Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 June 15-31

View More

Denver Neighborhood Rescued from 3-Year-Old Chalk Artist

A Denver homeowner association has outlawed sidewalk drawings in chalk by a pre-school girl. 

Three-year old Emerson Cohen's artistic rampage was cut short by leaders of a residential development built on the site of the old Stapleton airport. From Denver's CBS 4

“We live on a courtyard and we all bought into the notion that we were sharing a space,” said [mother Sarah] Cohen.

But the group — called a Innovations and Courtyard Traditions at Stapleton, a sub-association of the Stapleton MCA (Master Community Association) — said because it is a shared space, anything that offends, disturbs or interferes with the peaceful enjoyment isn’t allowed. It seems that some neighbors have complained.

“The association is trying to go down a path of do no harm and prevent the sidewalk art as opposed to… until such time as it can get together and discuss it,” said the attorney representing the group.

Cohen said no neighbors have mentioned anything to her. She also plans to keep letting her daughter use chalk to decorate the common area.

“It’s summertime and God forbid my daughter is drawing flowers, her name and hearts,” said Cohen.

The concerns will be brought up in a future meeting and then it will be up to the residents to decide.

One person's experiment in living is another's busybody hell: A few years ago Virginia Postrel looked at the unbearable pettiness of neighborhood aesthetic enforcers

Nick Gillespie on Real Time with Bill Maher, Friday 12/22 6/22, With Kirk Douglas, Rachel Maddow, Mort Zuckerman, & Mark Ruffalo

I'll be on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher on Friday, June 22, at 10pm ET (the show airs throughout the weekend). Among the other guests: screen legend Kirk Douglas, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, billionaire publishing magnate Mort Zuckerman, and actor Mark Ruffalo.

Go here for schedule details.

As regular Reason.com visitors will recall, I was on the show last July, where I sparred with Democratic Party operative Donna Brazile and Braddock, Pennsylvania Mayor John Fetterman, and actor John Turturro.

Among the feedback from last year's appearance:

Hey, @nickgillespie just bc you look like the Fonze with Aids doesn't mean you can ramble on like a fag

U stupid undercover Tea bagging fuck!

#SuperDouche @nickgillespie on Real Time with Bill Maher wearing his fake Ed Hardy shirt and Pimp jacket. What a tool!

@nickgillespie What was it like to get your ass pounded by Donna Brazile and Mayor Fetterman? For a PhD you're awfully ignorant and wrong. 

Thx @nickgillespie for showing us that Libertarians can interrupt, roll eyes, and fling racist remarks W/O gov't intervention....

@nickgillespie Great job representing us on a show that never has Libertarians. Thanks for showing the hypocracy

Don't agree with him about a lot, but kind of have an intellectual crush on @nickgillespieafter seeing him on @billmaher.

@nickgillespie You were brilliant on the Bill Maher Attempts to be Relevant Show

@nickgillespie never heard of you until last night, now you are my hero!

@Nickgillespie made 3 liberal heads explode on bill maher's show last night. 

More here.

As I told the Washington Times not long ago, "To paraphrase Gandhi, first they try to ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they call you a douche, and then they start engaging you in conversation.”

Seriously, being on the show was a blast and I look forward to tomorrow. Please tune in!

Neil Armstrong Clarification: First Moonwalker Wants to "Encourage Newcomers."

I was hoping a letter in my inbox from 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley was a job offer, but it turns out he was just interested in my recent post about the frosty relationship between private space entrepreneurs and NASA veterans Gene Cernan, Neil Armstrong and Chris Kraft:

Recently you published an article that took note of an interview with Elon Musk that appeared on 60 Minutes. We’re glad you noticed our reporting on SpaceX Corporation. Because you are interested in the privatization of manned space flight I wanted to make you aware of something that we should have made more clear in our story.

Part of our interview dealt with the congressional testimony of Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan. Both raised concerns about the Obama administration program. Part of Armstrong’s testimony included this:

“I am very concerned that the new plan, as I understand it, will prohibit us from having human access to low Earth orbit on our own rockets and spacecraft until the private aerospace industry is able to qualify their hardware under development as rated for human occupancy. I support the encouragement of the newcomers toward their goal of lower-cost access to space. But having cut my teeth in rockets more than 50 years ago, I am not confident. The most experienced rocket engineers with whom I have spoken believe that it will require many years and substantial investment to reach the necessary level of safety and reliability.”

In our 60 Minutes story on SpaceX, I reminded Elon Musk of the criticism. The quote of my question is:

“Neil Armstrong, Gene Cernan, have both testified against commercial space flight in the way you are developing it, and I wonder what you think of that?”

We should have made it explicit in our story that, while Armstrong was “not confident” that the newcomers could achieve safety and cost goals in the near term, he did want to “encourage” them. We also should have spelled out more clearly that his concerns were directed toward the “newcomers” in general and not SpaceX in particular.

Armstrong contacted us after our story to say that many people have misconstrued his position as a result of what we said on 60 Minutes. We agree he has a point. I wanted to give you a little more clarity on this in the event you continue to write about the subject.

If you feel publishing this note would be a service to your readers, please feel free to do so. 

Kraft and Cernan, as you can see in the original post, still seem to be adamant in their view that space travel can't be trusted to just any slob in "Who Farted?" t-shirt. But it's good to hear Armstrong is willing to let somebody other than government employees slip the surly bonds of earth. And kudos to Pelley (who is also the only one of the Big Three anchorbots giving substantial play to the Fast and Furious debacle) for being scrupulous. 

No word on whether Armstrong is willing to let amateurs try this: 

Did Gov. Brown Just Admit Defeat of High-Speed Rail Project? Don’t Celebrate Yet.

In other California rail news today, Gov. Jerry Brown has backed off his plan to try to block environmental lawsuits against the state’s proposed high-speed rail project. Via the San Jose Mercury News:

The Brown administration on Wednesday abandoned its plan to ease environmental scrutiny of the $69 billion bullet train, backing off quickly after strong opposition from environmentalists threatened the project altogether.

The proposal was designed to prevent opponents from halting high-speed rail construction in court on environmental grounds. It was tied to a key vote in the Legislature in coming weeks on whether to build the first $6 billion leg of tracks in the Central Valley.

But powerful environmental groups -- and key bullet train supporters -- like the Sierra Club and National Resources Defense Council were outraged at what they considered an attempt to undermine the state's landmark environmental law. They spent the last three weeks urging lawmakers to scrap the plan, saying it would set a dangerous precedent.

California is operating on a tight deadline to get started with the project or risk losing $3.5 billion in matching federal stimulus funds. The State Senate has set a July 1 deadline to appropriate $2.6 billion in bonds to start construction on the first leg in central California. Environmental lawsuits against projects in California can take months or years to conclude. On this basis, Conn Carroll of The Washington Examiner is declaring the project dead:

[A]ccording to the stimulus law, California must begin construction on the project before December 31, 2012 or they will not be eligible for any more high speed rail stimulus dollars. Obama’s Transportation Department reaffirmed this time limit last year when they admitted they had “no administrative authority to change this deadline.”

When I read that Brown was dropping his efforts to block environmental suits this morning, I had the same initial thought: There’s no way this train will begin construction this year. But there are a number of possibilities that could keep this boondoggle from the chopping block.

First, it’s important not to make the assumption that the people who are suing to block the project are actually suing to actually block the project. A lot of them are likely looking to be paid to go away or to make sure they get a better sum than an eminent domain process might land them or because they’re close to the tracks but not close enough to sell their land and want compensation for any hardships the trains cause or for any number of reasons. There could be all sorts of quick settlements of these cases by throwing money at the problem or agreeing to land set-asides elsewhere.

Second, don’t underestimate the government’s ability to ignore or alter deadlines, or find other sources for the money. I mean, look at how the Obama administration has been behaving. Just because they don’t have the authority to change the deadline doesn’t mean they won’t do it anyway. And even if they don’t, and California misses the deadline, there’s all sorts of tricks they can resort to. The Federal Railroad Administration has a $35 billion loan guarantee program which states:

Eligible borrowers include railroads, state and local governments, government-sponsored authorities and corporations, joint ventures that include at least one railroad, and limited option freight shippers who intend to construct a new rail connection.

As much as I would like to cackle at the bullet train’s demise, it’s still too soon to say. I’ll believe it when I see the bloated blue-and-gold monster’s corpse on a pike during season three of Game of Thrones.

David Harsanyi on Obama's Executive Power

The greatest crisis of American democracy is not getting your way. And when a sluggish republic hinders progress, it's time to act. Just ask Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who advanced an astonishing argument the other day on the Senate floor: The president, explained Reid, is free to unilaterally craft immigration policy because we've tried to do that for years, and we can't because they won't let us.

View this article

Fighting Against Richard Nixon’s Drug War Now a Part of Uruguay’s Foreign Policy as Government Moves Towards Being Monopoly Supplier of Marijuana Domestically

The government of Uruguay is moving one step closer to normalizing marijuana in their society, sort of. Uruguay never criminalized the possession or personal use of marijuana, focusing instead on medium to large-scale drug trafficking. Now, the government wants to become the sole distributor of marijuana in the country. Soon enough, Uruguay’s pot-smokers may be paying dank prices for schwag. Details of the plan, via the Associated Press:

Under the plan backed by President Jose Mujica's leftist administration, only the government would be allowed to sell marijuana and only to adults who register on a government database, letting officials keep track of their purchases over time. Profits would reportedly go toward rehabilitating drug addicts.
"It is a fight on both fronts: against consumption and drug trafficking. We think the prohibition of some drugs is creating more problems to society than the drug itself," Defense Minister Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro told reporters late Wednesday.
Mr. Fernández said the bill would soon be sent to Congress, which is dominated by President Mujica's party, but that an exact date had not been set. If approved, Uruguay's national government would be the first in the world to directly sell marijuana to its citizens. Some local governments do so.

Apparently the move was spurred by increasing drug violence in the “peaceful” Uruguay as well as Mojica’s dimming popularity. The defense minister also framed the move in the context of Uruguay’s foreign policy. From Fox News Latino:

"We don't want the same thing to happen to us in Uruguay," the defense minister said.
The administration of President Jose Mujica, currently in Brazil for the Rio+20 environmental summit, will "fight (in) all the international forums" for the legalization of marijuana, Fernandez Huidobro said.
The defense minister announced the decision to legalize the psychoactive drug at a press conference, in which he was joined by presidential secretary Alberto Breccia, Interior Minister Eduardo Bonomi and Social Development Minister Daniel Olesker.
It will now be "Uruguayan foreign policy" to combat the "prohibition (of consumption) begun in 1971 by the erroneous decision of former U.S. President Richard Nixon, who brought about the current disaster" by "declaring a war that's been won by the narcos," Fernandez Huidobro said.


Reason.TV talked to Uruguay’s Speaker of the House, Luis Alberto, among other politicians, journalists and former drug warriors, at the CATO Institute’s “Ending the War on Drugs” conference last year:

Romney on Immigration: He Would Do...Something

Mitt Romney, who is running for president, for Pete's sake, and can't have illegals, delivered a long speech on immigration this morning. The speech was billed as an opportunity for Romney to lay out important immigration policy details and also served as a response to President Obama's announcement last week of an executive order giving work permits rather than deportation orders to undocumented workers.

The short version? Romney wouldn't not do what Obama's doing. But he wouldn't do what Obama's doing either. He favors having a policy, but won't say what that policy might be. Maybe.

Really. That's pretty much the extent of it. 

Up until now, Romney refused to answer the question of whether or not he'd reverse President Obama's order. But in today's speech he attempted to answer that question...by continuing to not answering it. 

Via The Washington Post, here's the key passage from the speech:

Last week, the President finally offered a temporary measure that he seems to think will be just enough to get him through the election. After three and a half years of putting every issue from loan guarantees for his donors to Cash For Clunkers before immigration, now the President has been seized by an overwhelming need to do what he could have done on Day One. I think you deserve better.

Some people have asked if I will let stand the President’s executive action. The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the President’s temporary measure. As President, I won’t settle for a stop-gap measure. I will work with Republicans and Democrats to find a long-term solution.

Clear as a pot of espresso, isn't it?  

But at this point it fits perfectly with the Romney campaign's M.O. when it comes to policy: Criticize Obama's plans, promise to offer a replacement, then decline to provide substantive details about what that replacement will be. He's used the same basic manuever with his tax reform proposal, his Medicare reform plan, and his proposed federal spending cuts. He's a master of the non-answer, of the policy dodge. He's for solutions! And reforms! And better policies! He just won't say which ones. 

Greg Beato on Lifting the Ban on Domestic Propaganda

Last month, the U.S. propaganda industry dodged a bullet. Two Congressmen—Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Mac Thornberry (R-Texas)—added an amendment to the House’s version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act to end a longtime ban on the domestic dissemination of public diplomacy information prepared by the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors. But just when it seemed as if the thin line of American mass media was about to be breached by a punishing torrent of federally produced mind-control agitprop, the Senate Armed Services Committee marked up its own version of the bill—and its version did not include anything like Smith and Thornberry’s amendment. Thus, it appears unlikely the U.S. is changing its policy on propaganda dissemination this time around.

That’s too bad, writes Greg Beato. Opening up the homefront to the government’s public diplomacy operations might expose us to some propaganda, but it would also expose these operations to the intense scrutiny of millions of American eyeballs. That scrutiny is long overdue.

View this article

Legal Battle Over Executive Privilege, Soda Was Just the Beginning, Professional Licenses and Unemployment: P.M. Links

  • President Obama's groundbreaking "executive privilege" claim to block a congressional investigation, and the resulting contempt finding against Attorney General Eric Holder, has set off a high-stakes battle over the boundaries between the executive and legislative branches.
  • Policy -minded physicians specializing in diabetes and obesity have had their appetites whetted by Bloomberg's big-soda ban. "A better option would be an empty-calories tax on sugary drinks and high-fat foods and putting that money back into health and education. Tax your french fries, your doughnuts and ice cream."
  • Jobless claims came down a bit last week, but less than anticipated, meaning that more people than expected filed for unemployment benefits — a total of 387,000. The four-week moving average of jobless claims is at its highest point this year.
  • In 1950, fewer than five percent worked in jobs that required government licenses; today roughly 30 percent are licensed — and many of them like it that way, because it keeps out competition. Which is a problem for the millions of people looking for work.
  • Between 1929 and 1974, North Carolina forcibly sterilized about 7,600 people under scientifically fraudulent eugenics policies that were widely imposed at one time throughout the country. Victims of those policies want compensation — but they're not getting it from the current legislature.
  • Chicago's Independent Police Review Authority is dragging investigations of police misconduct allegations out for so long that cases are being dismissed as statutes of limitations run out.
  • Danish research  suggests that "moderate" drinking during pregnancy, defined as one to eight drinks per week, is safe and has no effects on on IQ, attention span and functions like self-control once children reach the age of five. (But even heavy drinking only lowers attention span a tad, and aren't focused kids a little off-putting anyway?)
  • A Dallas sheriff's deputy pulled over a motorcyclist who was driving legally, just so he could gain access to helmet-cam video of other riders to see if they had broken the law. The officer then arrested the motorcyclist on a manufactured charge of driving with an obstructed license plate. Yes, the helmet-cam captured it all.

Do you want hot links and other Reason goodies delivered to your inbox twice a day? Sign up here for Reason's morning and afternoon news updates.

L.A. Expo Line Opens Two More Rail Stations; Ridership Still Very Low

The May ridership numbers are in for L.A.’s new Expo line, and they’re still woefully low compared to the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (MTA) projections.

Reason's Tim Cavanaugh and I rode the Expo train during its first week of operation and noted its poor ridership, for which we were excoriated in our alleged rush to judgment. After a month of operation, the train line has picked up another 2,000 daily weekday boardings, for a grand total of 11,000 boardings per weekday. The MTA had projected 27,000 daily weekday boardings during its first phase of construction, so it’s not even hitting half its early projections.

Two more stations opened Wednesday for the line, which currently connects downtown Los Angeles with Culver City. When the full $2.43 billion line is completed, it will connect downtown with Santa Monica. The MTA projects 64,000 weekday boardings when fully functional, a figure that perhaps should be viewed with some skepticism.

Baruch Feigenbaum, transportation policy analyst for the Reason Foundation, recently sat down with Brian Taylor, UCLA professor of urban planning and department chair, to talk about the professor’s preference for bus rapid transit (BRT) over light rail:

BRT projects are much cheaper to build than rail projects. As a result more funding is available for maintenance and operations (O&M). O&M is not sexy and many transit operators neglect it. No matter how attractive the train is, if the service breaks down and the train suffers major delays people are not going to use it. Well-designed BRT can be just as successful as rail. Ridership numbers in comparable BRT and rail corridors are very similar. Finally, BRT is a better compliment to local bus.

Operational issues with the Expo line prompted a light rail supporter to write a commentary for the Los Angeles Times Wednesday describing her less-than-stellar experience. Southwestern Law School Adjunct Professor Molly Selvin attempted to use the Expo Line to get to an event but ended up bailing after a 45-minute wait due to mechanical problems. (During one trip the first week it opened, I ended up stuck on an unmoving Expo train for 30 minutes due to problems). She wrote that she hopes the Expo line can get its act together so that she and her husband will use it. She laughably advised, “Simply, make it easy – easier than fighting traffic.” It’s just that simple!

Selvin’s commentary unintentionally highlighted a significant problem with light rail: It’s not really for poor people actually dependent on mass transit. The Expo line in particular seems routed for leisure and recreational activities. It stops at the Staples Center and by the museums next to University of Southern California, and now the Helm’s Bakery District, full of trendy furniture stores. The marketing for the Expo line revolves around these recreational and commercial destinations -- there isn't a residence to be seen. Selvin, also an associate dean at Southwestern Law School, mentions only the commercial destinations available at the new Culver City stop. Bluntly put, she talks about light rail from the bubble of middle- to upper-class users looking for mass transit that is convenient to her occasional needs, not from the perspective of a daily user.

For poor people, bus-based transit systems are undeniably better. They provide more options, reach more places, and are simply much more flexible. If a bus route isn’t meeting its riders’ needs, it can be altered. As Cavanaugh has written frequently for Reason.com, money spent on building light rail in Los Angeles has taken money away from its bus systems, resulting in an overall loss of mass transit ridership. (Check out Cavanaugh’s column, titled “How Rail Screws the Poor,” in the upcoming August-September issue of Reason, for a more detailed analysis.)

But such logic will not stop Los Angeles leaders from trying to New Yorkify the city against its will. On Tuesday, Los Angeles City Council approved new zoning guidelines for Hollywood to try to foster denser construction and taller buildings, particularly around mass transit stops. (Cavanaugh ripped this proposal apart back in March). Baylor rejected rail proponents’ claim that rail hubs will help foster economic development in the city:

So far there is no proof that rail has promoted development. There is also no proof that rail is better than bus at promoting such development. What rail often does is move development from one jurisdiction to another. Los Angeles is the densest region in the country. It has the second lowest number of highway miles per capita of any region in the country after Honolulu. However, unlike New York City, which has very high densities in the core and much lower densities in suburban areas, Los Angeles has medium densities throughout. The Los Angeles development pattern makes rail relatively unsuccessful. One reason that many cities including suburban Santa Monica promote rail is because their roads are very congested and the cities see rail as a way to increase development. However, while rail by itself can mitigate congestion, new development makes congestion worse. While some of the new commuters to the area as well as some of the existing commuters will use rail, far more will drive. New development combined with new rail will increase congestion. Whether or not new transit lines in L.A., particularly rail, increase overall development levels is not conclusive. New transit investments are much more effective in low-income areas with transit-dependent riders.

Furthermore:

Unfortunately, these developments often tear down existing housing used by low-income individuals. While residents who move to [transit-oriented] developments use transit more in these developments than in their previous homes, they use transit less than the displaced residents.

