Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 June 1-31

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Gary Johnson: "Be Libertarian with me, just this one time"

The Libertarian Party presidential nominee makes an arresting new pitch:

Give your grades in the comments.

Reason on Gary Johnson.

Do Americans “Need to Know” We’ve All But Declared War on Iran?

While lawmakers work themselves up into a tizzy that the White House might be leaking classified information to make President Barack Obama look good (and wouldn’t it just be the living end if true, given Obama’s habit of prosecuting leakers?), Sen. John Kerry asks whether it’s appropriate for the media to actually let the public know what’s going on. Via Politico:

Sen. John Kerry on Wednesday questioned whether The New York Times should have published explosive stories last week about President Obama ordering cyberattacks against Iran’s nuclear program.  

“I personally think there is a serious question whether or not that served our interest and whether the public had to know,” Kerry, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, told reporters. “To me it was such a nitty-gritty fundamental national security issue. And I don’t see how the public interest is well served by it. I do see how other interests outside the United States are well served by it.” …

Earlier, Kerry said he was “disturbed” by the leaking of classified information cited in the Times story, saying it endangers U.S. national security and “begs retaliation” from America’s enemies. The chairman said he couldn’t understand how an American citizen could leak classified information that could potentially put the country at risk.

It’s not the act itself that “begs retaliation,” you see, it’s the reporting of it. The fact that there could be blowback for targeting a foreign nation’s nuclear program with a computer virus doesn’t mean you possibly shouldn’t do it. It means you should make sure you don’t tell your own public. After all, how would Iran ever conclude that the United States and Israel could be working together to design a virus to shut down their nuclear ambitions? Anybody could be the culprit! Anybody at all! They would never have figured it out had The New York Times kept their big traps shut.

Or, perhaps, they might have gotten a clue from this 2010 story from The Guardian that suggests Israel was responsible for it and that Stuxnet was pretty obviously designed to target Iran. Or maybe this story from Forbes.com from 2010 that talks about the suspicions and various theories that the United States and Israel were the sources of the virus.  Or perhaps this lengthy Vanity Fair investigative report from from last year that says, “[T]here is vanishingly little doubt that the United States played a role in creating the worm.” The fact is, The New York Times story merely revealed the truth that anybody who followed computer security news already suspected, and Iran doesn't seem like the kind of nation that needs a metaphorical smoking gun before casting blame.

More to the point, launching the virus itself could ultimately give Iran (or others, because Stuxnet, like every other government venture, immediately got out of hand and ended up in places where it wasn’t meant to be) the tools to bring about that blowback Kerry is so worried about.  Via The Christian Science Monitor:

Although Stuxnet is estimated to have eventually destroyed as many as 1,000 high-speed Iranian gas centrifuges designed to enrich uranium, its importance was far larger than that, [German cybersecurity expert Ralph] Langner warned. It demonstrated that a cyberweapon could physically destroy critical infrastructure, and that process could also work in reverse. 

"One important difference between a cyber offensive weapon and some kind of advanced bomb, for example, is that when the bomb blows up you can't examine or reverse-engineer it," says Joel Brenner, a former national counterintelligence executive in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

"Once you find the malware, on the other hand, once you find the code, you can see how it was done," he says. "So we are going to see more operations of this kind – and the US's critical infrastructure is undoubtedly going to be targeted. I still don't think that the owners and operators of most of that infrastructure understand the gravity of this threat."

The possibility that Stuxnet could come back to haunt us does seem to meet a certain "need to know" threshold. The New York Times Managing Editor Dean Baquet responded to Kerry via Politico:

"Our job is to report issues in the public interest, and this piece certainly meets that standard," Dean Baquet, the Times managing editor, said in a statement to POLITICO. "As always with sensitive stories, we described the piece to the government before publication. No one suggested we not publish. There was a request to omit some highly technical details. We complied with the request after concluding it was not a significant part of the piece."

 Well, that ought to add more ammo to those who believe the White House is actually causing the leaks.

ObamaCare's Missed Deadlines

Along with all the other problems it's having, ObamaCare is behind schedule on nearly half of its legally mandated deadlines, according to a report by the conservative American Action Forum:

Of the ACA regulations with legal deadlines,  47 percent, 20 of 42, have broken the mandated implementation schedule.

“The Secretary shall…” language in legislation often allows legislators to cede broad policymaking authority to administrative agencies.  In significant regulatory overhauls, such as Dodd-Frank or the ACA, the phrase literally appears hundreds of times.  However, with both pieces of legislation, agencies are often required to issue regulations by a specific date. 

Two notable regulations that missed their deadlines are also two of the more controversial.  The new requirements for the calorie labeling of food in vending machines and menu items will cost restaurants and other small businesses more than $822 million to implement, and generate more than 1.4 million annual paperwork burden hours.  However, businesses are still waiting for a final rule, and the proposed version arrived late as well.

Perhaps the most expensive “tardy” regulation involved forcing health plans and third party administrators to publish a “uniform” summary of benefits for health plans.  The Administration was supposed to issue a final rule by March 23, 2011, but a rule was not published until almost a year later.  The total cost for the regulation when it did arrive: $146 million and more than 3 million paperwork burden hours.

Whether or not this was avoidable, it's entirely predictable. Two years ago, I noted in a feature on implementation of the law that the administration was already behind schedule on a handful of early deadlines, and predicted that it was a good bet that many more would fall behind as well. On multiple levels, ObamaCare's bureaucratic ambition seems to have exceeded the Obama administration's bureaucratic capabilities. 

Frank Keegan on How Fiscal Reality Won a Victory in Wisconsin

This week’s Wisconsin recall election wasn’t a struggle over collective-bargaining “rights,” observes Frank Keegan. It was a power struggle over an entrenched elite squeezing more out of citizens already getting by on less. And Tuesday's results have national implications: Fewer Americans working harder for less and paying more taxes to increasing numbers of government employees who get more is not a shared-sacrifice program that wins elections.

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Government Still Says It Can't Be Sued for Snooping

The federal government is sticking to its guns and claiming that some violations of your rights are so super-secret that the government can't be sued for them. Specifically, if government agents listened in on your communications without a warrant, say federal lawyers, you shouldn't be allowed to seek redress in the courts bcause the U.S. government is protected against legal action by sovereign immunity. Even better, Congress is poised to reauthorize a law which explicitly legalizes such official intrusion.

Reports Wired:

A federal appeals court appeared troubled Friday by the Obama administration’s arguments that the government could break domestic spying laws without fear of being sued — and that the government’s argument might be correct, due to an oversight by Congress.

A two-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard an hour of oral arguments here by the government and a lawyer for two attorneys whom a federal judge concluded had been wiretapped illegally without warrants by the government.

Note that the courts have already found the wiretapping in question to be illegal. The argument is whether the federal government can be held accountable for its actions. The federal government says "no."

With all of this talk of secrecy and national security in place, the court win was a miracle of official incompetence. It came about only because the feds accidentally mailed two attorneys a classified document revealing that their conversations had been wiretapped. Such warrantless wiretaps were illegal at the time, but were later permitted by a 2008 amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act supported by, among others, then-Senator Barack Obama.

That amendment is up for reauthorization right now.

But if warrantless wiretaps were illegal at the time the plaintiffs were snooped upon, why the trouble with the lawsuit?

Judge Hawkins noted that the FISA law spells out that those who were illegally spied upon may seek monetary damages. But if Congress did not intend for the government to be sued, “it would make the remedy illusory,” Hawkins said.

And that's the federal government's argument.

Justice Department attorney Douglas Letter told Judge Michael Daly Hawkins and M. Margaret McKeown, both President Bill Clinton appointees, that they should dismiss the case outright because the government is immune from being sued for breaching the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act under a concept known as sovereign immunity.

“We think the simplest way here is the sovereign immunity argument,” Letter told the panel. He added that the aggrieved lawyers could sue individual government officials. But under that scenario, the government would declare the issue a state secret and effectively foreclose litigation.

“I’m trying to understand the government’s overall position,” Hawkins said. “The government’s position is you can’t sue the government, you can sue anybody else, but who those people are might be a state secret.”

“Correct, your honor,” Letter said moments later.

Letter also insisted that individual federal officials shouldn't be sued because "This is just wrong to do this to a federal official." If that sounds petty, the argument actually goes farther. EFF elaborates:

After a question from one judge, the government admitted to the Court that it would then invoke the “state secrets” privilege to stop even that case and also raised the specter of other immunities that would then apply to protect the individual defendants. The Justice Department essentially told the Court, “heads we win, tails they lose.”

The federal government's overall argument is that there should be no recourse through the courts whatsoever if your private conversations are intercepted in the name of national security.

The Ninth Circuit judges may, ultimately, reject the federal government's arguments. So might another court — the U.S. Supreme Court is set to consider the constitutionality of the FISA amendments under which the feds are now conducting their snooping.

Leaky White House, Paul Krugman Pwned, Frisky NYPD: P.M. Links

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UKIP Pulls Libertarians in the Wrong Direction

Today The Economist’s Bagehot’s Notebook blog features a column entitled, ‘The UKIP Insurgency’ that outlines the UK Independence Party’s rise and its potential role in future elections. The eurozone crisis has prompted something of a right-wing resurgence in Europe, and parties like UKIP may soon take up the role of kingmaker in countries like Greece. While much of the support many European protectionist and quasi-nationalist parties are enjoying comes from predictable groups, some are gathering support from an unlikely source, libertarians.

UKIP is one of the most notable instances of this phenomenon. Composed mostly of ex-Tories, UKIP campaigns on an anti-E.U. platform (euroscepticism is so dominant in the party that its logo is the sterling symbol). Anti-E.U. sentiments are conducive to free market sympathies, and many free marketers in the UK find the Conservative Party too hostile to markets, especially given their current partnership with the Liberal Democrats.

While UKIP might advocate for leaving the E.U. it is not a libertarian party. UKIP is against economic and personal freedom, and British libertarians should not be supporting them.

Libertarians in the UK have an unimpressive political record. Margaret Thatcher might be viewed as a great advocate for economic freedom, but her social policies were anything but tolerant. The Liberal Democrats do have a classical liberal wing, but it is in the minority and openly scorned by other party members. There was a short-lived Libertarian Party (LPUK) but it was led by some embarrassing and incompetent people. After the collapse of LPUK its members were welcomed by UKIP.

UKIP’s anti-libertarianism is most clearly seen in its immigration policy, under which a ban on permanent immigration to the UK for five years would be enforced. How such a policy comes close to resembling something a libertarian would advocate is beyond me. The UKIP manifesto also includes a 40 percent increase in defense spending and the injection of three billion more pounds into ‘transport infrastructure’. Such policies hardly exhibit limited government and fiscal restraint.

On social issues UKIP are not any better. Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP, posted a video complaining that it was not possible to ban mephedrone because of European legislation. Party members have campaigned for a French style ban on the burqa and niqab. The UKIP manifesto includes the doubling of prison spaces and the introduction of an American “three strikes” style policy for certain offenses. Most libertarians believe in locking less people up and being tolerant of personal choices.

Libertarians all over the world have to deal with the temptations of politics, but surely some principles have to be non-negotiable. 

“We believe state-sponsored attackers may be attempting to compromise your account"; Google Unveils New Hacker Warning

haxorsGoogle

Google is now warning its users when it appears they’re being targeted by government hackers. In a post Tuesday on its online security blog, Google explained that through analysis of hacking attacks and victims reports, it’s concluded a “subset of its users”  are being subject to attacks tied to governments or state-sponsored groups. From Google:

If you see this warning it does not necessarily mean that your account has been hijacked. It just means that we believe you may be a target, of phishing or malware for example, and that you should take immediate steps to secure your account... These warnings are not being shown because Google’s internal systems have been compromised or because of a particular attack. 

Google did not go into any further details on which governments might be behind any attacks or how, specifically, they know, noting that such information might help the “bad actors” responsible.

Possible bad actors: China, Iran, Russia, the United States, countless other governments interested in targeting dissidents at home or “enemies of the state” abroad. Many governments, too, at this point, have been the subject of some sort of hacker attack, including Canada, Egypt, France, Japan, Russia, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zimbabwe, and many others.

Bath Salts, Naked Zombie Cannibals & Stupid Senators


Bath salts. They're turning people from Miami to Maryland into flesh-eating hulks and the synthetic concoctions that are sold as insect repellent and plant food have supposedly singlehandedly set off the zombie apocalypse.

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, fresh off his victory in banning caffeinated alcoholic beverages like Four Loko, is hell-bent on banning so-called bath salts. The senator, who in the past has tried to regulate the price of Coca Krispies, Count Chocula, and other breakfast cereals, also wants to outlaw fake pot, too - because the war on real pot is going so swell.

It all started on a Florida offramp in broad daylight when a car-washing Bible-thumper snapped, allegedly under the influence of zombie dust. The story soon eclipsed the presidential election and Miley Cyrus' lack of underwear as the most important issue in the country.

There was an immediate obsession with the substance that “caused” this unnatural act.To date, there’s no evidence that Sunshine State face-chewer Rudy Eugene was in fact whacked out on bath salts. The Miami Mauler had been arrested at least eight times since he was 16 and had threatened to kill his Mom on at least once violent occasion.

Here’s the problem with banning “synthetic methamphtemine” - or the real thing, for that matter: There are an infinite number of ways that natural and artifical drugs can be combined, married and sewn together to get a user higher Matthew McConaughey on any given Monday. Science will always be one step ahead of the legislative process, so as quickly as a chemical compound is banned, four more will spring forth from crafty laboratories eager to pacify those seeking a quick fix.

But...but...but...bath salts make you a zombie cannibal, don’t they? You can hear the Sen. Schumers of the world ask that question. But hardly The other two cannibalism stories in the news don’t involve bath salts or naked zombies. The Canadian porn star who hacked up his friend, ate his bits, then sent appendages on a tour of the Canadian Postal Service is more gruesome than Celine Dion’s entire discography, but the guy was clothed and sober. The kid in Maryland who ate the heart and brain of his Ghanian roommate was also not on the salts, and he too was clothed.

So instead of banning bath salts, how about enforcing the existing ban on zombie cannibalism? And if we can’t do that, can we at least ban opportunistic, incompetent legislators?

Oh, Calgon, take me away!

