The Second Avenue Deli in New York City can keep serving a sandwich dubbed the “Instant Heart Attack,” after they won a federal lawsuit against the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas, which claimed trademark infringement. Both sides claimed victory. From the New York Daily News:
“We feel that we’ve been vindicated,” delighted deli owner Jeremy Lebewohl said. “We’re doing what we’ve always done, what we do best, selling sandwiches.”
Judge Paul Engelmayer also gave the deli the green light to start selling their $34.95 “Triple Bypass” sandwich…
The Heart Attack Grill took comfort in the fact that Engelmayer’s ruling bars the deli from selling or advertising the two sandwiches outside of Manhattan.
“Today the federal district court in Manhattan recognized the national scope of HEART ATTACK GRILL's trademark rights, over the 2nd Ave Deli's limited use of instant heart attack on a latke and pastrami sandwich,” the company said in a statement.
When I saw the USA Today headline, “’Heart Attack’ sandwich can stay on N.Y. menu” I thought for sure it meant the Department of Health ruled it can stay on the menu after some ninny complaint, given how aggressively New York City’s government has tried to convince New Yorkers about the dangers of large portions, salt, sugary drinks and God knows what else in the last three years and as Michael Bloomberg ramps up his food jihad in his third and (almost certainly) final term as mayor of New York City.
Reason on food
Libyans took to the polls on Saturday in the first free election that country has seen in over 50 years. During an interview with Freedom House's Arch Puddington in February, Puddington made it clear that 2012 would be remembered as a banner year for Middle East liberty.
Here is the original text from the Feb. 6 interview:
"As significant as 1989 when the Berlin wall came down, overwhelmingly the story of 2012 is centered in the Middle East," says Freedom House's Arch Puddington. "People were inspired by events in Egypt, they started demanding their rights."
Puddington has helped record the long-overdue revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and countries in the Freedom in the World 2012 index. Founded in 1941, Freedom House quantifies and ranks the political freedom and civil liberties of every country in the world as "Free," "Partly Free," or "Not Free."
Though the Arab Spring has led some regimes to respond with arrests and killings, Puddington remains confident political rights and civil liberties will succeed in the longer run. Since the first Freedom in the World index was published in 1973, he notes, free countries have doubled in number and not-free countries have declined. In the 2012 edition, 87 countries are listed as Free, 60 as Partly Free, and 48 as Not Free.
To see where your country ranks, go here: http://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2012
About 4.55 minutes.
Interview by Matt Welch. Camera by Meredith Bragg and Joshua Swain; edited by Swain.
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New York Times columnist Gail Collins has graced our shelves with As Texas Goes…, a lighthearted jeremiad catalogued under "Political Science" by W.W. Norton & Company's Liveright Publishing Corp. At just under 200 pages of text, the book aims to describe the hog-stomping zaniness of Texas from the perspective of a self-amused Northeast Corridor tenderfoot. But as Tim Cavanaugh reports, Collins messes with Texas and loses in this laugh-free, fact-challenged work.View this article
Recent wildfires and soaring temperatures have climate change proponents declaring victory. But as Robert Zubrin enthusiastically warned during a recent ReasonTV interview, sometimes the message isn't nearly as frightening as the messenger.
Here is the original text:
"We have never been in danger of running out of resources," says Dr. Robert Zubrin, "but we have encountered considerable dangers from people who say we are running out of resources and who say that human activities need to be constrained."
In his latest book, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, Zubrin documents the history of dystopian environmentalism, from economic impairment inflicted by current global warming policies to the Malthusian concern over population growth. "Just think how much poorer we would be today if the world would have had half as many people in the 19th century as it actually did. You can get rid of Thomas Edison or Louis Pasteur, take your pick."
Zubrin sat down with Reason Magazine Editor Matt Welch to discuss his book, the difference between practical and ideological environmentalism, and how U.S. foreign aid policy encourages population control.
Runs about 9.30 minutes
Produced by Meredith Bragg. Camera by Meredith Bragg and Josh Swain.