So, light rail doesn’t actually help poor people get around, takes money away from mass transportation that actually does help poor people, and even has the potential to displace poor people from their homes in favor of folks like Selvin, who use mass transit for leisure convenience.

So I guess the big question is: Do light rail proponents see these as flaws or benefits?

Surprise: Economic Mobility is Alive and Well in America!

"You can be concerned that there's not enough [economic] mobility or enough opportunity, but you don't have to also believe that things are getting worse."

So says Scott Winship of the centrist Brookings Institution.

Despite having a wealth of empirical evidence on his side, it's a lonely position. Researchers, writers, and politicians on the political right (think Charles Murray in his new book Coming Apart and former GOP Sen. Rick Santorum) and on the left (Timothy Noah in The Great Divergence and President Barack Obama) are convinced that economic mobility is shrinking.

In a series of provocative essays in a wide array of outlets, Winship demonstrates that while income inequality may indeed be growing (especially at the top end of things), mobility is not declining. As he wrote earlier this year in an article at National Review,

Using...two National Longitudinal Survey data sets, I can compare children born between 1962 and 1964 to children born between 1980 and 1982, observing their parents’ incomes when they were 14 to 16 and their own incomes twelve years later when they were 26 to 28.

In contrast to [President Obama's and other's claims] of declining mobility, I found that upward mobility from poverty to the middle class rose from 51 percent to 57 percent between the early-’60s cohorts and the early-’80s ones. Rather than assert that mobility has increased, I want to simply say — at this stage of my research (which is ongoing) — that it has not declined.

If I include households that reported negative or no income, the rise in upward mobility I find is only from 51 percent to 53 percent, which is not a statistically meaningful increase. But the data provide absolutely no evidence that economic mobility declined, whereas the president said it had fallen by ten percentage points.

Winship sat down with Reason's Nick Gillespie to talk about why people mistake growth in income inequality for decreases in economic mobility and how mobility might be increased from where it's been for the past 40 or 50 years.

About 5.28 minutes.

Produced by Anthony L. Fisher; camera by Jim Epstein and Meredith Bragg.

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

Marijuana Reform Bill Fails in New York

Two weeks ago, I noted that the Republican leader of New York's Senate, Dean Skelos, had some qualms about Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to decriminalize "public display" of marijuana. Under the legislation backed by Cuomo, which was aimed at curtailing bogus pot busts in which New York City cops convert a citable offense into a misdemeanor by instructing people they stop to empty their pockets, public pot smokers would still have been subject to arrest. Skelos nevertheless worried about scofflaws offending bystanders by carrying "10 joints in each ear." I swear, that's what he said. Somehow backers of this long-overdue reform were not able to satisfactorily address Skelos' outlandish fears, even though he concedes that police should not be manufacturing misdemeanors by tricking people into publicly displaying their marijuana and even though New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly (who heretofore had defended the city's illegal crackdown on pot smokers) supported the change, which also was backed by the Democratic leadership of the state Assembly and by the district attorneys of New York City's five boroughs. The current legislative session ends today, and the Senate has not taken up the bill. Cuomo blames the  "ultra-conservative side" of the Republican Party for blocking this attempt to stop police from flouting the marijuana decriminalization law that the state legislature approved in 1977. Don't conservatives believe in the rule of law?

Motorcyclist Busted So Police Can Peruse His Video Footage for Any Illegal Activity

One of the charges leveled against police in recent years is that they seem to be slow to adjust to a world in which their actions are often caught on camera. The good result of that is the exposure of misconduct that has long been common but went unrevealed in the past. The downside is that, even with cameras trained on them, many cops still haven't reined in their behavior. Dallas County Deputy Sheriff James Westbrook splits that difference. He is obviously becoming accustomed to the proliferation of cameras around him — and he sees that as an opportunity for more misconduct. Carlos Miller has the exchange between Westbrook and motorcyclist Chris Moore at Photography is Not a Crime:

MOORE: "Was I doing something wrong? What am I being pulled over for?"

WESTBROOK: "The whole group of you guys."

MOORE: "No. I was not, individually. How can you pull me over?"

WESTBROOK: "The reason you're being pulled over is because I'm gonna take your camera and we're gonna use it as evidence of the crimes that have been committed by other bikers."

MOORE: "I have not committed any crimes, and you cannot take my personal property from me, sir."

WESTBOOK: "That's fine. Need to see your license and registration."

Ultimately, Westbrook decided to arrest Moore for driving with an obstructed license plate — a charge pretty clearly fabricated on the spot. The deputy also loses his cool, angrily slamming the door on his own cruiser after shoving Moore into the car as the man is questioning the bullshit charge and asking about the disposition of his bike. Moore spent eight hours in jail.

WFAA reports that the arrest is under review:

"We are looking into the conduct," said department spokeswoman Carmen Castro. "There has been no official investigation brought forward, but we are looking to determine if his conduct was appropriate for the situation at hand."

Oh, and we know all about the interaction because it was captured on that helmet camera the deputy was so hot to confiscate.

John Stossel on Why Campaign Spending Doesn't Cause Corruption

The Supreme Court right now is revisiting campaign finance laws because Montana's Supreme Court ruled that Montana can ban corporate spending on state politics. Sens. John McCain and Sheldon Whitehouse filed a friend-of-the-court brief claiming that allowing corporate speech would bring a "strong potential for corruption and perception thereof." Right, says John Stossel, as though politicians don't routinely constitute a "potential for corruption" all by themselves.

View this article

Pelosi Promises to Replace ObamaCare's Mandate if Struck Down, Insists "You have to eat your vegetables."

Answering questions from reporters today, Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi previewed her party's likely legislative response should the Supreme Court strike down ObamaCare's health coverage requirement, suggesting that Democrats will look for a functional alternative to the mandate — a way to mandate insurance coverage without running afoul of the Constitution: 

You have to eat your vegetables — you have to have the mandate in order for this to work from a financial standpoint…If Americans like the idea that they and their children cannot be deprived for a lifetime of health care insurance because of a pre-existing health care condition, then that will require some other action if that is to happen. And what would that be? There could be something passed in the Congress, similar to what we had originally in the House bill, which was a surcharge on the wealthy to pay for aspects of that … States can take their own actions.

[Via ThinkProgress.]

"You have to eat your vegetables," eh? A poor choice of words given the critical emphasis on the question of whether an insurance mandate would allow Congress to mandate the purchase of other private goods, such as broccoli? Maybe so, but in context the reference seems intentional. After insisting that the mandate was "iron clad constitutionally," Pelosi brought up the broccoli question explicitly: “Let’s hope and pray that the Court will love the Constitution more than it loves broccoli and that we will have a decision that is based on the merits and the Constitution of the United States.” 

The political prospects for a mandate alternative of any sort won't be strong in the immediate wake of a high court ruling striking down the current requirement. But Pelosi's remarks make it clear that regardless of how the Supreme Court rules, some Democrats will still want to explore alternative means of asserting congressional power to mandate coverage. 

Last year I took a look at a number of possible mechanisms that might replace the mandate. 

Steve Chapman on Why the Federal Reserve Should Inject More Money Into the Economy

Inflation occurs when there is too much money chasing too few goods. Deflation occurs when there is not enough money. For years, inflation alarmists have been forecasting runaway prices as a result of the Fed's efforts to expand the money supply. But prices have remained stable, with the Consumer Price Index down last month and up just 1.7 percent in the past year. By now, writes Steve Chapman, it should be obvious that the problem is not that the Fed has injected too much money into the economy but too little.  

View this article

Does George Zimmerman's Story Sound Plausible?

Tapes released by George Zimmerman's defense yesterday present the clearest picture yet of why he claims to have believed that Trayvon Martin posed a deadly threat on the night he shot the unarmed teenager in Sanford, Florida. As was previously reported, Zimmerman told police he was heading back to his vehicle, having lost sight of Martin, when the teenager "jumped out from the bushes" and confronted him, saying, "What the fuck's your problem?" Zimmerman says he replied that "I don't have a problem," at which point Martin said, "Now you have a problem." According to Zimmerman, Martin then punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground. "He was whaling on my head," Zimmerman said. In an interview recorded on February 27, the day after the shooting, Zimmerman gave his account of what happened next:

I kept yelling for help. And I got a  little bit of leverage, and I started to sit up, and then he took my head and slammed it into the concrete several times....I started screaming for help, and he covered by nose with one hand and my mouth with the other one, and he told me, "Shut the fuck up!" And I couldn't breathe; I was suffocating. But when I shifted, my jacket came up and my shirt came up, exposing my firearm. And that's when he said—he sat up and looked and said, "You're gonna die tonight, motherfucker." And I saw him take one hand off my mouth and slide it down my chest. And I just pinched his arm and I grabbed my gun, I aimed it at him, and fired one shot.

It is not hard to understand why Martin, tailed by a strange man in an SUV as he walked back to the house where he was staying with his father, might have been angry and scared—maybe even angry and scared enough to attack Zimmerman in an attempt to neutralize a perceived threat. But I'm not sure the mechanics of the struggle described by Zimmerman make sense. If Martin was using both of his hands to cover Zimmerman's mouth and nose, doesn't that mean Zimmerman's arms were free to knock Martin off, or at least knock his arms away? If Martin "sat up and looked" before reaching for Zimmerman's gun, wasn't that another opportunity for Zimmerman to extricate himself? Then, too, the threat Zimmerman says Martin issued seems a little too theatrical to be real. Once the gun was exposed, wouldn't Martin simply have grabbed it instead of telegraphing his intention to do so?

While Zimmerman's story seems fishy, it may still be plausible enough to create reasonable doubt as to whether he reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary to prevent Martin from killing him. And as I've said before, the right to "stand your ground" does not enter into it, since Zimmerman claims Martin overpowered him and had him pinned to the ground, meaning he did not have an opportunity to retreat. Whether a jury will believe that is another question.

Previous coverage of the Trayvon Martin case here. The website maintained by Zimmerman's defense is here. His February 26 written description of the circumstances that led to the shooting, which seems consistent with what he said in the interview the following evening, is here.

Supreme Court to FCC: You Can’t Enforce an Indecency Policy You Made Up After the Fact

The Supreme Court decided against the Federal Communications Commission this morning in a case involving fleeting expletives on broadcast television. But rather than rule on First Amendment grounds that the FCC has no authority to police four letter words on television, the court instead ruled that because FCC actions were based on policies that broadcast networks could not have known about at the time of the alleged violations, the FCC actions were unconstitutionally vague and therefore violated due process. It’s a victory for common sense and clear law, but less of a win for free speech.

The case, FCC v. Fox, involved three instances in which the FCC’s indecency ban was allegedly violated: First, singer Cher saying “So fuck ‘em” in an unscripted acceptance speech during an awards show broadcast by Fox; second, “a person named Nicole Richie” (as the ruling describes it) saying “Have you ever tried to get cow shit out of a Prada purse? It’s not so fucking simple” while presenting a Billboard Music Award, also on Fox; third, a seven second shot of a woman’s nude buttocks, along with a brief glimpse at the side of her breast, on a 2003 episode of ABC’s NYPD Blue.

For each of those instances, the FCC later issued Notices of Liability to the networks under a “clarified” indecency policy known as the Golden Globes Order, which was drawn up in 2004 after singer Bono dropped a single F-bomb live at the Golden Globes—and after the networks aired the offending content. The new rules were cited explicitly by the FCC: “[U]nder our Golden Globe precedent, the fact that Cher used the ‘F-word’ once does not remove her comment from the realm of actionable indecency,” the Commission wrote to Fox. The Commission chose not to fine Fox for the Cher comment, but it was basing its liability notices against the networks on a clarified set of rules that did not exist when the instances in question occurred. (ABC, on the other hand, was fined to the tune of $1.2 million.) 

The Golden Globes Order didn't merely clarify the agency's indecency policies, it made crucial changes: Indecency guidelines released in 2001 noted that an important consideration in determining whether or not content was indecent was “‘whether the material dwell[ed] on or repeat[ed] at length’” the offending material. The 2004 update changed this guidance, noting that even fleeting expletives could meet the standard for indecency.

But since neither Fox nor ABC had the updated guidance available to them when the content in question aired, the Court ruled that they could not be held liable under it. The regulatory history “makes it apparent that the Commission policy in place at the time of the broadcasts gave no notice to Fox or ABC that a fleeting expletive or a brief shot of nudity could be action­ably indecent; yet Fox and ABC were found to be in viola­tion,” writes Justice Kennedy in his majority opinion. The lack of prior notice, the decision declares, means that the Commission’s standards were impermissably vague.

Due process requires enforcement agencies to provide fair advance notice of rules, and in this case the networks didn’t have it. “Regulated parties should know what is required of them so they may act accordingly,” the decision explains, especially in cases involving free expression. “When speech is involved, rigorous adherence to those requirements is necessary to ensure that ambiguity does not chill protected speech.”

And yet despite the emphasis on protecting speech, the decision punts on the fundamental First Amendment questions. Because the case was decided on due process grounds, the Court says it does not need to consider the constitutionality of the FCC’s longstanding ban on broadcast indecency or even the particulars of its most recent guidelines. And while the decision suggests that in the future the FCC may have to be more clear about the details of its speech rules, it imposes no significant new restrictions on what sort of speech the FCC can or cannot regulate under its indecency policy.

Indeed, the ruling stresses how little the FCC will have to change in light of the decision, noting that “this opinion leaves the Commission free to modify its current indecency policy in light of its determination of the public interest and applicable legal requirements and leaves courts free to review the current, or any modified, policy in light of its content and application.”

So despite a narrow ruling that the FCC’s actions against broadcast networks for fleeting expletives were not permissable in a handful of particular instances, the FCC will still have considerable freedom to regulate speech it deems indecenct.

That leaves us with an old problem: The FCC’s indecency policy, which attempts to judge whether content is “"patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards” is inherently vague. It’s a mysterious and arbitrary standard, and no one really knows what it means — including and especially the FCC. As Jacob Sullum has pointed out, the agency has made a practice of issuing inconsistent and frustratingly unclear rulings as to what is allowed and what isn’t. If the Court truly wants to rid the world of vaguely written regulations that create compliance confusion and chill free speech, it ought to start by striking down the agency’s indecency regulations in their entirety. 

Tim Cavanaugh on How Many Americans Are Really Out of Work

Unemployment is down! The recovery is here! Or so the Obama administration claims. Just one problem, writes Tim Cavanaugh: Hardly anybody believes that the standard measure of joblessness accurately reflects current economic conditions. Now a new bill proposed in Congress aims to change the way we report unemployment.

View this article

FOIA Favoritism at the FCC

What's the quickest way to get a FOIA request returned by the FCC? Try asking it for information about a political enemy of the Obama administration.

The Daily Caller reports that the Federal Communications Commission likely played a little game of favorites with Citiizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (also known as CREW) by releasing over 200 pages of documents about Rupert Murdoch in response to the group's FOIA request. 

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — a group funded in part through the philanthropy of left-wing billionaire investor George Soros — obtained 233 pages of records on Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp. media empire, from between Jan. 1, 2006 and July 15, 2011, according to documents available on CREW’s Scribd account.

The FCC’s response included correspondence about News Corp.’s acquisition of Dow Jones & Co., the parent company of The Wall Street Journal, and News Corp.’s transfer of its control of Direct TV to Liberty Media Corporation.

“The records consist of 176 pages of e-mail communications between parties outside of the agency and Commission personnel and 57 pages of Congressional correspondence,” said Michael S. Perko, chief of the FCC’s Media Bureau Office of Communication and Industry Information, in the agency’s response letter to CREW.

The Daily Caller previously reported that the agency denies approximately 46.8 percent of the Freedom of Information Act requests it receives, making it one of the more secretive outfits in federal government.

CREW’s request sought “any and all records … of any kind … regardless of format, medium, or physical characteristics” within that four and a half year timespan “referencing or pertaining to News Corp and/or Rupert Murdoch.”

The July 15, 2011 request, the organization said, was made in response to the U.K. phone hacking scandal that rocked Murdoch’s News Corp. media empire. On August 9, 2011 the cache was delivered.

Emphasis is mine, and meant to highlight just how amazing this is. CREW's request should have, under the Fed's own practices, been rejected. Why? Because it's incredibly broad.

Let me illustrate with an example: Last year, I submitted a FOIA request to the DEA asking for emails (just emails!) on a specific policy issue that were transmitted over a specific time period. Last week--nearly seven months after I filed my request--a FOIA officer with the agency called me and told me my request was too broad and asked me to narrow it by giving him the specific names of emailers. He very politely added that if I didn't narrow my search criteria, I would receive a rejection letter from the agency that I would then have to appeal. If my appeal did not contain a more specific request, I would have to sue. 

The fact that CREW was able to submit a request that basically said, "Give us everything you have on Rupert Murdoch," and then received that information in one month is absolutely amazing. It means the FCC either had a dossier ready to dump, or that it dedicated a team of FOIA officers (or political appointees) to satisfying this one request. 

(I can't speak for the motivations of the FCC, and I'm not saying that they should have taken longer. FOIA requests across the board should be handled much quicker than they currently are, and there's a lot of information that federal agencies only release in response to FOIA that should be publicly available.)

Public Sector Union Loses Big at the Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision today in the case of Knox v. Service Employees International Union (SEIU). At issue was the use of union dues to pay for political advocacy by the SEIU. Because non-union government employees in California (and other states without right to work laws) are required to pay some union dues in order to cover collective bargaining and other activities that supposedly benefit even non-union workers, those dues will also sometimes end up funding the union's political activities. In this case, the SEIU had levied a special fee in order to fund several political campaigns in California without providing sufficient advance notice, essentially giving non-union workers no chance to object until after the fact. So the best those non-union workers could do was ask for a refund. In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito held that this practice by the SEIU ran afoul of the First Amendment:

Here, for nonmembers who disagreed with the electoral objectives, a refund provided after the union’s objectives had already been achieved would be cold comfort.

To respect the limits of the First Amendment, the union should have sent out a new notice allowing nonmembers to opt in to the special fee rather than requiring them to opt out. Our cases have tolerated a substantial impingement on First Amendment rights by allowing unions to impose an opt-out requirement at all.  Even if this burden can be justified during the collection of regular dues on an annual basis, there is no way to justify the additional burden of imposing yet another opt-out requirement to collect special fees whenever the union desires....

Public-sector unions have the right under the First Amendment to express their views on political and social issues without government interference. But employees who choose not to join a union have the same rights.  The First Amendment creates a forum in which all may seek, without hindrance or aid from the State, to move public opinion and achieve their political goals.... Therefore, when a public-sector union imposes a special assessment or dues increase, the union must provide a fresh Hudson notice and may not exact any funds from nonmembers without their affirmative consent.

Notably, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, filed a concurring opinion in this case, ruling against the union on narrower grounds. That news won't go down well in certain quarters of the American left.

Download the full decision here.

Ronald Bailey on the Disappointed Greens at Rio +20

As the United Nations Rio +20 Earth Summit winds down, disappointed environmentalist mandarins are denouncing it as "outrageous," "epic failure," and "pathetic." Why? Because the official agreements embodied in a document entitled, The Future We Want, are mostly pious vacuities. But all is not lost. Reason's Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey is happy to report that champagne and foie gras will evidently still be available in Sustainia.

View this article

Tulsa Officials Destroy Woman's Survival Garden

“We don’t care.”

That was reportedly the response of Tulsa, Oklahoma, code enforcement teams after illegally destroying Denise Morrison’s garden on August 15, 2011. Morrison, a longtime Tulsa resident, tearfully watched from her driveway while local officials ignored her protests and cut down her flowers, plants, and trees.

“Every word out of their mouth was, ‘We don’t care,’” Morrison told KOTV. Even after she showed them the city ordinances, proving that her garden complied with city law, the response remained the same.

