Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 May 22-31

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Ira Stoll on Lessons From the United Fruit Company

Americans puzzling over the role of today’s powerful corporations—Bain Capital, Goldman Sachs, Google—may profit from considering the example of the United Fruit Company. A new account of United Fruit and one of its leading figures usefully reminds us of some of the wonderful things about capitalism, writes Ira Stoll, and some of the dangers, too.

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Katherine Mangu-Ward on Alan Turing, the Father of Computer Science

On June 23, Alan Turing would have been 100 years old. The World War II code breaker and founder of computer science didn’t make it to his own centennial, despite his devotion to physical fitness. He committed suicide by poisoned apple in 1954 after being convicted for “acts of gross indecency between two adult men” and chemically castrated as part of a deal to avoid prison.

We are now in the midst of Alan Turing Year, a privately organized worldwide celebration featuring talks, parties, books, and papers. Everywhere, writes Managing Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward, praise of Turing is tempered with anger over the harsh punishment he suffered at the hands of the British state, cutting short a fruitful life.

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Steve Chapman on Whether the U.S. Is Headed for a Fight With China

The Soviet Union is gone, al-Qaida is decimated, and Iran may never acquire nuclear weapons. But don't get too relaxed. If you're looking for reasons to be anxious about world peace, writes Steve Chapman, China offers an abundance.

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Brickbat: Who Watches the Watchman Fondle Himself?

The East Chicago Board of Public Safety suspended police officer Arcides Santiago for six months without pay after he was caught on video fondling his genitals while making lewd comments to a woman. The woman had called police to report a burglary.

Brickbat Archive

A Tale of Two Deficits

Last week’s summit in Brussels highlighted the fiscal deficits of Europe and the damage political activism will inflict on that continent’s economy. Voices of caution seem to have fallen on deaf ears, and the summit has done little to reassure the markets or persuade account holders to keep cash in their accounts as millions of euros disappear from banks across the Mediterranean. While the summit might have brought to light the extent of the damage economic deficits can have, one must not forget that the political posturing we saw last week is only possible because of Europe’s other crippling deficit.  

Europe’s democratic deficits are just as morally distasteful and ruinous as the economic deficits. The President of The European Commission is José Barroso, who never had to stand in a public election for the position. The twenty-seven commissioners who represent the constituent nations of the EU are all unelected. Unelected officials run entire countries, not just governing bodies. The Prime Minister of Italy and Minister of Economy and Finance, Mario Monti, has not featured on a ballot since he took office in November 2011. After coming to power Monti put together a cabinet of academics and eurocrats, not one of whom has been elected. Once one remembers that Monti once served as a European Commissioner it is not hard to see why he doesn’t seem to care that he is running a country in crisis without a democratic mandate. Greece is currently being ruled under a technocratic government, headed by Panagiotis Pikrammenos.

While the powers that be in Europe claim to embrace democracy they are highly selective when deciding which results of elections or referendums they choose to recognize. When the Irish voted against the Lisbon Treaty in 2008 the EU’s response was not to accept the wishes of the Irish, but rather to make the Irish vote again. After Hungary approved a popular constitution that embraced democratic reforms, the unelected European Commission threatened to repeal financial assistance and sue

Whatever future meetings of European leaders yield, it will be the will of an unelected elite and not the wishes of the masses that will dominate future policy. Both the economic and democratic deficits facing Europe are too culturally engrained in the political culture, and there is no will for reform. We should not expect surpluses any time soon.

From Rainbow Parties to Butt-Chugging—Nick Gillespie on 5 Classic Teen Sex-and-Drug Freakouts!

Was it only a month or so ago that news outlets around the country were breathlessly reporting that today's teens were getting whacked-out on hand sanitizer?

As we await the next great moral panic over alleged bad behavior of the leaders of tomorrow - and a coming federal ban on "bath salts" and fake marijuana or "spice" - Nick Gillespie leads us on a guided tour of some of the classic freakouts from years gone by.

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Sharon Presley on Libertarian Feminism

"Many libertarian men are fairly ignorant about women's issues. Some of them are outright hostile to feminism because they've never bothered to find out what it is," says Sharon Presley, Ph.D. 

Presley is a founding figure in the libertarian movement and author of the book, Standing Up to Experts and Authorities. She sat down with Reason.com's managing editor, Tim Cavanaugh to discuss libertarian feminism and what libertarianism looks like in 2012.

Shot by Tracy Oppenheimer and Paul Detrick. Edited by Detrick.

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

Sheldon Richman on MSNBC’s Pro-Government Fairy Tales

It’s easy to be amused by the unceasing economic and political malarkey that flows from the pundits at MSNBC. Many of these gems come during its promos, which, as viewers of the network know very well, promote not its programs but all-pervasive government. In his latest column, Sheldon Richman rebuts the fallacies featured in two recent promos, one starring Rachel Maddow, the other starring Lawrence O’Donnell.

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Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on the Borderline Tyranny of the Left and Right

If there was ever any doubt that the totalitarian temptation identified by economist and Nobel laureate F.A. Hayek in his brilliant tract, “The Road to Serfdom,” is alive and well, even in this sweet land of liberty, two current crusades of the left and the right ought to put it to rest, noted Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia in her column at The Daily last week.

Hayek’s genius was to recognize that eliminating feudalism and monarchy didn’t mean that the West had eliminated the danger of tyranny. Modern-day central planners restricting the peaceful, voluntary activity of individuals in the name of achieving some grand collectivist end open up new dangers. Since their plans inevitably leave individuals worse off, people find ever-new ways to circumvent them.

But the government doesn’t take its failure as a sign that there might be something wrong with its ends — that perhaps they are out of sync with the normal aspirations of people. Rather, it blames the failure on an insufficient use of force. Thus an initial round of coercion inevitably spawns subsequent, even harsher rounds, putting the country on Hayek’s “road to serfdom.”

It is exactly this logic that’s unfolding in the right’s crusade to get rid of illegal Mexican labor in the name of national sovereignty — and the left’s crusade to redistribute wealth in the name of social justice.

Read the whole thing here and enjoy Memorial Day!

Watch "Advancing Age," Award-Winning Comic Short by ReasonTV's Meredith Bragg


Showcasing the talents of ReasonTV managing editor Meredith Bragg and his brother Austin Bragg (currently back working at the Cato Institute after a stint with Reason as well), this short film "Advancing Age" won top honors at The 48 Hour Film Festival held recently in Washington, DC in the "thriller/suspense" category. For more info on the contest, where teams rush to produce a complete short project from conception to execution in just two days, go here.

And for more work by the Bragg brothers (and their talented co-conspirators), check out their YouTube channel for The Big Honkin' now (channel contains full run of cult favorite Defenders of Stan and much more).

Baylen Linnekin on Organic Food and Anti-Social Behavior

Do organic consumers shop exclusively at the jerk store? It sometimes seems that way, especially as self-described foodies increasingly treat the act of grocery shopping as a political statement. In his latest column, Baylen Linnekin of the nonprofit Keep Food Legal reviews a new academic paper titled “Wholesome Foods and Wholesome Morals?” which looks at whether people exposed to organic food marketing are so self-satisfied that they are less likely to express empathy toward others.

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John Yoo: The Real Thing to Worry About With Drones is Their Use by Private Citizens

If you start reading too many libertarian or just generally government-skeptical writings, sometimes you begin to forget that the world is full of people who are more nervous about private citizens doing something than they are government doing it. Former Bush Attorney and pro-torture advocate John Yoo is, unsurprisingly, one of those private-citizens-make-me-nervous kind of guys.

Over at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf notes that Yoo correctly identifies that a brave new world of every tabloid from Gawker to TMZ having a drone, and one where parents can creep on their children all day long (or, more than they do already) will be bizarre and maybe bad. But Yoo also wrote this:

So more important than worrying about whether the NYPD or DHS uses drones, are what rules our society will choose to govern and constrain the private use of drones. It may ultimately be difficult to control; as drone technology allows for smaller and cheaper drones, the government will have less and less ability to regulate them.  

No. That is not what is more important.

Writes Friedersdorf:

Yoo has got it exactly wrong: the rules governing NYPD and DHS drone use are of vital importance, regardless of what's happening in the world of private drones, because coordinated government spying is more problematic than spying by parents or celebrity gawkers.

Yoo ought to understand why that is so. He's the sort of complacent lawyer that power-hungry leaders rely upon when they want to torture or spy without warrants or extrajudicially kill in secret. The monopoly on force that the state enjoys, the tremendous power wielded by its functionaries, the incentives to target political enemies, and the frequency with which abuses occur are all reasons why restraining official use of this technology ought to be an urgent priority. There's also the reality that, whatever the future brings, government use of drones is now much more common.  

And, the Huffington Post noted recently that the age of drone lobbyist is upon us as well. This will of course involve a depressing collusion of government and private sector industries. No doubt government will benefit and the private sector will be too cozy with government, what with the estimated 23,000 jobs that drone tech will add by 2025.

So yes, the day is definitely coming where TMZ will get their scoops from some 14-pound creeping drone. Weird privacy problems will come up. So will the potential for dangerous crashes (not that government-drones are immune to such things.)

But in this land of the militarized drug war, where the Fourth Amendment cannot keep up with the existence of smartphones, or airplanes, it's hilarious to think that the occasional creepy neighbor or pushy tabloid with a drone will be the real problem. Especially when a few police departments are already hoping to arm their drones with tear gas and rubber bullets.

It doesn't need to be said, except that the existence of people like Yoo demands that it be said, but Yoo is completely wrong. The longer that drones are only in the hands of cops and the government, the more regulations that we have on private usage, and the longer we will have to wait for the TacoCopter to move from theoretical start-up to sweet reality.

Really, Yoo, sometimes it's as simple as, which institution may legally kill people? The answer is government. But considering how much the man trusts presidents, nothing about this is a surprise. 

Let's let one of the co-founders of TacoCopter sum it up:

"Current U.S. FAA regulations prevent ... using UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, like drones] for commercial purposes at the moment," Simpson said over Gchat. "Honestly I think it's not totally unreasonable to regulate something as potentially dangerous as having flying robots slinging tacos over people's heads ... [O]n the other hand, it's a little bit ironic that that's the case in a country where you can be killed by drone with no judicial review."

Reason on drones.

Reason Writers on The Alyona Show: Lucy Steigerwald on the 15-Year-Old Intel Science Fair Winner, Schools Tracking Students with RFID Chips, and The Japanese Artist Who Cooked His Genitals

Associate Editor Lucy Steigerwald discusses the 15-year-old who won the Intel Science Fair, schools tracking students with RFID chips in their IDs, the Japanese artist who cooked his own genitals, and the phenomenon of "trayvonning" on  The Alyona Show's "Happy Hour." Airdate: May 25, 2012.

About 7.30 minutes.

Ron Paul Roundup: Paulites Cement Control in Nevada, More on Progress in Minnesota, Fed Audit Bill Up for Vote, and More

The non-Paul factions continue to flee the now largely Paulite official Republican Party in Nevada, the Las Vegas Review Journal reports:

Hours after the top two leaders of the Clark County Republican Party resigned, Ron Paul supporters took complete control.

They changed the locks at party headquarters and announced Thursday they could now focus on electing "genuine" conservatives, leaving infighting behind. 

The sudden departure of Chairman Dave Gibbs, Vice Chairman Woody Stroupe and several others completed a purge of establishment GOP officials since Paul backers took over the executive board by sweeping elections at the Clark County Republican Convention this year.

The old guard are forming their own Romneyite "shadow party":

The moves also marked a permanent election year split in the GOP at the county and state levels, with Gibbs and Stroupe both saying they would join forces with "Team Nevada."

The Team Nevada organization is run by the Republican National Committee to help elect presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and other Republicans. The RNC plans to run its campaign ground game money through Team Nevada to bypass the Clark County GOP and Nevada Republican Party.

The official Party is still doing the business of a political party:

Cindy Lake, the county party secretary and a Paul supporter, was elected acting chair. In a statement, she said the new leaders would focus on electing Republicans who share their values. Paul promotes smaller government, less spending and taxes and more personal freedoms, for example.

"After months of turbulence and in­stability following the Executive Board elections held at the Clark County Republican Convention, the CCRP Executive Board is now able to concentrate on the task of developing a consistent, accessible message that will allow the Party to take a large role in electing genuine conservative candidates to office," Lake said. "The CCRP Executive Board is looking forward to working together with Republicans across Clark County towards increasing Republican registration, building a strong, robust party, and achieving electoral success in the November elections."

22 of 28 delegates from Nevada to the national convention are expressed Paul supporters, but they are bound by state rules to mostly vote for Romney based on his majority in the state's caucus.

*Paul's latest Fed audit bill heading for House vote.

*One poll: 93 percent have a favorable opinion of Ron Paul.

*Profile of John Ramsey, moneybags behind the latest Paulite SuperPAC Liberty for All, which spent quite a bit on Thomas Massie's primary victory in Kentucky Tuesday.

*Paulites angry at Massachusetts decision to not count provisional ballots from April caucus meetings that could have sent more Paul-leaning delegates to Tampa.

*The Weekly Standard takes a close look at Paul's clean win of control of the delegation in Minnesota. Highlights:

Marianne Stebbins, Paul’s 2012 Minnesota campaign chair and one of the national delegates selected in St. Cloud, is the brains behind the Ron Paul revolution in the Minnesota GOP....

There’s a larger purpose to the “liberty” crowd’s fight. Though they won't have a chance to get concessions by threatening to block Romney's nomination at the August convention, Stebbins and company are looking long-term at remaking the Republican party, state by state, in Paul’s image. Paulites in Minnesota, like those in Iowa, Nevada, and Kentucky, are now in control of their party’s rules and platform. They’ll be recruiting candidates for local, state, and federal offices, too....

Stebbins predicts the Paul delegates won’t cause a fracas in Tampa. “The people who were elected as national delegates are a little more refined,” she says. “I don’t think you’re going to see any disruptions at the national convention.”

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.

Q and A With California House Candidate Christopher David, a "Ron Paul Republican"

Christopher David, a candidate for Henry Waxman's federal House seat in California's 33rd District, who I interviewed for my book Ron Paul’s Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired, tells me he came into the Ron Paul world in 2007 from the left, attracted to the only candidate speaking a believable antiwar message. At antiwar rallies during the Bush years, he recalls, he was “surrounded by lefties holding signs for every left cause under the sun, which got me thinking  I guess I was a leftist; I didn’t see anyone else vocally opposing  the warmongering of the Bush administration.” David figured early in the last race he’d vote Obama; he couldn’t vote Kerry in ’04, thinking him just “Bush lite.” 

Then he saw Ron Paul’s famous moment (the moment at the start of Ron Paul’s Revolution) at the May 2007 South Carolina GOP presidential debate, speaking intelligently and passionately about blowback and 9/11 and not backing down when Rudy Giuliani bullied him about it. “It was the first time ever I heard any elected official use the term “blowback” and know what they talking about,” David says. “It was amazing to me, and the fact on that it was a Republican doing it was just shocking. That got me looking into Ron Paul, because I knew that took courage for him. Getting familiar with Paul and his philosophy, within two months I was the card-carrying libertarian spouting Rothbard to anyone who would listen.” He was part of the army of youth campaigning for Paul in the blistering cold leading up to the 2008 Iowa caucus.

David went on to live for a while in the Free State of New Hampshire “in a house with seven other Free Staters in the middle of the woods with a firing range in the backyard” and to work with the Paulite youth group Young Americans for Liberty (where he tried to launch a national “Year of Youth” campaign to encourage young people to not just help other candidates but to run themselves, advice he’s now following) and launched the Paulite new media site Revolutimes and moved out to Los Angeles, from which he is running for Henry Waxman’s House seat in the 33rd district as a Republican. (Among his competitors are Libertarian Steve Collett and Democrat Bruce Margolin, famous for his work as a defense attorney in pot cases.)

Reason: Tell us about yourself.

Christopher David: I am a 25-year-old entrepreneur and activist running for the U.S. House in California’s 33rd congressional district, which spans the coast of Los Angeles from Malibu to Palos Verdes and includes Beverly Hills. A number of factors brought me to run, one of the biggest is that I believe there are too few advocates in Washington for the kind of real systemic transformative change that I think voters really want, and despite an array of very flawed candidates they have been trying to send that message that they are looking for something completely different. We saw that in 2008 with Barack Obama and the beginning of the Ron Paul movement, saw it more in 2010 with the Tea Party and I think we will see it even more this year. I think the action this year will be with the liberty leaning candidates, candidates inspired by Ron Paul.

It’s completely obvious if you look at Romney and Obama that there is a huge absence of excitement, excitement that only really Ron Paul is channeling, and so I think Ron Paul will go out with a bang at the Tampa convention. This will be a year of Ron Paul passing the baton not to any one person but to a whole movement. The great strength of the Ron Paul movement has been its very decentralization and though it’s obvious Rand Paul will probably be a candidate in 2016 for president, you’re going to see an explosion of people inspired by Ron Paul entering.


Ted Stevens' Prosecutors Punished for Withholding Evidence

Yesterday the Justice Department announced that it has suspended two prosecutors who sat on evidence they were legally obligated to share with the lawyers representing Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican who was convicted of failing to report gifts right before losing his 2008 bid for a seventh term in the U.S. Senate. The following April, the government withdrew all of the charges against Stevens (who died in a plane crash four months later), citing the withheld evidence, which included notes from an interview with a prosecution witness that undercut the government's claims about the value of renovation work on Stevens' home in Alaska—the alleged gift at the center of the case. While a special investigator appointed by the federal judge who oversaw the Stevens case concluded that the prosecutors at fault, Joseph W. Bottini and James A. Goeke, "intentionally withheld and concealed" evidence, the Justice Department's report on the matter attributes their failures to "reckless professional misconduct." They were suspended for 40 and 15 days, respectively, without pay.

Light as those penalties may seem, they are a welcome reminder that defendants have a due process right to evidence that is "material either to guilt or to punishment." Although that has been the law of the land for half a century, prosecutors often seem to forget, and they rarely face consequences for that failure, aside from overturned convictions.

Another positive outcome from the Stevens fiasco: Two months ago, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced the Fairness in Disclosure of Evidence Act, which would require federal prosecutors to share evidence "that may reasonably appear to be favorable to the defendant...without delay after arraignment and before the entry of any guilty plea." Evidence comes to light after then must be shared "as soon as is reasonably practicable." If the prosecution fails to do so, the remedies include "postponement or adjournment of the proceedings," "exclusion or limitation of testimony or evidence," "ordering a new trial," and "dismissal with or without prejudice." If the failure is due to "negligence, recklessness, or knowing conduct," the court may order the government to cover the defendant's legal expenses. Murkowski explained the motivation for the bill this way: 

What happened in the trial of Senator Stevens is unfortunately not an isolated incident, but most American do not have the wherewithal that he did to push back against prosecutorial misconduct.  While I do believe most federal prosecutors are adhering to the law, it's clear the rules in place are not preventing "hide the ball" prosecutions in cases across the country.  There are a few prosecutors out there willing to put a finger on the scales of justice to get more convictions—and this bill seeks to stop that. Justice should be blind, not blindly ignored.

