Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 April 29-31

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Huffington Post Reporter Asks Eric Holder Why Obama Was Less Than Truthful to Rolling Stone About Marijuana Laws

It turns out Attorney General Eric Holder attended the White House Correspondents' dinner after all. Stranger still, while there Holder answered a question from the Huffington Post about President Obama's less-than-truthful comment on his supposed inability to stop the Department of Justice from cracking down on medical marijuana suppliers.

Maybe the Huffington Post deserved that Pulitzer! (Well, except for the fact that Holder was their guest for the evening which is problematic). But here's the passage from HuffPo on the Rolling Stone interview which Mike Riggs delightfully skewered for its general softball quality, last week. One of the few real questions that the magazine managed to ask, however, was hey, what's the deal with this continued drug war thing? Well:

Speaking with Rolling Stone, the president tried to explain his original comments, claiming that the recent pressure on dispensaries and providers was in line with his intent.

"What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana," Obama said. "I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana -- and the reason is, because it's against federal law."

The president continued: "I can't nullify congressional law. I can't ask the Justice Department to say, 'Ignore completely a federal law that's on the books.' What I can say is, 'Use your prosecutorial discretion and properly prioritize your resources to go after things that are really doing folks damage.' As a consequence, there haven't been prosecutions of users of marijuana for medical purposes."

Jacob Sullum had some words for the president last week as well, namely "Obama is full of shit. During his campaign, it is true, he often referred to medical marijuana users. But he also promised to leave suppliers alone."

But here's Huffpost managing to actually ask about the president's evasions on the issue:

[A] HuffPost reporter noted to Holder that Obama's reference to "congressional law" was misleading because the executive branch could simply remove marijuana from its "schedule one" designation, thereby recognizing its medical use.

"That's right," Holder said.

After Kimmel's speech, a Holder deputy told HuffPost that there was no coordinated war on medical marijuana, but that some individual clinics were breaking both state and federal laws.

Just Say Now's blog at FireDogLake adds:

It is very important that Attorney General Holder himself admits that Obama’s “can’t nullify Congressional law” statement is completely misleading, because the relevant section of the Controlled Substance Actspecifically gives him, the Attorney General, the power to implement a process to reschedule cannabis administratively.

Even Obama’s Attorney General admits there is nothing forcing the administration to wage a war on medical marijuana and nothing stopping the administration from making medical marijuana legal under federal law. This is an active choice the administration is making.

It certainly is. But Holder, it seems, was out that evening just "to have fun." It was nice of him to pause and admit that his boss is indeed full of shit. Hopefully both of them enjoyed Jimmy Kimmel's stand-up.

Mike Riggs on the Obama administration's same old, same old plans for fighting the let's-not-call-it-war-on-drugs.

Ron Paul vs. Paul Krugman on Bloomberg TV

Ron Paul - "Governments aren't supposed to run the economy, people are supposed to run the economy."

Paul Krugman - "I'm a believer in capitalism."

It was Paul versus Paul on inflation, government spending and the role of the Fed on Bloomberg TV ealier today.

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Does the First Amendment Cover the Right to “Like” Something on Facebook?

The answer to that question is no, at least according to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virgina, which has ruled that Facebook "likes" do not count as constitutionally protected forms of speech. From the opinion in Bland v. Roberts:

[Previous First Amendment rulings] differ markedly from the case at hand in one crucial way: Both [precedents] involved actual statements. No such statements exist in this case. Simply liking a Facebook page is insufficient. It is not the kind of substantive statement that has previously warranted constitutional protection. The Court will not attempt to infer the actual content of Carter’s posts from one click of a button on Adams’ Facebook page. For the Court to assume that the Plaintiffs made some specific statement without evidence of such statements is improper. Facebook posts can be considered matters of public concern; however, the Court does not believe Plaintiffs Carter and McCoy have alleged sufficient speech to garner First Amendment protection.

At the Volokh Conspiracy, UCLA law professor Eugence Volokh argues that the decision is just flat out wrong:

A Facebook “like” is a means of conveying a message of support for the thing you’re liking. That’s the whole point of the “like” button; that’s what people intend by clicking “like,” and that’s what viewers will perceive. Moreover, the allegation is that the employees were fired precisely because the Sheriff disapproved of the message the “like” conveyed. I would treat “liking” as verbal expression — though it takes just one mouse-click, it publishes to the world text that says that you like something. But even if it’s just treated as symbolic expression, it is still constitutionally protected, as cases such as Texas v. Johnson (1989) (the flag-burning case) show.

Read Volokh’s full analysis of the decision here.

Education Expert Michelle Rhee Criticized for Speaking at Education-Related Conference

In June, former D.C. school chief Michelle Rhee will speak at a conference of for-profit colleges in Las Vegas.

There are a lot of perfectly good reasons to talk smack about the record of for-profit schools—many suffer from low graduation rates and high debt burdens, nearly all are powered by billions of taxpayer dollars.

But the Washington Monthly has gone into full panty-bunching red alert over former public official and current head of an advocacy organization accepting a speaking gig. The thrust of the argument seems to be that this is the smoking gun we have all been waiting for: Rhee, an education reformer, is willing take money to tell a bunch of other people who work in the same industry what she thinks. Which is this, by the way:

I plan to tell the for-profit colleges that they need to do a better job of making sure their students are getting a good education, are graduating with meaningful degrees, and are able to do so without being saddled with unreasonable debt.

But the problems aren't just academic. Some of these schools seem to be engaged in downright malicious behavior, cravenly taking advantage of students trying to get a better education and a better job. An investigation by the Government Accountability Office in 2010 looked into recruiting practices at 15 for-profit colleges and found outright cases of fraud at four. Moreover, they found that officials at every single one of the colleges investigated lied or misrepresented the programs offered in order to convince students to enroll. That's wrong, and I plan to tell them so. These schools need to focus on getting the best outcomes for their students -- the people relying on and trusting these schools to provide a high-quality education.

And here's the supposed gotcha, summed up by David Halperin:

“She staked her career on the concept of shutting down underperforming, bad schools,” Halperin writes. “And now she will address a room full of them.”

She has spent her career addressing rooms full of underperforming bad schools—most of them in her jurisdiction in D.C.—because she had some (good) ideas about how to make them better. The same will presumably be true in Vegas.

More me on Rhee.

The National Institute for Drug Abuse Is Working on a Serum That Will Make it Impossible to Get High

Last night's 60 Minutes featured an extensive interview with Nora Volkow, director of the National institute for Drug Abuse and Leon Trotsky's great granddaughter. The bulk of the segment is about how addiction is awful and how sad it was when Trotsky was murdered by Stalin's hit men. Toward the end of the segment, however, 60 Minutes got Volkow to talk about her end game: 

Narrator: Doctors did what they could, but Trotsky died a day later. He's buried in the family garden. Esteban Volkow went on to become a chemist who helped develop the birth control pill. Nora Volkow was born 15 years after Trotsky's death. Addicted, since childhood, to the pursuit of science.

Natalia Volkow: I think yes, we all have this sense of public service, social consciousness, responsibility towards not only yourself as individual, but for your society.

Narrator: The road from the house of ghosts in Mexico has taken Nora Volkow to a place of influence in Washington. She starts each day with a seven-mile run, getting a healthy dose of dopamine. And looking forward down the road, she sees a day when science might banish the curse of addiction.

Nora Volkow: A cure would be fantastic. And that means you get a medication like an antibiotic. I cure you.

Narrator: Volkow's labs and others around the country are working to develop vaccines to block drugs from entering the brain. The complexities are enormous, and progress is slow.

