Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 May 15-31

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In an Echo of Vietnam Protests, Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan Throw Back Medals During the Chicago NATO Protests

Via The Guardian, here's April 23, 1971 where hundreds of classic hippie-looking folks who were once fighting in Vietnam threw back their medals from that war and did things like call those medals "a bunch of bullshit." One said, "I got a purple heart here and I hope I get another one fighting these motherfuckers."

And here is Sunday in Chicago where a more diverse group (at least, there were multiple ladies, though a few mothers apparently joined in the '71 protest in honor of their deceased sons) of around 50 veterans who repeated that symbolic gesture. They threw their medals earned in Afghanistan and Iraq back in the general direction of NATO. Some apologized to the people of those countries as they did so. One said "I don't want any part of this anymore. I chose human life over war, militarism and imperialism."

The protesters included Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen who was famously injured last October during the Occupy Oakland protests. Olsen was hit in the head with a tear gas canister that was possibly purposefully aimed at him by police, leaving him with a traumatic brain injury. Olsen once thought he was doing good as a soldier, but "I came back to reality," he said before throwing his medals. "I don't want these anymore."

There are plenty of reasons to scorn most protesters, and Reason has aimed a fairly critical eye towards the Occupy movement of late. But there's being wrong on economics, and then there is this same story of veterans making that "not easy decision" after years of souring towards, what this vet referred to as "the most important experience of your entire life." Indeed, how hard it must be "to say that I was wrong." 

Back in 1917, gifted British soldier and poet, as well as victim of shellshock Siegfried Sassoon was thought to have thrown his Military Cross into the Mersey River. Turns out he may have only thrown the ribbon, though he definitely expressed his anger at what "the war to end all wars" had turned into. He was nearly court martialed for it.

Though they chose to join the military as well, these men and women have seen actual wars. So the fact that they are protesting rings a little more true than most shows of in the streets, marching outrage. A 180 turnabout always cuts a little deeper than a professional agitator does. Vets who go rogue-hippie (and some of the 2012 ones look so similar to the ones from '71, hippie-beards and sorrowful anger and all) are more than weekend radicals advocating for Fidel Castro, or frees stuff, or any of the usual offenders and parades of naive pests who show up at every protest.

Veterans were told, as we all are to greater and lesser degree by the propaganda in the air, that the best thing you can do is to join the military. Their feeling of betrayal, that they ended up on different missions than ones of liberation or freedom like they were promised, is palpable. Like cops in Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, these soldiers should be listened to because they have been in the thick of what they now despise. And then they get abandoned by the bureaucratic mess that is the military, to deal with their nasty mental health problems, leading to more of them committing suicide than have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At least these folks are not basing their disapproval of the wars on who is in the White House. 

Obama discussed on Monday, the last day of the summit, that in 2014 the Afghanis will have to run their own country. Except that just means that American troops will be "largely" withdrawn. The Afghan armed forces will have help "training" for another ten years after that. A May A.P. poll noted that 66 percent of Americans now disapprove of the war in Afghanistan, suggesting that these medal-tossing vets are not entirely alone.

And it's not like everything is all fixed up in Iraq, either, now that the U.S. is all gone. Except for that embassy, that is.

Reason on the anti-war movement and on Occupy, And Reason.tv on "What Happened to the Anti-War Movement?"

Cop Doing “God’s Work” Threatens to Face-Rape Petty Crook

NYPD Sgt. Lesly Charles wants Brooklyn men to know his dick is bigger than theirs, and he’s not afraid to use it to get them to stop parking their cars illegally.

A rant by Charles back in April was captured by cellphone video and provided to the New York Post by the target of the sergeant’s ire:

The footage includes Charles berating a young man in the roadway near a silver BMW, telling him: “This is my street. All right? If you got to play tough, that’s your problem . . . I do whatever the f--k I want.”

A short time later, Charles followed the group into the nearby No. 1 Chinese Food restaurant, flanked by two plainclothes cops.

“I have the long d--k. You don’t,” the cop bragged.

“Your pretty face — I like it very much. My d--k will go in your mouth and come out your ear. Don’t f--k with me. All right?”

The unidentified 21-year-old who shot the video was arrested later and charged with disorderly conduct for refusing to leave. According to the Post, the man with the pretty face Charles would like to fuck has been arrested more than 20 times for petty larceny, weapons, and marijuana charges (though there’s no information whether he was convicted or pleaded guilty to any of them).

Charles is now under investigation by the City’s Civilian Complaint Board. Reached by the Post, Charles said only, “I’m just doing God’s work. You know I can’t comment ... Have a blessed day.”

Enjoy the video below (bleeped for your sensitive ears).

Another Botched ObamaCare Estimate

Business groups have complained bitterly about the costs imposed by the president's 2010 health care overhaul, and the administration has often responded by insisting that in fact there are provisions in the law designed to help business: for instance, the small business tax credit, which last year the administration predicted would provide "an estimated $6 billion in premium relief in 2010 to 2011." The Department of Health and Human Services pointed to a Commonwealth Fund study estimating that more than 16 million workers would be eligible for the tax credits under the law. 

But elgiibility does not mean accessibility, and neither the savings nor the number of projected beneficiaries have matched early predictions. The value of the credits claimed so far is just $468 million, according to a Government Accountability Office study released today. The number of employees who worked for businesses that claimed the tax, meanwhile, was about 770,000. 

Why the lower-than-expected utilization? The GAO report suggests that initial estimates overestimated the popularity of the credit in part because they didn't account for either the complexity of the eligibility rules or the large amount of time needed to calculate the exact value of the credit (remember, this is a credit for small businesses that probably aren't generally interested in investing lots of time or effort in tax prep). 

The law's backers, in other words, underestimated the complexity involved with complying with the law and thus underestimated the accessibility of the benefits they thought they were handing out. I suspect we'll see more of this as implementation continues. 

This certainly isn't the first time the law's early projections have proven wrong. The law's $5 billion early retiree program handed out hundreds of millions of dollars to government unions and big employers and had to be shut down early (the administration decided to declare this a "success"). Enrollment in the law's high-risk pools for individuals with preexisting conditions has been dramatically lower than expected, with about 61,000 enrollees versus the 375,000-plus projected, while per-member costs have come in at double initial estimates

The lesson going forward, then, is one that should be familiar by now: When it comes to ObamaCare, don't trust the optimistic spending or utilization estimates touted by the administration. We don't always know how they'll go awry, but it's a pretty good guess that the original estimates won't match the practical outcomes. 

Asset Forfeiture: “A Process of Government Enrichment That Often Is Indistinguishable from Robbery”

The case of United States of America v. 434 Main Street Street, Tewksbury, Massachusetts is currently awaiting trial in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. At issue is an attempt by the federal government, acting in cooperation with local law enforcement, to use federal asset forfeiture law to seize a family business, the Motel Caswell, because a tiny fraction of the motel’s guests have been arrested for drug crimes over the past two decades. In his latest Washington Post column, George Will comes out swinging against this case of government abuse:

The Caswells have not been charged with, let alone convicted of, a crime. They are being persecuted by two governments eager to profit from what is antiseptically called the “equitable sharing” of the fruits of civil forfeiture, a process of government enrichment that often is indistinguishable from robbery....

Since 1994, about 30 motel customers have been arrested on drug-dealing charges. Even if those police figures are accurate — the police have a substantial monetary incentive to exaggerate — these 30 episodes involved less than 5/100ths of 1 percent of the 125,000 rooms Caswell has rented over those more than 6,700 days. Yet this is the government’s excuse for impoverishing the Caswells by seizing this property, which is their only significant source of income and all of their retirement security.

The government says the rooms were used to “facilitate” a crime. It does not say the Caswells knew or even that they were supposed to know what was going on in all their rooms all the time. Civil forfeiture law treats citizens worse than criminals, requiring them to prove their innocence — to prove they did everything possible to prevent those rare crimes from occurring in a few of those rooms. What counts as possible remains vague. The Caswells voluntarily installed security cameras, they photocopy customers’ identifications and record their license plates, and they turn the information over to the police, who have never asked the Caswells to do more.

Read the rest of Will’s column here. For more on asset-forfeiture abuse, see Radley Balko’s 2010 Reason feature “The Forfeiture Racket.

Reason Writers on TV: Brian Doherty Talks Ron Paul and Ron Paul's Revolution on the RT Network

On Friday, as you can tell by the backdrop speaking from surprisingly mild and pleasant Manhattan, New York City, USA, I talk of the continued energetic relevance of Ron Paul and his fans moving forward, and accurately predict his weekend win in Minnesota:

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

What the World is Coming To: Teen's Pancreatic Cancer Diagnostic Wins $75,000 Intel Prize

Jack Andraka, 15, won top prize at this year's Intel International Science and Engineering fair for his new method to detect pancreatic cancer. As the Intel press release notes: 

Based on diabetic test paper, Jack created a simple dip-stick sensor to test blood or urine to determine whether or not a patient has early-stage pancreatic cancer. His study resulted in over 90 percent accuracy and showed his patent-pending sensor to be 28 times faster, 28 times less expensive and over 100 times more sensitive than current tests. Jack received the Gordon E. Moore Award, named in honor of Intel co-founder and retired chairman and CEO of $75,000.

The Washington Post adds that a patent is pending for the test. Andraka's test is a true dianostic breakthrough since there are currently no non-invasive tests for detecting pancreatic cancer. Early detection of this cancer would be a boon to patients since the five-year survival rate for localized pancreatic cancer is 23 percent. While that doesn't sound great, it's a hell of a lot better than the 5 percent overall five-year survival rate for patients diagnosed with the disease. 

Hearty congratulations to Mr. Andraka and also to the other 400 participants who won prizes in the competition. 

Taping Cops Gains Support, NJ Considers Decriminalizing Dope, Greeks Maneuver For Next Election: P.M. Links

  • Feel like you've been chatting on a party line? It may be for good reason. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in an ACLU challenge to warrantless wiretaps of international phone calls and emails. The justices will decide whether the plaintiffs have standing to sue.
  • After slamming as "nauseating" the Obama campaign's attack on private equity firms (as well as Mitt Romney's attack ads), Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Cory Booker, a rising star in the Democratic Party, is carefully trying to reframe his criticisms.
  • Dharun Ravi, who used a webcam to spy on his gay roommate who then killed himself amidst the resulting embarrassing exposure, was sentenced to 30 days in jail plus three years probation.
  • Courts are increasingly pushing back against efforts to ban recording police while they perform their official duties, and even the U.S. Department of Justice is backing the right of individuals to tape cops.
  • With reports surfacing that Greece has been threatened with expulsion from the eurozone, the conservative New Democracy party and the small, free-market Democratic Alliance are joining forces in an effort to outmaneuver surging socialists.
  • The New Jersey Assembly's judiciary committee gave thumbs-up to a bill that would decriminalize possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana, so that those found in possession would face only relatively small fines.
  • NATO summit protesters allege they were mistreated by police after their arrest during a raid staged before the gathering. "For 18 hours, we were handcuffed to a bench and our legs were shackled together. Some of our cries for the bathroom were either ignored or met with silence."

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Ira Stoll on Eduardo Saverin and Echoes of the Reichsfluchtsteuer

The Reichsfluchsteuer, or Reich flight tax, that the Nazis imposed on Jews trying to flee in the 1930s was 25 percent; Mr. Schumer and his Senate colleague Bob Casey, writes Ira Stoll, want Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin to pay 30 percent. 

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Palm Beach Deputy Sheriff “Forced” to Shoot Unarmed Man Checking In on Family Business

shot by copfamily photo

Seth Adams was shot to death by a police officer on his way home last Wednesday night. As usual, police officials say the officer was “forced” to shoot the unarmed 24-year-old. Here’s how the Palm Beach Post described the encounter, from the police point of view:

As Seth Adams drove his truck home to Loxahatchee Groves from a bar Wednesday night, he saw a man in a car parked in the lot of his family's business.
He lowered his window. The man did the same.

Adams said something like, "What are you doing here?" Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said at a news conference Friday about the incident, in which Adams died from gunshot wounds.

The man in the other car was Sgt. Michael Custer, who was doing surveillance [in an unmarked vehicle]. Custer, Bradshaw said, made it clear he was a law enforcement officer. He was dressed in a black sheriff's tactical-unit shirt and showed Adams his badge.

"There's no doubt that the sergeant made every effort to make sure this guy knew he was a deputy sheriff," Bradshaw said.

Both men got out of their vehicles. Adams lunged at Custer and tried to choke him. Custer got away and ordered Adams to the ground. Adams didn't comply, Bradshaw said.

Instead, Adams went to his truck and appeared to be trying to get something out of it, Bradshaw said. After ignoring more orders to get to the ground, Adams turned and faced Custer, a 14-year veteran.

Custer fired at the 24-year-old, who died at St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach. 

Bradshaw helpfully added: "There's only two witnesses here: the suspect and the deputy. And the suspect was not able to be interviewed. Why he decided to assault the deputy? We may never know that."

The police officer is on paid administrative leave, standard operating procedure when an officer is involved in a deadly shooting. A vigil was held in Palm Beach Sunday, where residents were not convinced by the police version of events. A state’s attorney will decide whether the shooting was justified.

No further details are available right now as to what exactly the police officer was surveilling in the parking lot of Adams’ family’s business, a garden store whose website now includes a link to a petition demanding a fair investigation into the killing of Seth Adams.

One customer of the family business described Adams: “He kind of went out of his way to talk to me and he just seemed like a great guy, very passive person, a kindred spirit," a description matched by other friends and family quoted throughout press reports.  He was also, however, arrested in 2007 on narcotics charges. We know this because it seems every time the cops shoot and kill someone, the victims’ criminal record, no matter how minute, is aired. As for the cop, though he remains unidentified, the police department has noted he’s won numerous awards and never been involved in a shooting before.

Bonus points: The sheriff won't even say how many times the deputy shot Adams (four times, according to his family). Nevertheless, he's certain the deputy was right

Supreme Court Will Hear Arguments Over Warrantless Wiretaps

The federal government has long claimed the authority to paw through our personal communications in search of something that threatens the broadly-defined public good and just might get the current crop of officeholders hailed as saviors of the moment (was that too cynical?). One loophole the feds claim to have found is an exception to the Fourth Amendment for any communication that crosses an international boundary. Without bothering with warrants, they've happily been listening in on phone calls and reading emails when one party to the exchange is located outside the United States. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider a challenge to that policy. Says the American Civil Liberties Union:

The U.S. Supreme Court today agreed to consider whether plaintiffs represented by the American Civil Liberties Union have the right to challenge the constitutionality of a controversial law that authorizes the National Security Agency to conduct dragnet surveillance of Americans’ international emails and phone calls.

At issue is an appeals court ruling that allowed the ACLU’s challenge to the law – called the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 – to move forward.

“The appeals court properly recognized that our clients have a reasonable basis to fear that the government may be monitoring their conversations, even though it has no reason to suspect them of having engaged in any unlawful activities,” said Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU’s deputy legal director and lead counsel in the case. “The constitutionality of the government’s surveillance powers can and should be tested in court. We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will agree.”

The U.S. government argues that the plaintiffs should have to prove their calls have been monitored before they can sue — but that the government has no obligation to reveal who has been wiretapped. Should the court accept this line of reasoning, it would present certain ... challenges to anybody caring to file suit. And in the absence of recourse to the courts, there's really no limit on the federal government's ability to listen in. The Electronic Frontier Foundation pointed out the problem not too long ago:

Former member of the Obama administration’s Office of Legal Counsel Marty Lederman explains section 702 of the FAA “permits the NSA to intercept phone calls and e-mails between the U.S. and a foreign location, without making any showing to a court and without judicial oversight, whether or not the communication has anything to do with al Qaeda—indeed, even if there is no evidence that the communication has anything to do with terrorism, or any threat to national security.”  All told, the “collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications” every day, according to the Washington Post.

But according to Holder, since secret FISA courts approve executive branch requests to collect “identified categories of foreign intelligence targets, without the need for a court order for each individual subject,” the law is “subject to appropriate checks and balances.” Given it targets large swaths of email—much of which undoubtedly involves Americans with little recourse to challenge the surveillance—due process is lacking from the entire procedure. And after the collection, the government has fought any judicial overview at all.

In fact, says the EFF, "the government has argued even if all the allegations of warrantless wiretapping are true, that the plaintiffs cannot challenge the constitutionality of FISA because exposing the program in court would compromise national security."

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the government's arguments last year. That means the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the government's appeal, and at stake is not just the ACLU's case, but a small vestige of our ability to ask for due process before our privacy is violated by the federal government.

Wired Tours Patent Trolling Company Founded by Microsoft, Apple

In January, Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey wrote about a consortium of tech firms that included Microsoft and Apple paying $4.5 billion for a portfolio of thousands of patents. The purchase followed Google’s snapping up of Motorola Mobility’s 25,000 patents for $12.5 billion. As Bailey wrote at the time, the patent purchases were part of a complicated, expensive, and counterproductive “nuclear standoff” between various tech firms in a legal game of patent trolling deterrence.

Today Robert McMillan at Wired takes readers inside this patent cold war and the inevitable anti-innovation fallout. Microsoft, Apple, Research in Motion, Sony and Ericsson are putting those patents to use in a specialized company, called Rockstar Consortium:

The 32-person outfit has a single-minded mission: It examines successful products, like routers and smartphones, and it tries to find proof that these products infringe on a portfolio of over 4,000 technology patents once owned by one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies.

When a Rockstar engineer uncovers evidence of infringement, the company documents it, contacts the manufacturer, and demands licensing fees for the patents in question. The demand is backed by the implicit threat of a patent lawsuit in federal court. Eight of the company’s staff are lawyers. In the last two months, Rockstar has started negotiations with as many as 100 potential licensees. And with control of a patent portfolio covering core wireless communications technologies such as LTE (Long Term Evolution) and 3G, there is literally no end in sight.

Rockstar CEO John Veschi gives Wired the perfect quote to anybody wanting to see patent reform in the United States: “Pretty much anybody out there is infringing, I would think. It would be hard for me to envision that there are high-tech companies out there that don’t use some of the patents in our portfolio.” Rockstar hasn’t filed any lawsuits as yet, but Veschi expects to.

Creating a special company entirely for the purpose of sniffing out any potential violations also helps protect the tech giants from some patent war consequences:

Rockstar is a special kind of company. Because it doesn’t actually make anything, it can’t be countersued in patent cases. That wouldn’t be the case with Apple or Microsoft if they had kept the patents for themselves. And because it’s independent, it can antagonize its owners’ partners and customers in ways that its owner companies could not. “The principals have plausible deniability,” says Thomas Ewing, an attorney and intellectual property consultant. “They can say with a straight face: ‘They’re an independent company. We don’t control them.’ And there’s some truth to that.”

And while these big boys are battling each other for market domination, the threat of patent suits or the possibility of unexpected licensing fees is keeping small, developing innovators from accessing America’s consumer base. Julie Samuels of the Electronic Frontier Foundation hears from them regularly:

“The creation of these conglomerations of patents … what this does is create a barrier to entry for the little guy.  It makes it so much harder to break into the market if you are a creator or an innovator.”

From our July 2010 issue, Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, explains how our modern patent system damages enterprise rather than advances it.

Penn Jillette, on Obama Locking Up People for Doing the Same Drugs He Did: "It's not a goddamn joke!"

Our favorite magician has uncorked one hell of a righteous rant about our pot-smoking president and his life-destroying Drug War hypocrisy:  

Amen.

Re-read Jacob Sullum's October 2011 cover story: "Bummer: Barack Obama turns out to be just another drug warrior." And re-watch Nick Gillespie's Reason.tv interview with Jillette below:

How to Get Into the White House: Bring a Lobbyist

Want a meeting at the White House? Find a lobbyist. Better yet, be one.

The Washington Post mines the Obama White House's visitor logs with predictable results:

The visitor logs for Jan. 17 — one of the most recent days available — show that the lobbying industry Obama has vowed to constrain is a regular presence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The records also suggest that lobbyists with personal connections to the White House enjoy the easiest access.

