After anout 20 seconds he declared that St. Charles County would not send any delegates to the CD and State Conventions. He quickly found motions to adjourn and closed the meeting....
*ABC's Jason Volack has a good piece summing up some GOP county brouhahas involving Paul people outside Missouri as well:
In Iowa, a half dozen counties reported disruptions during conventions. The most egregious example occurred in Polk County, where Paul supporters illegally tried to become delegates.
“They were abrasive, offensive, and self-centered,” said Kevin McLaughlin, GOP chairman in Polk County.
In Colorado, Ron Paul supporters shouted down Denver County GOP Chairman Danny Stroud, demanding rule changes in favor of their candidate.
“A small, loud group attempted to hijack the assembly and trample on the rights of those who took time out of their busy lives to participate in the political process,” Stroud said in a statement to the Denver Post....
However, Iowa’s McLaughlin said Paul supporters were attempting to become delegates illegally.
State law clearly defines the manner in which delegates are elected, at precinct caucuses, yet some Paul supporters argued for a rule change that would allow them to be seated.
They were eventually voted down, but not before some protesters were thrown out because of repeated disruptions, including sneaking around backstage. Some were caught rifling through delegate packets trying to find precincts where people did not show up so they could claim those seats....
*The indispensable Paul fan news and commentary site Daily Paul has a useful and long open thread on Missouri shenanigans.
*In Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, Paul fans claim their slate of delegates is real while the "official" one is illegal.
*In fundraising terms, while Paul continues to pull in pretty big bucks minus any outright wins, his February take of $3.3 million was smaller than his January take of $4.5 million, and he's sitting on around $1.6 million right now, as ABC reports.
*In other Pauliana: Take the Ron Paul Supporter Quiz, and find out if you be Ronulan, Paultard, Paulite, Paulista, just Paul-Curious, or an enemy of liberty.
Some highlights: Paul has done better in percentage terms in every state except Mississippi, with the largest percentage point increases in Virginia (36), Wyoming (21), Vermont (18), Maine and Washington (both 17).
In raw vote terms, again doubling and more his total very common, with the best increases in Vermont (5.8x), Virginia (4.9x), South Carolina (4.85x) Washington (4.73x), and New Hampshire (3.11x).
My April Reason magazine cover story on Paul's campaign, and my forthcoming book, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.
One week from today the U.S. Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including whether or not the law’s individual mandate requiring every American to buy or secure health insurance violates Congress’ power “to regulate commerce...among the several states.” Writing in today’s Los Angeles Times, David Savage makes a point about the case that’s similar to something I’ve been arguing for the past few years: Namely, the longstanding division between libertarian and conservative schools of legal thought is going to play a central role in the outcome of the health care challenge. Here’s Savage:
The [legal] issue also poses a dilemma for the court's conservative majority: Just what type of conservative are they? Do they seek to reimpose conservative principles on the two elected branches of government or do they hew to the idea of a limited, restrained role for the courts?
At The Huffington Post, Mike Sacks makes a parallel argument:
The battle this time is likely to be an intra-conservative conflict between the economic libertarianism underlying the mandate's challenge and the traditional principles of judicial restraint that have defined right-wing jurisprudence for more than a half-century.
The idea that judges should defer to the will of lawmakers runs deep among conservative legal activists. Consider the June 2011 opinion by 6th Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton upholding the constitutionality of the individual mandate. Nobody’s idea of a liberal, Sutton is a former clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia and a very well-respected figure in Federalist Society circles. And in Sutton’s view, opponents of Obama’s health care overhaul should be taking their complaints to the ballot box, not to the court house. “Time assuredly will bring to light the policy strengths and weaknesses of using the individual mandate as part of this national legislation,” Sutton wrote, “allowing the peoples’ political representatives, rather than their judges, to have the primary say over its utility.”
Now contrast those words with the 11th Circuit’s August 2011 decision striking down the individual mandate. As that court declared, “When Congress oversteps [the Commerce Clause’s] outer limits, the Constitution requires judicial engagement, not judicial abdication.” That’s the libertarian-conservative legal divide in a nutshell: judicial engagement vs. judicial deference. The fate of the individual mandate depends on which side of that divide holds sway over the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc.
Shortly after September 11, 2001, the advertising firm Korey Kay & Partners pitched the Departments of State, Justice, and the newly created Homeland Security on an ad campaign to make travelers more aware of potential terrorists threats, “but none expressed interest in using the work,” Adweek reported in January 2002. “It will therefore remain a creative exercise.”
The feds would eventually change their minds about Kay’s “creative exercise.” Today, the slogan “If you see something, say something” graces mass transit hubs across the country as well as DHS-funded coffee cup sleeves. The slogan has outlived color-coded terror alerts, the Iraq War, the Yellowcake myth, Sadam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and cigarette lighter bans. In honor of “If you see something, say something,” Reason presents you with a brief timeline of its conception and current use:
January 2002: Korey Kay & Partners unveils “If you see something, say something”
Allen Kay shares five text-only ads with Adweek. In addition to the slogan “If you see something, say something,” the ads read, "More catastrophic bombings and biological warfare are imminent terrorist threats. Not just for the United States, but the entire world. Let's have no more surprises,” as well as "There are thousands of terrorists in this country. You can start to stop them. If you notice anything suspicious, report it. Immediately." Kay tells Adweek that the Departments of Justice, State, and Homeland Security passed on his ad campaign.
December 2002: The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) adopts “If you see something, say something”
Twenty-four randomly selected New York subway riders are taken to an “undisclosed location” and shown several slogans designed by Kay’s company for a new public safety campaign. Among the slogans that do not test well, according to the Times, are "Be Suspicious of Things That Look Suspicious” and "If You See a Package Without a Person, Don't Keep It to Yourself." The winner among the test subjects is “If you see something, say something.” Kay’s slogan begins to appear in New York’s subway and bus system.MORE »
A law that Congress passed last month makes it easier for airports to replace screeners employed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) with screeners hired by private contractors. Sixteen of the country's 450 airports, including San Francisco's, already use private contractors for screening, and several others, including Orlando's, are expected to take advantage of the new law, which requires the TSA to allow such arrangements when they save money and do not undermine security. Although a 2008 TSA report claimed private screeners cost more, an analysis by the Government Accountability Office faulted the TSA's methdology. A 2011 report from the House Transportation Committee concluded that "airport passenger screening with private security screeners under federal supervision is dramatically more efficient and less costly than the all-federal screening model."
Any savings accue to the TSA, which covers the cost of paying screeners either way. Furthermore, private screeners are required to enforce the same stupid policies and use the same intrusive, ineffective methods as screeners employed by the federal government. But Larry Dale, president and chief executive of Orlando Sanford International Airport, says hundreds of passenger complaints about TSA screeners helped convince him to try the other option. "We've visited a number of airports who have opted out of the TSA screenings, and no one wants to go back," he told The New York Times. "We think this will be more efficient and customer-friendly for us."