Nora Volkow: We're not there yet. But perhaps one day we may be. And in my brain, if you don't dare to think very ambitious things, you'll never be there.

End scene. 

Ira Stoll on the Biggest Secret Service Scandal

Congressman Pete King, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, calls the scandal involving prostitutes in Colombia “the worst moment in the history of the Secret Service.” He’s wrong about that, writes Ira Stoll. The worst moment in the history of the Secret Service was November 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was shot and killed. It was the first and only time since the Secret Service was put fully in charge of protecting the president in 1902 that a president was assassinated.

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Obama Touts Green Credentials, U.S. and China Squabble Over Activist, Cops Oppose NH Pot Bill: P.M. Links

  • With campaign season heating up, the Obama team is touting his administration's support for environmental regulations as a selling point — though unions may not be buying.
  • The fate of a blind human rights activist in China has taken on international scope and could have implications for U.S.-Chinese relations.
  • Medical marijuana may have won a veto-proof majority in New Hampshire's House and is close to winning in the Senate, but law enforcement is leaning on Governor John Lynch to kill the buzz.
  • Should he win the Libertarian presidential nomination, Gary Johnson's pick for running mate is drug-war critic Judge Jim Gray.
  • Hankering for paella? Grab it before the europocalypse as Spain slips into recession and continental banks shrivel.
  • A man imprisoned since being convicted in 1996 of rape and murder is poised to regain his freedom because of DNA evidence exonerating him.
  • Documents reveal that Google's scooping of personal data through open wireless networks was the idea of one engineer, but at least some company officials were aware of the practice.

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This Just in: Successful Company Chooses to Legally Maximize Profit Rather Than Reward High-Tax Jurisdictions

The New York Times over the weekend had a big blowout story titled "How Apple Sidesteps Billions in Taxes." Since the newspaper-journalism tradition is to lead with your strongest stuff, I'll excerpt the first four paragraphs:

RENO, Nev. — Apple, the world's most profitable technology company, doesn't design iPhones here. It doesn't run AppleCare customer service from this city. And it doesn't manufacture MacBooks or iPads anywhere nearby.

Yet, with a handful of employees in a small office here in Reno, Apple has done something central to its corporate strategy: it has avoided millions of dollars in taxes in California and 20 other states.

Apple's headquarters are in Cupertino, Calif. By putting an office in Reno, just 200 miles away, to collect and invest the company's profits, Apple sidesteps state income taxes on some of those gains.

California's corporate tax rate is 8.84 percent. Nevada's? Zero.

Why, the next thing you know, The Times will be ripping the lid off the fact that many businesses incorporate in Delaware....

Incorporating in Nevada is a time-honored way for heavily taxed Californians to avoid the long arm of Sacramento. I remember hearing earfuls about the process a decade ago at a D.I.Y. convention for indie musicians in Hollywood, but you won't see Silver Lake rocker trash (who, unlike Apple, will never hire an employee in Nevada) on the front page of The New York Times any time soon, on account of not sitting on a $74 billion offshore warchest.

I recommend reading the full article, whether it's because you enjoy tracing the complexities of international softwware tax and trade, or simply because you're a fan of unintentionally hilarious to-be-sure sentences. Such as:

* Almost every major corporation tries to minimize its taxes, of course.

* Apple, of course, is not responsible for the state's financial shortfall, which has numerous causes.

There is some scandalous Apple behavior in the story, although it's barely presented as such. Namely, the company has begged, wheedled, and strongarmed politicians for various tax credits, holidays, and the usual corporate welfare BS. Which is presented not as bad policy (which it is), but rather yet another reason why not volunteering to pay more taxes in California is disloyal and totally unfair to community colleges:

But some in California are unhappy that Apple and other California-based companies have moved financial operations to tax-free states — particularly since lawmakers have offered them tax breaks to keep them in the state.

In 1996, 1999 and 2000, for instance, the California Legislature increased the state’s research and development tax credit, permitting hundreds of companies, including Apple, to avoid billions in state taxes, according to legislative analysts.

Your bonus moment of zen:

And while the company has remade industries, ignited economic growth and delighted customers, it has also devised corporate strategies that take advantage of gaps in the tax code, according to former executives who helped create those strategies.

Will paradoxes never cease!

Here's an idea: Stop giving tax breaks to special pleaders, stop spending money you don't have, use the money saved to drastically simplify the tax code and lower rates, then see where that leaves you. Nah, screw it–let's just blame the world's most successful companies for the country's biggest basketcase of a state:

"When it comes time for all these companies — Google and Apple and Facebook and the rest — to pay their fair share, there's a knee-jerk resistance," [said Brian Murphy, president of nearby De Anza College]. "They're philosophically antitax, and it's decimating the state."

Why Is the Center for American Progress Enabling Obama's Drug War Lies?

Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske will speak at the Center for American Progress for an hour tomorrow morning about President Barack Obama’s awful drug control strategy. Here’s how CAP is advertising the event:

Forty years after President Richard Nixon first declared that drug abuse was "public enemy number one," the Obama administration has announced an end to the so-called "war on drugs" approach to drug policy. Recognizing that America will never be able to arrest its way out of the drug problem, the administration's newly announced drug policy strategy shifts away from a law enforcement only approach to a drug policy recognizing that America's drug problem is a public health issue—not just a criminal one. It outlines significant reforms aimed at treating drug addiction as a chronic disease instead of a “moral” failure.

Even though overall drug use is down, and the U.S. prison population declined for the first time in 40 years, more than 7 million people remain under the supervision of the criminal justice system. Of these, more than 2 million are behind bars. Making matters worse, drug-induced deaths now claim more lives than gun violence, and prescription drug abuse has been declared an epidemic. Will these reforms really break the vicious cycle of drug use, crime, incarceration, and rearrest in America?

Members of the Obama administration have been saying the same thing since 2009, when Kerlikowske first told the Wall Street Journal that the “war on drugs” was over: 

"Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a 'war on drugs' or a 'war on a product,' people see a war as a war on them," he said. "We're not at war with people in this country."

Mr. Kerlikowske's comments are a signal that the Obama administration is set to follow a more moderate—and likely more controversial—stance on the nation's drug problems. Prior administrations talked about pushing treatment and reducing demand while continuing to focus primarily on a tough criminal-justice approach.

Three years later, the most controversial thing about Obama’s drug policy is that it’s no different than that of George W. Bush.


Health Care Remains a Liability for Democrats. Thanks to Romney, It May Be a Liability for the GOP Too.

In recent weeks, a number of prominent Democratic politicians have said openly what should have been obvious all along: Passing the 2010 health care overhaul was not generally a winning political move for Democrats. 

Most will say only that President Obama should have let the party focus on the economy first before getting to health care. But it's clear enough that a number of folks with Ds after their names now recognize that the party's electoral fortunes have suffered as a result of the law.

Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, for example, told New York magazine that Democrats "paid a terrible price" for passing ObamaCare. North Carolina Rep. Brad Miller told The Hill that "we would all have been better off — President Obama politically, Democrats in Congress politically, and the nation would have been better off — if we had dealt first with the financial system and the other related economic issues and then come back to healthcare." And Virginia Sen. Jim Webb said he expected that the law would prove to be the "biggest downside" for the party in this year's elections. 

