Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 May 1-31

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Oh, Were We Supposed to be Outraged That Romney Didn't Instantly Tell a Lady in Ohio That Obama Shouldn't be Tried for Treason?

For your entertainment and momentary outrage: the most recent in a long line of some weirdo in a crowd yelled something or said something to a candidate or politician and that candidate or politician didn't respond in the appropriate non-crazy fashion (or, to be fair to John McCain, the candidate responded by noting that no, ma'am, Obama is not an Arab).

Today a woman asking Mitt Romney a question at an Ohio town hall also said “We have a president right now who is operating outside the structure of our Constitution, and I do agree he should be tried for treason.”

Romney, it seems, didn't immediately say hang on, that's nuts, lady, but instead talked about the general wonderfulness of the Constitution and then answered her second question which was related to H.R. 347, the "Trespass Bill.") 

(On that question, Romney gave a thrillingly vague answer that protest is important, but so is protecting people under Secret Service protection! Imagine! This once again confirms the somnambulist qualities of him as a candidate. Seriously, slightly-unhinged freedom fighters, Romney is not your guy. Write in Alex Jones for president, anything besides Romney or Obama.)

Here's the scoop and here's a little outrage, according to ABC:

Instead of addressing the “treason” reference by the woman, who went on to ask what the candidate would do to balance the three branches of government and restore the Constitution, Romney responded, “As I’m sure you do, I happen to believe that the Constitution was not just brilliant, but probably inspired. I believe the same thing about the Declaration of Independence.”

Later, as he shook hands with supporters, Romney was asked by reporters whether he agreed with the woman, to which he responded “No, of course not.”  Asked by CNN about the woman’s comment, Romney said, “I don’t correct all of the questions that get asked of me. Obviously, I don’t agree that he should be tried.”

Ben LaBolt, the press secretary for the Obama re-election campaign, immediately seized on the incident, tweeting, “When will Mitt Romney stand up to the extreme voices in his party? Where’s the leadership he keeps calling for?”

LaBolt also wrote, “Once again today, Mitt Romney stood by silently as his surrogates and supporters made extreme statements & attacked the President’s family.”

Uh, sure. I guess that in a way saying the president should be charged with treason is sort of like saying he should be killed. And turns out the Secret Service takes that sort of thing seriously. And killing people is wrong and all. But really, the worst part about this is that the woman ranted to Romney as if he was going to be anything different than Obama. And no, Romney probably actually doesn't believe that Obama should be charged with treason. He was just being the awkward, stammering guy that back in 2008 asked some black kids "who let the dogs out." And for 2012, just pick your favorite of his myriad out-of-touch-rich-guy gaffes. 

Politicians are politicians. It's a stroke of genius on their parts that previous campaign seasons have been so consumed by hand-wringing over the negativity and mud-slinging between candidates. The idea that something as fundamentally uncivilized as a battle for who claims the right to steal, detain, and assassinate should be proper should strike anyone as more laughable the bigger that government grows.

But hell, maybe Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone is right. Maybe the negativity will have to be purely media-created this year because this is going to be a dull, dull race, folks. And whomever wins, individual liberty loses. It's just the the usual.

Reason on negative campaigns. And of course Reason.tv on how muddy the mud-slinging was in days of olde:

Ira Stoll on Six Lessons Americans Can Learn From the Election of French Socialist Francois Hollande

There was a moment, not all that long ago, when a Europe facing a financial crisis would look to America for leadership, or even a rescue. For better or worse, those days are past, writes Ira Stoll. This is just one lesson Americans can learn from the election of Francois Hollande, a socialist, as France's president. 

View this article

Tim Cavanaugh Talks Tasers, Deaths in Custody with RT

Reason.com managing editor Tim Cavanaugh appeared on Russia Today recently to discuss the Amnesty International report on Taser-related deaths, along with policing issues.

The appearance was in late April. It is now seasoned to juicy perfection. 

Here is the Amnesty report

Our previous reporting on the Taser-related death of Allen Kephart

Reason's cover story "The War On Cameras." 

60 Minutes Latest to Discover F-22 Raptor Is Awful

Was there a wide consensus in favor of the F-22 Raptor fighter jet before 60 Minutes reported on the plane's tendency to deprive its pilots of oxygen and become disoriented?

This strange framing introduces last night's otherwise excellent interview with two Air Force Raptor pilots-turned-whistleblowers who have come forward to warn of this particular set of dangers with the jet.

Here's how Lesley Stahl introduces her interview with Maj. Jeremy Gordon and Capt. Joshua Wilson:

“The shiniest jewel in the Air Force is its F-22 Raptor, a sleek, stealth fighter jet that the Pentagon says can outgun and outmaneuver any combat plane anywhere in the world. But for all its prowess, the Raptor has yet to be used in combat. It was designed to go up against an enemy with a sophisticated air force, which means it sat on the sidelines during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving its 200 pilots to fly mainly training missions...

When you hear about the F-22, it's always in superlatives: the newest, fastest, stealthiest, highest-flying, most gravity-defying, enemy-killing combat machine in the sky.”

Other possible superlatives include the plane's prohibitive maintenance requirements (30 hours of maintenance for each hour of flight, according to a Pentagon report) and an incredibly high number of subcontractors needed to produce the jets (1,000 subcontractors in 40 states). 

While 60 Minutes did a fine job of bringing out this mechanical issue with the F-22, the plane hasn't exactly been considered a champion up to now. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates successfully pushed for the end of production of the F-22 in 2009. The final F-22 rolled off the Lockheed Martin production line in December and was delivered to the Air Force just last week. Gates managed to cut the number of total jets the Air Force purchased by more than half to 187. There was a loud public political battle full of speeches by every politician who depended on defense contractors for campaign donations over the incredibly costly, not-particularly-useful program. But Stahl's reporting fails to provide any of this context in her story, which would have provided viewers some much-needed insight into the utter mess the program has become.

Manufacturer Lockheed Martin has responded by tweeting facts from its own description of the F-22 Raptor from its website. Not exactly a compelling defense.

The Washington Post went into significant detail about the Raptor's problems in this piece from 2009.

But who cares about the F-22, anyway? As Reason.com Managing Editor Tim Cavanaugh wrote in April, the future of military aircraft does not include pilots.

Vikings Raid Minnesota for Money, Putin Lords Over Russia Again, Advertisers Flee Village Voice in Backpage Battle: P.M. Links

  • Minnesota legislators are debating all day (and possibly into the night) whether to pay $398 million of the $975 million for a new stadium for the Vikings (2011 record: 3-13). Live discussion from the Capitol is streaming at the Star Tribune. The story is sadly lacking any critical analysis of the “jobs” claim, or really any critical analysis on publicly funded stadiums whatsoever.
  • Vladimir V. Putin was sworn into office as president of Russia for his third term today. His inauguration was preceded by protests (and, of course, crackdowns on the protesters), followed by decrees of new housing access and nursery school availability. He also promised 90 percent satisfaction with government service by 2018 as well as 40 to 50 percent wage increases.
  • Village Voice Media has lost ads from 27 companies amid the emotional but not entirely logical war on Backpage.
  • The White House says it will not negotiate with al-Qaeda for the release of 70-year-old aid worker Warren Weinstein, who was kidnapped in Pakistan nine months ago.
  • A mystery is under investigation over Army captain who keeled over suddenly while talking to his wife on Skype and died. His wife claimed she saw a bullet hole in the closet behind him when he collapsed, but the military insists he was not shot.

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The New Yorker Asks "Is There a Technological Solution to Global Warming?"

The illustrious The New Yorker has an article, The Climate Fixers, in the current issue looking at the pros and cons of various proposals to geoengineer the climate as a way to prevent catastrophic global warming (should that become an issue). Basically the article considers techniques to lower the Earth's temperature by reflecting sunlight or by capturing and storing excess atmospheric carbon dioxide.

As the article points out many ideological environmentalists oppose exploring geoengineering as a possible way to adjust the Earth's thermostat because they fear that the public will refuse to go on a carbon energy diet if they think there's a cheap technofix to man-made global warming.

As Rutgers University environmental scientist Alan Robock has observed [PDF]:

"If humans perceive an easy technological fix to global warming that allows for 'business as usual,' gathering the national (particularly in the United States and China) and international will to change consumption patterns and energy infrastructure will be even more difficult."

In any case, the critical point of the article is:

Over the past three years, a series of increasingly urgent reports—from the Royal Society, in the U.K., the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center, and the Government Accountability Office, among other places—have practically begged decision-makers to begin planning for a world in which geoengineering might be their only recourse. As one recent study from the Wilson International Center for Scholars concluded, “At the very least, we need to learn what approaches to avoid even if desperate.”

Indeed. If one believes there might be an emergency, one might also reasonably think that working on an emergency back-up plan is a good idea, right? 

As nice as it is for the venerable The New Yorker to get around to covering this topic, Reason has been on the geoengineering beat for nearly 15 years. For example, see Gregory Benford's, Climate Controls, from our November 1997 issue. If you haven't kept up with Reason's geoengineering coverage, here, here, and here, you might want to consider reading The New Yorker's article to catch up. 

Hat tip Pamela Friedman.

Are Liberals Still Mad at Donald Verrilli for the Health Care Arguments?

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli did not earn high marks from most liberal commentators in the aftermath of the Supreme Court oral arguments over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. For example, Adam Serwer of the left-leaning magazine Mother Jones complained that Verrilli’s “defense of Obamacare...may go down as one of the most spectacular flameouts in the history of the court.” Meanwhile, liberal Yale professor Akhil Reed Amar, writing at Slate, penned a condescending open letter to the justices where he explained what Verrilli “should have said.”

Are liberals still angry at the solicitor general for dropping the ball? The New York Times Adam Liptak reports that the answer is yes, at least when it comes to liberal legal academics. Liptak notes that while members of the Supreme Court bar have largely rallied to Verrilli’s defense, liberal law professors continue to rage against the solicitor general:

The view from the legal academy is different.

“The solicitor general’s performance in the health care case was totally disappointing,” said Barry Friedman, a law professor at New York University who filed a brief urging the justices to uphold the law. “His answers were wholly inadequate.”

“You really needed gravitas,” Professor Friedman said. “But what he conveyed to the court was that the administration was uncomfortable with its own position.”

For more on the liberal response to the health care arguemnts, see Peter Suderman’s “The Liberal Legal Bubble.” For my report on the oral argument over the individual mandate, see here.

Arizona Voters Can Wear Their Politics On Their Sleeves (Or Anywhere Else)

Diane Wickberg was ordered to change or cover her clothes on two different election days in Flagstaff, Arizona. That's because she was wearing T-shirts with Tea Party logos on them — a violation of rules against "electioneering," or so she was told. Now, after a lawsuit, a court victory, new legislation and tens of thousands of dollars in tax-funded legal costs, electon officials in Arizona will (mostly) be looking the other way when voters wear ideologically charged garb to the polls.

Arizona law (PDF) makes "electioneering" within 75 feet of a polling place a class two misdemeanor, and defines the practice as:

[A] demonstration of express support for or opposition to a candidate who appears on the ballot in that election, a ballot question that appears on the ballot in that election or a political party with one or more candidates who appear on the ballot in that election, and includes any use of a candidate's or political party's name or a ballot measure's name or numeric designation and any verbal expressions of opposition or support.

Why electioneering should be such a terrible thing is open to question, but apparently election-season expressions of free speech become magically toxic in proximity to churches and community centers where old people still go to vote rather than leaving their mail-in ballots forgotten at the bottom of the to-do basket like the rest of us. But exactly where OK speech ends and nasty electioneering begins can be a bit fuzzy.

Illustrating the problem with the ban on "electioneering" clothing, the Arizona Daily Sun quoted Coconino County Recorder Candace Owens on her "I'll know it when I see it" guidelines for forbidden items:

Owen said she'd consider apparel on a case-by-case basis. Although she said the Sierra Club, for example, doesn't exist primarily for political organization, she'd keep an eye out for such shirts if the environmental group came out in support of a ballot initiative.

Similar "it depends" guidance on political T-shirts came from the Secretary of State's office, which opined that, while "the shirt did not attempt to persuade or influence voters to vote for or against a particular candidate, party or proposition in the election," it could still be banned in certain circumstances, such as "[i]f a candidate posts political signs or issues direct mail pieces that read ‘tea party candidate,’ then wearing a shirt to the polls that says ‘tea party’ could be construed to be advocacy in support of or opposition to a candidate."

The Daily Sun offered that expressive T-shirts were just the final straw for an overstimulated population, since "[v]oters nowadays already arrive at the polls frazzled by an endless barrage of robocalls, sound-bite TV ads and mailers that usually fail a fact-check somewhere by the second sentence." In keeping with its long tradition of moderation, interpreted as a carefully considered distillation of the most intrusive of all possible solutions, the paper editorialized: "So here's our simple, nonpartisan proposal: Rewrite the law to expand the ban on 'electioneering' to include "all lettering, logos and symbols."

Fortunately, the federal courts headed off the editorial board's preferrence for forcing the population of Flagstaff to claw through its closets on Election Day in search of items of clothing not bedecked with Patagonia or Pearl Izumi logos. After the Goldwater Institute intervened on behalf of Wickberg and Scott Reed, who had a similar complain in Maricopa County, a federal court ruled that political T-shirts are just fine — so long as they don't explicitly mention candidates, political parties or ballot issues. Coconino County promptly forked over $46,000 to settle the case.

And the Arizona legislature recently took the time to pass HB 2722, explicitly legalizing what the federal court already said was permitted by the First Amendment, conveniently scheduled to take effect before the August 28 primary.

Such is the long and winding road followed to make sure that you can wear a T-shirt with a political logo on it to a polling place. And don't you feel freer for it?

Update: Don't miss Brian Doherty's coverage of this case. And Flagstaff was at the center of an earlier T-shirt/free speech flap, involving shirts bearing the names of those killed in battle.

John Stossel on Journalism, How He Became Libertarian and His New Book "No They Can't"

"Some guy came up to me said, 'Are you John Stossel?...I hope you die soon,'" recounts Fox Business Network host and Reason contributor John Stossel.  Thankfully Stossel found a more civil audience when he stopped by Reason's Washington, DC office on April 11, 2012 to promote his new book No, They Can’t: Why Government Fails But Individuals Succeed.

During a lively Q&A session, Stossel took questions from the audience about his book, his time as a consumer reporter, and the power of the internet to communicate libertarian ideas.

About 6.30 minutes.

Camera by Joshua Swain, Meredith Bragg and Jim Epstein. Edited by Swain.

Go to Reason.tv for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube channel to receive automatic notifications when new material goes live.

Obama Administration Security Official: We Don't Need to Subpoena Reporters Anymore Because We Already Know Who They're Talking To

You can still find a bold bullet point on Change.gov—a set of promises direct from "the office of the President-elect"—that insists Obama will "protect whistleblowers" within the government.

"We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance," it says. "Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government." 

But as Edward Wasserman points out, you can't find much evidence of this protection in the Obama administration's lengthy record of attacks on individuals who've actually helped get out information about the government during Obama's term. 

Wasserman's blistering indictment of the Obama administration's hyper-aggressive pursuit of government whistleblowers, first delivered at April's Logan Symposium on Investigative Journalism, is worth reading in full. But the following bit is particularly terrifying: 

The public is generally unaware of how essential nominally classified information is to coverage of diplomatic and strategic news. As Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ government secrecy project, put it: “The administration’s aggressive pursuit of leaks represents a challenge to the practice of national security reporting, which depends on the availability of unauthorized sources if it is to produce something more than ‘authorized’ news.”

What’s behind the administration’s fervor isn’t clear, but the news media have largely rolled over and yawned. A big reason is that prosecutors aren’t hassling reporters as they once did. Thanks to the post-9/11 explosion in government intercepts, electronic surveillance, and data capture of all imaginable kinds — the NSA is estimated to have intercepted 15-20 trillion communications in the past decade — the secrecy police have vast new ways to identify leakers.

So they no longer have to force journalists to expose confidential sources. As a national security representative told Lucy Dalglish, director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, “We’re not going to subpoena reporters in the future. We don’t need to. We know who you’re talking to.”

Investigative reporters are supposed to be the ones keeping an eye on the government. Instead, it turns out, it's the other way around. 

Wasserman, who is the Knight Professor of Journalism Ethics at Washington & Lee University, frames his argument as a challenge to the press to stand up to the administration's attack on journalistic sourcing. I'd certainly like to see a lot more of that as well. But the bigger problem—the root problem—isn't the press; it's the Obama administration's hypocritical and legally dubious pursuit of the leakers and whistleblowers that President Obama once praised and promised to defend.

Link via Kevin Drum and Glenn Greenwald

New Surveillance Video Contradicts Cops’ Story About Beaten Bronx Teen

In January, NYPD cops arrested 19-year-old Jateik Reed, accusing him of possession of marijuana and cocaine and assault of a police officer.  Cops said Reed attempted to dump his drugs before head-butting one cop and punching another. Predictably, surveillance video now appears to contradict the police's account of narcotics.

After the teenager was arrested, his mother, a friend of hers and Reed's 16-year-old brother went to the precinct station to complain. They were arrested after cops say Reed’s younger brother swung at them. Police denied allegations of brutality against Reed until video surfaced indicating police brutality, compelling the District Attorney to investigate.

Cops will now also have to explain where the narcotics came from if not out of Reed’s hands. Police officers’engagement with Jateik Reed stems from the city’s “Stop and Frisk” program, where cops stop largely minority youth looking for guns and drugs. Guns are virtually illegal in the city, and while whites are as likely as non-whites to use narcotics, in Michael Bloomberg’s New York City minorities are almost exclusively targeted.

Bonus police brutality points:  In the new footage, a female cop also walks up to Reed while he’s already on the ground and handcuffed and kicks him.

Below, the original video that contradicted police claims that Reed assaulted them:

Dinosaur Farts Caused Sauropodogenic Global Warming, Says Study

A new study, Could Methane Produced by Sauropod Dinosaurs Have Helped Drive Mesozoic Climate Warmth?, [PDF] in Current Biology suggests that dinosaur flatulence may have boosted global average temperatures by as much as 18 degrees Fahrenheit in the Mesozoic era over today's temperatures. The British researchers basically scaled up estimates of the amount of methane that cows produce today to the amount that might have been produced by herds of giant reptiles. Methane's global warming potential is about 25-fold greater than that of carbon dioxide. 

As the BBC reports:

"Cows today produce something like 50-100 [million tonnes] per year. Our best estimate for Sauropods is around 520 [million tonnes]," said Dr. [David] Wilkinson [from Johns Moore University]. 

Current methane emissions amount to around 500 million tonnes a year from a combination of natural sources, such as wild animals, and human activities including dairy and meat production.

Thank goodness an asteroid slammed into the Earth 65 millions years ago to put a stop dinogenic climate change!  

Is Every Self-Defense Claim a 'Stand Your Ground' Case Now?