Over at USA Today, Alex Berezow, editor of RealClearScience has a nice column in which he argues that libertarian philosophy tackles government policy the same way a researcher tackles an experiment. From the op/ed:
The scientific enterprise rests on simple premises: Scientists should have the freedom to investigate whatever they choose. The universe is ultimately knowable and logical. The business of science should be to promote reality, not ideology. This formula has proved successful.
Similarly, the seductive allure of libertarianism relies on its simple assumptions: People should be as free as possible. Our laws should reflect reality. Government policies should be analyzed using logic, not ideology. There are no grand appeals to shaping the world in America's image, no quixotic promotion of economic equality and no obsession over the moral character of the nation.
In a nutshell, scientists and libertarians deal with the world the way it is, rather than the way they want it to be. ...
It is striking that the qualities that make for a good scientist are identical to those that make for a good libertarian.
I, of course, find Berezow's argument somewhat persuasive. Indeed, research by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues find that libertarians score higher on a need for cognition scale (i.e., they engage in and enjoy effortful cognitive activities) than either liberals or conservatives do.
In addition, libertarians score much higher on systemizing (the drive to analyze the variables in a system, and to derive the underlying rules that govern the behavior of the system) than either liberals or conservatives do. On the other hand, libs and cons score higher on empathizing (the drive to identify another person's emotions and thoughts, and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion) than do libertarians.
Mutual Admiration Society Disclosure: I note that Berezow very generously quotes me in the USA Today op/ed and and I am very grateful that he occasionally reprints some of my articles at RealClearScience.
In Mississippi early in the summer of 2010, emotionally spent jurors, some of them in tears, recommended that Curtis Giovanni Flowers be put to death for a quadruple murder. The judge agreed with the recommendation, sending Flowers to death row at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman. The trial had lasted two weeks, and from beginning to end the Montgomery County Courthouse was filled with an unnerving sense of déjà vu.
That’s because the 41-year-old Flowers has now been sentenced to death four times for the same crime. The first three convictions were thrown out on appeal by the Mississippi Supreme Court. The fourth, handed down June 18, 2010, is currently on appeal at the state’s highest court. Two other trials ended with hung juries. All told, reports William Browning in our April 2012 issue, Flowers has stood trial six times—a record in the history of American capital murder cases. He has become the judicial system’s answer to Groundhog Day.View this article
"The Mittzkrieg in Illinois isn't terribly inspiring," David Axelrod tweets this morning, "so turnout may lag. But the sheer volume probably has been grindingly effective."
Axelrod, chief strategist for President Obama’s re-election campaign, was most recently seen bellyaching about the "coarsening of our political culture" on CNN. He’s been all over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s case as the Republicans close in on tomorrow’s Illinois primary.
I’ve never fully grokked the image of Obama is a bomb-throwing Alinskyite Bolshevik – partly because proponents of this theory define Alinskyite stealth strategies as stuff like "divide and conquer the opposition," "ridicule and slander your opponents," "win elections rather than lose them," and other tips that don’t exactly sound like the best-kept secrets of the Shaolin temple.
I also don’t understand visceral reactions against Romney, who in my experience is a resolutely likable figure unlikely to generate visceral reactions of any kind – let alone calls for his assassination from a member of a major newspaper’s editorial board.
Axelrod is a practiced mudslinger however, and his experiences in the Land of Lincoln have left him well prepared for the kind of mega-Godwin stupidities of a general election.
In this crazy, rapidly changing, twitterpated world where people can look at the internets on their telephones, it may be too much to ask for any semblance of logic from political operatives. But I'm used to comments like Axelrod's being cause for much clucking about the loss of civility from people like, well, Axelrod.
It’s just worth pointing out: a) two can play at that game; b) you know who else had a neatly combed moustache and a dangling forelock; and b) with a little trimming and a slight darkening of Axelrod’s care-grayed whiskers, the truth really comes out.
What a return to civility would look like:
The Washington Post is reporting today that many European countries are dramatically cutting solar subsidies to the solar power generation industry. Why? Because governments are going broke. As the Post explains:
Across Europe, governments are slashing public spending to cut their deficits, and green-energy subsidies are a target, too, even as solar power accelerates in the United States, helped by sympathetic federal policies and an increase in subsidies that came as part of the federal stimulus program.
German policymakers indicated last week that they planned to cut once-generous subsidies as much as 29 percent by the end of the month, on top of a 15 percent cut in January, although some details were still being negotiated after protests from the solar industry. Britain and Italy have made similar moves, and in January, Spain abandoned its subsidies altogether, prompting outrage from the solar industry. ...
“Everybody knows we can’t go the way we’ve been going,” said Miranda Schreurs, the director of the Environmental Policy Research Center at the Free University of Berlin and a government adviser. “It’ll break the bank.”
The Post notes that solar photovoltaic installations generate just a bit over 3 percent of Germany's electricity. How much do German consumers pay for the privilege of using electricity generated by subsidized solar power?
The subsidies for renewable energy cost German consumers about $14 a month for a family of four. Companies that generate renewable energy get a guaranteed above-market rate for 20 years.
Just for comparison, the average price that a consumer pays for a kilowatt-hour of electricity in Germany is 36 cents. The Energy Information Administration reports that the average price in the U.S. is 9.8 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Of course, proponents of solar power claim that the subsidies produce lots of "green" jobs. The problem is that most studies say that the subsidized creation of green jobs results in the destruction of even more jobs in the rest of the economy. I cited a couple of studies in my February 2011 column, The Unseen Consequences of Green Jobs. One by a Stanford Unversity researcher concluded:
“Electricity generation across all sources creates far fewer jobs than other activities in the economy; the estimates in the figure suggest that they range between 17-67 percent of the average job-creation in the economy,” reports Huntington. “These net job losses mean that subsidies to either green or conventional sources will detract rather than expand the economy’s job base, because they will shift investments from other sectors that will create more employment.”
Another way to look at it is that in the worst cases, investing in solar power destroys seven jobs, wind eight jobs, biomass eight jobs, coal six jobs, and natural gas eight jobs, each compared to the 10 jobs generally created per million dollars of investment. All subsidies to the electric power sector divert money that would otherwise be invested in higher value wealth and job-creating activities.
Huntington concludes, “Policymakers and government agencies should look askance at the claimed additional job benefits from green energy.” Gulen agrees, “Adding ‘net’ jobs cannot be defended as another benefit of investing in these [green] technologies.”
For more background on just how economically delusional subsidizing green power as a way to create jobs is, take a look at a plethora of Reason articles on the topic.