Schumer Shocked Over Push-Back on Ex-Pat Bill, Etan Patz Suspect Arrested, UK Goes on Spending Binge: P.M. Links

  • Senator Charles Schumer is appalled — appalled, he says — that anybody would compare his proposed legislative plan to fleece anybody who wants to leave the country to a similar law enacted decades ago and wielded by a famously nasty regime.
  • The case that haunted the headlines in 1979 may finally be solved. Pedro Hernandez, a former convenience-store clerk, was arrested and charged with murdering Etan Patz.
  • Gary Johnson's so-far Internet-only "Peace is Cheaper" advertisement is "red meat" intended to reach antiwar activists and fiscal hawks alike. See it here.
  • Curt Schilling's 38 Studios is the latest government-favored, taxpayer-subsidized company to go belly-up amidst the stink of fail. The video-game outfit was lured to Rhode Island in by a $75-million loan guarantee from the state.
  • Berkeley, California, Police Chief Michael Meehan assures critics that he would send ten cops to retrieve anybody's iPhone, just like he did for his son.
  • Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's tolerator-in-chief, says there's no place in his country for homosexuals. Left unspoken is that there's not much place in the country for anybody else, either.
  • UK government spending hit record levels, despite an official policy of "austerity." With the country's recession worse than anticipated, economists describe the binge as "unsustainable."
  • The SpaceX Dragon private spacecraft dropped by the International Space Station for a cup of coffee and a chat. Well ... Something like that, anyway. It was historic.

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Brian Doherty on Why Ron Paul Is the Best Hope for Progressives

As the presidential field has shaped up to a certain Obama vs. Romney in the major parties, the desire for a challenger championing either the serious right or the serious progressive left grows. And Ron Paul—though he continues to deny any third party plans and his political machine has clearly hitched itself to the GOP for now—is strangely a viable candidate for either role, should he choose to accept it.

As Senior Editor Brian Doherty observes, Paul is in many ways the rightest of right wingers, with his desire to kill the income tax, end government interference in medical care, and get to a balanced budget in three years with no tax hikes. Yet despite Paul’s impeccable Tea Party credentials on tax and spending issues, he would be a more appealing choice to progressives dissatisfied with President Obama. Even while running for the GOP presidential nod, Ron Paul has presented a political vision in many respects to the left of the Democratic Party.

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But What Does Every Black Celebrity in America Think About Gay Marriage?

Just as the appearance of a black presenter at the Academy Awards prompts the camera to track down the most famous black celebrity in the audience (Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson or Halle Berry), President Barack Obama’s declaration of support for gay marriage has prompted the media to seek out quotes from some black household names in America.

Jay-Z approved of Obama’s evolution in a CNN interview. Smith gave gay marriage a thumbs up while promoting Men in Black III in Germany (just don’t try to kiss him). Other rappers like T.I. and 50 Cent have given their support with a “it doesn’t affect me so why should I care” slant, though in 50 Cent’s case, he’s terribly concerned about gay guys wanting to “grab your little buns” on the elevator and thinks straight guys need a support group for that. The Root even has a slide show of black notables who support gay marriage.

Samuel L. Jackson had already declared his support and participated in activism against Proposition 8 in California in 2008. Then after Proposition 8 passed, blacks were blamed for voting in favor of banning gay marriage in higher numbers than other races, though after the numbers were analyzed, blacks only voted in favor of Prop. 8 in numbers six percent higher than the rest of the population. Given that blacks make up only six percent of California’s population, it seems a bit of a reach to blame it on them, but the narrative has stuck (well, them and the Mormons).

The argument over blame was strange and a little telling. I was left wondering what the 42 percent of the blacks who voted against Prop. 8 felt about being blamed for its passage anyway. But that has always been a problem with collective or tribal politics – the voting booth makes a mockery of it. Looking at blacks or gays as a monolithic group has always been profoundly stupid, and a barrier to actual engagement between individuals within these groups, and yet it continues.


Homicide Isn't Prosecutable When You're a Federal Agent

An old joke about committing murders is that "the first is expensive, the rest are free." They can only execute you once, after all. But if they can't even prosecute you, let alone execute you ... Well, then, killings are all pretty much on the house, aren't they? And that seems to be the case with Cole Dotson, who won't be prosecuted for killing three women and injuring two children, because he was on the job at the time as an agent with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement when he decided to play bumper cars at an intersection in Imperial County.

According to the The San Diego Union-Tribune:

U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia said long-standing federal law gives immunity from state prosecution to federal law enforcement officers accused of crimes committed in the course of their duties.

That means Cole Dotson, a special agent with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, will no longer face three counts of gross vehicular manslaughter brought by the Imperial County district attorney.

On December 29, 2009, Dotson was apparently a laggard member of a surveillance team following a suspected meth smuggler. While trying to catch up with his buddies, he drove "his government car at speeds of more than 100 mph, according to the California Highway Patrol. When he went through the stop sign, his speed was estimated at 80 mph. Though the car had lights and sirens, they were not on."

Stop signs are there to modulate the flow of traffic, and people expect that drivers coming from other directions might actually pause, however briefly. When you blow through them doing 80, you tend to do things like piling into vans containing women and children. Killed in the crash were Sandra Garcia, who was driving, along with Maria Nieto and Patricia Reyes. Two children were injured.

The federal government forked over $11 million to the families of the victims in February — an indication that Dotson's actions were not universally considered praiseworthy. Another such indication was the attempted prosecution by Imperial County officials, who said federal agents get immunity only if their actions are "necessary and proper" to their duties, and that Dotson's didn't qualify.

Battaglia disagreed. While he said that Dotson’s actions were negligent, he said making the agent face criminal charges would have a “chilling effect” on all federal law enforcement officers who are in emergency situations.

The most famous such assertion of federal immunity in recent memory is that of Lon Horiuchi, the FBI shooter who ultimately skated away from an attempt by Idaho officials to hold him to account for his lethal conduct at Ruby Ridge only after the case bounced back and forth between courts before being dropped by a newly elected prosecutor.

Spurred by the Horiuchi case, the Yale Law Journal looked for the limits of federal immunity in 2003. Authors Seth P. Waxman and Trevor W. Morrison concluded that there was surprisingly little clear guidance to go on, but that:

[O]nce we are confident that the federal government is competent to act in a certain area, federalism properly imposes few judicially enforceable barriers to that action. Rather, we generally defer to Congress’s judgment about how best to reconcile overlapping federal and state power in areas where both are legitimately exercised. ... [T]he role of federalism in this area properly becomes quite modest. Rather, the governing constitutional rule is simply that of the Supremacy Clause itself, under which federal law is supreme and the only real question is how the federal government has chosen to express that supremacy.

How the federal government has chosen to express that supremacy? Well, Horiuchi was never prosecuted at the federal level, and Dotson still works for ICE, in an administrative capacity, with no hint of a federal prosecution in the wind.

With the federal government involving itself in ever-more aspects of American life, it might be a good time to look around really carefully at stop signs. Or anywhere else. (HT jasno)

Ray Kelly Outlines Measures to Curtail the Illegal Police Stops He Says Are Not Occurring

Last week, after a federal judge certified a class action challenging the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly outlined measures he is taking to curtail the unlawful stops that he says are not occurring. In a letter to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Kelly said "we have republished the Department order that specifically prohibits racial profiling." That's good, because Kelly's cops seem to have lost their copies. Last year, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) reports, 87 percent of the people stopped, questioned, and (most of the time) frisked for nonexistent weapons were black or Latino. Kelly says that's because police are focusing their efforts on high-crime neighborhoods that are disproportionately black and Latino. But as NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman notes in today's New York Daily News, that explanation does not quite fit the facts:

Though they make up only 4.7% of the city’s population, black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24 accounted for 41.6% of stops in 2011. The number of stops of young black men exceeded the city’s entire population of young black men.

The commissioner contends that this happens only because officers go where the crime is. But last year, large percentages of blacks and Latinos were also stopped in overwhelmingly white neighborhoods like Greenwich Village, where 77% of people stopped were black or Latino.

The racially disproportionate impact of the stops is especially troubling because the supposedly suspicious people detained by police are innocent nine times out of 10: Only 10 percent of stops result in an arrest or summons. The hit rate for pat-downs is even less impressive: Only 2 percent find weapons of any kind. Although taking guns off the street is one of the most commonly cited justifications for the stop-and-frisk program, Lieberman notes that "guns are recovered in less than 0.2% of stops—an astonishingly low yield rate for such an intrusive, humiliating and often unlawful tactic." Kelly nevertheless claims the program has saved thousands of lives during the last decade by reducing violent crime, an assertion that Lieberman calls "demonstrably false." She notes that homicides were already falling in New York before Kelly launched the stop-and-frisk program in 2003 and that since then they have declined more quickly in other big cities.

The program's meager results also raise constitutional issues. Under the 1968 Supreme Court decision in Terry v. Ohio, a stop must be based on "reasonable suspicion" that someone has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime, while a frisk is justified only when there is reasonable suspicion that he is armed.How reasonable is a suspicion that is wrong nine times out of 10, let alone 98 times out of 100? These numbers strongly suggest that police routinely ignore the "reasonable suspicion" requirement (as Mayor Michael Bloomberg has implicitly conceded).

But don't worry: Kelly says the department plans to remind police officers of their constitutional duties. It has a new training curriculum that "provides personnel with an additional level of clarity in determining when and how to conduct a lawful stop." It has approved the script for "the fifth and final part in our series of training videos regarding street encounters." Kelly also plans to keep a closer eye on the stop-and-frisk "report worksheets" that cops fill out for each encounter, which indicate the supposed basis for reasonable suspicion. The most popular excuse: "furtive movement." Finally, in an effort to improve community relations, which tend to be undermined by a decade-long program of hassling and searching innocent people with dark skin, the NYPD is encouraging officers to hand out "informational cards" durings stops that "provide a written description of the legal authority for such stops and a list of common reasons individuals are stopped by the police." Here is the short version of the text on the cards: "WHY WE ARE FUCKING WITH YOU: Because we can." 

Robert Zubrin: Radical Environmentalists and Other Merchants of Despair

"We have never been in danger of running out of resources," says Dr. Robert Zubrin, "but we have encountered considerable dangers from people who say we are running out of resources and who say that human activities need to be constrained."

In his latest book, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, Zubrin documents the history of dystopian environmentalism, from economic impairment inflicted by current global warming policies to the Malthusian concern over population growth. "Just think how much poorer we would be today if the world would have had half as many people in the 19th century as it actually did. You can get rid of Thomas Edison or Louis Pasteur, take your pick."

Zubrin sat down with Reason Magazine editor in chief Matt Welch to discuss his book, the difference between practical and ideological environmentalism, and how U.S. foreign aid policy encourages population control. 

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Is It Even Possible to Lower Property Assessments "Improperly"?

A strange political scandal in Los Angeles raises a tough question about real estate and taxes. 

L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley is investigating corruption in the office of County Assessor John Noguez. There is some reason to believe that Noguez has made the most of his power to decide how much property owners must pay in taxes. 

Earlier this week, former Noguez underling Scott Schenter was arrested up in Oregon on charges of falsifying documents and unlawfully lowering property values. According to the L.A. Times’ Ruben Vives and Jack Dolan, Schenter is accused of “improperly slashing the value on more than 100 Westside” properties, resulting in a tax break of “$172 million for multimillion-dollar homes and businesses.” Property owners reportedly contributed to Noguez’ campaign in payment for the reduced assessments. 

Schenter left office in January 2011 after a supervisor got wind of his alleged activities. In the intervening time he spilled the beans to Vives and Dolan, which had the immediate effect of expanding the story to include a local consultant named Ramin Salari who, again allegedly, acted as a middleman/fixer for property owners seeking relief on their tax bills. Schenter also may have incriminated himself with this loose talk, though I have no idea whether his statements to the paper had any impact on his own case. Most recently, Schenter relocated to the Beaver State and was, at age 49, living back in his dad’s house when he was arrested. 

Noguez has his own saga, including credible reports of threats and physical harassment against opponents during a 2007 mayoral race in the suburb of Huntington Park. These threats apparently resulted from questions about whether the then-mayor’s real name was John Noguez. It may be Juan Rodriguez or Juan Noguez or Dick Whitman. 

The grownup thing might be to say “Hey, even Jesus hung out with corrupt tax collectors,” and leave it at that. But it’s illustrative of how far from a free market real estate has wandered that you have to bribe public officials to get a lower assessment in a county where 30 percent of all mortgages are underwater. It’s true that the West Side, where Noguez’ office is said to have done much of its business, has less negative equity than other parts of L.A. County. But this interactive map from the L.A. Times (a fine national newspaper), shows Santa Monica’s beachfront zip code with 20 percent negative equity, Brentwood with 11 percent, Malibu with 16 percent and Marina del Rey with 21 percent. 

Here in the land of the million-dollar starter home and the half-million-dollar teardown, in an era that has given us the deathless phrase “repenetrated bottom,” the idea that real estate can only go up remains so stubborn that we don’t even have language to describe the decline. Predictably, local pols are agitating for re-assessments, and I'm guessing they don't expect those assessments to be lower than Schenter's.

Nationwide, housing will mark its sixth straight year of deflation next month. Yet to this day you only get in trouble if you say a house has lost value. If you pretend the price is still inflated, nobody will bother you. 

Well, You Wonder Why I Always Dress in Black...

So we have a new Men in Black movie? I've always resented this series. It's not that I object in principle to taking a fantastically creepy piece of American folklore and reducing it to a string of jokes. It's just that if you're going to do that, the jokes had better make me laugh, and most of the gags in the first two MiB flicks fell far short of that. Alex Trebek and Jesse Ventura were far funnier with just a fraction of the screentime when they played Men in Black in "Jose Chung's From Outer Space," and they managed to preserve the eerie weirdness of the legend in the process.

Thankfully, Fortean folklorists are still collecting tales of sinister black-clad beings, and these tend to be much more entertaining than Hollywood's contributions to the genre. As an antidote to what I suspect will be another dull movie, here is an encounter with the Men that purportedly happened in 1955. Not only is it creepy, but there's a goofiness to its creepiness; when the alleged contactee reports his "impression" that one of the Men "was wearing a mask (the elastic band of which I distinctly remember seeing amidst the kinky, red, close-cropped hair of his head)," there's a hint of deadpan humor in the horror -- not surprisingly, since the tale almost certainly began as a prank. A good Men in Black story is both funny and frightening, as though someone crossed the Cthulhu mythos with a slapstick comedy; it suggests a world plagued by conspiracies that will never make sense to human minds because the forces behind them are not human themselves. I'd love to see a Men in Black movie like that. I strongly doubt that one is opening this weekend.

Ryan Ekvall and M.D. Kittle on the Wisconsin Recall Election and Milwaukee’s Crime Stats Controversy

The combatants in Wisconsin's historic gubernatorial recall election brought the heat on the campaign trail Thursday, after a newspaper story about the Milwaukee Police Department improperly identifying hundreds of violent crimes. As Ryan Ekvall and M.D. Kittle report, Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign shifted the spotlight on Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett after a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation found that, since 2009, the city's police department misreported more than 500 incidents to the FBI as lesser offenses.

View this article

Why Is Banning Private Anti-Gay Discrimination Less Controversial Than Insisting on Equal Treatment by the Government?

Damon Root's post about the Defense of Marriage Act's legal troubles in California highlights a puzzling aspect of the debate about gay rights. He notes that the Supreme Court, which may soon decide whether states are constitutionally required to treat gay and straight couples equally, already has said that states may not prevent local governments from adopting bans on private discrimination against gay people. In the 1996 case Romer v. Evans, the Court overturned a voter-approved amendment to the Colorado constitution that prohibited such anti-discrimination laws at the state or local level. In a majority opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court reasoned that because the amendment "seems inexplicable by anything but animus toward the class that it affects," it "lacks a rational relationship to legitimate state interests," meaning it failed even the highly deferential "rational basis" test used in equal protection cases that do not involve a fundamental right or a "suspect class" such as race. Although the Court did not quite say that states must ban private discrimination against gay people, it did say they cannot preclude such legislation. But 16 years later, with Kennedy still the swing vote, it is entirely possible the Court, confronted by the equal protection challenge to California's Proposition 8, will allow states themselves to continue discriminating against gay people when it comes to recognizing marriages.

This combination of positions is not at all unusual. Mitt Romney, who promised during his unsuccessful 1994 run for the U.S. Senate to be more gay-friendly than Ted Kennedy, supports banning anti-gay employment discrimination. In other words, if a nosy fundamentalist with a dry cleaning store refuses to hire anyone he considers a sinner, including non-celibate homosexuals, Romney says he must be forced to act against his own deeply held religious beliefs. Yet if a gay couple applies to the government for a marriage license, Romney insists that they should be turned away, going so far as to endorse a constitutional amendment that would prevent any state from taking a more evenhanded approach. Polling data likewise show that Americans are much more willing to compel nondiscriminatory treatment of gay people by employers and landlords than to insist that the government stop discriminating based on sexual orientation. In a 2008 Newsweek survey, 87 percent of respondents supported "equal rights for gays and lesbians in terms of job opportunities," and 82 percent endorsed "equal rights for gays and lesbians in terms of housing." Yet only 39 percent favored "legally sanctioned gay and lesbian marriages."

These opinions seem completely backward to me. Contrary to what Kennedy said in Romer, anti-gay bigotry is not the only reason why people might think that individuals should be free to discriminate based on sexual orientation. Bans on private discrimination impinge on religious liberty, property rights, freedom of contract, freedom of association, and freedom of speech—rights we should not sacrifice simply because we disapprove of the way some people exercise them. By contrast, government discrimination based on sexual orientation should not be tolerated, because the government has an obligation to treat all citizens equally under the law. Why are people more willing to accept bans on private discrimination, which violate liberty, than a ban on government discrimination, which would enhance liberty? Probably because they conflate civil marriage, the legal arrangement recognized by the government, with "the sacred institution of marriage" upheld by religious tradition. Opponents of gay marriage fear they and their religious communities will be compelled to accept homosexual unions that are anathema to them. But this is all the more reason to insist on the freedom of individuals and private organizations to discriminate while demanding neutrality from the government. 

I discussed the crucial difference between private and public discrimination against homosexuals in a 2009 column.

“This is an issue of obfuscation, lies and mistrust in the food system,” admit anti-biotech crop activists.