I have noted several times that the focus on the right to "stand your ground" in the Trayvon Martin case is puzzling, since it does not seem to play any role in George Zimmerman's defense. Although Zimmerman did shoot Martin in a public place, if the fight unfolded as he claims he did not have an opportunity to retreat. Here is another case that supposedly involves the right to stand your ground but does not really: Shanterrica Madden is on trial in Tennessee for stabbing her roommate, Middle Tennessee State University basketball player Tina Stewart, to death last year in the apartment they shared, which she claims she did in self-defense. Under the USA Today headline "''Stand Your Ground' Law to Surface in Tenn. College Slaying," here is how the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal describes the context of the case:

Madden's claim of self-defense comes at a time of intense national debate over what are known as "stand your ground" self-defense laws, resulting from the fallout of the shooting death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman.

What those "stand your ground" laws do is extend the right for a person to protect himself or herself from the threat of imminent death or bodily harm to any place, public or private, where that person has the right to be, says MTSU criminal justice professor Lance Selva, an attorney.

"These laws are an extension of what is known as the castle doctrine, which gives one the right to defend oneself in the home without retreating," he said. "What these laws do is remove the duty to retreat even outside of the home."

What does that have to do with this case, where the fight occurred in a residence shared by the defendant and her alleged victim? The paper never says. Like Florida's statute, Tennessee's self-defense law, which was amended in 2007, does have a provision strengthening the castle doctrine that applies in the home, but it does not seem relevant to Madden's stabbing of Stewart. It says a person "is presumed to have held a reasonable belief of imminent death or serious bodily injury" when using deadly force against an intruder who "unlawfully and forcibly enters" his "residence, business, dwelling or vehicle." Since Stewart had a right to be in the apartment as a resident, it is hard to see how this provision could help Madden. In fact, the presumption explicitly does not apply to "a lawful resident," unless an order of protection has been issued against him. As The Daily News Journal implicitly concedes, that leaves questions of the sort that would have to be addressed in any case where someone claims his use of deadly force was justified by self-defense: 

The first issue is whether the person claiming self-defense had a "reasonable belief" that he or she was threatened....

The next issue is whether the person claiming self-defense did anything to place himself or herself in a situation that would have necessitated the use of deadly force....

Another issue in the cases is whether the kind of force used by the person claiming self-defense was appropriately applied. Was the use of force justified or excessive?...

In the Madden case, [Selva] said, "the jury will have to decide at some point if it believes it was necessary for Shanterrica Madden to use the knife to defend herself."

It is true that Florida has a "stand your ground" law, and it is true that George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin in Florida. But that does not necessarily mean the shooting or the outcome of the criminal case against Zimmerman can be explained by new or unusual aspects of Florida's law. Likewise, not every self-defense case in Tennessee hinges on recent changes to its law. Unless The Daily News Journal omitted some crucial facts, the prosecution of Shanterrica Madden pretty plainly does not.

Reason Writers Around Town: Peter Suderman on Paying for Medicaid With Cigarette Taxes in The Daily

Over at The Daily, Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman looks at Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's proposal to fund part of the state's Medicaid program on cigarette taxes:

Illinois’ Medicaid program faces a $2.7 billion shortage that its governor has promised to deal with. So how does Gov. Pat Quinn propose to close the fiscal gap for his biggest budget item and largest health program? By relying on the state’s smokers to keep puffing — and paying — away. 

Quinn wants to shore up the fiscal health of Illinois’ ailing Medicaid program by imposing a new per-pack tax on cigarettes, thus making the health coverage of millions of disabled and low-income individuals in the state directly dependent on keeping smoking rates up.

But if previous experiences with state smoking taxes are any indication, it won’t work. In his February budget address, Quinn was blunt with state lawmakers. “Our rendezvous with reality has arrived,” he said. He declared his intention to pass a $2.7 billion reform to the state’s Medicaid system. Quinn’s proposal, released in April, included a variety of cuts and payment reductions, as well a $1-per-pack cigarette tax that his office said would raise an estimated $337.5 million directly.

Sadly, the governor does not seem as eager to meet with fiscal reality as he claims: That revenue estimate from the smoking tax is almost certainly inflated.

Whole thing here

Much more from Reason on smoking taxes here

Banning Bake Sales: For the Kids!

Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America outlined a truly dystopian vision of how democratic politics could produce a pervasive soft despotism:

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?...

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

The this immense tutelary power is not imposed but is voted into existence by the public. Tocqueville explains:

They devise a sole, tutelary, and all-powerful form of government, but elected by the people. They combine the principle of centralization and that of popular sovereignty; this gives them a respite: they console themselves for being in tutelage by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians. Every man allows himself to be put in leading-strings, because he sees that it is not a person or a class of persons, but the people at large who hold the end of his chain.

By this system the people shake off their state of dependence just long enough to select their master and then relapse into it again. 

What inspires this lengthy quotation from this French observer of 19th century American political and social mores? A proposal to ban bake sales in schools. Why the ban? To keep kids from getting fat. As Bloomberg Businessweek reports

Public school students in Maryland’s Montgomery County know they’d better not even think of holding a bake sale to raise money for the football team or math club. Selling sweets is outlawed during the school day, and officials make the rounds to ensure no illicit cupcakes are changing hands. “If a bake sale is going on, it’s reported to administration and it’s taken care of,” says Marla Caplon of the county’s food and nutrition services. “You can’t sell Girl Scout cookies, candy, cakes, any of that stuff.”

Montgomery is one of a growing number of school districts around the country that have in recent years declared the humble, beloved bake sale a threat to children. Schools in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, and Texas have regulations aimed at limiting bake sales to nutritious food. Massachusetts will soon join them. Beginning in August, it will prohibit fundraisers that sell non-nutritious foods in school, and take it one step further: Kids will no longer be allowed to hand out sugary cookies—or other treats deemed unhealthy—to classmates on their birthdays.

With so many overweight kids, it’s easy to see why schools want to discourage high-calorie snacks. Only, they sometimes have a funny idea of what “nutritious” means. New York City public schools prohibit students from selling unapproved home-baked goods, but allow some packaged, store-bought sweets that meet the schools’ restrictions on calories, sugar, salt, and fat. Under the rules, grandma’s fresh-from-the oven banana bread can be declared contraband, while some Kellogg (K) Pop Tarts are deemed wholesome. “You know what’s allowed? Junk food,” says Elizabeth Puccini, a filmmaker in Manhattan whose son is in first grade. “It’s a ridiculous regulation and should be overturned.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to announce its own set of bake sale standards later this year.

As Tim Cavanaugh reported earlier these bans on bake sales are backed by First-Food-Nanny Michelle Obama. Such a ban is just another example of the process identified by Tocqueville of the immense tutelary power "cover[ing] the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform...." 

Immense tutelary power channeling Marie Antoinette: Don't let them eat cake! 

Pax Americana: Catch & Release, Indefinite Detention, and Death from the Sky

The U.S government is “strategically releasing” detainees in Afghanistan to insurgent groups in exchange for the promise of peace, the Washington Post reports. Freed insurgents must promise not to engage in violence against coalition forces, at the risk of further detention. Officials won’t say how many insurgents have been released through the program, nor the recidivism rate. “Everyone agrees they are guilty of what they have done and should remain in detention. Everyone agrees that these are bad guys. But the benefits outweigh the risks,” one anonymous official told the Post.

The insurgents are released from the Parwan Detention Facility at Bagram Air Force Base. It’s the only U.S. military prison in Afghanistan. Originally intended as a temporary facility, it held 600 prisoners at the end of President Bush’s term and held 1,700 as of the summer of 2011. About a third were being released to Afghan authorities at the time. All are designated “illegal enemy combatants.” An appeals court ruled in May 2010 that detainees at the facility did not have the right to habeas corpus hearings.

The Obama Administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress, of course, codified a formal structure for indefinite detention late last year that applies equally to illegal enemy combatants at Parwan or Guantanamo and illegal enemy combatants like you.

Meanwhile, the just recently not secret drone wars have more recently been expanded to include unnamed terror suspects. Drone strikes in Pakistan nearly tripled under the Obama Administration, and have become more frequent in Yemen and Somalia as well, with plenty of “collateral damage.”

All part of a Pax Americana that, by all accounts, Mitt Romney would only ramp up. It once appalled the anti-war left, but doesn’t anymore. Meanwhile Ron Paul remains the most prominent voice of opposition to the bipartisan consensus.

Now that he’s the Libertarian nominee, I suppose there’s always Gary Johnson.

Matt Welch on Whether Free Market Advocates Are Losing the Battle of Ideas

In the never-ending battle of political and philosophical ideas, the facts on the ground—current government policy and the way we talk about it—would seem to indicate that the limited government, individual freedom side of the debate is losing the argument. Yet as Editor in Chief Matt Welch observes in his column from Reason’s June 2012 issue, the battle of ideas is a long slog, with surprising victories awaiting the persistent and defeats facing the complacent.

View this article

Austerity Lives on in Our Minds and Hearts...

...but in the numbers? Paul Krugman is thrilled that the voters of France and Greece are fighting back against "austerity." While he has plenty of words to work with, he says not a one about actual government spending figures.

Here's an OECD chart, most recent figures available as near as I can tell (if the austerity-ites have more recent ones, it would be good to use them in these discussions) which expresses European (and other) government spending in U.S. dollars (for us U.S.-bound fools), in current prices and purchasing power parity.

Just looking from 2009 to 2010--2010 being the most recent year whose figure are available for most countries--here are the EU countries that spent less in the latter year than the former: Czech Republic (by $1.4 billion), Estonia (by one hundred million), Greece (by $9.4 billion), Hungary (by $.9 billion), Iceland (by $200 million), Ireland (by $1 billion), Italy (by $8.1 billion), Portugal (by $200 million), Spain (by $5.3 billion).

Every one of those countries, though, is spending more than they spent in 2007 (and most of them more than in 2008), and quite a lot more more than in 2004.

For 2004-2010 comparison: Czech Republic is spending $12.7 billion more; Estonia $2.2 billion more; Greece $10.2 billion more; Hungary $8.2 billion more; Iceland $400 million more; Ireland $10.5 billion more; Italy $91.8 billion more; Portugal $16 billion more; Spain a whopping $113 billion more.

So in every case even any apparent "austerity" in the past couple of years is just a slight ramping down from big ramp-ups from 2004-08, approximately. A causal explanation for how and why those dips in government spending in certain countries from 2009-10 are responsible for economic crisis when far lower levels of government spending 7 years ago did not should mention this, and have more to say than "austerity bad for the economy." (The E.U.'s population growth rate has been mostly falling since 2004, though they certainly have more people total than they did then. Google magic has failed me in finding per capita government spending figure time series in the E.U. over the past decade or so, if any commenter has better luck let me know. "Expenditure on Social Protection as a Percentage of GDP" has gone up in nearly every European country from 2004 to 2009, though, according to the chart on page 6 here.)

And in the cases of Germany and France, who Krugman slams as "the Franco-German axis that has enforced the austerity regime of the past two years," Germany's 2011 spending is $26.5 billion higher than 2010 (it is one of the few country's whose 2011 figures are in the OECD chart linked above), and $268.1 billion higher than 2004. For France, its spending rose by $12.1 billion from 2009 to 2010, and by $131.3 billion from 2004 to 2010.

Germany's population growth rate has been negative since 2004; France has added about 2.5 million people since 2004.

European government expenditures up to 1997-2010 as percentage of GDP.

Russ Roberts at Cafe Hayek also wonders where the numbers are on the austerity story:

I have seen many articles on austerity. I can’t remember seeing any that suggest that government spending in any European country has actually fallen. Yes, there is talk of spending cuts or cuts in growth rates. But I’d like to see the data that shows the cuts have actually been implemented.

Don Boudreaux also at Cafe Hayek with a 2009 chart of European government expeditures as percentage of GDP--all of them 10-20 percent more than the comparable U.S. figure.

Markets less thrilled than Krugman at the election results.

As Tim Cavanaugh had pointed out before, the guilty flee austerity when no government spendeth less. It is possible that 2012 data will show this austerity, but Krugman and others like him should feel some obligation to throw in a number or two in these austerity discussions.

Johan Norberg from Reason's May issue on how Europe dug itself into its hole.

Is Austerity - or Decades of Awful Governance - Responsible for Greek Suicides?

"Austerity drives up suicide rate in debt-ridden Greece," blares a CNN.com article detailing an apparent increase in suicides in the European country arguably in the worst fiscal situation. I say apparently because the only hard facts in the story are these: "According to the health ministry data, the suicide rate jumped about 40% in the first five months of 2011 compared with a year earlier." Are suicides up in 2012, compared either to 2011 or 2010? No word.

The story highlights a couple of high-profile incidents including one in which a retiree shot himself during rush hour in an "what was apparently a protest over the financial crisis gripping the nation." The other case involves a bankrupt businessman who lit himself on fire but survived the attempt. Here what he told CNN:

"I don't feel proud about it, no way, but all these situations made me lose my self-respect and feel like I've been deprived of my rights," says Polyzonis, "because being able to pay your taxes is not only an obligation but also a right. People should have the possibility to pay their taxes, to pay their obligations to others, to offer the basic goods to their family so they can feel that they live with self-respect and dignity."

The writer of the article quotes a Greek archeologist (?) who compared the successful suicide to the event that catalyzed the Arab Spring:

"It made you realize that the overthrowing of these policies requires self-sacrifice, like in Tunisia and in Egypt where hundreds of people died..."

Leave aside the fact that the Tunisian street vendor who lit himself on fire was protesting the state's refusal to allow him to sell fruit on the street, not threatening to reduce social-welfare payouts. And that Egyptians were throwing off a widely recognized dictator who maintained power through repressive police tactics and worse.

The article notes

Under its second bailout program, approved last month, Greece has agreed to implement a series of austerity measures and undertake broader reforms to make its economy more competitive.

More here.

In terms of economic freedom, the Heritage Foundation ranks Greece as "mostly unfree" and one of the most heavily stultified economies in Europe.

Things are not good in Greece, where something like 20 percent of the population is out of work. But to blame "austerity" for social problems in the place seems ridiculous on its face. The main reason that the Greek economy is in such godawful shape is that it's been that way not simply for years but for decades, even as other European nations (Sweden, Germany) were reducing government expenditures as a percentage of GDP. The Greeks are famous for having one of the most out-of-whack welfare states in Europe, with early retirement ages (50), higher-than-average spending on pensions (and still having a problem with poverty among the elderly), and some of the most restrictive labor market policies imaginable. Few countries can maintain a debt-to-GDP ratio of over 120 percent; Greece certainly can't.

To blame the generally universally accepted need for austerity measures (some of which aren't about cuts at all) for social turmoil is to ignore far more crucial questions of how you get into such a hole in the first place. And to ignore voices like this one quoted in a 2010 New York Times story titled "Europeans Fear Crisis Threatens Liberal Benefits":

In Athens, Aris Iordanidis, 25, an economics graduate working in a bookstore, resents paying high taxes to finance Greece’s bloated state sector and its employees. “They sit there for years drinking coffee and chatting on the telephone and then retire at 50 with nice fat pensions,” he said. “As for us, the way things are going we’ll have to work until we’re 70.”

It's as easy as it is cheap to link "apparent" increases with this or that political or cultural or economic development (that's your cue, Paul Krugman), but whether suicide is on the rise in Greece or throughout the euro-zone, creating the sort of growth and stability that will turn around weak if not dead economies is going to take a very different mind-set than the one that seems to be developing among many media watchers.

WashTimes Writer Complains That "half-white Barack Obama....didn't say a word" About the Death of Beastie Boy Adam "MCA" Yauch

And today's step-away-from-the-politics award goes to Joseph Curl:

Now, half-white Barack Obama (exactly my age) didn't say a word, even though he was talking to college kids that day, but make no mistake, MCA was no Jay-Z or Kanye West. This guy was the real deal, groundbreaker, up from his bootstraps, Brooklyn boy made good. Funny the "coolest president ever" doesn't say a word about the passing of MCA. Weird and kinda sad, actually. [...]

The president took time from his busy schedule to comment on the passing of black musicians. When Whitney Houston, a longtime crack addict, died this year, the White House put out a statement. "I know that [Mr. Obama's] thoughts and prayers are with her family, especially her daughter," press secretary Jay Carney said. "It's a tragedy to lose somebody so talented at such a young age."

And when accused pedophile and drug addict Michael Jackson died in 2009, the White House weighed in with the president's thoughts. "He said to me that obviously, Michael Jackson was a spectacular performer, a music icon," spokesman Roberet Gibbs said. "And his condolences went out to the Jackson family and to fans that mourned his loss."

Mr. Obama is said to have 2,000 songs on his iPod, but he's never mentioned the Beastie Boys. Too bad. He could learn so much from them. Still can.

JUST STOP IT.

Seriously, as both a fan of the Beasties and a non-fan of Obama, what I really want more than anything is to keep those topics separate, because they have nothing to do with one another, on account of politics being a tawdry zero-sum game and music being totally awesome. I'm not sure what's the sicker impulse here, to seek artistic validation from the White House, to politicize each and every last good goddamned thing about life, or to make this somehow all about race.

Even if you take the argument seriously, it's crap. Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson were black, yes, but they also sold scores of millions of records each, which is the likely more relevant detail in this comparison. And there's nothing about MCA's terrificness that requires trash-talking the seriously talented and accomplished Jay-Z and Kanye West.

Read Gene Healy on "The Cult of the Presidency," and Nick Gillespie on "The Politicization of Everything." If you must, Talking Points Memo has a round-up of politician tributes to MCA. I liked the quick eulogy/remembrance by The New Yorker's Sasha Frere-Jones. LewRockwell.com is linking to some writing about and video of Yauch's anti-interventionism. And here's Tipper Gore and Oprah Winfrey panicking about the Beastie menace in 1986 (with Jello Biafra testifying for the defense):

And let's not give politicizers the last word:

When the Right Helps to Write the Sex Education Curriculum

Under the standard stereotype, liberals produce the sex ed curriculum and conservatives get alarmed at the things their kids are learning. But in many states today it's the right that's dictating much of the contents of those classes and it's the left that's getting unnerved. Salon staffer Tracy Clark-Flory, for example, is distressed at

a Tennessee bill that has the usual aim of abstinence initiatives -- to "exclusively and emphatically" promote abstinence until marriage. But the bill ultimately goes above and beyond the usual. It allows parents to seek damages in court if a teacher "promotes gateway sexual activity" to their child. It's unclear what exactly "gateway sexual activity" is because the measure defines it vaguely as "sexual contact encouraging an individual to engage in a non-abstinent behavior." Critics of the bill have suggested that this could include everything from hand holding to french kissing. The bill also proscribes "implicitly" promoting or "condoning" gateway sexual activity...

Utah and Wisconsin bills share a focus on STIs and unwanted pregnancy as the inevitable result of premarital sex. The Utah measure requires that human sexuality classes underscore "the importance of abstinence from all sexual activity before marriage and fidelity after marriage as the only sure methods for preventing certain communicable diseases." The Wisconsin initiative mandates that human sexuality classes "promote abstinence and marriage over contraception" and "emphasize that abstinence is the only reliable way to prevent pregnancy and avoid sexually transmitted infections" (which is patently false).

Apparently, public institutions created with one set of values in mind can be captured by people with a different set of values. You may want to bear this in mind the next time you find yourself creating a public institution.

Elsewhere in Reason: Ralph Raico predicted way back in 1974 that sex education would take a turn to the right.