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This past Sunday saw the beginning of statewide enforcement of California’s controversial attempt to ban foie gras. Yet as Baylen Linnekin of Keep Food Legal reports, the law is so vague and was so poorly written that it will be impossible to enforce. Moreover, Linnekin notes, foie gras producers and sellers are now fighting back in court against this unconstitutional attempt to restrict their food freedom.View this article
You just lack vision, Californians.
Despite voter polls turning hard against a proposed $68 billion high-speed train from San Francisco to Los Angeles (by way of Fresno and Merced), the state Senate pulled the trigger on the initial funding today.
Four Democratic senators turned against the project, but it wasn’t enough. The final vote tally was 21-16 (with three no-shows). Two of the yes votes came in the last seconds of the roll call.
Here’s an intriguing paragraph from The Sacramento Bee’s breaking coverage that nicely illustrates why legislators would actually go against public opinion in the middle of a massive economic meltdown on an election year while asking the same public to approve a tax hike in four months:
The approval was a major legislative victory for Gov. Jerry Brown. [Senate President Pro Tem Darrell] Steinberg said the Democratic governor "talked to a couple members" ahead of the vote, while Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, reminded colleagues that the project not only had Brown's attention, but also that of President Barack Obama and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
Electorate, what electorate? Obama and Pelosi are the ones who matter.
Or rather, Obama and Pelosi are the ones who matter when you know you don’t have the courage to take on your public unions in Sacramento and are planning to go hat-in-hand to the federal government for a bailout when your state's economy crashes into a grove of fig trees at 200 miles per hour. Prediction: Appeasing the great and powerful O will pay off with federal dollars when weak-willed legislators prove utterly unable to defuse the state’s pension bomb. Also, if Obama wins reelection, perhaps he'll ride in on his unicorn and save California from the education cuts that are almost certainly likely to happen now that Brown's tax initiative is likely doomed.
Read our lengthy coverage of High-Speed Rail here, and be sure to check out our latest issue (August/September) for Reason.com Managing Editor Tim Cavanaugh’s column explaining how funding for rail transportation screws over the poor.
This is just a quickie for those interested in the sausage-grinding of California's high-speed rail politics. The state senate is in session and speeches are underway. You can watch the live stream here (I am having problems with buffering and it frequently cuts off for me.) Media members in attendance are using the hashtag #hsr on Twitter.
Of note, Democratic Sen. Joe Simitian has announced he will be voting against the funding. He was one of the state senators who was on the fence on the project. If four more Democrats vote no, the funding will fail.
Update: Democratic Sen. Mark DeSaulnier has also voted no.
Update: Democratic Sen. Alan Lowenthal (of Long Beach) has also voted no. So much for the bribe to LA. One Tweeter though says Dem. Sen. Mark Leno knows they have the votes to get it through.
Final Update: The final vote passes 21-16. Let's all go to Fresno!
As Matt Welch blogged a couple of years ago, Gallup can reliably get big numbers of Americans to say we need a viable third party--58 percent two years ago.
Yet a poll released today from Gallup that specifically asks about third party candidates Gary Johnson (Libertarian), Jill Stein (Green), and Virgil Goode (Constitution) finds support topping off for any specific such candidate at 3 percent, for Johnson. Stein got 1 percent and Goode less than half a percent.
Republican Ron Paul, who they did not ask about, was volunteered by 2 percent. (See my new book about him, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.)
Sadly, this Gallup also indicates that historically, polled support for third party candidates in June tends to drop by half when actual voting occurs.
I wrote in 2004 about third parties as consumption expenditures on the part of their devotees.
Writing at Big Think, Peter Lawler, a professor of government at Berry College and former member of President George W. Bush’s Council on Bioethics, argues that in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ObamaCare decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy has emerged as the Court’s “most consistent libertarian.” Lawler writes:
The most consistent member of the Court, in an important way, is now Justice Kennedy. He is the most consistent libertarian. He's been all about individual liberty—even the Court's role in the expansion of individual liberty over time—on personal or non-economic issues such as abortion, religion, and gay rights. Now he's the same when it comes to economic liberty—protecting the individual right to choose not to engage in commerce in the ObamaCare case....
