Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 May 8-31

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Ron Paul Is Not Ending His Campaign for Liberty

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) announced yesterday that he will no longer be actively campaigning in forthcoming primaries. While this announcement was widely played in the media as essentially "Ron Paul drops out"—as perhaps his team should have figured, especially with its injudicious use of past tense about "fought hard"—Paul in fact directly said his quest to rack up as many delegates as he can for the Republican presidential nomination will continue. Indeed, the announcement was more or less merely a public declaration of what had been the campaign's style for the past few weeks, featuring few of the smaller public events that make up a full-fledged campaign and more giant campus rallies. The campaign was indeed likely down to only about a million dollars cash on hand, and seems ill-inclined right now to do more big calls for cash.

Paul's campaign advisors have had to try to play damage control—many, though by no means all, Paul fans around the Internet were dispirited, especially the ones still wanting to rack up big vote totals in states like Texas and California, just to show the establishment what's what.

But as a further announcement from Paul's campaign website stated, "Asked if this is a dropout, Paul’s campaign manager Jesse Benton said, 'Absolutely not! We are focusing our efforts squarely on winning delegates and party leadership positions at state conventions.'"

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California Austerity: $5 Billion Spending Hike: Cavanaugh on Fox L.A., 10 p.m. tonight

Rabbit ears alert for all L.A. residents:

Why does California keep overestimating how much it can collect in taxes? 

How did the overestimation this time around result in a cool $16 billion shortfall? (Not even the worst in recent memory!) 

Where are the devastating cuts of the austerity of bare-bones of the starving beast in a state that will increase spending by six percent — from $86.5 billion in outlays last year to $91.4 billion this year? 

Is it smart for Gov. Jerry Brown to expect a Facebook windfall when Facebook founders are literally willing to flee the United States to escape the tax hit of the company's impending IPO? 

Does anybody except USC/Dornsife pollsters think Brown will get his $8.5 billion tax hike approved in November? Does anybody on any planet believe it will actually bring in $8.5 billion in new taxes? 

What's the best way for a broken state to spend money it doesn't have: Government employee pensions, high-speed rail, boards of horse racing and chiropractory, or all of the above? 

Reason.com managing editor Tim Cavanaugh will answer these questions and more on Fox Channel 11 tonight at 10 p.m. 

"I kissed her breasts and nipples, as there was no place for my face to go," Salt Lake City PD Re-Evaluates Vice

Salt Lake City’s Police Department has disbanded its vice unit after a Civilian Complaint Review Board (sometimes they work!) report questioned the department’s tactics in combating prostitution and illegal massage parlors, citing violations of the Fourth Amendment and inadequate supervision. From the Salt Lake Tribune, some of the crime-fighting techniques:

While the masseuse [at the parlor being investigated] refused to perform any sex acts or to give a massage while topless, the [undercover] detective’s report says he received a deep tissue massage, which the woman did not have a license to provide. That is a misdemeanor offense.
After that massage, other vice detectives arrived to cite the woman and do what’s called a "protective sweep" where police find everyone inside the parlor and ensure they are not a threat to officers. But such sweeps are not supposed to look in places too small for someone to hide. The owner of the massage parlor later complained detectives were looking inside purses.

Crimes handled by the vice unit, like prostitution and liquor licensing, are being handled by other units according to the police chief, Chris Burbank, who said the department was “re-evaluating what vice will look like." 

Burbank was one of few police chiefs in the country able to defuse Occupy protests without resorting to "counter-insurgency” and other aggressive police tactics used across the country, especially that one time while President Obama went to Asia.

California High-Speed Rail: Highest Burn Rate Ever

Taxpayers in California and around the nation have a new reason to pull the plug on the Golden State’s high-speed rail project. In order to meet its virtually impossible timeline, the project will have to spend $3.5 million per day, seven days a week, over the next five years, a spending rate that will easily make California high-speed rail the costliest per-diem transportation project in the history of the United States. 

Ralph Vartabedian explains in the Los Angeles Times that in order to meet a federally mandated September 2017 deadline for completion of the (also federally mandated) Fresno-Bakersfield leg, Sacramento, which is currently struggling to close a $16 billion budget deficit, would have to issue 120 permits through multiple regulatory agencies, buy about 1,100 parcels of land, work through lawsuits by local farmers and assemble a team of contractors with large workforces. 

And that’s if everything goes according to plan. Says the Times

If the rail authority runs into technical problems, legal disputes, permit delays or political roadblocks, it could end up building less track and potentially leave an uncompleted project, according to warnings contained in its own business plan. If the project blows past the federal deadline, for example, the flow of money could be stopped. And the scramble to meet that deadline could lead to construction problems and drive up costs.

Rail officials acknowledge that their plans are aggressive but describe them as not unprecedented, pointing to the fast construction pace of the new Bay Bridge in Oakland and the Alameda Corridor freight rail line in Los Angeles.

But state reports show the $6.5-billion Bay Bridge will have an average spending or "burn rate" of $1.8 million per day when it is completed in 2013, less than half what the rail authority is planning. The Alameda Corridor also had a similar $1.8 million per day burn rate by its completion in April 2002, much less than planned for the bullet train even when adjusted for inflation.

The hurried project to improve I-15 in Salt Lake City before the 2002 Olympics, known in the construction industry as one of the fastest well-executed work packages, spent $1.6 million per day, according to John Njord, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation.

"That was a burn rate like we have never seen before," he said, which was on schedule only because of careful planning. The California effort would more than double that pace.

Vartabedian deserves credit for his unflinching reporting on the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s ongoing collapse. (This un-Times-like honesty has notably not filtered down to the paper’s editorial board.) But even in a 340-line story that details how private contractors are walking away from the project (thanks in large parts to the state’s plan to offload schedule and cost risks onto contractors), it’s impossible to list all the evidence that the continuing brouhaha over the bullet train is just kabuki for a project that is in all practical senses already dead. 

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The First Amendment vs. the War on Cameras

As Jacob Sullum reported last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit issued a preliminary injunction against Illinois’ controversial eavesdropping law, which made it a felony to record on-duty police officers in public. Judge Richard Posner, an influential federal judge and notable figure in the field of law and economics, filed a dissent in the case, arguing that the First Amendment provides no protection against the state law. Writing at The First Amendment Center, Douglas Lee takes aim at Posner’s dissent:

Those fond of the First Amendment should be glad that Richard Posner isn’t in charge of interpreting it....

Pointing to a long list of circumstances in which regulation of speech is permitted — including child pornography, securities fraud and laws making medical records confidential — Posner argued that Illinois should be allowed to add to that list a prohibition against recording conversations between police officers and members of the public in public places.

“The constitutional right that the majority creates is likely to impair the ability of police both to extract information relevant to police duties and to communicate effectively with persons whom they speak with in the line of duty,” Posner said. “A fine line separates ‘mere’ recording of a police-citizen encounter (whether friendly or hostile) from obstructing police operations by distracting the officers and upsetting the citizens they are speaking with.”

Given the extent to which law enforcement agencies record civilians during investigations, arrests and interviews, it seems somewhat ironic to claim that recording police personnel in public places will somehow adversely affect personal privacy and public safety. In any event, the notion that reporters and others have a First Amendment right to film and write down what they see in public places but not the right to record what they hear in those same places is difficult to understand and justify.

Read the rest here. For more on the legality of recording the police, see Radley Balko’s “The War on Cameras” and Steve Silverman’s “7 Rules for Recording Police.”

Disappointed Democrat Will Still Vote for Obama, No Matter How Shoddy His Immigration Record

Say, Democrats who are bitterly disappointed in President Obama's immigration record, isn't a shame that you have to vote for him anyway in 2012? What's that, you don't have to? As the Huffington Post notes, don't tell the family of 

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of President Barack Obama's most vocal critics on immigration, was sitting at dinner with his family a couple of weeks ago when his youngest daughter began talking about the president's "terrible" deportation record.

"If they invite us to the White House, I won't go," the 24-year-old said, according to Gutierrez.

His wife, though, summed up the family's mixed feelings on the president and immigration. "Yes -- but you should clarify that notwithstanding that, we're all voting for him," his wife said, according to the congressman. "We can be angry, but we cannot vote for" Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee.

Far be it from me to advocate voting for Romney, but story is still completely gross in that it demonstrates perfectly how political politics turns out to be. 

Gutierrez threw his support to Obama in 2008, when many Democrats in Congress backed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. Four years later, Gutierrez said he wants Obama to win a second term and will help campaign for him. But he said he won't muzzle his criticism, no matter how much the campaign pushes.

"You just can't, otherwise it's you're the bullshitter again," Gutierrez said. "Like, 'Oh, don't you worry about all of those hundreds of thousands of children who don't have moms and dads, that isn't anything.' No, you have to. It is significant and important that a lot of people understand that we grasp that."

The Obama campaign has asked Gutierrez to tone down speeches calling out the president for deportations and immigration enforcement programs, a source with knowledge of the conversations told HuffPost. The Obama campaign declined to comment.

I guess props to Gutierrez for not shutting up about immigration, which  clearly a big-deal issue for him. But his family's attitude of having to vote for the Democrat is such a perfect snapshot of all that is wrong with the two-party system. And while Obama's record on immigration is appalling, the Republicans continue to invoke Reagan for every issue except immigration reform and Mitt Romney is vaguely, but strongly opposed to measures like the DREAM act. There is no really pro-immigration candidate. But that's not a reason to pretend you have no choice when it comes to voting, especially if you're trying to send a message to the president.

Reason on immigration

Texting While Walking Will Earn You an $85 Ticket In Fort Lee, New Jersey

Fort Lee, New Jersey, former motion picture capital of America, will start issuing tickets to people who are caught texting and walking. There have been "three fatal pedestrian-involved accidents this year," ABC News reports. And walking around in a state of complete obliviousness is a bad idea. So obviously the solution is to start issuing $85 jaywalking tickets to adults and kids caught texting while walking—117 of them so far. 

The Fort Lee texting while walking crackdown joins scores of popular and totally ineffective bans on texting while driving.

More me on the downsides of texting bans in The New York Times.

Customs Sued for Abusing Travelers, Ron Paul Steps Off the Campaign Trail, Greece Gets ... Even Messier: P.M. Links

  • President Obama may have voiced lukewarm support of gay marriage for political reasons, but his administration faces growing pressure to play a legal role when a marriage-equality case reaches the Supreme Court.
  • After several delays, SpaceX thrilled both space geeks and free-market fans with news that its unmanned Dragon space capsule is ready for launch and rendezvous with the International Space Station.
  • While his supporters look poised to make the Republican National Convention very interesting, indeed, Ron Paul is no longer actively campaigning in primary states.
  • With party leaders in Greece's fractured parliament facing just a bit of trouble in their efforts to assemble a governing coalition, stocks slid on fears that the country would slip from the eurozone and leave the European debt crisis festering.
  • The NYPD insists its controversal stop-and-frisk policy is making the city much safer, which must be why officers confronted people under the program a record 200,000 times during the first three months of this year.
  • The ACLU went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to argue that its legal challenge to the government's No Fly List should be reinstated. Hopefully, the civil liberties advocates don't plan to fly home.
  • Plaintiffs consisting of U.S. citizens and legal residents are suing U.S. Customs and Border Protection, alleging repeated mistreatment of travelers crossing the Mexican border.

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Ira Stoll on the Difference Between Mitt Romney's and Barack Obama's Wall Street Fundraising

If President Obama tries to make political advantage out of JPMorgan Chase’s $2 billion trading losses, writes Ira Stoll, don’t be surprised to see the Romney campaign respond that it was President Obama inviting Mr. Dimon in for a state dinner, a holiday reception, and a private Oval Office meeting, while Mr. Romney is the one winning the support of a new breed of more nimble, non-bank financial industry start-ups for whom government relations is not a core competency.

View this article

How Psychiatrists Make Drugs More Addictive

The next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, scheduled to be published a year from now, is expected to include a looser definition of addiction that will qualify millions more drinkers, illegal drug users, and participants in other pleasurable activities for psychiatric diagnoses. The upshot will be a lot more spending by taxpayers and private insurers on rarely effective "treatment" for these putative diseases, along with expanded excuses for depriving people of their freedom and relieving them of their responsibility.

Neither the current edition (DSM-IV-TR) nor the new one (DSM-V) has a listing for addiction per se. Instead DSM-IV speaks of "substance dependence"  (of which "alcohol dependence" is one variety) and the less severe "substance abuse" (along with "alcohol abuse"). The proposed language for DSM-V collapses "dependence" and "abuse" into one category: "use disorder," broken down by type of substance (alcohol, cannabis, hallucinogen, inhalant, opioid, sedative/hypnotic, tobacco, or unknown). It tosses in "gambling disorder" for good measure while suggesting "caffeine use disorder" and "Internet use disorder" for "further study."

Both the current critera for "substance dependence" and the proposed criteria for "substance use disorder" refer to a "maladaptive" (DSM-IV) or "problematic" (DSM-V) "pattern of substance use leading to clinically signficiant impairment or distress." But while the current definition requires three or more out of seven "symptoms" during a 12-month period, the proposed definition settles for two out of 11. If you "crave" alcohol and end up consuming more than planned, for instance, you may be suffering from "alcohol use disorder," depending on a mental health professional's assessment of your "impairment or distress." If you spend a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from cannabis, plus you find that over time you need more to achieve the same effect, you could get a "cannabis use disorder" diagnosis.

"Many scholars believe that the new manual will increase addiction rates," The New York Times reports. Isn't that the whole point? "Unlike many other fields," notes lead DSM-IV editor Allen J. Frances, "psychiatric illnesses have no clear biological gold standard for diagnosing them." In other words, they are whatever psychiatrists say they are.

Although many people are apt to roll their eyes at "gambling disorder," the criteria for this new diagnosis are actually stricter than the criteria for substance use disorder: at least four out of nine gambling-related problems during a 12-month period. It seems fair to say that anyone who meets these criteria has a gambling problem. Whether he has an illness suitable for treatment by medical doctors is another question.   

Likewise for the various "substance use disorders." No doubt many of the people who would qualify for these labels (though definitely not all) have serious drug problems. That fact alone does not tell us how to deal with them: with talk therapy or psychiatric drugs, with social pressure or prison, with assistance for those who request it or with coercive treatment for everyone, whether or not he agrees he has a problem and whether or not he wants help with it. Already users of arbitrarily proscribed substances are more apt to receive a diagnosis (partly because the illicitness of their preferred intoxicant magnifies its hazards) and more apt to be forced into treatment (as an alternative to jail, for example). Lowering the diagnostic threshold will only magnify that problem, pushing recreational pot smokers into the same category as broken-down alcoholics. Furthermore, the "addiction rates" for illegal drugs will increase overnight, giving prohibitionists another reason to argue that talk of legalization is "irresponsible." Once we expand the definition of addiction so that every regular pot smoker qualifies, it will be obvious that we cannot tolerate a legal market in this highly addictive substance.

The Times summarizes the concerns of critics:

While the [American Psychiatric Association] says that the addiction definition changes would lead to health care savings in the long run, some economists say that 20 million substance abusers could be newly categorized as addicts, costing hundreds of millions of dollars in additional expenses.

"The chances of getting a diagnosis are going to be much greater, and this will artificially inflate the statistics considerably," said Thomas F. Babor, a psychiatric epidemiologist at the University of Connecticut who is an editor of the international journal Addiction. Many of those who get addiction diagnoses under the new guidelines would have only a mild problem, he said, and scarce resources for drug treatment in schools, prisons and health care settings would be misdirected.

"These sorts of diagnoses could be a real embarrassment," Dr. Babor added.

I am less concerned about the potential for embarrassing psychiatrists (which seems like a plus to me) than the potential for oppressing people in the name of helping them.

More on the DSM here.

Cops Detain Photographer Until They Realize the Incident Is Being Recorded

When it comes to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, this is not Shawn Nee's first rodeo. The Los Angeles Times reports that he is one of three photographers, along with the National Press Photographers Association, represented by the ACLU of Southern California in a lawsuit against the department over the detention and harassment of people taking pictures in public places. Now he has yet another opportunity to let deputies make themselves look foolish, having recorded an incident in which he was detained, accused of a shifting litany of crimes, and released only after officers discovered his camera was recording the encounter.

In an earlier incident, says the Times of the West:

Professional photographer Shawn Nee was detained and searched Oct. 31, 2009, for shooting images at newly installed turnstiles at the Metro Red Line's Hollywood and Western station. Nee told the deputy he was not doing anything illegal, but the deputy said the station was a terrorist target and that it was against Metropolitan Transportation Authority rules to take pictures there.

A video shows Deputy Richard Gylfie telling Nee: "Al Qaeda would love to buy your pictures, so I want to know if you are in cahoots with Al Qaeda to sell these pictures to them for terrorist purposes."

The deputy pushed Nee against a wall and lectured him about terrorism, the lawsuit alleges. He also told Nee that his name could be added to an FBI "hit list."

This time, in February 2012, Nee captures two deputies chatting up a couple of girls along Hollywood Boulevard. Perhaps having acquired a little hard-won cynicism from his earlier experiences, he had a camera clipped to his camera bag capturing video and audio independently of the device in his hand. That backup camera recorded the officers first ordering him to stop filming them. When he calmly declines, they switch tracks, telling him the girls they's talking to are minors and that he's being detained "because you're taking pictures of minors."

After that, in this game of legal multiple-choice, his crime becomes "you're supposed to carry ID at all times" — not true, in California, although police have been known to insist otherwise.

Anyway, Nee ends up in the back of a squad car as the deputies first describe him as a "retard," and then discuss taking and running his fingerprints — just moments before discovering his recording device clipped to the bag.

Asks a deputy, "it's like, recording or what?"

Why, yes. Yes it is. And off Nee goes, free after being held for 25 minutes.

Interestingly, Carlos Miller of Photography Is Not a Crime reports that Nee's backup camera was a Vievu. That's a wearable camera developed for law-enforcement agencies that "utilizes a Digital Signature process that marks each video with a digital hash certificate to prove that the video has not been altered. The Digital Signature process is FIPS 140-2 compliant. VidLock security prevents unauthorized access if the camera is lost or stolen."

Hmmm ... Sounds handy, and unerasable.

Incidentally, Reason has thoroughly covered the thin blue line's war on cameras in a cover story as well as the video below. We've also offered guidance on technology that can ease the process of recording the police.

Update: And, of course, "7 Rules for Recording the Police."

Obama Administration Now Basically Just Requiring Health Insurers to Send Out Campaign Mailers

If you’re getting a rebate check from your health insurer, the Obama administration wants to make sure you know where it really came from. Lest no one be confused about the political purpose of the mandatory rebates...

Health-insurance companies must tell customers who get a premium rebate this summer that the check is the result of the Obama administration's health-care law, according to federal guidelines released Friday.

...Rules finalized by the Department of Health and Human Services on Friday instruct insurers to notify recipients of rebates in the first paragraph of the mailing by writing: "This letter is to inform you that you will receive a rebate of a portion of your health insurance premiums. This rebate is required by the Affordable Care Act—the health reform law."

So just a few months before the presidential vote, health insurers will be required to send out billions of dollars worth of checks that credit the Obama administration. Hint, hint, nudge, nudge, remember us come November! I guess the White House didn’t think they could just force health insurers to run ads for Obama’s reelection campaign? 

According to The Wall Street Journal's report, one variant proposal had called for insurers to send out detailed information breaking down exactly how premium dollars were spent, which would have come with compliance costs, but at least would have provided consumers with actual information. But instead the Obama administration seems to have settled on requiring insurers to send out campaign flyers attached to checks.

Here’s what the notices won’t tell you: Despite the rebates, the existence of the health care overhaul isn’t necessarily ensuring that health insurance customers get a better deal.

The rebates will be issued as a result of the law’s medical loss ratio provision, which requires insurers to spend either 80 or 85 percent of the premium revenue they collect on clinical services. Insurers must pay for administrative expenses, overhead, marketing, and profits out of the remaining 15 or 20 percent.  Ultimately what that means is insurer profits are capped as a percentage of premium revenue. So if insurers want to increase their profits, they will have to increase the premiums they charge.

