Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 April 15-31

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New York State Throws Students a Pineapple

The big education news this weekend is a bizarre exercise included on New York state's standardized English exam for eighth graders. It consisted of a garbled excerpt [pdf] from Daniel Pinkwater's novel Borgel -- I say "garbled" because the testmakers edited it with a heavy hand -- followed by a series of reading comprehension questions, several of which asked for information that arguably was not present in the text. The authorities have decided to ignore the questions when calculating the results, reports The New York Times:

In a statement Friday afternoon, John B. King Jr., the state education commissioner, said that "due to the ambiguous nature of the test questions the department has decided it will not be counted against students in their scores."...Mr. King also said that in the context of the full passage the questions "make more sense."

But more than a dozen eighth graders interviewed Friday unanimously disputed Mr. King's assessment, saying that two of the six questions were barely rational. (All six are being thrown out.)

The crux of the passage is that the pineapple challenges the hare to a race, and the other animals are convinced the pineapple must have a trick up its sleeve and will win. When the pineapple stands still, the animals eat it. The moral of the story: "Pineapples don't have sleeves."

One of the disputed questions asked, essentially, which was the wisest animal. Some students said that none of the animals seemed very bright, but that a likely answer was the owl, because it was the one that uttered the moral....The other tough question was why the animals ate the pineapple. Students were torn between two of the four choices: they were annoyed or they were hungry; either one seemed to work.

The Times notes that "the same passage and questions, perhaps with variations, have been used at least as far back as 2007 in states like Illinois, Arkansas, Delaware and Alabama, and every time, elicited roughly the same spectrum of incredulity, bafflement, hilarity and outrage." So this isn't simply one weird aberration; it's a recurring issue.

It also speaks to a broader problem with some of the reading comprehension questions on standardized tests. I frequently found, when I was a kid, that there was more than one defensible answer to the questions in these sections of the exams. I was good at determining which one of those answers was "correct," but the skill I was exercising there wasn't reading comprehension. It was bureaucratic expectations comprehension, a.k.a. figuring out what some jerk in an office wants you to say. (This, to be fair, is also a valuable life skill.)

The Times asked the alternative-education guru Deborah Meier for her thoughts. She replied that

the pineapple passage was "an outrageous example of what's true of most of the items on any test, it's just blown up larger."

In the world of testing, she said, it does not really matter whether an answer is right or wrong; the "right" answer is the one that field testing has shown to be the consensus answer of the "smart" kids. "It's a psychometric concept," she said.

I see two upsides to the incident. First: It's forcing discussion about the problems with standardized tests, not just among testing critics such as Meier but among testing supporters such as Kathleen Porter-Magee. Second: It may mean more royalty checks for Pinkwater, the author of the brilliant Lizard Music and Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, among other fine stories. Two forces that never come off well in Pinkwater's books are bureaucracy and conformity; I have a hard time imagining that he likes the idea of subjecting an absurdist fable from a jokey novel to the kind of reductive reading required by the New York state exam.

In Pinkwater's Young Adult Novel, written for older readers, a group of boys form a Dadaist gang dedicated to making life at school funnier and more confusing. Evidently, some of those kids grew up and infiltrated a company that produces standardized tests.

Christie/Springsteen Snoozegate Even Dumber than Obama Dog-Eating Story

If you want an example of how politics suck the life out of all worldly pleasures, you could hardly find a better one than the dustup over New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s alleged nap during an April 9 Bruce Springsteen concert at Madison Square Garden. 

At issue: During a performance of a plodding number off Springsteen’s new Wrecking Ball collection, the portly Garden State chief executive shut his peepers for an indeterminate period of time.

Observers claim Christie, who had already been lambasted by another concertgoer during one of Bruce’s signature shaggy dog stories, was catching a catnap.

Christie denies sleeping but does claim to have been in some kind of "spiritual" transport inspired by the E-Street Band’s performance of "Rocky Ground, " which I’m not sure is any less embarrassing. 

Here’s the governor’s description: 

It’s not clear whether Christie means Authorities Unit Director Deborah Gramiccioni was "in the hallway" during Christie’s press conference or during the concert, but if it’s the latter we’d have new proof of the old joke that no phrase empties a room faster than "Here’s a song from our new album."

As with most political disputes, this is one where I’d like to see both sides lose. Christie’s admirable efforts to control New Jersey’s pension crisis and rein in the growth of state spending have not prevented him from wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on corporate welfare

As for Springsteen, I have been a fan and feel some residual loyalty as a native of the Jersey Shore. And it’s reasonable to say that, regardless of the material, he puts on one of the great rock shows.

 But like killer bees and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Springsteen is one of those cultural forces that never went away and yet never really mattered once the seventies ended. His increasingly dire habit of offering prescriptive political advice to listeners and asking us to join in celebration of contemptible old commies like Pete Seeger makes one truth clear: For stadium-shaking anthem rock, you’re better off with Meat Loaf

There’s something off-balance, and a little bit creepy, in the expectation that an audience member is supposed to be deferring to the performer rather than the other way around. Christie almost certainly paid good money for his ticket: Seats for Springsteen’s upcoming Newark show start at $210. (The indifference of the actual working classes to Springsteen’s music has long been an open secret, as embarrassing as the overwhelming whiteness of jazz audiences.) 

No less a figure than Julie Andrews – that’s Dame Julie Andrews to you – got a heaping helping of post-concert vituperation from her fans a while back, even though she had made no secret of the loss of her legendary voice and by most accounts tried valiantly to put on a decent "and friends" performance. 

Why should fandom for a 62-year-old rock star be considered some badge of authenticity? Christie claims to have attended more than 100 Springsteen concerts. He’s got a right to sleep at a slow point in a show. Even given the eggshell care with which a New Jersey governor must handle local heroes, it would have been nice to see Christie bring out a little of his trademark indelicacy and declare, "Yeah, I think The Boss has really lost something since the untimely death of Clarence and/or Danny, and at one point I just got bored. But it’s cool. I won’t be demanding my money back."

How City Hall is F*cking "Record Store Day"!

April 21, 2012 marks the fifth annual Record Store Day, a nation-wide project to promote struggling brick-and-mortar music shops. Across the country, independent stores offer exclusive, one-of-a-kind recordings as a way to bring customers through the door.

"It is the busiest day of the year," says Matt Moffatt, co-owner of Washington, D.C.'s Smash Records, a shop that sells new and used CDs and vinyl LPs, along with clothing, posters, t-shirts, vintage clothing, and more.

But now the powers that be in the nation's capital have decided that record stores must get second-hand dealer business licenses, which cost a lot of money and have onerous reporting requirements. Store owners such as Moffatt would have to report every new piece they put up for sale to the police, allow the cops to verify it's not stolen, and get information about all customers who buy used goods. Failure to comply would mean incurring massive fines of thousands of dollars a days. (Read more here and here).

"Basically," says Moffatt, "they want us to get a pawn shop license."

Local business groups such as the Adams Morgan Partnership are pushing back but the future of stores such as Smash Records is far from clear. "It just seems so heavy-handed, it could easily destroy businesses like mine," says Moffatt.

About 3.45 minutes. Produced by Meredith Bragg and hosted by Kennedy; co-written by Nick Gillespie.

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Baylen Linnekin on India’s Misguided Push for Food Security

Over the last decade, a “right to food” movement has built momentum in India, culminating in a food security bill now under consideration that would provide a legal entitlement to discounted food for all Indians. But the larger question, writes Baylen Linnekin, is whether any government can make good on a guaranteed right to food. If the Indian government’s recent food-policy failures are any indication, Linnekin argues, establishing a right to food will be a grand subcontinental experiment in wasting food, money, and lives.

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Sheldon Richman on the Long, Shameful History of Using Science to Stigmatize Dissent

The current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) under “disorders usually first diagnosed infancy, childhood, or adolescence.” According to the manual, “The essential feature of Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a recurrent pattern of negativistic, defiant, disobedient, and hostile behavior toward authority figures that persist for at least six months.”

While ODD is discussed with reference to children, writes Sheldon Richman, one suspects it wouldn’t take much to extend it to adults who “have trouble with authority.” Surely one is not cured merely with the passing of adolescence. Adults are increasingly subject to oppressive government decision-making almost as much as children. Soviet psychiatry readily found this disorder in dissidents. Let’s not forget that the alliance of psychiatry and state permits people innocent of any crime to be confined and/or drugged against their will.

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Connecticut Medical Marijuana Legalization Gets Closer, But Politicians Still Have Some Stupid, Cruel, and Anti-Market Objections

No-doubt-accidentally in honor of 4-20, legal medical marijuana in Connecticut (which decriminalized small amounts of pot in 2011) had some promising progress today when the state's financial committee voted 36-15 to legalize medical marijuana, under a measure now on its way to the state House of Representatives. However, several Republican lawmakers managed to voice some objections along the way.

The law would very tightly control medical marijuana, but to Connecticut state Sen. Toni Boucher (R-Wilton), that's not enough. She gets that marijuana helps some dying people, sure. But what about the children?

She offered several amendments to soften the bill, including one that would have limited the use of medical marijuana to those with terminal illnesses.

“This…is exactly the wrong message to our children,” Boucher said. “While trying to help a small few…the costs to our families and children are so severe.”

And, inquired, Rep. Prasad Srinivasan what about the financial cost of legalizing medical marijuana?

Srinivasan, a Republican from Glastonbury who is also a medical doctor said he’s well aware of the potential benefits of marijuana for ill patients.

“Being a physician and taking care of [the] terminally ill, I am well aware of that there are indications for medical marijuana,” he said

But the cost to the state would be prohibitive, Srinivasan said. He questioned figures provided by the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis. OFA found that any costs associated with the bill, such as the hiring of additional drug control agents, would be offset by revenue gains through registration fees.

The assumption that legalizing the substance would mandate the hiring of more drug control agents and that Connecticut couldn't, ya know, just get along with the amount of agents they had (or, dare to dream, fewer of them) pretty much sums it up. The financial cost estimated by the committee is very minor, but if Connecticut was interested in a real, free market in marijuana, they wouldn't have to consider the cost of any drug control agents, even just two. If you see the benefits of medical marijuana, as Srinivasan claims to, but you consider the the potentially "prohibitive" cost to the state" a deal breaker, you're doing something wrong as a doctor and a politician. 

Reason on drug policy

California Teachers: Accused Child Molesters Get Due Process, Former Adult Performers Not So Much

The Smoking Gun has a gallery of images from the adult film career of Stacie Halas, who was fired Wednesday from her job as a science teacher at Richard B. Haydock Intermediate School in Oxnard, California. 

Oxnard School District Superintendent Jeff Chancer (whose office claims he is "out of the office attending a meeting" during what is certainly a big news week in OSD history*) in March told the Smoking Gun, "We’re trying to determine if there’s a nexus on what she does on her own time and what she does in the classroom." 

However, Chancer’s more recent comments suggest his objections have nothing to do with Halas’ behavior in the workplace. "We’re dealing with the disruption that we believe it would cause our district and the schools in our district if she were to return back to the classroom," Chancer says in this very self-amused story from KPCC’s Don Frances.  "Maybe it’s not a crime as far as the penal code is concerned, but we feel it's a crime as far as moral turpitude is concerned."

There is no evidence that Halas performed in porn after her probationary period at the Oxnard schools began in 2009 [pdf]. And while most coverage of the story claims Halas’ old videos were discovered by her students, an earlier version of the story held that it was an office worker at the school who found the video. There is also a shortage of evidence that parents were upset about the matter: When the school board held a meeting in March to discuss the Halas situation, nobody showed up

The Oxnard SD is certainly entitled to remove a teacher it believes could become a problem in the classroom. Presumption of innocence is for criminal courts, not workplaces. 

California schools already provide a level of due process for teachers most of us would envy in our own jobs. A spokesman for California Teachers Association, which represents Oxnard elementary and middle school teachers, tells me a standard dismissal includes an appeal procedure. Halas is entitled to a hearing before a three-member panel comprising an administrative law judge, a teacher selected by the school district, and a teacher chosen by Halas. She has 30 days to appeal.

But Oxnard’s rapid dismissal of Halas is a pretty striking contrast with the Los Angeles Unified School District’s tolerance of Mark Berndt, the Miramonte Elementary teacher accused of abusing at least 23 third graders. Complaints about Berndt first surfaced in 1994. In 2008, one girl’s parents also complained, and the principal at the time responded by transferring the girl to a class taught by accused child molester Martin Bernard Springer. 

The school’s inaction against Berndt in 1994 has been explained by the fact that a Sheriff’s Department investigation did not result in charges. But again, the state’s burden of proof in a criminal case is, and should be, higher than an employer’s burden of proof in a termination case. Burger King would have lost no time 86ing a controversial employee. Why should a public school system? 

It’s a different school district and a different teachers union. But it’s interesting: Whatever snickers Halas might have inspired from her students (and public broadcasting reporters), she wasn’t a threat to her class. And yet she’s fired, while an alleged child abuser kept his job for 18 years. These two Golden State stories, which like all tales of California are creepy and ridiculous at the same time, raise an important question: Is the goal of public education to educate kids while not hurting them, or is it to avoid embarrassment

* An earlier version called the Halas dustup "the first big news week in OSD history." That dubious distinction should probably go to the E.O. Green Junior High shooting

Death Sentence Commuted Under New Anti-Race Bias Law in North Carolina

A North Carolina judge commuted the death sentence of Marcus Robinson, a black man convicted of killing a white teenage boy after abducting him in a car and robbing him at gunpoint, based on a new state law (the idea came up on the federal level in the 90s, but never came to fruition) that prohibits race from being a factor in the application of the death sentence. The ACLU explains what happened in the Robinson case:

[P]owerful statistical evidence of racial bias in jury selection was introduced [by defense attorneys], including a study from Michigan State University finding that North Carolina prosecutors were twice as likely to remove qualified Black jurors from jury service as other jurors, even after the researchers controlled for alternative explanations such as criminal background or reservations about imposing a death sentence.
The state offered no meaningful rebuttal to the statistical evidence. No statistical expert testified for the state that race did not play a role in jury selection. Rather, the State lodged a frontal attack on the concept of statistical evidence itself. In its closing argument, the prosecution argued that the problem with the Robinson's statistical evidence is that it tries "to get people to lose sight of the trees and focus on the forest." At the end of the argument, the prosecution was even more direct: it pleaded with the judge not to make a decision "with respect to the Racial Justice Act based upon numbers."

In a 167-page ruling, Judge Gregory Weeks disagreed with the prosecution’s argument, ruling that “race was a materially, practically and statistically significant factor in the decision to exercise peremptory challenges during jury selection by prosecutors.”

Of course none of this would matter if the death penalty became a thing of the past.

How City Hall is F*cking "Record Store Day"!

April 21, 2012 marks the fifth annual Record Store Day, a nation-wide project to promote struggling brick-and-mortar music shops. Across the country, independent stores offer exclusive, one-of-a-kind recordings as a way to bring customers through the door.

"It is the busiest day of the year," says Matt Moffatt, co-owner of Washington, D.C.'s Smash Records, a shop that sells new and used CDs and vinyl LPs, along with clothing, posters, t-shirts, vintage clothing, and more.

But now the powers that be in the nation's capital have decided that record stores must get second-hand dealer business licenses, which cost a lot of money and have onerous reporting requirements. Store owners such as Moffatt would have to report every new piece they put up for sale to the police, allow the cops to verify it's not stolen, and get information about all customers who buy used goods. Failure to comply would mean incurring massive fines of thousands of dollars a days. (Read more here and here).

"Basically," says Moffatt, "they want us to get a pawn shop license."

Local business groups such as the Adams Morgan Partnership are pushing back but the future of stores such as Smash Records is far from clear. "It just seems so heavy-handed, it could easily destroy businesses like mine," says Moffatt.

About 3.45 minutes. Produced by Meredith Bragg and hosted by Kennedy; co-written by Nick Gillespie.

Subscribe to Reason's YouTube channel to get automatic notification when new material goes live. And go to Reason.tv for downloadable versions of all our videos.

Jobless Claims Hit Three-Month High, Jury Activist Freed, Happy 420!: P.M. Links

  • Senate Republicans want their House colleagues to curb their enthusiasm for reining in the cost of government.
  • Free speech is all right and good, unless you disagree with Greenpeace about climate change, the organization helpfully explains.
  • A medical alert device belonging to a man killed by White Plains, New York, police recorded an officer yelling a racial slur before the fatal shot. That officer and the actual shooter face unrelated brutality lawsuits.
  • Jury nullification activist Julian Heicklen is now no less free than the rest of usnow that a judge has dismissed charges against him for distributing literature outside a courthouse. (HT Karl Hungus)
  • With unemployment claims at a three-month high and home sales down, economists are turning a bit dour on the economy's prospects.
  • With the fate of their healthcare law up in the air, some Democrats suggest the Obama administration should have spent more of its time on proposals less likely to be eviscerated by the Supreme Court.
  • Today is the day to get your 420 on. That is all.

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Brian Doherty Reports from the Set of Atlas Shrugged Part II

Earlier this week, Senior Editor Brian Doherty visited the movie set of Atlas Shrugged Part II, which is currently filming in downtown Los Angeles and is scheduled to hit theaters in October, just in time for the 2012 elections. There are a number of major changes since the first installment of the three-part film series debuted last year, Doherty reports, including new cast members and a new director. Will audiences respond to this new take on Ayn Rand's famous novel?

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Zimmerman Takes Stand, Survives

In a move that you rarely see outside an episode of Boston Legal, George Zimmerman waived his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination  and took the stand during his bail hearing this morning. 

Zimmerman’s goal was to make an apology to the family of Trayvon Martin, and the prosecutor naturally took the opportunity to try and trip him up. This is why you’re never supposed to open your mouth when you’re on trial – and it’s a frustrating vice of screenwriters that almost all TV lawyer shows turn on getting the accused on the stand, something that almost never happens in real life. Nevertheless, Zimmerman seems to have done fairly well. My transcription of the full testimony: 

Zimmerman: George Michael Zimmerman. I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son. I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I am. And I did not know if he was armed or not. 

Prosecutor: Sir, you are not really addressing that to the court. You’re doing that here to the victim’s family. Is that correct?

Zimmerman: They are here in the court, yes. 

Prosecutor: I understand. I thought you were going to address that to Your Honor, Judge Lester, not – that’s really addressed to the family and to where the media happens to be, correct, Mr. Zimmerman? 

Zimmerman: No, to the mother and the father. 

Prosecutor: And tell me. After you committed this crime and you spoke to the police, did you ever make that statement to the police? That you were sorry for what you’d done or for their loss?

Zimmerman: No, sir. 

Prosecutor: You never stated that, did you?

Zimmerman: I don’t remember what I said. I believe I did say that. 

Prosecutor: You told that to the police? 

In one of the statements I said that I felt sorry for the family. 

Prosecutor: You did?

Zimmerman: Yes, sir.

Prosecutor: So that would be recorded, because all these conversations were recorded. Right? 

Zimmerman: Yes, sir. 

Prosecutor: And you’re sure you said that?

Zimmerman: I’m fairly certain.