Given the not-so-hot polling on the law, this should be fairly uncontroversial. Since the law's passage, opinion surveys have consistently shown more opposition than support. And when a team of political scientists recently sought to quantify the law's effect on the 2010 elections, they found that the law's negative impact might well have been so large that it cost Democrats control of the House

But not all of the party's supporters are convinced that the law will continue to be a drag at the polls. Last week, The Washington Post's Greg Sargent pointed to a piece by Ipsos polling director Clifford Young attempting to complicate the argument against the law. In a post titled "Despite ObamaCare's unpopularity, health care may still be winning issue for Dems," Sargent summarizes Young's piece: 

Young points to Ipsos numbers that find the individual provisions in the law still remain overwhelmingly popular. The upshot is that nine of the bill’s major provisions — from the ban on discrimination against people with preexisting conditions, to the creation of insurance exchanges, to the extension of insurance to young adults up to the age of 26 — are supported by anywhere from 67 percent to 87 percent of Americans.

This is not a new phenomenon. In the months prior to the law's passage, pollsters found broad public support for several of the law's specific provisions, especially the preexisting condition regulations, as well as deep opposition to the mandate and the overall price tag. But they didn't find majority public support for the law. And they haven't since. There's no particular reason to believe that support for a few parts of ObamaCare will finally translate into an advantage for President Obama and the Democrats this November should the Supreme Court let it stand. 

Still, even if the Court upholds the law, ObamaCare might not be as much of a weakness for Democrats as it was in the midterm election. That's not because of anything Democrats did. Instead, it's because of Republicans—and one Republican in specific: Mitt Romney.

Sargent argues that Romney's insistence on repealing ObamaCare, including the popular parts, might make public support for some of its specific provisions more salient. But House Republicans successfully ran on a campaign to repeal the entire law in 2010. And Romney, who says he wants to take down the entire law, will be the candidate whose (current) position most closely matches the largest segment of the public

No, Romney's problem isn't that he says he wants to repeal ObamaCare. It's that he supported, and continues to support, something very much like it. Because Romney passed, bragged about, and continues to defend the 2006 Massachusetts health care overhaul that served as the mdoel for ObamaCare, the GOP nominee may have a difficult time taking full advantage of President Obama's weakness on the issue. Romney will have a difficult time hitting President Obama too hard on the specific details of the legislation (the mandate in particular) when the health care overhaul bearing Romney's name did essentially the same thing at the state level. 

Ron Paul vs. Paul Krugman Cage Match on Bloomberg TV!

True story: Austrian-econ champeen Dr. No will square off mano-a-mano against Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman, the doctor, at 4 PM today on Bloomberg TV. You can see the stream here, and consider this your open thread.

Reason on Ron Paul here, Paul Krugman here.

Cartagena "Scandal" Revives Discussion of Legal Prostitution

The Secret Service agents and military personnel who went junketing in Cartagena just before the Summit of the Americas may not have done their careers any good, but their hijinks did breathe new life into the debate over legalizing prostitution. You'd think that bans on an industry that combines two legal and popular activities — sex and commerce — in an eternally lucrative way would be subject to frequent discussion. But it seems to take provocative headlines to get the exchanges going, though some former federal employees may be less than thrilled at their conversation-starter status.

It's not like commercialized sex is difficult to find; it can even, sometimes, seem challenging to avoid. Years ago, a tabloid weekly in Flagstaff ran an advertisement for an escort service in which the digits of the phone number were transposed, directing callers to my number until the next issue. It was apparently a very popular service. I amused myself for several days by reciting a litany of improbable services and providers into the receiver.

Whether I did the escort service's reputation good or harm is something I'll never know.

Despite its enthusiastic clientele, though, prostitution is only partially legal in parts of one U.S. state: Nevada. (Though Rhode Island deserves a special shout-out for accidentally legalizing the trade and keeping it that way for 29 years, only to engage in a hysterical rush to re-outlaw commercial sex in 2009.) And there's relatively little debate over prohibition and its costs in terms of liberty, money and corruption of law-enforcement.

Except for rare moments like now, when the conversation is forcibly reopened. Acknowledging the currency of the issue, Reuters ran a brief piece simply noting, "[w]hether the U.S. should legalize prostitution is a question without a clear answer. But with this latest Secret Service scandal, it's sure to be a hotly debated topic."

Hotly debated at places like the New York Times, that is, which actually ran a multi-participant debate over the issue, giving proponents and opponents of legalization an opportunity to make their cases in front of a large audience.

In that debate, Chika Unigwe, author of On Black Sisters Street, made the hard-to-contradict argument that "[c]riminalizing prostitution does not eradicate it. It drives it underground, putting the women at risk and giving customers an unfair advantage. ... Women who work legally enjoy huge benefits: better access to health care, protection from violent customers and protection from exploitation."

Barbara G. Brents, a sociology professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, defended her home state's heavily regulated approach, saying "In legal brothels, employees report that they feel safe, are free to come and go, and are bound only by their contract. Of the brothel workers we surveyed, 84 per cent said that their job felt safe. Workers report that they felt safe largely because the police, employers and co-workers were there to protect them."

Over at NPR, Scott Simon is more dubious and overtly provincial. He wonders "Why were world leaders meeting in a place with legalized prostitution?"

Because ... international gatherings should be held only in places that duplicate the legal prohibitions of the United States? Clearly, Simon is uncomfortable with the new discussion over prostitution's legal status, but can't quite refrain from jumping in.

There was no squeamishness at CNN, where Ronald Weitzer, a professor of sociology at George Washington University, pimps legalized commercial sex and his own book on the subject with equal gusto (and why not?):

In my book, I advocate about 30 “best practices” that I think should be taken into account by any nation considering legalizing prostitution. The first step, I write, is that “consensual adult prostitution be officially recognized as work and that participants be accorded the rights and protections available to those involved in other occupations.” ...

... While positive outcomes are by no means automatic or guaranteed, I find that legal, well-regulated prostitution can be superior to blanket criminalization.

There's no sign yet of a groundswell of support for legalizing the sex trade. No surprise there; a nation that can barely bring itself to discuss legalizing marijuana despite 50% support for the idea probably isn't quite ready for above-board commercialized copulation. But resuming the conversation is a first step.

U.S. Underreporting Afghan Attacks on Coalition Forces

With tentative plans to semi-withdraw in 2014, attacks on coalition troops by the Afghan security forces to whom the U.S. and NATO are transferring responsibility is not a good look. According to a NATO spokesman, there were 11 attacks by Afghan soldiers resulting in 18 deaths this year, 20% of NATO fatalities so far. A classified military study showed a 6% rate between May 2007 and May 2011. But now the Associated Press reports:

The U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan is under-reporting the number of times that Afghan soldiers and police open fire on American and other foreign troops. The coalition routinely reports attacks in which a coalition soldier is killed by an Afghan in uniform. But it does not report the instances in which an Afghan wounds U.S. or NATO troops or misses his target.

The Washington Post rounded up major incidents of attacks on coalition troops by Afghan security forces over the last few years. Read Reason’s Sheldon Richman on the brainwashing involved in the Afghanistan War by our Peace Prize winning President here. Screenshot from a 2010 Al-Jazeera report on the ability of the Afghan security forces.

Reason Writers on MSNBC: Matt Welch Talks Obama's Bin Laden-Killing Politics on Jansing & Co.

This morning I went on Jansing & Co. to discuss the Obama-vs.-Romney politics of killing Osama bin Laden. Thirteen-plus minutes; the second of my two comments is near the end:

Reason.tv: Author David Brin on Dogmatic Libertarians, Transparency, and Uplifting Dolphins

"The issue should not be government. It should not be unlimited and unalloyed idolatry of personal property, which is the path that the libertarian movement has gone down," says David Brin, a science fiction writer and self-identified "heretical libertarian."