Over time, this will put tremendous pressure on insurers to increase premiums rather than to restrain their growth. As a result, it’s entirely possible that in the absence of the health care overhaul insurance premiums would have been lower than they’ll end up being under the law even if you factor in the rebates. But at least the Obama administration will get credit every time someone gets a check. 

Update: I should note that amongst those enrolled in plans that will receive rebates, not everyone will get rebates directly. As The Journal reported in April:

People with individual insurance may get rebates in the form of checks or discounts against future premiums. Rebates for group plans are expected to go to the employers, and a share is supposed to be passed through to employees.

Attn. D.C. Reasonoids! Come See Ron Paul's rEVOLution Author Brian Doherty Tonight at a Reason Reception and Tomorrow Night at a Cato Event Featuring Sen. Rand Paul!

Please join the D.C.-area staff of Reason TODAY, May 14 at 6:30 p.m. for a reception in honor of next week's release of Senior Editor Brian Doherty's new book, Ron Paul’s rEVOLution: The Man And the Movement He Inspired.

Doherty, author of several books on libertarian politics and history, has been covering Ron Paul for more than a decade. In Ron Paul's rEVOLution, described by Rupert Murdoch (allegedly!) as "fascinating," Doherty "documents the meteoric rise of Paul from relative obscurity to national prominence, and examines the fanatically devoted political movement that has arisen around him."

  • What: Reception with Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty, author of Ron Paul's rEVOLution
  • When: Monday, May 14 at 6:30 p.m.
  • Where: Reason's D.C. HQ, 1747 Connecticut Ave., NW (two blocks north of Dupont Circle)
  • RSVP: events@reason.com

Beer, wine, and light refreshments will be served.

Watch Doherty explain to reason.tv why young people heart RP:

Then! On Tuesday, May 15, at 6 p.m., the Cato Institute will be hosting a book forum featuring Doherty and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky). For more details on that event, go here.

School Junk Food Ban Study Loaded With Empty Calories

A study showing that California high school students consume fewer calories on campus than teenagers in other states following a state ban on junk food sales has been greeted with a small burst of excitement. But there is no evidence that the ban actually influenced teen eating habits.

First the good news: Unlike the subjects in some previous studies, these kids are not snorting Doritos at home and making up the difference. They are generally eating fewer calories per day than students in states that don’t ban junk food at school. Nanny state nutritionists are salivating over the findings. 

The study, by the University of Illinois, involved 680 students in 15 states — 114 in California — during a four-month period in 2010. The students reported their eating habits, and researchers compared California high school students’ intake with those in other states. They determined California teens were consuming about 160 fewer calories per day than students in other states, and the decrease was taking place at school. The California teens consumed less fat, sugar, and salt at school, but they also consumed fewer vitamins and minerals. The teens just ate less of everything at school in California, getting only 21 percent of their daily calories while at school compared to 28 percent for teens in other states. California teens made up some of the difference elsewhere, but when all the numbers were crunched, they were still eating less overall.

But the study leaves plenty of unanswered questions. First, we have no idea what the California teens’ eating habits were prior to the junk food ban (passed in 2007). We don’t know if California students are eating less than they used to, which you’d think would be important data if you're calculating the success of a school junk food ban. (There is a brief reference to another study relevant to the matter, with the results vaguely described as "cautiously optimistic")

Second, more than half the students on the non-California side of the study attended school in Southern states. This is relevant, because while California’s teen obesity rate is high, it is not as high as the obesity rate in the South. Again, because the study only measures intake post-ban, for all we know the California students had already been consuming fewer calories than their peers in this study.

Finally, researchers note that even allowing for the cutting out of fat and sugar, students’ food consumption at school wasn’t really healthier, per se. “The nutritional composition of California students’ in-school diet was similar,” the study states.  (The study seems to assume here that more nutritional choices aren’t being offered, rather than that students are declining to eat them.) In the comments section, the researchers offer all sorts of caveats about the inbalance in representation of the subjects, the problems of asking teens to accurately report their own eating habits, and the possibility of self-selection bias.

The study's authors concede that they cannot conclude California's laws were the cause of any differences in intake. That uncertainty doesn't stop them from proposing even more policy changes.

But the students in California feel like they’re eating healthier, and isn’t that what matters? Here’s what an Elk Grove High School Student told San Francisco’s ABC affiliate: "This would be a large size, these shorts, this shirt. I do feel like I would be heavier." He feels like he would weigh more if junk food hadn’t been banned.

California Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, a pediatrician, weighs in: "We've just shown that in the school, we've created an environment where kids will take fewer calories. We can now use this as information to talk to parents about, ‘How do we create the environment at home?’”

Elsewhere: Reuters argues that our mocking of fat people is discouraging them from losing weight, so knock it off. Also, it’s all the fault of advertisements and restaurants.

Ron Paul Takes Himself Off Campaign Trail, Says He's Still Running to Win As Much as He Can

Ron Paul speaks, from a press release today:

This campaign fought hard and won electoral success that the talking heads and pundits never thought possible.  But, this campaign is also about more than just the 2012 election.  It has been part of a quest I began 40 years ago and that so many have joined.  It is about the campaign for Liberty, which has taken a tremendous leap forward in this election and will continue to grow stronger in the future until we finally win.

“Our campaign will continue to work in the state convention process.  We will continue to take leadership positions, win delegates, and carry a strong message to the Republican National Convention that Liberty is the way of the future.

“Moving forward, however, we will no longer spend resources campaigning in primaries in states that have not yet voted.  Doing so with any hope of success would take many tens of millions of dollars we simply do not have.  I encourage all supporters of Liberty to make sure you get to the polls and make your voices heard, particularly in the local, state, and Congressional elections, where so many defenders of Freedom are fighting and need your support.

“I hope all supporters of Liberty will remain deeply involved - become delegates, win office, and take leadership positions.  I will be right there with you.  

My book on how Ron Paul got to where he is now, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.

How a Poster Boy for Commutation Falls Through the Cracks

In my October Reason cover story about Barack Obama's drug policies, I noted Clarence Aaron as an example of drug offenders whose sentences the president should commute if he really believes what he used to say about excessively long prison terms. Aaron, now 43, was arrested when he was a student at Southern University in Baton Rouge for connecting a cocaine supplier who was the brother of a classmate to a dealer he knew from high school. Although it was his first offense and he never made, transported, bought, or sold any drugs, he was sentenced to three consecutive life terms. A new investigative article by ProPublica's Dafna Linzer, based on interviews and internal documents, suggests that Aaron, who has been a model prisoner for more than 18 years, probably would be a free man today if the Justice Department's pardon attorney, Ronald Rodgers, had not misrepresented important aspects of his petition.

During the final year of George W. Bush's second term, Linzer reports, "lawyers began searching through denial recommendations for promising cases and found Aaron." The White House asked the Office of the Pardon Attorney to take another look. At this point several new aspects of the case weighed in Aaron's favor, including favorable prison reports and a new affidavit in which he expressed remorse for his role in the cocaine deal. Most crucially, both the judge who sentenced him, Charles Butler Jr., and the U.S. attorney for the district in which was tried, Deborah J. Rhodes, now supported commuting Aaron's sentence. Butler said Aaron "should be granted relief immediately," while Rhodes recommended that he be released in 2014. Yet Rodgers simply resubmitted his office's 2004 denial recommendation. In an email message to Associate White House Counsel Kenneth Lee, Rodgers said only that Butler was not opposed to a commutation and claimed that Rhodes, while supporting commutation "at some point," believed Aaron's petition was "about 10 years premature." Linzer relates Lee's reaction upon hearing what Butler and Rhodes actually had said:

Kenneth Lee, the lawyer who shepherded Aaron's case on behalf of the White House, was aghast when ProPublica provided him with original statements from the judge and prosecutor to compare with Rodgers's summary. Had he read the statements at the time, Lee said, he would have urged Bush to commute Aaron's sentence.

"This case was such a close call," Lee said. "We had been asking the pardons office to reconsider it all year. We made clear we were interested in this case."

Both Rogers and the Justice Department declined Linzer's requests to comment on the case. Linzer, who previously has shown that black offenders such as Aaron are much less likely to receive pardons (which clear the records of people who have completed their sentences) than whites, presents the case as another example of dysfunction in the Office of the Pardon Attorney, on which Bush and Obama both have depended to review clemency petitions and recommend responses. Citing "a former pardon office lawyer," she suggests the office has responded to commutation petition backlogs, which are largely a product of increasingly draconian prison sentences, with cursory reviews and mass denial recommendations. In other words, at the very time when presidential mercy is most needed, it is less likely to be shown, and there is little rhyme or reason to which applicants are lucky enough to receive it.

But a president who relies on overwhelmed or lackadaisical underlings to make his clemency decisions for him can hardly blame them for his failure to use this power as a remedy for obvious injustices like Clarence Aaron's three life sentences for a nonviolent first offense. Gregory Craig, Obama's former counsel, recommends that petitions instead be reviewed by a bipartisan panel outside the Justice Department, a change Obama could make whenever he wants. While Bush's commutation record was pitiful (or maybe that should be "pitiless"), Obama's so far is worse, as Linzer notes:

Obama has rejected nearly 3,800 commutation requests from prisoners. He has approved one. Bush commuted the sentences of 11 people, turning down nearly 7,500 applicants [over two terms]....

Under Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, both two-term presidents, one applicant in 100 was successful. Under Bush, approvals fell to barely better than one in 1,000. So far, Obama has commuted the sentences of fewer than one in 5,000. The only person freed by Obama had support from one of the president’s closest congressional allies, Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin. 

That applicant, Eugenia Jennings, was surely deserving, but so are Clarence Aaron and many, many others. Obama's reluctance to commute sentences is especially shameful in light of his repeated objections to senselessly harsh drug penalties.

Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president, has said he would "pardon nonviolent drug offenders." Ron Paul, the last remaining challenger to Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination, has made a similar commitment.

More on the pardon power here.

Gallup: Majority Say Gay/Lesbian Relations Morally Acceptable

A recent poll out from Gallup shows 54 percent of Americans consider “gay or lesbians relations" "morally acceptable,” while 42 percent say gay or lesbian relations are “morally wrong.” Gallup has been asking this question since 2001. At the time, results were clearly flipped with 53 percent saying homosexual relations are morally wrong, and 40 percent saying morally acceptable. Acceptance eclipsed in 2008 and has continued to increase since this time.

 

Support for same-sex marriage has closely mirrored acceptance of gay and lesbian relations. For the first time, in 2011 Gallup found majority support for same-sex marriage and has since maintained marginal majority support.

 

Gallup also demonstrates the increasingly polarized nature-versus-nurture debate over homosexuality. When Gallup first asked the question in 1977, thirteen percent believed “being gay or lesbian [was] something a person [was] born with.” In contrast 56 percent said, “being gay or lesbian [was] due to factors such as upbringing and environment.” These numbers steadily coalesced until 2001 so that the electorate was evenly divided and has since stayed polarized.

Source: Gallup Organization.

Sex Politics and the GOP as We Know It: An Interview with Nancy Cohen

"The reason we've gone crazy, in a word, is sex," says Nancy Cohen, author of Delirium: How the Sexual Counterrevolution is Polarizing America

Cohen explains how sexual fundamentalists became the gate keepers of election 2012. "That is why we're seeing someone like Santorum, who is really a fringe candidate," Cohen says, "and it's also why Mitt Romney has been forced to talk about birth control and abortion much more than he would want to".

Reason.tv's Tracy Oppenheimer sat down with Cohen to discuss the rise of sexual fundamentalism in America and how it helped shape today's Republican Party and political system.

About 4:30 minutes.

Shot by Paul Detrick, Zach Weissmueller and Sharif Matar; edited by Tracy Oppenheimer

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

The 90 Percent Who Work in Private Sector Should Read This About Public Sector Pension Reform

The state of Ohio is finally getting around to what the Dayton Daily News a "drastic pension overhaul."

But the real takeaway from the story, in my opinion anway, is just how different public and private sector pension benefits are. Consider the "sweeping changes" to defined-benefit plans:

...The bills would require active teachers to contribute 14 percent of their pretax income to the retirement plan, up from the current 10 percent....

...some teachers are frustrated by a proposal that would push retirement eligibility back at least five years, to age 60 after 35 years of service...

...police and fire employees would have to contribute more money to their retirement, with the increase from 10 percent to 12.25 percent phased in during three years....

...changes in how officers’ final average salary will be calculated for pension purposes are significant, as is the eventual increase in retirement age from 48 to 52....

You got that? Teachers and public safety folks in Ohio, who don't pay into Social Security by the way, wouldn't be able to tap into their full pensions until 60 and 52 years of age. The state currently contributes about 14 percent of their salaries for retirement too; it's unclear from the story whether employee increases would minimize state contributions but I'm assuming they would.

For most uses, private-sector folks can't access 401(k) or 403(b) funds until just shy of 60 years. And the typical employer match, when it's there at all, is 50 percent of the employee's contribution. Needless to say, defined contribution plans don't guarantee retirement outcomes, either. 

Contrary to claims, public-sector workers do not make less than their private-sector counterparts in Ohio. Generally, they make significantly more than comparable private-sector drones in straight salary. When you factor in benefits, they make 34 percent more than private-sector comps. In nearby Michigan, public sector workers make 47 percent more in total compensation than similar private sector ones. For federal workers, the spread is 45 percent in total comp. And for the thousandth time: This is comparing similar workers. 

The Dayton Daily News reports that 41 states have made major pension reforms in the past two years. But until they put the kibosh on defined-benefit plans altogether, don't expect to see the sorts of major savings that will take the pressure off the private sector to pay for public sector benefits.

Gustavo Arellano on How Mexican Food Became More American Than Apple Pie

In the cover story from our June issue, Gustavo Arellano, author of the syndicated “Ask a Mexican!” column, explains how Mexican food has long left behind the moorings of immigrant culture and fully infiltrated every level of the American food pyramid, from state dinners at the White House to your local 7-Eleven. Decades’ worth of attempted restrictions by governments, academics, and other self-appointed custodians of cultural purity have only made the strain stronger and more resilient. The result, Arellano writes, is a market-driven mongrel cuisine every bit as delicious and all-American as the German classics we appropriated from Frankfurt and Hamburg.

View this article

Why Did a Culpeper Cop Kill a Retired Sunday School Teacher in a Church Parking Lot? [UPDATED]

On February 9, 2012, 54-year-old retired Sunday school teacher Patricia Cook was shot to death in the parking lot of Epiphany Catholic School in Culpeper, Virginia. The Culpeper police officer who shot and killed Cook claims that he was responding to reports of a suspicious woman sitting in her vehicle on the school’s property, and that when he went to take Cook’s license, she rolled up his arm in her Jeep’s window and drove off, dragging the officer and forcing him to shoot.

Three months later, one eyewitness says this is a complete lie, and that the officer was not in danger when he fired at Cook six times.

MORE »

Ron Paul Roundup: Weekend GOP Convention Chaos, and the Paul Campaign is Cool with RNC Chair Reince Preibus

As I was blogging over the weekend, Paul-oriented Oklahoma Republicans claim the official state GOP convention was illegally adjourned, and that they continued the real business of the convention in the parking lot.

The Oklahoman's "NewsOK.com" site is reporting the results of the inside convention that the Paul forces claim was illegitimate as the real deal, unsurprisingly.

Local news from Oklahoma refers to what the Paul people called the real convention in an Oklahoma parking lot as a mere "Paul rally."

*The Indiana Republic site on the Oklahoma conflict:

Paul supporter Lukus Collins said Sunday that one person was hit in the head and another in the back during Saturday's meeting. Collins says one of the attackers wore a Romney campaign sticker.

State GOP Chairman Matt Pinnell says he saw one confrontation that was broken up by the party's sergeant at arms and a Cleveland County deputy.

Collins says party rules were violated by the holding of voice — rather than roll-call — votes for delegates to the GOP national convention. Pinnell says the voice vote was to meet the agenda's predetermined 5 p.m. adjournment.

*Kevin Kerwick of the Examiner with more on Oklahoma:

Instead of conducting a roll call vote, which is required by Party rules, the chair asked for a voice vote for a predetermined delegate slate that was favorable to Mitt Romney, despite objections from the floor. The reason provided for this decision according to the chair, apparently oblivious to influence from the audience, was that ‘It was the way they always did it’. This appears to be a clear case of Establishment GOP corruption because the insiders wanted to select a slate of delegates that was not supported by the majority of attendees at the convention.

This turn of events came at the end of a long afternoon during which there was a lot of animosity in the air. This video contains a conversation with a Ron Paul supporter who witnessed some violence perpetrated against a fellow Ron Paul supporter by a person who was identified as an older 'Establishment guy'. According to this report, the older gentleman hit the Ron Paul supporter in the back of the head. The Sergeant at Arms intervened to remove the Ron Paul supporter but apparently did nothing to the man that hit him.

Later, an observer at the scene said that after the convention prematurely ended, the lights were immediately turned off and the walls to the convention center started to close in on the attendees. One person in attendance told me he believes the portable walls were rearranged in a manner that made it possible to exclude voters from affected districts from the ongoing process. Roberts’ Rules of order, which are supposed to govern the convention, were flatly ignored as the GOP pushed its autocratic agenda.

*The Associated Press on the Oklahoma convention.

*A "Sooner Tea Party" man is disappointed with how the GOP powers ran the OK convention.

*Salon: do the weekend's convention hubbub prove the Paul people can bring "chaos" to the national GOP convention in Tampa in August? (The piece does complicate the simple headline narrative floating around about Paul people booing Josh Romney off the stage in Arizona.)

The video on that:

*Paul campaign advisor Doug Wead thinks the Paulites can expect eventual victory in Arizona (and also says reports of a Paul fan led booing of Josh Romney are exaggerated). Arizona GOP blogger "Seeing Red AZ" says there was no Paul victory. Besides, according to the usually reliable Green Papers, all 29 of Arizona's delegates are bound to follow the results of the popular primary vote and vote for Romney anyway. (Arizona lost half the delegates it would have had by holding their vote earlier than the Party wanted them to.)

*Long personal account from the Arizona convention from a Paul supporter, including details of overhearing Romneyites talk about how they could potentially stuff the ballot in the delegate selection process. His conclusion:

(8:10pm) So, we are now going to have to do our runoff ballets via mail? Also, we haven't received our results for the delegates yet. Oh, and Romney people were stuffing the ballets, I saw this as well as multiple other witnesses. We are now arguing over whether we have a quorum or not. I'll update you guys as more info comes out.

Edit: Wow, shit just got crazy, I'm going to have to post a vid because to much happened in the last 20 minutes to type out. Ron Paul supporters took the stage and now the mics are off and the lights are being shut off. Police are moving to the stage right now to arrest people. Fuck!!!

Edit: (9:50pm) We have been kicked out of the facilities. I always wondered how accurate these reports of convention shenanigans. Here is a link to a good video feed here. Watch it, some good footage of the chaos at the end of the convention. I learned today that our country is truly broken and that it will take a tremendous amount of effort to fix. I got into an argument with the head chairmen of the state GOP (didn't realize who is was until after) and he couldn't even debate me, he just said he didn't like Ron Paul people because they are trying to destroy Romney's chances of beating Obama. Couldn't name a policy stance Ron Paul held that he didn't like, not a single one.

*Grace Wyler, on the Paul beat at Business Insider, on how the official Paul campaign is distancing itself from some of its Idaho fans:

In recent reports from the Idaho Statesman, several of Paul's Idaho activists have detailed plans for a "hostile takeover" of the state Republican Party convention, and a "scorched earth" strategy to overturn the results of Idaho's March caucuses, which Romney won with 62% of the vote.   

According to the Statesman, the strategy involves winning two-thirds of precinct elections, which select delegates for the Idaho GOP convention. If they can pull off the landslide, then Paul-friendly delegates can move to suspend the rules at the state convention, and reject Romney's slate of RNC delegates, replacing them with Paul supporters. 