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The Next Time Someone Tells You American Politicians Are Uncivilized, Show Them This Video

Things are heating up in Greece, the alleged birthplace of democracy. In the video clip below, Golden Dawn (see: Nazi!) Party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris throws water in a woman's face on live TV, then attacks Communist Party deputy Liana Kanelli:

Florida, Illinois Eliminate Commissions that Help Free Innocent, Investigate Police Torture

Spending $200,000 a year to study wrongful convictions in Florida is too much for Gov. Rick Scott’s blood. He has eliminated funding for the two-year-old Florida Innocence Commission. Susan Clary encourages keeping the commission in a commentary for The Miami Herald:

The Florida Innocence Commission, with Orange/Osceola Chief Judge Belvin Perry, Jr. at the helm, was tasked with studying false eyewitness identifications, interrogation techniques, false confessions, the use of informants, the handling of forensic evidence, attorney competence and conduct, the processing of cases and the administration of the death penalty.

“We cannot ignore what must be done in order to improve our ever-evolving criminal justice system,” Perry wrote in an interim report. “We must continue to be vigilant in seeking and maintaining the spirit of cooperation between the courts, law enforcement, and other agencies in identifying issues and implementing solutions.”

Florida leads the nation with having the most prisoners released from death row – 23 since 1973 – after their innocence had been proven.

Radley Balko, former Reason editor and generally invaluable American justice system resource (and Southern California Journalism Award nominee!), makes quick work of whatever economic argument might have been used to justify this decision:

The average wrongful conviction costs taxpayers about $2 million. (I don’t know of any national studies, but several state studies of the total cost of DNA exonerations in those states arrive at about $2 million.) That figure only covers the average costs of trying, imprisoning, exonerating, and compensating the person who was wrongly convicted. It doesn’t include the costs associated with any additional crimes the real perpetrator may go on to commit, or the costs of resuming the investigation to find him, and then to arrest, try, and convict him.

So at minimum, if this commission’s recommendations prevent a single wrongful conviction, the commission funds itself for 10 years.

Meanwhile in Illinois, why bother wasting $235,000 trying to determine the extent the Chicago police has used torture to extract confessions from people? Via the Chicago Tribune:

The Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission was approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn in the summer of 2009, a response to the long-standing scandal around former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge and many of his subordinates, who were accused of torturing suspects to get confessions. After appointing a slate of commissioners and hiring a small staff, it launched investigations of its first cases in September.

Its budget last year: $150,000. Its proposed budget for the coming year, which called for adding a staff attorney: $235,000.

The state House and Senate, however, voted last week to strip the commission of its funding, meaning it will go out of business June 30, although the law that gave the commission its existence will remain on the books. The panel's eight voting members, led by a former judge and including a former public defender and former prosecutor as well as three non-attorneys, were unpaid, said David Thomas, the executive director.

Thomas said he is unsure why the funding was cut or how it happened. He simply got notice that the money would not be there.

The torture claims, which date back to the 1970s, resulted in Gov. George Ryan pardoning four prisoners on death row. Burge was convicted of federal charges of perjury and obstruction in 2010 and sentenced to 4 1/2 years.

CORRECTION: Balko reports that the Miami Herald's claim that Scott has defunded the innocence commission is factually incorrect. The commission was set to expire this year and did not request any more funding. He has corrected his Huffington Post piece (The Miami Herald has not corrected theirs).

Federal Court Weighs Civil Rights Challenge to Arizona Immigration Law

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decision later this month in Arizona v. United States, the case arising from Arizona’s controversial immigration law S.B. 1070, which, among other things, requires state law enforcement officials to try to determine the immigration status of any person they encounter during “any lawful stop, detention, or arrest” if those officials have a “reasonable suspicion” that the person may be in the country illegally. Based on what I saw at the oral argument in April, a majority of the Supreme Court appeared willing to side with Arizona and rule that federal immigration law does not preempt the state crackdown. But even if the Court does rule in Arizona’s favor, the state law still faces other legal hurdles. As The Arizona Republic reports, a constitutional challenge is now beginning to work its way through the federal courts:

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton heard arguments Monday over whether to grant the case class-action status, which could allow hundreds of thousands to join what has been named the Friendly House case, after one of the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs include immigrants, immigrant-rights groups, religious groups and non-profit organizations.

The federal government's case -- and the looming Supreme Court ruling -- focuses on state vs. federal authority, while this case alleges SB 1070 could violate individuals' Fifth Amendment right to due process, First Amendment right to free speech and 14th Amendment right to equal protection.

Read the full story here. For more on the legal issues surrounding Arizona's S.B. 1070 see here and here.

Giving Health Insurance Subsidies to People Who Shouldn’t Qualify For Them, Or: Why ObamaCare Won’t Work, Part Infinity

What if we gave ObamaCare’s Medicaid and insurance subsidies to the wrong people? It could happen: Large numbers of people seeking coverage under the law may be given incorrect levels of subsidies — and some may receive subsidies when they shouldn’t qualify for any subsidy at all, according to a new study.

President Obama’s 2010 health care law relies on two primary mechanisms for expanding health insurance coverage. First, the law requires all participating states to expand Medicaid eligibility up to 138 percent of the poverty line. Second, for people with incomes range between 138 and 400 percent of the poverty line (currently about $90,000 a year for a family of four), it provides insurance subsidies to individuals for private health coverage purchased through a network of government-run insurance exchanges. Those insurance credits are doled out based on a sliding scale, with those on the higher end of the qualifying income spectrum receiving a smaller subsidy.

The problem is that it’s actually rather difficult to determine which individuals and families qualify for which set of subsidies. One of the biggest challenges is dealing with the tens of millions of individuals whose incomes will fluctuate right around the Medicaid eligibility line. If a family’s income was, say, 115 percent of the poverty line for the first few months of the year, and then rose to 180 percent of the poverty line for the next few months, would they qualify for private insurance subsidies, or would they be stuck in Medicaid? Will families be required to constantly deal with the hassle of switching back and forth, jumping between private coverage and government-run coverage for those with low-incomes? Will health providers be less effective dealing with patients who can't maintain continuity of coverage?

The law doesn’t provide clear guidance on how to deal with questions relating to Medicaid churn. But it’s probably going to affect tens of millions of people. According to a Health Affairs study published last year, “within six months, more than 35 percent of all adults with family incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level will experience a shift in eligibility from Medicaid to an insurance exchange, or the reverse; within a year, 50 percent, or 28 million, will.” The burden on covered individuals to repeatedly jump back and forth between plans could be considerable; it would also add a significant bureaucratic burden the insurers and government officials attempting to manage mass levels of insurer hopscotching.

Nor is churn the only problem. A separate study in Health Affairs published this month reports that eligibility for the law’s subsidies is going to be even more complicated than expected. Large numbers of people won’t end up getting the right subsidy amount — including some who are given subsidies they shouldn’t qualify for at all. The study estimates that about 2.6 percent of exchange applicants will be “judged eligible for subsidies would receive advance payments on those subsidies that were too high by $208 per year, on average.”

The study points to a number of reasons why determining subsidy qualifications might be difficult. Income projections used to determine advance subsidy payments might be wrong, incomes might unexpectedly fluctuate, and time frames used to calculate income might be inconsistent. The sunderlying issue is that it’s incredibly difficult to do fast, consistently accurate income estimation and verification for the 30 million or so individuals expected to be covered under law. A lot of mistakes are going to be made, and those mistakes will create frequent headaches for the individuals stuck in the system, the private insurers participating in it, and the government officials who are supposed to be overseeing it all.

If history is any guide, those mistakes are likely to be compounded by ineptitude and poor administration. As we know, the Department of Health and Human Services isn’t the most adept steward of the hundreds of billions it already spends each year. The Government Accountability Office estimates that roughly 10 percent of Medicare payments are made in error, wasting more than $48 billion each year. The agency can’t even track its own day to day or month to month operational spending, according to last year’s independent audit of its finances. Thanks to ObamaCare, the federal government’s health bureaucrats will have millions of new opportunities to engage in needless waste, to make costly mistakes, to blow billions of taxpayer dollars on infernally complex payment and subsidy schemes that will inevitably fail on a regular basis.

It won't be pretty. We’ll shuffle poor families into Medicaid, a government-run health program that doesn’t work, and make them jump through endless bureaucratic hoops. We’ll subsidize the wrong people, and give the wrong subsidies to those who are technically supposed to receive government aid. We’ll incentivize businesses to drop employee insurance coverage, and watch the price tag of the law skyrocket when businesses follow through. We’ll pursue cost-control schemes that probably won’t work and ignore promising market-driven reforms while making cheap insurance options more expensive or pushing them out of the market entirely. Forget, for a moment, the outrageousness of ObamaCare and its mandate; just as big a problem is that it won’t work. 

The Kochs and the Yippies

This morning Matt Welch noted a disputed anecdote in The Washingtonian's feature on the Cato/Koch battle. That's as good an opportunity as any to bring up another interesting anecdote in the same article:

When [Jeff] Riggenbach suggested recruiting '60s activist Abbie Hoffman for Cato's radio program, [Charles] Koch seemed surprised but didn't say what he thought. "Ed [Crane] had to tell me later how much Charles really hated the idea," Riggenbach says.

Nuh-uh, says Charles Koch, says Ed Crane, says Jeff Riggenbach, says THE WASHINGTONIAN.

Riggenbach tells me that he wasn't proposing this as a one-time thing: He thought Hoffman should be a regular. Several figures on the left, such as Julian Bond, did contribute regularly to the program, which consisted of a daily syndicated 90-second commentary.

People are sometimes surprised when you tell them that a Koch-funded publication gave a platform to Noam Chomsky (who later said the magazine was "the only journal I could publish in as long as it existed"), or that in the lead-up to the 1984 election, David Koch wanted the Libertarian Party to nominate Earl Ravenal, a foreign policy analyst associated with the leftist Institute for Policy Studies. Lord knows how they'd react if there had been an Abbie Hoffman connection too.

Elsewhere in Reason: I wrote about Hoffman here and chatted with Rick Perlstein about him here. I detailed the younger Kochs' links to the left here.

Elsewhere not in Reason: Read National Review's 1979 attack on Cato and the Kochs as some sort of pinko conspiracy here. And hey: Abbie Hoffman might have missed out on that Koch connection (as opposed to a coke connection), but his Yippie comrade Paul Krassner did pop up in the same mag that published Chomsky.

President Obama’s D-Day ”Snub,” George W. Bush’s D-Day “Snubs,” and the Long Shadow of World War 2

The president is facing some flak for not releasing a statement or otherwise acknowledging yesterday (except for a tweet!) the 68th anniversary of D-Day, when Allied forces stormed the beaches of northern France in a surprise attack on Nazi-occupied Europe; 10,000 Allied troops were dead by the end of the day.

President Bush only commemorated D-Day twice; in 2001 when the National D-Day Memorial  was opened in  Bedford, Virginia and in 2004, when he commemorated the 60th anniversary of D-Day along with then French President Jacques Chirac. Bush, though, largely avoided the kind of criticisms Obama is facing for the same kind of “snub.” Much of that is naked anti-Obama partisanship, the same kind that insists Obama’s foreign policy is “weak,” even though it’s not much different from what Mitt Romney’s might look like and even noted neo-conservative Bill Kristol declared the president one of his own.

The United States president doesn’t commemorate D-Day or other World War 2 anniversaries every year because, well, we’re not a country like Russia, which actively deploys its World War 2 history to justify its actions more than half a century later. For example at his inauguration this year, Vladimir Putin said that Russia has a “great moral right” in its ‘security strengthening’ foreign policy “because it was our country that bore the brunt of the Nazi attack, met it with historic resistance, traversed immense hardships, determined the war’s outcome, routed the enemy and liberated the world’s peoples.” Nevermind that Russia then was at the head of a Soviet Union whose leadership was responsible also for the murder of millions of their own.

Which is not to say that perhaps America could not use some more historical perspective when it comes to World War 2; since then, America has subsidized much of Europe’s defense, even after the end of the Cold War. The American foreign policy establishment’s belief that the security of the free world lies on their shoulders can be traced to World War 2 and its aftermath, when institutions like the IMF, the United Nations and NATO were formed. Whether these institutions are still relevant or useful or necessary or proper in the 21st century is an open question, but not for the foreign policy establishment. American reflection on World War 2 does not go that far, but it should. Commemorating history may be important, but only an understanding of how we’ve become prisoners of historical circumstance can force us free of arrangements that may have far outlived their usefulness already.

Reason.TV remembering World War 2 Vets:

Seasteading in the Eyes of Mother Jones

Mother Jones's Josh Harkinson (who tends to cover the libertarian-oid beat for them) attends the latest conference of the Seasteading Institute, and finds--surprise!--people with unusual views, and of course he leads with the one most likely to make his audience mistrust the subject. (A neo-Filmerian, no less.)  

It does get better from there. Some excerpts with comments:

before anyone can emigrate to any of these floating utopias, somebody needs to figure out how to build them. The institute has created the Poseidon Award, which it hopes, by 2015, to bestow upon the founder of the world's first seastead that hosts at least 50 full-time residents, is financially self-sufficient and politically autonomous, and is willing to offer its real estate on the open market....

In the short term, seasteading fans have put their hopes in Blueseed, another [Peter] Thiel-backed startup, which aims to anchor a floating residential barge off the coast of Northern California; it would house 1,000 immigrant tech workers who can't qualify for US visas. "Question is," Blueseed's president, Dario Mutabdzija, tells a tableful of interested tech guys over lunch, "will the United States be okay with this in the end?"

That is indeed the ultimate question, and the sticking point in my enthusiasm for Seasteading. I have a hard time believing that existing sovereigns won't just throw around their sovereignty til it swamps Seasteaders. And what about non-state nuisances, too?

In the afternoon, after a Duke University student schools us on on nonlethal ways to repel pirates—LRAD sound cannons, high-pressure hoses, fortified "citadel rooms"—the lib-tech flotsam turns to the question of whether seasteads will be allowed to claim sovereignty. Myron Nordquist, associate director of the Center for Oceans Law and Policy at the University of Virginia, recounts a 1970s visit from the crown prince of Tonga during his past life as a State Department official.

The prince, who had arrived in DC sporting a top hat and a monocle, wanted to know if the United States would protect a group of American libertarians who, to the monarchy's chagrin, had built their own micronation, the "Republic of Minerva," on an artificial island close by. "We don't protect anyone, especially if they are American," Nordquist recalls telling him. Thus emboldened, Tonga commissioned a New Zealand tugboat and stormed Minerva with an invading army that included a few palace guards and a four-piece band. The libertarians pulled up stakes, and the abandoned island has since disintegrated back into the sea.

My July 2009 Reason feature on Seasteading, which also sums up earlier attempts at libertarian Zionism, such as the Republic of Minerva.

My reports from the first and second Ephemerisle festivals, where Seasteading fellow travelers experiment with floating festival living. (The fourth one is happening right now, and after attending the first three alas book promotional duties keep me from this one. My report from the third one is contained in my book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.