Morrison, who was unemployed at the time of her property’s unauthorized destruction, used her yard as a sort of survival garden, growing over 100 varieties of edible and medicinal plants. From fruit trees to herbs that helped ease pain from her arthritis, Morrison had a purpose for every single one of her plants—which, under local law, meant that she was well within her legal right to maintain her garden. According to Tulsa city ordinances, plants may only grow over 12 inches tall if they’re fit for human consumption. Since Morrison had dealt with local code enforcement in the past, she made sure that she could chow down on all her plants.

So last August, when city inspectors sent the Tulsa resident a letter telling her they wanted the garden to go, she took it up to the local courts, knowing that she was within her legal growing rights. She knew she’d win. Or, at least, that she should’ve won.

The day after she went to the courthouse, Morrison came home to men chopping down everything in her garden down—walnut trees, garlic chives—you name it, it was gone.

"Not only are the plants my livelihood, they're my food and I was unemployed at the time and had no food left, no medicine left, and I didn't have insurance," Morrison told reporters. "They took away my life and livelihood."

Almost a year later, Morrison is finally getting her day in court. On Friday, she filed a civil rights lawsuit, accusing local officials of overstepping their bounds.

Unfortunately, cases like Morrison's aren't the exception. Check out these stories of zoning officials getting too big for their britches: from a Michigan woman getting 93 days in the slammer for her vegetable garden to Austin, Texas, officials filling in a resident's fallout-shelter-turned-home-office with 264 tons of concrete—and later charging him for the damage done.

Must-Watch ReasonTV on The Supreme Court & Obamacare

As we await word on a Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, take a look at this playlist of ReasonTV videos covering the individual mandate, Medicaid expansion, government-run health-care exchanges, and so much more. Sixteen vids in all and they'll make you laugh ("Remy: Cough Drops - The Mandate"), cry ("Great Moments in Unintended Consequences"), and possibly suffer seizures ("3 Reasons to End Obamacare Before it Begins"). And then there's "Wheat, Weed, and Obamacare: How the Commerce Clause Made Congress All-Powerful," cited by The New York Times recently as a key player in libertarian pushback on health-care reform.

More must-read stuff here.

Subscribe to ReasonTV's Youtube channel to get automatic notification as new material goes live.

Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on Republicans Falling in Obama's Immigration Trap

Republicans are hopping mad over President Obama’s recent executive order to hand temporary work permits instead of deportation orders to undocumented aliens brought to this country as children. “But the more they hop, the madder they’ll look,” notes Shikha Dalmia in her morning column at The Daily, “exactly Obama’s intention.” If Republicans want to close the 40-point lead that Obama has over Mitt Romney with Hispanic voters, something that in Romney’s own words could spell “doom” for Republicans in November, they’ll have to get past all their huffing and puffing and do something constructive.

And they can begin by stop asking dumb economic questions like the one posed by the obnoxious Daily Caller reporter when he interrupted the president’s remarks.

Read the whole thing here.

Watch Rep. Jared Polis Shred DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart

This is the most intense grilling of a DEA administrator by a House member I've ever seen. In it, Rep. Jared Polis (who we nominated as a potential libertarian successor to Ron Paul) asks DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart if heroin is worse than marijuana. Leonhart tells him that's "a suggestive question," and Polis rips her a new one: 

Via Wonkette

A.M. Links: Obamacare a Presidential Re-Election Tool No Matter What, Berkeley Recommends Rolling Back Police Powers, Uruguay Wants to Sell Its Citizens Marijuana

  • President Obama’s re-election campaign plans on using Obamacare on the campaign trail no matter what the ruling from the Supreme Court is.
  • Lt. General William Caldwell is accused of thwarting a Department of Defense investigation into corruption within the Aghan forces with which he worked. A letter from Jason Chaffetz to Leon Panetta alleges the Lt. General opposed the investigation because he wanted to preserve his first-name-basis relationship with President Obama.
  • The city council in Berkeley, California wants to roll back some post-9/11 police powers, recommending the local police department’s ability to share information with state and federal authorities about suspected terrorists as well as its intelligence gathering activities be limited.
  • A federal lawsuit filed against a New Jersey hospital challenges the federal Defense of Marriage Act. “They’re not seeking money, they’re seeking to get the rights every other married couple has,” said Jeffrey Norton, one of two lawyers representing the couple. “They’re trying to change the system.”
  • An elderly bus monitor whose bullying at hands of middle school students went viral has received more than $120,000 in donations. She wants to return to work, but on another route and with an apology from the students.
  • The government of Uruguay wishes to be the exclusive drug dealer for its countrymen, sending a bill to Congress that would let the government sell drugs to citizens who would have to register to buy. "We're shifting toward a stricter state control of the distribution and production of this drug," [Minister of Defense Eleuterio] Fernandez said. "It's a fight on both fronts: against consumption and drug trafficking. We think the prohibition of some drugs is creating more problems to society than the drug itself." (H/T Charles Masoner).

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

Reason.TV: Washington DC's Capital Bikeshare: Tax $$$ for Rich, Educated, White Riders

 

ATF Agents Conduct Wrong-Door Drug Raid on Elderly Woman, Narrowly Avoid Shooting Her Son

Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms didn't so much as knock when they mistakenly raided the house of an elderly woman in Charlotte, New York, last week. Nancy Dominicos' was sitting in her living room when three agents came in through her unlocked back door with guns drawn. 

“I thought it was a family member pulling a joke on me," Dominicos told WHEC-TV. "And all of the sudden I looked up and they were in my dinning room pointing a loaded gun at me telling me they had a federal warrant to search my premises.” 

Not only did they threaten Dominicos, but they come close to using deadly force on her son, who was upstairs when the agents entered his mother's house: 

“My son had heard me arguing with this man and it was not a voice he'd recognize. My son is a hunter, he put a bullet in the chamber of his gun. They heard that, they yelled down long gun, at that point there he told another ATF agent that was with me, handcuff her and take her out,” Dominicos said.

Thankfully Dominicos' son recognized it was law enforcement and put the gun down right away. Dominicos says the handcuffs caused bruises and as she was going outside with an ATF agent she heard him say they had the wrong house. The ATF and Rochester police executed a number of search warrants Wednesday night. Police sent us a statement, saying they entered the home through an unlocked side door and quote:

"Upon encountering an elderly resident, the team realized that they were at the wrong location at that time and left the premises."

Charlotte is in the Finger Lakes area of New York, which means that this is the second time in the last four months an elderly person in that region has been a victim of a wrong-door raid. In March, police working under the Finger Lakes Drug Task Force raided the home of 76-year-old Fred Skinner

Dominicos, like many survivors of police raids, says the raid has changed her. “I'm still terrified," she told WHEC. "It's almost like a P.T.S.D. experience, you keep hearing things. You think oh my God I hear a door slam, I hear someone pulling into my driveway. I see a light it's like oh my God are they back?”

Reason spoke to another victim of a wrong-house raid last year. "I feel safe in my home–but so far, I remember the guns pointing at my face when I look at my front door," Alex Clemens told us. "Every. Single. Time." 

Stories like those two abound. Raids don't just destroy property, they destroy a person's sense of safety and well-being. “My son screamed for his mother for what seemed like an eternity,” an Idaho head shop owner wrote after his home was raided by federal agents and his children were taken out of their beds. “I will never forget the hopeless feeling of not being able to comfort my son or daughter.”

ObamaCare Watch: What You Need to Know If the Supreme Court Releases Its Health Care Decision Today

At 10:00 a.m. ET this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue one or more decisions on cases heard during its soon-to-be concluded 2011-2012 term. This means that today may very well be the day we learn the fate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. ObamaCare. In preparation for what is sure to be the most talked-about Supreme Court decision in recent memory, get yourself up-to-speed on the legal and political issues at stake with this selection from Reason's in-depth coverage.

ObamaCare on Trial. The libertarian legal movement threatens Barack Obama's signature law. By Damon Root.

The ObamaCare Tax? Regulation, taxation, and the insurance mandate. By Jacob Sullum.

Wonky Justice. The dubious policy assumptions behind ObamaCare's legal defense. By Peter Suderman.

What's Next if ObamaCare Is Struck Down? The political upside of ditching the health insurance mandate. By Peter Suderman.

Fair-Weather Federalists. Why conservatives and progressives should unite against an overweening national government. By Jacob Sullum.

The 4 Best Legal Arguments Against ObamaCare. Why the president's sweeping health care overhaul should be struck down by the Supreme Court. By Damon Root.

Don’t Buy It. The crazy constitutional logic of the individual insurance mandate. By Jacob Sullum.

The Liberal Legal Bubble. Liberals can't even imagine the opposition's arguments to the individual mandate. By Peter Suderman.

Click below to watch "Wheat, Weed, and ObamaCare: How the Commerce Clause Became All Powerful," the Reason.tv documentary cited on page 47 of U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson's decision striking down the individual mandate.

New at Reason: How Will the Supreme Court Rule on Obamacare? Andrew Sullivan, Richard Epstein, and Others Place Their Final Bets.

When it comes to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, it's far from clear how the Supreme Court will rule on the matter. Sometime in the next week - or even the next few hours - the court will release its decision. Will the Supreme Court endorse Obamacare, throw out just the individual mandate, throw out the entire law, or render some other split decision? Reason asked experts, supporters, and detractors including The Daily Beast's Andrew Sullivan, legal titan Richard Epstein, George Mason University's Ilya Somin, the Pacific Legal Foundation's Timothy Sandefur, Forbes' Avik Roy, Pacific Research Insitute's Sally Pipes, the Cato Institute's Ilya Shapiro, and the National Center for Policy Analysis's Devon Herrick to handicap the decision.

View this article

Judge Andrew Napolitano on Barack Obama's Attempt to Rewrite Federal Law

Late last week, President Obama, fresh from a series of revelations that he kills whomever he pleases in foreign lands, that the U.S. military is actually fighting undeclared wars in Somalia and Yemen, and that the CIA is using cyber warfare to destabilize innocents in Iran, announced that he has rewritten a small portion of federal immigration law so as to accommodate the needs of young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and remained here. By establishing new rules governing deportation, writes Judge Andrew Napolitano, the president has usurped the power to write federal law from Congress and commandeered it for himself.

View this article

Greeks Get a Government, Egyptian Military Delays Election Results

A new governing coalition has been formed in Greece, with New Democracy, Pasok, and the Democratic Left as participating parties. Antonis Samaras, the leader of New Democracy, has been sworn in as Prime Minister.  Members of Syriza, New Democracy’s strongest opponents, have promised strong opposition to the new government’s policies. Samaras may struggle to maintain the coalition, Pasok and the Democratic Left are not traditional allies of New Democracy, and securing a deal that reassures Brussels may prove difficult.

The cabinet has not yet been selected, although Vassilis Rapanos, the current chairman of the National Bank of Greece, has been considered a favorite for the finance minister position. The outgoing finance minister, Yiorgos Zanias, is set to meet eurozone finance ministers to plead for leniency in a future bailout agreement. Today meetings are taking place after which it is expected that the new cabinet will be announced.

Speaking as a “horrified onlooker” Paul Krugman recently urged the German government to stop their austerity program and for the European Central Bank to “stop obsessing with inflation”. Krugman went on to say that the Greek election only saved Greece’s membership of the eurozone by a matter of days, and that other countries were at risk of exiting the currency group. Speaking on the ECB and its potential role in future bailouts Krugman said, “ The European Central Bank can come up with as many euros as needed because the ECB prints euros.”

In Egypt the military authority has delayed the result of last week’s election. Both Mursi and Shafiq are claiming victory and protests in support of the Muslim Brotherhood are growing in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The delay coincides with the rapid deterioration of former president Mubarak’s health. Some have argued that the delay is being used by the military in order to prompt a “soft coup”. Whatever the outcome Egypt will be under the rule of the military, a committed Islamist, or a member of Mubarak’s regime.

Greece’s new government will not succeed in keeping Greece in the eurozone, something now admitted by Keynesians and Austrians alike. How much worse the politicians can make the situation before the collapse will depend on the bailout agreement negotiations.

Egypt’s election last week was meant to be a historic example of a freed people engaging in democracy, it now looks on the verge of being voided or ignored. 

Brickbat: Branded Man

Homer Wright's wife woke him one night when she heard someone breaking into their home in the Englewood area of Chicago. Wright grabbed a gun and shot the man. Police charged Anthony Robinson with felony burglary. And since Wright had convictions on weapons charges in 1968 and 1994, they charged him with felony unlawful use of a weapon.

Brickbat Archive

CDC-Sponsored Study Finds No Neurological Damage From Light to Moderate Drinking During Pregnancy

Despite the familiar surgeon general's warning advising women to abstain completely from alcoholic beverages during pregnancy "because of the risk of birth defects," there has never been any solid evidence that light to moderate consumption harms the fetus (as Stanton Peele pointed out in Reason more than two decades ago). New research from Denmark, funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicates once again that heavy drinking is the real hazard. In a study of more than 1,600 women ("nearly a third of all Danish women who were pregnant between 1997 and 2003," Maia Szalavitz notes in Time), children of women who consumed nine or more drinks per week during pregnancy had shorter attention spans and were five times as likely to have low IQs at age 5 than children of abstainers. But no such effects were apparent in the children of women whose alcohol consumption during pregnancy was light (one to four drinks per week) or moderate (five to eight drinks per week). "Our findings show that low to moderate drinking is not associated with adverse effects on the children aged 5," the researchers said.

Szalavitz cautions that a "drink" as defined in this study contained 12 grams of pure ethanol, compared to the American standard of 14 grams, one-sixth more. Given the relatively wide consumption ranges, that difference probably does not matter much. Szalavitz also notes that, unlike earlier studies, this one asked women about their drinking while they were still pregnant, so the responses are less likely to be skewed by inaccurate recall. Still, self-reported drinking, especially by pregnant women, probably underestimates actual consumption, meaning that the amounts associated with no neurological impairment are apt to be bigger than those indicated by the study.

Bruce Goldman, director of substance abuse services at the Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, New York, considers the new research unhelpful. "These findings can easily send a very dangerous message to pregnant women," he tells CBS News. "Women may underestimate and have difficulty acknowledging the frequency or quantity of alcohol consumed. Those suffering from alcoholism may attempt to rationalize that it is safe to drink moderately, something they may ultimately be unable to do." 

Likewise, the CDC is not changing its recommendation of complete abstinence in light of the new data, since it is still true (and always will be, given the possibility of subtle effects beyond the ability of scientists to measure) that no safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy has been conclusively established. Life (and preganancy) is full of risks, however, and this one seems small enough that reasonably prudent people may be willing to accept it. At the very least, women should not feel guilty about the occasional drink during pregnancy, and people should not glare at an expectant mother who orders a glass of wine as if she were leaving her infant in the car on a hot day.

Previous coverage of drinking during pregnancy here.

[Thanks to Baked Penguin for the tip.]

Screw Executive Privilege: House Panel Cites Holder for Contempt Anyway

From USA Today:

A House oversight committee voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt, marking an escalation of the long-running dispute between Republicans and the Justice Department over internal administration documents related to Operation Fast and Furious.

The 23-17 vote to hold Holder in contempt of Congress came as President Obama on Wednesday morning invoked executive privilege of certain documents related to the controversial botched gun-trafficking sting.

Don’t expect much to come of it, though:

The contempt resolution will have little practical effect on Holder or the Obama administration. The Democratic-controlled Senate will not take action on a contempt resolution. The issue has been percolating in Congress since Republicans took control of Congress in 2011, but the timing of the vote in an election year has further injected politics into the debate.

Yes, it’s all politics, the administration supporters are saying. Republicans are just trying to find any route to attack the president on an election year. You’d think somebody got killed or something:

The parents of Brian Terry, the Border Patrol officer whose death put the spotlight on the gun-walking program, also criticized the Obama administration.

"Our son lost his life protecting this nation, and it is very disappointing that we are now faced with an administration that seems more concerned with protecting themselves rather than revealing the truth behind Operation Fast and Furious," Josephine Terry and Kent Terry Sr. said in a statement issued by the family's attorney.

Oh right. That.

Read more of our coverage of the “Fast and Furious” scandal.

Scalia Changes His Tune on Wickard and the Commerce Clause. Will It Matter for ObamaCare?

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia surprised more than a few legal observers back in 2005 when he sided with the liberal majority in Gonzales v. Raich and voted to affirm Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause to outlaw medical marijuana that had been legalized by the state of California. It was a surprise because in the previous decade Scalia had voted to limit the scope of congressional interstate commerce power in two major cases, U.S. v. Lopez (1995) and U.S. v. Morrison (2000), and was therefore seen as a fairly solid vote for federalism and against overreaching congressional power.

Yet not only did Scalia side with the federal government in the medical marijuana case, he took the opportunity to say a few kind words about Wickard v. Filburn (1942), the New Deal era ruling where the Supreme Court famously—some might say infamously—allowed the federal government to regulate wheat that had been cultivated and consumed entirely on one man’s farm under Congress’ power to “regulate commerce...among the several states.” “The potential disruption of Congress’s interstate regulation,” Scalia wrote of Wickard, “and not only the effect that personal consumption of wheat had on interstate commerce, justified Congress’s regulation.”

Scalia was roundly criticized by libertarian and conservative legal experts for this decision—and rightfully so. Neither Wickard nor Raich demonstrated much respect for the original meaning of the Commerce Clause, and Scalia is of course typically a great advocate of constitutional originalism. (Nor is this the only time Scalia has put the brakes on his originalism.)

But perhaps Scalia has done a little more thinking on the subject in the intervening years. As Adam Liptak of The New York Times reported earlier this week, in Scalia’s forthcoming book Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts (co-written with Bryan A. Garner), the conservative justice offers a decidedly negative take on that landmark New Deal decision. As Liptak notes:

Justice Scalia writes, for instance, that he has little use for a central precedent the Obama administration has cited to justify the health care law under the Constitution’s commerce clause, Wickard v. Filburn.

In that 1942 decision, Justice Scalia writes, the Supreme Court “expanded the Commerce Clause beyond all reason” by ruling that “a farmer’s cultivation of wheat for his own consumption affected interstate commerce and thus could be regulated under the Commerce Clause.”...

Justice Scalia’s treatment of the Wickard case had been far more respectful in his judicial writings. In the book’s preface, he explains (referring to himself in the third person) that he “knows that there are some, and fears that there may be many, opinions that he has joined or written over the past 30 years that contradict what is written here.” Some inconsistencies can be explained by respect for precedent, he writes, others “because wisdom has come late.”

You know what they say: Better late than never.

As for the question of what this news means for Scalia’s vote in the looming ObamaCare decision, I wouldn’t call it a game-changer. As I explained shortly before the Court heard oral arguments in the health care case, there was already good reason to think Scalia would vote against ObamaCare’s individual mandate. And since there’s zero chance the Supreme Court is going to overturn Wickard as part of its health care ruling, Scalia’s new hostility to that case only figures in as a sort of background influence.

While it is nice to hear that Scalia finally agrees with the originalist consensus on Wickard, that fact alone doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know about his likely approach to ObamaCare.

Man In Panda Suit Promotes Anarchism, Hugs Cops in Montreal

Montreal is a real mess lately. The student protests over tuition hikes have grown increasingly rowdy since they began in February, leading to the implementation of controversial restrictions on protest in the region. While the U.N. has condemned the restrictions (a.k.a. Bill 78) the greatest opposition to the protest-banning bill has come from the students themselves, who have renewed their protest with greater enthusiasm.

One of the stars of the protest is Anarchopanda, a college professor with a mission to calm the tension by hugging everyone while wearing a glorious panda costume. Hugging police clad in riot gear might not be the recommended plan for most, but Anarchopanda has managed to do so without getting pepper sprayed or clubbed to a bloody pulp. With the police violence seen in many protests in the last year, the fact that Anarchopanda has thrived without receiving a sound beating reveals a lot about his protest strategy, and the value of non-violent civil disobedience. Plus, it would take a particularly tone-deaf cop to start whaling on a cuddly panda.