Prosecutor: OK. And which officers did you tell that to?

Zimmerman: Uh…

Prosecutor: I think you made five statements, I believe. 

Zimmerman: Yes sir, I’m sorry. All the names blend together. 

Prosecutor: OK. And do you remember if there was a male or female?

Zimmerman: There were both male and female. 

Prosecutor: At the time you made that statement that you were sorry?

Zimmerman: Yes, sir.

Prosecutor: And let me make sure the record’s clear. You stated exactly what to those detectives?

Zimmerman: I don’t remember exactly what, verbatim.

Prosecutor: But you’re saying you expressed concern for the loss of Mr. Martin, or that you had shot Mr. Martin, that you actually felt sorry for him? 

Zimmerman: I felt sorry that they lost their child, yes.

MORE »

Girls Just Want to Have Cash!

The Pew Research Center has issued a new survey which finds that American women are now more keen to climb the career ladder and bring down big salaries than the guys are. From Pew:

Reversing traditional gender roles, young women now surpass young men in saying that achieving success in a high-paying career or profession is important in their lives. Two-thirds (66%) of young women ages 18 to 34 rate career high on their list of life priorities, compared with 59% of young men. In 1997, 56% of young women and 58% of young men felt the same way.

There has also been an increase over the last 15 years in the share of middle-aged and older women who say being successful in a high-paying career or profession is "one of the most important things" or "very important" in their lives. Today, about the same share of women and men ages 35 to 64 share this view.

Colleges have been enrolling lower percentages of males relative to females for a while now. The current ratio hovers around 60/40. So guys, even if you don't see how a college education will help you with your downsized career plans, given these new survey results you might want to consider enrolling as a way to acquire an MR degree.

Senator Joe Manchin Not Sure About Voting for Obama, Joe Lieberman Making Decision "In the Ballot Box"

Freshman Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia made it clear he wasn’t sure if he’s going to be voting for President Obama in November, according to the National Journal:

“I’ll look at the options,” Manchin said this week. The last three years “have made it pretty rough” for his state, he said… “The people in West Virginia, they basically look at the candidates—whatever you’re running for, whether it be the president itself, or whatever—[they look at] the performance and the result that’s been attained,” Manchin said when asked how he will vote. “Right now in West Virginia, these first three and a half years haven’t been that good to West Virginia. So, then you look [at] what the options will be, who will be on the other end.”

Senator Manchin, up for re-election in November, also claimed the President never called him for a one-on-one conversation, though did not offer whether he ever sought one either.“It’s not a team sport. You need to go out and work for yourself,” the Senator said.

OpenCongress.org counts the Senator’s votes as 80% along party lines. West Virginia hasn’t voted for a Democrat for President since Michael Dukakis in 1988, and the National Journal notes cross-ticket voting in national elections has declined over the last half century. Senator Zell Miller endorsed President George W. Bush at the 2004 RNC and Independent Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman endorsed John McCain over Barack Obama in 2008. Obama intervened to allow Senator Lieberman to hold his seniority. Senator Lieberman is retiring in November and said he’d make his decision about the Presidential election “in the ballot box.”

Will Senator Manchin get his call from the White House now, or is the distance actually something he'd like for now? Joe Manchin first won in a special election in 2010 to replace the late Senator Robert Byrd. Manchin was previously the governor.

Manchin's time as Governor reviewed in 2010 on Reason.tv

American Dream Dies! Again! Or Maybe Not

When writing an appropriately gloomy tale about the imminent death of the American dream, it helps if you stir together a heterogeneous helping of downbeat, but completely unrelated crap. Then put the worst spin on every detail, while overlooking any clearly contradictory evidence that the grim details might be self-inflicted and that, for most people, the sun just might come up tomorrow. And so it is with an apocalypse-now piece by Ron Fournier and Sophie Quinton over at the National Journal, insisting that "Americans are losing faith in the institutions that made this country great."

The article sets the tone with the tale of Johnny Whitmire of Muncie, Indiana (the slice-of-America in which our story is set), now living in a trailer through no fault of his own, but still trimming the weeds on his repossessed ... Wait. What's that?

Whitmire tells a familiar story of how public and private institutions derailed an American’s dream: In 2000, he bought the $40,000 house with no money down and a $620 monthly mortgage. He made every payment. Then, in the fall of 2010, his partially disabled wife lost her state job. “Governor [Mitch] Daniels slashed the budget, and they looked for any excuse to squeeze people out,” Whitmire says. “We got lost in that shuffle—cut adrift.” The Whitmires couldn’t make their payments anymore.

Never mind that the phrase "no money down" still brings the same chill to my heart as it did when I discovered the details of my then-girlfriend's (now-wife's) brand-new, carny-barker-quality mortgage. A monthly payment of $620 over ten years should have put Mr. Whitmire $74,400 to the good toward paying off that $40,000 dream house. Even allowing for interest, how far could he have been from walking away with the title? Unless there's something missing from the story, it seems unlikely that the bank wouldn't discuss something a little more productive than the trial loan modification that ultimately fell through. Some financial details seem to be missing from this story.

And while losing a job sucks — I've been there and I feel sympathy for anybody undergoing that particular tour through personal hell — Indiana has been shedding state employees since about 1992. Mitch Daniels has played a role in that, but whether that's a bad thing or a good thing depends on whether you were one of the folks on the public payroll, or one of the taxpayers thankful that the Hoosier state is one of the few components of the union not facing a short-term fiscal disaster.

But none of this addresses the core argument of this wrist-cutter of a journalistic endeavor: Americans are losing faith in the institutions that made this country great. "Government, politics, corporations, the media, organized religion, organized labor, banks, businesses, and other mainstays of a healthy society are failing," say Fournier and Quinton. To prove their point, they emphasize religion, education and government, and point to ... a booming, popular church and thriving schools.

But the booming church is a new-style church:

Union Chapel’s pastor, Gregg Parris, speaks in phrases you’d expect from an M.B.A. (“I’m in the word business”) or a sociologist (“We’re going from a Gutenberg world to a Google world”). He keeps his sermons simple because “you can’t assume everybody knows the Lord’s Prayer,” and he strives to make the liturgy relevant to life’s challenges. 

The new church offers a coffee shop, a gymnasium and a bookstore and actually attracts parishioners. By contrast, a more-traditional Methodist church is aging and dying.

And the thriving schools are charter schools:

“Every year,” Whitehead says of Jordan, “the light got dimmer and dimmer, and finally he hated school.” His joy of learning didn’t return until she enrolled him in the sixth grade at Hoosier Academy, one of many charter schools that have sprung up across Indiana to provide an alternative. ...

At Hoosier, four days a week, the queue of small sedans, SUVs, and trucks waiting to drop off students forms a wide circle around the parking lot. The academy leases space in the unused wing of a Catholic school on the city’s south side. Under its “blended” model, children go to their classrooms two days a week for face-to-face instruction. Three days a week, they work at home with a parent or other adult while connected electronically to the high-tech school. Teachers and coaches meet at least once a month to review each child’s progress. “Everybody is on the same page all the time,” Whitehead says.

Homeschooling, too, is taking off. It's  the old-style public schools that are losing students and support.

In both cases, Muncie residents aren't turning away from churches and schools, they're substituting newer models that suit their needs for older models that don't. The authors prefer the older models over the new, but time doesn't stand still, and institutions have to adapt and improve or be replaced. 

Except, of course, in the case of government. Nobody has yet developed an easy way for individuals to choose a competitor to a failing government without physically moving locations. And Muncie sounds like it has a doozy:

The first City Council meeting in 2008 is the stuff of legend. Republican Sharon McShurley had just become Muncie’s first female mayor. (Her margin of victory: 13 votes.) Coming into the session, it was all-out partisan war. Democrats were contesting the election in court. Republicans accused Democratic council member Monte Murphy of voter fraud after rounding up a half dozen witnesses who said that Murphy pressured them to vote Democratic on the absentee ballots he collected. The Democratic-controlled council had vowed to gridlock city government if that’s what it took to consign McShurley to a single term.

But ... that's government. After decades of epic fail, people can probably be excused for losing faith in an institution from which it's so difficult to escape and replace with something better. Federal government has shouldered the brunt of the anger, but state and local governments are also losing fans.

Note that people are flocking to the new church and to charter schools and homeschooling. So new institutions are gaining the trust of the people in the article and replacing the old ones which, we're told, "made the country great." And isn't it the ability to choose what's right for you and not being bound to hoary old museum pieces that has actually made this country relatively habitable?

As for those other institutions losing public faith ... all the ones in the dumper of public confidence are those with close ties to the state. Banks, unions, big corporations— all are enablers of or enabled by friends in politically powerful places, and all rank just above Congress at the bottom of the heap. Public schools somehow cling to the middle. Small businesses actually rank only second to the military, according to Gallup, with churches not far behind.

Maybe America is on the verge of some terrible moment. But if and when it comes, it will be the result of our own bad choices and because of coercive institutions of which we can't rid ourselves, not because we occasionally toss out the old and embrace the new.

Judicial Restraint vs. Individual Liberty

As I noted earlier this week, J. Harvie Wilkinson III, a respected conservative judge who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, has a new book out which criticizes both originalism and living constitutionalism for licensing judicial activism. According to Wilkinson, judges should instead practice a very severe form of judicial restraint, where they basically defer to the wishes of political majorities. In his latest Washington Post column, George Will takes aim at Wilkinson’s argument:

Wilkinson cites Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes as a practitioner of admirable judicial modesty. But restraint needs a limiting principle, lest it become abdication. Holmes said: “If my fellow citizens want to go to Hell I will help them. It’s my job.” No, a judge’s job is to judge, which includes deciding whether majorities are misbehaving at the expense of individual liberty.

Justice Felix Frankfurter, whose restraint Wilkinson praises, said that the Constitution is “not a document but a stream of history.” If so, it is not a constitution; it cannot constitute if its meanings are fluid and constantly flowing in the direction of the preferences of contemporary majorities.

Read the rest here. For more on the shortcomings of judicial restraint, see here.

Happy 4/20

Today is April 20, AKA 4/20, AKA Stoner Christmas. Across the United States, Americans of all colors and creeds are going to consume marijuana. I'd like to wish a Happy 4/20 to all you heads out there, and a special 4/20 to D.C.'s once and former heads. There are a lot of you in this town

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

St. Pierre's claim holds true for many D.C. smokers. I once shared a joint with a House staffer whose boss had recently proposed a piece of drug war legislation and an aide to a GOP presidential candidate; worked with a guy who bought his weed from the son of a congressman; and shared a bowl with a Democratic speechwriter. 

All of them were successful, intelligent, hard-working people, and I enjoyed their company immensely. I also felt a little sorry for them, because they're cowards. They all thought pot should be legal, but none of them has ever used his/her bonafides to make an impact.  

But I don't feel that bad for them, because there are worse things than living a lie, such as living incarcerated, losing your kids, losing your pets, having your belongings seized by the state, growing up without a dad or a mom, having to get piss-tested weeky to stay "free," and getting to see people you love only through plexiglas, watching them shrink in their shackles. Those things are much worse, in every measurable way, than being a hypocrite.   

The good news is that Americans who have suffered the consequences of the drug war don't need D.C.'s closet heads—or back-to-back pot-smoking presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama—to lead the charge. 

Here, let's look back to April 4/20 Eve, 1995, when DEA Director Thomas A. Constantine attacked ABC News for its special, "America’s War on Drugs: Searching for Solutions": 

American life in many communities no longer resembles the quiet peace of our childhoods. Drugs have degraded the quality of life so many of us have worked so hard to improve. Yet despite my ability to understand, and despite years of work to eradicate crime, violence and drugs, I am baffled by the cyclical calls for the legalization of drugs according to proponents, the answer to our problems. The latest entry in the legalization debate was the irresponsible and inaccurate special America’s War on Drugs: Searching for Solutions” aired on ABC recently, which pretended to be an objective look at alternatives to our current drug policies.

What ABC did not take into account was that the overwhelming majority of Americans are unequivocally opposed to legalizing drugs. They understand that many crimes are committed by people using drugs not to support their habit, but because drugs exacerbate the user’s criminal nature. 

Today, a majority of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, legalization ballot initiatives in Washington and Colorado are polling favorably, and more than a dozen states and Washington, D.C. have legalized medical marijuana. While too many Americans still start their day to the sounds of flack-jacketed thugs breaking down their doors, the tide is turning, and God willing, it'll eventually crush Pharaoh and his army. 

Happy 4/20

EU Parliament Approves Data Sharing Deal With U.S.

The European Parliament approved a deal with the United States that would allow the U.S. to collect data from airlines about European passengers entering the U.S. and retain it for 15 years (with a promise that the names will be redacted after six months, but presumably still accessible to make any potential criminal investigation possible).

The deal passed 409-226, a slimmer margin than such measures that come before the U.S. Congress get, when they do get to Congress. Increasingly, the government relies on secret interpretations of laws like the PATRIOT Act, and the protections of the Privacy Act of 1974 have broken down in the digital age.

Meanwhile, European opposition to the measure was articulated by Sophie In’t Veld, a member of Parliament with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats:

[Despite years of negotiation the agreement] still falls short of the high standards of data privacy and legal protection that our citizens expect. In politics we make compromises but some things are not negotiable such as fundamental rights and respect for EU law. Apparently the European Parliament believes Transatlantic relations are more important than the fundamental rights of EU citizens

The European Union has some bizarre ideas about what constitutes fundamental rights, but it’s not the first time a foreign government's shown more reticence about the U.S. government’s disregard for a right to privacy increasingly rare at home.

Steven Greenhut on America’s Slide Toward a Police State

Comb through newspapers across the country and one will find many incidents of officer-involved shootings and aggressive behavior by the authorities, who, as an aside, increasingly look like paramilitary rather than community officers. Police say society has become more dangerous, but crime rates are falling even during tough economic times. The number of officers killed on duty is at record lows. Steven Greenhut explains why it’s time for law enforcement officials to stop behaving like an invading army and start acting like members of our community.

View this article

Lynching Charlie Lynch, a Medical Marijuana Martyr: Q&A with Documentarian Rick Ray

In 2006, Charlie Lynch opened a medical marijuana dispensary in Morro Bay, California. He was such a stickler about following California state law that he called all the legal authorities he could. The ribbon-cutting for his shop was attended by local pols and chamber of commerce types and his shop flourished due to his outgoing personality, dedication to customer service, and strict enforcement of all laws related to medical marijuana.

In 2007, his dispensary was raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration and local sheriffs. Thus began a legal nightmare from which Lynch - and the country - has yet to awake. Placed under house arrest, threatened with an effective life sentence, and stripped of his income, Lynch became one more casuality in the war against medical marijuana.

Eventually, Lynch was tried in federal court, where the Kafkaesque proceedings meant his defense was not allowed to tell jurors that medical marijuana was legal under California law. Eventually, Lynch was sentenced to a year and a day, and was allowed to be free pending an appeal that seems unlikely to ever be fully resolved.

Lynch's ordeal - and the country's - is the subject of Lynching Charlie Lynch, a new documentary made by Rick Ray, who helped produce Reason.tv's original coverage of the Lynch case as it unfolded.

Alex Manning and Zach Weissmueller talked to Ray about his movie, which opens today at iTunes, Amazon, and other online and on-demand venues via Brainstorm Media.

About 7 minutes long. Go to Reason.tv for downloadable versions of our videos and subscribe to this channel for automatic notifications when new material goes live.

Watch ReasonTV's coverage of Charlie Lynch here.

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

CBO: In the Long Run, Obama's Budget Plan Would Make the Economy Worse

In the long run, the President’s budget proposal would make the economy worse relative to the current budget baseline, according to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office. The White House and its allies will no doubt seize on the CBO’s estimate that next year economic output would be between 0.6 and 3.2 percent under the president’s framework.

But I suspect the administration will be less keen to note that later on in the next decade, between 2018 and 2022 (at which point the country’s total economic output is expected to have surged past the $20 trillion mark), the country’s overall economic output would be between 0.5 and 2.2 percent lower than under the baseline scenario. Artificial economic boosts, fueled by debt, can juice economic output in the short term. But there are real economic costs in the long run.

Now, it’s true that CBO is comparing the president’s budget framework to the current budget baseline, which unrealistically assumes that many of today's policies stay unchanged and are enacted in full. Specifically it assumes that Medicare payments take a huge drop, the Bush tax cuts expire for everyone, and the Alternative Minimum Tax goes unchanged, hitting more and more middle class earners.

You can take this as evidence that policymakers ought to simply let this scenario play out, letting tax rates rise on everyone. But what it mostly tells us is that we need to close the fiscal gap sooner rather than later, and that finding ways to reduce the size of the federal government’s budget deficits quickly pays off substantially over time.

At Least Whore-Mongering Secret Service Agents Were Trying to Save a Buck!: Nick Gillespie Talks Out-of-Control Gov't Spending on Willis Report

Yesterday, I was on Fox Business' Willis Report talking about California's - and the nation's! - inability to admit that we're broke and need to end our wicked, wicked ways when it comes to spending money we don't have on things that aren't worth a tinker's ding-dong under the best-case scenario.

Among the specifics subjects broached: The Golden State's ludicrous high-speed-rail boondoggle, Leon Panetta's commuting practices, the GSA-Las Vegas scandal. The one positive sign when it comes to government spending? That whore-mongering Secret Service agents were at least trying to talk down the price they would pay with prostitutes.

About 7 minutes. Subscribe to Reason's YouTube channel to get automatic notification when new vids go live.

St. Louis Food Trucks Are Pretty Much Banned from Parking Anywhere Ever

Yesterday St. Louis food truck owners received a helpful map in their inboxes. It shows all the places they can't do business. Here it is:

The text is a little hard to read (go here for a larger PDF version), so let me help you out. Vendors can't park in the red parts. Or the blue parts. Or the yellow parts. Also, stay away from hydrants and bus stops. 

Vendors have been ordered to keep a copy of the map in their trucks. Apparently if a cop challenges them, it's their responsibility to show that their spot is legit. And if it's not:

"Please be advised, any violations of the rules and regulations shall result in a 30-day suspension or revocation of your Downtown Vending Permit."

This isn't the first time St. Louis has risen to our notice for their poor treatment of mobile vendors.

Judge Rules That Advocating Jury Nullification Is Not a Crime

Yeterday a federal judge ruled that distributing pamphlets about jury nullification—even in front of a courthouse—is not jury tampering. U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood dismissed a 2010 indictment against Julian P. Heicklen, a retired chemistry professor who was accused of violating Title 18, Section 1504, of the U.S. Code, which authorizes a jail sentence of up to six months for anyone who "attempts to influence the action or decision of any grand or petit juror of any court of the United States upon any issue or matter pending before such juror, or before the jury of which he is a member, or pertaining to his duties, by writing or sending to him any written communication, in relation to such issue or matter." U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara claimed Heicklen committed that crime by standing on the plaza near the federal courthouse in Manhattan and handing out literature about the venerable legal tradition that jurors have the authority to judge the law as well as the facts of a case and therefore may vote to acquit a defendant who is guilty of doing something (handing out pamphlets, say) that should not be a crime. Wood noted that the statute cited by Bharara proscribes written communication aimed at influencing a specific juror's vote in a particular case. By contrast, Heicklen passed out his literature to pedestrians generally, albeit with the hope that some of them might turn out to be jurors. Because the charge was so clearly inappropriate, Wood did not address the First Amendment implications of trying to imprison someone for controversial speech. "I don’t think sensible prosecutors should have even brought this case," NYU law professor Rachel Barkow told The New York Times.