Blueseed boss Max Marty explained his company's potential benefits in Reason's May 2012 issue.

Matt Welch on How American Politics Is Getting Dumber While Fiscal Catastrophe Looms Larger

The federal leviathan currently burns through $6 billion in less than 15 hours. It takes about a day and a half for Washington to rack up $6 billion in debt. With each passing hour, our debt crisis grows larger, our entitlement time bomb ticks closer to detonation, and our politicians do everything in their power to change the subject. As Editor in Chief Matt Welch observes, American politics is getting dumber even as fiscal catastrophe looms larger.

View this article

Pre-Natal Genetic Testing Breakthrough: "Who Deserves to Be Born"

The New York Times is reporting on its front page a new scientific breakthrough in which a non-invasive technique can be used to sequence nearly the entire genome of a fetus. Basically, the team of researchers led by Jay Shendure at the University of Washington can find the entire complement of a fetus' genes floating around in the bloodstream of the woman who is bearing it. The Times reports:

The accomplishment heralds an era in which parents might find it easier to know the complete DNA blueprint of a child months before it is born.

That would allow thousands of genetic diseases to be detected prenatally. But the ability to know so much about an unborn child is likely to raise serious ethical considerations as well. It could increase abortions for reasons that have little to do with medical issues and more to do with parental preferences for traits in children.

That's right - the Times jumps immediately to highlighting the uses of a new technology - potential parental preferences for non-disease traits - that might provoke opposition to it based people's natural preferences for the status quo. And what's an article without a portentous quote from some bioethicist about how fraught with moral issues the new technology is. In this case, left-wing bioluddite Marcy Darnovsky obliges: 

“There are some scenarios that are extremely troubling,” said Marcy Darnovsky, associate executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, a public interest group in Berkeley, Calif. The tests will spur questions on “who deserves to be born,” she said.

This new breakthrough clearly implicates the abortion debate and the question of when a person becomes a person. H&R readers and commenters: let's just stipulate what we each believe about that and contemplate the odd notion of "deserves to be born."

Nobody "deserves" to be born. The advent of each one of us is entirely contingent on decisions made by our parents (and their parents and then their parents and so on down to the origin of life and the Big Bang) over which we had absolutely no say. For example, I marvel at the fact that my parents met at a New Year's party in 1953, got married two months later, and then I was born on November 23. Had they delayed their wedding one week, I would never have existed. New technologies associated with reproduction just add more contigencies to the birth of any specific individual. Of course, once born, people deserve to be treated morally by others. 

In the future when the technology is perfected and much cheaper, should would-be parents be allowed to take advantage of it? Yes, I argue in my 2001 column, Sex Selection, where I explained: 

So should parents be permitted to select traits other than the sex of their children? Few aspects of human development are more significant than one's sex; it's a central fact of one's identity as a human being. If it is ethically permissible for parents to make that choice, the case for letting them make less significant genetic choices for their offspring is already made. (Keep in mind that we are not talking about directly manipulating the genetic makeup of any individual. We're talking about permitting parents to test and choose among embryos for those traits they believe will give their children their best chances in life.)

Australian bioethicist Julian Savulescu is right when he reminds us, "The Nazis sought to interfere directly in people's reproductive decisions (by forcing them to be sterilized) to promote social ideals, particularly around racial superiority. Not offering selection for nondisease genes would indirectly interfere (by denying choice) to promote social ideals such as equality or 'population welfare.' There is no relevant difference between direct and indirect eugenics. The lesson we learned from eugenics is that society should be loath to interfere (directly and indirectly) in reproductive decisionmaking."

The Recovery is Slow by Historical Standards. What's to Blame? UPDATED: Should We Blame Tight Monetary Policy?

John Merline at Investors Business writes up the sluggish recovery and its explainerers:

The 1957-58, 1973-74 and 1981-82 recessions were the sharpest post-war slumps until the Great Recession. From those lows, the economy rose 15%, 18.5% and 19.6% over the next 11 quarters, respectively, vs. just 6.8% for the Obama recovery....

Some on the left blame the lack of adequate stimulus for the recovery's tepid pace. Former Obama economic adviser Larry Summers this week called for still more borrowing.

Those on the right blame Obama's own policies for slowing the recovery down, pointing to the substantial increase in the national debt, the growth of costly new regulations, the threat of new taxes, the impending ObamaCare mandates, and a general sense of uncertainty in the business community.

More here.

Gentle reader, do you think lack of counter-cyclical spending is mostly to blame for the slow recovery? Or is that very spending (read: borrowing), compounded by regulatory and political uncertainty ushered in by a "transformative" health plan, a massive financial-regulation bill, the inability to pass a budget and create a clear path on tax rates a larger cause here?

Update (1.15 pm): Over at Forbes.com, Tim Lee suggests that the real cause of the slow recovery is tight monetary policy. From his post, which you should definitely check out:

Standard economic theory says that if inflation is projected to be below the Fed’s 2 percent target and unemployment is way above the economy’s natural rate of 4 or 5 percent, that’s a sign monetary policy is too tight.

Too-tight monetary policy would produce exactly the kind of slow recovery we’re currently experiencing. But a lot of people have fallen into the trap Milton Friedman warned us about: of taking low interest rates as a sign of loose money. In reality, low interest rates can be a sign of extremely tight money, as with Japan over the last two decades....

The market monetarist position doesn’t fit neatly in either of these conventional narratives. Because we see the recession as primarily a monetary phenomenon, most of us aren’t enthusiastic about fiscal stimulus beloved by many on the left. But our view also isn’t intuitively appealing to conservatives who tend to see “too much” government as the cause of all economic problems.

More here.

I agree with Lee, who chides me for falling into a framework that supports Dem/Rep bashing, that monetary policy is a huge part of recovery economics (that's one of the reasons I didn't say above that there's only two possible causes). And recession economics, too!

From a Friedmanite monetarist POV, we're in exactly the sort of situation in which you'd want the Fed to be opening up the money supply even more than it's been trying to for what seems like forever anyway (hello, Greenspan!). The Fed hasn't been particularly tight-fisted for a very long time (though the few-years-old turn to paying interest on reserves, which gives banks a reason to on money, seems even more stupid with every passing day). I agree with the general historical argument (made by Friedman and Christina Romer, among others) that monetary stimulus was responsible for countering the effects of the Depression in the mid-'30s (itself a result in part from a post-Crash tightening) and that re-tightening the supply back then was a mistake. Lee suggests that the effective money supply remains tight based on the lack of economic growth both here and in Japan. That presumes that the right monetary theory is the solution and that the Fed just hasn't gone big enough yet. (Which many are predicting it will do eventually.) How much bigger does it have to go, though? What if it's true that the "Fed has run out of viable policy options," as Lee's Cato colleague Gerald O'Driscoll contends?

I think Lee is right to insist that monetary policy be included in all discussions of economic cycles (especially from a libertarian perspective). And I agree that looser money, in concert with other policies, is part of the sort of austerity that has worked to reduce debt-to-GDP ratios in the past and help economies gear up.

But here's something else worth thinking about as we await word of whether Helicopter Ben Bernanke will drop yet another "big money bomb": Even if you believe in Keynesian policy (and I don't), fiscal stimulus isn't really going to work if the government persistently runs debts and targets generally useless aspects of the economy. That is, the government can't jumpstart the economy if it's already worn out the starter over years of over-grinding it. I think something similar might be true with monetarist policy. What if the past couple of decades of relatively loose money has made it virtually impossible for monetarist moves to work?

Arguably the single-greatest conceit in economic thinking is its monomania, the idea that a single factor explains everything (I'm not saying Lee believes that, by the way). Clearly, whatever Treasury and the Fed and other parts of the government are doing ain't working (again, I come back to the humongous amount of uncertainty regarding tax, regulatory, and economic policy - that's gotta freeze up loads of activity; and don't get me started on debt overhangs, either). The non-responsiveness of the economy might be because the various policies are at cross-purposes at one another or that all the policies are in error, or some mix. And it might because the economy is screwed for reasons that we don't even recognize currently. But it's almost certainly more than one thing, which suggests strongly too that the solution will involve lots of other factors, too.

John Stossel on How Obama Creates Uncertainty and Paralyzes Growth

President Obama would do us all a big favor if he'd ask himself this: "Would I start or expand a business without knowing what regulations or taxes government will impose next year?" If he'd just stop and ask that, writes John Stossel, he'd have a sense of what's wrong with the economy. He'd understand why a country that must create 120,000 new jobs each month just to absorb newcomers created only 69,000 last month.

View this article

Ron Paul Roundup: Paul Says He Knows He Doesn't Have Enough Delegates to Win, Victories for the Cause in Massachusetts and California

The media loves an excuse to claim it doesn't have to pay attention to Ron Paul anymore, so has leapt on his email release to supporters yesterday which says in part:

we stand to send nearly 200 bound delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa. This number shatters the predictions of the pundits and talking heads and shows the seriousness of our movement. 

What's more, we will send several hundred additional supporters to Tampa who, while bound to Romney, believe in our ideas of liberty, constitutional government, and a common-sense foreign policy.

When it is all said and done, we will likely have as many as 500 supporters asdelegates on the Convention floor.  That is just over 20 percent!

And while this total is not enough to win the nomination, it puts us in a tremendous position to grow our movement and shape the future of the GOP!

The media is focusing on the first clause of that last sentence, but the real story is the second part.

The announcement as covered by Politico, USA Today, The Hill, Washington Post, and CBS.

Many folk in this Daily Paul comment thread unhappy with the announcement--many even thinking it fake at first. Many Paul folk don't believe there's any such thing as a "bound delegate" and still hope to sway 1144 to the Paul cause in Tampa.

*Romney delegates fail in their procedural challenge to knock some Paul fans out of their delegate slots from Massachusetts.

*A squad of 50 Paul-leaning Republicans win in a concerted attempt to take over the Los Angeles Republican Party Central Committee.

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

Kochs Deny Ed Crane's Account of Moscow Speaking Snub

Last week I mentioned in this space a long Washingtonian article about the Koch/Cato legal feud that, among other things, depicted Cato President Ed Crane's musings that a September 1990 speaking snub to Charles Koch at a historic Cato conference in Moscow might have been the source of the think tank co-founders' fallout. Now the Kochs have responded to the article, on their ForABetterCato.com website. Here's a selection on the Moscow anecdote:

The truth: Charles Koch had no desire to speak, never asked to, and did not leave as a result of any disagreement.

In reality, Charles Koch's concern with the conference agenda was that it never addressed the difficulty of transforming a Communist economy to a free-market economy. Without a focus on these transition issues, Charles Koch believed the recommendations would backfire and lead to anything but a free economy (which is, indeed, what happened). When Charles Koch advised Crane of this, Crane discounted the problem and refused to make changes.

Equal time: The Save Cato page on Facebook.

David Koch sits on The Reason Foundation's Board of Trustees, and Reason collaborates constantly with The Cato Institute. Disclosures and other information can be found in my prior blog posts (in chronological order): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported earlier this week that several other think tanks are facing succession issues. Excerpt:

In the past 18 months, many of the leaders associated with institutions such as the Rand Corp., the Center for New American Security, the Asia Society, the Urban Institute and several other think tanks have stepped down or announced plans to do so.

Even Edwin Feulner — a founding trustee when the Heritage Foundation opened its doors in 1973 and president since 1977 — will be exiting.

Estonian President Defends His Country's Economic Performance Against Krugman's Attack

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves is not happy. Paul Krugman’s latest snarky blog post ridicules the European ‘poster child for austerity’, claiming that Estonia’s recovery has been modest but hardly anything to write home about. Ilves took to twitter to express his outrage and engage in some ivy-league banter:

Let's write about something we know nothing about & be smug, overbearing & patronizing: after all, they're just wogs

Guess a Nobel in trade means you can pontificate on fiscal matters & declare my country a "wasteland". Must be a Princeton vs Columbia thing 

But yes, what do we know? We're just dumb & silly East Europeans. Unenlightened. Someday we too will understand. Nostra culpa.

Let's sh*t on East Europeans: their English is bad, won't respond & actually do what they've agreed to & reelect govts that are responsible.

Follow Ilves on twitter here.

Krugman has dedicated a lot of blog space to criticizing so-called austerity in Europe. Countries where spending is increasing and taxes are rising, like the UK, have for some reason been a favorite target of Krugman who seems to think that the UK’s unimpressive growth figures are some indication of the futility of austerity. Estonia, unlike most European countries, actually has implemented spending cuts. Krugman tried to show the failure of Estonia’s spending cuts using the graph below, which shows Estonia enjoying a modest recovery after depression:

As Dan Mitchell from Cato points out, this graph does not show the whole story. The graph only shows figures from 2007 onwards, and the Estonian government only began spending cuts in 2009. If figures from the 1990s and the 2000s are seen in one graph, as shown below, then Estonia’s success story becomes apparent:

The rise in GDP between 1999 and 2002 can be attributed to many of the reforms made by Prime Minister Mart Laar, a recipient of Cato’s 2006 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty, who took inspiration from Friedman’s classic Free to Choose when implementing privatization programs and banking reform.

The Baltic states are providing some of the only reassuring news coming out of Europe, it’s a shame these successes are being so blatantly misrepresented by a Nobel Laureate. 

Watch Very Special Stossel Show with Nick Gillespie: Is America in Decline?

I'm happy to tell you that I'll be one of the featured guests on tonight's very episode of Stossel, which airs at 9 p.m. ET on Fox Business. The topic is, "Is America in Decline?" and I appear to be a lonely voice suggesting that our nation still has a potentially good couple of years left.

Go here for more schedule info.

From the writeup of the show:

For decades, people have been saying that America's best days are behind us.

On this week's show, Glenn Beck says our Republic won't make it to 2016.

John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., says that our country is vulnerable because President Obama has made our military weaker.

Pat Buchanan claims that America is committing "suicide" as the population becomes less white and European.

Vernon Hill, founder of Commerce Bank, says he had to go to England to start his newest venture, Metro Bank, because American regulators now micromanage. Ellis Henican argues that regulation is needed.

Reason's Nick Gillespie contends that American culture is not in decline. People read sensational stories like thisthis, or this. But when you look at data for things like teen drug use and pregnancy, and violent crime, it suggests that American kids have become more responsible.

More here. 

Read John Stossel's great Creators Syndicate column every Thursday right here at Reason.

