Michael Sivy (a Chartered Financial Analyst, FWIW) makes an interesting counterintuitive case in Time: that Germany, the only still-breathing country left in the euro system, should bail on the transnational currency.
[I]f Germany were the one to leave, the euro would be the currency that falls in value, relative to Germany’s new national currency and also to the dollar. The weaker European countries would get to keep the euro but still get the devaluation they need, which would reduce their labor costs far less painfully than through wage cuts. In addition, the value of their outstanding debt would decline along with the value of the euro, and they would be more likely to be able to make payments on that debt and avoid defaulting.
The standard argument against this solution is that as the value of euro-denominated debt falls along with the euro, banks in many countries would have big losses on bonds they own. But losses from falling bond prices are less disruptive than sudden defaults. And the fact is that those losses have really already occurred, they just haven’t been acknowledged. The goal at this point is not so much to prevent losses, but to find a way for banks and other international financial institutions to absorb their losses without triggering sudden bank failures or a global financial crisis. In short, it’s not about the money, it’s about stability. And for once, it may be easier to maintain order without the help of Germany.
The standard argument for breaking up the Eurozone is that the moribund PIIGS countries should depart the common currency, go back to their old money systems, and inflate to their hearts’ content, thus sparing Greeks and Spaniards such nightmarish indignities as having to work for a living. The appeal of Sivy’s plan (which seems to be derived from Daily Telegraph columnist Roger Bootle) is that it would be funny. It would also be just, as the departure of Germany, presumably followed by France and the rest of the salvageable economies, would leave the euro to become the latter-day escudo it deserves to be: a valueless and physically unattractive monument to the hubris of bureaucrats who valued an economic “system” over any actual economies.
The problem is that it’s hard to see how this would solve the problem. Unless India and China have vanished from the earth recently, Germany’s remarkably low wages are a feature, not a bug. And Greece is a paradox that has to be experienced, preferably (though in ever-lower numbers) by fat, pasty German tourists: a crappy third-world country that is dependent on tourism, but where everything is shockingly overpriced. The idea of breaking up the Eurozone is to let the responsible countries reap the rewards of their good behavior while letting the deadbeats do what has traditionally best for them: devaluing their own currencies and screwing their creditors.
No matter who leaves the euro, the good news is that what was just a year ago considered madness is now conventional wisdom: The euro must be destroyed.
Now I’m off to pitch my spec script for Princess Diaries 3: Sovereign Default: Hector Elizondo has been gravely injured protecting Julie Andrews from an anti-austerity riot, the country may have to go off the euro and back to the Genovian florin, and Princess Mia has just one week to save the kingdom by marrying a gruff central banker with a heart of gold played by Peter Dinklage. (I hate to re-use Hollywood’s oldest jape, but in person Anne Hathaway really is much shorter than you think.) Maybe not box office gold, but at least box office fiat currency.
Back in 1991, a coalition of international troops led by the United States and put together chiefly by President George H.W. Bush attacked Iraq in response to that country's invasion and occupation of Kuwait. One of the goals of the operation was to liberate Kuwait and hem in Saddam Hussein and Iraq.
The active part of the war lasted a total of about 210 days; following the expulsion of Iraqi troops from Kuwait, allied forces moved into Iraq and quickly took control of the country, or at least of its international ambitions. After a cease-fire, coalition troops (mostly American) maintained no-fly zones, and more, and that seemed to be that (not exactly). Kuwait was free to get on with its life free of Iraqi interference.
The first President Bush justified the move against Iraq by saying, "If history teaches us anything, it is that we must resist aggression or it will destroy our freedoms."
Here's the latest news from Kuwait, the country we rescued:
Kuwaiti lawmakers voted in favour of a legal amendment on Thursday which could make insulting God and the Prophet Mohammad punishable by death, after a case of suspected blasphemy on Twitter caused an uproar in the Gulf Arab state.
Members of Parliament must vote on the proposal again in a second session and it would need the approval of the country’s ruler before becoming law.
The amendment was backed by 46 votes, while four opposed it and others abstained. Those in favour included all 15 members of the cabinet.
Blasphemy is illegal in Kuwait under a 1961 publications law and at present carries a jail term, the length of which depends on the severity of the comments and their perceived effect on society, lawyers say.
Islamist MPs proposed toughening the law last month after authorities arrested a Kuwaiti man they said had defamed the Prophet, his companions and his wife on the Twitter messaging site.
The first Gulf War took place before I had joined the staff of Reason or had a public voice. I remember being against it for many reasons, but I could at least understand the idea of other nations pushing back when an internationally recognized boundary fell (never mind that the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad had told the Iraqis that our country had "no opinion on Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait" and all that).
I'm curious how defenders of the first Gulf War (not to mention the second and hopefully last one) feel about Kuwait these days? Are our freedoms in better shape since we helped out a country that's about to vote to put people to death for insulting religious figures?
Related (from 2010): "Why We're Holding an Everybody Draw Mohammed Day Contest"
"If freedom can't win over something so innocuous and where the benefits are so wide, then you can't win at all," says Jeffrey Dermer, a lawyer and founder of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendor's Association, a group devoted to protecting the legal rights of food truck operators.
Food trucks made news in California when a state assemblyman pushed forward a law that would've banned vendors from operating within 1,500 feet of a school. Popular backlash killed that ban, but other cities around the state are still trying to clamp down on food trucks.
Dermer talked with Reason.tv about SCMFVA's suit against the city of Monrovia, which has enacted a de facto food truck ban, as well as the broader state of the food truck industry, which is often attacked by interest groups representing traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants, which claim that food trucks are unfair competitors.
"I don't think there's anything unfair about it. The problem is, your food isn't good enough," says Dermer.
Run time about 4 minutes.
Interview by Zach Weissmueller. Shot by Christopher Sharif Matar. Edited by Weissmueller.
Tax Day is Tuesday, April 17, and the issue of what we need to fork over to government at all levels hasn't been so fraught since...last year.
Here's Reason's video playlist of tax-related videos from the past few years. Among the highlights: "Why Aren't the Rich Paying 50% in Taxes," "47 Ways to Say IRS," "Is Hillary Clinton Right That the Rich Don't Pay 'Their Fair Share' of Taxes," "Taxes: The Price We Pay for Civilization," and "W-2 WTF?!?!: Tax Facts to Make Your Head Explode."
Assuming the right Reasoners get our their taxes done in time, we might even have something new for the mix come Monday.
President Barack Obama further muddled his position on drug policy reform in an interview with Univision's Enrique Acevedo, saying, in the course of one response, both "I don’t mind a debate around issues like decriminalization," and "I don’t think that legalization of drugs is going to be the answer."
EA: Mr. President, this lively discussion on the issue of drug consumption, drug trafficking among the regional leadership seems to have caught American diplomacy a little off-guard. Many Latin American governments complain that the U.S. continues to filter drug trafficking by being the principle importer of these drugs. The Justice Department says there are over 20 million Americans using drugs. Do you think it’s time to change this strategy in the war against drugs?
PBO: I actually don’t think it’s taken us off guard. My first meeting with President Calderon, who obviously is engaged in a very courageous battle with narco-traffickers inside his own country, we had this discussion and I said that the United States has to be a partner in this process because it is true that we are a primary market for the drug trafficking that’s taking place in Latin America, Central America and the Caribbean, and that’s why we’ve put billions of dollars since I’ve come into office into drug treatment programs, prevention programs, treating it as a public health issue so that we can lower demand. At that same time we’ve initiated unprecedented cooperation on the law enforcement side and obviously our efforts here in Colombia are an example of the progress that’s been made when it comes to issues of citizen security — and the last part of this is what we’ve tried to do is make sure that security at our borders is not just a one-way street, that we are paying a lot of attention to arms that are flowing south, cash that’s flowing south, because it’s important that we take our responsibilities seriously and not just ask other countries to do their part. This is an enormous challenge and I don’t mind a debate around issues like decriminalization. I personally don’t agree that that’s a solution to the problem, but I think that given the pressures that a lot of governments are under here, under-resourced, overwhelmed by violence, it’s completely understandable that they would look for new approaches, and we want to cooperate with them. I don’t think that legalization of drugs is going to be the answer.
Is the semantic distinction between Obama saying he doesn't think legalization is "going" to be the answer, as opposed to just saying "it's not the answer," a meaningful one? My guess is the president's remarks aren't a reflection of his own beliefs, or an impending policy change, but a public admission (hot on the tails of Vice President Joe Biden's) that Central American leaders are weighing the benefits of decriminalization.
Senior Editor Peter Suderman reviews the new sci-fi prison escape movie Lockout in The Washington Times:
“Lockout” belongs to a number of familiar cinematic subgenres: It’s part prison-escape flick, part sci-fi spectacular, part glib ‘80s-throwback action blockbuster. At times, it even threatens to become a slam-bang modern martial arts movie.
But the genre it belongs to most is the good bad movie. Indeed, as bad movies go, “Lockout” is one of the better examples Hollywood has released in years.
The good bad movie is not to be confused with the so-bad-it’s-good movie that viewers of“Mystery Science Theater 3000” know so well. In those cases, a movie’s outrageous and usually unintended deficiencies become so outsized as to be entertaining unto themselves.
Instead, the good bad movie is a movie that, by most common measures - script, story, special effects, character development - fails to meet a basic minimum threshold for acceptability, yet is somehow genuinely engaging and entertaining anyway.
Earlier this year California assemblyman Bill Monning (D-Carmel) introduced a bill that would have barred every one of the state’s beloved food trucks from operating within 1,500 feet of a public school. The bill, the purpose of which was to reduce childhood obesity, pegged food trucks as yet another driver of the obesity epidemic. But is there any evidence to support this claim? Baylen Linnekin, the executive director of Keep Food Legal, reports on the baseless assertions behind the bill.View this article
The Summit of the Americas had its first day and headlines are still stressing the drug war as the hot issue. But Obama really wants to talk economy and free trade stuff. Still, several of the 30-plus leaders of countries represented at the meeting become deliciously outspoken in their desire to either end, dial down, or just talk about changing drug war policy throughout the Americas in the last few months and years. So what's up with that, Northern-Americans?
Well, again, the U.S. does want to talk about the issue, paraphrases canada.com, "if only to "demystify" decriminalization as an option and show that such a move would backfire and make matters worse." It's not certain whether this refers to Vice President Joe Biden's bold March statement that "there is no possibility the Obama/Biden administration will change its policy on legalization" which is not exactly rich in enlightening detail about how exactly things would be made worse by reining in prohibition.
But Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants to talk about how much he doesn't want to legalize, too. And he recently had his communications director offer up this decisively pro-prohibition quote:
"The prime minister would be a strong voice in that debate," said Andrew MacDougall. "The government's strategy is, in fact, completely in the opposite direction.
"A key priority for us is to fight illicit drugs, particularly the transnational organizations that are behind the drug smuggling. Here at home, we have put in place tough new laws to crack down on these groups, to put drug dealers behind bars where they belong."
Canada, which once looked as if it were going to charge ahead in the liberalization of drug policies, has been taking too many pages out of the U.S. guidebook. Though some former Canadian health officials have pleaded for drug policy sanity, the country seems headed in a mandatory minimums for drug crimes (which are included in Canada's 2012 C-10 crime bills) sort of a direction. Canada did just allow medical marijuana patients to consume their medicine in more varied fashion, though, so that's a minor hurrah step. But when two-thirds of North America has no interest in legalization, that doesn't bode well for the summit as a success story.
It's just a pity that while Latin America moves forward on the drug war problem, Canada moves backwards, and the U.S. doesn't move at all (at least not federally, where it ultimately matters).
Reason on Canadian drug laws
Libertarian academics Matt Zwolinski and John Tomasi (who are collaborating on a forthcoming history of libertarian thought for Princeton University Press) are involved in an ongoing project to reframe libertarianism as a philosophy with room for considerations of income inequality and social justice; in political philosophy terms, a "neo-Rawlsian" libertarianism in its conception of justice.
The pair launched an interesting conversation at Cato Unbound in the past couple of weeks, and that conversation has spread beyond its confines. Herewith, a summary with some observations.
Zwolinski and Tomasi started with an essay called "A Bleeding Heart History of Libertarianism." In it they posit that property rights have been defined as all there is to justice in some star modern libertarian thinkers such as Rand, Rothbard and Mises, with "moral justification of free market institutions...logically independent from any claims about the effects of those institutions on the material holdings of the poor."
Other thinkers often considered in the libertarian family, they go on to explain, aren't such private property absolutists. In the rest of the essay they try to prove that a form of libertarian thinking that allows room for considerations of justice beyond private property is in fact more traditionally libertarian, or at least properly liberal, than the Rothbard/Rand variety. And the key is the degree to which this older form of libertarian thinking deals with:
the proper nature of concern for, and obligation to, the working poor. On this issue, the neoclassical liberal position is that the fate of the class who labor at the lowest end of the pay scale under capitalism is an essential element in the moral justification of that system. And this position, we will argue, has a far more solid grounding in the libertarian intellectual tradition than the justificatory indifference to which the postwar libertarians are committed.
They go on to defend the proposition that great 18th century liberals such as John Locke and Adam Smith had more room in their schemes of justification for how well a social system did for everyone, including the least well off. (As explained in my own book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement, while distinctly modern libertarianism has some ideological roots in Locke and Smith, what makes it distinct is the areas in which it differs--that is, modern libertarians need not feel they have betrayed their roots in diverging from Locke and Smith.) They correctly note that Herbert Spencer--far more a clear father to the Rothbard traditions, certainly, than Locke or Smith--helped diverge this tradition, though I might argue modern libertarianism isn't quite the same tradition as the classical liberals, at least in most respects.
That's all just a matter of labels though. What is the correct approach to political philosophy and reality? Smith and Locke or Rand and Rothbard? Lumping in Mises with the other two is a bit misleading, as even Zwolinksi and Tomasi note. They write:
Mises thought capitalist institutions justified, at least in part, because he believed a society-wide system of voluntary exchange will be materially beneficial for all citizens. Inequalities are justified, Mises seems to have argued, at least in part because they work to the material benefit of the least well off.
His disciple Rothbard--I suspect more directly influential on the rising generation of thoughtful, book-reading Paulite libertarians than Mises himself--"was sometimes insistent on the point that concerns about the welfare of the poor played no formal role in the moral justification of a free market." And Rand in Atlas, as they point out, was sure that socialism was bad for nearly everyone, not just the great and productive, though that wasn't explicitly part of her defense of free markets.
They wrap up with a long call for a libertarianism that's less deductive, that tries to figure out a sophisticated justification for certain market interventions in favor of income equality (admitting that such "soft" libertarians such as Hayek and Friedman never did a very thorough job explaining why they occasionally departed from a "property as justice" model), while granting that "a commitment to social justice in no way commits one to advocating liberty-limiting 'corrections' of emergent distributions on an ongoing basis." Fighting for an "overall system [that] works in a way that is beneficial to the lowest paid workers" is the "gold standard of contemporary theorizing about social justice," and something they seem to believe even libertarians should embrace and pursue.MORE »
If you're looking to spend your share of the profits from the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program, talk to your financial planner first. Every few months a new and usually larger TARP profit gets projected, reported or confirmed. But every few months later the TARP profit pulls a Chuck Cunningham.
In honor of today's announcement of a new TARP profit, here's a little victory lap in the Wayback Machine:
U.S. Turning Profit on TARP, but Big Loans Remain in Banks' Hands
The government netted roughly $4 billion – the equivalent of a 15% annual return – from eight of the biggest banks that have fully repaid their obligations to the government, according to calculations by The New York Times.
How Uncle Sam will profit from TARP
The CBO projects the government will ultimately make a profit of $7 billion from assisting the banks: $3 billion from the Capital Purchase Program, in which the government propped up banks by purchasing preferred stock; $2 billion from helping Citigroup (C, Fortune 500); and another $2 billion from helping Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500).
TARP: A Profit For Taxpayers?
The Treasury Secretary said that more than half of the funds lent through the program have been paid back along with $24 billion in additional revenue.
TARP Profit on Citigroup: $12.3 Billion
Overall, taxpayers are expected to end up with a $12.3 billion profit on the government's $45 billion investment in the company during the 2008 financial-sector bailout.
TARP Yields $20 Billion Profit, Treasury Says
Taxpayers have now recovered "more than 99% (about $244 billion) of the approximately $245 billion in total funds disbursed for TARP investments in banks," the Treasury said.
TARP's $24 Billion Profit: Some Demand a Recount
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said that while the government’s overriding objective was to “break the back of the financial crisis and save American jobs,” it didn’t hurt that the TARP investments in U.S. banks “delivered a significant profit for taxpayers.”
Treasury announces $10 billion in TARP profit from banks
Treasury now estimates that when all is said and done, the section of TARP devoted to banks will net taxpayers a $20 billion profit.
Treasury: Taxpayers Likely to Profit From Financial Rescue Programs
When housing programs are excluded, the Treasury now expects a $2 billion TARP profit.
Treasury Says TARP Is Turning Into A Moneymaker For Taxpayers
TARP housing programs will lose $16 billion or $46 billion, depending on whether you take the view from the Congressional Budget Office or the White House’s Office of Management And Budget.