Nor would sensible prosecutors have claimed that "advocacy of jury nullification, directed as it is to jurors, would be both criminal and without constitutional protections no matter where it occurred." Yet that is what Bharara's underlings asserted in a brief last year. As George Washington University law professor Paul Butler pointed out in a New York Times op-ed piece, that position makes a criminal out of him and anyone else who dares to write favorably about jury nullification. So even though Wood dismissed the indictment against Heicklen on statutory rather than constitutional grounds, her repudiation of Bharara's astonishingly censorious position certainly counts as a victory for freedom of speech.

Brian Doherty covered Heicklen's case in the June issue of Reason and has been following the story here. More on jury nullification here. Go ahead and read it. It's not a crime!

A. Barton Hinkle on Sex Segregation in Sports and the Military

The last few weeks we've heard a lot about women—their reproductive rights, their economic circumstances, whether Ann Romney ever worked a day in her life, whether Augusta National should drop its men-only policy, whether Republicans are waging war on anyone with two X chromosomes, etc. But shouldn't any discussion of women's place in society, writes A. Barton Hinkle, touch on the two places in society where women remain distinctly unequal?  

View this article

ELIZA Gets Drafted

Friendly advice to Pentagon planners trying to come up with a high-tech fix for PTSD: If your project's demo video could be broadcast as a sketch on Saturday Night Live without changing anything in it at all, you might be on the wrong track. That goes double if the clip could also serve as the creepy opening to a dystopian science fiction film:

I suspect this will have all the therapeutic, stress-reducing effects of encountering an automated operator on the phone.

Wired has more on the project here.

Reason Writers at the Movies: Peter Suderman Reviews The Lucky One

Senior Editor Peter Suderman reviews The Lucky One, the latest big-screen adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, in today's Washington Times:

Midway through “The Lucky One,” the movie’s pair of glowing lovers consider fate, the future, and the purpose of their lives.

“Do you think that life has a plan for you?” young blonde Beth (Taylor Schilling) asks her unshaven Iraq War veteran lover, Logan (Zac Efron).

“Aw jeez,” he says, at which point they promptly return to gazing blankly into each other’s eyes.

Viewers will find themselves with no choice but to do the same.

Based on a book by Nicholas Sparks, “The Lucky One” has a barebones story, but it is almost pathologically conflict averse. Like its young, conventionally handsome stars, it is designed to be looked at rather than engaged with. And while it sometimes styles itself as an investigation of love, destiny, and the rest of life’s great romantic unknowables, it offers only mindless cliches by which to understand them. The movie’s biggest mystery is how Mr. Efron keeps his mat of stubble so perfectly trimmed.

Whole thing here

Kurt Loder Reviews Darling Companion and The Moth Diaries

Darling Companion, writes Kurt Loder, is a movie that Woody Allen might have made if he had (a) no gift for narrative charm, (b) no knack for tangy banter, and (c) no sense of humor. The cast features a couple of actors who are closely identified with Allen’s films, and the characters, like so many in the Woodman’s oeuvre, are career white people of the well-to-do variety. But would Allen have assembled these folks at a vacation home in the sun-blighted, fresh-air-infested Rocky Mountains? Unlikely.

Mary Harron’s The Moth Diaries, on the other hand, is like the Twilight films but without the glitter, and without the silly brooding vampire boys. The story is set in a girls’ boarding school, and there’s a heavy air of Sapphic attraction—which, alas, might have been more fun if fun were what Harron had in mind. Since she has resisted providing any of the cheap horror thrills that might have invigorated this tale, the movie finally does end up resembling the Twilight series in one crucial aspect—it’s not in any way scary.

View this article

A.M. Links: America "Within an Inch of War," China Mocks India, LA School District Lowering Standards

  • Defense Secretary Leon Panetta claims America’s “within an inch of war almost every day” with regard to North Korea. “We just have to be very careful about what we say and what we do,” he continued.
  • Chinese media outlets mocked India’s missile test this week, calling the missile a “dwarf” compared to  China’s own arsenal.
  • LA’s school authorities want to roll back stricter graduation standards, fearing an increase in the drop-out rate with the stricter standards.
  • A woman whose face was mauled off by a friend’s monkey wants to sue the state of Connecticut for $150 million for allowing her friend to own the chimp.
  • Two of the secret service agents involved with prostitutes in Colombia have been identified, with one allegedly posting on Facebook that he “was really checking out” Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin while assigned to protect her.
  • Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan is set to appear in court today to defend her decision not to pay federal income taxes. "I refuse to fund the empire's crimes and wars," Sheehan said. "I feel a certain amount of guilt that my taxes were used to murder my own son."

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New at Reason.tv: "Too Much Copyright"

Brickbat: Ignorance of the Law

In an effort to lobby against laws allowing citizens to openly carry firearms, an Orange County, Florida, sheriff's captain sent out photos of eight individuals he claimed were outlaw bikers who had concealed carry permits. That violated a state law against identifying those with concealed carry permits as well as a law barring the release of driver's license photos. The sheriff's department cleared the captain of any wrongdoing, saying he hadn't realized the photos were driver's license photos or that it was against the law to release information on those with weapons permits.

Brickbat Archive

April 19: A Day to Write Lazy Certainties About Waco and Oklahoma City

April 19 is one of those days known for a whole string of notable events, mostly bloody, which include the 1775 battle of Lexington and Concord which began the American Revolution, the first day of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, and of course, in 1993, (AKA cable news-recent memory) the final day of the FBI's siege of the Branch Davidian sect's home outside Waco which ended in the deaths of 76 people there, including 20 children. And that injustice in turn led to another one two years later, namely Timothy McVeigh seeking revenge for Waco by punishing the people of Oklahoma City.

What lingers today, though, with Waco and general knowledge, is that the incident has become less about its self and more about it being a sign for what kind of supposed right-wing, anti-government extremist we are discussing. When talking about Timothy McVeigh, as writer Michael Isikoff does in The Daily Beast, it is seemingly uninteresting to people to delve into just why McVeigh was so angry, and barring personal sympathy and interest in Waco, in general, when people blow up a building, I am curious as to why they did so. But McVeigh, according to Isikoff:

Timothy McVeigh was a product of this far-right subculture, a brooding sociopath who, as an army gunner, relished mowing down surrendering Iraqi soldiers during Operation Desert Storm.

Brooding sociopath sounds more detailed than , say "thug," but it's impressively meaningless and a descriptor. Isikoff goes on to mention that McVeigh was very keen on that ridiculously racist novel The Turner Diaries and used to sell it at gun shows. Though there's plenty of evidence that McVeigh was a fan of the book, it's also much less convenient to the narrative that McVeigh always claimed he was helped on his bloody path towards terrorism by being a soldier and by realizing that he was killing men who were very similar to himself during Desert Storm. And of course, the undeniable wrongness of Waco and Ruby Ridge. Most of this can be found in the excellent and disturbing authorized biography of McVeigh, American Terrorist. The Daily Beast article focuses on a new book which once again trots out that old conspiracy theory about "John Doe Number 2" and McVeigh not having acted alone. Which is all fine (McVeigh's old defense attorney even believes this theory as well.) But the predictability of Isikoff's description of the meaning of anti-government extremism is exhausting. After all, history isn't enough, you have to tie the threat to the present and so:

In the years since Oklahoma City and especially after Barack Obama's election, the radical race hatred and anti-government paranoia that infused McVeigh continues to thrive—on Internet chat rooms, in militia hideouts, and at obscure rural compounds like the one that was at Elohim City. Three years ago, a Homeland Security intelligence analyst wrote a scary report warning that right-wing extremist groups were making a comeback and needed to be more closely tracked.

Conservative critics in Congress were outraged, accusing Homeland Security of preparing to monitor American citizens exercising their constitutional rights. Homeland Security scrapped the report and the analyst, Daryl Johnson, soon left his job, only to pop up in the news again last year when a demented anti-Muslim fanatic in Norway blew up government buildings and shot scores of children at a Labor Party youth camp. It was the worst act of terrorism in a Western country in recent years. Such killings "could easily happen here," Johnson told reporters.

Read a few of the casual "years ago" mentions popping about the Internet today and it gets worse. The Anniston Star manages to tritely and inanely memorialize the victims of Oklahoma City, Waco, and Columbine (which is tomorrow, it doesn't even fit the pattern!) and make clunky, politicized parallels to today. At Waco:

more than 80 members of the Branch Davidian cult under the sway of messianic madman David Koresh lost their lives in a fire that ended an 81-day [sic] siege at the hands of law enforcement.

And:

The Branch Davidian tragedy was brought on by a cult leader stubbornly refusing to peaceably comply with legal authorities, who — it must be acknowledged — botched the initial raid on the central Texas compound. The extremists who plotted the OKC bombing sought to wound what they saw as a tyrannical federal government, language that can still be heard today on conservative hate radio and the Internet. The high school students at Columbine showed how easy it is for disturbed teens to get their hands on deadly firearms.

Sadly, this pattern of school shootings has not slowed since 1999, as victims at Virginia Tech, suburban Cleveland and Oakland, to cite three other high-profile examples, can attest.

Today we pause and recall the lives of the innocents cut short in these events: the Branch Davidians who were powerless to exit the clutches of a cult leader (as well as the four ATF agents who died in the late-February 1993 raid), the scores of people in a federal building going about their business on a Wednesday morning, and the high school students attending classes in a supposedly safe Colorado suburb.

And the Emporia Gazette is very certain about how still-questioned incidents went down 19 years ago. Emphasis added so that the complete lack of uncertain qualifiers is extra clear:

After the 51-day standoff, the FBI raided the facility using gas on the inhabitants. Nine fled the building and were arrested, others either perished from self-inflicted gun shot wounds or from fires the cult members set inside the facility. The day ended with the facility of the Branch Davidians in flames and destroyed.

The standoff began Feb. 28, 1993, when Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents attempted to execute arrest warrants on Koresh and the Branch Davidians when they were met by gunfire. Four agents were killed and 16 others injured.

This evasive certainty over events which occurred less than 20 year ago but are still up for debate is bizarre. Why is so difficult to say Ruby Ridge was wrong, Waco was wrong, and we just don't know how that fire began, nor do we know who fired first, the Davidians or the ATF agents? It's just so much easier to make these politically-loaded deaths into something more akin to sign points that say yes, we're talking about anti-government extremists now; anti-government paranoia, militia-types.

And you don't have to open the can of worms of asking or answering how tyrannical the government is, but in those moments, with one family at Ruby Ridge, and one cult or church or whatever it was at Waco, and what happened to them, what else to call it but tyrannical?

For a more decisively pessimistic look at the meaning of Waco, check out the excellent Anthony Gregory on "We're All Branch Davidians Now." A sampling:

Dozens of people of color died at the hands of the federal government, and the official Civil Rights movement hardly spoke up. Dozens of people were targeted for their religion, and it hardly bothered many of the very conservatives who allege a war on religion waged by DC. The largest federal-military killing of civilians on U.S. soil in a century has now become one more notch on the progressive left’s timeline of major events in anti-government extremism, as opposed to a principal example of government extremism where a tiny minority community was virtually exterminated.

(Please do) read the rest here.

Reason on Waco, Oklahoma City, and Ruby Ridge. And Jesse Walker, our resident expert on paranoia over the paranoid.

Ron Paul Roundup: On Time's Most Influential List, Cheated in Alaska?, Could Still Perhaps Beat Obama, Still Running for President

Time magazine, the weekly paper embodiment of conventional wisdom, sees what's in front of its own eyes and names Ron Paul, congressman, presidential candidate, and topic of my out-soon book Ron Paul's Revolution, one of the 100 Most Influential people. Very interestingly, it does so via an encomium from left-prog hero and scapegoat, Ralph Nader. Ralph saith:

In the debates, only he called out the American Empire's meddling in the business of countless nations around the world. He assails the Pentagon's bloated budgets and has worked with liberal Democrat Barney Frank to shrink the military-industrial complex. He wants to end our boomeranging wars.

Paul, 76, draws a distinction between libertarian conservatives and those corporatist conservatives entrenching a corporate state in which Big Business merges with Big Government. That's why he is against bailouts. His defense of privacy and civil liberties and his opposition to the war on drugs endear him to people beyond his libertarian base. They even include some progressives who cannot abide his views against health, safety and economic regulations or his denunciation of the Federal Reserve's fiat money and social-welfare programs like Medicare.

*In the long slow slog to rack up delegates for the Tampa Republican convention, the Paul campaign is fighting back against shenanigans and shifting deadlines in Alaska that are stymieing Paul's delegates. Details from a Paul campaign press release. (Our readers first got wind of Alaska deadline troubles in this blog post by me from last month)

The Alaska Republican Party state convention is set to be held from April 26th-28th, and all previous communications to would-be delegates have stated that a delegate fee of $250 would be accepted up until the convention registration deadline, which is 2:00 p.m. Alaska Time on April 26th.  However, on Monday the 16th state party chairman Randy Reudrich called a state committee meeting at which he stated that delegate fees would be accepted no later than 48 hours from the time of the meeting, which would be Wednesday, April 18th.  However, on Tuesday the state party said that delegate fees had to be paid by 6:00 p.m that evening.  As individual delegates and campaigns scrambled to pay delegate fees, the state party erected bizarre and allegedly extra-legal obstacles in front of Paul, prolife, and other non-Romney delegates, and communications between self-identifying non-Romney delegates and state party personnel degraded.

One example of the state party trying to frustrate Paul delegates was in exactly when and how delegates could remit their $250 fee.  Acceptable methods of payment ranged from online credit card payment on the state party website – although the link to such had been inexplicably removed – to personal checks that were later said to be unacceptable, to money orders that in at least one case were termed unacceptable and returned.  The state party, the Ron Paul campaign argues, capriciously moved its payment deadline and modified its acceptable ways of paying the $250 delegate fee expressly to frustrate Paul delegates and in general any delegates outside the tight circle of party-sanctioned non-Romney delegates.

A letter from the Paul campaign's lawyer on the Alaska delegates. Highlights:

The Party’s Rules and Convention Call are designed to facilitate the protection of voting rights and ensure the full and fair participation of Republican voters the delegate selection process. Indeed, paragraph  7 of the Convention Call states: “District committees shall take action to achieve the broadest possible participation of all Qualified Republican voters in the delegate selection process.”  Clearly the actions of Party officials described above are at odds with that statement. The rights of Alaskans to participate in the political process are being violated by the actions described above.  

We are therefore demanding that these political shenanigans cease immediately and that people be allowed to pay their delegate fees in the timeframe  as contemplated by the 2012 Convention Call and Party Rules.  We further demand that the Party accept payment for these fees in reasonable form,  i.e. check, cash, credit card, or money order....

Should the Alaska Republican Party fail to appropriately address these issues immediately, and conform its behavior,  the Paul Campaign will pursue all of the legal remedies available to ensure that the process is fair and legal and that the rights of citizens participating in this process are not violated.

*Another set of polls shows Ron Paul running strong in a one-on-one matchup against Obama. From Public Policy Polling:

Ron Paul actually does just as well in a head to head with Obama was Romney, trailing by 3 points at 47-44. Newt Gingrich would be down by 9 at 51-42.

And yet:

 there are the potential VP's who hurt Romney- if only slightly. Ron Paul as running mate expands Obama's lead to 4 points at 48-44, Paul Ryan ups it to 5 at 48-43, Rubio to 6 at 49-43, and Palin to 7 at 50-43.

Oh, the maddening voice of the people.

*Paul continues his smash campus campaign tour, drawing over 2,000 in Rhode Island, and buying commercial ad time in that state with this ad:

*Texas Monthly interviews me on the topic of my new book, Ron Paul's Revolution.

In Defense of Julian Assange and Russia Today

Glenn Greenwald at Salon defends Wikileaker Julian Assange's new show on Russia Today from mainstream news and media criticism from the New York Times.

Greenwald points out that Times critic Alessandra Stanley sets up Assange for criticism with vague assertions that, well, no one seems to like him and everyone thinks he's crazy, and implying that the news value of an interview with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is the equivalent of Anderson Cooper interviewing Amy Winehouse's dad--or apparently even of less value.

And while Russia Today (a network on which I and many of my Reason colleagues appear) may be owned by the Russian government, why, Greenwald wonders, does that automatically zero out its journalistic value?

There is apparently a rule that says it’s perfectly OK for a journalist to work for a media outlet owned and controlled by a weapons manufacturer (GE/NBC/MSNBC), or by the U.S. and British governments (BBC/Stars & Stripes/Voice of America), or by Rupert Murdoch and Saudi Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal (Wall St. Journal/Fox News), or by a banking corporation with long-standing ties to right-wing governments (Politico), or by for-profit corporations whose profits depend upon staying in the good graces of the U.S. government (Kaplan/The Washington Post), or by loyalists to one of the two major political parties (National Review/TPM/countless others), but it’s an intrinsic violation of journalistic integrity to work for a media outlet owned by the Russian government. Where did that rule come from?

And what did Assange do to earn the bad reputation that Stanley and the NYT both asserts and helps feed? 

Assange developed an alternative template to the corporate media — one that was far more independent of, and adversarial to, government power — and, in the process, produced more newsworthy scoops than all of them combined. As NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen once put it about WikiLeaks: “The Watchdog Press Died; We Have This Instead.” The mavens of that dead watchdog press then decided that they hated Assange and devoted themselves to demonizing and destroying him. That behavior makes someone a “nut job,” but it isn’t Assange.

Stanley in the Times goes on, after assuring all her readers Assange is not a person, and Russia Today not a venue, that any thoughtful Times reader need respect, to admit that, hey, the Nasrallah interview was sharp and not mindlessly following the Russian line:

Mr. Assange supports the opposition forces in Syria. He took Mr. Nasrallah to task for supporting every Arab Spring uprising except the one against Syria and asked why he wasn’t doing more to stop the bloodshed. 

As Greenwald sums up:

So we spent the entire article having Assange depicted as some mindless propaganda tool for the Russian government — an attack on Assange repeated far and wide ever since this show was announced — only to learn at the end of Stanley’s review that, in his very first show, he was highly critical of one of the region’s most influential figures for failing to offer more support for Syrian rebels, directly in opposition to a key policy of the Russian government.

Stanley's full NYT critique of Assange's RT show.

The Nasrallah interview:

 

Reason on Wikileaks.

Greg Beato on Why the Firearms Boom Is Good News for the U.S. Economy

A little more than a decade ago, the domestic firearms industry was staggering like a villain on the wrong side of Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum. “The future has never been more uncertain for America’s oldest manufacturing industry,” a Businessweek cover story reported in 1999. Flat sales, the specter of more stringent regulation, and dozens of lawsuits filed by cities and counties seeking damages for the costs associated with gun violence threatened to destroy a uniquely American business. Yet here it is, writes Greg Beato, 13 years later, well into America’s great manufacturing exodus and the post-financial-crisis economic slump, and the domestic firearms industry is enjoying near-record productivity. It's a rare piece of great news for the U.S. economy.

