Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 March 29-31

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The Truth about Public Servants: Adrian Moore at Reason Weekend 2012

"The problem [with government workers] really is the unions," says Adrian Moore, who is Reason Foundation's vice president for policy. "These are organizations whose mission is to oppose the taxpayers and get a better deal for their members. That's their mission."

At Reason Weekend, the annual donor event held by Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes this website), Moore challenged the misperception that public-sector workers are underpaid. In fact, government workers do better than their private sector counterparts in terms of wages, benefits, pensions, and job stability. And the size of the government workforce expands, Moore argued, whether the economy is up or down, a phenomenon he calls "fair weather Keynesianism."

Approximately 33 minutes. Filmed by Joshua Swain and Anthony Fisher. Edited by Jim Epstein.

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Recovering America: Earning Less, Spending More, $6.7 Trillion Poorer

Since Ben Bernanke the hero saved the global economy, things have been coming up roses for, well, nobody. 

The Department of Commerce reports that Americans are spending far more than they are making. That’s good news, according to CNN

[PNC economist Stuart] Hoffman said he was encouraged by the fact that Friday's report showed a 1.6% increase in spending on durable goods, which are typically big-ticket items. That was driven by strong auto sales during the month, as automakers reported the best new-car sales in four years.

Spending on nondurable goods, such as food and gasoline, rose 0.9%. with virtually all of that increase due to the higher prices.

But spending on services, such as airfare and cable TV, grew only 0.4%, which kept the overall spending increase to 0.8%.

February's income gain was less than the 0.3% rise forecast by economists surveyed by Briefing.com, while spending was more than forecasts of a 0.6% rise.

But the willingness of consumers to spend is a good sign for economic growth, since consumer spending represents more than two-thirds of the nation's economic activity.

I remember hearing somewhere that there’s this thing you need to do before you spend money, it’s called, like, churning it or spurning or yearning it or something like that. Anyway, USA Today has more details

Still, the job gains are not resulting in bigger paychecks for most Americans. Income grew just 0.2% last month, matching January's weak increase. And when taking inflation into account, income after taxes fell for a second straight month.

Most consumers spent more of what they earned and saved less. The saving rate dropped to 3.7% of after-tax income in February. That was the lowest level since August 2009. It had averaged 4.7% for all of last year.

Americans are also taking on more debt. Consumer borrowing increased from November through January by the most in a decade for a three-month stretch. Yet the increases were driven almost entirely by auto and student loans. Credit card debt decreased in January and remains well below pre-recession levels.

And to revisit some of my favorite back-of-the-envelope factoids: 

* The BEA’s measure of personal savings [pdf] stopped going up a while back, and now it has dropped through the floor. In February it came in at 3.7 percent – a rate close to what was considered negative savings back before Barack Obama’s sparkling intelligence saved us from the misrule of President Chimpy McHitler. 

* According to the Federal Reserve’s Flow of Funds report [pdf] for the fourth quarter of 2011, household net worth is also in the toilet. We are now collectively worth $58.5 trillion. In 2007 we were worth $65.2 trillion. I know I feel $6.7 trillion poorer; how about you? Those are inflation-adjusted figures, but how’s this for adding insult to injury: I still have a copy of the Q3 2007 Flow of Funds report, and even the household net worth figure at the time (i.e., not adjusted for the last five years of inflation) was still higher than today’s, at $58.6 trillion. That means that not only is our money worth 10 percent less than it was in 2007 (literally decimated!), but we have $100 billion less of it. 

* Finally, the one healthy trend I have been following – a very tiny, fractions-of-a-percent increase in the equity portion of real estate – has started going back down again. In the third quarter of 2011, the equity portion (that is, total real estate owned less mortgage debt) came in at just under $8 trillion, comprising 43.5 percent of real estate owned in the United States. In the fourth quarter, the equity portion dropped to $7.7 trillion, while mortgage debt dropped barely at all, leaving the current equity portion at 43 percent even. It’s a small decline, but remember: The increase in the equity portion, even if it was driven mostly by brute-force deleveraging, had been the only evidence that Americans were getting their atrocious balance sheets under control. 

These trends could shift, but they have long-term implications that are more serious than anything having to do with current unemployment or real estate prices. The one good thing about recessions is that they serve as reminders that betting on the come is not sound personal finance, that at some point you actually do have to sock away some money, earn more than you spend, accumulate wealth and create value. 

Now even that small step in the right direction has been retracted, and it's another reason that Keynesian success feels like failure. This rotten fiscal behavior on the part of Americans is dangerous and inadvisable, but it’s a completely rational response to the macro signals Bernanke and his wise men are sending. This is the result you get when you treat deflation as a dirty word and devalue the dollar so ruthlessly that saving money becomes a ticket to the poorhouse. And the most maddening part is that Bernanke won't get the blame: When the stagnation sets in again, it will be the fault of private people who didn’t spend enough and clearly lack the wisdom to run their own economic affairs. All that for a stimulus that increased unemployment and a recovery that exists only in Jay Carney’s imagination

In other currency devaluation news, Canada is retiring its penny. That’s a symbolic (and according to some evidence, practical) surrender to inflation that I’ll fight like James K. Polk to keep from happening on this side of the border. 

Is There a Bullying Epidemic in the U.S.?: Nick Gillespie in the Wall Street Journal

I've got a piece in the Wall Street Journal that questions the conventional wisdom that bullying and school violence in America is a growing problem. The immensely powerful documentary Bully opens this weekend and Cartoon Network recently aired Speak Up, an anti-bullying movie introduced by President Barack Obama. While I think both films deserve huge audiences, I also think that we should guard against a moral panic that's not supported by the available evidence and threatens to yet again divert school resources away from education. (Read Kurt Loder's review of Bully here.)

Here's some snippets and a video discussion of the piece I did with the Journal's Ryan Sager. Snippets:

I have no interest in defending the bullies who dominate sandboxes, extort lunch money and use Twitter to taunt their classmates. But there is no growing crisis. Childhood and adolescence in America have never been less brutal. Even as the country's overprotective parents whip themselves up into a moral panic about kid-on-kid cruelty, the numbers don't point to any explosion of abuse. As for the rising wave of laws and regulations designed to combat meanness among students, they are likely to lump together minor slights with major offenses. The antibullying movement is already conflating serious cases of gay-bashing and vicious harassment with things like…a kid named Cheese having a tough time in grade school.

How did we get here? We live in an age of helicopter parents so pushy and overbearing that Colorado Springs banned its annual Easter-egg hunt on account of adults jumping the starter's gun and scooping up treat-filled plastic eggs on behalf of their winsome kids. The Department of Education in New York City—once known as the town too tough for Al Capone—is seeking to ban such words as "dinosaurs," "Halloween" and "dancing" from citywide tests on the grounds that they could "evoke unpleasant emotions in the students," it was reported this week....

Despite the rare and tragic cases that rightly command our attention and outrage, the data show that things are, in fact, getting better for kids. When it comes to school violence, the numbers are particularly encouraging. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 1995 and 2009, the percentage of students who reported "being afraid of attack or harm at school" declined to 4% from 12%. Over the same period, the victimization rate per 1,000 students declined fivefold.

When it comes to bullying numbers, long-term trends are less clear. The makers of "Bully" say that "over 13 million American kids will be bullied this year," and estimates of the percentage of students who are bullied in a given year range from 20% to 70%. NCES changed the way it tabulated bullying incidents in 2005 and cautions against using earlier data. Its biennial reports find that 28% of students ages 12-18 reported being bullied in 2005; that percentage rose to 32% in 2007, before dropping back to 28% in 2009 (the most recent year for which data are available). Such numbers strongly suggest that there is no epidemic afoot (though one wonders if the new anti-bullying laws and media campaigns might lead to more reports going forward).

Read the whole piece here. I will also be doing a live chat about the story and topic on Monday at 11am ET. Go here to participate or follow it.

The video with Sager is below:

My 1997 story, "Child-Proofing the World," is online here.

Loan-Modification Scams Only News When There’s Hotness Involved

President Obama’s campaign to encourage mortgage modifications by any means necessary hasn’t done much to keep Americans in their homes, but it has had a profound effect on U.S. journalism: It’s provided such a steady stream of loan modification frauds that the loan-mod scam has become this decade’s version of the bus-plunge or the double-dipping city worker. Every day’s news features one such story, or two, or three

The only way to freshen up a warhorse like that is to add some "almond-shaped eyes...flawless skin... and full beautiful lips."

Meet Saman Hasnain, a former Mrs. Pakistan now on the lam after she and her husband allegedly swindled more than a dozen Californians out of the cash they’d saved by not making their mortgage payments. The San Jose Mercury News explains how Hasnain worked – by being so hot even married women fall for her: 

"She was really pretty," said Korina Diaz, a Gilroy waitress who lost her ranch after paying the couple $11,500 to lower her mortgage payments. "She wore a skirt suit, high heels, nylons -- like a real good-looking professional lady."

Saman's striking appearance was crucial, Chen said, because the couple didn't know their victims and had to make a good first impression. They attracted homeowners by word-of-mouth and through fliers passed out at ethnic supermarkets after the housing market tanked, according to Chen.

Now the Santa Clara County deputy district attorney has charged them with ripping off 17 people -- just a fraction of the 80 to 100 families he says they defrauded. The Hasnains each face 19 felony counts of conspiracy to commit grand theft in the loan-modification scheme, and Jawad has been charged with nine additional counts of felony grand theft for allegedly enticing victims from 2006 through July 2010 into investing in a fraudulent 10-unit condominium development in Fremont.

However, there is one problem: Earlier this month, the couple fled with their two young sons to Lahore, Pakistan -- a country that has no extradition arrangement with the U.S.

The Merc and the U.K. Daily Mail (which really does have all the American news that matters) use wonderfully prim phrasing in their headlines: Hasnain "used her striking appearance" or "used striking looks" to swindle people. "Striking" is one of those terms like "handsome" when used to describe a woman, and Hasnain is of a certain age, but she does appear comely in the Mail’s tastefully out-of-focus photo and other pictures. 

More striking than Hasnain is how common loan modification swindles really are. They’re not even news at this point, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. The mortgage modification market is a giant fraud in plain sight, in which stupid lenders and shameless deadbeats are invited to lie to each other even more brazenly than when they were taking out the original crappy loans. 

As you can see from the latest OCC/OTS Mortgage Metrics Report [pdf], modifying loans continues to do what it did in 2009, 2010, 2011 and earlier this year – drag out the pain of mortgage default without doing much to keep bad borrowers in the homes they don’t want to pay for. Redefaults (starting at page 34) are ticking back up across all categories. That goes for both voluntary modifications and loans modified under the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). 

I have been slicing and dicing these numbers for almost four years, and there’s no way around it: The more loans you modify, the more deadbeat recidivism you get. This has not stopped President Obama and his much-depleted economic brain trust from doubling down on their failed modification efforts, the only practical effect of which has been to delay the market bottom and prevent the long-awaited real estate recovery. 

Amazingly, the only official willing to cry "Hold, enough" is Edward DeMarco, interim director of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who draws the line at having the taxpayers cough up to reduce the principal on bad loans. Predictably, DeMarco is getting vilified by magic-unicorn economists. Here’s the L.A. Times’ Jim Puzzanghera explaining why DeMarco is "considered by a growing number of people to be the single biggest obstacle to the housing market recovery." (Fair and balanced, Puzzy! Fair and balanced!) 

DeMarco is right and the "growing number" of critics Puzzanghera refers to (only two of whom are named) are wrong. Cutting principal slightly reduces the rate of redefault, but the change is negligible. Government loan modification policy is not just immoral; it’s ineffective. Worse, it creates an ethical vacuum into which swindlers, chiselers, fraudsters and community organizers are naturally drawn. The only difference between Hasnain and the rest of them is that she’s a little easier on the eye. 