I was asked to appear on the show partly because of my recent Reason.com article "5 Classic Teen Sex-and-Drug Freakouts: Rainbow Parties, Butt-Chugging, And So Much More (By Which We Mean Less)," which made the case that many (if not all) scare stories about "the kids these days" are phonier than a three-dollar bill. A snippet:

In 2007, the Sheriff's Office of Collier County, Florida perpetrated one of the most ridiculous frauds in the annals of police work when it reported that kids were getting turned on by a "new drug called 'Jenkem,'" which was made from fermented urine and feces. Sure, kids today are into do-it-yourself culture, but given that real drugs are reportedly easier to score than ever, who exactly would be into what the cops averred was known by slang terms such as "butthash" and "fruit from crack pipe"?

"Fruit from crack pipe" sounds like something you'd order for dessert at a Thai restaurant that earned a D grade from the health inspector, doesn't it?

And let me also point out that the paperback edition of Matt Welch and my The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America goes on sale June 26. The new edition features an update and foreword by us that discusses our experiences on tour last year and the rise (and apparent fall) of the Occupy Movement and much more.

Don't Like Government Health Nannies? Blame Government Health Care.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's recent soda ban clearly stems from a longstanding nannying impulse. But as The Washington Examiner's Philip Klein argues, it's also a natural extension of the increased role of government in funding health insurance and care: 

...Bloomberg highlighted a comment from a supporter of the ban, who wrote, "Anyone who pays taxes and thus bears the health care costs of obesity should support this."

In a free society, individuals are able to take risks and make decisions detrimental to their own well-being -- be it smoking, drinking, excessive eating or anything else -- because they'll bear the ultimate costs of their decisions. But when government assumes a greater role in the health care system, suddenly there's a societal cost to individual risks. This provides an opening for those who believe in a paternalistic role for government to make their regulations seem pragmatic. Bloomberg used the "health care costs to taxpayers" argument during his previous drives to ban smoking in bars and restaurants and to outlaw the use of trans fats.

In 2010, government at all levels was responsible for 49 percent of health care spending in the United States. Once Obamacare is fully implemented, overall government spending on health care will soar, giving elected officials even greater justification to limit individuals' choices about what they eat or drink.

Already, Michelle Obama has made the war on obesity her major cause as first lady. And the health care law includes numerous food regulations. Buried on Page 1,209, for instance, Obamacare details that "the Secretary [of health and human services] shall establish by regulation standards for determining and disclosing the nutrient content for standard menu items that come in different flavors, varieties, or combinations, but which are listed as a single menu item, such as soft drinks, ice cream, pizza, doughnuts, or children's combination meals. ... "

More detailed information on the contents of your kid's Happy Meal may seem harmless now, but if Obamacare goes into effect and the government becomes desperate for ways to control health care costs, it's inevitable that lawmakers will go much further. Perhaps they will mandate exercise, or require Americans to maintain a certain waist size. Sound unrealistic? In 2008, Japan, which has a government-run health care system, passed a law requiring waist sizes no greater than 33 1/2 inches for men and 35 1/2 inches for women.

The bigger the stake that government has in paying for health care, the bigger the stake it has in controlling individual behaviors and decisions that affect personal health. You can't separate public health financing from public health nannying. Public officials won't mind their own business about what you eat, drink, and otherwise put into your body as long as it's their business to pay to keep those bodies healthy. 

Reason Writers Around Town: Ronald Bailey Reviews Jim Manzi's Uncontrolled

Jim Manzi is a founder and chairman of Applied Predictive Technologies, a business analytics consultancy, and an editor at National Review. Ronald Bailey reviewed his new book, Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society for The American Conservative magazine. From the review: 

Human beings crave certainty. Throughout history, assorted shamans, haruspices, auspices, astrologers, sibyls, kaballahists, pyromancers, Hegelians, Marxists, palmists, tarot-card readers, stock chartists, and computer modelers have made good livings off of the apparently limitless market demand for more certainty and reduced risk. But as Jim Manzi persuasively argues in his insightful and well-written new book, Uncontrolled, humanity is terrible at foresight, and trial-and-error is the chief way humans develop reliable knowledge.

Manzi begins with a telling example from the beginning of his business-consulting career. A retailer wanted to know if extensive plans to remodel its stores would result in enough profits to justify their costs. Young computer whiz Manzi crafted a complicated model taking factors like consumer research and competitive benchmarking into account and with great pride presented its output to a senior partner. The partner listened and then responded, “Okay, but why wouldn’t you just do it in a few stores and see how it works?” Manzi confesses, “This seemed so simple that I thought it couldn’t be right.” This encounter turned out to be the beginning of wisdom.

In Uncontrolled, Manzi shows how applying randomized controlled trials to business problems has worked to increase profits and improve processes. He advocates doing the same thing to government programs to sort through failed social policies to find those that work. Bailey applauds the idea, but has some public choice concerns about how government experimentation would work out in practice. 

Go here to read the whole review. 

Steve Chapman on the Myth of Unfair Paychecks

On Tuesday, Democrats failed to persuade the Senate to approve the Paycheck Fairness Act. What are we to conclude from that outcome? That paychecks will be unfair, to the detriment of America's working women. That's the claim of those supporting the legislation, but this is a myth resting on a deception. The Washington Post's official Fact Checker faulted Obama's claim, noting that "there is a wage gap, but it has declined over the decades—and depending on how the data are viewed, in some cases it barely exists." A difference, in any event, writes Steve Chapman, does not prove discrimination. 

View this article

Meanwhile, 2,000 Miles From Wisconsin, Public Sector Pensions Drive 292,000-population City to Brink of Bankruptcy

While Democrats continue wallowing in their own post-Scott Walker hyperbole, cities in Democrat-run states continue being pushed toward insolvency by the same underlying public-sector benefits time bomb that Gov. Walker has been vilified for beginning to address. The freshest example comes from California's 13th-largest city:

The Stockton, California, City Council voted to authorize a bankruptcy filing as soon as June 26 if officials fail to win concessions from creditors that would allow it to avoid becoming the biggest U.S. city to enter court protection.

The council, in a 6 to 1 vote, granted City Manager Bob Deis the authority to file for Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy protection. The farming center, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) east of San Francisco, is approaching insolvency when its fiscal year begins July 1.

"We have hit the wall," Mayor Ann Johnston said at the council's meeting late yesterday. "There are no quick fixes, there are no silver bullets."

Stockton faces a $26 million deficit in the coming year. Like cities and towns across the U.S., it's been strained by soaring costs for pensions and retiree health benefits while sales and property-tax revenue plummeted after the longest recession since the 1930s. [...]

If the city seeks court protection, it would join Central Falls, Rhode Island, which entered Chapter 9 protection in August after failing to win union concessions, and Jefferson County, Alabama, which became the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history in November, with $4.2 billion in debt. Vallejo, California, entered Chapter 9 in 2008, emerging from the process last year.

Ready or not, Democrats are going to have to get serious about governing. As Nick Gillespie wrote yesterday, "the voting public is finally getting the message that we can't keep spending far more than we take in at every level of government and that we can't keep promising more and more expensive benefits for public workers who are already earning more in salary than their private-sector counterparts."

Read more from the Reason archive on Stockton and municipal bankruptcy.

Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on Bloomberg's Food Narcissism

Many people are accusing Mayor Bloomberg of being a Nanny Statist for proposing a ban on large sodas in New York. But Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia takes issue with that description in her morning column at The Daily. "A nanny forces others to do things for their own good," she notes. "But Bloomberg is a moral narcissist forcing New Yorkers to do things that make him feel good." Nor are sodas his only obsession. During his decade-long reign of New York, she writes:

He has also cracked down on smoking, salt and trans fats. He has mandated that fast-food joints post calorie counts. He also tried (unsuccessfully) to bar food stamp recipients from buying sodas — one-upping fellow Republicans who want to urine-test welfare recipients to make sure they don’t use their government aid for drugs.

Alleged public health threats are not Bloomberg’s only obsession. Although himself an admitted former toker, he has unleashed the nation’s most insidious anti-pot policy in defiance of state law...

How does Bloomberg get away with such ruinous interference? Essentially, by affixing the adjective “public” before his pet peeves, turning them into respectable social causes such as “public health” and “public security.”

Read the whole thing here.

Global Temperature Trend Update: May 2012

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

Global Temperature Report: May 2012

Global climate trend since Nov. 16, 1978: +0.14 C per decade

May temperatures (preliminary)

Global composite temp.: +0.29 C (about 0.52 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for May.

Northern Hemisphere: +0.44 C (about 0.79 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for May.

Southern Hemisphere: +0.14 C (about 0.25 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for May.

Tropics: +0.03 C (about 0.05 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for May.

April temperatures (revised):

Global Composite: +0.30 C above 30-year average

Northern Hemisphere: +0.41 C above 30-year average

Southern Hemisphere: +0.19 C above 30-year average

Tropics: -0.12 C below 30-year average

(All temperature anomalies are based on a 30-year average (1981-2010) for the month reported.)

Notes on data released June 4, 2012:

Compared to global seasonal norms, May 2012 was the fourth warmest in the 34-year satellite record, according to Dr. John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. It was the third warmest May in the Northern Hemisphere, and tied as the warmest May over NH land masses, with an average temperature that was 0.68 C (about 1.22 degrees F) warmer than normal for the month. It was 0.95 C (about 1.71 degrees F) warmer than normal over the contiguous 48 states, which made it the fourth warmest May there since 1979.

Compared to seasonal norms, the “warmest” place on Earth in May was along the eastern coast of Russian near the Sea of Okhotsk. Temperatures there averaged as much as 4.29 C (about 7.72 degrees F) warmer than seasonal norms. The coolest spot was in the Gulf of Alaska west of Juneau, where temperatures for the month averaged 2.38 C (about 4.28 degrees F) cooler than May norms.

Go here to see the full satellite dataset. 

Breaking: Reduced Student Loan Rates Won't Be Offset by Cuts Elsewhere

The Wash Post spray paints the writing on the bathroom wall: "For a good time and low, low student loan rates, call Barack and Boehner."

The Dems and the GOP are both committed to keeping federally subsidized Stafford Loans for college students at the low, low rate of 3.4 percent fixed interest over a 10-year repayment period. That's down from 2007's 6.8 percent rate and the reduction will run out on July 1 unless Congress does something (private-market rates for student loans range from 6 percent up to around 12 percent for a fixed rate, a figure that presumably prices students' lack of collateral and credit history).

I ran the numbers on the 6.8 percent versus 3.4 percent here; on $10,000 over 10 years, it adds up to about $2,000 more. Given that the student borrower captures all the value of an expected increase in lifetime earnings (valued at somewhere between about $250,000 and $1 million), it seems fair that they foot the higher interest rate. Hell, at the 12 percent rate, the difference is just $5,400 more over 10 years. Still a good deal for motivated students (and one that doesn't put taxpayers on the hook for defaults or subsidies).

In any case, the GOP has proposed various ways to pay for the extension of the 3.4 percent rate, including:

In one proposal, the cost would be offset by increasing the amount federal workers pay for their retirement.

In the other, a freeze on loan rates would be paid for through a combination of items: shortening the period during which part-time students would be eligible for federally subsidized loans; limiting the ability of states to recoup Medicaid costs through taxes on providers, which would lead to a slight reduction in Medicaid use and, therefore, lower costs to the federal government; and improving coordination with states and local governments to reduce Social Security overpayments.

To which Arne Duncan, the secretary of Education, issued this great statement, worthy of the double-speaking nuns who taught me so well at St. Mary's and Mater Dei High School in New Monmouth, N.J.:

“If they are not serious proposals, they are not ones we will take seriously."

The only thing missing was an invocation of the great mysteries whose answers will only be revealed to us once we are one with God in Heaven (which won't happen if you keep asking so many questions!).

So the Dems don't want to discuss actually paying for the continuation of the lower loan rate (which a Democratic Congress insisted on sunsetting when passing it five years ago). How do we know that the GOP will ultimately cave on just going along with the lower rate? First off, they're Republicans. Second, the Wash Post (from which the above indented quotes are taken) writes

[Speaker John Boehner] added that the rate could be lowered retroactively if the deadline passes and said the GOP should not let the Democrats use the date to force a deal, said a person who was present at the meeting but was not authorized to speak about the matter publicly.

More here.

And I'm still asking: Why the hell should new student loan borrowers pay less than older ones? And, even more important, Why are we subsidizing loans for students in the first place? They get to keep the extra earnings they make, so it's only fair that they take on the extra risk, isn't it?

A.M. Links: Panetta Checks Out Afghanistan, Former CIA Bigwig Warns of Indiscriminate Drone Bombings, UN Warns Humanity

  • Defense Secretary Leon Panetta traveled to Afghanistan amid a wave of violence to hear an assessment of the military’s “ability to confront” threats from terrorist groups in the country. "I think it's important to try to make sure we are aware of the kind of attacks they are going to engage in, particularly as we go through the rest of the summer and enter the latter part of this year," Panetta said.
  • The CIA’s former Pakistani desk chief and head of its counterterrorism center says the U.S. government’s liberal use of drones is causing the kind of political instability that could be creating terrorist safe havens. "It needs to be targeted much more finely. We have been seduced by them and the unintended consequences of our actions are going to outweigh the intended consequences," Robert Grenier said.
  • As the pre-trial hearing continues for Bradley Manning, the private accused of leaking documents to Wikileaks and “aiding the enemy,” the judge ordered his defense team get more access to government documents being used to prosecute him. Defense attorneys say they’ve received 28 of 63 requested documents, and that they show the damage caused by the Wikileaks leaks was minimal. Government prosecutors admit they’ve only made 8,741 of more than 40,000 pages available to Manning’s defense attorneys.
  • The United Nations released a 500+ page report warning of doom and gloom for humanity and the environment, despite the international community’s best efforts. "The world continues to speed down an unsustainable path despite over 500 internationally agreed goals and objectives to support the sustainable management of the environment and improve human wellbeing," a press release said.
  • Apple may be dropping Google Maps from the iPad and iPhone, but Google says its planning to roll out off-line Google Maps and 3D images of big cities in a few weeks.
  • Millions of passwords from the online services LinkedIn and eHarmony could be compromised after a security breach. LinkedIn has up to 160 million users, eHarmony 20 million.
  • NBC Connecticut presents twenty five celebrities who got plastic surgery or look like it.

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New at Reason.tv: "Obesity in America: To Win, We Have to Lose Government"

Andrew Napolitano on the Lack of Outrage Over America's New Domestic Drone Program

When drones take pictures of us on our private property and in our homes, and the government uses the photos as it wishes, what will we do about it? Thomas Jefferson understood that when the government assaults our privacy and dignity, it is the moral equivalent of violence against us. The folks who hear about this, who either laugh or groan, writes Judge Andrew Napolitano, cannot find it humorous or boring that their every move will be monitored and photographed by the government. Can they?