View this article

Romney Slaps Obama for Money Digs, Cops Make Suicide Threats Come True, European Borrowing Gets Pricier: P.M. Links

  • Mitt Romney found himself a backbone and slapped back at Obama for needling him over being neck-deep in dollars. (The prez denies all.)
  • Congressional Republicans and Democrats are wrangling over competing proposals for business tax breaks.
  • Although still not sorry about pursuing the case, Marc Emery's prosecutor urges pot legalization. (HT: rts)
  • Nevermind that "stand your ground" had little if anything to do with the Trayvon Martin case, a Florida task force will consider changes to the law anyway.
  • Ever wonder which essential programs your tax dollars are supporting? Among other things, a plush lifestyle for the comptroller of Dixon, Illinois, who pocketed $30 million.
  • Police responding to a call about an attempted suicide by porn actor "Sledge Hammer" tased him twice and apparently beat him during a fight in the back of an ambulance. He died two days later. Oh, and it's a pattern!
  • Borrowing is becoming more expensive for Europe's more profligate governments as bailout money runs out.
  • Cosmic rays get mysteriouser and mysteriouser.

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Greens to Hybrids: We Don't Love You No More

 Over at National Review Online’s Planet Gore, Henry Payne has an intriguing little post pointing out that Obama’s forced marriage between car consumers and hybrids won’t work. That’s because even the most committed greens end up divorcing their hybrids and buying a non-hybrid the second time around – despite the hefty upfront dowry they have gotten from Uncle Sam for their first marriage.

A study by a Michigan-based research firm Polk found that only 35 percent of hybrid-owners choose to purchase another hybrid. Even worse, if you remove the Toyota Prius, the most popular hybrid from the mix, commitment to hybrids drops to 25 percent. This means that a whopping 75 percent of non-Prius hybrid customers chose to ditch the hybrid – and this is for the greenest of green consumers, mind you. Payne notes:

That helps explain why hybrid sales have flat-lined at just 2 to 3 percent of vehicle sales after over a decade on the market — and despite huge buyer tax incentives and a doubling of hybrid model offerings since 2007…

No doubt because they can’t justify their $5,000-plus markup over a standard gas model, a markup they don’t get back in gas savings.

But that of course hasn’t stopped President Obama from effectively mandating that all new vehicles in U.S. sold by 2025 be hybrid-electric or electric. That’s because only one vehicle, Nissan Leaf, currently meets Obama’s 56 mpg fuel-economy mandate, Payne points out. Even the vaunted 2012 Prius, at 50 mpg, falls short. There is no technology currently available or on the horizon that will allow standard gas cars to meet that standard -- although one can't rule out divine intervention.

But don't worry if that doesn't come: When the car companies start heading toward bankruptcy once again because there is a mismatch between what consumers want and what their government wants them to produce, Uncle Sam will come to the rescue with electric-car-loads of taxpayer dollars.

Photos and a Lawsuit in the Secret Service's Hooker Scandal

No secret service hooker scandal would be complete without some pictures, and the Daily News has them.

The “scandal” consists of eleven Secret Service agents outed for partying it up with up to two dozen Colombian hookers (including, apparently, this one). It’s not a crime in the hotel where the Secret Service agents were preparing for the President’s arrival, but it is a crime against the sensibilities of the more Puritan portions of the American population.

Three agents have left the Secret Service, and one is already planning to sue. None of the eleven agents or the dozen military officials also involved have been identified, and the President’s said if true the scandal angers him.

Our own Tim Cavanaugh argues there’s nothing wrong with Secret Service renting hookers. The agents’ actions were only uncovered because of an argument over the price: the escort pictured says she was offered $30 for $800 service. The clean up’s going to cost the government a lot more than that.

Levon Helm, RIP

Levon Helm -- drummer, mandolinist, and frequent singer for the Band -- has passed away of cancer at age 71. This was probably his most famous performance...

...or maybe this was...

...but he sang a lot of other great songs as well. Here's a small selection:

The America in these records, writes Charles Pierce, was "the America of the tall tale, the underground history, the renegade, buccaneer country that belongs to all of us. Levon Helm told those stories....He was the true Voice of America, as far as I'm concerned."

Should It Be Illegal to Interpret the Constitution as a Living Document?

Originalism is the school of legal thought which holds that the Constitution should be interpreted according to its original public meaning at the time it was written and ratified. One of the virtues of this approach is that it forces both lawmakers and judges to grapple with the document’s text and history, rather than simply treating the Constitution as a blank slate where they might write out their own policy preferences.

Brian Nieves, a Republican state senator from Missouri, is apparently so taken by what he perceives to be the charms of this approach that he wants to outlaw all other forms of constitutional interpretation. To that end, Nieves has introduced a bill, SJR 45, that would amend the Missouri constitution to require all state officials to “interpret the Constitution of the United States of America based on its language and the intent of the signers of the Constitution at the time of its passage.” Moreover, the bill continues:

Any interpretation of the Constitution based on an emerging awareness, penumbras or shadows of the Constitution, a theory of the Constitution being a "living, breathing document", or any interpretation that expands federal authority beyond the limited powers enumerated and delegated to the federal government, without an amendment to the Constitution, shall be deemed to exceed the limited powers enumerated and delegated to the federal government.

There are a lot of big problems in this little passage. For starters, the field of originalism long ago abandoned the quest to determine the subjective original intentions of the Constitution’s framers. As conservative legal icon Robert Bork, one of the initial proponents of the theory of original intent, later clarified in his 1990 book The Tempting of America:

The search is not for a subjective intention. It is important to be clear about this. If someone found a letter from George Washington to Martha telling her that what he meant by the power to lay and collect taxes was not what other people meant, that would not change our reading of the Constitution in the slightest. Nor would the subjective intentions of all the members of a ratifying convention alter anything. When lawmakers use words, the law that results is what those words ordinarily mean.

The fact that Nieves employed the suspect phrase “intent of the signers” suggests he might not entirely understand the legal methodology he claims to support.

But it gets worse. Let’s say Nieves correctly drafted the language of his bill to refer to originalism as seeking the original public meaning of the text (what Bork called “what those words ordinarily mean”). Who gets to decide whether or not Missouri lawmakers and judges are actually following that instruction? To put that another way: Originalists disagree all the time about matters of constitutional interpretation. Just yesterday, in fact, at National Review’s legal blog Bench Memos, conservative lawyer Ed Whelan and libertarian lawyer Paul Sherman debated whether or not the Constitution protects the unemumerated right to economic liberty. In my view, Sherman made by far the stronger originalist case, but that doesn’t mean every self-proclaimed originalist is going to buy it.

And then there’s the growing school of progressive originalists to factor in. The lawyers at the left-leaning Constitutional Accountability Center, for example, also justify their arguments by appealing to the Constitution’s text and history. Will they get a free pass under the proposed Missouri amendment? I think we can safely assume that Nieves never intended that result.

If originalism is going to win out over other theories of constitutional interpretation, it will do so in the marketplace of ideas, not via a sloppy and incoherent piece of legislation.

[Thanks to The Originalism Blog for the link.]

University Adviser Dies Days After Being Shackled and Hooded by Cops

University advisor Patrick Toney died at the Baltimore Washington Medical Center Tuesday after being left there by Anne Arundel County police officers last Friday. The Baltimore Sun reports on the police encounter:

[P]olice said a sergeant spotted a black Jeep Cherokee stopped on the side of Piney Orchard Parkway with its emergency lights flashing. Police said the driver, identified as Toney, got out of the Jeep and began "throwing items out of the vehicle and onto the ground."
Police said the officer "asked if everything was OK, when the driver made statements that he wanted the sergeant to shoot him. The driver continually acted in an erratic manner by walking around in circles in the roadway and making other irrational statements, causing an immediate danger to himself."

Police say they restrained Toney, a 41-year-old academic advisor at Bowie State University, by shackling his feet and putting a “spit hood” over his head, after, police say, he spit on them and asked to be shot by a sergeant. Toney had been released on bail several hours earlier after being arrested on child abuse charges related to a domestic dispute the previous day. After restraining Toney, he was placed in a squad car. The Baltimore Sun reports what police say happened next:

While in the back of the police car, authorities said he tried to kick out the windows and the glass divider between the back and front seats. But police said Toney became suddenly quiet during the ride to the hospital, and the driver noticed him unresponsive.
Police said he was not breathing when they arrived at the emergency room but that he was revived and hospitalized.
Anne Arundel County Police Lt. Michael Brothers, a department spokesman, said the officer driving the police car noticed no trauma on Toney's body and reported no use of force other than putting him in restraints. Brothers said that Toney did not hit his head while in the police cruiser.

Toney’s family has retained counsel and the Maryland State Medical Examiner is investigating the cause of death.

UPDATE: Photo released by the Anne Arundel County Police Department.

UPDATE 2: The family attorney says Toney had no mental health problems and that his wife said he was in "good spirits" despite the previous day's arrest.

Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on Why Obama Needs the Gandhi Rule, Not the Buffett Rule

The Buffett Rule might be dead. But that doesn’t mean Americans are going to get any respite from all the yammering about “tax fairness” because President Obama is determined to make his tax-the-rich agenda the dominant plank of his reelection campaign. However, Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia notes in her column for The Daily today that if the president were sincere about his cause, he would replace the Buffett Rule with the Gandhi Rule and apply it to his own tax returns. Gandhi said – and the president oft repeated during his last campaign – “be the change you wish to see.” That means the president should have at least calculated his taxes in order to maximize his giving to Uncle Sam. But he didn’t. She notes:

Obama’s tax returns (released last week) show that he paid a 20 percent effective tax rate on his $790,000 income — slightly lower than his secretary’s and a whole four points lower than the average rate for people in his income category. He could have easily avoided this by filing his tax returns the way he advocates millionaires do — by forgoing all deductions. But he didn’t. Not only did he claim a $47,564 mortgage deduction on his $1.6 million home in Chicago, he also claimed tax breaks on the $172,130 — about 22 percent of his gross adjusted income — he gave to charity….

It almost seems that the president would rather give his money to literally anyone but the government. He didn’t break any laws in the process, but many of his fellow tax-and-spend liberals in fact do.

Read the whole thing here.

Chris Kjorness on How Capitalism Midwifed the Birth of the Blues

Delta blues is as much legend as it is music. In the popular telling, blues articulated the hopelessness and poverty of an isolated, oppressed people through music that was disconnected from popular trends and technological advances. Delta blues giants like Robert Johnson were victims, buffeted by the winds of racism, singing out mostly for personal solace. The story is undoubtedly romantic, but it just isn’t true. “It angers me how scholars associate the blues strictly with tragedy,” B.B. King complained in his 1999 autobiography Blues All Around Me. “As a little kid, blues meant hope, excitement, pure emotion.”

The tragic image of the blues that originated in the Mississippi Delta ignores the competitive and entrepreneurial spirit of the bluesman himself, writes Chris Kjorness. While it is certainly true that the music was forged in part by the legacy of slavery and the insults of Jim Crow, the iconic image of the lone bluesman traveling the road with a guitar strapped to his back is also a story about innovators seizing on expanded opportunities brought about by the commercial and technological advances of the early 1900s. There was no Delta blues before there were cheap, readily available steel-string guitars. And those guitars, which transformed American culture, were brought to the boondocks by Sears, Roebuck & Co.

View this article

Will the Fight Over ObamaCare Live Even if the Law Dies?

Will the fight over ObamaCare live even if the law dies? An article in Politico suggests that if the Supreme Court overturns the law, "winding it down could be almost as contentious as building it up." I'm skeptical. From a narrow, Beltway-focused perspective, it is certainly true that various administrative controversies will remain. But nationally, winding down the law is unlikely to result in even close to the volume of uproar that accompanied passage and initial implementation.

The article suggests that the main issues will be what to do with resources already committed to implementation, including perhaps 3,500 federal workers whose positions involve working on the law. No doubt there will be squabbling over how to redirect any funding that's suddenly uncommitted, as well as what to do with federal employees tasked with getting the law up and running.

But these bureaucratic challenges will be far less controversial than, say, the imposition of a federal mandate to purchase health insurance, or even state-level decisions about whether or not create health exchanges. The primary source of discontent with the law is that it exists; if and when the law is gone, most of the associated public controversy will disappear as well. 

A lack of widespread public controversy, however, doesn't mean that there won't be administrative decisions to made. The sheer complexity of the law ensures that there will be multiple bureaucratic messes to be swept up should it be struck down. 

But the administration's health agency isn't heading for the broom closet quite yet. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Politico last week that her agency has not yet started work on a plan for what it will do should the Supreme Court strike down the 2010 health care law. This admission comes despite the fact that she thinks it would "probably" be a good idea to have such a plan. I am not sure whether to believe that the agency, which has prioritized the health law for the last two years, has not started work on a contingency option, but either way, it's classic Sebelius: It's either not true, or it suggests poor administrative planning. 

America, the Land From Which Torture Victims Now Seek Asylum

Perhaps the most disturbing part of U.S. citizen Yonas Fikre's tale of being detained and tortured in the United Arab Emirates at the request of the FBI is its credibility. Time was, if somebody claimed to have been snatched overseas by sadistic foreign agents so they could be brutally interrogated and coerced into cooperating with sinister officials of the United States government, your first reaction would be an eye-roll or a question about progress on the movie script. Now it's more likely to be, "oh, shit. Not again."

Fikre, a naturalized citizen born in Eritrea, says he was approached by FBI agents while traveling in Sudan. He declined their request to act as an informer. That's when the trouble started. As reported in the Washington Post:

[T]wo FBI agents told him he was on the U.S. government no-fly list, and they could help get him off it if he gave them information about the Portland mosque and helped them with a “case” they were working on. Fikre says he declined.

Fikre says he traveled to Scandinavia to visit relatives, and then to the United Arab Emirates to pursue business possibilities with a friend who had moved there from Portland.

According to Fikre, non-uniformed police pulled him out of his Abu Dhabi neighborhood on June 1, 2011, and took him to a prison.

Fikre says he was held there for more than three months, with his captors asking him questions like those he was asked at the U.S. Embassy in Sudan — details about the Portland mosque.

As detailed at the Website of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is championing Fikre:

Fikre reports that he was "beaten on the soles of his feet, kicked and punched, and held in stress positions while interrogators demanded he 'cooperate' and barked questions that were eerily similar to those posed to him not long before by FBI agents and other American officials who had requested a meeting with him."

According to Fikre's lawyer: "When Yonas [first] asked whether the FBI was behind his detention, he was beaten for asking the question. Toward the end, the interrogator indicated that indeed the FBI had been involved."

Fikre was eventually deported to Sweden, from which his status on the U.S. no-fly list rendered him unable to return to the United States. Perhaps not surprisingly, he has applied for political asylum.

The CIA's long-standing policy of extraordinary rendition — transporting prisoners, usually terror suspects, to cooperative countries where they'd be beyond the reach of friends, family, law and civil-liberties attorneys— is a matter of unpleasant public record. Revelations about the practice have caused at least as much fuss in some of the host countries as here at home. That the FBI is engaged in similar practices, with United States citizens, is what you might call fresh and interesting information.

Though, I suppose, it's encouraging that the feds seem to be waiting for Americans to step over the border before having them snatched and beaten. There are still limits, after all.

Was Lawrence O'Donnell High as a Kite When He Said That Obama Would Might Legalize Drugs if Given a Second Term?

My colleague and Declaration of Independents co-author Matt Welch likes to point out a sad disparity between tea party Republicanoids and civil liberties Democratoids (?).

He notes that on occasion, Republican voters will actually hold one of their own accountable for their wicked, wicked ways when it comes to spending like there is no tomorrow and bounce them from a primary. This happened a bunch of times in 2010, when big-government conservative such as Robert Bennett in Utah and Mike Castle in Delaware lost their primaries to tea party favorites; Rand Paul was elected against the express wishes of Kentucky Senate poohbah Mitch McConnell and Lisa Murkowski took a primary shellacking too. Matt is bummed that, with the exception of the Ned Lamont anti-war insurgency against Joe Lieberman some years back, you haven't seen the same thing happening to Democratic candidates who suck on issuses such as war, civil liberties, and drug legalization.

Here's MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell explaining why that happens. The rageaholic and congenitally misinformed talk show host is so delusional as to think that President Barack Obama, who just revealed a drug control strategy that specifically refuses to consider legalization as an option while pushing the humiliating yet ineffective idea of workplace drug testing, just maybe might make the pot he admitted smoking legal in 2013 or some other year in the future.

Via Mediaite:

O’Donnell identified a growing ideological overlap between members of both the political right and left in America and said that “possibly ending the war on drugs [is] the 204th reason to vote for President Obama on November 6th.”...

O’Donnell said he believes that Obama is likely to embrace laxer drug laws in his second term. “Although, president Obama thinks it’s entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether our drug laws are doing more harm than good, he has absolutely no intention of having that discussion in the United States until after he is reelected to a second term,” said O’Donnell. “With exactly 204 days remaining until the election, makes possibly ending the war on drugs the 204th reason to vote for President Obama on November 6th.”

More here.

In case you missed it, here's the ending refrain of the presidents 2012 strategery document: “Legalization of drugs will not be considered in this approach. Making drugs more available and more accessible will not reduce drug use and its adverse consequences for public health and safety. We will continue to educate young people and all Americans about the science on the harmful health effects of marijuana use.”

Mediaite's Andrew Kirell wants O'Donnell to be right (don't we all, at least just once?) but points out further:

Earlier this year, the Obama DOJ made its priorities clear, issuing a warning that “the department of Justice has the authority to enforce federal law even when such activities may be permitted under state law. Persons … who operate or facilitate the operation of such dispensaries are subject to criminal prosecution…” The threats have effectively prevented states like Delawarefrom moving forward with licensing dispensaries under newly-passed state laws.

Which is another way of saying that when it comes to Obama's second-term drug policy, Lawrence O'Donnell is either high as a kite, dumber than a box of rocks, or mendacious to a Nixonian degree. Larry, Larry, how can you solve a problem unless you admit that you got one in the first place? When it comes to drug legalization and the president, the problem is the president. Deal with it and hold him accountable by withholding your vote if it's an important issue to you. Then and only them will Democrats who may be in favor of actually legalizing drugs understand that they got to deliver or they kicked out of the van. Nobody rides for free.

Does the 'Backlash' Against 'Stand Your Ground' Laws Make Sense?

Today Florida Gov. Rick Scott is appointing a task force to examine his state's self-defense law in light of the Trayvon Martin case. Meanwhile, the American Legislative Exchange Council, partly in response to the controversy sparked by George Zimmerman's shooting of Martin, says it will no longer promote "stand your ground" laws like Florida's or get involved in other noneconomic debates. The Wall Street Journal reports that "attempts to pass such laws in Alaska and Iowa were halted after Mr. Martin was killed," adding that "Stand Your Ground opponents are counting on a backlash against the self-defense laws to strengthen their hand in legislative talks." What is the nature of this "backlash," and does it make any sense? Critics tend to conflate several different features of Florida's law, the most prominent of which—the right to "stand your ground"—has nothing to do with Zimmerman's defense as it has been explained so far.