SCOTUS Will Consider Dogs' Reliability As Probable Cause Generators

This week the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that casts doubt on the routine use of drug-sniffing dogs to generate probable cause for vehicle searches. Despite the potential for false positives due to poorly trained dogs, incompetent handlers, residual odors, subconscious cues, and misinterpretation (or misrepresentation) of a dog's behavior, courts generally accept a canine "alert" as adequate justification for a search. But last year the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment requires courts to consider the reliability of such evidence and that it's not enough to ask whether a dog is officially certified to sniff out drugs:

The issue of when a dog's alert provides probable cause for a search hinges on the dog's reliability as a detector of illegal substances within the vehicle. We hold that the State may establish probable cause by demonstrating that the officer had a reasonable basis for believing the dog to be reliable based on the totality of the circumstances. Because a dog cannot be cross-examined like a police officer on the scene whose observations often provide the basis for probable cause to search a vehicle, the State must introduce evidence concerning the dog's reliability....

We hold that evidence that the dog has been trained and certified to detect narcotics, standing alone, is not sufficient to establish the dog's reliability for purposes of determining probable cause—especially since training and certification in this state are not standardized and thus each training and certification program may differ with no meaningful way to assess them....

To meet its burden of establishing that the officer had a reasonable basis for believing the dog to be reliable in order to establish probable cause, the State must present the training and certification records, an explanation of the meaning of the particular training and certification of that dog, field performance records, and evidence concerning the experience and training of the officer handling the dog, as well as any other objective evidence known to the officer about the dog's reliability in being able to detect the presence of illegal substances within the vehicle....

Because there is no uniform standard for training and certification of drug-detection dogs, the State must explain the training and certification so that the trial court can evaluate how well the dog is trained and whether the dog falsely alerts in training (and, if so, the percentage of false alerts). "Further, the State should keep and present records of the dog's performance in the field, including the dog's successes (alerts where contraband that the dog was trained to detect was found) and failures ("unverified" alerts where no contraband that the dog was trained to detect was found). The State then has the opportunity to present evidence explaining the significance of any unverified alerts, as well as the dog's ability to detect or distinguish residual odors. Finally, the State must present evidence of the experience and training of the officer handling the dog. Under a totality of the circumstances analysis, the court can then consider all of the presented evidence and evaluate the dog’s reliability.

Finding that prosecutors had failed to meet this burden in justifying a dog-triggered truck search that found 200 pseudoephedrine tablets (along with muriatic acid and 8,000 matches), the court threw out a meth manufacturing charge against the vehicle's driver.

Although the Supreme Court has issued several decisions dealing with police dogs over the years, it has not squarely addressed the question of their reliability. Dissenting in Illinois v. Caballes, a 2005 decision that allowed warrantless sniffs of cars during routine traffic stops, Justice David Souter noted that "the infallible dog...is a creature of legal fiction." Souter cited examples from court cases of dogs with error rates of up to 38 percent, adding that "dogs in artificial testing situations return false positives anywhere from 12.5 to 60% of the time." Souter is no longer on the Court, but evidently at least some of the current justices see a need to re-examine the assumption that a canine alert "discloses only the presence or absence of narcotics," as the Court claimed in United States v. Place, a 1983 decision that allowed warrantless sniffs of luggage at airports on the theory that such examinations are not really searches. Maybe so, but they definitely lead to searches, and a careful consideration of whether and when they should is long overdue.

Another Florida case that the Supreme Court plans to hear, Florida v. Jardines, poses the question of whether a drug-sniffing dog at your doorstep has finally crossed the threshold of the Fourth Amendment. I discussed that case in January. More on drug-sniffing dogs here. Julian Sanchez considered the implications of Caballes in his 2007 Reason article "The Pinpoint Search."

Friday Fun Flight Link: TSA Trashed by Bruce Schneier

Reason's favorite security expert Bruce Schneier absolutely destroys the Transportation Security Administration's Kip Hawley in a debate about post-9/11 airline security changes at The Economist. 

Schneier's wrap up:

Return airport security checkpoints to pre-9/11 levels. Get rid of everything that isn't needed to protect against random amateur terrorists and won't work against professional al-Qaeda plots. Take the savings thus earned and invest them in investigation, intelligence, and emergency response: security outside the airport, security that does not require us to play guessing games about plots. Recognise that 100% safety is impossible, and also that terrorism is not an "existential threat" to our way of life. Respond to terrorism not with fear but with indomitability. Refuse to be terrorized.


Via Radley Balko.

How Copyright Seems to Keep Books Unavailable and Unexploited: A Graph

Via the "Offsetting Behavior" blog from Eric Crampton:

Crampton explains:

Recall that books published through 1922 are in the public domain in the US; those published since then are covered by copyright.....

So any arguments about underexploitation of unprotected works seem untenable.

If this were a moving wall, maybe it wouldn't be so bad: eventually, books would come out of copyright and be released in new editions. But Disney does keep going back and insisting that nothing can ever be returned to the Commons from which they so liberally drew, and Congress loves Disney; we might reasonably expect another copyright term extension act to keep the wall fairly rigid.

I do not, by the way, blog this as a confirmed anti-IP libertarian, but as data about how copyright contributes to the actual access to and use of old books, I found it interesting.

Jesse Walker wrote on how IP enforcement can hobble cultural production in his March 2000 Reason classic "Copy Catfight."

Walkable Smart-Hub Hollywood Only Dead in Reality

Proving that even The New York Times understands Los Angeles better than the town’s own politicians do, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa tells off Times-man Adam Nagourney for accusing the City of Angels of "being the city of sprawl and…not like New York and other cities that are more vertical." 

At issue: a plan by Villaraigosa and grotesquely ambitious City Council President Eric Garcetti to tear down Hollywood and rebuild it as – what else? – a transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly, smart-growth hub. 

As I noted a year ago, the squat chief executive has been gorging on local, state and federal funds so he can turn the people of Los Angeles into "guinea pigs in the New Urbanists’ experiment to create a newer, better Homo Angelicus." 

That has not been working out, because Los Angeles is bankrupt and has ground to a halt under Villaraigosa’s misrule.

Yet the mayor never misses a chance to repeat his rail-hub-polycentric-anti-car flapdoodle. Here’s what he had to say to our own Paul Detrick after the epic nothing that was Carmageddon

And here’s the tinhorn potentate describing his year-zero Utopia to the Times

“From the beginning, I said we are going to move away from our single-passenger automobile system,” [Villaraigosa] said. “We are going to remake what the city looks like.”

Mr. Garcetti said that building guidelines in this 25-square-mile zone had not been changed in 24 years. “If there was a moment in time to freeze Hollywood, it would not be 1988,” he said. “The average tourist stay in Hollywood then was 23 minutes. Crime was at its peak. And things like the subway just weren’t in the area.”

Yet while the plan has considerable institutional support — business groups turned out to testify for it at the Tuesday meeting — it has stirred anxiety among people who live in the neighborhood and have long been loyal to its unique charms and hidden treasures. To opponents, the plan is a sop to real estate developers who see an opportunity to make fast money.

“It’s gotten kind of nasty here in Hollywood in the last few days,” said Richard MacNaughton, a lawyer who has lived in the area for 40 years and is one of the opponents of the effort. He said the changes would result in a real estate free-for-all. “You’ll destroy the flatlands, you destroy the quality of life. Tourists come here to see the dream. They don’t come to see some high-rise.”

As it happens, I live in flat Hollywood, and I have no idea why any tourists come here at all. I also don’t see any reason people can’t build tall buildings provided they pay for the buildings themselves. But big dreams need big money, and L.A. has experienced negative economic growth under Villaraigosa. Adjusting for inflation and comparing BEA numbers from the beginning of Antonio’s administration [pdf] with the most recent numbers [pdf], it looks like Los Angeles has experienced almost a 10 percent decline in real GDP by metropolitan area. 

L.A. County’s population has also flatlined over the same period, and I’m still seeing plenty of for-sale and for-rent signs in Hollywood itself. So where are all the happy pedestrians going to come from to fill up these tall buildings? It’s not like you have to travel far to find a counter-example: After spending billions of taxpayers dollars in an effort to turn Downtown L.A. into New York West, the city is now stuck with an overbuilt, largely vacant downtown and a rate of public transit usage that is actually declining

The saddest part is that his enthusiasm for this debacle in the making will not have any effect on Villaraigosa’s fortunes. The mayor’s survivability rises in direct proportion to his unimpressiveness. A few years back he garnered only 55 percent in what was effectively a Venezuela-style unopposed re-election. The national Democratic Party, against all evidence, still treats him as a rising star. And he somehow managed to avoid having to give Corina Raigosa back her half of the last name in his divorce settlement. For all other Villaraigosa questions, refer to Adam Carolla

New Oil Sanctions Against Iran A Go, Paul Ryan Endorses Mitt Romney, Burmese Elections May Not be Very Free: P.M. Links

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Peter Suderman on ObamaCare and the Liberal Legal Bubble

How could members of the Supreme Court possibly seriously consider the argument that ObamaCare’s individual mandate to purchase health insurance is unprecedented and unconstitutional? The quality of the arguments? The presence of a genuine legal debate? No, if you ask the law’s liberal cheerleaders, there can only be one answer: pure partisan politics.

Since challenges to ObamaCare first took off, liberals have been laying the groundwork for a stepped-up public campaign against the Supreme Court should any part of the law be struck down. If the Court decides against the health care overhaul, it’s clear that President Obama and his defenders will make the Court a significant issue in the 2012 presidential campaign. Are liberals right to pin this week's developments on rank partisanship? In one sense there are. But, writes Senior Editor Peter Suderman, the partisanship that’s at fault here is their own.

View this article

Study Finds a Third of Bronx Pot Busts Are Bogus

Last month I noted that cops in New York City continue to illegally arrest people for the "public display" of marijuana in circumstances that do not justify the charge, despite a September directive in which Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told them to cut it out. Based on interviews with public defenders, Queens College sociologist Harry Levine has reported that police commonly transform marijuana possession, a citable offense, into public display, a misdemeanor, by removing pot during stop-and-frisk searches or instructing people to take out any contraband they're carrying. A new survey of 518 cases by the Bronx Public Defenders provides the first hard data on how common these bogus busts are. The organization, which represents defendants who can't afford lawyers, reviewed every case in the Bronx where someone received a desk appearance ticket for public dislay during a six-month period, the last five weeks of which came after Kelly's directive. The percentage of cases where marijuana was brought into public view only as a result of an officer's actions or instructions—cases Kelly himself says are illegitimate—actually rose after he reminded his officers to follow the law, from 33 percent to 44 percent. The overall percentage was 36 percent, most of which (79 percent) involved "an intrusive physical search by the police officer." 

"This is clearly an illegal practice," Scott Levy, a Bronx Defenders attorney, told The Raw Story. "And the fact that it hasn't stopped since Commissioner Kelly issued his memo suggests there is a deep disconnect between what happens on the street and what the top brass in the NYPD are saying happens." Possibly because the top brass does not really care. Kelly, after all, has presided over a dramatic increase in marijuana arrests, which are largely a product of the stop-and-frisk program he enthusiastically defends. Yet somehow he did not realize his officers were manufacturing misdemeanors until critics like Levine pointed it out. And now that he has officially reminded New York's Finest that the state legislature decriminalized marijuana possession way back in 1977, the fact that cops continue to flout the law does not seem to bother him much. Last month, when he was asked about the pot bust numbers for 2011, which despite his directive were higher than the previous year's, Kelly pleaded ignorance:

The numbers are what they are, based on situations officers encountered in the street...If you have it in plain sight, then it is a misdemeanor. If you're directed by an officer to take it out of your pocket, that's not the intent of the law. That's what the directive was meant to address. Very difficult to quantify whether or not that was happening.

Now that the Bronx Defenders have quantified it (for one borough, at least), will Kelly do anything about it?

A summary of the study is here.

Did ALEC Kill Trayvon Martin? AFL-CIO Bigwig Seems to Think So.

The Daily Caller's Michelle Fields caught up with AFL-CIO executive vice president Arlene Holt Baker and asked "to get your thoughts on the tragic incident with Trayvon Martin in Florida."