More than any president before him, Obama pledged to change the political culture that has fueled the influence of lobbyists. He barred recent lobbyists from joining his administration and banned them from advisory boards throughout the executive branch. The president went so far as to forbid what had been staples of political interaction — federal employees could no longer accept free admission to receptions and conferences sponsored by lobbying groups.

“A lot of folks,” Obama said last month, “see the amounts of money that are being spent and the special interests that dominate and the lobbyists that always have access, and they say to themselves, maybe I don’t count.”

The White House visitor records make it clear that Obama’s senior officials are granting that access to some of K Street’s most influential representatives. In many cases, those lobbyists have long-standing connections to the president or his aides. Republican lobbyists coming to visit are rare, while Democratic lobbyists are common, whether they are representing corporate clients or liberal causes.

Lobbyists, it turns out, aren’t merely regular visitors to the court. They are also its gatekeepers:

Andrew Menter, the chief executive of Vivature Health, said that Downey helped set up a meeting for him in December 2010 with Michael Hash, a top health-policy official. The group discussed how the new health-care law might affect Menter’s business, a Texas-based company that provides billing services for college health programs.

“The whole process was interesting for me. It’s a little scary,” Menter said. “You need a lobbyist to get a meeting.”

Is it any surprise that an administration which presided over wholesale regulatory overhauls of multiple major sectors of the economy, that allowed budgets for regulatory agencies grow by 16 percent and employment at those agencies grow by 13 percent to some 281,000 souls, that added regulations to the books costing businesses more than $46 billion each and every year — in addition to $11 billion in start-up costs — would also be so close with the professional influence peddlers it claims to despise? Indeed, in the Obama White House lobbyists are not only guests, they are part of the president’s team: Despite Obama’s promise to employ no lobbyists, the administration has, by Washington Examiner columnist Timothy Carney’s count, hired at least 50. Under Obama’s watch, the executive branch has crafted 95 percent as many rules as Bush — and the overall cost has been greater. 

The consequences of this approach — decrying lobbying on the one hand while making their influence more valuable on the other — are all too clear clear. Rules and regulations empower lobbyists by making access and influence more valuable: The more a business’ interests are tied up in regulatory minutiae, and the more regulations cost any given industry, the more those industries will invest in influencing the rule makers. Inevitably, that means special treatment for the administration’s friends and allies, a preference for those it knows and likes over those it doesn’t. Want to reduce the value and influence of corporate lobbying on government? Reduce the influence of government on the private sector. 

Don't Read This W/ Netscape: Google Chrome Now Most Popular Web Browser, MSIE Second, Firefox Third

Via Business Insider comes news that Google Chrome is the most popular browser on teh Intertubes (with a 32.8 percent market share), followed by Microsoft Explorer (31.9 percent) and then Mozilla Firefox (25 percent, and getting suckier every single day, it seems, at least to me).

As it happens, I finally got around to installing Explorer 9 after years of never looking at the World Wide Web through anything other than Chrome (and occasionally Firefox). I was an Explorer stalwart long after the browser had become a pretty buggy piece of junk, though I had consciously demoted it to a distant second place after Chrome debuted for Windows (what was that, back in late 2008?). I'm not sure why I stuck with Explorer as long as I did or why I ditched it so thoroughly, but who knows why people do the things they do, right?

Back in 2001, Reason published a great story (and a godawful cover!) about how most (if not all) federal antitrust actions are misguided at best and totally irrelevant to consumers at worst - even while they can be costly to companies, which ultimately costs consumers money too. Among the "greatest hits" the authors recounted was the government's attack of Standard Oil back when John D. Rockefeller's market behemoth was selling oil more cheaply than it ever had - and was about to get its ass kicked due to a shift from kerosene to gasoline.

It's hard to remember these days that Microsoft got in trouble for "bundling" its web browser with its operating system back when it released Windows 95. But that move - clearly designed with the customer in mind - was seen as a dangerous restraint of trade that was somehow supposed to make it impossible for other browsers to compete (despite the fact that everyone I knew back then simply used Explorer to download Netscape or whatever they wanted and then went on their way). Dave Kopel and Joe Bast reminded us

A group of Microsoft's competitors -- Netscape, Oracle, Sun, and MCI -- urged government action so that Microsoft would not "gain control of the Internet," arguing that suppressing Microsoft would "ensure the accessibility and affordability of information technology and the Internet." Netscape's Jim Clark offered a similar warning regarding Microsoft's Web browser, Internet Explorer: "If Microsoft owns the browser as well as the operating system, there will be no Yahoo!, no Infoseek, no Excite, just Bill standing at the gate, pointing out where he wants to go. Microsoft will be the one and only 'portal'." Sun's Scott McNealy fretted: "How are you going to compete if Microsoft won't put you on the Microsoft Shopping Center -- which will be the opening screen of everyone's computer?"

What indeed? And who the hell is MCI again? In late 2001, after about three years of trialing, the antitrust case was settled in a pretty grand anticlimax. The settlement allowed Microsoft to keep Explorer on the boot-up screen most users saw. Depending on what sort of Wintel (nostalgia!) machine you bought, you might also have seen a bunch of other preloaded crap that you could fire up or ignore, or even delete.

So here we are, a decade on from the big Microsoft settlement. Does anyone think that the antitrust settlement is the reason why Explorer faded from prominence? Or explains why Netscape is a dim (but happy!) memory to most webheads? Or is that creative destruction that we hear about so much more responsible?

Hat tip on Chrome story: Cathy Reisenwitz

Robin Gibb, R.I.P.

One of the loveliest and strangest voices of the pop era, and part of a songwriting team that more or less carried the record industry on its back circa 1977-79, has died. Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees, dead at 62 of colon and liver cancer.

The Bee Gees were lovely and weird orch-pop, totally slammin' R & B and disco, and certainly among the most gifted melodists of the modern pop era all the way. They wrote more good songs than most of us have had good meals in our lives, most likely, and deserve way more respect than the disco backlash has gotten them.

Rolling Stone with a decent basic obit.

My essay on the meaning of the death of a Bee Gee from February 2003 after Robin's twin Maurice Gibb died, "Death Before Disco."

I wrote about Robin's freakout of a first solo LP during the Bee Gees brief early '70s breakup, Robin's Reign, in the great book Lost in the Grooves, an encyclopedia of neglected pop mastepieces.

Some of the Bee Gees' most perfect moments through the years:

At their intense weird scariest proto-indie-orch-pop madness, "Holiday" from 1967 :

"Nights" on m-f'in "Broadway". What can one say? Rare live on Midnight Special, 1975:

How many melodic hooks can one song have? A whole bunch when the Bee Gees wrote it. "Love You Inside Out," 1979:

Even at their end, 2001, they still had it. "This is Where I Came In":

Failed Strategies On Repeat in Yemen

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that at least 20 U.S. special operations forces are in Yemen. Reuters reported yesterday that one of these soldiers has been seriously wounded after being shot near Hudaida. These troops are principally in Yemen to provide the Yemeni government support in its operations against Al-Qaeda. The presence of U.S. military personnel in Yemen is only the latest escalation of the War on Terror, and there is little indication that the airstrikes that these troops are assisting in actually provide any incentive for Islamic fundamentalists to stop killing Americans, or are as accurate and civilian-friendly as the administration likes to claim.

According to Business Insider, the number of U.S. troops in Yemen is expected to rise. There were American troops in Yemen for some time, but they were withdrawn during the Arab Spring. However, the recent terror plots that have been organized and launched from Yemen have provided an incentive for a renewed involvement in the region. 

What is most disturbing about the situation in Yemen is that the administration admits that there is no strategy other than killing as many Al-Qaeda operatives as possible. That such a strategy has been tried for over ten years in Afghanistan and Pakistan without any tangible reduction in Al-Qaeda’s ability to conduct acts of terrorism seems to have escaped the powers that be. It should not fill anyone with confidence that last week Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, remarked that, “None of us know where this is going.” Nor should it reassure Americans that Major General Kenneth Tovo, head of U.S. Central Command’s special operations force, said that the Yemeni army “will receive the necessary support that would enable it to destroy al Qaeda," Considering that the Yemeni Army still uses weapons supplied to it by the Soviet Union in the 1960s it is likely that many more troops will be needed than the twenty or so already in Yemen in order to “destroy al Qaeda.”

Any offensive against Al Qaeda in Yemen will almost certainly involve drone strikes that (contrary to popular belief) kill many civilians and encourage more anti-Americanism that Al-Qaeda can exploit.

In 2010, Obama said that he had “no intention of sending U.S. boots on the ground” to Yemen. Our recent adventures in Yemen provide yet more examples of not only how fickle the President’s foreign policy has been, but also how fruitless strategies are being blindly recycled in the ‘War on Terrorism’. 

The Book of Anti-Mormon

Jeremy Lott on the politics of anti-Mormonism:

Anti-Mormonism played a highly exaggerated role in Romney's defeat four years ago....That heavily evangelical Republican primary voters didn't buy into his candidacy right away does not mean that they were passing judgment on Romney's religion. There were plenty of reasons not to vote for him that had nothing to do with his religion. He was considered a centrist from Massachusetts in a party that is more conservative and now has a Southern base. Romney had learned his moderation in the cradle. His father, auto exec and Michigan governor George Romney, had been the preferred candidate of the Rockefeller wing of the Republican Party against Richard Nixon in 1968.

Mitt Romney flip-flopped and zigzagged a lot and then shamelessly turned around and attacked people for taking the very positions he used to hold. This enraged his primary opponents. Their political consultants found that one of the best ways to attack him was with robocalls that simply replayed Romney's old words to would-be voters. They could quote him distancing himself from President Reagan, say, or endorsing insurance mandates, or huffily and unambiguously endorsing the right to abortion.

Few of the reasons shouted publicly or whispered privately against Romney four years ago had a thing to do with his Mormonism. At best, it was a sweetener for evangelical voters: "Vote for Huckabee/McCain/Fred Thompson because he agrees with us and, by the way, he's not a Mormon." Many Romney backers refused to admit their candidate's own qualities had something to do with his loss. They blamed the whole tackle box on anti-Mormon bigotry and worried that persistent prejudice would prevent Romney from running a successful campaign in the future.

Go here to read the whole piece, which discusses the current race as well as the last one. And stay tuned to Reason for more on the subject: I have an article coming up in the August/September issue arguing that, despite some high-profile moments of anti-Mormon bigotry on the campaign trail, by historical standards Mormonism enjoys a high level of acceptance in America today. Strange stories about the church still circulate, but we are a long way from the days when the popular perception of the faith featured a wild mélange of mind control, assassinations, secret sexual lodges, and conspiracies to subvert the republic.

Ron Paul, Still Running for President, Wins Minnesota

Just like he told you, Ron Paul is continuing to rack up delegates and outright state wins in his continuing race for the Republican Party presidential nomination. In the Minnesota state Republican Party convention on Saturday, he came out controlling 32 of 40 delegates from the state.

The Park Rapids Enterprise reports on how Paul, who showed up to talk to his people at the convention the day before the final delegate vote, was received:

To chants of “President Paul,” 2,000 Minnesota convention delegates welcomed the Texas congressman and presidential candidate.  

“There are a lot of friends of liberty in this town,” Paul said....

U.S. Senate candidate Kurt Bills endorsed Paul and Paul endorsed Bills. The Senate candidate said he will continue to back Paul until he is out of the race.

Several convention observers said that while Paul was well received, they did not hear probable Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney mentioned during the day-long convention.

Paul, who finished second to Rick Santorum in this year’s precinct caucuses, told the Republicans that it is not just their party that latches onto his ideas.

“It is much, much bigger than this,” he added, saying that independents “and even Democrats” support his ideas.

Things have changed for Paul since 2008 as his liberty movement grows:

Paul’s Friday appearance was in stark contrast to four years ago, when he was banned from speaking to the Minnesota convention in Rochester. Instead, he talked in a light rain outside the convention center.

Many of the 2,000 convention delegates attended a state event for the first time.

A Paul campaign press release sums up all the good news for the campaign over the weekend, in a long game that extends beyond Tampa in August:

In Minnesota, Paul organizers won a decisive 12 of 13 delegates to the RNC at the Rivers Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud, wrapping up the North Star State’s two-tier nominating contest.  Earlier this spring, Paul supporters won 20 of 24 delegates at district conventions.  In all, the Paul camp has swept the state of Minnesota winning 32 of the state’s 40 national delegates.

In addition to Paul’s consequential victory in Minnesota, Paul organizers won delegates in Mitt Romney’s home state of Michigan.  There, Paul supporters estimate that they have won eight voting slots plus one non-voting delegate and 11 alternates.  Of the 14 Congressional District voting contests held this weekend, Paul organizers won RNC delegates in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 9th Districts, denying Detroit-born Romney a clean sweep of his home state.  The Michigan victory occurred despite a heavy Romney campaign presence promoting a win for the establishment pick and presumptive nominee.

At the Vermont Republican State Convention this weekend, Ron Paul supporters won two of 14 national delegates, with two more considered potential allies, and they won 10 of 14 alternates.  In all, Vermont has 17 delegates including super delegates.

Finally in Virginia, 11 district conventions have been taking place in recent weeks and have ended this weekend.  In those contests Ron Paul supporters won 17 of 33 national delegates selected, with the remainder of the state’s 49 delegates including super delegates to be selected at the June 16th state convention.  Also in Virginia, Paul supporters elected a Republican Congressional District Chair in the Third District, over a dozen liberty-oriented Republican State Central Committee Members five of whom are Ron Paul supporters, dozens of Republican county and city committee chairs, and hundreds of county and city committee members.

From the Alaska Dispatch via Christian Science Monitor, a fair summation of where the campaign stands now:

[I]n Minnesota Saturday[,]“The Paul crowd pulled off a bloodless coup,” the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. “Unlike other states where brawls broke out between Paul fans and Romney supporters, the Minnesota convention was a relatively civil affair. There were no fistfights or shouting matches on the convention floor.”

In a nutshell, that sums up what Rep. Paul needs to do as the Republican Party works its way toward the nominating convention in August: Keep supporters of his “revolution” revved up, laying the groundwork for what he hopes will be a prominent role in Tampa, Fla., while not coming across as a political curmudgeon trying to undermine the candidacy of presumed front-runner Mitt Romney (with whom, it’s been reported, he has a good personal relationship).....

"The ball is in the court of the Republican Party and the court of Mitt Romney," Jesse Benton, national chairman of Paul's campaign, told reporters this past week. "We're bringing forward an attitude of respect, and we're also bringing forward some very specific things that we believe in. If our people are treated with respect, if our ideas, their ideas are embraced and treated seriously and treated with respect, I think the Republican Party will have a very good chance to pick up a substantial number of our votes."

"On the flip side," Benton warned, "if they're treated like they were in 2008, a lot of people are going to stay home and a lot of people are going to sit on their hands."....

“Ron Paul started what his supporters call a revolution,” Maggie Haberman and Emily Shultheis observe on Politico.com. “Now, that revolution is threatening to march on without him.”

Which seems to be exactly what Paul wants.

My April Reason cover story on "The Ron Paul Moment." My article last week on why the GOP must mind Ron Paul. My new book, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.

Cross-posted at dedicated blog/site for Ron Paul's Revolution.

Dharun Ravi Gets 30-Day Jail Sentence, Plus Probation

Today a New Jersey judge sentenced Dharun Ravi to 30 days in jail, plus three years of probation, 300 hours of community service, and a $10,000 "assessment," for the "colossal insensitivity" he showed by using a webcam to spy on his Rutgers University roommate, Tyler Clementi, while the latter was making out with another man, and for seeking to conceal his actions from police. Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman said he would recommend that Ravi, a legal resident who came to the U.S. when he was 5, not be deported (although that's not his call). Since Ravi was convicted of invading Clementi's privacy with the intent of intimidating him because of his sexual orientation, he faced a possible sentence of five to 10 years, with a presumption of a prison term except when it would result in a "serious injustice." Berman concluded that the mitigating factors—including Ravi's clean record, the unlikelihood that he will commit another offense, and his failure to anticipate the emotional impact of his actions—outweighed the aggravating factors. He emphasized that Ravi was not charged with complicity in Clementi's suicide, which occurred a few days after the spying incident.

More to come.

Previous coverage of the case here.

Addendum: Although Berman noted that "the defendant is not charged with causing or contributing to Tyler's death," it is unlikely that Ravi would have been charged at all, let alone with a crime punishable by 10 years in prison, if Clementi had not jumped off the George Washington Bridge on September 22, 2010. Addressing the court before sentencing, the defendant's father and his lawyer, Steven Altman, both argued that Ravi was being punished for driving Clementi to kill himself, and they complained that Berman had not allowed the admission of evidence (presumably including Clementi's suicide note) that would have suggested a different motivation. The influence of Clementi's suicide was inescapable as his heartbroken mother and brother addressed the court, saying Ravi (who chose not to speak before sentencing) should serve time behind bars because he had not shown sufficient remorse for his "cruel" and "evil" actions. But the most emotional testimony came from Ravi's mother, who repeatedly broke into tears at the prospect that her son would be treated the way the Clementis demanded. She emphasized the toll that Ravi's vilification had taken, saying, "Dharun's dreams are shattered, and he has been living in hell the last 20 months." Ravi's father noted that the prosecution's own witnesses had testified that "he never had any hatred or said anything derogatory against gays," and he pleaded with the judge not to impose a sentence that would trigger deportation. "This is my country and my home," he said. "Don't force us to go back."

While the prosecutor, Julia McLure, presented a crisp summary of her case, emphasizing Ravi's "malicious" behavior in spying on and tweeting about his roommate, Altman seemed to be flailing, saying "it's not impossible" that Ravi would avoid prison, but "I'm climbing a mountain." He appeared distracted by the animosity he believes Clementi's parents feel toward him, repeatedly saying that he was only doing his job in representing Ravi. "We might have made some mistakes," he said defensively, "but we tried to keep it within the rules." Altman's speculation about the Clementis' feelings later drew a rebuke from the judge, who said they had conducted themselves calmly and with dignity. Altman did manage to note that Ravi had sent a text-message apology to Clementi and that he had tried to communicate with Clementi's parents but was rebuffed.

Altman's uneasiness (he said he was "1,000 times" more nervous that he had ever been before a client's sentencing) was especially puzzling given that Ravi's presentence report recommended probation in light of his immaturity, sheltered upbringing, and lack of foresight as an 18-year-old college freshman. It called him "an excellent candidate for community-based supervision." Berman evidently took the report to heart, repeatedly calling it a "neutral" evaluation and agreeing with most of its conclusions. Initially he seemed inclined to punish Ravi more severely. "I haven't heard you apologize once," Berman told him, calling the letter he wrote for the presentence report "unimpressive." Berman seemed most indignant about Ravi's "cold" and "calculated" attempts to cover up his spying and gossiping, which included deleting tweets and trying to influence what a witness told police. But contrary to what you might expect in a "bias crime" case, Berman did not describe Ravi as a bigot, perhaps because there is little evidence suggesting he is. "This individual was not convicted of a hate crime," the judge said. "He was convicted of a bias crime."

At the same time, Berman expressed doubt that the state legislature had this sort of case in mind when it enacted the bias crime statute, which heretofore has been used to prosecute people who commit or threaten violence. He also disagreed with the state's description of Ravi's underlying invasion-of-privacy offenses, which contrary to the charges did not involve viewing sexual penetration or genitalia. He worked hard to arrive at the 30-day jail sentence despite the presumptive prison term, employing a series of maneuvers that no doubt will be challenged by the prosecution. In the end, except for the month in jail, the sentence is similar to what would have happened if Ravi had accepted the plea deal offered by prosecutors (who, like Berman, said they would try to prevent his deportation). This is a pretty good outcome for Ravi, if you ignore all the reasons why he should not have been prosecuted or convicted on these charges to begin with.

Earlier this month I explained how Ravi's "wildly inappropriate" behavior (as Clementi called it) became a felony subject to a 10-year prison sentence. Today's New York Times notes that various gay commentators urged leniency for Ravi.

Addendum II: Judging from some of the comments, there is still confusion about a point that Altman raised in his remarks before sentencing: Contrary to a popular misconception, Ravi did not watch Clementi having sex (he saw just a few seconds of kissing), did not record what he saw, and did not post it online. Nor did he "out" Clementi, who was not trying to conceal his sexual orientation. For more on these points, see Ian Parker's thorough report in The New Yorker.