Will Mitt Romney Negate the GOP's Advantage on ObamaCare?

A new poll shows  President Obama and his rival Mitt Romney virtually tied on health care issues. The poll of likely voters, conducted by Politico and Washington University, shows that President Obama has a small edge on Mitt Romney, with 48 percent ranking Obama better on health care issues versus 45 percent for Romney. That's within the margin of error, however, and Romney has a razor thin overall lead, with 48 percent of voters saying they would pick the former Massachusetts governor and 47 percent favoring Obama.

Politico provides analysis of the poll from both Republicans and Democrats, and it's about what you'd expect from a survey showing such close results. The Republican analysts happily declare that the GOP has united around Romney and warn that "there are warning signs throughout the data for President Obama that would be significant for any incumbent President," while the Democrats insist that "the President's personal popularity is unparelleled." Good news for everyone, right?

Or maybe it's not-so-great news for both, especially on health care. And if anything, on that front, it's probably worse for Romney. Granted, it shows once again that President Obama has not yet been able to seal the deal on his signature piece of legislation. No, it's not a great success. But given the consistently dismal poll results surrounding the law, a slight lead, even within the margin of error, is actually a decent showing relative to other polls on the issue. 

That's not the case for Romney. What this poll shows is that the former governor has not been able to press what would seem to be the Republican party's natural advantage on health care. In the two years since ObamaCare's passage, polls have consistently shown the law to be subbornly unpopular. About two thirds of the public opposes the individual mandate to purchase health insurance. Roughly half say they want to see the entire law repealed. Yet on health issues, Romney, the candidate who says he wants to repeal the most significant health law in decades, is trailing Obama, the president who passed it. At this point in the election pre-season, the Republican candidate ought to have a lead over Obama on health care issues. But Romney's starting a position of weakness. 

This is exactly what many warned would happen should Romney, whose Massachusetts health plan served as the model for Obama's law, become the nominee. In recent weeks a number of Democrats have warned that the health law may be a liability for the party in November. But thanks to Mitt Romney, it may not be a liability that Republicans can use to their advantage. 

Great News from Africa: Child Mortality Rates Plummeting

From the Center for Global Development's web site:

New statistics show that the rate of child death across sub-Saharan Africa is not just in decline—but that decline has massively accelerated, just in the last few years. From the middle to the end of the last decade, rates of child mortality across the continent plummeted much faster than they ever had before.

These shocking new numbers are in a paper released today by Gabriel Demombynes and Karina Trommlerová in the Kenya office of the World Bank...

This is a stunningly rapid decline, and nothing like it was occurring even as recently as the first half of the decade. For comparison, the Millennium Development Goal of a 2/3 decline in child mortality between 1990 and 2015 translates into a 1.6 percent annual decline in child mortality. In other words, the above countries are successfully reducing child mortality at an annual rate quadruple the rate called for by the Millennium Development Goals. They are doing this across hundreds of millions of people, across a vast landscape of hundreds of thousands of villages and cities.

The full World Bank study.

Reason on Africa.

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Fist of Etiquette for reminding me I should really have called attention to this line from the World Bank study summary: "A Oaxaca-Blinder decomposition using Demographic and Health Survey data shows that the increased ownership of insecticide-treated bednets in endemic malaria zones explains 39 percent of the decline in postneonatal mortality and 58 percent of the decline in infant mortality." We have written about the marvelous advantages of malaria reduction here at Reason for a long time.

Glenn Reynolds on New York Times' Subtle Bias: The Case of Obamacare

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds writing in the New York Post details "subtle bias" at the New York Times. Here's a case in point:

Readers of last Sunday’s front page, for example, were informed that “In Hopeful Sign, Health Spending Is Flattening Out.”

Hopeful? Well, maybe. The article is full of caveats and to-be-sures like this: “The growth rate mostly slowed as millions of Americans lost insurance coverage along with their jobs. Worried about job security, others may have feared taking time off work for doctor’s visits or surgical procedures, or skipped nonurgent care when money was tight.” Or this: “Some experts caution that there remains too little data to determine whether the current slowdown will become permanent, or whether it is merely a blip caused by the economy’s weakness.”

But, we’re told, “[M]any other health experts say that there is just enough data to start detecting trends — even if the numbers remain murky, and the vast complexity of the national health care market puts definitive answers out of reach.”

At this point, an editor might have spiked the story, commenting that all we’ve got are dueling experts who admit that they don’t really know what’s going on amid their “murky” numbers.

While that might have been good use of editorial discretion, it wouldn’t have advanced the narrative about cost declines, which is this: “If so, it was happening just as the new health care law was coming into force, and before the Supreme Court could weigh in on it or the voters could pronounce their own verdict at the polls.”

There’s your narrative:ObamaCare is working, and the Supreme Court should back off. Oh, and voters, don’t be mean to the Democrats who rammed this down your throat.

Despite the fact that, once you’ve gotten through all the caveats and battling experts and murky data there’s not much actual evidence of that — at best, some hopeful supposition, mostly from people with an investment in ObamaCare..."

Whole thing here.

Read Peter Suderman's analysis of this particular health care story.

A.M. Links: Nanoprobes for U.S. Troops, White House Invite for Hollande, Joe Biden Comfortable With Same Sex Marriage or Maybe Not

  • DARPA plans to develop nanoprobes to inject into U.S. troops for monitoring and tactical purposes, calling it a “truly disruptive innovation”.
  • Could Ron Paul supporters learn something from Israeli settlers? Haaretz reports on the first night of the Likud party convention:  “Few of the settlers, who had been democratically elected to the convention, are likely to vote for the Likud. They care not a wit for Netanyahu or his ambitions. They came early and grabbed most of the seats to signal to him that he cannot do as he pleases in his party. The festive event quickly turned into a sweaty performance of heckling, yelling and catcalls.”
  • President Barack Obama invited the French President-elect, Socialist Francois Hollande, to the White House.  “[H]e looks forward to working closely with Mr Hollande and his government on a range of shared economic and security challenges,” Jay Carney said in a statement.
  • Despite saying he’s “totally comfortable” with same-sex marriage (like the last Vice President!), the White House insists Joe Biden’s on the same page as the President—against doing anything about it.
  • Channel 4 in New Orleans sees a trend towards more gun ownership, because of the crime.
  • A United Nations investigator says the U.S should return some of its stolen land to Native Americans, because of discrimination.

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New at Reason.tv: Bob Poole on How to Fix America's Airports

Steve Chapman on Presidents Who Vote for War

Ninety-six years ago, when President Woodrow Wilson ran for re-election, two notable things happened: 1) His campaign used the slogan "He kept us out of war," and 2) he won. It has been a long time since any president could seek a second term while making that boast. Looking at recent history, writes Steve Chapman, you would conclude not that the Constitution allows the president to make war, but that it requires him to do so. Modern leaders don't brag about keeping us out of war but about getting us in. Barack Obama reinforces that truth more than any president of our era.

View this article

Brickbat: Wrong Number

Police in Nottingham, England, knocked down the door to Robert Kerr's house and caused $793 in damage because the GPS on a stolen iPhone indicated that was the address the thief had taken it to. They eventually realized they had the wrong house. But police refused to pay for the damage to the house because they "reasonably believed" the person who took the phone was in the building.

Brickbat Archive

Ron Paul's Maine, Nevada, and Iowa Victories (Despite Romney Dirty Tricks)

As Ron Paul's much-vaunted, little-understood "delegate strategy" continues, he wins yet another state (far too late to get media credit or momentum for it), Maine. That is, "wins" as in, the majority of delegates from that state seem set to vote for him at the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August. AP with the newsy details:

Ron Paul supporters took control of the Maine Republican Convention and elected a majority slate supporting the Texas congressman to the GOP national convention, party officials said. The results gave the Texas congressman a late state victory.

In votes leading to the close of the two-day Maine convention, Paul supporters were elected to 21 of the 24 delegate spots from Maine to the GOP national convention in Tampa, Fla. The 24th delegate's seat goes to party Chairman Charles Webster, who has remained uncommitted throughout the process.   

Making the Paul takeover complete was the election of Paul supporters to a majority of the state committee seats.....Romney won the February straw poll with 39 percent of the vote to Paul's 36 percent. Rick Santorum trailed with 18 percent and Newt Gingrich got 6 percent.

The story says that Romney's people aren't afraid Paul can stymie their victory, but are "mindful not to do or say anything that might anger Paul's loyal supporters." A Maine Paul fan insists she found a secret Romney supporter distributing fake slates of Paul-leaning delegates. The same is reported from Nevada, where Paul also won the most delegates this weekend (though they are bound by party rules to vote for Romney anyway), more details on that below.

*The Des Moines Register sums up the situation going out of Iowa as of now (though it ain't over yet):

The majority of Iowans on the list to go to Tampa for the GOP national convention could be aligned with Ron Paul, a presidential candidate who represents a movement focused on limited government and constitutional principles.

Of the 13 delegates and 13 alternates nominated Saturday for the national convention in Florida, just one has publicly endorsed Mitt Romney for president: Gov. Terry Branstad. And just three others publicly supported Rick Santorum, who won the Iowa caucuses but is no longer in the race.

The national delegate slate is far from complete, but if the Paul trend in the Iowa delegation continues, the upshot will be that the Iowa caucuses essentially had three winners: Romney on caucus night, Santorum after the certified vote, and Paul in the delegate count....

The at-large delegates nominated Saturday were Branstad, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, Margaret Stoldorf of Red Oak, Michelle Bullock of Ankeny, James Mills of Nora Springs, Steven Anders of Council Bluffs, Roger Leahy of Fairfield, Mark Hansen of Council Bluffs, William Johnson of Dubuque, Lexy Nuzum of Winterset, Andrea Bie of Waterville, David Fischer of Altoona and Drew Ivers of Webster City.

Ten of those 13 have expressed public support for Paul, such as volunteering for his campaign or donating money....

This slate next goes before the state convention in mid-June. It can be amended to replace certain delegates before a final up or down vote.

Six of the eight members of the nominating committee voting on delegates Saturday have public ties to Paul’s campaign and his philosophy of limited government. But they insisted that they elected people they believe are politically active and good Republicans and have no idea who the delegates will back in Tampa. Iowa’s 28 delegates are “unbound,” meaning they aren’t required to vote for a nominee based on the results of the caucuses.

*In Nevada, Paul people won 22 of the 25 national delegate slots open at the end of the Nevada GOP state convention in Sparks this weekend. This is despite dirty tricks from the Romney camp--Romney folk pretending to be Paul folk and distributing fake Paul delegates lists. This is discussed at both the Reno Gazette Journal and Daily Paul.

Paul himself appeared at the convention in Nevada.

More from the Las Vegas Sun on the Paul victory, and how it won't be expressed in actual votes for Paul, since the delegates are bound to follow the results of the February caucus vote, in which Romney won a majority:

But while Paul loyalists will make up the majority of the Nevada delegation, Republican rules require the first vote at the national convention to reflect the results of the Feb. 4 caucus, which Romney easily won.

That means 20 of Nevada’s national delegates must vote for Romney, while eight will be free to vote for Paul in the first balloting.

While some Paul supporters voiced an intention to challenge the binding requirement, the campaign opted not to further antagonize the Republican National Committee, who has threatened not to seat the delegates if they ignore the caucus results and vote for Paul.

“We are sending a strong delegation to Tampa in August,” Paul’s Nevada chairman Carl Bunce said. “There are rumors that (the Paul campaign) will actively work to not follow rules and unbind our delegates. That is false; we are not doing that. Congressman Paul is an individual who wants to follow the rules, follow the Constitution and we follow that lead.”

Jim DeGraffenried, the secretary of the state party, stressed party officials will not allow the national delegation to deviate from the binding caucus results.

“We will not allow anyone to break that,” DeGraffenreid said. “If they do, the will revoke their delegate status and they will be replaced by alternates.”...

National Republican officials characterized the Nevada convention as a “Ron Paul super bowl,” noting that his supporters spent the last four years working to take over the state party structure. They’ve captured seats on state and county central committees, elected a state chairman and elected their own to represent Nevada at the Republican National Committee.

Some talk on Ron Paul Forums on why Paul people might have been less inclined to try to change Nevada's own state rules to unbind the delegates and allow them to vote Paul on first ballot.

*The Christian Science Monitor on Paul's Maine and Nevada victories.

*NPR finds the Republican Convention in Nevada this weekend to be as libertarian as the Libertarian Party convention held simultaneously in the state.

*My book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.

Starchild Is Here

Las Vegas - San Francisco Libertarian Party activst Starchild, a Lee Wrights supporter, was not bothered by the nasty fight for national chairman, but he was worried about running out of time.

"If we ran out of time that could have shut down the convention and then the top-down group that controls the LNC would have had to vote," he said.

The way Starchild sees this fight is that it was originally the two factions bickering like usual, until accustions of voter improprities were thrown around. The integrity of the whole process was at stake, he said. 

"The problem was it wasn't clear whether a.) People could change their vote; b.) whether people that didn't vote could vote, or whether people that voted only in previous rounds could vote; c.) Whether it was okay to lobby people to change their vote. People didn't know what the rules were. So it became a huge clusterfuck," he said. 

With the defeat of what he calls the "top-down faction" (Alicia Mattson, Aaron Starr, Wayne Allyn Root, Bill Redpath, Mark Rutherford, and others) though, he found hope for the future of the party. 

"It might be too early to say that the party has turned a corner but I think it's headed in the right direction," he said.

Starchild was elected to an at-large spot on the Libertarian National Committee. He joins Bill Redpath, Wayne Allyn Root, Michael Cloud and Arvin Vohra on the committee.

Watch his nomination video after the jump. 

MORE »

Geoff Neale is the new LNC Chairman

Las Vegas - Six ballots later, the Libertarian National Committee has a new chair: Geoff Neale.

Neale, a former chair of the national committee between 2002-2004 and the Texas state party in 90s, was not a candidate for the race until today when he was nominated from the floor before the third round of voting. Neale, originally from England, is a technology consultant. He defeated None Of The Above 61 percent to 37 percent. 

During his victory speech Neale used the famous Las Vegas tourism slogan, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" to encourage delegates to not leave angry and at odds with each other. 

"Thers been a lot of rancor at this convention. I 'd like to think that we have been advocates for our view points not adversaires, please try to take that away with you from this conventon. Passionate advocacy is essential for libertarian communications and opperations as a group," he said. 

Neale said that his first act of business as chairman was to sitdown the national commitee and with the Johnson campaign to see what they can do to help the campaign as well as ensure ballot access nationwide. 

Mark Rutherford, the former vice-chair of the party, was Neale's strongest opponent and the only candidate to survive Saturday's debacle.

Neale received the endorsement of former presidential candidates Lee Wrights and Mary Ruwart, powerful representives of the so-called purist wing of the party. 

Neale's nomination video after the jump.

Gary Johnson: The LNC Chair Race is Exciting! Interesting!

Las Vegas - Just before endorsing Wayne Allyn Root and Bill Redpath for at-large spots on the Libertarian National Committee, Gary Johnson reflected on the current battle for chair of the party. 

"It's exciting, it's interesting," he said.

While we were talking Johnson introduced his campaign manager, Ron Nielson, to LNC chair candidate Geoff Neale.

The thing is, Neale hasn't been elected chair yet. 

“Congratulations!” says Nielson.

"Well, I haven't beaten nobody yet,” laughs Neale.

Nielson laughs, too.

“I have heard nothing but good things about you,” Johnson says to Neale.

Johnson returns to talking with me. Does he think this is bad for the party?

“No, no. I don’t. I really don’t. It’s help me understand the faction that I didn’t understand. When I say factions I am not casting negative on either. There are those that believe this should be all about principle, which I happen to agree with, meaning that it has to absolutely be principled. Then I think there is a group that really wants to grow the party,” he said, before Neale and Nielson moved off to the side to chat.

“The principled would argue that growing the party compromises the principle and I don’t think you have to have that. As the presidential nominee I’ve been saying that. I’ve been saying you gotta be able to articulate Z but if you’re gonna be able to get to E, that’s a good thing,” he said.

Johnson said he is looking forward to a brief break after the convention tonight to take in a show on the strip with his fiancé, Kate Prusack. 

Sarkozy Defeat Prompts Euro Death Watch, Carla Bruni Reported "Disheveled"

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's action-packed six-year term has ended in defeat at the hands of Socialist challenger François Hollande.

Hollande, who ran on pledges to raise income taxes, took a little less than 52 percent to Sarkozy's little more than 48 percent in the runoff election. 

Hollande has promised to raise income tax rates from 41 percent to 75 percent. He has also pledged to accelerate the departure of French troops from Afghanistan. His election comes at a time when unprecedented levels of public debt coupled with work-averse political cultures are threatening to break up of the eurozone. 

France's unemployment rate is at a 13-year high of 10 percent (handy comparison with other countries, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics). The country's inability to manage its debt led Standard & Poor's Ratings Services in January to lower France's triple-A debt rating. 

Although France remains among the less-stricken economies in Europe, the resiliency of its bureaucracies make it impossible for the country to control the growth rate of public spending. The European debt crisis has made dissolution of the euro an attractive option for inflation-happy governments eager to abandon the transnational movement and return to local mismanagement and socialist immiseration. 

Although Sarkozy's defeat is being depicted as a repudiation of free-market economics, he was never a particularly good friend of the free market. He was, however, a reliably entertaining political presence who may have slightly widened the scope of allowable political opinion in France. This included his introducing the cocktail of Carla Bruni into the mix of international politics. Predictably, model/actress/singer Bruni is now being blamed for his downfall. France24 denounces the outgoing first lady as the "worm in Sarkozy's mouldy apple," while the Daily Mail posts photos of Bruni looking "disheveled" (i.e., still better put together than 90 percent of the population of Planet Earth). 

Still no Chair of the Libertarian National Committee [UPDATED]

Las Vegas - On and on it goes at the Libertarian National Convention.

After some unusually quick parliamentary maneuvers this morning the race for chair of the Libertarian National Committee expanded from None Of The Above and Mark Rutherford to five candidates, including LNC Treasurer Bill Redpath and former chair Geoff Neale.

Lee Wrights, the man who many thought was behind this dust up, was nominated for chair but dropped out to endorse Neale while giving his acceptance speech. Wrights is running for vice-chair. 

The third round of voting (there was a revote of the second round, not a new ballot) has just completed and there was no winner. 

UPDATE: Bill Redpath knocked out in fourth round of voting; still no winner. 

UPDATE: Mark Rutherford knocked out in fifth round of voting; still no winner.

UPDATE: Geoff Neale elected chairman on the sixth round of voting.

Vote totals after the jump. 

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Connecticut Legislature Approves Medical Marijuana; Governor Expected to Sign

Connecticut’s State Senate voted 23-to-13 Saturday to legalize marijuana for medical use, making it the 16th state (along with the District of Columbia) to disagree with the feds that the plant has no therapeutic use.

Under HB 5389, Connecticut’s system would be much more regulated than California’s, requiring licenses and the diagnosis of specific diseases in order to qualify for a prescription:

"Debilitating medical condition" means (A) cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, epilepsy, cachexia, wasting syndrome, Crohn's disease, posttraumatic stress disorder, or (B) any medical condition, medical treatment or disease approved by the Department of Consumer Protection pursuant to regulations adopted under section 14 of this act;

Connecticut’s House of Representatives approved the bill in April. According to the Associated Press, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is expected to sign it into law.