When Occupy Wall Street was getting out of control, the police started playing rough, as in this episode on November 17, where cops deployed nightsticks and pepper spray in New York and California—a tangible demonstration of the monopoly on force in action. But Anarchopanda isn’t fighting anyone. He's simply challenging the moral authority of the state...with hugs! Cops know how to handle violent Quebecois protestors, but they seem baffled by their current panda protester.

And if Anarchopanda does end up on the receiving end of pepper spray or a nightstick? Well, that panda head probably makes one hell of a helmet.

Anarchopanda–style protest is becoming increasingly popular—his clown cousins showed up in Chicago last month.

See Reason's coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protest here.

Ed Krayewski on 4 Positions Obama Supporters Attribute to the President That He Doesn’t Actually Hold

Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign was an exercise in wish-fulfillment, writes Ed Krayewski. The junior senator from Illinois who wowed Democrats at their convention in 2004 did not make a conventional run for the White House. As Virginia Postrel noted in Reason’s November 2008 issue, “Barack Obama has not run as the typical candidate, selling specific policies, a worldview, experience, or executive competence. He has instead sold himself, a glamorous icon onto whom supporters project their hopes and dreams and, in many cases, their own identities.” The last three years have supported her interpretation. With the 2012 presidential campaign gaining steam, the president continues to get credit where credit is not due. Here are the top four positions Obama supporters attribute to the president that he doesn’t actually support.

View this article

Obama Fast and Furious To Keep Secrets, Fed Seeks Prosperity With a Twist, Lessons in Loyalty: P.M. Links

Do you want hot links and other Reason goodies delivered to your inbox twice a day? Sign up here for Reason's morning and afternoon news updates.

Gaming Out the ObamaCare Ruling: 3 Possible Outcomes

Sometime in the next 10 days, and possibly as early as tomorrow morning, the Supreme Court is expected to release its decision about the fate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — a.k.a. ObamaCare. With a decision like this, practically anything is possible. But most high court watchers agree that there are only a handful of likely outcomes.

Whatever happens, the ruling is bound to have a big effect on the national political scene, health and entitlement policy, and the legal boundaries of federal policymaking for years to come. Here’s a brief look at the most likely outcomes and some of the possible ramifications of each.

Uphold the entire law: This is what the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress are hoping for. This will vindicate the administration to some degree, but it may also spark further public opposition: A recent study by the University of Missouri Political Economics Research Lab reports that the public, which has long been highly opposed to the mandate, would be most upset of the Court decided to uphold the entire law. A ruling to uphold the entire law would also close off opportunities to limit Congressional authority under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause going forward.

Strike down the mandate: There are two basic ways this could go. Either the court could strike down the mandate alone, or the court could strike down the mandate along with linked insurance regulations like guaranteed issue and community rating that govern how health insurers can deal with preexisting conditions.

Striking down the mandate and various related provisions would leave much of the law in place, but would also excise some of the most popular parts of the law — the rules restricting the way insurers can discriminate based on preexisting conditions.

Striking down the mandate alone might create a different problem: An easily gamed health insurance system in which it’s possible for individuals to wait until sick to purchase individual health insurance at artificially low rates. As I noted in a 2009 Wall Street Journal op-ed, states that have experimented with preexisting condition rules for insurers while forgoing a mandate have watched their individual insurance markets melt down as people drop out and wait until they’re sick to purchase coverage. But none of those states had ObamaCare’s system of middle class insurance subsidies. Right now there’s some debate as to whether the inducement provided by the insurance subsidies would be enough to draw people into the system. Massachusetts health care overhaul mastermind Jonathan Gruber has run numbers suggesting that even with subsidies, the preexisiting condition rules wouldn’t work without a mandate, which is certainly plausible. But there’s no real-world example for us to look at, which makes it hard to know.

Strike down the entire law: Even if the court took down the preexisting condition rules, it’s not clear how the government-run health exchanges would work in the absence of the mandate and related provisions. Those exchanges are intended as the primary vehicle for delivering regulated, subsidized coverage, but as I noted in Reason’s July issue, without the preexisting condition rules, that could prove difficult (not to mention all the other challenges exchange designers are already struggling with). The law was designed as an interlocking whole, so taking out any part, especially the mandate, might crash the rest of the system. Which is why the Supreme Court might decide that the least intrusive way to strike down the mandate is to take down the entire law and let Congress start over. This is the least likely outcome, but it’s not entirely out of the bounds of possibility. It’s also the best possible outcome for those opposed to the law.

I’m not particularly confident in my ability to predict the outcome of the ruling, but I’ll venture a guess and say that I think the most likely outcome is that the court strikes down the mandate and the preexisting condition regulations together. Taking down the entire law is probably be more than the court is willing to do, but even the administration explicitly argued that if the mandate goes, the rules regulation preexisting conditions should be scrapped too. If that's the ruling, we'll be left with the insurance subsidies, the Medicaid expansion, the rules governing exchanges (which states may decline to set up and let the feds pay for instead), and assorted other smaller provisions. And Congress will have to sort it all out. It’ll be a big, expensive, technocratic mess — in other words, a lot like it is already.

Update: On a related note, prediction site Intrade now has the odds of the Supreme Court striking down at least the mandate at 79.9 percent. 

School District Has Tykes Pledging Allegiance to Teachers and Educrats

From the Department of "we are your masters and we deserve your respect" comes news that students at one New Jersey school have, for the past ten years, been reciting a pledge of allegiance a tad creepier than the traditional flag-worshipping one that so many of us suffered through as school-attending tykes. At Morganville, New Jersey's Asher Holmes Elementary School, in the Marlboro Township Public Schools, the wee ones have been promising their devotion to teachers and educrats. Really.

The pledge as reported by Marlboro-ColtsneckPatch is:

I pledge allegiance to Asher Holmes and the Marlboro Township School District and to the teachers who help us learn, all that we need to know for the future. We promise to respect ourselves and others, to try our best and always be proud of our schools.

The pledge is recited, hand-on-heart, while facing the flag, just like the usual patriotic devotional, which is also recited. Apparently, kids have been going through the motions for ten years, ever since the thing was penned by a fourth-grade teacher. Nobody bothered objecting until parent Valerie Kaufman stepped forward at a Board of Education meeting to say, "WTF?":

"I don't know about you guys, but I've never heard of a pledge of allegiance to the school, the school district and to the teachers. I don't think it's constitutional, I don't think they should be doing it," she said. "I think we should do away with it."

Superintendent Dr. David Abbott said the pledge was put in place ten years ago, written by a fourth grade teacher. That version of the pledge used to be recited by students every day of the week.

"I don't see anything wrong with it at all," he said "You don't have to say the Pledge of Allegiance at all, that is the rule of the Constitution of the United States of America. I know it is very valued by the kids, I know that it is valued by the staff and I know it is valued by most of the parents. If you have trouble with it, you don't have to do it and your child doesn't have to do it."

Board member BonnieSue Rosenwald said she doesn't have a problem with school songs or cheers, but saluting the flag while reciting a different pledge is not an appropriate time. 

"Just because it was done for ten years, doesn't mean it is right, and doesn't mean it should continue to be done," Rosenwald said. "Not when every Monday morning you are told to stand with your hand over your heart to pledge allegiance to Asher Holmes. I don't think it's right."

Kaufman said her son doesn't want to recite the Asher Holmes pledge, and from what she knows, a lot of the children join her son in his sentiments. Kaufman said many parents may not even be aware of it.

Fox News says the Board passed the district-loyalty pledge by its attorney, who said it was A-OK. So the pledge continues, although local officials provide assurances that both the patriotic loyalty oath and the bureaucratic loyalty oath are purely optional.

Most of the people objecting to the local pledge frame their objections in terms of respect for the traditional pledge — the idea being that the one diminishes the other. Personally, I never took to the traditional version, and quietly opted out once I was old enough to understand what the damned thing meant. Fortunately, my suburban New York teachers were generally tolerant of my objections, so I never ran into a hassle. Frankly, I don't "pledge allegiance" to anything — I ask, "what have you done for me lately?" and keep my support conditional on good behavior and restrained use of homicidal drones, warrantless wiretaps, smothering taxes, intrusive officials and the like. In the new context, I guess making it conditional on actually passing along a decent education in return for resources consumed — and not demanding allegiance — might be in order. I'm funny that way.

Some time ago, Greg Beato sounded off on the rather icky history of the traditional pledge of allegiance.

"Good Samaritan" Laws that Protect People who Call 911 For Overdose-Related Medical Emergencies Spread

Governing magazine reports:

Illinois, Colorado and Florida this year have passed legislation that gives legal immunity to people who call 911 to report a companion’s drug overdose. The intent is to curb the number of deaths due to drug overdoses, which have soared nationally in recent years.

The legislation – widely referred to as the “911 Good Samaritan” law – is designed to eliminate legal concerns that may prevent people from seeking proper medical treatment. Under the laws, both the person calling 911 as well as a companion in need of medical treatment are granted immunity.

In 2007, New Mexico was the first state to pass a 911 Good Samaritan law. Since then New York, Washington, Connecticut have passed similar laws, in addition to the three states that took action this year.....

Supporters of the legislation say in order for it to be effective, people need to be aware that the immunity provisions exist. Yet none of the Good Samaritan Laws have a public education component. “One of the reasons these laws pass without a great deal of time and back and forth is that they generally do not have any appropriation or fund requirement attached to them,” [Meghan] Ralston [of the Drug Policy Alliance] said, “Money would need to be appropriated for public education."

DPA is working on an education campaign to inform people in drug rehabilitation programs, recently released prison inmates, and others in high-risk demographics of the new laws. 

I blogged in October 2010 about then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's shameful veto of such a bill, and in July 2010 about the general usefulness of such laws.

National Review Writer: We Need to Declare War on Islam, Bar Muslims from the Country, and Arrest Them if They Are Here. But Don't You Call Me a Bigot.

Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic takes a look at who National Review gets to write on anti-Sharia law, David Yerushalmi, and finds some interesting things:

[Yerushalmi] heads an organization [Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE)--a name you gotta love] which argues for measures like this:

- It shall be a felony punishable by 20 years in prison to knowingly act in furtherance of, or to support the, adherence to Islam. 

-The Congress of the United States of America shall declare the US at war with the Muslim Nation or Umma. 

-The President of the United States of America shall immediately declare that all non-US citizen Muslims are Alien Enemies under Chapter 3 of Title 50 of the US Code and shall be subject to immediate deportation. 

-No Muslim shall be granted an entry visa into the United States of America.

Yet Yerushalmi resents those who suggest his advocacy of anti-Sharia regulations in the United States might be linked to bigotry.

As Conor Friedersdorf tweeted: "what National Review will apologize for in a decade or two."

SANE, unsurprisingly, also vows that "Any world view, ideology, or -ism that promotes directly or indirectly the elimination of national existence and the establishment of a world state is our foe. So you can know at the start that liberalism (and this includes libertarianism) and Islam are in our sights."

Red Light Cam Tickets Temporarily Suspended Throughout New Jersey Over Timing Concerns

Almost three quarters of New Jersey’s red-light cameras may not be timed correctly with the yellow lights, according to the Star Ledger, and will be tested by the state’s department of transportation. The cameras, 63 of them in 21 towns, including all 19 in the state’s biggest city, Newark (which apparently raked in $3 million in fines from the camera in 2010 alone), will remain on and if they’re found to be in compliance tickets will be issued. Otherwise, the state may face a class action lawsuit over any fines charged because of the bad cameras. Of course, local officials in the towns involve insist their cameras work correctly.

Reason on cash cams

Reason.TV chronicled the defeat of Los Angeles’ red light cams:


Anticipating the Obamacare Decision? Count On Reason's In-Depth Coverage

Eagerly anticipating the biggest legal health-care decision since the Athenian high court prescribed a cure-all to Socrates? Why go with competing brands when Reason has you covered right here. Our crack team of policy analysts is already ensconced in a secret location, subsisting on nothing but airplane bottles of Early Times and gourmet food-truck cuisine, glued to the soft glow of data emanating from their Lexis account.

All (well ... most) kidding aside, Reason will be providing full coverage of the decision on Hit & Run, both in terms of analysis from our in-house experts, and also timely news links gathered by our staff and published continuously on the site after the decision is announced — which could be as soon as Thursday, June 21.

Whenever it appears, this is where you should turn for in-depth coverage of what's happening, and a little crystal-ball gazing at what it all means.

Obama to Congress: Screw You, "Fast and Furious" is My Special Secret

From CNN:

An extraordinary House committee hearing began considering a contempt measure against Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday even though President Barack Obama asserted executive privilege over documents sought by the panel investigating the botched Fast and Furious gun-running sting....

The White House move means the Department of Justice can withhold the documents from the House Oversight Committee, which was scheduled to consider a contempt measure Wednesday against Holder.

In a letter to Obama seeking the assertion of executive privilege, Holder said the documents involved related to the Justice Department's "response to congressional oversight and related media inquiries," and that release of internal executive branch documents would have "significant, damaging consequences."

Holder also said releasing the documents would "inhibit the candor of executive branch deliberations in the future and significantly impair the ability of the executive branch to respond independently and effectively to congressional oversight."

A separate Justice Department letter to Issa made public minutes before the committee meeting was scheduled to begin Wednesday said Obama "has asserted executive privilege over the relevant post-February 4, 2011, documents."

As the New York Times notes, this is the first time Obama has chosen to assert the vague bullshit claim of "executive privilege" to save his lackeys' necks.

Radley Balko advised Obama here at Reason back in 2008 to swear off executive privilege entirely. Unfortunately, and it's always unfortunate if you don't heed Balko, Obama has given in to temptation.

Koch Brothers, Cato Institute Settlement Announced (With Very Few Details)

National Journal and the Washington Post report that a settlement has been reached in the battle between libertarian billionaire philanthropists Charles and David Koch and the Cato Institute. (Full disclosure: David Koch sits on the board of Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website.)

From NJ: 

The deal will settle a lawsuit that the Koch brothers filed in February over shares that determine control of Cato. It results from the original division of shares between the two Koch brothers, Crane, and the late Cato Chairman William Niskanen....

The settlement involves an agreement to dissolve the shareholder agreement. In addition, Crane is expected to retire under a deal that allows him to select his successor, though the Koch brothers could veto the choice.

The WashPost adds:

Details of the settlement outlined in the National Journal report could not be confirmed because Cato declined to comment until the staff has been briefed on the matter, which will occur Monday.

More as it develops and is made known.

Past posts on the controversy here.

A. Barton Hinkle on Why Everybody's a Potential Criminal in the Eyes of the EPA

A half-century ago, John Pozsgai emigrated to America from Hungary. Twenty-five years later, he bought a hunk of land in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, that had been used as an illegal dumping ground for used tires and old car parts. Pozsgai wanted to build a garage on the land. So he hauled away the old tires—7,000 of them—and the rusty scrap metal, and hauled in clean fill dirt and topsoil.

Sometimes when it rained, the tires caused water to build up on the property. In the eyes of the federal government, that made it a wetland. Federal agents used surveillance cameras to record Pozsgai’s cleanup activity and had him arrested for “discharging pollutants”—i.e., the fill dirt and topsoil—“into the waters of the United States.” Convicted, he got a three-year prison sentence and a $200,000 fine. If federal regulators have their way, writes A. Barton Hinkle, America could see a lot more John Pozsgais in its future.

View this article

The Parallel Origin Stories of Premium Support and the Individual Mandate

It’s true, as Kevin Drum writes in a post on political hypocrisy, that remaking Medicare as a premium support program was never a major priority for Democrats. But that’s a big part the point I was trying to make yesterday in comparing comparing the GOP’s fluid position on the individual mandate to Democrats’ position on Medicare reform: Republican support for the mandate, while real, was never that strong either.

I agree with much of Drum’s post, but says my case is “a little weak” because “premium support never really had much liberal support in the first place.” But broad Republican support for the mandate wasn’t all that strong either, and that’s a big part of why the comparison between the two is useful.

Let’s look at the similarities between both:

The Mandate: Conservative policy wonks at the Heritage Foundation develop the idea for the individual mandate in 1989.
Premium Support: Alain Enthoven, a liberal policy wonk who had worked as a health consultant for Jimmy Carter, develops the idea for premium support in 1993. In 1995, Another liberal policy wonk, Henry Aaron, develops the idea further and gives it a name.

The Mandate:  In 1993, a bipartisan group of legislators led by GOP Senator John Chafee, and including a total of 18 Republicans, sponsors a go-nowhere health care bill with a mandate that is never formally debated or voted on.
Premium Support: In 1999, a bipartisan commission on Medicare reform led by Democratic Senator John Breaux puts forth a go-nowhere proposal to reform Medicare as a premium support program. 

The Mandate: In the late part of George Bush's second term, a handful of Democrats begin a push for health care reform based in large part on regulated private insurance and a mandate — a plan they hope some Republicans will accept based on previous party support.
Premium Support: In the late part of George Bush's second term, a handful of Republicans begin a push for Medicare reform based on premium support — a plan they hope some Democrats will accept based on previous party support. 

The Mandate: During the Obama presidency, Republicans broadly unify around vehement opposition to ObamaCare’s federal mandate. A few Republicans, most notably Mitt Romney but also Scott Walker, suggest that states might pursue their own mandates.
Premium Support: During the Obama presidency, Democrats unify around vehement opposition to Paul Ryan’s premium support plan. A few Democrats and liberal wonks, most notably Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and former Clinton budget chief Alice Rivlin, continue to endorse premium support plans. 

The parallel is not perfect, but it is close enough to be useful. In both cases, it's easy to imagine the eventual opposition never developing. Indeed, just as it's easy to imagine that many and perhaps even most Republicans might have one day come to support a mandate, it's relatively easy to imagine that Democrats might have developed real fondness for premium support. 

Missing from this timeline, of course, is Mitt Romney’s health care overhaul in Massachusetts, which relies on the same basic structure as ObamaCare, including a mandate, as well as scattered statements in favor of the mandate over the years, especially in relation to RomneyCare. A number of Republicans who now oppose the mandate — like Sen. Jim DeMint, for example — came out in favor of Romney’s health care overhaul before it became an item of national controversy. And as Ezra Klein points out in response to my post, Republicans like Lamar Alexander and Chuck Grassley also spoke favorably of the mandate as late as the summer of 2009.

But Romney is the only Republican politician to show a true commitment to the mandate, to take any risks or expend any significant political capital in an attempt to see the policy passed. For the rest, it was an easy, off-the-shelf plan that Republican legislators could point to in order to claim they had a health care plan without actually have to think seriously about health care policy. Republicans weren’t particularly opposed to the mandate, but they weren’t working particularly hard to pass one either.

Because the fact is that Republicans have never much care about the details of health care policy. They supported the mandate because it was there, because it was easy, and because without it, they had nothing. Which is about where they are today. It’s why despite the party’s broad opposition to a mandate, rising star Scott Walker still mumbles about states implementing their own ObamaCare-style insurance regulations and suggests that state-level coverage mandates might be part of the equation, why earlier this year Republicans in Congress gave up on their plan to announce a health care alternative, and why the best that Senate Majority Minority Leader Mitch McConnell can do when asked about the potential GOP policy response to the Supreme Court striking down some or part of ObamaCare is to say that Congress should just start over. He doesn’t have any answers, and neither does his party.

This isn’t a party that was devoted to the mandate, or cared about the particulars of health policy at all — not in 1993, not in 2009, and not now. 

Ronald Bailey Wanders Through the People's Summit at the Rio +20 Earth Summit

The People's Summit for Social and Environmental Justice is a gigantic left-wing talkfest at the Rio +20 Earth Summit. Located in a park next to the lovely beach at Guanabara Bay, giant tents house five chief plenary discussions and scores more smaller tents shelter a wide variety of earnest discussions about the perfidy of corporations in this age of late capitalism. At the People's Summit, Reason Science Correpondent Ronald Bailey marvels at some of the proposed solutions—ecovillages, inclusion of transpeople, and banning biotech crops—to the world's economic and ecological crises.

View this article

If There Was an 8th Seal in the Book of Revelation, It Would Probably Be This Reality TV Show w Todd Palin and Gen. Wesley Clark.