One Virginia School District Still Demanding Search Warrants

The Chesapeake School District in Virginia seems to have a grasp on the Fourth Amendment, demanding warrants on at least 12 occasions in the last 18 months before handing over material or information to police officers. According to the Virginian Post, this stands in stark contrast to practice in nearby school districts, which tend to happily hand over to police anything police may say they need. The Virginian Post reports:

Virginia Beach police Officer Grazia Moyers, a spokeswoman, said when city police have needed school surveillance video, schools willingly provided copies. Filing a search warrant, she said, is "just extra time for the investigators." When told that Chesapeake Police school resource officers sometimes had to go to court to obtain video surveillance footage or statements, Moyers said: "I'm shocked. I am in your school protecting you, and you're going to make me go through these steps?"

A large part of the argument centers largely around custody of school surveillance videos. Because they’re held by administrators, the Chesapeake School District, rightly it would seem, considers them “student records,” which are protected by law. and require warrants for release. But it’s not stopping local police for trying to change the school district’s practices:

[Police Chief Kelvin] Wright said in an interview Wednesday that he is aware other school systems readily provide video surveillance evidence to officers, and that he is talking with school officials in Chesapeake to see whether that can change. "We are trying to work out a solution between us and the appropriate attorneys," he said. "As to whether we get there or not - stay tuned."

But you don’t need to stay tuned to know that the Fourth Amendment is increasingly becoming little more than a parchment promise.

DC Capitol Hemp Shutting Down: Obama's War on Drugs to Blame

“The government is forcing a form of censorship on us," says Adam Eidinger, co-owner of Capitol Hemp, a two-store chain in Washington, D.C. that is closing its doors for good on August 1, 2012. "They are saying you can’t talk about certain subjects if you’re going to sell pipes.”

Capitol Hemp sells clothing and soaps and a vast array of glass and other types of pipes. Police raided Capitol Hemp last fall after an undercover cop reported “unnatural and deceptive” behavior at the company’s Adams Morgan branch. What raised the cop’s suspicions? According to the police report, employees corrected his use of the word bong and changed the subject whenever he brought up marijuana. The store’s book selection, which included titles on drug legalization, was also cited as proof that the place was really a criminal enterprise.

MORE »

Veronique de Rugy on America’s Small-Business Fetish

On February 12, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) sent a message to his 62,550 followers on Twitter: “Small business is the job growth engine in this country and we need to pursue policies that reflect that reality to create jobs.” Yet as Reason economics columnist Veronique de Rugy observes, Cantor was wrong on both counts. Despite overwhelming conventional wisdom to the contrary, small businesses are not the engine of growth. And the small businesses that do create jobs rarely stay small for long, which makes crafting policies that favor those fast-growing firms both difficult and unnecessary. When it comes to job creation, de Rugy writes, size doesn’t matter.

View this article

China's Red Nobility and the Non-Rule of Law

The scandal involving Chinese Politburo Princeling Bo Xilai is shaking up the autocratic elite coaltion that runs China. Bo and his wife are accused of abusing their political position to massively enrich themselves and their family. Bo's wife is also being investigated for murdering a British expat with whom she had business dealings. Her crime was reported by a former ally of Bo, Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, who was so afraid of retribution that he even sought protection at the U.S. consulate.

As numerous reports make clear, Bo is far from being the only member of the Red Nobility to use political power to enrich themselves. Last week, the New York Times reported on how the children of Politburo members extract wealth from businesses eager to operate in China:

For example, Wen Yunsong, the son of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, heads a state-owned company that boasts that it will soon be Asia’s largest satellite communications operator. President Hu Jintao’s son, Hu Haifeng, once managed a state-controlled firm that held a monopoly on security scanners used in China’s airports, shipping ports and subway stations. And in 2006, Feng Shaodong, the son-in-law of Wu Bangguo, the party’s second-ranking official, helped Merrill Lynch win a deal to arrange the $22 billion public listing of the giant state-run bank I.C.B.C., in what became the world’s largest initial public stock offering.

Much of the income earned by families of senior leaders may be entirely legal. But it is all but impossible to distinguish between legitimate and ill-gotten gains because there is no public disclosure of the wealth of officials and their relatives. Conflict-of-interest laws are weak or nonexistent. And the business dealings of the political elite are heavily censored in the state-controlled news media.

The spoils system, for all the efforts to keep a lid on it, poses a fundamental challenge to the legitimacy of the Communist Party. As the state’s business has become increasingly intertwined with a class of families sometimes called the Red Nobility, analysts say the potential exists for a backlash against an increasingly entrenched elite. They also point to the risk that national policies may be subverted by leaders and former leaders, many of whom exert influence long after their retirement, acting to protect their own interests....

“This is one of the most difficult challenges China faces,” said Mr. [Minxin] Pei, [an expert on China’s leadership and professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California]. “Whenever they want to implement reform, their children might say, ‘Dad, what about my business?’ ”

There are also growing concerns that a culture of nepotism and privilege nurtured at the top of the system has flowed downward, permeating bureaucracies at every level of government in China. “After a while you realize, wow, there are actually a lot of princelings out there,” said Victor Shih, a China scholar at Northwestern University near Chicago, using the label commonly slapped on descendants of party leaders. “You’ve got the children of current officials, the children of previous officials, the children of local officials, central officials, military officers, police officials.We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people out there — all trying to use their connections to make money.”

China is a "natural state" still run by patron-client networks in which patrons distribute a bit of looted wealth to clients as a way to obtain their support if factional fighting breaks out among the elites. However, if a patron looks like he or she is going to lose a factional fight, clients will head for the hills. The Times today details just such a hasty retreat by former supporters of the fallen princeling Bo. Three leading businessmen with close ties to Bo tried to smooth over the rift between Bo and his police chief Wang Lijun. They failed, so they fled abroad. As the Times reports

The most famous of the three [Bo associates], Xu Ming, 41, listed by Forbes as China’s eighth-richest person in 2005, had flown in on his private jet. He and the others held separate meetings with Mr. Bo and Mr. Wang. The damage was irreparable. The former intelligence agent, Yu Junshi, rushed home and stuffed a bag with 1.2 million renminbi, or nearly $200,000, to take to a bank with Ma Biao, the other businessman, known for his girth. Then all three fled to Australia within days, fearful of the fallout from a possible investigation of Mr. Bo.

Unfortunately for these Bo clients, they decided to return to China 10 days later when it looked like their patron would weather the scandal. They are now being held by the authorities as chief witnesses in the investigation against Bo. 

For more background see my column, China Needs the Rule of Law, detailing why this scandal bodes very ill for China's future political and economic prospects. 

Reason Writers in the Boston Review: Matt Welch Responds to the Claim That Markets Are Crowding Out Morals (and That Kidney Sales Should Be Banned)

Boston Review has a cover package out centered around a lead essay by Harvard University professor of government Michael J. Sandel on "How Markets Crowd Out Morals." Sandel's piece starts like this:

We live in a time when almost anything can be bought and sold. Markets have come to govern our lives as never before. But are there some things that money should not be able to buy? Most people would say yes.

Consider friendship. Suppose you want more friends than you have. Would you try to buy some? Not likely. A moment's reflection would lead you to realize that it wouldn't work. A hired friend is not the same as a real one. You could hire people to do some of the things that friends typically do—picking up your mail when you're out of town, looking after your children in a pinch, or, in the case of a therapist, listening to your woes and offering sympathetic advice. Until recently, you could even bolster your online popularity by hiring some good-looking "friends" for your Facebook page—for $0.99 per friend per month. [...] Although all of these services can be bought, you can't actually buy a friend. Somehow, the money that buys the friendship dissolves it, or turns it into something else.

This fairly obvious example offers a clue to the more challenging question that concerns us: Are there some things that money can buy but shouldn't? Consider a good that can be bought but whose buying and selling is morally controversial—a human kidney, for example. Some people defend markets in organs for transplantation; others find such markets morally objectionable. If it's wrong to buy a kidney, the problem is not that the money dissolves the good. The kidney will work (assuming a good match) regardless of the monetary payment. So to determine whether kidneys should or shouldn't be up for sale, we have to engage in a moral inquiry.

I was among the people invited to respond to said inquiry. An excerpt from that:

Every day, eighteen people die in the United States while waiting in vain for a kidney transplant, according to the National Kidney Foundation. The Department of Health & Human Services reports that nearly 92,000 patients were on the kidney waiting list as of April 6 (up from 66,000 six years ago), but that only 16,812 transplants were made in 2011. That deadly math is part of the reason that, according to the National Institutes of Health, more than 380,000 Americans are on dialysis, a punitively expensive and physically grueling death-postponement procedure. The imbalance cannot be meaningfully addressed via cadaver-harvesting alone. As the writer (and kidney donor) Virginia Postrel observed in 2009:

If every single person who died the right way became an organ donor, an optimistic estimate would be that 7,000 more kidneys a year would be available for transplant. Since the [waiting] list is now increasing by 6,000 a year, that would be enough to end it—in 80 years.

So we know that maintaining prohibition—letting the law be guided by our moral revulsion toward placing price tags on human organs—will certainly increase the body count. We know that boosting the number of kidney donations from the living is the only real way to whittle the waiting list down. And we also know, from such procedures as egg donation, that legalizing monetary rewards is a guaranteed method for expanding the pool of living donors. Your morality may vary, but mine says that sentencing more than 6,000 people a year to an avoidable death falls well short of the Golden Rule. My inquest therefore concludes that the burden of argumentative proof on the legality of kidney sales should fall squarely on those who back the lethal status quo.

My whole response here, the entire package here. Read Reason's archive on organ sales, and watch this old-school Reason.tv video on the topic:

Cory Booker Goes Through the Looking Glass: The 12-Hour, 180-Degree “Evolution" Away From Common Sense

Newark Mayork Cory Booker went off-script while appearing on Meet the Press Sunday morning as an Obama surrogate, and was punished for it. You are not allowed to go off-script in politics, only kayfabe.

Pushed to defend the Obama campaign’s aggressive anti-Bain ads, Booker declined to “indict private equity,” pointing to the role of companies like Bain in encouraging job growth, noting that Americans were sick of political attacks on both sides, equating the Bain issue to Jeremiah Wright, and characterizing the attacks as “nauseating,” or, basically, the kind of commentary you’d get from a typical American paying some attention to politics but not rah-rah’ing it for one team or the other.

That little bit of truth-telling, though, was apparently too much for the truth squad at Obama 2012. First the mayor took to the Twitter, defending the substance of his opinion while re-enforcing his support for the president.  “I will fight hard for Obama to win. But just as his 08 campaign did, I believe we must elevate & not denigrate. This is the Obama I know,” he tweeted. Not controversial, just your typical post-partisan fare, the kind of rhetoric Obama traded in liberally in the 2008 campaign.

But this is not 2008! So, that Sunday night Booker’s political staff rushed out a video where the Newark mayor basically said, never mind, Bain’s fair game, and even “encouraged” the Obama campaign’s focus on Romney’s time at Bain to continue.

The eagle-eyed commentators at DailyKos were quick to suggest Cory Booker is a crypto-Republican who takes Wall Street money anyway. Because we know, naturally, that Cory Booker is the only Democrat in office today who takes donations from Wall Street.

Of course Booker’s 12-hour 180-degree evolution on private equity is emblematic of Democrats’ perplexed relationship with private equity, and Wall Street generally. Just as President Obama was ramping up his attacks on Bain, he called on private equity titans in New York City, hat in hand. Liberals admit regulatory capture’s occurred in the banking industry, but insist more regulation is the answer.

Cory Booker’s break neck flip flop is a dangerous indicator, too, of the ideological rigidness being enforced in President Obama’s Democratic Party, lethal when mixed with economic illiteracy.

A local Democratic power-broker in the state assembly tried to school Booker:  "It’s not about whether private equiity is good or bad, it’s how Mitt Romney, at Bain Captal, utilized his position at a private equity firm to choose to create wealth as opposed to jobs," Assemblyman John Wisniewski said. "And it is a real issue, when you have the Romney campaign talking about job creation."

See? Attacks on Bain aren’t naked attempts to paint Mitt Romney as some sort of after-school special corporate super-villain. They’re meant to explain how wealth destroys jobs!

North Carolina High School Teacher Tells Students That They May Not Criticize President Obama, Because It Is a Crime

Happy Monday! Here is some audio of a high school teacher in North Carolina telling her students that it is illegal to criticize President Obama: 

Some transcription, via the Salisbury Post:

One student asks, “Didn’t Obama bully someone though?”

The teacher responds: “Not to my knowledge.”

In response to the Romney story, conservatives have recently been pointing to a passage in Obama’s book, “Dreams from My Father,” in which the president writes that while in grade school he shoved a little girl, the only other black student in his grade, after other students called him her boyfriend.

When the student tells the teacher that Obama admitted to bullying a girl in school, the teacher goes on the defensive.

“Stop, no, because there is no comparison,” she says. Romney, she says, is “running for president. Obama is the president.”

When the student says they’re both “just men,” the teacher continues to argue that Romney, as a candidate for president, is not to be afforded the same respect as the president.

The teacher tells the class Obama is “due the respect that every other president is due.”

“Listen, let me tell you something, you will not disrespect the president of the United States in this classroom,” she says.

The student replies that he’ll say what he wants.

“Not about him you won’t,” the teacher says.

Later in the conversation, the teacher tells the class it’s criminal to slander a president.

“Do you realize that people were arrested for saying things bad about Bush?” she says of former President Bush. “Do you realize you are not supposed to slander the president?”

Police Tell Woman to Pay Son's Bail in Cash, Then Steal it

Here's a Wisconsin story that needs more attention, care of former Reasoner Radley Balko:

On Feb. 29, a judge set [Joel] Greer's bail at $7,500, and his mother called the Brown County jail to see where and how she could get him out. "The police specifically told us to bring cash," Greer says. "Not a cashier's check or a credit card. They said cash."

So Greer and her family visited a series of ATMs, and on March 1, she brought the money to the jail, thinking she'd be taking Joel Greer home. But she left without her money, or her son.

Instead jail officials called in the same Drug Task Force that arrested Greer. A drug-sniffing dog inspected the Greers' cash, and about a half-hour later, Beverly Greer said, a police officer told her the dog had alerted to the presence of narcotics on the bills -- and that the police department would be confiscating the bail money. [...]

The Greers had been subjected to civil asset forfeiture, a policy that lets police confiscate money and property even if they can only loosely connect them to drug activity. The cash, or revenue from the property seized, often goes back to the coffers of the police department that confiscated it.

The good news: The Greers eventually got their money back. The bad news: This kind of organized police theft of property from people who are not even charged with a crime is common nationwide.

Read all about it in Balko's February 2010 Reason feature, "The Forfeiture Racket: Police and prosecutors won't give up their license to steal."

Will Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Win Recall Election in a Walkover?

The latest sign that embattled GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is going to survive a recall election slated for June 5? The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, that state's largest paper and no uncritical fan of his (despite endorsing him in 2010), editorializes "We recommend Walker; his recall isn't justified."

We recommend him in the June 5 recall election.

Walker's rematch with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was prompted by one issue: Walker's tough stance with the state's public-employee unions. It's inconceivable that the recall election would be occurring absent that. And a disagreement over a single policy is simply not enough to justify a vote against the governor.

A Marquette Law School Poll in January showed that many people in the Badger State agree. In that poll, 72% of Republicans, 44% of independents and 17% of Democrats said recalls should be limited to criminal wrongdoing. Republican state Rep. Robin Vos has proposed tightening the recall mechanism; he should continue to push for that after the election, regardless of who wins....

While we think Act 10 - the law that clipped the wings of most public-employee unions in the state - was an overreach of political power, we understand and supported the need to rein in the state's labor costs. Municipalities and school districts as well as the state needed more control over their budgets, which Act 10 provided.

But Walker's zeal to give governments more control over their destinies was, we believe, matched only by his zeal to deal a harsh blow to a key Democratic constituency. That has made him a national hero to Republicans.

It's time to end the bickering and get back to the business of the state. We've had our differences with the governor, but he deserves a chance to complete his term. We recommended him in 2010. We see no reason to change that recommendation. We urge voters to support Walker in the June 5 recall election.

More here.

Recent polls show Walker with a 5 percentage point to a 9 percentage point lead over his challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Observers on all sides agree that this recall is important in terms of sending a message about collective-bargaining rights for public-sector employees. A Walker win, goes this line of thinking, shows that voters are serious about restraining compensation for teachers and other public-sector workers. Maybe, maybe not. Voters in Ohio last fall spiked a law doing just that.

Are public-sector workers overcompensated relative to their private-sector analogues? All signs point to yes. Are states and localities massively overextended due to salaries and benefits accorded public-sector workers? Again, all signs point to yes. Does that mean that states will start reeling in the amount of money they're paying out now, not to mention the future? Not so much. Consider even Wisconsin, where's Scott Walker's two-year budget increases total spending by 3 percent.

Note: Read my colleague Shikha Dalmia's blog post on the MJS endorsement of Walker here.

Watch "3 Lies at the Heart of the Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Recall Election" for more.

Explicit content warning: This video contains images of cravat-wearing hipsters playing protest songs on ukeleles. Viewer discretion is advised.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel endorses Scott Walker

Newspaper endorsements are usually not worth a dime (much less the 50 dimes you have to pay for them), especially in prominent races where people know more about the candidates than the pompous editorial writers doing the endorsing. (I know, I was a such a writer for a decade at The Detroit News.) But the fact that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, no fan of Scott Walker's, endorsed him this morning might have some symbolic value. It might not win him any voters given that there are very few undecideds in this election, but despite its mealiness, it might give him some aid and comfort if and when he completes his term. Via the Wall Street Journal, here is what it said:

No governor in recent memory has been so controversial. No governor in America is so polarizing. Everyone has an opinion about Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

Here's ours: We see no reason to remove Walker from office. We recommend him in the June 5 recall election.

Walker's rematch with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was prompted by one issue: Walker's tough stance with the state's public-employee unions. It's inconceivable that the recall election would be occurring absent that. And a disagreement over a single policy is simply not enough to justify a vote against the governor. . . .

Walker brought some of this animosity on himself. He chose an in-your-face style from the start. To his credit, the governor now acknowledges that he did a poor job of building support for his policies. "The one thing if I could go back in time is I would try to spend a little bit more time building the case," he told the Editorial Board earlier this year. . . .

To his credit, Walker has helped to right the state's finances with a minimum of gimmicks—the governor reported recently that the state may be able to book a $154 million surplus next year. This good news has been lost in the clutter surrounding an unnecessary recall election that will cost as much as $18 million just to stage, according to the Government Accountability Board. . . .

And while we think Act 10—the law that clipped the wings of most public-employee unions in the state—was an overreach of political power, we understand and supported the need to rein in the state's labor costs. Municipalities and school districts as well as the state needed more control over their budgets, which Act 10 provided. . . .

It's time to end the bickering and get back to the business of the state. We've had our differences with the governor, but he deserves a chance to complete his term.

What's more, it says that the state's lacklustre job perrformance is not Walker's fault.

Go here for the full endorsement.

Alabama Cops Arrest 18 Strippers for Disrobing Without the Proper License

More occupational licensing madness, this time in Alabama

An early-morning bust at a Birmingham nightclub led to the arrests of 18 dancers and their manager.

The Birmingham Police Department's vice and narcotics team raided the Black Magic Club on Lomb Avenue just after midnight, making more than two dozens arrests total and seizing drugs and guns, police said today.

Police targeted the club after receiving complaints about illegal nude dancers and other illegal activity at the club, said vice and narcotics Lt. Ron Sellers.

Officers did surveillance on the business, and put undercover officers inside the club before carrying out this morning's operation.

The dancers and the club manager were arrested for doing business without a license. Sellers said dancers are licensed to work at a specific club, and these dancers were not licensed for the Black Magic Club. "A lot of these places bring dancers in from outside of Birmingham," Sellers said.

The Institute for Justice released a depressing report on the evils of occupational licensing earlier this month. Among IJ's findings: "States consider an average of 33 days of training and two exams enough preparation for EMTs, but demand 10 times the training—372 days, on average—for cosmetologists." 