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Brickbat: Beer Run

Former Edinburg, Texas, police officer Gilberto Montezano has pleaded guilty to official repression after taking a beer-filled ice chest from a driver during a traffic stop last year. He was sentenced to 18 months probation and a $500 fine. In 2010, Montezano was involved in a chase against traffic that ended with the suspect crashing into another vehicle, killing three of its occupants. That chase did not end his law enforcement career. Stealing the beer did.

Brickbat Archive

Mitt Romney Once Harangued a Neighbor for Smoking Pot, Then Called the Cops

Mitt Romney is one uptight sonofabitch, according to his neighbors in La Jolla, Calif., where the GOP presidential nominee is known to be the kind of guy who will bust your chops if he catches you having a brew and a toke on the sand: 

The Romneys rarely entertain neighbors, but they have tried to weave themselves into the fabric of local life. Mr. Romney and his wife take regular walks around La Jolla, exchanging pleasantries with fellow strollers and occasionally enforcing the law. A young man in town recalled that Mr. Romney confronted him as he smoked marijuana and drank on the beach last summer, demanding that he stop.

The issue appears to be a recurring nuisance for the Romneys. Mr. Quint, who lives on the waterfront near Mr. Romney, said that a police officer had asked him, on a weekend when the candidate was in town, to report any pot smoking on the beach. The officer explained to him that “your neighbors have complained,” Mr. Quint recalled. “He was pretty clear that it was the Romneys.”

Buzzkill courtesy of The New York Times

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Your Awful Pro-Drug War Editorial of the Day (From Australia!)

Whenever this whole rethinking the drug war thing starts to look like it's moving in the right direction, it helps to read a prohibitionist screed as a sort of refresher course on how many minds need to change before these policies really end; this screed comes from Australia. 

In today's Daily Telegraph, Tim Priest, a former Australian police sergeant who was a ringleader in fighting the heroin trade in the Sydney suburb of Cabramatta back in the early aughts, explains how drug legalisation is a terrible idea. Regardless of whether Cabramatta was a haven for scary, organized crimes which police were ignoring, Priest still has the mind of a thuggish prohibitionist. Here are some choice highlights of his argument:

I read an interesting analogy on speeding as it relates to policing on drugs. We all know that speeding drivers are responsible for a large majority of serious vehicle crashes. Police issue hundreds of thousands of speeding tickets - does that indicate that the "war" on speeding drivers has failed? Or do we look to an ever continuing road toll reduction and say enforcement is working?

In much the same way, the police should be actively enforcing the drug laws, no matter how watered-down they have become, particularly in NSW, and they should be coercing those offenders into treatment programs, not merely writing out meaningless court attendance notices.

There has to be a deterrent effect towards drug use, along with education - but when these fail, simply hooking up addicts to addictive medicines and supporting them for the rest of their lives is hardly a solution.

Basically, Priest is saying we didn't fight hard or mean enough. This is British writer Peter Hitchens' argument as well, (splashed with moralizing mumbojumbo). But of course, decades of this miserable policy proves that plenty of folks in the United States agree (and usually set the "civilized" jackboot trends in countries there they at least don't kill you for drug smuggling). This logic of fight harder, the misery and death means we're almost there, has lead to imprisoned millions the world over (mostly right here in the U.S.) It is DEA head Michele Leonhart's attitude about the 40,000 dead in Mexico the last five years being a sign that we are "winning."

How much human misery will it take to win? Nobody who advocates this policies seems to know. Drugs available in prison? Fight harder. Criminal elements? Fight harder. Humans been changing their consciousness for thousands of years? Fight harder. 

About a third of adults in Australia have tried marijuana, according to 2005 figures. 72 percent of drug arrest in that year were also over marijuana. 1 in 10 prisoners in Australia were there for drug offenses, mostly dealing or trafficking. The country's current policies, in place since 1985, initially was gentler than in many places, but then there was a backlash:

The first pillar, known as "supply reduction", aims to reduce the availability of drugs through legislation and law enforcement.

The second pillar, called "demand reduction", involves efforts to reduce the demand for drugs through prevention and treatment services.

The third element of the national strategy aims to directly reduce the harm done by drugs to people who continue using them – "harm reduction", for short.

In the 1990s, Australia was among the countries at the leading edge of international harm reduction.

In 1997, the Howard government drew back from harm reduction and placed renewed emphasis on supply and demand reduction. The government had come under strong pressure from international agencies committed to prohibition and then prime minister John Howard said the latest development in harm reduction strategies – making heroin medically available to some selected heroin dependent people – “sent the wrong message”.

However, in recent years notable voices in Australia have joined the global chorus of people saying hang on, this isn't working. A roundtable debate, Australia21, in April included the Australian Health Minister's summary "The key message is we have 40 years of experience of a law and order approach to drugs and it has failed.”

This reason for optimism for anti-prohibitionists means that people like Priest have to get desperate. And so he does, summing up his article with lazy, Reefer Madness logic:

As Justice Hulme of the NSW Supreme Court said last Monday in the sentencing of a chronic cannabis user and schizophrenic for the double murder of his father and an innocent 16-year-old girl: "I do not recollect schizophrenia, and the resulting horrendous consequences such as occurred in this case, being addressed in the recent advocacy of decriminalisation."

More awful prohibitionist arguments can be found here, or all over the place.

New WFOR Theory: The 'Love Drug' Made Rudy Eugene Gnaw a Man's Face Off

WFOR, the Miami TV station that helped propagate the notion that "bath salts" made Rudy Eugene eat Ronald Poppo's face, reports that "the preliminary toxicology report from Eugene’s autopsy" indicates he "had been smoking marijuana near the time of the incident." Exactly how near is not clear, since traces of marijuana can be found in people's bodies long after the drug's effects have worn off. I would give WFOR credit for not insinuating that the Weed With Roots in Hell drove Eugene's attack, but that restraint probably is due only to the fear that people nowadays would laugh at the suggestion. That is not the case with "bath salts," which are much scarier because they are newer and less familiar and who really knows what the hell is in them? Unfortunately, "it will now be at least two months before all the lab work will be completed," which gives WFOR another 60 days for wild speculation like this:

Inside [Eugene's] car investigators found a Koran and five empty bottles of water. The water appeared to have been recently purchased, the law enforcement source told [WFOR reporter Jim] DeFede.

The water, and the notion that Eugene was extremely thirsty, offers investigators another clue into the possible drugs Eugene may have been taking.

For instance, people who take Ecstasy often crave water. Detectives won’t know if Eugene took Ecstasy, or some other drug, until the complete toxicology report is issued.

OK, forget what I said. The folks at WFOR clearly are not afraid of provoking laughter if they are prepared to suggest that Ecstasy, a "love drug" known for promoting feelings of benevolence and empathy, impelled Eugene to tear a man's face to shreds with his teeth. A more promising hypothesis is that Eugene bought something that he thought was Ecstasy but that turned out to be a much more dangerous, delusion-inducing, violence-fomenting mystery drug. While there might be a powerful anti-prohibitionist message in that tale, since black markets facilitate such switcheroos, I still have to admit, unlike WFOR, that I totally made it up just now.

The Koran is another red herring, as WFOR reveals:

Police now believe that Rudy Eugene, the so-called Miami Zombie, was not only naked, but was also carrying his bible, when he nearly beat a homeless man to death and chewed off three-quarters of his face.

A senior law enforcement official told CBS4's Jim DeFede, Eugene’s bible was found with some of its pages ripped out at the scene of the May 26 cannibal attack that has captured worldwide attention.

The torn bible pages were found not far from the victim’s body. In interviews last week, Eugene’s mother described her son as a “church boy” who always carried his bible with him.

So far there is zero physical evidence that Eugene took "bath salts" or Ecstasy, and while he had smoked marijuana sometime in the recent past, it is not clear he was still high at the time of the assault. One thing we know for sure: He was definitely under the influence of Christianity. I await WFOR's exposé.

Why Not Force Somebody Who Hates You to Photograph Your Wedding?

A photo studio in New Mexico cannot refuse to shoot gay weddings for religious reasons, said the state’s court of appeals Tuesday, and doing so violates their Human Rights Act. This is the third ruling against Elane Photography. Via the Albuquerque Journal:

The New Mexico Human Rights Commission and District Judge Alan Malott have concluded in rulings in 2008 and 2009 that the studio violated the Human Rights Act.

Malott found the studio is a “public accommodation” — an establishment that provides services to the public — and as such may not refuse its services on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex or sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical or mental handicap.

Elane Photography argued that as a provider of discretionary, unique and expressive services, it was not a public accommodation within the meaning of the act.

New Mexico’s legal definition of a “public accommodation” is very vague. Pretty much anybody engaging in any act of capitalism that touches the public applies.

It’s a victory for … nobody really. Meaningless gestures, maybe? It’s not a victory for anybody trying to convince religious conservatives that the government recognizing gay marriage won’t interfere with their own religious practices. It’s certainly not a victory for the Freedom of Association accorded by the First Amendment.

Who wants a wedding photographer who is repulsed by their union and is forced to be there by law? What sort of outcome is going to be produced here that is going to make anybody involved happy (besides the lawyers, of course)?

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Nick Gillespie Talks Plastic Bag Bans on NPR's Tell Me More

Yesterday, I was on NPR's Tell Me More show, discussing plastic bag bans and taxes in DC, LA, Ireland, and elsewhere.

A snippet between me and host Michel Martin:

MARTIN: It's five cents. What so terrible?

GILLESPIE: Well, you know, first off, it's, you know, we live in a world where mayors certainly, I mean, I'm thinking of somebody like Mayor Mike Bloomberg in New York, who has tried to ban, you know, all sorts of things that he personally finds offensive. I mean he most recently, you know, was pushing to pass a limit on the size of soda pop that could be bought, even as he was celebrating literally Donut Day with the world's biggest box of Entenmann Donuts, you know, as a way of addressing what he claimed was an obesity epidemic.

We live in a world where politicians and governments have shown time and time again that they're interested in controlling our very basic choices. I think that, you know, you really need to show that there is a huge pressing and dire concern that needs to be addressed, and that the policy will do that. I don't think that the plastic bag ban reaches that level....

[Your] question is what's the harm? It's only a nickel or it's only 19 bucks or 20 bucks a year or something like that. My question is - partly is, what's, you know, what's the good? And if in fact plastic bags don't make us that much of the waste stream, that plastic bags are not causing that many problems, why does the government, why is the default that the government can come in and say hey, you know what? Do it this way. Do it our way rather than your way or hit the highway. I think that's problematic.

Listen to the discussion (about 13 mins) here.

Jay Beeber gives the full argument about why plastic bag bans are full of feel-good baloney.

ReasonTV correspondent Kennedy talks with LA City Council folks about their plastic bag ban:

Street Justice vs. a Supreme Court Justice

A story in today's New York Times illustrates the haphazard way in which police officers are held accountable for misconduct—or, more often, not. Last week Thomas Raffaele helped his parents, who were relocating to Houston, move out of their house in Queens. After removing the last of the furniture (two tables that he donated to a neighborhood tutoring center) with the help of a friend, Raffaele was walking down 74th Street near 37th Road a lttle after midnight on Friday morning when he came upon an angry crowd gathered around two police officers who were arresting a man with what the bystanders considered unnecessary violence. Concerned that the crowd was getting out of control, Raffaele called 911 to report that the officers might need assistance. A few minutes later, Raffaele reports, one of the cops, enraged at the hecklers, randomly lashed out at him, delivering "a sharp blow to [his] throat that was like what he learned when he was trained in hand-to-hand combat in the Army."

Raffaele complained about the unprovoked assault to a sergeant on the scene, who consulted with the other officers who were present, all of whom denied seeing anything untoward. And that might have been the end of it, except that Raffaele happens to be a New York State Supreme Court justice, overseeing marriage cases in Queens. (In New York the confusingly named Supreme Court handles trials, while the highest court is the Court of Appeals.) Raffaele's position helped him get a more attentive hearing when he complained to the Internal Affairs Bureau, which is now investigating the incident. "In this instance,” the NYPD's chief spokesman told the Times, the bureau (as opposed to the Civilian Complaint Review Board) "is reviewing the complaint because it was brought to its attention by the judge, not because of the level of injury."

And what about the man whose arrest caused the crowd to gather? Raffaele, whose account "was corroborated by two people he knows who described the encounter in separate interviews," said the same officer who attacked him "was repeatedly dropping his knee into the handcuffed man's back," despite warnings from a woman who identified herself as a nurse and said "he could seriously hurt the unidentified man, who an official later said was not charged." Imagine the punishment he might have received if he had actually been accused of a crime.

Jail Time is on the Increase for Identical Crimes

A new study from the Pew Center on the States has found that in 35 states inmates serving time for drug offenses and violent crimes are serving on average nine months longer than they would have in 1990, a 36 percent increase. The worst state is Florida, where prisoners are serving 194 percent more time for drug offenses. The study also found (unsurprisingly) that the increase in jail time for drug offenders did not lead to safer streets and a reduction in violent crime. In fact, states that did reduce prison time for drug offences saw an overall drop in crime.

The U.S. is addicted to incarceration. Almost 1 percent of the population is behind bars, and the crime rates do not reflect this fetish for locking people up yielding any encouraging results. The U.S. has about 730 prisoners per 100,000 of the population, while England has 156 and Canada has 117. Even totalitarian countries like China and Burma have no more than 122 prisoners per 100,000 of the population. Approximately one in 20 people are Americans, yet one in four prisoners are American. The U.S. has close to a million more prisoners than China, a country with a population of over a billion.  

The huge American prison population is a relatively recent phenomenon. The explosion in the prison population can be attributed to mandatory sentencing and “three strikes” laws that were introduced in the 1980s and 1990s. Americans did not suddenly become more violent and dangerous in these decades; we just introduced really dumb sentencing policies. 

In our current economic situation prison and sentencing reforms have been noticeable by their absence. The rise in prison time costs an estimated $10 billion a year. Many prisoners have committed victimless crimes for which some are serving expensive decades-long sentences. 

While prison and sentencing reforms are lacking some progress is being made in drug policy. Governor Cuomo wants to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, and Rhode Island lawmakers have just passed a marijuana decriminalization bill. While these are steps in the right direction they need to be copied more widely and the federal government needs to back off, neither of which are likely.

There is a website that features aerial photographs of American prisons. It gives you a sobering idea of the scale of this vast, expensive, and inefficient project that is mass incarceration. Longer sentences for drug offenders do not lower crime rates or the rates of consumption, its time to abandon them.

Feds: Why Should Taxpayers Cover Just 2/3 of Crop Insurance Premiums When They Could Pay The Whole Amount?

Just as voters at the local and state levels are signaling via the ballot box that they want government to pay less for public-sector workers' retirements, federal legislators are pushing to make taxpayers liable for more of private farmers' livelihoods.