Obviously, Kennedy's libertarian consistency isn't perfect, but it has become more consistent over time.
Lawler is right that Kennedy’s “libertarian consistency isn’t perfect,” but I’m afraid he’s wrong to suggest that Kennedy has been “all about individual liberty...when it comes to economic liberty.” This is the same Anthony Kennedy, after all, who joined Justice John Paul Stevens’ notorious 2005 opinion in Kelo v. City of New London, the case which recently appeared on Reason.com’s list of the 5 most unlibertarian Supreme Court rulings still standing. So while Kennedy has cast a number of welcome votes during his tenure on the Court, his record as an advocate of individual liberty also comes up short in some very fundamental ways.
Back in June of 2010, Sergio Adrian Hernández Güereca, a 15-year-old kid who happened to live on the Mexican side of the international border, was shot to death by U.S. Border Patrol Agent Jesus Mesa Jr. The official story is that Sergio and his buddies were throwing rocks at the Border Patrol officer, and that he responded with gunfire — and that's OK, says the U.S. government. Not everybody agrees. The Mexican government, the ACLU and other civil rights organizations have joined a lawsuit filed by the boy's parents against the U.S. government.
Says the ACLU:
The government is claiming that Hernandez, a Mexican citizen, enjoyed no legal protections under the U.S. Constitution. The ACLU brief argues that the Constitution necessarily limits border agents’ authority to use excessive force and that the victim was across the border does not eliminate constitutional constraints.
“It would be a dark and dangerous precedent for the courts to hold that federal agents can kill people with impunity merely because they are just across the border and not U.S. citizens,” said Sean Riordan, staff attorney of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “Sergio’s family deserves their day in court to ask that the government take responsibility when its agents abuse their power and kill without justification.” The amicus brief argues the government’s rationale is “staggering” and would mean that U.S. agents could intentionally shoot Mexican or Canadian citizens across the border with no judicial review when victims sought accountability.
The brief, filed by the ACLUs of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and San Diego & Imperial Counties, and by the national ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project, refutes the government’s argument that the Hernandez family has no claim to protection since Sergio was “extraterritorial,” or outside of U.S. territory and thus outside of the Constitution’s protections.
Whatever your take on border politics, even if you think that the line on the map is some sort of barrier holding back barbarian hordes, it strikes me as a harsh position to maintain that there should be no legal recourse if an agent of the U.S. government decides to take potshots across an international border. And for those of us who care about such things, it's also contrary to the founders' quaint old ideas about inherent individual rights being, you know, inherent in everybody.
Shooting kids for throwing rocks seems like a move that should come under scrutiny, and maybe carry some consequences.
For weeks commentators have been discussing the possibility of Greece leaving the eurozone and how a return to the drachma might be facilitated. But when it comes to currency, writes Matthew Feeney, the drachma is not Greece's only option. If Greece does exit the eurozone an alternative currency could emerge or an already existing one, such as bitcoin, could be adopted. In some parts of Greece social entrepreneurship, technology, and skepticism of politicians have already given rise to alternate trading mechanisms and created an environment where cyrptocurrencies could become increasingly popular.View this article
- The jobless rate remains unchanged at 8.2 percent, says the Labor Department, as employers added only 80,000 jobs in June — a figure that was (wait for it) lower than expected.
- Mitt Romney's strategly of running for president as a sort of colorless piñata is drawing criticism from Republicans who urge him to advocate for something. Anything.
- Rep. Ron Paul and Sen. Rand Paul released a document celebrating the unfettered nature of the Internet and advocating for keeping the world-wide network free of government regulation.
- The presidential campaign of Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson picked up another $130,059 in federal matching funds. The money comes from a $3 voluntary check-off on tax returns. So far, the Johnson campaign has received $230,059 from the program.
- In an effort to keep Italy from becoming the next Greece, Prime Minister Monti issued a decree cutting the budget by 5 billion euros beyond previous cuts, and gradually reducing the state work force. The decree must be approved by parliament within sixty days or it expires.