Sadly, the headline is really what anti-biotech crop activists are actually trying to achieve in their campaign against modern biotech crops, not what they say they are doing. The New York Times today quotes Stonyfield Farms CEO and organic yogurt purveyor Gary Hirshberg as saying, "This is an issue of transparency, truth and trust in the food system." What he and other anti-biotech crop activists are trying to do is convince consumers that something is wrong with foods made using ingredients from biotech crops. Their nefarious plan is to get state and federal government agencies to mandate labels on such foods, e.g., "Warning: May Contain GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms.)" 

The Times identifies anti-biotech vandals, e.g., one Cynthia LaPier, who go around sneaking their own hand-made labels on foods in grocery stores. So what's wrong with labeling foods in this way? This is where the obfuscation, lies and mistrust being peddled by anti-biotechies come into play. In the United States regulators only require labels on foods that provide either nutritional or safety information. In the case of foods made using ingredients from biotech crops, neither applies. Every independent scientific panel that has ever evaluated biotech crops finds that the currently available varieties are nutritionally indistinguishable from conventional crops and that they pose no health risks to human beings. No nutritional differences and no risks mean no labels. 

By the way, organic labels are entirely voluntary and are basically used as a marketing technique to extract extra money from unwitting consumers. 

However, anti-biotech activists and, dare one add, organic crop and food production competitors know that some signficant portion Americans would innocently mistake required labels on foods made using biotech crops as some kind of safety warning and thus steer clear of them. Because they want to encourage this mistake in consumers, the goal of anti-biotech and organic foods activists can be reasonably characterized as profitably promoting obfuscation, lies, and mistrust. 

In the future some biotech crops will provide improved nutrition, e.g., soy beans improved to supply additional health-promoting omega-3 fatty acids, at which time foods using these ingredients will be usefully labeled with this nutritional information. 

In a comprehensive review of the scientific literature and of the claims made by the organic foods lobby, Rutgers University food scientist Joseph Rosen concluded [PDF]: 

Organic food proponents do more than act as unreliable sources of information; they actually cause harm. ... Any members of the media who rely on organic food proponents for information without checking the facts are complicit in defrauding their readers. And any consumers who buy organic food because they believe that it contains more healthful nutrients than conventional food are wasting their money.

It's clear that the organic lobby promotes disinformation to sell its products. It's about time that consumers and reporters wake up to that fact. 

J.D. Tuccille Sounds Off About Cops Tracking Your License Plate

You can never get too much of a good thing, of course. And that good thing is me sharing my insights about new license plate recognition toys that let law-enforcement agents at the federal, state and local level track your movements by positioning cameras along the side of the road that photograph, identify and record your license plates. I wrote about the creepy-licious phenomenon a few days ago, and yesterday I appeared on RT to have my say.

D.A. Suspends Grand Jury Investigations of Police Shootings in Albuquerque; No Shooting Ever Ruled Unjustified

The district attorney in Albuquerque will be suspending the practice of sending police shootings to grand juries to determine that they were justified, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

There were 24 cop shootings since 2010; 17 were fatal. While cop shootings will no longer be handled by a grand jury, there are nine cop shootings still pending with the D.A.’s  office, including one by a cop who listed his job description on Facebook as “human waste disposal.”

The Journal on what the D.A. (who’s up for re-election!) might do next:

“I think what we have done in the past has a lot of integrity, but times are changing,” [Kari] Brandenburg [the District Attorney] said in an interview. “More transparency is always a good thing, and I am going to do what I said I would do and look for alternatives.”

Brandenburg said a preferable alternative would be to take each police shooting case before a judge in a preliminary court hearing. But that option would require charging each officer with a crime, she said.

“Ethically, we just can’t charge someone with a crime if we don’t believe a crime has been committed,” she said. “So if we were to try and go that route, we would have to have a rule change.”

Other options include appointing a special prosecutor for each case, which Brandenburg dismisses as too expensive, or forming a “review board” composed of citizens, attorneys, judges and law enforcement officials.

Brandenburg’s opponent in the upcoming Democratic primary race for the DA’s Office, public defender Jennifer Romero, has joined critics in denouncing the practice.

Brandenburg, who is seeking a fourth four-year term, has said the special grand jury process provides a second set of unbiased eyes to look at the work prosecutors in her office have done to determine whether police shootings are justified.

Reason-Rupe: Wisconsinites Favor Increasing Public Union Retirement Contributions to Address Budget Deficit

The latest Reason-Rupe poll of 708 Wisconsin adults on landline and cell phones suggests Wisconsin voters favor reforming public employee unions, over raising taxes and cutting education and health care spending, to address the state budget deficit.

When Governor Scott Walker took office in 2011, the state faced a projected $3.2 billion deficit. The approach Walker took to close the budget gap included reducing state spending on public employees. To do so required government workers to contribute more toward their own health care and retirement benefits. However, this also effectively served as a pay cut for many public employees.

The Reason-Rupe poll asked Wisconsinites how the state should raise funds to pay government employee retirement benefits if the state did not have enough money to fund these benefits.

72 percent oppose “increasing sales, income, or property taxes” to help fund government worker retirement benefits, 25 percent favor.

75 percent oppose “cutting spending on government programs, such as education and health care” to help fund public employee retirement benefits, 23 percent favor.

49 percent oppose and 46 percent favor “reducing public employee benefits.”

However, 74 percent favor “requiring public employees to contribute more toward their own pensions and health care,” and 24 percent oppose.

The poll followed by asking “if the state and local government had to reduce spending, which of the following areas would you reduce spending on first?” The plurality of Wisconsinites (38 percent) chose reducing spending on “pensions and benefits for public employees” followed by “prisons and courts” (29 percent).

These results suggest that when tough trade-offs have to be made to fund public employee retirement benefits, the public favors requiring public employees to contribute more over raising taxes, or cutting spending on education and health care.

Full poll results can be found here and cross tabs here.

ORC International conducted fieldwork for the poll, May 14th-18th 2012 of both mobile and landline phones, 708 Wisconsin adults, margin of error +/- 3.7%.  Likely Wisconsin voters (609, MOE +/-4%) include registered respondents who said they are absolutely certain to vote or very likely to vote in the June 5th recall election for governor.

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

Barack Obama Punishes People for Getting High; It Used to Be, He Punished Them for Not Getting High Enough

As Nick Gillespie noted below, President Barack Obama was a serious pot smoker in his younger days back when it was legal. We know more about this golden age of abandon thanks to David Maraniss' new book, Barack Obama: The Story. BuzzFeed has put together a list of a young Obama's pot techniques and habits. Perhaps the most striking, considering Obama's current role as chief drug warrior? He used to punish people for not getting high enough: 

When you were with Barry and his pals, if you exhaled precious pakalolo (Hawaiian slang for marijuana, meaning "numbing tobacco") instead of absorbing it fully into your lungs, you were assessed a penalty and your turn was skipped the next time the joint came around. "Wasting good bud smoke was not tolerated," explained one member of the Choom Gang, Tom Topolinski, the Chinese-looking kid with a Polish name who answered to Topo.

 Read all the pot excerpts from Maraniss' book here

Reason Writers at the Movies: Peter Suderman Reviews Men in Black III

Writing in The Washington Times, Senior Editor Peter Suderman reviews the sci-fi action comedy Men in Black III

Men in Black 3” marks the third weekend this month that Earth has been invaded by aliens — following “The Avengers” and “Battleship” — thus making failed extraterrestrial takeovers an official journalistic trend. It’s as if Earth was recently ranked at the top of this year’s list of must-invade interstellar hotspots by “Galactic Conqueror” magazine.

The good news is that Will Smith is on hand to respond. As one of Hollywood’s most practiced defenders against alien threats — in “Independence Day” as well as two previous “Men in Black” films — he’s demonstrated his effectiveness and reliability in situations that require swift action to repel space invaders in about two hours, give or take. You hire Mr. Smith because you know he can get the job done.

Which is exactly what he does here, no more, no less. “Men in Black 3” is an exercise in competence — amiable, enjoyable and entirely forgettable.

Read the whole thing here

Michele Leonhart's Office Declines to Comment on Reports That DEA's Mexican Law Enforcement Partners Are Murdering and Torturing People

The Drug Enforcement Administration has offices in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Hermosillo, Ciudad Juarez, Matamoros, Mazatlan, Merida, Monterrey, Nogales, Nuevo Laredo, and Tijuana, but it doesn't have anything to say about a recently issued State Department report that says its partners in Mexico's security forces have "engaged in unlawful killings, forced disappearances, and instances of physical abuse and torture" while fighting the war on drugs. 

Earlier today, I emailed the DEA's public affairs office with this request: 

The State Department recently released a report on human rights abuses in Mexico. That report found that Mexican military and LEOs "engaged in unlawful killings, forced disappearances, and instances of physical abuse and torture" while fighting TCOs. 

I was wondering if your office could provide me with a statement about the new report in light of Administrator Michele Leonhart's earlier claim, made to the Washington Post, in which she said, "It may seem contradictory, but the unfortunate level of violence is a sign of success in the fight against drugs....[cartels] are like caged animals, attacking one another," as it seems cartels are not the only people in Mexico committing violence. 

Here is how the DEA responded: 

We will let the State Department and Mexico speak to this rather than us

I wrote back: 

If the DEA won't comment on the report, can you at least tell me if Administrator Leonhart stands by her claim that the "the unfortunate level of violence is a sign of success" in the war on drugs?

The DEA: 

She has been consistent that the violence represents the pressure cartels feel from Mexican law enforcement/military and the U.S.


But [she] has no comment on violence perpetrated by DEA partners in Mexican military and law enforcement? 

The DEA: 


The agency's silence is a bit surprising, considering that in January 2010, a U.S. diplomat praised the DEA's training of the Mexican military: "Our ties with the military have never been closer in terms of not only equipment transfers and training, but also the kinds of intelligence exchanges that are essential to making inroads against organized crime."

Steven Greenhut on When Government Privileges Trump the Rights of Citizens

Democrats and Republicans in the California Legislature have once again broadcast this troubling fact: They are far more concerned about the ever-expanding demands of a relatively small group of public sector union members than they are about the public welfare of the citizenry. As Steven Greenhut reports, the latest outrage comes courtesy of AB 2299, a bill that would allow a broad swath of public officials—police, judges, and various public safety officials—to hide their names from public property records. So much for transparency and accountability. As Greenhut notes, the state is about to destroy the most significant source of public records, and create an open invitation to fraud and theft.

View this article

Drug Busts As Make-Work for Superfluous Cops

A new report from the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) shows that as violent and property crime rates have fallen since their peaks in the early 1990s, arrests have not fallen commensurately. Instead police have shifted their resources to drug offenses:

Violent and property crime rates have fallen 47 percent and 43 percent since 1991, when the crime rate was at its highest, but arrests have fallen only 20 percent. Instead of making arrests for violent and property crime, police focus on drug offenses, especially small amounts of drugs. Arrests for drug offenses have increased 45 percent between 1993 and 2010, while arrests for violent and property crime have fallen 27 and 22 percent, respectively.

While "crime is at the lowest levels it has been in over 30 years," the JPI notes, "funding for police has increased 445 percent between 1982 and 2007." That's in nominal dollars; taking inflation into account, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports, the increase was 171 percent. During the same period, the U.S. population grew by about 30 percent. Since the violent crime rate today is substantially lower than it was in 1982, something seems to be out of whack, presumably a ratchet effect that drives spending up when crime rates rise but does not allow spending to decline when crime rates go back down. The JPI report notes that the increase in spending on law enforcement has been driven largely by federal initiatives such as Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and the Byrne Justice Assistance Grants, but crime rates were already declining when these programs were established. As the amount of money devoted to policing has risen, so has the incarceration rate, which was 732 per 100,000 in 2010, 39 percent higher than in 1993.

In this context it is easier to understand why marijuana arrests have skyrocketed since the early 1990s, rising from about 327,000 in 1990 to a peak of more than 858,000 in 2009 before falling slightly the following year. Even if it made sense to treat pot smokers like criminals (and most Americans seem to think it doesn't), this trend cannot be explained by an increase in marijuana consumption. Nor has it led to a decline in marijuana consumption, although it has roughly doubled the risk that any give pot smoker will be busted. All those cops need something to do. 

For more on the policies that have given the United States a world-beating incarceration rate, see our July 2011 "Criminal Injustice" package.

Obama Still Bogarting Nation's Joints, Man.

David Maraniss' forthcoming biography of Barack Obama tells tales of a young dope-smoking president-to-be who was always quick to bogart that joint:

Barry also had a knack for interceptions. When a joint was making the rounds, he often elbowed his way in, out of turn, shouted “Intercepted!,” and took an extra hit. No one seemed to mind.

As Mediaite's Andrew Kirell notes, the president is still "intercepting" the nation's drug supply.

Stories like these about a young adult are actually kind of funny, even humanizing — like something straight out of a stoner comedy. But when you realize it’s about President Obama, it becomes a little less humurous.

Less humorous because President Obama has repeatedly laughed off and dismissed serious discussion about drug policy, like in that 2009 virtual town hall where the president mocked online voters for picking a question about marijuana legalization.

Less humorous because the president shuts down medical marijuana dispensaries with a frequency that would make Richard Nixon stand up and cheer. He presides over a DOJ, IRS, and DEA that have threatened, audited, and shut down legal pot sellers in California, Colorado, Montana, and Washington. All this despite once promising to respect state laws regarding medical marijuana.

More here.

The good news is that an increasing majority of Americans are starting to push back. Rasmussen polls show that a healthy 56 percent of likely voters think pot should be treated like booze rather than a Schedule I drug.

Sing along, America:


Space X Success!: Dragon Hooks Up With International Space Station

This morning, the first private spacecraft was captured by the robotic arm of the International Space Station. It happened very, very slowly, starting at around the 19 minute mark:

So that was pretty awesome. 

And here's your cheesy, quotable line from the mission:

When the craft reached a distance of 10 meters (33 feet), NASA astronaut Don Pettit used the station's 17-meter-long (60-foot-long) robotic arm to grab hold of the Dragon's grapple attachment at 9:56 a.m. ET. "Capture is confirmed," NASA mission commentator Josh Byerly said.

"It looks like we've got us a Dragon by the tail," Pettit told Mission Control.

If all goes well, the Dragon will disgorge food, a laptop, and other supplies for ISS residents tomorrow. We are now officially in a bold new era of privately provided space services. Read all about it here.

Reason-Rupe Poll Finds Support for Public Union Reforms

Despite controversy over Wisconsin Governor Scott Walkers’ efforts to reform public employee unions, the latest Reason-Rupe poll of 708 Wisconsin adults, on both landline and cell phones, finds considerable support for many of the law’s key provisions.

Walkers’ proposal, which was later passed into law last summer, significantly changed the laws regarding public employee unions in Wisconsin. The law altered the way state officials and union leaders negotiate contracts and compensation and also what public employees will contribute toward their retirement benefits and health care.

72 percent of Wisconsinites favor “increasing the amount that government employees contribute to their own pensions from less than 1 percent to 6 percent of their annual salaries," 24 percent oppose.

71 percent favor “increasing the amount that government employees contribute to their own health care from 6 percent to 12 percent of the cost of their health care,” 27 percent oppose.

50 percent favor “ending automatic union dues deductions from government employee paychecks,” 41 percent oppose.

However, other provisions in the law received less support. 47 percent favor and 46 percent oppose “limiting government employee collective bargaining to just negotiating wages, and excluding bargaining on benefits, working conditions, pensions, and rules.” This provision in the law effectively limited collective bargaining of public employee unions, and the public has not yet reached a consensus on this provision in the law.

Wisconsinites oppose a provision in the law that exempted police and firefighters from law changes by a margin of 57 percent to 38 percent.

In sum, these results show that Wisconsin voters favor particular provisions in the law more strongly than they oppose them. This may explain why Governor Scott Walker leads Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett 50-42 among likely voters in the upcoming recall election.

Full poll results can be found here and cross tabs here.

ORC International conducted fieldwork for the poll, May 14th-18th 2012 of both mobile and landline phones, 708 Wisconsin adults, margin of error +/- 3.7%.  Likely Wisconsin voters (609, MOE +/-4%) include registered respondents who said they are absolutely certain to vote or very likely to vote in the June 5th recall election for governor.

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

Patterico, Brett Kimberlin, and the Super-Chilling of Free Speech

Over the years, various Reason writers have had their differences with Patrick Frey, the fellow behind the widely read and interesting Patterico's Pontifications blog. The story he's telling today is a call to arms to defend free speech from the worst sort of politically and personally motivated infringements.

Frey begins a long and harrowing post thus:

It’s a phone call that could have gotten me killed.

In this post you will hear that audio clip. You will also read about a months-long campaign of harassment carried out by at least three individuals: Ron Brynaert, Neal Rauhauser, and Brett Kimberlin — much of it directed at critics of Brett Kimberlin. This harassment includes repeated references to critics’ family members, workplace complaints, publication of personal information such as home addresses and pictures of residences, bogus allegations of criminal activity, whisper campaigns, frivolous legal actions, and frivolous State Bar complaints.

And finally, you will hear a comparison of one of those men’s voices to that of the man who made the call that sent police to my home. And you’ll read a declaration from a forensic audio expert comparing those two voices.

Read the whole thing.

The Patterico post is part of an effort promoted by Instapundit, Hot AirMichelle Malkin, The Other McCain, and others as "Everybody Blog About Brett Kimberlin Day." For more on Kimberlin, who is probably best-known as the "Speedway Bomber," the guy who said he was Dan Quayle's pot dealer, and the subject of Citizen K, Mark Singer's account of investigating Kimberlin's claims, go here.

A. Barton Hinkle on the Virginia Court Nominee Who Was Discriminated Against Because of His Sexuality

As a rule, appointments to state general district courts do not make national headlines. So the nationwide uproar that ensued last week when the Virginia General Assembly shot down the nomination of Tracy Thorne-Begland because he is gay has the look about it of a watershed moment. The question now, writes A. Barton Hinkle, is whether the lesson drawn will be narrow or broad.

View this article

How Medicare's Payment System Discourages Quality and Innovation

Politicians are always quick to declare that America's seniors depend on Medicare for their health. But seniors also depend on innovation in medical practice and technology. And Medicare's top-down payment system represents a significant burden to improving both. In remarks given at a recent Harvard debate, Neil Minkoff, the founder of FountainHead Health and a commissioner on the Massachusetts Group Insurance Commission, does a good job of summarizing how Medicare's centralized payment system discourages quality in medical servicing:

Government is harmful to medical innovation by setting so much of the reimbursement process. By being, by far, the largest payer of healthcare claims in America, the Medicare fee schedule drives the market for all other private payers. In essence, this sets a floor for clinical reimbursement. Hospitals then set budgets based on expected revenue, not based on the cost of providing specific services.