Below, reason.tv provides some firsthand perspectives on the medical value of marijuana.

Sheldon Richman On the Gilded Age's Managed Economy

That late 19th Century is depicted, by both friends and foes of the free market, as an era of laissez-faire market freedom. But Sheldon Richman shows that Gilded Age was a period of vast government interference in the private markets. "We discover that the fortunes realized by our manufacturers are no longer solely the reward of sturdy industry and enlightened foresight, but that they result from the discriminating favor of the Government and are largely built upon undue exactions from the masses of our people," one critic said. "As we view the achievements of aggregated capital, we discover the existence of trusts, combinations, and monopolies, while the citizen is struggling far in the rear or is trampled to death beneath an iron heel. Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters." And the critic wasn't just some anarchist kook. 

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Anarchy at the Libertarian Party Convention [UPDATED]

Las Vegas - After a relatively uneventful president and vice-presidential nominating process, all hell broke loose at the Libertarian National Convention when the Libertarian Party attempted to pick a new national committee chair. The race between current chair Mark Hinkle and vice chair Mark Rutherford fell into disarray when a group of delegates associated with Lee Wrights made a push for the option of None Of The Above.

The selection of “None of the Above,” or NOTA, would exclude Hinkle and Rutherford from future rounds of ballots, while opening the race to candidates who can be nominated from the floor. Wrights said he would accept the nomination. 

The fight began when Nicholas Sarwark of Colorado pushed for someone to speak on behalf of NOTA. Parliamentary rangling ensued, watch after the jump.

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Judge Jim Gray Is the 2012 Libertarian Party Vice Presidential Nominee

Former two-term New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson will be the Libertarian Party's 2012 presidential nominee, and former judge James "Jim" Gray will be his running mate. 

Gray beat out Lee Wrights and one other candidate for the vice presidential nomination. 

Gray, a former Orange County Superior Court Judge who ran against Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) as a Libertarian in 2004, announced his candidacy last week. Shortly after, Johnson expressed his preference to have Gray as his running mate if he won the presidential nomination. 

“The process all along has been to find somebody that can articulate libertarian ideals and beliefs and I’ve thought all along that [Gray] would be a really solid pick,” Johnson told Reason last week. “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."

Gray is a leading critic of the war on drugs, and supported California's Prop 19. You can watch him below talk to Reason.tv about groups that benefit from the drug war. 

Tim Cavanaugh and Scott Shackford on the Incredibly Empty Expo Line

Los Angeles' brand-new Expo Line, which opened a week ago to great fanfare, was supposed to carry 27,000 passengers per day. In fact, Tim Cavanaugh and Scott Shackford write, even the most charitable estimate shows the train is carrying no more than 13,000 people per day. Cavanaugh and Shackford spent two days this week counting and interviewing Expo Line riders, and discovered that the $930 million train is carrying so few riders and bringing in so little revenue that it will, at best, take 65 years for the train to earn back its capital investment (not including ongoing operating costs). If the project completes its next phase and establishes an at-grade train that runs through heavy street traffic from Downtown L.A. to the city of Santa Monica, it will not pay for its construction for 170 years. 

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Gary Johnson Wins Libertarian Party Nomination

Las Vegas – For the second consecutive election cycle the Libertarian Party has nominated a prominent ex-Republican politician as their presidential nominee. Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, won the party’s nomination on the first ballot. Johnson's opponents, including his debate partner Lee Wrights, trailed far behind. 

Johnson is the first former state executive to run for president on the Libertarian line and, arguably, provides the LP with their highest profile candidate since Ron Paul in 1988. Johnson has stated that his goal, short of winning, is to reach 15 percent in the polls to qualify for the national debates and to pick up at least 5 percent of the vote in November order to secure public funding for the party in 2016. 

Voting for the vice presidential nominee will take place next. Jim Gray and Lee Wrights are the two candidates seeking the VP slot.

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Gary Johnson Just Gave the Best Speech of His Presidential Campaign

Las Vegas - Moments before delegates began casting their ballots to determine the Libertarian Party presidential nominee, Gary Johnson told the crowd at the Red Rocks Resort in Las Vegas that he’d rather be tortured to death than vote for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama.

It was one of several lines that brought the crowd to its feet at this year’s Libertarian Party Convention. Based on what I’ve seen from Johnson in the last year, it was the best speech he’s ever given: Punchy, firm, loud, politically on point, and littered with applause lines.

It was also improvised.

“You must not know much about Gary,” his spokesman told me when I asked for a transcript of the speech, which brought the packed Red Rocks ballroom to its feet half a dozen times. “That was all Gary. All he had up there were a few notes.”

Content-wise, Johnson’s speech was nothing new. He’s talked about winding down the war in Afghanistan, ending the war on drugs, fiscal responsibility, tax reform, GLBT rights, and gun rights at speeches across the country for months. But today’s delivery showed Johnson has finally learned how to package those ideas into sound bites.

Some of the punchiest lines:

“Imagine a libertarian president challenging Congress to bring about marriage equality.”

“Imagine a libertarian president ending impediments to free markets.”

“Imagine a libertarian president challenging Congress to repeal the PATRIOT Act.”

“Imagine a libertarian president challenging Congress for meaningful immigration reform.”

“The libertarian candidate for president is the only candidate talking about gun rights and gay rights in the same sentence.”

“The libertarian candidate for president is the only candidate that’s going to be talking about slashing welfare spending and warfare spending in the same sentence.” 

“Make no bones about it: The goal here is to win the election.”

"Somewhere between 2000 and 2008, Bob Barr fell out of bed, hit his head, and became a libertarian. I'm glad it happened."

"This is not 2008. I don't have any of that baggage hanging in back of me."

And the best line of the speech:

"I was on NPR's All Things Considered yesterday. The question was, 'You're on the torture rack, they're going to kill you, who are you going to vote for? Mitt Romney, or Barack Obama? I said, 'Look, I've climbed Mount Everest. I know how to do what it takes. Take this to the bank: I would rather die.'" 

How the LP Votes for a Presidential Nominee

Las Vegas - After the presidential nominees deliver their speeches the real fun begins.

The state delegations gather individually to vote for their preferred nominee. Since there are no formal ballots, some states just use scraps of paper while others, like California, use colored index cards. The chairs of the state delegations then count the ballots and submit them to the LP secretary, Alicia Mattson. 

Mattson and her assistants count the votes by state before proceeding to a roll call vote of the states on the floor. As the roll call proceeds the vote totals will be displayed on the two big screens in the convention hall.

Candidates need only receive 50 percent plus-one of the vote in order to secure the Libertarian Party nomination. If no candidate reaches this mark there is another round of voting and the candidate with the lowest vote total is eliminated. This process will continue as many rounds as necessary until a nominee is chosen. 

The Libertarian Party Convention Drinking Game

Las Vegas - Brian Holtz, a candidate for the Libertarian Judicial Committee, is distributing campaign flyers that feature his support for the controversial convention floor fee. This is the first time the Libertarian Party has charged a mandatory fee to be a delegate to the national convention and it has pissed off some of the rank and file. Two proposals to the party by-laws related to the floor fee failed to achieve enough votes for passage.

On the other side of his flyers is a Libertarian Convention floor drinking game.

Some of the highlights. Drink if:

- Starchild arrives not wearing a sash.

- Any delegate arrives in a Guy Fawkes mask (one just asked to use my power strip) 

- George Phillies criticizes someone as a “Republican”

- Gary Johnson gets compared to Bob Barr

- A veteran infighter says “the enemy is not in this room.

- Bob Sullentrup makes a baseball analogy

What would a major political event be without a drinking game?

America's Most-Expensive Runaway Train: California High-Speed Rail

California's high speed train officials certified an environmental impact report Thursday, allowing for the start of land purchases along the first leg of their monstrous mother of all boondoggles. The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) hopes to start construction on the 65-mile stretch from Fresno to Merced by the end of the year, attempting to get building before voters figure out a way to slap the money out of their hands.

The certification moves the $68 billion project into the well-known phase of California development where people with various agendas use any little issue with the environmental impact report to sue, sue, sue. These people could be property owners looking to block the project (or negotiate better compensation), union groups looking to secure labor agreements, environmental attorneys hoping to make a buck by challenging the science, or any number of folks with complaints of varying legitimacy.

The Los Angeles Times reports that farming interests in Merced and Madera counties may be planning suits over perceived defects with the environmental report and disruptions to their agricultural pursuits. If they press their concerns in the courts, they'll join quite a crowd of litigants already fighting various decisions about the train.

In other recent developments connected to the still-not-quite-embattled-enough-to-kill-it-dead project:

More Games with Numbers. CHSRA has faced plenty of criticism over inexplicable ridership projections that are accepted by absolutely nobody and funding methods that are essentially illegal. Now critics are focusing on its projected operational costs, which are absurdly low and would only add up if California's trains were the most economically efficient in the world.

Authors of a new study say operation costs for the train will actually be four times what CHSRA is projecting, necessitating annual subsidies to continue operations. That would be a problem because state law forbids subsidizing the train's operations. The Reason Foundation estimated in 2008 that the operations of the train would cost as much as $700 million more per year than what CHSRA projected. This new study (readable here at Community Coalition on High Speed Rail) projects the train will actually require as much as $2 billion in subsidies annually to stay in operation. California Watch spoke to Alan Bushnell, one of the report's authors, who said, “We showed that their (projected) operating costs and revenue costs per mile were significantly lower than what anybody anywhere in the world had ever been able to achieve.”

CHSRA board member Mike Rossi responded by claiming the report used “wrong numbers” and incorrect data from a Spanish foundation study of high speed rail in Europe. But the report writers pointed out CHSRA used data from the same Spanish study. Bushell and his co-authors used the study specifically because it was footnoted in CHSRA's business plan.

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Reason's Bob Poole on How to Fix America's Airports

Why don't airports and airlines inovate? Bob Poole has been working on finding out why for about 20 years. He gave a presentation at Reason Weekend explaining not only why but how we can fix America's airports.

At Reason Weekend, the annual donor event held by Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes this website), Poole gives a short history of air transportation in the United States. Airports are mismanaged and over regulated causing the wrong incentives in the industry, Poole shows how we can transform airports to be more market driven and adaptable in the 21st century.

Approximately 38 minutes. Filmed by Joshua Swain and Anthony Fisher. Edited by Sharif Matar.

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

Johnson and Wrights Square Off in Libertarian Presidential Debate

Las Vegas—The final debate in the race for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination between Gary Johnson and Lee Wrights was, mostly, a friendly affair that felt more like an infomercial for libertarianism than a debate. Former LP presidential candidate David Bergland softly tossed questions to the candidates that seemed as if they were designed to elicit responses that would convert those watching on C-SPAN to libertarianism rather than display the differences, however slight, between the two candidates. At times it was even tedious, though as Johnson would say later in the debate, you almost always know how a Libertarian will come down on an issue. Even though we live in an era where libertarianism is more popular and widespread than ever there are still people out there that have no idea what it is about, so there is the need, in the LP’s eyes, to appeal to the casual viewer.

Early questions like, “How you found the Libertarian Party” and “What is Libertarianism?” reinforced the infomercial feel but they did get some great responses.

Johnson said he became a libertarian after somebody gave him a book in 1971 about libertarianism. His worldview was forever changed and he passed the book on in the hopes of changing the mind of somebody else.

“For eight years I got to serve as a Libertarian governor under the guise of being a Republican. I have come out of the closet,” he said.

Wrights tried to connect his libertarianism with the delegates on a more personal level.

“Libertarianism is a life choice, it is more than a political party. It is more than the people in this room,” he said.

As the debate wore on it became clear that Johnson was taking the debate very seriously and thinking about the long term while Wrights played the role of convention jester. Johnson has stated numerous times during his run that he is committed to the Libertarian Party and, assuming he loses in 2012, running again in 2016 on the LP line. Wrights has been running since 2010 and tomorrow could potentially be the end of his presidential aspirations, meaning that he has nothing left to lose.

The only real point of contention between the two came during a discussion about the elimination of the IRS, a long-time dream of LP members. Johnson talked up his record of not raising taxes and said he would repeal the income tax and abolish the IRS while replacing it with the Fair Tax.

Wrights pounced.

“I agree. We need to abolish the IRS, do away with the income tax and replace it with nothing. I am sorry folks but there is no such thing as a fair tax. It might be fair to government but it isn’t fair to us. We don’t need a national sales tax,” he said, his voice occasionally booming.

Johnson, somewhat startled, stayed on message and defended his position on the Fair Tax as incremental.

“I think at a minimum, abolishing the federal income tax, the corporate tax, the IRS, and replacing it with a consumption tax, I think that is an improvement over what we have. I think as a president I would like to articulate the need for replacing that tax,” said Johnson.

Wrights fed off this exchange and he became even more animated, endearing himself to the crowd.

Johnson may have appeared as the more serious candidate but he occasionally stumbled when answering even the most basic of questions. The Federal Reserve raised its head during the debate and Johnson’s long and complicated answer, which stopped short of calling for the Fed's elimination, could hurt him with Ron Paul supporters.

The initial reaction to the debate seemed mixed. Most delegates I spoke to said Wrights impressed them, but we won’t know until tomorrow if the debate moved any votes. Meanwhile, more delegates, most expected to support Johnson, are expected to arrive on Saturday.

Baylen Linnekin Interviews Farmer-Activist Joel Salatin

“We run the farm like a business instead of a welfare recipient,” declares farmer, author, and entrepreneur Joel Salatin, who eschews government subsidies and questions the wisdom of most federal food regulations. A self-described “Christian-conservative-libertarian-environmentalist-lunatic,” Salatin isn’t afraid to speak his mind. “I’ve never taken drugs and don’t intend to, but I absolutely defend the right of someone to take them if they want. By the same token, I don’t eat McDonald’s food, but I vehemently defend the right of people to eat it,” he says. In a wide-ranging interview conducted by Baylen Linnekin, executive director of the nonprofit Keep Food Legal, Salatin weighs in on the future of food and freedom in America.

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It's Johnson vs Wrights in the LP debate

Las Vegas – Tonight’s pivotal Libertarian Party presidential debate will feature Gary Johnson and Lee Wrights.

Here’s quick primer on the candidates:

Gary Johnson
New Mexico

A former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico with a background in the construction industry, entered the race for the Libertarian Party nomination after failing to take off in the race for the Republican nomination. While governor earned a reputation of being fiscally conservative and socially tolerant by vetoing over 700 bills and becoming one of the first officials elected to prominent office to call for the legalization of marijuana. When Johnson left office in 2003 due to term limits the state budget had a billion dollar surplus.

Before serving as governor he built up a successful construction company that he eventually sold for millions.

More from Reason on Gary Johnson here.

Lee Wrights
Texas

After graduating high school in North Carolina Wrights joined the US Air Force and worked his way up to the rank of sergeant. Wrights was honorably discharged and went on to pursue a career in journalism and activism in the libertarian movement. Wrights has worked at numerous outlets including  Liberty For All and the Free Market Daily. Wrights was Mary Ruwart’s campaign manager in 2008. He currently resides in Texas where he edits Ration Review News Digest. Wrights launched his campaign in April 2011. 

The theme of Wright's campaign is Stop All War. When asked about it he said it extends beyond just foreign policy. “Our political rhetoric is rife with war. Whenever our politicians have a problem that needs to be solved they want to have a war on it. That doesn’t work.” 

My interview with Wrights here

Carl Person and Jim Burns came up far short of the threshold needed to participate in the debate but they are within striking distance of the all important 30 tokens required to be a presidential nominee. They can continue to submit tokens until the period for nominations is closed in the convention hall sometime tomorrow morning.

 Final totals of delegate-token counts after the jump

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Ron Paul Roundup: The World Gazes on His Delegate Strategy in Wild Wonder

Lots of folk have had lots to say about Ron Paul's slow racking up of delegates and supporter influence in the Republican Party in the past couple of days. A sampling:

*Jon Ward at Huffington Post says some Iowan GOPers are peeved and distressed at the Paulian success in their state:

Conversations with numerous Iowa Republicans confirms the same thing: The state party establishment is dreading a Paul rout on June 15 and 16 at the two-day congressional district/state convention in Des Moines.

"Paul is costing the state a lot of credibility," said Bob Haus, a GOP consultant who most recently headed up Texas Gov. Rick Perry's campaign in the state.  

Another Republican operative who works for a statewide official sounded an even more despondent note.

"It does not sound encouraging. The Paul people are in a position to control the delegates, and the result would be chaotic for the Republican Party of Iowa and bring it to a screeching halt, rendering it completely irrelevant to our efforts here," the Republican aide told The Huffington Post. "Nobody would rely on [the state party] for anything.

After the fiasco earlier this year involving the caucus results, Iowans are nervous that if Paul gets a majority of the delegates, it will endanger their first-in-the-nation primary status. 

After a decent summation of where and how the Paul people are punching above their weight in other states such as Minnesota, Alaska, Colorado, and Nevada, Ward wonders: to what avail?

Despite the drama, it's still not clear what immediate tangible benefit these delegates will yield for Paul and his devoted followers. Romney still appears to be set to reach 1,144 delegates, the number he needs to clinch the nomination.

But at the very least, Paul's delegate total and the willingness of his supporters to vote for him on the floor in Tampa is certain to draw attention to his cause and his message of limited government. It seems somewhat unlikely that Paul would forego the chance to see his supporters give the GOP establishment fits on the convention floor, under a nationally televised microscope, simply to gain a better speaking slot at the four-day event.

So he may be simply building a movement with a view toward giving his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a head start for the 2016 race.

And some Republicans said he has already succeeded in pushing the Republican Party so far to the right on fiscal and budgetary matters that it has paid tangible dividends at the legislative level.

"There are a lot of establishment Republicans who need to thank Ron Paul for injecting a certain amount of courage to do what people always said needed to be done but where they also said, 'How do we do that?'" Iowa state Rep. Erik Helland said.

*Fox News calls the Paul strategy a "highjacking" of the Party and quotes a GOP strategist saying it will only in the end (for reasons unexplained) help Obama.  

*The Hill pushes the same "Paul's state level victories might help Obama" line, with some actual explanations of how that might be the case:

State Republican Party organizations are usually responsible for get out the vote efforts and other functions key to a successful election. If officials aren’t in Romney’s corner, the former Massachusetts governor and down-ticket Republicans could struggle due to weak voter registration efforts.

The story goes on to detail some bad blood between the very Paulite new establishment running the Iowa GOP and Romney folk, based not only in Paul fandom but in Romney's steadfast ignoring of the state in the early days of the campaign.

*I blogged yesterday about a lawyer for the national GOP warning Nevada that it better do what the popular caucus vote said and nominate a majority of Romney delegates. The Associated Press reports on the response from the chair of Paul's campaign in Nevada:

The Nevada chairman of Ron Paul's presidential campaign...Carl Bunce called the RNC opinion "creative writing" and maintained Paul supporters will abide by rules that first-round balloting at the national convention be apportioned based on the outcome of the Nevada caucuses....