There's never been any good technical reason for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ban on leaving electronics on during airplane takeoff and landing, especially since it mostly ends up meaning that devices like Kindles and iPads end up staying on but out of view. But now Nick Bilton of The New York Times reports that the FAA has indicated it's reviewing the policy and might alter soon alter the rule:
On Monday morning I’m going to drive to the airport, check in for my flight to New York, then head to the airport bookstore for a stack of magazines to read on the plane. I’ll do this reluctantly because I will carry both an Amazon Kindle and an Apple iPad packed full of reading material in my bag.
I need the paper products because Federal Aviation Administration rules state that I cannot use these digital reading devices on an airplane during taxi, take-off or landing.
But this rule might change soon.
When I called the F.A.A. last week to pester them about this regulation — citing experts and research that says these devices could not harm a plane — the F.A.A. responded differently than it usually does. Laura J. Brown, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs for the F.A.A., said that the agency has decided to take a “fresh look” at the use of personal electronics on planes.
Link via Julian Sanchez.
A Turkish court has charged Sarah, Duchess of York, with violating the privacy of children in a state-run orphanage in that country. The duchess was charged with illegally filming the children for a documentary on conditions in the orphanage. The footage appeared to show children tied to their beds. If convicted, she could be sentenced to up to 22 years in prison.
Is Mitt Romney having trouble sealing the deal on the GOP nomination because of his campaign team?
The Atlantic's Molly Ball gets a handful of Republican consultants to dish on the former business consultant's current staff of political consultants:
"Romney deserves a lot more out of his staff," said one senior Republican operative who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They have mishandled him. It has been a clumsy campaign that lacks a message and has relied on a crutch of negative ad spending to make up for its weakness."
Myopic, insular and overconfident, Team Romney has squandered the candidate's strengths and exacerbated his weaknesses, these critics charge.
A couple of former advisers to Sen. John McCain's presidential run even go on the record. Personal and professional biases ahoy!
...Another McCain campaign veteran, strategist Steve Schmidt, praised Romney's "staying power" and said the campaign has been "technically proficient." But, he noted, Romney has repeatedly "been put on defense" in ways that have obscured his positive pitch.
"The campaign hasn't articulated a very positive, forward-looking, voter-focused vision of what prosperity looks like in the 21st century," he said. "What are his plans that are understandable and connect with people's minds? Instead, what they've found themselves in is an ideological contest against Republicans, which is a difficult fight for Mitt Romney for a lot of reasons."
..."I think they're extremely competent at the tactical things. They run a tight ship in terms of the nuts and bolts," said John Weaver, the former strategist to John McCain and Jon Huntsman. "But their messaging is a head-scratcher at times. ... Can they grind it out, run more negative ads, do more robocalls, that kind of crap? Yeah, they can do that better than anyone else. But what has it got them?"
No doubt Romney's team has made a few errors in terms of signaling too strongly that the nomination was already in the bag: Romney ran on electability, and the drawn-out primary fight is undermining the case that he's the candidate who's best positioned to get people to the polls and win votes.
But it's hard to imagine what sort of messaging would have worked better for Romney, especially considering his record. One of the arguments the consultants make elsewhere is that Romney hasn't captured the conservative media. But given Romney's political record—an incredibly complex flip flop on abortion, business fee hikes used as a cover for tax hikes, embracing the word "progressive," and supporting a state-level model for ObamaCare—conservative policy elites were always likely to be wary of Romney. A little more outreach might have softened the skepticism, but it also might have illustrated how little Romney likes to be challenged on questions about his policy decisions, and how slippery he can be when anyone tries to pin him down. Romney isn't struggling because of his campaign. The campaign is struggling because of Romney.
When it comes to policy, Romney is not and never has been someone driven by a big vision. RomneyCare is the closest he's ever come to a bold policy initiative, but even that was conceived mostly as a narrow technical fix to the insurance market. As far as I can tell, the only big vision Romney's ever had is of himself, sitting in the Oval Office. Which seems to be more or less what his campaign is running on.
According to the description on the Youtube video:
"A toddler in a wheelchair is stopped by the TSA at ORD (O'Hare Airport in Chicago) and forced to into a sequestered area. On his way to a family vacation in Disney, this 3 year old boy is in a body cast for a broken leg. Despite assurances from his father that "everything is ok", he is physically trembling with fear while he watches his two siblings, mother, father, grandfather and grandmother pass through along with everyone else...only to be singled out."
Do you feel safer? Via Business Insider.
- Mitt Romney continues to win over America's pet islands.
- Rick Santorum: Evil Mitt-1000 "has no core."
- Sen. John McCain calls this GOP presidential campaign the "nastiest."
- Raising the Medicare elgibility age is still on the table, says President Obama.
- Also, thanks for the $45 million you gave me in February, he added.
- Brooklyn handyman prepares for the end times.
New at Reason.tv: "Atlas Shrugged: Part II Greenlighted, In Theaters Next Fall"
The Washington Post's David Ignatius drops a real neutron bomb regarding vice president and all-time medal winner in the Laff Olympics Joe Biden. While detailing the last year of Osama bin Laden's life and thought, including a plot to assassinate the president, he quotes the al Qaeda leader saying to a top lieutenant:
"Obama is the head of infidelity and killing him automatically will make [Vice President] Biden take over the presidency. . . . Biden is totally unprepared for that post, which will lead the U.S. into a crisis."
And when it came to sending videos to media outlets about al Qaeda's big plans for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, bin Laden's top "media adviser" still seemed steamed about getting bumped from the Fox & Friends couch back in the day:
“It should be sent for example to ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN and maybe PBS and VOA. As for Fox News let her die in her anger,” [Adam] Gadahn wrote [to bin Laden]. At another point, he said of the networks: “From a professional point of view, they are all on one level — except [Fox News] channel, which falls into the abyss as you know, and lacks objectivity, too.”
Reason.tv saluted Joe Biden, Real Man of Political Genius, back in 2009:
From a Lincoln Day dinner speech Newt Gingrich delivered in Illinois last week:
“The thing I find most disheartening of this campaign is the difficulty of talking about large ideas on a large scale, because the news media can’t cover it and candidly, my opponents can’t comprehend it.”
At least he's not surrounded by assholes.
Breitbart.tv has dug up 1995 C-SPAN footage of Attorney General Eric Holder, then a U.S. attorney, talking about strategies to reduce gun-related violence. The headline of the piece, "Holder 1995: We must 'brainwash' people on guns," underscores the gotcha dimension of Breitbart's scoop. Here's the Holder quote, which comes after he urges a media campaign, akin to the one focused on smoking, that would make guns and gun violence uncool (really):
"We just have to be repetitive about this. It's not enough to have a catchy ad on a Monday and then only do it every Monday. We have to do this every day of the week and just really brainwash people into thinking about guns in a vastly different way."
Breitbart.tv's Joel Pollak further notes that
Despite strict gun control efforts, Washington, DC was and remains one of the nation's most dangerous cities for gun violence, though crime has abated somewhat since the 1990s.