Patient experience, convenience and quality of care do not effect, or at least significantly effect, clinical reimbursement in the standard, traditional fee-for-service Medicare program. There is therefore no incentive to find ways to create new value in the system.  By law, a physician or hospital cannot charge premium pricing for a Medicare-reimbursed service or procedure. I first notice this while treating patient maybe 15 years ago. A first- or second-year physician, I was treating a patient with a serious lung impairment caused by a blood clot in his pulmonary artery. I was transferring this patient from a poorly run suburban hospital, soon to close,  to arguably the world’s expert on these types of clots at the Brigham and Women’s, which is consistently rated as one of the nation’s ten finest facilities. Medicare was paying both physicians the same fee and both hospitals the same fee.

This is wrong. This encourages a sense in the market of care that is “good enough.” Nowhere do Medicare providers have any incentive, outside of their integrity and drive, to develop, improve and excel.

The whole thing is worth reading. It's worth noting that Medicare is America's only single payer system, and even though it's not universal, it still exerts a signficant pull on the whole of medical practice. A universal single-payer system, or even a slightly softer set of universalized price and payment controls foisted on private insurers, like Massachusetts lawmakers are considering now, would only increase the size and scope of the problem. 

Read "Medicare Whac-A-Mole," my 2011 magazine feature on the history of Medicare's payment controls. 

Another Federal Judge Strikes Down the Defense of Marriage Act

Back in February, Judge Jeffrey White of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection, which appears in the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause but has also been read to apply to the federal government via the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause. "The imposition of subjective moral beliefs of a majority upon a minority cannot provide a justification for the legislation,” White wrote. “The obligation of the Court is 'to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code.'" That decision has since been appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which will hear the case this fall.

In the meantime, another federal judge in California has added to the anti-DOMA chorus. In a ruling handed down yesterday, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken also found the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. Here’s a portion of her ruling:

The notion that civil marriage may only sanction a union between a man and a woman posits that there is something inherently objectionable about homosexuality or that same-sex intimate relationships are irreconcilable with the core characteristics of marriage.  Singling out same-sex spouses for exclusion from the federal definition of marriage amounts to a bare expression of animus on the basis of sexual orientation and, under Romer, this rationale does not satisfy rational basis review.

Romer refers to Romer v. Evans, the 1996 case where the Supreme Court struck down a Colorado constitutional amendment that had forbidden state officials from taking any action designed to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. “The amendment imposes a special disability upon those persons alone,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion. “Homosexuals are forbidden the safeguards that others enjoy or may seek without constraint.”

At this point, we’re essentially looking at a race to the Supreme Court between these various DOMA challenges (including the DOMA case from Massachusetts) and the legal challenge filed against California’s Proposition 8, which had amended the state constitution to forbid gay marriage. That case, which is being spearheaded by the all-star tag-team of Republican lawyer Ted Olson and Democratic lawyer David Boies (last seen together when they faced off in Bush v. Gore), has already won before a 3-judge panel of the 9th Circuit, and is now awaiting review by a full 9th Circuit panel. So whether it’s the case against DOMA or the case against Prop. 8, one or more of these lawsuits is very likely to hit the Supreme Court, which could rule on the constitutionality of gay marriage as early as next year.

Update: This post has been edited for clarity.

State Department: Mexican Security Forces Engaged in "Unlawful Killings, Forced Disappearances, Instances of Torture"

A new report from the U.S. State Department reveals that Mexican police and the military have "engaged in unlawful killings, forced disappearances, and instances of physical abuse and torture" while carrying out the U.S.-backed war on drugs. 

The report is yet another reminder that no matter what Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske and other members of the Obama administration may say in the lead-up to the 2012 presidential election, the war on drugs is not over

The report also contradicts a statement made last year by Drug Enforcement Administration Chief Michele Leonhart, who told the Washington Post, "It may seem contradictory, but the unfortunate level of violence is a sign of success in the fight against drugs....[cartels] are like caged animals, attacking one another.”

Here are some of the most disconcerting findings from the State Department's report: 


Nidal Hasan Was Not A Terrorist For Purple Hearts Purposes, But Was for Kill List Purposes

In the latest back-and-forth over the NDAA, the White House listed 32 concerns that may lead to a veto. No civil liberties concerns in the White House statement, but there is this:

The Administration objects to section 552, which would grant Purple Hearts to the victims of the shooting incidents in Fort Hood, Texas, and Little Rock, Arkansas.  The criminal acts that occurred in Little Rock were tried by the State of Arkansas as violations of the State criminal code rather than as acts of terrorism; as a result, this provision could create appellate issues.

PJ Media’s Bridget Johnson takes this to mean the Administration doesn’t consider the Fort Hood shooting by Nidal Hasan an act of terrorism:

Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. Army major who had email communications with senior al-Qaeda recruiter and Yemen-based cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, awaits military trial for the Nov. 5, 2009, massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, in which 13 were killed and 29 wounded.

After the Fort Hood shootings, the FBI quickly said there was no evidence of a greater terrorist plot at work, the Defense Department called it an “isolated” case, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Hasan’s actions were not representative of his Muslim faith.

The cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, was put on a kill list, and later killed, along with his teenage son, by the U.S. government, because the government claimed he was a dangerous terrorist. (The specific legal justification has not been released by the government) He was not indicted on a single count of terrorism, nevertheless the government considered him a terrorist threat grave enough to be become a target for assassination. His e-mail relationship with the Fort Hood killer was widely cited in the press after al-Awlaki was killed in a drone strike.

So the victims at Fort Hood are not deserving of Purple Hearts because the Fort Hood incident was not an act of terrorism, but insofar as it can be used to justify the targeted assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, we’re led to believe that U.S. officials believe he “inspired” terror attacks like… the shooting at Fort Hood.

All part of the rhetorical acrobatics this administration has performed to keep prosecuting a war on Muslim populations abroad and at home while eschewing the language of a war on terror in an effort to obfuscate the definitions of the war. And now those acrobatics leave us with a situation in which one U.S citizen is killed for inspiring a terror plot, but the troops killed in that terror plot aren’t eligible for medals because it wasn’t a terror plot. All while Congress passes laws making the whole planet a battlefield and everyone a potential enemby combatant in an ill-defined war on terror that was never declared and the government doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge exists, except when they fight it. But don’t ask questions. It’s all a secret, even when it isn’t.

Advertising in the Olympic Corporate State

Everyone knows the Olympics are an advertising bonanza for the event's corporate sponsors. That's been true since the 1984 games in Los Angeles. What isn't as well known is that the urban authorities today do not merely promote the Olympics' officially approved commercial speech; they suppress commercial speech that does not have the games' approval. Kosmograd reports:

The most carefully policed Brand Exclusion Zone will be around the Olympic Park, and extend up to 1km beyond its perimeter, for up to 35 days. Within this area, officially called an Advertising and Street Trade Restrictions venue restriction zone, no advertising for brands designated as competing with those of the official Olympic sponsors will be allowed. (Originally, as detailed here, only official sponsors were allowed to advertise, but leftover sites are now available). This will be supported by preventing spectators from wearing clothing prominently displaying competing brands, or from entering the exclusion zone with unofficial snack and beverage choices. Within the Zone, the world's biggest McDonald's will be the only branded food outlet, and Visa will be the only payment card accepted.

This brand apartheid is designed to prevent "ambush marketing", the gaining exposure of an brand through unofficial means. One of the best known examples of this was in the World Cup in 2010, where a bevy of 36 Dutch beauties in orange dresses provided by Bavaria beer gained considerable media attention, to the chagrin of the official World Cup beer, Budweiser. At London 2012, branding 'police' will be on hand to ensure that nothing like this happens, with potential criminal prosecutions against those responsible. Organising committee LOCOG will also take steps to ensure that no unofficial business tries to associate itself with the Olympics by using phrases like 'London 2012', even on such innocuous things such as a cafe menu offering an 'Olympic breakfast'....And it's not just London. All the venues for the 2012 Olympics will be on brand lockdown. In Coventry, even the roadsigns will be changed so that there is no reference to the Ricoh Arena, which is hosting matches in the football tournament. Even logos on hand dryers in the toilets are being covered up. The Sports Direct Arena in Newcastle will have to revert back to St. James Park for the duration of the Olympics.

Via Gawker, which adds: "Expect running street battles between brand police and guerrilla marketers to rage throughout the Games." Occupy Marketing!

Elsewhere in Reason: In 2005 I asked, "Why would you want to host the Olympics?"

Note to President Obama: Research Shows that Private Equity Investments Create Jobs

One of the more irritating features of electoral politics is the disinformation that politicians spew with regard to their records and those of their opponents. President Barack Obama obviously intends to ride class warfare back into the White House this fall. One tactic of this class warfare strategy is to assert that private equity companies like Bain Capital that Mitt Romney headed back in the day destroyed jobs while enriching vulture capitalists. Unfortunately, recent economic research contradicts the president's claims that private equity firms destroy jobs.  

For example, consider a 2010 National Bureau of Economic Research 2010 study, Private Equity and Economic Performance [PDF], by researchers from Columbia and Harvard Universities and the Swedish Institute for Financial Research. They report: 

Industries where PE [private equity) funds have been active in the past five years grow more rapidly than other sectors, whether measured using total production, value added, or employment. In industries with PE investments, there are few significant differences between industries with a low and high level of PE activity....

PE industries appear to grow significantly faster in terms of labor costs and the number of employees. The annual growth rate of total labor cost is 0.5 to 1.4 percentage points greater for PE industries, and the number of employees grows at an annual rate that is 0.4 to 1.0 percentage points greater. These findings are particularly surprising, since a common concern is that PE investors act aggressively to reduce costs with little concern for employees. This concern is not necessarily inconsistent with our results. Despite initialemployment reductions at private equity-backed firms, the greater subsequent growth in total production ... may lead to subsequent employment growth in the industry overall.

Considering the specifications with PE activity quartiles, industries with more PE activity appear to have more rapid growth of total labor costs, but the growth rate of the number of employees is fastest in industries with more moderate levels of PE activity. Regardless of the level of PE activity, however, the PE industries’ growth rates of labor costs and employment always exceed the rates for non-PE industries.

When will the president and his advisors get it through their heads that in the long-run propping up badly managed companies is not the way to create more jobs? 

Government Shrinkage and Economic Growth

We examined the 28 OECD countries defined as "advanced" by the IMF between 1965 and 2010. Using regression analysis to control for the growth rates of the factors of production (physical capital, labor and human capital) and initial GDP, our results suggest that reducing the ratio of taxes or spending to GDP by five percentage points increases the growth rate of GDP per capita by 0.5 to 0.6 percentage points per year.

A broader sample of all "advanced" countries (again, as defined by the IMF) over the past 10 years seems to support these findings. Over this period, countries whose governments tax and spend less than 40% of GDP have grown more quickly than the big-government countries.

These differences in growth rates are important. Small differences in percentage growth rates roll up to huge differences in wealth generation over a number of years. If the differential of the last 10 years were to be constant over 25 years, then the economies of those countries with small governments would have more than doubled (an increase of 115%) while big government countries would have only seen growth of 64%.

Is this conclusive proof that cutting the size of government will always increase growth? Of course not. The accumulation and quality of other factors are also important. But this evidence shows that other things equal, countries with small governments and with small tax burdens grow faster.

That's from a WSJ op-ed by Tim Knox and Ryan Bourne of the Centre for Policy Studies, where a full-length version of their study is available.

Reason.com on government spending.

Another view on shrinkage, significant shrinkage:

Kurt Loder Reviews Men in Black III and Moonrise Kingdom

Men in Black III reenlists the talents of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, writes Kurt Loder, and it’s good to have them back, togged out in their black suits and shades and riding herd over America’s vast alien-creature community. But what really energizes this third installment of the franchise is Josh Brolin, who plays a younger incarnation of Jones, and seems to have inhaled the older actor’s grumpy essence and to be exuding it through his pores. It’s a flawless comic performance.

Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, meanwhile, which opened the Cannes Film Festival last week, is a movie whose pleasures are largely formal. Anderson acolytes will welcome another demonstration of his deadpan visual strategies—the locked-down shots facing off on split screens, the camera panning slowly past a series of rooms to introduce some of the characters—and his detached narrative style. Those who find the director’s work flawed by preciousness, however, Loder writes, may grow impatient well before the movie reaches the 90-minute mark.

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Take the Memorial Day Challenge and Watch "Honor Flight" Trailer!

In November 2009, then-ReasonTV staffer Dan Hayes produced the immensely moving documentary "Every Day is a Bonus: Veteran's Day November 2009 in D.C." The five-minute film followed the adventures of World War II vets being flown by the charity Honor Flight to the World War II Memorial in the nation's capitol (click here to watch that or scroll down).

Hayes left ReasonTV to make a full-length documentary about Honor Flight's activities and that film, co-produced with Clay Broga through their company Freethink Media and Stars and Stripes Honor Flight of Wisconsin, will debut on August 11 at Milwaukee's Miller Park (home to baseball's Brewers).

Go here to learn more about the film and Honor Flight's activities, and how you can support the film and its goals of thanking vets and energizing Americans to think about how best to live their own lives. From the website:

In a time of economic uncertainty and political division, Honor Flight is a unifying story about gratitude and freedom. The film is meant to inspire viewers to reflect on the freedom and opportunity they have been gifted. Honor Flight prompts viewers to recognize the Greatest Generation, not just by saying “thank you,” but by striving to lead lives worthy of their legacy.

The filmmakers are hoping to generate 50,000 views this Memorial Day weekend to help raise the visibility of Honor Flight. Click above to watch and follow the hashtag #domore on Twitter.

Those of us who had relatives who fought in World War II or served at other times in the military are personally familiar with the service that soldiers perform, but all of us benefit from constant reminders of the costs they bear. Memorial Day is the nation's offical observance of those who paid the ultimate price of dying during wartime and is the perfect time to reflect on the often-casual heroism of fallen fighters and the larger questions raised by military action, national purpose, and individual conscience. 

Here's Hayes' 2009 film for ReasonTV that got his current project rolling:

A.M. Links: Muslim Brother Leads Egypt Vote, Hollande Visits Afghanistan, China Reacts to U.S. Human Rights Report

  • The Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi appears to be leading former Mubarak Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq out of 13 candidates as ballots in the first round of Egypt’s presidential elections are counted.
  • Newly elected French President Francois Hollande visited soldiers in Afghanistan. He intends to withdraw France’s 3,500 troops by the end of the year.
  • According to China’s Xinhua state news agency, the United States latest annual human rights report ignored “the obvious achievements made by China in protecting its citizens’ rights and freedom” and “groundlessly slammed China for continued ‘deterioration’ in key aspects of its human rights situation in 2011.”
  • City cars in Youngstown, Ohio will be equipped with GPS devices to monitor city employees’ movements and starting next month city employees will have to clock in and out too.
  • The family of an unarmed man shot to death by a cop at a traffic stop earlier this month is suing the Jacksonville’s Sheriff’s Office. Cops claim the man had crack cocaine in his socks, but surveillance video shows him complying with police orders.
  • A Nebraska man using the moniker “Dr. Don Dough” won’t be allowed to hand out flyers as part of his planned HyperTextPsychoDrama during President Obama’s visit to the Iowa state fair, a federal judge ruled.

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

New at Reason.TV: "Scott Walker Will Survive Wisconsin Recall: Reason-Rupe Poll Results"

Brickbat: Hacked Off

For their senior prank, three students at Lawrence High School in Kansas decided to partially shave the heads of some younger friends and siblings. The haircuts took place off campus, and the younger students volunteered for the haircuts. Still, school officials charged the seniors with hazing and bullying and suspended them. Even after parents explained they had given the OK for the head shaving, officials would not lift the suspensions.

Brickbat Archive

Americans Elect: Don't Give Up!

As Americans Elect, the attempt at a internet-based third party, fails to meet its own stated standards for demonstrated public support for its would-be candidates and tries to punk out (after winning coveted and hard-to-get ballot access in at least 29 states), some would be candidates are pissed, reports California Watch:

Complaining that the group’s leadership hasn't listened to the membership, the insurgents are pushing for Americans Elect to forge ahead. They don't want the $35 million the group raised to get on the ballot in 29 states, including California, to go to waste.

Involved in the effort is a Bay Area activist and filmmaker who ran for the Americans Elect nomination and came in third place, after former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer and former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson. Michealene Risley, a resident of Woodside in San Mateo County, said she was shocked when she heard – via press release – that Americans Elect was shutting down the nomination process....

Americans Elect had bulldozed through the tremendous hurdles alternative parties face in getting on ballots, gathering more than a million signatures to become the first new official party in California since 1995. But in its announcement last week, Americans Elect explained that its rules mandated an end to the process because no candidate achieved the "national support threshold" necessary to enter its online convention in June.

Roemer, for example, needed 10,000 supporters among those who registered as Americans Elect delegates online, but he came up with only 6,293. Risley and Anderson needed to collect 50,000 supporters – more than Roemer because they didn't have high-level political experience..... 

Americans Elect always faced long odds in its quest to field a viable, centrist presidential candidate who would shake things up. The group also drew criticism for not disclosing the donors who bankrolled the effort. In a previous story, California Watch found that one of the main funders, board Chairman Peter Ackerman, once had to pay millions of dollars in delinquent taxes and penalties for an alleged tax shelter scheme.

"They haven't been the most transparent group from the outset," Anderson said. "Nobody really knows how the rules were set from the beginning or how Americans Elect has been financed."...

Risley said the group's top-down decisionmaking "feels like more of the same" instead of an alternative to the traditional two parties.

Given their insistence on a transpartisan "centrist" choice, it never really promised to be anything but more of the same, alas. A fascinating experiment in conquering ballot access restrictions, though. I only wish people would throw money at such problems with a better idea than "transpartisan centrist." Of course, if they followed their own rules and enough people cared to meet their numerical triggers, any number of interesting things might have happened. Alas, they did not.

Guess who is number one in the Americans Elect "draft" with more than twice as many picks as his nearest competitor, GOP also-ran Jon Huntsman? Ron Paul, subject of my new book, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.

Past Americans Elect blogging from me here and here.

QQ Rhode Island Noobs: You Paid $75 Million for Failed Game Company

Mighty Curt Schilling has struck out.

The former Red Sox pitcher’s video game company, 38 Studios, laid off all its staff today, shutting down its Rhode Island and Maryland offices, Brian Crecente reports for Polygon.

The company’s failure may well leave Rhode Island taxpayers on the hook for the $75 million loan given to them by the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation to lure them to move there from Massachusetts, even though the company had yet to actually release a game at the time:

The news came as a surprise to nearly everyone involved, including the state of Rhode Island and Governor Lincoln Chafee who during an afternoon press conference said that as of this morning they hadn't heard a word about possible layoffs or a closure.

During the evening press conference Chafee attributed the sudden studio closure and financial plummet to their first game, Age of Amalur: Reckoning, which he said "failed."