Bunce countered that rules adopted by the state party last fall and forwarded to the RNC say that delegates are elected at the state convention, but the allotment of delegates to particular candidates happens afterward.

"If Romney's the guy, what are they worried about?" he said. "It's obvious to those of us in the Ron Paul campaign ... Romney did not have the delegates or the force to get his delegates to the national convention."....

Bunce predicted the 50 percent to 60 percent of state convention attendees will be Paul backers.

"It's going to be a Ron Paul rally, that's what it's going to be," he said, adding, "It will be a lawyer fest, probably."

The Nevada GOP establishment shut down their own convention to avoid a Paul delegate victory back in 2008.

*Independent Voter Network thinks that what is most important coming out of the GOP primary season is that "Ron Paul has built a political machine. Judging by recent events in state and local GOP conventions across the country, it may not be at all presumptuous for Ron Paul’s supporters to call their burgeoning movement a revolution."

*Talking Points Memo thinks that "Ron Paul Supporters Antics Could Spell Trouble for GOP Convention."

*Thomas Mullen writing at a Washington Times "communities" page thinks the Paul strategy is perfectly legitimate, indeed a great hat tip to our traditions as a Republic-not-a-democracy:

Ron Paul’s strategy takes advantage of the republican nature of the nomination process. That process does not rely purely on a popular vote to determine who will be the nominee. Instead, voters must go through a multi-tiered vetting process of successive elections in order to become a delegate to the RNC.  

This does not remove all of the dangers inherent in a pure democracy, but it helps. At least a delegate has been forced to hear the arguments of other candidates before blindly casting a vote. He also must have the commitment necessary to endure the long delegate selection process.   

That the process is republican rather than democratic does not disenfranchise anyone. Everyone has an equal opportunity to become a delegate. Everyone has an equal opportunity to read the rules. That supporters of some candidates choose not to go through the process does not “nullify their wishes.” That they choose not to become informed on how candidates are actually nominated does not represent a deception. On the contrary, the whole process is intentionally designed to ensure that uninformed or uncommitted people do not directly choose the nominee.

*TV journalist Ben Swann from a Fox affiliate in Cincinnati thinks the RNC is violating its own rules by already behaving as if Romney won and supporting him; he also wonders if his reading of RNC "rule 38" means that delegates thought bound to the winner of state caucuses and primaries might not be after all; writers at the Daily Paul say he's wrong.

*At the College Fix, former Reason intern Julie Ershadi checks in with the latest of Paul's multi-thousand college campus appearences, at Cal State Fullerton, where he talks up civil liberties and fears government surveillance of us all.

*Robin Koerner at Huffington Post sees a media confused by the paradigm shift the Ron Paul revolution portends.

*As you might know, I have a book coming out within a couple of weeks called Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired, and it got a very nice write-up at RealClearBooks by W. James Antle III, a journalist with a great deal of experience writing and thinking about the modern American right.

Netanyahu Calling Early Elections for Possible October War With Iran?

A leading Israeli TV commentator suggests Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be calling elections nearly a full year ahead of schedule in order to open a window for a military campaign against Iran’s nuclear program in October, while President Obama is in the heat of his re-election campaign.

The Times of Israel reports:

In the weeks immediately after that vote, said well-connected commentator Amnon Abramovich on the top-rated Channel 2 news, Netanyahu will head a transition government at home and have no need to worry about voter sentiment, and he knows that President Barack Obama will be paralyzed by the US presidential campaign…
After the September elections, which all polls show Netanyahu winning easily, he will head a transition government for several weeks while a new coalition is formed. During that period, Netanyahu “will not be beholden to the voters,” and will be free to take decisions on Iran that many Israelis might not support, Abramovich said.

Netanyahu’s decision to trigger early elections took many Israeli political observers by surprise, but does come on the heels of increasing opposition to war with Iran over its nuclear program from the public, from the intelligence community, as well as from former government and military officials.

Netanyahu’s Likud Party is still expected by most to win the re-election amid a fractured and lackluster opposition. The Likud-led coalition also currently includes the second-largest party in the Knesset, Kadima, headed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Kadima was formed in 2005 by more moderate members of Likud and more conservative members of the Labor Party. Since then Kadima has largely eclipsed the Labor Party in size.

FBI Pushes Legislation to Make It Easier to Wiretap the Web

The FBI wants web developers to build fed-friendly backdoors in all their applications in order to make domestic spying easier, reports CNET's Declan McCullagh:

In meetings with industry representatives, the White House, and U.S. senators, senior FBI officials argue the dramatic shift in communication from the telephone system to the Internet has made it far more difficult for agents to wiretap Americans suspected of illegal activities, CNET has learned.

The FBI general counsel's office has drafted a proposed law that the bureau claims is the best solution: requiring that social-networking Web sites and providers of VoIP, instant messaging, and Web e-mail alter their code to ensure their products are wiretap-friendly.

"If you create a service, product, or app that allows a user to communicate, you get the privilege of adding that extra coding," a person who has reviewed the FBI's draft legislation told CNET. The requirements apply only if a threshold of a certain number of users is exceeded, according to a second person briefed on it.

The FBI's proposal would amend a 1994 law, called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA, that currently applies only to telecommunications providers, not Web companies. The Federal Communications Commission extended CALEA in 2004 to apply to broadband networks.

The FBI has been campaigning for a while to make the Internet more friendly to federal eavesdroppers, warning of what it calls the "Going Dark" problem, which refers to the increasing difficulty the agency is having intercepting and surveilling Web-based communications. Some folks, I think it's safe to say, would not refer to this as a problem. 

Job Creation Sputters, Tucson Stuck With Michelle's Tab, Abusive Cops Tell Their Tale: P.M. Links

  • Only 115,000 new jobs were created in the U.S. in April — down from 154,000 in March. But the unemployment rate declined ... because so many people gave up looking for work.
  • Not too fond of the TSA? Neither is Senator Rand Paul. He's asking the public to sign a petition supporting his bill to scrap the Transportation Security Administration.
  • Michelle Obama dropped into Tucson for a political fundraising visit, and all local taxpayers got was the hefty tab for her security detail.
  • Under pressure from lawmakers and the public, Facebook joined the Global Network Initiative, a politically favored group intended to help Internet companies doing business internationally deal with issues including privacy and free expression.
  • To win the presidency, Mitt Romney must thread a bit of an electoral needle, but his advisers insist it's do-able.
  • France's incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy has closed the gap with his main rival, but is still expected to narrowly lose to Socialist challenger Francois Hollande. Meanwhile, Greece's conservatives are expected to win a small plurality in an election dominated by small parties, leaving the country's reaction to its economic plight up in the air.
  • In the disciplinary hearing of New Jersey police officer Regina Tasca, the officers she stopped from beating down an emotionally disturbed man were called to render their interesting version of events.

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Lucy Steigerwald on How the U.S. Has it Both Ways on the War on Terror

It's been one year since that strange evening in May 2011 when President Barack Obama reported that Al-Qaeda head Osama Bin Laden, so long mysteriously absent from the world stage, had been found and killed by U.S. forces. One year later and the U.S. government still refuses to release photos or video to prove Bin Laden really died in the way described, but the latest Time has the action-packed pages that relate just how the raid went down (for real this time!). No photos because the risk is too great that pictures of Bin Laden's body would incite violence. Even though Al-Qaeda is, according to senior U.S. officials, "essentially gone" and with lesser affiliates capable of doing minor harm to U.S. interests. Except that, according to recently-released documents found with Bin Laden in his Pakistan hideaway, Al-Qaeda was trying to make a come-back and had considered such bold schemes as assassinating President Barack Obama. 

So, writes Associate Editor Lucy Steigerwald, which is it? Have we won, or is the risk still dire enough to justify more drone strikes in more countries, as well as the potential for the indefinite detainment of Americans?

View this article

Former Libertarian Presidential Candidate Ed Clark: "I think this year is like 1980"

Las Vegas—In 1980 Ed Clark became the only presidential candidate in the history of the Libertarian Party to crack 1 percent in an election and since then the party has struggled to come close to that high-water mark. In fairness to the other Libertarians that have run for president, Clark’s campaign was buoyed by the personal fortune of industrial titan and current Reason Foundation board member David Koch. Current Libertarian Party front runner Gary Johnson may not have the deep pockets of the Clark/Koch ticket but Clark sees huge potential in Johnson's candidacy and the future of the LP.

“I expect that he will do four or five times better than I did,” said Clark, in a brief interview outside the convention hall.

Clark, accompanied by his wife Alicia, said he sees many similarities between his candidacy in 1980 and Johnson’s in 2012.

“I think this year is like 1980, which was a tremendous year for Libertarians. Everybody was turned off by the government because of Vietnam, people were turned off by the inflation of the 70s, and people in California were turned on to the thought of small government by Prop 13. That made a lot of people available for another alternative in 1980. I think there is the same potential here. I think Gary has the personality, the character, and the background to do it,” he said.

The prospect of Johnson doing well in 2012, and possibly running again in 2016, is even more exciting to Clark because the party has strong state parties and an organization that did not exist when he ran. Clark thinks the party has to capitalize on the current political climate, and the only way to do that is with Johnson.

“To establish the Libertarian Party as an alternative in this election, I think, really opens the door for fantastic opportunities four years from now,” Clark said.

David Brooks (and Harvard and MIT and Stanford) Get Online Education Right

This week, Harvard joined MIT in a new online education venture, a nonprofit called edX. The two schools have committed $60 million to offering free courses online from their best and brightest faculty members. The first course, which MIT kicked off in March enrolled about 120,000 students. 10,000 of them made through the recent midterm. The courses are not for credit, but do offer certificates of mastery.

Meanwhile, Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Michigan are partnering in a for-profit company, Coursera, which has snagged $16 million in venture capital. And Stanford prof Sebastian Thurn boast 200,000 students lined up for the six courses his new company, Udacity, is offering.

New York Times columnist David Brooks comes in for a fair amount of criticism here at Reason. But in today's paper, he gets the future of online education right. As the provision of information and lectures and lab demonstrations become  commodities, the best schools will direct their energies toward figuring out how to help students become better at "the complex social and emotional process" of learning.

What happened to the newspaper and magazine business is about to happen to higher education: a rescrambling around the Web....

The early Web radically democratized culture, but now in the media and elsewhere you’re seeing a flight to quality. The best American colleges should be able to establish a magnetic authoritative presence online.

My guess is it will be easier to be a terrible university on the wide-open Web, but it will also be possible for the most committed schools and students to be better than ever.

More Reason on online ed.

Roadblocks For Revenue Go Too Far, Says Kentucky Supreme Court

Some cash-strapped towns are mere layabouts when it comes to raising revenue. They wait for people to actually generate some sort of wealth before raking off a take. But not Liberty, Kentucky. Officials there required anybody living or working in town to buy stickers and stick them on their cars. And when some teachers at local schools failed to fork over the required ten bucks, Liberty cops scooped 'em up at roadblocks. At least, they did before the Kentucky Supreme Court put an end to the lucrative fun.

As theNewspaper.com reports:

When teachers at a local school failed to pay for a sticker, town leaders had police set up a roadblock to issue them citations. Cars with a sticker were allowed to pass through the checkpoint, while drivers of stickerless vehicles were interrogated about where they lived and where they worked. Joseph A. Singleton was stopped at this checkpoint and when police searched his car they found a small amount of marijuana. Singleton moved to suppress the evidence on the grounds that police had seized him without probable cause or articulable suspicion, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Singleton intitially won his case, only to see his victory overturned on appeal. In reviewing the case (PDF), the Kentucky Supreme Court pointed out that, while the courts have signed off on an awful lot of uses of law-enforcement roadblocks, "a checkpoint set up to stop vehicles without individualized indicia of suspicion on the random chance of catching a law breaker is too great a breach in the wall of protection provided by the Fourth Amendment." And, as laws go, the court continued, enforcing a tax stamp with no relation to public safety is a pretty pissant reason to pull people over. Well, writing for the unanimous court, Justice Daniel J. Venters actually said it in polite legal-ese:

Indeed, a city ordinance would appear to be of lesser stature than a "crime" as used in Edmond, and thus rather than distinguishing Edmond, the better assessment would appear to be that Edmond would apply with even more force against a roadblock set up solely to detect violations of a city ordinance.

Venters also pointed out, if city officials really wanted to squeeze ten dollars from the non-compliant teachers, "police officers could have simply walked through the school parking lot and cited cars without a sticker."

I've written about roadblocks before. Usually, the authorities behind them claim some sort of overblown public safety rationale for stopping and interrogating people with little or no cause along the public roads. It's peculiarly refreshing, in an odd way, to see government officials drop the crime-fighting schtick and engage in overt highway robbery.

And better yet that they were then slapped down.

Sex and the Supreme Court: The True Story of Lawrence v Texas

"There are some things a state can not do to direct the moral content of your life," explains author and law professor Dale Carpenter, "and controlling your sexuality is one of those things."

In his new book, Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas, Carpenter outlines both the backstory and the importance of the 2003 Supreme Court case that invalidated American's sodomy laws. "It revives a constitutional doctrine that protects a right to liberty and privacy and sexual autonomy for adults."

Reason Magazine's Katherine Mangu-Ward sat down with Carpenter to discuss his book, the story behind the landmark case, and how a baby shower gift became an indicator of changing attitudes inside the Supreme Court.

About 8:45 minutes.

Shot by Meredith Bragg and Anthony Fisher. Edited by Meredith Bragg.

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

R.I.P. Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys: He Fought For Your Right...to Paaaaaartay

Adam Yauch, known best as the Beatie Boys rapper MCA, has passed away at the age of 47. From Pitchfork's obit:

The Beastie Boys are one of the most important and influential hip-hop groups of all time. They were instrumental in making hip-hop a global, mainstream force. Formed in 1981 as a hardcore band, they combined punk and rap into a singular sound that grew increasingly broad over the years, encompassing a vast array of genres. Yauch, Michael Diamond (Mike D), and Adam Horowitz (Ad-Rock) released several classic albums, including their debut album Licensed to Ill in 1986, 1989's Paul's Boutique, and 1994's Ill Communication.

Yauch directed Beastie Boys videos under the pseudonym Nathaniel Hornblower, as well as the 2008 basketball documentary Gunnin' for #1 Spot under his own name. He also ran a film production and distribution company, Oscilloscope Pictures, that shepherded many films, including Wendy and LucyWe Need to Talk About Kevin, and the forthcoming LCD Soundsystem documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits. In the mid-1990s, he co-founded theMilarepa Fund, which raised money for the Tibetan independence movement. They put on a series of benefit concerts, the Tibetan Freedom Concerts.

Browse Reason's many Beastie Boys references here. Headline with apologies to Jack Hunter's Twitter feed

Andrew Napolitano on Barack Obama's Private War

The Constitution limits the presidential use of war powers to those necessary for an immediate defense of the United States or those exercised pursuant to a valid congressional declaration of war. In this case of Pakistan, writes Judge Andrew Napolitano, the president has neither.

View this article

Will Obama Pay a Political Price for His Medical Marijuana Crackdown?

As the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles proudly proclaims that "all known marijuana stores in Santa Barbara County are now the subject of federal enforcement actions," one may wonder: Is this a winning political strategy for Barack Obama? Writing at The Huffington Post a few days ago, Chris Weigant said "it is a complete mystery why President Obama and his Justice Department chose, roughly halfway through his first term, to launch a crackdown on marijuana that goes further even than his Republican predecessor."

Well, it's not a complete mystery. It's plausible that Obama, embarrassed by the proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries on his watch, worried about Republican accusations that he is "soft on drugs," a charge perenially hurled at Democrats, even when there is very little evidence to back it up. Given his comparatively candid discussion of his own drug use in his memoir Dreams From My Father, Obama might have thought himself especially vulnerable to such criticism. Hence he let the drug warriors in the Justice Department do what drug warriors do. Attorney General Eric Holder's ostensible underlings were never really on board with his promises of prosecutorial forbearance, so following through would have required an aggressive and conspicuous shift in policy. It was much easier to talk tolerance while practicing repression.

Will Obama pay a price for his broken promise to stop interfering with state policy in this area (not to mention his blatant dishonesty about that broken promise)? Weigant suggests that disappointed supporters will stay home on Election Day, but I'm not sure how big this "marijuana vote" is. When I interviewed Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, for my October cover story about Obama's drug policies, she told me:

I don’t think this originated from the Obama administration. I think [Obama is] being complacent, following what the U.S. attorneys want him to do, and I think it's really up to someone who cares about this issue to push back. Because if we don’t, this is a really horrible precedent, and we've got to show the president that we're still paying attention to this issue....There is a real political risk here, and this has to be brought to the president's attention.

Maybe. But given the remarkable ability of Obama's supporters to rationalize his continuation of his predecessor's policies, this seems like wishful thinking to me.

Republican Congressman Opens Inquiry Into DEA's Inhumane Detention of College Student Daniel Chong

Representative Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) sent a letter to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart asking the agency to comply with an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the detention of 23-year-old Daniel Chong. The UC San Diego engineering student was arrested during a drug raid, interrogated for four hours, then locked in a holding cell and left there for five days without food, water, or access to a toilet.

During those five days, Chong was forced to drink his own urine. Fearing that he would die in the cell, he broke the lens of his glasses and attempted to carve a message to his mother on his arm using a shard. Chong then tried to commit suicide by swallowing the broken pieces of his eye glasses. He was discovered unconscious and covered in feces, and admitted to a San Diego hospital suffering from dehydration, kidney failure, and a punctured esophagus.

“Reports of the incarceration of Daniel Chong...raise concerns about the Drug Enforcement Administration and its procedures for handling and monitoring individuals in custody,” reads Hunter’s letter, obtained by Reason.

“While it is appropriate that the DEA has since taken full responsibility for leaving Chong in a holding cell for five days, the fact that this incident even occurred suggests a breakdown in both procedure and oversight, specifically in the San Diego division.”

Hunter’s letter (which you can read here) goes on to say that while Chong’s detention may be “an isolated incident,” Hunter’s “concern is that this situation could also be a symptom of a bigger problem, with errors in procedure and oversight possibly extending to the Division’s law enforcement function.”

Hunter requests that Leonhart turn over all information regarding Chong’s case, processes and procedures for holding individuals, and information regarding any other problems or investigations in the DEA’s San Diego division.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.) wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking for “the results and the actions the department will take to make sure those responsible are held accountable and that no one in DEA custody will ever again be forced to endure such treatment,” according to the New York Daily News.  

Chong, who was hospitalized for five days after his detention, has filed suit against the DEA for $20 million, alleging that his detention constitutes torture.

Meet Lee Wrights, Libertarian Candidate for President

Las Vegas—It is looking more and more likely that Lee Wrights will be the only serious challenger to former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson for the presidential nomination at the Libertarian National Convention. Wrights has support from both the purist elements within the party and Mary Ruwart, one of the more prominent so-called radical Libertarians.

Wrights, a burly North Carolina native who speaks with a strong southern drawl, does not like to hear any talk about there being different wings in the Libertarian Party.

“We’re not large enough to break ourselves up into smaller groups among ourselves. We’re just Libertarians. I don’t consider myself a representative of any wing of the Libertarian Party. Period. That’s what my campaign has been all about,” said Wrights.