When they amended Florida's self-defense law in 2005, state legislators eliminated the "duty to retreat" for a person attacked in a public place who "reasonably believes" deadly force "is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony." Contrary to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, that does not mean people "make their own decisions as to whether someone is threatening or not" and therefore have "a license to murder," since the judgment has to be reasonable, meaning someone who uses deadly force has to show it was justified by the circumstances. In any case, as I've said before, this change does not seem relevant to Zimmerman's defense, since he would have had no opportunity to safely retreat in the circumstances he describes. It might still be true that the right to "stand your ground" and "meet force with force" sometimes encourages an unnecessary escalation of violence or enables guilty people to escape punishment, as critics of the law claim. But to make that case, they must do more than cite increases in the number of justifiable homicides, which you would expect to see even if the law were working exactly as intended. The crucial question is whether these homicides should be deemed justified. 

Right after the law was changed, Brooklyn Law School professor Anthony Sebok argued that establishing a right to stand your ground in public places would have little impact:

Florida is now joining the large number of states who do not value "life" above the right to stand unmolested wherever one wants. It's unlikely, however, that this change will change outcomes in particular cases.

Previously, all Lisa [the defendant] had to do to win her case was argue that she honestly and reasonably believed that she could not retreat safely. Now, she has to argue, instead—somewhat similarly—that she reasonably believed that if she didn't use deadly force, Bob [her attacker] imminently would.

Under either standard, Lisa still has the burden of proof to justify her killing. Also, under either standard, the jury may disbelieve her if there are witnesses around to contradict her story.

Sebok was more troubled by another change: the presumption that anyone who "unlawfully and forcefully" enters someone else's home or vehicle is intent on violence, thereby automatically justifying the use of deadly force. Under the old law, by contrast, "a person who killed someone in their home had the burden of proof to show that they were in fear for their safety." Sebok argued that the new standard attached too little value to human life and could lead to "serious miscarriages of justice." But again, this change played no role in the fight that ended with Trayvon Martin's death.

Two other changes are more relevant to the case against George Zimmerman. Florida's law requires that police have probable cause to believe not only that a homicide was committed but that it was not justified by self-defense. That requirement (which is the same as the standard applied to all other crimes) may have delayed Zimmerman's arrest, although the blame more likely lies with an inadequate investigation. The law, as interpreted by the Florida Supreme Court, also gives Zimmerman a right to a pretrial evidentiary hearing where he can try to convince Judge Kenneth Lester that he acted in self-defense. The standard at the hearing is a "preponderance of the evidence," meaning it is more likely than not that Zimmerman's use of force was justified. If he can meet that burden, he won't go to trial, but if he could meet that burden he would be acquitted in any case*, since the prosecution has to prove the homicide was unlawful beyond a reasonable doubt.

There is room for reasonable people to disagree about the fairness and practical impact of all these provisions. But the Trayvon Martin case has no bearing on the first two, and it hardly counts as a conclusive argument against the second two. Assuming he goes to trial, Zimmerman may be convicted (probably of manslaughter, rather than the second-degree murder charge brought by special prosecutor Angela Corey) and sentenced to prison. Or he may be acquitted if the prosecution does not do a good enough job of refuting his self-defense claim. At the trial stage, Northern Kentucky University law professor Michael J.Z. Mannheimer notes, the same rules apply "in virtually every state." Thus it is hard to see how the outcome of this case, no matter what it is, will tell us whether other states should imitate Florida's self-defense law.

Addendum: Here is a Wisconsin case that may illustrate the "miscarriages of justice" that Sebok worried could result from a reinforced Castle Doctrine: An angry neighbor breaks up a loud party, and the underage drinkers attending it scatter. One teenager, Bo Morrison, makes the fatal mistake of hiding in the neighbor's enclosed porch. The neighbor, Adam Kind, shoots and kills Morrison, then successfully argues that he was defending his home and his family from an intruder. Kind may have genuinely feared for his family's safety, but the fact that he provoked Morrison's flight by violently breaking up a party on someone else's property, kicking in a garage door after police were unsuccessful in gaining entrance, makes him somewhat less sympathetic. Discuss.

[*changed the wording a bit for clarification]

John Stossel on the Myth That Government Creates Jobs

Given time, an economy, unless crippled by further government intervention, will regenerate itself. But during the recession, Keynesians in the administration said government had to “jump-start” the economy because businesses weren’t hiring. An economy, however, is not a machine that needs jump-starting. It is people, writes John Stossel, who have objectives they want to achieve.

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Economics, Not Foreign Policy, Draw Young People to Ron Paul Rally

Despite ever decreasing odds of winning the Republican presidential nomination, Ron Paul continues to campaign with vigor. He spent Wednesday evening delivering his standard stump speech to a crowd of over 2,000 people inside the Keaney Gymnasium at the University of Rhode Island. The mostly young crowd cheered often, particularly when Paul decried runaway entitlement spending, American foreign policy, and, of course, the Federal Reserve.

Paul’s popularity with young voters was overwhelming in early primary states, particularly Iowa and New Hampshire, but since then other candidates like Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum caught up to him. It is difficult to determine why Paul’s support remained mostly unchanged while others gained. Paul's youth support began in 2008, but was ultimately overshadowed by then candidate Barack Obama’s strong youth support. Obama’s campaign team is investing heavily in young people again in his bid for reelection. 

Many of the young people I spoke to at URI told me that they were attracted to Paul's libertarian ideas, particularly on economics, but also stayed with him because of his consistency as a politician.

“People are tired of being slaves to the government, they are tired of being shoved off to war, they are tired of paying taxes, they are tired of the system,” said Tabor Barranti, 22, a recent graduate of Johns Hopkins University.

Barranti, wearing a half-dozen buttons with various libertarian messages, noted Paul may not be the greatest speaker but said his “substance” and depth of knowledge make up for it.

“(Obama) is charismatic but he has no substance. Ron Paul has more substance than all of the candidates combined,” she said.

The main organizer of the event and head of Youth for Ron Paul at URI, Emmanuel Cumplido, said that Paul resonates with young people because “he’s right.”

“If you’re a deep thinker, you’re going to honestly look at the candidates and conclude that Paul’s political philosophy is miles above the rest,” said Cumplido, 22, a philosophy major.

Other members of URI’s Youth for Ron Paul group said they supported Paul for economic reasons.

“The current generation, they’re not going to have to pay that debt to China. Eventually someone’s going to have to pay those bills and that’s not the current generation, that’s my generation and my children’s generation, and that’s a real problem,” said Nate Robertson, 23, a political science major at URI.

Natasha Nemeth, a chemistry major, said she was drawn to Paul for similar reasons but cited his “spotless record of consistency” as being the biggest reason she backs him.

One of the main schools of thought on Paul’s strong youth support is that it is bred out of his foreign policy views. This may have been true in 2008 when the wars were still fresh in everybody’s mind but I am not so sure that is the case now, particularly with the nominal end of U.S. military operations in Iraq. The people I spoke to today at URI all seemed to echo their concerns about the economy and long term solvency of the United States. Few mentioned their thoughts on American foreign policy despite Paul’s frequent mentions of it during his rally.

FBI Spent Years Infiltrating Patriots Movement, Completely Missed Timothy McVeigh

Foreign Policy has a fascinating piece up by J.M. Buerger detailing the FBI’s years-long infiltration of the “Patriots Movement” more than two decades ago:

Starting in April 1991, three FBI agents posed as members of an invented racist militia group called the Veterans Aryan Movement. According to their cover story, VAM members robbed armored cars, using the proceeds to buy weapons and support racist extremism. The lead agent was a Vietnam veteran with a background in narcotics, using the alias Dave Rossi.

Code-named PATCON, for "Patriot-conspiracy," the investigation would last more than two years, crossing state and organizational lines in search of intelligence on the so-called Patriot movement, the label applied to a wildly diverse collection of racist, ultra-libertarian, right-wing and/or pro-gun activists and extremists who, over the years, have found common cause in their suspicion and fear of the federal government.

The undercover agents met some of the most infamous names in the movement, but their work never led to a single arrest. When [Oklahoma City bomber Timothy] McVeigh walked through the middle of the investigation in 1993, he went unnoticed.

The only criminal charges filed in relation to the “Patriot-conspiracy” investigation, in fact, were for the theft of Army night vision goggles, a crime that had been initially uncovered during the FBI investigation but was subsequently pursued by U.S. Army investigators separately.  

Buerger uncovered many of the details about the FBI’s infiltration of the Patriot Movement through FOIA requests and the whole thing is worth a read, especially given today's similar attempts to infiltrate entire Muslim communities. And for some historical context, here’s a Reason review from 1996 of two books that came out on the militia movement in the aftermath of Oklahoma City.

Medicare Anti-Fraud Pilot Program Saves $200 Million. Only $47.8 Billion In Improper Payments to Go.

Medicare's new anti-fraud program, which changes the way durable medical equipment like power wheelchairs are paid for, is estimated to have saved $202 million* during its first year in operation, reports USA Today. Great! But don't get too excited. Considering the scale of fraud and payment foul-ups in the system, it's not much of a success: According to the Government Accountability Office, Medicare made $48 billion in improper payments in 2010. Others have suggested that fraud in government health programs costs $60 billion a year or more. Saving $200 million annually doesn't even really constitute winning a battle; at best it's more like firing a shot in the right direction.

Read "Medicare Thieves," my October 2011 feature on fraud in the government's biggest health system. 

*Update: Corrected to say $202 million, not $202. 

Reason.tv: Too Much Copyright

"This disconnect between the public's view of copyright and fair use and what should and should not be prosecuted, versus the 'copyright maximist' view of the law, is our generation's Prohibition," says Ben Huh, CEO and founder of Cheezburger and a loud voice in the recent backlash to SOPA and PIPA, two congressional bills aimed at curbing internet piracy.

Copyright exists to “promote the useful arts” according to the Constitution. But is it still doing that? And should the government protect so-called “intellectual property” in the same way it protects other forms of property? Reason.tv posed these questions to Ben Huh, as well as a professor and a movie studio representative. 

Tom Bell, a law professor specializing in property law, has serious reservations about attempts by groups like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to equate property and copyright through ad campaigns admonishing viewers with messages like, "You wouldn't steal a car. Downloading pirated movies is stealing."

"As soon as we start using [the word] 'copyright' for 'property,' we start taking less seriously our property rights for things like cars and houses," says Bell. "When you steal a candy bar or a car, you've left somebody without something to eat or something to drive."

But the MPAA's head content protection counsel, Ben Sheffner, thinks that piracy is a major problem that needs to be stopped. 

"If this kind of piracy is allowed to run rampant, it'll deprive the public of the next great film," says Sheffner. 

So, if the purpose of copyright is to incentivize the creation of artistic works, is it still doing its job? The data points to today's copyright regime doing little more than enriching the corporations with the strongest lobbyists.

"Is there a market failure in the production and dissemination of expressive works?" asks Bell. "I don't think there's any risk that we're going to run out of songs, or books, or movies, or software any time soon."

While the MPAA and other entertainment industry trade groups have bemoaned the effects of rampant internet piracy on creative output, the numbers tell a different story. Research shows more music and books produced than ever before between 2005 to 2010, production of feature films growing by a factor of more than 4 in 14 years, and the number of video game companies exploding by a factor of 18 in the span of three years.

Still, the MPAA stands behind Chairman Chris Dodd's statement, made in the heat of the SOPA battle, that the U.S. could look to China's site-blocking laws as a positive example of anti-piracy regulation.

"If site blocking broke the internet, the internet would've been broken a long time ago," says Sheffner. "There's ways to implement these narrowly tailored remedies that really cut off these 'worst of the worst' web sites."

Written and produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Tracy Oppenheimer and Weissmueller. "The Day the LOLcats died" written and performed by LaughPong. Additional music:"Thomas Kinkade Pays His Respects to Walt Disney" by Der Christer Schytts; "Twinklebox" by Ephemetry; "Betty Boop" by Ergo Phizmiz; "Frog Legs Rag Tag" by James Scott; "Mickey Impression" by thehottestguy23.

Approximately nine minutes.

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Is Leon Panetta Worried That Cutting Defense Spending Might Reduce His Commuting Budget Below $800,000?

For the past several months - at least since the big fake debt-ceiling deal went even further south, thereby possibly maybe precipitating even the tiniest reduction in the size of defense spending increases - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his allies in both parties have been screaming bloody murder about the need to keep bumping up defense spending. Increasing real spending since 2001 by over 70 percent? That's called austerity by both Dems and Reps.

Now the Washington Post and the Associated Press adds some context to Panetta's fear factor.

Get this: Since becoming Pentagon chief last July, Panetta has flown back to his home in California 27 times at an estimated cost to taxpayers of over $800,000. But Panetta, who in a previous life "built a reputation as a deficit hawk" and "regrets" the cost. That's nice to hear. Still:

He gave no indication, however, that he would end the weekend commutes.

“For 40 years that I’ve been in this town, I’ve gone home because my wife and family are there and because, frankly, I think it’s healthy to get out of Washington periodically just to get your mind straight and your perspective straight,” said Panetta, who maintains a residence with his wife, Sylvia, on their walnut farm in Monterey, Calif.

Your secretary of defense, ladies and gentleman, a man so single-minded and focused on the tasks at hand that he needs to get away from his colleagues "periodically." By which he means: every weekend.

For security and communications reasons, Panetta has to fly military style, which costs upwards of $3,200 an hour, but he's buying peanuts all around:

The Associated Press reported this month that Panetta had reimbursed the government about $17,000 for 27 personal trips since becoming Pentagon chief. The AP calculated that the expense of operating Panetta’s military aircraft — usually an Air Force C-37A — totaled about $860,000 for those trips.

More here

Over at The Corner, Reason columnist and Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy (who tipped me to this story), noted that the Wash Post's Panetta piece ran adjacent to an article about the ongoing General Services Administration (GSA) Vegas party scandal. That's a revealing juxtaposition, she argues, that tells us something about government spending.

No offense to Mr. Panetta, who for all I know may be a great secretary of defense (in spite of his hysteria over the defense cuts), but I can’t imagine that we couldn’t have found someone locally to do the job. Maybe we could have found someone who was willing to move his family to D.C. even. Or someone who was willing to pay the crazy price of $800,000 for 27 trips to California.

It is important to realize, however, that these examples (GSA and Panetta’s trips home) are the extreme versions of something that happens in government all the time. Government officials, every day, make decisions about how to spend our money on themselves or on others. As Milton Friedman explained, this is a recipe for bad spending — even with the best people with the best intentions working for the government. There is no way around it.

More here.

In a real sense, the scandal is not Panetta's, who also flew home every weekend apparently as the head of the CIA (we didn't know that because his itinerary was secret back then). He's simply bargaining for the deal he wants and plenty of employers make all sorts of deals to get and keep the best employees they can find. More power to employers who tailor work situations and compensation packages to the unique needs of indispensable staffers.

But should the government be shelling out over $800,000 a year for a staffer making $200,000 a year? Is there nobody more qualified than Panetta within, say, an hour's drive of Washington? Is Panetta really at top form while shlepping to and from the coasts every weekend? If the Obama admin couldn't have cut a better deal with freaking Leon Panetta - an American public servant with a reputation for being a fiscal hawk! - does anyone think its gonna be any good at cutting deals with antagonist nations?

I recently saw The Hunger Games, which is set in a future in which vassal states ("districts") give all their resources and money to a centralized government whose leaders and favorites whoop it up on the taxpayers' dime. Does anyone wonder why the movie and the trilogy of books on which it's based are so popular? Maybe Secretary Panetta can read the books tonight on the long flight back to the Golden State.

Back in January, Meredith Bragg and I cobbled together "3 Reasons Conservatives Should Cut Defense Spending Now!" Alas, it seems that the only time that cons or Republicans want to cut spending is it can momentarily discomfit liberals. Well, here you go, fellers.

The Real Mainstream Media

Everyone knows that the Internet is for porn, but just how big is the online erotic empire? Sebastian Anthony answers:

According to Google's DoubleClick Ad Planner, which tracks users across the web with a cookie, dozens of adult destinations populate the top 500 websites. Xvideos, the largest porn site on the web with 4.4 billion page views per month, is three times the size of CNN or ESPN, and twice the size of Reddit. LiveJasmin isn't much smaller. YouPorn, Tube8, and Pornhub -- they're all vast, vast sites that dwarf almost everything except the Googles and Facebooks of the internet.

While page views are a fine starting point, they only tell you that X porn site is more popular than Y non-porn site. Four billion page views sure sounds like a lot, but it's only when you factor in what those porn surfers are actually doing that the size and scale of adult websites truly comes into focus....

The main difference between porn and non-porn sites is the average duration of a visit: For a news site like Engadget or ExtremeTech, an average visit is usually between three and six minutes; enough time to read one or two stories. The average time spent on a porn site, however, is between 15 and 20 minutes.

Furthermore, "porn sites cope with astronomical amounts of data. The only sites that really come close in term of raw bandwidth are YouTube or Hulu, but even then YouPorn is something like six times larger than Hulu." YouPorn also "serves 4000 pages per second, equating to burst traffic in the region of 100 gigabytes per second, or 800Gbps. This is equivalent to transferring more than 10 dual-layer DVDs every second."

To put that 800Gbps figure into perspective, the internet only handles around half an exabyte of traffic every day, which equates to around 50Tbps -- in other words, a single porn site accounts for almost 2% of the internet's total traffic. There are dozens of porn sites on the scale of YouPorn....It's probably not unrealistic to say that porn makes up 30% of the total data transferred across the internet.

The next time you hear someone use a phrase like "the mainstream media," think back to those numbers and remind yourself what comprises the real Big Media. And if you're a porn user yourself, be thankful that no presidential campaign has decided to advertise there. Yet.

A.M. Links: Newt Gingrich Still Has Secret Service Protection, India Tests Long-Range Missile, Eyeless Shrimp in the Gulf

  • Newt Gingrich still has Secret Service protection, which is costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars a day. Ron Paul, meanwhile, is picking up delegates formerly supporting Rick Santorum, who suspended his campaign earlier this month.
  • Russia’s foreign minister condemned NATO for its timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan as being “artificial” and too rushed.
  • India tested a long range missile that could carry a nuclear payload more than 3,000  miles.
  • France’s Nicholas Sarkozy may not survive even the first round of Presidential elections, due to start this weekend.
  • Eyeless shrimp and other mutated marine life are being found in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Texas Governor Rick Perry says he’s probably going to run for President in 2016. “If I decide to run for the presidency in 2016, I’ll be way in before the summer of 2016; 2015, even,” he said.

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New at Reason.tv: "Let the Private Space Race Begin!"