Brin sat down with Reason.tv's Tim Cavanaugh to discuss his recent critiques of the libertarian movement, which he believes is being pushed in the wrong direction by dogmatic followers of Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard.

"Libertarians need to be reminded that, across 6,000 years, the greatest enemy of free enterprise, of market enterprise, innovation, creative competition... have always been oligarchs," says Brin.

Brin also discussed the themes of his prescient book, The Transparent Society, which, among other things, predicted a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center before it happened. The interview wraps up with a discussion of the ethics of Brin's Uplift series, which imagines a future in which humans have enhanced the minds and bodies of dolphins and made them equal citizens of society.

About 10 minutes. Interview by Tim Cavanaugh. Shot by Zach Weissmueller, Paul Detrick, and Sharif Matar. Edited by Weissmueller.

Visit http://reason.tv for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube channel to receive automatic notifications when new material goes live.   

Jacob Sullum on How New Surveillance Technologies Threaten Privacy

“If you win this case,” Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer told the Obama administration’s lawyer during oral argument in U.S. v. Jones last fall, “there is nothing to prevent the police or the government from monitoring 24 hours a day the public movement of every citizen of the United States.” That prospect, Breyer said, “sounds like 1984.”

Fortunately, the government did not win the case, writes Senior Editor Jacob Sullum. But the Court’s unanimous decision, announced in January, may not delay Breyer’s 1984 scenario for long. Unless the Court moves more boldly to restrain government use of new surveillance technologies, the Framers’ notion of a private sphere protected from “unreasonable searches and seizures” will become increasingly quaint.

View this article

British Army Deploying Surface to Air Missiles on Residential Rooftops for London Olympics

The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense warned residents it would be placing high velocity surface to air missiles on rooftops in a gated community near the site of the 2012 London Olympics.

Residents received leaflets telling them a team of soldiers and police will be deployed in the flats during during the London Olympics, and that the missiles on the roof top would only be used as a “last resort.”

The London Telegraph reports:

It was unclear who was responsible for liaising with the residents, but it is understood the MoD and the Metropolitan Police were working together with community groups over the issue. It was also unclear if the building's owners would be paid to have the missiles stationed on the roof - or whether the decision was made under the Emergency Powers Act. An MoD spokesman said: "As announced before Christmas, ground-based air defence systems could be deployed as part of a multi-layered air security plan for the Olympics, including fast jets and helicopters, which will protect the skies over London during the Games.

The United States last hosted the Olympics in 2002, in Salt Lake City, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and has not won a bid after 9/11. Since then, along with the gradual militarization of domestic police, sporting events have become security theater affairs, with this year’s Super Bowl including toxin monitors, F-16s and robots.

At least we have the Third Amendment, right?

Updated (4.30pm)!: Feds, Dems Lead Way in Creating More Student Loan Defaults Via Paperwork Screwups

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds, who has been covering the higher education bubble like nobody's business, has a sharp op-ed in the New York Post on student loan woes. Take a look:

Back when Democrats ran Congress, the president engineered a federal takeover of student-loan processing. Now the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that this is producing huge paperwork screwups that have thrown thousands of borrowers into default, more than doubling the number of defaulters since December....

And Reynolds offers up a way to bring some sanity to a system that gives reduced-price money to colleges (not students!):

Let’s give colleges some “skin in the game” by making them absorb the loss, or at least part of it, if students can’t pay. Perhaps if students can’t pay their loans by 10 years after graduation, they should be allowed to discharge them in bankruptcy, with the institutions that got the loan money on the hook for, say, 20 percent of the loss.

You fix a malfunctioning credit system by ensuring that the people who can control the risks are the ones who face a loss if things go wrong. Obama’s interest-rate “fix” does nothing like that. It just pumps more hot air into the bubble.

More here.

My one objection to Reynold's op-ed - and it's an objection to a lot of college talk - is the need to constantly bash supposedly non-utilitarian majors such as English, gender studies, and the like. You know, "the humanities," as in, oh what a waste of time. As a proud English major (surrounded by a bunch of them at Reason, by the way), I'll save a full-throated defense of my major for another post. Let me just suggest that majoring in literary and cultural studies wasn't just interesting in and of itself, it helped equip me with a series of analytic and expressive tools that have helped me support myself since I was 18. And as my older son gets ready to start college in the fall, I'm hoping he picks a course of study that is first and foremost interesting to him.

As Reynolds writes at one point:

“College” isn’t an undifferentiated product. Some degrees — say in Electrical Engineering — increase earnings dramatically. Others — in, say, gender studies — not so much. A rational lender would be much more willing to finance the former than the latter.

Of course college isn't an undifferentiated product. And college students aren't all the same either. To avoid making bad bets, or charging differential rates based on likelihood of ability to repay a loan in full, schools, banks, governments would be wiser still to consider individual students based on something other than major, wouldn't they? An engineering school dropout will be more costly to them than a gender studies phenom who finishes and gets a job, right? Given that an engineering degree is likely to be worth more in terms of starting salary, from a pure market perspective, wouldn't it make sense to charge prospective engineers more to borrow, since they would likely be willing to spend more for college, knowing they can make more down the road?

To even raise any of these questions is to invite a deluge of related queries: How many people know their major when they apply to college anyway? And what is the function of loans in the first place - not to mention college more broadly? If it is to do something that can be easily replicated in the workplace - say, training engineers or software programmers - why aren't we pushing businesses to actually pay for the selection and training of their workforce? It's bad enough that the NBA and NFL get to cost much of their scouting programs onto taxpayers via college sportss. Why should IBM or ATT or Procter & Gamble or Cargill get to do the same? Why should taxpayers, whether through state-assisted universities or student loan and grant programs, shoulder a burden that rightly belongs not simply to the private sector but to private businesses? If anything, a stronger case (though still a weak one, in my opinion) exists for state-assisted colleges dedicated to intellectual research and disciplines that have no obvious cognate in the business world. If college is simply a high-cost vocational school (or a high-cost signaling device for prospective employers), there is simply no good goddamn reason any tax dollars should support it.

A note on the graphic above: This is taken from the recent study "Hard Times," by some Georgetown researchers and charts unemployment rate by college major. The band listed for each major has three parts. Light green represents a "recent college graduate," which is defined as folks 22-26 years of age; the bluish-green band covers "experienced college graduates" (30-54 years of age); and the olive drab covers people who hold advanced degrees in a subject area. For example, architecture, which routinely tops lists of unemployed majors, has a 13.9 percent unemployment rate for recent grads, 9.2 percent for experienced grads, and 7.7 percent for graduate degree holders. The "Hard Times" study breaks down a lot of data in a lot of different ways and is online here.

Last week, I asked whether new student borrowers should be charged less than older ones.

Update: Glenn Reynolds responds. Here's part of that:

The problem with the humanities isn’t an inherent one — you could even teach a stimulating and intellectually rich course on the Occupy Movement — but has to do with execution, and here’s where the comparison with STEM comes in. Very few people complete a math or engineering major without learning a lot of math and engineering, but it’s entirely possible to major in the humanities and never learn to read, write, or reason with any rigor. The problem isn’t inherent to the subject matter, it’s a symptom of professorial self-indulgence and laziness, together with the lack of external scrutiny, a problem that is much, much worse in humanities than in STEM.

As the higher education bubble bursts, we’ll see a lot more of that scrutiny, and I expect things will improve — though not without a lot of squawking from those whose rice bowls get dinged along the way.

Read his whole reply here.