When pressed further, Wrights dismissed the notion that he was a Libertarian purist.  

“Nobody asked me if I was a radical, if I was a reformer, if I was this, if I was that. They just lumped me into a group with people and said that’s where Lee Wrights is. If you ask me what I am, I am a radical reformer,” he said. 

For over a decade Wrights has worked on several libertarian news sites, notably the Rational Review News Digest and LibertyForAll.net. Wrights says that he generates the majority of his income from running those sites and the occasional consulting gig. 

Wrights, a former sergeant in the Air Force, sat down with Reason to talk about his candidacy, how his experience with Ruwart in 2008 changed him, how he feels about Bob Barr, and if he will support Johnson if he is the nominee. 

Correction: Due to a typo, this original post quoted Wrights as saying he did not represent the Libertarian Party. It has now been corrected to: "I don’t consider myself a representative of any wing of the Libertarian Party."

Does the Outcome in Arizona v. United States Matter?

Writing at Forbes, civil liberties lawyer and occasional Reason contributor Harvey Silverglate argues that “when it comes to immigrants’ rights, the outcome of Arizona v. United States is less important than you think.” According to Silverglate, that’s because even if the federal government succeeds in having four provisions from Arizona’s controversial immigration control law S.B. 1070 struck down,

we have enshrined into law a series of oppressive violations of immigrants’ rights that are unlikely to disappear no matter which side wins, and which are far more important and troubling than overly zealous enforcement of existing federal law in a given state.

While we refer to them as ‘illegal’ immigrants, immigration violations are not, technically, criminal; they are civil violations (think speeding tickets, only much more serious) with exile instead of a mere fine as the punishment. Due to the civil nature of the offenses, a number of basic protections and procedures available to suspected criminals simply do not exist for suspected illegal immigrants. For instance, if a police officer knocks on the door of your house and wishes to search the premises, she usually must have a warrant signed by an impartial third party, typically a judicial officer of some kind. Not so for an illegal immigrant: Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers themselves, and not a judicial third party, may issue their own search warrants. Moreover, since the warrant is not a “criminal warrant” but rather an “administrative warrant,” the standard for justifying the search—the so-called “probable cause”— is much lower. This would be the equivalent to warrants’ being drawn up by police lieutenants operating on hunches; overzealous enforcement and improper searches would seem inevitable. But such inevitability is irrelevant for illegal immigration cases: there is no “exclusionary rule” for evidence gathered in violation of traditional constitutional norms. Anything gathered by law enforcement, even if obtained unconstitutionally or otherwise illegally, can be used in a deportation proceeding. Contrast again with criminal law, where evidence wrongfully obtained is almost always inadmissible.

Read the whole thing here. Read my report on last week’s oral argument in Arizona v. U.S. here.

New Jersey State Police Superintendent Caught in Apparent Lie over High-Speed “Death Race” Escorts

Last week, the Star Ledger blew the lid on a New Jersey State Police escort of a high-speed caravan of luxury cars apparently headed for a charity Ferrari rally in Red Bank. The Ledger reported then that the president of the car dealership involved described the caravan as such at the charity event:  "We start at the top of the Garden State Parkway and travel approximately 75 miles with state trooper guidance.”

Multiple YouTube videos of the caravan, dubbed “Death Race 2012” by gawkers, led to much hand-wringing by top New Jersey officials.

A few days after the initial Star Ledger report, the New Jersey State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes tried seemingly to play down the escort by pointing out one of the troopers suspended rescued a driver from a burning vehicle 12 years ago and that hundreds of escorts are done all year long (after escorts were previously characterized as “rare”). “A lot with secret service helping the NYPD out. We might do an escort if the size of the group might impede the other traffic. Permission is given at local command,” Fuentes told CBS News.

Now the Star Ledger’s caught him in an apparent lie:

[A] copy of the division’s internal policy on escorts obtained Thursday by The Star-Ledger says requests can be granted only in limited and specific circumstances, and they all must be approved by one of the highest-ranking officers in Fuentes’ inner circle. The policy shows escorts are supposed to be tightly controlled in the upper ranks of the force and allowed judiciously — in cases such as high profile funerals or for top government officials — in contrast to some recent statements by the State Police.

On Monday, Governor Chris Christie said he had full confidence in the Attorney General and in Fuentes and would not “insert” himself into the situation. No comment yet from the Governor on the new revelations.

In 2007, another state trooper crashed an SUV carrying then Governor Jon Corzine. The SUV was going more than 90 miles an hour and Corzine wasn’t wearing his seatbelt. Fuentes initially praised the trooper’s “valiant attempt to avoid this catastrophe,” and defended his praise even after it was revealed the trooper had caused the crash.

Steven Greenhut on How Big Government Makes Life Worse

Entrepreneurs take risks. They often fail, but they sometimes make great strides forward. Government employees, on the other hand, go to jobs where they cannot be fired except in the most extreme circumstances. They regulate us and provide “services” few of us want. They retire at young ages with pensions that make them the envy of their neighbors. They consume an ever-larger share of the money earned by those who take risks and create growth. Then their unions lobby for more government. And unfortunately, writes Steven Greenhut, our fellow citizens willingly vote for the politicians who perpetuate this system.

View this article

Police Brutality Incident Leads to Raid, State of Emergency

Welcome to Colwyn, Pennsylvania, where cops taser each other for giggles, and the mayor declares a state of emergency after county agents raid the police department in the course of an investigation into the torture of a local teen in a jail cell. Followed, of course, by a fistfight between residents and police at a borough council meeting.

The current trouble revolves around allegations that three Colwyn police officers tased 17-year-old Da’Qwan Jackson while he was handcuffed and locked in a holding cell. A witness to a fight, Jackson was being held on the usual standard-issue disorderly conduct charge after refusing to cooperate with investigating police and crumpling up a citation.

But, what started as an ... umm ... simple police brutality incident? Well ... it then took on charged political overtones that may explain why local cops feel safe in using Tasers and prisoners for entertainment purposes.

Thursday’s raucous town meeting was held a day after Mayor Daniel Rutland, a white Republican, suspended a racially mixed group of three officers — including the borough’s acting chief — and declared a state of emergency hours after investigators from the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office raided the police station.

The officers, Rutland said, were all suspected of participating in or trying to cover up the alleged repeated Tasing of 17-year-old Da’Qwan Jackson while he was purportedly handcuffed and confined in a holding cell April 24. ...

The suspended officers are Trevor Parham, who allegedly Tased Jackson; Officer Michael Drucktor, who purportedly witnessed the Tasing and failed to report it; and Wendell Reed, the department’s acting chief. The mayor accused Reed of failing to notify proper authorities about the alleged incident.

None of the three would comment Thursday on the Tasing allegation.

Hours after they turned in their badges and guns, Rutland and his political rival, Pray, the council president, seized on the investigation as a cudgel with which to beat each other politically.

Pray had convened an emergency council meeting Wednesday night and had suspended another officer — Lt. Wesley Seitz, who first reported the Tasing allegations to Rutland. Rutland countered by declaring an emergency, reinstating his whistle-blower and promoting him to interim chief.

“They were trying to limit my authority over the Police Department,” Rutland said in an interview. “They are lying and putting this town in jeopardy.”

Then, at the council’s regularly scheduled meeting Thursday, the borough’s six-man force was upended again. After repealing the state of emergency, Pray and her allies voted to resuspend Seitz and reinstate Reed.

Did I say entertainment purposes?

A YouTube video shows Colwyn Deputy Chief Wendell Reed Tasering a parking enforcement officer for laughs inside of the borough's tiny police department.

Reed was ousted from the department yesterday for the possible cover up of an incident involving a juvenile who was allegedly Tasered by Cpl. Trevor Parham while handcuffed in a holding cell April 24. Parham was previously suspended by Lt. Wesley Seitz for the incident.

The video, which was uploaded in January, shows the parking enforcement officer on his knees inside of the police station. Reed, who is in the white shirt, hands the prongs of the Taser to the man while a third officer stands behind and watches. All three laugh hysterically before and after Reed Tases the man.

Remember, kids, leave this sort of thing to the professional law-enforcement officers.

Right now, the tasing of Jackson is being turned over to an "independent investigator" to be hired by the borough council, while the mayor separately contacts the (presumably Pennsylvania) Attorney General.

No, really — that's Colwyn, Pennsylvania, not Bolivia.

Cops in Cruisers Sniff Out Cars Carrying Pot Smokers

Remember those Pinellas County, Florida, sheriff's deputies who said they could smell marijuana growing inside a house while standing on public property 20 feet away? The claims aroused suspicions that turned out to be entirely justified, since the cops' uncanny marijuana detection powers were due not to superhuman olfactory senses so much as their ability to (illegally) leap backyard fences. Police in Chesapeake, Virginia, may be setting themselves up for a similar embarrassment. The Virginian-Pilot reports that officers "have been pulling over cars on the grounds that they smelled marijuana while cruising down local roadways." How does that work? Officer Barrett C. Ring explained the technique at a preliminary hearing last year:

We drive our patrol car with the vents on, pulling air from the outside in, directly into our faces. Commonly, we'll be behind vehicles that somebody in the vehicle is smoking marijuana, and we can smell it clear as day.

"Before officers pull over a car to search it," The Virginian Pilot adds, summing up Ring's testimony, "they will follow it until there are no other cars in the area and they are certain about the source of the odor."

I don't want to say it is impossible to smell people smoking pot in another car. Suppose they are in a convertible with the top down, and you are waiting at a traffic light behind them with your windows open. But while driving down the street with your windows closed? And these pot smokers continue puffing away while police follow them "until there are no other cars in the area," making sure they have correctly identified the source of the odor? And this happens "commonly"?

Matthew Taylor, a public defender quoted by The Virginian-Pilot, calls the scenario "preposterous." Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia ACLU, says, "It stretches the imagination that the police can drive down the road and home in on a car."

Suffolk Commonwealth's Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson concedes that "it's pushing the line" to pull a car over based solely on cannabis combustion products allegedly wafting down the road. Robert Wegman, a local defense attorney, is determined to challenge the technique. "If cops can get away with this," he says, "they will have total authority." 

[via the Drug War Chronicle]

Reason Writers Around Town: Matt Welch in Zócalo Public Square on Southern California's Changed Culture 20 Years After the Riots

Writing in Zócalo Public Square, Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch argues that much of the anniversary coverage of the L.A. riots missed the plot. Which is: "African-American communities in Southern California are no longer policed by what they rationally suspected to be a racist and casually brutal occupying army of mostly white men from faraway suburbs." Excerpt:

I will never forget the rude shock to my naive, Roots-loving ears when one of the oldest kids on the block bragged to us about his new job as a cop. One of the awesome things about police work, he told us, was that when you hauled a nigger into the station, you and the boys could just take him out back and beat holy hell out of him. Because who were people gonna believe—the cops, or the nigger! [...]

I was 12 years old when a local football star named Ron Settles, a 21-year-old senior tailback at Long Beach State, died of hanging in his Signal Hill jail cell less than five miles from our house. He was black, had been pulled over for speeding, and savagely beaten. The cops claimed it was suicide, but a coroner’s inquest ruled that Settles' death came "at the hands of another"; an independent autopsy a year later found that the injuries were much more consistent with police chokeholds, and the Signal Hill Police Department ended up paying the Settles family more than $1 million. No cops were ever charged. The case was locally famous, but seemingly every Southern California community with a significant black population could tell similar stories in the 1970s and ’80s.

The past indeed is a different planet, thank God. I haven't heard any white person, let alone a police officer, seriously use the word nigger since the early 1990s. The LAPD is now 36 percent white (as of last August), and former antagonists like the Urban League’s John Mack say things like "It's been an amazing transformation.... The L.A.P.D. of today is very, very different than 10, 12 years ago, when I was one of the people who was constantly battling them." An L.A. Times poll in 2009 found that 77 percent of residents "approved" of the LAPD's job, including an amazing (given the history) 68 percent of blacks.

Whole thing here.

A. Barton Hinkle on Why One Gay Republican Won't Be Voting for Romney

The general-election campaign has hardly even started, but it already has produced what likely will go down as the most shameful moment of the 2012 presidential race. That moment occurred when Richard Grennell, an openly gay adviser to Mitt Romney, resigned from the campaign. A. Barton Hinkle invited a recently out gay Republican to share his thoughts, and why he won't be voting for Romney—or Barack Obama—in November. 

View this article

The Times When You Saw Only One Set Of Footprints Are When POTUS Carried You

Obama for America's new 2012 presidential campaign web project, "The Life of Julia," reminded me of this great inspirational poem I once read. I just had to share it with all of you. 

One night Julia dreamed she was walking along the beach with the POTUS.
Many scenes from her life flashed across the sky.
In each scene, she noticed footprints in the sand.
Sometimes there were two sets of footprints.
Other times she only saw one set of footprints.

This bothered Julia because she noticed that during the low points of her life,
when she was suffering
from underemployment, student loan debt, and excessively high insurance copays,
she could only see one set of footprints.

So Julia said to the POTUS:
“You promised me POTUS
that if I followed you,
you would walk with me always.
But I have noticed that during
the most trying periods of my life
there have only been one
set of footprints in the sand.
Why, when I needed you most,
were you not there for me?

The POTUS replied,
“The times when you have only
seen one set of footprints
is when I carried you.”

See Nick Gillespie and Meredith Bragg's libertarian remix of "The Life of Julia" here

Kurt Loder Reviews The Avengers

More than anything else, writes Kurt Loder, The Avengers is a triumph for Joss Whedon, who wrote the script and directed the movie and is now, after years of smaller-scale wizardry in the fantasy genre, firmly installed in the top echelon of the Hollywood big time. Without his expert ministrations, the picture might have been just another comic-book superhero exercise. True, several of the characters he was handed here—Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Hulk—were already well-established among fan folk by nearly 50 years of Marvel comics and in more recent blockbuster franchise films of their own. But herding them together into one big super-pileup—and under the closely controlling hand of Marvel Studios—required a gifted traffic cop; and Whedon, who demonstrated a knack for ensemble maneuvering in his TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly, was, as we now see, the ideal man for the job.

View this article

A.M. Links: Journalist Killed Every Five Days, Russia Threatens NATO, John Yoo Torture Suit Tossed

  • World Press Freedom Day was marked by police finding the tortured bodies of four journalists in Mexico and the killing of a radio reporter in Mogadishu as Reporters Without Borders warns journalists are being killed at an “astonishing pace.”
  • The Daily Beast details the State Department’s handling of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng. “Chen told CNN that once he reached the hospital the U.S. officials disappeared. Remember: he’s blind. The U.S. Embassy staff left an injured blind man who is an enemy of the state in the custody of his totalitarian oppressors,” Kirsten Powers writes.
  • Natochannel.tv (they have these things because, why not?) proclaimed Chicago the capital of Illinois and the childhood home of President Barack Obama.
  • Here’s something for NATO to talk about at their summit there later this month, since the Cubs will probably be out of contention by then: Russia warns of a pre-emptive strike against any NATO deployment of missile defense systems in Eastern Europe. "A decision to use destructive force pre-emptively will be taken if the situation worsens," Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov said at a conference attended by U.S. and NATO officials this week.
  • A federal appeals court ruled former Bush advisor John Yoo could not be sued for recommending the torture of U.S. citizen Jose Padilla. "We cannot say that any reasonable official in 2001-03 would have known that the specific interrogation techniques allegedly employed against Padilla, however appalling, necessarily amounted to torture," Judge Raymond Fisher wrote in a unanimous ruling.
  • A grand jury found no reasonable cause to indict any police officers in the killing of 68-year-old former Marine Kenneth Chamberlain in his own apartment.

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New at Reason.tv: Drug War's Collateral Damage

Brickbat: Child Abuse

Police in Scott, Pennsylvania, have charged Govindaraj Narayanasamy with two counts of child endangerment for leaving his 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter alone at a local park for a couple of hours. Narayanasamy allegedly went shopping and took a shower at the YMCA while his kids played at the park.

Brickbat Archive

Buy the Kindle Edition of Virginia Postrel's The Substance of Style for Just $2.99!

Former Reason chief Virginia Postrel badgered her publisher into offering the Kindle edition of her excellent 2003 book The Substance of Style for just $2.99.

It's a short-term sale, so hop to it if you want to pick up an e-copy for a steal of a price

Read Edward Rothstein's rave in The New York Times.

Read Postrel's Reason archive.

Gary Johnson Takes Solid Lead In Libertarian Party "Token Tally"

Las Vegas - One of the key parts of the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination process is the debate/forum/purity fight that takes place the day before the actual voting. Convention delegates submit pieces of paper called “signature tokens” with the name of their preferred candidate for president and vice president. In order to participate in the debate a candidate needs to receive at least 10% of the support of the delegates through this voting process. These tokens play a part in the nomination process as well as candidates must receive at least 30 signature tokens from delegates in order to be considered for the party’s nomination.

Tokens are provided to delegates only but they can be transferred to alternates if a delegate has to leave. If your token is unreadable or incomplete it will be discarded. Delegates that lose their tokens are out of luck as they cannot be replaced.

As of 4:15pm today the token tally showed former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson on top with 63, followed by LibertyForAll.net editor Lee Wrights with 18. Jim Burns and Carl Person (pronounced peer-son) received two tokens each while a handful of others picked up just one.

All tokens must be in by 3:00pm tomorrow  for tallying. 

How ObamaCare Double Counts Its Medicare Savings

Charles Blahous, a Medicare Trustee, and James Capretta, a former Bush administration budgeting official, do a good job of explaining how the Medicare double counting in ObamaCare's budget scoring works:

When Congress considers legislation that alters taxes or spending related to Medicare's Hospital Insurance Trust Fund, the changes are recorded not just on the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund's books, but also on Congress's "pay-as-you-go" scorecard.

The "paygo" requirement is supposed to force lawmakers to find "offsets" for new tax cuts or entitlement spending, and thus protect against adding to future federal budget deficits. Putting the Medicare payroll tax hikes and spending constraints on the "pay-as-you-go" ledger was instrumental in getting the health law through Congress, because doing so fostered a widespread misperception that the law would reduce future deficits.

But the same provisions add to the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund's reserves, which expands Medicare's spending authority. Medicare can only pay full benefits so long as its trust fund has sufficient reserves to meet these obligations. If the trust fund has insufficient resources, then spending must be cut automatically to ensure the fund does not go into deficit. The health law's Medicare provisions prevent these spending cuts from taking place for several more years.

In short, the scoring convention is not widely understood and thus obscures the double-counting.

The authors make a comparison to Social Security that's especially useful:

Perhaps the easiest way to understand this is to look at Social Security. If we generate $1 in savings within that program, then that's $1 that Social Security can spend later. If we also claimed this same $1 to finance a new spending program, we would clearly be adding to the total federal deficit. There has long been bipartisan understanding of this aspect of Social Security, which is why Congress's paygo rules prohibit using Social Security savings as an offset to pay for unrelated federal spending.

No such prohibition exists in the budget process against committing Medicare savings simultaneously to Medicare and to pay for a new federal program. It's this budget loophole, unique to Medicare, that gives the health law's spending constraints and payroll tax hikes the appearance of reducing federal deficits.