Holt Baker started talking about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which stands widely accused of writing Florida's Stand Your Ground law. ALEC, says Holt Baker, are

"...the same folks who want to kill workers' rights in the workplace are the same folks who want to kill voters' votes - a targeted group of voters - in the voting booth. They want to kill the dreams of immigrants. Now they are literally supporting legislation that is literally killing our children."

Interestingly, ALEC actually says that Florida's law provided the basis for model legislation that the group circulated to lawmakers and policy people in other states:

Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law was the basis for the American Legislative Exchange Council’s model legislation, not the other way around. Moreover, it is unclear whether that law could apply to this case at all. ‘Stand Your Ground’ or the ‘Castle Doctrine’ is designed to protect people who defend themselves from imminent death and great bodily harm. It does not allow you to pursue another person. It does not allow you to seek confrontation. It does not allow you to attack someone who does not pose an imminent threat. What it does is allow you to defend yourself and your family from immediate and real danger.

As noted at Hit & Run on March 20, whatever else you can say about Florida gun laws, any changes in them have not led to an increase in the number of homicides in the Sunshine State.

Based on what I've read of the case, it seems to me that because George Zimmerman followed Trayvon Martin even after a 911 dispatcher told him not to, he will have a tough time pushing a Stand Your Ground defense. And that's even if it turns out his version of events - in which Martin had pinned him down and punched him repeatedly - is borne out.

However things get sorted out legally, what happened in Sanford is a bad deal all around, and precisely the sort of highly charged situation in which lots of people say really stupid things. But how you get from the Martin shooting to an accusation against ALEC in this case (or the Koch Brothers of all people, whom an MSNBC anchor called the "the Typhoid Mary for this horrible outbreak"!) is beyond me.

Here is a terrifying thought for liberals and conservatives alike who are desperate to use the Martin shooting as some sort of commentary on just how apocalyptically awful race relations, welfarism, gun rights, gun control, hooded sweatshirts, or whatever is in these United States: Perhaps this case is not particularly representative of larger trends in contemporary America. This doesn't mean it isn't a horrible tragedy that has probably already shattered the lives of all the people involved, and it doesn't mean that justice can't or won't be served. But the incident may not really shed any light on larger social issues or trends. And attempts by either the right or the left, or unions or the NRA, or whomever to straitjacket  the event to fit a pre-existing agenda don't reflect well on combatants.

Click on image above to watch vid. 

Don't You Dare Try to Feed the Homeless in Bloomy's NYC (Nanny of the Month, March 2012!)


This month Alabama lawmakers were itching to make it a criminal offense to annoy people online (isn't that what the interweb is all about?), and a national poll exposed the split personality of Americans who pretend to support individual responsibility, all the while cheering bans on smoking, transfats and the like.

But this month top dishonors go to the man who is perhaps the busiest busybody of them all, the big-city mayor who decided to halt private donations to his city's homeless shelters (after all, who can be sure that such donations wouldn't fill homeless people with fatty or salty food?!).

Presenting Reason.tv's Nanny of the Month for March 2012: New York City Mayor Meddlin' Mike Bloomberg!

Approximately 87 seconds.

"Nanny of the Month" is written and produced by Ted Balaker. Opening animation by Meredith Bragg.

To watch more Nanny of the Month episodes, go here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2DD00E99B83A258A

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

Federal Judge Says Forcing Some Prostitutes to Register As Sex Offenders Violates the Equal Protection Clause

Yesterday a federal judge ruled that Louisiana had violated the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection by requiring people convicted of "crimes against nature by solicitation" (CANS) to register as sex offenders. The charge can be brought against anyone accused of offering to engage in oral or anal sex for money; alternatively, completely at the discretion of police and prosecutors, those defendants can be charged with prostitution. Until the state legislature changed the law last year, the former charge carried more severe penalties plus a registration requirement. This case was brought by nine people who agreed to perform oral sex for compensation and were convicted of CANS before the revisions to the law, which were not retroactive, took effect last August. U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman concluded that Louisiana's distinction between CANS and prostitution was so illogical that it failed even the highly deferential "rational basis" test (which applies to equal protection cases that don't involve a "suspect class" such as race):

First, the State has created two classifications of similarly (in fact, identically) situated individuals who were treated differently (only one class is subject to mandatory sex offender registration). Second, the classification has no rational relation to any legitimate government objective: there is no legitimating rationale in the record to justify targeting only those convicted of Crime Against Nature by Solicitation for mandatory sex offender registration....

The defendants fail to credibly serve up even one unique legitimating governmental interest that can rationally explain the registration requirement imposed on those convicted of Crime Against Nature by Solicitation. The Court is left with no other conclusion but that the relationship between the classification is so shallow as to render the distinction wholly arbitrary.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which represented the plaintiffs, reports that they already have suffered the consequences of being lumped in with rapists and child molesters:

Many of the plaintiffs in the case had been unable to secure work or housing as a result of their registration as sex offenders. Several had been barred from homeless shelters, one had been physically threatened by a neighbor, and another had been refused residential substance abuse treatment because providers will not accept registered sex offenders at their facilities. 

"Today's decision is a powerful vindication of our clients' right to equal protection before the law," said CCR staff attorney Alexis Agathocleous. "The court has agreed that they have been singled out for this harsh treatment without a legitimate or rational purpose, and that this cannot stand."

You can read Feldman's decision here. In my July Reason feature story "Perverted Justice," I noted that sex offender registries often include people, such as prostitutes, who pose no threat to the general public. Reason.tv also has covered the subject:

How to Make the Trayvon Martin Shooting Even More Disturbing: Draw Cartoons About it.

You know the drill: Tragic, disturbing, awful event happens.

Political cartoonists make it worse by feeling a need to somehow weigh in with insta-cliche renderings that are matched in their conceptual inanity only by craftmanship several notches below what celebrated quadraplegic artist Warren Cox was able to manage while holding a pen in his teeth.

So here you go, sports fans, a selection of Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman cartoons from various Pulitzer Prize winners and other award-winning drawers of pictures. Read Reason's coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting, George Zimmerman, Florida's Stand Your Ground Law, and related issues here.

All images via the excellent and excrutiatingly comprehensive Cagle Post, your one-stop shop for every shitty cartoon known to mankind. The Travyon collection is here.

Note: to read alt-text captions in images below, hold your cursor over images.

The above is by Steve Benson, the Pulitzer Prize winner whose execrable work in the wake of the Gabby Giffords shooting will be studied as the low point in American political commentary long after Dr. Zaius and his pals have inherited the earth.

Finally, somebody is willing to take on the real problem in today's America: fucking Shephard Smith! How many more tragedies do we need before we learn the lesson that everything can be traced back to Fox News' most famous penis-remembering news anchor? I smell something cooking in Chuck Asay's kitchen - and it's name is...Pulitzer!


Reason Writers at the Movies: Peter Suderman Reviews Wrath of the Titans

Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman reviews Wrath of the Titans in today's Washington Times:

In “Wrath of the Titans,” a sequel to the 2010 remake “Clash of the Titans,” Ralph Fiennes reprises his role as Hades, mythological ruler of the underworld. Ostensibly an ancient god, he’s on a quest to save his own life from extinction at the hands of unbelieving mortals who have stopped praying to him — and in so doing, robbed him of his power as a deity.

“When a god dies,” Hades laments, “it isn’t death. It’s nothing. It’s oblivion.”

Which happens to describe, almost exactly, the way I felt for the 99 minutes I spent watching the movie.

That same feeling — a mixture of numbness, disinterest and exhaustion — permeates the movie and its characters. Early on, Hades ties his brother Zeus between two rock pillars in order to drain the remaining god-power out of him. It seems to work all too well. As played by Liam Neeson, who is normally majestic in such roles, Zeus doesn’t look drained of power so much as tired of being in the movie. About halfway through, he sighs mightily, “Is there no end to this?” As he cried out in pain, all I could think was: I know how he feels.

Mr. Neeson and Mr. Fiennes are both superb actors. Why in heaven are they appearing in dull dreck like this? The gods truly must be crazy.

Whole thing here.

Read Suderman's Reason.com review of Clash of the Titans here

Washington State Reporter Wears Bulletproof Vest, Thinks SWAT Narcotics Raid is Totally Awesome

Who needs prohibitionists politicians when the drug war has friends like Seattle's KIRO 7? A recent SWAT narcotics raid reported on sounds wearyingly by the book; Nobody, human or animal, was injured. And though this this video still is creepy in a hey, is this is third-world paramilitary strike nope, just a drug raid kind of way, it's not as surprising as it should be.

But please note how KIRO 7 reported on the raid. Cheerleading is the the best (or the most polite) description of how the vigilant fourth estate treats such bold police action.

Headlined under "SWAT team shows off new tactic in Centralia raid" and juxtaposed with an appalling video report (but we'll get to that in a minute), is the write-up:

A SWAT team raided a Centralia home Thursday as part of a new effort to keep officers safe on the job.

The team was called in to help protect officers who spearheaded the raid, which was aimed at a man wanted on a drug warrant.

First, the team created a distraction by firing a flash-bang grenade into the house. Then, an officer swung a battering ram twice at a door. In just 12 seconds, the team was in the building.

Two men were found inside and detained for questioning.

That sounds like it could be worse, what else happened? Police found marijuana and meth, so at least they got the correct house! Maybe that's something.

KIRO continues:

A Centralia police dog was then sent in to see if anyone else was hiding in the house.

“This is the police! The building is being searched by a police dog at this time. If you come out right now, you won’t get hurt,” one officer yelled before releasing the dog into the house.

As the dog searched, the SWAT commander said that in a raid like this where the suspects are known to have used methamphetamine, officers can’t take any chances.

“These people have weapons, they are at times under the influence of methamphetamine – who knows what they are capable of doing,” Sgt. Rob Snaza with the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office said.

It's not exactly comforting that a Sgt. learned his drug facts from Degrassi, but in our brave new drug war world, it's technically part of a cop's job to participate in these raids (this is obviously not an excuse). But there's no official reason why the media's job in Centralia is apparently to treat drug raids with such gung-ho reverence.

The video of KIRO's report can be found here. The in-studio anchor delivers the set-up, describing this new effort "to keep officers safe." Richard Thompson, who has apparently won "numerous awards" for reporting, is wearing a olive green bullet-proof vest that says "Sheriff." His delivery is a little too excitable to be the embedded CNN journalist he clearly wants to be so badly he can taste it, still this is news; there are even explosions! "Only our cameras were there!" he verbally flails.

He delivers the same information as above, noting that the SWAT team does this "with the precision that can only come from many hours of training!" "First the distraction! [a flash-bang grenade] "then the battering ram!" and in 12 seconds police are inside. Nobody besides the two "detained for question" were found in home, "but police do find drugs!" says Thompson.

Still, Thompson looked for a little balance to his reporting. He remembered to get the opinion of a neighbor. The grisly local-dude proclaims "I think it's awesome!" 

Expect Richard Thompson to be on the scene, ready for more heroics, on the day Centralia, PA gets its own SWAT team.

Reason on the militarization of police

How Will SCOTUS Rule on ObamaCare? The Answer May Be in the Questions.

The New York Times tallies the questions that Supreme Court justices asked during this week's oral arguments in the cases challenging the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act:

Is the individual mandate constitutional?

GINSBURG: 1 to the lawyer arguing yes, 5 to the lawyer arguing no

BREYER: 1 to the lawyer arguing yes, 7 to the lawyer arguing no

KAGAN: 3 to the lawyer arguing yes, 6 to the lawyer arguing no

SOTOMAYOR: 4 to the lawyer arguing yes, 15 to the lawyer arguing no

KENNEDY: 6 to the lawyer arguing yes, 3 to the lawyer arguing no

ROBERTS: 5 to the lawyer arguing yes, 0 to the lawyer arguing no

ALITO: 9 to the lawyer arguing yes, 2 to the lawyer arguing no

SCALIA: 12 to the lawyer arguing yes, 0 to the lawyer arguing no

THOMAS: 0 to the lawyer arguing yes, 0 to the lawyer arguing no

If the individual mandate is ruled unconstitutional, must the rest of the health law fall as well?