Whole thing, including video, here. Click below to watch the vid alone:
This release is part of the Breitbart empire's "vetting" process of the Obama administration - what they consider a belated attempt to reveal to the American people the causes and beliefs of a crew they feel got a free pass in 2008.
What I find most interesting about this clip is the simplicity of Holder's conception that media or fantasy violence creates the real thing. This was a stock issue not just of the Clinton administration but of GOP congressional leaders as well, as readers of Reason will well remember. Holder would eventually be appointed as a deputy to Attorney General Janet Reno, whose ardent belief in threatening censorship to Hollywood types and videogame makers shouldn't be quickly forgotten. Despite the utter lack of relevant data, we wasted way too much time in the 1990s debating whether certain forms of expression should be restricted to comply with the aesthetic tastes of Washington's power elite.
To me, it's less important that Holder said what he said in 1995. However misguided he was, he was swimming with the tide. That sort of uncritical groupthink isn't what you look for in an attorney general, but let's let that slide for now.
The real question is what does he think NOW about the relationship between violence in movies and videogames and the real world? Movies, TV, music, games - all of these things have gotten more explicit over the past 40 years (at least) and yet violent crime rates have declined at rates that "baffle experts" (as the NY Times puts it). Have Holder's views changed at all on the topic?
And what does Eric Holder think about gun control policy too? Since 1995, gun laws of all sorts have been liberalized throughout the country, always against the wishes of gun-control boosters. How does Holder square his beliefs in the mid-1990s with reality since then? Sadly, I think we know the answer at least with regard to private ownership of guns.
Holder may not be in the habit of answering questions, especially in front on Congress, but that shouldn't stop us from asking them.
Hat tip: Instapundit, who knows a thing or two about guns.
Brian Lamb, founder of C-SPAN, and one of Reason's "35 Heroes of Freedom" (as selected for our 35th anniversary issue), is handing control of his baby over to his "two lieutenants, Rob Kennedy and Susan Swain." Reports The New York Times:
Effective April 1, they will become the co-chief executives of C-Span and Mr. Lamb will become the executive chairman, formalizing a management change that has been years in the making. Mr. Lamb will continue to host "Q&A," his Sunday night interview program, and will pursue other interests, like teaching.
The announcement will come on Monday, 33 years to the day that C-Span — short for Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network — came onto cable television, predating CNN and ESPN.
C-Span's commitment to carry every minute of the proceedings of the United States House of Representatives without commercials is taken for granted now, but it was an extraordinary act at the time, since most Americans then saw of Congress only what was reported on the nightly news and in newspapers.
It's always gratifying to see a classy media entrepreneur create what at least looks like a seamless succession plan....
Barack Obama and Rick Santorum probably couldn't agree that August falls in summer, but on one important issue, writes Steve Chapman, they are closer than the Winklevoss twins. Both regard manufacturing as precious beyond words, and both think the federal government should be making special efforts to promote it.View this article
Julie Crowe’s dream of starting her own business was stifled when a group of potential competitors pressured Bloomington City Hall not to give her a taxi license. In this small central-Illinois college town, Crowe perceived a need for the services she could provide driving drunken college students from downtown bars to dormitories, fraternities and sororities. Bloomington rejected Crowe’s request to add a 15-seat van to the city’s mix of cabs and buses after competitors said the market was saturated. While Crowe’s situation may seem unique, writes Scott Reeder, it’s a common predicament faced by folks wanting to enter the heavily regulated taxicab industry.View this article
"It's a poetic moment that today [February 2, 2012] Ayn Rand was born 107 years ago and we are greenlighting Atlas Shrugged: Part II," announced producer John Aglialoro at Reason Weekend 2012, which was held in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Aglialoro was joined by his partner Harmon Kaslow in making the announcement.
Filming is set to begin in April and the movie will hit theaters this fall, before Election Day. "In October," said Kaslow, "hopefully we'll have people from Reason, from FreedomWorks, people who believe in what this book represents, [standing] in front of the...theater to tell people not only how important the movie is but what they're going to do in November and hopefully effectuate some positive changes."
The official Part 2 trailer is online here.
About 3.30 minutes. Filmed by Anthony Fisher and Joshua Swain; edited by Swain.
For Reason's playlist of videos about Ayn Rand (including five behind-the-scenes docs about the filming of Atlas Shrugged Part I and exclusive interviews with Nathaniel and Barbara Branden), go here.
After the U.S. Supreme struck down a host of free speech restrictions with its 2010 ruling in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, incumbent politicians, The New York Times, a crash of tenured law professors, and even President Barack Obama denounced the decision as a "new weapon" for lobbyists, a "major upheaval in First Amendment law," and an undermining of "the influence of average Americans," not to mention "skeptical and even sarcastic."
But as we enter the second year of the 2012 campaign, it’s already clear that removing legal restrictions on the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances has done about what you would expect such a deregulation to do: allowed more voices, issues, and ideas into a political marketplace that nobody—except party bosses and newspapers that have lost their monopolies—could legitimately want to restrict.
Here are just five ways Citizens United has opened up the 2012 campaign.View this article
Reason.tv editor in chief Nick Gillespie appeared on CNN's OutFront with Erin Burnett to debate trial lawyer Justin Leto about new regulations requiring private companies to install handicap lifts into pools, and whether this regulation would help bring equality to America's disabled or simply benefit the trial lawyers. Air Date: March 15, 2012.
Approximately 5.30 minutes.
Invisible Children activist Jason Russell’s butt-naked meltdown in San Diego doesn’t just give new meaning to the phrase "exposing child soldiers." It raises the question of how an obscure-to-most-Americans political issue will play after its most prominent spokesman has flamed out.
Russell was taken into custody Thursday night after vandalizing cars and masturbating in public. In addition, the SDPD "received several calls yesterday at 11:30 a.m. of a man in various stages of undress, running through traffic and screaming. Police described him as 'in his underwear.'"…
The police will not press charges, since according to a SDPD spokesperson, "We determined that medical treatment was a better course of action than arrest."
TMZ notes that cops were responding to reports of a man in "various stages of undress." And because this is your lucky day, TMZ also has video of Russell in what looks like the final stage of undress, very athletically getting the message out to what looks like a pretty nice section of America's Finest City.
My own impressions of Kony 2012 were that 1) it was remarkably centered on Russell’s sense of his own awesomeness; 2) the use of Russell’s son was so shameless – such an unjust act of parenting, journalism and cinema – that it made me feel terribly old; and 3) Russell is the type of person about whom a friend of mine once said, "That guy’s problem is that he’s never had nobody give a shit about his ideas."