The plan is extreme, even by Paul standards. In a statement today, the Paul campaign disavowed the "hostile takeover" plan, which it attributed to "isolated instances of grassroots activists." 

“The Ron Paul campaign’s delegate-attainment strategy being implemented nationally at party processes that follow so-called ‘beauty contests’ is not, and has never been, meant to somehow rewrite the outcome of past nominating contests," campaign manager John Tate said in the statement. "The Ron Paul 2012 Presidential campaign condemns efforts to expand its influence in the Republican Party in Idaho and beyond when these activities are couched as vengeful, underhanded, or markedly distasteful."

*Paul delegate and state central committee victories in Virginia.

*Many Paul fans 'round the Internet have called out the RNC for supposed violations of "Rule 11" about RNC support for any one candidate before someone has actually won the presidential nomination. The Paul campaign says it isn't concerned:

Responding to complaints that the Republican National Committee has violated Rule 11 by setting up RNC Victory Operations while Dr. Paul still seeks the nomination, the Ron Paul 2012 Presidential campaign issued the following statement.

Below please find comments from National Campaign Chairman Jesse Benton:

“In April, the RNC asked our campaign for our blessing to begin assembling the Victory organization Republicans will require to guarantee a win in the fall.  Building such an operation is no small undertaking, and our Party needed to build in a few months what the incumbent president has been building for four years.

“The RNC offered to set up a joint fundraising committee with the Paul campaign and were very clear that if Dr. Paul became the nominee, the Victory Operation would be behind him 100 percent.  They also were clear that they would hold off if our campaign objected.  I gave my full consent for the RNC to move forward.

“Chairman Priebus has always treated Dr. Paul and our team with respect, and we appreciate his leadership.  He has been an outstanding chairman and has our full confidence.”

Cross-posted at the dedicated blog for my new book, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.

Why JPMorgan Chase's $2 Billion Blown Deal Doesn't Prove the Case for More Financial Regulation

News that megabank JPMorgan Chase lost $2 billion on a trading scheme designed to help hedge risk has predictably resulted in smug told-you-sos from those who favor increased regulation of the financial sector. In his column this morning, for example, Paul Krugman writes that while many business mistakes do not require a government response, “banks are special, because the risks they take are borne, in large part, by taxpayers and the economy as a whole. And what JPMorgan has just demonstrated is that even supposedly smart bankers must be sharply limited in the kinds of risk they’re allowed to take on.”

But here’s the thing: JP Morgan Chase’s bad deal might show up as a quarterly loss on the company’s balance sheet (although CEO Jamie Dimon is still predicting a small profit), but it is almost certainly not going to result in a direct loss to taxpayers. This is a $2.3 trillion company with a $190 billion capital base. The banking unit made more than $12 billion last year. Gene Kirsch of Seeking Alpha points out that the $800 million quarterly loss “represents approximately 4% of its total net profit for all of 2011, less than 2.7% of its operating income." Even Jared Bernstein, a former White House economic adviser who also thinks the loss proves the case for regulation, agrees that the bank “appears to be handily able to cover the losses.” So even with a relatively large loss like this, we’re not talking about a serious direct risk to taxpayers. Instead, we’re looking at a substantial loss to the individual bank.

That’s important, because the Wall Street calamities that shook the economy a few years back weren’t a result of isolated mistakes at the individual bank level. They were the result of networked failures, in which multiple market players make the same set of mistakes at the same time, taking up all the give in the system simultaneously.

Would tougher regulation of the financial sector have prevented JPMorgan’s loss? That’s not at all clear. The Washington Post’s Allen Sloan, who favors many stricter financial sector rules, says that because there’s no likely loss to taxpayers, the blown deal proves mostly that the bank should be embarrassed. Bernstein argues that Dodd-Frank would have prevented the loss if “properly implemented and enforced.”

But "proper" implementation is always harder than it sounds. And I’m not sure we have any more reason to trust that regulators have the wisdom and judgment to prevent such losses any more or better than the bankers themselves. As Bernstein writes, “the fundamental truth here is the one known since Adam (Smith, that is) and amplified by the great financial economist Hy Minsky: humans underprice risk.” But that’s true of regulators as well. And even the smartest and most capable regulators have several disadvantages compared to their industry counterparts. One is that they lack the kind of intimate knowledge that deal makers have of their own transactions. The second is that they don’t have the same sort of financial incentives not to fail. As an institution, JPMorgan Chase lost several billion dollars and took a huge hit to their credibility with this trade. Three executives tied to the blown deal are likely to lose their jobs. CEO Jamie Dimon is facing tremendous embarrassment and pressure from the media, public officials, and, no doubt, his shareholders. Overall, these folks had a lot more riding on the success of these deals than any regulator ever would have. And yet they still made mistakes.

Which is ultimately the nature of the marketplace. Markets don’t evolve by preventing mistakes entirely. They learn by making mistakes, by experimenting with new business models, some of which prove unsuccessful, and then further refining the process, and usually making more mistakes along the way. But it’s incredibly difficult for anyone — regulator or market player — to know what will fail in advance, and regulations that prevent some failures also typically end up blocking a lot of potential successes. What JPMorgan’s blown deal mostly proves is that complex systems sometimes fail, and that it’s very hard to know exactly when and how those systems will fail until they do. 

Oakland Cop Shoots, Kills High School Senior; Nothing to See Here

An Oakland cop shot a fleeing high school senior three times, killing the teenager while shooting himself in the foot. Oakland police claim they saw a hidden gun on 18-year-old Alan Blueford’s person shortly after midnight, causing them to pursue him. That’s when cops say Blueford pointed a gun at one of the officers (they also say “several independent witnesses” corroborate the claim), compelling him to shoot.

Police are not releasing the name of the officer, who is on paid administrative leave, though the San Francisco Chronicle identified him as Officer Miguel Masso. A police spokesperson, meanwhile, offered to the media that Alan Blueford had been convicted of felony burglary and was on probation when shot. His father says his son was completing the community service portion of his sentencing, and speculated that his son ran away from cops because he didn’t want to get into any more trouble. He says his son was in the Oakland neighborhood for the Floyd Mayweather match.

Blueford’s family has retained counsel, civil rights attorney James Burris, who points out all the shots were fired by cops. The family also claimed in a statement that their son was left to bleed to death, and that Blueford’s friends were detained for six hours following the incident. The family says it was informed of their son’s death at the hands of cops not by the police department but from one of Blueford’s friends after he was released. The family also points out that the original police version claimed an exchange of gunfire. Investigators say the gun recovered at the scene had not been shot.

Global Temperature Trend Upate: April 2012

Every month University of Alabama in Huntsville climatologists John Christy and Roy Spencer report the latest global temperature trends from satellite data. Below are the newest data updated through April, 2012. 

Global climate trend since Nov. 16, 1978: +0.13 C per decade


April temperatures (preliminary)

Global composite temp.: +0.30 C (about 0.54 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for April.

Northern Hemisphere: +0.41 C (about 0.74 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for April.

Southern Hemisphere: +0.18 C (about 0.32 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for April.

Tropics: -0.12 C (about 0.22 degrees Fahrenheit) below 30-year average for April.

Notes on data release: 

Spring brought somewhat more seasonal temperatures to the continental U.S., although it was still warmer than seasonal norms in April, according to Dr. John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. Temperatures over the contiguous 48 states averaged 1.49 C (about 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than seasonal norms in April, making it the fifth warmest April in the 33-year satellite climate record. That was cooler than the record-setting 2.82 C (almost 5.1 degrees Fahrenheit) anomaly in March.

April 2012 was the fourth warmest April in the temperature record both globally and in the Northern Hemisphere. It was the warmest April in 33 years for the Northern Extra Tropics — everything from 20 degrees North all the way to the North Pole. Average temperatures there for the month were 0.73 C (1.3 degrees F) warmer than seasonal norms.

Go here to see the full satellite dataset. 

German Police Fired 85 Rounds in 2011, Which Is Just 14 More Bullets Than Were Fired at Jose Guerena This Time Last Year

German cops fired all of 85 rounds in 2011, according to a new study written up in Der Spiegel. A Boing Boing reader translates

"According to the German Police University police officers used exactly 85 bullets in 2011 - 49 warning shots, 36 shots on suspects. 15 persons were injured, 6 were killed. Germany has a population of about 80 million. (This does only take into account shots in connection with crimes. There were an additional 9000 shots on dangerous, sick and injured animals)."

Meanwhile, On May 5, 2011, a Pima County SWAT team fired 71 bullets into the home of Iraq War veteran Jose Guerena while his wife and four-year-old ducked for cover. That's one police department, in one county, on one day of 2011.

H/t Rex Riepe

A.M. Links: Bush Convicted, 49 Headless Bodies Found in Mexico, Yahoo CEO Out

  • George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and six others were convicted of war crimes by a tribunal in Malaysia. The tribunal ruled victims of torture ought to receive reparations.
  • Trouble in the House of Morgan. "We told you something that was completely wrong a mere four weeks ago,” Jamie Dimon told Meet the Press this weekend.
  • The headless bodies of 43 men and 6 women were found along a highway outside San Juan, Mexico, in the border region. Drug cartels are suspected.
  • Yahoo’s CEO is out after lying about a computer science degree. He’s Yahoo’s third CEO in three years to depart.
  • Lawyers for a former day laborer scheduled to be executed in Texas this week argue the man is not mentally competent. They say he has been seen lying on the floor of his jail cell covered in urine. Judges have ordered him to be medicated by force if necessary so that he’s legally competent to be executed.
  • A former Newark police officer was convicted of conspiracy for trying to rob drug dealers, but may avoid prison time altogether since he took less than $200.

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

ReasonTV: "Moms Say No More Drug War!"


Steve Chapman on Obama's Gay Marriage "Cynicism"

President Barack Obama's critics have a point in criticizing his handling of the gay marriage issue as evasive, politically devious and lacking in principle. Though he hate to say it, Steve Chapman writes that it's almost bad enough to qualify as Lincolnesque.

View this article

Brickbat: Kiddy Porn

DeKalb County, Georgia, school system officials say they have opened an investigation into claims that an assistant principal at DeKalb Elementary School for the Arts showed an 11-year-old girl a nude photo of a male classmate. The principal was allegedly trying to find out who sent the photo to another student.

Brickbat Archive

"Happy Mother's Day from The Affordable Care Act"

Yes, this is actually on the White House's website (along with one pandering to military families).

Show your mom you care enough to make her a data point in the president's reelection campaign!

(Hat tip to Andrew Staroska via Twitter)

Sheldon Richman on Freedom and Equality

How can all men be created equal when some have more stuff than others? Sheldon Richman describes how liberty-minded people can appeal to those who put a high premium on equality. Historically, Richman writes, government’s primary function has been to exploit the industrious–anyone who works and trades in the market–for the sake of the political class, which prefers collecting subsidies to earning wages or profits. These privileges take the form of tariffs, licenses, monopolies, land grants, [patents], and other subsidies. They enable favored interests to increase their incomes beyond what the market would provide, either by forcibly extracting wealth from producers or by barring them from competitively serving consumers. The name for this privilege-based system is mercantilism, and in many ways it lives on today even in market-oriented economies, which is why they are often called mixed economies. Champions of liberty have a constant challenge in finding fresh and compelling ways to teach their philosophy to people with different perspectives. Embracing equality of authority and opposing privilege is one way.

View this article

Moms Say, "No More Drug War!"

"Mothers throughout history have come forward for the sake of their children," says Gretchen Burns Bergman, executive director of Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing (PATH). "We're coming forth saying that the drug war has been more damaging to our families than the drugs themselves."

The Woman's Christian Temperance Union is well-known for helping push forward Prohibition in the United States. But perhaps less well-known are groups such as the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform who were instrumental in the effort to repeal the 18th Amendment.

In that the tradition, Moms United to End the War on Drugs gathered on the steps of the Los Angeles Superior Courthouse to deliver a message this Mother's Day: no more drug war. Reason.tv was on the scene to talk with mothers who'd had their families torn apart by U.S. drug policy.

"You don't realize the drug policies in this country until they have an effect on you," says Lorraine Rebennack. "And when you lose a child, your life is never the same. Nor is your family."

Produced by Zach Weissmueller.

Approximately 3 minutes.

Visit Reason.tv for HD, iPod and audio versions of this video and subscribe to Reason.tv's Youtube channel to receive automatic notification when new material goes live.

Follow Today's GOP State Convention Chaos in Real Time

In Oklahoma, where the convention is going on in a parking lot after a supposedly illegal adjournment. The chat stream on the right-hand side of that feed features some on-the-ground comments. Just as with the Occupy Movement, Paulistas are buying pizzas for their brethren from across the land.

And in Arizona, where I can't say I'm sure what's happening.

See the comment thread in this Daily Paul piece, which has lots of ongoing commentary re: Oklahoma.

The last page of a long Ron Paul Forums thread full of reports from the ground about Oklahoma. Helicopters have arrived, they say.

There is much Facebook chatter involving physical fights between Romney and Paul supporters at the Oklahoma convention floor, and the Romneyites just shutting down the convention (as happened in Nevada in 2008 when Paul people got too close to taking over),

Paul folk supposedly boo Josh Romney in Arizona.

#OKGOP on Twitter brings much gossip, etc.

Updates likely as more reports come in. Please feel free to us the comments thread for same as I won't be able to mind this all weekend.

Ron Paul's Revolution, my out-soon book on how the Paul movement got to where it is today.

UPDATE: From Oklahoma news site "Red Dirt Report":

“Not for sale! Not for sale!” and “Follow the rules! Follow the rules!” That is what was being chanted by Republican delegates and attendees of Oklahoma Republican State Convention, as it moved out into the parking lot of the Embassy Suites in Norman late Saturday afternoon

In a voice memo [Red Dirt photograper Maria] Mentesana sent to us, one attendee explained to her that the convention was adjourned illegally and proper protocol was allegedly not followed by the party leadership. 

"We had to move it outside and adjourn it ... we were electing delegates for president," explained one man.

In the background chants of "Ron Paul, Ron Paul, Ron Paul!!" filled the air. ....

Axxiom for Liberty's Kaye Beach also kept us up-to-date on developments as day turned to night and a civil rump convention was conducted in the hotel parking lot.....

Red Dirt Report attempted to reach Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Matt Pinnell Saturday night and we were unsuccessful. If we do hear from Pinnell, we will be sure to add his comments as well

.....The rump convention adjourned at a little after 9:30 p.m. Freedom and liberty is alive and well in Oklahoma, despite the actions of some at the convention. The Daily Paul and UStream audiences really came through on this one. Thanks so much!! We have learned that Scott Mitchell on News 9's Sunday morning program Your Vote Counts will be discussing this incident and showing pictures taken by our crack photographer Marie Mentesana.

What actions of what meeting will end up being treated by the national GOP as the "real" results in Oklahoma remains to be seen.

Cross-posted at dedicated blog for Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.

Ron Paul Roundup: Oklahoma Progress, Budget Plan Hit by Romney, and Women! Women! Women!

The process of actually selecting delegates for the August Republican National Convention continues, and Paul's forces continue to do well. The latest out of Oklahoma, via Paul activist Allan Stevo:

After Ron Paul’s campaign captured an estimated 60% of Oklahoma’s available delegates at the congressional level, Mitt Romney’s campaign started to realize they had a problem on their hands in the Sooner State. It was apparently a problem they didn’t feel they could handle.

Romney’s campaign has convinced a former member of the Santorum campaign team to round up Santorum supporters for Mitt Romney and to make sure they attend this weekend’s state convention, a task Romney’s campaign has so far not been very good at.

David Van Risseghem, Rick Santorum’s Oklahoma state coordinator, sent out an e-mail May 9 to Oklahoma Republicans attempting to get them to turnout in opposition to Ron Paul and therefore presumably for Mitt Romney, the only other candidate in the race. The note was apparently sent from an e-mail address owned by the suspended Santorum campaign.

The vitriolic note from the Santorum campaign stated, ”It’s time for all values voters to work together to keep our communities safe for the next generation. Several Ron Paul activists want to legalize recreational drug use, decimate obscenity laws, and sanction prostitution.”

The pro-Paul author of this piece pulls a bit of faux-outrage, pointing out that such positions are not explicitly part of Paul's stated platform on his campaign page, and that he's running for federal office not state, which is true; still, such positions are indeed part of the larger libertarian perspective from which Paul arises and which many (not all) or his current fans embrace fully. It is hard to say that to most GOP primary voters; but Paul activists should be prepared to explain the philosophical and even constitutional logic behind believing that government should not be involved in policing drug use, obscenity, and prostitution.

More from Stevo:

The note from Santorum’s campaign is again another sign of a struggling Romney campaign in the face of Paul surging. It now looks like Paul may win as many as 12 states and may even have ardent Paul loyalists outnumbering Romney loyalists at the Republican National Convention – the highest legislative body of the Republican Party.

Mitt Romney believed and the media has reported that after Santorum left the race the rest of the nomination process would be easy for Romney. To the contrary, it’s become evident to many watching that he is unfit as a leader in the GOP as he can’t inspire convention goers – the most dedicated of Republicans – and he has so far failed at uniting the party.

A Romney nomination spells defeat for the Republicans, as it will no doubt leave Paul’s supporters feeling alienated, perhaps even searching for a candidate outside of the GOP.

Romney, the presumed front runner, instead of working to bring some 15%-30% of the Republican Party into the fold is spending his April and May alienating these Ron Paul supporters with rumors, dirty tricks, and ugly Chicago-style tactics.

Details from Daily Paul on how the delegate process has gone so far in Oklahoma, via a memo from anti-Paul forces:

This Saturday, in Norman, Oklahoma; Ron Paul's people intend to complete their grand design and add Oklahoma to the growing list of state delegations they already control.

The national media is largely ignoring the recent developments in many state and district conventions.

Rick Santorum won Minnesota, Missouri, Colorado, Louisiana, Iowa, and several other states. But the states I just named are now under the control of Ron Paul, and those delegates intend to vote for Paul regardless of the outcome of their Caucus results.

Oklahoma pledged all their 40 delegates to Santorum, Romney, and Gingrich; on Super Tuesday (March 6th). Ron Paul received less than 10% of the vote and zero pledged delegates.

But when the time came for selecting which individuals will wear those national delegate badges, Ron Paul's activists have already successfully received 9 of the first 15 national delegates from Oklahoma.

Each congressional district was allowed to select 3 national delegates and three of Oklahoma's district conventions (3, 4 & 5) were all controlled by Ron Paul activists. Districts 1 and 2 selected primarily Santorum supporters. Ron Paul's activists attempted a coup at District One and they are now petitioning to vacate the results of District One.

Some video from the Okalahoma GOP proceedings here. More on the complicated procedures for allocating Oklahoma delegates from an Examiner writer out of Oklahoma City.

*Early last week, frontrunner Mitt Romney took a swipe at Paul, his only opponent, for daring to be just a bit too serious about cutting spending and debt, as the Washington Times reported:

Speaking Monday at a town hall style-meeting event in Cleveland, presumptive GOP presidential Mitt Romney plunged a fork into the idea that he could come around to embracing Mr. Paul's call for deep cuts in federal spending.

"My job is to get America back on track to have a balanced budget. Now I'm not going to cut $1 trillion in the first year," he said, distancing himself from Mr. Paul's (http://www.washingtontimes.com/blog/inside-politics/2011/oct/19/paul-time-cut-spending/) plan to slice more than a quarter of the estimated $3.8 trillion being spent by the the federal government.

His reason, is exactly why Paul often says that what he's fighting isn't just the Democratic Party, or even all political establishments: it's Keynesian economics, which Paul fights with his Austrian perspective. Says Romney:

"The reason," he explained, "is taking a trillion dollars out of a $15 trillion economy would cause our economy to shrink [and] would put a lot of people out of work."