- The judge overseeing George Zimmerman’s bail accused the high-profile defendant of stockpiling cash and preparing to flee the country. "This kid can’t disappear. That’s a safe bond," says longtime bail bondsman Jack Benveniste “He’s very visible: It would take two minutes to find him."
- A long-shot effort to legalize marijuana for medical use by the people of Kentucky is being promoted by Sen. Perry Clark (D-Louisville) in honor of Gatewood Galbraith, the state's prominent marijuana advocate, who passed away in January.
- Journalists, bloggers, and writers from around the world are invited to enter the 2012 Bastiat Prize for Journalism, which will honor commentary, analysis, and reporting that best demonstrates the importance of freedom and its underlying institutions.
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Oliver Stone's new movie, Savages, may not be all that good, but the auteur behind The Hand and the scribe of 8 Million Ways to Die - and a bunch of excellent movies too - is not just praising California pot but insisting it's time to legalize weed in these United States.
He tells High Times:
If you appreciate California weed, which I have for many years, you’ll realize that we’re somewhat close to the money when we say that, California has surpassed Thailand, Jamaica, South Sudan, and certainly Mexico as the king and queen of quality weed. I’m thinking myself of getting into the business, although I suspect there’d be a lot of stress with the Feds changing the rules all the time. Those bastards....
And MTV News reports that Stone has harsh words for President Barack Obama and prohibition:
"I think it's a tragedy what has happened, and I saw it coming 40 years ago, and it keeps going. And of course politicians keep making election promises," Stone told MTV News. "It's an easy subject to win votes on.
"At the same time, a lot of money gets involved, and it's built up into a huge industry in America and in Mexico, where we have criminal justice that has been perverted. We have victimless crimes all over our jails: 50 percent of our jail population is involved with victimless crimes, most of them with drugs. Money gets made by the prisons and the precept will take them private, you know that, and the politicians win votes, the prosecutors, the judges, the bailiffs, everything. It's like the Pentagon: It never stops when you start."
So, what's it going to take to make a real change?
"It would take a bold man," Stone shared. "Obama promised it, but he never delivered. He certainly talked about it. He let us down in a big way on that issue. You know what it's going to take? New leadership. Young people like yourself to get out there and get in front of things and just call a spade a spade. Maybe when some of these old, ignorant bastards die, we can change things."
Columnist Ron Hart comments on the Fast and Furious ATF operation and Attorney General Eric Holder's contempt of Congress charge:
Holder was convicted of both criminal and civil contempt of Congress, and Barack Obama invoked executive privilege to protect himself and Holder from scrutiny. The self-proclaimed "most transparent administration ever" does not want anyone asking questions. After the ruling, the Holder Justice Department said it would not prosecute him for withholding documents/evidence. Our government can waste precious time and resources prosecuting baseball players Roger Clemens (twice) and Barry Bonds for lying about something they may have done that could hurt only themselves. But it will not pursue to its logical conclusion a calculated government guns program that resulted in the deaths of two border guards and more than 200 Mexican citizens.
The "Fast and Furious" operation troubles me on two levels. First, our government willingly put thousands of guns into the hands of violent drug gangs – and could not predict the outcome. Second, and more troubling, our government named the operation after dated and dreadful Vin Diesel action movies.
And then there's this:
If GOP candidates are elected in November, they can go back to their type of attorneys general, like crooner and songwriter (with the soothing vocal stylings of the Oak Ridge Boys) John Ashcroft, who seek to codify their view of the Bible into law while calling al-Qaida "religious fanatics."
Every month University of Alabama in Huntsville climatologists John Christy and Roy Spencer report the latest global temperature trends from satellite data. Below are the newest data updated through June, 2012.
Global Temperature Report: June 2012
Global climate trend since Nov. 16, 1978: +0.14 C per decade
June temperatures (preliminary)
Global composite temp.: +0.37 C (about 0.52 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for June.
Northern Hemisphere: +0.54 C (about 0.79 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for June.
Southern Hemisphere: +0.20 C (about 0.25 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for June.
Tropics: +0.14 C (about 0.05 degrees Fahrenheit) above 30-year average for June.
(All temperature anomalies are based on a 30-year average (1981-2010) for the month reported.)