Check it out:

Crop insurance has existed for decades, with the government now spending about $7 billion a year to pay about two-thirds of the cost of farmers’ premiums. Under the federal program, farmers can buy insurance that covers poor yields, declines in prices or both.

On Tuesday, the Senate began debate on a farm bill, passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee in April, that would set up another crop insurance subsidy, costing $3 billion a year, to cover any losses farmers suffer, known as deductibles, before their crop insurance policies kick in.

Advocates, including farm interest lobbyists and lawmakers with a long history of creating and protecting benefits, argue that the new program would save Washington money by replacing a longstanding one costing $5 billion a year, known as direct payments, that pays owners of farmland a set amount regardless of whether they have planted crops.

So we're already paying $7 billion a year to cover 2/3 of farmers' premiums, plus another $5 billion in direct payments. That works out to $12 billion a year, right? If we swap out the direct payment program and toss in $3 billion in more insurance subsidies, then we'd be paying $10 billion total, for a savings of $2 billion. Why that's almost as good as just telling farmers to pay for their own goddmaned crop insurance, isn't it?

But wait, there's this:

The existing crop insurance subsidy ballooned to $7.3 billion last year from $951 million in 2000, or about $1.2 billion adjusted for inflation, according to another G.A.O. report released in April. The costs of the program have risen as the value of crops has increased. Over the next 10 years, a Congressional Budget Office study estimates that the premium subsidy for the existing program will cost about $90 billion.

“This is better than a government bailout,” said Steve Ellis, vice president of the Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group in Washington. “A bailout is a one-time thing when something bad happens. But crop insurance keeps giving good or bad. And it’s about to give even more.”

Oh, and guess what else? Because the government pays most of the costs of insurance premiums, farmers buy marginal land and insure it, knowing that they'll make a return either through whatever crops they raise or whatever insurance payout they get.

By guaranteeing income, farmers say, crop insurance removes almost any financial risk for planting land where crop failure is almost certain.

“When you can remove nearly all the risk involved and guarantee yourself a profit, it’s not a bad business decision,” said Darwyn Bach, a farmer in St. Leo, Minn., who said that he is guaranteed about $1,000 an acre in revenue before he puts a single seed in the ground because of crop insurance. “I can farm on low-quality land that I know is not going to produce and still turn a profit.”

Hand it to the feds. They've managed to improve on stupid subsidies ("direct payments") by creating (and looking to expand) a system that is even more idiotic and open-ended.

More here.

Hat Tip: World's Greatest Film Critic, Pastichist, and Blogger Alan Vanneman. If you don't believe that, read his recent entry on why the U.S. can't possibly fall behind the rest of the world.

Same-Sex Marriage Disputed, Same-Party Elections A-OK; GovWorkers Hammered; More: California Results

"Top Two" voting is producing one-party November elections in the union's most populous state. 

Swiftboated San Diego mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio secured the Republican nomination. 

California voters barely rejected a cigarette tax. 

This June vote, which was attended by nearly a quarter of eligible voters, may turn out to have been more important than the November general election, the results of which don't look like they will be very surprising. 

As Scott Shackford noted earlier, voters in San Diego and San Jose elected to reform budgeting of pensions for government employees. Public sector unions have already sued to block the will of the people

Californians also strayed from type by narrowly rejecting Proposition 29, a cigarette tax purportedly intended to support cancer research. This at least is the apparent result with 4,123,259 ballots counted:

Proposition 29 Imposes Additional Tax on Cigarettes for Cancer Research 
Fail: 1,894,871 / 49.2% Yes votes ...... 1,958,047 / 50.8% No votes

ABC says this result is a tie

Proposition 28, a misleadingly worded change to Golden State term limit laws that makes it easier for legislators to build 12-year careers in Sacramento, sailed through with 62 percent of the vote. 

Instant runoff or top-two voting, which was hilariously advertised as an opportunity for third parties, is instead producing one-party contests in sunbaked Barstow:

United States Representative; District 8

  • Paul Cook, Republican 10,682 votes 15.5%
  • Gregg Imus, Republican 10,353 votes 15.0%

...in the heart of the San Fernando Valley: 

United States Representative; District 30

  • Brad Sherman, Democratic 31,866 votes 42.4%
  • Howard L. Berman, Democratic 24,320 votes 32.4%

...and along the developed but charming beaches of San Pedro: 

United States Representative; District 44

I missed the June 2010 primary, during which Proposition 14 passed, making top-two voting the law of the land. I would have voted against it then, though I should note that as of 2004 I still apparently believed this rotten trick might generate more interesting election results. In practice, you can see that top-two makes the general election (the one that normal people vote in) a runoff of the primary.

So kudos to KUSI.com for calling the upcoming mayoral race between Republican Carl DeMaio and Democrat Bob Filner in San Diego a "runoff." DeMaio, an analyst at the old Reason Public Policy Institute, was targeted by pilotless drone David Brooks in a New York Times column, but Nathan Fletcher, the particular king Brooks was attempting to make in that column, came in third place last night, so Allah mak to him. 

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Matt Welch on Why Democrats Need to Get Serious About Governing and Stop Whining About Scott Walker

Wisconsin has been the front line of America's Democrat vs. Republican, blue vs. red rhetorical war for 16 months now, ever since newly elected Republican governor Scott Walker pushed through a budget repair bill that withdrew government from the union dues-collecting business for public employees and removed the collective bargaining power of most government unions, an act that triggered historic public protests. So on the morning after Walker survived a labor-led recall election by a higher margin than he originally won office in 2010, there were plenty on the left grumbling darkly about the Dark Lord rising over our once-free country. Editor in Chief Matt Welch reminds those despondent progressives that no amount of crying over evil Scott Walker will help governments fix their bleeding balance sheets.

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Wisconsin Vote Nudges Presidential Race, Ray Bradbury Passes Away, Greece Is Going Broke: P.M. Links

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What's The Real Message of Wisconsin?

Over at The New Republic Alec MacGillis enumerates all the reasons why public unions experienced an utter rout yesterday in Wisconsin: they were outspent; they should have attempted a referendum like their more successful comrades in Ohio rather than a recall; voters were in a pro-incumbent mood; Walker is a wily bastard who exempted cop and firefighter unions and thereby splintered the union vote.

The only reason he neglected to mention happens to also be the correct one: taxpayers straining under out-of-control union demands finally cried: “ENUFF.” But MacGillis does ask why unions don’t engage is some soul searching and self-reform now that voter mood is turning against them:

What could unions have done differently? The Wisconsin defeat is a huge blow to public employee unions, and it may well help decide the election later this month of the next president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—Danny Donohue, the challenger from New York, will surely use the Wisconsin loss an argument against Lee Saunders, the union’s current number-two and the anointed successor to outgoing president Gerald McEntee. I keep coming back to a question I’ve asked many union leaders the past few years—why did unions not make more of an effort to get out ahead of the anti-union push by engaging in more self-reform, reining in the obvious, glaring excesses (the cops in Yonkers, etc.) that have made public employee unions such an easy target for opportunistic conservatives like Walker? The union leaders rebuff this question by arguing that they simply found it wrong for their members to be scapegoated—bankers’ shenanigans had a far bigger role in the financial crisis and recession than union pensions. Which is true. It’s also true that politicians like Walker, and the groups backing them, were intent on eviscerating organized labor in a way that went beyond mere concessions over pensions and pay, which the unions in Wisconsin made clear they were prepared to make. Still, though, one can’t help but wonder whether the unions could have done more to see this coming and, by self-reforming, draw support from the median voter.

 No, they couldn't have. And for the same reason that they are out-of-control in the first place.

Whatever the flaws of private sector unions, they have a right to collectively bargain to get as big a share of company profits as is sustainable. What is sustainable? Something in line with the value they help generate. If they ask for more, employers can’t summarily fire them and hire someone else given how our labor law is currently written. But unions can’t make limitless demands forever without sucking the company dry. Hence there is some market discipline that they have to hew to even when labor law arguably gives them unfair latitude.

But there is no equivalent discipline that public sector unions have to submit to. They don’t generate profits. So there is no objective way to measure the value of their work. The main purpose of their collective bargaining powers – it is a misnomer to call them “rights” -- is to extract the most lavish wages and benefits they can possibly get from their government employer. Meanwhile, the employer, who pays from taxpayer pockets not her own, has little incentive to insist on reasonableness, especially if unions have helped put her in office. Collective bargaining powers in the public sector, then, virtually invite abuse. And so long as unions have these powers, they will have little reason to “self reform" beyond minor, cosmetic changes.

Perhaps Wisconsin voters intuited all this, which is why when they were finally invited to weigh in, they opted to clip these powers and address the root of the problem.

That’s the real message of Wisconsin.

It's Not Too Late to Save Your Stupid Old Light Bulbs

Last night the House of Representatives passed a spending-bill amendment aimed at preventing the Energy Department from enforcing the federal efficiency standards that require the phaseout of conventional incandescent light bulbs. Under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the phaseout was supposed to begin in January 2012 with a ban on 100-watt bulbs, but a spending bill approved last December delayed enforcement until this October. The amendment passed yesterday, which was introduced by Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), would give incandescent bulbs a one-year reprieve. The Better Use of Light Bulbs Act—introduced by another Texas Republican, Joe Barton—would repeal the bulb ban altogether. Last July it received majority support in the House but fell short of the two-thirds vote necessary to pass a bill on a motion to "suspend the rules," a process that limits debate and bars amendments. Because of the procedure used, according to Govtrack, Barton can try again before the end of the current session.

Like Michael Bloomberg's 16-ounce limit on soda servings, these light bulb regulations override consumer choices that the government deems foolish—in this case, accepting lower efficiency (and higher electricity costs) in exchange for much lower prices, greater versatility, and performance that is better in some respects. (Incandescents go on right away, for instance, while the next cheapest alternative, compact fluorescent lamps, often need to warm up; others complain about the quality of the light from CFLs, although that's not as big a deal to me.) While I object to both the beverage rule and the lighting restrictions on principle, the light bulb ban is more personally irksome to me, because I have not lived in New York City since 2001 and in any case generally avoid sugar-sweetened soft drinks. I would be happy to purchase the bulbs the Energy Department thinks I should have if they worked better than they do and did not cost so much. But my experience with CFLs has been that they cost a lot more, do not last nearly as long as advertised, and do not perform the basic function of quickly illuminating a room nearly as well. LEDs may be better, but they are at this point absurdly expensive. Halogen bulbs and the new, extra-efficient incandescents are not quite as pricey, but they still cost around 10 times as much as the banned bulbs.

I may be paying more for electricity than I otherwise would (not a whole lot more, according to the Energy Department's calculations), but I am willing to accept that tradeoff, and so are most Americans, to judge by the market penetration of the newer, more efficient bulbs before the government decided to legally mandate this transition. (If the newer products really were indisputably better in every respect, why would the government have to force people to buy them?) So it really irritates me when I'm told either that I don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to products that I use every day or that my preferences are stupid. Even if they were, I should have a right to be stupid with my own money and my own house.

Previous coverage of the light bulb ban here. An incandescent elegy:

Wins in Wisconsin and California Signify Triumph of Common Sense and Basic Math Over Status Quo, Ideology; Will Be Replicated Everywhere.

Election results from Wisconsin and the California cities of San Jose and San Diego communicate a simple message that is likely to be misunderstood by Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.

The short version: Voters everywhere are finally starting to realize that municipalities, states, and (here's hoping) the federal government are out of money. That's the real message of the major contests last night.

It's not particularly ideological, though both winners and losers will likely take it that way. Democrats, liberals, and pro-union forces will bitch and moan about "outside money," the effect of Citizens United, the decimation of the working man and the middle class. Republicans, conservatives, and anti-union types will chest-bump each other about how they're taking the country back from leftists who want to devote more school lessons to Lenin than George Washington and can now feel safe about pushing traditional values and whatnot.

None of this is the case. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker was targeted for a recall because he pushed to limit collective bargaining of teachers and public workers other than cops and firefighters. But the stripping of union power was incidental to what Badger State voters actually wanted, which was for public employees (including cops and firemen) to pay more for their health care and retirement benefits. Wisconsin faced a multi-billion budget deficit and getting public-sector workers to kick in more for their benefits, which are relatively plush compared to analogous private-sector workers, helped close the gap. The Reason-Rupe Poll of Wisconsin adults found that about 70 percent of residents thought that made sense, even though a plurality of them had favorable opinions toward public employee unions. By and large, voters care less about "unions" and more about whether they feel like they're paying too much for services.

In San Diego and San Jose, the second- and third-largest cities in California, roughly 70 percent of voters favored putting new public-sector workers into 401(k)-style retirement plans. This is no small thing. The main upside of such defined-contribution plans is that it caps what taxpayers are on the hook for and it does away with bullshit annual returns for retirees that typically far outpace the market. San Diego and San Jose, like the state of which they are part, are tight on cash and pension costs are a major reason. From Business Week's accounting:

In San Diego, the eighth-largest U.S. city with 1.3 million residents, officials budgeted $233.6 million for retiree benefits this year, up from $87 million in 2004, according to budget documents. The city’s share of retirement costs would have grown by $100 million over 10 years without the proposed changes in the ballot measure.

In San Jose, the 10th-largest U.S. city with 946,000 residents, annual retirement costs increased to $245 million from $73 million in the past decade, according to ballot measure supporters. Pensions now account for more than 50 percent of city payroll, and more than 20 percent of the general fund, backers said.

More here.

Golden State residents haven't suddenly turned vengeful toward Democrats or union members any more than residents in Wisconsin have (by the Reason-Rupe Poll and other surveys, President Obama enjoys a 10-point lead over presumptive GOP candidate Mitt Romney). And for all the talk that Gov. Walker slashed spending, the two-year budget he passed actually increases total spending 3 percent while holding taxes essentially flat (watch vid below). And government workers after Act 10, the law that triggered Walker's recall, are still pulling in far more than comparable private-sector workers.

Last night's results - and moves by other Democratic governors such as New York's Andrew Cuomo - suggest that the voting public is finally getting the message that we can't keep spending far more than we take in at every level of government and that we can't keep promising more and more expensive benefits for public workers who are already earning more in salary than their private-sector counterparts. That's tremendously good news and it represents the triumph of reality over ideology.

But it doesn't mean that some sort of massive partisan realignment is upon us and politicos who think it does won't be in a very good position to speak meaningfully to voters in the coming months.

Fullerton Recalls City Council Members Over Kelly Thomas Death

While most have been paying attention to the events in the Wisconsin recall election, another recall election happened last night in the city of Fullerton, Calif. Fullerton residents recalled city council members, Don Bankhead, Pat McKinley and Richard Jones, sparked by the killing of Kelly Thomas by city police officers in early July 2011.