This is either a sign that the apocalypse is already well under way, that America has fully entered an irrevocable decline that will make Nero's Rome look like good times, or that everything is right with a world in which things are not only stranger than we imagine but stranger than we can imagine:

Stars Earn Stripes will feature celebrities competing in tough military training exercises and EW.com has the exclusive online cast scoop. NBC has tapped General Wesley Clark (ret.), the former Supreme Allied Commander Europe for NATO and 2004 presidential candidate to host the show along with TV personality Samantha Harris (Entertainment TonightDancing with the Stars).

The celebrity competitors include boxing champion Laila Ali, actor Dean Cain (Out of Time), former NFL player Terry Crews (The Expendables), singer Nick Lachey (The Sing-Off), Sarah Palin’s husband Todd Palin, Olympic gold medalist Picabo Street, The Biggest Loser trainer Dolvett Quince and WWE star Eve Torres.

More here.

This is as good a time as any to remind people that the sweater-clad host and military man Clark was once seen by this reporter brazenly cutting the line for Amtrak in Washington, D.C.'s Union Station. 

Washington, DC's Capital Bikeshare: Tax $$$ for Rich, Educated, White Riders

Capital Bikeshare, which rents bikes at more than 165 outdoor stations in the Washington D.C. area, serves highly educated and affluent whites.

There's nothing wrong with that, of course, except that the program has received $16 million in government subsidies, including over $1 million specifically earmarked to "address the unique transportation challenges faced by welfare recipients and low-income persons seeking to obtain and maintain employment."

The program is part of a recent explosion in taxpayer-subsidized bike rental services, which have also hit the streets of Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston , Denver, Boulder, Houston, Minneapolis, Broward, Madison, Omaha, San Antonio, and Des Moines.

Capital Bikeshare's latest user survey finds that 95 percent of its regular patrons have college degrees, 53 percent have a Masters or Ph.D., and 80 percent are white. Fully 0 percent have only a high school diploma and just 7 percent make less than $25,000 a year. More than 90 percent were employed and 14 percent reported they were college students, suggesting that very few welfare recipients are using the service.

Capital Bikeshare is run by Portland-based Alta Planning + Design in partnership with four jurisdictions: Alexandria, VA; Arlington, VA; Montgomery County, MD; and the District of Columbia. So far, the program has received $15.9 million[*] in state, local, and federal subsidies.

Why are affluent, educated, and employed whites riding taxpayer-subsidized bikes?

ReasonTV Correspondent Kennedy investigates.

[*]: Government funding for Capital Bikeshare is collected separately by each jurisdiction, and breaks down as follows: District of Columbia ($10.3 million), Montgomery County ($3.1 million), Arlington ($1.9 million), and Alexandria ($600 thousand).

Produced by Jim Epstein, with production help from Joshua Swain and D.C. Pedicab.

About 2 minutes.

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

Check Out High-Desert Barbecue, a Novel by Reason's J.D. Tuccille

J.D. Tuccille is a recent addition to the Reason.com staff (he'll be heading up portions of our new-and-improved site that we'll be rolling out later this summer). You may know him from past stints around teh intertubez and you can check out his burgeoning Reason archive here.

He's also the author the novel High Desert Barbecue, described as "a tale of suspense, pyromania, and sexual tension." From the book's Amazon page:

Written in a style that might be described as Edward Abbey meets Hunter S. Thompson, conspiracy, arson and ineptitude threaten the desert West, and only a misanthropic hermit, a subversive schoolteacher and an unemployed business writer stand in the way. Living as a squatter on public land, Rollo has long waged a personal war against the Forest Service, so it’s little surprise when rangers burn him out of his latest shack. But when Rollo is subsequently blamed for a disastrous wildfire, he seeks help from his close friend, Scott, an anarchically minded outdoors enthusiast, and Scott’s girlfriend Lani, who dislikes Rollo but shares his distaste for authority. While investigating a suspicious new forest fire, the trio interrupts a bizarre but vicious gang of environmental terrorists. Chased through the canyon country of northern Arizona, Rollo, Scott and Lani must rely on their wits and skills to survive. Just steps behind, their pursuers compensate for incompetence and sexual eccentricity with fanaticism and official connections. Hanging in the balance is the fate of human habitation throughout the West – or maybe just peace and quiet in downtown Flagstaff.

J.D.'s book is also a finalist for book of the month over at the Freedom Book Club, which is dedicated to "making freedom a best-seller." Please go to site to vote for High Desert Barbecue or one of the other finalists (which include tomes by Mark Skousen, Johan Norberg, and Jeffrey A. Tucker). You can vote every day through June 30, so as they say in Chicago, grab all your living and dead relatives and vote early and often.

2 Arguments Against Mandatory Disclosure of Political Donors

Even among folks who think that there should be no limits on political spending, a sizable chunk of people support mandatory disclosure of who spends what on whom. There's even a bill working through Congress, the so-called DISCLOSE Act, "that would require non-profit political groups to reveal their funders." Candidates and political-action committees have to disclose donors, but there are a lot of other groups that don't.

The impulse to support mandatory disclosure makes a certain amount of intuitive sense but here are two things to keep in mind during any such discussion.

First, disclosure mandates will be used against politically weak individuals and groups. Consider a case from California in the 1990s, when two amateur activists - just the sort of citizen-types who are supposed to get involved in grassroots politics - tried to recall then-state Sen. David Roberti. Russ Howard and Steve Cicero didn't like Roberti's stance on gun control, spending, and other things, so they formed Californians Against Corruption and ran an effort to recall Roberti. The effort failed and the California's Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), headed by characters very mindful of Roberti's power, levied a fine of $808,000 against Howard and Cicero, whose campaign had spent slightly over $100,000. The cause of the fine was incomplete information on all donors who had given more than $100. It turned out that some donors didn't include all required information (such as their address, full name, employer, and whatnot). Such oversights might have been out of sloppiness or fear of reprisals (the information becomes public record), but the effect was to implicate Howard and Cicero in violation of disclosure rules. And get this, as Reason's Brian Doherty reported way back when:

The FPPC explicitly stated as an aggravating factor that Howard told a newspaper reporter that "the little guy can't participate [in politics] without running afoul of technical violations." In essence, the FPPC punished him in part for not agreeing with campaign finance law.

Read more here. And read about how in the past the Alabama NAACP and the Socialist Workers Party resisted calls for disclosure to serious threats of political, economic, and personal reprisals. 

Second, anonymous political speech is at the very heart of the nation's founding and experience. For all the reverence show The Federalist Papers, which were authored by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay and are credited with helping to push ratification of the Constitution, commenters typically neglect that they were published pseudonymously, under the name Publius. There's nothing wrong with anonymous political speech that more speech can't fix. Voters discount anonymous claims if they are sketchy and undocumented, which is one reason why donors and groups who don't need to disclose their identities often do anyway. Another reason people voluntarily disclose is that public affiliation with a cause or a candidate is precisely the point of giving.

Watch ReasonTV's "Who is Publius?":

Scott Shackford on Publish or Perish

Proponents of the "open access" movement want the Obama Administration to require free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research. But as Scott Shackford writes, government funding does not cover the costs of peer review, editing and publication, which are borne by private publishers and then recouped through subscriptions to their journals. Research libraries, academic publishers, researchers and IP experts all propose solutions for making quality research available. Should the government be imposing a one-size-fits-all model for the steadily increasing share of research conducted for, by, or at the direction of the federal government?

View this article

A.M. Links: U.S-Israeli Malware Mapped Iran Computer Networks, U.N. Wants Accountability on U.S. Drone Strikes, Quantum Physics’ Standard Model in Question

  • Malware developed by the United States and Israel has mapped Iran’s computer networks in preparation for a cyber-attack aimed at slowing its progress in developing a nuclear weapon, according to a report in the Washington Post.
  • The United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions  wants the U.S. government to “clarify the procedures in place to ensure that any targeted killing complies with international humanitarian law and human rights and indicate the measures or strategies applied to prevent casualties, as well as the measures in place to provide prompt, thorough, effective and independent public investigation of alleged violations." Someone forgot to tell him the program is a secret, dude, plus the president has a peace prize.
  • Hosni Mubarak is now on life support. Unrest continues as Egypt awaits a new president; both candidates on the ballot this weekend claim they won 52% of the vote while the military has taken more legislative power via decree.
  • Nidal Hasan, the Army major on trial for the shooting rampage at Ford Hood in November 2009, has been told by a judge he cannot attend his hearing until he cuts his beard. Major Hasan’s attorney says the beard was a “deeply sincere” expression of faith and that Hasan had a premonition he would die, but it is against army policy. The government has not classified the shooting at Fort Hood, the deadliest shooting to take place on a U.S. military base, a terrorist attack.
  • Your theory is crazy. A new experiment on the process of B to D-star-tau-nu yielded data that doesn’t seem to fit into the Standard Model.
  • Archaeologists say they may have found the remains of John the Baptist in Bulgaria, even though there’s no way to tell for sure.

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

Reason.TV: "The Skeptical Environmentalist": A Convesation with John Tierney and Bjorn Lomborg"

 

Jacob Sullum on Bloomberg's Big Beverage Ban

Everyone expected that New York City's Board of Health, all 11 members of which were appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, would rubber-stamp his proposed 16-ounce cap on servings of sugar-sweetened soft drinks. But at a meeting last week, Senior Editor Jacob Sullum reports, several board members zeroed in on the most obvious problem with Bloomberg's plan to treat adults like children: It does not go far enough.

View this article

Brickbat: A Great Adventure

Two assistant principals at I.S. 24 middle school in Staten Island have been fined $25,000 each for keeping free tickets to the Great Adventure amusement park that had been donated to needy students. Derric Borrero and Richard Gilberto kept $20,000 in tickets for themselves and passed them out to family, friends, and other faculty members instead of to students at the school. They were caught when Borrero's brother sold some of the tickets he was given and a Great Adventure employee matched the serial numbers to ones that had been given away.

Brickbat Archive

Democrats and Republicans Unite to Protect the Right to Browse Cigars

A bipartisan bill with more than 200 co-sponsors in the House would prevent the Food and Drug Administration from regulating "traditional and premium cigars" under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Roll Call notes that the bill's supporters include "political opposites" ranging from Pete Sessions (R-Texas) and Allen West (R-Fla.) on the right to Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) and Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) on the left. Cigar makers and tobacconists worry that FDA regulation would impose onerous burdens, including warning labels on packages, a ban on phone sales, prohibition of flavored cigars, and a requirement that cigars be kept away from customers in a separate room accessible only to employees (which would spell the end of cigar shopping as we know it). They argue that the tobacco control law was mainly aimed at curtailing underage smoking and therefore should not be applied to products that teenagers rarely consume. The Traditional Cigar Manufacturing and Small Business Jobs Preservation Act applies to unfiltered products wrapped in tobacco leaf that weigh more than six pounds per 1,000 cigars.

Ordinarily I am leery of bipartisanship, special favors for particular industries, and legislation that promises to save and/or create jobs. But several factors count in this bill's favor: 1) It aims to block absurd regulations that would arbitrarily interfere with adults' freedom in the name of protecting children, 2) it is opposed by Altria (a.k.a. Philip Morris) and the major anti-smoking groups, the same coalition that gave us FDA regulation of tobacco products, and 3) the arguments against it are fatuous. The Los Angeles Times, for instance, worries that "many high school and college students mistakenly believe that cigars are not very dangerous." Leaving aside the not insignificant point that cigars are not, in fact, "very dangerous," why would regulation by the FDA, the same agency charged with ensuring that drugs are "safe and effective," make cigars seem more rather than less hazardous?  

I noted the cigar industry's worries about FDA regulation last December. As you might expect, Michael Bloomberg's New York is ahead of the FDA when it comes to stopping kids from smoking cigarettes by barring adults from buying flavored cigars.

[Thanks to Bill Godshall for the tip.]

Rand Paul: He Might Endorse Romney, But He Doesn't Endorse His Foreign Policy

Sen. Rand Paul at National Review with encouraging words for the libertarians and non-interventionists on Mitt Romney's recent pronouncements on presidential warmaking power:

Anyone who believes President Obama is less aggressive internationally than his predecessors is mistaken.

I do not yet know if I will find a Romney presidency more acceptable on foreign policy. But I do know that I must oppose the most recent statements made by Mitt Romney in which he says he, as president, could take us to war unilaterally with Iran, without any approval from Congress. His exact words were:

I can assure you if I’m president, the Iranians will have no question but that I will be willing to take military action if necessary to prevent them from becoming a nuclear threat to the world. I don’t believe at this stage, therefore, if I’m president that we need to have a war powers approval or special authorization for military force. The president has that capacity now.

This is a misreading of the role of the president and Congress in declaring war. 

The Constitution clearly states that it is Congress that has the power to declare war, not the president. The War Powers Act also clearly states that U.S. forces are to engage in hostilities only if the circumstances are “pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”

Absent these criteria, the president has no authority to declare war.

Even if the president believes he has such authority, the War Powers Act goes on to require the president to seek congressional approval within 60 days of conflict.

No president is above the law or above the Constitution....

I will hold accountable and oppose any actions from any president, Republican or Democrat, if he declares war without congressional consent.

Good on Sen. Paul. Even in cold political calculation mode, it shows he still knows the Ron Paul non-interventionist base is important to his political future, which it is.

I blogged on the controversies surrounding Rand Paul's Romney endorsement here and here. I discuss Rand Paul's role in his father's movement in my new book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired, and in the excerpt from it in the July issue of Reason.

What Happens Next in Avina v. United States?

Earlier today we showed you the brief submitted to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals by the Obama administration for Avina v. United States, the lawsuit spawned by a wrong-door raid in which DEA agents terrified a family of four. In that post, I compared the DOJ's brief to the ruling from the Ninth Circuit. As part of that comparison, I accused the DOJ of white-washing the events that happened on January 20, 2007, when DEA agents conducted their early morning raid on the Avinas' trailer. 

(The Avinas claim that the agents swore at the family's 11- and 14-year-old daughters, yanked one of them off her bed, and put a gun to her head while handcuffing her. The DOJ's brief, meanwhile, says that the DEA agents swore sparingly and only at the parents; and omits the use of a firearm in restraining the 11-year-old.)

My white-washing remark promoted a response from Stephen Nellis, a business journalist in Santa Barbara and a Reason reader. Nellis emailed me after the second post went up with a critique of my claim and a preview of what he thinks will happen next:  

You ask, "If neither of the daughters testified about the officers’ profanity, why is it in the Ninth Circuit’s Ruling? And why did the Obama administration omit from its own brief that an officer aimed a gun at the 11-year-old's head?"

The reason is procedural. Appeals courts aren't finders of fact and aren't the courts that will decided whether the DEA actually held a gun to a little girl's head.

The Avinas lost on the motion for summary judgment that the US filed, and then the Avinas appealed. Because there has been no legal finding of fact or stipulation to facts by both parties -- and indeed the facts are hotly in dispute -- the appeals court is required to use the facts submitted by the Avinas to decide whether the issue merits a full trial. From the decision:

"Because this case comes to us on summary judgment in favor of the United States, we must view the record in the light most favorable to the Avinas, who are the non-moving parties. Brown v. City of Los Angeles, 521 F.3d 1238, 1240 (9th Cir. 2008) (per curiam). Many of the key facts that we will recite here are disputed, including the specific nature of the officers’ actions toward the minor plaintiffs."

So, to answer the questions you posed more directly: -If neither of the daughters testified about the officers’ profanity, why is it in the Ninth Circuit’s Ruling?

Because it was submitted as part of the record by the Avinas' attorneys. The parents could have testified something along the lines of "When they went into BS's room, I heard them screaming, 'Get on the fucking ground!'" There are three volumes of case record that aren't available electronically, so I can't check this. But if it's in the 9th Circuit's ruling, that means that the Avinas' side submitted it in their version of the record, whether in testimony or a sworn declaration.

-"And why did the Obama administration omit from its own brief that an officer aimed a gun at the 11-year-old's head?"

We can infer that it's because the Obama administration disputes this fact, just as it disputes whether profanity was used toward the girls.

The administration hasn't yet had a formal chance to dispute the facts in trial with its own evidence. (It goes without saying that the administration had hoped it would not have to -- that's why they wanted this to go away at the earliest possible moment with a summary judgement.)

What the 9th Circuit was asked to decide was whether there's a big enough gap between the Avinas' version of the facts and the Obama administration's version of the facts to merit a trial. In the case of the parents, they upheld the lower court's ruling: No matter which set of facts you choose, from the Avinas or from the government, the DEA's conduct was (infuriatingly, in my view) within the applicable law.

But in the case of the children, there's enough discrepancy between the two sides that it should go to trial and be sorted once and for all. What the 9th Circuit is really saying here is "We don't know what happened here, but if true, the Avina facts, which we are obligated to consider as true, would be outside of the law. We believe there should be a trial to find out what really happened." The message is that holding a gun against an 11-year-old's head would not be OK, if that is indeed what happened.

While I really appreciate Reason reporting on this case -- to my knowledge, it's the only national media that has yet done so -- I don't know that it's entirely fair journalism to accuse the Obama lawyers of white washing the facts. There's a dispute about the facts, and the Obama administration gave its side. The appeals court decided that the discrepancy is big enough that it needs a trial. To call the Obama administration's answer a white wash is to accept the Avinas facts without a trial. In any case, thanks for putting this one on the radar. The truth will come out at trial.

While I included the Ninth Circuit's disclaimer in my first post, I'll concede to Nellis his point about white-washing. I wrote it because I believe the Avinas' narrative. After all, it was just last month that federal agents took a 12-year-old girl out of her bed and a 2-year-old out of his crib while conducting a raid and marched the oldest one around her parents' house at gunpoint. 

But there's another reason to weigh the Avinas' claim more heavily. The Ninth Circuit doesn't do fact-finding, yet the Obama administration's brief is full of fact claims. The brief says that the officers did not use profanity with the little girls, and that the officers "assisted" the youngest one out of her bed. Which is to say, it rebuts the Avinas' narrative room by room, restrained family member by family member. Except for one important moment: The Obama administration's brief makes zero mention of whether an officer aimed a gun at the youngest daugher's head while another agent cuffed her. It doesn't elaborate on the claim, veryify it, or deny it. So, perhaps the question I should have asked above is, Why did the administration clarify/rebut every moment of the Avinas' narrative except the most heinous allegation

Nellis offers an answer for this: "It goes without saying that the administration had hoped it would not have to—that's why they wanted this to go away at the earliest possible moment with a summary judgement."

If that's the case, I don't blame them. It's election season, and we're talking about putting two teenage girls on the stand to talk about how federal agents in paramilitary gear swore at them, handcuffed them, and pointed guns in their faces when they were children.  

As Nellis says, the truth will out at trial, assuming the case goes to trial: The Obama administration has 45 days from the date of the Ninth Circuit's ruling to determine if it'll continue defending the case. 

Ron Paul: This is Why We Fight

Ron Paul, still a congressman until January, reminds many of his supporters why he'll be missed, talking about war talk regarding Syria on the floor of Congress.

"Whether or not we attack yet another country, occupying it and setting up a new regime sets up a serious constitutional question. From where does the president get such authority?...Sadly the people don't object. Once again we are about to engage in military action and at the same time irresponsibly reactivating the Cold War with Russia...Would we tolerate Russia in Mexico demanding a humanitarian solution to the violence on the U.S/Mexican border?....

"It's time the United States tried a policy of diplomacy seeking peace, trade and friendship....it's time to bring our troops home and establish a non-interventionist foreign policy which is the only road to peace and prosperity....This week I'm introducing legislation to prohibit the administration absent a declaration of war by Congress from supporting directly or indirectly any military or paramilitary operations in Syria. I hope my colleagues will join me in this effort."

 

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

U.N. Out of My Inbox!: New Spam Rules May Limit Internet Freedom

Internet users, beware—a little-known United Nations body may soon give the government the right to poke around your inbox.