CNBC wrote up IJ's report last week

Read more on occupational licensing from Reason and the policy team at the Reason Foundation.

Student Loan Subsidies Redux: For Just $10 a Month, You Can Subsidize Privileged Children

George Will looks at the latest fooferaw over subsidized federal student loans, which includes the humanitarian intervention of keeping loans at 3.4 percent fixed interest rather than going back to the pre-2006 level of 6.8 percent:

The average annual income of high school graduates with no college is $41,288; for college graduates with just a bachelor’s degree it is $71,552. So the one-year difference ($30,264) is more than the average total indebtedness of the two-thirds of students who borrow ($25,250). Taxpayers, most of whom are not college graduates, will pay $6 billion a year to make it slightly easier for some fortunate students to acquire college degrees.

The standard payback period or such loans is 10 years. What's the difference in monthly interest payments between 3.4 percent and 6.8 percent?:

The 6.8 percent rate – private loans for students cost about 12 percent – was itself the result of a federal subsidy. And students have no collateral that can be repossessed in case they default, which 23 percent of those receiving the loans in question do. The maximum loan for third- and fourth-year students is $5,500 a year. The payment difference between 3.4 percent and 6.8 percent is less than $10 a month, so the “problem” involves less than 30 cents a day.

Will also notes that the lower rate was the result of bipartisanship and that presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has already signaled his approval of keeping the rate at 3.4 percent, which costs taxpayers about $6 billion a year.

Whole column here.

Last November, ReasonTV offered up 3 Reasons Not to Bail Out Student Loan Borrowers. Take a look:

A.M. Links: Karzai Thanks U.S. Taxpayers, 2,000+ Wrongful Convictions Since 1989, Bilderberg to Choose Rubio for Romney

  • U.S. taxpayers got a shout out from Hamid Karzai at the NATO summit in Chicago. "I'm bringing to you and to the people of the United States the gratitude of the Afghan people for the support that your taxpayers' money has provided Afghanistan over the past decade and for the difference that it has made to the well-being of the Afghan people," the Afghan president said.
  • A new registry shows at least 2,000 people have  been wrongly convicted in the U.S. since 1989. "Nobody had an inkling of the serious problem of false confessions until we had this data," said Rob Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University.
  • The former Rutgers University student charged with bias intimidation and other crimes related to an incident leading to the suicide of his gay roommate faces sentencing today as gay rights advocates from Jim McGreevey to Dan Savage are calling for him to be spared jail time.
  • Conspiracy theorists say the Bilderberg conference will choose Marco Rubio as Mitt Romney’s 2012 nominee. Like Bilderberg picked Hillary in 2008!
  • The latest allegations against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the almost-President of France and former IMF chief, include gang rape.
  • The Oregon state board of education banned the use of American Indian mascots, because they might be offensive.

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

New at Reason.TV: "The Swing Vote: Why Independent Voters Will Decide the 2012 Election"

Nick Gillespie on Varney & Co., Talking Eduardo Saverin, Greek Bailouts, & Why NATO Shouldn't Exist Anymore

"This is the gesture of a nation in decline."

That's me, talking about Sen. Charles Schumer's attempt to tax Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin on Fox Business' Varney & Co., the fast-moving and always-edifying business show. The topics also Greek bailouts, the NATO summit, and calls for a "Robin Hood" tax on financial transactions.

About four minutes. Go here for more.

Brickbat: The Benefits of Home Ownership

Crowley, Texas, resident David Englett found when he tried to renew his driver's license that he had several outstanding warrants. The warrants were all for code violations at his former home in Arlington. Englett hasn't lived in the house since it was foreclosed two years ago, and he said that he thought it was the bank's responsibility to keep the grass mowed and yard clean. He had to pay Arlington $150 to remove the hold on his license, but officials are still demanding hundreds more in fines.

Brickbat Archive

A Report From Obama’s “Humane” Drug War: “My son screamed for his mother for what seemed like an eternity”

At 5:30 a.m. on May 10, armed men broke into the bedroom of Kirk Kyle Farrar’s 12 year-old daughter and shook her awake. The men led her downstairs at gunpoint and forced her to lie on the floor next to her mother and father, with her hands behind her head. Another armed man took Farrar’s two-year-old son from his crib, and would not let his parents hold him. “My son screamed for his mother for what seemed like an eternity,” Farrar wrote in an email to friends, obtained by Reason. “I will never forget the hopeless feeling of not being able to comfort my son or daughter.”

The armed men who broke into Farrar’s home were officers with the Meridian, Idaho, Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration. They were executing a federal warrant for Farrar’s arrest for the crime of selling bongs.

MORE »

Bipartisan House Coalition Seeks to Lift Domestic Propaganda Ban

Two House members—Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.)—have proposed an amendment that would "neutralize" the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987, both of which strictly govern the creation of propaganda and ban its dissemination on U.S. soil: 

The amendment would “strike the current ban on domestic dissemination” of propaganda material produced by the State Department and the Pentagon, according to the summary of the law at the House Rules Committee's official website.

The bill's supporters say the informational material used overseas to influence foreign audiences is too good to not use at home, and that new techniques are needed to help fight Al-Qaeda, a borderless enemy whose own propaganda reaches Americans online.

The new law would give sweeping powers to the State Department and Pentagon to push television, radio, newspaper, and social media onto the U.S. public. “It removes the protection for Americans,” says a Pentagon official who is concerned about the law. “It removes oversight from the people who want to put out this information. There are no checks and balances. No one knows if the information is accurate, partially accurate, or entirely false.”

According to this official, “senior public affairs” officers within the Department of Defense want to “get rid” of Smith-Mundt and other restrictions because it prevents information activities designed to prop up unpopular policies—like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More from BuzzFeed's Michael Hastings

The Unhappiness of June Cleaver

Liberated by feminism from the June Cleaver role model, I noted in my recent column, "Jack Welch vs. Feminists: The Dumb Debate Over Female CEOs," women have done a better job of striking a work-life balance compared to men whose identities, not having experienced the male version of the feminist revolution, remain wedded to rather backward notions of workplace success. But between stay-at-home moms and career moms, who is happier?

A recent Gallup poll found that it is quite clearly the latter:

The degree of difficulty of being a stay-at-home parent is evident in a new Gallup analysis of more than 60,000 U.S. women interviewed in 2012. Non-employed women with young children at home are more likely than women with young children at home who are employed for pay to report experiencing sadness and anger a lot of the day "yesterday." Stay-at-home moms are also much more likely to report having ever been diagnosed with depression than employed moms. Employed moms are about as emotionally well-off as working women who do not have children at home.

What’s more, found Gallup, it doesn’t matter if moms stay at home out of their own choice or circumstances. They are unhappier than working moms, regardless. Notes Gallup:

non-employed moms who are looking for work and those who are not looking -- to distinguish between those who may not be employed because of circumstance rather than by choice --  are [both] more likely to report anger, sadness, and depression than are employed moms. It is also important to note that these findings are not related to age -- that is, even when controlling for age, stay-at-home moms are emotionally worse off than employed moms…

Stay-at-home moms also lag behind employed moms in terms of their daily positive emotions: They are less likely to say they smiled or laughed a lot, learned something interesting, and experienced enjoyment and happiness "yesterday." Additionally, they are less likely than employed moms to rate their lives highly enough to be considered "thriving."

And does the income of stay-at-home moms matter? In other words, are rich stay-at-home moms better off than poor stay-at-home moms? Interestingly, both groups report the same level of sadness, anger, and depression. However, middle-income and wealthy stay-at-homes moms report more “laughter, enjoyment, happiness, worry, stress, learning something interesting, and having a high life evaluation rating” than poor stay-at-homes." In fact, on these counts, middle- and high-income stay-at-home moms for the most part do as well as employed moms. All of this suggests that although a rich husband can mitigate some of the ennui that comes from feeling unproductive and disengaged with the outside world, he can't mitigate it all.  Some aspects of one’s soul’s wellbeing simply can’t be outsourced.

Gallup summarizes:

While many mothers are rightfully dedicated to parenting as an important and fulfilling vocation, those who desire to work should feel encouraged by these data to pursue it. And for those who choose to stay home, more societal recognition of the difficult job stay-at-home mothers have raising children would perhaps help support them emotionally.

And that's where Gallup should have left it. But it couldn't resist slipping in some silly policy advice:

Of course, for stay-at-home moms who wish to pursue employment, the cost of child care may be prohibitive. Increasing employer-sponsored or other types of subsidized and low-cost child care may be a means to helping create more choices for stay-at-homes. (Emphasis added).

Ensuring that stay-at-home moms are in good emotional shape is critical not only for the sake of these mothers, but also for the sake of their children's and families' wellbeing.

Oh puhlese!

Greg Beato on How Michelle Obama Helped Kill the King-Sized Snickers Bar

Mars Inc., the manufacturer of Snickers, is phasing out chocolate products that exceed 250 calories per portion as part of an agreement with Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA). Founded in 2010 in conjunction with the Let’s Move! program, First Lady Michelle Obama’s government initiative aimed at shaping up the nation’s youth, PHA has a mandate to “monitor and publicly report on the progress” of partners such as Mars and, more generally, to “make the healthy choice the easy choice.” Call it “yes, we can’t!” progressivism, observes Greg Beato. Under the mantle of “choice,” Mars and the PHA are eliminating consumer options.

View this article

Matt Welch Talks SuperPAC/Rev. Wright Politics on MSNBC, Chuck Schumer's Disgusting Ex-PATRIOT Act on Fox Business News

On Friday, May 18, I appeared on a couple of cable news shows to discuss the pressing news of the day. For MSNBC, that was whether a reportedly proposed (then withdrawn) SuperPAC political ad criticizing President Barack Obama's past associations with Rev. Jeremiah Wright represented a new low for politics and whether the controversy was either bad or terrible for presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney:

For Fox Business News, it was the Facebook IPO, about which I slipped in some commentary regarding the political and government response co-founder Eduardo Saverin's renunciation of his U.S. citizenship:

Sheldon Richman on Whether There Is a Libertarian Case for Organized Labor

Who do you imagine said this? “[Trade-unions] seem natural to the passing phase of social evolution, and may have beneficial functions under existing conditions.”

If you guessed some wily labor leader or social democrat, you are wrong. British laissez-faire advocate Herbert Spencer wrote those words in his Principles of Sociology (1896). Because Spencer was the most prominent and respected individualist philosopher of his time, his statement may surprise some readers. But it shouldn’t, writes Sheldon Richman. Our libertarian forebears put the plight of workers at the top of their concerns.

View this article

General Theory Explains Obama Book Catalogue, Hawaii Birth Certificate, and Cherokee Elizabeth Warren

Breitbart.com is getting new mileage out of its discovery of a 1991 literary catalogue which claims that then-aspiring author Barack Obama was born Kenya. 

Literary agent Miriam Goderich took responsibility for the birthplace error in a statement that Nick Gillespie recently called "definitive as definitive can be." 

But the Breitbart folks have now revealed a new facet of the story: that author bios sent out by Jane Dystel’s literary agency (now the Dystel & Goderich agency) are written and submitted by the authors themselves. Writer Steve Boman recounts his own experience with the agency during the nineties: 

In my dealings with Dystel, I found her exceptionally thorough and very professional. She had a template she wanted non-fiction writers to follow, and my writing partner and I followed her template closely...

All material she used in our proposals came directly from me and my writing partner. She edited our rough-draft proposals and gave us feedback, but the final versions were all ours. Our final versions, bio included, were then simply photo-copied, by us, and distributed to potential publishers. This was back in the pre-Google days, recall. 

I was asked to write the bio in the third person... 

Several years later, my writing partner and I returned to Dystel with what we thought was a better proposal... I have pulled that proposal out of my files, and it is sitting on my desk as I write this.

That second proposal logged in at 59 pages, including original art and writing samples. My bio for that proposal was five sentences long. 

The policy appears not to have changed. From the submission requirements at Dystel’s website:  

Finally, there should be a more formal narrative Bio of the author.

This is followed by links that serve as Support Material—reviews of previous books, recent articles by and about you from national publications, a schedule of speaking appearances, any national media appearances, etc.

Now this is all less definitive than Goderich’s statement. (And who wouldn’t take the word of an agent when there’s documentation to the contrary?) But it does show that what I always thought was Andrew Breitbart’s particular genius – the ability to string a story along by releasing bits of new information that contradict the subjects’ denials – appears to live on at the company he founded. 

Does this mean America must head back down the murky corridors of the birthers? Maybe not. I believe we can reconcile Obama’s legitimate Hawaiian birth certificate with the Kenyan-birth claims that, we now know, precede birtherism by nearly two decades. And as it happens, the Democratic Party has recently given us the example we need.  

Thanks to Elizabeth Warren’s heated Senate campaign against Republican Scott Brown, we now know to a pretty fair certainty that the Harvard law professor falsely claimed her family history included membership in the Cherokee Nation. It also appears that Warren used this fake affiliation to further her career. 

Warren’s fictional Cherokee history and Obama’s imagined Kenyan birth share a common point: Neither Warren nor Obama could know the absolute truth about events that took place when they were respectively not alive and newborn. But all children are susceptible to family scuttlebutt. Both Warren and Obama are exceptionally opportunistic people for whom “Close enough for government work” is a permanent way of life. 

So here’s my theory: Obama was born in Hawaii, but at some point in his life he considered it expedient to claim he was born in Kenya. In other words, the myth of the Kenyan birth was invented by Barack Obama himself. 

Maybe (as I suspect was the case for Warren) he was merely making vague reference to stories he’d heard as a child and did not know for sure that the claim was false. Maybe he believed that a foreign birth would confer some extra prestige or exoticism on an up-and-coming community organizer and prose writer. In any event, the only narrative that makes sense of all the elements is this one: Obama himself actively or passively originated the story that he was born in Kenya. 

"Fireworks On Melissa Harris Perry As Ezra Klein And Nick Gillespie Clash"

I appeared earlier today on MSNBC's excellent though decidedly left-of-left-of-center Melissa Harris Perry, talking about a range of topics including the Euro-crisis. We'll have a full tape of the show eventually up at Reason, but in the meantime, here's a writeup of the show, which featured among others the Wash Post's Ezra Klein and The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel, by Mediaite's Frances Martel:

...in the business of chronicling cable news, a debate on austerity and inflation is a pretty hard sell. In a world of Jeremiah Wrights and Sandra Flukes, the Euro crisis is rather low on the personal drama scale. This morning’s Melissa Harris-Perry shattered that conventional wisdom, with The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein and Reason‘s Nick Gillespie going head-to-head on the woes of the Eurozone and whether the nations should continue to spend money, the sort of crosstalk-laden panel discussion host Melissa Harris-Perry had to interrupt to remind them to keep the audience in the loop....

“Europe is in a bank run,” Klein began explaining, arguing that the central question in Europe is “if Greece goes down… does it spread?” Gillespie responded, noting particularly that “inflation is not a good thing,” a point Klein disputed as not being always true. Gillespie disagreed, calling the idea an economists’ dream that “just a little bit of inflation so our money is cheaper” will fix the economy, concluding “it never works out that way… inflation always goes out of control.”

The Nation‘s Katrina Vanden Heuvel jumped in then to declare that “austerity has failed” in her mind, as the world is “witnessing Britain which controls its own currency, and faring worse than the Great Depression; debt is a greater ratio of GDP than it was before the austerity programs.” This comment prompted some crosstalk on the matter, as Gillespie argued the problem with the UK was that they didn’t cut spending, not that they implemented an austerity program. Harris-Perry then jumped in to remind her guests that not all their viewers were that well-acquainted with the nuances of European economics– “we start saying ‘inflationary, margins’ and people just tune.”

The conversation continued, though, in the same vein: a debate on whether it was spending or taxing led Europe to the point it is today. Vanden Heuvel and Klein agreed almost completely that the problem with Europe is a lack of spending at a crucial time; Gillespie disagreed. “This is why Europe is in the toilet, because they have an unrealistic and unsustainable economic model where they’re going to keep spending and keep taxing,” he argued, a point Klein called “not quite right,” arguing that more spending– which European countries had not done to the extent required in his view– would help. Despite being a fairly heated ten minutes over a topic that rarely gets a turn at being dramatic on cable news, it ended on a conciliatory note, with Victoria Defrancesco Soto concluding, “austerity is needed, but to a certain extent.”

Here's a link the MHP site at MSNBC.com, where the show can be viewed in clips.

Chester Arthur and the Original Birther Conspiracy

where's the birth certificate?Library of CongressGiven the brouhaha over the “born in Kenya” claim in a lit agency’s bio of Barack Obama and the Arizona Secretary of State looking for more proof Obama was born in Hawaii, here’s a reminder that President Obama wasn’t the first president dogged by rumors of foreign birth, a 2005 (pre-Obama!) blog post explaining the controversy surrounding Chester Arthur’s place of birth:

Chester Alan Arthur (he pronounced his middle name al-AN) was, according to the official account, born in Fairfield, Vermont, Oct. 5, 1830, the son of Reverend William and Malvina (Stone) Arthur (his gravestone confirms this date). One biographer, Thomas C. Reeves, has concluded that he was born a year earlier—on Oct. 5, 1829— and that Arthur changed the date "no doubt out of simple vanity."

Changing his year of birth is forgivable (Arthur was well beyond the age requirement for the presidency); but could he have changed his place of birth as well? Arthur P. Hinman thought so. Hinman, a New York lawyer, brought the issue to the attention of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in a letter early in August, 1880, while Arthur was yet a candidate for the Vice-Presidency. Arthur evidently had flip-flopped on the issue in the past. One article, dated August 13, quotes a leading Republican in a way reminiscent of more recent campaigns: "Why in —— don't the General come out and say where he was born, and put an end to all this mystery."

Hinman first theorized that General Arthur was born "in Belfast or Aberdeen," before his parents emigrated to America. Arthur could easily dismiss this theory, for he had always maintained that his father emigrated at eighteen years of age—before he married and had children.

Hinman pushed on. The following story appeared in the New York Times of Dec. 22, 1880:

MATERIAL FOR A DEMOCRATIC LIE

ST. ALBANS, Vt., Dec. 21.—A stranger arrived here a few days ago, and registered at the American House as A. P. Hinman, of New-York. Since then he has been very busy in the adjoining town of Fairfield, ostensibly collecting materials for a biography of Vice-President-elect Arthur. He has privately stated to leading Democratic citizens, however, that he is employed by the Democratic National Committee to obtain evidence to show that Gen. Arthur is an unnaturalized foreigner. He claims to have discovered that Gen. Arthur was born in Canada, instead of Fairfield; that his name is Chester Allen instead of Chester Abell [sic]; that he was 50 years old in July instead of October, as has been stated, and generally that he is an alien and ineligible to the office of Vice-President.

Arthur Hinman would publish a book, How A British Subject Became President of the United States, the substance of which was related in a Brooklyn Daily Eagle article dated June 2, 1884:

The main charge of the book is that William Chester Alan Arthur was born in Dunham Flats, Canada, on [sic] March, 1828, and that he represented himself to have been born at North Fairfield, Vermont, the birthplace of a younger brother, Chester Abell Arthur, who was born in 1830, and died a year later. It is stated that in 1834 when another son was born he received the name of William Arthur, Jr., and then the name William was dropped by William Chester Alan Arthur, and he was henceforth known as Chester Alan Arthur. The records, copies of which are given, show that in 1845 Chester Alan Arthur entered Union College, stating his age to be 16.

Reeves dismisses Hinman's theory, while admitting that President Arthur lied about his age. He cites the Arthur family Bible, held at the Library of Congress, which gives the President's year of birth as 1829, and makes no mention of a child named "Chester Abell.

The Swing Vote: Why Independents Will Decide the 2012 Election

"In the past four years, two and a half million people have left the Democratic and Republican parties," explains Linda Killian, author of the new book The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents. Not only are these voters sick of the two dominant parties, Killian believes they are increasingly determining electoral outcomes. "They voted for Barack Obama, they voted for the Democrats in 2006, [but] they swung 19 points in voting for the Republicans in 2010."