GINSBURG: 1 to the lawyer arguing yes, 1 to the lawyer arguing no

BREYER: 2 to the lawyer arguing yes, 1 to the lawyer arguing no

KAGAN: 3 to the lawyer arguing yes, 1 to the lawyer arguing no

SOTOMAYOR: 11 to the lawyer arguing yes, 3 to the lawyer arguing no

KENNEDY: 3 to the lawyer arguing yes, 6 to the lawyer arguing no

ROBERTS: 2 to the lawyer arguing yes, 5 to the lawyer arguing no

ALITO: 1 to the lawyer arguing yes, 3 to the lawyer arguing no

SCALIA: 4 to the lawyer arguing yes, 8 to the lawyer arguing no

THOMAS: 0 to the lawyer arguing yes, 0 to the lawyer arguing no

Was Congress entitled to impose conditions on the states in expanding the Medicaid program?

GINSBURG: 0 to the lawyer arguing yes, 5 to the lawyer arguing no

BREYER: 4 to the lawyer arguing yes, 5 to the lawyer arguing no

KAGAN: 1 to the lawyer arguing yes, 8 to the lawyer arguing no

SOTOMAYOR: 4 to the lawyer arguing yes, 7 to the lawyer arguing no

KENNEDY: 5 to the lawyer arguing yes, 1 to the lawyer arguing no

ROBERTS: 14 to the lawyer arguing yes, 2 to the lawyer arguing no

ALITO: 6 to the lawyer arguing yes, 0 to the lawyer arguing no

SCALIA: 7 to the lawyer arguing yes, 5 to the lawyer arguing no

THOMAS: 0 to the lawyer arguing yes, 0 to the lawyer arguing no

Thomas generally does not ask questions during oral argument, but Sotomayor sure is chatty, huh? As the Times notes, research has confirmed that "justices tend to ask more questions of the lawyers whose positions they oppose."

While Congress Dawdles With Stopgap Transportation Bill, Poll Shows 77 Percent Against Raising Gas Tax and 58 Percent Prefer Tolls Over Taxes

The Hill reports:  

The Senate approved the extension of federal highway funding that was passed by the House on Thursday, accepting a short-term solution leaders in the chamber vehemently opposed. 

The measure, H.R 4281, now goes to President Obama. It extends the current funding for road and transit projects until June 30, the ninth such continuance of the last multiyear highway authorization that was approved by Congress, which expired in 2009. …

The approval of the highway funding stopgap averts an interruption in the federal government's authorization to collect the 18.4 cent-per-gallon gas tax, which had been set to expire Saturday. The money is traditionally used to fund transportation projects. 

While Congress seems unwilling to pass a long-term transportation bill or agree how to pay for it, theDecember 2011 Reason-Rupe poll found 77 percent of Americans oppose increasing the federal gas tax, while 19 percent favor raising the tax. 

The Reason-Rupe poll shows Americans believe new roads and highways should be paid for by the people driving on them: 58 percent of Americans say new roads and highways should be funded by tolls. Twenty-eight percent say new road capacity should be paid for by tax increases.  

The public thinks the government wastes the gas tax money it already receives. Sixty-five percent say the government spends transportation funding ineffectively, and just 23 percent say the money is spent effectively.

Full Reason-Rupe December 2012 poll results found here, and full question wording here.

Emily Ekins is the director of polling for Reason Foundation where she leads the Reason-Rupe public opinion research project, launched in 2011. Follow her on Twitter @emilyekins.

Why Was William Reddie So Agitated?

A Michigan prosecutor recently concluded that Crawford County Sheriff's Deputy John Klepadlo was justified in using deadly force to stop a man who lunged at him with a knife. Although a state police investigator wanted to charge Klepadlo in connection with the February 3 shooting in Grayling, Roscommon County Prosecutor Mark Jernigan, whom the Michigan Attorney General's Office asked to review the case, said Klepadlo responded appropriately to a potentially lethal threat:

The deceased was in possession of an edged weapon. The deceased pulled a knife and hid it behind his back. At the point where he pulls his hand forward and lunges at the officer, he is in such close proximity, and presents a clear danger of deadly force, the officer is left with no option other than to use deadly force to protect himself, the other officer and the three civilians that were present. The use of deadly force is completely justified, and therefore the homicide was justified.

Sounds reasonable, until you learn the circumstances of the shooting, which make it seem not quite so justified. "The deceased," William Reddie, drew the weapon, a four-inch pocketknife, because Klepadlo had come to his apartment, along with a city police officer and two employees of Children's Protective Services, to "remove" his 3-year-old son, Cameron. The Petoskey News explains why:

Lead [Michigan State Police] investigator Detective Sgt. Rick Sekely said events leading up to the shooting and attempts to remove the son from the residence began earlier in the day when officers went to Reddie’s apartment in response to a possible domestic disturbance.

Upon arriving at the scene and making contact with Reddie, officers indicated Reddie was on the phone in what seemed to be a heated argument with a woman. Reports indicate Reddie appeared agitated, and when officers stated they could smell the odor of marijuana in the apartment, Sekely said Reddie admitted to having smoked marijuana that morning. While at the residence, officers indicated they observed a minor child at the apartment. 

Sekely said officers, following protocol, contacted protective services to report Reddie had been smoking marijuana in the presence of his son.

Child services workers then went to the apartment, and Sekely said they confronted Reddie about consuming marijuana in the home and asked him to take a drug test. Sekely said workers indicated Reddie was agitated, and they felt uncomfortable while at the residence.

An emergency court order to remove the child from the care of Reddie was obtained by Child Protective Services, and they requested assistance from the sheriff's department and city police. 

In short, someone called the cops because Reddie was having a loud telephone conversation, whereupon the cops discovered that Reddie was a pot smoker, which automatically triggered the chain of events that led to his death. Is it a mystery that Reddie "appeared agitated" when cops burst into his home while he was in the middle of an argument, that he was again "agitated" when CPS workers dropped in and threatened to take away his son, or that he was even more agitated when they came by to follow through on that threat?

"I was on the phone with my son all day," Reddie's mother told the Crawford County Avalanche, "and that cop [Alan Somero, who responded to the domestic disturbance report, contacted CPS, and returned to snatch Cameron] was bullying him and harassing him so badly." The paper reports that she was "baffled" that "authorities attempted to take his son after tests indicated there was no marijuana or alcohol involved." (Post-mortem toxicology likewise found no traces of marijuana or alcohol—puzzling in light of the claim that Reddie "admitted to having smoked marijuana that morning.") She added that when CPS came for Reddie's son, "they took the only thing he ever loved." 

Needless to say, it is a bad idea to pull a knife on a couple of cops. But it is also a bad idea to presume that a pot smoker must be an unfit parent, justifying the legally blessed kidnapping of his son. I would even venture to say that seeing his father killed in front of him and then being whisked off to "foster care" was a worse trauma for Cameron than seeing his father smoke pot.

[via the Drug War Chronicle]

Steven Greenhut on Radically Reforming California’s Failing Public Schools

California’s public schools continue to lay-off teachers, and the process by which they do this is as convoluted and illogical as one would expect in a bureaucratic system in which the needs of the students falls fairly low on the list of priorities. Steven Greenhut says it’s time to stop tinkering around the edges of this failing system and instead start redesigning it from the ground up.

View this article

Regulatory Science Watch: Will the FDA Ban BPA?

Environmentalists have been pursuing a campaign to demonize the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA)which is used in some plastics claiming that it has deleterious effects on human health. However, even the highly chemophobic World Health Organization doesn't think that BPA is hazardous.

NPR's Morning Edition program ran a good segment on the issue today which pointed out:

...recent studies done government researchers at the request of regulatory agencies suggest it's very unlikely that BPA poses a health risk to people. And in the past the FDA has relied heavily on this sort of in-house research for its decisions.

In its effort to review the safety of BPA, the FDA called on a high-powered team of government scientists to help answer several key questions.

One is: how much of the BPA a person eats actually makes it into their bloodstream in a dangerous form?

That's an important question because the human body often inactivates potentially dangerous chemicals like BPA as they pass through the intestine and liver.

Once that happens, the chemical is no longer a health risk because it's no longer "bioactive", says Justin Teeguarden, a toxicologist and senior research scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Lab in Richland, Washington.

So with BPA, he says, "you may be exposed to relatively large amounts in the diet. But what matters most is how much of the bioactive form actually reaches your blood and your tissues."

Teeguarden studied 20 men and women who spent a day on a diet loaded with BPA from canned foods and juice in plastic containers. He wanted to know how much bioactive BPA would end up in their blood.

The answer: not enough to measure. "If it is present it is below our limit of detection," Teeguarden says.

Some studies that have found quite high levels of BPA in the blood, Teeguarden says. But he questions whether those results are reliable.

The reason is that to get blood levels that high,a person would have to ingest hundreds or thousands of times more BPA than people typically get in their diet.

"The question is, where did that bioactive BPA come from?" Teeguarden says. And he says one likely answer is that the chemical got into blood samples accidentally sometime after they were drawn from a person's body.

"Contamination is a common problem," Teeguarden says. "We observed it in our own study. But because we were monitoring for it we were able to overcome that particular problem."

The studies that found high levels of bioactive BPA in blood used samples collected in hospitals or doctors' offices, not research settings, Teeguarden says. And those studies did not include a common test to detect contamination.

In addition, new studies find that the chemical is unlikely to be a danger to newborns. Let's hope that the FDA will follow the science in this case instead of bowing to the environmentalist lobby.

What Does the Individual Mandate Have to Do With Free Riders?

Supporters of mandatory health insurance have argued that the purchase requirement is necessary to promote "individual responsibility" and prevent "free riders"—individuals who show up at emergency rooms, get care, and don't pay. This is part of the argument that Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius have used to make the case for ObamaCare's mandate. It's also the argument made by Mitt Romney in support of the mandate he signed into law in Massachusetts. But as The Examiner's Philip Klein points out, there's a strong argument that that's not really what the individual mandate is about:

In reality, the mandate has always been about forcing healthy people into the insurance pool, to offset the distortion in the market created by the related provision requiring insurers to cover those with pre-existing conditions.

Tuesday's oral arguments on the constitutionality of the mandate illuminated this better than ever before.

Mike Carvin, who represented the National Federation of Independent Business before the court, explained that the uninsured and those who show up at hospitals without paying are different populations.

"It is clear that the failure to buy health insurance doesn't affect anyone," Carvin said. "Defaulting on your payments to your health care provider does. Congress chose, for whatever reason, not to regulate the harmful activity of defaulting on your health care provider."

As Klein points out later, the law's essential benefits requirements make it even tougher to make the case that the mandate is simply a response to free riding. Those requirements do not merely force individuals to purchase insurance covering catastrophic care expenses, but also set guidelines, to be fleshed out by the states, as to what sorts of benefits must also be covered. 

It's been clear for a while that the law is, at minimum, designed to do quite a bit more than zero out the free-riding problem. Estimates used by the administration suggest that national uncompensated care costs ran about $43 billion in 2008. But the law is set to spend about $200 billion or more each year on insurance subsidies by 2017. 

A. Barton Hinkle on Three New Polls That Show Americans Don't Like Being Bullied by Their Politicians

Americans still don't like a bully. That's one hopeful takeaway from three recent polls on issues related to health care. A majority of voters don't like a bill requiring women to have ultrasounds before they can get abortions; the individual mandate; or a requirement that religious institutions be required to provide health insurance that covers birth control. Majorities can be wrong and incoherent, writes A. Barton Hinkle, but in the above cases, they're neither. 

View this article

Brickbat: Officer Leatherface

Judy Sanchez says she heard someone pounding on the door of her Fitchburg, Massachusetts, apartment, and almost immediately after that someone started cutting through the door with a chainsaw. Several armed people rushed through the door forcing her and her family to the floor. It was a team of FBI agents who figured out about a half hour later they were supposed to raid the apartment next door.