More about bailouts repaid in full:
If business people protest against having their bottom-line prices handed over by government agents to competitors, customers and the curious world at large, that's:
A. not too frigging surprising behavior for businesses trying to survive in this dog-eat-dog world
B. dark, conspiratorial behavior by moneyed interests
If you picked B, you've obviously been reading Pro Publica, the non-profit source of "journalism in the public interest" and the self-described savior of investigative journalism. This week, the publicly interested investigators are on the trail of sinister lobbyists who oppose a proposed FCC rule requiring broadcasters "to electronically send the commission updates to its political file — in other words, information about what political ads are being purchased, by whom, and for how much money — instead of merely maintaining paper files at the stations, the current practice. The information would be made public on an FCC website."
But the FCC won’t release the exact text of the rule until after the panel votes to finalize it later this month. Meanwhile, the wording is subject to change based on input from interested parties.
That’s why the National Association of Broadcasters has been paying visits to key FCC officials this month. A group of influential Republican senators has also told the FCC they oppose the proposed rule.
On April 3 and 10, National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith met officials, including all three FCC commissioners, to make his case against required online disclosure of the public political ad information.
We know about Smith’s closed-door meetings at the FCC because of commission rules requiring prompt public disclosure filings that detail what is said when lobbyists come calling. The filings, which summarize the lobbyists’ pitches, are designed to assure that "FCC decisions are not influenced by impermissible off-the-record communications between decision-makers and others."
Smith, a former senator, is making gobs of money in his new gig — and he's accustomed to making all that moolah because "[h]is Oregon frozen-food businesses paid him millions of dollars in 2008."
But wait! There's more!
Also lobbying the commission was Jane Mago, executive vice president and general counsel of the NAB. She’s a familiar face at the FCC. Before joining the broadcasters’ group in 2004, Mago spent more than 26 years at the commission, holding top positions, including general counsel.
Such shady dealing. But why? Why would broadcasters oppose such a publicly interesting matter as disclosing the details of their political ad sales to the public? Eventually, Pro Publica mentions a relevant tidbit:
The law states that broadcasters must give political candidates the lowest rates for the same class and length of ad that they offer other buyers. (This does not apply to outside groups like super PACs.)
In fact, the law says:
(a) Charges for use of stations. The charges, if any, made for the use of any broadcasting station by any person who is a legally qualified candidate for any public office in connection with his or her campaign for nomination for election, or election, to such office shall not exceed:
(1) During the 45 days preceding the date of a primary or primary runoff election and during the 60 days preceding the date of a general or special election in which such person is a candidate, the lowest unit charge of the station for the same class and amount of time for the same period.
So, if the FCC posts all of that detail about political ads online, it torpedos the ability of TV networks and broadcasters to negotiate with any of their advertising customers about the cost of campaigns, because the low-ball rates are all posted over at the FCC Website — in a poorly designed database, no doubt, but there nevertheless — after being compiled at broadcaster expense. And it torpedos that ability for the major networks, while leaving independent station free for several more years, and cable stations untouched.
Now, maybe broadcasters shouldn't have variable rates; maybe they, along with hotels, airlines and freelance writers, should publicly post their fixed rates, along with fat and fiber content. But isn't an attempt to defend the industry's long-standing pricing structure a tad different than a "behind closed doors" conspiracy?
Naloxone, a very little-known but amazing drug (which we've written about here at Reason in the past) that can save the lives of opiate overdose sufferers, might get made street-legal by the Food and Drug Administration, a no-brainer that is nonetheless controversial.
“Why didn’t I know about this when my child was alive?” That was the question raised over and over at a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hearing on Thursday by parents whose families make up the terrible statistics on opioid overdose, which now kills some 15,000 Americans each year.
Parents testified at an open meeting called by the FDA to consider whether the lifesaving antidote to opioid overdose — a non-addictive, non-toxic drug called naloxone (Narcan) — should be made available over-the-counter, so that everyone can keep it in their first aid kit, just in case...The hearing was emotional and, at times, heated. Dozens of people talked about losing family members and friends, and testified to the power of naloxone to save lives. Joanne Peterson, who runs Learn to Cope, a program for family members of drug-addicted people, testified that within two weeks of starting naloxone distribution: “We had a mom save a daughter and a father save a son.”
But what was most surprising about the meeting was the underlying sense of consensus. Whether or not the FDA changes the labeling on naloxone, which currently can be acquired only with a doctor’s prescription, the majority of people who attended the hearing appeared to be in favor of wider access; some explicitly said that access needs to be expanded, or presented data that supports broader availability.
I hope Szalavitz's sense of where this is going is correct; that this is available only by prescription is nuts. And how does it do its lifesaving?
Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, which means that it attaches to and blocks receptors for opioid drugs like Vicodin and heroin in the brain and body. Because naloxone is more strongly attracted to the receptors than the opioids are, when it is given after an overdose, it displaces these drugs and reverses their effects.
Opioid overdose kills by slowly stopping a person’s breathing, so typically there is time to intervene — and often there are other people around when a drug user overdoses. Even though most opioid overdoses involve mixtures of drugs, not just opioids, naloxone is effective even in these cases, and it is not harmful if given in error....
So what's stopping this great drug from being available to anyone who thinks they might need it?
Despite the widespread support for naloxone, however, there are significant barriers to change. For one thing, a drug company would need to submit an application to the FDA to change the status of the drug, which would require presenting a great deal of data. Alternatively, a citizen could petition the agency to make the drug available over-the-counter, but that procedure would take years longer than it would with a drug company involved, an FDA official said.
Since naloxone is off-patent, any company seeking over-the-counter approval would be able to market it exclusively for only three years; if it wanted to seek a longer period of exclusivity by patenting a new method of delivering the drug, that would require more data and more expense....
Right now, only one manufacturer produces naloxone in the U.S. Not only is there currently a national shortage of the drug, its price has also risen dramatically....
The rest of Szalavitz's story details examples of existing naloxone distribution programs that seem to have had unambiguously good effects, including at least 10,000 overdoses reversed. In a better world, this proven safe and effective drug could just hit the market without insanely expensive FDA hoops.
- John Stossel says he left ABC because it was hostile to libertarian ideas. Disappointing? Yes. But not so much a revelation.
- Obama's North Korean policy takes a beating as the pariah country launches wayward rockets and prepares another nuclear test.
- Apple slaps back at the Justice Department over allegations of e-book price collusion with publishers.
- Yet another drug raid turns bloody as a New Hampshire police chief is killed and four officers shot.
- Mass. high school students learn a lesson in constitutional law when drug-sniffing dogs raid the campus.
- Va. governor supports bill barring state employees from helping the feds detain citizens without trial.
- As evidence that Tea Party sentiment may be permeating the animal kingdom, Vermont's Democratic governor outran four hungry bears. He was barefoot at the time, the hippy.
- Scientists say that a reanalysis of Martian soil samples taken during a '70s-era Viking mission shows strong evidence of life on the red planet. Yes, but where's the "kaboom"?
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A 26-year old single mom in Texas decided she’d kick-start her own economic recovery last month, starting the Lubbock Fantasy Maid Service, a housekeeping service with nude maids. The New York Daily News reports:
[Melissa Borrett said] she came up with the idea while working as a waitress at a local strip club, where she couldn’t find enough work and wasn’t thrilled with the management, whom she described as “chauvinistic.”
“I had heard of this kind of service being available in other cities,” Borrett said. “So I started the service in Lubbock, where I would have no competition so I figured it (would do well).”
Unfortunately, there’s no competition for Borrett and her business in Lubbock because local law enforcement doesn’t look kindly on it. In fact, they consider the service a sexually-oriented business. KCBD reports:
Lubbock Police Sergeant Jonathan Stewart disagrees. He says this is considered a sexually oriented business, and that requires a permit to operate in the city limits. Lubbock Fantasy Maid Service does not have one, so Stewart says they cannot operate.
"Just the fact employees are topless or semi nude in this case - it's just not allowed," Stewart said.
The Lubbock Fantasy Maid Service insists on its website it is not a sexually oriented business:
Lubbock Fantasy Maid Service is a maid service. While we do offer nude maid service, this is not a sexually oriented business. At no time may a client ever make physical contact with the maid. A maid may accept tips, however if a maid accepts tips for physical contact, she will be terminated immediately and the customer will not be able to schedule services with Lubbock Fantasy Maid Service again.
Why does it matter if Borrett’s is a sexually oriented business? Because sexually oriented businesses requires a permit in Lubbock, and prices vary. From the webpage for the city’s business permits:
The fees are in direct proportion to the funds that your business type may receive ... Not all costs are published online, therefore, it is recommended that you speak with a representative of the City of Lubbock for an projected estimate.
There is no “plain English” definition of a sexually oriented business for any resident of Lubbock that might be interested in starting one, but it is defined by ordinance:
Sexually oriented business shall mean and include any commercial venture whose operations on any calendar day include: The providing, featuring or offering of one or more employees or entertainment personnel who appear while in a state of nudity, semi-nude or simulated nudity and provide live performances or entertainment intended to provide sexual stimulation or sexual gratification to customers and which is offered as a feature of a primary business activity of the venture; or, the providing, featuring or offering, as a "primary business activity," as defined herein of nonlive, sexually-explicit entertainment materials, or items for sale or rental to customers, or the providing or offering of a service or exhibition of materials or items which are intended to provide sexual stimulation or sexual gratification to its customers, said materials, items or services being distinguished by or characterized by an emphasis on subject matter depicting, describing or relating to "specified sexual activities" and/or "specified anatomical areas."
The penalty for running a sexually oriented business is $2,000, per day. We’ll wait to see if the Lubbock Police Department feels Borrett’s business is sexually oriented. She even offers law enforcement a discount, so maybe they can go see for themselves.
The Boston Globe editorial board says we shouldn't be concerned about the cost of ObamaCare and points to a recent Congressional Budget Office memo to prove it:
The latest attack on the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, is the claim that its long-term cost has suddenly spiked from around $1 trillion to $1.7 trillion. Because the new figure is plucked from a March Congressional Budget Office estimate, opponents of the law contend that the agency’s analysis shows it will be a budgetary disaster.
But as with so many assertions by critics of Obamacare, this one is misleading. Or as the CBO puts it: “Some of the commentary . . . has suggested that CBO and [the Joint Committee on Taxation] have changed their estimates of the effects of the ACA to a significant degree. That’s not our perspective.’’
It's true that the Congressional Budget Office did not substantially change the way it estimated the effects of the health care overhaul. What it did do, however, was update its estimates to reflect nearly a full decade of implementation—which gives a better idea of the true cost of running the law over 10 years.
As I noted when the updated scores were released in March, the important thing to remember is that when the law was passed in 2010, CBO's scores looked at the cost of the law over the decade immediately following passage. But the major coverage expansions (health insurance subsidies and Medicaid)—and thus the bulk of the spending—are not scheduled to kick in until 2014.
What that means is that the initial score of slightly less than $1 trillion only reflected the cost of six years of expanded coverage. That number was important to getting the law passed, but it wasn't a great reflection of the true cost of a full decade of expanded coverage. Since we're now closer to the time when those coverage expansions are set to go live, CBO's revised scores give us a better idea of what a decade of expanded health insurance actually costs: The real price tag of the spending on coverage turns out to be closer to $2 trillion.
This is not a dramatic shift in the CBO's view of the law, and doesn't give us a whole lot of new information, at least for those who were paying attention. We have better detail now, and official numbers, but estimates indicated that paying for the law's coverage expansions for a full decade would cost $1.8 trillion or more months before the law passed.
The numbers have been updated since the following graphic was created in 2009, but it gives a pretty good idea of why the newer scores are so much higher.
Marijuana entrepreneurship is blossoming in states where the drug has been legalized for medical use. But, as two new books about the medical weed business explain, fear of federal raids remains a major deterent to the flowering of a promising industry. Managing Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward reviews Greg Campbell's Pot, Inc., and Mark Haskell Smith's Heart of Dankness.View this article
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed an executive order to set up a health insurance exchange in his state. The exchanges are a key part of the 2010 federal health care overhaul:
Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat who has generally avoided national politics even as he is often mentioned as a potential candidate for president, offered an enthusiastic endorsement of the benefits of the health care measure, which is currently being litigated before the Supreme Court and contested in this year’s presidential campaign.
As he issued an executive order to establish a health insurance exchange, an online marketplace where individuals and small businesses can choose among competing health insurance plans, Mr. Cuomo said it would drive down the cost of insurance while helping the 2.7 million uninsured New Yorkers get affordable coverage.
“The bottom line,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement, “is that creating this health exchange will lower the cost of health insurance for small businesses, local governments and individual New Yorkers across the state.”
But it's not all good news for states that choose to go this route. Cato Institute Health Policy Director makes a strong argument that states should resist setting up health exchanges — in part because of the potential negative effect on business:
The most important front right now is to ensure that states do not create the health-insurance exchanges Obamacare needs in order to operate. Refusing to create exchanges is the most powerful thing states can do to take Obamacare down. Think of it as an insurance policy in case the Supreme Court whiffs.
Exchanges are the new government bureaucracies through which millions of Americans will be compelled to purchase Obamacare's overpriced and overregulated health insurance. Through these bureaucracies, insurance companies will receive hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies. Without these bureaucracies, Obamacare cannot work.
Here are just a few reasons why states should refuse to create them.
Jobs. Refusing to create an exchange will block Obamacare from imposing a tax on employers whose health benefits do not meet the federal government's definition of "essential" coverage. That tax can run as high as $3,000 per employee. A state that refuses to create an exchange will spare its employers from that tax, and will therefore enable them to create more jobs.
A lower state tax burden. States that opt to create an exchange can expect to pay anywhere from $10 million to $100 million per year to run it. But if states refuse, Obamacare says the federal government must pay to create one. Why should states pay for something that the federal government is giving away?
Bye-bye, Obamacare. That is, if the feds can create an exchange at all. The Obama administration has admitted it doesn't have the money — and good luck getting any such funding through the GOP-controlled House. Moreover, without state-run exchanges, the feds can't subsidize private insurance companies. That by itself could cause Obamacare to collapse.
At this point, the single most effective move that states can make to block the law is to decline to set up the exchanges. More reasons why states should be wary of setting up insurance exchanges here.
Americans suffer under the delusion that transportation systems are just that—systems for transporting people from one destination to another. What most of us fail to recognize, writes Steven Greenhut, is that the politicians, activists, and planners who play the greatest role in creating those systems have far different goals than improving the way we move from Point A to Point B. To today’s transportation movers and shakers, Greenhut explains, such systems are giant jobs-creation programs designed to boost the economy and provide high wages to members of influential unions; and the key means by which to remake society in a way that is nicer to the environment and leads to a changed citizenry that is less likely to use automobiles to get around. Think of transportation these days less as civil engineering and more as social engineering.View this article
Soft-rock sensation - the Peter Lemongello of the World's Greatest Deliberative Boby - Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) tells NPR that he hates small-government types with the white-hot intensity of a 1,000 suns:
"These people are not conservatives. They're not Republicans," Hatch angrily responds. "They're radical libertarians and I'm doggone offended by it."
Then Hatch, a former boxer, turns combative. "I despise these people, and I'm not the guy you come in and dump on without getting punched in the mouth."
What's got Hatch's knickers in a twist? A serious primary challenge steeped in Tea Party candidates:
Utah Republican Orrin Hatch has spent 36 years in the U.S. Senate, including stints as chairman of the Judiciary and Labor committees. He's in line to become chairman of the Finance Committee if Republicans gain control of the Senate in November.
But back home in Utah, Hatch's quest for a seventh term is not the cakewalk he had in the last five elections, in which he didn't even have to run in primaries.
In fact, the Hatch campaign has spent more than $5.7 million in the past 15 months just to make sure he'll survive the Utah Republican nominating convention on April 21.
"We've got to have new leaders in Washington if we're going to change the direction of this country," says Dan Liljenquist, a former Utah state senator and business consultant, considered the biggest threat to Hatch among nine GOP challengers.
In 2010, similar forces dispatched another long-time Beehive State glad-hander, Robert Bennett, which led to the horrors of electing Mike Lee, who along with Rand Paul, is leading the charge for lower spending in the Senate.
The Dick Armey-led group FreedomWorks has pumped $670,000 into attacks on Hatch and a bunch of other "outside money" has targeted Hatch. But before you shed a tear for "My God is Love" composer, note that he's outspending his rivals six to one.
This sounds like a good time for folks to check out The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America, by Matt Welch and me. In our book - called "the up-to-date statement of libertarianism" by Tyler Cowen - we specifically discuss how change will come to electoral politics. A huge part of that is precisely what's playing out in Utah. Libertarians need to stop going along with a feckless GOP that takes limited-government partisans for granted; they need to start ransoming their votes for candidates such as Rand Paul and Mike Lee who will actually work to deliver lower spending and less government intervention into everything under the sun.
To the extent that Hatch - who supported Medicare Part D and TARP and various other bailouts, and never met a debt-ceiling increase he didn't like until last year - is now talking about cutting government by co-sponsoring a cut, cap, and balance law with Lee, it isn't because he's always been this way. It's because he's feeling the heat from those "radical libertarians" who are starting to tell pols to go small or go home.
Here's Hatch talking at a town meeting in Utah, complaining that libertarians and Birchers make up about 20 percent to 25 percent of the Utah GOP, that they canned Bob Bennett last time around, and...that he's "got a lot of libertarian" in him. And that he's "always been friends with and friendly with the John Birch Society." Hmmm... (on both counts).
Check it out:
Who knew? Researchers from UCLA report this finding in their article, "Weapons Make the Man (Larger): Formidability Is Represented as Size and Strength In Humans," published this week in the online journal PLoS One. From the study:
In order to determine how to act in situations of potential agonistic conflict, individuals must assess multiple features of a prospective foe that contribute to the foe's resource-holding potential, or formidability. Across diverse species, physical size and strength are key determinants of formidability, and the same is often true for humans...