Would that we had some sort of national movement, say representing the principles of the American Revolution, to make sure a candidate such as Ron Paulwho actually believed in reining in government spending and overreach seriously got big support and people like Romney disappeared. Perhaps they could name themselves after some icon of that revolutionary era, like, say, the "Tea Party" or something. If only, if only....

*Grace Wyler at Business Insider continues her great Paul coverage with profiles of various women of the Paul revolution, including GOP National Committeewoman Ashley Ryan, Emily O'Neill, Nena Bartlett of the Ladies for Liberty Alliance, vlogger Julie Borowski, Bonnie Kristian, Corie Whalen, New Hampshire state representative Jenn Coffey, YAL development director Piyali Bhattacharya, and others.

Cross-posted at the dedicated blog for my out-soon book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.

Tom Easton on Dodd-Frank: "A Terrible Law"

"I think there's growing understanding of how terrible this law really is," says The Economist's Tom Easton of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.

Dodd-Frank was passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and Easton is one of the very select few who have read the entire sweeping bill. He asserts that "the single most indicting read on Dodd-Frank, is to read Dodd-Frank itself."

To those who feel that the financial crisis was caused by a lack of regulation, Easton counters, "the argument that there needs to be more regulations (on banks) is frankly ludicrous if you look at how they were regulated before."

Runs about 4.15 minutes.

Produced by Anthony L. Fisher.

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Baylen Linnekin on the Case Against Taxpayer-Funded Crop Insurance

The Farm Bill, that quintessentially quinquennial congressional replenishment of the pork trough from which many of America’s farmers indulge, is now upon us. Late last month the bill, dubbed the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, cleared what will likely be its biggest hurdle when the bipartisan Senate Agriculture Committee voted 16-5 in its favor. The good news is that direct farm subsidies are on their way out. But as Baylen Linnekin explains, that fact, which should be a cause for celebration, is instead just a case of shifting billions of taxpayer dollars from one needless federal agricultural scam to another. For as billions in direct subsidies die a worthy death, bipartisan efforts in Congress (mainly via the powerful Senate Ag Committee) could hand farmers billions of new dollars in indirect subsidies—in the form of taxpayer-funded crop insurance.

View this article

Q and A With California Senate Candidate Rick Williams, a "Ron Paul Republican"

One of the more passionate Ron Paul activists I met in the course of researching my out-soon book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired was Los Angeles-based corporate trial lawyer Rick Williams, who is now running for the federal Senate, challenging incumbent Democrat Dianne Feinstein. 

Because of California's new post-Prop. 14 primary system, he isn't really vying for the nomination of the Republican Party. He's merely one of many candidates, including Feinstein, on the primary ballot on June 5. And the top two, of whatever party, will be the ones on the ballot for the general election in November. Feinstein will almost certainly be one, and Mr. Williams, who called himself a "Ron Paul Republican" when I interviewed him for my book, hopes to be another. 

I talked to him by phone yesterday. Here is an edited transcription of our conversation.

Reason: Introduce yourself to our readers. 

Rick Williams: My name is Rick Williams and I’m a candidate for U.S. Senate. My background is in finance and law and I believe the most pressing issues by far our country faces are the runaway deficit and debt culture created by politicians and bankers in D.C. and I’m running to put a stop to that. I’m all about cutting spending and ending the counterfeiting in D.C. Financial issues are my expertise.

I graduated from UCLA Law School where I was on the board of editors of the UCLA Law Review. I’ve been a law professor at Pepperdine, written two legal books, I’ve been on the board of trustees of the Pacific Legal Foundation, a property rights public interest law group in Sacramento.

My primary expertise in many years as a trial lawyer has been as a business trial lawyer in many of the larger business and corporate lawsuits in the history of the state of California. I bring that trial lawyer expertise and passion and strong trial lawyer voice to my U.S. Senate campaign.

I’ve been a liberty activist my entire life, supported many candidates over the years. I ran as a slate leader for Republican Central Committee in L.A. County in 2010, but this is my first run for a public office. I’m running as a citizen politician, not a life politician. I’m still very much a practicing lawyer. We need in D.C. politicians that aren’t dependent on politics for their livelihood.

Reason: Do you consider yourself in the Ron Paul tradition?

Williams: Ron Paul stands for many of the values I stand for: limited constitutional governance, sound money, noninterventionist foreign policy, a lot of the vision of the founders of our country is being expressed today through Ron Paul. I got started with him in ’07, and supported his campaign again in 2012 and still am very much a believer in the philosophy he stands for and I have tremendous respect for the way he has rallied young people and people of all ages around the country to this message we need to cut the size of government.

Reason: Do you find 2012 a propitious year to jump into politics?

Williams: All we have to do is look around us to see the financial collapse of governance at all levels. The federal government is bankrupt. The government in California is bankrupt. In the city of L.A. we are bankrupt.  As a result of big government policies over decades the whole system is falling to pieces. That’s why I decided to run as a voice for fiscal responsibility and sanity.

I started thinking about it two years go and formed an exploratory committee and I found a lot of support all around California, saying someone has to step forward and do something about runaway government. I got the nomination signature work with the county recorder, got paperwork filed, then for the last several months I have been going speaking to Republican Tea Party groups and general audiences all around California. I speak several times a week, as much as I can, meet people, shake hands, that’s what politicians do.

Reason: How’s fundraising?

Williams: I’ve raised a significant amount, but nothing close to the millions and millions we’ve seen candidates spending in past here in California. I think that model failed, that idea of coming in with 20 million and buying the election. That hasn’t worked for Republicans in California. I think politicians are going to become more organic, if you don’t have a base of grassroots support you won’t make it.

My base of support is certainly the Ron Paul supporters who are trying to get him elected. They are out working phones, going precinct walking for Ron Paul coming up to June 5 primary. I’ll be on the same ballot with Ron Paul so my campaign and Ron Paul’s campaign are running parallel and people who vote for Ron Paul in the primary can also vote for me. That is a starting point but I’ve made real attempts to reach beyond the Ron Paul community, it has to be broader than that.

Reason: How do you get the message out?

Williams: I’m planning a radio blitz over the last month of the campaign, that’s the most cost effective tool to get the message out. I have the money to do that, voters will hear my radio ads very soon in major population centers. The ads message is cut the spending, cut the spending, end the counterfeiting, end the counterfeiting, that’s what I have to say to D.C.

Reason: How have you been received?

Williams: I think most of the people I talked to have found my message very refreshing. You don’t find many politicians actually talking in a serious way about cutting federal spending. My proposal is cut by one trillion in my first year in office and end the counterfeiting done by the Federal Reserve. No other Senate candidate is saying that.

Reason: How has the lack of a specific party primary in California now affected your campaign?

Williams: It has been a very positive thing for my campaign because my message is very much appealing to independent voters and even to Democrats disgusted with what they see in their own party. But I am running as a Republican, I’m a lifelong Republican but I’m running as a different kind of Republican and this new primary system allows candidates like me to appeal to voters across party lines.

I certainly have a lot of friends who are active in the mainstream official GOP but what I see happening is here in LA county, my home base, more than 100 people who are Rick Williams supporters and Ron Paul supporters are running for Central Committee and moving into positions of leadership themselves within party apparatus, we are seeing a fundamental changeover in terms of people who are leaders, the new leaders of GOP are people coming in in support of my values of limited government. The Party is changing. On the same ballot in the primary every voter is going to get a slate of Central Committee candidates for their own Assembly district and many, many of those people share my principles of limited government.

Reason: How about press coverage?

Williams: Not as much as I’d like. Just yesterday the Sacramento Bee hosted a very successful online chat forum with 12 candidates participating.  I admire the Bee for putting that together and allow candidates to get their message out. I would like to see more of that. Mostly state and local media are ignoring the race entirely, none of the candidates in this U.S. Senate race have received any significant media attention.

Reason: Do you get asked how much you can accomplish as just one Senator of 100 even if you win?

Williams: I reject that thinking. I’m very much a believer that one strong powerful voice, one trial lawyer’s voice, can go out and change everything. I believe I’m that voice.

Reason: You also believe in media as a path for liberty-oriented reform….

Williams: I am chairman of a liberty oriented media company called Revolutimes. Mainstream media give a very biased and almost ridiculous view of what politics truly is and we need new media outlets to change the media landscape, and we are trying to venture in the for-profit new media field and offer a broader range of ideas than you see on old fading media outlets.

Reason: Do you talk non-interventionist foreign policy in this mostly fiscal-based campaign?

Williams: I talk about it all the time. My approach to foreign policy is not to try to argue with people about whether we should or should not be involved in the Middle East or Afghanistan. My approach is much more pragmatic. I say our federal government is bankrupt and can’t afford to be policemen of the world even if we wanted to. $4 trillion worth of debt over the last ten years have come from overseas military involvement and it's been a failure for us, we haven’t gotten good value for it. A sound economy here at home is the single most important thing to protect national security.

Reason: I’ve heard you express pretty strong fears about where our country might be heading…

Williams: Putting it in blunt terms, what we see with the financial and fiscal crises in America is a real test of our political system. It needs to either solve these financial crises with candidates like me who believe in limited government that lives within its means or the political system itself will fail, like we see in Greece. If we don’t solve it with real political solutions the issue will be solved in some other way and I don’t like what I see. It could be civil unrest if the political system cannot solve the financial crisis.

Pragmatism is not enough. We simply must have a cultural moment where the American people in a very broad sense understand that the type of runaway big government philosophy we lived under for the last period of decades is a failure and that we have to recognize that we have to live within our means. When that happens a candidate like me will rise to the forefront but we can’t just talk pocketbooks. We have to talk culture itself. The culture of entitlement and government handouts we’ve been living under, that culture is over. The American people need to catch up to that truth.

Cross-posted at the dedicated blog for my out-soon book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and hte Movement He Inspired.

Are Republican Delegates "Bound" At All?

The Ron Paul campaign "delegate strategy" would work a lot better if delegates to the convention in Tampa were not bound to vote (either proportionally or in total) in line with the GOP voters of the state in primaries or caucuses. 

Local Cincinnati Fox-19 TV journalist Ben Swann has been talking a lot about RNC "Rule 38" which on the surface seems to not permit entire state delegates to be bound to the same candidate--though other Paul fans threw cold water on that by pointing out most states have a few wildcard delegates that get around that rule.

Swann now claims to have found ironclad proof in the 2008 opinion of an RNC lawyer that as far as they are concerned, every delegate to national can vote for whoever the heck they want. The video, relevant part at around 2:20:

For my Pre-Mcluhanites who would like to see this argument in words, from Mason Buran at Examiner.com:

The Republican National Convention Legal Counsel deals with rulings and controversies within a party. Utah follows the winner-take-all delegate awarding system, which means that the majority winner of the state attains all 40 delegates. In Utah, during the 2008 GOP Nomination process, a delegate refused to vote with the state's primary winner, John McCain. The Republican National Convention Legal Counsel commented with this statement

“Jennifer Sheehan, Legal Counsel for the RNC, plainly stated in a letter to Nancy Lord, Utah National Committeewoman, several weeks before the convention, 'The RNC does not recognize a state's binding of national delegates, but considers each delegate a free agent who can vote for whoever they choose.'”

In order to become a delegate, it involves a long and enduring process by attending after-caucus/primary meetings. Following those meetings, potential delegates are then required to attend district and state conventions where the delegates are then nominated to the convention. The process requires that the supporters have a lot of patience, while still maintaining enthusiasm for their ideal candidate. Ron Paul's supporters have been taking advantage of this process ever since Iowa. In many of the winner-take-all states, Ron Paul supporters have been nominated as delegates to the Republican National Convention but are still hypothetically bound to Mitt Romney. However, according to this ruling by the Republican National Convention Legal Counsel, they are not required to vote for Mitt Romney in any circumstance.

That letter notwithstanding, this language from the 2008 "Rules of the Republican Party" adopted in September 2008 does seem to allow for binding according to state Party rules or even state law. See page 18:

Delegates at large and their alternate delegates and delegates from Congressional districts and their alternate delegates to the national convention shall be elected, selected, allocated, or bound in the following manner:

(1) In accordance with any applicable Republican Party rules of a state, insofar as the same are not inconsistent with these rules; or

(2) To the extent not provided for in the applicable Republican Party rules of a state, in accordance with any applicable laws of a state, insofar as the same are not inconsistent with these rules; or

(3) By a combination of the methods set forth in paragraphs (a)(1) or (a)(2) of this rule; or(4) To the extent not provided by state law or party rules, as set forth in paragraph (d) of this rule.

Thus, it seems, deciding whether any state's delegates are bound, by the language above or at least how I'm understanding it, requires looking at that state's laws or party regs, not just the language of a letter from an RNC legal counsel

For how Ron Paul got so far that this is even a live issue, consult my out-soon book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired and/or its dedicated blog.

California Woman Permanently Blinded by Police Officer's High-Velocity OC Gas Weapon

Via the blog over at LewRockwell.com comes the story of Monique Christina Hernandez, a Beaumont, California woman who was permanently blinded by Officer Enoch Clark during a DUI traffic stop in February. Officer Clark attempted to handcuff Hernandez, she allegedly resisted, and Clark:

allegedly fired the spray from 12 inches away using a JPX device, which shoots spray at speeds of 400 miles per hour and is supposed to be used at a minimum distance of five feet, Hernandez's lawyer Milton Grimes said in an interview.

"She did nothing to warrant him putting a gun -- a pepper-spray Taser gun -- to her forehead and pulling the trigger, causing her right eye to explode and causing severe nerve damage in her left eye to the extent that she's not been declared totally blind," Grimes said.

Hernandez say never being able to see her daughter again is the worst part.

"I'll probably imagine her to look like a 10-year old all her life."

Clark's attorney Kasey Castillo released a statement to KTLA saying her client quote: "is remorseful but innocent... and looking forward to his day in court."

Hernandez came to police attention because "someone" called to report she was causing a "disturbance." This is why police pulled her over, also for supposedly driving erratically. However, when she was released from the hospital, she was not charged with anything, not even the DUI.

On April 26, Officer Clark was indicted for four felony counts of "assault with a less-lethal weapon; use of force causing serious bodily injury; assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury and assault under the color of authority."

The JPX device is not technically a firearm (so says the ATF, the National Firearm Act, and the Gun Control Act), nor are its cartridges technically ammunition. However, as touted by the manufacturer:

we are using a blank cartridge to create the necessary pressure level to deliver the OC spray.  The advantages of this patented delivery system are numerous:

1.  No Loss of Pressure.  Most canned sprays will lose pressure over time that will effect the reliability in time of need.
2.  Higher velocity to the target:  Most canned sprays are limited by their internal pressure to how far they will spray and at what velocity.  
3.  Superior accuracy and no risk of deflection through a sidewind.

One again it has to be said that less-than-lethal weapons such as Tasers and tear gas are in theory a good thing, if only because they are not firearms. However, nothing about the JPX device sounds like a good thing. Particularly its incorrect use by an officer in what seems like a minor, barely-criminal manner. 

Maybe the weirdest thing about this case, especially if you're suffering outrage fatigue from other disturbing tales of police brutality, is this:

Beaumont police asked the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department to investigate Clark’s use of force, the city said in a statement Thursday. Sheriff’s investigators then forwarded the case to the district attorney, who convened a criminal grand jury last week. 

Not even the comments on PoliceOne.com are fully in Clark's favor. And when the blue line's website of choice says the officer wasn't well-trained, perhaps real punishment against him is possible. But of course Hernandez will still be blind.

Reason on police and on Tasers

(Hat tip: Anthony Gregory)

Welcome to Ron Paul's Revolution, The Website

My new book, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired, published by Broadside Books (a HarperCollins imprint) will be officially released next week.

The book is the culmination of 24 years of following Ron Paul's career. I first met him in January 1988, when he spoke at an event organized by a group I was part of, the University of Florida College Libertarians. Paul was then running for president as the candidate of the Libertarian Party.   

He drew 100 or so people, mostly there to witness a political curiosity, not yet dedicated fans. We got him a good write-up in the school paper, the Independent Florida Alligator. It was exciting that, through the vehicle of someone running for president, we got our then-utterly-ignored libertarian ideas widely read about in the paper.

It seemed nearly like a dream to me, 24 years later, at another big state school, UCLA, to see a Paul speaking appearance drawing an overflow crowd of 7,000, filling a stadium, taking to the trees, cheering liberty and booing the National Defense Authorization Act. These thousands were not just there to learn about strange ideas, but to cheer on a champion of what they already knew and believed--and to hang out afterward plotting and planning their multileveled attempts, from campus activism to online agitation to running for office, to further the cause of liberty that Ron Paul represents.

Paul was when I met him in 1988 a former Republican congressman, and in 1996 he once again ran for, and won, a federal congressional seat from Texas. This launched a long career for him as a outlying congressional gadfly. I first wrote about him as such in a national magazine in a 1999 profile for the American Spectator.

Ever since I've kept my eye on him as a journalist covering the libertarian movement, and a sympathetic admirer of his libertarian stances and goals. I interviewed him for and wrote about him in my 2007 book Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement

I was among the first national journalists to cover his burgeoning presidential campaign in January 2007, and have written about him extensively here at Reason magazine and Reason Online ever since, including cover stories on his 2008 ("Scenes from the Ron Paul Revolution") and 2012 ("The Ron Paul Moment") campaigns.

From January 2007 on, I have been amazed, as a longtime watcher of the libertarian movement, to see how Paul was creating and energizing a mass movement of active, intelligent, dedicated, giving, organized devotees for liberty, young and old, most of whom had never thought of themselves as libertarians before. I watched as his career-long call to audit and curb the Federal Reserve became a mass movement.

I thought back in 2008 that it was time for a book telling the full story of the man, his ideas, and the movement he inspired. By 2011, it had become obvious that Paul and his people were no flash in the pan. His son Rand Paul had been elected U.S. Senator from Kentucky in 2010 as a Tea Party standardbearer. Despite his electoral failure in 2008, the Paul Revolution rose again, more energetic than before, to push Paul's campaign to the point where now he is the last opposition standing to current frontrunner Mitt Romney. He's now actually racking up control of state delegations and parties. The time to write a book introducing and explaining this phenomenon to the non-libertarian world was clearly here.

To read the rest, please visit the new dedicated web site for Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired, where you can follow both my ongoing reporting, writing, and talking on the still-very-alive story of Ron Paul, as well as follow news about events and media relating specifically to the book itself.

Bloomberg Likens the NYPD's 'Stop and Frisk' Program to Random DUI Checkpoints

This week, as Ed Krayewski noted yesterday, the New York Civil Liberties Union reported that as the number of "stop and frisk" encounters initiated by the NYPD grew from about 100,000 in Michael Bloomberg's first year as mayor to almost 700,000 last year, the share of stops yielding guns fell from 0.38 percent (one gun per 266 stops) to 0.033 percent (one gun per 3,000 stops). In a radio interview this morning, Bloomberg said that trend shows the program is working:

The number of guns that we've been finding has continued to go down, which says the program at this scale is doing a great job....The whole idea here, John, is not to catch people with guns; it's to prevent people from carrying guns. It's like a stop we have for driving while intoxicated. It would be great if everybody said, "Oh my goodness, I might get stopped so I'm not gonna drink and drive." That's great. That's what we want. That would be wonderful. And the fact that we're getting fewer guns says  the program is working. And the program will really have succeeded when we don't get any guns.

If police were finding guns more often, of course, that would also be counted as evidence of the program's success, so Bloomberg really can't lose with logic like this. Furthermore, he seems to have forgotten that, under the 1968 Supreme Court decision in Terry v. Ohio, police are supposedly stopping people based on "reasonable suspicion" that they are engaged in criminal activity, and the whole justification for frisking them is to protect officers and bystanders from hidden weapons. The reasonableness of New York cops' suspicions is open to question, since only 10 percent of last year's stops resulted in citations or arrests (including arrests for "public display" of marijuana, many of which were illegal). Although officers are supposed to frisk people only when there is "reasonable cause to believe that they might be armed," 56 percent of stops included pat-downs, which 98 percent of the time turned up no weapon of any kind. Now Bloomberg is suggesting that the stops, like the stops at sobriety checkpoints, are essentially random.