As Senior Editor Peter Suderman recently reported, nations in the U.N.’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) are scheduled to meet in December at the World Conference on International Communications (WCIT) to discuss proposals and finalize negotiations over Internet regulation rules. These proposals have been kept under wraps—that is, until the watchdog website WCITleaks.org released official documents on Friday, revealing plans to control the Internet on an international level. Sounds scary? Well, it is.

Leaked proposals from nations like Russia, China, and the Arab States uncover plans that may give the U.N. power to intervene on issues of Web content filtering and cybersecurity, while legitimizing government censorship. One such proposal, supported by Russia, Egypt, Rwanda, and Algeria, aims to add an international legal definition of spam to the ITU’s existing treaty. The establishment of such a definition would provide governments a legal excuse to inspect personal emails in the name of fighting the spam menace. And while the document notes that the United States does not support the inclusion of a spam definition, delegates from the U.S. have made little attempt to prevent authoritarian nations from pushing legislation that may greatly limit online freedom.

Other provisions listed in the 212-page document include a provision from China that “encourages Member States...to take appropriate measures for ensuring network security”—a mildly-phrased addition that the Internet Society calls “a very active and inappropriate role in patrolling and enforcing newly defined standards of behaviour on telecommunication and Internet networks.”

Internet regulation is frightening, no doubt, but internationally recognized justification for governmental snooping? Now that just bytes.

The folks at Tech Liberation Front parse the implications of WCIT preparations here.

Reno Newspaper Photographer, 60, Assaulted by Deputies While Covering Fire

Reno Gazette-Journal Photo Director Tim Dunn was thrown to the ground by a pair of deputies while trying to cover a fire. Via his own newspaper:

A 60-year-old Reno Gazette-Journal photojournalist was thrown to the ground, handcuffed and suffered minor injuries Monday after sheriff’s deputies allege he obstructed and resisted them while trying to take photographs of a destructive fire in Sun Valley.

About 5:42 p.m., Monday Washoe County Sheriff’s Office deputies cited Tim Dunn for obstruction and resisting.

Dunn, the newspaper’s photo director and a 21-year employee there, was taking photos of a fire that broke out near Flora Way and East Fourth Avenue that ultimately destroyed two homes and multiple structures.

Dunn said he was told to leave the area, and directed to another location farther away from the scene. He said he was ultimately taken to the ground by two deputies — one who shoved his foot on his back, and the other who pushed his face in the gravel. His cheek has a large scrape on it.

Dunn said deputies claimed he was trying to impersonate a firefighter by wearing similar protective gear, which is the kind of thing you should wear when you're near a fire, which is why firefighters wear them in the first place:

Beryl Love, Gazette-Journal executive editor, said there have been several instances during the past year where staff were not given access to scenes where they had a right to be.

But Love said Monday’s incident goes above and beyond press access.

“The brutal nature in which Tim, a veteran photographer with more than 20 years experience, was treated by sheriff’s deputies is beyond comprehension,” Love said. “Their use of excessive force on a fellow professional who also has an important job to do is shocking. His rights were clearly violated.”

Love said the newspaper is preparing a formal administrative complaint and is advising Dunn on possible civil actions related to his injuries.

Hat tip to Thomas Lucente Jr.

Rio + 20 Earth Summit Collapses

At least that is what apoplectic Greenpeace spokesperson Kumi Naidoo is claiming in a press release:

“The future we want has gotten a little further away today. Rio+20 has turned into an epic failure. It has failed on equity, failed on ecology and failed on economy.”

“We were promised the 'future we want' but are now being present with a 'common vision' of a polluter’s charter that will cook the planet, empty the oceans and wreck the rain forests.“

“This is not a foundation on which to grow economies or pull people out of poverty, it’s the last will and testament of a destructive twentieth century development model.” ...

“World leaders will begin to descend on Rio today and we have to ask why? We were promised a green economy, the Future we Want, but all we can look forward to is three more days of Greenwash.”

Indeed why? In any case, Naidoo is complaining about the new version of The Future We Want declaration that the leaders gathering here in Rio are expected to endorse by Friday. I can't be sure that there are not some pernicious policies shrouded in UNspeak in the document, but a quick glance through it suggests that the hopes of Naidoo and friends for establishing a global system of central ecological planning have largely been disappointed this time. Come greenwash or greenpower, I will continue to report from the Rio + 20 conference until it whimpers to its end.

Austin Police Revise Policy on Use of Lethal Force on Dogs After April Puppycide Drew National Attention

In April, Austin police officer Thomas Griffin shot and killed Cisco, a pet blue heeler. As is often the case in these kinds of incidents, the officer was at the wrong home. After barking orders at the panicked homeowner, the police officer shot the dog despite being told the dog was harmless, according to Michael Paxton, the homeowner.

Now, because of the national attention the incident drew, the Austin Police Department is revising its rules of engagements on dogs. From KUT News in Austin:

“Before an officer takes action, there needs to be an imminent threat of bodily injury,” [Austin Police Department Chief of Staff David] Carter says, “whereas in the past, it would describe that the animal was dangerous.” Additionally, officers would need to “justify the position of using a firearm, versus using some other method to repel a dog, if that’s necessary. For example using a nightstick, or chemical spray, or a tazer, or some other thing such as that.”  Additional responsibility now also falls on the officer’s supervisor to investigate such shootings, instead of having the officer self-report on the circumstances of the shooting.

As the commentariat here often notes, our brave postal workers enter backyards and engage with America’s dogs every day and incidents are rare. Puppycide by cops, on the other hand, seems to happen much more often.

Brian Doherty on Ron Paul’s Clone Army

Ron Paul has guaranteed that his voice—arguing, as always, for shrinking the scope of the U.S. government at home and abroad—will be heard at the Republican National Convention in Tampa this August. Meanwhile, his ability to draw a crowd remain undiminished, with thousands routinely turning out for campus visits throughout the spring.

That said, writes Senior Editor Brian Doherty, 2012 marks the end of Ron Paul’s career as a politician. He is not running to retain the Texas House seat he has held since 1997, and there is no realistic chance that he will ponder another White House run in 2016 at the ripe old age of 81. The future of Paul’s ideas in the Republican Party will depend not on him but on the voters, activists, and politicians who follow in his footsteps. And as Doherty observes, Paul has inspired a new generation of GOP candidates eager to carry on in his mold.

View this article

Romney Edit Stirs Controversy, Wrongly Raided Mom Wants ATF To Pay, Big Apple Buzzes With Bees: P.M. Links

  • MSNBC catches flack after the news network broadcast Mitt Romney voicing surprise at being able to buy a sandwich in a convenience story, but clipped out the fact that the gee-whiz moment was a set-up for a comparison of private efficiency to government inefficiency.
  • As evidence that Europe's woes continue to accumulate, the yield on Spain's 10-year bond hit a record high above seven percent before easing a bit as the country's borrowing costs rise.
  • Dharun Ravi, convicted in a high-profile case of bias crimes for using a webcam to spy on his gay roommate's encounter with another man, left a New Jersey jail after serving 20 days of a 30-day sentence.
  • Liberty For All Political Action Committee, founded by a young millionaire to support libertarian-leaning candidates, is hiring former Ron Paul aides to keep its efforts on-target. The group is already credited with shifting the outcome in a Kentucky congressional race.
  • New York City is troubled by bee swarms at roughly double the frequency seen in previous years. Mild weather is widely blamed, but so is a recent craze for bee-keeping. Locavore honey, anybody?
  • Two years after ATF agents violently raided her home looking for a previous tenant, Amanda Griego is filing suit, hoping for an apology and perhaps some compensation for the emotional trauma suffered by her young son.
  • California's scheme to centralize tax-collection intelligence-gathering efforts passed the Senate and is under consideration in the Assembly.
  • Same-sex marriage is on the November ballot in Washington state, and looks likely to pass, with a poll revealing that supporters have a 51-40 percent lead.

Do you want hot links and other Reason goodies delivered to your inbox twice a day? Sign up here for Reason's morning and afternoon news updates.

Why Not Force Somebody Who Hates You to Be Your Therapist?

Should a counselor or therapist be required to serve clients whose lives they find objectionable?

That’s the question at the heart of a conflict heating up in Michigan over whether counselors can refuse to counsel gay clients if they hold religious objections to homosexuality.

In 2009, Julea Ward, then a master’s student at Eastern Michigan University, asked for a student assigned to her for counseling to be reassigned due to her religious objections to the student's homosexual relationship. Ward was subsequently dismissed from the university for violating the American Counseling Association’s Code of Ethics by declining to counsel the student. She is suing, claiming her constitutional rights have been violated.

Now Michigan’s legislature is wading in. Their House passed HB 5040 June 12, the “Julea Ward freedom of conscience act,” which prohibits public colleges from punishing students who refuse to provide counseling or therapy to clients if doing so conflicts with their personal religious beliefs.

LGBT and civil liberties groups (including the ACLU) have lined up against the legislation, according to the Huffington Post:

While the legislation has gained the support of the Michigan Family Forum and the state's Attorney General, it has also attracted a diverse coalition opposing the bill. Equality Michigan, an LGBT group said on their website that the bill "threatens clients seeking counseling with rejection based on their race, relationship status, and faith, or, yes, because of their sexual orientation" and "sends the message that medical decisions can be based on religious and personal beliefs and not on what’s in the best interest of the patient."

The legislation also has also come under fire from a variety of organizations. The American Civil Liberties Union, The National Organization for Women and state educational institutions and professional groups including The Michigan School of Professional Psychology, the Michigan School Counselor Association, the Michigan Counseling Association, the Council on Social Work Education, the National Association of Social Workers and the Michigan Association of Social, the Presidents' Council of Public Universities of Michigan and Western Michigan University all oppose the measure.

I’ll raise essentially the same question I raised when we were looking at a photographer’s refusal to shoot a gay wedding: Why on earth would any gay, bisexual or transgendered person want to get counseling from a woman who has moral objections to their very sexual identities? What level of quality of service is some college kid struggling with his or her sexual identity going to get from some religious fundamentalist being forced to choke back her bile in order to help them in the manner American Counseling Association’s code demands? Would any parent want their struggling gay teen to be seen by this woman? Is sending any gay person to Ward for counseling “in the best interests of the patient”? What is the actual fight here?

Equality Michigan doesn’t help matters by trying to lump in counseling and therapy with medical treatment. A doctor’s religious beliefs shouldn’t affect his physical ability to provide appropriate medical services (though the question of whether or not you’d want to risk it remains). A therapist’s attitude toward a person’s sexual identity has to color his or her advice, no matter what “code of ethics” the authorities hold over the therapist’s head.

Really, what Ward's opposition wants is for Ward to stop objecting to homosexuality or to not be a counselor, neither of which should be their call at this point. If Ward is able to perform the functions of a counselor, let the market decide if there is a place for a woman engaging in her behavior. A college may not be able to refuse giving her a diploma, but it should be able to refuse to hire her as an employee on the basis of her inability to serve a good chunk of its customers.

There is a significant amount of fear about the continued existence of ex-gay therapy, but that is a cultural issue, not a government issue (though California is looking to ban ex-gay therapy for minors). The ex-gay movement is losing badly. American culture has clearly chosen against them. Freaking out over the extreme anomaly Ward represents is not a good use of anybody’s time.

The law, though, is stupid (we know this because it’s named after a person). The state’s legislature has no place dictating college academic standards in this fashion, but that’s the price for having colleges funded by the government in the first place. They will be subjected to the whims of whatever political faction has the most power.

Public TV Execs Fall In Alabama

A shakeup is underway at Alabama Public Television, where two executives have been fired for reasons unclear and four more have subsequently quit. According to the trade journal Current, dismissed CFO Pauline Howland

In Birmingham they love the pledge drives...

said she was "baffled" by the dismissals. But she also recalled how [fired executive director Allan] Pizzato had asked staff in April for advice about a series of videos that [Alabama Educational Television Commission members] wanted [Alabama Public Television] to air.

The videos featured David Barton, an evangelical minister and conservative activist whose publications and media appearances promote his theories about the religious intentions of America's founders. He frequently appears on political commentary programs hosted by conservative Glenn Beck.

The American Heritage Series, a 10-part DVD series offered by Barton's Texas-based organization WallBuilders LLC, "presents America's forgotten history and heroes, emphasizing the moral, religious and constitutional foundation on which America was built." Christian broadcast networks Cornerstone Television and Trinity Broadcasting Networks air the series, according to the website.

AETC Commissioner Rodney Herring, an Opelika-based chiropractor, had provided the series to APT for broadcast consideration.

I should stress that we do not know that Pizzato and Howland were fired for refusing to air the program. I will not be surprised if it turns out that they were, but I also will not be surprised if we learn that there is more to this incident than the dispute over the Barton series. The story is still developing.

Meanwhile, what's really interesting here is that commission that's been sending down suggestions of what to air. What, you might wonder, is that? Is this some insidious new scheme to keep broadcasters under control?

More like an insidious old scheme. Alabama, you may be surprised to hear, was a pioneer of public television. The state government created the Alabama Educational Television Commission in 1953, and the state's first public TV station went on the air in 1955, a dozen years before the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was born. Its second station was launched later that year, making Alabama the first state in the U.S. to have its own public TV network.

That meant Alabama had a public TV network when the civil rights revolution was in full bloom. And how, you might ask, did a set of stations subsidized by the legislature and governed by a commission of political appointees cover the protests? James Ledbetter tells the story in his 1998 book Made Possible By...:

If we don't do it, who will?U.S. News & World ReportIt is no exaggeration to say that in Alabama, the issues of segregation and civil rights could incite some people to violence. The response, therefore, of the AETC was to avoid these issues, in nearly any form....Decades later, PBS would bring to public television viewers compelling images of civil rights marches in Eyes on the Prize and Freedom on My Mind, but while those events were actually transpiring, they were forbidden on southern systems such as AETC.

AETC's blinders strategy was made simpler by the fact that through the mid-'70s, the AETC had no black commissioners, no black professional staff, and no blacks on its program board. The programming offered by National Educational Television [a precursor to PBS] was laden with discussions -- sometimes quite provocative -- about civil rights and related race issues, and many of those programs carried into the early years of PBS. These programs might well have created controversy in Alabama -- and thus they were not aired....

The most outrageous example of the Alabama network's TV apartheid was its failure to cover a burning racial issue in its own backyard: the multiyear struggle to desegregate the schools in Alabama's Macon County. Beginning in 1964, a federal court had ordered Governor George Wallace to desegregate the state's schools, beginning in Macon County, and when he refused, teachers and parents struggled for years to force compliance in the mostly black county. When asked why AETC had omitted ever mentioning what was arguably the most important local issue of the decade, the general manager of the AETC, Raymond Hurlbert, testified before the FCC that he was only "vaguely aware" of the story, and that the AETC had taken "no steps to investigate the legal controversies" it brought up.

Civil rights activists were so disgusted with the network that in the '70s a bunch of them filed to strip the state of its broadcast licenses. They very nearly succeeded, too, though the FCC wound up delaying rather than blocking the license renewals.

Political funding means political interference. Jim Crow Alabama was an extreme example of the rule, but it is hardly the only illustration. The first state to build a public broadcasting network was also the first to show just how poisonous such subsidies can be.

Ron Paul: Still Raising Bucks, and How and Why Working Within the GOP is Working For Him

Ron Paul, even in the month of May when everyone decided he had left the race, raised another $1.78 million. What might the continued willingness of Paul supporters to give and play politics mean moving forward?

Paul supporter Rick Fisk explains defends the Paul campaign against cries of "sellout!" for playing the game of Republican electoral politics. Highlights:

[Paul] supporters would have to become involved in politics. They would have to become delegates at the precinct, county and state levels to ensure that the national convention in Tampa would be packed with Ron Paul supporters.

The strategy has proved to be more than brilliant and perhaps, even if Ron Paul is not elected to the Presidency or even nominated for that matter, provides a means to restore liberty in the United States. Paul has won a plurality of delegates in at least 5 states. In at least 16 states, Paul supporters have almost completely remade their state parties, and we are still 2 months away from the Tampa convention. 

By becoming delegates and active party members, supporters will be the future politicians and representatives of their communities. They think and act for themselves and carry the founding principles of this country with them. They are independents, former Democrats, and disgruntled Republicans who are fed up with the debt and slavery being handed to them by a bureaucracy in Washington that views them as human capital for their designs on remaking the world....

Then there are the side-line watchers. These people, bless their hearts, post on Facebook, Twitter and the Daily Paul cheering on the delegates and the candidate and donating their hard-earned money to send Mr. Smith to Washington.

Until……

Things started getting rough (political) and the ugliness of politics is exposed.

....to add insult to injury to those not involved in the politics, Rand Paul endorsedRomney, and Jack Hunter attempted to defend Rand Paul’s political gambit.

Another firestorm erupted. This time, however, some supporters became so angry, that they began venting their frustration by attacking anyone who suggested that the endorsement, an age-old political move designed to curry favor, was a shrewd move, going so far as to post very nasty comments on Carol Paul’s Facebook page. Really? Carol deserved to be the object of ire?

Alex Jones and Adam Kokesh, two pundits who were formerly friendly to the Ron Paul movement, decided to turn on the Pauls and on Jack Hunter, accusing them of “selling out” their principles and going so far as to claim that Ron Paul himself would soon be endorsing Romney and throwing the entire movement under the bus.....

 those who have had to work in the dirty system, and who still believe that the restoration of liberty is the sole reason to continue, have paid no mind to the external soap opera that is the political couch potato’s realm.

....in Iowa....the state GOP Convention participants elected the remaining 13 delegate positions representing Iowa in Tampa. 12 of them were for Ron Paul, bringing his total of Iowa delegates there to 21 of the total 25 available. Oh, and some weeks ago, that empty chairman’s slot was filled by a Ron Paul supporter.

What the media had declared were Romney’s delegates in Iowa, are in reality Ron Paul’s delegates.

While the couch potatos and Facebook warriors cry foul and “sell out,” the real warriors soldier on in the hopes that one-day, it will never be necessary to endorse a candidate who wouldn’t know liberty from the family dog on the roof of his SUV.

They engage in the nasty, dirty politics of Ron Paul so you won’t have to.

*Paul Mulshine, a journalist who has followed the Paul story for a long time, sees a sign of Paulite progress in the Lieberman factor:

[Paul] knew he could put together a contingent of supporters who could keep this year's convention from being the sort of disgrace the last one was.

And if you doubt that one was a disgrace, forget about the way in which the John McCain forces locked out the Ron Paul forces.

Focus instead on who they did invite to speak at the convention:

Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman is a Connecticut liberal who was Al Gore's Democratic running mate in 2000.

That McCain could invite him to speak at the convention - and even consider him for the No. 2 slot on the ticket - shows how far left the Republican Party had drifted during the Bush years.

By then it was obvious that so-called "neo" conservatives weren't just left-wing in their foreign policy, which a polite person might call "Wilsonian" and an impolite one "Trotskyist."

These big-spending RINOs were also liberal enough domestically to have a prominent sponsor of the welfare state like Lieberman address the party of Taft and Goldwater.

No wonder these people hated Ron Paul so much.

It's different this time around. Paul organized inside the party, not outside. I'm willing to bet that future campaigns will be modeled on the one he ran this year.

*Grace Wyler at Business Insider, another perspicacious follower of the Paul story, sees signs that the fix is likely in on prominent Paul presence on the floor at the Tampa GOP convention:

James Milliman, Sen. Paul's state director, explained the logic to a group of Young Republicans in Louisville, Ky., last week: 

"As a practical matter, you have to endorse a candidate before the convention — Romney is going to get the nomination, no doubt about that at all, so it behooves everyone to have Sen. Paul to endorse him before the convention," Milliman said"It could enable Sen. Paul to have a prime speaking role at the convention, and his dad to have a prime speaking role at the convention. I think those things factored in." 