A wide variety of cognitive representations draw on bodily experience, often without explicit recognition of the relationship between representations and their sources. This suggests that representations of relative formidability may be the product of lived events. Even in peaceful societies, from infancy onward, children inevitably have the recurrent experience that conflicts are won by the bigger, stronger person. Hence, over the course of development, size and strength may come to play a central role in representations of relative formidability.
If representations of a potential foe employ conceptualized size and strength as a medium for summarizing formidability, then augmenting the foe's formidability should cause the actor's conception of the foe's size and strength to increase. In humans, weapons are a primary determinant of victory in dyadic violence, and the modern handgun is prototypic in this regard. We therefore sought to test the above prediction by exploring whether knowing that someone possesses a gun increases estimations of that person's size and strength.
Guess what? It does. As the study reports:
Knowing that an individual possesses a potentially lethal object, be it a handgun or a kitchen knife, led our U.S. participants to generally conceptualize the target individual as taller and larger in overall body size and muscularity. Our auxiliary investigations indicate that these patterns are not explicable in terms of cultural schemas linking bodily properties to the objects at issue, nor can they be explained in terms of background knowledge regarding the actual properties of gun owners. These findings constitute preliminary evidence in support of the hypothesis that conceptualized size and strength act as key dimensions in a cognitive representation that summarizes the formidability of a potential foe, where possession of a weapon is one factor contributing to said formidability
Prior work in humans indicates that information regarding an individual's social status also influences perceptions of the individual's size. Recently, Marsh, Yu, Schechter, and Blair demonstrated that nonverbal cues associated with social status exercise a similar influence. In humans, status can reflect either dominance (i.e., position achieved through force or the threat thereof), prestige (i.e., position achieved through deference freely granted by others in light of accomplishments), or a combination of these factors. While dominance is a universal feature of status hierarchies in social animals, prestige is thought to be unique to humans. This suggests that the psychological mechanisms with which humans navigate status hierarchies initially evolved to address dominance, and were subsequently modified in our lineage to also address prestige. We can therefore expect that the human representational systems that address status, having evolved from systems concerned with formidability, likely employ physical size to summarize diverse factors affecting social position.
On the other hand, this study brings to mind the old saying: "God made men, but Sam Colt made them equal."
As if to officially confirm that the Obama administration's Buffett Rule is not intended as a serious policy proposal, but instead is designed almost entirely to make a political issue of rival presidential contender Mitt Romney's wealth, Vice President Joe Biden yesterday declared it was time for a "Romney Rule" designed to further increase taxes on a small subset of high earners. Via The New York Times:
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. sought on Thursday to tie Mitt Romney directly to Republican opposition to higher taxes on millionaires, saying they want a “Romney Rule” that doubles down on tax cuts for the wealthy.
Speaking at an event in New Hampshire, Mr. Biden lashed out at Mr. Romney and Republicans in Congress as the impediments to Democratic efforts to pass what they call the “Buffett Rule” for people who make more than $1 million a year.
“Wealthy people are just as patriotic as middle-class people, as poor people, and they know they should be doing more,” Mr. Biden said. “We’re not supposed to have a system with one set of rules for the wealthy and one set of rules for everyone else.”
And yet Biden's policy would help create exactly the sort of system he says he opposes.
Here's what's happening: Democrats are not happy that capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than individual income. Now, it's true that most capital gains earnings are claimed by the wealthy. But it's also true that the same cap gains tax rate would apply to anyone who gets income from capital gains, regardless of overall income level. Biden, on the other hand, is proposing a special tax rule that would single out and apply to only the wealthy — explicitly creating "one set of rules for the wealthy and one set of rules for everyone else."
There's a lot of room for productive discussion about reforming the tax code, which really is a mess. You can even make an argument that, given current deficit levels, we need a system that raises additional revenue: Better to spend and pay for it now than spend, borrow, and be on the hook for the bill plus interest later. But selectively targeting the ultra wealthy for special tax treatment solves no problem: It does not meaningfully reduce the deficit. And it does not contribute to making the tax code simpler and more manageable.
We know this in part because we've tried the target-the-top approach before with the alternative minimum tax, which was originally designed to hit just 155 high earners. The result? A messier tax code, unintended consequences as an increasing number of middle-class earners get hit, and new deficit management difficulties stemming from perpetual temporary "fixes" to the policy.
Maybe that's overthinking things. The administration's Buffett Rule push isn't about better policy, or even about starting a conversation about tax reform. It's an obvious election year gimmick targeted mostly at Romney and his wealth, a politician's version of a nudge and a whisper: Did you hear how rich that guy is?
The president's staff isn't even trying to pretend it's not primarily intended as an election-year political attack. Back to the NYT:
But aides to Mr. Obama are hoping that Mr. Biden’s speech will begin to shift the debate about taxes on the wealthy from an abstraction to one that focuses directly on Mr. Romney.
Mr. Obama’s aides hope to achieve that by using the term “Romney Rule,” which they believe will force Mr. Romney to acknowledge that opposing the president’s proposals would benefit him personally.
Obama and Biden, on the other hand, only hope to benefit politically.
Juliett Pries wanted to open an ice cream store in San Francisco's Cole Valley neighborhood. She eventually succeeded. But Pries said it took her two years and tens of thousands of dollars just to get all of the permits and complete the paperwork required by the various bureaucracies she had to deal with.
When two guys, two girls, and a nerd set out to party in a creepy cabin deep in the woods, you know in your weary bones what’s going to happen. The only question, at this late date in the history of teen slasher movies, is whether you care. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, the genre-wise writers of The Cabin in the Woods, are aware of that, and they’ve used this mossy premise to set up a different sort of picture—not so much a parody of the familiar concept as a very clever extension of it. The result, writes Kurt Loder, is distinctively smart and funny, and pretty brilliant.
The funniest thing about Lockout, on the other hand, is the notion that it is based on an “original idea” sprung from the brow of the alarmingly prolific French writer-director-producer Luc Besson. The movie is a brazen scavenging of such dystopian forebears as Escape from New York, Outland, and Demolition Man, among a number of others that spring instantly to mind. Any claim to originality is risible. The picture is a helping of happy trash that asks only to be tolerated, however briefly. We can accommodate that desire with appropriate brevity.View this article
- Shah Rukh Khan, one of Bollywood’s biggest stars, was detained at the White Plains Airport in New York for two hours before being allowed into the country. Indian officials say a “mechanical apology” is inadequate.
- Officials from Iran, the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany arrived in Istanbul today for talks due to start tomorrow on Iran’s nuclear program.
- Western intelligence officials think North Korea could opt for a nuclear test after yesterday’s embarrassing missile launch failure.
- The African Union called for an immediate withdrawal of South Sudanese forces from a Sudanese oil field in a disputed border region, warning that the hostilities between the countries could turn into a full blown and “disastrous” war.
- Fox News terminated an employee Gawker called “the Fox Mole,” its attorneys warning the former O’Reilly Factor Associate Producer that his public comments “are admissions of likely criminal and civil wrongdoing”.
- A second look at a Martian soil sample collected by Viking 1 in 1976 has one scientist today “99% sure there’s life there”.
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New on Reason.tv: "D.C. Escalator Nightmare"
Senior Editor Peter Suderman reviews Damsels in Distress, beloved indie director Whit Stillman's first film in more than a decade, in today's Washington Times:
There’s only one way to classify a Whit Stillman movie — and that’s as, well … a Whit Stillman movie. Despite his widespread influence on a generation of indie filmmakers, no one else makes movies quite like Mr. Stillman.
Indeed, “Damsels in Distress,” the director’s first film after a long hiatus, suggests that even Mr. Stillman no longer makes movies quite like he used to. “Damsels,” about a trio of young women who set out to reform the boys at an East Coast college, is sillier, shallower and altogether lighter on its feet than his early films.
Yet despite the differences, it remains recognizably a Whit Stillman film, albeit of a different weight and flavor. “Damsels” is a funny, entertaining, affecting trifle, but a trifle all the same.
The New Orleans Saints and the Miami Marlins have both been fined for unsportsmanlike behavior, notes Chip Bok.View this article
How is Washington, D.C. supposed to run the world when it can't even fix its own escalators?
Strap on some steel-toed safety shoes—you're gonna need them—as Reason.tv correspondent Kennedy investigates D.C.'s dismal and dangerous subway system.
Metro, the sprawling 106-mile rapid transit system that serves 3.4 million D.C.-area residents, is notorious for a lot of things, but nothing so much as the squeaky disrepair of its 588 escalators. On any given day, about one out of eight moving stairs are out of service. Yet Metro's escalator and elevator maintenance division has a $22.5 million operating budget and 214 staffers, which works out to about one employee for every four escalators and elevators systemwide.
The grim history of Metro escalators runs like an endlessly circulating chain of horror stories. In 2002, an escalator at Brookland Station set a record by breaking down 147 times over the course of one year. Poorly maintained escalators have led to broken arms, lost digits, massive pileups, and multiple deaths. In 1991, for example, a 25-year-old student from California lost the top of his right foot on an escalator because a drugged-up schizophrenic station manager at Dupont Station refused to walk 10 feet to hit the emergency shut-off switch, though he did give vague instructions to a noncompliant homeless man to do it for him. The same year, a 15-year-old Michigan girl saw her pinkie toe snipped by an escalator at Smithsonian Station.
When heading home from the 2010 "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear," some demonstrators boarded an escalator at L'Enfant Station that suddenly started running as fast as a roller coaster, landing four passengers in the hospital. In 1985, a three-year-old girl was strangled to death by an escalator at the Minnesota Avenue Station and four years later, a 40-year-old woman was killed when her clothing became entangled in an escalator at Rhode Island Avenue. The advent of side brushes and better automatic shut-off sensors have reduced accidents on Metro escalators, but more units today are routinely out of service.
Why are Metro's escalators so bad? The problem stems partly from a decision made 20 years ago. In 1992, Metro got rid of the private contractors that repaired and maintained the system and started hiring and training its own escalator mechanics. The rationale was that government employees would do a better job for less money.
Partway through a planned eight-month-long maintenance project that many riders assume will take far longer, the wisdom of that decision remains an open question. Reason.tv would have loved to talk with WMATA, the government agency that runs the Metro, but it ignored our requests for an interview.
Approximately 3.30 minutes.
Written and produced by Jim Epstein.
A country that can't even power its capital city at night, nor prevent millions of its citizens from starving, may not be the threat that the doom and gloom crowd says. Exhibit infinity, according to ABC news:
North Korea's anticipated missile launch failed today after it fired the long-range test rocket, defying U.N. Security Council resolutions and an agreement with the United States.
The 90-ton rocket launched and there was a larger than anticipated flare.
U.S. officials said that the missile is believed to have crashed into the sea.
This launch, of course, is a swagger move by tubby, 20-something leader Kim Jong-Un. And predictably the international community soundly condemned the missile launch plans and suggested if the country didn't back down, sanctions, censure, and serious international scolding would commence.
But North Korea claimed that 1) this totally doesn't violate the food aid conditions and 2) this was totally not a long-range missile launch test at all and it is actually just satellite "Shining Star" launched in celebration of the anniversary of the birth of eternal-president Kim Il-Sung. But also 3) North Korea does what it wants, dammit.
Said ABC news:
The show of muscle put the region on edge, but Donald Gregg, former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea from 1989-1993 and an ABC News consultant, said he believed it was new leader Kim Jong Un's way of asserting his power.
"The main audience for this missile is internal not external," Gregg said. "This is [Kim Jong Un's] way of demonstrating to the people of North Korea he is in charge and his country is capable of high tech things. It is a manifestation of his power."
Experts did not doubt the possibility of a satellite being attached to the rocket, but feel the satellite is a cover to test a long-range missile.
Gregg says Americans should relax, however, because North Korea is crazy, but not crazy-stupid enough to attack the U.S. since they could guess the end result. Still, nuclear fears are not entirely unfounded. Adds Bloomberg:
A South Korean intelligence report warned that North Korea may follow the rocket launch with the detonation of an atomic device. Recent activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site is consistent with preparations for previous detonations in 2006 and 2009, according to the intelligence report obtained April 9 by Bloomberg News.
The Obama administration has said firing the rocket would breach the February 29 food deal, which included a North Korean pledge to halt uranium enrichment at its main atomic facility in Yongbyon. North Korea has criticized that stance, calling it an overreaction “beyond the limit” in a statement from an unnamed foreign ministry official cited by KCNA last month.
Still, each time North Korea starts trying to play big and bad on the world stage, don't get nervous. Remember that North Korea spends scant resources on boondoggles like the world's biggest, most hideous hotel (that took 20 years to open) and their weirdly beautiful metro, which like most things in Pyongyang, is kind of staged for foreigners and is much weirder and shoddier than it initially appears.
Maybe not a lot of funds or know-how left for feeding people or nuking foreign countries, but there's always enough to imprison 150,000 people in sub-Gulag conditions.
Reason on North Korea.
On November 18, 2011, a campus police officer at the University of California Davis walked up to a group of students protesting peacefully at a sit-in and doused their faces with pepper spray.
The picture of UC Davis Police Department Lt. John Pike strolling down the line of cowering students, casually spraying them as he walked, quickly went viral. Shortly thereafter, UC Davis promised to investigate the incident and release its findings. That report came out this week. It reveals a blatant disregard for student safety, the use of unapproved tactics and weapons by the UC Davis Police Department, and zero accountability before, during, and after the UC Davis police attempted to evict the student protesters who were camped out on the college lawn.MORE »
The current back and forth between presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Obama over changes to the tax code does a pretty good job of illustrating the choice voters will face in November: On the one hand you have President Obama, who is stumping for a pointless, ineffective, almost entirely symbolic tax hike that's more about casting blame than actually fixing the country’s considerable fiscal problems. On the other hand, you have Mitt Romney who definitely wants to not do whatever it is that President Obama is doing, and prefers do something vague and sort of Reaganesque instead, precise details TBD.
Today, President Obama is once again touting the "Buffett Rule" today, a proposed new tax on income over $1 million that President Obama says would ensure that the wealthy pay their "fair share" in taxes. It’s almost pure gimmick, a political ploy designed in part to channel resentment against high earners and in part to exploit public distrust of his opponent, Mitt Romney, who is one of those high earners.
To be fair, Obama is trying to justify the tax as a way of paying for all the awesome government stuff he wants to give people. A Politico item on the President’s Buffett Rule speech today reports that “Obama said that for education, research, infrastructure and other investments that benefit the country as a whole to continue, there must be a way to pay for it.” Read the speech, and you'll see he’s also pitching it as a way to reduce the deficit. But the Buffett Rule wouldn’t pay for much—or meaningfully reduce the deficit. Estimates indicate that it would raise about $47 billion over ten years against the current baseline, assuming no other changes to today’s law. Against a more realistic baseline, it would raise a little more: about $160 billion over a decade.
As a comparison, the Congressional Budget Office expects that the federal government will run a deficit of $1.2 trillion this year alone. Previous annual deficits under Obama were even higher. If the President were actually concerned about sky-high budget deficits, he might have considered not racking up record fiscal gaps for the first few years of his presidency. Fiscally, the Buffett Rule would be about as meaningful as running up a thousand dollar unpaid bar tab every night for a week, and then leaving the bartender a $100 bill as you leave on Friday night.
But like I said: This isn’t about effective policy. This is about political symbolism, populist angst, and election-year attack lines. And that symbolism is directed mostly at making life difficult for a very specific well-off person—Obama’s general election rival, Mitt Romney.
Romney, for his part, has laid into the Buffett Rule. It’s class warfare, he says. “Let’s find the very most successful in our country and say they’re bad guys. Go after ‘em. And let’s divide America,’” is how he described the rule a in a campaign speech earlier this week.
How would Romney like to reform the tax code? With a series of big-ticket tax cuts. In 2008, Romney made it clear where his views on tax cuts came from: “I strongly have been of the view that one of the great lessons for Ronald Reagan was that lowering taxes helped built our economy.” Here’s the problem: Romney says he’d make sure that the tax cuts are revenue neutral. He’d cut some spending and get rid of existing tax loopholes to pay for them. Everyone wants a simpler tax code, right? But it’s one thing to say that simpler is better. It’s another to say which deductions, each of which benefits a class of people, should be scrapped. And Romney won’t say which spending he’d cut, or which loopholes he’d close—and, in theory, this would be on top of additional spending cuts that’s he’s also declined to name. It’s tax reform mystery meat.
Granted, Romney’s Democratic rival is not exactly clearer. Obama has also taken up the rhetorical fight against tax loopholes too—and then proposed adding at least one new loophole.
- Applications for unemployment benefits hit a two-month high last week. The previous week's figures were also revised upward.
- In a move that might inconvenience the GOP candidate, President Obama touts Romneycare as a model for health reform.
- Connecticut becomes the 17th state to abolish the death penalty.
- Former senator and one-time White House-hopeful John Edwards faces trial for campaign-finance violations. Next stop: the prison presidential suite.
- In the wake of a violent drug raid, protesters rally against prohibition in Ogden, Utah.
- George Zimmerman to be formally arraigned May 29 on second-degree murder charges in Trayvon Martin case.
- Australia's prime minister to hear demands from prominent business chiefs for easing what the government's own Finance Minister calls "unnecessary regulation."