They are not really random, of course. As the NYCLU points out, they disproportionately involve blacks and Latinos:

In 70 out of 76 precincts, blacks and Latinos accounted for more than 50 percent of stops, and in 33 precincts they accounted for more than 90 percent of stops. In the 10 precincts with black and Latino populations of 14 percent or less (such as the 6th Precinct in Greenwich Village), black and Latino New Yorkers accounted for more than 70 percent of stops in six of those precincts.

Young black and Latino men were the targets of a hugely disproportionate number of stops. Though they account for only 4.7 percent of the city’s population, black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24 accounted for 41.6 percent of stops in 2011.

But Bloomberg's analogy to stops aimed at catching drunk drivers suggests that police have no real grounds—aside from race, age, and gender—to suspect these people are illegally armed or doing anything else criminal. The sobriety checkpoints upheld by the Supreme Court in 1990 involved suspicionless stops aimed at the special hazard posed by intoxicated drivers. The Court said police could briefly stop motorists and, if they noticed signs of intoxication, investigate further. It did not say police could randomly stop people to find illegal guns or detect crime in general. A decade later, in fact, the Court said "the general interest in crime control" could not justify such stops, which are considered "seizures" under the Fourth Amendment. As described by Bloomberg, the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program is justified not by individualized suspicion but by its general deterrent effect. It therefore appears to be unconstitutional under the relevant precedents.

Mike Riggs on 3 Reasons Why Obama Should End the Federal Crackdown on Medical Marijuana

In the course of three years, Barack Obama has graduated from breaking his promise to end medical marijuana raids, to claiming he didn't promise to end medical marijuana raids, to claiming that he's upheld the promise that he didn't make. The only thing he's done consistently is give the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Internal Revenue Service, and the U.S. Attorneys Office carte blanche to continue George W. Bush-era crackdowns on local medical marijuana dispensaries.

With election day nearing, Obama is facing more heat than ever before. The drug law reformers who hesitantly supported him in 2008 are furious. Coverage of his broken promise has spread from the alternative press to TIME magazine and the financial reporting agency Reuters. His own party is "disappointed." If those aren't enough reasons for Obama to make good on one of the promises that got him elected, writes Associate Editor Mike Riggs, here are three more.

View this article

Water Declared Safe in Fracking Town, SEC Investigates JPMorgan Losses, Edwards Wants Case Tossed Out: P.M. Links

  • The EPA says the water is safe to drink in Dimock, Penn., the town made famous in the Oscar-nominated fracking documentary “Gasland.” Residents believed fracking was polluting their water supply.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission opens an investigation into JPMorgan Chase following their announcement Thursday of a $2 billion loss. The bank's chief executive, Jamie Dimon, said “egregious mistakes” were made.
  • The judge in John Edwards' corruption trial declines the defense's request to toss out the case due to lack of evidence after the prosecution rested Thursday. Defense will begin on Monday.
  • LA County deputy arrested last year for brawl with fellow deputies has been accused of kicking another deputy in the groin this week while being booked on charges of making threats against a former friend. You'll definitely want to read the details of the fight.
  • Very successful alternative currency in Canada, based on coupons from retailer Canadian Tire Corp., is in danger as the company switches to a plastic card system. Some Canadians are upset. (via Hit & Run commenter plu1959)

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But Who Will Study Those Who Do the Studying?

What happens when public officials start to worry that their wing of the government is performing too many studies? They commission a study to study the cost effectiveness of its studies. And then a separate arm of the government performs its own study of that study. And then you realize that you dropped way too much acid before strolling into the funhouse hall of mirrors this year, or that this just how the federal government works all the time. Via Yahoo News:

The Pentagon was inundated with so many studies in 2010 that it commissioned a study to determined how much it cost to produce all those studies.

Now the Government's Accounting Office has reviewed the Pentagon's study and concluded in a report this week that it's a flop.

The study of a study of studies began in 2010 when Defense Secretary Robert Gates complained that his department was "awash in taskings for reports and studies." He wanted to know how much they cost.

Two years later, the Pentagon review is still continuing, which prompted Congress to ask the GAO to look over the Pentagon's shoulder. What they found lacked military precision.

The GAO found only nine studies that had been scrutinized by the Pentagon review, but the military was unable to "readily retrieve documentation" for six of  the reports.

You can read the complete GAO study here

Geraldo Rivera: “Manually Raped” by Airport Screener

Geraldo Rivera joined Fox & Friends this morning to react to the story of an 18-month-old baby girl being removed off a plane for having her name on a no-fly list, but made news himself when he said, by way of explaining that he was actually on the no-fly list for some time too, that the last time he flew to Afghanistan he “got manually raped” by the screener, who seemed to Geraldo to be “getting off on it” and even becoming a “bit more intimate” as Geraldo grew more agitated and irritated.

Geraldo says he only got off the no-fly list after “kicking and screaming and embarrassing the TSA on their utter incompetence,” leaving little hope of a formal process to get off the list being any easier. A clip of the interview:

 

More from Reason on TSA's war on innocent travelers

Crowding Out Private Coverage: The Cost of Expanding Children's Health Insurance

New research on the expansion of the government's main children's health insurance program offers a reminder that much of the last decade's worth of coverage expansions have come at the expense of private insurance.

In a paper for the April issue of the journal Health Services Research, Researchers from RAND Corporation, Columbia University, and the University of California report that eligibility expansions of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a state-managed Medicaid sister program, between 2002 and 2009 didn't actually increase coverage by very much. During that time frame, 18 states increased eligibility, and in 13 of those states, the increase was relatively large, altering the program's requirements so that it covered children from families with incomes between 200 and 400 percent of the poverty line. But those eligibility changes didn't result in large coverage increases. Overall, the study reports, for every 100 children who became eligible, just four actually took advantage of the new coverage. And only about half of those children were previously uninsured. The authors estimate that the upper bound "crowd out" rate was 46 percent. 

Nearly half the time, in other words, expanding CHIP's eligibility requirements has resulted in moving kids out of private insurance programs that are generally associated with better health outcomes and into a worse performing public health program. 

Has Gov. Rick Scott Ruined Florida's Parks By Allowing Advertising In Them?

Come July 1, advertising will be allowed on Florida's state-administed "greenways" and trails. How totally freaking godawful is it? The Huffington Post reports:

The bill dictates that advertising will be restricted to signs no larger than 16 feet at trailheads and in parking lots. On trail public access points, ads must be smaller than 4 feet.

The bill also outlines a standard for how such signs can be worded: "[Name of sponsor]… proudly sponsors the costs of maintain the … [Name of greenway or trail]."

It gets worse, says HuffPo:

In the midst of old-growth live oak hammocks, wild orchids, and vistas of Lakes Wales Ridge in Lake Kissimmee State Park, Florida hikers may soon see signs boasting "Buster Island Loop, brought to you by Pollo Tropical."...

Neil Haring, Georgia Sierra Club lobbyist, told NPR: A park is a "place for people to get away from that. It's a refuge. That's why it's a park. You know, they it would be an amusement park if it was for advertising or a ballpark. There are parks where advertising is appropriate but state parks are not those parks."

Florida's recent legislation dictates that 85 percent of the profits from state park ads will go to upkeep of the greenways and trails and 15 percent will fund the Department of Transportation's Bicycle Safety Program.

More here.

Hate to break it to some folks, but state and federal parks have always been hotbeds of commerical activity. Read Damon Root on the history of trinket sales at Gettysburg for more on that.

And for god's sake, read Charles Paul Freund on how love of "unspoiled" nature (you know, like a state or national park) often rests upon strange, hidden, and disturbing assumptions about just how rotten human beings are, especially when they're buying and selling stuff.

And watch ReasonTV's discussion of how Arizona is preserving its parks by privatizing them:

 

TSA Slapped for "Serious Inefficiencies" in House Report

If the Transportation Security Administration is going to destroy expensive medical equipment and so infuriate airline passengers with intrusive faux security that they strip naked in protest, I think we have the right to demand that the agency do so efficiently. Gross incompetency and civil liberties violations really can be done on the cheap, you know. So, it's disappointing to peruse a report by Republican staffers from two key House committees detailing wasteful spending, unused and warehouse equipment, and amateurish efforts to dodge accountability by the TSA in the course of its efforts to pretend to protect us from bad guys.

Released Wednesday, Airport Insecurity: TSA’s Failure to Cost-Effectively Procure, Deploy and Warehouse its Screening Technologies (PDF), was compiled by the majority staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Among its findings is that the agency charged with making air travel (and so much more) such a hassle "is wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars by inefficiently deploying screening equipment and technology to commercial airports," and that, when the staffers came a-calling to see just what all this nifty and very expensive equipment was doing gathering dust, "TSA intentionally delayed Congressional oversight of the Transportation Logistics Center and provided inaccurate, incomplete, and potentially misleading information to Congress in order to conceal the agency’s continued mismanagement of warehouse operations."

Some highlights:

  • Committee staff discovered that 85% of the approximately 5,700 major transportation security equipment currently warehoused at the TLC had been stored for longer than six months; 35% of the equipment had been stored for more than one year. One piece of equipment had been in storage more than six years – 60% of its useful life.
  • As of February 2012, Committee staff discovered that TSA had 472 Advanced Technology 2 (AT2) carry-on baggage screening machines at the TLC and that more than 99% have remained in storage for more than nine months; 34% of AT2s have been stored for longer than one year.
  • As of February 15, 2012, TSA possessed 1,462 [Explosive Trace Detectors] in storage in its TLC warehouses. At approximately $30,000 per ETD, TSA’s purchases equate to nearly $44 million dollars in excessive quantities of ETD machines.
  • 492 of the ETDs had been in storage for longer than one year.

The report charges that TSA administrators tried to put off investigators when they inquired into the why and wherefore of all of that stockpiled equipment, but that they weren't even efficient about the coverup. "TSA willfully delayed Congressional oversight of the agency’s Transportation Logistics Center twice in a failed attempt to hide the disposal of approximately 1,300 pieces of screening equipment from its warehouses in Dallas, Texas, prior to the arrival of Congressional staff." In particular, "[d]uring interviews with TSA warehouse staff, Committee staff learned that TSA had disposed of almost 1,300 pieces of screening equipment ... the week of the warehouse visit and that the warehouse staff was actively removing the remainder of the equipment scheduled for disposition from the TLC the morning of the Congressional review." Investigators were actually told the warehouse crew had been working so hard to empty the place in advance of the visit that they'd been given the day off.

At only 22 pages, the report is worth a look, just for a glimpse at how your tax dollars are managed.

More of Reason's coverage of the TSA here.

Facebook Co-Founder Eduardo Saverin Becomes Most Famous American to Renounce His Citizenship Probably for IRS-Compliance Reasons

Alert readers may recall a couple of tax-season bits from me about how the internationally grabby Internal Revenue Service is screwing over Americans, particularly those who lead international lives, leading to an alleged increase in people tearing up their U.S. passports. Now this trend has a poster boy: Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, the Brazilian-born college pal of Mark Zuckerberg who's been based in Singapore for a while. Here's Forbes:

Saverin, 30, may have made the move for tax reasons, hoping to avoid the highest rates before Facebook goes public. [...]

Saverin doesn't cite tax reasons for his decision, but rather his investments in general. "Eduardo recently found it to be more practical to become a resident of Singapore since he plans to live there for an indefinite period of time," said Sabrina Strauss, a spokeswoman for Saverin, in a statement provided to Forbes. "He has invested in Asian, U.S. and European companies. He also plans to invest in Brazilian and global companies that have strong interests in entering the Asian markets.  Accordingly, it made the most sense for him to use Singapore as a home base."

MSN Money runs the numbers:

Facebook plans to raise as much as $11.8 billion through the IPO, the biggest in history for an Internet company. Saverin's stake is about 4 percent, according to the website Who Owns Facebook. At the high end of the IPO valuation, that would be worth about $3.84 billion. [...]

Singapore doesn't have a capital gains tax. It does tax income earned in that nation, as well as "certain foreign-sourced income," according to a government website on tax policies there. [...]

Saverin won't escape all U.S. taxes. Americans who give up their citizenship owe what is effectively an exit tax on the capital gains from their stock holdings, even if they don't sell the shares, said Reuven S. Avi-Yonah, director of the international tax program at the University of Michigan's law school. [...]

Renouncing citizenship is an option chosen by increasing numbers of Americans. A record 1,780 gave up their U.S. passports last year compared with 235 in 2008, according to government records.

People will emphasize either the billionaire-evades-taxes angle or the Galt's-Gulch-gets-another, but I can testify as someone who has long had one foot in Europe that the sheer staggering amount of new paperwork required, plus the infuriation of Uncle Sam suspiciously reaching into your legitimate private bidness (in a way that makes it exponentially harder to open up a bank account abroad), that will just as likely keep driving up those citizenship-repudiation numbers.

Another early Facebook type, the libertarian provacateur Peter Thiel, discussed expatriation and the right of exit with reason.tv in 2010:

Ford vs. GM and the Auto Bailout Experiment

Public policy rarely offers opportunities for anything resembling a controlled experiment. But the auto bailout comes close to one. And President Obama should pause and ponder its results thus far before he makes the alleged post-bailout success of GM the centerpiece of his re-election campaign. 

Most people would agree that any reasonable definition of success for a company that has received a $65 billion-infusion in taxpayer money shouldn’t just be whether it has stopped bleeding red ink for a few years. Heck, even Mike Tyson might have maintained a positive bank balance for a while after this kind of moolah. Success should be defined as whether the aid has positioned the company to compete successfully in the marketplace, something that I recall President Obama himself said when he forked over the money.

By this definition, compare the results of Ford and GM for the last quarter. Both are based in Detroit. They face similar taxation levels. Are saddled with similar labor union issues. But GM received a bailout and Ford didn’t. Yet, according to a recent Wall Street Journal story:

  • GM made $1,962 on every vehicle it produced in North America during the first quarter of this year. Ford, by contrast, made $3,150, a third more per vehicle.
  • GM’s North American operating profit rose 31% to $1.7 billion with margins improving to 7 % from 5.6% a year ago. Ford’s profits, rose 16% to $2.1 billion, giving it a profit margin of 11.5 %.
  • GM’s U.S. market share fell nearly two percentage points from a year ago, to 17.2% whereas Ford’s fell about 0.8 to 16.8%.

In other words, Ford made $800 million more than GM despite the fact that it has a smaller market share and has major debt-service costs that GM doesn’t because its bailout from Uncle Sam came in the form of equity, not a loan.

Why is Ford doing better than GM? Essentially, because it is far ahead of GM in reducing its global “platforms.” This means that it’ll be able to assemble more cars on fewer platforms, cutting its manufacturing costs and boosting its efficiency. This has allowed it to re-design its most profitable product, the gas-guzzling, greenhouse-gas emitting F-series pick up trucks that libs hate but American car drivers love. GM’s redesign of its comparable products, GM’s Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups, by contrast, is languishing.

But the good news is that the GM has made giant strides in perfecting the spontaneously combusting, Obama-pet Chevy Volt. So what if it has sold less than 8,000 units even though  buyers get a $7,500 tax break courtesy of Uncle Sam on their first Volt? Its sales are irrelevant, insists former GM products head Bob Lutz maintains. What matters – and what Volt’s benighted critics are ignoring, as per Lutz– is that the Volt is the “most technologically advanced car on the planet.”

Yeah, and so was the Telharmonium when it was built. Remember that one? No? I didn’t think so.

I don’t have a problem with technology for technology’s sake or art for art’s sake – but, for Pete’s sake, let GM build its useless white elephants on its own dime.

Government Encourages Hospital Consolidation, Sues Hospitals for Consolidation

Politico notes new evidence that larger hospitals are helping to increase health care cost growth. According to a recently published report in the journal Health Affairs, larger, more prestigious hospitals end up with more market power as a result of their increased desirability, and are thus able to bargain for higher payments from insurers. “What we found is that the leverage of some hospitals is growing,” one of the study’s authors tells Politico. “That’s a contributor to rising health care spending.”

Politico’s report opens by indicating that President Obama’s 2010 health care law isn’t responsible for the increased ability of large and growing hospitals to extract higher prices. That’s true. But the health care overhaul will likely exacerbate the trend toward hospital consolidation and increased costs. And the subsidies provided government-run health programs have already helped encourage hospitals to grow larger than they might have in the absence of government handouts.

Avik Roy, a health policy fellow at The Manhattan Institute, put together a helpful flowchart showing how government health subsidies encourage provider consolidation and drive up costs.


And although the 2010 health law probably isn’t responsible for drastic increases in costs due to consolidation yet, it may be in the future. As Berkeley health economist James Robinson noted in a study last year, the Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) created under the law, which encourage providers to work together in ever-larger teams, are likely to end up increasing the ability of large provider networks to demand higher reimbursements. This is also the position of at least one federal agency, the Federal Trade Commission, which has made a point of suing a number of providers for pursuing consolidation efforts like the ones that the Obama administration is encouraging through the Department of Health and Human Services. Lawmakers in Massachusetts, meanwhile, just released details of a new health care cost control scheme designed to respond to Bay State hospital consolidation in part by monitoring the prices that hospitals charge to insurers.

Here, then, is the story so far. The government helped encourage hospitals to expand starting in the late 1960s, with the introduction of Medicare, which created a large new source of dedicated funding for providers. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology health economist Amy Finkelstein estimates that Medicare was associated with a 23 percent increase in hospital spending between 1965 and 1970, and had an even larger effect in the five years following.) As hospitals  continued to grow over the years, they also continued to contribute to the growth of health spending and increasingly higher costs for health care. So in 2010 the federal government put in place a law with an alleged cost-saving mechanism — ACOs — that is in fact likely to exacerbate the cost-increasing effects of larger hospitals. The FTC meanwhile is busy suing some hospitals for consolidating and coordinating in the essentially the same way that the health care overhaul is designed to encourage those hospitals to do. And Massachusetts, which passed a state-level model for what would become the federal law, is preparing a massive price control scheme in response to the increased consolidation and coordination that coincided with the passage of its own health care overhaul. It's the bureaucratic equivalent of an M.C. Escher painting, but not nearly as pleasant to look at. 

How Many Law Enforcement Agencies Does it Take to Shut Down Three Podunk Head Shops?

The owners of Boise Beverage and Tobacco and Pit Stop Express, Wonderland Hookah, and Smoke-N-Accessories, as well as 13 of their associates, have been charged "with conspiracy to sell and offering to sell drug paraphernalia," the Boise Weekly reports.   

How many law enforcement agencies participated in this two-year operation? This many:

The Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, Boise Police Department, Ada County Sheriff's Office, Canyon County Sheriff's Office, Nampa Police Department, Meridian Police Department and the Canyon County Prosecutor's Office all played a part.

We can't legalize drugs, there's just too much money in it

Previously: "How Many Law Enforcement Agencies Does it to Take to Prosecute One Man for Buying $200 Worth of Crack?"

Former Polish President "Evolves" on Drug Policy, Doesn't Apologize For His Awful Drug Law

Former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski became the latest in a long line of former heads of state to call for decriminalization or liberalization of drug laws. Kwasniewski’s New York Times op-ed was rather tepid, though it did call for “a halt to incarcerating people for possessing small amounts of drugs for personal use.”

In 2000, Kwasniweski signed into law some of the most repressive drug laws in Europe, or, as the ex-president characterizes it, “one of Europe’s most conservative laws on drug possession.” Though in 2005 Poland had lower crime victimization rates than England, Sweden or the Netherlands, there were more than 80,000 people in prison in Poland in 2005, up from just under 55,000 in 1998. The growth in prison population surpassed general population growth considerably. Kwasniewski himself notes cases of drug possession rose from 2,815 in 2000 to 30,548 in 2008.