More importantly, Sibillla noted in an excellent overview last week, the viral video failed either to describe Kony’s crimes in full or to deal honestly with the crimes of the governments that are fighting against him. The other day Tate Watkins described how this post-post-post-modern phenomenon also contains plenty of old-school political propaganda and overlaps with State Department ambitions. Sibilla also described how Invisible Children’s strange mission of funding "hipsters uploading videos to Vimeo" has nevertheless resulted in getting Kony declared an enemy of the United States.
Because the explosion of the anti-Joseph Kony cause is so wound up in Russell’s own story – which, whatever the video’s faults, was clearly compelling to 80 million people – it will be interesting to see if this news has any impact on the campaign. It’s also an example of how the very technofabulism celebrated in Kony 2012 accelerates career cycles: In the old days a celebrity got at least a month between the overnight success and the Sean Young-level breakdown.
Theoretically, Russell’s problems, which I hope for his family’s sake he will overcome, should not have any effect on the political situation. But it’s hard to see how the American public’s fascination with Joseph Kony, who is himself only a bit player in Russell’s film, would have been of long duration under any circumstances. The attention span can only get shorter now that the campaign's leading spokesman has rendered himself – unlike the American forces sent to help hunt for Kony – hors de combat.
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado think you'll be shocked by things they know about the Patriot Act's enforcement that you don't, reports the New York Times:
The senators, who also said that Americans would be “stunned” to know what the government thought the Patriot Act allowed it to do, made their remarks in a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. after a Justice Department official last month told a judge that disclosing anything about the program “could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States.”
The Justice Department has argued that disclosing information about its interpretation of the Patriot Act could alert adversaries to how the government collects certain intelligence. It is seeking the dismissal of two Freedom of Information Act lawsuits — by The New York Times and by the American Civil Liberties Union — related to how the Patriot Act has been interpreted.
The senators wrote that it was appropriate to keep specific operations secret. But, they said, the government in a democracy must act within publicly understood law so that voters “can ratify or reject decisions made on their behalf” — even if that “obligation to be transparent with the public” creates other challenges.
“We would also note that in recent months we have grown increasingly skeptical about the actual value of the ‘intelligence collection operation,’ ” they added. “This has come as a surprise to us, as we were initially inclined to take the executive branch’s assertions about the importance of this ‘operation’ at face value.”
The dispute centers on what the government thinks it is allowed to do under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, under which agents may obtain a secret order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowing them to get access to any “tangible things” — like business records — that are deemed “relevant” to a terrorism or espionage investigation.
There appears to be both an ordinary use for Section 215 orders — akin to using a grand jury subpoena to get specific information in a traditional criminal investigation — and a separate, classified intelligence collection activity that also relies upon them....
The letter from Mr. Wyden and Mr. Udall also complained that while the Obama administration told Congress in August 2009 that it would establish “a regular process for reviewing, redacting and releasing significant opinions” of the court, since then “not a single redacted opinion has been released.”
Secrets, secrets, secrets about the secrets, and secret programs to protect secrets about the secrets whose existence we know a little bit about--this is your most transparent administration ever.
The senators' full letter.
Reason on Patriot Act Section 215.
When the Occupy Wall Street protestors rail against the 1 percent they typically have the banking establishment in mind. Steve Jobs may have been a 1 percenter (as are many popular sports and entertainment figures) but he was not the object of anger. Rather it is Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase that get the brickbats. There is a sense that Wall Street is up to no good. And in light of the last several years, writes Sheldon Richman, this is an entirely justifiable attitude. Big, well-connected players in banking and finance were at the heart of the housing and financial debacle, in partnership with the government, of course. Free-market advocates should hold no brief for any of them.View this article
Robert Platshorn is against the war on drugs; so much so that he spent 5k on two pro-pot billboards. The 69-year-old director of Florida National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) did so as part of "The Silver Tour," which is a campaign to convince senior citizens in South Florida that medical marijuana is a good thing.
Platshorn is a rare senior citizen indeed. Seniors (Florida has lots of 'em!) are credited as the reason for the failure of California's Proposition 19, the marijuana legalization initiative. And in in general, older populations do frown on legalization. Gallup in 2011 charted 39 percent of folks 65 and older as in support of legalization of marijuana; compare that to the 62 percent support from those aged 18-29. The thing about Platshorn, though, is that he spent much of his time in those younger, more pro-pot demographics in prison. In 2008, Platshorn finished out a 30-year term for marijuana smuggling as part of the "Black Tuna Gang."
As part of the Silver Tour, Platshorn put up two billboards in support of medical marijuana, one of which is to the right. They will run for a month.
According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
Down the road apiece, just after a billboard advertising a service for clogged drains, stands the second big sign. "Reschedule Medical Marijuana" it reads. Below it is a quote from former administrative Judge Francis L. Young's ruling about pot in a 1988 case: "One of the Safest Therapeutically Active Substances Known to Man."
The billboards urge viewers — some 54,500 cars pass that section of Sample Road daily, according to the state Department of Transportation — to learn more at The Silver Tour, the billboards' sponsor.
Platshorn surely is not the most sympathetic face of the pro-legalization movement, at least not to those on the fence about the issue, but it's cool that he's now taking the slow and sneaky path to convince those most skeptical.
Here's a sampling of a Miami Herald article written on the occasion of the former drug-smuggler's release from jail. The implication seems to be that weed trafficking was a gentleman's game in the 1970s. He was, after all, non-violent:
This was just business, and good business wasn't violent, not in the mid-Seventies, when Platshorn ran his transcontinental racket. Marijuana suppliers were family-run enterprises mediated by political figures and local law enforcement intent on keeping a lid on the trade while lining their own pockets. And he trusted his partners. They were his stoner buddies, and he knew they'd come through for him.
"It was a hippie era," Platshorn says. "You tell a guy you'll pay him $1 million, you pay him."
Those were the years before the cocaine blizzard swallowed South Florida, and Platshorn was just an entrepreneurial pothead leading the 007 existence he'd always dreamed of — and smoking some really good weed while he was at it.
Back in Florida, he had a handful of yachts at his disposal. From a posh suite at theFontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, he operated an auto auction, a marina club, and a barbershop. He used canal-front stash houses and wore stylish plaid leisure suits with broad collars as sharp as spearheads....
Platshorn and friends would be accused of smuggling, or at least attempting to smuggle, 500 tons of marijuana into the United States during the mid- to late Seventies. When the gang was busted in September 1978, the DEA proclaimed it the most sophisticated drug ring it had ever encountered.
Platshorn's 1980 conviction was a major coup for drug enforcement agencies, the first join FBI/DEA enterprise. In all, eight of the gang's central members were convicted in two federal trials, but the leaders — Platshorn and Robert Meinster — would pay the stiffest price: prison sentences totaling 108 years between them.
The rest here.
This American Life and American Public Media’s Marketplace will reveal that a story first broadcast in January on This American Life contained numerous fabrications.