Steve Chapman on Stupid Voters

This is an election year. That means Americans will vote to reward or punish incumbents for events that they have nothing to do with. Some voters won't even find out the names of the people running for many offices. In short, writes Steve Chapman, the citizenry as a whole will carry out what looks like a giant cartoon parody of democracy.

View this article

Former U.S. Prosecutor Who Took Down Marc Emery Calls for Legalization, But Doesn't Regret Prosecution of "Prince of Pot"

Much has already been written about John McKay, the man who helped give Canadian "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery his five-year prison term for selling marijuana seeds to U.S. citizen, and McKay's recent conversion to advocate for legalization of weed. The strange thing is that the former U.S. attorney still doesn't regret his prosecution of Emery. What's perhaps odder still is that Emery's wife Jodie, who joined McKay at a lecture in British Columbia on Wednesday, doesn't hold the prosecution of her husband against McKay since it "wasn't personal." Or maybe Ms. Emery is just trying to be the bigger man, as it were.

Recently McKay, along with Jodie Emery and former British Columbia Attorney General Geoff Plant (another recently-turned pro-pot guy) came together for an event sponsored by Stop the Violence BC, a group devoted to changing marijuana prohibition. At the event McKay a former Republican who served under Bush between 2001-2006 and was one those eight attorneys whose firing caused a kerfuffle in that year, said:

"I want to say this just as clearly and as forthrightly as I can, marijuana prohibition, criminal prohibition of marijuana is a complete failure."

He noted that cartels' power would be reduced (over-hyped but any excuse to change laws if you're looking for one). Also, McKay said that prohibitions require a majority consensus and marijuana clearly no longer qualifies (polls in the U.S. and Canada say it's around a 50-50 split with it comes to legalization, with younger folks much more keen to legalize).

McKay is currently a law professor in Seattle and he's helping the push for legalization in that state. Under the projected regulation, revenue from the sales of marijuana would go to the state and then, says McKay, "would be earmarked under our initiative that has been submitted to the people for use in public health models, rather than law enforcement models." 

Even though it's fantastic that McKay has come around, it's infuriating that he doesn't regret helping to imprison Emery. McKay simply says that if Emery objected to pot laws, he should have simply advocated for their changes, not shamelessly broken them. (Never mind the evidence that Emery got five years not because of the profits he raked in, but because he was using them to help further his goal of legalization.) For Emery's own sake that may be true, but it doesn't remove the nasty stain from McKay's hands. Nor does trying to present a "reasonable" face of anti-prohibition to those who may be on the fence about the issue mean that taking five years of a man's life isn't wrong, even if Emery should have had the self-preservation to know better and know what might happen to him —the same thing that happens to other people who violate the U.S.'s precious drug laws.

Mike Riggs on Washington state's marijuana legalization controversies. And Reason on Marc Emery, on Canadian drug laws, and on drug policy in general.

Hat tip to commenter rts

CIA Looking for Expanded Authority for Drone War in Yemen

The CIA is looking for new authority in its drone war in Yemen. The CIA wants to launch “strikes against terrorism suspects even when it does not know the identities of those who will be killed,” the Washington Post reports.

It’s hard to tell that that’s actually new authority. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald pointed out that CIA drones already target mourners at funerals of drone casualties.

What would the “new” authority allow the CIA to do? From the Post:

Securing permission to use “signature strikes” would allow the agency to hit targets based solely on intelligence indicating patterns of suspicious behavior, such as imagery showing militants gathering at known al-Qaeda compounds or unloading explosives.

These “signature strikes” are supposed to be “surgical” too but, of course, they’re not. As for authority, the CIA is requesting it from the National Security Council. Because the suspects the government is killing with drones are of the terrorist variety, the entire process is clouded in secrecy. Just trust us, the President says, “ this thing is kept on a very tight leash.”

And though the President may not use the term “war on terror,” he happily signs legislation that defines that war as global and indefinite. So while the CIA’s authority to kill suspects from machines in the sky may be “new,” expansions of the war at home come pre-approved.

Rothbard Fan on the Indian Supreme Court

Three judges of the Indian Supreme Court, a body not known for its intellectual rigor and philosophical consistency, issued a ruling earlier this week upholding the Right to Education Act that was not intellectually rigorous and philosophically consistent. As I wrote in this City Journal piece, the 2010 law had school choice advocate initially all excited because it included a voucher program for poor kids in order to deliver on its promise of a free and compulsory primary school education to every kid in India. One can quibble with that promise, but everyone thought that at least the country had picked the right mechanism for delivering it. That enthusiasm died quickly when it became clear that the program was accompanied with a bitter poison pill requiring private schools to set aside 25 percent of their seats for poor, voucher kids. Not just that, the schools would be required to meet all kinds of new regulations such as: creating minimum playground space, maintaining prescribed teacher-student ratios, hiring credentialed teachers, and paying salaries equivalent to those of unionized public school teachers. Private schools would also be barred from holding back low-performing middle-school students and would be required to use a government-prescribed curriculum and government-approved texts.

 A consortium of private schools challenged the 25 percent reservation requirement on grounds that the vouchers would not cover their entire education costs, causing many of them to even shut down, thereby decreasing – not increasing – the options of poor kids. But the Supreme Court, in its infinite wisdom, did not buy this argument. That’s bad enough. What’s even worse is that though it upheld the set-aside for non-religious private schools that don’t receive government aid or are “unaided,” it exempted minority “unaided” private schools, thereby creating a double standard.

But such blatant inconsistences are not what’s interesting about the ruling. What is interesting is that the dissenting judge actually quoted Murray Rothbard on the evils of government education in his opinion. By name. He said:

Mr. Murray N. Rothbard, an eminent educationist and professor in economics, in his book, "Education: Free and Compulsory," cautioned that progressive education may destroy the independent thought in the child and a child has little chance to develop his systematic reasoning powers in the study of definite courses. The book was written after evaluating the experiences of various countries, which have followed free and compulsory education for children for several years. Prohibition of holding back in a class may, according to the author, result that bright pupils are robbed of incentive or opportunity to study and the dull ones are encouraged to believe that success, in the form of grades, promotion etc., will come to them automatically. The author also questioned that since the State began to control education, its evident tendency has been more and more to act in such a manner so as to promote repression and hindrance of education, rather than the true development of the individual. Its tendency has been for compulsion, for enforced equality at the lowest level, for the watering down of the subject and even the abandonment of all formal teaching, for the inculcation of obedience to the State and to the "group," rather than the development of self-independence, for the deprecation of intellectual subjects. 

I am of the view that the opinions expressed by the academicians like Rothbard command respect and cannot be brushed aside as such because, much more than anything, the State has got a constitutional responsibility to see that our children are given quality education. Provisions of the statute shall not remain a dead letter, remember we are dealing with the lives of our children, a national asset, and the future of the entire country depends upon their upbringing. Our children in the future have to compete with their counter-parts elsewhere in the world at each and every level, both in curricular and extra-curricular fields. Quality education and overall development of the child is of prime importance upon which the entire future of our children and the country rests.

Regardless of what one thinks of Rothbard, can using him to warn of the dangers of a public education whose goal is to produce good, compliant, state-loving citizens rather than free-thinking individuals be all that bad?  Can one ever imagine even Justice Clarence Thomas using Rothbard to attack public schools in this country?

Only Latent Criminals Need Fear BusSafe Sweeps

Last Friday the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas, which serves the Houston area, cheerfully announced that "patrons riding METRO on Friday, April 13, or any given day, may be sitting next to an undercover MPD [Metro Police Department] officer" (emphasis in the original). It explained that "the move to monitor and curtail crime on buses and trains is just one component of a much larger initiative called BusSafe—a national pilot program created by a peer advisory group of mass transit police chiefs and security directors," which "METRO's Police Department is adopting to enhance safety on the system." To kick off this swell safety-enhancing program, the transportation authority carried out "a synchronized counter-terrorism exercise" on Friday that included Houston police, Harris County deputy constables, and "representatives with the Transportation Security Administration" as well as transit cops. They were all there to "ride buses, perform random bag checks, and conduct K-9 sweeps, as well as place uniformed and plainclothes officers at Transit Centers and rail platforms to detect, prevent and address latent criminal activity or behavior."

Who could possibly be against safety enhancement, especially when it aims to prevent and address latent criminal activity and behavior? "Today," declared Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), "we announce that if you think you're going to be a bad actor on buses, get ready: You are going to have a short-lived time frame." In the same TV segment, Joel Eisenbaum, a reporter for Houston's NBC affiliate, chirped that BusSafe is "kind of akin to air marshals, but for buses," although he conceded that "safety apparently will come somewhat at the expense of civil liberties," since "these officers will be able to search bags at random," and "K-9s might be brought in." 

Writing in The Guardian, Jennifer Abel notes that Homeland Securty Secretary Janet Napolitano responded to complaints about the TSA's ritual humiliation of airplane passengers by advising touchy travelers to get from Point A to Point B "by some other means." But now that the TSA's Visual Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams are wriggling their way into "bus terminals, train stations, [and] highways," she asks, "What's left? If you don't like it, walk." Abel notes that Rep. Jackson, a big TSA booster, says the government is only "looking to make sure that the lady I saw walking with a cane...knows that Metro cares as much about her as we do about building the light rail." Or as Abel puts it, "if you don't support the random harassment of ordinary people riding the bus to work, you're a callous bastard who doesn't care about little old ladies." I feel BusSafer already.

More on VIPR here. More on "consent" searches aboard buses here. In a 2005 column, I noted the largely obsequious response to random bag searches on New York City's subways.

[Thanks to Tricky Vic for the tip.]

Why ObamaCare's Unequal Subsidy Structure Will Make the Law Far More Expensive Than Projected

James Capretta, a former Bush administration health and budgeting official, explains how ObamaCare's health insurance subsidies will create massive new inequality between working class families:

[A Congressional Budget Office] analysis confirms a crucial point about ObamaCare which remains poorly understood, which is that the law creates a massive inequity in insurance subsidies for working families with low wages.

Under the new law, workers with incomes below 400 percent of the federal poverty line but above the level for Medicaid eligibility who get their coverage through the new state exchanges can get federally financed “premium subsidies.” These subsidies will be phased down as incomes rise but are quite substantial for persons at about twice the poverty rate or just above that level. At the same time, workers who get their insurance from their place of work also get an indirect federal subsidy because employer-paid premiums are excluded from workers’ taxable income.

The problem is that the subsidies inside the exchanges will far exceed the tax subsidy for employer-paid premiums at the lower end of the wage scale. How big is the gap? CBO quantified it for us in its recent analysis. For a family of four at twice the poverty rate ($50,000 in annual income in 2016), the cost of health insurance would be $11,300 less in the health exchanges than in employment-based coverage, largely because the federal subsidies in the exchanges far exceed the tax benefit for health insurance for families in low marginal tax brackets. For a family of four at three times the poverty rate, the cost of health insurance would be $3,000 less in the exchanges than in employment-based insurance, again largely due to the fact that the government would be paying a larger share of the costs for them in the exchanges.

This disparity between workers with employer-sponsored insurance and those who buy subsidized insurance through the law's health exchanges is going to create tremendous pressure on employers to drop health benefits for lower paid employees. CBO thinks that existing labor laws are going to make it difficult enough for employers to drop insurance only for lower paid employees. But employers will almost certainly start looking for ways to exploit legal loopholes that allow them to dump certain employees into the exchanges.

And, as Capretta notes, there will also be significant political pressure on legislators to rewrite laws in a way that ensures more equal treatment, which probably means allowing employers to send their lower-income employees to the exchanges. That could have serious fiscal consequences: The vast majority of the cost of ObamaCare is paying to expand insurance coverage, and if the law's insurance subsidies are suddenly available to a lot more people than estimated, then the overall cost will be far higher than projected. Capretta and former Congressional Budget Office director Douglas Holtz-Eakin have estimated that if employers shift more employees than expected into exchanges, the expense of the additional subsidies could add $1 trillion to the law's total cost

Mike Riggs on the Obama Administration's Five Worst Statements About Mexico's Drug War

Despite campaign promises to scale back the war on drugs, Obama has been a drug-ward hardliner since the first day of his administration. Nowhere is this more obvious, writes Mike Riggs, than in the talking points the Obama administration has used to justify its proxy war with Mexico's drug traffickers, which has visited death, destruction, instability, and impoverishment on our southern neighbor. Unlike in the U.S., where Obama is careful to sound compassionate about the effects of the drug war, when it comes to Mexico, the official American position is defined by vulgarity, condescension, dishonesty, and a general disregard for human life. 

View this article

Economists See Big Bucks In Legal Dope, TSA Gets an Eyeful, White House Has Doubts About CISPA: P.M. Links

  • The U.S. would save $7.7 billion in enforcement costs if marijuana was legalized, and gain another $6 billion in taxes, according to a petition signed by 300 economists.
  • After months of painting Mitt Romney as a centrist flip-flopper, the Obama campaign has now decided to tag him as a rigid right-winger. Next week, they'll see if they can convince us he's a Martian.
  • A 50-year-old frequent-flyer who had enough of TSA attention gave the security detail an eyeful when he stripped naked at Portland International Airport to protest the harassment.
  • The Occupy movement is returning with something a bit less strenuous: sleeping in public. Nighty night, kids.
  • After nationalizing the YPF oil company, Argentina's government is poised to discover how hard it is to peddle gas under its own rules, and what it means to scare off investors.
  • The White House is voicing doubts about the privacy-threatening CISPA "cybersecurity" bill.
  • U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan took posed snapshots of themselves with dead insurgents. The Pentagon is ... embarrassed.
  • Scientists say that dinosaurs may have been done in by the wide differential between the size of their young and adults, which squeezed out smaller species.

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NYT: Food Deserts Are Not Real. Also, We Can Fix Them.

Today in The New York Times print edition (as brilliantly blogged by Jacob Sullum):

Today in The New York Times online edition:

The Paper of Record, solving problems that The Paper of Record says probably don't exist.

FCC Asks SCOTUS to Reinstate CBS Nip Slip Fine

Yesterday the Federal Communications Commission asked the Supreme Court to review an appeals court decision overturning the $550,000 fine that the agency imposed on CBS after Janet Jackson's notorious "wardrobe malfunction" during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. In 2008 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit deemed the fine "arbitrary and capricious," in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), because punishing the network for an unplanned (by CBS) glimpse of nipple during a live broadcast represented an unexplained departure from longstanding FCC policy. The following year, the Supreme Court overturned a similar 2nd Circuit decision that said punishing Fox for "fleeting expletives" violated the APA, and it instructed the appeals court to reconsider the CBS case in light of that ruling. Last November a three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit reaffirmed the nip slip decision, and in January the full court declined to rehear the case. Now the FCC wants the Supreme Court to say the 2nd Circuit erroneously accepted the statutory argument against the CBS fine.

Meanwhile, however, the Fox case has come back to the Court, this time as a constitutional challenge to the FCC's overall ban on broadcast "indecency," which was the justification for both fines. The Court heard oral argument in that case last January, and it is expected to rule within the next two months. If it decides that the FCC's indecency regulations violate the First Amendment (a distinct possibility), the wrangling over the APA will be irrelevant. Hence Solicitor General Donald Verrilli is asking the Court to take up FCC v. CBS after it decides FCC v. Fox:

The court's decision in Fox II may shed light on the proper resolution of this case. This petition therefore should be held for Fox II and then disposed of as appropriate in light of the court's decision.

If the Court rules as it should in FCC v. Fox, FCC v. CBS will be moot.

The FCC's petition is here (PDF). Previous coverage of the FCC's indecency ban here.

EPA Issues New Helpful Fracking Rules - Makes Industry Money

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued new regulations on drilling wells using fracking techniques to crack open shale to release abundant supplies of natural gas. Once a well has been drilled and before production can begin some fracking fluids flow back up the well combined with natural gas. The new rules require drillers by 2015 to use "green completion" techniques that involve capturing this initial outflow of natural gas.

Just how much natural gas escapes such wells is scientifically controversial. In this case, the EPA followed the usual bureaucratic inclination of an agency to aggrandize its power, ah, I mean, protect the health and welfare of the American people from cheap natural gas. Sadly, not too surprising.

However, the amazing thing is that EPA's crack team of fracking regulators have identified a business opportunity has apparently heretofore been entirely missed by natural gas producers. From the EPA statement:

EPA’s analysis of the final rules shows that they are highly cost-effective, relying on widely available technologies and practices already deployed at approximately half of all fractured wells, and consistent with steps industry is already taking in many cases to capture additional natural gas for sale, offsetting the cost of compliance. Together these rules will result in $11 to $19 million in savings for industry each year.

Just another happy example of how smart bureaucrats can help us regulate our way to prosperity.

Reason.tv: Let the Private Space Race Begin!

So the space shuttle Discovery has flown its last mission. It's been towed over the nation's capital like a bruised Chevy after a demolition derby before being deposited at the Udvar-Hazy air and space musuem in northern Virginia.

Other space junkers - Atlantis and Endeavour - are being retired like Brett Favre in a pair of Crocs, too, bringing to end an underwhelming three decades of fruitless and tragic exploration of low-earth orbiting patterns.

Let's face it: Once we beat the Russians to the moon, the national rocket grew limper than Liberace at a speculum convention. NASA has been dining out on a single 1969 hit longer than Zager and Evans.

The good news is that amateur hour is now over and the private space race has begun. Where two Cold War superpowers failed, let a thousand business plans bloom!

The future of space is in the hands of the guys behind Amazon, PayPal, and Virgin. The force of competition will create endless possibilities and unimaginable technologies. No more talking about how the space program brought us Tang and Tempur-Pedic mattresses. We're going to Mars, baby, in business class.

MORE »

Americans Say Federal Government Wastes 56 Cents of Every Tax Dollar

Findings from the latest Reason-Rupe poll show that on average Americans estimate the federal government wastes 56 cents out of every tax dollar. This suggests Americans believe government wastes over half of what taxpayers pay to the federal government in taxes each year.

 

Note: Data combines Gallup and Reason-Rupe survey data: 1979-2011 Gallup survey data, 2012 Reason-Rupe survey data.  Gallup's Wording: Of every tax dollar that goes to the federal government in Washington DC, how many cents of each dollar would you say are wasted? Reason-Rupe: For every dollar you pay in federal taxes, about how much of it do you think the government wastes?

This finding continues a long, increasing trend since 1979 when Gallup began asking the question. In the early 1980s Gallup found that Americans, on average, thought that government wasted 38 percent of their taxes. By the early 2000s, this number had jumped to 46 percent. In 2011 Gallup discovered that Americans believed that over half of tax dollars were wasted. Now in 2012, the Reason-Rupe poll finds this number maintains a steady increase, at 56 percent, or 56 cents out of every dollar.

Like Gallup, the only major political and demographic groups to believe on average that less than half of all tax dollars are wasted include Democrats ($.49), liberals ($.47) and those with post-graduate degrees ($.46).

Groups who on average thought the government wasted 60 percent or more of tax dollars include Republicans, libertarians, conservatives, Tea Party supporters, high school graduates, and evangelicals.