Much like President Obama, Kwasniewski invoked the paradigm of “drug use as public health,” lumping in pot users with heroin addicts. Accordingly, the former Polish president blames his law for “propelling the spread of H.I.V. among people who inject [drugs].” Interestingly, a 2002 report on the then-new drug law in Poland via the Drug Policy Alliance noted:

Under the new legislation, police are now authorized to arrest and prosecute those found possessing any quantity of illicit drugs. However, in reality the police are very hesitant to enforce this law for fear that the drug user is infected with HIV or AIDS.

Poland decriminalized the possession of small amounts of some narcotics last year, sort of, and Kwasniewski was joined by Poland’s first democratically elected president, Lech Wałęsa, and 62 other public figures and former heads of state in signing an open letter calling for a new approach to drug policy worldwide.

Meanwhile here at home, despite campaign and post-campaign promises to the contrary, President Obama continues his crackdown on medical marijuana while for Mitt Romney it is not an “issue of significance,” leaving the issue of non-medical marijuana and other narcotics in the war on drugs completely off the table for the major two parties.

Maybe Barack Obama will eventually “evolve” on his stance on the war on drugs, but we’ll probably have to wait until 2013 or 2017; the fashion seems to be for former heads of state to support drug policy reforms, not current ones.

Read Reason's Lucy Steigerwald on the brouhaha over drug reform at last month's Latin American regional summit. 

States' Rights Aren't the Enemy in Gay Marriage Battle

President Barack Obama came out Wednesday not only as a supporter of gay marriage, but also as a Tenther!

No, not really. He did say that he believes individual states have the right to set their own policies on recognizing gay marriages. His sudden acknowledgment of states' rights certainly comes as a surprise to anybody who has been following his administration's abominable behavior with regard to legalized medical marijuana. Cynicism is perhaps the appropriate response from any libertarian.

But I'm much more fascinated by the response of the generally progressive gay and lesbian community to any invocation of states' rights. Even though pretty much every gain in recognition of gay marriage has taken place on the state level, the Tenth Amendment is still frequently seen on the left as an excuse for cranky right-wing secessionists to try to force schools to teach creationism. Advice columnist Dan Savage declared Obama's transition on gay marriage not quite complete because of his deference to the states on actual policies.

In 2010, Judge Joseph Tauro of the federal District Court of Massachusetts ruled in Massachusetts vs. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services that the federal Defense of Marriage Act was an unconstitutional violation of the Tenth Amendment (decision here [pdf]). In response, Jack Balkin, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment at Yale, warned: “As much as liberals might applaud the result, they should be aware that the logic of his arguments, taken seriously, would undermine the constitutionality of wide swaths of federal regulatory programs and seriously constrict federal regulatory power.” (This is the part where libertarians yell, “That's a feature, not a bug!”)

MORE »

George Soros: Only My Interests Are Public

Here is a spokesman for George Soros explaining his billionaire boss's disgust with Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 case in which the Supreme Court lifted restrictions on political speech by unions and corporations:

George Soros believes the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United opened the floodgates to special interests' paying for political ads. There is no way those concerned with the public interest can compete with them. Soros has always focused his political giving on grass-roots organizing and holding conservatives accountable for the flawed policies they promote. His support of these groups [America Votes and American Bridge 21st Century] is consistent with those views.

Got that? When George Soros participates in political debates, he is advocating "the public interest." But when people with views different from his do so, they are simply pushing their own "special interests." Since Soros has always been free to spend as much of his own money as he wants on political speech, it is not surprising that he's upset when the same freedom is extended to fellow citizens who pool their resources as corporations (which include all manner of advocacy groups, not just big businesses). After all, some of those newly ungagged mouths may say things that offend Soros' sensibilities. But this is not the sort of thing you are supposed to say out loud. It takes an astonishing lack of self-awareness and empathy to assume that you have a monopoly on sincerity and public-spiritedness, that people with different opinions are not just wrong but disingenuous. We have a First Amendment to protect us from people with that mentality.

For more on the reaction to Citizens United, see my December 2010 Reason cover story.

What's an Intersection? The Definition Can Mean Big Bucks.

In most of the United States, a traffic intersection is considered to start at the painted stop line or at a crosswalk. In Arizona, an intersection starts at an invisible line defining the extension of a curb. Sounds like boring traffic engineer stuff, right? Except, the definition of an intersection matters if you enter one after the light turns red — especially if there's a photo-enforcement camera focused on your tail. So Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's veto of a bill that would have brought the state's definition in line with that prevailing elsewhere has dollars-and-cents implications.

As theNewspaper points out, the intersection definition in HB 2557 would have bought drivers a little slack:

Under Arizona law, drivers may enter an intersection on a yellow light. By moving back what constitutes the start of the intersection by 24 to 38 feet, vehicles have more breathing room to clear an intersection without getting a ticket. The bill has the same effect as extending the duration of a yellow light by 0.2 to 0.6 seconds, depending on the width of the intersection and the speed of traffic. The vast majority of straight-through red light camera tickets are issued in those first few tenths of a second.

Most drivers in the vast majority of states are accustomed to hitting the brakes at clearly delineated stop lines or crosswalks, It's the same standard from place to place, and easy enough to figure out. Arizona's variation from that standard catches drivers unawares and keeps the photo-enforcement cameras clicking. A few years ago, the Copper State's essentially unique idea of what constitute's an intersection raised eyebrows at the Federal Highway Administration, even when Tucson took the trouble to paint a confusing guess-what-I-am third line on the pavement:

Arizona law states that a driver facing a red light may not enter the intersection, which is defined as the prolongation of the lateral curb lines where the two streets meet. The transverse violation line and "WAIT" message are being used to identify the actual line a driver cannot cross without being in the intersection and thus in violation of the red signal under Arizona law. However, it is unlikely that drivers from other States who encounter these markings in Arizona would understand their meaning or intent.

Later entry into an intersection, plus confused drivers, equals money for Arizona governments and wel-connected photo-enforcement companies, who share the revenue.

Of course, Governor Brewer didn't cite revenue as the reason for vetoing a seemingly technical traffic bill. Nope — it's all about safety (PDF).

Local law enforcement officers have stated that the most dangerous place in city traffic is the intersection. This danger can only be heightened by increasing the time in which a collision may occur while simultaneously attempting to reeducate drivers concerning where the boundaries lie. The law enforcement community has bbeen very clear that widening intersections will increase the possibility of collisions.

Yeah. Can't have that carnage that's leaving piles of bodies under traffic lights everywhere else. It's not about the money, at all.

Will Gay Rights Turn Out to Be Obama’s Biggest Legacy?

Brookings Institution scholar (and frequent Reason contributor) Jonathan Rauch argues yes in an essay at The New Republic:

When he first campaigned for the White House, Barack Obama vowed to be a fierce advocate for gay rights, but it hasn’t always been clear if he intended to keep his promise. Indeed, we gay folks had gotten used to grousing about the President. We noticed the way he dragged his feet after promising to repeal the ban on military service; we felt betrayed when his Justice Department insisted, as George W. Bush’s had done, that gays have marriage equality already, because we can already marry someone of the opposite sex.

To gay Americans, this did not look like the fierce urgency of now. It looked like more of the same, what gay activists had come to expect from Democratic politicians: Do as little as you can get by with to keep the gay lobby quiet, but save political capital for more important causes and constituencies.

But it’s now clear that the Obama administration has quietly accumulated an impressive and unprecedented record on gay rights. Indeed, with his health-care reform bill in jeopardy of being overturned by the Supreme Court or repealed by a future Congress, there’s a real possibility that his efforts for gay equality will prove to be his most enduring legacy. The history books may remember Obama for doing for gays what Lyndon Johnson did for African Americans: Leading his party across a bridge to an irrevocable position on civil rights.

Read the whole thing here. For more on Obama’s gay marriage endorsement, see here and here.

Is Romney Vulnerable on Gay Marriage?

Yesterday, the day after President Obama finally endorsed gay marriage, his campaign released a video faulting his presumptive Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, for not doing so as well. The contrast the video draws, based mainly on public statements by Obama and Romney, is mostly fair but misleading in one important respect: It suggests that Romney, unlike Obama's Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, opposes even "civil unions" for same-sex couples. As I noted yesterday, that is not true: Romney is on record as supporting "domestic partnerships" that include "the potential for health benefits and rights of survivorship." What else they might include is not clear. The video claims Romney opposes "health insurance for your partner and kids," which is not accurate unless Romney has changed his position since he was running for governor of Massachusetts in 2002. It also says he would prevent gay couples from "adopting children together" and making "emergency medical decisions" for each other, but it does not provide any quotes to back up those claims. 

The video does show Romney saying, after Obama's announcement on Wednesday, "I don't favor civil unions if they're identical to marriage other than by name" (which is what Obama supported until two days ago). But there's a wide range of possibilities between that option and no legal recognition at all. Romney should be pressed to say where on that range he falls, because that question highlights the practical difficulties that gay couples face every day and the basic unfairness of their unequal legal treatment. Romney does not want to talk about gay marriage, precisely because it puts him in the awkward position of explaining what alternatives he favors. But if you are inclined to question the issue's relevance in a presidential race, since marriage law is traditionally handled by the states, note that Romney himself has declared this a federal issue by insisting on one nationally imposed definition of marriage (a point the video also highlights).

Obama, by contrast, says the issue should be resolved state by state. That means he is not, for the time being at least, making a constitutional argument against state bans on gay marriage, although he has opposed them on policy grounds. On the face of it, his federalist position is consistent with his opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bars the federal government from recognizing state-certified gay marriages. But his argument against the constitutionality of that provision is based on the equal protection guarantee implicit in the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause, not on the 10th Amendment. As I said in my column this week, that position suggests Obama would be receptive to an equal protection argument (based on the 14th Amendment) against state laws prohibiting marriage between people of the same sex, along the lines of the challenge that led the Supreme Court to overturn state bans on interracial marriage. That is exactly the analogy drawn by opponents of California's Proposition 8 in a case that is heading for the Court (along with a challenge to DOMA that involves both equal protection and 10th Amendment arguments). But as long as Obama says states should be free to define marriage as they see fit, his video's charge that "Romney would even let states roll back federal rights for couples' hospital visits" (because he says "states are able to make decisions with regard to domestic partnership benefits") rings a bit hollow.

At the same time, Romney is the one who wants to federalize the definition of marriage via a constitutional amendment defining it as the union of one man and one woman, a proposal Obama has always opposed. And since Romney says he opposes the "strong version" of civil unions that Obama used to advocate, which is essentially civil marriage by another name, it is fair to ask him whether the amendment he imagines also would address that possibility. If so, the federal government would necessarily become involved in dictating the details of domestic partnerships, even though Romney says each state should be able to decide those for itself. Since most Americans favor either gay marriage or something similar to it (though how similar is up for debate), Romney will have a hard time answering such questions without alienating people whose support he needs to win the general election. But if he goes too far in countering the Obama campaign's portrayal of him as insensitive to the injustices inflicted on gay couples, he risks turning off the social conservatives he has been courting until now. I am looking forward to seeing him squirm.

Steven Greenhut on How the Kelly Thomas Beating Sparked a Citizen Revolt

If you want to change the world, writes Steven Greenhut, you need to start in your city. A great example of what agitated citizens can accomplish is taking place in the Southern California city of Fullerton. Three council members are the targets of a recall election on June 5. The effort has gained steam after the Orange County district attorney recently released a horrific 33-minute video of the city’s police officers beating a frail homeless man named Kelly Thomas last July. Thomas later died in a hospital. These three council members opposed the release of the video to the public.

View this article

Is Austerity to Blame for Europe's Economic Woes? Q&A with Veronique de Rugy

From Nobel laureate Paul Krugman to the free-market-friendly Economist to former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, all sorts of experts are charging that financial austerity measures are killing the great economies of Europe. "Austerity Is So Wrong!" reads the headline of a Krugman piece at The Daily Beast that argues against cutting government spending during weak economic times.

But the critics of austerity have got it all wrong, says Mercatus Center economist and Reason columnist Veronique de Rugy. For starters, many European countries haven't cut spending at all and, among the ones that have, most have made relatively minor trims while also hiking taxes. That's known as "the balanced approach," notes de Rugy, and it almost never works to reduce debt-to-GDP ratios or get economies moving again. Yet critics of cutting government spending in a weak economy ignore academic research showing that significant spending cuts, structural reforms to entitlements, and loosening labor regulations are proven ways to reduce debt loads and get countries moving again.

De Rugy talked with Reason's Nick Gillespie about austerity and its discontents—and what the United States could learn from Germany's economic reforms made earlier this century.

About 7 minutes long. Produced by Jim Epstein; camera by Epstein and Meredith Bragg.

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

Follow Reason on Twitter.

Follow Gillespie on Twitter.

Beach Boy Bruce Johnston Calls Obama (and Romney) an "Asshole"

The best part of this Drudge-linked video is not necessarily the "I Write the Songs" writer's crack about the president being an "asshole, unless you're interested in never having any money and being socialized," nor his not remembering Mitt Romney's name, nor the terrific "fffff" enunciation in front of the word "fucked," but rather the desperate and understandable attempt by his fans to have him stop talking about politics and instead take a damned picture.

As Beach Boys transgressions goes, this ranks somewhere a bit below helping Charles Manson with his musical career. In fact, it's just a relatively anonymous guy who nobody relies on for political commentary giving an off-the-cuff response to fans in the era of YouTube. Here's hoping against experience that Johnston is turned into neither pariah nor hero, and that political commentators will check their own Dixie Chicks archives before wading in. (Speaking of which, here's mine.)

As The Joe Perry Project taught us, we should let the music do the talking. No matter how weird:

You Can't Buy a Coke With Your Debit Card Anymore: Yet More Unintended Consequences of Fee Regulation

In 2010, Congress passed legislation—Dodd-Frank!—to protect us defenseless customers and small-time merchants from "swipe fees," the surchange banks and processing companies impose every time you use your debit card to buy stuff. That legislation ordered the Federal Reserve to set a cap on those fees, which it did in June. And now:

•You may have to pay cash for a cup of coffee or pack of gum.

In the past, card processing networks such as Visa and MasterCard, which set debit card fees and process them on behalf of financial institutions, gave retailers a discount on fees for small transactions, usually of less than $10. Once the cap on debit card fees took effect, though, those discounts were eliminated. Retailers who previously paid as little as 4 cents on a debit card transaction found themselves hit with a 21-cent fee, says Alex Matjanec, co-founder of MyBankTracker.com.

"A customer buying a can of soda on a debit card is costing me more today than it did before the legislation," says Ari Haseotes, president of Cumberland Farms, which operates almost 600 gas and convenience stores in 11 states across the Northeast and in Florida.

Some retailers have raised prices to cover the higher fees, while others stopped accepting debit cards for small purchases, Matjanec says.

Lots more on the totally predictable unintended consequences  of financial regulation.

Reason Writers Around the Internet: Brian Doherty Talking Ron Paul's Revolution On "Declare Your Independence with Ernest Hancock"

The webcast begins right around 11 am eastern/8 am pacific, and can be listened to live on the Liberty Radio Network. Host Hancock is a character in the book, as the creator and great popularizer of the "rEVOLution" logo that appears on the book's cover.

A. Barton Hinkle on the Poor State of the First Amendment

Some might argue that if there ever were sufficient reason to make an exception to the First Amendment, terrorism is that reason. Lamentably, writes A. Barton Hinkle, terrorism is only one of many reasons being offered for exception-making these days.

View this article

California's Latest Deadbeat Property Owner: The City of Stockton

How broke is California's 13th largest city? This broke: It's about to get its city hall repossessed. Some pertinent details from The Record in Stockton:

City government never moved into the building, which it bought in 2007 by issuing $40.7 million in bonds. [...]

City officials had hoped to trade in their historic clunker at 425 N. El Dorado St., fill several floors of the WaMu building with all staffers from the old City Hall and from the adjacent city permit center and save around $250,000 a year.

But the crash dried up the $1.5 million in moving money.

Facing a $15 million shortfall this fiscal year, the council voted Feb. 28 to default on several lease-revenue bonds. [...]

The city hoped to pay for the building with lease revenue. But the building is only 41 percent occupied. [...]

Simultaneously, variable interest rates on the bonds, initially low, rose dramatically. The city projects the building will lose $3 million in fiscal 2012-13.

As if that weren't enough, the building's value has nosedived far below the $35 million purchase price, which the city paid at the peak of the boom.

Reason has been on the muni-bankruptcy beat for a long time. Some highlights from the archive, in reverse chronological order:

* "Detroit's Slow Fiscal Death March," by Shikha Dalmia

* "Coming to a Municipality Near You: Bankruptcy," by Shikha Dalmia

* "Rhode Island Cities Run Out of Other People's Money," by Matt Welch

* "Is Your Town About to Go Bankrupt?", by Tim Cavanaugh

* "Farewell, My Lovely: How Public Pensions Killed Progressive California," by Tim Cavanaugh

* "The Municipal Debt Bubble," by Veronique de Rugy

* "Sweet Smell of Bankruptcy: Bay Area City Manager Looks at Life After Default," by Tim Cavanaugh

* "'Even bankruptcy may not be enough to break the grip that unions have on the public purse,'" by Matt Welch

* "We Are So Totally Out of Money," by Matt Welch

* "My City Was Gone," by Jesse Walker

And here's reason.tv asking the question, "Is Harrisburg's Nightmare America's Future?"

GOP: Green Subsidies Bad, Boeing Subsidies Awesome!

Timothy P. Carney with the latest from the crony capitalism beat:

Here's the state of Republican economic policy today: A $35 billion federal loan-guarantee program for wind and solar companies is scandalous "crony capitalism" that must be shut down and investigated.

But a $100 billion federal loan guarantee program mostly benefiting Boeing and Caterpillar should be expanded by 40 percent. [...]

On Wednesday, a large majority of Republican congressmen voted to reauthorize [the Export-Import Bank] (whose current charter expires later this month) and increase to $140 billion the legal limit on taxpayer exposure from Ex-Im financing. Currently, taxpayers are exposed to nearly $100 billion in Ex-Im loans and loan guarantees.

By supporting Ex-Im, instead of trying to kill it, Republicans aren't merely calling into question the concept of free enterprise, they are passing up the chance to make President Obama's corporate welfare a central theme of the 2012 election.

Whole thing here. Reason has been criticizing the Ex-Im Bank since like forever.

"Here's a Car That Any Young Technocrat Would Be Proud Of"

Friday fun link: In 1969 the Firesign Theater made a series of TV commercials for a Volkswagen dealership in Los Angeles. If you've been waiting your whole life to see an pitchman say he's not going to talk about value "because values are different from culture to culture," this is your chance.

Kurt Loder on Dark Shadows

Being a Tim Burton movie, the new Dark Shadows is an exercise in the sort of gothic fantabula with which the director’s fans are familiar. It is also the eighth Burton film to star Johnny Depp. This has often been a good thing in the past: Depp’s natural star power is concentrated, in the manner of Harrison Ford, by his rather narrow range, and he’s an immensely likable performer. Here, though, writes Kurt Loder, Depp’s trademark charm can’t fully animate a movie that, much like the 1999 Sleepy Hollow, tends to wander about in search of a purpose.

View this article

Reason Writers Around Town: Peter Suderman Profiles Erin Brockovich in The Washington Times

Senior Editor Peter Suderman interviews environmental activist Erin Brockovich about Last Call At the Oasis, a new documentary about water issues, in today's Washington Times

The real Erin Brockovich doesn’t look all that much like Julia Roberts. But with her shock of dyed-blonde hair, her spiffy black boots and her practiced, camera-ready smile, she nevertheless stands out in a room.

And much like her big-screen counterpart — Miss Roberts won an Academy Award for her feisty portrayal of Ms. Brockovich in the widely praised 2000 film that bears the activist’s name — the real Erin Brockovich comes prepared to monologue.