James Poulos at Forbes on why the Republican Party, and the libertarian world, should not be afraid of Paul influence on the GOP:

Establishment Republicans have been eager to get past the part of the election cycle where Ron Paul has played an outsized role. Rand Paul’s recent endorsement of Mitt Romneydivided libertarians, but the Paul heir’s apparent capitulation to business as usual actually underscores how the GOP faces a more complex challenge to the ideological status quo....

While Ron keeps the grassroots purists happy, Rand admits freely that he’d be “honored” to serve as Romney’s vice president. From one angle, this seems a dangerous approach: it could give the Pauls the worst of both worlds, discrediting themselves among libertarians and Republicans alike.

There are two potent reasons why it’s not such a high-risk move, however. First, there’s not much of an alternative. Second, libertarians and Republicans alike have a deep-seated need to have it both ways in just the manner the Pauls are achieving. 

Consider the alternatives to the two-prong strategy — giving up on politics altogether, assimilating completely into the Republican party, and doubling down on the Libertarian party itself. It’s clear that libertarians are enjoying their moment of increased national relevance; given the libertarian cast of some frustrations on the left with Obama and the continued disenchantment of many conservatives with establishmentarianism on the right, there’s much less to savor about turning a cold shoulder to the national political scene....

Despite the protracted bickering and fretting this may cause, it leaves everyone on the right better off. Booting the Paul people from the GOP might gratify some neoconservatives, it’s not possible to expel them without performing a full libertarianectomy — and any Republican who’s willing even to risk that outcome just isn’t serious about winning elections (to say nothing of any fealty to Reagan Republicanism). Likewise, awkwardly navigating the borderline between libertarian and Republican purists is the only way to reassemble an effective voting and governing coalition that can replace the current administration and hold the line against congressional Democrats and movement liberals.

More than grief, Ron and Rand deserve applause from the factions they’re working to bring together.

I think the above had much truth in it--though there needs to be a vital libertarian core that is clearly willing to work and agitate outside the Republican Party to make the insiders more effective.

The story of how the Paul movement got to where it is today is told in my new book, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.

Reason Writers on TV: Peter Suderman Talks Government Censorship of the Internet with Neil Cavuto

On Monday, June 18, Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman appeared on Cavuto to discuss Google's recent report on content takedown requests from governments across the globe. Approximately four minutes. 

"The Skeptical Environmentalist": A Conversation with John Tierney and Bjorn Lomborg

"The thing that blows my mind is that we spend so much money on feeling good," says author and activist Bjorn Lomborg about "feel-good" environmentalist measures like recycling and wind turbines, "I would like us to do stuff that actually works."

The Reason Foundation hosted a conversation with Lomborg and the New York Times' John Tierney at the Museum of Sex in New York City, where they discussed how free trade and innovation could help alleviate the suffering of the third world and improve the environment, if only people could be convinced these "unsexy" ideas were of greater benefit than sorting the glass and plastic in their garbage.

Lomborg, the author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist" and the subject of the documentary film "Cool It," is also the founder and director of the Copenhagen Consensus, a Danish think-tank focused on finding the "the best ways for governments and philanthropists to spend aid and development money."

For more Reason coverage of the Copenhagen Consensus go here, here and here.

About 27 minutes.

Produced by Anthony L. Fisher.

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

Town Runs Out of Money, Takes Bike Helmet Laws Off the Books

The annual revenue of Milton, Washington, has dropped from $4.9 million in 2010 to a projected $3.9 million this year. And—unlike nearly every other unit of government in the United States today—the small town has decided to respond to the drop in revenue by doing less stuff. Novel.

In addition to cutting deals with neighboring towns to provide firefighting and library services, Milton has axed its activities director. And when an insurance consultant pointed out that having a bunch of laws on the books that the town is utterly unable to enforce is a bad idea...well, let's let The New York Times tell it:

An inability to enforce a law on the books...created administrative unevenness that — in the event of an accident by someone who was not nagged or cited about helmet use — posed a liability risk that could bankrupt the community with one swipe from a punitive-minded jury.

And plaudits to this rare small town mayor, Debra Perry, who possesses the ability—rare in politicians—to distinguish between things that are stupid and things that should be illegal:

“Of course you should wear a helmet,” she said in an interview in her office. “But this is a parents issue — parents need to be supervising their children, making sure their children are well dressed and have helmets on. Wearing flip-flops and shorts and no helmets on skateboards and bikes is just stupid.”

More on helmet laws. We are out of money.

Video Shows Cops Tasing a Restrained Woman In Accordance With a Policy That May Not Exist

Let's all sing the praises of video-recording technology and whistleblowers. And journalists looking for a big story. That's what it took to expose the tasing of a "mentally troubled" 34-year-old woman by Chariton, Iowa, police who had, ostensibly, pulled her and her boyfriend over because they feared she was the victim of domestic abuse. They ended up zapping her after they had her handcuffed and confined to a police car. And they zapped her according to a Use of Force Policy that may not exist.

Reports WHO TV:

A mentally troubled woman, tased by a Chariton police officer even after she was hogtied in the back of his police cruiser, is speaking out. 

It’s a video the Chariton Police Department does not want you to see.  It shows Sergeant Tyler Ruble tasing 34-year old Amy Storm after Storm was stopped two years ago because Ruble was investigating whether she was the victim of domestic abuse. 

The video shows officers cuffing her hands and feet, and hog-tying her…then tasing her while she was in the back seat of the police cruiser. 

After our story aired, Storm contacted us. She says she never filed a complaint because she didn’t realize there was a video.  Watching it now brings back a flood of emotions.  “I can’t believe there’s a video.” Storm says fighting back tears, “I can’t believe that’s me. I started crying. I just…I knew it was bad when it was happening.  I just didn’t realize it was that bad.  I didn’t…I didn’t realize how bad it was.”

Police cited HIPAA privacy regulations in refusing to surrender the police-taken video to the TV station. The video was obtained anyway "through someone with connections to the department." The department's reticence might be explained by WHO's report that those arms holding Storm down in the photo above belong to Lucas County Sheriff Jim Baker.

Not surprisingly, Baker, along with Chariton Police Chief Jeff Johnson, responded to the report of Storm's shocking treatment. The duo's press release (PDF) says:

[A] Chariton Police Officer, acting in conjunction with veteran officers from the Sheriff’s Office, was required to implement the City’s Use of Force policy. The subject was subdued and an arrest was made without further incident. Following the arrest the Department received no complaints or comments from any party involved in the arrest.

Baker and John also complained that they were "willing to comply with WHO’s request for release of the video, but the City needed to confirm first that the privacy rights of non-City personnel shown in the video were protected as provided by federal and state law."

Responds WHO:

In a written statement the police chief defends the tasing saying it’s been reviewed by his department and the city.  But that’s news to the mayor, who admits he’s never seen any such report.  The mayor then refused to answer any more of our questions.

WHO also pointed out in its initial broadcast that they had been refused access to the Use of Force Policy on the grounds that it was being revised and did not address the use of Tasers.

Ouch.

Amy Storm is now pursuing legal action.

Note: I can't get the video to embed. See it here.

The VICE Guide to Karachi, Pakistan's Most-Violent City!

 

Friend of Reason Jason Mojica reports from Karachi, Pakistan, where far more people are killed by fellow Pakistanis than by U.S. drone strikes. Click above to watch and read on, MacDuff:

Sure, we hear about violence in Pakistan all the time, but in 2011, more than three times as many people were killed in Karachi than the number of people killed in American drone strikes in the tribal areas. VICE explores the seedy underbelly of this ultra-violent metropolis of more than eighteen million people, and meet the players who make Karachi one of the craziest cities on earth.

Hosted by VICE Founder Suroosh Alvi

More VICE and Mojica stuff.

Gene Healy on Barack Obama's Executive Unilateralism

President Obama's "royal dispensation" for young immigrants is hardly the most terrifying instance of administration unilateralism. As a policy matter, writes Gene Healy, it's a humane and judicious use of prosecutorial resources. But given the context, it stinks. It looks uncomfortably like implementing parts of a bill that didn't pass, and—carried out as it was with great fanfare and an eye to the impending election—the move sits uneasily with the president's constitutional responsibility to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed."

View this article

Senator Claire McCaskill Claims Senate Not Passing a Budget a “Talking Point,” Because Apparently Raising the Debt Ceiling is Enough

The Quincy Journal caught up with Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill over the weekend. Asked when the Senate might once more pass a budget, McCaskill, who is up for re-election in November, told the Journal: “The Senate passed a budget last August… we put it in the law for two years, the budget for two years, and actually ten years going forward, but legal spending caps for two years.” She went on to call the fact that the Senate hasn’t actually passed a budget in years a “talking point by the political right.”

McCaskill is referring to the Budget Control Act, passed to raise the debt ceiling last summer. In April, the Senate’s parliamentarian, appointed by Harry Reid, ruled that the law could not stop a Senator from introducing a budget resolution. Patrick Knudsen at the Heritage Foundation explained how the ruling confirms what the sober should know, that passing the Budget Control Act is not the same as passing a budget.

The last time the Senate passed a budget was, indeed, in April of 2009. That budget was described as a “spending blueprint” for the then newly-inaugurated president, who said the budget “builds on the steps we’ve taken over the last one hundred days to move this economy from recession to recovery and ultimately to prosperity.” That budget passed on a largely party line vote. In May of 2011, the president’s budget failed 97-0 in the Senate. The president has a 2013 budget plan, but Senate Democrats hope to be able to avoid having to vote on it, for obvious reasons.

Republicans in the House, meanwhile, have been passing budgets since winning control of the chamber in 2010, but those don’t generally pass the laugh test either.

More Reason on the federal budget.

Here's How the Obama Administration Defended DEA Agents Who Put a Gun to a Little Girl's Head

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that the DEA’s use of force against the 11-year-old and 14-year-old daughters of Thomas and Rosalie Avina--which included putting a gun to the youngest girl's head--was “excessive,” “unreasonable,” and constituted “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

Attorneys for the Obama administration defended the raid, and Reason has obtained the brief the DOJ filed to the Ninth Circuit. In it, the Obama administration argues that “the DEA agents’ conduct was plainly reasonable under the circumstances.”

MORE »

Where in the World Will Mitt Romney Get the Money to Fund His Promised Increase in Defense Spending?

GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney likes to give speeches in front a big banner that reads "cut the spending." But he remains coy about what he wants to see cut, and there's one major part of the budget that he says he'd actually like to see increased significantly: defense spending.

Romney has not only not promised to cap military spending, he's consistently touted his promise to subject the military budget to a mandatory minmum equal to 4 percent of GDP, which would make the Pentagon budget 0.7 points higher than the defense spending baseline under President Obama. Where's he going to get the money for a big spending increase? The best answer is: He's probably not going to get it from anywhere.

Cato's Christopher Preble points to a Defense News article making the obvious point: Even if you can make the numbers add up, the politics don't.

Yet combined with his commitment to cut taxes and reduce the national debt, Romney’s pledge to grow the defense budget appears politically impossible, if technically doable, according to defense budget experts.

“If you put all of the promises together, it doesn’t all add up,” said Todd Harrison, a senior fellow for defense budget studies at the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

“The administration may change, but the math remains the same,” Harrison said. “If you want to increase spending on defense over the next decade and reduce the deficit, then that necessarily means sharp reductions in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid or sharp increases in taxes, or some combination of the two. But those are the major components you have to work with within the budget.”

Over the past decade, the U.S. government borrowed to increase spending, including money to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and larger base budgets at the Pentagon.

According to Preble's calculations, Romney's spending floor would require a 42 percent increase in defense spending compared to the Reagan era and a 64 percent increase over average annual budgets post Cold War. All together, the requirement would add $2.58 trillion over the next decade's current baseline. That's an even bigger challenge given Romney's other commitments. He has variously promised to cap overall government spending as a percentage of GDP, not cut Medicare, and not raise taxes. How might all of these promises fit together? Romney won't say, admitting that his budget plan can't be scored. Independent analysts that have tried to score his proposals suggest it will increase the debt over the next decade.

The 4 percent spending floor is the sort of policy gimmick that suggests that Romney doesn't take spending or budgeting seriously. He and his campaign just throw out ideas because they think it's what people want to hear. It's absurd to think that these sorts of increases in defense spending are at all necessary. And it's just as absurd to think that they're even remotely plausible given the political climate and the rest of Romney's stated policy commitments. 

Spin Discovers a Drug 'Worth Freaking Out About'

"After decades of misguided hysteria," says Spin magazine, "the War on Drugs may have an epidemic worth freaking out about, and it's spreading across state and demographic lines at the speed of the Internet." In other words, all those other drug scares were bullshit, but this time you really should panic! As you may have guessed, the subject of this shamelessly sensational story, which purports to take us "DEEP IN THE HEART OF AMERICA'S NEW DRUG NIGHTMARE," is "a relatively obscure but insidiously metastasizing illegal substance marketed under the name 'bath salts.'"

Actually, as the author, freelancer Natasha Vargas-Cooper, later clarifies, it's a bunch of different stimulants, tweaked to stay ahead of state and federal bans, so that "you have no idea what you're putting in your body," as a DEA lab director tells her. Vargas-Cooper nevertheless portrays this gray market of mysterious, ever-shifting drugs sold "not for human consumption" (to avoid trouble with the FDA) as "an exercise in decriminalization." She emphasizes that people are attracted to "bath salts" largely because their quasi-legal status makes them easier to obtain than more familiar drugs and because they are not detected by standard drug tests. Yet she does not pause to consider the role of prohibition in pushing people toward untested, potentially more dangerous alternatives to banned intoxicants.

That is probably because Vargas-Cooper is so focused on telling us that "bath salts," no matter which specific chemicals they contain, are scarier than the scariest drug that yellow journalists like her have ever warned us about. "The last four decades have seen plenty of whipped-up hysteria about various fad intoxicants of the moment," she concedes. "But the fear generated by bath salts seems well earned." Why? Because even Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana Poison Center, is worried, telling Vargas-Cooper "bath salts" are "the worst drug" he has seen in his two decades there. "With LSD," he says, "you might see pink elephants, but with this drug, you see demons, aliens, extreme paranoia, heart attacks, and superhuman strength like Superman. If you had a reaction, it was a bad reaction." Ryan is the famously level-headed expert who last year told The New York Times that "bath salts" combine "the worst attributes of meth, coke, PCP, LSD and ecstasy." Vargas-Cooper likewise describes "bath salts" as "a lab-brewed drug that unpredictably mimics a freakish combination of coke, meth, and Ecstasy"—in other words, "the stuff of a D.A.R.E. officer's most florid nightmare." 

You might wonder whether Ryan, whose job focuses exclusively on negative drug reactions, is the best authority to consult for a balanced view of an intoxicant's risks and benefits. You might also wonder how a drug that offers nothing but bad trips got to be so alarmingly popular. You might wonder those things, but Vargas-Cooper does not. Instead she reinforces Ryan's skewed perspective with dubious anecdotes. She cites "a 19-year-old West Virginia man" who "claimed he was high on bath salts when he stabbed his neighbor's pygmy goat while wearing women's underwear." From which readers should conclude what? That "bath salts" (again, regardless of which specific substances they contain) make men don women's underwear and stab goats? Vargas-Cooper undermines that warning by describing her encounter with a couple of heroin junkies who shoot up "bath salts" in a Las Vegas hotel room while she watches. No goats are harmed. (Intriguingly, the synthetic marijuana known as spice has been linked to capricide as well.)

Vargas-Cooper also mentions "a Mississippi man" who "skinned himself alive while under the influence." It's a good thing she specifies that he skinned himself alive; otherwise readers might imagine that he rose from the dead to do it. Speaking of zombies, here is my favorite part of the article:

Perhaps the most infamous incident tied to bath salts is Rudy Eugene's horrific naked face-eating attack in Miami in May, although conclusive toxicology reports have yet to be released; still, the fact that this feels like the closest thing to a credible explanation for chewing a homeless man's head for 18 minutes speaks volumes about the drug's reputation.

So far Rudy Eugene's gruesome assault on Ronald Poppo is "tied to bath salts" only because reckless reporters like Vargas-Cooper say it is. There is no physical evidence of any kind to back up that claim, and as far as we know no one has ever gnawed off a homeless man's face under the influence of "bath salts." To Vargas-Cooper, however, "this feels like the closest thing to a credible explanation," which "speaks volumes about the drug's reputation." What a wonderfully circular justification for anti-drug scaremongering: We don't know what this drug does, but people seem to believe us when we say it causes outbursts of vicious, irrational violence, so there must be some truth to it.

Previous coverage of "bath salts" here.

[Thanks to Mark Sletten for the tip.]

Dharun Ravi Released from Jail, Will Not Be Deported for Spying on Gay Roommate

Dharun Ravi, 20, the former Rutgers student convicted of a hate crime for using a web cam to spy on his gay roommate (who then committed suicide), was released Tuesday morning in New Jersey after serving 20 days of his 30-day jail sentence.

On Monday immigration officials announced they would not deport Ravi. Ravi is an Indian citizen but has lived most of his life in America.

Jacob Sullum has written extensively about the trumped-up case, which could have landed Ravi in jail for 10 years, an outcome that nobody seemed to actually want. Based on the response in some quarters that 30 days was a “slap on the wrist” for secretly watching Tyler Clementi kiss another guy, it is clear that people believe that Ravi should be held somewhat accountable for Clementi’s subsequent suicide. It’s hard to imagine anybody thinking Ravi should get more than a 30-day jail sentence for a five-second spying session had Clementi not killed himself.

Two big myths about the Ravi case still persist, and I’ve seen them in online comments from people who think Ravi’s sentence was too lenient: One, that Ravi recorded Clementi having sex and streamed it live online; and two, that Clementi was in the closet and Ravi outed him. Both of these claims are false. The New York Times is still inaccurately reporting that Ravi used his camera to watch Clementi have sex (though Ravi did seem to intend to do so in his second failed spying attempt).

In any event, you’d think the possibility that Ravi could have served 10 years for this incident due to overzealous prosecutors would prompt hate crime law supporters to realize that sentencing enhancements are a terrible way to encourage social reform, but I’ve seen nothing to indicate this has happened. Instead, we get analyses of how sincere Ravi's apology was or was not.

The Future of the Libertarian-Conservative Alliance, Featuring Matt Welch vs. Jonah Goldberg and Nick Gillespie vs. Ann Coulter

In the 1950s and ’60s, libertarians, social conservatives, and anti-communists found enough common cause to create a robust new postwar conservative movement. The cobbling together of this disparate coalition, a process National Review editor Frank Meyer dubbed “fusionism,” came to reshape the Republican Party and America itself. Is fusionism making a comeback today as a broad backlash against big government gathers force and the Tea Party and the Ron Paul movement help inject libertarianism back into conservatism?

Two debates in February between Reason editors and prominent conservative commentators grappled with these questions. At Colorado’s Independence Institute, Nick Gillespie clashed with right-wing controversialist Ann Coulter over the question, “Can fiscal and social conservatives pull together in 2012?” Meanwhile, at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, D.C., Matt Welch debated AEI scholar and National Review Contributing Editor Jonah Goldberg on the question, “Are libertarians part of the conservative movement?”

View this article

Justice Clarence Thomas and the Original Meaning of the Commerce Clause

At the Social Science Research Network, Claremont McKenna College professor Ralph A. Rossum has posted his fascinating University of Detroit Mercy Law Review article “Clarence Thomas’s Originalist Understanding of the Interstate, Negative, and Indian Commerce Clauses.” Here’s a sample from the abstract:

During his twenty years on the Supreme Court, Justice Clarence Thomas has pursued an original understanding approach to constitutional interpretation. He has been unswayed by the claims of precedent — by the gradual build-up of interpretations that, over time, completely distort the original understanding of the constitutional provision in question and lead to muddled decisions and contradictory conclusions. Like too many layers of paint on a delicately crafted piece of furniture, precedent based on precedent — focusing on what the Court said the Constitution means in past cases as opposed to focusing on what the Constitution actually means — hides the constitutional nuance and detail he wants to restore. Thomas is unquestionably the Justice who is most willing to reject this build-up, this excrescence, and to call on his colleagues to join him in scraping away past precedent and getting back to bare wood — to the original understanding of the Constitution.