Note: This chart shows the interquartile range (IQR), or the middle 50 percent of responses, for the cents-per-dollar-wasted estimates. The IQR is a measure of spread and is less affected by extreme values or outliers. For instance, imagine all survey respondents were lined up according to their estimated cents per tax dollar wasted. The person standing in the middle of the line would represent the median response, similar to the average. If the line were then divided into four sections, the bottom section would contain twenty-five percent of survey respondents and the top section another twenty-five percent of survey respondents. The survey respondents in between the bottom and top groups would be the interquartile range. These include respondents who gave the middle fifty percent of estimates, and reveal the most typical range of responses.

Full poll results found here, and cross tabs found here.

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

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

The Mirage of Blooming 'Food Deserts'

New York Times science reporter Gina Kolata, who has an admirable record of questioning conventional wisdom about health issues, turns her skeptical gaze to the "food desert" hypothesis, which holds that poor people eat crappy diets and get fat because they do not have ready access to healthy comestibles such as fresh fruits and vegetables. As Kolata notes, this idea "has become an article of faith among some policy makers and advocates, including Michelle Obama," despite a lack of evidence to support it.

The website for the first lady's anti-obesity campaign, Let's Move!, brags that she "is taking on food deserts," which are "nutritional wastelands that exist across America in both urban and rural communities where parents and children simply do not have access to a supermarket." It claims that "some 23.5 million Americans—including 6.5 million children—currently live in food deserts." In a post on the Let's Move! blog, Rayne Pegg, administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service, says "this lack of access contributes directly to poor diets which can lead to obesity" and plugs the Farmers Market Promotion Program, which aims to make fruits and vegetables more available by paying farmers to sell them. "For too many American families," says another post, "serving healthy food as part of a regular diet isn't actually an option. That's because, in many communities across the country, there is no place to purchase any groceries, much less fresh fruits and vegetables." The first lady explains that "it's not that people don't know or don't want to do the right thing; they just have to have access to the foods that they know will make their families healthier." That's why "eliminating these food deserts and making sure parents in every part of the country have access to fresh produce and healthy choices is a primary goal of Let’s Move."  

As Katherine Mangu-Ward noted in the February issue of Reason, these grand plans to make food deserts bloom seem to be based on some serious misconceptions. She highlighted a 2011 Archives of Internal Medicine study that found "proximity to a grocery store or supermarket did not increase consumption of healthy food." She suggested one reason geography is not dietary destiny: According to the USDA, "93 percent of 'desert' dwellers have access to a car." Kolata reports that recent research reinforces the case against the "food desert" hypothesis.

In one study, reported in the February issue of the American Journal of Public Health, researchers at the RAND Corporation used data on children and teenagers from the California Health Interview Survey to see if there was any association between diet and proximity to "fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, small food stores, grocery stores, and large supermarkets." They "found no relationship between what type of food students said they ate, what they weighed, and the type of food within a mile and a half of their homes." Kolata says Roland Sturm, co-author of the study, "has also completed a national study of middle school students, with the same result—no consistent relationship between what the students ate and the type of food nearby." He tells her "you can get basically any type of food" in almost any urban neighborhood, adding, "Maybe we should call it a food swamp rather than a desert." 

Another study, reported in the April issue of Social Science and Medicine, found that poor neighborhoods "had nearly twice as many fast food restaurants and convenience stores as wealthier ones," Kolata writes, but "they also had nearly twice as many supermarkets and large-scale grocers per square mile." The author, Helen Lee of the Public Policy Institute of California, reports that "differential exposure to food outlets does not independently explain weight gain over time" in the sample of elementary school students tracked by the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. She writes that "it may thus be important to reconsider whether food access is, in all settings, a salient factor in understanding obesity risk among young children."

Even Kelly Brownell, the Yale psychologist who wants to tackle obesity through a system of taxes and subsidies that amounts to centrally planned food prices, scoffs at the notion that inadequate grocery options explain why poor people are disproportionately fat. "It is always easy to advocate for more grocery stores," he tells Kolata. "But if you are looking for what you hope will change obesity, healthy food access is probably just wishful thinking." When a grandiose social engineer like Brownell dismisses your plan to make Americans thinner as "wishful thinking," you really need to stop and consider whether your scheme has any connection to reality.

The Obama administration does not seem inclined to do that. Responding to Kolata's questions about the evidence indicating that the fight against food deserts is fundamentally misconceived, USDA spokesman Justin DeJong "said by e-mail that fighting obesity requires 'a comprehensive response'"—so comprehensive that it includes half-baked, empirically unfounded projects that are destined to fail. But we're doing other stuff too, says DeJong, such as (in Kolata's paraphrase) "improving food in schools, increasing physical education time, and educating people on the importance of healthy diets." Forcing kids to exercise in school (which is not necessarily what more time for gym would mean) might cause them to lose weight, assuming they do not respond by increasing their caloric intake or exercising less on their own time. But the goal of "improving food in schools" is based on the same questionable premise that gave us federal subsidies for farmers' markets: that people deviate from the government's dietary advice because they do not have access to healthy food, so eating properly "isn't actually an option," as Let's Move! puts it.

Similarly, "educating people on the importance of healthy diets" assumes they do not eat what the government thinks they should because they do not know any better. Yet anyone who shops for groceries can readily observe that some people pass up fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and skim milk, which they surely have heard are good for them, in favor of potato chips, white bread, ground beef, soda, and ice cream—not because the latter items are cheaper (they're not) but because they taste better (to these particular shoppers, at least). Michelle Obama and USDA bureaucrats probably have different tastes, and they certainly have different values and priorities. They are manifestly less willing to sacrifice their long-term health for the sake of short-term pleasure. When the first lady insists "it's not that people don't know or don't want to do the right thing," it is obvious to her what "the right thing" is: People need to eat less of the foods they like and more of the foods they don't. But to people with different preferences, this is not at all obvious, and it never will be, no matter how many fruits and vegetables the government throws at them. 

Ronald Bailey on Earth Day and the 40th Anniversary of The Limits of Growth

Forty years ago The Limits to Growth, a report to the Club of Rome, was released with great fanfare at a conference at the Smithsonian Institution. The conclusion of the MIT computer model was dire: Unless profligate humanity mended its ways, a massive population crash in a starving, polluted, and resource depleted world was inevitable in the next 100 years. Just in time for Earth Day, Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey looks at a variety of global trends and wonders if the ancient computer model was a case of "environmentalist garbage in" generating "environmentalist gospel out." 

View this article

Legalization Proponent Says There Is Almost No Dispensary Opposition to Colorado's Legalization Initiative

On Monday I wrote a post about the medical marijuana industry’s opposition to ballot Initiative 502 in California and Amendment 64 in Colorado, both of which would legalize pot. Mason Tvert, the co-director of Colorado’s Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, objected to the comparison.  

The gist: There is no dispensary opposition to Amendment 64. The dispensary owner whose concerns I cited is an anomaly.

Tvert said I could publish his email, so I’ve done so below:

I caught your post re: medical marijuana providers and the initiatives in Colorado and Washington and just wanted to register a concern.

You mentioned that "medical marijuana dispensaries opposed to Amendment 64 are less organized." There isn't less organization; there's absolutely zero organization. You included one example of "opposition" and from just one dispensary owner, and he said he isn't even sure yet whether he actually opposes it. Pair this with the fact that about 200 medical marijuana providers *supported* the initiative by allowing petitions in their dispensaries during the petition drive and it really begs the question of why Colorado was included in this piece at all, if not to demonstrate the stark contrast with the situation in Washington.

We are finding that following the situation with Prop. 19 in 2010, some members of the media are jumping the gun in their speculation about dispensaries opposing the Colorado initiative. In doing so, they're fueling an inaccurate narrative. I just wanted to bring this to your attention and respectfully encourage you to keep it in mind if you revisit this angle on the issue in the future. Who knows -- maybe some actual opposition will emerge. But as of now we are very thankful that things are going as smoothly as they are in Colorado and would like people to be aware of it.  

Readers, you are now aware. Many thanks to Tvert for the fact-check. 

"Does Anyone Know What It Feels Like to Open Fire on 20 Baby Piglets?"

Michigan's Department of Natural Resources continues it anti-wild hog crusade. Our story so far:

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is trying to get rid of feral pigs by going after people who keep boars that might be able to survive in the wild. An order has been issued which mandates the killing of all such swine by April 1, at which point the DNR "hope[s] to be invited onto farms voluntarily. We will be doing inspections" to make sure the forbidden breeds—classified as invasive species—are no longer around.

Of course, Big Government and Big Pig are in cahoots, reports Senior Editor Damon Root:

Unsurprisingly, the Michigan Pork Producers Association—an organization whose members do not grow heritage pigs—supports the Department, which has allegedly assured the Association that its members’ operations will be exempt.  It must be nice for large-scale producers who command enough political clout to simply outlaw their competition.  Meanwhile, Mark Baker and other smaller-scale farmers must wait to see where the bureaucratic winds will blow.

Now those "inspections" for smaller-scale producers have come to pass. One farmer wrote in to the blog of Baker's Green Acres, which has become a respoitory for horror stories about the Michigan pig purge: 

Subject: search warrant

I was served a search warrant yesterday at 7: 45am.

After 8 guys 3 four wheelers, and 4 hours, DNR decided I was correct. I have killed all my hogs. They gave me papers that say I do not have any hogs on my property. All they saw were dead hogs laying around from my mass slaughtering. It took 12 guys 4 times in there to kill all of them, sows with young, Pregnant sows, dozens of piglets, and old mature boars. It has been a sad few weeks.

Does anyone know what it feels like to open fire on 20 baby piglets in one group which weigh between 5lbs and 15 lbs. They are so adorable and cute.

They commented to everyone that they never saw a fence built so tough and no way would a hog get out of this area. I trenched 2′ then installed chain link fencing, then a 10′ high tightlock fence on top of that. ( 200 acre area ) They never saw a fence like that.

Dave Tuxbury

deer tracks ranch

 Stay tuned for more.

David Harsanyi on Obama's Speculator Witch Hunt

This week, President Barack Obama is taking the fight to "oil speculators" and "market manipulation," demanding that traders put up more money for transactions and government ratchet up enforcement and monitoring. "None of these will bring gas prices down overnight," Obama helpfully explained in his news conference. "But they will prevent market manipulation and help protect consumers." No, they won't. They'd probably hurt consumers, and they would doubtlessly raise the cost of doing business. So for a few hundred words, writes David Harsanyi, let's treat populist agitation as if it were earnest policy.

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We'd Like to Take This Opportunity to Congratulate Ourselves for Our Unsubstantiated Role in Ending D.C.'s Most Notorious Traffic-Camera Speedtrap

In February, Reason.tv released a video that shed disturbing, sound-effect-heavy light and noise on one of Washington, D.C.'s most notorious speedtraps (see below). Local celebrity chef Geoff Tracy, whose restaurant is in the area, had been nailed so many times there, he hired a sign-spinner to warn motorists and potential customers they were likely to be hosed by Big Brother.

Some good news:

The stationary speed cam in the 1900 block of Foxhall Road NW issued tens of thousands of tickets and was made famous by celebrity chef Geoff Tracy after he launched a Twitter protest against the camera....

...the camera remained in place across from the German embassy, issuing more than 20,000 fines in just one month....As of last week, the speed camera disappeared. All that remains is a concrete pad and a few wires coming out of the ground.

Hooray - for now.

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police Department says the camera was relocated to South Dakota Avenue NE because of construction along Foxhall Road.

The camera isn't gone for good. Police plan to install a new one along a different stretch of Foxhall Road in the near future.

More here.

Thank you, Chef Geoff, for at least a temporary reprieve from the long arm of the law (automated ticket division). Keep on spinning into the future.

Watch Chef Geoff vs. DC Traffic Cameras now:

 

No Good Cops Go Unpunished When They Stop a Beatdown

Whenever I read a news report about police assaulting a homeless guy or unleashing a stream of pepper spray on peaceful protesters, I always wonder where the good cops are. I mean, we're constantly assured that most police officers are good cops, and that their reputation is being besmirched by a few bad apples. So why aren't those good cops busy tasering their off-base colleagues? Or at least giving them a good thumping?

The answer, it appears is "Regina Tasca." She's a Bogota, New Jersey, police officer who responded to a medical call to transport an emotionally disturbed young man to the hospital. As per protocol, she called for backup. Two officers from Ridgefield arrived on the scene, and proceeded to whomp on Kyle, the guy they were supposedly helping. According to WPIX:

Tasca described what we see on the videotape: "The Ridgefield Park officer automatically charges and takes him down to the ground. I was quite shocked. As he's doing that, another Ridgefield Park officer flies to the scene in his car, jumps out and starts punching him in the head."

On the tape you can hear Tara, the mother, and Kyle, her son, screaming, "Why are you punching him?" and "Stop punching me!"

The two Ridgefield Park Sergeants are never heard refuting the claims that they punched the 22 year-old man as he was waiting for an ambulance.

Even worse, Kyle was never charged, nor arrested, for any offense. Tasca says it's because he never threatened, did not have a weapon, and indeed never resisted and was not violent. Eventually Tasca was able to pry the punching Ridgefield Park officer off Kyle, as seen in a picture taken by the Kyle's mother, who also later commended Tasca in a phone call.

You know what comes next, right? Yeah. After physically intervening against two violent colleagues-in-blue, Tasca'a job is at stake. She faces a departmental trial on charges that she's "psychologically unfit" to be a police officer.

I suppose that could be true. It all depends on what you're looking for in your police officers — and what kind of cops you're trying to screen out.

Crack Cocaine, Mandatory Minimums, and the Supreme Court

At The Huffington Post, Mike Sacks reports on yesterday’s Supreme Court oral arguments in the consolidated cases of Dorsey v. United States and Hill v. United States. At issue are the sentences handed down to two crack cocaine dealers, Michael Dorsey and Corey Hill, who were convicted shortly before President Barack Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 into law. Since the point of the Fair Sentencing Act was to reduce the mandatory minimum penalties associated with crack cocaine by bringing them more in line with the penalties associated with the powdered version of the drug, Dorsey and Hill would like to be re-sentenced under the new federal law. Yet as Sacks explains, Congress “did not explicitly say whether the new law should apply to those, like Hill and Dorsey, whose convictions and sentencings straddled the law's passage.” As Sacks reports, the Court seemed evenly divided on what to do next:

Stephen Eberhardt, the lawyer for the two men, told the justices on Tuesday that common sense and decency compelled the Supreme Court to throw out his clients' harsher sentences calculated under the old regime. "Why would Congress want district courts to continue to impose sentences that were universally viewed as unfair and racially discriminatory," he asked in his introduction.

Common sense and decency must reckon with a federal statute passed in 1871 that says when Congress repeals or revises a law, Congress must "expressly provide" for the new law's retroactive application. Supreme Court case law has since watered down that command, but just how much was the subject of debate during the oral argument.

Eberhardt said that Congress need only make a "fair implication" that the Fair Sentencing Act was designed to reach his clients. Justice Antonin Scalia read the court's precedents more strictly.

"[O]ur cases uniformly say that it has to be clear implication, unquestionable implication," Scalia said.

Eberhardt, to his detriment, resisted Scalia's determination. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy then piled on, leaving Eberhardt, who was arguing his first high court case, deflated. Not even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's effort to defend the "fair implication" standard could save him.

Read the full story here. Read Reason’s previous coverage of crack sentencing here.

Elizabeth Warren Shows Us Why ObamaCare's Cost Controls Won't Work

In an op-ed for a medical device industry trade publication this week, Elizabeth Warren helpfully shows us why some of the health care overhaul's cost controls will fail.

Warren, who is running against Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown for his seat in Congress' upper chamber, writes in Mass Device to argue against the health law's tax on medical device makers. The op-ed justifies this position in terms of encouraging innovation, which Warren says "depends on a fair tax system." And a fair tax system is apparently one that includes industry wishlist items such as repealing the health law's medical device tax and making a separate temporary research and development tax credit permanent. 

Warren apparently does not feel the need to do any innovating herself: Her op-ed is a bland and entirely familiar list of med-device industry talking points presented in a forum aimed specifically at industry players. If not for the byline, the author photo, and a few pro forma lines about respecting federal regulators, it could easily have been authored by a device industry representative.

There's no mistaking what's going on here: Warren is running for Senate in a state with a large medical device industry; she wants their support and is promising something in return. This is standard operating procedure for politicians and wannabe politicians from both parties. 

But it is telling that this progressive champion of higher taxes, who delivers viral mini monologues about the greatness of giving back and paying one's corporate fair share in exchange for valuable government services, can so easily transform her Senate campaign into a vehicle for obvious industry talking points. This is one of the reasons why the cost savings schemes in the 2010 health care overhaul probably won't work. Those provisions generally save money by either taxing someone's benefits (specifically the sort of expensive health plans held by many union members) or reducing someone's payments (higher payments to Medicare advantage plans). Those people, their friends, and their industries all have friendly representatives in Congress, as well as people who would like to be their representatives in Congress—people who will sing whatever tune they believe is necessary in order to win. You can't count on future members of Congress to stick to the cost control schemes dreamed up by past members of Congress, especially if those schemes are disliked by vocal, influential constituencies. 

Sheldon Richman on Obama’s Big Government Hypocrisy

Last November, President Obama stood before an audience and said government needs to be “responsive to the needs of people, not the needs of special interests.” He added, “That is probably the biggest piece of business that remains unfinished.” He made these remarks, The New York Times reports, before a $17,900-a-plate fundraising dinner at the home of Dwight and Antoinette C. Bush, two heavy contributors to his reelection.

Welcome to Obama’s new world of hope and change. It looks a lot like the old. And this is not the only way it resembles politics as usual. As Sheldon Richman observes, Obama, much like his predecessors, has been a very good friend to big business, especially banks.

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Michigan Teacher Peeved She Can't Retire at 47

The Michigan teachers union is outraged by a bill working its way though the legislature that would require that teachers to pay into their own pension plans. Under SB 1040, teachers would contribute 5-10 percent of their pay toward their pensions. The bill would also require retirees to be 60 before they can receive health benefits.

The tragic result:

Saginaw Township teacher Terry List had hoped to retire in the next three years when she was 47 years old. That wouldn’t be possible under SB 1040. List would have to work another 16 years to be eligible for health benefits. 

Nooooooooo!

List noted in her testimony to the state's Senate Appropriations Committee that she is pretty expensive. The folks at Michigan's Mackinac Center agree, estimating that she currently earns between $70,000 and $80,000 a year, and will probably earn $90,000 by the time she is 60. 

Back to the Michigan Education Association's website, List laments:

“By the time I’m 60, I would have put in 43 years of service, earning a salary at the top of the pay scale. How does that save the district money? You could hire two people for the cost of one and encourage young people to join the profession.

Err. Not exactly. List can expect to take home about $60,000 a year in retirement, with annual adjustments upward after that—while no longer providing any services to the state. 

Via the very useful David Hogberg.

Brickbat: Freedom Is All Academic

Chicago State University has banned all communication between faculty and the media without prior approval from the school's public relations office. The policy requires professors to seek approval for interviews, but also opinion pieces, newsletters, and social media communications. Those who violate the policy face disciplinary action, including being fired.