"The game failed," he said. "The game failed. That was integral to the success of the company."

He told reporters that experts told them it would have had to sell 3 million copies to break even. Schilling has said that the game sold about 1.2 million copies in its first 90 days.

Chafee said that despite the company layoffs and shutdown, he’s hoping somehow to get it back on its feet (insert gamer joke about not bringing any healers to the party here):

If the 38 Studios remains closed, the state says it has the money to make the first year of payments on the loan from a reserve they set aside pulled out of the loan amount. But after that the state would then have to start making the payments to the bank.

'We do have some time," a state official told reporters during today's press conference. "There wouldn't be a debt service default within the year."

According to Crecente’s report, a number of officials at the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation have either resigned over the disaster or have asked not to be reappointed.

As we reported previously, the loan was not for the game that was actually released. It was for the building of a Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) that will now likely never see the light of day. But they did release a video flyover of the world they were creating:

Pretty, but yeah, another fantasy RPG clone corpse (with no loot) littering the videogame landscape, this time paid for with the public's money.

Ronald Bailey on Separating Church and State Money

In January the Obama administration unveiled new health care regulations that require organizations run by the Roman Catholic Church to offer health insurance that covers women’s reproductive services, including contraception. The U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops denounced the mandate as a violation of the First Amendment’s ban on laws “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion. As the contraception controversy illustrates, writes Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey, conflicts between church and state in this country typically arise from the way that benefits supplied or mandated by the government are distributed. So if religious institutions want to be left alone, Bailey notes, they should stop begging alms from the government.

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Scott Walker Will Survive Wisconsin Recall: Reason-Rupe Poll Results

Will Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) get bounced from power for busting public employee unions? And what message does the June 5th recall election against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) hold for other states struggling to balance their budgets? For the coming showdown between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney?

The latest Reason-Rupe Poll reports from the Badger State. Passed last year, Walker's controversial Act 10 restricted collective bargaining rights for many public employees, causing the backlash that led to the recall election. Walker says such actions were necessary to contain costs and balance a budget facing a multi-billion-dollar shortfall. His opponents say that Walker is paying for tax cuts to the wealthy by cutting salaries and spending that help middle-class residents. (For more on the issues involved, watch this video.)

The Reason-Rupe Poll surveyed 700 Wisconsin residents during May 14-18th and found that while a large majority (71 percent) want public employees to contribute more to cover their health benefits, residents are not clearly against collective bargaining per se (51 percent want to see it "limited"). Fully 57 percent thought that police and firefighters - exempted under Walker's plan - should also pay more their benefits.

Although more residents support Barack Obama (46 percent) than presumptive GOP candidate Mitt Romney (36 percent), 50 percent want Scott Walker to keep his current job, with just 42 percent favoring Tom Barrett.

"A quarter of those who plan to vote for Scott Walker have a favorable opinion of Barack Obama," says Reason Polling Director Emily Ekins, who oversaw the survey. "[That] demonstrates that the desire to reform public employee [compensation] extends beyond partisan lines."

For full results and more analysis, go here.

About three minutes long. Produced by Jim Epstein, with help from Meredith Bragg, Joshua Swain, and Nick Gillespie.

Make Your Own Damn Movie With Collaboration Filmmakers Challenge: LAST DAY TO REGISTER

Write, shoot, cut and edit your own movie.

Get your work in front of Reason.com movie critic Kurt Loder, freedom-loving filmmaker Tim Minear and other luminaries in Hollywood. 

Make the best movie and win $5,000. 

The Collaboration Filmmaking Challenge starts May 24. Join up now!


The $5000 top prize is awarded to the team who creates the CFC’s top film, as awarded by the jury panel at our festival screening at the beautiful Harmony Gold Theatre in Hollywood.  We’ll be bringing in some of Hollywood’s brightest creative minds, such as Tim Minear (Firefly, Wonderfalls, The Inside) and Kurt Loder to watch and review our participants’ submissions! The audience will also select its favorite film, whose creators will be awarded a $1500 prize!

The third prize is our $1500 Key Collaborator Award, an individual award given out to the person who contributes most to the efforts of his/her fellow filmmakers. That’s right: you could win $1500 by helping someone else win the contest. What makes the CFC a truly unique experience is that it goes beyond simple competition. As the name suggests, this challenge is about bringing filmmakers together to transform one person’s vision into a masterpiece through powerful creative partnerships.

So how does it work? At the beginning of the contest, the CFC will announce the filmmaking theme, which all filmmakers will express through their films. This year we’ve been inspired by the brilliant P.J. O’Rourke, but that’s all we can tell you for now…

The contest runs for two weeks, with all participants working in randomly assigned teams of two: one filmmaker and one collaborator.

Who is this challenge for? It’s for anyone! Industry pros, student filmmakers, amateur enthusiasts—all are welcome. The beauty of this experience is that you’ll be working alongside many other people with a similar passion for filmmaking, and anyone could win.

What’s the catch? One, you’ve got to submit an application and $35 registration fee. Two, you must be able to commit to BOTH weeks of filmmaking. Participants must complete both weeks of filmmaking to qualify.

You must register before the mandatory orientation on Thursday, May 24. The filmmaking dates are 5/30-6/12, and the screening will take place on Friday, June 22nd.

For more information about the Collaboration Filmmaker’s Challenge, including a calendar and the complete rules, visit our website at:www.collaborationchallenge.com. Email any questions to info@collaborationchallenge.com!

Here Are the 15 Senators Who Voted to Stop Armed FDA Agents From Conducting Warrantless Raids on America's Farmers (Not One of Them is a Democrat)

Earlier today an amendment proposed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would have prevented Food and Drug Administration agents from carrying guns and from raiding farms without warrants, was voted down on the Senate floor by 78 senators. These 15 senators, meanwhile, supported the amendment by voting against tabling it. Not a single one is a Democrat:

Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)

John Boozman (R-AR)

Tom Coburn (R-OK)

John Cornyn (R-TX)

Mike Crapo (R-ID)

Jim DeMint (R-SC)

Mike Johanns (R-NE)

Ron Johnson (R-WI)

Mike Lee (R-UT)

Rand Paul (R-KY)

Jim Risch (R-ID)

John Thune (R-SD)

Pat Toomey (R-PA)

David Vitter (R-LA)

Roger Wicker (R-MS)

The Greek Tragedy Continues to Unfold

For the last few days European leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to the failed experiment that is the euro. Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council President, has said that the EU wants Greece to remain in the eurozone, a position reiterated by European Commission President Jose Barroso. In the UK the Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, has said that it would not be rational to support a Greek exit. Neither this rhetoric nor hints that the Greek government may already have made plans for a currency switch have reassured the markets. Yesterday the euro fell to a twenty-two month low against the dollar. While the elected and unelected officials of Europe continue to speak of a rescue plan that will keep Greece in the eurozone, outside of the political bubble analysts are predicting a Greek exit.

At Citi Group chief economist Willem Buiter has predicted that Greece will leave the euro within the year and that the new currency Greece uses will be severely devalued. Academics such as Nouriel Roubini, Hamish McRae, and Stergios Skaperdas have argued that not only is a Greek exit from the euro inevitable, but the sooner the exit the better.

For the many Europeans who are not unelected officials on six-figure salaries the attempted salvaging of Greek membership of the eurozone will make this exit more painful than it would have been if Greece had been let loose from the currency earlier. So much money has been poured into attempted bailouts that who will owe who what when the dust is settled is far from certain. Philip Booth of the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs highlighted some of these problems last week.

That European policy makers seem intent of keeping Greece in the eurozone while claiming that spending increases are indications of some sort of “austerity” is especially worrying. All across Europe the myth of austerity is taking hold. Almost every government in Europe has increased spending as a percentage of GDP. In countries like the UK, where the government claims to be implementing an austerity program, spending is nominally increasing, and it is only thanks to inflation that we are seeing modest reductions in government spending.

The only suggestion of realism coming out of Brussels comes from an as of yet unseen document obtained by Reuters which indicates that countries inside the eurozone have been instructed to make plans for a Greek exit. The document also suggests that a 50 billion euro package could be given to Greece to help ease the transition out of the euro. The Greek finance ministry has denied that these plans have been made.

This Greek tragedy has dragged on for far too long, and the final chorus is long overdue. The political posturing that we have seen will only make the inevitable exit worse. Unfortunately, it is the Europeans outside of the political class who will have to endure the austerity that follows.

Mitt and Barry Spar Over Free Markets, ACLU Sues Over Domestic Surveillance, Euro May Be All Over for Greece: P.M. Links

  • In the latest round of an almost-substantial exchange between Mitt and Barry, Romney charges that the incumbent is "attacking capitalism" and doesn't understand basic economic concepts — productivity, in particular.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice faces an ACLU lawsuit intended to force the government to release data about the domestic warrantless use of surveillance tools known as pen registers and trap and trace devices.
  • Targeting what they call "mean-spirited and baseless political attacks that add nothing to the real debate," a cabal of mostly Republican lawmakers in the Empire State want to ban anonymous online comments. The usual suspects (we know who they are) call the legislation unbelievably unconstitutional. (HT Eduard van Haalen)
  • Now that Americans Elect has broken your wishy-washy, centrist heart, you should know that Gary Johnson is polling at nine percent in Arizona and five percent in Wisconsin.
  • With Facebook's messy IPO sparking both chatter and legal inquires, the company may be considering a switch from the NASDAQ Stock Market to the New York Stock Exchange.
  • A second Missouri circuit court judge ruled that red-light cameras violate due-process rights, and so the tickets they issue are unenforceable. The ruling boosts the chances of the state's high court considering the issue. Meanwhile, a New Jersey state senator wants to reinstate his state's ban on the cameras, which was partially repealed in 2008.
  • Greece will leave the Eurozone in 2013, says a Citigroup senior economist, with an immediate 60 percent drop in the drachma likely to prove contagious, but also boosting the country's competitiveness.
  • Want to rein-in the stupid decisions? Try thinking things through in another language! Doing so improves the chances of rational decision-making and accepting greater risk, according to a study in the journal Psychological Science. Vraiment, très intéressant.

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Greg Beato on Positive Electronic Monitoring

How did two students of Timothy Leary and B.F. Skinner almost turn the electronic incarceration model on its head? Greg Beato tells the story of Robert and Ralph Kirkland Gable, who demonstrated electronic monitoring could be a tool in the process of positive reinforcement rather than a means of deterrence, a way for individuals to document instances of good behavior. “My brother’s advisor was Tim Leary – there was a lot of crazy, creative stuff going on with that,” says Robert Gable. “I was a student of B.F. Skinner. He was mostly working with pigeons and was very boring as a lecturer, and I wasn’t interested in doing anything in the lab. But my brother came up with this idea—why don’t we try the stuff that Skinner’s doing with pigeons on juvenile delinquents?”

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“It’s nice to see a popular Democrat take a strong stance against the drug war.”

At Mediaite, Andrew Kirell gives a big cheer to Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker, who “took to Twitter to give a brilliant rant against the drug war and the disproportionate impact it has on blacks in America.” After presenting Booker’s best tweets on the subject, including the irrefutable observation that “Drug war is a failure costing billions of tax dollars annually AND destorying lives,” Kirell remarks:

It’s nice to see a popular Democrat take a strong stance against the drug war. But this is a rare position among mainstream politicians. I can think of only a handful of well-known politicians besides Booker who openly advocate for a rethinking of the drug war.

In a perfect world, this Twitter rant, plus the latest Rasmussen poll that 56% of Americans support marijuana legalization, would convince President Obama to “evolve” on the drug war and, at the very least, stop raiding medical marijuana dispensaries with a frequency that even Richard Nixon would have applauded.

Read the whole thing here.

Rand Paul Amendment to Stop Armed FDA Agents From Raiding Farms Fails, 78-15

The amendment Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced yesterday to demilitarize the FDA failed in the Senate today by a vote of 78-15. 

Paul's amendment would have prohibited FDA employees (as well as all other Health and Human Services employees) from carrying weapons and making arrests without warrants. 

"We have nearly 40 federal agencies that are armed. I’m not against having police, I’m not against the army, the military, the FBI, but I think bureaucrats don’t need to be carrying weapons and I think what we ought to do, is if there is a need for an armed policeman to be there, the FBI who are trained to do this should do it," Paul said yesterday on the Senate floor. "But I don’t think it’s a good idea to be arming bureaucrats to go on the farm to, with arms, to stop people from selling milk from a cow." 

The amendment would also have allowed the makers of prune juice to advertise that their products help relieve constipation. 

...And here's the roll call, which features zero Democrats in favor of ending armed raids on American farmers

Andrew Sullivan Nominates Tim Cavanaugh for Trig Palin Award

Newsweek afterbirther Andrew Sullivan briefly leaves off rescuing abandoned Palin family infants from rocky mountaintops in order to chart my claptrap

According to Sully, my belief that under President Barack Obama America has experienced "vast unemployment, soaring inflation, a moribund economy, record deficits, and a manically ill-conceived energy policy" is not merely wrong. It is so wrong as to make me eligible for a "Malkin Award" (which I had never heard of prior to my nomination but which I assume is a raspberry named in honor of Holy Spirit High graduate Michelle Malkin, of whom I shall not speak well because she went to Holy Spirit High). 

Points in order: 

• I believe I am neither the first nor the last to note that U-3 unemployment currently is higher than the rate Obama’s economic advisors predicted it would be were the $800 billion ARRA stimulus not adopted. (It was adopted, one month into Obama’s presidency.) 

• I’d like to take "soaring inflation" and "moribund economy" together: Sullivan posts two charts, one showing GDP growth averaging flat-or-flattish since 2007, and another showing inflation in every quarter except one. During that period, inflation has been a cumulative 10.97, according to a Koch-funded rightwing hate group called the Bureau of Labor Statistics

I suggest Sullivan take a look at the Federal Reserve’s Flow of Fund reports to get a sense of how much household net worth Americans have lost over those same four years, while the value of their money has been literally decimated. That’s a double-whammy called "stagflation," which like the name of Voldemort I don’t care to pronounce because I remember the original. 

All caveats about the falsehood of both CPI inflation and GDP measurements also apply. I have left Sully’s Keynesian church and am only using its false dogma for the sake of argument. 

• As for record deficits, Sullivan is following the latest don’t-believe-your-own-two-eyes fad, which claims that you when see clear evidence of at-or-near-record peacetime spending hikes since 2009, you’re just showing that you don’t understand how the federal budget really works. (If the preceding is too much of a mouthful, here's the shorter version: It's Bush's fault.) 

I have another neat chart, from James Pethokoukis, which takes President George W. Bush spending hikes into account and still shows what Obama’s done with the place. Sullivan seems to think I have a problem admitting Bush was a big spender too, which (since he says nothing interesting about energy policy) brings me to his final error: 

• I voted for Obama in 2008, and documented that vote more than once. So in saying my description of the economy’s performance over the past four years is a "knee-jerk" response of the "right," Sullivan is, as always, wrong. 

Sullivan's early-aughts star-turn as the Prince Hamlet of the liberal hawks cured me of any hope that he might deal honestly with his formerly held positions. But I think he should spare a thought for the throat-clearing bore who wrote the following in 2009: "But it also seems to me that this president and this new Congress were elected in part to address this issue, that their more interventionist stand was clear, and that they should both get the benefit of the doubt - as well as full responsibility for the consequences."

Details About The Bin Laden Raid Are Secret Unless You Plan to Make a SEAL-Aggrandizing, America-Cheering, "Heroic" Film About It

Over at Gawker, John Cook reports that the rumors seem to be true about the May 2011 raid that ended with the death of U.S. enemy numero uno Osama Bin Laden; The White House, while they were busy changing their story about the raid numerous times, were also chatting like ladies at a hair salon to director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal so that they could in turn the heroic story into a no-doubt-heroic movie.

The originally planned October 2012 —AKA a month before the presidential election — release date for Zero Dark Thirty was changed to December 2012. Nobody, especially not Bigelow, has admitted to anything gross about the little-too-perfect timing of the original date, but now it's indeed bumped back.

It's important not to influence public opinion or anything. Or to look untoward about serious issues like presidential elections and killing important terrorist. Except that, writes Cook:

The documents, obtained via the Freedom of Information Act by Judicial Watch, which had to sue to get them, show a level of access to CIA facilities and intelligence personnel that would make a national security beat reporter blush. CIA flacks spent an enormous amount of time last summer setting up interviews between Boal and senior CIA officials, including a tour of the room where the raid was planned and access to a CIA-built recreation of the bin Laden compound. All while the White House was engaged in a concerted effort to squelch "leaks" of classified information.

As Politico's Josh Gerstein points out, some of the email traffic in the CIA setting up Boal's visit acknowledges the apparent hypocrisy of opening the door on one of the Agency's most sensitive operations to a Hollywood production while vigorously working to shut down reporting on the incident by news outlets. "We're trying to keep [Boal's] visits at HQs a bit quiet, because of the sensitivities surrounding who gets to participates in this types of things," CIA spokesman Marie Harf wrote in one email. "I'm sure you understand." Another email from a Pentagon official to his colleagues notes an "increase in detailed requests in conjunction with books, documentaries, and film projects.... On behalf of [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates and [Under Secretary for Intelligence] Dr. [Michael] Vickers, I request that you decline any direct requests for information regarding the UBL operation.... Recently there have...been a number of sensitive items appearing in the press, which is quite troubling."

That email is particularly ironic seeing as how Vickers himself sat down with Boal for a 45-minute interview in which he disclosed a previously unreported detail about the intelligence that led to the raid.

This tidbit was the fact that back in 2009, U.S. forces lost the Bin Laden courier who eventually lad them to the terrorist leader's Pakistan abode. That was a narrow miss for the Obama administration who maybe could have started off their White House tenure even earlier with this smashing success in terrorist-killing.

Notes Cook, this detail seems to be missing from actual journalism from the last few years and:

"I can't definitively say that no one has ever reported that," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col James Gregory told me. "But as far as I know those words had not previously been spoken in public."

But at least filmmakers now know, thank God.

CBS notes that there are folks who have other reasons to criticism this kind of snugness between government and Hollywood. It's not that sharing information with Bigelow and Boal and not sharing it with journalists or, ya know, the rest of the world is gross and aggrandizing and transparent. No, it turns out it might have jeopardized national security:

A House committee chairman charged Wednesday that the CIA and Defense Department jeopardized national security by cooperating too closely with filmmakers producing a movie on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King. R-N.Y., first raised questions about the bin Laden movie last summer, but said newly released documents confirm his suspicions.

The filmmakers are director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, who won Academy Awards for the motion picture "The Hurt Locker."

King referred to documents obtained by Judicial Watch in a Freedom of Information Act request. He said the filmmakers received "extremely close, unprecedented and potentially dangerous collaboration" from the Obama administration.