Brickbat Archive

Municipal Corruption as a Tourist Attraction

Entreprenuers in economically depressed hotbeds of American municipal corruption (I'm looking at you, Detroit), take note: a Czech artist has launched a tour company built around "trips to sites and monuments highlighting some of the most recent and notorious corruption scandals" in the Czech Republic.

The Czech daily Hospodářské noviny(HN) reports that Petr Šourek's new venture "Corrupt Tour" aims to increase public awareness of government-sanctioned graft and add context by taking people to the scenes of the crimes.

"One of the high points, literally, will be the Kč 80 million cable car, which has been described by critics as absolutely useless. A rest is offered in a local park where the benches cost an average Kč 60,000 each, around 10 times the normal price."

Sourek doesn't intend to stop at showcasing the buildings and public works where tax dollars go to die, he also intends to take the tour to the gilded homes of businessmen who benefit from Prague-style crony capitalism:

A so-called ornithological safari takes in the Prague villas, or “nests” of some of the wheelers and dealers said to be behind some of the most famous scandals.  The residences of lobbyist Tomáš Hrdlička, lawyer Ivo Rittig, and former CEO of power company ČEZ, Martin Roman, investigated on suspicion of passing orders onto engineering giant Škoda Plzeň, his former employer, after taking up his new job.

While Sourek doesn't expect this project to be a runaway commercial success, he hopes to at least break even, and perhaps do well enough to expand the tour to more exotic locations in the Mediterranean, the Carribean and the Alps, where many "shell companies" are located and where vacationing Czech politicians have been known to make some of their most notorious dirty deals.

Why Don't Conservatives Trust Scientists Like They Used To? Are They Just Anti-Evolutionary, Anti-Global Warming Jag-Offs or Could There Be Other Explanations?

From Instapundit comes a quick summary of the latest sign that conservatives (self-defined in this instance) are just totally like the neanderthals they probably don't really believe ever existed given their wariness about evolution and all that jazz:

CONFIDENCE IN SCIENCE BY CONSERVATIVES HAS DECLINED SINCE 1974: “That represents a dramatic shift for conservatives, who in 1974 were more likely than liberals or moderates (all categories based on self-identification) to express confidence in science. While the confidence levels of other groups in science have been relatively stable, the conservative drop now means that group is the least likely to have confidence in science.”

The reason is the use of science as an argument-from-authority for bigger government. If scientists want more trust, perhaps they should try not to be tools.

"If scientists want more trust, perhaps they should try not to be tools." Hmm. I think he may be on to something there.

The link in the InstaP gloss above goes to a story in the excellent Inside Higher Ed (a must-read for anyone interested in post-secondary education issues, IMO). Here's the lede of the piece:

Just over 34 percent of conservatives had confidence in science as an institution in 2010, representing a long-term decline from 48 percent in 1974, according to a paper being published today in American Sociological Review.

The paper in ASR draws on attitudes as reflected in the General Social Survey, a "long-term study asking people various demographic and self-identification questions (including political identity) and for their attitudes on certain groups, including confidence in certain institutions." The author of the paper, a post-doc at University of North Carolina, says:

Less-educated conservatives didn't change their attitudes about science in recent decades. It is better-educated conservatives who have done so, the paper says.

In the paper, Gauchat calls this a "key finding," in part because it challenges "the deficit model, which predicts that individuals with higher levels of education will possess greater trust in science, by showing that educated conservatives uniquely experienced the decline in trust.”

I haven't read the paper in question but here is the question from the General Social Survey on which its "key finding" apparently is based:

166. I am going to name some institutions in this country. Some people have complete confidence in the people running these institutions. Suppose these people are at one end of the scale at point number 1. Other people have no confidence at all in teh people running these institutions. Suppose these people are at the other end, at point 7. Where would you place yourself on this scale for: k. Scientific community?

Note the wording of the question, which stresses attitudes toward "the people running these institutions." It doesn't ask whether you think science has changed. It's specifically asking about the folks wearing literal and figurative lab coats who are running joints like the National Science Foundation, testifying before Congress, appearing on The Tonight Show while forecasting famine up the ying-yang and praising coercive population control measures, and who often end up being totally wrong about everything.

If it's "educated conservatives" who have lost faith in scientists, a fully plausible possible explanation is simply that they recognize what libertarians and crypto-libertarians ranging from Thomas Szasz to Michel Foucault have been pointing out since the early 1960s in works starting with The Myth of Mental Illness and The Birth of the Clinic: That much if not all of what passes for dispassionate scientific discourse is hugely implicated in power struggles that have little or nothing to do with disinterested, true-for-all-times-and-all-places Truths with capital Ts.

I do not doubt that conservatives are, in their heart of hearts, jugheaded buffoons who simply want to will away inconvenient truths by plugging their ears and covering their eyes when faced with cognitive dissonance. I'm confident that they argue from authority when it serves their purpose and then are muy skeptical when confronted with authority they don't like. I'm metaphysically certain that many are repllent and repulsive and altogether awful and that they tend to love dogs and cats in the abstract more than they do their fellow human beings in the flesh. In all this, I suspect, they are incredibly similar to liberals and, alas, libertarians, and everyone else.

And that to the extent conservatives have less and less confidence over time in "the people running these institutions" of science, government, education, business, law, medicine, you name it, they are absolutely to be looked upon as role models.

For the curious, here's data from Gallup on American confidence in institutions, 2011 vs. historical averages since 1973. You'll note that the vast majority of institutions are taking it on the chin for reasons that stem not from rampant paranoia (due to fluoride in the goddamned water supply I bet or maybe mercury in vaccines or incontrovertible evidence that J. Edgar Hoover wore cocktail dresses while taking dictation from LBJ on the crapper or simply that schools really don't do a very good job) but from the growing willingness of more and more Americans to challenge the authority of priests, coaches, lawyers, stockbrokers, ad men, doctors, and Indian chiefs.

Suggested soundtrack: The Godfathers' "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," featuring the line "Thing's ain't what they used to be/Cary Grant's on LSD."

Reason Writers Around Town: Peter Suderman Reviews the Smithsonian's "Art of Video Games" in The Washington Times

Senior Editor Peter Suderman explores the Smithsonian American Art Museum's new exhibit on video games in today's Washington Times:

A new exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum is billed as “The Art of Video Games.” Visitors will 

encounter beautiful production art, a chronological look at the major video-game platforms and their key games, tidbits of wisdom from various designers, and even a handful of games playable on giant public screens.

What they won’t find is much of a case that video games are, in fact, art. Instead, the exhibit, which opened March 16, serves more as a beginner’s history of the form - how it grew from a handful of hobbyists crafting simple pixel puzzles to armies of well-paid professionals building immense immersive worlds with Hollywood production values and novel-sized plots.

Whole thing here. 

A.M. Links: George Zimmerman Has an "Aggressive" Past, Mitt Romney to Challenge Obama on Foreign Policy, Household Income Fell in 2011

  • "George Zimmerman was fired from his job as an under-the-table security guard for 'being too aggressive,' a former co-worker told the Daily News."
  • Chuck Todd calls for an end to leaks in Trayvon Martin case. 
  • Mitt Romney will somehow challenge Barack Obama on foreign policy
  • "Taking inflation and taxes into account, the amount of income available to households fell 0.1 percent after declining 0.2 percent in January."
  • Obama has done more to expand executive power than George Bush could ever imagine, reports the Wall Street Journal
  • Mega Millions fever (and the promise of a $540 million jackpot) sweeps America.

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New at Reason.tv: "Remy: Health Care Mandates vs Pizza Toppings"

Shikha Dalmia on Why Income Inequality Is a Red Herring

America has done a remarkable job of closing the only gap that matters: the personal well-being gap. The difference between the basic goods available to average Americans and mega-rich folks such as Bill Gates has steadily decreased, writes Shikha Dalmia in her contribution to Boston Review's symposium on income inequality. Gates might have personal jets and private gardens. But thanks to technology-driven productivity increases and lowered trade barriers, almost every American can afford bypass surgeries, laptops with Internet access, cars, TVs, and occasional air travel.

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Anti-Iraqi Hate Crime in California? The Murder of Shaima Alawadi

In another violent death with potential political implications, Nina Burleigh wonders in Time why more Americans aren't outraged at the beating death of Iraqi Muslim immigrant Shaima Alawadi in El Cajon, near San Diego:

Forty thousand Iraqis live  in El Cajon, California, where this week, Shaima Al Awadi, a devout Muslim mother of five, died after being beaten inside her home with a tire iron and left next to note reading “Go back to your country, you terrorist.” Coming on the heels of the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida, there would seem to be many parallels between the two crimes—the hate speech, the prejudice, the innocence of the victims.  A One Million Hijabs for Shaima Al Awadi page has even been launched on Facebook, but it’s doubtful that the movement will really catch on because Iraqis still considered dangerous infiltrators in the eyes of Americans.

Antiwar libertarian Anthony Gregory makes a political point about the crime:

even though the Iraqi people did nothing against the United States, only to see their country destroyed, hundreds of thousands of their people slaughtered, millions displaced in two decades of murderous U.S. wars and sanctions, somehow these people are still seen as the dangerous ones. But of course, if it's morally justifiable to treat people as subhuman by the millions—a principle necessarily implicit in the U.S. warfare state—what's one more dead mother count? This is one kind of private violent crime that the state could easily discourage simply by refraining from its killing sprees abroad; the copycat incidents would surely decline.

The eagle eye of anti-Muslim writer Debbie Schlussel is sure that the note is a phony and that this was an intra-Muslim "honor killing." Why is she so sure of this? She just is. Anyway, Alawadi's dad is a Shia cleric. And for some reason she sees something portentous and mysterious in one of Alawadi's sons comments to The New York Times:

An odd statement eerily hints that Shaima Alawadi’s own 15-year-old son, Mohammed, knows this isn’t a hate crime:

“There’s only three people that know what happened,” he said. “God, my mom and the guy who did it."

Schussel also finds it all too convenient that her husband and family just happened not to be home when the murder occurred.

Detroit Free Press notes the FBI has gotten involved in the case.

USA Today notes the local police are not authoritatively calling it a hate crime:

Among the evidence that police have collected is a threatening note that was near Alawadi's body. Her daughter told a television station that it said: "Go back to your country, you terrorist."

El Cajon Police Chief James Redman declined to discuss the contents of the note Monday, though he said that it has led police to regard the killing as a possible hate crime. He said he was confident the case would be solved.

"I want to stress there is other evidence in this case that we are looking at and the possibility this is a hate crime is just one aspect," Redman said.

"We don't have tunnel vision on this case," he said. "We're looking at the big picture."

Redman said he was confident it was an isolated incident but would not say why.

The president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council is also not jumping to conclusions:

Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said it would be irresponsible to jump to conclusions. He spoke with reporters at the mosque after meeting with the police chief and getting assurances from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security that they were committed to solving the crime.

"We don't know the facts of this case," Al-Marayati said. "We don't know if it's a hate crime. We don't know if it's not a hate crime."

He urged the public to grieve for a family that fled persecution in Iraq and found tragedy in the United States.

The victim and her family left Iraq in the early 1990s after a failed Shiite uprising, living in Saudi Arabian refugee camps before coming to the U.S.

Solyndra Scandal Pronounced Dead (Again)

With the release of the chief restructuring officer’s report, the scandal over the bankrupt solar panel maker Solyndra is being declared over. Kevin Drum says it’s a big “nothingburger,” pointing to Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-California) concession that there was “perhaps not” any criminal activity. Fortune’s Roger Parloff has a pretty thorough post-mortem. Grist’s perpetually irate David Roberts says the whole thing was a sideshow

A few points:  

First, you read it here four months ago. After Secretary of Energy Steven Chu’s embarrassing-to-all-concerned House testimony – during which the Nobel laureate pled a combination of ignorance, incompetence and bi-partisan support for green pork – I noted that Solyndra’s half-billion-dollar scandal had run its course

I don’t really disagree that Solyndra has exhausted a radioactive half-life. (There’s more radiation on the sun than there was at Three Mile Island, people!) The fact that there is bi-partisan – or is it transpartisan? – support for this kind of waste should make the story that much more maddening. But within the Republocrat consensus it’s considered a mitigating circumstance. 