Brickbat Archive

Breaking: California Gov. Jerry Brown Cancels Official Reports About Australian Kangaroo Harvests!

Anybody who thinks California Gov. Jerry Brown is taking it easy in his second round as the Golden State's top official can suck on this:

California lawmakers won't be briefed any longer on kangaroo harvests in Australia under a plan to scrap more than 700 reports required by state law that GovernorJerry Brown unveiled on Tuesday.

Australia's annual kangaroo harvest report, which California's Department of Fish and Game is required to track and provide to lawmakers, is one of 718 "unnecessary bureaucratic" reports discovered in audits of state agencies and departments ordered by Brown in December, according to a statement from his office....

"It wastes a lot of time and money to write, track and file these reports," Brown said. "Government should be focused on providing information that is actually helpful to taxpayers, not on checking boxes to meet outdated bureaucratic requirements."

More here.

Such bold action is surely a sign that the West Coast magic is back. Except for all those stories about California's - and especially Brown's - zealous devotion to money-wasting high-speed rail and so much more. Including spending $205,000 to move a $15 shrub. But I guess you have to crawl before you can walk before you can flush billions of dollars on really fast trains.

Hat Tip: Reason contributor Philippe Lacoude, who notes, "That there ever was a law to commit the California administration to produce a kangaroo harvest report is telling.  That the Schwarzenegger administration did not dismantle this provision is even more telling.  That a Democrat goes after it, definitely shows they are running out of money."

A.M. Links: Taliban Commander Turns Himself In, Blowback in Yemen, Michigan Lotto Winner Charged With Welfare Fraud

  • Internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee warns that the extension of governments’ surveillance power online is the greatest threat to the Internet and a “destruction of human rights.”
  • A mid-level Taliban commander turned himself in at a police checkpoint in Afghanistan after seeing himself on a wanted poster, hoping to collect the $100 reward himself.
  • The blowback to America’s drone campaign in Yemen could be starting.
  • A lottery winner in Michigan is now facing charges of welfare fraud for collecting food stamps after winning a million dollar jackpot. Said Michigan’s Attorney-General: "It's simply common sense that million dollar lottery winners forfeit their right to public assistance". 
  • Chelsea Clinton’s struggling at NBC News.
  • Tired of half-naked women posing on their roads and the theft of their signs, the town of Fucking, Austria, is considering changing its name.

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New at Reason.tv: The Space Shuttle Era is Over (Thank God); Let the Private Space Race Begin!

Nick Gillespie on Varney & Co, Talking Disability Lawsuit Abuse at 10.20AM

I'll be on Fox Business's Varney & Co. this morning at 10am ET, talking about an apparent rise in customer lawsuits based on the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). From a New York Times story on the phenom:

A small cadre of lawyers, some from out of state, are using New York City’s age and architectural quirkiness as the foundation for a flood of lawsuits citing violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The lawyers are generally not acting on existing complaints from people with disabilities. Instead, they identify local businesses, like bagel shops and delis, that are not in compliance with the law, and then aggressively recruit plaintiffs from advocacy groups for people with disabilities.

The plaintiffs typically collect $500 for each suit, and each plaintiff can be used several times over. The lawyers, meanwhile, make several thousands of dollars, because the civil rights law entitles them to legal fees from the noncompliant businesses....

Read more here.

For background on the ADA, read this fascinating paper by scholars at the University of Virginia and Georgia State about the effects of the law on labor force participation by the handicapped.

Reason on the 20th anniversary (2010) of the ADA.

About a month ago, I was on CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront, talking about how new ADA regs (since postponed) threatened operators of hotels. Take a watch:

 

Britain's Colonial Cover-Up

The Guardian reports:

Thousands of documents detailing some of the most shameful acts and crimes committed during the final years of the British empire were systematically destroyed to prevent them falling into the hands of post-independence governments, an official review has concluded.

Those papers that survived the purge were flown discreetly to Britain where they were hidden for 50 years in a secret Foreign Office archive, beyond the reach of historians and members of the public, and in breach of legal obligations for them to be transferred into the public domain....

The papers at Hanslope Park include monthly intelligence reports on the "elimination" of the colonial authority's enemies in 1950s Malaya; records showing ministers in London were aware of the torture and murder of Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya, including a case of a man said to have been "roasted alive"; and papers detailing the lengths to which the UK went to forcibly remove islanders from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean....The documents that were not destroyed appear to have been kept secret not only to protect the UK's reputation, but to shield the government from litigation.

More from the BBC and The Independent.

Jacob Sullum on the Federal Law You're Breaking Right Now

According to the Justice Department's interpretation of federal law, people can go to jail for violating a website's terms of service or a company policy against personal use of workplace computers. Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected this reading of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which Chief Judge Alex Kozinski noted could make a criminal out of "everyone who uses a computer in violation of computer use restrictions—which may well include everyone who uses a computer." Unfortunately, says Senior Editor Jacob Sullum, other appeals courts have been more receptive to the Justice Department's view, which gives U.S. attorneys the power to prosecute just about anyone who offends or annoys them.

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Live From Washington, DC: The Space Shuttle Era is Over (Thank God); Let the Private Space Race Begin!

 

So the space shuttle Discovery has flown its last mission; it's been towed over the nation's capital like a bruised Chevy after a demolition derby before being deposited at the Udvar-Hazy air and space musuem in northern Virginia.

Other space junkers - Atlantis and Endeavour - are being retired like Brett Faver in a pair of Crocs, too, bringing to end an underwhelming three decades of fruitless and tragic exploration of low-earth orbiting patterns.

Let's face it: Once we beat the Russians to the moon, the national rocket grew limper than Liberace at a speculum convention. NASA has been dining out on a single 1969 hit longer than Zager and Evans.

The good news is that amateur hour is now over and the private space race has begun. Where two Cold War superpowers failed, let a thousand business plans bloom!

The future of space is in the hands of the guys behind Amazon, PayPal, and Virgin. The force of competition will create endless possibilities and unimaginable technologies. No more talking about how the space program brought us Tang and Tempur-Pedic mattresses. We're going to Mars, baby, in business class.

Virgin's Richard Branson has already signed up more stars than there are in heaven and his regular press releases read like the headlines at TMZ: Ashton Kutcher, Katy Perry, and Angelina Jolie have all reserved space on the first civilian flights to the great beyond.

The International Space Station will continue as a government run intergalactic DMV, but at least the spaceships shlepping materials and mouthbreathers to and from it will soon be operated by private vendors - at an expected 90 percent discount. That should put plenty more celebrities - and civiliams - in the mood to join the 30-mile-high club.

The founder of BudgetSuites, Robert Bigelow, has already launched experimental modules and is dreaming of putting affordable hotels - complete with bedspreads soaked in alien DNA - in orbit and PayPal's Elon Musk has said he wants to die on Mars. Preferably in a colony established by SpaceX, his company that's hell bent not just on leaving Earth but getting to the Red Planet in style.

Nobody knows exactly how private space exploration and entrepreneurship will play out. But's its a lock that the next 30 years won't resemble our government-run space program's decades-long failure to launch anything more inspiring than Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space.

Space out!

About 2:30 minutes.

Filmed by Joshua Swain and Jim Epstein. Edited by Meredith Bragg. Written by Nick Gillespie and Kennedy, who also hosts.

Your Government: Committed to Keeping the Drug Market As Dangerous As Possible

Yesterday the Justice Department unsealed an indictment that charges eight men from three countries with running "a sophisticated online drug marketplace that sold everything from marijuana to mescaline to some 3,000 people around the world," A.P. reports:

"The Farmer's Market"...allowed suppliers of drugs—including LSD, Ecstasy and ketamine—to anonymously sell their wares online. They hooked up with buyers in 34 countries and accepted various forms of payment, including cash, Western Union and PayPal transactions, the indictment claims....

The market "provided a controlled substances storefront, order forms, online forums, customer service, and payment methods for the different sources of supply" and charged the suppliers a commission based upon the value of the order, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles.

"For customers, the operators screened all sources of supply and guaranteed delivery of the illegal drugs," the statement said....

The marketplace allegedly used the Tor network, which spreads website and email communications through a volunteer network of servers around the world in order to mask Internet address information.

Sounds pretty cool, huh? André Birotte Jr., the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles (where some of the network's customers, including an undercover DEA agent, were located), does not think so. Explaining why he is threatening Marc Willems, the Dutch citizen who allegedly ran this innovative business, and his colleagues with life in prison, Birotte says, "We want to make the Internet a safe and secure marketplace." In reality, of course, the Justice Department wants to make this particular market as dangerous, insecure, and unreliable as possible, the better to discourage people from buying psychoactive substances that the government has arbitrarily declared intolerable. Willems et al.'s crime was not endangering consumers but protecting them from the vicissitudes of the black market.

Birotte is the same U.S. attorney who last year declared that "California law doesn't matter" when he decides which medical marijuana dispensaries to target.

Buffett Rule Dies, Online Illicit-Drug Retailer Taken Down, Canadians Won't Trade Liberty for (Promised) Security: P.M. Links

  • Say "goodbye" to at least one tax hike. The so-called "Buffett rule" failed to gather enough votes to break a Senate filibuster.
  • Tax freedom day — when Americans are done working just to pay for government — falls on April 17 this year. With taxmageddon approaching at the end of 2012, tax cuts are set to expire, pushing Americans to labor for government for another month.
  • Police working in several countries busted a sophisticated online retailer of your finer illicit intoxicants. Using the privacy-shielding Tor network, the business had catered to thousands of customers since 2006.
  • Jurors being screened for the perjury trial of Roger Clemens repeatedly challenged the wisdom of the congressional hearing at which Clemens allegedly lied, as well as the expense of prosecuting the baseball pitcher.
  • Escape-clause-laden their 30-year-old Charter of Rights and Freedoms may be, but Canadians in a recent poll voiced strong disagreement with the idea that they should sacrifice civil liberties in the name of the war on terror.
  • Former reporter alleges Albuquerque police seized a camera and deleted evidence of police brutality.

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Obama’s New Drug Control Report Calls for More Workplace Drug Testing, Nationwide Zero Tolerance Laws, Prescription-Only Ephedrine Products, and the Return of the “Above the Influence” Campaign

The first thing you should know about President Barack Obama’s 2012 Drug Control Strategy report is that it begins and ends with the declaration that the war on drugs is working and will continue apace. 

Obama administration policies have “yielded significant results,” according to the President’s introductory letter, which concludes by saying, “While difficult budget decisions must be made at all levels of government, we must ensure continued support for policies and programs that reduce drug use and its enormous costs to American society.”

The report ends with a familiar refrain: “Legalization of drugs will not be considered in this approach. Making drugs more available and more accessible will not reduce drug use and its adverse consequences for public health and safety. We will continue to educate young
people and all Americans about the science on the harmful health effects of marijuana use.”

The pages in between those two statements contain a broad outline for increased drug enforcement, mandatory rehabilitation programs for people who don’t need or want them, and the return of melodramatic Reefer Madness-style agitprop aimed at teenagers.

The worst policy plans contained in the report are outlined after the jump.

MORE »

The Unsavory Alliance of Big Government and Big Pig

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is a state agency “responsible for the stewardship of Michigan's natural resources and for the provision of outdoor recreational opportunities.” As part of that responsibility, the agency recently issued new guidelines regulating the types of pigs that are permitted within the Wolverine State so as to “stop the spread of feral swine and the disease risk they pose to humans, domestic pigs, and wildlife.”

That doesn't sound so bad, right? Wrong. As Jennifer Fry of the Pacific Legal Foundation reports, the agency's ruling is “so broad that any pig could qualify for destruction, including domestic farm animals.” As Fry writes:

Whether a pig is prohibited or not depends on eight physical characteristics, including the coloration of its bristles, coat coloration, underfur coloration, skeletal appearance, ear structure and “other characteristics not currently known to the [Department] that are identified by the scientific community.”  Rather than clarify the scope of this order, the Department has told individual farmers to bring in pictures of their pigs so the Department can decide, on a case-by-case basis, whether a pig must be destroyed.  And any farmer found to possess a prohibited pig is subject to a felony conviction, two years in jail, and $20,000 in fines.

Mark Baker, an air force veteran and the owner of Bakers Green Acres Farm, filed a lawsuit challenging the Department’s order.  Baker raises specific heritage breeds of hogs which he has chosen because they can withstand Michigan’s cold winters and because they are prized for their reddish-meat and high fat content by chefs and other gourmet food consumers.  Now, because those breeds exhibit characteristics on the Department’s list, his entire operation is likely illegal under Michigan law; he expects the Department to show up at his farm any moment to destroy his animals and his livelihood.  Unsurprisingly, the Michigan Pork Producers Association—an organization whose members do not grow heritage pigs—supports the Department, which has allegedly assured the Association that its members’ operations will be exempt.  It must be nice for large-scale producers who command enough political clout to simply outlaw their competition.  Meanwhile, Mark Baker and other smaller-scale farmers must wait to see where the bureaucratic winds will blow.

Read the full story here. For Reason's coverage of food politics, go here.

Update: Katherine Mangu-Ward writes about the proposed slaughter of Michigan's "fancy pigs" here.

ADA Supporters Should Be Grateful to Ramp Chasers

A surprisingly ambivalent story in today's New York Times describes a legal specialty spawned by the Americans With Disabilities Act: Lawyers look for building features that fall short of the ADA's requirements for places of "public accommodation" such as stores and restaurants, "aggressively recruit plaintiffs from advocacy groups for people with disabilities," and sue the businesses on their behalf, demanding legal fees as well as structural modifications. The business owners settle, agreeing to pay thousands of dollars in fees on top of whatever it costs to fix faulty features such as excessively steep ramps, excessively narrow aisles, and excessively high shelves. The lawyers pocket something like $6,000 per case (according to a defense attorney quoted by the Times), while the plaintiffs, who may never actually patronize the newly compliant businesses, "typically collect $500 for each suit."

The same plaintiff "can be used several times over"; the Times cites Todd Kreisler, a Manhattanite in a wheelchair who "sued 19 businesses over 16 months." In each case he was represented by Ben-Zion Bradley Weitz, who honed his ADA skills in Florida before joining "a small cadre of lawyers" who are "using New York City’s age and architectural quirkiness as the foundation for a flood of lawsuits." The Times estimates that Weitz has raked in "more than $600,000 for the 106 cases he has closed in New York," which is nothing to sneeze at, although it pales beside what big-time litigators can earn from a single class action. The Times nevertheless seems perturbed by these entrepreneurial enforcers. Under the headline "Disabilities Act Prompts Flood of Suits Some Cite as Unfair," it reports that "the practice has set off a debate about whether the lawsuits are a laudable effort, because they force businesses to make physical improvements to comply with the disabilities act, or simply a form of ambulance-chasing, with no one actually having been injured."

Can't they be both? If you accept the ADA's premise, which is that the government should force business owners to bear the cost of making the world more navigable for disabled people, you should be grateful to lawyers like Weitz for helping enforce that rule. More than two decades after the law was passed, Weitz is rooting out violators and making them comply, all at no cost to taxpayers. Critics complain that he and his colleagues sue right away, instead of notifying noncompliant businesses and giving them a chance to address their shortcomings. "Former Representative Mark Foley of Florida regularly introduced legislation to amend the Americans With Disabilities Act to require that business owners receive 90 days notice before being sued," the Times notes, and "similar legislation is pending now." That sort of reform might seem only fair, but it would undermine lawyers' incentive to enforce the law. If you know that your efforts will be rewarded with nothing more than guard rails, lower shelves, or new door handles, why bother? “As a private attorney," one of Weitz's competitors tells the Times, "every lawsuit that I file is to make money, because that's how I make a living. And in that regard, I’m no different than any other private attorney.”

More on the ADA here.

RomneyCare: More Price Controls On the Way?

The Massachusetts health care overhaul signed into law by Mitt Romney is similar to the federal plan signed into law two years ago by President Obama in all the most important ways: Both laws seek to increase health insurance coverage through a combination of insurance subsidies and expanded Medicaid enrollment; both laws contain an individual mandate to purchase coverage; both laws rely on state-run health insurance exchanges to regulate insurers and the types of plans they offer. 

But there are some differences. One notable difference is that the federal overhaul merely gives the Health and Human Services Secretary the power to label rate increases "excessive" and publicize them as such. It's the power to shame insurers rather than to explicitly block or cap their rates. 

Massachusetts, on the other hand, retains the power to reject health insurance rate increases outright should state officials deem the increases excessive. This power became a major issue in 2010 when the state rejected about 90 percent of proposed increases in the individual insurance market, effectively shutting down the market for a brief period of time. 

So as it stands, the Massachusetts health system mandates the purchase of insurance, subsidizes individual insurance buyers, regulates the plans that that insurers can sell, and sweeps low-income individuals into Medicaid, a government-managed plan.

But apparently this isn't enough for at least one state official, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. According to The Boston Globe, Coakley is circulating draft legislation aiming to control the prices that insurers pay to health providers: "Providers and insurers would have to provide detailed price information to patients before they undergo a test or treatment, and the Division of Insurance and Department of Public Health would have new authority to limit the prices and market power of providers under Coakley’s proposal." 

The legislation is still in draft form; Coakley may not get the power she's asking for. But it is notable simply that she wants it, just as it is notable that Democrats initially wanted to give the federal government the power to reject rate hikes rather than merely publicize them. Given the similarities between the two laws, Massachusetts is the best real-world model for what we can expect from the national law. If Coakley is asking for this power now, it's a good prediction that that federal authorities will eventually request similar authority.

Meanwhile, it puts the law's defenders in a bit of an awkward place. Defenders of the Massachusetts health care overhaul continue to insist that it is working, despite rising insurance costs and an unsustainable health spending burden, but also that the system requires still more regulation and oversight. Any remaining problems, apparently, are caused by the few parts of the system they don't yet control. 

Space Shuttle Sent to Museum, SpaceX Launch Set For April 30

The space shuttle Discovery made its final departure from the Kennedy Space Center today, headed for a display at the National Air & Space Museum.

The Discovery is the first of the retired space shuttles to be sent to a museum. The Atlantis returned as NASA’s last space shuttle mission last July, ending a program that began its retirement in 2003 when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere.

President George W. Bush unveiled a “Vision for Space Exploration” that included a moon base and a mission to Mars, but economic reality and a recession hit in and the plans were scrapped by President Obama before the space shuttles they were replacing were.

Today, NASA relies on contracts with private space transport companies like SpaceX to get to the International Space Station (on which federal money's been spent since the Reagan Administration). SpaceX will launch NASA’s first mission to the space station on April 30, and has more than $2 billion in NASA contracts.

But because government spending goes up even when it’s not doing anything, NASA’s budget continues to rise. It spent $2.6 billion more in 2011 than 2004 despite the scaled back ambitions. No matter how trivial NASA’s mission becomes, it’ll find a way to keep spending more money. And for all the romanticizing about NASA’s Apollo program, spending on NASA hit 5% of the federal budget in 1965 and astronauts never came back anywhere close to the moon since Apollo 17, almost forty years ago.

Could human space exploration flourish best without government intervention? Reason’s February issue is all about it.