The FBI: Making Sure We Don't Need to Import Terror From Overseas

...when we can just make it here ourselves! David K. Shipler, author of Rights at Risk, explains the FBI's terror strategy in the New York Times:

THE United States has been narrowly saved from lethal terrorist plots in recent years — or so it has seemed. A would-be suicide bomber was intercepted on his way to the Capitol; a scheme to bomb synagogues and shoot Stinger missiles at military aircraft was developed by men in Newburgh, N.Y.; and a fanciful idea to fly explosive-laden model planes into the Pentagon and the Capitol was hatched in Massachusetts.

But all these dramas were facilitated by the F.B.I., whose undercover agents and informers posed as terrorists offering a dummy missile, fake C-4 explosives, a disarmed suicide vest and rudimentary training. Suspects naïvely played their parts until they were arrested..... 

Without the F.B.I., would the culprits commit violence on their own? Is cultivating potential terrorists the best use of the manpower designed to find the real ones? Judging by their official answers, the F.B.I. and the Justice Department are sure of themselves — too sure, perhaps.

Carefully orchestrated sting operations usually hold up in court. Defendants invariably claim entrapment and almost always lose, because the law requires that they show no predisposition to commit the crime, even when induced by government agents. To underscore their predisposition, many suspects are “warned about the seriousness of their plots and given opportunities to back out,” said Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman. But not always, recorded conversations show. Sometimes they are coaxed to continue.

Undercover operations, long practiced by the F.B.I., have become a mainstay of counterterrorism, and they have changed in response to the post-9/11 focus on prevention. “Prior to 9/11 it would be very unusual for the F.B.I. to present a crime opportunity that wasn’t in the scope of the activities that a person was already involved in,” said Mike German of the American Civil Liberties Union, a lawyer and former F.B.I. agent who infiltrated white supremacist groups. An alleged drug dealer would be set up to sell drugs to an undercover agent, an arms trafficker to sell weapons. That still happens routinely, but less so in counterterrorism, and for good reason.

“There isn’t a business of terrorism in the United States, thank God,” a former federal prosecutor, David Raskin, explained.

Indeed, mostly not. Shipler's piece goes on to detail the sketchiness of the actual terror intentions of James Cromitie, the guy alleged to want to blow up synagogues and shoot stinger missiles:

Reading hundreds of pages of transcripts of the recorded conversations is like looking at the inkblots of a Rorschach test. Patterns of willingness and hesitation overlap and merge. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” Mr. Cromitie said, and then explained that he meant women and children. “I don’t care if it’s a whole synagogue of men.” It took 11 months of meandering discussion and a promise of $250,000 to lead him, with three co-conspirators he recruited, to plant fake bombs at two Riverdale synagogues.

“Only the government could have made a ‘terrorist’ out of Mr. Cromitie, whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in its scope,” said Judge Colleen McMahon, sentencing him to 25 years. She branded it a “fantasy terror operation” but called his attempt “beyond despicable” and rejected his claim of entrapment.

The judge’s statement was unusual, but Mr. Cromitie’s characteristics were not. His incompetence and ambivalence could be found among other aspiring terrorists whose grandiose plans were nurtured by law enforcement....

I asked "Where's the Terror?" back on the 5th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and have returned to the issue of FBI-created terror since here and here.

What the Data Actually Say About Illegal Immigration

Mark Bernstein profiles Douglas Massey, the founder and co-director of Princeton's Mexican Migration Project—"a unique database," Bernstein writes, "of ethnographic information about border crossing: who migrates, where they come from, where they go, and how that has changed over time." From that data, Massey concludes that

Yeah, but what percentage of the migrants are RIFF RAFF? Answer THAT, Mr. Fancy Pants Professor.• We are not being flooded with illegal Mexican migrants. The total number of migrants from Mexico has varied very little since the 1950s. The massive influx many have written about never happened.

• Net illegal migration has stopped almost completely.

• Illegal migration has not stopped because of stricter border enforcement, which Massey characterizes as a waste of money at best and counterproductive at worst.

• There are indeed more undocumented Mexicans living in the United States than there were 20 years ago, but that is because fewer migrants are returning home -- not because more are sneaking into the country.

• And the reason that fewer Mexican citizens are returning home is because we have stepped up border enforcement so dramatically.

Mull over that last point for a minute. If Congress had done nothing to secure the border over the last two decades -- if it had just left the border alone — there might be as many as 2 million fewer Mexicans living in the United States today, Massey believes.

Here's why:

How nice of the U.S. government to provide me with an obstacle course.What heightened border enforcement did, Massey says, was shift the problem. Unable to cross where they traditionally had -- into California and Texas -- Mexican migrants instead found new places to cross, particularly making the dangerous Sonoran Desert crossing into Arizona. If they succeeded, they then moved on to other states. Arizonans who complained during the 1990s and early 2000s about a surge in illegal migration were not imagining things. But it was the American government, Massey says, that unwittingly had channeled the flow of migrants into their backyard.

Mexicans had been crossing the Rio Grande ever since it was a border, but migration traditionally was seasonal and cyclical. Young men would head to El Norte in search of agricultural or construction work, earn money, and then return home. But when it became too risky and too expensive to migrate seasonally, migrants simply chose to stay in the United States. Because they no longer were returning home regularly, they could look for work farther from the border. They also settled down and had families, which made them even less likely to leave.

While the recession has essentially ended net illegal immigration into the United States, legal migration has picked up: "In 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available, a record 516,000 Mexican citizens entered the United States with legal visas." I'm glad to hear that the feds are granting visas to more people. I'd be gladder if the same government weren't simultaneously engaged in a harsh and pointless crackdown on border-crossers.

Elsewhere in Reason: Massey is cited frequently in our pages.

Louisiana Also Looking Good for Ron Paul

Ron Paul people kept telling us that the apparent results of the straw polls in caucus states where some or all of the delegates are not bound by the results of those votes were meaningless, and Paul's likely victories (that is, capturing a majority of the actual delegate votes in Tampa) in Iowa and Minnesota were early signs of this.

The New Orleans Times Picayune reports over the weekend on great Paul progress moving up the chain of delegate selection in Louisiana, where Paul dominated in picking delegates to go to the state convention (which will select who goes to the national one):

Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, dominated the Louisiana Republican caucuses held Saturday. The results guarantee he will have a strong presence in the state's delegation to the Republican National Convention in August...

While the presidential preferences of the delegates were not identified on the caucus ballots, delegates who back the libertarian congressman, who is now the only one of Mitt Romney's adversaries still standing, won the lion's share of the contests, carrying the 1st, 2nd, 5th and 6th Congressional Districts.

As a result, under party rules, Paul is guaranteed at least 17 of the 46 delegates to the convention....

The delegates elected Saturday will go to a state convention June 2 in Shreveport, where they will choose the delegates who will go to the national gathering in Tampa.

Based on his victory in the state's March 24 primary, Santorum is guaranteed 10 pledged delegates, and Romney, who finished second, is guaranteed five.

The balance of the 46-member delegation will include at least 17 Ron Paul delegates; at least one other Romney delegate in the person of National Committeewoman Ruth Ulrich, who just endorsed him; and the rest uncommitted.....

A look at the Paul fan strategies, and how much it annoys the GOP establishment:

Ron Paul supporters distributed "voter guides" at caucus sites that steered voters to choose one of six virtually identical slates of Paul supporters that the guide variously characterized as the right choice for backers of Paul, Romney, Santorum, Newt Gingrich, the Tea Party, "Citizens Against Traffic Cameras" and defenders of faith, family and freedom.....