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Sometimes you have to go to hell before you can return. That, at any rate, seems to be the game plan of Detroit’s current leaders. After a lot of high drama and condemnation in response to a consent agreement proposed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to clean up the city’s books, those leaders finally agreed last week to a version that is so watered down that it has no chance of succeeding. What all of this shows, writes Shikha Dalmia, is that there is no political solution to Detroit's fiscal mess. Nothing short of legal bankruptcy will work.View this article
Not long ago, online civil liberties organizations joined hands with tech companies to support a grassroots movement that stopped (at least, for now) the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)—a pernicious bit of legislation that would have regulated what Websites could advertise and where they could link in the name of protecting copyright. But rather than a long-term relationship, the alliance was but a brief fling. With their eyes now focused on defeating the equally odious Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, electronic civil libertarians find that their old suitors have slipped out early for a cup of coffee without so much as a promise to call later.
SOPA, backed by the movie and music industries, would have cracked down on online piracy, making it harder for users to get cheap entertainment online. CISPA is aimed at combatting cyberattacks by encouraging private companies to share information about cyberthreats with the government. More important, the tech companies that battled against SOPA and helped foster protests through their social media platforms aren’t up in arms about CISPA.
Facebook, for example, is supporting it.
The article makes the valid point that, in this tweet-tastic world of ours, in which people can and do willingly broadcast their locations to the world via social media and the GPS functions in their smartphones, and in which relationship status is a common feature of online profiles (Want to give your significant other a scare? Change your status to: "it's complicated."), privacy just isn't the same sort of crowd-rouser as free speech.
Civil libertarians aren't giving up, though. The Electronic Frontier Foundation warns that CISPA and its ilk are a step beyond the status quo, since they could create a situation in which companies gather that juicy information we put online and "ship that data wholesale to the government or anyone else provided they claim it was for 'cybersecurity purposes.'"
That means a company like Google, Facebook, Twitter, or AT&T could intercept your emails and text messages, send copies to one another and to the government, and modify those communications or prevent them from reaching their destination if it fits into their plan to stop “cybersecurity” threats.
Will that be enough to win back old allies and the fickle public? Well, we all know how hard it is to rekindle a relationship.
More information from the Center for Democracy and Technology on "cybersecurity" legislation here.
But here’s some evidence of why taxing the rich – whatever its merits in terms of fairly and justly ensuring social justice and economic fairness in ways that are both socially fair and economically just – is not going to achieve the goal of raising sufficient revenues to for the American megastate.
Above is the Tax Foundation’s 2011 map of how much income states lose as a result of interstate migration. It tracks very closely with rates of taxation. The theory at work here is that if you tax income severely enough, high earners will find ways to conceal their income or take it elsewhere. The only real surprise is that California is only the country’s second-biggest loser and Texas only the third-biggest gainer.
Today, 24/7 Wall St. (whose near-daily this-and-that lists are always fascinating) has a study of the top 10 states that tax poor people the hardest. Methodology:
24/7 Wall St. identified 10 states that tax two-parent families of four living at the poverty line at the highest rate, based on CBPP’s report, “The Impact of State Income Taxes on Low-Income Families in 2011.” All of these states also tax families with incomes that place them below the poverty line.
Using this measure, the ten meanies in ascending order of non-progressivity are:
10. West Virginia
The interesting thing is that this list does not correlate at all with the Tax Foundation’s map of lost income. Five of the states above are gainers, five are losers. This is a politically toxic but true fact: Progressive taxation makes a state poorer than regressive taxation.
Whenever I make the point that broadening the tax base is the only way you can actually raise revenues, I get a bunch of responses about how I’m a pennyboy for the rich, along with plenty of wildly inaccurate claims about how much of the national income* the 1 Percent earn. (It’s about 20 percent, according to "Gurus of Inequality" Piketty and Saez.) Just to be clear, I am not arguing for broadening the base. I am not arguing for raising taxes on the poor, the rich, the middle class, the rentiers, the kulaks, or anybody else. I don’t want anybody paying any income tax at all. I’m just saying that if your goal is to raise revenue, broadening the base is the only way to do it.
* Corrected. Thanks to commenter #.
The small town of South Greensburg, PA is considering limiting the number of yard sales residents can conduct. Local TV station KTKA reports:
We decided, with the warmer weather coming up, we would sort of define what a garage sale was,” Borough Council President Clentin Martin said.
He has proposed an ordinance, which he says would prevent “people going to flea markets, buying junk that they collect in these flea markets bringing it home, then putting it into their garage, and then calling it a ‘garage sale.’"
Residents would be limited to two two-day garage sales a year, permits for which would cost $5.
Katherine Mangu-Ward’s written about garage sales coming under the purview of the feds after the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 went into effect.
Will lemonade stands be next?
All part of the long war on Main Street.
In his second column on drug legalization, George Will still does not take a clear position, but he acknowledges several salient facts about prohibition:
More Americans are imprisoned for drug offenses or drug-related probation and parole violations than for property crimes. And although America spends five times more jailing drug dealers than it did 30 years ago, the prices of cocaine and heroin are 80 to 90 percent lower than 30 years ago....
In "Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know," policy analysts Mark Kleiman, Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken argue that imprisoning low-ranking street-corner dealers is pointless: A $200 transaction can cost society $100,000 for a three-year sentence. And imprisoning large numbers of dealers produces an army of people who, emerging from prison with blighted employment prospects, can only deal drugs....
Dealers, a.k.a. “pushers,” have almost nothing to do with initiating drug use by future addicts; almost every user starts when given drugs by a friend, sibling or acquaintance.....
Kleiman, Caulkins and Hawken say that, in developed nations, cocaine sells for about $3,000 per ounce — almost twice the price of gold. And the supply of cocaine, unlike that of gold, can be cheaply and quickly expanded. But in the countries where cocaine and heroin are produced, they sell for about 1 percent of their retail price in the United States. If cocaine were legalized, a $2,000 kilogram could be FedExed from Colombia for less than $50 and sold profitably here for a small markup from its price in Colombia, and a $5 rock of crack might cost 25 cents. Criminalization drives the cost of the smuggled kilogram in the United States up to $20,000. But then it retails for more than $100,000....
Cartels have oceans of money for corrupting enforcement because drugs are so cheap to produce and easy to renew. So it is not unreasonable to consider modifying a policy that gives hundreds of billions of dollars a year to violent organized crime.
While noting that "hard drugs" such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine account for the lion's share of cartel profits, Will does not broach the possibility of eliminating those black markets and the evils associated with them. (His last column on drug policy suggested he believes that legalizing those drugs would lead to an unacceptable increase in addiction.) But Will does address marijuana law reform, calling medical marijuana "a messy, mendacious semi-legalization that breeds cynicism regarding law." At the same time, he seems open to a more honest (and more tolerant) policy:
Would the public health problems resulting from legalization be a price worth paying for injuring the cartels and reducing the costs of enforcement? We probably are going to find out.
Will notes that public support for legalizing marijuana—currently around 50 percent, according to Gallup—has more than doubled since 1990.
Will draws heavily on Kleiman et al.'s book, which was published last year. Kleiman and Caulkins--professors of public policy at UCLA and Carnegie Mellon, respectively—are not libertarians by any means, but they are realists who are genuinely interested in the facts, including the actual consequences of prohibition (as opposed to its supposedly noble intentions). Kleiman's approach is summed up in the title of his 1992 book Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results, where he calls for the legalizaton of marijuana via a ration-card scheme. Caulkins has for years been documenting the costs of an excessively punitive approach to drugs and the limits of supply-side enforcement efforts. That a conservative commentator of George Will's influence is paying attention to their work bodes well for the drug policy debate.
I discussed Will's previous column on drug policy last week. Reason's July package on criminal justice included an interview with Kleiman in which he argued that "long prison terms are wasteful government spending."
*With many primaries ahead and many delegates left to be won--and the nearly 200 of Santorum's supposedly won delegates not bound to vote for his no-longer-running self come Tampa--Paul could make much hay from the departure of what had been Romney's mightiest foe, Rick Santorum.
*But a campaign can't continue without money, and Paul wants to pull in a fresh $2.5 million over this coming weekend to have the strength to go on.
*Politico charts some of the Paul campaign's highest-donation cities, including Austin, the Seattle area, and Fairfield, Iowa.
*"Ron Paul practices transparency down to the last cent." A full report from ProPublica:
His campaign's hyper-vigilance is notable, verging on fanatical.
Every bank fee, every 22 cents at a FedEx, every $1 toll on theFlorida turnpike, every $5.09 pit stop at any Starbucks anywhere, every doughnut from Dunkin' Donuts and Dough Nutz -- it's all right there, itemized in the Paul campaign's copious expenditure reports. In 160 instances so far, the campaign has reported purchases costing a single dollar or less.
Last week, ProPublica examined the spending of the five presidential candidates and the major super PACs, identifying their 200 top payees. But as part of digging into the more than$306 million spent through February, it was impossible to avoid the other end of the spectrum: The small bucks, if you will.
The Paul campaign tracks every cent like no other, which Paul campaign officials say is deliberate.
*A plea to Paul people: don't be stupid and go third party, just take over the Republican Party .
*His latest Texas-aimed campaign ad, describing him as a "big, bold Texan" up against "a big-spending, debt-ceiling-raising fiscal liberal, a moon-colony guy, a moderate from Massachusetts," with Paul the only "Texan with a real plan to balance the budget":
My forthcoming book, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired. My April Reason cover story on the Paul campaign.
As I have noted a couple of times, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof holds Village Voice Media responsible for kidnapping, assault, sexual slavery, and the rape of underage prostitutes because its online classified ad service, Backpage.com, accepts "adult" ads. Last week he went even further in a column titled "Financiers and Sex Trafficking," accusing Goldman Sachs of complicity in these crimes because the investment bank held a 16 percent stake in Village Voice Media. "For more than six years Goldman has held a significant stake in a company notorious for ties to sex trafficking," Kristof wrote, "and it sat on the company's board for four of those years. There's no indication that Goldman or anyone else ever used its ownership to urge Village Voice Media to drop escort ads or verify ages." After Kristof started asking about the investment, he reported, Goldman Sachs "frantically" sold its shares in the company.
Playing off the Goldman Sachs column, Big Journalism blogger Joel Pollak applies Kristof's logic to Kristof's employer. The New York Times Company, Pollak notes, owns About.com, which carries ads for "escort services, strip clubs, and other forms of adult entertainment that Kristof has linked to the underworld of child sex trafficking." The Times "also owns a 49% stake in Metro Boston, a free daily newspaper with left-leaning coverage whose parent company also happens to make money from adult advertising."
The Times could defend the revenue from these ads by arguing that the services offered are supposed to involve consenting adults only, except that Kristof rejects that defense. "There's no doubt that many escort ads on Backpage are placed by consenting adults," he writes. "But it's equally clear that Backpage plays a major role in the trafficking of minors or women who are coerced." Because some people who advertise in Backpage.com's "adult" section commit these crimes, Kristof says, Village Voice Media will not have clean hands until it shuts the section down. By this standard, his employer is also guilty, and Kristof himself has an indirect financial stake in sex trafficking. Will he stop accepting this dirty money, or will he instead reconsider his sanctimonious, censorious crusade?
With no fanfare and little media notice, an extremely famous American will turn 60 years old this Sunday. It was on Tax Day in 1952 that the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, hulking symbol of the Cold War, accident-prone target of the unkind acronym "B.U.F.F.," the bomber several generations believed would usher in the death of humanity, made its first flight.
More striking than the B-52’s military longevity, however, writes Tim Cavanaugh, is the question of why we’re still putting pilots into the cockpits of military aircraft at all. With each passing week, the arguments for moving to all-unmanned military aviation attain greater speed and elevation, and the case for maintaining piloted warplanes sputters closer to the ground. Yet manned military aircraft systems continue to pull in hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. The future of military aviation is unmanned, Cavanaugh observes. The sooner it comes, the better.View this article
The Supreme Court is meeting tomorrow to decide whether or not to take up a number of the cases currently petitioning for review. Among them is Harmon v. Kimmel, the challenge filed by New York City landlords James and Jeanne Harmon against the city’s famous rent stabilization law. At issue is whether or not the rent law should be considered a regulatory taking under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which declares, “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”
Will the Supreme Court agree to hear the case? It's possible. When the Harmons first petitioned the Court for review last fall, New York officials waived their right to file a brief in opposition. But then the Supreme Court requested that New York weigh in anyway, suggesting that somebody at the Court thinks the legal challenge has merit.
We’ll know more soon enough. In the meantime, read my argument for why the Supreme Court should take the case and then watch Reason.tv on New York’s rent control laws.
Today is the sixth anniversary of RomneyCare, the Massachusetts health care overhaul signed into law by Mitt Romney that became the model for ObamaCare.
To celebrate, the Obama White House has released a happy birthday video congratulating RomneyCare for making it another year—not exactly a guarantee for Obama's plan—and touting Romney's state level overhaul as the model for the president’s own national health reform:
The video, put together by The Obama Truth Team, makes much of the connection between RomneyCare and ObamaCare. Although Mitt Romney denies it, this connection is real. But in focusing on this connection, the Truth Team’s video omits certain other truths about the state of the Massachusetts health system.
For example: No other state spends as much of its budget on health care as Massachusetts. And health costs in the state are growing significantly faster than the economy as a whole—to the point where they threaten to crowd out much of the rest of the state’s budget. And RomneyCare isn’t exactly making things easier.
As Zirui Song and Bruce Landon report in The New England Journal of Medicine, despite years of political energy directed at cost control, health spending in the Bay State remains a serious concern. In 2009, for example, the state spent $61 billion on care. In 2012, more than 54 percent of the state government’s budget will be devoted to health care, the highest in the nation. The majority of that spending is on the expanded insurance coverage called for by RomneyCare. Other states have big Medicaid bills, but Massachusetts also pays for the same sort of middle-class insurance subsidies that ObamaCare is slated to begin offering nationally in 2014. The price of coverage paid by individuals is going up too. As Song and Landon note, “For individuals, monthly premiums for a minimal (“bronze”) plan purchased through the Commonwealth Choice connector (the state insurance exchange) increased from about $175 in 2007 to $275 in 2012 (a 57% increase), despite slowed growth in overall health care spending since the start of the recession in 2008.”
President Obama has obvious political reasons for tying his own law to the state version signed by his opponent: It helps neutralize Romney’s increasingly frantic criticism of one of Obama’s least popular legislative achievements. But it also connects ObamaCare, which the president has struggled to portray as fiscally responsible, to the mounting fiscal troubles surrounding RomneyCare, Obama's model. The troubles Massachusetts is already having with RomneyCare are the same troubles that America can expect to have with ObamaCare down the road.
If anything, the national fiscal issues may be worse. For one thing, Massachusetts was able to pay for a big part of its overhaul with an influx of specially granted federal dollars through a Medicaid waiver. Washington cannot turn to any larger, outside political body for cash (unless one counts borrowing from fellow nations). For another thing, coverage rates in Massachusetts were already unusually high relative to the rest of the United States. This is important because the growing costs of RomneyCare are primarily the result of the growing cost of expanded coverage. Relatively speaking, the Bay State’s increase in coverage was actually quite modest. That will not be true nationally—which means the costs could be far greater.
Song and Landon suggest that Massachusetts will be the state to watch to see which cost-control efforts work. I suspect it will be more the other way around: We’ll watch RomneyCare to see what doesn’t work—and as a preview of the problems we can expect nationally. To a large extent, we already are. As the NEJM authors write: “One lesson is already resoundingly clear: the growth of health care spending threatens the sustainability of every other public service, from education, to public health, to infrastructure, to defense. Indeed, health care spending is the most important determinant of our growing national debt.”
So happy birthday, RomneyCare. And ObamaCare, take note: This is what you’ll look like soon.
In 2008, when Barack Obama’s supporters shouted, “Yes, we can!” they expressed faith in the power of government to solve problems. Some acted as if Obama were a magical politician whose election would end poverty and inequality and bring us to “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” At least now, writes John Stossel, people have come to understand that presidents—including this president—can’t perform miracles.View this article
Judging from a sidebar in today's New York Times, there is some confusion about how Florida's self-defense law applies to George Zimmerman's case. The law, as amended in 2005, states that someone who justifiably uses force in self-defense "is immune from criminal prosecution." Under a 2010 decision by the Florida Supreme Court, that means Zimmerman has a right to a pretrial hearing where he can get the second-degree murder charge against him dismissed if he can show, by "a preponderance of the evidence," that he reasonably believed deadly force was necessary to prevent Trayvon Martin from killing or seriously injuring him. In other words, he has to convince a judge it is more likely than not that his use of force was lawful. But if he loses that motion, he can still argue at trial that he acted in self-defense, and the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he did not.
By contrast, the Times leaves the impression that Zimmerman has no hope of acquittal if his motion to dismiss is denied:
The case will almost certainly include a pretrial hearing to determine whether the state’s Stand Your Ground law, which grants broad protections to people who claim to have killed in self-defense, applies; if the judge finds that Mr. Zimmerman acted appropriately, the case will end there. If the judge decides that the protections of the law do not apply, the case will go forward.
At trial, however, the question of self-defense can be brought up again and possibly will, said Robert Weisberg, a criminal law expert at Stanford Law School. That could lead to a fallback position for the jury — if allowed by the judge — of a lesser verdict of manslaughter should the jury decide that Mr. Zimmerman sincerely but unreasonably believed that he was appropriately using lethal force to defend himself, which is known as "imperfect self-defense."
Manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years, does seem like a more appropriate charge than second-degree murder, which carries a potential life sentence and requires "a depraved mind regardless of human life." If Zimmerman broke the law, it was probably because he overreacted in the heat of the moment, so the murder charge seems like a stretch. But contrary to the implication of the Times article, a manslaughter conviction is not the best that Zimmerman can hope for if his case goes to trial. The jury could conclude there is reasonable doubt as to whether he acted in self-defense, in which case he would be acquitted. That standard is not some weird quirk of Florida law. As Northern Kentucky University law professor Michael J.Z. Mannheimer points out, "this is true in virtually every State."
Furthermore, the Times conflates two different aspects of Florida's self-defense law. If Zimmerman's account of his fight with Martin is true, he had no opportunity to safely retreat, so the right to "stand your ground" (the "broad protections" mentioned by the Times) would not apply. In this case the unusual aspect of Florida's law is not the self-defense argument Zimmerman is making but the fact that he gets to present it before trial, along with evidence to support his version of the shooting.
In mandating that procedure, the Florida Supreme Court noted the legislative intent expressed in the preamble to the 2005 law: "The Legislature finds that it is proper for law-abiding people to protect themselves, their families, and others from intruders and attackers without fear of prosecution." The court explained that the "immunity" promised by the law was meant to provide extra protection for people who use force in self-defense:
While Florida law has long recognized that a defendant may argue as an affirmative defense at trial that his or her use of force was legally justified, section 776.032 contemplates that a defendant who establishes entitlement to the statutory immunity will not be subjected to trial. Section 776.032(1) expressly grants defendants a substantive right to not be arrested, detained, charged, or prosecuted as a result of the use of legally justified force. The statute does not merely provide that a defendant cannot be convicted as a result of legally justified force.
But to reiterate, that defense is still available even if Zimmerman does not have enough evidence in his favor to avoid a trial.
Addendum: On the issue of second-degree murder vs. manslaughter, Florida's standard jury instruction for the former crime requires that the act leading to the victim's death "is done from ill will, hatred, spite, or an evil intent," which does not seem to fit the publicly known facts of the shooting, although it might make sense if it can be shown that Zimmerman shot Martin out of anger rather than fear. As Mo points out in the comments, Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, today described the shooting this way: "I believe it was an accident. I believe it just got out of control, and he couldn't turn the clock back." That does not sound like second-degree murder.
“A lot of the libertarian ideals that Ron Paul is talking about…should not be alien to any Republican,” Sen. Jim DeMint said during an interview at Reason’s Washington, D.C., offices in late January. Encouraging words from a South Carolina Republican who has earned a reputation as one of his party’s strongest voices for fiscal conservatism during his six years in the House of Representatives and six years in the Senate. After backing Mitt Romney in 2008, DeMint has declined to endorse a presidential candidate so far this political season. Reason’s Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch interviewed him on the afternoon of the Florida primary.View this article
Columnist Ron Hart notes that part of the Obama admin's response to a General Services Administration (GSA) scandal over wasting $800,000-plus on a conference is to blame Bush:
Our government has the financial discipline of a 19-year-old Ole Miss frat boy. And – I am not making this up – the Obama administration initially tried to blame the GSA excesses on Bush, much like our frat boy blames the towing company for costing him $200 when he messes up.
Fresh from welcoming his family back from Las Vegas, Obama was said to be "outraged" about GSA spending. This comes from the man who flies his wife and dog to exotic vacations on separate jets, just a couple of hours from when he flies in on Air Force One. The admonishment is all a part of the Obama administration's "Do as we say, not as we do" philosophy. He famously disparaged Las Vegas by saying "You don't blow a bunch of cash" there. Personally, I prefer my odds in Vegas; at least there I have a chance at winning.
Sadly, but tellingly, the cost of the conference did go up huge under Bush (a.k.a. the "Big Government Disaster"):
The administration also argued Friday night that the cost of the Western Regional Conference increased sharply under the Bush White House -- from $93,000 in 2004 to $323,855 in 2006 to $655,025 in 2008, then $840,616 in 2010, or just 28 percent under Obama.
However, on Saturday morning Emily Baker, a former GSA regional administrator for President Bush, suggested to Fox News that the Obama administration is spinning the numbers.
"When they're talking about that it sounds good to say it went up over 100 percent," she said. "It went up to about $250,000 dollars. I mean it's a lot but when you start small it's easy to say it increased a lot."
Consider this if you need more evidence of just screwed we are in terms of spending. In constant 2005 dollars, the government spent about $1.85 trillion in 1991, an amount that rose slightly to $2.1 trillion in 2001. In 2010, the total was $3.1 trillion (see table 1.3). Although the federal governent has not (and will not) pass a budget for the third straight year in 2012, the two main plans currently on the table envision spending either $4.9 trillion (the austerity-obsessed Republicans) or $5.8 trillion (President Obama) in 2022 (those figures are in current dollars).
Carl Simpson, executive director of Denver 911, has apologized after instructions given by a 911 operator led to the death of one man. Jimma Reat called 911 to report that the occupants of a red Jeep had thrown bottles at his vehicle and threatened him and family members traveling with him. The operator told Reat to return to the scene of the incident. Reat at first refused and argued with the operator but relented after the operator threatened to not send police if he didn't go back. Reat went back to the scene to wait on police, where he was shot and killed by the occupants of the Jeep.
- Newt Gingrich accused Fox News of “Romney bias” at a Tea Party meeting where he talked about the arc of his presidential campaign, also claiming conservative commentators harbored “personal jealousy” against him and offering that the Republican Party “doesn’t like to read books.”
- The head of Mali’s national assembly Dioncounda Traore was sworn in as President three weeks after a coup deposed the previous President.
- A standoff in the South China Sea between the Philippines and China over the Scarborough Shoal continues as the Philippines sent a second vessel to the disputed islands.
- The median salary for women at the White House is 18% lower than for men, according to the White House’s latest staff report.
- Ratings indicate “must see TV” is not so much of a must see anymore.
- A Columbia University organic chemistry professor suggests dinosaurs could rule outer space, noting that dinosaur DNA could have travelled to nearby star systems on ejecta from the meteor impact that killed off dinosaurs on Earth.
New on Reason.tv: "Can Volunteers Protect Communities?"
"We had a non-Obama president recently, his name was George W. Bush, it wasn't all puppy dogs and rainbows," says Reason's Matt Welch. "Being Republican is not enough to counter Obama. Mitt Romney is not offering an alternative to Obama," adds Reason.tv's Nick Gillespie.
From Newt Gingrich's inexplicable campaign chatter about a taxpayer-subsidized colony on the moon to Mitt Romney's refusal to discuss any specific spending cuts he would implement as president, Republicans continue to offer no real substantive alternative to President Obama's spendthrift economic policies.
Welch and Gillespie, the co-authors of "The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America," hosted the discussion "Why Democrat vs. Republican is the Wrong Way to Look at the 2012 Election" at Reason Weekend, the annual donor event held by Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes this website).
Runs about 30.41 minutes.
Produced by Anthony L. Fisher, shot by Josh Swain and Fisher.
Unemployment remains high; job growth is sluggish; and millions of Americans have given up hope of ever finding work. So how do creative legislators propose to generate new hiring? Easy: Make it more expensive. In Congress and several states, some lawmakers want to increase the legally mandated minimum wage. They think employers should have to pay more for labor. They say it should be illegal to hire people who are willing to work cheap. According to Steve Chapman, this amounts to a stubborn defiance of simple reality.View this article
As Gary Johnson gears up to try to win the Libertarian Party's nod in their Las Vegas national convention in early May, various writers are wondering how thoroughly non-interventionist his foreign policy ideas are (especially in the wake of two Ron Paul campaigns that have raised the bar high for a libertarian-leaning approach to military intervention).
It started with a Daily Caller interview defining Johnson's foreign policy vision as "strange" in a headline. Why strange? Largely because in a macro vision of severe (in D.C. standards) cuts in military and defense spending (of 43 percent), Johnson leaves a lot of room for the sort of interventions the Ron Paul brand of libertarian foreign policy avoids. Johnson
told TheDC that he supports Americas efforts to aid African troops in tracking down Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and that he wouldn’t rule out leaving behind American bases in Afghanistan.
Johnson said that while he wants to end the war in Afghanistan, that doesn’t mean he would necessarily stop drone attacks against terrorists in Pakistan or Yemen, even though he believes they create more enemies than they kill.
“I would want leave all options on the table,” Johnson said....
“So now you have the U.S. bases that exist in those areas, do we shut down those military bases? Perhaps not,” he suggested, taking an odd position for a supposed anti-war candidate.
“I would completely withdraw our military presence,” he further expounded. “Does withdrawing our military presence from Afghanistan mean that we would still have a base open in Afghanistan if they allowed us to keep a base open? Perhaps.”....
But despite Johnson saying he thinks that the Middle East is a region of the world the United States should maintain a military presence in, he contended that there are “no military threats” to the U.S. anywhere in the world.
“As I’m sitting here right now, there are no military threats against the United States,” he said, stipulating that America should be “vigilant” against terrorist attacks on the homeland.
Last year, The Weekly Standard reported that Johnson told the publication that he supported the concept of waging wars for humanitarian reasons despite wanting to cut the military budget by nearly half. Asked whether he stood by that, Johnson said he did.
“I don’t want to close the door that if any of us were president of the United States that we would sit idly by and watch something like the Holocaust go down,” he said.....
“When you talk about a 43 percent reduction in military spending, that’s going back to 2003 funding levels, not the end of the world,” he contended, though military planners would likely strongly disagree.
One intervention Johnson said he supports is the U.S. mission to help capture Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which Johnson believes is arguably the “worst terrorist” group in the world....
“Based on what I understand about it, that arguably this is the worst terrorist group that’s been on the planet for the last 20 years.”
He also noted that his mission would have differed from the current one in that he would have asked for volunteers from the military to undertake it with a more belligerent plan to “wipe ‘em out.”
“Well Congress passed the legislation to authorize us intervening, Obama signed the legislation and then eight months later we have an advisory force that goes in,” he said. “I think if I would have signed the legislation that I would have had plans to immediately ask for a volunteer force and gone in and wipe ‘em out."
This all matches my own impressions of Johnson the times I've seen him speak, mostly to smaller groups: he's a thoughtful guy with an intelligently pragmatic streak that leads him to recognize that government is out-of-control huge and expensive, and given his political experience I do expect him, if he wins the LP's nod, to do better for them than they've done in a while.
But he seems to lack either the systematic thinking or moral fervor that makes me trust him to reliably come to truly libertarian conclusions on many issues. While his conclusions are frequently, even mostly, libertarian, I'm not quite sure his natural instincts are.
He's more willing to give a statist solution a try if he thinks, well, that might do some good, as evidenced by the above, which seems to lack either a historic or strategic sense of what the U.S. government's proper purpose is, or what bad aftereffects often flow from seemingly easy or quick interventions. There are both constitutional and pragmatic reasons to not be as loose in expending American force overseas as Johnson is here. It's not just that we need to spend less; we also ought to do less when it comes to military force overseas in a country facing no serious military threats to the homeland.
Jim Antle at American Spectator reacted to that Daily Caller story and wonders what Johnson's foreign policy waffling will mean to his ability to shave off Ron Paul voters for the LP:
Now, there is nothing wrong with being selective in the use of military force. Being involved everywhere or nowhere may be consistent, but it isn't necessarily a sound foreign policy. Yet it is difficult to discern an overarching strategy or philosophy here that would influence or dictate when the United States would intervene. Back when Johnson was still running as a Republican, I noted that he was at a disadvantage against Ron Paul because he was less conservative on social issues and less radical on the issues of war and peace that drive Paul's libertarian base.
Daniel Larison at American Conservative also sees a lot to be supportive of in Johnson's statements, even if they lack Paulian coherence:
He endorses the decision to send soldiers to aid in combating the remnants of the LRA in central Africa, but that appears to be the extent of his support for recent decisions justified on humanitarian grounds. For those concerned about his endorsement of humanitarian intervention, I would remind them hat Johnson opposed the war in Libya from the beginning. I have not been able to find any evidence that he has taken a position for or against intervention in Syria. Presumably, his objections to the Libyan war would apply in that case as well, but we simply don’t know his position. It’s possible that Johnson endorses such interventions in principle, but rarely sees a situation where U.S. intervention would be desirable. The very minimal deployment in central Africa qualifies, but larger and riskier military actions do not.
Reason.tv interviews Johnson, featuring super interlocutors Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie:
Wolf Blitzer interviewed Newt Gingrich this afternoon, who is still technically running for President, and given that the second degree murder charge for George Zimmerman in relation to the killing of Trayvon Martin was coming within the next hour, the CNN host decided to lead off with a general “tell me anything” question about the case, to which a visibly uncomfortable Gingrich gave a reserved canned response about having “faith in the criminal justice system.”
Asked about the President’s public comments on the Martin case, Gingrich offered that Americans of all ethnicities and ages are killed all the time, and that each deserves sympathy and concern. Pressed to say something about the President and the Attorney General commenting publicly on the case, Gingrich finally offered this:
You would hope that the Attorney General of the United States would be in favor of the system of justice, and you would hope that the President who is a Harvard Law graduate would be in favor of the system of justice.
He followed this up with an appeal to experts:
Apparently this prosecutor is a very serious person. She has a considerable track record… I’m inclined to rely on her judgment unless there’s some overwhelming reason by some other expert to second guess her, and since I’m not an expert I’m not going to second guess her.
We know, of course, Gingrich backed the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki through a targeted drone strike in Yemen last year. The radical cleric al-Awlaki was put on a “kill list” and approved by a panel of experts, raising the question of whether President Obama or Newt Gingrich know the difference between the rule of law (justice systems) and the rule of men (experts).
Today George Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager he shot on February 26 in Sanford, Florida. ABC News reports that he is being held at the Orange County Jail in Orlando.
Florida law defines second-degree murder as "the unlawful killing of a human being, when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual." It is punishable by a prison sentence up to life. By contrast, manslaughter, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, is "the killing of a human being by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence of another, without lawful justification," when the killing does not meet the definition of murder.
"We did not come to this decision lightly," Angela Corey, the special prosecutor assigned to the case, said at a press conference today. "Let me emphasize that we do not prosecute by public pressure or by petition."
The New York Times persists in mischaracterizing Zimmerman's defense, saying, "Critical to the prosecution will be whether or not the shooting fell under Florida’s 'Stand Your Ground' law, which gives wide leeway to people who claim self-defense, and which does not require people to retreat before using deadly force." As I've said before, if the fight that ended with Martin's death happened the way Zimmerman has described it, he had no opportunity to safely retreat, so the right to "stand your ground" is not relevant. Assuming Zimmerman gives the same account in his trial that he has already given to police, the crucial issue for the jury will be whether he reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary to prevent Martin from killing or seriously injuring him.
Previous coverage of the case here.
On Friday in Cartagena, Colombia, leaders from North, South, and Central America and the Caribbean will gather for the Summit of the Americas. There’s no official agenda, nor is there much word as to what definitely will be discussed beyond freer trade and "civil security." But a flurry of editorials and articles stressing the need to acknowledge the elephant-in-the-room issue of the drug war have suddenly appeared. From The Guardian to The Miami Herald to The Huffington Post there are comments from Latin American leaders (or articles weighty with references to their new views), all saying that it’s time we talk about drug legalization. Finally, writes Associate Editor Lucy Steigerwald, the violence-spawning elephant is under discussion. Will President Barack Obama join the conversation?View this article
The blogosphere is buzzing about a letter sent to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden by 49 former NASA astronauts, scientists, and engineers complaining about the agency's promotion of "catastrophic forecasts" of man-made climate change. The full letter via The Financial Post is below:
March 28, 2012
The Honorable Charles Bolden, Jr.
Washington, D.C. 20546-0001
We, the undersigned, respectfully request that NASA and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) refrain from including unproven remarks in public releases and websites. We believe the claims by NASA and GISS, that man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated, especially when considering thousands of years of empirical data. With hundreds of well-known climate scientists and tens of thousands of other scientists publicly declaring their disbelief in the catastrophic forecasts, coming particularly from the GISS leadership, it is clear that the science is NOT settled.
The unbridled advocacy of CO2 being the major cause of climate change is unbecoming of NASA’s history of making an objective assessment of all available scientific data prior to making decisions or public statements.
As former NASA employees, we feel that NASA’s advocacy of an extreme position, prior to a thorough study of the possible overwhelming impact of natural climate drivers is inappropriate. We request that NASA refrain from including unproven and unsupported remarks in its future releases and websites on this subject. At risk is damage to the exemplary reputation of NASA, NASA’s current or former scientists and employees, and even the reputation of science itself.
For additional information regarding the science behind our concern, we recommend that you contact Harrison Schmitt or Walter Cunningham, or others they can recommend to you.
Thank you for considering this request.
It seems unlikely that Bolden will do anything to change NASA GISS' official position on the looming dangers of climate change.
Update: I posted this item at 5:40 pm and 15 minutes later received an email from NASA GISS researcher Gavin Schmidt. I asked him if he'd like me to post his email as update and he sent me the version below:
Neither GISS, nor NASA in general, ever take 'positions' on scientific matters. This is well explained by the Chief Scientist, Waleed Abdalati,
and is basically a restatement of the ex-Adminstrator's comments many years ago:
What the letter writers are advocating for is for the NASA bureaucracy to limit other scientists' freedom of speech, and that is something that I am surprised that you would support.
Oddly, I don't think that reporting a newsworthy letter by the 49 signatories suggests that I support limiting anyone's freedom of speech.
On the other hand, I do happen to know of a current case in which a federal researcher whose freedom of speech is being limited (in the sense his superiors threaten to fire him) if he doesn't stop publishing work skeptical of various environmental shibboleths. Unfortunately, I am not a liberty to identify this researcher.