This American Life will devote its entire program this weekend to detailing the errors in the story, which was an excerpt of Mike Daisey's critically acclaimed one-man show, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs." In it, Daisey tells how he visited a factory owned by Foxconn that manufactures iPhones and iPads in Shenzhen China. He has performed the monologue in theaters around the country; it's currently at the Public Theater in New York.
Tonight’s This American Life program will include a segment from Marketplace’s Rob Schmitz, and interviews with Daisey himself....
Marketplace had done a lot of reporting on Foxconn and Apple’s supply chain in China in the past, and Schmitz had first-hand knowledge of the issues. He located and interviewed Daisey's Chinese interpreter Li Guifen (who goes by the name Cathy Lee professionally with westerners). She disputed much of what Daisey has been telling theater audiences since 2010 and much of what he said on the radio....
The response to the original episode, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” was significant. It quickly became the single most popular podcast in This American Life’s history, with 888,000 downloads (typically the number is 750,000) and 206,000 streams to date. After hearing the broadcast, listener Mark Shields started a petition calling for better working conditions for Apple's Chinese workers, and soon delivered almost a quarter-million signatures to Apple....
Daisey's response--sure, what he says shouldn't be construed as journalism:
I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity. Certainly, the comprehensive investigations undertaken by The New York Times and a number of labor rights groups to document conditions in electronics manufacturing would seem to bear this out.
What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic - not a theatrical - enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations. But this is my only regret.
A preview of Schmitz's correction/reporting on Daisey's claims here. An example:
Take one example from his monologue—it takes place at a meeting he had with an illegal workers union. He meets a group of workers who’ve been poisoned by the neurotoxin N-Hexane while working on the iPhone assembly line: “…and all these people have been exposed,” he says. “Their hands shake uncontrollably. Most of them…can't even pick up a glass.”
Cathy Lee, Daisey’s translator in Shenzhen, was with Daisey at this meeting in Shenzhen. I met her in the exact place she took Daisey—the gates of Foxconn. So I asked her: “Did you meet people who fit this description?”
“No,” she said.
“So there was nobody who said they were poisoned by hexane?” I continued.
Lee’s answer was the same: “No. Nobody mentioned the Hexane.”
I pressed Cathy to confirm other key details that Daisey reported. Did the guards have guns when you came here with Mike Daisey? With each question I got the same answer from Lee. “No,” or “This is not true.”
I blogged a year ago or so on a weirdly-spun Wired story that also tried to make the Apple facilities seem worse than they are.
- Well. Co-founder of Invisible Children arrested for embarrassing reasons.
- Supreme Court says no to cameras on ObamaCare arguments, compromises (vaguely) by offering up audio of the proceedings same day.
- "Obama campaign turns to Biden for common touch." Also, Osama Bin Laden thought Biden would be a worse president than Obama. (Your tongue twister of the day.)
- Washington Post factcheckers defend the 19th president against Luddite-y legends re the pointlessness of the telephone.
- Smut-peddlers stand tall, unafraid of a Rick Santorum, no-obscenity presidency.
- People want iPads, like standing in line for them excitedly when there is a new one to purchase; which there is, and it was released today.
- Brought to you by cranky, repentant Ira Glass, the smug ghost of Steve Jobs: Mike Daisy's This American Life account of the dire conditions in China's Foxconn/Apple factories contains a whole lot of bullshit. Such revelations tend to provoke "remember these journalism scandals" slideshows.
Associate Editor Peter Suderman reviews Will Ferrell's absurdist send-up of Spanish language gangster films in today's Washington Times:
“Casa de mi Padre,” an absurdist sendup of cheapo Spanish-language gangster melodramas, has a hall-of-mirrors weirdness to it, in which the weirdness is endlessly multiplied in all directions. Weirdness isn’t a surface gloss, or an occasional indulgence. It’s central to the movie’s ethos.
The question, then, is whether it’s funny. Oh, it’s shocking. It’s strange. It will make you scratch your head and rub your eyes in confusion. But will it make you laugh? That’s harder to say. There are certainly grins and chuckles to be had, but the movie’s weirdness is so profound, it occasionally seems designed more to provoke than entertain.
Jason Russell, the co-founder of Invisible Children and narrator of the viral Kony 2012 video, has been detained by the San Diego Police Department. According to Lt. Andra Brown, Russell was taken into custody Thursday night after vandalizing cars and masturbating in public. In addition, the SDPD "received several calls yesterday at 11:30 a.m. of a man in various stages of undress, running through traffic and screaming. Police described him as 'in his underwear.'"
The SDPD assume he was under the influence of something.
Meanwhile, the blog Africa is a Country has unearthed some insane videos by Invisible Children, including a 7-minute musical number set in a high school and an awareness music video, with singing that never mentions "Uganda," "Africa" "Joseph Kony" or "child soldiers."
UPDATE: TMZ has a short, totally NSFW video of Russell's "naked meltdown." (HT to Coeus.)
The police will not press charges, since according to a SDPD spokesperson, "We determined that medical treatment was a better course of action than arrest."
TMZ has more:
Law enforcement sources tell us ... Russell is being hospitalized on a 5150 psychiatric hold so authorities can assess his mental state. The 5150 hold allows authorities to keep Russell for up to 3 days to determine if he represents a threat to either himself or others.
Failed Canadian politician Michael Ignatieff recently made waves with an op-ed in the Financial Times calling for Western intervention in Syria. Revisiting some of the themes of his 1990s writings (Ignatieff made a living championing ‘humanitarian interventionism’ before he led Canada’s Liberal Party to its worst electoral defeat ever), Igantieff said the West should impose a ‘comprehensive quarantine of Syria’ in order to ‘force [Assad] from power’.
Yet the most startling thing about his piece was not its extreme short-term historical amnesia, its ignorance of the disasters unleashed in Iraq and Afghanistan following Western meddling, but rather its exhibition of self-regard and self-concern, even of that most malignant form of self-love: narcissism. Ignatieff mentioned his own feelings about what is happening in Homs six times and the possible feelings of the people of Homs themselves only three times....This kind of narcissism is now widespread among those who desperately want the ‘international community’ to intervene in Syria. These people are so amazingly vain that they see the bombing of Syria as a kind of balm for their guilt-ridden consciences, a physical act that might help to make their own emotional turmoil that bit more bearable. Their rallying cry should be: ‘Bomb Syria so that I can sleep at night.’
The criticism of the intervene-in-Syria lobby has tended to focus on its inability or unwillingness to think seriously about the potential consequences of having external intervention in an already very messy civil conflict. But more alarming than that is these campaigners’ inability to think about anything but themselves. Indeed, such is the myopic self-regard of modern interventionists that they now freely admit that Western intervention might well make the situation in Syria worse, but it is still worth doing because at least it will make a loud, public display of our ‘common human heritage’....