Unsurprisingly, various officials dispute the suspiciousness of this thing:

Pentagon press secretary George Little disputed some of the allegations. He said that while a planner was suggested as a possible point of contact for information on the bin Laden raid, a meeting between that planner and the filmmakers never occurred.

He said the Defense Department engages on a regular basis with the entertainment industry on movie projects, and the goal is to "make them as realistic as possible. We believe this is an important service that we provide."

Little added that Pentagon officials did meet with producers of the film but said, "We have never reviewed a script of the movie."

Little also denied that the cooperation was an attempt to boost President Barack Obama's election chances, and said the movie would not be out until after the election. Sony Pictures confirmed that the projected release date of the movie is Dec. 19.

CIA spokesman Preston Golson disputed the allegation that the filmmakers were given access to a secret "vault."

"Virtually every office and conference room in our headquarters is called a 'vault' in agency lingo," he said. The 'vault' in question, that had been used for planning the raid, was empty at the time of the filmmakers' visit."

Golson added, "The CIA has been open about our engagement with writers, documentary filmmakers, movie and TV producers, and others in the entertainment industry. Our goal is an accurate portrayal of the men and women of the CIA, their vital mission and the commitment to public service that defines them. The protection of national security equities is always paramount in any engagement with the entertainment industry."

Well, that's one thing the CIA is open about. So that's...something.

This is indeed one of those terrible things that is not that new. The Pentagon clearly adores Hollywood and Hollywood's willingness to trade the army looking good for moviemakers' access to sweet technology. Hollywood also digs getting permission to use a disclaimer which thanks the army for their assistance. 

Obviously propaganda has been around as long as movies (and World War II Hollywood obviously was the opposite of a bastion of Catch-22 or The Americanization of Emily type of tough questioning of the fundamental problems of even the "good war"). And perhaps the information wasn't that big of a leak, but the principle is clear; the U.S. government continues to be too arrogant to believe it should have to prove that the details of the Bin Laden are as described. They are not going to release Bin Laden death photos or video footage because that would risk national security.

But if you plan to write a gritty war-drama that is sure to make the SEAL team look amazing...Well. It will probably be a gritty film, and with more shallowly nuanced war-is-tough-and-national-security-is-shouty-and-serious themes than you would get from Michael Bay, sure. But it's hard not assume that the movie will make government and the armed forces look like anything but doers of good. As Bigelow said last year "This was an American triumph, both heroic and non-partisan." Maybe she does know better than we do.

Reason on propaganda and the war on terror

New Poll: Obama Leads Romney In Wisconsin, But Gary Johnson Could Impact the Race

While a majority of Wisconsin voters plan to vote for Republican Governor Scott Walker in the June 5th recall election, Wisconsinites plan to vote for President Barack Obama by a margin of 10 percent over Mitt Romney. (46 percent to 36 percent)

Among likely voters, Obama’s margin over Romney shrinks to 44-41 percent. Consequently, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson’s 5 percent of the vote could potentially impact the results of thisswing-state. Depending on whether Johnson takes more votes from Romney or Obama could swing which presidential candidate receives the state’s electoral votes.


Gary Johnson voters in Wisconsin are difficult to categorize, as they agree with Mitt Romney supporters to end automatic union dues deductions, and think public employee unions have too much power and get better benefits than private sector workers. However, they are more like Obama supporters in that they are less comfortable limiting public unions’ collective bargaining, and are slightly more likely to vote for Tom Barrett (38 to 33 percent). They self-identify as Independent, but tend to lean Republican.

Full poll results can be found here and cross tabs here.

ORC International conducted fieldwork for the poll, May 14th-18th 2012 of both mobile and landline phones, 708 Wisconsin adults, margin of error +/- 3.7%.  Likely Wisconsin voters (609, MOE +/-4%) include registered respondents who said they are absolutely certain to vote or very likely to vote in the June 5th recall election for governor.

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

Kirsten Adshead on the Outdated Law Behind the Scott Walker Recall

Reporting from Madison, Wisconsin, Kirsten Adshead takes a close look at the Wisconsin law allowing for the recall of elected officials. The law’s intent was to remove criminals from office, Adshead explains. But policy disagreements are the driving force behind today’s effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker—specifically the collective bargaining limitations put on most public union employees under Act 10, which Walker pushed and the GOP-led Legislature passed.

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Flashing Headlights to Warn About Speed Traps Is Protected Speech, Sez Judge

Meet Ryan Kintner, 25, American hero:

According to his suit, Kintner was home Aug. 10 when he saw a deputy park along a street and pull out his radar gun. Kintner then got in his car, drove a couple of blocks away, parked and pointed his vehicle at oncoming traffic and began flashing his lights.

He was ticketed a short time later.

On Tuesday, a judge in Sanford, Florida, ruled that flashing headlights with the purpose of communication—"hey neighbors, the freaking cops are trying to meet their ticket quotas on our block today," for example—is constitutionally protected speech.

Hero #2 is Kintner's lawyer, J. Marcus Jones:

"He felt the police specifically went out of their way to silence Mr. Kintner and that it was clearly a violation of his First Amendment free speech rights," said his attorney, J. Marcus Jones of Oviedo.

Jones has filed a similar but much broader suit in Tallahassee against the Florida Highway Patrol.

A hearing in that case is scheduled next month.

"This stuff is fun," Jones said after Tuesday's hearing.

Via Walter Olson.

Why Didn't Greek and European Leaders Think About the Inevitable Greek Exit From the Euro Until Three Weeks Ago?

There are plenty of horribles contemplated in this Bloomberg piece from yesterday on war-gaming the Greek exit from the Euro, but the subtheme that jumps out at me is how basically no one even contemplated the step-by-step practicalities of this inevitability until about three weeks ago:

The specter of Greece leaving the euro was evoked when ECB executive board member Joerg Asmussen told Germany's Handelsblatt in an interview published May 8 that Greece couldn't renegotiate its bailout terms if it wanted to stay in the euro. [...]

The remarks followed elections May 6 that propelled the Syriza party, which calls for reneging on the bailout accords, into second place. [...]

"Although such a scenario is unlikely to materialize and it is not desirable either for Greece or for other countries, it cannot be excluded that preparations are being made to contain the potential consequences of a Greek euro exit," the Wall Street Journal quoted [Former Greek Prime Minister Lucas] Papademos as saying. CNBC television separately quoted Papademos as saying there aren't preparations underway in Greece for a euro exit.

You can blame this stunning lack of foresight on basic incompetence, or a kind of Euro-conformity, where no one (outside of the UK, anyway) dare even to think out loud anything that might be seen as sidetracking the integration juggernaut. But I favor the catch-all explanation that Nick Gillespie and I offered in the opening chapter to The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America (soon out in an updated paperback): "Massive, fast-paced change, whether liberational, destructive, or just plain weird, is always and everywhere underpriced." Humans have a hard time grappling with their worlds being rocked, so they just don't.

This tendency, I fear, is playing a big role in U.S. domestic policy and politics right now. Since we can't really contemplate a debt crisis, both parties essentially pretend we'll never have one, and instead propose jacking up federal spending and debt over the next 10 years, a decade during which the eternally predictable Baby Boom retirementpocalypse will be upon us. We can't really imagine the suddenness with which bond-buying sentiment could turn against us, so we keep kicking the fiscal can down the road as if it axiomatically stretches out forever. We can't really imagine America as being anything else but the world's hegemonic policeman, and we really can't imagine being unable to afford that job description overnight, and so the presidential nominee from the party of "limited government" wants to dedicate 4 percent of the national economy to military spending forever and ever, amen.

So, enjoy whatever's Greek for schadenfreude, and know that the planning disaster playing out in Brussels right now is not remotely an event for Continentals only.

Breitbart.com Finds Unretouched J.Lo-as-Selena Poster

While scouring the kingdom in Breitbart.com’s quest for vetting-worthy material about the past life (lives?) of President Barack Hussein Obama, Joel B. Pollak finds a real piece of American history. 

This faded, apparently original poster captured Jennifer Lopez in a pivotal moment: Had she bombed in the 1997 biopic about Tejano superstar Selena, there would have been no On the 6, no Glow by J.Lo, maybe even no What to Expect When You’re Expecting feature adaptation. Fortunately for all of us, Lopez failed to bomb in Selena and went on to enjoy a lustrous career. 

Folks of a certain age will no longer chuckle when I note that the poster here has the back of an Obama for Congress 2000 card, which heralds the then-state senator’s losing race against incumbent Bobby Rush. 

"Obama’s got specific plans to cut prescription drug prices and to stop racial profiling," said an attack ad on Rush that Obama bought during a debate commercial break. "And Obama can help bring jobs back to the South Side."

Pollak draws an inference from Rush's complaint about the ad. He also quotes Slate.com’s Dave Weigel at length concerning Obama’s negative campaigning in 2008. 

I'd like to see microvetting of Obama's promises by some of our country's thousands of idled history majors.

Offhand, I'd say: Obama can't really claim credit for Medicare Part 2, which cut prescription drug prices to $0.00 (adjusted for inflation), because that passed before he got to the U.S. Senate. I have no idea how the racial profiling and Southside jobs numbers are going. 

Here are Obama, Rush and friends debating at the dawn of a new millennium. :

Terry Michael on How Liberal Christianists Pit Luke Against Leviticus

Since his election, perhaps over-compensating for nonsense about fealty to Muhammad, President Barack Obama has his TelePrompTer permanently programmed to seek God’s blessing for America in every speech. With the religious right's influence waning, writes Terry Michael, perhaps liberals will be restored to secular sanity and stop trying to emulate what they scorned for several decades.

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How Long Can Obama Continue Supporting a Federalist Approach to Gay Marriage?

The Washington Post asks whether President Obama, having announced his support for legal recognition of gay marriages, will take the additional step of arguing that such recognition is constitutionally required. Two weeks ago, when Obama, in an interview with ABC News, explicitly endorsed gay marriage for the first time since 1996, he immediately added:

Part of my hesitation on this has also been I didn't want to nationalize the issue. There's a tendency when I weigh in to think suddenly it becomes political and it becomes polarized.

And what you're seeing is, I think, states working through this issue—in fits and starts, all across the country. Different communities are arriving at different conclusions, at different times. And I think that's a healthy process and a healthy debate. And I continue to believe that this is an issue that is gonna be worked out at the local level, because historically, this has not been a federal issue, what's recognized as a marriage.

But as the Post notes, this federalist approach seems to conflict with Obama's position on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In February 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Obama administration would continue to obey DOMA's ban on federal recognition of state-licensed gay marriages but would no longer defend it in court, having concluded that the provision is unconstitutional. In his ABC News interview, Obama said DOMA "tried to federalize what has historically been state law." But Holder did not make a 10th Amendment argument against DOMA, saying it impermissibly intrudes on a power that the Constitution reserves to the states. Instead he argued that the law violates the guarantee of equal protection implicit in the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause. Specifically, he said "the President and I have concluded that classifications based on sexual orientation warrant heightened scrutiny" and that DOMA's distinction between heterosexual and homosexual couples could not pass that test. If so, it is hard to see how the same distinction at the state level could pass muster under the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. Stanford law professor Michael McConnell tells the Post:

If you believe the matter should be left to the states, that means you think the Constitution permits the states to take a different view. I don’t see how that can be squared with Attorney General Holder's claim.

In fact, Holder and Obama implicitly have staked out a stronger position regarding state bans on gay marriage than the one taken by U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in his 2010 ruling against California's Proposition 8 and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in upholding his decision last February. Walker and the 9th Circuit both applied a "rational basis" test, the highly deferential standard used in equal protection cases that do not involve a fundamental right or a "suspect class" such as race. Under this test, the government need only show that the challenged law "bears a rational relation to a legitimate end." The fact that Walker and the appeals court nevertheless deemed Proposition 8 unconstitutional does not reflect well on the arguments mustered by its supporters. But the standard favored by Obama, "heightened scrutiny," would make their task even harder, requiring them to show that a state constitutional amendment eliminating gay couples' right to marry (which had been recognized by the California Supreme Court) is "substantially related to an important government objective."

Obama may prefer to delay admitting the implications of his constitutional case against DOMA until after the election. But if the Supreme Court agrees to hear an appeal of the 9th Circuit's decision against Proposition 8 during the term that begins in October, the Post notes, "it could ask the administration for its view on whether marriage is a fundamental right that cannot be withheld from gay couples." A ruling endorsing that view would "sweep away state decisions on same-sex marriage, as well as the bans in 30 state constitutions," just as the 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia swept away state bans on interracial marriage. Obama presumably would not have favored "different communities...arriving at different conclusions" about the latter issue. His challenge is to explain why the current situation is fundamentally different, which will be hard in light of the constitutional logic he already has endorsed. 

Scott Shackford recently discussed federalism vs. nationalization as applied to gay marriage and interracial marriage. 

George Soros and Other Lefty Moneybags Types Aren't Primarying Lousy Old Democrats Because the Party Is More Ideologically Diverse! Wait, What?

Former Reasoner David Weigel has an interesting article up that seeks to answer why there aren't any Club For Growth/FreedomWorks/Tea Party/Paulista-style primary-election challenges to the worst of the Democratic Party's status quo (like, say, the execrable Dianne Feinstein). This section in particular is unintentionally revealing:

Two months ago, Progressive Insurance founder Peter Lewis left the Democracy Alliance, a lefty donor coalition.  Earlier this month, billionaire George Soros made his first 2012 political donations—$1 million each to America Votes and American Bridge 21st Century. That’s $23.5 million less than he gave to liberal groups in 2004. According to David McKay, chairman of the Democracy Alliance and board member of the Priorities USA super PAC, most big liberal money is going toward grassroots organizing. “There’s a bias towards funding infrastructure as it relates to the elections,” he told the New York Times’ Nicholas Confessore.

Why no money to change the Democratic Party itself? The big guys aren’t interested, and don’t think it’s possible. “The reason there's not a Club for Growth-like organization on the left,” says Soros spokesman Michael Vachon, “is that there is a greater diversity of views in the Democratic Party than there is in the Republican Party. There's less of a hierarchically enforced ideological structure."

For the sake of this argument, let's imagine what a "hierarchically enforced ideological structure" might look like. Start with someone high up in the Republican Party's hierarchy; say, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). Mitch McConnell enforces ideology in part the same way all powerful politicians do: by backing particular candidates in primary elections and then throwing the party's machinery behind them. For example, Trey Grayson in the race to be the junior senator in McConnell's home state of Kentucky. The Club for Growth (and the Tea Party, and the Ron Paul movement, and other groups) in this case felt strong enough about their diverse-from-McConnell ideology that they rejected GOP hierarchy and backed outsider Rand Paul instead.

By this method Republicans who truly believe in limited constitutional government, as opposed to merely mouthing vague rhetoric in that direction whenever Democrats hold power, are attempting to change their own party into something more responsive to those beliefs. Such Republicans, it should be stressed, are still a wholly outnumbered group within the party. 

I don't know which of the major parties is more ideologically diverse, but it's clear that (with a few exceptions), Democrats have elected to eschew open ideological competition for the soul of the modern party, which may help explain why Democrats in power are able to perpetuate policies that many of their voters strongly dislike: drone warfare, mass deportation, targeting Americans for assassination, maintaining the Guantanamo Bay prison, raiding legal medical marijuana facilities, laughing off pot legalization, starting new and expanding old wars, reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act, and so on. If settling for this status quo is a function of diversity, then maybe it's time for a little monomania.

As I wrote about in "What the Left Can Learn From the Tea Party," the aforementioned Soros and Peter Lewis can be seen as poster children for the limits of using major parties to advance your strongly felt beliefs, particularly when you decline to influence primary contests:

Consider that three of the biggest supporters of the Democratic Party since the end of Bush’s first term have been George Soros, Peter Lewis, and John Sperling—who also happen to be three of the country's most generous supporters of drug policy reform.

Soros in particular is a case study in how giving blanket support to a political party can undermine your favorite causes. According to a 2004 New Yorker article about anti-Bush billionaires by Jane Mayer, Soros' bill of particulars against Obama's predecessor included Bush's attempts to spread democracy at gunpoint, his expansions of presidential power, and his prison camp in Guantanamo Bay. In every one of those areas, as in the drug war, Obama has not been significantly better than Bush.

Here's hoping that the Soros/Lewis retreat from funding Democratic politics as usual so far this year is actually an expression of their dissatisfaction with the way their pet issues have been treated. Because as we've seen with gay marriage (on both sides of the aisle) ideological competition among campaign donors can help focus political minds as well.

California Fixing to Have to Pimp-Slap Cities to Get Redevelopment Funds Back

One of the few correct calls California Gov. Jerry Brown has made in his return to office – eliminating the corrupt redevelopment agency system and returning the money to the state (to be directed back to union interests the schools) – may require Brown to send goons to city halls across the state to beat the money out of government officials.

After Brown successfully killed off redevelopment agencies across the state, the tax money they were redirecting to their various scams projects did not automatically revert back to their original sources. The state tasked each municipality with a redevelopment agency to determine what their “enforceable obligations” were. Which contracts did the redevelopment agencies get themselves into that must be continued by their cities even after the agencies were dissolved?

As The Orange County Register discovered, cities are pretty much trying to claim everything under the sun as an enforceable obligation, and the state is challenging cities’ efforts to keep from having to stop spending money on certain projects. In Orange County alone, the state is challenging nearly $2 billion in claims of enforceable obligations. (Teri Sforza does an excellent job documenting all the challenges for The Register. Every metro paper in California should do this.)

Furthermore, the state is discovering that several redevelopment agencies appear to have rushed to enter into new agreements after the law dissolving the agencies passed and cities are trying to preserve them.

Given California’s budget deficit of $16 billion (it’s probably higher by now), the state needs to wring this money out of the cities to try to get its house back in order or else it might have to do something crazy like actually reduce spending.

Tim Cavanaugh wrote in January about the massive debts redevelopment agencies have built up in California and what can be done about it.

John Stossel on Why Business's Desire for Profit Is a Good Thing

To get our money, businesses—if they can't look to the government for favors—need to give us what we want. Then they must make continuous improvements and do it better than the competition does. That competition is enough to protect consumers. But that's not intuitive. It's intuitive to assume that competition isn't really consumer protection and that experts must protect us, even if, writes John Stossel, they ultimately do more harm than good. 

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Will Americans Come to Love ObamaCare’s Insurance Mandate?

It’s conventional wisdom that the individual mandate to purchase health insurance is ObamaCare’s biggest public liability: Polls consistently show that large majorities of the public are opposed to it and have been since before the law passed.