In any case, if readers are interested in the private "official position" of NASA GISS chief researcher, James Hansen, they may want to consider reading (as I did) his book, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity.
In today's Wall Street Journal, a heap of new data showing that public sector workers are overpaid, courtesy of the authors of a study that finds public school teachers are overcompensated, relative to their private sector peers.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis has announced that, beginning in 2013, the National Income and Product Accounts of the United States will calculate defined-benefit pension liabilities—and the income flowing to employees in those plans—on an accrual basis that reflects the value of benefits promised, regardless of the contributions made by employers today.
The bureau's reasoning is a 2009 research paper stating that "if the assets of a defined benefit plan are insufficient to pay promised benefits, the plan sponsor must cover the shortfall. This obligation represents an additional source of pension wealth for participants in an underfunded plan." At current interest rates, this adjustment would roughly double reported compensation paid through public pensions.
The Congressional Budget Office endorsed a similar approach last month in a new report on federal employee compensation. The report—which congressional Democrats reportedly hoped would debunk our 2011 paper on federal pay—found that the federal retirement package of pensions plus retiree health care was 3.5 times more generous than private-sector plans, contributing to a 16% average federal compensation premium.
Even more recently, an analysis by two Bureau of Labor Statistics economists, published in the winter 2012 Journal of Economic Perspectives, concluded that the salary and current benefits of state and local government employees nationwide are 10% and 21% higher, respectively, than private-sector employees doing similar work. This study didn't even factor in the market value of public-pension benefits, nor did it include the value of retiree health coverage.
Reason's own Tim Cavanaugh hit many similar notes in his May column, "Bad Apples," released online earlier today:
“So why has the idea gained currency that public workers are overpaid?” demanded journalist Alan Farnham in a February 2011 article at ABC News. Farnham likewise called for an “apples to apples” comparison and chastised hard-number hawks who rely on data from a sketchy outfit called the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
You get no points for guessing that the BLS numbers unambiguously show public-sector workers making more than equivalent private-sector workers. Total employer compensation cost in 2011 averaged $40.76 per hour for state and local workers; for private industry workers it was $28.24 per hour. The disparities are also big for federal workers. A janitor working for Uncle Sam makes $30,110 a year, while his or her private-sector peer makes $24,188. Federal graphic designers, “recreation workers,” and even P.R. flacks all make between 50 percent and 100 percent more than their private-sector colleagues. ABC’s sources faulted those stats for failing to “take into account workers’ level of education.”
Get lots more coverage of the war over public sector pensions and benefits.
Bonus: The March Reason-Rupe poll found that 67 percent of Americans think government workers receive better health care benefits.
Bonus bonus: 3 Reasons Public Sector Workers Are Killing the Economy:
- If Obama and Romney start spending a lot of time in Miami and Vegas, don't be surprised. The Presidential race could depend on the outcomes in just four states.
- Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who became a national lightning rod after shooting Trayvon Martin, will face criminal charges over the incident.
- A key ally of Arizona's controversial Sheriff "Generalissimo Joe" Arpaio was disbarred over politically driven investigations of opponents.
- The president surrounded himself with rich people who like him to call for higher taxes on rich people. No word yet on how many attendees made their mint in tax planning.
- Shockingly, Charles Manson has been denied parole and won't be eligible again until 2027.
- Still struggling with that constitutional learning curve, the FBI and UC-Berkeley police agree to erase improperly seized data and pay damages and attorney's fees to settle lawsuits over raids on two radical groups.
Last month I noted that Pinellas County, Florida, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri (right) was investigating allegations of trespassing and perjury against narcotics detectives who obtained search warrants by claiming they could smell marijuana while standing on public property outside of people's homes. The Tampa Bay Times, which broke the story, reports that Gualtieri faces credibility problems because of lackadaisical internal affairs investigators who seem to have been more interested in averting a scandal that in ferreting out the truth. The story highlights the case of Allen Underwood, a Seminole marijuana grower who says his surveillance cameras caught Sgt. Chris Taylor illegally hopping his fence prior to a 2010 search of his house. Sheriff's deputies seized the surveillance system's DVR during the raid and erased the hard drive—to protect the identities of undercover officers, Taylor claims. The internal affairs investigators who looked into Underwood's complaint seem to have accepted Taylor's excuse from the outset. Here is one of them questioning the officer who reported the erasure of the security footage to the technician who examined the hard drive:
Q: If a suspect or someone during a drug buy recognizes them as a police officer, they could be seriously hurt or even killed, right?
A: That is correct.
Q: It would basically make the detective useless in an undercover capacity?
A: Yes, it would.
The investigators did not pursue the question of why the DVR, which Underwood says contained three weeks of images, had to be wiped clean if the aim was to conceal detectives' faces on the day of the raid. They showed even less interest in the premium cigars and jewelry that Underwood says went missing after the search. Nor did they ask about a report in which a former FAA weather observer concluded that the detectives who claimed to have sniffed out Underwood's pot plants, Paul Giovannoni and Michael Sciarrino, "could not have possibly smelled any scent'' at the location and times they reported.
Based on the internal affairs report, the department's Administrative Review Board gave Taylor a five-day suspension for mishandling the DVR but cleared him and the two detectives of trespassing. Gualtieri, who says he signed off on this investigation without reading the underlying documents, promises that this time around he will leave no stone unturned. He has removed Taylor, Sciarrino, and Giovannoni from active duty pending the outcome of his investigation. He has said "many" cases may be thrown out as a result of illegal searches.
Underwood's lawyer remains skeptical. "The same people that were signing off on everything on the Underwood case, now all of sudden when it is brought to public attention, they say they are cleaning it up," he tells the Times. "Where were they a year ago?"
[Thanks to Mensan for the tip.]
Here’s the new liberal line on ObamaCare's effects on the budget: You can’t criticize it for using an accounting convention that allows for double counting because, well, it’s an accounting convention and we’ve always done it that way.
A refresher: Yesterday, Charles Blahous, one of Medicare’s Public Trustees, released a study reporting that, contrary to other estimates, ObamaCare was likely to increase the deficit. The reason? Double counting. The law reduces Medicare payments by roughly $500 billion over the next 10 years. That reduction allows Medicare officials and politicians to claim that the law improves the health of the Medicare Hospital Trust Fund. But the same dollars that are also said to extend the life of Medicare are also used to fund much of the law’s expansion of health coverage. Trust fund accounting essentially allows for one dollar to be raised and then for that same dollar to be spent twice.
Defenders of the health law have responded in a number of ways. Some, like Paul Van de Water of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal policy shop, have simply denied that any double counting exists at all. “There’s no double-counting involved in recognizing that Medicare savings improve the status of both the federal budget and the Medicare trust funds,” he writes. The specific issue here, however, is that if the money gained from reduced provider payments is used to shore up the Medicare trust fund, it cannot also be used to pay for health insurance subsidies. One or the other, but not both.
Another popular line is that Blahous has not offered any new revelations in his paper; he has simply explained how traditional trust fund accounting conventions work. “Opponents of reform are using ‘new math’ while they attempt to refight the political battles of the past,” a White House spokesperson told The Washington Post yesterday in response to the study. Van de Water takes a similar stance, dismissing Blahous' argument because it “adds nothing new to the debate.” The Urban Institute’s Robert Reischauer, another Medicare Trustee, tells New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, who blasted the study as “bogus,” that there’s nothing new in the paper—just a rehash of old complaints:
Under accepted CBO and OMB scoring practices, legislated reductions in Medicare HI spending both reduce the deficit and strengthen the HI trust fund. That has been the case under both D and R Congresses and administrations. Chuck’s “revelation” is not a new charge. Some argued this point when the ACA was enacted. It remains as misleading today as it did earlier.
This is an odd defense. Essentially Reischauer is saying: Well, this convention has been criticized before, but it’s always been done this way, so it can't really be a problem.
It is certainly true that complaints about the way the law double counts Medicare savings are not new, and that the accounting convention involved has been used for a long time. But does that mean there is no double counting involved? Not at all.
As I noted in my column yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office has been quite clear on the matter. Asked in 2009 whether it would be accurate to say that reductions in Medicare outlays could be used to both improve Medicare’s fiscal position and pay for any outside programs, such as ObamaCare’s insurance subsidies, the CBO responded that “our answer is basically no.” According to the CBO, to do so would be double counting, and that double counting would make the government's fiscal state look better than it really is:
To describe the full amount of HI trust fund savings as both improving the government’s ability to pay future Medicare benefits and financing new spending outside of Medicare would essentially double-count a large share of those savings and thus overstate the improvement in the government’s fiscal position.
In other words: Savings produced by reducing Medicare payments can improve Medicare’s fiscal health. Or they can be spent on expanding insurance coverage. But not both.
Yet the administration and its allies have repeatedly said that the law's Medicare reductions do both. The reason that White House officials can get away with making that claim is a longstanding convention of trust fund accounting that allows the trust fund to register funds even though the same funds are then used to pay for other expenses.
Just because it is an old accounting practice, however, does not mean that there is nothing to be concerned about. Richard Foster, Medicare’s Chief Actuary, explained this convention and its consequences at an American Enterprise Institute panel last summer:
To use a simplified example, let’s say you as an individual have to pay an extra $100 in hospital insurance payroll taxes because of the Affordable Care Act. So an extra $100 in actual cash comes from you to the Treasury and it’s credited to the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund. We get a bond of $100 for it. The cash itself is still sitting there and it will be spent like that [makes a motion that indicates "very quickly"].
Money does not sit around long in the Treasury. It may well be spent to help pay for other Affordable Care Act provisions or anything else that it needs to be spent on. So your $100 is spent.
But I have a promise for the Hospital Insurance trust fund that any time I need that money back I can get it. So let’s say it was spent for other coverage expansions, and now three years later I need it back to help pay for hospital insurance costs. So I let Treasury know. They come up with $100 in cash plus the five dollars in interest they owe or whatever it might be and they give me that cash and I spend it.
So far we’ve had a need for $200—$100 for the coverage expansion and $100 for HI [the Hospital Insurance fund]. We spent $200. And I got my money back. But you only paid $100.When I got my money back, Treasury had to raise that money some other way. They’d already spent your $100. And they had to raise it by further borrowing, or not spending some other $100, or raising a new tax for $100.
So on the one hand, all this is nothing new. This is traditional trust fund accounting. It’s just the way it works through the lending and redeeming operation. On the other hand, if you’re going to spend $200, you need $200.
The government takes in one dollar. It spends that dollar twice. Without further cuts or tax hikes, that means the budget deficit goes up.
Understanding this, I have developed a plan to use trust fund accounting conventions for all my freelance work going forward. First I'll record an increase for each new dollar in a Google spreadsheet titled: Freelance Work Trust Fund Account. Then I'll spend all the money on comic books. In no time at all I'll have a lot of comic books, and a huge trust fund account.
In his recent comments urging the Supreme Court to uphold his health care overhaul as an act of deference to “a democratically elected congress,” President Barack Obama also chided conservatives for abandoning the cause of judicial restraint. “I just remind conservative commentators that for years, what we’ve heard is the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint,” Obama said. “Well, this is a good example.”
It’s true that many conservatives have long preached judicial restraint. But those conservatives are not the only intellectual force at work within the larger conservative legal movement. Libertarian legal theorists, including NYU law professor Richard Epstein and Georgetown law professor Randy Barnett, have spent the last few decades making their own powerful arguments in favor of a principled form of judicial engagement. In Barnett’s view, for example, rather than practicing judicial restraint, the courts should adopt a “presumption of liberty,” meaning that the government should be required “to justify its restriction on liberty, instead of requiring the citizen to establish that the liberty being exercised is somehow ‘fundamental.’”
Another key figure in the libertarian legal school is Roger Pilon, the director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies. In a superb new post at Cato’s blog, Pilon offers his firsthand take on this longstanding debate over judicial activism:
In brief, the complaint about judicial activism emerged from what many conservatives saw as the “rights revolution” that was brought about by the Warren and Burger Courts, starting in the 1950s....
With the onset of the Reagan administration, however, and the advent of the Rehnquist Court in 1986, the conservative critique moved to center stage. In the hands of Attorney General Edwin Meese, Judge Robert Bork, and many others, it became a call not simply for “judicial restraint” but for “originalism”—for applying the law as understood by those who drafted or ratified it. That was an important shift, because the focus was now more squarely on the law itself, not more narrowly on the behavior of judges.
But that shift helped to bring out a split that had been growing on the Right. Back in the 1970s a few of us had reservations about the very “rights revolution” thesis. After all, America was conceived in the name of natural rights, so why were conservatives, in their critique of judicial activism, so hostile to such rights—and, of special importance, so deferential to the state and federal legislatures whose acts so often violated them? To be sure, the conservative critique of the Warren and Burger Court’s was often on the mark, but not always. Moreover, weren’t those conservatives, professing to be opponents of big government, ignoring the fact that it was the political branches—during the Progressive Era, the New Deal, and the Great Society—that had given us big government?
This is just a sampling of Pilon's superb post. The whole thing is well worth your time, including his argument for why many conservatives now "recognize that there is all the difference in the world between judicial activism and an active judiciary." Read it for yourself.
And for even more on the judicial activism debate, check out my article “Conservatives v. Libertarians.”
Understanding risk and probabilities is critical to making private and public policy decisions in the modern world. Now the Max Planck Institute in Berlin as devised a three minute online Risk Literacy test. The Institute's press release explains:
Tests exist for evaluating personality, intelligence and memory. However, up to now, it was not easily possible to find out how good someone is at making decisions in risky situations...
Traditional tests, which tend to determine general cognitive capacities, like intelligence or attention control, provide little information about a person’s risk competency. A high level of intelligence does not necessarily mean that the person is equally skilled in all areas...
It emerged from these tests that highly-educated individuals often also have difficulty interpreting information on risk probabilities. “However, if we want to have educated citizens who make decisions based on information, we need people who understand information about risks,” explains [Institute psychologist Edward Cokely]. Seen in this way, risk intelligence is just as important a skill as reading and writing.
Go here to take the test to find out how risk literate you are.
A new telecomunications provider could be coming that offers that most elusive intangible in the 21st century digital world: privacy.
[Nicholas] Merrill, 39, who previously ran a New York-based Internet provider, told CNET that he's raising funds to launch a national "non-profit telecommunications provider dedicated to privacy, using ubiquitous encryption" that will sell mobile phone service and, for as little as $20 a month, Internet connectivity.
The ISP would not merely employ every technological means at its disposal, including encryption and limited logging, to protect its customers. It would also -- and in practice this is likely more important -- challenge government surveillance demands of dubious legality or constitutionality.
Telecommunications has become one of the premier battlegrounds for privacy, especially in the post-9/11 context. CNET explains:
A decade of revelations has underlined the intimate relationship between many telecommunications companies and Washington officialdom. Leading providers including AT&T and Verizon handed billions of customer telephone records to the National Security Agency; only Qwest refused to participate. Verizon turned over customer data to the FBI without court orders. An AT&T whistleblower accused the company of illegally opening its network to the NSA, a practice that the U.S. Congress retroactively made legal in 2008.
Last year, the Department of Justice began to push for a requirement that ISPs retain their users’ data just in case that information could be useful in a future investigation, and just a few weeks ago the Obama Administration released new counterterrorism guidelines that would allow the government to retain records its obtained related to you for five years, up from the previous limit of 180 days.
In this context, Merrill’s new project, which he says will be run through the Calyx Institute, could prove to provide a valuable service. He hopes to sell the Internet connectivity for as low as $20 a month and will also sell mobile phone service. Would you shop with an internet provider that promised to guard your privacy?
From Ahnold's Facebook page, a plea for your help:
I need your help. I have been working on my book, Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story, for quite a while now, and later today we are having a brainstorming session to talk about themes, stories, and ideas I might have missed. A million minds are better than a few, so I'm asking you to let me know: what do you want to hear about? What themes in my life? Are their any stories you really want to hear? Give me your ideas. You can all consider yourselves my co-writers.
Go help the man out—right after you read Reason's Arnold Schwarzenegger-tastic cover story on governors who spend a lot of money. And our full Arnold archive.
The Washington Post reports that Angela Corey, the special prosecutor assigned to the Trayvon Martin case, will announce today that she is charging George Zimmerman in connection with Martin's death. I will post updates as more information becomes available.
Update: ABC News says Corey will make the announcement at a press conference scheduled for 6 p.m. Eastern time in Jacksonville.
Previous coverage of the case here.
As further evidence that "cyberbullying" (with cyber-stalking close behind) has become the "disorderly conduct" of the online world—an all-purpose legal bludgeon with which to thump people in the kidneys when the authorities don't like what they're doing but can't find a real crime about which to complain—three San Francisco high school seniors were suspended for saying mean things about their teachers in Tumblr posts. They were reinstated only after civil liberties groups stepped in to remind school officials that there are actual limits to their power, and lawyers with pro bono time on their hands willing to make those limits stick. According to the ACLU of Northern California:
In March, after students at a San Francisco high school posted parodies and irreverent memes from their home computers about teachers and school administrators on a Tumblr blog (“Teaches Pink Floyd for 3 Weeks; Makes Final Project Due In 3 Days”; “Nags Student Govt About Being On Task; Lags On Everything”), the principal dragged three students she suspected of creating the blog posts into her office and interrogated them at length. (The blog has since been taken down.) The principal then immediately suspended the students for three days, accusing them of bullying and disrupting school activities. The students were also barred from attending a school dance and prom, and even from walking with their classmates at graduation. In addition, the principal did not provide the students with an opportunity to resolve the concerns through a restorative justice approach prior to imposing the punishments, which disregards the School District’s prioritization of restorative justice as an alternative, when possible, to suspension and expulsion.