Yes, as the law's defenders have pointed out, the double counting is in keeping with prior government accounting conventions. But that's not much of an excuse. In this case, the trust fund accounting convention allows the government to take in one dollar and then spend it twice. Which of course eventually means collecting, either through new taxes or additional debt, a second dollar. 

I covered Blahous's paper on ObamaCare's Medicare double-count here

New at Reason: "The Life of Julia (Libertarian Remix)" by Nick Gillespie and Meredith Bragg

The Obama-Biden campaign has just released the cartoon slideshow "The Life of Julia," which takes "a look at how President Obama's policies help one woman over her lifetime—and how Mitt Romney would change her story."

In our remix of that effort, we take a look at how President Obama’s policies is already helping to make one woman’s life more miserable than it has to be – and how Mitt Romney would pretty much do exactly the same.

View this article

Former Drug Czar John Walters: Dumber Than You May Think

In a new Weekly Standard essay, former drug czar John P. Walters explains why the idea of legalizing drugs is "Dumber Than You May Think." And not only dumb. "Irresponsible talk of legalization weakens public resolve against use and addiction," he warns. "It attacks the moral clarity that supports responsible behavior and the strength of key institutions. Talk of legalization today has a real cost to our families and families in other places. The best remedy would be some thoughtful reflection on the drug problem and what we say about it."

Walters does not lead by example. He claims, predictably, that repealing prohibition would cause a surge in addiction, which is not necessarily true and in any case hardly proves that prohibition is morally justified or worth its cost. His main argument seems to be that opposing the war on drugs is irresponsible because it undermines the war on drugs, which has been much more successful than commonly acknowledged. Illegal drug use has declined since 1979, he says, thanks to "tougher laws, popular disapproval of drug use, and powerful demand reduction measures" as well as "successful attacks on supply​."

While survey data do indicate that illegal drug use is less common today than it was in 1979, Walters presents no evidence that government policy is responsible for this trend. Marijuana use, for example, started falling in 1980, before Ronald Reagan took office and well before his ramped-up war on drugs could possibly have had an impact. Contrary to Walters' claim that "successful attacks on supply" have reduced cocaine use (which peaked around 1985), in  2007 he himself had to concede that, despite the much-ballyhooed Plan Colombia, cocaine prices were down while purity was up. Walters brags about "the successful attack on meth production in the United States," which mostly has served to consolidate the Mexican cartels' domination of the market, with no discernible impact on consumption (which was falling before the meth crackdown). And if supply reduction has been successful in discouraging marijuana use, why are Walters and other drug warriors constantly complaining that pot today is so much stronger than it used to be? By their lights, that surely is not a sign of success. More generally, the economics of the black market—the multiplicity of potential sources and smuggling routes, the high ratio of retail prices to production costs, and the fact that almost all of a drug's value is added after it is broken down into relatively small packages—doom supply reduction as a long-term strategy. 

But let's say Walters is right that beefed-up enforcement has reduced drug consumption. Why is that necessarily a good thing? Like all orthodox drug warriors, Walters equates use with abuse, but that doesn't mean the rest of us have to be that stupid. Whatever your views about the propriety of pharmacological paternalism, it surely matters whether the decline in drug use has been mainly among casual pot smokers and coke sniffers rather than homeless heroin addicts and emaciated speed freaks. From a utilitarian perspective, the measure of success should be a net reduction in harm, including the harm caused by prohibition itself (which is not doing any favors for heroin addicts and speed freaks). Preventing drug use that would have enhanced people's lives undermines that goal. 

As far as prohibition-related harm goes, Walters concedes that "the cartels and violent gangs gain money from the drug trade" but dismisses that point as unimportant, since "they engage in the full range of criminal activities​." He likewise is unimpressed by the boost that alcohol prohibition gave to organized crime in the United States, because "criminal organizations existed before and after prohibition." In other words, as long as criminals exist, we might as well give them new profit opportunities—and new reasons for violence of the sort that has killed 50,000 or so people in Mexico since the end of 2006—by creating black markets. Walters presumably would have a similar response to the concern that prohibition fosters official corruption: As long as corruption exists, why not have more of it? Likewise, since police are always eager for excuses to override people's civil liberties, why not give them a mission to break up consensual activities that everyone involved wants to keep private? And since drug use is potentially dangerous, why not make it more dangerous by forcing consumers into a violent black market where they have to contend with uscrupulous sellers, unreliable quality, and unpredictable doses while risking arrest for behavior that violates no one's rights? Contrary to Walters' claim that drugs "victimize" people, I have never seen a joint beat the crap out of anyone; I cannot say the same about cops.

Speaking of which, Walters never addresses the morality of using force to stop people from consuming substances that might do them harm, except to suggest that the half a million or so drug offenders behind bars, and the millions more arrested and imprisoned over the years, pretty much had it coming. "With rare exceptions," he says, "the criminal justice system is not convicting the innocent." Granted that most people convicted of drug offenses really did commit drug offenses, the question remains: Is this a legitimate use of the criminal justice system? Is it just to punish people for engaging in peaceful, voluntary exchanges with other adults, simply because the transactions involve products that offend politicians? Walters is not interested in such questions. Instead he audaciously proclaims that drug prohibition, which draws utterly arbitrary distinctions between tolerable and intolerable intoxicants, must be maintained for the sake of "moral clarity."

Centrists Nurse Third-Party Dreams, bin Laden's Bumbling Minions, Chicago Pays Big for Repeat-Offender Cops: P.M. Links

  • Political elites continue to dream of a centrist third-party presidential candidate, even as pollsters warn that the public isn't really looking for a stroll down the middle of the road.
  • Obama will likely do well with young voters, but increasingly libertarian views in that group are eroding his base and driving many one-time boosters to look elsewhere.
  • Osama bin Laden "was frustrated by what he viewed as the incompetence" of his followers, and their tendency to kill Muslim civilians, according to documents released a year after he was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs.
  • Attorney General Eric Holder is getting ever-closer to facing a contempt order for “refusal to cooperate” in the investigation of the Fast and Furious gun-walking operation.
  • The ACLU filed a motion to open the trial of accused 9/11 conspirators to the general public, allowing the airing of allegations about their treatment by the CIA.
  • After four weeks of rising jobless claims, applications for unemployment benefits dropped last week. Even so, the labor force participation rate is at its lowest ebb since 1984.
  • "Prevailing uncertainty" dominates the outlook for the European economy, warns European Central Bank President Mario Draghi.
  • Chicago is paying millions of dollars to settle lawsuits sparked by police officers who repeatedly engage in abusive conduct without suffering personal consequences.
  • Refused help by school officials, a bullied gay teen warned off his assailants by brandishing a stun gun. Now he faces expulsion.

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Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on How Scott Walker is No More of a Radical Union-Buster than FDR

Scott Walker’s opponents trying to oust him in the June 5 recall election are portraying him as a wild-eyed, Koch-brothers-controlled, right-wing ideologue hell-bent on destroying unions. But the reality, notes Reason Foundation Shikha Dalmia in her column at The Daily today, is that Walker is just about as radical as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Walker’s attempts to limit the collective bargaining “rights” of public sector employees might be driving the Badger State’s unions bonkers. But the fact of the matter is that FDR opposed government unions even more vehemently. FDR once declared: “The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.” And with good reason. Writes Dalmia:

There is something obscene about collective bargaining rights for government employees whose appetites are unrestrained by market discipline. When private-sector employees demand more in compensation than they generate in value, their companies go out of business. But when government employees do the same, they burden citizens with higher taxes and debt, which is one reason why Wisconsin — like nearly every other state — is saddled with unsustainable state worker-related legacy and other costs. This is why no president’s administration — Democratic or Republican — has ever advocated such rights for federal workers.

Go here to read the whole thing.

Mary Ruwart talks about the LP in 2008 & 2012

Las Vegas - At the 2008 Libertarian National Convention seasoned party activist Mary Ruwart came up just 48 votes short of Bob Barr on the sixth ballot of voting for the presidential nomination. This time around, Ruwart is backing her former campaign manager, Lee Wrights, in his quest to become the Libertarian Party’s 2012 presidential nominee.

During a sit-down interview with Reason outside the convention halls Ruwart expressed concern over the similarities she sees between Gary Johnson and Barr. Even though she is worried about the state of the Libertarian Party, she said sounded an optimistic tone on the future of the greater libertarian movement.

“We aren’t gaining anything by having a famous person at the top of our ticket, in terms of votes. We may be losing a lot if that person does not give a strong libertarian message,” said Ruwart.

In the off-camera portion of the interview Ruwart declined to say if she voted for Barr in 2008.

“My initial impressions of Gary Johnson are much more favorable than they were of Bob Barr, who endorsed Newt Gingrich for president,” she said.

When asked if Johnson is a libertarian, Ruwart said she believed he is.

“I would definitely say he is in the libertarian quadrant,” she answered. 

Happy National Day of Reason!

Alas, it is not a celebration of this illustrious magazine and website. The proclamation from Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) marking today as the National Day of Reason, explains: 

The National Day of Reason celebrates the application of reason and the positive impact it has had on humanity. It is also an opportunity to reaffirm the Constitutional separation of religion and government.

The NDR was established as a secular response to the National Day of Prayer. Two thoughts: First, maybe we could just rid of Congressional proclamations of special days altogether. It isn't as though Congress doesn't have other problems that might benefit from its members attention.

Secondly, why limit reason to just one day?

Reason Writers at the Movies: Peter Suderman Reviews The Avengers

Senior Editor Peter Suderman reviews The Avengers, this summer's Marvel superhero crossover extravanganza from writer-director Joss Whedon, in The Washington Times:

There’s a lot riding on “The Avengers,” a megabudget follow-up to four years’ worth of summer superhero films. A continuation of the stories started in the Thor, Hulk, Captain America and Iron Man movies, it’s comic book publisher Marvel’s attempt at a superhero supergroup.

As the culmination of those cinematic legacies, “The Avengers’” mission is to be fair to each of those characters, building on their respective franchises, but combining their successes into something even more super. The movie’s box office expectations are — as the villain Loki (Tom Hiddleston) declares himself when he first appears — “burdened with glorious purpose.”

It’s a lot to ask of a bunch of burly dudes in brightly colored spandex and shiny armor who first made their names as cheap newsprint sketches. But “The Avengers” rises to the occasion by embodying the best aspects of its big-name characters: This is a movie with the planet-shattering strength of the Hulk, the genius and wit of Iron Man, the epic nobility of Thor, and the earnestness and dedication of Captain America.

Add to that the crazy ambition of a major comic-book publisher. For decades, Marvel’s comics have featured a whole universe of heroes and villains who would team up and throw down on a regular basis. For many comic fans, the appeal was in the world — the community of heroes and intersecting stories — as much as in any individual character.

With “The Avengers,” Marvel gives moviegoers a world. The plot is built around a powerful cosmic cube that serves as an energy source and a portal to another dimension. But the movie is best understood as a portal to the Marvel Comics mindset.

Indeed, the purity with which the movie accesses the imaginative fantasy life of a twelve-year-old boy who is perhaps overly concerned with the fictional lives of various tights-wearing super-people is rather breathtaking. As a former childhood comic book fan, I found myself suppressing squeals of adolescent glee throughout: Without descending into impenetrable nerd-service, the movie triggers a sense of exuberant youthful escape that many summer blockbusters aspire to but few achieve.

Whole thing here

Just Because Windmills Don't Cause Global Warming Doesn't Mean They Don't Suck

We know that: windfarms ruined the ocean view of late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s Cape Cod home; are shredding birds to smithereens like carrots in a Cuisinart; and are too intermittent and unreliable as a stand-along energy source and usually needs back up by awful fossil fuel sources. But do they also cause global warming?

A frontpage story in the London’s Telegraph earlier this week citing a study that examined temperature data from Texas suggested that they did. (Texas is the biggest wind energy producer in the U.S.):

Usually at night the air closer to the ground becomes colder when the sun goes down and the earth cools.

But on huge wind farms the motion of the turbines mixes the air higher in the atmosphere that is warmer, pushing up the overall temperature.

Satellite data over a large area in Texas, that is now covered by four of the world's largest wind farms, found that over a decade the local temperature went up by almost 1C as more turbines are built.

This could have long term effects on wildlife living in the immediate areas of larger wind farms.

It could also affect regional weather patterns as warmer areas affect the formation of cloud and even wind speeds.

The study, published in Nature, found a “significant warming trend” of up to 0.72C (1.37F) per decade, particularly at night-time, over wind farms relative to near-by non-wind-farm regions.

The team studied satellite data showing land surface temperature in west-central Texas.

“The spatial pattern of the warming resembles the geographic distribution of wind turbines and the year-to-year land surface temperature over wind farms shows a persistent upward trend from 2003 to 2011, consistent with the increasing number of operational wind turbines with time,” said Prof Zhou.

But after the article made this the biggest enviro story of the week, the study’s authors did a Q&A, pointing out that the notion that windmills cause climate change is not quite true. They noted that the warming they observed was "local and small compared to strong background year-to-year land surface temperature changes." In other words, it's not global warming.

The irony that a cure for global warming is actually causing global warming might be too good to be true. But what is true is that had wind energy not been powered by crony capitalism, it would have been long ago blown away by the gales of destruction unleashed by its more viable competitors.

Capitalists like T. Boone Pickens have been peddling wind’s potential to their Congressional cronies for years. Consider some of Pickens pronouncements that Heritage’s Robert Bryce fracked in the Huffington Post last year:

About three years ago, one of the wind industry's biggest boosters, T. Boone Pickens, was claiming that natural gas prices had to be at least $9 for wind energy to be competitive. In March 2010, Pickens was still hawking wind energy, but he'd lowered his price threshold saying, "The place where it works best is with natural gas at $7." By January of this year, a chastened Pickens was explaining that you can't "finance a wind deal unless you have $6 gas."

That may be true, but on the spot market, natural gas now sells for about $4 per million Btu.

The upshot is that global warming or not, despite massive subsidies, wind power ain’t going anywhere fast. Bryce again:

During the first half of this year, the U.S. installed just 2,151 megawatts of new capacity. That means that 2011 may be even worse for the domestic wind industry than 2010, when U.S. wind generation capacity grew by 5,100 megawatts. And that 2010 total was about half of the 10,010 megawatts added in 2009. Indeed, this year domestic wind additions may be smaller than at anytime since at least 2006.

The bald eagle can soar again. Long Live the U.S. of A.

Ed Markey Looks Into Warrantless Cellphone Tracking

In response to a recent New York Times story about warrantless cellphone tracking, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) wants to know how common the practice is and what rules wireless carriers follow in dealing with information requests from law enforcement agencies. Yesterday Markey, who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and co-chairs the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, sent letters to nine carriers, asking questions like these:

1. Over the past five years, how many requests has your company received from law enforcement to provide information about your customers' phone usage, including but not limited to location of device, tracing phone calls and text messages, and full-scale wiretapping?

a. How many of these requests did your company fulfill and how many did it deny?

b. If it denied any requests, for what reasons did it issue those denials?

2. What protocol or procedure does your company employ when receiving these requests?

a. Do you consider whether law enforcement has obtained a warrant to obtain this information?

b. Does your company distinguish between emergency cell phone tracking requests from law enforcement and non-emergency tracking requests? If yes, what are the distinctions?

The Times reported, based on documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union from about 200 law enforcement agencies, that police commonly seek cellphone location data without a warrant. Some departments inisist on a court order, some make exceptions for special circumstances, some routinely ask for cellphone data without a warrant, and some let carriers decide whether judicial authorization is necessary. That last option, dubious enough on its face, is even more troubling when you realize that carriers often charge police for cellphone information, so they have a finacial interest in betraying their customers' secrets (another issue Markey is investigating). "Law enforcement agencies' tracking policies are in a state of chaos," the ACLU concluded, "with different towns following different rules—or in some cases, having no rules at all." 

As I explained last month, the chaos stems from uncertainty about the constitutional and statutory constraints on surveillance methods that do not involve eavesdropping on calls or physically intruding on the target's property. In U.S. v. Jones, decided last January, the Supreme Court said police need a warrant before they can attach a GPS tracking device to a suspect's car. But the Court did not address surveillance using the tracking devices that people voluntarily carry in their pockets, so police are making up the rules as they go along. Clarity will have to come from future rulings or legislation (probably both). In the meantime, it helps to have a sense of how much spying is going on without judicial review.

Federal and State Money Not Enough for Your Renewable Energy Project? Take It From Locals!

If you're frustrated that federal and state tax dollars are still propping up wasteful renewable energy gambles, here's another reason to stay away from California: State politicians want to make it easier for city and county governments to do the same. And in the process they seem to be creating the successors to the blight-creating redevelopment agencies California abolished earlier this year. 

California Assemblyman Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) introduced AB 2551 at the end of February. The bill, titled “Infrastructure Financing Districts: renewable energy zones,” would allow California cities and counties to declare an area a “renewable energy zone,” assuming it “is characterized by the proposed development of more than 10 megawatts of renewable energy projects, including, but not limited to, solar, wind, and geothermal projects… .” That’s enough energy to reliably serve around 5,000 homes and can be reached with between two to six wind turbines, depending on the size.

Once a city has declared one of these zones, Hueso’s bill would allow it to create an infrastructure financing district to redirect property tax revenues “for the purpose of promoting renewable energy projects.”

There is nothing in the surprisingly concise bill (200 words!) detailing what counts as a renewable energy project or what sort of expenditures count as “promoting” them. The policy paper released promoting the bill vaguely states “Once created, these IFDs can take property tax increment dollars and use them locally for infrastructure and community benefit needs. That infrastructure could be to enhance renewable energy production, access, or transmission capabilities. It could also be used to build a local park or any other allowable benefit or infrastructure need.” There is nothing explaining how exactly a local park counts as a renewable energy project.

Infrastructure financing districts (IFDs) are already permissible under California law to allow bonds for a very limited list of public works projects, and legislators began pushing for changes in IFD regulations in 2011 in advance of the death of redevelopment agencies (RDAs).

Like RDAs, IFDs redirect property taxes from other local agencies to fund their goals. But unlike RDAs, IFDs cannot divert money from school districts. More importantly, IFDs are extremely difficult to establish, requiring a two-thirds vote from the community to form and an additional two-thirds vote to issue bonds. Several efforts to modify IFD regulations focus on the restriction that matters most to government officials: eliminating the requirement for voter approval.

Hueso’s bill would also exempt these energy zones from requiring voter approval. The policy paper for the bill defends the exemption by complaining about how time-consuming and expensive it is to arrange for the public to vote on things. It also notes that even if the public doesn't vote on the creation of the IFD, a two-thirds vote would still be required for bonds to be issued.

The vagueness of the bill’s wording brings to mind ridiculously loose definition of “blight,” the justification used by RDAs to do whatever they wanted to land that fell under their jurisdictions. Does a renewable energy project have to actually sell energy it produces to qualify? Or will we see a bunch of private developments slap on solar panels to qualify for the same kind of city handouts they used to get from RDAs? Does the distinction even matter? (Maria Garcia, Hueso's legislative director, did not respond to requests for detail about what sort of restrictions, if any, would guide the expenditures of funds from the district)

Also worth noting is that 10 megawatts of renewable energy merely need to be proposed, not built, in order to create one of these zones. The designation of an IFD can currently last 30 years, raising the familiar specter of a civic commitment to a project that ultimately fails. Would Solyndra meet New London in a solar-fueled explosion of failed central planning ventures?