While congratulating the Paul campaign "for apparently capturing their first state delegation in this presidential election cycle through an excellent get-out-the-vote effort today," Sarah Roy, chairwoman of the Greater New Orleans Republicans, characterized it as an "odd and undemocratic result" that would embarrass and distract both Romney and Gov. Bobby Jindal.

"The result of this ill-conceived and confusing caucus clearly does not represent the will of the vast majority of Louisiana Republican voters, as Ron Paul recently received only 6 percent of the vote in the Louisiana presidential primary," said Roy, who on behalf of her organization called for the state party's leaders to resign for designing Saturday's "debacle."

The Paul campaign's own press release on the Louisiana results so far:

Preliminary results from the Louisiana Republican Party indicate that Ron Paul supporters won majorities in Congressional Districts 1, 2, 5, and 6, with a narrow decision having occurred in District 4.  This means Ron Paul supporters won about four and a half of the six Congressional District caucus conventions held yesterday.

In each CD the top 25 delegates will go to the state convention on June 2nd in Shreveport.  Yesterday, 111 out of 150 or 74 percent of delegates elected today were in fact Ron Paul delegates.  The Louisiana state GOP soon will award 30 additional delegates.

A “conservative slate” ran a partially combined slate with establishment-moderate Mitt Romney in CDs 1, 2 and 4.  In each of those districts Ron Paul supporters required more votes than all of their opponents combined.  Remarkably, supporters of the 12-term Congressman from Texas accomplished this in CDs 1 and 2, but fell just short of this in CD 4, which is why the decision was split.

Taken together, victories across four and half CDs mean that Ron Paul supporters are likely to control the outcome of the state convention in June....

The Ron Paul campaign’s Louisiana State Director Pete Chamberlain said of the victory, “Yesterday’s result shows the changing dynamic among grassroots conservative activists dedicated to promoting a Republican platform that adheres to the Constitutional values Dr. Paul represents.  Back-room dealing and insider politics are no match for the grassroots enthusiasm that is the hallmark of the Ron Paul campaign.  Yesterday, Ron Paul’s dedicated Louisiana supporters showed what passionate, persistent activism can achieve when centered around a consistent message of freedom and prosperity.”

The long Paul game isn't just about racking up delegates in 2012; it's about shaping the ethos of the Republican Party moving forward. Along those lines, the Alaska Dispatch on Paulite success in winning state party positions in that state:

This weekend, it was the young, sometimes bedraggled but always idealstic and not always so polite, supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul who were certain that if they were in charge of the party, Alaska and the country would be a better place.

And now they’ll get their chance to prove it.

After at least 12 years of the Alaska GOP being run by what those party newcomers call “establishment Republicans,” a new force is taking over: Alaska Republicans voted Russ Millette as the party’s new chairman and Debbie Holland-Brown as co-chair. They are both supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul.....

after the party delegates’ votes were tallied Saturday evening, a cheer erupted from Paul supporters on the second floor of the Hilton. Others looked crestfallen. Some blamed failed senatorial candidate Joe Miller and his wife, Kathleen, who spent much of their time Saturday huddled with Paul supporters. Miller was largely expected to jockey for a party leadership position, but it was Kathleen who, sporting a Ron Paul sticker, won a seat on Alaska’s GOP Electoral College.

The Millers were nowhere to be found at the party afterwards at Ron Paul’s Alaska campaign headquarters in downtown Anchorage, where both Millette and Brown spoke to supporters.

“They tried every maneuver they could, but God prevailed,” Millette told the crowd, many who were half his age or younger.

To be sure, not all Paul supporters believe in God, but a certain alliance between the tea party and Paulites was necessary for an upset in GOP politics on the Last Frontier, as evidenced by Joe Miller backers aligning with Paul supporters at this weekend’s convention. And so, regardless of religious beliefs, they cheered for Millette.

My soon-forthcoming book, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.

A.M. Links: The Bill and Barack Show, Al-Qaeda Gone, Baby Shuts Down Airport

  • President Obama is embracing Bill Clinton for his re-election campaign. "There is no better Democratic ally than President Clinton," said Jim Messina, the President’s campaign manager.
  • Al-Qaeda is “essentially gone,” U.S. intelligence officials say.  “Affiliates”, they warn, remain a threat. “[T]he movement certainly survives, the ideology of the global jihad survives, bin Laden's philosophy, that survives in a variety of places outside of Pakistan," an anonymous U.S. official told the AFP.
  • Gunmen attacked Christian worshippers in Nigeria, killing at least 21. No one took responsibility immediately, but the militant Islamist group Boko Haram is suspected.
  • Chicago police at next month’s NATO summit will not enforce a state eavesdropping law that has been used to prosecute those who record police officers. "[W]hile the law is still on the books, it is currently being constitutionally challenged,” said Steve Patton, corporation counsel for the city. “[T]he fact [is] that the police are going to have other things to focus on during the summit.”
  • Homophobia might mean you’re gay, according to new research. “It’s important to stress the obvious: Not all those who campaign against gay men and lesbians secretly feel same-sex attractions. But at least some who oppose homosexuality are likely to be individuals struggling against parts of themselves, having themselves been victims of oppression and lack of acceptance,” one of the researchers writes in Sunday’s New York Times
  • Port Authority cops at Newark Airport overreacted when they shut down a terminal after a baby went through a checkpoint unscreened, according to the TSA.

Don't forget to sign up for Reason's daily AM/PM updates for more content!

New on Reason.tv: Destroying Latin America

Steve Chapman on Wal-Mart and the U.S. Bribery Ban

Until 1977, there was no country that criminalized the practice of bribery abroad. But that year, President Jimmy Carter signed a law making the United States the very first. In due course, this measure eliminated corruption from every nation where our corporations operate—right after Carter got a tattoo and a Harley. In fact, bribery remains a way of life in much of the world, including rapidly developing countries where American multinationals need to be. These firms often are forced to choose between following age-old local custom in order to compete and obeying U.S. law, writes Steve Chapman, which may leave them high and dry.

View this article

Gary Johnson Wants Jim Gray As His VP

If all goes according to plan for former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson at this week’s Libertarian Party convention in Las Vegas, he will win his party’s nomination for president on the first ballot and his running mate will be Judge Jim Gray.  

“The process all along has been to find somebody that can articulate libertarian ideals and beliefs and I’ve thought all along that he would be a really solid pick,” said Johnson, during a phone interview with Reason late Sunday night.

Johnson said the fact that Gray is a judge and has prior campaign experience at a high level in California makes him a valuable addition to the campaign. 

“He’s been through the fire and he will be one heartbeat from the presidency and I think he would be very capable of that,” he said.

Like Johnson, Gray was once a Republican and does have prior campaign experience but unlike Johnson he has not won a contested election. He never faced an electoral challenge as a Superior Court judge in Orange County and he lost his runs for Congress in 1998 and US Senate in 2004, respectively.  Gray retired from the court in 2009 and is now a lawyer in private practice specializing in arbitration and mediation.

The Johnson/Gray ticket started to come together back in early March, around the time of the California Libertarian Party state convention. Johnson and Gray appeared together on a podcast where a caller asked about the possibility of the two running as a team. Gray, an early endorser of Johnson, said that the idea never crossed his mind until then when he was listed on the short list of possible vice presidential candidates.

“It was the first time I ever considered it and shortly thereafter his campaign approached me about the possibility of it,” said Gray.

This was not their first meeting as Johnson endorsed Gray’s drug policy book while he was still governor in 2001. The two were on an education reform panel at FreedomFest in 2010 and Johnson really left an impression on Gray as he “really understood Milton Friedman’s approach.”