Note that, as almost always seems to be the case in these electron-fueled days, the kids didn't even use school time or resources. They logged into their Tumblr accounts at home, after hours. Amateurs. In my day, we circulated obscene newsletters in class after running them off on school mimeograph machines.
"We absolutely recognize and value our students’ right to free speech. We also recognize that we need to educate them about responsible speech," Gentle Blythe, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Unified School District, told California Watch. "As soon as the district was notified of the school administration’s action, we responded. Part of having authority means recognizing that if you make a mistake you need to correct it."
And a big part of having authority is backpedaling when the ACLU and the Asian Law Caucus come calling. With the school district under scrutiny, the George Washington High School students were reinstated after missing three oh-so-important days of school.
Ever a state to run with the cool kids, California has a specific law giving school officials the power to deal with the dread scourge of cyberbullying -- though it doesn't specify that the target of the bullying must be those delicate flowers employed by the education establishment.
Update: While we're discussing delicate flowers, let's have a shout-out for the tough Renton, Washington, police officials who got their knickers in a bind over mocking online videos created by some of their own.
Yesterday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected an interpretation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) that could have transformed most Americans—probably including you, if you are reading this at work—into criminals. The case involved David Nosal, who shortly after he stopped working at Korn/Ferry, an executive search firm, asked former colleagues there to obtain confidential client information for him, with an eye toward starting his own business. In addition to conspiracy, mail fraud, and trade secret theft, Nosal was charged with violating a provision of the CFAA that imposes a penalty of up to five years in prison on anyone who, "knowingly and with intent to defraud," "accesses a protected computer without authorization, or exceeds authorized access," and thereby "obtains anything of value." The Justice Department argued that Nosal's former co-workers exceeded their authorized access on his behalf. The 9th Circuit disagreed, saying the offense of exceeding authorized access refers to the manner in which information is obtained, as opposed to the way it is used after it is obtained. Writing for the majority, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski noted that the CFAA, which was enacted in 1984, was aimed at computer hackers. He said it is therefore plausible to conclude that the ban on unauthorized access refers to outsiders who peruse computers without permission, while the ban on exceeding authorized access refers to insiders who go beyond the material they are allowed to see—neither of which happened in this case.
Because the prohibition of unauthorized access is repeated in sections of the CFAA that do not require fraudulent intent, Kozinski noted, "the government's interpretation would transform the CFAA from an anti-hacking statute into an expansive misappropriation statute":
If Congress meant to expand the scope of criminal liability to everyone who uses a computer in violation of computer use restrictions—which may well include everyone who uses a computer—we would expect it to use language better suited to that purpose....
The government's construction of the statute would expand its scope far beyond computer hacking to criminalize any unauthorized use of information obtained from a computer. This would make criminals of large groups of people who would have little reason to suspect they are committing a federal crime.
In the case of the CFAA, the broadest provision is subsection 1030(a)(2)(C), which makes it a crime to exceed authorized access of a computer connected to the Internet without any culpable intent. Were we to adopt the government's proposed interpretation, millions of unsuspecting individuals would find that they are engaging in criminal conduct.
Anyone who violated workplace rules about the use of company computers, for example, would be guilty of a federal crime (emphasis added):
Minds have wandered since the beginning of time, and the computer gives employees new ways to procrastinate, by gchatting with friends, playing games, shopping or watching sports highlights. Such activities are routinely prohibited by many computer-use policies, although employees are seldom disciplined for occasional use of work computers for personal purposes. Nevertheless, under the broad interpretation of the CFAA, such minor dalliances would become federal crimes. While it's unlikely that you'll be prosecuted for watching Reason.TV on your work computer, you could be....
Basing criminal liability on violations of private computer use polices can transform whole categories of otherwise innocuous behavior into federal crimes simply because a computer is involved. Employees who call family members from their work phones will become criminals if they send an email instead. Employees can sneak in the sports section of the New York Times to read at work, but they'd better not visit ESPN.com. And sudoku enthusiasts should stick to the printed puzzles, because visiting www.dailysudoku.com from their work computers might give them more than enough time to hone their sudoku skills behind bars.
Even people who never commit such indiscretions could be prosecuted for violating websites' terms of service, knowingly or not. Internet access, Kozinski notes, "is governed by a series of private agreements and policies that most people are only dimly aware of and virtually no one reads or understands." According to the government's interpretation of the CFAA, he said, common violations such as fibbing on eHarmony, ignoring age restrictions on social networking sites, and letting other people log onto your Facebook account could earn Internet users up to a year in jail.
Kozinski noted that "ubiquitous, seldom-prosecuted crimes invite arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement." Although "the government assures us that, whatever the scope of the CFAA, it won’t prosecute minor violations," he said, "we shouldn't have to live at the mercy of our local prosecutor." People commonly lie on social networking sites, for instance, so "the difference between puffery and prosecution may depend on whether you happen to be someone an AUSA has reason to go after."
That sort of danger is no mere figment of Kozinski's imagination. Remember Lori Drew, the Missouri woman who was widely vilified after she played a nasty MySpace prank on a 13-year-old girl who later committed suicide? After Missouri prosecutors concluded that Drew had broken no laws, Thomas O'Brien, then the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, took it upon himself to prosecute her for violating the CFAA by disregarding MySpace's terms of service. (He claimed jurisdiction because MySpace had servers in his district.) After a jury convicted Drew, U.S. District Judge George Wu threw out the CFAA charges, noting that O'Brien's interpretation of the law "basically leaves it up to a website owner to determine what is a crime" and therefore "criminalizes what would be a breach of contract."
The 9th Circuit's decision is here (PDF). As Reuters notes, other appeals courts have been friendlier to the Justice Department's broad reading of the CFAA, so the issue may end up in the Supreme Court.
General economic malaise continues to permeate the general electorate despite some positive economic indicators. As political science research would suggest, the incumbent president bares a lot of the blame or praise for the economy. The latest Reason-Rupe poll reaffirms this with 53 percent disapproving of President Obama’s handling of the economy.
In terms of general job performance, nearly half approve of President Obama but nearly as many also disapprove.
Congress maintains is steady low level of approval at 15 percent with 78 percent disapproving of Congress.
A majority of women approve of Obama, whereas a majority of men do not. However, when it comes to handling the economy, a majority of both disapprove of President Obama policies.
Americans from the Northeast are the only regional group to have a majority approving of Obama’s general job performance and handling of the economy.
A majority of Latinos (55 percent) approves of Obama’s job performance; however, a majority (53 percent) disapproves of Obama’s handling of the economy.
Similarly a majority of self-identified Independents approves of Obama’s job performance, but a majority (54 percent) disapproves of his handling of the economy.
A majority of public sector workers approve of both Obama’s job performance (59 percent) and handling of the economy (53 percent). In contrast, private sector workers do not reach the majority threshold of support for Obama in general or on the economy.
Frequent churchgoers disapprove of both Obama’s general job performance (53 percent) and handling of the economy (60 percent). In contrast, 58 percent among those who do not attend religious services approve of Obama’s job performance, and 54 percent approve of Obama’s economic policies.
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.
If you don’t think it’s fair for government employees to make substantially more money than people who do the same jobs in the private sector, writes Tim Cavanaugh, a burgeoning public relations campaign is here to say you’re wrong. During the last two years, with public-sector compensation becoming a bitter political issue, a host of new studies have appeared, arguing that government workers deserve the big bucks, thanks to their extra-special skills and book learnin’.View this article
Ten times more civilians were killed by cops than cops were killed by civilians in 2008, but you won’t find that information in Tuesday’s New York Times story on the “disturbing trend” of officers killed by perps.
“As violent crime has decreased across the country, a disturbing trend has emerged,” reads the lede of the Times story. “Rising numbers of police officers are being killed.”
Newspapers live and die by trend stories. If three dogs are spotted in a park wearing S&M outfits, or five women in disparate parts of America are revealed to be potty training their cats, then a trend is happening, and The New York Times will tell you all about it.
In this case, the trend is “72 officers were killed by perpetrators in 2011, a 25 percent increase from the previous year and a 75 percent increase from 2008.”
But we should ask ourselves: What makes a trend? If it’s statistical significance, then 72 perp-caused deaths in 2011 versus 56 in 2010 is statistically less noteworthy than the increase in deaths from whooping cough (26 in 2010, versus 15 in 2009), Arthropod-borne viral encephalitis (9 in 2010, versus 2 in 2009), and malaria (9 in 2010, versus 3 in 2009); yet none of those increases made the front page of the Times.
The story also fails every other applicable trend test.MORE »
The shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman has opened a nation-wide discussion about the role of citizen law enforcement.
But as the town of Redlands, Calif. can attest, a properly run volunteer police program can be efficient, cost effective and safe.
"If you want to volunteer with the Redlands Police Department, we'll find a place for you," says Sergeant Travis Martinez.
Redlands volunteers now outnumber paid officers five to one and, even with a 25 percent reduction to their police force in 2007, their violent crime rates have decreased steadily.
And it doesn't cost tax payers a dime.
"Our volunteer program is completely self-sustainable," Martinez says. "They raise their own money, they buy their own cars. None of the money comes out of the general fund.
The program even includes an air support unit, complete with 30 volunteer pilots and a prop plane.
Produced by Tracy Oppenheimer. Camera by Zach Weissmueller and Oppenheimer.
About 4 minutes.
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"Fairness," an elusive idea normally exploited by spoiled children, is now the foundation of the Democratic Party's economy policy. If the Buffett rule is implemented, anyone earning $1 million a year or more would be required to pay at least 30 percent of his income in taxes. That would help reduce the deficit by raising $31 billion over 11 years, according to congressional tax analysts. That comes out to $2.8 billion a year, writes David Harsanyi, or less than a day's worth of new debt incurred by Washington.View this article
What are the best and worst jobs in these here United States? The Wall Street Journal has a list of 200 careers, including quite a few head-scratchers (and no, "head scratcher" is not one of the jobs listed). Here’s the methodology:
CareerCast.com, a career website, ranked 200 jobs from best to worst based on five criteria: physical demands, work environment, income, stress, and hiring outlook. To compile its list, the firm primarily used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other government agencies. From a software engineer to a lumberjack, see the complete list, and search for your job.
As that paragraph suggests, "software engineer" is Number One, and "lumberjack" is number 200.
I’m not sure about any list of jobs that doesn’t include "doctor," "lawyer," "Indian" or "chief." "Physician (General Practice)" does come in at 39 and "Attorney" ranks 87th. Elected office also gets short shrift, with nothing listed for "politician," "senator" "mayor," "representative" or "city council member."
The wonderful thing about lists like these is the veneer of objectivity they give to subjective data. While I’m happy for the nation’s dental hygienists that they apparently have the fourth-best job in the country, I can’t imagine what amount of physical ease or lack of workplace stress could compel me to stick my fingers into other people’s pieholes on a regular basis. (Maybe the actual mouth work is done by machines these days. I haven’t been to the dentist in a while.)
The list also contains bad news for our ever-growing population of liberal arts majors. "Poet," "composer," "novelist," "pundit," "columnist," and even "performance artist" don’t show up, and in fact there’s nothing listed for "performer" of any kind. Nor is there anything for "motion picture director," though in yet another victory for death, "funeral director" comes in at 90. (Unspecified "Artist" comes in at 101.)
And if you want to understand why old media employees are feeling so sorry for themselves, note that "Reporter (Newspaper)" comes in at number 196, four spaces from the bottom, 161 slots below "Parole Officer" and 56 slots below "Typist" – a job I didn’t even know still existed. (And yes, I am using scare quotes because I suspect most of these people don’t do any actual work.)
In fact, the list is strangely unreflective of the dynamic and shifting nature of employment in this century. Where are the "tech evangelists," "social media coordinators" and "digital imaging technicians" – jobs that seem to be so in-demand on Craigslist but apparently have escaped the notice of the BLS?
Courtesy of DJ Dash Riprock.
The Navy plans to begin testing laser-equipped drones to hunt pirates, which allows for grammatically dubious but still excellent headline "Robot Helicopters to Hunt Pirates With Lasers." (No, the pirates do not have lasers.) Via Mashable's Tech vertical:
Pirates seeking plunder on the high seas might soon be caught by the U.S. Navy’s autonomous “robocopters,” equipped with 3D imaging laser technology.
The Office of Naval Research announced on April 5 that it would begin testing the pirate-seeking drones late this summer. The drones and a software program would be the first line of defense against pirates.
These helicopters will use high-definition cameras and sensors, including laser-radar technology (LADAR), to collect 3D images. The technology is called Multi-Mode Sensor Seeker (MMSS) and will be attached to a robot called Fire Scout. Fire Scout and its advanced recognition software will sift through boat images captured by the camera and see if they match targeted pirate boats.
Currently, 2D technology used to capture images of ships from the air can leave the aerial crew at a disadvantage. With 3D technology and laser imaging, details on ships can be easier to spot.
Meanwhile, DARPA, the Pentagon's advanced research division, announced that it will hold a competition to develop "adaptable robots with the ability to use human tools," including everything from small hand tools to full size vehicles, in disaster zones.
The press release starts by acknowledging that robots are indeed pretty awesome:
As iconic symbols of the future, robots rank high with flying cars and starships, but basic robots are already in use in emergency response, industry, defense, healthcare and education. DARPA plans to offer a $2 million prize to whomever can help push the state-of-the-art in robotics beyond today’s capabilities in support of the DoD’s disaster recovery mission.
DARPA’s Robotics Challenge will launch in October 2012. Teams are sought to compete in challenges involving staged disaster-response scenarios in which robots will have to successfully navigate a series of physical tasks corresponding to anticipated, real-world disaster-response requirements.
Sadly, neither of these taxpayer-funded projects is as interesting or potentially useful on a daily, personal basis as the frustratingly still-not-operational private Tacocopter service.
At Georgia's Murray County High School, about 20 seniors decided to play a prank: they would all show up to school in unusual vehicles. Some rode horses. Others rode bicycles or dirt bikes. Some came in toy cars. All of them got in-school suspension. High school officials declined media requests to explain why they suspended the students, but the students say there's nothing in the student handbook that barred them driving something other than a car to school.
- An 8.2-magnitude aftershock hit the Indian Ocean just after a tsunami warning was lifted for the original 8.6-earthquake that hit hours earlier. A new tsunami warning has been issued in Indonesia
- The Justice Department may sue Apple as well as several book publishers it says may be engaging in price-fixing in the e-book market.
- George Zimmerman is emotionally crippled, suffering from high levels of stress, and losing weight, according to his former lawyers, who have been unable to get in touch with him since Sunday. Zimmerman has been in hiding since his shooting of an unarmed teenager in Florida gained national and international attention.
- Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman are advocating military support for the rebels in Syria as the Syrian government ignores the UN’s latest attempt at brokering a peace.
- A court in Egypt suspended the “constituent assembly” that was supposed to draft a new Constitution amid a boycott by moderate and secular groups charging undue influence of the assembly by the Muslim Brotherhood.
- Two separate roadside bombs in Afghanistan Wednesday killed a local government official and a NATO service member (the 102nd coalition casualty of the year). The roadside bombs were preceded by a suicide bomber in Helmand Province on Tuesday.
New on Reason.tv: "Economist Art Laffer on How to Fix California"
In his new book, No, They Can't: Why Government Fails But Individuals Succeed, Fox Business Channel's John Stossel dissects the myth of government infallibility and the failure of the nanny state—and he offers a hopeful vision of the ways in which freedom empowers individuals to create a better world.
Join Stossel and Reason's DC-area staff on Wednesday, April 11 from 6:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. for a reception in celebration of this exciting new book about how freedom lets individuals prosper.
- What: Reception with John Stossel
- When: Wednesday, April 11, 6:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
- Where: Reason's DC HQ, 1747 Connecticut Ave. NW (Metro: Dupont Circle, Q Street exit)
Beer, wine, and light refreshments will be served.
RSVP by April 9 to Mary Toledo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 310-391-2245.
Last week President Obama implied that Republicans who want the Supreme Court to overturn the federal health insurance mandate are trying to undo the New Deal. He made a similar claim regarding the House Budget Committee's recently unveiled fiscal plan, which he called "an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country." In truth, says Senior Editor Jacob Sullum, neither the constitutional constraints nor the budgetary tinkering advocated by the Republicans would make the federal government any smaller than it is now. Sullum wishes Republicans were half as radical as the president portrays them.View this article
Remember that industrious Spanish mayor who was scheming to rent out village land to grow marijuana, thereby raising much-needed money for the village of Rasquera, population 900? Well, the town council said yes in March, but when the mayor put the plan to a village-wide referendum today, turns out the mostly-older population was not ready to take that probably-illegal step. A 56 percent majority surprisingly said yes to the measure, but it needed 75 percent to pass. The wonkiness of Spanish weed laws probably didn't help convince folks.
Reports The Washington Post:
The result effectively ends the idea to lease a plot of land to an association of marijuana buffs in Barcelona who wanted to pay Rasquera €1.3 million ($1.7 million) over two years. About 40 jobs — growing, harvesting and packaging the pot — were envisioned.
The payment by the pot-smoking group ABCDA would have been about equal to the debt owed by this picturesque pueblo that sits at the foot of a mountain range with a castle dating back to the 12th century.