Killian sat down with Reason.tv's Nick Gillespie to examine what makes a swing voter, their growing importance, and if their socially tolerant and fiscally responsible viewpoints should buoy libertarians.

Runs about 6.40 minutes

Produced by Meredith Bragg. Camera by Meredith Bragg and Josh Swain.

Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to ReasonTV's YouTube Channel to receive automatic updates when new material goes live.

Morning SpaceX Launch Aborted Due to Engine Problems

Last-second pressure issues in a combustion chamber prompted SpaceX to abort its rocket launch this morning.

Via the Associated Press:

A new private supply ship for the International Space Station remained stuck on the ground Saturday after rocket engine trouble led to a last-second abort of the historic flight.

All nine engines for the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket roared to life Saturday morning. But with a mere half-second remaining before liftoff, the onboard computers automatically shut everything down. So instead of blasting off on a delivery mission to the space station, the rocket stayed on its launch pad amid a plume of engine exhaust.

Tuesday will be the earliest SpaceX will be able to try again. You can watch video of the attempt here.

If you're sad about this temporary setback to efforts to privatize space travel, read our special space-themed February issue and cheer yourself back up.

Capitalism, Creative Destruction, and the 2012 Election

In his 1942 book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, the Austrian-born economist Joseph Schumpeter famously likened the capitalist system to a “perennial gale of creative destruction.” Capitalism, Schumpeter wrote, “is by nature a form or method of economic change and not only never is but never can be stationary.” This dynamic process, he argued, “incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.”

It was a powerful observation then, and it remains no less relevant to our world today, as the French economist Guy Sorman illustrates in an engaging essay entitled “Schumpeter in the White House” appearing in the latest issue of City Journal. As Sorman observes:

Schumpeter believed that progress in a capitalist economy requires that the old give way constantly to the new: production technologies in a free economy improve constantly, and new products and services are always on offer. But this creative transformation also has a destructive side, since it makes earlier products and services—and the workers who provided them—obsolete. Today’s consumers have little reason to buy an oil lamp instead of a lightbulb, or a Sony Walkman instead of an iPod—which can be bad news for the people who manufacture the oil lamp and the Walkman.

Looking back at the history of Western capitalism, we can see how the discovery of new energy sources, new communications systems, and new financial instruments regularly demolished old ways of doing things. When this happened, the result was typically short-term pain, as certain workers found themselves displaced, and sometimes even what appeared to be economic crises; but there was also substantial long-term gain, as the economy became more efficient and productive.

When it comes to explaining Schumpeter and his ideas, Sorman’s essay is a great resource. But Sorman stands on shakier ground when he turns his attention to the 2012 U.S. presidential election, which he frames as a partial referendum on Schumpeterian economics. Here’s Sorman again:

The 2012 presidential race will be, in part, a showdown between two different models of economic growth. President Barack Obama and his Democratic administration will defend the once-discredited and now-resurgent theory that government must act as the economy’s “tutor” and use public funds to stimulate it. The Republican nominee, presumably Mitt Romney, will advance the free-market argument that the main source of new growth is the innovative energy of American entrepreneurs and that government needs to get out of the way.

It’s nice to imagine a major party presidential candidate advancing a genuine free-market agenda rooted in the idea of creative destruction—but where’s the evidence that this unlikely event will actually occur this calendar year? Sure, Romney and other Republicans will mouth the usual pro-capitalist platitudes, but as my colleague Peter Suderman observed yesterday, “As for gutting government, Republican legislators may talk a big game about federal spending, but that doesn’t mean they vote accordingly.” And let's not forget that Republican President George W. Bush also used public funds to stimulate the economy. Regardless of how the 2012 election turns out, I’m afraid we won't be seeing Schumpeter in the White House anytime soon.

Nick Gillespie on Red Eye w Greg Gutfeld Talking Elizabeth Warren, Mitt Romney, & Less

I was on Fox News' Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld, along with former Bush press secretary (and current The Five Host) Dana Perino, Vice mag co-founder Gavin McInnes, and regulars Bill Schulz and Andy Levy.

We lived, laffed, and loved for an hour while talking about Elizabeth Warren's dubious claims to native American heritage, Will Smith's walk-back on paying more in taxes, and whether Mitt Romney can beat Barack Obama by talking about non-events from like a thousand years ago.

Click above to watch or go here for more.

Follow me on the Twitter.

Baylen Linnekin on Why Parents and Kids Should Opt Out of School Lunch

School food is always a hot topic, and is perhaps more so now than it’s ever been. From a publicity standpoint, school food has recently taken off as an issue largely due to the efforts of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and First Lady Michelle Obama. But viewed from the standpoint of edibility, cost, and healthiness, food served by public schools via the USDA’s National School Lunch Program was already an issue because that program and its food have a decades-long track record of sucking. And in spite of the best efforts of Oliver and Mrs. Obama, along with new government rules set to take effect in the coming months, there’s little reason to be optimistic that the quality of school food will improve anytime soon. As Baylen Linnekin, executive director of the nonprofit Keep Food Legal, writes, it’s time for parents and families to take back control of what their kids are eating.

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Arizona Secretary of State Asks Hawaii to Verify President Obama’s Birth, Hawaii Asks Arizona Secretary of State to Verify Himself

Though Arizona’s Secretary of State says he’s not a birther, he sure sounds like one: “I’m not a birther; I believe the president was born in Hawaii — or at least I hope he was,” Ken Bennett said in a radio interview this week.    Apparently, that’s why he asked Hawaii two months ago to provide “verification” that Barack Obama was born there. Hawaii’s response? Go verify yourself! From TPM:

In the weeks since then, Bennett said, Hawaii officials have forced him to provide proof that he is who he says he is. They asked him to send them copies of the Arizona laws that prove the secretary of state really is the person in charge of handling the ballots. Admittedly, Bennett said they told him they were “tired of all the requests.” But he is continuing anyway.

Looks like someone in Hawaii has a sense of humor. Seriously though, while Bennett claims he’s not playing to birthers, it’s hard to see why Bennett would waste his time, not to mention taxpayers’ money, on these theatrics if he wasn’t using the opportunity to build his support up ahead of the 2014 Arizona gubernatorial election in which he’s expected to compete. The birther issue is a popular one there.

Read Nick Gillespie’s take on the latest fodder for the birthers, the Obama bio from his literary agency that mistakenly said he was born in Kenya.

The End of a Libertarian Era: Freedom Communications Selling Off in Chunks

As Warren Buffett expands his media holdings by buying 63 small newspapers this week (shouldn’t he be giving that money to the government?), a much more liberty-oriented media empire is dismantling.

Freedom Communications Inc., founded by irascible libertarian pontificator R.C. Hoiles as Freedom Newspapers in the 1930s, announced the sale of its Midwest newspapers on Thursday and Texas newspapers today. This follows the sale of all its television stations in April as well as a few individual papers in smaller deals. Aside from the company’s two metro newspapers – The Orange County Register (Calif.) and The Gazette (Colorado Springs) – the sales leave the media company with a handful of community dailies and weeklies in California, North Carolina and Florida.

Hoiles was considered radical for his time and would still be considered radical were he still alive (probably even moreso now). As Reason’s Brian Doherty documented in his book, Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement (go buy it!), Hoiles was a vocal opponent of unions and forced public schooling. He believed in voluntary contributions for public services rather than coercive taxation, even for police. He was fined for violating wage control laws during World War II for giving out a raise. He also opposed the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and believed in open immigration.

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As His Anti-Detainment Amendment to the NDAA Loses in the House, Justin Amash Reminds the Floor That the Constitution Protects People, Not Just Citizens

After a midnight debate on the House floor, the Smith-Amash anti-indefinite detainment amendment (sponsored by Reps. Adam Smith and Justin Amash and supported by other congresskids) to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) failed. The final vote was 182-237, with a mere 19 Republicans joined the unsurprisingly crashed anti-detainment party.

(The GOP's toothless pro-Habeas Corpus Amendment passed, but that, as Mother Jones notes, is not the point of contention. The point is that accusations of terrorism are a catch-all for completely destroying civil liberties.) So, hello $640 billion NDAA 2013! Detainment powers intact! And always with increased military spending. (Four billion more!)

So, what now? We're doomed to choke on our own empire-buildig, right?

Unless U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest's blocking of the worst bits of the NDAA holds up, that is. And her judgement that plaintiff and journalist Chris Hedges had the standing to actually challenge the NDAA definitely bodes well, but the death of the Smith-Amash amendment is not good.

Still, to grasp at further straws of optimism, last night Amash actually managed to sneak onto the House floor a bracing reminder that even with all the (righteous) panic over American citizens being detained most people forgot that non-citizens within the borders of the country are supposed to have protections, too. Constitutional protections apply to "persons" not just "citizens" railed Amash. Check it out.

Amash expresses a Ron Paul-like opposition to unconstitutional wars. He has also raised the very Paul-like point about how gosh, we think it's just a little intervention with a few airstrikes in instances like Libya, but a couple of foreign planes over America would make everyone agree that this is a war. 

Meanwhile, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs/Now Heritage Foundation expert Charles Stimson helped draft a letter which objected to the failed amendment. Stimson claimed on Fox News earlier this week that the Amash-Smith amendment would "encourage terrorists" to come to the U.S. Also, "we're still at war" and it's bad to "take any options off the table." Others folks, such as Congressman Tom Rooney, are of the opinion that that Amash is interested in "coddling terrorists." 

No. Amash is just that disturbingly rare creature (especially among politicians) who remembers two oft-forgotten facts. In the orgy of murderous self-absorption that is foreign policy, it helps to recall that people who weren't lucky enough to be born Americans are in fact still people; And to defend suspected terrorists is not to defend terrorism. The government doesn't exactly have a flawless record in grabbing the right people. And to defend the rights of non-citizens from detainment without charge is not to defend the guy caught flying over Detroit with a lit fuse in his underwear. It's to defend the the hundreds of thousands of other, grayer cases than that. 

And really, since the war on terror has no end, how long do people like Stimson think "we are still at war" will hold up as an excuse? (Forever. The answer is forever.) 

He also argued the old standby that the NDAA "simply codifies" what was already law. (U.S. District Judge Forrest disagrees with this Obama-friendly argument.) But laws that were once envelope-pushing outrage become more and more just precedent upon precedent. And then Americans (and people all over the world) lose more and more freedom. I've already just about accepted the NDAA. I'm waiting for the next government thing now.

Reason on the NDAA, on Justin Amash, and on the war on terror

Phonehenge Architect Sentenced to Pay For Demolition, "See Dead People"

Kim Fahey, the retired phone company repairman who built a fantastic and whimsical fort known as "Phonehenge" out of old telephone poles in the middle of the Mojave Desert, has been sentenced to repay the $83,488 it cost the county to demolish his creation, reports the Washington Post:

Superior Court Judge Daviann L. Mitchell told Fahey that he must pay $50 a month in restitution. He ordered a July 27 progress report.

The 59-year-old retired phone company technician was convicted of a dozen misdemeanor building code violations. Fahey never got building permits for the structures, which included a 70-foot tower, and authorities said the compound was a danger.

In a more bizarre turn, the judge is also requiring Fahey to work for five days in the coroner's office. According to Fahey's defense attorney Jerry Lennon, the judge wanted to teach him a lesson about the potential deadly consequences of building unpermitted structures in the middle of the desert:

“The judge thought it was an extreme fire danger and I guess she just wanted him to see dead people,” Lennon said.

Reason.tv highlighted Fahey's case in a video produced with LA Weekly's Mars Melnicoff, which examined Los Angeles County's code enforcement policies, particularly the seemingly arbitrary deployment of so-called Nuisance Abatement Teams (NATs) against citizens of the barren Antelope Valley.

Ed Krayewski on This Weekend's NATO Summit in Chicago

The NATO summit set to start Sunday in Chicago will be the first such gathering in the United States since the alliance met in Washington for its 50th anniversary in 1999. Atop the agenda this weekend will be Afghanistan, where America is embroiled in its eleventh year of war. Lip service to austerity, in the form of “smart defense” and “burden sharing,” will also be given at the summit, which is expected to cost the city of Chicago about $55 million. Just don’t expect NATO officials to do any soul-searching while they’re in town. Instead, writes Ed Krayewski, the summit will be heavy on self-aggrandizement and feature plenty of flimsy justifications for future “humanitarian interventions.”

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NDAA Reform Fails, Minnesota GOP Gets Libertarianized, Schumer Shuns Tax Refugees: P.M. Links

  • Saying, "the plaintiffs have in fact lost certain First Amendment freedoms as a result of the enactment" of Section 1021 of the NDAA, letting the military detain anyone it suspects "substantially supported" accused terrorist groups, Judge Katherine Forrest issued a preliminary injunction against those provisions. Meanwhile,  Rep. Tom Rooney smeared Rep. Justin Amash's efforts to eliminate the military's authority to detain individuals without due process as trying to "coddle foreign enemy combatants," setting the tone as the House voted down the amendment.
  • Under fire for "drone strike" assassinations performed without due process, sometimes on U.S. citizens, with known innocent casualties, government officials are considering sharing more information in hopes of winning support for the program.
  • Americans Elect, the establishment-backed effort to groom a high-profile centrist, "problem-solving" presidential candidate, admitted defeat after nobody interested in the nomination raised sufficient support. (HT Eduard van Haalen) The Washington Post painted the failure of the bloodless, "non-ideological" effort as the death-knell for third parties in general.
  • Chen Guangcheng's nephew, accused of attempted murder for defending himself against Chinese officials who stormed his house seeking his activist uncle, won't be permitted representation by a human rights attorney.
  • The Minnesota Republican Party is on the verge of a takeover by young, political-newbie libertarians. They challenge not only the old-guard's ideology, but its financial-management skills.
  • Sen. Charles Schumer thinks that people who flee America's tax collectors are, nevertheless, desperate to drop in for a visit, and should be denied U.S. hospitality unless they cough up lots of cash. It's sort of like extortion, but it's not, because ...
  • In advance of the NATO summit in Chicago, lawyers say police preemptively and illegally raided an apartment where activists planning protests are staying, and arrested nine of the occupants.

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The TSA Can't Say Whether Full-Body Scanners Work, Because Its Failures Are Classified

You can thank Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and his fizzled underwear bomb for the big rollout of full-body airport scanners that began in 2010, shortly after the Nigerian terrorist tried to bring down a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009. But it might make more sense to blame the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), since it seems quite unlikely that the machines would have detected the explosive powder sewn into his briefs. In a March 2010 report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said "it remains unclear whether the AIT [advanced imaging technology] would have been able to detect the weapon Mr. Abdulmutallab used in his attempted attack." Things became clearer this month following another aborted underwear bombing, this one involving a double agent working for Saudi intelligence. After all, why would Al Qaeda try the same technique again, now that we have all those expensive machines peering through passengers' clothing, looking for just this sort of device?

"Quite frankly," an unnamed but "high-ranking" Department of Homeland Security official told The New York Times last week, "I think the likelihood is high that he or she or whatever the device was would have been picked up through the screening abroad at the last point of departure, based on what we have in place in those locations and the partnerships we have." Notably, this official did not say the explosives would have shown up on a full-body scanner. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, pressed this point at a May 9 congressional hearing:

"Just yesterday," Mr. Issa began, "Janet Napolitano — Secretary Napolitano — said there is a high likelihood that Advanced Imaging Technology would have detected the new sophisticated underwear bomb used in the recent or attempted to be used in the recent plot in Yemen. Do you agree that there is a high likelihood that advanced imaging would have caught the new bomb?" he asked [a GAO] auditor who had worked on an examination of the T.S.A.

"That's a very interesting question," said Stephen Lord, the director of homeland security and justice issues for the Government Accountability Office. "I would have great difficulty answering that in open sessions, sir. We've done a classified report."

Mr. Issa said: “We'll take that, and I'm going to predict that it's going to be no, they couldn't. But the actual answer will remain classified."

Well, not really. Issa presumably has seen the full report, so he knows the answer is no. Likewise Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who recently told The New York Times, "The latest device, which was designed specifically to thwart what we’ve got in place, probably would've gotten through rather easily." TSA Administrator John Pistole conceded that "no one knows without equivocation whether that kind of device would get through until we test it." A report issued last week by Issa's committee and Mica's committee calls the AIT scanners "ineffective." Pistole says "we're working with the manufacturers to improve the technology." He emphasizes that the scanners are just "one of the layers of defense against potential bombs." Ah, the layers! Even if none of them works on its own, together they achieve a security synergy that stops underwear bombers. Notice how former TSA Administrator Kip Hawley dances around the effectiveness of full-body scanners in his comments to the Times:

The screening is vastly improved since 2009. The question is whether the person would have gotten the bomb on, and would the bomb have worked. On both of those I would say no.

No, the question is whether these expensive, privacy-invading machines can detect a form-fitting underwear bomb, which was the justification for installing so many of them and for using them as a primary screening tool. Hawley's evasiveness is reminiscent of the TSA's response to the dude who posted a video in March explaining "How to Get Anything Through TSA Nude Body Scanners."  As Mike Riggs noted, a TSA blogger replied that "for obvious security reasons, we can't discuss our technology's detection capability in detail," while assuring the flying public that "imaging technology has been extremely effective in the field" but cautioning that AIT scanners are just "one layer of our 20 layers of security." Two of the other layers he mentioned: "behavior detection," which Mica points out has never been validated, and "federal air marshals," which Ohio State University political scientist John Mueller and University of Newcastle engineering professor Mark Newcastle deem "not worth the money" in their 2011 book on anti-terrorism measures.

In a 2010 column, I noted the short-lived passenger rebellion against full-body scanners. For additional examples of fighting terrorism with invasive incompetence, see J.D. Tuccille's recent piece telling "The Terrible Truth About the TSA" and James Bovard's classic 2004 exposé "Dominate. Intimidate. Control." More on the TSA here.

Mitt Romney, Servant of the Radical Right?

The liberal line about Mitt Romney these days is that he is a closet radical who has managed to convince people that he’s actually a mushy moderate.

At The American Prospect, Jamelle Bouie makes the best possible version of this case: that although Mitt Romney may not be a true-believing radical at his core, he is nonetheless functionally an extreme conservative — not because of some preexisting ideological or policy commitments, but because he is, as the piece’s title says, “a servant of the right.” Romney, the logic goes, allows his outlook to be shaped by those around him, and will be a conservative radical because he’ll be serving conservative radicals.

The problem with this argument is that it requires the existence of a dedicated class of conservative radicals in Congress. And while Republicans on Capitol Hill are certainly more conservative than Bouie would like, I’m not sure they’re nearly as radical as he suggests in his piece.

The modern Republican party, Bouie writes, aims to “gut government” and “revive the age of Calvin Coolidge,” decimating the welfare state in the process:  

When Romney and Obama cast this election as a choice between two competing visions, they’re right. The 2012 campaign isn’t a case of overblown rhetoric and minor differences; the winner of this battle will either protect the future American welfare state or set it on a path to destruction.

But today’s welfare state owes no small debt to Republican governance and policy ideas: ObamaCare was based closely on an idea developed by conservative think tankers and first passed at the state level by Mitt Romney. Medicare’s prescription drug benefit — the biggest single federal health benefit expansion since the program began — was passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by a Republican President. The Medicare hospital and physician payment controls that liberal health wonks now spend so much time trying to tweak were passed and implemented under GOP administrations. 

Nor is there much evidence that Republicans now aim to set the existing welfare state on a “path to destruction.” This year's GOP House budget plan made almost no changes to Social Security. Despite the GOP’s objections to the president’s health law, reports this week suggest that Republicans legislators are, at minimum, deeply squeamish about repealing many of its policy goodies.

Yes, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s proposed Medicare overhaul would slowly transition the program to a premium support system, but that’s an idea originally developed by Henry Aaron, a prominent liberal health wonk. And while it’s true that Aaron no longer supports converting Medicare to premium support (at least for now), former Clinton budget director Alice Rivlin and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who for years was one of Congress’ most outspoken advocates of universal coverage, have both expressed support for versions of Ryan's plan. Supporting Ryan’s Medicare overhaul, in other words, does not require one to be a fire breathing anti-entitlement radical.