Follow the money bonus: One of the primary non-legislative sponsors of the bill is the San Diego-based East County Renewables Coalition (ECRC). The ECRC's bare-bones website declares, “We strive to bring renewable energy to San Diego County thru [sic] a robust local, state, and federal grassroots movement.”

The Coalition calls itself a grassroots movement, so you should be able to guess what's going to come next. The executive director of ECRC is Jim Whalen. The address of ECRC is the same as the address for J. Whalen Associates Inc., a firm that helps businesses, utilities and others to navigate environmental permitting and governmental processes in order to build projects. Among the clients currently listed on J. Whalen’s own website is Sempra Energy.

San Diego-based Sempra has a solar project in the works in the Rosamond area in Kern County and has donated a total of $8,000 to Hueso in the last two Assembly election cycles. He has also received $3,000 in donations from Pacific Gas & Electric for his current campaign for reelection. And, of course, he has received thousands from California labor unions who stand to lay claim to the jobs these projects will allegedly create (and they're not afraid to use environmental regulations to threaten lawsuits if they don't get them).

Cabins Selling Out Quickly! Register Today for Reason’s Alaska Cruise August 11-18, 2012!

Reason will take to the high seas in 2012 for our second annual cruise—and this time, we'll explore the magnificent Gulf of Alaska August 11-18 aboard Holland America's luxurious Westerdam!

You’ll have the chance to talk with Nadine Strossen, one of America’s most respected civil libertarians. During her 17 years at the helm of the ACLU, Strossen become known for her opposition to the regulation of free expression, including hate speech, pornography, media violence, and campaign expenditures. Joining Strossen will be Columbia University professor Eli Noam, whose research in tele-information illustrates how technology is changing the way we communicate.

Other speakers on this year’s Reason cruise include Reason editor in chief Matt Welch, Reason.tv editor in chief Nick Gillespie, pioneering UC Santa Barbara evolutionary psychologists Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, alternative American historian Thaddeus Russell, Reason senior editors Jacob Sullum and Peter Suderman, and Reason economic columnist and Mercatus Center senior research fellow Veronique de Rugy.   

Find out more and register at www.reasoncruise.com

Libertarian-Leaning Young Voters Unthrilled By Major Parties

Youthful voters who turned out in droves to vote for Barack Obama in 2008 will still likely favor him this presidential election, but without the numbers or enthusiasm the incumbent might wish, says pollster John Zogby. And it's not just disillusionment with a candidate who failed to deliver on impossible promises; Americans in the 18-29 "First Globals" age bracket are drifting away from the Coke vs. Pepsi battle of competing authoritarianisms offered by the Democrats and Republicans, and in a generally libertarian ideological direction.

Writing at Forbes, Zogby reports that First Globals favor — or, really, have less disdain for — Democrats over Republicans. But:

[O]n some key issues, majorities of First Globals are not doctrinaire liberals. The poll found less than majorities agree with liberals on   some of their most cherished beliefs.  For example: 44% agree health insurance is a right government should provide for those who can’t afford it, 43% agree with the same statement about food and shelter, 37% agree government should spend more to reduce poverty, 20% agree government spending is an effective way to economic growth and 28% agree government should do more to curb climate change even at the expense of economic growth. (That last number has to hurt environmentalists.)

Lest Republicans get too giddy at those findings, they should also know less than majorities agree with these conservative and neo-con ideals: 22% agree it’s sometimes necessary to attack potentially hostile countries rather than waiting until we are attacked, 23% are willing to give up some personal freedoms for the sake of national security, 39% agree cutting taxes is an effective route to economic growth, 24% agree we should eliminate all barriers to trade, 25% agree recent immigration has done more harm than good, 21% agree religious values should play an important role in government and 25% agree homosexuality is morally wrong.

These attitudes betraying both the traditional left and right fall generally within the bounds of libertarianism.

Zogby's definition of libertarianism in this context is, admittedly, really, really broad. Let me add another "really." But there's a strong sense of live and let live in the survey results, and powerful skepticism aimed at government. A peek at the Harvard University Institute of Politics survey from which Zogby draws his numbers is even more encouraging. For instance, for a cohort among which only a relatively few have begun to deal with the demands of parenting and dickering with education bureaucracies, a surprisingly strong (to me) 37% believe "if parents had more freedom to choose where they could send their children to school, the education system in this country would be better."

Also:

Over the 12 months since our last poll on this subject was released, of the 15 issues that we
tested, only one has changed outside the margin of error: 18- to 29- year olds have become less supportive of the concept that basic health insurance is a right for all people, and if
someone has no means of paying for it, the government should provide it.

The results of a hypothetical three-way presidential matchup including Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul give "Obama, 41 percent (losing 2 points from a one-on-one matchup); Romney, 18 percent (losing 9 points); Paul, 13 percent with 27 percent undecided."

Overall, the survey suggests that, while Zogby may be correct in seeing a chance of some young voters "abandoning both parties and instead choosing the Libertarian candidate," the bigger read is declining faith in grandiose government solutions, increasing protectiveness for civil liberties and growing tolerance. That may not be explicit libertarianism, but I'll take it.

Let me insert a plug here for this rather interesting book I stumbled across that seems relevant to this topic: The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America. Has anybody heard of it?

Nude TSA-Protesting Man Will Fight Charges Because as Campaign For Liberty and Rand Paul Put it: "the government literally has its hands in our pants."

As Brian Doherty noted below, a President Rand Paul in 2016 is not the most implausible of ideas. The next question is of course, do we have to wait four more years to nix this whole Transportation Security Agency (TSA) thing? Sen. Rand Paul had his own run-in with the TSA in January, but even before that the curly-mopped Kentuckian was not wild about the agency. He recently urged supporters to sign the Campaign for Liberty's petition to get rid of the TSA. Because, as a member of that campaign so beautifully put it, "the government literally has its hands down our pants."

It sometimes seems like Drudge and cable news have a TSA horror story every few days (grandmothers, the disabled, children, none will go unmolested. Also, your belt might explode.) yet people still support the security measures to a distressing degree. But there are always a few choice Americans who are fighting back in the best, most basic way they know how.

Take this naked guy from Oregon. Some misguided politics possibly implied, since the dude has also stripped naked to bikeride-protest against oil dependence, (or maybe he just likes getting naked?), but John E. Brennan declared in mid-April that he was "nude, but not lewd" when he took off his clothes at the security screening area of Portland International Airport. And he's sticking with that argument in court. "The most effective way to tell them I'm not carrying a bomb is take off my clothes," said Brennan who had previously complained about the TSA's treatment through his twitter account. And so, Brennan has just decided not to plead out on his charges of disorderly conduct and indecent exposure, the better to fight for Americans' freedom to go ungroped.

Notes the Oregonian:

John E. Brennan had the option Wednesday morning of entering Multnomah County Circuit Court's community court program, which would allow his misdemeanor to be treated like a citation. He would be required to plead guilty. He also likely would be ordered to do community service and write an apology letter. But Brennan and his attorney, Michael E. Rose, told a judge that they wanted to go to trial.

"His (letter of) apology would be more of an explanation and so community court is simply not appropriate for him because he has said 'I didn't do anything wrong,'" Rose said, after the brief hearing.

Rose said one of two things will happen next: The district attorney's office will dismiss the charge or Brennan will go to trial, as early as mid-June.

"Community court is the easy way out," Rose said.

Brennan is charged with "indecent exposure," a Portland city ordinance that says it's unlawful for "any person to expose his or her genitalia while in a public place or place visible from a public place, if the public place is open and available to persons of the opposite sex." State law allows nudity -- as long as it isn't done to sexually arouse oneself or others.

Only worrying about the emotional scars of the opposite sex from the nude person? That's pretty heterosexist, Portland law. And also stupidly broad because nudity is victimless. State law, if you're going to have a law about nudity at all, does seem much more sensible. Under state law it seems clear that a naked protest is not the same as a guy in a park trying to terrify your children or elderly relatives. 

Though Paul has remained clothed while protesting the TSA, the Sen. may be more radical even than Brennan, who doesn't want to abolish the agency:

"(TSA screeners) have a delicate job. They have to balance safety in the skies, which I completely support, and our personal liberties; and right now, I think as the pendulum is swinging, it's swinging toward taking away our personal liberties and our constitutional rights," Brennan said.

On Monday, Brennan got through the security checkpoint at Sacramento International without any problems. He opted out of the full body scanner, but got through the process with his clothes on.

Brennan said he's done disrobing in airports; he doesn't want to end up on the no-fly list. He's now encouraging other passengers to know their rights.

"It's not my job to solve the problem; there are experts for that," Brennan said. "My job is to protect my rights and the rights of other people flying."

He's not exactly a libertarian patriot, he may like getting naked a little too much for the squeamish, but his generally cheerful stubornness and refusal to be cowed into saying he did something wrong is commendable, and that's something in the direction of liberty.

Reason on the TSA and on Rand Paul

Why Is Nurse Jackie's Drug Habit a Problem?

The new season of Nurse Jackie, the Showtime series starring Edie Falco as a super-competent emergency-room nurse with a fondness for pain pills, begins with her character in rehab. Unlike Gregory House, the brilliant diagnostician played by Hugh Laurie on Fox, Jackie Peyton does not actually suffer from severe chronic pain; rather, she uses narcotics to manage her emotional state. But like House, she is very good at her job, which never seems to be compromised by her drug use except to the extent that she lies and cheats to get painkillers (along with the occasional stimulant) and to cover up her habit. Her drug-related problems stem almost entirely from the fact that the drugs she favors are legal only for doctor-approved medical use. Hence she invents injuries, deceives her friends, swipes medication, and starts an ill-advised extramarital affair with the hospital pharmacist who supplies her with painkillers. If she could simply walk into a store and buy the oxycodone, hydrocodone, and amphetamine that help get her through the day, those problems would disappear. Which raises the question: Does Jackie have a drug problem or a prohibition problem?

That issue is stark in Nurse Jackie because, as far as I can recall from the first three seasons, she is not portrayed as screwing up at work or screwing over her friends and family because of her drug use per se. It would be different if she compromised a patient's welfare or forgot to pick her daughter up at school because she was high on OxyContin. But as far as we can tell, the drugs she takes do not impair her performance or keep her from meeting her responsibilities; if anything, they help her deal with pressure and get the job done. Likewise on House, popping Vicodin did not seem to disrupt the central character's life until it was unambiguously declared a problem at the beginning of the sixth season, when he, like Jackie, ended up in rehab for reasons that were never entirely clear. The plot turn was especially puzzling on House because we were frequently reminded that he suffered from ongoing pain as a result of surgery that left him with a limp, meaning he had a legitimate medical need for the pills he took. In the end, House went back to the Vicodin as if rehab had never happened and continued to perform his job exceptionally well. 

Jackie Peyton and Gregory House both have serious personal issues (don't we all?), but they are not caused by the drugs they take, although the problems may help explain why they take those drugs. You could argue that relying on these chemical crutches prevents them from dealing with their problems as they should. Characters on House occasionally make that claim, but we never really see it. (The last episode of the series airs on May 21, and the plot description suggests it will try to tie together these loose threads, possibly with embarrassing results.) It seems the writers of both shows are torn between a desire to credibly portray a high-functioning addict and the expectation that every addict must eventually meet his downfall, as anti-drug propaganda demands. But real life is more complicated. People can regularly take psychoactive substances, including opiates, for many years without suffering any serious physical or occupational problems as a result, provided they can avoid legal complications. If OxyContin and the occasional Adderall really do help Jackie Peyton cope (as opposed to helping her avoid coping), why is that a problem? How is it different in principle from the antidepressants and stimulants that millions of Americans legally consume for similar purposes? Does it all come down to a doctor's permission slip?

Me on House's drug habit here and here.

Nancy Pelosi Defends Medical Marijuana Dispensaries In Face of Obama Administration Crackdown

Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released a statement yesterday condemning the Obama administration's crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries and advocating for the drug's medical properties: 

“Access to medicinal marijuana for individuals who are ill or enduring difficult and painful therapies is both a medical and a states’ rights issue. Sixteen states, including our home state of California, and the District of Columbia have adopted medicinal marijuana laws – most by a vote of the people.

“I have strong concerns about the recent actions by the federal government that threaten the safe access of medicinal marijuana to alleviate the suffering of patients in California, and undermine a policy that has been in place under which the federal government did not pursue individuals whose actions complied with state laws providing for medicinal marijuana.

“Proven medicinal uses of marijuana include improving the quality of life for patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and other severe medical conditions.

“I am pleased to join organizations that support legal access to medicinal marijuana, including the American Nurses Association, the Lymphoma Foundation of America, and the AIDS Action Council.

“Medicinal marijuana alleviates some of the most debilitating symptoms of AIDS, including pain, wasting, and nausea. The opportunity to ease the suffering of people who are seriously ill or enduring difficult and painful therapies is an opportunity we must not ignore.

“For these reasons, I have long supported efforts in Congress to advocate federal policies that recognize the scientific evidence and clinical research demonstrating the medical benefits of medicinal marijuana, that respects the wishes of the states in providing relief to ill individuals, and that prevents the federal government from acting to harm the safe access of medicinal marijuana provided under state law. I will continue to strongly support those efforts."

The statement follows the delivery of a petition signed by San Francisco residents asking Pelosi to speak out against Obama's medical marijuana crackdown. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) called the crackdown "bad politics and bad policy" last week. 

H/T Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. 

But Are Stalinist Lillian Hellman's Plays and Writings Any Good?

Over at the Wall Street Journal, former staffer and current Reason contributing editor Michael Moynihan has a sharp review of the new Lillian Hellman bio, A Difficult Woman, by Alice Kessler Harris.

A snippet of the review:

Hellman zealously supported the Moscow line on Trotsky, offering no criticism when he was murdered by Kremlin agents; she defended Stalin's mass executions of party cadres in 1937-38, signing a petition that accused the victims of being "spies and wreckers" of socialism; she supported Stalin's alliance with Nazi Germany, despite her supposed devotion to "anti-fascism," and defended Moscow's indefensible invasion of Finland in 1939-40, claiming that the country supported Nazism and deserved no pity, a scurrilous lie that Ms. Kessler-Harris leaves unchallenged.

Moynihan notes acidly:

Ms. Kessler-Harris marvels that Hellman "dedicated much of her life to the cause of civil liberties; in return, she earned the Stalinist label." This is giving Hellman short shrift: she worked rather hard to earn the Stalinist label.

Whole piece here.

Despite the claims of various defenders over the years, Hellman always comes off as a pretty horrible human being and it always stuns me when people try to minimize the stupidity and wilful blindness of pro-Stalin intellectuals in the '30s, '40s, and '50s. Uncle Joe wasn't exactly hiding the ball on what he was up to, after all, and there's simply no convincing way to say that folks who are supposed to be smart and insightful and all that shouldn't have realized the guy was evil with a capital E.

However, the widely discussed Kessler-Harris book, which I haven't read, raises a slightly different question that isn't really addressed in Moynihan's review or in any of the other four or five I've checked out: How well does Hellman's work hold up?

She was a major playwright and a popular screenplay writer back in the day. Her later work was mostly memoir such as Scoundrel Time and Pentimento. That latter volume includes a vignette that became the movie Julia and is based, as Moynihan points out, on a brazen lie. Hellman boosted an acquaintance's story about helping anti-fascists in Nazi-era Germany and rewrote it with herself in a starring role. I read Pentimento about 30 years ago, before Hellman's fraud was common knowledge, and remember it as an exceptionally well-written book filled with annoying politics. I recall fondly the movie Dead End, the 1937 social realist classic with Joel McCrea and Humphrey Bogart which introduced Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, and the Bowery Boys to the movie-going public. It's definitely of its time and place, but is all the better for that. I have no memories of her plays such as The Children's Hour and Watch on the Rhine, but she was a big deal.

My question, I guess, is this: How does an author's almost-invariably-idiotic politics figure into a reader's evaluation? Blogger extraordinaire Alan Vanneman recently hipped me to a dispiriting piece about Gertrude Stein's Vichy and fascist sympathies. It's dispiriting to me because I like Stein as a cultural figure and a writer and I hate fascism; what the hell was a gay, Jewish, experimental writer doing in siding with Nazi allies?

But I can't say the story is surprising. To paraphrase Stein, there's a good chance that the politics of your favorite creative artist are not only more idiotic than you imagine, but more idiotic than you can imagine.

Perhaps the discomfort is nothing more than a variation on the discomfort of Elaine on Seinfeld when she finds out her new boyfriend is anti-abortion. How could someone so good looking disagree with her on something she cares about?

As it happens, I'm rereading the oeuvre of Hellman's longtime companion, Dashiell Hammett. A great stylist and sharp novelist. And a total commie in all the worst ways possible. It's not enough to make me not want to take another look at the underappreciated novel version of The Thin Man, but the disjuncture sets a mind to thinking. Which isn't a bad thing, I suppose. Subtext - and it's subtext all the way down - makes text more interesting.

(Rand) Paul '16!

Business Insider with more on what people in and out of the Paul world have been guessing for a year or so now: that a Rand Paul presidential run in 2016 is seemingly in the works, with Rand visits to the vital early caucus state of Iowa.

And as I've noted elsewhere, Rand is showing a more sophisticated sense of needed alliance-building within the existing GOP culture and power structures than his father has shown:

Later this month Rand will return to Iowa — without his father — to deliver the keynote speech at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalitions spring rally — the most obvious indication yet that Sen. Paul has his own presidential ambitions.

"He loves Iowa," Sen. Paul's communications director Moira Bagley told Business Insider. "He's been out there so much, with his dad's campaign, so he's really comfortable and really happy with the people out in Iowa, and especially the evangelical groups."

In fact, Sen. Paul's overture to Iowa's social conservatives is evidence of a budding romance between the Kentucky Republican and evangelical leaders, most of whom have never been particularly taken with the elder Paul.  

Business Insider has learned that Sen. Paul has even been approached about a possible trip to Israel with Christian activist David Lane, a conservative kingmaker whose "Pastor Policy Briefings" helped launch Mike Huckabee's political star in 2008.

"Rand Paul is going to inherit his dad's political assets — he's going to be very formidable," Lane told Business Insider. "Structurally, there is something that is happening inside the state Republican parties that will have to be death with politically."

Lane added that the Paul message of fiscal conservatism and limited government dovetail with that of social conservatives, who increasingly see the federal debt as one of the country's biggest moral ills.

It's true and I've said it before--Christian conservatives should have been able to love Ron Paul more than they did, and I suspect for reasons of Rand's rhetorical skills, the rise of Paulite influence in the GOP and the truths of Paul's warnings about the costs of profligate government come home to roost, they will be more receptive to the Paul message in 2016 than they were in 2012.

Past Reason items on Rand Paul:

*Jim Antle on his Senate campaign from our May 2010 issue;

*Matt Welch on his book The Tea Party Goes to Washington from our June 2011 issue'

*Me from March on his surprising-to-some solidity on non-interventionist foreign policy.

My forthcoming book, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired, discusses Rand as well.