Following the popular movie, which chronicled a legal fight against Pacific Gas & Electric in Hinkley, Calif., Ms. Brockovich became one of the country’s most prominent environmental activists and legal attack dogs. At this point she’s a practiced speechmaker, and she came to Washington in April ready to hold forth on problems with global water access, the subject of “Last Call at the Oasis,” a new documentary in which she appears as a commentator.

Slickly produced but conventionally liberal, the film, opening nationally on Friday, relies exclusively on a handful of progressives and their narrow perspectives. Any solutions that fall outside those lines are all but ignored. Where property rights and privatization are mentioned, it’s only to dismiss them. Market pricing for water goes unmentioned, as do decades of labyrinthine state-level distribution rules and pricing controls that have contributed substantially to water shortages in America’s West.

Ms. Brockovich’s many loud, public crusades against corporations, meanwhile, have not exactly endeared her to Republicans.

But over the course of an hour-long interview, many of this liberal hero’s complaints focus on the Environmental Protection Agency — and their overseers in the Obama administration.

When it comes to environmental cleanup, Ms. Brockovich declares, “The EPA is absent.” Asked whether the White House bears any responsibility for the agency’s failures, she responds, “I don’t think the current administration has done as much environmentally as I’d hoped or thought they’d do.”

While some of Ms. Brockovich’s complaints come from the left, there are times when she sounds more like one of the EPA’s Republican critics.

Whole thing here

A.M. Links: DOJ Sues Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, Joe Biden Apologizes to the President, Bachmann Withdraws Swiss Citizenship

  • The Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office for its detention and profiling practices. "They're using me for the Latino vote, showing that they're doing something, taking on the sheriff over an alleged racial profiling," Sheriff Joe Arpaio said.
  • The GSA refuses to release hundreds of thousands of documents requested through FOIA, because of the ongoing investigations.
  • As he begins to hit on gay rights on the campaign trial, President Obama raised $15 million for his campaign in a Hollywood fundraiser headlined by George Clooney.
  • Joe Biden apologized to President Obama for saying publicly he was “totally comfortable” with same-sex marriage, pushing Obama's timetable for the announcement up.  "Would I have preferred to have done this in my own way, in my own terms, without I think, there being a lot of notice to everybody? Sure," the president said. "But all's well that ends well."
  • Michele Bachmann withdrew her Swiss citizenship. "I took this action because I want to make it perfectly clear: I was born in America and I am a proud American citizen," she said.
  • Hope you only penciled in that December 21st  date for the end of the world. A newly discovered Mayan calendar, the oldest, runs into the future indefinitely.

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

New at ReasonTV: "The Vampire Economist and the Moral Molecule"

Reason Writers Talking About What's Next for Ron Paul: Matt Welch on The Real News Network

On Monday, May 7, Reason Editor in Chief went on the Real News Network to talk with host Paul Jay about what's next for Republican candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), and whether his supporters will ever embrace Mitt Romney:

Reason on Ron Paul here.

Brickbat: Sofa King Low

Sofa King, a British furniture store, has advertised that its prices are “Sofa King Low” for almost a decade now. But the Advertising Standards Authority has recently warned the store that phrase is “likely to cause serious or widespread offense.” The company's slogan was investigated by police in 2004, but the investigation did not result in any charges.

Brickbat Archive

Feds to California: Spend That Money You Don't Have on High-Speed Rail

The L.A. Times reports that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to Sacramento today to convince California leaders to include funding for the $68 billion high-speed rail plan in the upcoming budget:

"What I have said to them is, 'We need a strong signal that you are committed to the money for the match, sooner rather than later. We can’t wait until the end of summer,'" LaHood recounted at a news  conference following his meeting with state Senate leaders.

LaHood said he was "reassured" by Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles) and Senate President Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) "that they are committed to high-speed rail and they are committed to making sure that California is able to provide the match that is needed."

When last we left California's budget, Jerry Brown was admitting he needed to make significant cuts to it, the state's budget deficit was $9.2 billion, and this year has already seen a $3.1 billion shortfall in projected revenue.

As for the train project, experts worried that the rail authority had vastly underestimated the operational costs for the project, necessitating annual subsidies should the thing ever actually get built. The CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) quit in January. Polls say voters would like a revote on the $9 billion in bonds that authorized the train construction in 2008, and if such a vote were to happen, the authorization would be reversed. According to a Reason-Rupe poll, 55 percent of Americans prefer private enterprise build and operate high-speed rail, not the government

And this demand from the federal government comes after promising a measly $3.3 billion in matching funds. (Not that we're actually endorsing throwing federal money at this too, but that's not a lot of weight to be throwing around relative to the total cost of the project.)

Fortunately some Democrats are starting to see a little sense – or at least discretion – about throwing money at the project:

The meeting was also attended by Sens. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) and Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) who have balked at quick action to approve the state’s $2.7-billion share of the first $6 billion construction segment in the Central Valley.

Simitian, who chairs a budget subcommittee on rail,  said after the meeting that he remains convinced the Legislature should continue to hold holding hearings and conduct more study toward a decision on funding in August. The budget will include operating funds for the rail authority, but he said it is "unlikely'' he would support approving $2.7 billion in bond funding for the construction in the budget scheduled for action by June 15.

"That's not the kind of thing you ought to do on a hurry-up basis,'' Simitian said. "I continue to believe that this is a decision that requires thoughtful deliberation.''

The above quote is probably code for “I need to determine whether I will get my ass kicked black-and-blue by the voters over this.”

LaHood continued: "I wanted to be sure that I personally deliver the message that President Obama’s administration is committed to high-speed rail in California. We have made a commitment of over $3 billion. We want to make sure that our partners here realize what is at stake."

Again, trying to throw that $3 billion around is hysterical. That is all of 4.5 percent of the projected train cost, assuming the costs are even accurate after the CHSRA cut it down from $100 billion.

Oh well, maybe we're all just wimps for not supporting this mess.

Thank the Influence of Money in Politics for President Obama’s Gay Marriage “Evolution”

To much fanfare yesterday, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. President to endorse the idea of gay marriage. While the President described his view as “evolving,” it’s actually a view he’s held before. “I favor legalizing same-sex marriage,” Barack Obama said in 1996, long before his daughters brought him back to that position.

Reactions ranged from Rush Limbaugh’s can’t-believe-he’s-serious “War on Marriage” accusation, to George Takei praising the President’s historic decision to Glenn Greenwald pointing out that the movement that pressured the President ought to be credited for the new turn.

No matter how you interpret the President’s decision to articulate his support for same-sex marriage, in the same manner, in fact, as former Vice President Dick Cheney did while he was in office, one thing’s for sure: it’s been a money winner for the Obama campaign, which apparently raised $1 million in the 90 minutes after his support for same-sex marriage became public alone. Just an hour ago, in fact, I got another text from the Obama campaign: “If you’re proud of our president, get his back by pitching in today,” along with a handy link to donate!

The influence money had on the President’s decision to again endorse same-sex marriage is undeniable. One out of six bundlers for the Obama campaign are gay, for example, and the campaign has been lagging in donations from its entertainment business donors (amplified by the President’s rejection of SOPA despite Chris Dodd’s threats no doubt).

The President may lament the influence of money in politics publicly, and his base even agrees, but without the financial pressure exerted on the Obama campaign by gay donors and backers, it’s unlikely the President’s view on same-sex marriage would “evolve” back to what it was before Obama became a mainstream candidate. Now if one in six Obama bundlers were Muslims or victims of the drug war, maybe we’d see some evolution in Barack Obama’s views on the never-ending war on terror or war on drugs too.

UPDATE: The President raised $15 million for his campaign at a Hollywood fundraiser headlined by George Clooney tonight. He hit upon the theme of gay rights repeatedly there and elsewhere on his West Coast campaign tour.

She Stole His Heroin, So She Was the Victim

A 19-year-old from Troy, Illinois, goes to St. Louis with his 17-year-old girlfriend to buy heroin, on which he promptly overdoses. While he is unconscious, she swipes the remaining heroin capsules from his lap. After he gets out of the hospital, he asks what happened to his heroin. She says she threw it out. Back in Troy, she snorts the heroin, overdoses, and dies. Her boyfriend is charged with "drug-induced homicide," a Class X felony punishable by 15 to 30 years in prison, because he "delivered" the heroin that killed her. On the second day of his trial, the judge throws out the charge. See if you can guess why. Hint: It's not because the defendant did not actually give his alleged victim the heroin (which she took from him without his knowledge), let alone kill her (since she snorted the heroin on her own).

Give up? The Belleville News-Democrat reports the judge "dismissed the case after the defense attorney filed a motion that the delivery of the drug happened in Missouri, so Illinois did not have jurisdiction."

If the boyfriend is culpable, what about the prohibitionists who create and maintain a black market in which drug purity is wildly unpredictable? And what kind of incentive does the law create by threatening the guy who calls 911 when his girlfriend overdoses with a 15-year prison term?

Addendum: Disappointed by the outcome of this case, State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons wants to change the definition of "drug-induced homicide" so that it applies to drugs obtained in other states.

[Thanks to Mark Sletten for the tip.]

Andrew Napolitano on the Trial of the Alleged Masterminds of 9/11

The trial of the alleged masterminds of 9/11, writes Judge Andrew Napolitano, will address some of the most profound issues of our era. Are natural rights truly inalienable, as Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, or can the government take them away from those it hates or fears? Does the Constitution protect the rights of all persons who come in contact with the government, or does it protect only certain Americans, as the government argues? Can the government deny a person due process by changing the rules retroactively, or is the Constitution's guarantee of due process to all persons truly a guarantee?

View this article

Tim Cavanaugh on PJTV Talking Romney, Unemployment and Krugman: Updated with Kelly Thomas Palaver

If Ron Paul sets America back 150 years, and Paul Krugman sets it back 1,000 years, could we borrow enough sesterces to pay off the debt? 

Does anybody believe unemployment is getting better? 

Should we trust Mitt Romney's flipflop on the individual mandate? 

Reason.com managing editor Tim Cavanaugh appeared recently on Front Page with Allen Barton to discuss these and other hot questions. Also in the studio with Cavanaugh and Barton: Investor’s Business Daily’s Terry Jones. 

Video recordings of the show's three segments are now available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and via digital download on the world wide web (the graphical and multimedia portion of the internet). Coming soon to VHS cassette. 

First up: If job and housing numbers are getting better, why do jobs and housing look so much worse? 

Ron Paul debates Paul Krugman. Depending on who won, does this mean we're going to end the Fed or fake an invasion by space aliens? 

And jumping off from Shikha Dalmia's recent piece "5 Reasons Why Conservatives Should Root For a Romney Defeat" a discussion of whether Mitt's abandonment of his earlier support for the indidual mandate is worth your vote: 

Update: Special secret video recorded somewhere in the Los Angeles County mass transit network. Kelly Thomas blathering on Russia Today: 

BART Cop Who Shot Oscar Grant in the Back Wants His Involuntary Manslaughter Sentence Overturned

Johannes Mehserle still doesn't seem to realize that he got a pretty good deal. The former BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) cop who shot passenger Oscar Grant in the back on New Year's Day 2009 ended up being sentenced to two years in prison (serving 11 months) for involuntary manslaughter. Now that he's free on parole, Mehserle can't quite leave well enough alone. 

Meherle always pleaded that he intended to Taser Grant (not the first time a cop used that excuse). Which is what Meherle and his lawyer are still pleading as they filed an appeal to overturn Meherle's manslaughter conviction. 

According to SF Weekly: 

Attorneys representing Mehserle said he should not have been convicted of involuntary manslaughter because all he did was "make an error," and that this prosecution was nothing more than politics.

"This was simply an accident," attorney Michael Rains told KTVU in front of the courthouse today. "In California ... we know that police officers have made this same accident in nine other cases, there have been no other criminal prosecutions. This was an accident, not a crime." 

Not to mention, says The San Francisco Chronicle:

"Police officers are fallible," attorney Dylan Schaffer told the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco. "We cannot put them at the risk of prosecution for just making policing errors."

If police officers don't risk prosecution for what was in this case at least criminal negligence, what's the point? What is their incentive to be at all careful of not just their own lives, but the lives of suspects and the various people they are in theory sworn to protect? You can't have it both ways. They cannot be given the authority to use legal lethal force, then breezily dismissed as "fallible" when their glaring errors cause the death of a man who was in custody. 

Say what you will about the punishment Mehserle deserved for his actions (and judge for yourself on the disturbing, but grainy footage captured on the cell phones of BART passengers) and it is his right to appeal, but it takes a special kind of audacity to kill a man, be sentenced for it, and then try to get another job in law enforcement.

The least that Mehserle can do it never work as a cop again. The least that law enforcement outlets can do is never hire him. Tragic accident or not, if shooting an unarmed man in the back is not a dealbreaker for being in law enforcement, what is?

Previous Reason reporting on the Oscar Grant case

Good Work If You Can Get It; New Jersey Investigates Union Work Done Under Public Pay

A new report from the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation reveals widespread abuse of the state’s public pay/union work law, passed in 2006. While the law requires public sector unions to reimburse employers when union workers are pulled for union business, it also provides a huge loophole that allows local and state government entities to make other arrangements with union officials. From the report:

The commission… found a range of instances in which… [public-sector labor union representatives] receive full-  or part-time paid leave from government jobs to conduct union business at taxpayer expense… [T]he Commission found significant and questionable variations in how such leave is authorized, who qualifies for it, who keeps track of it, how it is constituted and who ultimately pays the bill.  In many instances, costs associated with compensation and medical benefits for union officials on leave are borne by the labor organizations they represent.  This was found to be the case even where the union personnel in question regularly engage in collective bargaining with their government employers – activity which can place them in conflict with the public interest…
[T]he Commission found examples in which all or a portion of the salaries of such individuals – some in the six-figure range – and/or health benefits and pension contributions are covered by  public funds with no reimbursement by union organizations.  Some union officials have been on paid leave for years or even decades while occupying government job titles but doing no government work.

The idea that public sector unions’ interests differ from the public interest shouldn’t be anything new, but it kind of is. The NJ Commission of Investigation also noted what these widely varying standards on public pay for union work cost. Between 2006 and 2011, “government-paid union leave for  public employees  within the scope of this investigation cost taxpayers more than $30 million in salaries and medical benefits,” according to the Commission.

The Commission also warns about the lack of public transparency in these arrangements. Often, they’re not included within the body of the collective bargaining agreements that govern the relationship between the public sector union and the government. Cops, for example, may work on union activities under the pretense of “flex time” or “day tour of duty.” One school board didn’t even know their teachers’ union President was on full-time paid leave until Commission investigators informed them. In some towns, “local custom” governs when a union representative can get generous paid leave, with no paper trail providing easy access to the information.t

Finally, the Commission also provided specific instances in which paid-leave was abused to taxpayer detriment. Here are a few:

  • In Camden, three police officers and three firefighters have been on full-time union leave for the last five years at a cost so far of $2.3 million in salaries and medical benefits.
  • In Bayonne, one teachers union representative is on full-time union leave despite the collective bargaining agreement itself requiring that teacher to teach three classes a day.
  • In Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, while school district employees conducting full-time union business are paid for by the unions, the police (surprised?) have a better deal. Four cops and five firefighters were on full-time union leave at a cost of nearly $8 million in a five year period. The collective bargaining also requires the cash-strapped city to provide the police union representatives with a city car and a paid gas card. (Newark actually liberally provides city cars and gas cards to its employees)
  • A Paterson city official told the commission none of its city employees were on full-time union leave. When the Commission requested written confirmation, the same city official found a police officer on full-time union leave. Moreover, the collective bargaining agreement required the police union representative to hold the title of Detective. The current union representative was a motorcycle patrolman when he was elected last summer, yielding him a promotion to Detective when he took the union rep position.

More from Reason on public sector unions here

DOJ Vs. Joe Arpaio, Military Trained for “Total War” Against Islam, Vikings Get Their Cheese: P.M. Links

  • The U.S. Department of Justice pulls the trigger on a suit against Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The suit, naming Arpaio, Maricopa County and the sheriff's office, argues Arpaio engaged in racial profiling, sloppy police work and civil rights violations in his never-ending crusade against illegal immigrants.
  • Wired's Danger Room publishes documentation from a U.S. military training course that called for “total war” against all Muslims and suggesting the targeting of civilian populations, using Hiroshima and Dresden as examples.
  • The House of Representatives cares not for President Obama's evolution: With a 245-171 vote, the House is blocking the Department of Justice from using any taxpayer money to fight the Federal Defense of Marriage Act.
  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoes bill for health exchanges, citing possibility of “unnecessary obligations” and mandates on the state's citizens.
  • The Minnesota Vikings will get their new $975 million stadium. The public's portion of the bill? $498 million. “It's time to keep the Minnesota Vikings here so that our children and our grandchildren, yes, can wear purple,” said Republican supporter Sen. Geoff Michael.
  • Two suicide bombers kill 55 in Damascus. Syria's foreign ministry is claiming foreign-backed terrorism is the culprit and is asking for U.N. Security Council assistance.
  • $34.5 million in stimulus funds nets you all of 183 new jobs in Michigan. (via Reason.com commenter John)

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Ron Paul's Delegate Strategy Continues to Impress, Frighten, Confuse--and Paul's Breakfast with Bernanke

More from the world of news and commentary regarding Ron Paul--last candidate challenging currently ahead Mitt Romney for the GOP presidential nod--continuing to win control of delegations and state party apparati:

Politico does a decent job trying to explain the technicalities of how his people are doing what they are doing in caucus states, and what it might mean. Excerpts:

The caucuses — which Romney won handily — are simply the first step in selecting delegates to the national convention....

At the caucuses, delegates to the county convention are elected. At the county convention, state delegates are elected. And at the state convention, national delegates are elected. 

Generally, it doesn’t matter who actually goes as a delegate because the nominee is already decided.

In this case, Paul’s supporters have decided to see the process through, flooding the conventions at the county and state levels with enough supporters to elect Paul loyalists to the national convention....

Generally, when one candidate opens up an insurmountable lead, the other candidates will drop out and all of the delegates will back the nominee apparent. Paul is intent on testing the question of: Well, what happens if you don’t drop out?....

Politico then sheds light on what have become two big hopes of Paul fans as they muse on what they can do to shake things up at the Tampa convention. First, "Rule 38":

Rule 38 is a favorite of Paul supporters because it seems to imply that the state is not allowed to bind delegates at all.

Referred to as the Unit Rule, the measure says “no delegate or alternate delegate shall be bound” by any state’s attempt to impose the “unit rule.”

According to Josh Putnam, a scholar on the presidential nominating process at Davidson College in North Carolina, the rule is a throwback from the days when party bosses would strong-arm a state delegation into backing a single candidate.

Most party officials and observers say it doesn’t apply to states that have binding caucuses.

The problem for the Republican National Committee, as Putnam notes, is that the rule is still on the books and opens up an interpretation argument for Paul’s backers.

And the ever-popular "abstention" rather than casting a bound vote for Romney first-round.

RNC rules clearly say a delegate can abstain from the vote. Wouldn’t that set Paul loyalists free from voting for Romney?

Well, probably not.

In practice, when a majority of delegates decide they are going to abstain from the nominating vote, that state’s delegation is skipped over in the roll call.

Putnam said the rules aren’t clear what happens after all of the states vote and the skipped states get a second shot at it. If they abstain again, it could create an endless “feedback loop where the convention gets stuck.”

But Nevada Republican Secretary Jim DeGraffenreid notes that the roll-call vote doesn’t allow individual delegates to shout out their vote.

Instead, the delegation chair submits the state’s total. In Nevada’s case, the chair would shout out 20 votes for Romney and eight for Paul.

Any delegate looking to circumvent that bind would likely be replaced by an alternate delegate, DeGraffenreid said. And all of the alternates elected at the state convention are Romney supporters.

*Washington Post weighs in on what Paul delegates can or might do in Tampa, and beyond:

As his numbers grow, so does Paul’s ability to disrupt the convention’s rituals of Republican unity: His supporters might be able to put Paul forward for the nomination, or to vote against the GOP’s official platform.