Eventually everything fell into place on April 23 when the Johnson campaign formally asked Gray if he would be their running mate. Gray accepted.

“I agreed to run only if we were going to run to win. I am not going to do this ‘Let’s have a moral victory’ stuff. I believe, and I think he agrees, that we have a good, solid 1 ½ % chance of winning this election,” he said.

Gray said the Johnson campaign considered him, along with two other possible candidates, for vice president. At this time there do not appear to be any additional candidates currently seeking the Libertarian nomination for vice president. This could change at the convention as the Libertarians have a history of picking vice presidents from presidential candidates that lose in the early rounds of voting. This happened as recently as 2008 when Wayne Allyn Root wound up as the vice presidential candidate after losing his bid for the presidential nomination on the fifth ballot. Root ran as Bob Barr’s running mate after being elected in the second round of voting.

Brickbat: Big Scam

Victoria Baca called the New Mexico state police to report an Internet scam she had fallen victim to. Officials told her they couldn't immediately send an officer, so she asked them to call before coming. Instead, an officer came by without calling while she and her family were gone. The officer jumped a fence with a “Beware of Dog” sign and shot and killed one of the family's dogs. State police officials say the officer was acting in self defense and no action will be taken against him.

Brickbat Archive

Conservatives ♥ Big Government Too

It has been clear for a while that the liberal-tarian alliance isn’t going anywhere fast even though fantasies that some day, one day, it’ll be fully consummated simply won’t die down. But now Frank Luntz, the conservative pollster, has a piece in the Washington Post that suggests that the conserva-tarian alliance might be on its way to an annulment too. Luntz lists five myths about conservative voters, the top one being that they no longer – if they ever did -- give a bird’s do-do about small government. He notes:

They may have rallied around President Ronald Reagan’s call for smaller government three decades ago — but it’s not the 1980s anymore. Today, conservatives don’t want a reduced government so much as one that works better and wastes less.

In a poll we completed among self-identified conservatives just before the 2010 elections, “efficient” and “effective” government clearly beat “less” and “smaller” government. For conservatives, this debate is less about size than about results, along with a demand that elected officials demonstrate accountability and respect for the taxpayer, regardless of whether they’re spending $1 million or $1 trillion. They are rallying behind the budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) not simply because it cuts the size of government, but because it cultivates accountability.

It used to be that conservatives supported smaller government on theoretical grounds: The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen; government should only do for people what they truly cannot do for themselves; government isn’t the solution, it is the problem. You’ve heard such comments from conservatives, and they’re the mantra of the tea party movement. They’re still part of conservative orthodoxy — which is why Republican candidates invoke them — but the underlying conservative belief system is shifting.

In keeping with this sentiment, conservative voters don’t want Big Government entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security dismantled. Writers Luntz:

Take Florida, a key swing state full of conservative seniors. According to an AARP poll there last year, 70 percent of them oppose cuts to Medicare. They want the program strengthened, not dismantled. They know Medicare needs reform, but they want changes to be effective and reasonable.

But if a decade of ruinous wars, kleptocratic bailouts, and profligate and useless economic stimulus packages by Big Government won’t shake conservative faith in Big Government, then what will?

Maybe libertarians are just falling down on the job and can’t find a way to effectively communicate the failures of Big Government. Or Americans have just become too fond of their EITC and Social Security checks to be seriously moved by cute Remy videos. In short, a la Greece, there are too many of us on the government dole and too few left to question it.

If there is a silver lining to Luntz’ findings, it is that even though conservatives don’t distrust Big Government, they still trust themselves more. Hence, when it comes to Medicare – the greatest entitlement program on the planet, they want patient-centric solutions to extend its solvency. He notes:

Conservatives believe in such simple principles as personal choice and greater competition, and they are more confident than liberals in people’s ability to make the right decisions. For example, 78 percent agree with the statement: “Increasing patient choice in Medicare will help save Medicare from bankruptcy. When patients can shop for better care . . . it will force insurance companies to compete against each other, which lowers costs and increases care.

This is consistent with the finding of the recent Reason-Rupe poll that Americans want more control over their own health care dollars with 65% of them saying that Medicare should hand them the money that it currently spends on their behalf so that they can purchase their own private health plan, compared to 24 percent who don’t.

The White House Press Correspondents' Dinner is About as Bad as You Think, Only a Little Bit Worse and a Little Bit More Fun

Let's start with Time's head and subhead— 

"President Obama Outshines Jimmy Kimmel at White House Press Correspondents' Dinner: Do we laugh at the president because he's funny or -- because he's the president and we have to? Here's your answer."

"At Saturday night’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Obama showed that yes, he really is that funny.


The President focused, not surprisingly, on the still-ripe-for-wisecracks Secret Service scandal, the upcoming election and how much has changed throughout his four years in office, all with a healthy dose of humility and self-deprecation. “Four years ago, I looked like this,” he said, gesturing to a photo of his fresh and sprightly self circa 2008. “Today, I look like this,” he said, as an image of his notably wearier (and grayer) self flashed on the screen. “And four years from now, I will look like this.” Cue photo of Morgan Freeman. Here are some of his other memorable quips:

On his relationship with Hillary Clinton:

 “Four years ago, I was locked in a brutal primary battle with Hillary Clinton.  Four years later, she won’t stop drunk-texting me from Cartagena.”

On news aggregation:

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t congratulate the Huffington Post on their Pulitzer Prize. You deserve it, Arianna.  There’s no one else out there linking to the kinds of hard-hitting journalism that HuffPo is linking to every single day.”

Admittedly the last one got a hilariously pained "oooh" from the print media in the room, including the Denver Post table where I was sitting (they endorse none of the libertarian ranting to come, of course).

The rest? Oh, the president admits he looks older. Oh, someone pointed out Texts From Hillary as the hot meme of the moment (or several weeks ago)! The president is so aware of these things. (He's probably not aware of Texts from Drone, though. At least someone told him to stop joking about Predator Drones and the Jonas Brothers like he did in 2009.)

So why is it so jaw-droppingly wonderful that the president manages to have enough comic timing to get some of the jokes that he didn't write across? Why is it so exciting that it's like he's people? Look, he can even make policy jokes!

On a potential second term:

 “In my first term, I sang Al Green; in my second term, I’m going with Young Jeezy. In my first term, we ended the war in Iraq; in my second term, I will win the war on Christmas. In my first term, we repealed the policy known as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell;’ in my second term, we will replace it with a policy known as, ‘It’s Raining Men.’ In my first term, we passed health care reform; in my second term, I guess I’ll pass it again.”

Priceless. Never mind the Defense of Marriage Act still lingering and occasionally destroying families. And definitely never mind the War on Drugs, even though the idea of winning that should seem as absurd as winning the war on Christmas.

Here's the whole thing, if you're interested. Remember, mocking the stupidest critiques of your presidency is the height of edgy, self-deprecating humor.

But let's go back a bit. Let me slum it by playing FishbowlDC for a second, may the journalism gods forgive me. Here are some things I saw last evening.

At the ABC News pre-party I somehow found myself taking a picture of Diane Sawyer and openly gay, extremely genial GOP presidential candidate Fred Karger with the latter's camera at his request. I ran into, and briefly attended Karger's CPAC party, and the fact that I remembered his existence and talked to him above other people probably endeared me.

We chatted a bit about Rick Santorum, who was spotted by taller people in the room at that very party. Rick Santorum is, apparently, a very nice guy in person. Anticipating an evening of libertarian screaming inside my own head, I pressed Karger on politics by saying "I hate politics." We then discussed whether Santorum being a true believer would be better or worse. (At some point, dear commenters, Karger also pointed out a girl who was apparently Santorum's daughter and, well, I thought of all of you and smiled.) 