The Commerce Clause is of course also central to the Supreme Court's looming decision on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Whatever else that ruling holds in store, I think it's very safe to say we can expect Thomas to pen a powerful concurrence or dissent laying out in detail why the individual mandate violates the Constitution's original meaning.

For Reason's coverage of Thomas' originalist jurisprudence, go here.

(Thanks to The Originalism Blog for the link.)

Is the GOP’s Flip-Flop on the Individual Mandate Any Different From Democrats’ Flip-Flop on Medicare Reform?

In The New Yorker, Ezra Klein traces the history of the individual mandate to purchase health insurance, which began as a proposal by the conservative Heritage Foundation, and wonders why Republicans flip-flopped on the issue. The answer he settles on? Motivated cognition, “which Dan Kahan, a professor of law and psychology at Yale, defines as ‘when a person is conforming their assessments of information to some interest or goal that is independent of accuracy’—an interest or goal such as remaining a well-regarded member of his political party, or winning the next election, or even just winning an argument.” Republicans shifted positions, in other words, because it was politically convenient.

It’s a nifty piece, nicely researched and enjoyable to read. But I have a few quibbles on his presentation of the history, and a bigger question: Couldn’t you accuse Democrats of more or less the same thing when it comes to Medicare reform?

Let’s start with the quibbles. Klein begins his piece with a brief backstory on the mandate: It first appeared as a proposal in a Heritage policy brief, then appeared in a 1993 bill cosponsored by 18 Republicans. All true, and genuinely damning to the GOP. But I think Klein goes slightly too far in writing that the mandate was “at the heart of Republican health-care reforms for two decades.” This overstates the strength and depth of the Republican party’s support for the policy. The 1993 bill was offered as an alternative to Bill Clinton’s health care reform push at a time when some mostly moderate Republicans felt they had no choice but to offer a different plan. It wasn’t even a purely Republican proposal: Democratic Senators John Kerry and David Boren also cosponsored the legislation. And it never gained widespread GOP support; it was never voted on or even formally debated.

The mandate was not then and did not go on to become a core policy for Republican legislators in Congress; it wasn’t something any GOP elected official really wanted, that any of them would have traded anything or risked anything for. It was one part of one plan — a plan offered in a moment when a handful of Republican legislators felt like they had to offer something, anything — that never made it to a vote.

Were Republican elected officials deeply opposed to the mandate in the years between the mandate plan and President Obama’s election? Probably not. But they certainly weren’t making any push for it either. A number of the legislators who sponsored the original bill left office, and incoming legislators likely gave it little thought. At the national level, the Republican party wasn’t particularly interested in the mandate one way or another because it wasn’t particularly interested in health policy at all.

You can make a better case that the mandate remained quite popular amongst within the broader conservative policy community. Heritage continued to support the policy, as did Newt Gingrich’s health policy shop. And they did eventually convince one Republican politician that the mandate was not only a useful alternative to counter the argument that the GOP has no health care plans, but an idea worth pursuing. That politician was the governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, whose team insisted on a strong and clear mandate when drawing up plans for RomneyCare. Despite the GOP’s current loathing of the policy, Romney still defends the mandate he signed in Massachusetts. But there are few if any other prominent Republicans who ever have risked anything to support the mandate, or made any noticeable effort to get one passed.

It was a policy that some conservative policy wonks were interested in, but never one that generated long-term devotion from the vast majority of party officials or legislators — which makes it a stretch to describe it as the “heart” of GOP health policy.

Democrats and liberal policy wonks took a similar turn with Medicare premium support, now championed in broad form by both GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and the party’s leading policy entrepreneur, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. The story is remarkably similar: The idea started out as a policy promoted by prominent liberal wonks, briefly gathered support from a handful of top-level policymakers near the end of the Clinton presidency, and is now deeply opposed by the majority of Democrats, who often refer to the idea as a plan to “end Medicare as we know it” — or occasionally just a way to “end Medicare,” period.

Premium support, which would pay a flat rate toward the purchase of a private insurance plan for each Medicare beneficiary, was first developed by Alain Enthoven, a Democratic adviser who had previously served as a health policy consultant to President Jimmy Carter,  in “The History of Principles of Managed Competition” in 1993. In 1995, Henry Aaron, a scholar at Brookings who served as a senior official in President Carter’s Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, gave the policy its name — premium support — and suggested that it represented a Medicare reform compromise, a “middle ground” that could retain Medicare’s strengths but address budgetary challenges. In 1999, the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, which was chaired by Democratic Senator John Breaux and included Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey, met to develop a proposal to reform the seniors’ health entitlement. The first item in the final proposal put forth by Breaux and supported by Kerrey was “the design of a premium support system.”

And just as Democrats saw hope for bipartisan agreement in the GOP’s previous support for the mandate, Republicans like Paul Ryan saw hope for bipartisan Medicare reform in previous Democratic acceptance of premium support.

Was premium support the “heart” of the Democrats’ Medicare reform plan for years? Not exactly. But it was developed by liberal wonks who served in Democratic administrations and supported in a national commission run by a Democrat. At least one Democratic Senator — Oregon’s Ron Wyden — still supports the plan, as does former Clinton budget adviser Alice Rivlin.

Yet for the most part the party’s legislative leadership and rank and file have become deeply opposed to the idea in recent years, with liberal activists famously running an ad comparing Paul Ryan’s Medicare overhaul to pushing a wheelchair-bound grandmother off a cliff, and the "ending Medicare" talk common amongst prominent Democrats. Even Henry Aaron now argues against implementing premium support any time soon.

Would opposition have been so vehement, so ugly, so powerful back when the policy was understood as a creation of Democrats? Did Democrats develop and strengthen their opposition in response to Paul Ryan’s plan? Were they “conforming their assessments of information to some interest or goal that is independent of accuracy” — perhaps with the goal of villifying Ryan’s plan in order to help them win the next election? No doubt some changed their minds after thoughtful consideration, and others strengthened opposition where little feeling or opinion of any kind had existed. But it also seems likely that Democrats adjusted and developed their stances because it was politically convenient, just as Republicans did.



Ronald Bailey on Fossil Fuels and Food Sovereignty at the Rio +20 Earth Summit

Environemntal actvists at the Rio +20 Earth Summit point out that the world's governments subsidzed consumption and production of fossil fuels to the tune of $1 trillion per year. Indian activists properly decried Indian government subsidized exports of grain to rich countries, but they also hate modern agriculture and want food sovereignty. Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey hates all subsidies and favors modern agriculture.

View this article

How Mitt Romney Will Lose Immigration Issue to Obama, Who Has Deported Record Numbers of Immigrants.

Hey Republicans, chew on this: Your presumptive GOP presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, is managing to lose the issue of immigration to a president who has deported record number of immigrants.

Wha happened?

From a Bloomberg story on the topic:

President Barack Obama is winning the opening round in the battle over immigration, according to a Bloomberg poll released today, putting Republicans on the defensive with his decision to end the deportations of some illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

Sixty-four percent of likely voters surveyed after Obama’s June 15 announcement said they agreed with the policy, while 30 percent said they disagreed. Independents backed the decision by better than a two-to-one margin.

The results underscore the challenge facing Mitt Romney and Republicans as they try to woo Hispanic voters, who are the nation’s largest ethnic minority and made up 9 percent of the 2008 electorate, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of exit polls. Obama won the Hispanic vote 67 to 31 percent over Republican John McCain in 2008, according to exit polls.

Let the record show that Barack Obama is a real bum when it comes to immigration. In the two years or so when his party had complete control (as opposed to the partial control it still enjoys) of the federal government, Obama kicked out record number of overwhelmingly Hispanic immigrants. In fact, the president managed to deport his 1 millionth illegal immigrant last September. George W. Bush, try as he might, only managed to push through 1.5 million deportations in eight years. Hope and change, baby, hope and change! Not only has Obama set records for deportations (which among other things has left over 5,000 kids in foster care), but he absolutely insists that his new policy, which would de-emphasize the removal of illegals between the ages of 16 and 30 with a high school degree and no criminal record, is temporary and no big whoop-de-do: "This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship."

In other words, Obama's gesture - and it's little more than that, as it at best covers 800,000 of an estimated 11 million to 12 million illegals - is weaker beer than a case of Natural Light (not to be confused with Natural Rights).

And yet, Mitt Romney - and the GOP more broadly - has no serious counter-offer to make to the 66 percent of Americans (according to new Gallup figures) that view immigration as "a good thing" for the country. During the Republican debates, Romney attacked border-state Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) for continuing the fine tradition of George W. Bush of being vaguely humane toward immigrants. Perry, Romney averred, was threatening the very republic by granting young illegals in-state tuition at Texas universities. Recall Perry's terrifying argument in a debate in Florida (known to be home to more than a few folks originally from elsewhere):

"If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they have been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart,” Perry said.

Romney's jerk-store-level comeback:

“I think if you’re opposed to illegal immigration, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a heart, it means you have a heart and a brain."

Romney is on the record in favor "self-deportations" and a worker-verification program that will doubtless be exactly the sort of nightmare for legal and illegal employees and employers as you can imagine. Apart from all the monumental civil rights issues raised by such a program, just a 1 percent error rate - far lower than is likely - will wreak havoc on day-to-day business decisions. He has "softened" his opposition to the DREAM Act, a pro-immigration bill authored by Republicans and supported by George W. Bush back in the early 2000s, to say that if illegals want to join the military, well, he's OK with that.

If they are interested in winning in the fall - and, more important, minimizing human suffering - Romney and the GOP would rethink their immigration posture. They should take a long look at Ronald Reagan's 1986 legislation that opened up citizenship for 4 million illegals (who were absorbed in the U.S. with basically no problem). And they should remember what Bush said at Ellis Island (worth a trip!) in July 2001:

"Immigration is not a problem to be solved, it is a sign of a confident and successful nation. Their arrival should be greeted not with suspicion and resentment, but with openness and courtesy."

On this one issue, they should emulate George W. Bush, who pulled in somewhere between 40 percent and 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. Rick Perry, who revealed his inner nimrod during his short run for president, pulled 38 percent of the Hispanic vote in his 2010 governor's race in Texas.

Or they can stick with Mitt Romney's self-deportation plan and write off not just Hispanic voters but all of us who see in people willing to risk it all to come and work and live here not just the past but the future of the American experience.

Muy related: Reason's August/September 2006 special issue, titled, "Immigration Now, Immigration Tomorrow, Immigration Forever," which documents (among other things) the net benefits of legal and illegal immigration.

A.M. Links: Holder Contempt Vote May Be Cancelled, Roger Clemens Acquited, IBM’s Sequoia Fastest Supercomputer in the World

  • A contempt vote against Eric Holder scheduled for tomorrow may be cancelled as the Department of Justice is offering new documents in the ongoing Congressional investigation of the gunwalking scheme Operation Fast & Furious.  The Justice Department "has offered a serious, good faith proposal to bring this matter to an amicable resolution in the form of a briefing based on documents that the committee could retain," according to a letter from the attorney general to Congressman Darrell Issa.
  • The former baseball pitcher Roger Clemens was acquitted of charges related to testimony he gave on steroid use to Congress. “It’s been a long hard five years,” Clemens said after leaving court.
  • Adidas is being criticized for a new sneaker design that includes plastic shackles. “The design of the JS Roundhouse Mid is nothing more than the designer Jeremy Scott’s outrageous and unique take on fashion and has nothing to do with slavery,” a spokesperson for the company said.
  • Members of Occupy Oakland Patriarchy apparently protested against an anti-child sex worker conference.
  • Pro-tip: If you’re being chased by the police, calling 911 and telling them you’re prepared to shoot is probably not a good idea. Nevertheless, the family of a 19 year old shot and killed by LAPD during a car chase are suing the city for $120 million.
  • A new list reveals the fastest computer in the world is IBM’s Sequoia, used to secure nuclear arms and simulate the human heart.

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

New at Reason.TV: "Cities Using Feds to Seek 'Retribution' in Marijuana Battle, Says Don Duncan"

Shikha Dalmia on the 3 Fallacies in Obama’s Public-Sector Stimulus Strategy

President Barack Obama’s claim that private-sector job growth is hunky-dory is hooey, writes Shikha Dalmia. Moreover, instead of asking whether the effects of his own policies—like uncertainty over the extension of the Bush tax cuts and the compliance costs of ObamaCare—might be choking the private sector, Obama wants to apply his stimulus therapy to the public sector. This won’t produce overall growth, Dalmia notes. Indeed, more government spending means a shrinking private sector, and there are three main reasons why.

View this article

Brickbat: Without a Prayer

Officials at Minnesota's Anoka-Hennepin school district have ordered Jake Balthazor, 15, to stop wearing a rosary. Balthazor says he was wearing it to honor his grandmother, who is battling cancer. But school officials say rosaries are a gang symbol and school rules bar students from wearing “any apparel, jewelry, accessories, or matter of grooming which by virtue of its color arrangement, trademark, or any other attribute (as a primary purpose) denotes membership in an organized gang.” After local media reported the rosary ban, however, they said they would try to work out a compromise with the boy.

Brickbat Archives

Pot Dispensary Owner Faces Life Sentence for Being Too Profitable

Medical marijuana dispensary owner Aaron Sandusky might be going to jail for a long, long time.

While President Obama made news last week by putting a temporary stop to the deportation of immigrants who've resided in the U.S. since childhood, Mike Riggs noted the inconsistency of the administration's refusal to apply a similar do-no-harm approach to medical marijuana.

Don't Make Money

Sandusky has the misfortune of sharing a surname with a news-making, alleged child molester, but he has the perhaps greater misfortune of potentially facing a prison sentence equally harsh to what Jerry Sandusky's might be. But instead of sexually abusing more than 50 young boys, Aaron Sandusky's alleged crime is simply that of supplying people with a product they want and legally are allowed to have in the state of California.

Sandusky, whom reason.tv profiled in this video, faced a post-arraignment hearing and a pre-trial hearing in two Los Angeles federal courtrooms on Monday, as did his brother Keith Alan Sandusky and four other employees of Sandusky's dispensary, G3 Holistic. According to the federal indictment, the Sandusky brothers each face six separate counts, and each of the defendants face counts that could also carry life sentences.

A group of about 30 friends and activists gathered outside of the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building, where the first hearing of the day occurred at about 8:30am. Among those gathered was Dan Forman, a friend and colleague of Sandusky's who, in the clip below, speculates about the motives of the DOJ and DEA in targeting G3.

"I really believe it was a case of the government believing that Aaron was commercializing and profiteering," he says.

Thom Mrozek, the press representative for the Department of Justice's Central California district, responded to questions about G3 Holistic with this emailed statement:

"Those associated with the G3 marijuana store ignored a series a warnings that the retail store in Upland was operating in violation of the law. Those warnings came from local officials, through letters from the Department of Justice, during the execution of search warrants and through civil lawsuits. The allegations of illegal activity are clearly laid out in the indictment."

But Forman's speculation seems consistent with past statements made by DOJ officials in describing the raids.

"The law has been hijacked by profiteers who are motivated not by compassion, but by money," said Melinda Haag, one of California's U.S. Attorneys, at a DOJ press conference on October 11, 2011.  

In other words, Haag isn't bothered by the concept of medical marijuana, so long as it remains safely in feel-good, nonprofit "collectives" where, supposedly, nobody makes a dime. Because Sandusky, a former real estate businessman, created a supply chain and a distribution network that provides his customers with high-quality, low-cost product—i.e., established a workable business model—he must be stopped.

Drugs aren't bad. But making money off drugs is bad, or something.

Too Many Governments, Too Much Corruption

While the medical marijuana fight is largely a battle between state and federal jurisdiction, the Sandusky case is even more complicated. Reason previously covered the problems that Sandusky had with his city government. The mayor of Upland, where the original G3 Holistic was located, was himself indicted on federal corruption charges after he allegedly attempted to extort Sandusky and other local business owners.

In 2010, Upland's city council attempted to ban medical marijuana dispensaries altogether, which triggered a series of legal challenges that landed the issue in California's Supreme Court in the form of Pack v. Long Beach. Until that case is decided, however, some dispensary owners, including Sandusky, believe they are allowed to stay open unless the city can prove they are acting illegally under California state law.

This raises the question, are city officials colluding with the the DEA and other federal agencies to do the dirty work while their hands are tied? Nothing in the federal indictment indicates that Sandusky was engaging in activity inconsistent with state law, though these are precisely the sorts of operations Attorney General Eric Holder promised that DOJ wouldn't target. Don Duncan, California Director of Americans for Safe Access tackles that question in the clip below.

"What this feels like is retribution," says Duncan. "Because what we have here are collectives that are fighting with the city over what are basically land use and license issues, really local issues."

Stalling Tactics

The Sandusky brothers have been sitting in prison since last Thursday. Aaron Sandusky, a soft-spoken, 42-year-old man with a full head of salt-and-pepper hair, looked downright haggard and defeated as he sat in court wearing an orange 2XL jumpsuit and chain restraints. 

This hearing was meant to set the trial start date, which is tentatively scheduled for August 7, 2012, as well as to resolve the issue of Sandusky's bond. Sandusky and the other defendants were arrested last Thursday, and a judge set bail for each defendant at the initial bond hearing in Riverside. However, prosecutors successfully filed an appeal, which kept the Sandusky brothers in prison until now.

Aaron Sandusky's attorney, Roger Diamond, raised this issue, mentioning that Sandusky has a heart condition called a cardiomyopathy and stressing the importance of setting bail as soon as possible. Judge Percy Anderson seemed willing to proceed with the hearing, but prosecutors had failed to bring a crucial transcript from the prior hearing, which was necessary to proceed.

"It's just a stalling tactic," Diamond said after the hearing. "They just don't want him out at all."

The court failed to set a deadline for the production of the transcript. In the meantime, Sandusky will have to sit in jail, wait, and hope his heart doesn't go out before the trial.

Watch the video below and decide for yourself whether or not this man, who never hid any of his activities from the government and, in fact, invited government officials to tour his facilities, deserves multiple life terms in a federal penitentiary.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, Libertarian?

The latest issue of Time magazine features a cover story entitled “What Will Justice Kennedy Do?” Among other things, the story attempts to make sense out of the fact that Kennedy sometimes sides with the Supreme Court’s more conservative justices while at other times siding with the Court’s liberals. “More and more cases are decided based on his idiosyncratic values,” Time says.

David Boaz of the Cato Institute argues that there might be a better word than “idiosyncratic” to describe Kennedy’s approach:

Justice Kennedy seems to be very concerned with liberty. He often sides with conservatives on economic issues (which are actually never mentioned by Time) and campaign speech, and with liberals on civil liberties, gay rights, and school prayer. Pretty inconsistent, huh?

Or then again, maybe Justice Kennedy has a basically libertarian view of the world and the Constitution. The word “libertarian” never appears in the article. Perhaps it should.

Boaz makes it clear that he isn’t calling Kennedy “a down-the-line, Nozick-reading, Cato Institute libertarian,” but rather is saying that there’s “a strong libertarian streak in Kennedy’s jurisprudence.” I think that’s a fair statement. In addition to the issues Boaz mentions, Kennedy has also cast libertarian-leaning votes against race-based government classifications and in favor of protecting unpopular speech like flag burning. But then again Kennedy also sided with the majority in two of the most notoriously non-libertarian decisions in recent years: Gonzales v. Raich, which upheld the federal government’s ban on marijuana as a valid exercise of congressional power under the Commerce Clause, and Kelo v. City of New London, which allowed New London, Connecticut's abusive use of eminent domain to stand. So while the term libertarian may apply to a nice chunk of Kennedy’s jurisprudence, it unfortunately does not apply to all of it.