The Republicans’ Inspector Clouseau routine with Chu left little hope that we’re going to get an aggressive investigation in this era of collegiality. And that’s not counting the shameless behavior of Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colorado) and Henry Waxman (D-California), who began the Solyndra scandal making public-spirited noises but ended up running interference for the president. 

I’m still hoping for a Rhambo subpoena. Like Evel Knievel and the Blessed Virgin Mary, I reserve the right to announce my last appearance on earth and then continue making appearances. But Solyndra does seem to be passing into the afterlife with Hillary Clinton’s statistically improbable cattle futures gains and Halliburton’s no-bid Iraq contracts: mysteries that fade not because they’ve been solved but because corruption is the fuel of effective politics. 

Second, none of this stuff is new. Grist’s Roberts, who for reasons of his own attributes the Solyndra scandal to a vast right-wing conspiracy centered in the GOP-controlled halls of Politico, has been trying to wish the scandal away for the better part of a year. He’s not the only one. The criminal claims around Solyndra did not originate with the Republicans but with the president’s own Departments of Justice, Treasury and Energy. I have said all along that the criminal angle was a dead end, and it had the practical effect of shutting down the most promising material in the congressional probe. 

Third, despite those obstacles, the Solyndra probe ended up shedding quite a bit of light. President Obama’s cronyism and shaky grasp of even basic 99-cent-store economics are now clear to anybody who is not willfully in denial. Chu has been revealed as a fool. Energy subsidies have been discredited, even if that hasn’t quite filtered up to the Energy Department, which is still setting aside multi-billion-dollar subsidies for green energy boondoggles: 

Most importantly, the folly of government industrial policy has been subjected to a long and continuing scrub. A company as bad as Solyndra can’t be created by mere stupidity. It takes a particular kind of misguided genius and a lot of money from unwilling investors. If the nothingburger sideshow has made that clearer to one or two people, it was worth something, though not  half a billion dollars. 

Another Gun Rights Victory from Second Amendment Foundation

A suit organized by the Second Amendment Foundation wins another Second Amendment victory in a federal court in North Carolina. From SAF's press release:

A federal district court judge in North Carolina has just struck down that state’s emergency power to impose a ban on firearms and ammunition outside the home during a declared emergency, ruling that the provision violates the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

The case, Bateman v. Purdue, was brought by the Second Amendment Foundation, Grass Roots North Carolina FFE and three individual plaintiffs.....

In his opinion, Judge Malcolm J. Howard, senior United States district judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina, wrote, “…the court finds that the statutes at issue here are subject to strict scrutiny…While the bans imposed pursuant to these statutes may be limited in duration, it cannot be overlooked that the statutes strip peaceable, law abiding citizens of the right to arm themselves in defense of hearth and home, striking at the very core of the Second Amendment.”

The release crows about the larger significance of this victory, and of SAF's longterm strategy of hitting at bad gun laws, actuated since its important victory in the 2010 McDonald v. Chicago case that extended Second Amendment protections to state and local laws:

“When SAF attorney Alan Gura won the Heller case at the Supreme Court,” noted SAF Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb, “the gun ban crowd said that we were a ‘one-trick-pony’ and that we would never knock out another gun law. Well, SAF has now knocked out gun laws in Maryland, Illinois and North Carolina.

“We filed this lawsuit on the day we won the McDonald case against Chicago,” he added, “extending the Second Amendment to all 50 states. This was part of our strategy of winning firearms freedoms one lawsuit at a time.”

Gottlieb pointed to language in Judge Howard’s ruling that solidifies the Second Amendment’s reach outside the home. The judge noted that the Supreme Court in Heller noted that the right to keep and bear arms “was valued not only for preserving the militia, but ‘more important(ly) for self-defense and hunting.”

“Therefore,” Judge Malcolm wrote, “the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms ‘is not strictly limited to the home environment but extends in some form to wherever those activities or needs occur."

That this judge seems to think Second Amendment violations require "strict scrutiny" is another good development. 

The full decision.

Eugene Volokh gets into the legal weeds, stressing the potential importance of this court's scrutiny standard when it comes to the Second Amendment if it becomes the legal norm:

Note that, as is often the case, the application of “strict scrutiny” can be quite rights-protective or not depending on what one understands “narrow tailoring” to mean. If narrow tailoring requires some plausible reason to believe that the law will on balance help prevent crime and injury, then that requirement will very often be satisfied. If it requires social science proof that the law will on balance help prevent crime and injury, then that requirement will rarely be satisfied, especially in situations such as this: There will rarely be solid studies of the effects of this particular kind of law.

And if, as here, “narrow tailoring” requires that the law not “excessively intrude” on rights, then that might be something like a rule of per se invalidation (at least as to very heavy burdens on the right): The premise of such an approach is that, regardless of whether the restrictions will reduce crime and injury, it is still unconstitutional if it interferes with the core of the right, since the constitutional recognition of the right expresses a judgment that the right must be protected despite the threat it may pose to compelling government interests. 

My October 2010 Reason cover story on the McDonald case, and my book Gun Control on Trial on the 2008 Heller case that revived the Second Amendment.

Kurt Loder Reviews Bully and Wrath of the Titans

Bully, a picture whose message rings out like an emergency alarm, may be more than one kind of wakeup call, writes Kurt Loder. The new documentary takes you straight back to school days—and they’re still every bit as awful as you might remember. Wrath of the Titans, meanwhile, is big-budget 3D junk, but director Jonathan Liebesman (Battle Los Angeles) has a flair for it, and most of the actors appear to be having a juicy good time. 

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Megamillions Mania Hits State Governments

States troubled by profligate fiscal policy and an ongoing economic downturn, reports the Associated Press, are looking toward the savior of dreamy suckers everywhere: the lottery! (The cash one, not the get-to-kill-someone one.)

Excerpts from the maw of slavering tax hunger:

People queuing up for Mega Millions tickets aren't the only ones salivating over the record $540 million jackpot that could be won Friday — some state governments struggling through lean times know a hometown winner would bring a tax bonanza.

Taxes on a lump-sum payment option to a single winner could mean tens of millions of dollars of badly needed revenue that could go to restore entire social service programs on the chopping block, pay for hundreds of low-income housing units, forestall new taxes or hire more state troopers.....

States set their own tax rates on lottery winnings. New York, for instance, charges 8.82 percent, while several, including California, charge none.

Ohio's share of the lump-sum payout would be $23 million, hardly pocket change but still a fraction of the state's $56 billion two-year budget.

"We're not holding our breath waiting for a tax windfall for the state, but we will always root for Ohio and Ohioans and hope lottery luck comes to a Buckeye," said Joe Testa, the state's tax commissioner....

The Rhode Island Association of School Committees has asked the state to use the $17 million for technology and wireless Internet in schools. That would be in place of a $20 million bond.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee has said the state, which is facing a $117 million budget shortfall next fiscal year, can't rely on those lottery winnings — and, of course, no state can. But his director of administration recently weighed in, saying of the tax payment: "We're happy to collect it."

Greg Beato on the lottery and the welfare state from last year.

Reason's state fiscal crises archives.

Obama the Biggest Spender This Election, White House Has No Back-Up Plan if ObamaCare Gets the Boot, Autism Diagnoses Increasing: P.M. Links

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Brian Doherty on Why Rand Paul Associated Sanctions With War

Rand Paul helped cement his reputation as his father’s son this week. The junior senator from Kentucky, son of libertarian-leaning GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, won headlines for halting a new round of sanctions against Iran coming out of the Senate by objecting to a call for unanimous consent. Paul's move, writes Brian Doherty, helps showcase the extent to which we are already warring against Iran--and why it's a good idea that we consider what we are doing, and stop.

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Medicare Pay For Performance Pilot Program Fails to Reduce Mortality

Another day, another failed Medicare pilot program. Via The Boston Globe:

A large Medicare pilot program that paid hospitals more if they consistently administered certain medications and vaccinations, provided appropriate counseling for people with heart conditions, or hit other quality targets did not reduce the number of patients who died within 30 days of admission to the hospital, a study published online Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine found.

The results are “sobering,” the authors wrote. The program served as a model for a major national initiative being rolled out this year.

Such pay-for-performance programs have been central in efforts to change how health care is paid for, shifting from a system that pays doctors for each test or treatment to one that rewards them for keeping their patients healthy.

...The study looked at mortality rates among more than 6 million patients treated over six years at 252 hospitals involved in the Premier Hospital Quality Incentive Demonstration. The program tied up to 2 percent of Medicare payments to performance on 33 quality measures, including two related to mortality. Most assessed how consistently hospitals carried out recommended treatments, tests, and preventive care -- so-called process measures. The patients were treated for heart attack, heart failure, or pneumonia, or had bypass surgery.

The mortality rates were compared with those at thousands of other hospitals that publicly reported performance on the same measures but were not part of the payment program. The authors found that deaths declined in both groups but at similar rates, even among those hospitals considered poor performers at the start of the program.

This is the great hope of ObamaCare's Medicare reforms—that bureaucrats can design clever payment schemes that result in both better care and restrained spending. But it hasn't worked well before, and there's little indication that it will work well on a large scale again. 

Watch Peter Schiff on the Federal Reserve at Reason HQ. NOW!

FreedomWorks Foundation and Reason are co-hosting a special lecture by economist Peter Schiff as he responds to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s four-part College Lecture Series at George Washington University School of Business.

Watch the livestream, starting at 3:00, below:

Live Video streaming by Ustream

Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on How Much Government Will Americans Tolerate in Their Medicine

Given the complete collapse of the government’s defense of ObamaCare at the Supreme Court, with any luck, we’ll have a majority on the bench willing to put the law out of its misery this summer. But what should we replace it with? Reason Foundation Senior Analyst examines the recent Reason-Rupe and other polls to see what Americans want in their health care. She concludes in her morning column at The Daily:

Americans are not dogmatically opposed to government intervention in health care markets. But their intuitions are more in line with advocates of consumer-based medicine who believe that the best way to control spiraling costs — the key to improving access — is to give patients more control over their medical dollars and inject a modicum of price sensitivity into our health care system.

Read the whole thing here.

"A Free Education Is Something That Many Parents Will Pay to Avoid"

From The Economist, more about how parents in the poorest countries in the world would still rather pay for private school than send their kids to free (terrible) public school.

A government decision in 2007 [in India] to make primary schooling compulsory and free boosted private-school numbers. Many parents became disenchanted with state-school teachers who failed to show up or taught badly—by, for example, failing to correct errors. Surveys by Pratham, a Mumbai-based charity, suggest that standards in state schools slipped as the system expanded, whereas in the private sector they have held up.

Between a quarter and a third of India students attend public schools, and in the cities that figure rises to 85 percent. As usual, those sassy Brits sum it up nicely:

Despite a rapid rise in attendance since 2000, 72m school-age children across the world are still not in school, half of them in sub-Saharan Africa and a quarter in South and West Asia. The United Nations reckons it would cost $16 billion a year to get the remaining stragglers into class by 2015—one of its big development goals. Yet a free education is something that many parents will pay to avoid.

Read more on how the world's poorest people can't afford not to go private.

Trying to Figure Out the Obamacare Case? Let's Ask a Cuba Apologist!

Seriously, check out Andrea Mitchell, reporting from the Pope's visit to Cuba:

We're seeing this debate in our country about universal health care, the mandate, the Supreme Court arguments today. We have univeral coverage here -- of course, it's a very different society, and an economic model that would not work in the United States. What do you see as the advantages of the Cuban system....