Celebrities filed in. I saw the back of some brunette hair and a sparkly dress and elbowed Chuck Plunkett of The Denver Post saying, that's Barbara Walters, isn't it? I spent many an hour in my nerdy youth watching 20/20, but that was mainly for John Stossel's impassioned, libertarian requests that someone give him a break. I was reminded of how how shoddily ABC apparently treated Stossel during his years as the only libertarian there.

Eventually it was time to get started with fancy-dining and applauding. I was unmolested by the security, passing easily through the metal detectors and there were fewer olive-clad examples of the militarization of police than there are at any protest you've ever seen, but there were some, with German Shepherds on short leashes at the ready. Black-clad men with earpieces lurked.

The Post people and I found our table, tucked in a corner of the epic, golden ballroom. My name, I realized, was written down in the program. I was more than just a nameless "guest of" and I tried not to like that too much or hate it too much. I searched in vain for Attorney General Eric Holder's name, since he was supposedly going to sit at the Huffington Post's table. Not seeing his name, I resolved to make as many jokes about the other, secret list, as I could.

Before everything started, I wandered the room in hopes that I would find Greg Gutfeld of the libertarian-friendly Red Eye, since "hey, my colleagues go on your show sometimes and that show is pretty awesome" is an easier line than trying a cold-opening of "the government sure is terrible, isn't it?" in that crowd.

During my fruitless quest for Gutfeld I saw George Clooney, Kim Kardashian, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Kevin Spacey, and Bret Baier of Fox News hobnobbing with Newt and Callista Gingrich, and a million other people I probably knew and lots of journalists and guests paying much, shameless attention to all the celebrities. And then while I passed Sen. Rand Paul, looked back to maybe smile at him for at least trying to stop the damn PATRIOT Act and the NDAA, I almost bumped into Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security; Big Sister herself. This was after myriad, cranky jokes about who I should accidentally spill a drink on for liberty, Holder, Ray Kelly of the NYPD, or Napolitano. I had to trap an attack of sincerely hysterical laughter with my hand before it escaped into the ballroom.

So here's the point; I know it's taken much longer to get to than Hamilton Nolan over at Gawker, whose "Fuck the White House Press Correspondents' Dinner" blog post is pretty hard to argue with and maybe does say all that needs to be said about the dinner.

But the opulence doesn't offend me. The opportunity to awkwardly say "you're awesome!" to Aziz Ansari from Parks and Recreation doesn't offend me. Kim Kardashian really, really doesn't offend me. Journalists patting themselves on the back doesn't offend me much. Hell, it's only one night a year and maybe we should pay much more attention to the toothless White House Press corp and their daily inability to be as ruthless and watch-dogish as they should be. It's not that much worse just because they're better dressed than usual for one night.

Because it's the people who are more offended by Kim Kardashian than Ray Kelly who are the problem. Politics, somewhere along the line, became morally equal to celebrity. Morally superior, even. And so when they mix, it's not that celebrities diminish a highbrow event, it's that they blur the lines in a way that's dangerous to understanding. Nothing demonstrates that quite as perfectly as the ritual of the president playing comedian and comedians oh, so gently roasting the president.

Jimmy Kimmel, to his great credit, was at least a lot rougher on the president than most people expected. Nobody will ever pull another Stephen Colbert in 2006 because you have to assume someone was fired for that, and because, let's be honest, is there a comedian alive who would treat a Democrat the way Colbert treated Bush? 

But Kimmel made jokes about "Fast and Furious" gunrunning and Eric Holder, as well as the recent Department of Justice crackdowns on marijuana. And that's half points at least, what with the toothlessness of previous Obama-"bashing" comedians like Seth Meyers and Jay Leno. 

Maybe the bloom is off the rose a little for Obama if a comedian dared to go there, but the way the crowd howled at Obama's every half-witticism, it didn't feel like it. Listening to Obama speak in person is as infuriating as it is on television; worse, with journalists in hysterics and me looking dour and thinking this isn't funny.

But maybe Obama is funny. Maybe I can't tell.

Except that it doesn't matter if he's funny or not. 

It's confusing to be there among all the glitter. Seeing famous people is fun. You've seen them in pictures and movies, you feel a moment of recognition, yes! I know you! So you want to stare and maybe take a picture and then you're part of all that bullshit. Whether it's Rahm Emanuel or Steven Spielberg, you're giving them what they want by looking and caring. But Spielberg never said "you never want to let a serious crisis go to waste" and was never in charge of a big, corrupt city with a nasty police department. At the White House Press Correspondents' Dinner, directors and mayors are just one and the same. 

Even though certain breeds of celebrities want to be taken seriously and most politicians want to be admired, politics is power. It's not just a velvet rope, you can't come into this nightclub, and I have a disturbing influence on what your children think is cool type-power; it's life and death power. It's assassinations without oversight. It's imprisonment. It's that legalized, glamorized type of murder known as war.

The difference between politics and celebrity, the inherent dangers of the former and the banal harmlessness and occasional pleasures of the latter, shouldn't have to be explained; the White House Press Correspondents' Dinner, proves, if nothing else, that is still does. And that's the problem.

Reason on the White House Press Correspondents' Dinner.

Judge Jim Gray Floats VP Run With Gary Johnson

The chatter surrounding a possible Libertarian vice-presidential candidacy by Judge Jim Gray of California just got an exclamation point on Gray's Facebook page. 

"What would you think of Judge Gray running for Vice President?" the Jim Gray page asked on Friday. 

The question is approaching 100 Likes and has received overwhelming positive responses. 

The Libertarian Party Convention is next week in Las Vegas, and according to organizers Gray has removed himself from the list of featured speakers at the convention because party rules limit candidates for national office to speaking during a specific part of the convention.  

Sources close to the Gary Johnson campaign have spoken favorably of a potential Gray candidacy. 

As of this time it does not appear there are any other candidates running for the VP slot. 

Gray, a trial court judge and attorney in Orange County, California since the 1980s, has run for federal office in his home state twice before — once as a Republican for Congress in 1998 and once as a Libertarian for U.S. Senate in 2004. He is an outspoken critic of the War on Drugs. 

More from Reason on Judge Jim Gray here and more on Gary Johnson here. 

Tim Cavanaugh on the 20th Anniversary of the L.A. Riots

On the 20th anniversary of the L.A. riots, Tim Cavanaugh writes, there is a lot of good news to report. There has been an actual improvement in civil harmony. Crime rates are down to mid-1960s levels; gang activity is declining; relations between local residents and the Los Angeles Police Department are noticeably better. Yet South L.A.’s vast network of buttinskis are still lamenting their own failure to bring economic justice to the area over the last two decades. Few regions in California have received more "help" from apparatchiks, community organizers, holy rollers, union goons, neighborhood activists, public-trough developers, political appointees and city planners than has South L.A. Virtually none of this attention has done the area any good, because the tensions of 1992 were never about economics. They were about crime and police behavior, two areas in which the City of Angels really has gotten better. 

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Kennedy on Attachment Parenting Versus Libertarian Parenting

The modern world is deadset against libertarian parenting, and it's high time for a playground smackdown with the real enemy. If the attachment commies, the allergyniks, the vegans, and the congenitally offended are indoctrinating their spawn with an anti-rational bucket of goat vomit, writes Kennedy, what's to stop rational, liberty-loving parental units from blending a consistent ideology into our own child-rearing?

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