But might opposition to the mandate soften in the future? The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn looks at public opinion about the Massachusetts mandate, which has been in effect for several years and is less controversial than its federal cousin, and argues that it might:

In last year’s poll by the Boston Globeand Harvard School of Public Health, the most recent comprehensive survey I’ve found, 51 percent of respondents said they supported the requirement that almost everybody get insurance or pay a fine, while 44 percent said they opposed it. Opposition to the mandate was higher than it had been one year previously, but support for the law as a whole had increased during that span. Sixty-three percent said they supported the Massachusetts scheme, while just 21 percent said they opposed.

Cohn suggests that “there are reasons to think that the mandate would gain public acceptance, or at least become a lot less controversial, if it survives the Supreme Court and congressional Republicans.”

Predicting the swings of public opinion in advance is obviously tricky business, so it’s possible that opposition to the mandate could slip. But I wouldn’t be too confident. There’s a big difference between how Massachusetts residents perceived both RomneyCare and its mandate prior to passage and how the U.S. public felt about ObamaCare and its health coverage requirement before it became law: Namely, a majority of Massachusetts residents were in favor of RomneyCare-style health reform and its mandate before it passed. But that’s just not true of ObamaCare.

According to a 2008 survey of public opinion about the Massachusetts health law published in Health Affairs, there was "a favorable political environment" in the state before the law was passed. The mandates and expansions of government care that are now driving opposition to the national plan were supported by solid public majorities. In 2003, for example, majorities supported an employer mandate (76 percent), an individual mandate (56 percent), and an expansion of state-run health programs (82 percent). In 2005, the year the bill was passed in the state legislature, the report notes that 66 percent of the state reported supporting a universal coverage ballot initiative. And immediately after passage, before most residents had had the opportunity to interact with the system, support remained high, with 61 percent of state residents supporting the law.

Compared with the Harvard poll Cohn cites, the numbers haven’t changed much: Support for the mandate is down by five points since 2003. Support for the law as a whole is up two points since immediately after passage.
That just doesn’t match the national mood, where the political environment has consistently been far less favorable to President Obama’s health law. Since before the law’s passage, more of the public has opposed the law than supported it. Indeed, in the months following the law’s passage in 2010, opposition was so strong that several political scientists have reported evidence that it may have cost Democrats as many as 25 seats in the House — and majority control.

Cohn suggests that national feelings about the mandate may evolve to look more like they do in Massachusetts. But I think the more convincing story here is that the public’s opinion doesn’t change much over time: Massachusetts residents liked their health care law and its mandate prior to passage, and they like it still. If the national polls follow a similar pattern, it’s quite possible that Americans will continue to dislike both ObamaCare and its insurance mandate.

The Costs of Police Brutality: Fresh Out Of Bankruptcy, Vallejo Pays $4.5 Million for Warrantless Entry That Led to Spinal Cord Injury, Permanent Disability

Two cops in Vallejo, California entered Vietnam veteran Macario Dagdagan’s home in 2007 investigating an assault that allegedly occurred earlier in the day. They found Dagdgan in his bed, sleeping, so they woke him up, Tased him and put him in a chokehold. City attorneys insist the man “failed to follow even basic lawful demands” when cops entered into his home without a warrant and woke him up from what cops say was an intoxicated state.

Now the man has been awarded a settlement from the city of Vallejo to the tune of $4.5 million, which will be paid through the city’s insurance. Meanwhile! From the Times Herald:

On Tuesday, Vallejo city leaders grappled with a question rarely faced by municipalities - is a spending deficit acceptable in the city's first year out of bankruptcy, or is it an avoidable trap?

City Manager Dan Keen presented his proposed 2012-2013 budget with its $3.4 million deficit to the City Council, which has until the end of June to decide whether to lean on city reserves to cover the shortfall.
While several council members said generally they're opposed to spending beyond the city's means, they offered little in specific alternatives to avoiding it.

The two officers, Jason Wentz and John Boyd, are no longer employed in Vallejo. They’re cops in Richmond.

"Record low are 'pro-choice'" Yet 75 Percent Support Abortion Rights

A recent Gallup Poll on attitudes toward abortion is making headlines for documenting, as Politico headlines it, "Record low are 'pro-choice'."

A record-low 41 percent now identify themselves as “pro-choice,” down from 47 percent last July and 1 percentage point down from the previous record low of 42 percent, set in May 2009. As recently as 2006, 51 percent of Americans described themselves as “pro-choice.”

Meanwhile, 50 percent of Americans now consider themselves “pro-life,” one point below Gallup’s record high on the measure.

Does that presage a rollback of reproductive technologies, including abortion?

Despite what the Nancy Pelosis of the world might fear and the Rick Santorums might desire, it seems really doubtful. People support reproductive choice. As a different Politico story noted, fully 89 percent of Americans (and 82 percent of Catholics) believe that contraception is "morally acceptable."

When it comes to abortion, the percentages that believe abortion should be legal under at least some circumstances hasn't been changing very much since Gallup started asking the question back in 1975:

The total percentage of respondents who believe abortion should be legal under at least some circumstances comes in at 77 percent. That's down from a few peaks in the low 80s, but doesn't seem to be part of a major shift in one direction or another. People resolutely against abortion in all circumstances hasn't shown much sustained change either. The number has stayed in the high teens and very low 20s for a long time.

What's interesting is that downticks in "legal under any circumstances" seem to be offest by upticks in "legal only under certain circumstances." That suggests that as reproductive technologies ranging from ultrasounds to contraceptives to morning-after pills get better and more widespread, people have less tolerance for what they see as irresponsible behavior. Put another way, late-term abortion has always been more controversial than early-term abortion because people see fetal development as a continuum; the moral issues get dicier the more developed the fetus is. Virtually all abortions (90 percent) take place in the first trimester, when the fetus is less developed than it is closer to birth. Which makes sense. I've always found the bumper sticker "It's a child, not a choice" to be a strong statement. But the fact is, people are far less likely to view things that way in the early stages of a pregnancy.

As I wrote on the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, treating abortion on a sliding scale doesn't comfort categorical believers who are either pro- or anti-abortion, but that sort of rough calculus seems to work well enough for the public at large, which wants abortion available but also seems willing to draw certain lines. I can only imagine (and hope) that as we gain more and more control over reproduction - it's worth remembering that contraceptive pills for unmarried women were only legalized in the early 1970s - abortion will continue to recede as a political issue. It's a serious issue but also one for which politics is particularly ill-suited. As it stands, only 1 percent of voters rate it as the top issue in the 2012 presidential race.

Abortion comes up a lot in discussions about libertarianism, in part because there doesn't seem to be an axiomatic position on the matter among libertarians (though most are clearly pro-choice). Here's a relevant clip from last year's "Ask a Libertarian" series, in which Matt Welch and I fielded questions from readers:


Steve Chapman on Why Chinese Communists No Longer Put Much Stock in Communism

Wal-Mart has 370 stores in China, and Starbucks has more than 570. Mao's masses thronged the streets on bicycles. Today's Chinese sit in late-model cars in endless traffic jams. All this began some three decades ago, when the People's Republic gave up trying to forcibly redesign human nature in favor of making the best of it. So thorough is the outward transformation, writes Steve Chapman, that it's often hard to remember—or quite believe—that this is an officially communist country.

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Iran Sanctions Bill Out of Senate Does Not Authorize Military Force

Thank goodness for small favors, and thanks to Sen. Rand Paul. Al Arabiya News on the measure out of the Senate earlier this week:

The bill also allows President Barack Obama to impose sanctions on any country or company that enters joint ventures with Iran to develop its oil or uranium resource, or provides technology or resources to help Iran with such development.

The legislation targets Iran’s national oil and tanker firms, its elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and would for the first time widen sanctions on Iran’s energy sector to any joint venture anywhere in the world where Iran's government is a substantial partner or investor.  

The bill calls for a travel ban and freezing of U.S. assets of individuals and firms that provide Tehran with technology--everything from rubber bullets to surveillance equipment--used to repress dissent.

It would require firms competing for U.S. government contracts to certify that they and their subsidiaries have not had “significant economic transactions” with the Revolutionary Guards or individuals or entities connected to it.

As we--with no hostile intent, natch!--order the world not to do business with Iran, the bright side:

The bill also includes language introduced by Senator Rand Paul stating that the measure does not authorize the use of military force....

What might this mean down the line?

a former CIA analyst for the Near East and Persian Gulf region said the sanctions could be counterproductive ahead of the Baghdad talks on Iran’s nuclear program by making Tehran think that the West is less interested in a deal than in undermining the regime. 

“The biggest requirement now for getting an agreement is not to pile on still more sanctions, but instead to persuade the Iranians that if they make concessions the sanctions will be eased,” said Paul Pillar, now a security studies professor at Georgetown University. '

The Senate bill will have to be reconciled with a similar House bill passed in December. The bill does not authorize military force as per Rand Paul; still, as CNN notes, "Passage came after senators agreed to add language warning that military force would be an option available to the United States if Iran seeks to build a nuclear weapon."

As Jason Ditz argues at Antiwar.com, sanctions are a long-lasting thing. And Nathan Fuller also at Antiwar.com analyzes some of the dangerous language in a recent House resolution on Iran: 

The resolution passed the House 401-11, with a few representatives absent and a few abstaining. This means it had massive bipartisan support — for those of you who only consider Republicans to be warmongers, 166 of 190 Democrats voted in support, including some of its ostensibly most progressive members, such as Barney Frank and Rush Holt.

The language used bodes terribly for the United States’ already disastrous and destructive foreign policy. The House affirms not merely that Iran will not be allowed to manufacture nuclear weapons, but that it will not be permitted the capability to manufacture them. Never mind that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta observed that Iran is not actually pursuing these weapons....

The worst part about the bill, though, is not what policies it specifically introduces or accusations it announces but rather what it signifies more broadly: the U.S. is taking the next step in the war on Iran that has already begun.

For one thing, Israel has already teamed up with a U.S.-backed terror group within Iran to assassinate nuclear scientists, serving both the temporary, practical purpose of inhibiting Iran’s nuclear progress and the long-term, psychological purpose of instilling fear within Iran and its fledgling nuclear program.

More insidiously, the U.S. has imposed severe sanctions on Iran that most describe as “crippling” and that all should describe as acts of war. On Monday, the Senate votedunanimously to escalate those very sanctions....

We should also look to Iraq to understand how this bipartisan process of escalation works, from sanctions to bombing to occupation. Arguing against sanctions on Iran in April 2010, Rep. Ron Paul recalled how sanctions on Iraq led inevitably to war:

"Some of my well-intentioned colleagues may be tempted to vote for sanctions on Iran because they view this as a way to avoid war on Iran. I will ask them whether the sanctions on Iraq satisfied those pushing for war at that time. Or whether the application of ever-stronger sanctions in fact helped war advocates make their case for war on Iraq: as each round of new sanctions failed to “work” — to change the regime — war became the only remaining regime-change option.

This legislation, whether the House or Senate version, will lead us to war on Iran. The sanctions in this bill, and the blockade of Iran necessary to fully enforce them, are in themselves acts of war according to international law. A vote for sanctions on Iran is a vote for war against Iran. I urge my colleagues in the strongest terms to turn back from this unnecessary and counterproductive march to war."...........

President Obama called last month’s “negotiations” with Iran that country’s “last chance,” effectively threatening to escalate sanctions or attack if Iran didn’t cease its nuclear enrichment program entirely. How are those “negotiations”? How is that “diplomacy”?...

On the kind of bright side, and we'll see if it means anything when Obama decides to prove how tough he is, perhaps pre-November, Common Dreams reports that both houses of Congress seem to have effectively "un-declared" war on Iran:

The House was the first chamber to 'un-declare war', with its inclusion of a proviso in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that this legislation does not authorize war with Iran. This stipulation that "nothing in this Act shall be construed as authorizing the use of force against Iran" is a remarkably sober note of caution and common sense in an otherwise dangerous and reckless piece of legislation...

Rep. John Conyers (MI) championed this amendment to 'un-declare' war with Iran with a bipartisan group of representatives: Rep. Ron Paul (TX), Rep. Keith Ellison (MN), and Rep. Walter Jones (NC). In less than a week, Congress received more than 1,000 calls through FCNL's toll-free number from grassroots activists across the country who support this and other anti-war, pro-peace amendments that FCNL was working on. Partly as a result of your advocacy against war with Iran, the Conyers/Paul/Ellison/Jones amendment was considered so uncontroversial that it made its way into the NDAA as part of a package (called 'en bloc amendments') of non-controversial amendments, rather than going to the House floor for a separate vote.

I wrote back in March on "Why Rand Paul Associated Sanctions with War."

Reason on Iran.

Rand Paul Introduces Amendment to End the FDA's Insane Police Powers: "I see no reason to have the FDA carrying weapons." [UPDATED]

"I think we have bigger problems in our country than sending armed FDA agents into peaceful farmers’ land and telling them they can’t sell milk directly from the cow," Rand Paul said yesterday in a rousing speech calling for an end to the Food and Drug Administration's police powers. More from the transcript, provided by Paul's office: 

Some of you might be surprised the FDA is armed. Well, you shouldn’t be.

We have nearly 40 federal agencies that are armed. I’m not against having police, I’m not against the army, the military, the FBI, but I think bureaucrats don’t need to be carrying weapons and I think what we ought to do, is if there is a need for an armed policeman to be there, the FBI who are trained to do this should do it. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to be arming bureaucrats to go on the farm to, with arms, to stop people from selling milk from a cow.

I think we have too many armed federal agencies, and that we need to put an end to this. Criminal law seems to be increasing, increasingly is using a tool of our government bureaucracy to punish and control honest businessmen for simply attempting to make a living.

Historically the criminal law was intended to punish only the most horrible offenses that everyone agreed were inherently wrong or evil, offenses like rape, murder, theft, arson – but now we’ve basically federalized thousands of activities and called them crimes.

If bureaucrats need to involve the police, let’s have them use the FBI, but I see no reason to have the FDA carrying weapons.

Paul's amendment to the Prescription Drug User Fee Act has two parts: Part I would allow the makers of health products to advertise their benefits. "There’s no earthly reason why somebody who markets prune juice can’t advertise it helps with constipation," Paul said. Part II of the amendment would prohibit FDA employees (as well as all other Health and Human Services employees) from carrying weapons and making arrests without warrants. 

Watch the speech here: 

UPDATE: The amendment failed by a vote of 78-15

Reason "Hero of Freedom" Larry Flynt's Latest Stunt? Photoshopping a Penis into Mouth of Conservative Pundit S.E. Cupp

In 2003, Reason celebrated its 35th anniversary by compiling a list of "Heroes of Freedom" who we thought had helped to "make the world groovier and groovier since 1968," when the magazine started publishing. "Honorees needed to have been alive at some point during reason's run," ran the intro. "The list is by design eclectic, irreverent, and woefully incomplete, but it limns the many ways in which the world has only gotten groovier and groovier during the last 35 years."

Some of the entrants were obvious jokes (John Ashcroft and Richard Nixon, for instance, were cited for their ability to fire people up to protect their rights), some were libertarian superheroes (Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand), and others were just controversial picks, even for our core audience. (The full roster is here.)

In the latter categry was Hustler founder Larry Flynt, of whom we wrote:

Larry Flynt. Where Hugh Hefner mainstreamed bohemian sexual mores, hard-core porn merchant Flynt brought tastelessness to new depths, inspiring an unthinkable but revealing coalition between social conservatives and puritanical feminists - and helping to strengthen First Amendment protections for free expression along the way.

Flynt's latest stunt involves photoshopping a penis into the mouth of conservative commentator S.E. Cupp of GBTV.

The Blaze reports:

Under the headline “Celebrity Fantasy,” the text beside the picture asks, “What would S.E. Cupp look like with a [d**k] in her mouth?”

S.E. Cupp is a lovely young lady who read too much Ayn Rand in high school and ended up joining the dark side. Cupp, an author and media commentator who often shows up on Fox News programs, is undeniably cute. But her hotness is diminished when she espouses dumb ideas like defunding Planned Parenthood. Perhaps the method pictured here is Ms. Cupp’s suggestion for avoiding an unwanted pregnancy.

A disclaimer follows: “No such picture of S.E. Cupp actually exists. This composite fantasy is altered from the original for our imagination, does not depict reality, and is not to be taken seriously for any purpose.”

The Hustler picture has drawn the scorn of a wide-range of people from all around the political spectrum, including birth-control advocate Sandra Fluke and Planned Parenthood. So Flynt is yet again inspiring a new and revealing coalition of ideological opponents. This one is healthier than the earlier version, as those offended by the image as truly pathetic, sad, and indecent (count me in) aren't talking about censorship but about public shaming.

Flynt's statement on the controversy, also published by The Blaze, is simply:

"That’s satire. I’m able to publish this because of the Supreme Court case I won in 1984, Flynt v. Falwell."

Among many other things, Hustler and Flynt remind us once again that satire is not the equivalent of funny or insightful, particularly when it trades in the rankest form of misogyny. Really, if your best response to someone you disagree with is to put a cock in her mouth, it's well past time to consider retirement. Or at least to consider repeating the 6th grade.

Cupp told The Blaze she "was horrified and disgusted" when she first saw the picture: “It’s uncomfortable. I’m not in this business to talk about myself, I’m not in this business to talk about my character... I‘d much rather be talking about Obama’s economic record or his foreign policy than myself and having to defend myself against [this photo].”

In December 2010, Cupp attended Reason's New York event celebrating adult filmmaker John Stagliano's victory over federal obscenity charges (yes, we defend free speech unreservedly). We asked a variety of attendees -- ranging from Stagliano himself to Fox News' Greg Gutfeld to Andrew Breitbart -- what they consider to be the biggest threat to free speech. Cupp shows up around the 2.20 mark and her answer will suprise most people, I think.

And note the opening soundbite by Andy Levy of Fox News' Red Eye: "Ultimately, the right to free speech is the right to be an asshole. What makes this country great is assholes." I agree with him, and yet somehow want to disagree at the same time.

Wisconsin Recall: Walker Leads Barrett 50-42 Among Likely Voters

Governor Scott Walker leads Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett 50-42 among those likely to vote in Wisconsin’s June 5 recall election, according to a new Reason-Rupe poll of 708 Wisconsin adults on cell phones and landlines. At the same time, Wisconsin residents favor Obama 46 percent to 36 percent in the potential swing state.

Favorability toward public sector unions plays a critical role in vote choice. Fifty-four percent of Walker voters have an unfavorable opinion of government employee unions. Yet 65 percent of Barrett voters have a favorable opinion of these unions.

Significant differences emerge between the two voter blocs over Governor Walker’s controversialWisconsin Budget Repair Bill. Walker voters favor the major provisions in the law, but only a narrow margin favor exempting public safety unions from law changes. Barrett voters oppose most major provisions in the law, except increasing pension contributions.

Favor Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill Major Provisions


Nearly three-fourths of Walker voters worry that public sector unions have too much power negotiating their contracts, only 16 percent of Barrett voters agree. Sixty-nine percent of Walker voters also support what essentially is a right to work law in Wisconsin, compared to 34 percent among Barrett voters.