Notes: Compared to global seasonal norms, June 2012 was the third warmest in the 34-year satellite record, according to Dr. John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. It was the second warmest June in the Northern Hemisphere, second only to June 1998, during the El Nino Pacific Ocean warming event “of the century.” It was the seventh warmest June in the Southern Hemisphere and the 11th warmest in the tropics, where rising temperatures may hint at the approach of another El Nino.
A lawyer sent to Libya by the International Criminal Court to assist in the defense of Saif al-Islam, the eldest son of the former Libyan strongman Col. Moammar Qaddafi, has been released after being detained for nearly a month on suspicion of spying. “The rights of my client, Mr Saif al-Islam, were irrevocably prejudiced during my visit," said the attorney, Melinda Taylor, who will file a report next week with the ICC on her visit and detention. Think Africa Press’ Charles Okwir has more details on how fair a trial al-Islam might expect in Libya.
Saif al-Islam, along with his father and brother-in-law, was charged last year by the International Criminal Court while his father’s government, which al-Islam was expected to inherit, collapsed under pressure from rebel groups backed by NATO air power. The charges stemmed from alleged abuses committed by Libyan forces allegedly under orders by Col. Qaddafi and his son at the start of the rebellion last year.
Col. Qaddafi’s government, naturally, rejected the legitimacy of the international court; meanwhile, the rebels who constituted the post-Qaddafi government used the arrest warrant issued by the ICC to detain Saif al-Islam but insist on trying him in Libya. The new Libyan government has been largely unresponsive to the ICC, which still technically has to approve Libya’s application to try al-Islam itself.
Col. Qaddafi, of course, was never technically taken into custody. Though he had an outstanding ICC arrest warrant, he was assaulted, sodomized and finally shot and killed by the rebels who captured him. The ICC has not filed charges related to the incident, even though the manner of Qaddafi’s death at the time was condemned by human rights agencies and even Hillary Clinton called for an investigation (though not before laughing about the incident). President Obama, not a particular fan of due process, pointed to Qaddafi’s extrajudicial killing as a warning for other iron-fisted rulers, a 21st century "ever thus to tyrants" of sort.
Libya holds its first post-Qaddafi election this weekend.
More Reason on Libya
In today's Washington Times, Senior Editor Peter Suderman reviews Savages, director Oliver Stone's pulpy tale of a war between a boutique marijuana operation and a giant cartel, pitting Big Pot vs. Little Weed:
It’s easy to forget that Oliver Stone has interests aside from politics. But the director of politically charged movies such as “W.,” “Wall Street,” “Platoon,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” “JFK” and “Nixon” is also the author of the screenplay for “Scarface,” Brian De Palma’s hyperviolent cult classic, and the director of the grimy, sun-scorched thriller “U Turn.” Indeed, even the most political of his films, with their focus on sex, conspiracy and tense melodrama, have always carried a whiff of lurid pulp cinema.
Typically, however, Mr. Stone buries the pulp and flashes the prestige. With his latest film, “Savages,” Mr. Stone does just the opposite. A sex-and-violence-filled look at boutique California pot dealers who end up in a war with a corporate Mexican drug cartel, it’s a bloody, vicious genre picture hiding a politicized, anti-corporate rant at its core.
Based on the novel by Don Winslow, “Savages” is the tale of two surfing buddies from Laguna Beach who start a multimillion-dollar business selling high-quality marijuana. Much of it is distributed legally through the state’s system of medical marijuana dispensaries, but strict legality is not the primary concern for the two operators.
Whole thing here.
When California State Senator Roderick Wright attempted to legalize online poker with SB 1463, he sold it as a way to help patch up California's busted budget , which is indeed in dire trouble. Surprisingly, the strongest resistance came not from the ever-more-irrelevant anti-gambling moralists, but from powerful pro-gaming special interests clinging to lucrative state-granted privilege.
"There's no way that we can do something that might be the death knell for our industry," says David Quintana, lobbyist for the California Tribal Business Alliance, which opposes any form of online poker legalization on the grounds that it could negatively affect the economic activity of California's Indian tribes.