Indeed, it is striking that, just as was the case with Bosnia, the increasingly complex conflict in Syria is being reduced by interventionists to a simple test of our resolve. This war isn’t about Them, the people of Homs or Damascus. It’s about Us and what one commentator refers to as our moral superiority to ‘fascism’ (that is, Assad’s regime): ‘We’re better than that and in our actions we will show it’, he says. In short, as with the constant call for Western military intervention in Bosnia (which was finally and tragically secured), the aim of the rallying for intervention in Syria is to make a global advert of how much better ‘we’ are than ‘them’....
The extent to which the interventionists have made Syria all about them is clear from their frank - and frankly inhuman - assertion that it doesn’t matter if intervention makes things worse because at least a message about how much we care will have been sent. So Norman Geras, an academic and founder of the left-wing interventionist outfit the Euston Manifesto, writes: ‘Since it is urgent that we respond somehow, out of solidarity, of our “common human heritage” with the victims, action must be taken even if it means meeting chaos with chaos and (by implication) that the chaos we cause turns out to be worse than the chaos we’re trying to bring to an end’ (my emphasis).
Antiwar.com surveys the range of opinions that NPR presents about our just-you-wait intervention-to-be. Conclusion: Yes, yes yesterday, and it's a shame people haven't come around to yes:
NPR’s “All Things Considered” ran a “discussion” about Syria and the U.S. All options were not on the table – at least not the anti-interventionist option.
Melissa Block hosted three guests seriatim: the aptly named Anne-Marie Slaughter, former “director of planning” at the State Department. Paul Wolfowitz, architect of the criminal war on Iraq and Daniel Serwer, a former U.S. “special envoy” and “coordinator” for the Bosnian Federation. How is that for a broad spectrum of views?
Going first, Slaughter suggested that “no-kill” zones be established but that plan quickly morphed into the need for a supporting air campaign by the U.S. and NATO and “defensive” arms to the pro-Western forces in Syria. When Melissa Block inquired about the nature of a “defensive” arms, Slaughter conceded that there was no way to prevent the arms from being used in other ways, “revenge attacks” and “offensive actions” in Block’s terms.....
What was Wolfowitz’s prescription for Syria? “Defensive weapons.” Where had I heard that before? But Wolfowitz wants more US control over the weapons saying: “Hamas, which used to be in bed with Assad, has now distanced itself from the Assad regime. I’m sure the bad guys are figuring out how they can help the opposition so that they can have a position later.”.... Block concluded by raising what lessons Iraq holds for the present situation in Syria. And Wolfowitz had the answer. The problem was that the US did not invade earlier, in 1991, rather than 2003. No challenge from Block on that one.
So far two guests – one opinion. Surely the third guest, Mr. Serwer must be an anti-interventionist. Early on he made his position quite clear: “I don’t believe that there is a military solution in Syria without a massive U.S. effort to defeat the air defenses, the artillery, the tanks of the Syrian army and I see no will in Washington to do that kind of thing at the moment.”
Serwer simply says he opposes military action because it must be big and costly and there is no will “at the moment” in Washington to do so. That lack of will is due to the fact that the average American is fed up with the endless wars in the Middle East. Serwer continues: “You know, if you take military action, I think you have to think about taking serious military action. And serious military action would be aimed at decapitating this regime. The problem is you don’t know what comes after because there is no really consolidated opposition political structure.” Like Wolfowitz Serwer is concerned about “the bad guys.” Again no opposition to intervention but there is concern that once the dogs of war are unleashed, the new rulers may be one of “the bad guys.”
The American people decidedly do not want such a war/intervention/sweet loving destruction of life and property, but that rarely matters.
Tweets Sen. Rand Paul's Communications Director, Moira Bagley: "Look what came across my desk with a glaring error! Bet they'll reprint 'em!"
Congressional Republican candidate Thomas Massie has a near-perfect resume. He earned two degrees from MIT, made a fortune with SensAble Technologies, Inc., and then returned to his hometown in Northern Kentucky, where he and his wife built a solar-powered house from locally harvested materials and are raising a brood of beautiful children. But what his supporters like most about the libertarian judge executive for Lewis County, Kentucky, writes Mike Riggs, is that his fellow government bigwigs hate him.View this article
As Tim Cavanaugh noted earlier this afternoon, Dharun Ravi was convicted today of most of the charges against him, including the "hate crime" of "bias intimidation," which carries a penalty of five to 10 years in prison. Notably, the jury acquitted Ravi of deliberately trying to intimidate his roommate, Tyler Clementi, "because of" his sexual orientation on September 19, 2010, when he used a webcam in his dorm room to watch Clementi kiss another man. But as I pointed out on Wednesday, that was not the end of the matter. The jury instead concluded that Ravi invaded his roommate's privacy "under circumstances that caused Tyler Clementi to be intimidated, and considering the manner in which the offense was committed, Clementi reasonably believed that he was selected to be the target of the offense because of sexual orientation." That count hinges not on Ravi's intent to intimidate but on Clementi's inferred state of mind and a judgment about whether that state of mind was reasonable.
By contrast, the jury concluded that when Ravi tried to watch another encounter between Clementi and the same man two days later, he did so "with the purpose to intimidate Tyler Clementi because of sexual orientation." The difference presumably is due to the fact that the first viewing—which Ravi claimed was motivated by his fear that Clementi's visitor might steal his property, and which he terminated after a few seconds when he saw the men kissing—was less calculated the the attempted second viewing (which did not actually happen, apparently because Clementi unplugged Ravi's computer). Ravi not only planned the second viewing but alerted his Twitter followers to it, daring them to watch.
Still, the prosecution never really substantiated its claim that Ravi deliberately sought to intimidate Clementi because he was gay. The most incriminating statement it introduced was Ravi's joke that the webcam would "keep the gays away," which might have reflected nothing more than his discomfort with the sexual activity going on in his room, a feeling that was compounded by the fact that Clementi's visitor was an older man from off campus who struck Ravi as scruffy and taciturn. A naive 18-year-old's uneasiness is such a situation is not the same as anti-gay hatred, and there is very little evidence that Ravi harbored antipathy toward homosexuals in general or Clementi in particular (leaving aside the point that such opinions should not be subject to criminal penalties). For all we know, Ravi was completely sincere when he said in a note of apology to Clementi (written after Clementi complained about the spying and asked for a room change) that he had nothing against gay people, a point that was confirmed by the prosecution's own witnesses. Certainly there was reasonable doubt on that question.