Granted, the last time I was in Cuba was just after the previous Pope had been there, but what struck me about the Cuban health care system then was that the average Cuban (quite unlike the visiting 2nd-world dignitary, or rich Western medical tourist), did not have any access to aspirin, even at those vaunted health clinics. You could reduce a Cuban mother to grateful sobs by bearing the gift of rubbing alcohol. What the system had in droves was doctors and nurses (especially helpful if you were a foreigner who needed a lot of physical therapy). What it didn't have was, you know, medicine. And supplies. And any patient-side input into care.

H/T Michael C. Moynihan.

Ronald Bailey on Conservatives Against Consumption

Republican presidential hopefuls, who are strenuously trying to outdo each other in defending family values, may be overlooking a chief cause of modern moral and social decay: increased fossil fuel use. As Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey reports, that was the surprising suggestion recently made by a couple of conservative intellectuals.

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Did Police and Paramedics Conspire to Invent George Zimmerman's Injuries?

Many people suspect that George Zimmerman, in seeking to justify shooting Trayvon Martin, exaggerated the threat posed by the unarmed teenager. But the attorneys hired by Martin's family have a history of exaggeration as well. One of them, Natalie Jackson, declared, based on the recording of a 911 call made during the fight between Zimmerman and Martin, "It is so clear that this was a 17-year-old boy pleading for his life, and someone shot him in cold blood." Zimmerman claimed the cries cited by Jackson were his own, not Martin's, and a witness backed him up. The same witness confirmed that the fatal shot was fired in the midst of a violent struggle, apparently when Martin was on top of Zimmerman—i.e., in the heat of the moment, not in cold blood. Another lawyer for the family, Benjamin Crump, said the testimony of Martin's girlfriend, who was talking to him on his cellphone right before the fight, "completely blows Zimmerman's absurd self-defense claim out of the water." It doesn't. Most crucially, her account does not resolve the question of who started the fight, let alone the question of whether Zimmerman (who claimed Martin tried to grab his gun) reasonably feared for his life and had no feasible means of escape. This pattern of hyperbole continues with the lawyers' tendentious interpretation of security camera footage (below) showing cops bringing a handcuffed Zimmerman into the police station, which ABC News aired last night (and Mike Riggs noted this morning).

"An attorney for the teen's family said it looks to him that Zimmerman doesn't have injuries to his face and head in the video as Zimmerman's supporters have described," A.P. reports. Those injuries—a bloody nose and a cut on the back of Zimmerman's head—were described not just by his "supporters" but by police officers who said they saw them. It is true that no blood or injuries are discernible in the video, which is fuzzy but shows the back of Zimmerman's head a few times and includes a pretty clear image of his face as he walks through a door at the 1:25 mark. But since "he was tended at the scene by paramedics but told them he did not need to go to a hospital," as The Orlando Sentinel reports, that is hardly surprising. Any wounds presumably would have been cleaned up by the time Zimmerman got to the police station. According to A.P., Zimmerman's lawyer "said the gash on the back of Zimmerman's head probably was serious enough for stitches, but he waited too long for treatment so the wound was already healing." The most that can be said based on the video is that Zimmerman's wounds were not severe enough to be visible in grainy security footage, a point reinforced by the fact that he declined to go to the hospital. But here is what Crump had to say:

This certainly doesn't look like a man who police said had his nose broken and his head repeatedly smashed into the sidewalk. George Zimmerman has no apparent injuries in this video, which dramatically contradicts his version of the events of February 26.

It does not really contradict Zimmerman's version of events. Although the apparent mildness of his injuries may reinforce the impression that he overreacted, it is still possible that Zimmerman reasonably feared severe injury or death, especially since he said that Martin tried to take away his gun. By casting doubt on whether Zimmerman really had the injuries police reported and paramedics treated, Crump implies an official conspiracy to make up details supportive of Zimmerman's account. Although there are good reasons to question the thoroughness of the police investigation and the decision by the state attorney's office not to charge Zimmerman, there is no evidence that Sanford police—whose lead investigator, Chris Serino, reportedly wanted to arrest Zimmerman—were so eager to absolve him that they falsified their records.

Addendum: In an interview with WOFL, the Fox station in Orlando, Zimmerman's father says the neighborhood watch volunteer deemed Martin suspicious because he was walking in the rain between townhouses, instead of on the street or the sidewalk. He adds that Zimmerman kept following Martin after the police dispatcher suggested that he stop because he wanted to get an address from one of the houses so he would know where exactly he was in the development.

Remy: Health Care Mandates vs Pizza Toppings

Internet sensation Remy explains how pizza can tell us a lot about health care mandates.

Written and performed by Remy and produced by Meredith Bragg.

About 2.30 minutes. Go to Reason.tv for downloadable versions and subscribe to our YouTube channel to get automatic updates when new material goes live.

Follow Reason on Twitter at http://twitter.com/reason

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For a complete playlist of Reason.tv's health care coverage, go here

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For more information about state by state minimum coverage mandates, visit www.cahi.org

Some Questions On ObamaCare's Compassion For Dahlia Lithwick and Other Bleeding-Heart Liberals

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, usually a solid advocate of civil liberties against government intrusions, can’t for the life of her understand what all the fuss about the loss of economic liberties due to ObamaCare is all about. Shell shocked by the shellacking that the Solicitor General Donald Verrilli received at the hearing Tuesday, she went into a deep sulk and threw the intellectual equivalent of a hissy fit.

How dare the conservatives on the bench ask Verilli if he recognized any limiting principles on the government’s powers under the Commerce Clause to coerce activity? By simply posing this question, the conservative justices had revealed just how dark, primitive and – above all – uncompassionate their conception of freedom was. She wrote:

Until today, I couldn’t really understand why this case was framed as a discussion of “liberty.” This case isn’t so much about freedom from government-mandated broccoli or gyms. It’s about freedom from our obligations to one another, freedom from the modern world in which we live. It’s about the freedom to ignore the injured, walk away from those in peril, to never pick up the phone or eat food that’s been inspected. It’s about the freedom to be left alone. And now we know the court is worried about freedom: the freedom to live like it’s 1804.

(She had no freedom from acid reflux as she wrote this, I’m sure.)

But if she’s having trouble understanding the conservative conception of freedom, I’m having difficulty understanding her conception of compassion. So here are some questions that might help clear the cobwebs off my Neanderthal brain.

One: Liberals insist that the individual mandate forcing everyone to buy coverage is necessary to prevent freeloaders from saddling everyone else with the cost of their emergency care. One can defend this provision by appealing to individual responsibility (as the awful Mitt Romney did) or the need for a more rational health care system, or, if liberals were honest, putting in place a funding mechanism for universal coverage.  But why is forcing someone to buy a product against their wishes on the threat of fines or jail compassionate?

Liberals might say that the individual mandate is not compassionate, but the system in whose service it’s being deployed – universal coverage – is because everyone will get better care. But that only raises more questions: one conceptual and one empirical:

Conceptually, if we subtract the cruelty of the means from the alleged compassion of the ends, will there be a net increase in compassion?

Empirically, if people don’t experience significant health gains under universal coverage, as there is scientific evidence to believe they won’t, does the mere intention of compassion matter?

Two:  The individual mandate shows that it does not matter to Lithwick and her fellow progressives that they have to resort to conscription to enact their grand compassionate designs. But does who they are conscripting matter? In the bad old days of the draft, the fact that politically powerless minorities ended up serving disproportionally more than rich, powerful white kids made the system even more immoral.

Shouldn't that doom ObamaCare too?

In our current health care system, a mix of taxpayers; (rich) hospitals/providers and (even richer) private insurers are stuck with the tab for uncompensated care. There are many problems with this. But isn’t it at least more compassionate than ObamaCare that would force asset-poor young people – trying to pay off their college debt and hang on to some beer money – to subsidize the coverage of relatively wealthier prospective geezers? If maximizing compassion is the issue, shouldn't we stick with what we've got?

Three:  In the Manichean worldview of Lithwick & Co., one can have compassion or freedom but not both. That would be news to Aristotle who, for a dead, white, male, wrote some rather lovely stuff in the Nichomachean Ethics about how freedom is a pre-requisite for genuine compassion.

If anything, the evidence that compulsion leads to more compassion is slim at best. Despite the fact that doctors and hospitals have a legal obligation to treat emergency cases, the total amount of uncompensated care provided in America adds up to only $40.7 billion annually or about 3 percent of our total health care spending (hardly the kind of problem that justifies a draconian 2,500-plus page government power grab). This is comparable to the 3 to 5 percent of billable hours in pro bono services that big law firms, that have no equivalent compulsion, aim to offer. 

Why is it obvious that, absent a legal requirement, doctors would offer any less free care than lawyers? Is it at all plausible that people who have chosen healing the sick as their vocation would simply walk away as poor people “bleed out on the curb,” as Lithwick worries?

Four: Related to the above point, have liberals ever considered that freedom and compassion are not enemies, but friends? That incentivizing, rather than forcing, compassion might be a better way to go? For example, how about offering, say, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation tax breaks to buy coverage for the uninsured?

I can already hear derisive laughter. But does that show that opponents of ObamaCare are indifferent to compassion – or that liberals have contempt for freedom?

No doubt it’s my naivety that is causing me to ask such simple-minded questions. But perhaps liberals can enlighten me – in the name of compassion, you know.

52 Percent Favor Health Care Law’s Community Rating; 76 Percent Oppose When Cuts to Quality Considered

New findings from the Reason-Rupe poll demonstrate weak support of the new health care law, which is likely driven by opposition to the individual mandate. However, other provisions in the law do enjoymajority support.

For instance, 52 percent favor the community rating provision, which prohibits health insurance companies from charging some customers higher premiums based on medical history or pre-existing conditions. However, when potential cuts to quality are considered, support flips and 76 percent oppose the provision.

The Reason-Rupe poll sought to provide realistic potential costs associated with the community rating provision to understand what costs Americans might be willing to accept in exchange for community rating.

Although a majority of Americans favor a community rating provision, support drops to 41 percent if increased wait times result, 38 percent if increased premiums result, and 37 percent if increased taxes result. Most strikingly though, opposition skyrockets to 76 percent if decreased health care quality results from the community rating provision.

Among those who favor the community rating provision, a majority continue to favor it if increased wait times result, 47 percent continue to favor if increased taxes result, and 46 percent continue to favor if increased premiums result. However, opposition also soars to 76 percent if decreased health care quality results from the community rating provision.

Polls typically ask about explicit provisions in the new health care law, such as the individual mandatethe employer mandatecommunity ratingguaranteed issue, and the medical loss ratio. However, they often fail to provide realistic potential costs associated with these provisions. This is essentially asking a person if they want a benefit without suggesting there is any associated cost.

When potential unintended costs are considered, favorability toward the Affordable Care Act's provisions becomes more nuanced. These data suggest community rating’s benefits are popular when considered in isolation of costs. However, support declines when increased wait times to see a physician, increased premiums, increased taxes, or decreased health care quality are considered.

Full poll results found here.

Nationwide telephone poll conducted March 10th-20th of both mobile and landline phones, 1200 adults, margin of error +/- 3 percent. Columns may not add up to 100 percent due to rounding. Full methodology can be found here

Emily Ekins is the director of polling for Reason Foundation where she leads the Reason-Rupe public opinion research project, launched in 2011. Follow her on Twitter @emilyekins.

Do You Have a Free Speech Right to Heckle Athletes, Coaches, and Referees at Publicly Financed Stadiums?

In honor of the Major League Baseball season being two days old even though the first North American game won't be played until next Wednesday, here's a free-speech brain-tickler, as posed by today's New York Times:

Is a fan's protest — known in some sports law circles as fan speech or cheering speech — a form of expression protected by the First Amendment? [...]

The question is apparently still open to debate, despite more than 150 years of American public sporting events. Legal experts say few precedent-setting court rulings deny, interpret or establish a fan's right to rail at a referee. Hostile or excessively disorderly fan behavior is not tolerated by security officials at games, or for the most part by the court system, because it is deemed dangerous or disruptive to the group. But in the middle of a sporting event as fervent as the N.C.A.A. tournament, with passionate crowds and high stakes, what exactly defines disruptive? [...]