Rasquera is not alone with its debt problems. Spain’s economy crashed after a real estate bubble and many cities and towns are desperately trying to cope by cutting spending for health care, education and jobs. Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the 17-nation eurozone at nearly 23 percent — just shy of 50 percent for young workers — and it’s about to enter another recession. [...]
Under Spanish law, consumption in private of cannabis in small amounts is allowed. Growing it for sale, or advertising it or selling it are illegal.
Officials with the government’s National Drug Plan have said growing marijuana in large amounts as planned in Rasquera would be against the law, and have vowed to block any attempts.
Mayor Bernat Pallisa insisted that the initiative was legal, however, because ABCDA had pledged that the marijuana grown in Rasquera would have been for private consumption by its 5,000 members.
The rest here.
Reason on drug policy
Sean Higgins at Investor's Business Daily reports on a new IBD health care poll:
Polls continue to show it has little popular support either. For example, a poll just conducted for IBD by TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence found that only 22% said they wanted the justices to uphold the entire law, while 37% said strike down the whole thing and 30% said to strike down only the law’s individual mandate to buy health insurance. Another 10% were unsure.
Strikingly, the same poll found that while 39% of Democrats wanted the law upheld, 38% wanted the mandate struck down and another 12% wanted the whole thing thrown out. In other words, 50% want part or all of the law tossed. Even taking into account that some of those may be liberals who dislike ObamaCare because it isn’t more expansive, it’s a striking rejection of the president’s main accomplishment by his own party.
As Higgins points out, this is worth remembering next time one of the law's defenders argues that the Supreme Court will lose its legitimacy if it strikes down the law. Bipartisan opposition to ObamaCare, and to its mandate in particular, is so strong that even amongst Democrats less than 40 percent are willing to say they want the law upheld. In the court of public opinion, at least, the law has already lost.
In March, a Reason-Rupe poll found similarly high levels of opposition to the law. Indeed, virtually every poll has found that the public is opposed to the law.
The Centers for Disease Control issued a new report which finds that the rate of teen pregnancy in the U.S. has fallen to the lowest level since 1946. In 1946 most teen moms got married. Of course, increased availability of contraception is likely to have had something to do with this decline. And for some reason, fewer teens are actually having sex. The crappy economy also likely contributes to this trend. In any case, see the CDC chart below.
Could it also be that the post-welfare reform trends identified in the chart from the Center for Budget Priorities and Policy below might be having some effect as well?
Humanity’s natural state is abject poverty. The truly interesting question is how did some portion of humanity escape this natural state? In a word: institutions. That's the conclusion reached in the brilliant new book, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, by MIT economists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey notes that Acemoglu and Robinson have persuasively identified the cure, but also admit that no one knows how to get the ailing patients to take the medicine.View this article
In Sunday's New York Times, Matt Richtel explores the arbitrary intricacies of the Transportation Security Administration's rules concerning electronic devices carried by air travelers:
A spokesman said the agency has its reasons for still requiring that traditional laptops [but not, say, tablet computers, e-readers, or smartphones] go through X-ray machines in a separate bin. But he declined to share them, saying the agency didn’t want to betray any secrets.
As I did more reporting, the logic behind the rule grew as elusive as a free power outlet in the boarding area.
Richtel notes that there does not seem to be any security-relevant characteristic, including size and interior capacity, that consistently distinguishes laptops, which have to be removed, from electronic equipment that you're allowed to keep in your bag. The TSA's blog at one point suggested that laptops with relatively small screens (11 inches or less) can stay put, but Richtel was unable to get an official confirmation of that rule. He reports that a security agent at the San Francisco International Airport, which hires a private contractor to to do its passenger screening, told him iPads need not come out while warning that "other airports might be different."
As usual, the most plausible explanation for the TSA's policy comes from people outside the TSA. "Is it thicker than an inch, wider than a piece of paper, bluer than the sky?" says security expert Bruce Schneier. "Who cares? It's all nonsense." Robert Mann, an airline industry analyst, tells Richtel, "It's a difference without a distinction, at least from a security standpoint." An unnamed security expert says (in Richtel's paraphrase) "the laptop rule is about appearances, giving people a sense that something is being done to protect them." He calls it "security theater" (a term coined by Schneier).
I would add a corollary to the rule that TSA policies are mainly about appearances: As with other bureaucracies, the stupidity of the policies is compounded by the ignorance of the agency's employees, who often do not know what the policies are.
The shifting political landscape in China ahead of this autumn’s 18th Party Congress has claimed its first victim. Bo Xilai, once a “rising star” in the Chinese Communist Party, was suspended from the 25-member Politburo as well as the 300-member Central Committee, key governing bodies of the Communist Party, and the Communist Chinese State, for “serious disciplinary violations,” and his wife is a prime suspect in the murder earlier this year of a prominent British businessman, Neil Heywood, according to Chinese officials.
Bo Xilai’s troubles probably began earlier this year, when Wang Lijun, a regional Party official, sought “temporary sanctuary” at the U.S. consulate. He was seized by security officials upon exiting the consulate. China’s Communist government, of course, is highly secretive, which naturally, in the age of social networks and microblogging, means rumors spread across the Internet in China quickly.
Unfortunately, the U.S. government would not comment on the nature of Wang Lijun’s visit to the consulate, either. Speculation arose that Wang Lijun was in fact seeking to escape the clutches of the powerful Bo Xilai. Bo Xilai was dismissed from his post as a regional Party Secretary less than a month later in a single sentence announcement from the state news agency, which was followed by rumors his son had crashed his red Ferrari and died. That busy week also saw persistent rumors coming from China of some sort of military coup.
Bo Xilai had been leading a Marxist “revival” campaign in China writing revolutionary operas, Tweeting quotes from Mao’s Little Red Book, and organizing mass performances, for example requiring his hometown of Chongqing, a city of 30 million, to learn “red songs” ahead of the Party’s 90th anniversary last year. In a country without democratic elections, the very public “revival” efforts by Bo Xilai were interpreted as a campaign for the Politburo’s Standing Committee, a 9-member governing body being almost completely replaced at this autumn’s Party Congress.
Today’s announcement of his suspension from all Party posts as well as his wife’s suspected involvement in a high-profile murder disturbs the illusion of a well-oiled transition ahead of that Congress. The period from now until China’s new leadership is in place at the end of the year ought to be watched carefully by the many fans Chinese governance seems to have, from Tom Friedman to Andy Stern to the United Nations.
- Delving ever-deeper into his bag of economic wisdom, President Obama proposes to boost the national economy by hiking taxes on upper-income earners.
- When the feds don't have other charges to lay on defendants, they like to prosecute for broadly defined "lying".
- With the prospects for a primary win in his home state looking increasingly dicey, Rick Santorum puts his presidential campaign on hold.
- GSA administrator won't defend buckets of money spent on a conference where attendees joked about the cash they were blowing through.
- With twice the debt of Greece, Ireland and Portugal combined, Spain is poised to take a very expensive visit to the Eurozone bailout window.
- North Korea's plans for a long-range rocket launch draw U.S. threats to withhold food aid.
Focusing on a bizarre case involving whale "harassment" that was never actually alleged, The Wall Street Journal highlights the perils of Title 18, Section 1001, which makes lying to federal officials a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. The provision, commonly used by federal prosecutors when they can't make other charges stick, applies to anyone who, "in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully 1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact; 2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or 3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry." The Journal cites a former Justice Department official who "says the law is so vague that harmless misstatements can be turned into federal felonies." It adds that "a person can be charged even if the lie didn't really fool anyone, or if the person didn't know the criminal consequences of fibbing."
The main case discussed by the Journal involves Nancy Black, a California marine biologist accused of violating this statute by 1) editing video of a whale watching excursion she oversaw and 2) failing to inform the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that the video was edited. The NOAA supposedly was investigating whale harassment, but no one was ever charged with that offense. Black says she provided the footage she thought the feds wanted (showing a captain whistling at a humpback whale), and no one ever asked her if it was edited. The Journal also notes a potential Supreme Court case in which an Idaho farmer was charged with violating the statute by allegedly lying to a state livestock inspector, on the theory that he thereby impeded enforcement of federal water regulations.
This week federal agencies are supposed to update Congress on progress made in implementing the Plain Writing Act, passed in 2010, which mandates that government documents be written in clear, plain language, not impenetrable legalese. The Washington Post reports federal agencies are a long way off from compliance.
Why? From the Post:
[W]ith no penalty for inaction on the agencies’ part, advocates worry that plain writing has fallen to the bottom of the to-do list, like many another unfunded mandate imposed by Congress. They say many agencies have heeded the 2010 law merely by appointing officials, creating working groups and setting up Web sites.
In Plain English, that means the law lacks the substance to prevent federal agencies from simply creating new bureaucracies to say they’re in compliance with it, kind of like the “Paperwork Reduction Act” notice at the end of government forms.
Goodbye, candidate Santorum.
Chortle amongst yourselves.
The Paul campaign reaction: Good show, Rick, and they are fighting on.
Reason archives on Rick Santorum.
UPDATE: And the Romney campaign swoops in. From the Washington Post:
He did not endorse or urge the delegates that he has won to support another candidate, but spokesman Hogan Gidley told MSNBC that the Romney campaign has requested a meeting about an endorsement, which he said Santorum is “open” to.
Is this goodbye candidate Santorum, hello VP Santorum, hello second-term President Obama?
"It's not Republican, it's not Democrat. Honestly, it's not liberal, it's not conservative ... It's economics," says Economist Art Laffer. "If you tax people who work and you pay people who don't work, don't be surprised when you get a lot of people not working."
Laffer is the founder of supply side economics, the namesake of the "Laffer curve" and the author of the new book, Eureka! How to Fix California. He sat down with Reason.com's managing editor, Tim Cavanaugh at the offices of the Orange County Register, to talk about why Texas has a better tax structure than California, the power of public employee unions and what he really thinks of California governor Jerry Brown.
Shot by Zach Weissmuller and Sharif Matar. Edited by Matar and Paul Detrick
New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez reports that the autopsy of Kenneth Chamberlain, the former Marine and retired correctional officer who was killed by White Plains police in November, casts doubt on the official story that Chamberlain was brandishing a knife:
Randolph McLaughlin, attorney for Chamberlain's family, said the trajectory of the fatal bullet [fired by Officer Anthony Carelli] suggests Chamberlain was neither facing the police nor holding up a weapon.
"The report clearly shows that Mr. Chamberlain's arm could not have been raised in a threatening manner with a knife at the moment he was shot," McLaughlin told The News on Monday night.
The report, completed Nov. 21 by acting Westchester County Chief Medical Examiner Kunjlata Ashar, shows the fatal bullet struck Chamberlain [who was right-handed] from the side in the "right upper arm, 4½ inches from the right shoulder."
It went through his arm without hitting bone and entered his right chest, "then passed through the upper lobe of right lung ... through the thoracic vertebra 4 and then through the upper lobe of left lung," the report said.
"The direction of the wound track is from right to left in a straight line," Ashar wrote. Chamberlain died from hemorrhaging in the lungs....
Because the bullet came from the side, not straight on, the report “makes it impossible for him to be holding a knife in his hand and advancing on police," [McLaughlin] said.
Following a public outcry about the case, the Westchester County District Attorney's Office plans to have a grand jury decide whether criminal charges should be brought against Carelli or the other officers, who were responding to an erroneous call indicating that Chamberlain needed medical assistance.
I discussed the shooting last week.
I love Fidel Castro. I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that son of a bitch is still there.
Now, saying the words "I love Fidel Castro" is ridonkulous in any context, let alone for one of the highest-profile human beings trying to sell a public product in South Florida. But there are three complicating caveats:
1) Ozzie Guillen is a famous crazy person, especially the way that he flaps his gums. I wish The New Yorker brought this recent Ben McGrath piece on Guillen and the Marlins out from behind the paywall, because Ozzie's quotes there are hilarious, profane, totally nonsensical, honest, self-contradicting, and generally unhelpful. As the Sun-Sentinel's Mike Berardino points out, "it was Ozzie's former boss, White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who called him, 'The Hispanic Jackie Mason.'" Guillen calls sportswriters "fags" (for which he received fines and sensitivy training, then claimed he couldn't be homophobic because he likes Madonna and the WNBA), swears like a sailor's uncle, has questionable command of the English language, and is generally one of the most entertaining characters in modern sports.
2) Ozzie Guillen has also said that Fidel Castro is "a bullshit dictator," and criticized actor Sean Penn for being a Hugo Chavez apologist (Guillen hails from Venezuela). Here's Rick Telander in the Chicago Sun-Times:
Let me take you back to September 2008.
I interviewed Ozzie, then the White Sox' manager, for a back-page Q & A in the national magazine Men's Journal. [...]
And I asked him this: "Who's the toughest man you know?"
His response, which took me by surprise: "Fidel Castro."
"He's a bull---- dictator and everybody's against him, and he still survives, has power. Still has a country behind him," Ozzie replied. "Everywhere he goes, they roll out the red carpet. I don't admire his philosophy; I admire him."
This isn't too hard to understand, right? Here is some of Ozzie's Penn-bashing:
"Sean Penn defended Chavez is easy when you have money, and no leave in out country. Shame on you, Mr. Penn." [...]
"Sean Penn, if you love Venezuela please move to Venezuela for a year," [...]
He also tweeted that Penn move specifically to an impoverished city such as Guarenas or Guatire "to see how long you last," and called him a "clown."
Ozzie being Ozzie, his Chavez statements have been all over the map:
Guillen bristled Wednesday at the suggestion he was a fan of the Venezuelan president Chavez.
"Don't tell my wife that, because she hates that man. She hates him to death," Guillen said. "I supported Chavez? If I was supporting Chavez, do you think I would be manager of the Marlins? I never supported Chavez." [...]
Guillen said he has never spoken to Chavez, but in fact he appeared on the Venezuelan leader's national radio show twice in October 2005, when Guillen led the Chicago White Sox to the World Series title.
At the time, Guillen said: "Not too many people like the president. I do. My mom will kill me, but it's an honor to talk to the president."
Guillen became a U.S. citizen in 2006, and he has been more critical of Chavez in recent years.
"It's not my fault Chavez is the president," Guillen said Wednesday. "I didn't put him there. ... We got what we deserved."
3) The Miami Marlins, one of the very worst corporate welfare whores in the history of professional sports, were responding to overt public pressure from a series of local elected officials:
The Chairman of the Miami-Dade Board of Commissioners has called on Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria to urge Guillen to resign.
In an open letter sent to the media on Monday, Joe A. Martinez said "there is no alternative that would be satisfactory"[.]
"To say you respect Fidel Castro, suggests he also respects dictators such as Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, Adolf Hitler and Sadam Hussein," the letter reads.
Francis Suarez, chairman of the City of Miami Commission, said: "Mr. Guillen's admiration for a dictator who has destroyed the lives of so many and who has violated the basic human rights of millions is shameful."
Suarez also targeted Guillen for his recent comments about getting drunk. The manager said he routinely gets drunk after games and has done so for many years.
"Mr. Guillen's cavalier attitude about the serious issue of alcohol abuse is reckless and not suitable for a public figure in a position of leadership in our community," Suarez said.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez issued a statement "condemning" Guillen's comments.
"I now challenge them to take decisive steps to bring this community back together," his statement read.
Any politician who cares more about loose Castro talk from a baseball manager than about hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars looted by a billionaire liar deserves to be dunk-tanked by Greg Maddux, for a year.
Keith Olbermann is right–this isn't, strictly speaking, a First Amendment issue. Congress didn't pass any law, and the Marlins are still a private company even after all those ill-gotten public gains. But like the L.A. City Council's rebuke of popular talk-radio figures John and Ken, the Miami political establishment's behavior in this case has been shameful and creepy. And like when Cumulus banned the Dixie Chicks from its airwaves over the country act's mildly intemperate words about George W. Bush, this private clampdown on an entertainer's political babble narrows the climate for practical free speech, and reinforces a bland sort of public conformity.
Yes, but couldn't you say the same of National Review cutting loose John Derbyshire after his racist spasm over at Taki's Magazine? Indeed you could and arguably should, since opinion journalists will likely feel less inclined now to write about African-American crime rates. But here's an important difference: Derbyshire is an opinion journalist, and all publications in this category have (evolving) standards about its contributors involving constant political judgment calls. I defended The American Prospect's right to decide I wasn't the right media columnist for them, even if the episode felt a bit political at the time. If a Reason writer started talking constantly about loving Fidel Castro, he/she wouldn't be a Reason writer for long, and rightly so.
But Ozzie Guillen is grown man who wears pajamas to work. And one who felt compelled today to say: "This is the last time this person talks about politics."
Here at Reason, we have talked some smack about the experiments being conducted at the International Space Station and on the U.S. Shuttles. (See Robert Zubrin on the deaths in the Columbia, "a flight devoted to ant farms, recycled-urine-based finger paints, and other science fair experiments.") But here's a worthy mission, sent up on a Russian cargo rocket: a two-year long experiment devoted to the study of terpenes and other molecules in near-zero gravity. Terpenes, eh? Wonder what those do...
NanoRacks LLC, the US company behind the research, has said understanding the influence of gravity could help a number of industries, including the whisky industry, to develop new products in the future....
Compounds of unmatured malt were sent to the station in an unmanned cargo spacecraft in October last year, along with particles of charred oak.
The researchers are also measuring the molecules' interaction at normal gravity on Earth so they can compare the way the particles mature.
Via Rand Simberg.
The latest Reason-Rupe poll finds that nearly half of Americans favor the United States attacking Ira