“The Paul folks don’t necessarily have to play the usual game. And by at least holding the threat of embarrassing [Romney] at the convention ... they can hope to leverage something,” said Josh Putnam, a professor at Davidson College in North Carolina who studies the minutiae of delegate selection. “What that is, I have no earthly idea.”

But so far, Paul’s campaign has not actually threatened this kind of disruption. The reason, Paul’s advisers said, is that Paul’s long-term goal is not to fracture the GOP — but, over time, to remake it in his own libertarian image....  

So it would be counter-productive to embarrass other Republicans now with a screaming-match convention that weakens the party’s nominee.

Seen in that light, what does Paul’s current delegate strategy mean?

“The future. The sun also rises. I’ll put it that way. It means that congressman has a son who’s a U.S. senator. That’s what it means,” said Wead, Paul’s senior adviser.

*Interesting account from Maine by Mike Tipping at Downeast.com about the Paul people's victory there, and whether it could be subject to legal or procedural challenge from Romney forces:

I haven’t yet seen any clear evidence (despite many the rumors and claims) of any procedural problems significant enough to overturn the Results and if Mitt Romney or national Republicans make a challenge, it will only lead to less unity, not more, going into their premiere pre-election event. I expect Romney and Paul will make a quiet deal and that Paul, now having won pluralities in enough states to have his name entered into contention, will extract some significant considerations, including a prime speaking spot.

For the most part, what I saw in the convention coverage was the Ron Paul folks following the rules in a disciplined way and using party regulations and parliamentary procedures to their advantage. I’m not sure why anyone was surprised at their strength or their commitment, and I’m not sure why the result was considered a “take-over.” ...

It’s not like the Paul people in Maine are some kind of alien army. In fact, they are basically the same group that has had control of the Republican Party in Maine since the Tea Party takeover and the election of Paul LePage two years ago...

As for the legitimacy of the proceedings, even Maine GOP Chair Charlie Webster, lately the leading antagonists of the Ron Paul supporters, said that the votes were conducted properly and that the delegates should be seated...

There were dirty tricks though--but against Paul:

According to a number of delegates who have posted videos and personal accounts online, certain individuals at the convention distributed stickers meant to mimic ones printed by the Paul camp which were meant to allow supporters of the Texas Congressman to vote for all their candidates at once. The imitation stickers swapped out the Paul delegates for a slate backing Romney....

Two individuals have been identified as participating in this attempt to sow convention confusion. One is Maine House Majority Office Policy Aide David Sorensen, who reportedly nominated the fake Paul slate from the floor. Before and during the convention, Sorensen mocked the Paul people, who he termed “Ronulans,” on Twitter...

Paul supporters fault Sorensen both for engaging in a dirty trick and for taking precious convention time with his actions and making the entire event take longer, possibly costing the state party extra money in rental fees for the Civic Center.

“A lot of Republicans are making a fuss out of this, at least in Androscoggin County,” said Chris Dixon, a convention delegate who witnessed some of Sorensen’s actions and has written about them on Twitter and on a Ron Paul forum. “A bunch of us really want clarification on it, because here’s someone who’s directly employed by the party who’s doing a deliberate sabotage effort. He’s cau sing disarray for whatever reason and putting the Party on the hook for $20,000.”

Sorensen, reached for comment, repeatedly and pointedly refused to discuss any aspect of the convention, including the actions of which he is accused.

*Tom Mullen at a Washington Times commmunities page wonders why Romney fans aren't as passionate and smart about the caucus process as Paul's, and thinks its because caucus processes favor the educated and informed voter:

As far as I know, no one has conducted a poll of primary or caucus voters asking them why they did not participate in the delegate selection process. That means that one can only speculate as to why people who support Romney in the popular vote don’t tend to go on to become delegates...

for the most part, one need only be registered to vote in the primary or caucus. In some states, one must be a registered Republican to participate in the popular vote. In others, Democrats and independents can participate.

If one meets those minimal qualifications, one may cast a vote in the primary or caucus. One does not have to be informed on the issues or even know who is running. That doesn’t necessarily mean that all or even most participants in popular votes are uninformed. However, there is no requirement that they are informed and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that this may be a problem.

For example, a CNN poll following the 2008 Republican primary found that John McCain had strong support from voters who said that they disapproved of the Iraq War, even though McCain had recently said that it would be fine with him if the U.S. stayed in Iraq for a hundred years. Were these voters unaware of McCain’s position?...  

This could never happen in the delegate selection process. By the time that a candidate for the RNC delegation has participated in the local caucus, the district or county conventions, and finally the state convention, he not only knows who all of the candidates are but can likely recite their policy positions. He’s heard them over and over during that process...

Delegates are also required to be more committed to their candidates than primary voters. Those local, district, county and state conventions aren’t exactly exciting. In fact, they’re downright boring...

So, Romney does overwhelmingly better in contests that don’t require the participants to be informed on the issues or even know all of the candidates....All they have to do is register and make a 15-minute commitment to pull a lever behind a curtain.

Ron Paul does overwhelmingly better in contests that require delegates to commit months of their time to the process, to hear the arguments of the other candidates ad nauseum and make arguments for their own candidate in return, and sometimes even form coalitions with the delegates supporting other candidates in order to achieve common goals.

*Doug Wead, a campaign advisor, talks about the media's (lack of) understanding of the process.

*Business Insider sees signs the Romneyites might actually be getting nervous about Paul's state-level wins.

*International Business Times doesn't see Paul voters defecting en masse to Libertarian Gary Johnson.

*Paul matches Obama 42-42 in new Rasmussen poll.

*In other Paul news,he breakfasts with his political foe, Fed Chair Ben Bernanke. Paul in his career as congressman, often on banking committees with some oversight on the Fed, has done this before; he told me a story of breakfast with Paul Volcker in which the Fed chair wanted to know that morning's gold price first thing. The upshot of this breakfast meeting, Paul jokes to the Wall Street Journal: "He’s for the gold standard now."

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

Anthony Randazzo on the New Normal for Unemployment

With unemployment down to 8.1 percent, it's looking like a real recovery in the U.S.A. Or is it?

Anthony Randazzo shows how the drop in headline unemployment may just mean fewer people are working at all. In April 2012, Randazzo notes, labor force participation was 63.4, the lowest rate since January 1981. This means that while unemployment has fallen from its high mark of 10 percent in October 2009, the percentage of Americans in the job market has also fallen from 64.9 percent that same month down to 63.4 percent 30 months later. Worse still, over the last 20 years, the usual trend is for labor participation to expand as unemployment falls. This is because workers are being added to payrolls, and thus cutting down on unemployment. However, as you can see in this graph below, after the recession ended in the summer of 2009, both participation in the labor market and unemployment numbers have been falling. This suggests that the lower unemployment number is really just because so many people have stopped looking for work. 

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National Security Letters Are Now Slightly Less Sucky

National security letters have been raising eyebrows for years, what with their secret-police-ish demands for private information and bans on recipients revealing to anybody that the letters have been received, let alone their terms. The very nature of the letters make it impossible not only to warn people that they're under official scrutiny, but even makes it difficult to assess how many other people have aroused the interest of the FBI. Now, though, the ACLU tells us that people on the receiving end of NSLs are, at last, being told that they have some small recourse for challenging the gag orders.

Says the ACLU on its Blog of Rights:

In 2004, the ACLU challenged the constitutionality of the gag order provisions, and four years later a federal appellate court agreed with the ACLU that the FBI’s imposition of gag orders without judicial review was unconstitutional.

To address the unconstitutionality, the court proposed a policy of “reciprocal notice.” Under the policy, the FBI would inform NSL recipients of their right to challenge gag orders. If a recipient indicated an intent to do so, the FBI would initiate court proceedings to prove that the gag order was necessary. In March 2011, we filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to find out whether the FBI had implemented the reciprocal notice policy, and late last year we filed a lawsuit to enforce the request.

Having finally extracted the desired information from the feds, the civil liberties group found the following passage in a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder to Senator Patrick Leahy: "You will be pleased to know that as of February 2009, all NSLs are required to include a notice that informs recipients of the opportunity to contest the nondisclodure requirement through the government initiated judicial review."

Don't get too excited, though. The letter continues: "Thus far there have been only four challenges to the non-disclosure requirement, and in two of the challenges, the FBI permitted the recipient to disclose the fact that an NSL was received."

That's what we call incremental progress.

Will Oregon's Next Attorney General Uphold Its Medical Marijuana Law?

Medical marijuana is a major issue in the race for attorney general of Oregon, which has allowed patients to grow the plant or designate caregivers to grow it for them since an initiative to that effect was passed in 1998. Next week voters will choose the Democratic nominee for the state's top law enforcement position (who looks sure to take the job since there is no Republican candidate), and one contender, former Court of Appeals judge Ellen Rosenblum, is notably friendlier to medical marijuana than her opponent, former federal prosecutor Dwight Holton. Although Rosenblum rather implausibly claims she can't recall whether she voted for the 1998 initiative or a 2010 initiative that would have authorized dispensaries, she says she will "support the will of the people, which is the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act," adding, "We have a lot of pioneering laws in this state. And this is one of them."

By contrast, Holton—who ran the U.S. Attorney's Office in Oregon in 2010 and 2011, during federal raids on medical marijuana growers—has called the law "a train wreck," complaining that it's too easy to be certified as a patient and that cannabis ostensibly grown for medical use ends up on the black market. Holton criticizes Rosenblum for indicating that prosecuting pot cases would be a low priority for her. Rosenblum, meanwhile, faults Holton, who is a fan of mandatory minimum sentences and boasts that he has "overwhelming support" from cops and prosecutors, for "trying to climb the career ladder on the backs of medical marijuana patients." Drug Policy Action, the 501(c)(4) offshoot of the Drug Policy Alliance, is backing Rosenblum "because she supports the rights of Oregonians who are medical marijuana patients to have safe and legal access to their medicine."

The outcome of the election could have national significance in light of the ongoing federal crackdown on medical marijuana, which is not sparing suppliers who comply with state law, contrary to promises by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder. Obama made two of those promises in Oregon when he was running for president in 2008, saying in one interview that he would stop raids on medical marijuana growers because "our federal agents have better things to do" and in another that "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue." How'd that work out?

The Circular Logic of Stimulus Spending

There's a circular logic to calls for more and bigger economic stimulus: Every time stimulus fails to kick the economy back into gear, the keepers of the Keynesian consensus inevitably say that the problem is that the last round of spending was too small. And so the calls begin for more.

Starting in the 1990s, Japan followed those recommendations for ever more stimulus. But as Harvard economist Robert Barro points out in The Wall Street Journal, the country never saw the results it hoped for:

For the U.S., my view is that the large fiscal deficits had a moderately positive effect on GDP growth in 2009, but this effect faded quickly and most likely became negative for 2011 and 2012. Yet many Keynesian economists look at the weak U.S. recovery and conclude that the problem was that the government lacked sufficient commitment to fiscal expansion; it should have been even larger and pursued over an extended period.

This viewpoint is dangerously unstable. Every time heightened fiscal deficits fail to produce desirable outcomes, the policy advice is to choose still larger deficits. If, as I believe to be true, fiscal deficits have only a short-run expansionary impact on growth and then become negative, the results from following this policy advice are persistently low economic growth and an exploding ratio of public debt to GDP.

The last conclusion is not just academic, because it fits with the behavior of Japan over the past two decades. Once a comparatively low public-debt nation, Japan apparently bought the Keynesian message many years ago. The consequence for today is a ratio of government debt to GDP around 210%—the largest in the world.

This vast fiscal expansion didn't avoid two decades of sluggish GDP growth, which averaged less than 1% per year from 1991 to 2011. No doubt, a committed Keynesian would say that Japanese growth would have been even lower without the extraordinary fiscal stimulus—but a little evidence would be nice.

Read Reason's summer 2009 story on Japan's post-bubble policies here

Americans Elect: Maybe Americans Don't Want a Centrist Third Party

Americans Elect, this year's very well-funded attempt to get a "centrist" presidential ticket on the ballot, is failing to generate much citizen interest (although it has already succeeded in winning ballot access in 26 states for whoever ends up winning its internet-voted nominating process.).

Time reports this week on their (lack of) progress so far:

When Americans Elect announced last July that it was pouring millions into placing a third-party presidential candidate on the ballot in all 50 states, the political world snapped to attention. Barack Obama's longtime political adviser David Axelrod revealed his concern by publicly criticizing the group, while pundits gushed. "Watch out," declared New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who wrote that Americans Elect might change politics the way the iPod changed music.   

So far, Americans Elect is looking more like the Zune than the iPod. The group canceled a May 8 online caucus after no candidate met the necessary criterion of 1,000 backers in each of 10 states....

Founded by a group of political centrists, including former investment banker Peter Ackerman, Americans Elect had a promising plan....The group had backing from well-known moderates, including former Senator David Boren of Oklahoma, a Democrat, and former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican. It also had money. Americans Elect's website alone cost $10 million, and another $15 million has gone toward its most valuable asset: ballot access....

Despite that feat, which has eluded many an independent party, an underwhelming 420,000 people have signed up with Americans Elect online.....

Still, you can't write off a well-funded outfit with national ballot access. Especially when the public is in an angry mood. Americans Elect's pollster, Doug Schoen, notes that the group's rules don't require a nomination until June. "If you can help us find a candidate," he says, "I'd be thrilled."

Whether if-nominated-he-would-serve (unlikely), the draftee with the most fans right now by many thousands at Americans Elect site is none other than current Republican candidate Ron Paul, subject of my out-very-soon book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.

But lack of enthusiasm and awareness for this project is such that even Paul, who can draw 7,000 people in one city to show up to hear him, has only 9,129 people trying to draft him for this Americans Elect cause.

RealClearPolitics also has shaken its head at Americans Elect this week:

the reform group may wind up with the equivalent of a spiffy new car and no driver. Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer and progressive Salt Lake City ex-Mayor Rocky Anderson are the leading presidential candidates who signed up to run on an Americans Elect ticket [Ron Paul is a mere draftee, he's never deliberately signed up for the nomination], but they have not yet reached the requisite backing. Roemer has to attract 1,000 computer clicks from supporters in each of 10 states to progress to the online convention in June. Anderson has to capture 5,000 clicks in each of 10 states, which is the higher hurdle invented for candidates who are not big-city mayors, governors, members of Congress, big-time CEOs, or similar leaders of note....

The struggles of Americans Elect have not come as a huge surprise to the media or the political cognoscenti, even among those rooting for anything that might detox traditional party politics. In March, New York Times columnist Gail Collins described the group’s concept as “delusional, in a deeply flattering way: We the people are good and pure, and if only we were allowed to just pick the best person, everything else would fall into place. And, of course, the best person cannot be the choice of one of the parties, since the parties are … the problem.”

If Americans Elect could field a candidate who could attract 3 percent to 5 percent of the vote in November, which Wachtel termed “really pretty minor,” the group’s ballot line could be retained for independent races in many states in 2014 and 2016. 

I've blogged in March about Americans Elect using citizen donations to pay back their bigwig initial funders, and mocked a similar attempt to create a "centrist third party" last time around, Unity08.

ObamaCare: Temporary Rate Hikes Forever

One of the biggest problems plaguing Medicaid is access. Rates vary by state, the jointly funded federal-state health program for the poor and disabled generally reimburses health providers at far lower rates than Medicare, the federal health program for seniors. And Medicare typically pays somewhat lower rates than private insurance. The result? Health providers are wary of adding Medicaid beneficiaries into their patient mix. 

This is a potential problem for President Obama's 2010 health law, which expands Medicaid coverage to about 16 million individuals. So it proposes a fix. Sort of. As The Washington Post reported yesterday, the law makes Medicaid reimbursements for primary care doctors equal to Medicare's reimbursement rates. But only for two years—2013 and 2014. After that, there's no provision for keeping the increased rates. And needless to say, there's no funding either. The tail end of The Post's report suggests the problem this is likely to create without entirely spelling it out:

Atul Grover, chief advocacy officer for the AAMC, praised the Medicaid pay boost.

“I don’t think we’re going to solve the problem of access in this one short provision. But it’s a step in the right direction.”

Still, he said, “it’s just two years. So what do you do after those two years are up?”

That's a good question, especially since at the end of 2014 there will be millions of new Medicaid beneficiaries, with even more to come, assuming that the health care law has not been repealed or struck down by the courts. But although we don't know what will happen then, we can guess. If the history of Congressional attempts to keep doctors from taking pay cuts under Medicare's sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula via an endless succession of temporary "doc fixes" is any indication, Congress will begin yet another tradition of temporary patches that only make the system more unstable. 

In related news, two members of Congress once again proposed yet another permanent "fix" to the sustainable growth rate this week. It's not the first. I seriously doubt it will be the last. 

As Bad Times Continue, Shadow Economies Grow

A few months ago, Robert Neuwirth caused a buzz with a Foreign Policy article, excerpted from his book, Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy, in which he described "System D" as the world's fastest-growing economy. He suggested that this untaxed, unregulated shadow economy holds out the most promising future for people around the world seeking to start businesses or simply earn a living. Now, two Turkish economists have found evidence that the crappy financial environment of the last few years has made the shadows an increasingly attractive place for anybody hoping to make money to hide.

Writing at VoxEU — an online publication of the Centre for Economic Policy Research — Ceyhun Elgin and Oguz Oztunali of Bogazici University say:

For almost all country groups (except for the post-Socialist one), we observe a declining trend over time. However, the pace of the reduction seems to lose some momentum in the last decade. Somewhat more interestingly, we observe a spike staring in 2007. Considering the emergence of the global economic crisis, this could give further support for the hypothesis that the size of the shadow economy is countercyclical.

Basically, contrary to Neuwirth, Elgin and Oztunali say that shadow economies around the world had, by and large, been shrinking up until recently. That shrinkage slowed with the new millennium, and then reversed itself, big time, in 2007. For all regions the two economists studied, OECD-EU, Latin American and Caribbean, post-Socialist (Transition), Middle East and North African, sub-Saharan African, and Asian-Oceanian countries, shadow economies are now growing, in an impressive way. Measured as a percentage of GDP, shadow economies have now jumped up to an average (mean) of:

  • OECD-EU: 17.84%
  • Latin: 41.98% 
  • Post-Socialist: 37.37%
  • MENA: 31.50%
  • Sub-Saharan: 43.06%
  • Asia: 32.84%
  • World: 22.67%

The growth of the shadow economy has interesting implications. First, it helps to explain why countries like Spain, where unemployment now stands at a brain-buggering 24.4%, aren't now paving their streeets with the bodies of the starving. Obviously, some significant percentage of those people are working off the books. Also, it suggests that some of the "austerity" solutions bandied about recently may be working against each other. If, as shadow-economy expert Friedrich Schneider writes, "tax and social security contribution burdens are one of the main causes for the existence of the shadow economy," and "every available measure of regulation is significantly correlated with the share of the unofficial economy," then the business and labor-market deregulation slowly working its way through some of Europe's rule-bound economies is running smack into vocal insistence that governments hike tax rates and set tax collectors (even fancy foreign loaners) on the trail of tax scofflaws.

It's like trying to entice a beaten dog out of his hidey-hole with a treat in one hand and a club in the other. For now, you can probably expect those shadow economy figures to keep going up.

Brian Doherty discussed Robert Neuwirth and shadow economies here.

Jonathan Rauch on Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America

Unless you live in a cave, you know the controversial work and reputation of Charles Murray. Losing Ground, published in 1984, proposed eliminating welfare as we knew it and became the template for conservative welfare reform. The Bell Curve (1994) proposed that America is sorting itself relentlessly by IQ, and that race is an intractable part of the picture. The unjustly neglected In Our Hands (2006) proposed cashing out most federal subsidies and programs and focusing on making government less intrusive rather than just less expensive. Like him or not, Murray has written many original books. Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, his latest, is not one of them, writes Jonathan Rauch. There is almost nothing original or new in it. And Rauch means that as a high compliment, because what is new is rarely true.

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