Perceptions of unions also differ greatly between these two voter groups. A majority of Barrett voters believe public sector unions have helped the state and local economy, but 62 percent of Walker voters say these unions have hurt the economy. Over half of Barrett voters think teachers’ unions have helped educational quality in the state, compared to 62 percent of Walker voters who think teachers’ unions have hurt education quality. Walker voters also overwhelmingly (88 percent) believe public sector retirement benefits are better than benefits in the private sector for similar jobs. Instead, only 46 percent of Barrett voters agree.

Nearly half of Walker voters identify with the Tea Party movement, while over half of employed Barrett voters are public sector employees. About a quarter of those who plan to vote for Walker also have a favorable opinion of President Obama’s job performance. This demonstrates Wisconsin’s recall election extends beyond partisan lines.

Panic at the Jazz Club

George H. Smith describes the jazz scare of the '20s, which may remind you of the rock and rap scares of later days:

Anne Faulkner -- music chairperson of the National Federation of Women's Clubs, and author of What We Hear in Music and The Opera and Oratorio -- was alarmed by a new type of music that was sweeping across America. She called her article Does Jazz Put the Sin in Syncopation?

Faulkner wrote her article to explain the "evil influence" of jazz on American culture. Jazz inspired a style of dancing that originated with the "voodoo dancer, stimulating the half-crazed barbarian to the vilest deeds." The fact that the syncopated rhythm of jazz, which causes "brutality and sensuality," has "a demoralizing effect upon the human brain has been demonstrated by many scientists." Jazz "almost forces dancers to use jerky half-steps, and inspires immoral variations."

Faulkner was especially troubled by the detrimental influence of jazz on the morals of women. Women who liked to dance to the music of jazz orchestras frequently availed themselves of "corset check rooms," which enabled them to shed both physical and moral restraints; and over-stimulated young women sometimes wandered off with their dates during breaks.

Jazz, according to Faulkner, is an "expression of protest against law and order, that bolshevik element of license striving for expression in music."...The "demoralizing effect" of jazz on factory workers was also evident. "This was noticed in an unsteadiness and lack of evenness in the workmanship of the product after a period when the workmen had indulged in jazz music."

It is "universally recognized," Faulkner wrote, that "the human organism responds to musical vibrations." Marches and patriotic songs -- tunes with a simple melody, harmony, and rhythm -- cause us to feel "contentment or serenity" and inspire us to acts of "valor and martial courage." Jazz, in stark contrast, "disorganizes all regular laws and order; it stimulates to extreme deeds, to a breaking away of all rules and conventions; it is harmful and dangerous, and its influence is wholly bad."

To read Smith's whole article -- which is mostly about neoconservatism, but there's some more about the jazz panic too -- go here. To demoralize your coworkers with a Bolshevik beat, click below:

A.M. Links: Walker over Barrett, Obama over Romney in Wisconsin, Honor Roll Student Roughed Up in Bloomberg’s New York, Mother of Deported American Girl Suing

  • A new Reason-Rupe poll shows Governor Scott Walker leading Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in the Wisconsin recall election set for June 5. Though Walker leads 52-41 among likely recall voters, President Obama leads 45-41 in that group as well. Topline results, crosstabs.
  • Oh look, the San Diego civilian police review board is chock-full of cops and pro-cop sentiment, according to a grand jury report.
  • A fifteen-year-old honor student in Brooklyn spent three hours handcuffed to a bench at a police station after  being mistaken for a shoplifting suspect and roughed up by cops.  “I feel my daughter was racially profiled,” her father said. “They had no proof, just a description of a black young lady with braids.”
  • Mayor Bloomberg thinks the federal government should force cities to take in immigrants. “[T]hat’s the only solution for these big, hollowed-out cities where industry has left and is never going to come back unless you get some people to move there,” he said.
  • The mother of a 14-year-old American girl deported to Colombia after providing authorities with a fake name has filed a federal civil rights law suit against top officials, accusing them of illegally detaining and deporting her daughter.
  • The police and firefighters unions in DC suspect foul play in personnel documents found burning in a dumpster outside the Fire Department’s training academy last week. They may have included documents sought through FOIA requests.

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

New at Reason.TV: "Haiti's Pepe Trade: How Secondhand American Clothes Became a First-Rate Business"

Reason-Rupe Poll on Wisconsin Recall: Walker Leads Barrett 50-42, Obama Leads Romney 46-36

Gov. Scott Walker leads Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett 50-42 among those likely to vote in Wisconsin’s June 5 recall election, according to a new Reason-Rupe poll of 708 Wisconsin adults on cell phones and landlines. 

In the presidential race, 49 percent of all adults surveyed approve of the job President Obama is doing and 45 percent disapprove. President Obama leads Mitt Romney 46-36 in Wisconsin, with 6 percent selecting the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson. Obama’s margin over Romney shrinks to 45-41 among those likely to vote in June’s recall election, with Johnson taking what would be a crucial 5 percent of the vote.

The Reason-Rupe poll finds voters overwhelmingly support many of the key changes Gov. Walker and the legislature implemented on public sector pensions and health care last year. Reason-Rupe finds 72 percent favor the change requiring public sector workers to increase their pension contributions from less than 1 percent to 6 percent of their salaries. And 71 percent favor making government employees pay 12 percent of their own health care premiums instead of the previous 6 percent. 

Taxpayers actually wish state lawmakers had cast an even larger net with their reforms. Police and firefighters were exempted from the pension and health care adjustments but 57 percent of taxpayers say they should not have been. 

The public supports asking government workers to pick up more of the tab for their own retirement benefits, as 65 percent say public sector workers receive better pension and health care benefits than private sector workers. 22 percent say benefit levels are about the same, and just 7 percent believe private sector retirement benefits are better than those in the public sector.

When asked what state and local officials should do if pensions and health benefits are underfunded, 74 percent favor requiring government employees to pay more for their own health care and retirement benefits. In sharp contrast, 75 percent oppose cutting funding for programs like education and 74 percent oppose raising taxes to help fund government worker benefits.

To deal with rising retirement costs, 69 percent favor shifting future state employees, those who haven’t been hired or promised pensions yet, to 401(k)-style retirement plans instead of the current defined-benefit plans.

If state and local governments have to reduce spending, voters were asked what should be cut first: 38 percent say public employee pension benefits, 29 percent believe prison and court cuts should be made first, 17 percent would reduce funding for roads and infrastructure, 5 percent chose education, and 4 percent would target health care spending.

Government employee unions are viewed favorably by 35 percent of those surveyed and unfavorably by 31 percent. Voters remain split on limiting the collective bargaining power of public sector unions, with 47 percent in favor of, and 46 percent opposed to, restricting unions’ ability to negotiate things like health care and pension benefits.

The Reason-Rupe poll finds significant differences in attitudes between public and private sector employees.  For example, 65 percent of government employees have a favorable view of public employee unions and just 11 percent view unions unfavorably. In contrast, only 27 percent of private sector employees have favorable opinions of public employee unions, while 37 percent view them unfavorably.

And while 72 percent of all respondents favor the law requiring public sector workers to increase their pension contributions, only 48 percent of government employees favor the change, while 80 percent of private sector employees favor it.

The complete Reason-Rupe survey is online at http://reason.com/poll and here (.pdf).

This Reason-Rupe poll, conducted May 14-18, 2012 by ORC International, surveyed a random sample of 708 Wisconsin adults on cell phones and landlines. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. The poll includes 609 likely voters who are registered and said they are certain or likely to vote in the June 5 recall election. The margin of error for likely voters is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

This is the latest in a series of Reason-Rupe public opinion surveys dedicated to exploring what Americans really think about government and major issues.  This Reason Foundation project is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation.

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

Andrew Napolitano on Why This Memorial Day, Freedom Is Dying Before Our Very Eyes

What if, on Memorial Day, we remember times that were more free than today? What if, on Memorial Day, when we think of those who died for our freedom, we end up recognizing that the freedom they died for is dying? What if it becomes fashionable for the government to ignore the Constitution? What if the Constitution dies because the government stops following it? What if, writes Judge Andrew Napolitano, next Memorial Day, freedom is just a memory?

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Brickbat: Chekov's Gun

Officials at Center High School in Texas have barred Avery Tindol from attending the prom after they caught him with a prop gun from the drama department. Tindol and some other students were cleaning out the prop room when one of them handed him the fake firearm. A teacher spotted him with the weapon, and the school also suspended him for three days.

Brickbat Archive

The Drone Program Officially Exists as Confirmed By Counter-terrorism Chief John Brennan, But How Classified is the Program?

After years of pretending the program wasn't real, it was sort of nice last month when White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan confirmed that drone strikes are indeed happening. But that's based on the low, low standards with which we are dealing. Years of denials, even after Obama admitting to and occasionally joking about the methods of delivering Hellfire missiles to alleged terrorist throughout Pakistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan, means that admitting the program actually exists is progress.

But what does Brennan (and the president) admitting the program's existence at last actually mean for the release of more details about the picking and choosing process, and for general transparency?

Queries CNN's security blog:

So the question is, by publicly acknowledging the use of drones, even going into detail about why the United States uses them, was Brennan also delivering a message from the president that the program had been declassified?

After all, here was the president's top counterterrorism adviser saying, in effect, "Yeah, we do that."

The question is whether such a public acknowledgment about a program that was classified thereby makes the program "declassified."

There is a formal, technical process for declassifying information, but the president isn't obligated to follow a paper trail, according to Washington lawyer Jeffrey Smith, who currently sits on the external advisory board for the director of Central Intelligence, and is former general counsel for the CIA.

According to Smith, the president can simply declare that something is declassified and, poof, it is declassified. The hard part is understanding whether there has been a "poof."

"The classification system is based entirely on an executive order from the president; there is no statutory authority for this. The president sets the criteria for classification and for declassification," says Smith.

As previously reported, there were two different lists. One list was picked by the CIA, who even targeted unnamed subject in so-called "surgical strikes," the other was full of targets chosen by the White House/Pentagon — and there only so-so interaction and overlap between the lists; though the White House has on occasion tried to step on the CIA's toes about their strikes. The latter generally has more rules in place for who they may target.

Now the White House is making the Pentagon less important,  says the Associated Press:

The effort concentrates power over the use of lethal U.S. force outside war zones within one small team at the White House.

The process, which is about a month old, means Brennan's staff consults with the State Department and other agencies as to who should go on the target list, making the Pentagon's role less relevant, according to two current and three former U.S. officials aware of the evolution in how the government goes after terrorists.

In describing Brennan's arrangement to The Associated Press, the officials provided the first detailed description of the military's previous review process that set a schedule for killing or capturing terror leaders around the Arab world and beyond. They spoke on condition of anonymity because U.S. officials are not allowed to publicly describe the classified targeting program.

One senior administration official argues that Brennan's move adds another layer of review that augments rather than detracts from the Pentagon's role. The Pentagon can still carry out its own internal procedures to make recommendations to the secretary of defense, the official said.

The CIA keeps its own list of targets, though it overlaps with the Pentagon's. It never included the large number of interagency players the Pentagon brought to the table for its debates

Brennan's effort gives him greater input earlier in the process, before making final recommendation to President Barack Obama. Officials outside the White House expressed concern that drawing more of the decision-making process to Brennan's office could turn it into a pseudo military headquarters, entrusting the fate of al-Qaida targets to a small number of senior officials.

Under the new plan, Brennan's staff compiles the potential target list and runs the names past agencies such as the State Department at a weekly White House meeting, the officials said.

Previously, targets were first discussed in meetings run by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen at the time, with Brennan being just one of the voices in the debate. Brennan ultimately would make the case to the president, but a larger number of officials would end up drawn into the discussion.

The new Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey, has been more focused on shrinking the U.S. military as the Afghan war winds down and less on the covert wars overseas.

With Dempsey less involved, there is an even greater need to draw together different agencies' viewpoints, some in the administration believe, showing the American public that al-Qaida targets are chosen only after painstaking and exhaustive debate. This could be especially true in an election year, when drone strikes can be politically sensitive.

Some of the officials carrying out the policy are equally leery of "how easy it has become to kill someone," one said. The U.S. is targeting al-Qaida operatives for reasons such as being heard in an intercepted conversation plotting to attack a U.S. ambassador overseas, the official said. Stateside, that conversation could trigger an investigation by the Secret Service or FBI.

But Brennan, notes Glenn Greenwald, was a CIA official who withdrew his name for nomination for the position of director after some of his pro "enhanced interrogation" and pro rendition beliefs proved controversial in the early, hopeful and Bush-hating days of the Obama administration (insert joke about damaging the good name of the CIA here). Worse still, writes Greenwald:

Undeterred by any of that unpleasantness, President Obama instead named Brennan to be his chief counter-Terrorism adviser, a position with arguably more influence that he would have had as CIA chief. Since then, Brennan has been caught peddling serious falsehoods in highly consequential cases, including falsely telling the world that Osama bin Laden “engaged in a firefight” with U.S. forces entering his house and “used his wife as a human shield,” and then outright lying when he claimed about the prior year of drone attacks in Pakistan: “there hasn’t been a single collateral death.” Given his history, it is unsurprising that Brennan has been at the heart of many of the administration’s most radical acts, including claiming the power to target American citizens for assassination-by-CIA without due process and the more general policy of secretly targeting people for death by drone.

Meanwhile, as Reason and a whole lot of other outlets have reported, domestic drone use is drawing closer and closer. CBS reported today that the Montgomery Country, Texas police department is considering equipping drones with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Reason on drones.

The Collusion of Big Government and Big Business, Stadium Welfare Edition

Writing at The Huffington Post, the Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro and Nick Mosvick explain how the deal recently struck by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton to build a new publicly-subsidized stadium for the Minnesota Vikings will leave taxpayers “stuck with the check.” They write:

The stadium costs $975 million on paper, with over half coming from public funds, $348 million from the state and $150 million from Minneapolis -- not through parking taxes or other stadium-related user fees, but with a new city sales tax. In return, the public gets an annual $13 million fee and the right to rent out the stadium on non-game-days....

The reality of the Vikings deal is that the owners will gain the most, not taxpayers or fans. Taxpayers will bear most of the risk, while the expected increase in the franchise's value will accrue wholly to the owners -- who will also be free from facility-financing costs. The owners will also have new revenue opportunities in the form of higher ticket prices, club seats, stadium-naming rights, and advertising. With all these luxury goodies, the only fans who will be able to actually attend the games are those with luxury incomes, many of whom will surely be writing the cost off their taxes as a business expense.

Read the rest here. For more on why stadium welfare is such a lousy deal for taxpayers, check out Reason.tv’s “Take Us Out of the Ballgame: Are sports subsidies worth it?”

St. Louis Cops Worry That In-Car Cameras 'Are Being Used Against Them'

Last year the St. Louis Police Department began using cameras mounted in patrol cars to record officers'encounters with suspects and other aspects of their on-the-job behavior. Such dash cameras, which have been used in this country for 15 years or so, can help cops as well as the people they arrest by backing up details of police reports, providing evidence of crimes such as driving while intoxicated, and disproving false complaints of misconduct. But some cops see only the downside. Citing union grievances, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that "city police officers believe in-car cameras are being used against them, and they are trying to find ways to avoid driving cars equipped with them." About half the city's police cars have cameras so far. Capt. Mary Edwards-Fears responded to the problem posed by camera-shy cops in an April 13 memo to supervisors:

We are missing critical evidence for our cases when we allow [officers] to avoid using vehicles with cameras in them, for fear of being caught in a compromising position. Your job as managers in the business is to assist your officers in following the rules and regulations, not assisting them in circumventing them.

The Post-Dispatch describes a few incidents that have contributed to officers' leeriness of dash cams:

Two probationary officers [were] investigated after a woman said they planted guns and drugs on her 16-year-old son. Video exonerated them of that claim but revealed that one struck the handcuffed teen, which led to the firing of both....

In-car cameras caught Officer Jason Stockley brandishing a personally owned rifle at a drug suspect, who was later shot and killed by police Dec. 20. The department does not allow officers to carry personally owned rifles and still is investigating the matter internally.

Officer David Wilson was seen striking a handcuffed teenage suspect in January. He was criminally charged with assault in April, and an internal investigation is under way.

What's the world coming to when cops can no longer punch handcuffed prisoners or violate firearm rules with impunity? The local police union wants restrictions on supervisors' authority to review camera footage, so officers will be have a clearer sense of when they're being watched. Police Chief Dan Isom replies that "I'm not going to draft a policy for those who violate our policy," saying  the cameras help "make sure people are following the protocol of the police department." That seems about right to me, although I might have put it this way: If cops are not doing anything wrong, they have nothing to fear. 

More on cops and cameras here.

[Thanks to Mark Sletten for the tip.]

Addendum: Whoops. Ed Krayewski beat me to it.

Sen. Alan Simpson Kindly Provides Example of Those Thank You Letters He Went on About

Former Sen. Alan Simpson complained back in 2011 about kids not sending thank you letters anymore and listening to enemas and Snoopy Snoopy Poop Dogg and generally behaving like a cranky old man, giving him some brief publicity while his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform failed to actually provide any decent fiscal responsibility or reform.

Let it not be said that Simpson doesn’t practice what he preaches. Politico today received a copy of a letter Simpson sent to the California Alliance for Retired Americans after they protested a West Coast visit, accusing him of wanting to gut the Social Security system:

To Whom It May Concern:

Erskine Bowles and I thoroughly enjoyed our time on the West Coast and received an excellent reception from folks — at least those who are using their heads and have given up using emotion, fear, guilt or racism to juice up their troops. Your little flyer entitled “Bowles! Simpson! Stop using the deficit as a phony excuse to gut our Social Security!” is one of the phoniest excuses for a “flyer” I have ever seen. You use the faces of young people, who are the ones who are going to get gutted while you continue to push out your blather and drivel. My suggestion to you — an honest one — read the damn report. The Moment of Truth — 67 pages, and then tell me if we’re not doing the right thing with Social Security. What a wretched group of seniors you must be to use the faces of the very people that we are trying to save, while the “greedy geezers” like you use them as a tool and a front for your nefarious bunch of crap. You must feel some sense of shame for shoveling out this bulls**t. Read the latest news from the Social Security Trustees. The Social Security System will not “hit the skids” in 2033 instead of 2036. If you can’t understand all of this you need a pane of glass in your naval so you can see out during the day! Read the report. Get back to me. My address is below.

If you don’t read the report, — as Ebenezer Scrooge said in the Christmas Carol, “Haunt me no longer!”

Best regards,

Alan Simpson

That’s how it’s done, kids!

Nick Gillespie (with some master remixing by Austin Bragg) explained a year ago how Simpson's efforts to save Social Security (not gut it) won't work.