Classic public forum free-speech issues [...] would generally not be applicable at privately owned facilities hosting games, like college basketball games at private universities. Privately owned teams can also contend that a fan's purchase of a ticket is in fact a contract with the team to conform to a code of conduct, which could include a prohibition on excessive yelling at the officials. But many stadiums and arenas constructed with some public financing, or built on state land or land operated by a municipal authority, could be viewed as public entities. In that setting, a government cannot force citizens to surrender constitutional rights like free speech. [...]

[T]he legal precedents [...] are hard to come by, perhaps for two contrasting reasons, lawyers said. Fans who might have good cases for seemingly unjust ejections are rarely arrested; they are only removed from the event. They may be upset afterward but not aggrieved enough to follow through with a lengthy lawsuit. The other reason is that when a fan does file a civil suit over an ejection, it is almost always settled before a trial because team owners and arena owners fear a landmark case establishing fans' rights.

"Imagine if a higher court took on such a case?" said Mark Conrad, an associate professor of sports law at Fordham University's School of Business. "Facility owners would be quaking over anything like that because it could open the floodgates."

Public subsidies, tax breaks, and eminent domain takings on behalf of professional sports franchises constitute one of the most egregious and persistent strains of bipartisan corporate welfare in this country, as Reason has been telling you for decades. It would make my heart do an Ozzie Smith backflip to see the Selig/Paulsons of the world get bitten on the ass–through a free-speech challenge, no less!–for fattening up on the public teat.

Ah, you ask, but what's the connection between fan behavior and the prison-industrial complex? Don't worry, Ramblin' Bill James has a theory:

There are three stages in the history of baseball. In the first stage, which ended about 1920, if you stood up in the front row and bellowed, "Hey, Cobb, I hear your mudder used to work bachelor parties," Ty Cobb would come over to your seat and personally introduce you to his knuckles. In the third stage, which began about 1983, if you stand up and scream, "Hey, Pujols, I hear your mommy used to work bachelor parties," three men with walkie-talkies will immediately surround you and escort you off the premises. But in the intermediate stage, you could take off your shirt, stand on your seat, and yell any goddamned idiotic thing you wanted to, and nobody would do anything except the beer vendors, who would come by your seat every inning to sell you as many cold ones as you wanted to buy. [...]

In his 1929 book 20,000 Years in Sing Sing, Warden Lewis E. Lawes says that his young daughter, who was born inside the prison, knew all of the prisoners and was allowed to wander freely around the prison, with a few obvious out-of-bounds penalties. Think about what a different world that is from a modern prison. If I could divert your attention for just a second with a serious question: How did we slip backward like that? How did prisons become these violent hellholes that they now are, so that it is unimaginable to have an 8-year-old girl wandering the hallways of a maximum-security lockup?

It has to do with the three stages I was talking about before. Prisons in that era were in Stage One: If a prisoner acted belligerently toward the guards, the guards would pull out the rubber hoses. The Warren Court put an end to that era, which was a good idea, I suppose, but that pushed us into Stage Two, during which baseball fans would scream at the players and nobody would do anything about it. The inmates now can abuse the guards, and the guards don't really know what to do about it other than to transfer the offender to an isolation unit when it gets too bad. What is really needed is not a program of reacting to the worst abuse the prisoners can come up with, but a program of reacting swiftly to small infractions. But prisons have pushed the living conditions of the convicts down as far as the courts will allow them to be pushed, so the wardens have little operating margin to react to small infractions.

John Stossel on Regulations That Create Useless Jobs While Stifling Innovation

Americans will spend $46 billion a year to obey just the new regulations the Obama administration imposed. Think of the money diverted to lawyers, accountants and “compliance officers”—money that might have created jobs and financed products that could make our lives better. Big businesses often have no problem with this, writes John Stossel. They frequently benefit from complex regulation because it increases the chance that potential competition won’t even get off the ground. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs can only spin their wheels and despair. 

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Simpson-Bowles Knocked Out Like Trevor Berbick; House Shuts Out Obama Budget Like Bob Feller

It’s a no-good very bad week for the Obama Administration, and we haven’t even gotten to the Friday Solyndra document dump. After a bruising Supreme Court review of President Obama’s signature health care initiative (masterfully recounted by Damon Root here, here, here and other places), the president’s budget has been subjected to a gimmicky zero-vote defeat in the House of Representatives. 

More seriously, Obama’s long-dying deficit-reduction plan, spearheaded by emeritus operatives Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, has been eviscerated in a 382-38 House vote. 

From the Washington Times

The 382-38 defeat, with just 16 Republicans and 22 Democrats voting for it, marks a bad end to what began nearly two years ago, when President Obama tapped former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, a Democrat, and former Sen. Alan Simpson, a Republican, to lead a deficit-reduction committee.

Their report has popped up in every deficit discussion since then, but had never gotten a vote in either chamber until this week, when opponents prevailed.

“This doesn’t go big. This doesn’t tackle the problem. This doesn’t do the big things,” said Rep. Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the Budget Committee. “You can never get the debt under control if you don’t deal with our health care entitlement programs.”

The debate came as the House worked its way through its fiscal year 2013 budget plan, which Mr. Ryan wrote.

The Bowles-Simpson plan was offered as an alternative on the chamber floor.

Minutes earlier, the House also defeated Mr. Obama’s own budget, submitted last month, on a 414-0 vote arranged by Republicans to embarrass the president and officially shelve his plan.

“It’s not a charade. It’s not a gimmick — unless what the president sent us is the same,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a freshman Republican from South Carolina who sponsored Mr. Obama’s proposal for purposes of the debate. “I would encourage the Democrats to embrace this landmark Democrat document and support it. Personally, I will be voting against it.”

Simpson-Bowles never really gained much traction, and the vote on the president’s unseasoned budget was a stunt. So the House actions shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Then again, neither should Obama’s claims about reducing the deficit. 

Smilin’ Al Simpson in better times


Stephen Breyer's Commerce Clause Stream-of-Consciousness, as Performed by The Dude

The D.C. Examiner's Conn Carroll has highlighted what he calls Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer's "unhinged Commerce Clause ramblings." So naturally I thought we should make a crude animation using the star of The Big Lebowski:

Reason's coverage of the Supreme Court case has been terrific; start here for a list of articles, blog posts, and videos.

Sheldon Richman on Why the Health Insurance Mandate Is Immoral and Unnecessary

The Obama administration argued to the U.S. Supreme Court this week that people must be compelled to buy medical insurance (designed by the government) or the national medical-insurance market will fail. Thus, Obamacare advocates say, the insurance mandate is consistent with the powers delegated under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The argument, however, contains a fatal flaw. If the medical-insurance market would indeed fail without a mandate, writes Sheldon Richman, it’s only because of other mandates the government has already imposed. Thus the government has created the rationale for an extension of its own power.

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Forget Pepsi Clear: How 'Bout a Refreshing Pepsi FETUS?

Coming soon to a billboard near you?: "I'm Pro-Choice and I drink Diet Pepsi!" or "Pepsi: The Choice of the Pro-Choice Generation!"

Check out this Wash Times headline, which must be every CEO's nightmare and every crisis-PR honcho's wet dream: 

PepsiCo denies accusations on link to aborted fetal cells

...PepsiCo has come under intense pressure from pro-life groups for contracting with Senomyx Inc., a San Diego biotech company accused of developing flavor enhancers using cell lines taken from the kidney of an aborted fetus. PepsiCo, the world’s second-largest food and beverage business, announced the $30 million deal on its website in August 2010.

The move represents what pro-life advocates describe as a troubling shift in commercial research involving cell lines developed from aborted embryos and fetuses. While research has centered on vaccines and medicines, Senomyx has contracted with companies that make soft drinks, candy, gum and coffee creamers.

After a review of Senomyx’s patents in 2011 showed that the company was using the fetal cell line in its research, more than a dozen pro-life groups launched a boycott of Pepsi products that has since spread to 11 nations, including Canada, Poland and Australia, as well as much of Western Europe....

Read the whole story here.

As the headline suggests, Pepsi people say it's all a bunch of hooey. I'm torn between marveling at the bizarreness of the whole scene (yet one more indication that sometime over the past decade or three, we started living in a Philip K. Dick novel; for other examples, go here and here) and trying to figure out if anyone should care.

Let's assume the charges are true, both that Senomyx patents are lousy with results ultimately from aborted fetuses and that Pepsi's unique taste is somehow related to same. Does that actually present an ethical dilemma? It's not as if the fetuses were created and then aborted for research purposes, or otherwise diverted from any other end.

This headline reminds me of a ploy developed by a high school friend to push Frank's Cola to the top of the heap in the soda wars. He argued that Frank's should start advertising itself as the only "100% Guaranteed Urine-Free" soda on the market. Assuming that claim passed FTC muster (based on the taste of Frank's, that would require independent testing, to be sure), the bigger soda companies would either have to follow suit or look as if they were in fact hiding something.

Are you listening, Coke executives? We're all getting a little tired of those goddamned polar bears.

Brickbat: Tick Tock

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents at New York's LaGuardia Airport spotted what looked like pipe bombs when one man's bags went through the X-ray machine. The man said the pipes actually contained homeopathic medicine, so they let him board his plane. But they kept the pipes in the screening area. It took them over three hours to notify a TSA bomb specialist. And it took the specialist another two hours to call the police bomb squad. The bomb squad thought the items could be dangerous, so they shut down the area and took pipes to a bomb range. Fortunately for everyone who passed through the TSA screening area, the pipes weren't dangerous.

Brickbat Archive

A.M. Links: Obamacare's Future Looks Bleak, Marco Rubio Endorses Mitt Romney, New Video Challenges George Zimmerman's Assault Claim

  • SCOTUS was not impressed by the Solicitor General's defense of the individual mandate. Will the justices scrap just a portion of Obamacare, or the entire law?
  • Marco Rubio endorses Mitt Romney. 
  • George Zimmerman claimed to have been attacked and beaten bloody by Trayvon Martin. New video suggests otherwise
  • Spike Lee says sorry for directing the mob to the wrong house
  • RIP banjo master Earl Scruggs
  • Mega Millions jackpot now worth half a billion dollars

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New at Reason.tv: "Obamacare #FAIL: Day 3 at the Supreme Court"

TSA Manager Likes Touching Strangers 24/7; Arrested For Running Prostitution Ring

 Via Instapundit comes news of the Transportation Security Administration one of the most disliked and underperforming parts of the federal government (thank you for creating it, George W. Bush):

A manager at the Transportation Security Administration has lost his job after being arrested on prostitution-related charges. According to court documents, the agency had received a complaint of "very similar" activities back in 2009.

Bryant Jermaine Livingston, 39, was arrested while on the job as a supervisor of TSA agents at Dulles International Airport. The Manassas, Virginia resident, said by phone he is innocent of the charges, but declined to discuss the details of the case.

According to charging documents, on February 15th, Livingston used cash to rent a room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Georgia Ave. in Silver Spring, Md. The hotel manager recognized Livingston as a previous customer who, on earlier occasions had "groups of males and females frequently entering and exiting Livingston's room," according to a court document....

Whole story here.

Let's not miss the irony here: The TSA should be disbanded and prostitution should be legal. Priorities, people. Priorities.

Here's ReasonTV's TSA playlist. First up is the always-ennertainin' strip search. Stick around for Remy's TSA Pokey-Pokey, Con Air 2010: If You Touch My Junk I'm Going to Have You Arrested, and so much more.

Steve Chapman on the Power of Capitalism to Alleviate Poverty

Among the most vicious enemies of human welfare is poverty. In a world plagued with limited resources, bad governments and unsound economic policies, it often appears to be an inescapable scourge. Most people paid no attention in 2000 when the United Nations proclaimed the goal of halving the number of earth's inhabitants living in extreme poverty by 2015, compared to 1990. But way ahead of schedule, writes Steve Chapman, the target has already been hit. We have capitalism to thank for that. 

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