As for gutting government, Republican legislators may talk a big game about federal spending, but that doesn’t mean they vote accordingly. Even amongst the most recent class of House freshmen — the supposed “Tea Party radicals” swept into office in 2010 — seemingly obvious votes against spending cuts, program closures, and corporate welfare boondoggles are far from sure things. As Cato’s Ted DeHaven notes, last week gave House members three opportunities to vote against federal spending. Yet only 26 and 87 House GOP freshman actually voted against spending cuts in all three cases. The freshman radicals are, for all practical purposes, no different from their conventional, free-spending Republican elders. As The Washington Post reported on Tuesday, GOP “freshmen voted with the fiscally conservative point of view an average of 71 percent of the time — only slightly higher than other incumbent Republicans, who toed the line 69 percent of the time.” When it comes to the practical reality of federal spending, the GOP hasn't changed all that much. 

Like Bouie, I don’t believe that Romney is someone with strong personal ideological convictions. As I argued in my March cover story on the former Massachusetts governor , Romney is best viewed as a sort of consultant candidate: Rather than lead on policies and issues, he reflects a slicker version his clients back to themselves. But I see little sustained evidence that the Republican party is quite as radical as Bouie seems to think.

What’s more, I suspect that as the campaign continues, Romney will soften his positions even further, subtly shifting toward the center. During the primary, the GOP base was his only client, and he courted them by playing to their biases. But the party faithful won't always dominate Romney's campaign. As the general election approaches, Romney’s potential client base will expand and moderate. And if history is any indication, so will Romney's rhetoric and policy positions. 

Judge Won't Open the Water Tap in Tombstone's Battle With the Feds

Those of us interested in western-style battles over water rights and land use (and who among us isn't?) or just intrigued by doings in small towns where historic gunfights are reenacted every day at 2 p.m., should be interested to know that Tombstone, Arizona, is on the verge of going dry. That's no-water-dry, since last summer's Monument Fire torched the town's 1880s-era waterlines to springs in the Huachuca Mountains, and left the town dependent on a few inadequate wells. The U.S. Forest Service has thrown up physical and legal roadblocks to repairs, and now a federal judge has thumbs-downed a request for an emergency injunction against the feds to allow work to go ahead.

Tension between westerners and federal officials over land use is nothing new, with D.C.-based control-freakery often arrayed against an authentic, old-fashioned desire to use stuff without paying for it, but Tombstone would seem to have an expecially strong case. Its waterlines were constructed by the forward-thinking Huachuca Water Company long before wilderness designation was applied to the route — a designation that bans the the use of motorized or mechanized devices. The Forest Service sees no need to grandfather the town's claim to the water route, or to ease restrictions, which leaves town workers stuck using picks and shovels to get the water flowing again. Rangers threatened city workers with arrest when they brought in an excavator. Even the use of wheelbarrows had to be negotiated. CNN has a nice description of what this means:

If uncovering the springs was hard, hooking them up to the pipeline was even more challenging. Rudd's team dug trenches by hand in some places, ran PVC pipe along the top of the ground in others, laying down about 10,000 feet. Except for the one time they drove an excavator up in October, Tombstone's workers have done the work by hand, just as it was in the late 1870s.

On the day of CNN's visit, about 20 prison inmates worked the pipeline. For three days, they carried sections of pipe up the mountain on their shoulders and dug trenches. Tombstone showed its gratitude with pizza.

"I can't thank you guys enough," Rudd said. He estimates the inmates saved him and his small crew about six weeks' worth of work.

A few days later, Rudd was able to connect two of the biggest springs and direct the water into a makeshift basin downstream. Since the beginning of March, work has slowed because the Mexican spotted owl, an endangered species, is said to be nesting in the peaks above the pipeline.

Rudd doubts there are any owls up there.

The Goldwater Institute represents Tombstone in its legal battle against the Forest Service, saying it "seeks to uphold the principle that the 10th Amendment protects states and their subdivisions from federal regulations that prevent them from using and enjoying their property in order to fulfill the essential functions of protecting public health and safety." But Goldwater and Tombstone were dealt a setback this week when Judge Frank Zapata of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona ruled that there is no justification for an emergency injunction. He claimed the city failed to provide enough information to allow the Forest Service to issue permits, the better part of a year into the process.

With a Tenth Amendment argument in hand, the Goldwater Institute is headed for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and vows to go to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.

Before then, Tombstone is assembling a volunteer "shovel brigade" on June 8 and 9 to repair the line and protest the Forest Service's heavy hand.

Of course, don't miss my comic-adventure novel High Desert Barbecue, which features wildfires, western-style land disputes and a cast of odd heroes and perversely inept (ineptly perverse?) villains.

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! No, It’s… a Drone, or a Hoax

A YouTube video purporting to show a drone in the skies outside Chicago a week before the NATO Summit has made it all across the internet and even to a local CBS affiliate.

The video, below, hasn’t been confirmed by anyone, and the military says it doesn’t recognize the markings. Only a few years ago, the best a video like that could hope for is to be picked up for a documentary on UFOs or something. It shares many of the same elements as countless hoax UFO videos on YouTube. It’s likely a hoax too, but because the idea that drones are indeed coming to American airspace isn’t, this video’s caught the imagination of bloggers and reporters alike.

Read Judge Napolitano lament the coming of drones to America here, and watch the video below to judge for yourself:

UPDATE: Via Commenter Jingles, what looks very much like the source image for the drone "in" the video.

The Trillion Dollar Sure Thing, Or Business Consultants Say the Darnedest Things

Over at the Harvard Business Review, Washington University in St. Louis professor of strategy Anne Marie Knott has published, The Trillion Dollar R&D Fix, in which she claims that by short-sightedly under-investing in R&D American business executives are leaving trillions of dollars on the table. She comes to her conclusions by running a regression analysis aiming to uncover the effectiveness of R&D spending using data from 610 publicly traded companies from 1981 to 2006. Professor Knott finds: 

A new metric for R&D productivity—which I call RQ, short for research quotient—can change all that. RQ allows you to estimate the effectiveness of your R&D investment relative to the competition and to see how changes in your R&D expenditure affect the bottom line and, most important, your company’s market value. My research—which includes a comprehensive analysis of all publicly traded companies in the U.S.—suggests that if the top 20 firms traded on U.S. exchanges had optimized their 2010 R&D spending using the RQ method, the collective increase in market cap would have been an astonishing $1 trillion.

Amazing if true. However, over at The Atlantic Monthly blog, Jim Manzi, founder and Chairman of Applied Predictive Technologies, argues that Professor Knott's analysis is largely bunk. Manzi is the author of the insightful new book, Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics and Society (which I review in an upcoming issue of The American Conservative.) Manzi explains:

For example, Knott claims that she knows that Apple would have maximized its market value by spending $9.5 billion on R&D in 2010 They actually spent $1.8 billion. That's a fairly incredible claim. She thinks that what is generally conceded to be a management team that is pretty savvy about innovation underspent on R&D by more than 400 percent -- Apple ought to have quintupled its R&D spending in 2010. As another example, Knott claims that Dow Chemical could have roughly doubled its total market capitalization by increasing its R&D spending by 10 percent. That's a lot of money for them to leave on the table. And a very easy fix.

Knott claims that if just the top 20 American corporations had followed her recommendations, they would have collectively increased their market capitalization by more than $1 trillion. Consider this assertion for a moment The current total market capitalization of the top 20 U.S. public companies is a little over $4 trillion. Knott claims that she has outsmarted the entire system of management teams, investors, equity analysts, hedge funds, large-scale private equity firms and everyone else who is trying to change management practices to increase share price, and knows how to increase the total value of the most-closely followed companies in the world by almost 25 percent....by building a regression model using publicly-available data.

If you could rely on Knott's predictions, you could raise capital, buy these companies, change R&D spending in line with her model, and then sell them again at an enormous profit. You could start with Dow, because you know how to double its share price.

Maybe Knott has discovered an incredible, remediable market inefficiency, and somebody is about to get very, very rich. Or maybe there's a problem with her model.

Manzi shows that there is a problem with her model. It is no doubt the case that some companies do under-invest in R&D and that some over-invest, but can a one-size-fits-all formula really capture the information needed by a business executive to navigate his company through the competitive marketplace? In his new book, Manzi persuasively shows why everyone should be highly skeptical of results emanating from regression analyses of truly complicated social phenomena. The whole Atlantic Monthly Manzi post, There is no Easy Button for R&D, is well worth reading. 

A. Barton Hinkle on the Case for a Romney-Paul Ticket

Picking Paul as his running mate would enable Romney to draft the Texas congressman’s revolutionary army—or at least a good portion of it. It also would give the ticket something else it has lacked up to this point: spine. Romney is notorious for changing his positions on the issues, writes A. Barton Hinkle, while Paul is widely admired for sticking to his (mostly) libertarian principles.

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Ron Paul Roundup: Taking Minnesota, Backed by a Still-Dedicated Revolution

Ron Paul moves into Minnesota this weekend on his continued quest to come into Tampa with as many Paul delegates as possible. 

*How Ron Paul people are shaking up the state GOP in Minnesota, where Paul may well walk out after this weekend's state convention controlling its delegation to the national convention in Tampa in August. You are wondering: what does T-Paw think?

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, said this week that he thinks the GOP establishment should welcome Paul supporters with open arms and embrace their energy instead of view it as a negative.  

"You have to tip your cap to them. They show up. They're working hard," Pawlenty said of the Paul faction after delivering a policy speech Monday at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs. "So we want them to be part of the Republican team."

*The Star-Tribune focuses on the conflict between Paulites and other Republicans in Minnesota:

Paul supporters have already flexed their might in the state's Republican Party. They claim 20 of the 24 national delegates already selected at local Republican gatherings. They ousted a GOP insider from the party's ruling body and thwarted some sitting lawmakers' attempts at party positions....The 12-term Texas congressman will address the convention Friday night. It's a privilege he was denied four years ago and supporters have stewed about the slight ever since.

"Starting with the Minnesota State Convention this weekend, our movement has an opportunity to secure more delegates, take control of more local and state parties ... to achieve lasting victory in the years to come," said John Tate, Paul's campaign manager.

That promise to "take control" is making some longtime Republicans queasy. Republicans who have labored in the party trenches for years consider the Paul supporters upstarts who refuse to see the difference between Democratic President Obama and Romney.

"The hideous Ron Paul invasion of the Minnesota Republican Party is not quite over ... but enough evidence is in hand to draw some grim conclusions for those who are not enamored of a ... fringe cult political figure who speaks to alienated, fairly ignorant and frequently unwashed lost souls," said longtime Republican activist John Gilmore on his blog this week.

Gilmore said he has no doubt that Paul's support will overflow during this year's Republican state convention.

On Saturday, state delegates are scheduled to select delegates to the party's national convention in August in Tampa, Fla.

Behind the scenes, party officials have worked frantically to keep the antipathy between the pro-Romney folks and Paul supporters at bay during the two-day state convention.

State Republican Party Chairman Pat Shortridge said he hopes that in exchange for Paul being welcomed, his supporters will allow the convention to proceed without conflict.

"Everybody is happy as far as I can tell," said Shortridge, who was picked as a state delegate by the Paul-friendly "Liberty Caucus."

Paul will be allowed to speak at the convention only after delegates finish endorsing a U.S. Senate candidate, but his voice may be heard even before he appears. In the three-way Senate contest, Paul and many of his Minnesota supporters are backing the bid of first-term state Rep. Kurt Bills.

*NPR on Paul in Minnesota, which points out it seems near certain he'll come out of it controlling the delegation--that is, having "won Minnesota."

*The Paul folks efforts to win delegates in the Michigan convention also this weekend, from Detroit News.

*With Paul people controlling the state Party in Nevada, Atlantic reports on Romney's people starting their own "shadow party" to do the pro-Romney things they fear the real Party won't.

*Ed Morrissey says that in his long game of Party influence, Ron Paul has already won.

*Talking Points Memo on fear of Paul-fan generated tumult in Tampa, inside and outside.

*At the Ron Paul Forums, Paul partisans say: No Romney. And also, that they are still trying to make sure Paul wins.

*New Paulite SuperPAC Liberty For All, spending over half a million to promote Kentucky federal congressional candidate Thomas Massie.

*Although the campaign itself says it has no problem with apparent efforts on the part of the party openly supporting the candidate who is not yet its official nominee, Paul partisans in Clark County, Nevada, called for the resignation of RNC chief Reince Priebus for that.

*Mark Hendrickson at Forbes with the wild idea that Romney might be able to appeal to Paul people by promising an actual hard halt to spending no more than $3 trillion a year.

*He still says he has "no plans" to make a third party run. Deadlines to get on the presidential ballot in most states is looming, though they stretch from June to August depending on the state in question.

*W. James Antle on the Paul strategy post "no more active campaigning in primary states" announcement, from American Conservative.

*Time with a history of online comments from Paul fans.

*Business Insider on my new book, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.

Is Meat Male?, Asks New Study

Duh. This terrific new insight about guys is reported in a study published in the current issue of the Journal of Consumer Research (sub required). These findings come out just in time to kick off the summer grilling season. ScienceDaily notes

"We examined whether people in Western cultures have a metaphoric link between meat and men," write authors Paul Rozin (University of Pennsylvania), Julia M. Hormes (Louisiana State University), Myles S. Faith (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), and Brian Wansink (Cornell University). The answer, they found, was a strong connection between eating meat -- especially muscle meat, like steak -- and masculinity.

In a number of experiments that looked at metaphors and certain foods, like meat and milk, the authors found that people rated meat as more masculine than vegetables. They also found that meat generated more masculine words when people discussed it, and that people viewed male meat eaters as being more masculine than non-meat eaters.

Most of the studies took place in the United States and Britain, but the authors also analyzed 23 languages that use gendered pronouns. They discovered that across most languages, meat was related to the male gender.

No doubt paleoanthropologists who have been going on for years about the sexual division of labor among primitive peoples, you know all that stuff about hunting vs. gathering, will be relieved to have their research further bolstered by these insights from modern marketers. 

Oddly, ScienceDaily wonders why male consumers avoid vegetarian options. It is possible that men choose steaks, bacon, and burgers over veggies because they taste better?  

Steven Greenhut on Jerry Brown’s Broken Budget

Gov. Jerry Brown promised California an honest budget. But as Steven Greenhut observes, Brown failed to keep his word. Just like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis before him, Brown didn’t have the courage or political skill to bring state spending in line with revenues, so he relied on overly aggressive economic forecasts to paper over the enduring mess. In reality, Greenhut writes, Brown has no interest in cutting government, even though the state’s still-huge budget is filled with waste, inefficiency, and redundancy. The state government meddles in just about every aspect of its residents’ lives. California’s cost to provide services is far higher than most other states, thanks largely to the enormous overhead exacted from a public sector that enjoys the most lush pension and health care benefits in the nation. And while a growing economy could surely bring in new revenues, Brown and other state leaders are too busy punishing the private sector to understand any economic common sense.

View this article

Jacob Sullum Discusses the Right to Record Cops on RT

Yesterday Senior Editor Jacob Sullum appeared on RT to discuss the right to record police officers, in light of a recent ruling by a federal appeals court suggesting that the Illinois Eavesdropping Act violates the First Amendment. 

What is an Astronaut's Life Worth?: An Interview with Robert Zubrin

"You're saying that you're going to give up four billion dollars to avoid a one in seven chance of killing an astronaut, you're basically saying an astronaut's life is worth twenty-eight billion dollars," says astronautical engineer and author Dr. Robert Zubrin.  

Zubrin, the author of a popular and controversial article in Reason's space-centric February 2012 Special Issue, argues that the risk of losing one of the seven astronauts who repaired and rescued the Hubble Space Telescope was well worth it. "If you put this extreme value on the life of an astronaut...then you never fly, and you get a space agency which costs seventeen billion dollars a year and accomplishes nothing."

NASA's role, according to Zubrin, should be in the pursuit of ambitious missions such as "opening Mars to humanity," rather than a bloated, safety-obsessed bureaucracy. "The mission has to come first."

Runs about 3.50 minutes.

Produced by Anthony L. Fisher. Camera by Meredith Bragg and Josh Swain.

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

We Had to Kill the Villagers to Save Americans From the Cocaine They Want

Lucio Baquedano, the mayor of Ahuas, Honduras, says a U.S.-assisted anti-drug operation there last week left four innocent people dead, including two pregnant women. He says police mistook a fishing canoe for a boat carrying cocaine traffickers and fired on it from a helicopter. Villagers rioted in protest, burning down government buildings and demanding that agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), who participated in the operation as part of a commando-style Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST), leave the area and stay out. An unnamed "U.S. official" said the DEA agents did not fire any rounds during the raid, which seized about 1,000 pounds of cocaine, and he questioned Baquedano's account:

The US official briefed on the matter expressed doubts that villagers would be out fishing in the middle of the night, near where helicopters carrying armed police had landed nearly an hour earlier. The large number of people unloading the plane in the video, the official said, was evidence that many members of the impoverished community of Ahuas were involved in lucrative narcotics trafficking.

“There is nothing in the local village that was unknown, a surprise, or a mystery about this,"’ the official said. "What happened was that, for the first time in the history of Ahuas, Honduran law enforcement interfered with narcotics smuggling."

The logic here seems to be that everyone in the town was complicit in the cocaine trade, so there is no such thing as an innocent victim. Even if Honduran police, who said they were returning fire from a boat that arrived as they were seizing the cocaine, did kill some villagers who were out fishing, they and their unborn children pretty much had it coming. Thus the literalized War on Drugs takes a step beyond regrettable "collateral damage" with the argument that anyone close enough to the action to get hurt probably was aiding the enemy.

As Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann notes, even the concept of collateral damage is inappropriate in this situation:

The basic distinction between the criminal justice system and a war is that the former does not tolerate "collateral casualties," whereas the latter regards them as an inevitable cost of military conflict. DEA agents are never permitted to be involved in the killing of innocent people, whether or not they are in pursuit of criminal suspects. What happened in Honduras appears to have crossed the line... 

Neither the drug czar nor anyone else in the Obama administration, or even in the Bush administration before that, likes to use the phrase "the war on drugs." But what happened in Honduras last week suggests that U.S. drug policy abroad—and often in the U.S.—increasingly resembles a real war, despite U.S. officials’ efforts to abandon that rhetoric.

Worse, it is a never-ending war with the unattainable (and undesirable) goal of achieving "a drug-free society." Even in this context, measures like last week's raid stand out as worse than futile. Seizing those 1,000 pounds of cocaine was not worth risking a single person's life, since it accomplished absolutely nothing of consequence, even as measured by the drug warriors' goal of reducing the supply of cocaine or raising its price. Governments can create black markets by fiat, but they cannot control the ever-adaptable operation of those markets, which will always override attempts to disrupt production or block supply routes. Is it any wonder that Latin American leaders are increasingly angry about arrogant U.S. demands that they participate in the vain crusade to stop Americans from getting the drugs they want? 

Addendum: Mike Riggs noted the allegations about the Honduras raid yesterday. 

Drilling for Dollars, In Your Kid's Mouth

Over at Bloomberg.com, a disturbing story describes health care management services companies doing unnecessary dental work on unwilling patients. "Some of them have been riding a boom in Medicaid outlays on dentistry, which rose 63 percent to $7.4 billion between 2007 and 2010, outstripping the 4.9 percent growth in other dental spending," Bloomberg reports. While taxpayers provide the funds, school systems provide lots of patients, sometimes without their families' consent. For example:

In August 2010, [dentist Ralph] Green's lawyer appeared before the Arizona dental board to answer a complaint that ReachOut did unnecessary drilling on a Phoenix student's teeth -- even after the student's mother, Valerie Davila, told the company she was seeing a family dentist and didn't need any work.

The 6-year-old, Sabrina Martinez, suffered "unnecessary pain," Davila said. "Imagine if it was your child."

There were two children with the same name at the school, and the work was done on the wrong Sabrina Martinez, Green's lawyer, Jeff Tonner, told the dental board.

Then there's this allegation:

In San Diego, Tina Richardson's third grader, Alexander Henry, came home in March with four baby teeth missing after a school session with a ReachOut-affiliated dentist that was so painful he "waved his arms frantically," "pushed everyone off him" and "bled so badly that they had to send him to the nurse's office," according to her complaint with the state dental board. Among other things, Richardson said the consent process wasn't valid.