As for finding Ravi guilty of an unintentional, hateless hate crime, as the jury did with regard to the September 19 incident, the concept only compounds the injustice of imposing extra punishment for crimes motivated by bigotry. Under New Jersey's law, bigotry is not even necessary. Assuming the underlying offense (in this case, invasion of privacy) was intentional, there need not be any evidence that the intimidation was. Surmising how Clementi felt in this situation based on the available evidence—in particular, distinguishing between anger and intimidation—is fraught with uncertainty, and the judgment as to whether his imagined feelings were reasonable is even harder to make. In a case like this, where the victim cannot testify about what he was thinking and no one else knows, these elements have reasonable doubt built into them.
The jury, which deliberated for more than two days, rejected a bunch of counts against Ravi, including the hate crime charges involving Clementi's visitor (who testfied during the trial, identified only as M.B.). Because of this selectivity, one juror told the Newark Star-Ledger, "You feel like justice has been served." I don't. Ravi is scheduled to be sentenced on May 21. In addition to a potentially lengthy prison sentence, he faces the likelihood of deportation to India, where he was born. Reprehensible as his conduct was, he does not deserve either of those punishments. Had Clementi not killed himself a few days after what he dismissively called Ravi's "five sec peep," leading to the completely unproven conjecture that Ravi's spying drove him to suicide (a claim the prosecution never made during the trial), Ravi probably would not have faced criminal charges at all, let alone a possible 10-year sentence. Before the trial the prosecutors offered him a deal that involved no jail time and a chance to avoid deportation, which suggests even they do not believe he should be punished as severely as a violent felon. So in addition to all of the questionable crimes for which Ravi is about to be punished, there is one more: insisting on his right to a trial.
Previous coverage of the case here.
Good observations from the fine law enforcement officers of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) on the closing of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting this week:
During consideration of a U.S.-sponsored resolution to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first laws banning opium, Norway’s delegation attempted to insert the phrase “while observing human rights,” but even this move encountered resistance from the US delegation, which preferred not to mention human rights.
“Fundamentally, the three UN prohibitionist treaties are incompatible to human rights. We can have human rights or drug war, but not both,” said Maria Lucia Karam, a retired judge from Brazil and a board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).
Richard Van Wickler, currently a jail superintendent in New Hampshire, adds, “I suppose it’s not shocking that within the context of a century-long bloody ‘war on drugs’ the idea of human rights is a foreign concept. Our global drug prohibition regime puts handcuffs on millions of people every year while even the harshest of prohibitionist countries say that drug abuse is a health issue. What other medical problems do we try to solve with imprisonment and an abandonment of human rights?”
The UN meeting, the 55th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, comes amidst a rapidly emerging global debate on the appropriateness of continuing drug prohibition and whether legalization and regulation would be a better way to control drugs. In recent weeks, Presidents Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala, Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica and Felipe Calderon of Mexico have added their voices to the call for a serious conversation on alternatives to drug prohibition.
“Unfortunately, none of these powerful Latin American voices were heard during the official sessions of the UN meeting,” says Judge Karam. “In the halls of the UN building in Vienna we did speak to delegates who agree that the drug war isn’t working and that change is needed, but these opinions were not voiced when they counted the most. During the meetings, all the Member States remained voluntarily submissive to the U.N. dictates that required that all speak with a ‘single voice’ that mandated support for prohibition.”
Commemorating a century of grotesque government crimes; good on 'ya, UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs.
In 2004, Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry proposed letting every American buy health insurance from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP)—giving Americans the same insurance options as members of Congress. “If it's good enough for us, it's good enough for every American,” he said in a debate just a few weeks before the election. “Senators and congressmen have a wide choice. Americans ought to have it, too.” He also argued that the plan would help restrain costs. “We give you broader competition,” he said. “That helps lower prices.”
Yesterday, GOP Sens. Rand Paul, Jim DeMint, and Mike Lee proposed transforming Medicare into a similar plan for seniors. It’s not exactly John Kerry’s plan, but it shares many of the same elements, and counts on similar mechanisms to provide choice and hold down prices.
Unlike the Medicare reforms championed by Republican Budget Chair Paul Ryan, this proposal would close down the current government-run, fee-for-service Medicare almost immediately.
Medicare as we know it, in other words, would be gone. Instead, seniors would be able to enroll in the federal health system that provides insurance for members of Congress.
Starting in 2014, seniors would be able to enroll in the FEHBP. This gives them the choice that Kerry touted: currently there are 2250 participating plans, with the potential to add more as time goes on. Over time, the age of eligibility would increase, from 65 today to 70 in 2032. Health plans would still be regulated: insurers would not be able to refuse coverage to seniors. Additional mandates, however, would be prohibited to stop regulatory bloat. Plans would also still be subsidized, with the federal government kicking in 75 percent of the cost of the average plan for seniors, with wealthier seniors paying a larger share. It would also reimburse insurers directly for the most expensive patients—the costliest 5 percent.
Even still, the plan’s backers say it would produce significant savings over the current system: Compared to running Medicare and FEHBP as it exists now, they estimate that new system would save a little over a trillion dollars over the next decade. Competition between insurance providers, the plan’s authors hope, would help keep premiums low, as it has in Medicare Part D. The plan makes it easier for new providers to enter the market, which at least in theory makes it easier to compete on price should premiums rise too fast. And unlike the explicitly unfunded Medicare Part D, this wouldn’t blow a hole in the deficit if it worked as planned.
But that’s a big if. As with nearly all plans of this nature, there’s no guarantee that the savings mechanisms will work, or that the plan is feasible from an administrative perspective.
It’s worth noting that this doesn’t just resemble the Kerry proposal. It also resembles a proposed quasi-public plan option that Senate Democrats explored during the debate over the 2010 health care overhaul. And many of the dangers associated with that idea are still present. For one thing, FEHBP premiums are already rising faster than traditional Medicare—and for several years were racing upwards faster than the rest of the private market as well. According to Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute, at the end of 2009, nearly 100,000 federal employees had left the program due to rising costs.
Nor is it clear that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which currently manages the FEHBP and would oversee insurance options in the new system, according to the proposed legislative text, has the capability to run such a vast expansion of the program. Linda Springer, a former OPM director, worried that the earlier proposal would not be feasible, doubt that the office had the “capacity, the staff or the mission" to run the program. “Ultimately,” she warned, “it would break the system.”
To some extent, however, the operation details are less important than the larger framework. A Senate GOP staffer confirmed the obvious today, telling me that Sen. Paul, at least, does not realistically expect the bill to pass. Instead, the idea is to open up a conversation about problems with the current system and ways to fix it.
Unlike the various plans put forth by Congressman Paul Ryan, the plan does not leave the current Medicare system in place for everyone 55 and older. But also unlike Ryan’s plan, it’s designed to produce large, immediate budget savings. Yet the plan is also constructed from elements that have previously been supported by Democrats: an expansion of the FEHBP, a glacially slow rise in the Medicare eligibility age, regulated competition between private insurers, and relatively greater subsidies for the poor and most medically expensive patients. The details of the plan may not work, but the larger framework offers a challenge to both sides.