The recalled members will be replaced by Greg Sebourn, a land surveyor, attorney Doug Chaffee and planning commissioner and blogger for the local small government blog, Friend's for Fullerton's Future, Travis Kiger.

The recall effort was largely funded by the backer of Friends for Fullerton's Future, Tony Bushala, a local businessman.

Bushala spoke with local affiliate, KTLA:

"We were fighting for justice in this community," said Tony Bushala, one of the organizers of the recall vote. "The citizens of Fullerton, they went to the polls and they voted. And they voted with their hearts and their consciences. They knew something terribly wrong happened in Fullerton."

Kiger spoke with Reason TV about breaking the Kelly Thomas story on Friends for Fullerton's Future in November of 2011:

For more Reason TV converage of the Kelly Thomas story see:

Cops Vs. Cameras: The Killing of Kelly Thomas & The Power of New Media

Outraged Fullerton citizens react to Kelly Thomas beating tape

Ron Paul Roundup: PaulFest in Danger, 10 Percent in California (with Paul Supporter Up Against Pelosi), and Paulites Rule Nevada

A Ron Paul roundup:

*The Republican National Committee doesn't want its festivities prefaced by a Ron Paul festival in the same town, say organizers, though the RNC itself says it is just being thoughtful. Fox News reports:  

Spokesman Bryan Siemon said his group is organizing a three-day "PaulFest" at the Florida State Fairgrounds that would include music, comedians and speakers. But the Republicans control Tampa's public venues during the convention and haven't given PaulFest approval to use the fairgrounds.

Convention organizers say they aren't blocking anyone and that a decision will be made within a few weeks.

"We do have the request," said James Davis. "We have an extraordinary amount for requests for the venues we do have. We're going through and making assignments and no one has turned down any assignment yet."

Politico with more complaints from would-be Paulfest organizers against the RNC.

*Paul supporters plan federal lawsuit claiming that the RNC can't bind delegates.

*Whenever a Ron Paul supporter boos someone, the media is johnny-on-the-spot.

*Nevada Paul people running the Clark County Party buy billboards comparing Paul to Reagan, Romney to Bush.

*A Missouri Paul delegate hates her experience.

*In California yesterday, Paul pulled a disappointing 10 percent (but over 147,000 votes) after declining to actively campaign here, and two Paulite candidates I interviewed earlier here at Reason, Rick Williams for U.S. Senate and Christopher David for 33rd House District, both failed to move on to the general election. Williams got over 120,000 votes, including Tim Cavanaugh's though, and David came in a strong third with over 15 percent. But another Paul-supporter House candidate, John Dennis, who I interviewed here in 2010 about his duel with Nancy Pelosi, will once again be Pelosi's opponent in November in District 12.

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

Texas Police Chief Accused of Shooting Two Dogs and a House

I just know that our brave law-enforcement officers are all that stands between us and the barbarians inside the gates, but sometimes it's hard to distinguish the cops from the Visigoths when they plug napping dogs and pop a round or two at occupied houses in the process. At least, that's what a Florence, Texas, family says the local police chief did, and the cops aren't saying anything to counter the story.

According to KVUE, reporting the story told by the Vybiral family:

Caren says she was watching a movie with her two year old daughter Lilly when gunshots rang out. She thought they were coming from across the street.

"Thought maybe Chevron was being robbed or something. I didn't have any idea what was going on," Caren Vybiral said. "And when I walked to open the door, there was another gun shot."

Caren said Sassy was lying in the door way bleeding. And standing above her was Florence Police Chief Julie Elliot-Abshire. After a short exchange, Caren said the chief ran to the back yard and shot the other family dog that was locked up, a two year old pit bull named Boomer.

"I asked her what is going on," Caren described, "and she said, um, the b-word, did you not hear me knocking on your front door. And I said no, why did you shoot my dogs?"

Apparently, the two dogs had escaped from the yard, and wandered across the street to the gas station where they were seen and reported by a city worker. But a family friend had returned them to the house by the time the police chief arrived. Sassy, a six year old Rhodesian Ridgeback who had to be put down after the gunshots, had again escaped, but was snoozing on the front porch. Boomer, who was injured but survived, was restrained at the time of the shooting.

The Vybirals say they almost joined the list of the dead and injured, since at least one of the Police Chief Julie Elliot-Abshire's bullets took out a window and ended up in the house.

We don't know the chief's side of the story, since the doors to the Florence Police Department were locked when reporters arrived and the department isn't returning phone calls or emails. Which must be very reassuring to town residents who might like to think the cops would make themselves available for something other than berserker sprees.

The City of Florence says it's investigating the incident. One anonymous witness told KVUE the chief was being threatened by both dogs in the front yard — which doesn't square with the alleged shooting of a restrained dog in the back.

Is the UN Planning to Regulate the Internet? WCITLeaks Aims to Find Out.

At the end of the year, nations belonging to the United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU) are scheduled meet in Dubai to finalize negotiations over rules to regulate and control the Internet.

The goal of the World Conference on International Communications (WCIT), at least for countries like Russia and China, is to establish a firmer government hand on the world's biggest information network: Russian President (then Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin said last summer that he wants the UN to establish "international control over the Internet using the monitoring and supervisory capabilities of the International Telecommunication Union."

Talks over exactly what the agreement will say are already underway, and a number of proposals have already been put forth. There's real reason to worry about what will come of these talks and the agreement they're intended to generate. Vincent Cerf, who helped develop the Net as we know it and now serves Google's chief Internet evangelist, warned last month that ITU "proposals raise the prospect of policies that enable government controls but greatly diminish the ‘permissionless innovation’ that underlies extraordinary Internet-based economic growth to say nothing of trampling human rights.”

The problem is that we don't know what, exactly, the ITU plans to do. That's because so far, the proposals have not been collected and posted publicly: Access is available only though a password-protected ITU website. 

Jerry Brito and Eli Dourado, both tech policy research fellows with the The Mercatus Center at George Mason University, hope they've found a way to solve this problem. They've created a website called WCITLeaks.org that allows officials with access to ITU proposals to anonymously upload drafts. 

There's nothing illegal about making the documents public. They're not classified or otherwise protected by law. But transparency isn't really a priority for the ITU. As Brito writes in a blog post announcing the new site, "publishing these documents is probably not considered polite in the rarefied diplomatic circles of the ITU. So, I thought we’d give folks with access to the documents a helping hand." Hopefully, that's all it will take. 

More on the Death of Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury, who it seems was nearly every Americans' favorite writer for at least briefly when they were kids, is dead, as Peter Suderman discussed here earlier today.

A few thoughts from a fan since reading "The Sound of Summer Running" in a grade school lit book at age 7 and a fellow Los Angeles resident.

That last part seems important if you live here; for all his Illinois childhood nostalgia, which Bradbury sold with all the mad vigor of a carnival barker from his own imagination, he was also a great patriot for the home of most of his life, Los Angeles (he made downtown cafeteria Clifton's a legend to me long before I had the pleasure of living here).

You'd see him regularly doing signings at local bookstores and libraries, because he believed in the power and necessity of local bookstores and libraries. It did indeed seem that he was a living legend that was going to continue to stress the "living" part, and indeed he made it far into the future he imaginedat age 91, though never far enough. The last time I saw him, appropriately, was behind a desk at the great local bookstore Bookfellows/Mystery and Imagination, a couple of years back.  

He was also a great patriot for his imaginative kingdoms of science fiction and fantasy, pretty much a yearly fixture at San Diego Comicon and always reliable to a good word in the media for both science fiction and the place where science fiction most closely intersected the real world, space travel.

Like most of his readers, I both stopped reading him much when I hit my thirties and stopped following his newer work for the most part. This may have been my loss, and is irrelevant; he's got dozens of stories and a couple of novels that will clearly live, and not just in the minds of genre enthusiasts. He did his homeworld of science fiction a great favor by helping normalize it as "real lit" (not that all science fiction insiders appreciated it) and paving the way in his way for later Ballards, Le Guins, and Dicks.

Some words from Ray that I think sum him up. What he sold best, even in his social critic mode, was love: love for past ways and a mystically imagined future, love for childhood, love for wonder and innocence, love for science and curiosity and the fate of mankind.

This from an interview from 1979 with Bradbury in Charles Platt's excellent book Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction:

"I went down to Cape Canaveral for the first time three years ago. I walked into it, and yes, I thought, this is my home town! Here is where I cam from, and it's all been built in the last twenty years behind my back. I walk into the Vehicle Assembly Building...and I go up in the elevator and look down--and the tears burst from my eyes.....I'm just full of the same awe that I have when I visit Chartre or go into the Notre Dame....It was like walking around in Shakespeare's head....

The dream remains the same: survival in space and moving on out, and caring about the whole history of the human race, with all our stupidities, all the dumb things that we are....I try to accept that: I say, okay, we are also the ghosts of Shakespeare, Plato, Euripides and Aristotle....So what we are going to try and do is move on out to the moon, get on out to Mars, move on out to Alpha Centauri, and we'll do it in the next 500 years, which is a very short period of time, maybe even sooner....and then, survive forever, that is the great thing. Oh, God, I would love to come back every 100 years and watch us.

So there it is, that's the essence of optimism: that I believe we'll make it and we'll be proud, and we'll still be stupid and make all the dumb mistakes, and part of the time we'll hate ourselves, but then the rest of the time we'll celebrate."

While he was the least scientifically rigorous of the great romantic visionaries of human life in space, that romanticism helped create the cultural world in which, as with the SpaceX adventure he lived to see by a week, the human race seems likely to live up to Uncle Ray's fondest hopes for us. They'll be reading him on Mars, and even Alpha Centauri, you can be sure.

Marijuana Patient Denied Transplant Has 90 Days To Live

Cancer patient Norman Smith went to Cedars-Sinai hospital, June 2, 2012, after almost fainting. Because of his weakness and the severity of his cancer, Smith's doctor told him that he has 90 days to live. Smith has been in need of a liver transplant for over a year now, but was denied one by Cedars-Sinai's transplant program after smoking medical marijuana.

"Physically, I'm challenged. As far as my emotional state, I'm adjusting," Smith said on a phone call from his hospital bed this morning.

Because the waiting process was prolonged, Smith's cancer got worse and he says that his only shot now is a transplant outside the United States.

"It's unlikely this would be put together in time," said Smith.

Reason TV covered Smith's story in Transplant Denied: How Medical Marijuana Policy Kills Patients.

The Unions Could Have Won the Recall If the Other Side Hadn't Talked So Much

The Washington Post's Greg Sargent blames the failure to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the 2010 decision in which the Supreme Court lifted restrictions on independent spending in election campaigns. Sargent calls yesterday's election results "a major wake-up call for the left, Democrats, and unions about the true nature of the new, post-Citizens United political landscape." Citizens United, you see, "empowered opponents of organized labor," allowing "outside groups" to spend heavily on ads supporting Walker. (Although the case dealt with federal restrictions, its First Amendment logic forced states to loosen their rules as well.) Sargent quotes an American Federation of Teachers official, who says, "It's pretty clear that the voices of ordinary citizens are at permanent risk of being drowned out by uninhibited corporate spending."

One crucial fact that goes unmentioned in the 488-word post: Citizens United not only "empowered opponents of organized labor"; it empowered organized labor, overturning longstanding restrictions on political speech by unions. And as I noted in the December 2010 issue of Reason, unions quickly took advantage of their new freedom:

As Mother Jones reporter Suzy Khimm pointed out in June, unions were the first organizations to take advantage of Citizens United, running express advocacy ads during primary campaigns in Arkansas and Pennsylvania. In a listing of the biggest independent spenders compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics in September, unions were three of the top five; the other two were the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. 

Furthermore, Citizens United ungagged all sorts of corporations—not just big businesses but nonprofit advocacy groups of every interest and ideology. Arguing that greater freedom of speech is bad because your side lost an election is the rankest partisanship.

Reason Writers Around Town: Brian Doherty At Fox News' Site on Why the GOP Needs to Mind Ron Paul's Supporters

Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty, author of the new book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired, writes at Fox News' site on why the Republican Party can't afford to ignore the supporters of Ron Paul. An excerpt:  

Even though Paul’s budget plan, with its three-year glide path to a balanced budget with no tax hikes, was found by U.S. Budget Watch, a non-partisan research group, to be the only budget plan offered by GOP candidates this year that would not balloon the national debt, the Republican Party is scared of him. Even though his supporters continue to win control of delegations (Maine, Minnesota, and Louisiana) or state party structures (in Iowa and Nevada), the Party doesn’t want to embrace him.

Because if Ron Paul is right about the dangers of government overextension both at home and abroad, it means the GOP has to actually be serious about this limited government, living-within-our-means stuff that is supposed to be the very marrow of conservatism. 

If they have to swallow some sour apples about returning the U.S. military to its original goal of just actually defending the U.S. and make the government respect citizens’ civil liberties, that should be a small price to pay to attract the loyalty, votes and money of a rising generation of activists. 

Reason's Ron Paul archives.

Sheldon Richman on Keeping the U.S. Out of Syria

We should be grateful that the Obama administration seems disinclined to intervene militarily in Syria, writes Sheldon Richman. But let’s note that the administration has not kept hands off. In a variety of ways, it is already aiding the rebels. Moreover, White House spokesman Jay Carney says that all options—even military intervention—are on the table. Americans should feel uneasy as long as that ominous table remains in the White House.

View this article

California Unions Sue to Prevent Pension Reforms as Citizens Turn Against Them

San Diego and San Jose voters took public pension reform into their own hands Tuesday in a way Sacramento has proved mostly unwilling, voting for some significant changes and cutbacks to benefits for their city employees.

This morning, public unions in San Jose are announcing the suit they’ll be filing to try to block the implementation of Measure B. Via the San Jose Mercury News:

An email from the unions sent early this morning said, "Following the passage of San Jose's Measure B -- a City ballot measure that unlawfully modifies pension benefits for city employees-San Jose's Police Officers, Fire Fighters and other workers will file multiple lawsuits to enjoin the City from implementing the unlawful changes to employee pensions, health care and disability benefits."

The changes include requiring current employees to contribute a greater amount to their pension funds or choose a cheaper plan, requiring future hires to contribute half the cost of their pensions, and requiring voter approval for pension increases.

The Mercury News explains that key to pushing the measure has been the explosion in the amount of San Jose’s budget taken up by pension costs:

[San Jose Mayor Chuck] Reed proposed Measure B a year ago after his efforts -- from championing new tax measures to imposing 10 percent pay cuts on city employees -- failed to erase budgetary red ink that has soaked the city ledger for a decade. Though the city projects a modest $9 million surplus in the upcoming budget, thanks largely to the pay cuts and hundreds of job cuts, a $22.5 million shortfall is expected the year after.