Richardson said Alexander had seen a dentist nine days earlier who didn't recommend any teeth pulling. Although she signed a consent form in September covering many procedures including extractions, she said she didn't sign another one that came in November seeking permission to take out three teeth. No one from ReachOut called to discuss the proposed procedures, she said.

The reporter approaches the story from a number of angles, some more compelling than others. There's less than I'd like about what was going on in the schools that allowed such abuses to occur, more than I'd like about legislation aimed at the companies' business model rather than their access to public money and to the schools' captive clientele. (A North Carolina bill backed by the incumbent dental industry, for example, "would subject agreements between dentists and the companies to state approval.") The article meanders a lot as well, as big Bloomberg exposés often do. But caveats aside, it's a disquieting tour through the perverse incentives created by public spending, the disregard some school systems apparently have for informed consent, and the sleazy operations eager to take advantage of the situation.

Elsewhere in Reason: Peter Suderman on Medicare fraud.

Walter Olson on Nicholas Kristof's Bogus Anti-Beer Crusade

Is there a New York Times columnist as insufferably moralistic as Nicholas Kristof? Last week Kristof mounted yet another of his high-horse save-the-children campaigns, this time against beermasters Anheuser-Busch. Kristof asks readers to join his boycott of the leading brewer for (he says) improperly permitting its output to be sold in large volumes in tiny Whiteclay, Neb., just across the state line from the Oglala Sioux's Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Though notionally dry, the reservation is in practice wracked with alcoholism. Yet as Olson reports, Kristof’s sloppy and biased attack fails to mention a number of facts that contradict his argument.

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Reason Writers at the Movies: Peter Suderman Reviews Battleship

Blockbuster parody or blockbuster disaster? Reviewing Battleship, a megabudget sci-fi spectacular based on a classic board game, Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman argues that it's hard to tell: 

The only reasonable way to explain “Battleship” is that it is actually a deft and subtle satire of the big-budget Hollywood action blockbuster, an exaggerated reflection of the form’s worst tendencies and a sly test of its theoretical limits. How else to justify its lazy conceptual gimmickry, cynical deployment of meaningless cliches, spastic narrative, visual incoherence and indifferent boredom with itself?

I say that this is the only reasonable interpretation of the movie because the alternative — that director Peter Berg is not kidding, that this cannon blast of formulaic ineptitude is in fact meant to be enjoyed straightforwardly as entertainment — is simply too depressing to ponder.

Taken as satire, however, “Battleship” is a work of subversive sophistication that exposes the emptiness of the modern summer action film.

There’s the kitschy clunkiness of the dialogue, a brain-melting blend of substance-free sloganeering and impenetrable expository technobabble, and the hyperactive editing and camera work that might have future medical use as a migraine simulator. There’s also the story, which appears to have been duct-taped together from the unused leftovers of a slew of older blockbusters, and the drooling fetishization of military hardware, which makes “Transformers” and “Armaggedon” director Michael Bay’s oeuvre look positively anti-war.

And there’s the movie’s subtle, self-referencing symbolism.

Read the whole thing at The Washington Times

"Non-White" Births Outstrip "White" Births for First Time, Says Census Bureau

Yesterday, the Census Bureau issued a press release announcing that for the first time the percentage of babies born to "minority" parents was greater than those born to "majority" parents. From the press release:

The U.S. Census Bureau today released a set of estimates showing that 50.4 percent of our nation's population younger than age 1 were minorities as of July 1, 2011. This is up from 49.5 percent from the 2010 Census taken April 1, 2010. A minority is anyone who is not single-race white and not Hispanic.

The population younger than age 5 was 49.7 percent minority in 2011, up from 49.0 percent in 2010. A population greater than 50 percent minority is considered “majority-minority.”

These are the first set of population estimates by race, Hispanic origin, age and sex since the 2010 Census. They examine population change for these groups nationally, as well as within all states and counties, between Census Day (April 1, 2010) and July 1, 2011. Also released were population estimates for Puerto Rico and its municipios by age and sex.

There were 114 million minorities in 2011, or 36.6 percent of the U.S. population. In 2010, it stood at 36.1 percent.

There were five majority-minority states or equivalents in 2011: Hawaii (77.1 percent minority), the District of Columbia (64.7 percent), California (60.3 percent), New Mexico (59.8 percent) and Texas (55.2 percent). No other state had a minority population greater than 46.4 percent of the total.

More than 11 percent (348) of the nation's 3,143 counties were majority-minority as of July 1, 2011, with nine of these counties achieving this status since April 1, 2010. Maverick, Texas, had the largest share (96.8 percent) of its population in minority groups, followed by Webb, Texas (96.4 percent) and Wade Hampton Census Area, Alaska (96.2 percent).

The first question should be, who cares? The categories of the ethinc groups constituting what counts as minority and majority are arbitrarily defined by Federal law. In my earlier column, The Silly Panic Over a Minority White Nation, I pointed out that for many early 20th Century nativists lots of other ethnic groups did not qualify as "white." I specifically noted: 

...the classic 1922 anti-immigration screed by Saturday Evening Post correspondent Kenneth Roberts, Why Europe Leaves Home: A True Account of the Reasons which Cause Central Europeans to Overrun America. “The American nation was founded and developed by the Nordic race,” asserted Roberts. “If a few more million members of the Alpine, Mediterranean and Semitic races are poured among us, the result must inevitably be a hybrid race of people as worthless and futile as the good-for-nothing mongrels of Central America and Southeastern Europe.”

Nativists like Roberts did not think that Italians, Jews, and Slavs, etc. were "white." So I did some rough calculations looking at percentages of Americans who are descended from those earlier "minority" groups, and I found: 

...adding up all of the “non-white” groups, one finds that they and their descendants now total 184 million out of 313 million citizens, constituting nearly 60 percent of the country’s current population. But how can that be? After all, the Census Bureau notes, “In the 2010 Census, just over one-third of the U.S. population reported their race and ethnicity as something other than non-Hispanic white alone (i.e. "minority").” The answer to this conundrum is that Italians, Poles, Jews, and the Irish are now considered “white.”

It is this fact that renders silly and nearly meaningless the pronouncement that “whites” will be a minority in this country by 2050. By 2050, just as the earlier waves of Irish, Italian, Jewish, and Polish immigrants were assimilated, so too will today’s Hispanic immigrants and their descendants be. For all intents and purposes, Hispanics will become as “white” as Irish, Italians, Jews, and Poles.

Meanwhile Roberts’ worst fear of the “mongrelization” of the races in America is being realized. The rising intermarriage rate between members of the arbitrarily defined and federally recognized ethnic groups demonstrates ever-lessening concern by Americans about this issue. It is my hope and belief that Americans of whatever ancestry living in 2050 will look back and wonder why ever did anyone care about the ethnic makeup of the American population. America is an ideal, not a tribe.

In the 1950s the Census Bureau could have issued a press release proclaiming the advent of the new "majority minority" nation based on the growing percentage of births from Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, Polish-Americans, etc. And yet, the Census Bureau's non-story made the front pages of nearly every major newspaper, yesterday. I guess tribalism sells. 

About the Book Agency Entry Saying Obama Was Born in Kenya...

Breitbart.com has released a 1991 catalog from a book agency representing Barack Obama. In the agency's bio of the future president, it says he was born in...Kenya. The book project mentioned in the copy never saw the light of day, though Obama did go on to pen the best-selling and highly (and rightly, in my opinion) acclaimed Dreams From My Father.

Breitbart's Joel Pollak underscores that he (like Andrew Breitbart) is not a birther:

The errant Obama biography in the Acton & Dystel booklet does not contradict the authenticity of Obama's birth certificate. Moreover, several contemporaneous accounts of Obama’s background describe Obama as having been born in Hawaii.

But the site released the booklet at part of what it's calling "The Vetting," or an in-depth look at Obama it says the mainstream media failed to do during the 2008 campaign. The relevance of the document, says Pollak,

The biography does, however, fit a pattern in which Obama--or the people representing and supporting him--manipulate his public persona.

David Maraniss's forthcoming biography of Obama has reportedly confirmed, for example, that a girlfriend Obama described in Dreams from My Father was, in fact, an amalgam of several separate individuals....

Obama has been known frequently to fictionalize aspects of his own life. During his 2008 campaign, for instance, Obama claimed that his dying mother had fought with insurance companies over coverage for her cancer treatments. 

That turned out to be untrue, but Obama has repeated the story--which even the Washington Post called "misleading"--in a campaign video for the 2012 election.

More here.

One of the literary agents responsible for the booklet has flatly said she made a mistake in the copy:

Miriam Goderich edited the text of the bio; she is now a partner at the Dystel & Goderich agency, which lists Obama as one of its current clients.

"This was nothing more than a fact checking error by me--an agency assistant at the time," Goderich wrote in an emailed statement to Yahoo News. "There was never any information given to us by Obama in any of his correspondence or other communications suggesting in any way that he was born in Kenya and not Hawaii. I hope you can communicate to your readers that this was a simple mistake and nothing more."

That's as definitive as definitive can be, even as Obama's most-ardent champions must agree this sort of thing is a pretty good catch by the Breitbart.com crew. When you're in a race that's heating up, this sort of blast from the past is the last thing with which you want to be dealing.

As I said last night on Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld, if Obama's opponents cannot beat him based on his thoroughly documented and generally terrible record as president of the United States, I can't imagine how this sort of material will save them. Like George W. Bush before him, Obama has been godawful as president, overseeing a failed stimulus plan, expanded bailouts to Wall Street and automakers, increased deportations of immigrants and raids on medical marijuana dispensaries, extra-constitutionally expansions of military power and executive privilege, you name it.

There's no question that this sort of document may add to the idea that Obama is willing to edit and revise his life story depending on circumstance (the insurance company story about this mother's treatments strikes me as a more telling example, since Obama is not really implicated in the author booklet in the same way). But a willingness to recast oneself depending on circumstance is not unique to Obama. It's what politicians do. If Republicans insist on using this sort of thing - or past associations with Jeremiah Wright, or whether he hugged critical race theorists, etc. - they will not only lose in November but deserve to lose. If Democrats foreground stories of Mitt Romney putting a dog in a cage on top of his car during a family vacation or the kookiness of Joseph Smith's theology, they will lose too. Deservedly.

Whatever politicians and their handlers do to avoid talking about their actual legislative records and prescriptions for current issues, they needn't get away with it. The real "vetting" is not what Obama - or Romney, or whomever - did 20, 30, or 40 years ago as private citizens. It's what they've done in the offices that are most relevant to the office they're seeking, and what they plan to do in the future.

Kurt Loder on The Samaritan and Lovely Molly

The Samaritan stars Samuel L. Jackson as Foley, an old grifter just out of the slam after doing 25 years on a murder rap. Determined to go straight, he becomes involved with a young woman half his age and begins to envision a happy, law-abiding life that could lie ahead of them. Then, as is always the case in this sort of by-the-numbers neo-noir, Foley’s violent past comes calling, with inevitably unfortunate results.

Lovely Molly, meanwhile, is a familiar “found footage” style of supernatural horror thriller from director Eduardo Sánchez, who has been little heard from since 1999, when he and film-school buddy Daniel Myrick whipped up The Blair Witch Project, a micro-budget movie that went on to gross $248-million worldwide. Kurt Loder reviews both new movies.

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The Misguided Anti-Filibuster Crusade of Progressives

When it comes to ending the filibuster, Ezra Klein over at the Washington Post has discovered his inner constitutionalist. Klein and his fellow liberals have been kvetching about the filibuster ever since it forced Democrats to engage in inelegant procedural calisthenics to pass ObamaCare. Thanks to it, 41 united Republicans prevented 59 Democrats from bringing the bill to the Senate floor for a straight up or down vote, forcing Democrats to go “nuclear.” This unspeakable travesty has traumatized Democrats and they’ve been champing at the bit ever since to remove this dangerous tool from the hands of evil, obstructionist Republicans.

Here’s what Michael Conan of the New America Foundation said at the peak of the ObamaCare debate in November 2009:

Reforming the way Washington operates is hardly the sexiest of topics, but from a policy and even a political perspective, there are few more important issues on which Democrats should be focusing their energy. Quite simply, the filibuster has become the single tool that is undercutting everything Obama and the Democrats were elected to achieve.

Both parties have historically used the filibuster, but its overuse by modern Republicans stands at outrageous proportions.

And to help Dems make their case for abolishing the filibuster, Klein is arguing that not only is the filibuster not in the constitution, it is actually unconstitutional.

Klein relies for his analysis on one Emmet Bondurant whom he describes as a “go-to lawyer when a business-person can’t afford to lose a lawsuit.” Klein in no doubt trumpeting Bondurant’s pro-business bona fides to imply that he is a conservative and not Klein’s bedfellow. However, trying to establish credibility by disassociation sounds fishy to me given that Bondurant has launched a lawsuit to get the Supreme Court to scrap the filibuster.

In any case, using Bondurant, Klein claims that the filibuster is the product of a historical accident. It came into existence in 1806 when (after killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel) Aaron Burr killed something called the “previous question” motion as part of his noble effort to cleanup redundant laws from the books. That was the motion that senators used to end debate. Burr, in his infinite (un)wisdom, argued that Senators were all gentlemen so they knew when to stop talking and so there was no point in having such a rule in place.

No one exploited the loophole Burr created for three decades. Even subsequently, it was an annoyance only occasionally deployed. But now Republicans are using it to effectively require a supermajority of 60 Senators to pass all major legislations, something that the Founders actively opposed, Klein claims:

 The framers debated requiring a supermajority in Congress to pass anything. But they rejected that idea.

In Federalist 22, Alexander Hamilton savaged the idea of a supermajority Congress, writing that “its real operation is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of government and to substitute the pleasure, caprice or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent or corrupt junta, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority.”

In Federalist 58, James Madison wasn’t much kinder to the concept. “In all cases where justice or the general good might require new laws to be passed, or active measures to be pursued, the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed. It would be no longer the majority that would rule; the power would be transferred to the minority.”

In the end, the Constitution prescribed six instances in which Congress would require more than a majority vote: impeaching the president, expelling members, overriding a presidential veto of a bill or order, ratifying treaties and amending the Constitution. And as Bondurant writes, “The Framers were aware of the established rule of construction, expressio unius est exclusio alterius, and that by adopting these six exceptions to the principle of majority rule, they were excluding other exceptions.” By contrast, in the Bill of Rights, the Founders were careful to state that “the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

What choice does a gal have when Klein quotes Hamilton and Madison but to quote…..Harry Reid, the Democratic Speaker of the Senate? Likening filibuster reform to opening a “Pandora’s Box” in his 2008 book The Good Fight, Reid wrote:

It was just a matter of time before a Senate leader who couldn’t get his way on something moved to eliminate the filibuster for regular business…And that, simply put, would be the end of the United States Senate … A filibuster is the minority’s way of not allowing the majority to shut off debate, and without robust debate, the Senate is crippled.

Amen.

Reid has since changed his tune and is saying that he is now opposed to the filibuster because of continuous Republican abuse and is even contemplating legislation to scrap it. So crippling the Senate for future generations is better than letting Republicans raise a little hell now and then? How is that for enlightened thinking?

Moving on.

Klein might well be right that a filibuster contradicts the views of the Founders (although, out of curiosity, I’d like someone to tell me what the more libertarian-minded Thomas Jefferson, had to say about it). But scrapping the filibuster won’t be good for other things that the Founders seemed to care about more deeply than majoritarian rule such as: individual liberty, limited government and checks and balances between various branches of government (not just the balance-of-power between large and small states that Klein alludes to).

There is nothing sacred about the filibuster, or any procedural rule for that matter, of course. Such rules are not ends in themselves. They are means to ends. And so the question for partisans of limited government is does the filibuster help or hurt their goal?

If, say, Democrats were trying to scrap the Patriot Act against Republican wishes, then Republicans filibuster would be bad. Conversely, if Republicans wanted to deregulate the airline industry or cut entitlement spending against Democratic wishes, then a Democratic filibuster would be bad.

But by and large those are not the kinds of issues that preoccupy our elected leaders. Neither party’s politicos are much inclined to sit around in their august offices thinking up of creative ways to cut government and give up their own powers. To the contrary. The vast bulk of Congressional business involves expanding government. In such circumstances, odds are, every time the opposition, whether Democratic or Republican, uses the filibuster, it will end up doing more good than harm.

Democrats are pissed off because filibuster rules have prevented them from enacting their grand plans even when they controlled all the branches of government. But for limited government types that precisely is its beauty.

What’s more, ending the filibuster will also mean that a president who controls Congress will have little incentive to reach out to his political opponents.  This might be fine with Democrats so long as President Obama is in office. But do they really want a President Romney with the help of 51 Senate Republicans (not an impossibility in the next election) saying “bug off” to Democrats in order to, say, raise middle classes taxes to make the American military so powerful that “no one will ever think of challenging us?”

As they say, be careful what you wish for….

(Actually, I’ll wager that Democrats will drop their anti-filibuster crusade the minute President Obama hops onto the helicopter for Chicago from the White House lawn. They are only revving up it up now just in case he doesn’t and they keep control of the Senate.)

A.M. Links: White House Leaked Bin Laden Details, U.S. Easing Burma Sanctions, Greek Tragedy Continues

  • Leaks to two New York Times national security reporters about operational details of the bin Laden raid actually came from the White House, one of the reporters explained at the opening of the Counter Terror Expo in Washington, as the national security reporters also explained how sensitive they were to government and military requests to sit on stories that could harm ongoing operations.
  • The United States is easing sanctions on Myanmar, allowing the export of financial services and investment into the country known as Burma until the army took over in 1989. The special envoy will also be elevated to the status of Ambassador. Some restrictions will remain. “The United States remains concerned about Burma’s closed political system, its treatment of minorities and detention of political prisoners, and its relationship with North Korea,” President Obama said in a statement.
  • Greece has found a government to lead it, into next month’s repeat elections.
  • The leader of the far left party leading in the polls for that election, meanwhile, said it wouldn’t be in the European Union’s best interests to cut off funding to Greece. SYRIZA’s Alexis Tsipras predicted, in fact, that the euro would collapse if Greece withdrew from the currency. The country’s credit rating was downgraded further into junk status by Fitch’s.
  • The House Appropriations Committee approved a marked-up 2013 State Department funding bill that would re-instate the “Mexico City policy,” prohibiting NGOs who receive U.S. aid from providing or promoting abortions.
  • TED, the non-profit dedicating itself to “ideas worth sharing,” was accused of “censoring” a talk by a venture capitalist about income inequality and job creation it opted not to post online. TED called the censorship accusation misleading, panning the contents of the talk, and releasing the video.

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New at Reason TV: "Three Lies About the Scott Walker Recall"

 

Watch Nick Gillespie on Varney & Co. around 10.30AM ET

I'll be on Fox Business' Varney & Co. around 10.30AM ET this morning, talking Robin Hood taxes, Greek bailouts, and the "Ex-Patriot Act," proposed by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) to take one last tax bite from rich people fleeing U.S. citizenship.

More details here.

While Rep. Justin Amash Pushes His Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, A Judge Has Temporarily Blocked Portions of the NDAA on First and Fifth Amendment Grounds

On Wednesday, a federal judged blocked Section 1021, (AKA the indefinite detainment provision) of the the highly controversial National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest agreed with journalist Chris Hedges, writer Noam Chomsky, Mr. Pentagon Papers Daniel Ellsberg, and several other plaintiffs who argued in January that the NDAA might just have a chilling effect on free expression. Forrest also agreed that it violated the Fifth Amendment right to due process and that the thing just didn't "pass Constitutional muster."

So says AP, Forrest erred on the side of freedom:

"An individual could run the risk of substantially supporting or directly supporting an associated force without even being aware that he or she was doing so,” the judge said.

She said the law also gave the government authority to move against individuals who engage in political speech with views that “may be extreme and unpopular as measured against views of an average individual.

“That, however, is precisely what the First Amendment protects,” Forrest wrote.