A key deficit driver has been the yearly pension bill that has more than tripled from $73 million to $245 million in a decade, far outpacing the 20 percent revenue growth and gobbling more than a fifth of the city's general fund. A city audit blamed the rise on a combination of benefit increases, flawed cost assumptions and investment losses.

In San Jose, the measure passed with 71 percent of the vote. In San Diego their reform measure passed with 67 percent of the vote. San Diego’s measure would shift all new hires (except police) into 401(k) programs instead of pensions and would put a five-year freeze on the portion of current employees’ salaries used to calculate pensions. Unions are planning to sue there, too. Via the San Diego Union-Tribune:

Labor unions, which strongly opposed the measure, say Proposition B is illegal and will be tossed out by courts. They contend the mayor violated labor law by using his position to advance the initiative and avoid required negotiations with employee unions.

Frank De Clercq, head of the city firefighters union, said the initiative also ignores many of the concessions that workers have made in recent years, including a 6 percent compensation cut and reducing the value of taxpayer-funded health care benefits they receive upon retirement. He said he wasn’t surprised by the results but noted a legal challenge will be made.

Regardless of the union concessions, San Diego faces a $2.2 billion pension deficit. Given the significant number of voters turning against them, surely the unions must realize that trying to push for more tax increases on these very same people to make up the gaps just isn’t going to work out for them. Right? Are they going to keep blaming it on millionaires when two-thirds of their own community is voting against them?

“This election is going to boil down to a turnout game,” Walker Wins in Wisconsin With High Turnout That Was Supposed to Help Democrats

High turnout is supposed to help Democrats, or so the get out the vote theory held by many Democratic analysts goes, and Wisconsin was supposed to be no exception. But turnout across Wisconsin was high and at the end Scott Walker outperformed the polls yesterday. Given the heavy union involvement in the recall effort, their ground game was supposed to be a game changer. From the Huffington Post:

National unions have kept Barrett’s campaign alive by funding outside groups dedicated to defeating Walker.
More than a year since Walker limited collective bargaining rights for most public employees, the nation’s three largest public unions — the National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — have channeled at least $2 million from their treasuries and super PACs to two Wisconsin-based independent expenditure groups…
“This election is going to boil down to a turnout game,” said AFSCME national spokesman Chris Fleming…
Wisconsin is ground zero in a national fight for unions, which have supported state-based legal and ballot campaigns to overturn laws restricting collective bargaining and automatic dues check offs — as they have in Wisconsin, Ohio, Arizona and Michigan.
[Mike] McCabe [the director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign] says the unions better bank on a ground game, because they can’t compete long-term with corporations.
“I always thought it was foolhardy to play a capital-intensive game when the unions have people, and their adversaries have capital,” he says. “They just can’t keep up.”

MORE »

'We Have Evolved to Need Coercion'

Writing in The New York Times, Harvard evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman defends Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed 16-ounce restriction on soft drink servings, arguing that "we have evolved to need coercion":

Since sugar is a basic form of energy in food, a sweet tooth was adaptive in ancient times, when food was limited....

Humans evolved to crave sugar, store it and then use it. For millions of years, our cravings and digestive systems were exquisitely balanced because sugar was rare....

The food industry has made a fortune because we retain Stone Age bodies that crave sugar but live in a Space Age world in which sugar is cheap and plentiful. Sip by sip and nibble by nibble, more of us gain weight because we can’t control normal, deeply rooted urges for a valuable, tasty and once limited resource. 

Lieberman deserves credit for candidly acknowledging that Bloomberg's "paternalistic plan" relies on "coercion." The mayor, by contrast, wants to have it both ways, getting credit for doing something about obesity while denying that he is limiting freedom in any meaningful way. On Friday he told NBC's Matt Lauer:

We're not banning you from getting the stuff. It's just if you want 32 ounces, the restaurant has to serve it in two glasses. That’s not exactly taking away your freedoms. It’s not something the Founding Fathers fought for.

As I said last week, Bloomberg's restrictions cannot possibly work unless the inconvenience they impose leads people to consume less soda than they otherwise would. By insisting that his restrictions will have no real effect on consumers, he is admitting his plan is doomed to fail.

Writing in Slate, Daniel Engbe asks what science tells us about the pint-sized plan's prospects. The focus on soft drinks, he explains, starts with the premise that liquid calories are less filling and that people therefore are less likely to compensate for them by cutting back elsewhere in their diets. While there is some evidence to support that idea, it is not clear that sugar-sweetened beverages are disproportionately responsible for rising obesity rates: Bloomberg may be convinced they are, but the research on that point is equivocal. Even if he is right, that does not mean his plan will have a measurable impact on New Yorkers' waistlines. As Engbe notes, the city unrealistically assumes that 100 fewer soda calories mean a net dietary reduction of 100 calories, ignoring the question of whether and to what extent people will compensate with calories from other sources. It is doubtful that Bloomberg's regulations can even reduce total liquid calories, especially given all the exceptions: for refills and additional containers, for fruit juices and milk-based drinks (which typically have more calories per ounce than soda), and for beverages sold in supermarkets and convenience stores—including 7-Eleven's Big Gulp, the very epitome of the sweet, bubbly excess that Bloomberg decries.

Lieberman, for his part, does not address the issue of whether Bloomberg's plan can accomplish its ostensible goal (a question that some boosters dismiss as irrelevant). If anything, Lieberman suggests that the mayor's pop policy goes too far, saying, "I think we should focus paternalistic laws on children." Still, he writes, "Adults need help, too, and we should do more to regulate companies that exploit our deeply rooted appetites for sugar and other unhealthy foods." Here Lieberman indulges in some Bloombergian dishonesty, since protecting adults from Big Food's sinister plot to sell them food they like actually means protecting them from their own choices—for example, "by imposing taxes on soda and junk food." In short: paternalism, which Lieberman has just said should be limited to children.

Lieberman's justification for treating adults like children has breathtakingly broad implications, since it is self-evident that humans have evolved to enjoy not just sugar but all of the things they like. Hence every pleasure can legitimately be taxed, regulated, restricted, or banned to prevent people from overindulging in it. By arguing that "an evolutionary perspective" shows governments must restrain people's choices for their own good, Lieberman tries to put a modern scientific veneer on an ancient moral argument. Evolutionary pressures clearly gave humans a taste not only for sweets but also for meddling in other people's lives. 

More on Bloomberg's campaign against big sodas here.

Obesity in America: To Win, We Have to Lose Government

Can the government make you lose weight? Officials sure think so.

In May 2012, an HBO documentary and a Washington conference, both named "The Weight of the Nation," made the case for government intervention in your workout, your workplace and your kid's lunchbox. They argue that lack of individual willpower is not to blame for obesity, and that it will take a serious government overhaul to shrink waistlines on a national scale.

"It's an access issue. We live in an obesogenic environment," says Dr. Lisa Santora, chief medical officer of Southern California's Beach Cities Health District. President Obama agrees. He has already bundled $15 billion in with his healthcare reform bill, and we've seen government programs intervening in nutrition time and time again.

 So far, the programs haven't worked out too well. 

"The reasearch shows that we haven't been very good at trying to, through government, control obesity," says Cal Poly economics professor Michael Marlow. He says that even when the government realizes that their solutions don't work, they will only try more aggressive regulations that will further impend on your freedom to choose whatever you want on the menu. 

Produced by Tracy Oppenheimer. Shot by Paul Detrick, Sharif Matar and Oppenheimer.

About 5.40 minutes.

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MSNBC Reacts to Walker Victory: "He may be indicted" and "You can't say anything about this other than that big money won" and "Obama is really the big winner"

The fine folks at the Washington Examiner have put together a montage of MSNBC's coverage of the Wisconsin recall election. It is...fascinating: 

David Harsanyi on the Paycheck Fairness Act

Let's, for a moment, pretend that laws against discrimination do not already exist. And let's, for the sake of argument, treat the Paycheck Fairness Act as earnest policy meant to alleviate a terrible societal mess rather than a political stunt that allows the White House (where women make about 10K less annually than their male co-workers) to accuse half the country of supporting a patriarchal dictatorship. If we do, writes David Harsanyi, we can learn a lot about the left's view of human nature, capitalism and choices.

View this article

"This Is the End of Democracy"

The only appropriate way to describe your failure to recall a candidate who was democratically elected and then democratically kept in office:

Poll: Only 10 Percent of Americans Think the Drug War Is a Success, 66 Percent Think It's a Failure

Today brings more evidence of a large shift in public opinion regarding drug policy, this time from AngusReid Public Opinion. The polling firm reports that "two-thirds of adults in the United States believe the 'War on Drugs' has been futile, and a majority continue to call for the legalization of marijuana in the country."

More from the poll, which was conducted online

In the online survey of a representative sample of 1,017 American adults, 68 per cent of respondents believe that America has a serious drug abuse problem and it affects the whole country.

One-in-five Americans (20%) think the country’sdrug abuse problem is confined to specific areas and people, and five per cent say America does not have a serious drug abuse problem.

Only 10 per cent of respondents believe that the “War on Drugs”—a term that has been used to describe the efforts of the U.S. government to reduce the illegal drug trade—has been a success, while 66 per cent deem it a failure. Majorities of Democrats (63%), Republicans (63%) and Independents (69%) agree with the notion that the “War on Drugs" has not been fruitful. 

Across the country, 52 per cent of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, while 44 per cent oppose it. Majorities of men (60%), Independents (57%) and Democrats (54%) would like to see marijuana legalized. Women (45%), respondents over the age of 55 (48%) and Republicans (43%) are not as supportive of legalization.

In four nationwide surveys conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion on the topic of marijuana legalization since 2009, support has always surpassed the 50 per cent mark in the United States, and opposition has not reached 45 per cent. 

The 52 percent claim for marijuana legalization tracks pretty closely with recent polls by Gallup, which put legalization support at 50 percent, and Rasmussen, which put it at 56 percent. Those polls are below:

Support for Pot Legalization Crosses 50 Percent, With 56 Percent of Americans Now In Favor of Treating it Like Booze 

Poll: 74 Percent of Americans, Including 67 Percent of Republicans, Want Obama to End Medical Marijuana Crackdown

Record-High 50% of Americans Favor Legalizing Marijuana Use

R.I.P. Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury, the beloved author of s.f. classics Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, died in Los Angeles this morning. He was 91. Via io9.com, a statement from his grandson, Danny Karapetian:

"If I had to make any statement, it would be how much I love and miss him, and I look forward to hearing everyone's memories about him. He influenced so many artists, writers, teachers, scientists, and it's always really touching and comforting to hear their stories. Your stories. His legacy lives on in his monumental body of books, film, television and theater, but more importantly, in the minds and hearts of anyone who read him, because to read him was to know him. He was the biggest kid I know."

Here's a 2010 interview in which Bradbury declares that, “There is too much government today," and also calls for a dramatically expanded space program. 

I've read too few Bradbury books, but for a long time I considered Fahrenheit 451 my favorite novel, for its quiet literary stylishness, its powerful anti-totalitarianism, its celebration of words and ideas—and its insistence that even under the grimmest conditions and strictest censorship, those ideas can be worth living for. The world is a better place because of Bradbury's life, and poorer now that he's gone. Rest in peace. 

Reason on Ray Bradbury here

"Hopefully the colon cancer will take her before we get her”

How they play in Wisconsin: 

With the Wisconsin recall election in full swing Tuesday, the roving video patrols of Revealing Politics, a new conservative political website, were in the Badger State talking to voters. Journalist Christian Hartsock caught one bandana-clad liberal protester on camera in the capital city of Madison, threatening Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.

“Run, get the fuck out of the state,” he advised the lieutenant governor … We’re coming after her anyways, so it doesn’t freaking matter anyways, win or lose.”

Asked what protesters would do with Kleefisch if they found her, he answered, “I don’t know, hopefully the colon cancer will take her before we get her.”

More such niceties at The Daily Caller

Also, here is a supporter of Tom Barrett slapping him in the face for conceding to Walker: 

LAPD Cop-Turned-Sex Toy Mogul Reminisces About Choking Suspects Until They Defecated

Steve Shubin, the Austin-based maker of the popular mens pleasure device known as the “Fleshlight,” was the subject of a fascinating profile in the Austin Chronicle last month. The focus of the story is Shubin's complete domination of the fake vagina market, but there's also a section about Shubin's days working for the Los Angeles Police Department; days he sorely misses, because he used to be able to slap and choke people:

If you'd told Steve Shubin circa the late Seventies that at 59 years old, he would be running a company that manufactures discrete artificial vaginas, he'd have laughed. Back then, Shubin was a member of the Los Angeles Police Department – he spent six of his seven years in the force on the SWAT team – and he loved it. "I used to joke when paychecks came in, 'I feel bad about taking this!' In college, I was a defensive lineman and linebacker, and I went right from there to the police academy and chasing bad guys – and I got paid for it! It was amazing."

Shubin gets giddy talking about being a cop. "I couldn't do it today," he says, but not just because he's 59. "Today, everybody's got a camera, and everybody's got a lawyer. Steve Shubin would be fired in a month." He describes his days as a cop as "the best job I ever had," and that's up to and including his current gig raking in a bazillion dollars by selling Fleshlights. Shubin gushes about it.

"If somebody needs their face slapped, they're getting their face slapped," he says, talking about his style of policing – but, he laments, "You can't do that anymore." He talks about this stuff so openly, I almost wonder if he remembers that my recorder is on. "I've killed people before. I've done everything. I have choked hundreds of people unconscious. Did I enjoy it? No," he says – and when he explains why not, he says that it's because a person who's choked out poops their pants. Why'd he stop? The pay was bad. "There wasn't much money in policing," he says.

The profile ran on May 11. Several days later, the Austin Chronicle published a letter from Shubin trying to walk back some of what he said about his policing career:

After reading the story, I thought, "This sounds like a pissed-off ex-cop that missed choking people out, had a lot of money, a lot of fancy cars, was misunderstood, mistreated by bankers, rejected by organizations that needed donations, whose neighbors would not wave to him. What an idiot!" 

Wow. I thought, "If I gave that impression, I don't know what I was thinking," but that is not correct at all!

The truth is, I had a seven-year, action-packed law enforcement career 30 years ago. I loved police work and could not do the job today. Officers are watched and judged through every step of their day-to-day duties. This level of constant scrutiny hinders their decision-making process under pressure and puts them at major risk.

The world is a better place now that Shubin is making fake vaginas and not arrests. 

From the People Who Brought You Homicide!

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