Hedges, the author, FYI, of the kick-ass volume War is a Force That Give Us Meaning, has interviewed members of 17 different terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Hedges testified in January, when he and several other people sued to overturn the law, that he has had to rethink his reporting for fear of running afoul of the NDAA. He dubbed the decision a victory for free speech and called it "momentous." it is, however, temporary. 

The New York Times also notes why the judge changed her mind:

Judge Forrest, whom Mr. Obama appointed last year, noted that Justice Department lawyers repeatedly declined to say that the plaintiffs’ conduct would not make them subject to being detained. Her ruling was celebrated by civil liberties advocates as an unexpected victory for individual rights in an era in which courts have largely acquiesced to sweeping claims of national security powers by the government.

But it also drew a puzzled reaction from some legal specialists, who argued that the practical effect of the injunction was uncertain. They said it was not clear what it meant to enjoin the enforcement of a statute in which Congress offered its interpretation of another statute, the 2001 use-of-force authorization.

Judge Forrest also said her preliminary injunction was “pending further proceedings in this court or remedial action by Congress mooting the need for such further proceedings.” The timing of her decision aligned closely with a renewed push in the House to impose explicit limits on the government’s power to use indefinite detention in cases that arise on domestic soil.

Here is RT video of Hedges discussing his the lawsuit and why he fears the NDAA, from earlier this month.

Meanwhile, scrappy young Congressman and advocate for actually reading bills before he votes on them, Justin Amash, is preparing to speak on the House floor about his (and Democrat Adam Smith's) amendment to the NDAA. The amendment, which would explicitly say that the NDAA cannot apply to accused domestic terrorists, could potentially come up for a vote as early as Friday. Rep. Ron Paul is a fan, but the number of supporters are seemingly fairly small. The Huffington Post noted that "Smith was unwilling to say if he thought the measure would pass."

Remember, the NDAA may not be as bad as the tiny Alex Jones who lives in the head of every sensible, government-fearing individual screams. But it's bad, and it's vague, And its fans tend to not be fans of liberty. For example, Rep. Tom Rooney, the backer of H.R. 347, today accused Amash of wanting to "coddle" terrorists for his opposition to the NDAA. And National Review's Andrew C. McCarthy is very opposed to the "libertarian extremist"'s amendment, calling it a "Terrorist Bill of Rights."

And really, it would be terrific if government could at least decide on the question of whether they get to indefinitely detain you or not. The vagueness of it (which is tied to whatever the hell the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force actually allows) makes it harder to fight against and gives fodder to people like McCarthy who think to object to the NDAA is just fearmongering. 

Reason on the NDAA

Prison Study: Equal Sexual Misconduct from Inmates, Staff

A new U.S. Department of Justice survey shows prison inmates are just as likely to face sexual misconduct by facility staff as from their bunkmates.

A study released this month, based on surveys gathered in 2008 from former state prisoners, reports nearly 10 percent of inmates have experienced some sort of sexual misconduct while imprisoned. Of those, half indicated the misconduct took place at the hands of facility staff. One out of 20 former state prisoners reported a sexual incident with a prison facility employee. Only one out of five of these former prisoners said the sexual contact with staff was unwilling. The government, however, classifies all sexual activity between inmates and staff as nonconsensual.

CBS reported the study results as part of an effort by the White House to push all detention facilities to fight harder against prison rape. New regulations are afoot:

The new regulations are immediately binding on federal prisons. They include screening inmates for the potential of sexual victimization and using that information in housing and work assignments, requiring background checks on employees, keeping juvenile inmates away from adult inmates, and requiring evidence preservation after a reported incident and requiring termination as the presumptive punishment for staff members.

States who don't fall in line face a loss of 5 percent of their Justice Department prison money unless their governor certifies that the same amount of money is being used to be bring the state into compliance. Prison accreditation organizations also will be banned from getting federal grants unless they include similar anti-prison rape standards in their accreditation process.

Your eyes might boggle at the idea that background checks for employees and terminating employees for sexual misconduct weren’t already binding regulations.

The study [pdf] has some interesting (and of course, horrifying) highlights worth going over. A full 79 percent of all reported misconduct between inmates and staff involved male prisoners with female employees, not the other way around. Half the inmates who engaged in sexual activities with staff reported being offered special privileges or favors. A quarter had been bribed or blackmailed.

The “don't drop the soap” fear is also still sadly valid: 34 percent of all bisexual male prisoners and 39 percent of all gay male prisoners reported being sexually victimized by other male inmates, by far the highest incident rates in the list of sexual demographics.

Catch Nick Gillespie on Fox News Red Eye With Greg Gutfeld Tonight!

I'll be on Fox News Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld tonight at 3AM ET. Along with regulars Bill Schulz and Andy Levy, other guests will include Gavin McInnes and Dana Perino.

Among the topics: Elizabeth Warren's fake claims of native-American heritage, celebrity tax rebels, GOP super Pac attacks on President Obama's past friends, and more.

Should Gay Marriage Advocates Be Wary of the Supreme Court?

Back in February Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered a speech at Columbia University where she criticized the Court’s abortion rights-affirming 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade because “it moved too far too fast” and provoked decades of bitter political fighting. “It’s not that the judgment was wrong,” Ginsburg said, it was that the country wasn’t quite ready to accept a decision legalizing abortion in all 50 states. “Things might have turned out differently if the court had been more restrained,” she observed. As I noted at the time, Ginsburg’s comments on Roe might also apply to the issue of gay marriage, which the Supreme Court is likely to take on sometime in the next few years. Should gay marriage advocates try to postpone this looming Supreme Court fight and focus instead on first winning more victories at the state level?

At least one advocate of gay rights thinks so. Writing in The Los Angeles Times, liberal Georgia State University law professor Eric Segall makes the case for keeping the Supreme Court out of the gay marriage debate:

President Obama did the right thing last week by (finally) coming out in favor of marriage equality for all people. Gays and lesbians should have the same rights as heterosexuals to marry, and the president's explicit support should further that goal. But if the Supreme Court forces that change on the American people (through litigation over California's Proposition 8 or other cases), the probable backlash would be substantial and might well do more damage than good to the future of gay rights and other important causes.

I'm less convinced that a ruling in favor of gay marriage would spark a sustained Roe-style backlash. But either way, the board is set and the pieces are moving. A Supreme Court showdown over gay marriage seems increasingly inevitable.

Attn. New York City Reasonoids! TONIGHT!! Come See Ron Paul's rEVOLution Author Brian Doherty at a 8 p.m. May 17 Event

I'll be talking about my just-released book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired in New York City, Willamsburg sector in Brooklyn, in an interesting setting. Details from the blog of my host Todd Seavey:  

Thursday, May 17 (at 8pm), the Dionysium (sister series to the popular events by that name held in Austin, TX) begins with main speaker Brian Doherty, talking to me (your Dionysium host and moderator) about his new book Ron Paul’s Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired. 

It happens at 2 Havemeyer St. (three blocks east of Bedford Ave., the easily-reached first subway stop into Williamsburg on the L), on the second floor, directly above the space soon to house the bar Muchmore’s.  Enter through the side door on N. 9th St.

Though my libertarian views and Brian’s are well known, the Dionysium is a non-partisan crucible of skeptical analysis and varied entertainments – and Brian has a sense of humor – so join us even if you are merely bemused by the one remaining non-Romney candidate for the Republican nomination and want to know whence he came. 

I've enjoyed past NYC events hosted by Todd, and lots of amusing rowdiness is likely. If you can make it, please do. See the typically complicated big-city instructions above: although it is on Havemeyer St., you enter on the side door on N. 9th St. What do I know, I live in Los Angeles.

My most recent Reason.tv video on Ron Paul's youth appeal:

Cross-posted at the dedicated Ron Paul's Revolution blog/site.

J.D. Tuccille on the Terrible Truth About the TSA

We don't all all agree on whether the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has any business groping toddlers or destroying expensive medical equipment in the pursuit of its appointed mission of keeping travelers safe from scary terrorists. Security expert Bruce Schneier calls it all pointless and oppressive "security theater" intended to make the government look responsive, while Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) describes intrusive measures as "very important" and pushes for even stronger stuff. But necessary evil or not, writes J.D. Tuccille, one thing is increasingly apparent: The TSA is spectacularly inefficient and inept at everything it tries to do.

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Money Flees From Eurozone, Gary Johnson Polling at 7% in NH, Rosa Parks Estate In Dispute: P.M. Links

  • Capital flight isn't just a Greek phenomenon — billions of euros are pouring from Belgium, France, Italy and Spain, with much landing in the UK, as depositors go hunting for safe havens for their money.
  • Saying, "I do not believe a republic can exist if you permit the military to arrest American citizens and put them in secret prisons and be denied a trial," Ron Paul added his liberty-loving support to a bill sponsored by Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., and Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich, that would ensure due process rights are guaranteed to anyone detained in the United States.
  • Not only is Mitt Romney matching the incumbent president's tepidity of support, but also his fundraising. The GOP candidate brought in $40.1 million in April, close to Obama's $43.6 million haul.
  • George Zimmerman was diagnosed with a broken nose, two black eyes and lacerations after his encounter with Trayvon Martin, lending support to his story that the shooting of Martin occurred in response to an assault. Autopsy results on Martin showed injuries to his knuckles.
  • Gary Johnson is polling at seven percent in New Hampshire and six percent in North Carolina. Added to his standing in other recent state-level polls, he seems nicely positioned to make Barry and Mitt sweat a little.
  • New scientific evidence supports something java heads have always known: coffee is good for you and extends life. Just don't get between us and the pot.
  • The estate of civil rights icon Rosa Parks was looted, claims attorney Stephen G. Cohen, who has filed suit alleging Judge Freddie Burton Jr. conspired with probate lawyers John Chase Jr. and Melvin Jefferson Jr. to run up unnecessary legal fees and freeze out Parks's intended heirs.
  • Ever-vigilant to shield residents from ... something, Massachusetts officials dispatched armed environmental police to shut down an ice cream stand at a public dairy farm after manager, Mark Duffy, expanded the stand without a permit. Said a puzzled Duffy, who lives on the farm, "I make improvements every single day and have for 26 years." (HT db)

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Utah School Fined $15,862 for Accidentally Selling Soda at Lunch

In order to remain eligible for federal subsidies for school lunches, officials at Davis High School in Salt Lake City, Utah, knew they weren't allowed to have active vending machines selling soda and candy in the school lunchroom during the 47-minute lunch period.

But rules designed to keep kids from washing down their lunches with something fizzy can be tricky. That lesson was driven home when the state Office of Education's Child Nutrition Program hit the school with a $15,862 fine—75 cents per violation over the period of many months that it turns out students had been illicitly selling soda in the school store.

Fearing more fines, the school has pulled the plug on all of its vending until it can figure out what the rules require. Because students eat lunch in the hallways, vending may actually be banned throughout the school. 

A local ABC affiliate reports that the school is considering extreme measures:

There are also plans at Davis High to put soda and candy vending machines in a converted janitor’s closet, with a door, to comply with federal guidelines. 

Meanwhile, the kids lose twice because of the mistakes of their elders, says Davis High School Principal Dee Burton:

Compounding the situation in the long term, the school vending machines generate revenue to help fund nonrevenue-related school activities such as debate, new computers for the classroom, or royalties for the songs used in the school musical, Burton said.

"The money we'll lose by not being able to sell the items amounts to thousands and thousands of dollars," he said.

The school will also have to the cover the cost of the fine out of general funds. 

For lots more Reason on the subversive history of the vending machine, start here and click backward unto eternity.

Regulating the Innovation Out of Charter Schools

Yesterday evening, I spent an hour and a half at my son's charter school, listening to the married couple who founded the place in 1995 explain that they were exhausted and overwhelmed by a steadily growing regulatory burden, and that's why they were turning over the keys to a multi-school management company. EdKey Inc./Sequoia Schools, the company assuming the responsibility, has a decent reputation and a good track record, but the passing of the torch has troubling implications for those of us who see school choice as not just an opportunity for private enterprise, but for a diversity of approaches to maximize the chances of reaching a world of very different kids.

My son's school uses a curriculum developed at Hillsdale College, but this small-town-y area also offers charter Montessori schools, a charter Waldorf school and other privately run, publicly funded options — enough attractive alternatives (without even discussing private schools or the healthy homeschooling community) that the floundering school district started an International Baccalaureate school to compete. Which is as it should be. A fair sprinkling of educational entrepreneurs have effectively enlivened an area not known for its larnin'-friendly culture, in a state where public schools consistently draw a gentleman's C when they're graded on their efforts to teach kids ... anything.

But the thing about entrepreneurs is that they have limited resources, and only so much attention to divide up in different directions. Starting up a school is challenging enough, and if you start binding them in red tape, something has to give.

In a 2005 OpEd, Vicki Murray of the Goldwater Institute pointed out that "Until now, parents, teachers, and school personnel have opened roughly 70 percent of all charter schools in Arizona." But, she warned:

At last count, Arizona charter schools have to comply with close to 100 regulations, and there is evidence of an emerging trend that charter schools are converting to private schools in response. ... One example of the significant cost of regulatory compliance for Arizona charter schools concerns enrollment. The state requires charter schools to maintain duplicate student enrollment databases, costing thousands of dollars each, and to re-enter estimated enrollment figures from scratch every 10 days for 10 months out of the year. Under current state charter school regulations, simply obtaining a student headcount resembles a NASA space mission in complexity and cost.

Two years later, the Goldwater Institute sued Arizona over the state's attempt to impose a standard curriculum on charter schools that would largely strip them of their innovative edge. The case was settled out of court, so its merits were never addressed in a binding decision. Regulations have only tightened since then, and that's at the state level.

Last year, responding to complaints about the federal regulatory burden on schools, the House Education and Workforce Committee held hearings after acknowledging that a "complex web of mandates and regulations redirects resources from students and reduces local education leaders’ abilities to enact targeted reforms that improve student achievement." Subsequently, the committee asked (PDF) the Government Accountability Office to investigate which school-related regulations are the most burdensome, and what is being done to provide relief.

Of course, much of that red tape applies to traditional public schools, too, but as overwhelmed as school districts with dedicated compliance officers and even full staffs are, the ordeal for independent charter schools is much worse.

Which is why my son's school has turned to a professional management company that runs over a dozen schools for rescue from the bureaucracy. More independent schools are likely to do the same, which suggests a future of consolidation and decreased diversity as the small players are squeezed out by an avalanche of rules and requirements, even where that red tape doesn't inherently discourage experimentation.

Scott Shackford Talks Mortgage Settlements and Housing Policy with Jerry Doyle: 4:30 p.m. Eastern (1:30 p.m. Pacific)

Reason.com Associate Editor Scott Shackford will be talking about states' novel spending decisions of their chunks of the national mortgage settlement today on the Jerry Doyle radio show at 1:30 p.m. Pacific time (4:30 p.m. Eastern).

Our "We Told You So" moment: Reason Foundation Director of Economic Research Anthony Randazzo predicted back in February the states' $2.5 billion haul of the mortgage settlement was all about scoring political points, not about giving money to any possible victims of foreclosure malfeasance.

Time: 1:30 PM Pacific Time today (4:30 PM Eastern).

PlaceJerry Doyle's show is on 230 radio stations around the country. To find a local station, click here.

To listen live, click here.

For archives, click here.

Republicans Have a Vision For Health Policy, and They'll Be Happy to Tell You About It Just as Soon as They Figure Out What It Is

In the 2010 election, Republicans framed their response to the passage of President Obama’s health care overhaul around two words: repeal and replace. When Republicans retook the House, they immediately staged a mostly symbolic vote to repeal the health law. But replacement has proven a far more difficult task. It’s not just the threat of the presidential veto, or the fact that Republicans don’t have the votes in the Senate for either a repeal or replacement measure. It’s that Republicans still don’t know what exactly they want to replace ObamaCare with.

In January, Republican legislators promised that they would have a replacement measure ready by this summer. The idea was to have legislation standing by should the Supreme Court strike down all or part of the health law.

By March, however, the message had changed slightly, and the promise scaled back: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would only commit to eventual incremental reformism — a series of small steps that would eventually add up to a replacement.

Even that proved a little too ambitious. By this month, Republicans in Congress made it fairly clear to The Hill that no replacement bill would be forthcoming. Staffers had been putting together options for months, but weren’t able to create consensus. Getting Republican legislators to agree on any sort of clear legislative alternative apparently proved too difficult.

Instead of substitute legislation, reports The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan says that Republicans will merely present a “vision” for the kind of health reform they’d prefer. “We do feel obligated to articulate our vision for replace,” Rep. Ryan told The Examiner. I’m sure that Ryan, who has arguably been the GOP’s most consistent and effective policy entrepreneur for at least the last five years, really does feel that obligation.

Nevertheless, it’s telling that two years ObamaCare, the party is still waffling indecisively on exactly what to do about health policy. Part of the reason that Democrats have been relatively successful at passing major health policy legislation is that they have spent a lot of time working on it. But with a few exceptions, that’s just not the case for Republicans. Obama was able to campaign effectively on health reform and pass the 2010 law in large part because Republicans had ceded the issue to Democrats following the defeat of President Bill Clinton’s attempted health care overhaul in the early 1990s. Democrats, meanwhile, regrouped, and created a aggressive policy infrastructure devoted to exploring both the politics and policy aspects of health care. With the passage of ObamaCare, it finally paid off.

Republicans, meanwhile, have taken the law’s passage and subsequent unpopularity mostly as an opportunity for short-term political gain rather than as a call to begin laying out and making the case for their preferred structural reforms. It’s nice to see that Ryan is promising to release a set of health care priorities and principles, but it should have happened years ago. And the fact that it didn’t is part of the reason why Democrats were able to pass ObamaCare in the first place. As with so many policy areas, Republicans know what they’re against, but not what they’re for. 

July 1: Do or Die for California High Speed Train Funding (Guess Which One We’re Hoping for?)

Via The Orange County Register, Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has named July 1 as the deadline to appropriate $2.6 billion in bonds to start construction California’s high speed boondoggle rail. California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) Chairman Dan Richard agreed the bond appropriation must be passed by July 1.

You may recall U.S. Transportation Secretary Roy LaHood showing up in Sacramento earlier this month to browbeat the legislature to get moving on the money right now or risk losing the feds matching $3.3 billion of the expense (total cost for the whole project: at least $68 billion). At the time LaHood threatened legislators, California’s budget deficit stood at $9 billion. It is now $16 billion. Yet, Jerry Brown’s budget revise still funds $700,000 for the staff for the CHSRA project, and it’s clear that he still wants to move forward with the initial line from Fresno to Merced.

The Register’s Brian Joseph speculates the bonds are likely to pass because the Democrats in the Democratic-dominated legislature are supporters. But as the Los Angeles Times noted in their coverage of LaHood’s visit, some Democrats are starting to get leery about rushing the process.

If the bond isn’t approved, the train construction cannot begin. And as Tim Cavanaugh has pointed out, the state may not be able to legally issue the bonds, given the train's likely need of an operational subsidy, which the initiative authorizing the bond explicitly forbids.

Of course, deadlines for government projects have passed before, only to be extended, so our headline should probably be treated as wishful thinking.

More of Reason’s exhaustive and frustrating coverage of high speed rail here.

Brian Doherty on How Pat Buchanan Conquered America

From our June issue, Senior Editor Brian Doherty reviews Pat Buchanan’s new book Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?, and Oxford historian Timothy Stanley’s new biography, The Crusader: The Life and Tumultuous Times of Pat Buchanan. As Doherty observes, Buchanan is the last of a dying breed of old-school right-wingers. Yet current American political culture owes an astonishing amount to this Irish Catholic son of D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood, even as he fades into disgraced bestsellerdom. Notions such as the “silent majority,” liberal media bias, and the modern culture war all sprang, more or less fully formed, from the head of this former Nixon and Reagan aide, as did a Republican critique of “vulture capitalism.”

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Elizabeth Warren's Cherokee History Dissolves. Will Hekawi Tribe Offer Papers?

Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren's claim to Cherokee nation ancestry seems to be collapsing for lack of evidence. 

The New England Historical Genealogical Society this week announced that it could find no documentation to back up Harvard law professor Warren's claim, which appears to have been based on family legend rather than actual research.