Reason.tv talked with Quintana as well as with poker player, entrepreneur, and pro-poker lobbyist Steve Miller about the complicated politics of online poker, which is regulated on a federal level by the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (or UIGEA), a vague piece of last-minute legislation that prohibits financial institutions from accepting transactions related to "unlawful internet gambling." The problem is that the legislation fails to define "unlawful internet gambling."
Predictably, this legal limbo has led U.S. financial institutions to steer clear of online gambling and led to the rise of off-shore gaming sites, which Miller says can be unreliable and untrustworthy.
"Online poker play will continue," says Miller. "It's available from sources who are unlicensed, who may not be reputable, who may not be offering a fair game."
Legalization of online gaming in California would likely force legislators to take another look at the flaws inherent in UIGEA. But despite the fiscal and practical sense that legalization makes for the California, and the seeming inevitability of legal online poker play, the anti-online gaming special interests have won out in the short term, with Sen. Wright killing the bill before it even made it to the floor for a vote.
"You have to fight it as long as you can," says Quintana. "Why speed up the inevitability, right? Put it off as long as you can."
About 5 minutes.
Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Shot by Tracy Oppenheimer and Weissmueller.
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Every summer since 2004, hundreds of people belonging to and interested in the Free State Project, an effort to move 20,000 libertarians to New Hampshire, gather at a remote campground in the northern part of the state for a weeklong event called the Porcupine Freedom Festival. The outdoorsy extravaganza, more commonly known as PorcFest, writes Garrett Quinn, is one of the biggest libertarian gatherings in the entire country. The event seeks to answer the question, What happens when you bring together politicos, voluntaryists, and off-the-grid farmers for a week?View this article
Just as the housing industry is showing signs of recovery, California’s Democratic officials have passed a “solution” that adds additional regulations and higher costs to the foreclosure process. And as Steven Greenhut observes, these are the same officials who can’t produce an honest budget and refuse to deal with a deepening public-employee pension crisis and other issues under their purview, but once again they think they can correct problems in complex private markets.View this article
Concord, California, is a Bay-Area city of about 120,000 people which serves, at least in part, as a bedroom community for San Francisco. It has a good climate, a fine location, but something ... something has been missing until recently. Now, though, the Concord Police Department SWAT team has its very own own armored vehicle.
Concord Police's SWAT team will make a public debut Saturday, of "Mamba," an armored vehicle awarded to the department from a U.S. Department of Defense surplus donation program.
Mamba is a bullet-proof, 11-seater "bath tub" that will provide the Special Weapons and Tactics team with a new level of protection previously unavailable as a resource in high-risk calls and operations, said Lt. David Hughes, of the Concord Police Department.
"Armored personnel vehicles provide essential physical protection and mobility for officers when they need to contain or confront armed and violent suspects," said Hughes. "The fundamental purpose of any armored vehicle is to save lives and prevent injury. This includes the lives of hostages, innocent civilians, the officers themselves, and also the life of the suspect."
It's a little difficult to figure out just what in Hell Concord is going to do with the thing, but if somebody offers you a tank (or tank-ish vehicle, if you will) you take the damned tank.
And, under the 1033 program, the Defense Department is giving away lots of military goodies to law-enforcement agencies around the country. Missouri says it has received "aircraft (both fixed wing and rotary)," and Texas lists as available to local police departments, M-16 rifles, M-14 rifles, Model 1911 .45 pistols, aircraft and armored response vehicles. Four years ago, Radley Balko wrote for Reason that "the sheriff and SWAT team of Richland County, South Carolina, posed for a photo with an impressive new piece of equipment: an M113A1 armored personnel carrier." With that kind of escalation, can Concord cops afford to not have a tank.
It's OK. They'll find something to do with it. Something, perhaps, like this from the Courthouse News Service:
PHOENIX (CN) - A chicken farmer claims actor Steven Seagal and dozens of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's officers blasted through his gated driveway with a tank to arrest him on camera for Seagal's TV show, "Steven Seagal: Lawman," though he had been cleared of cockfighting allegations a month before by the Phoenix Police Department.
Washed-up action stars can't be expected to kick in doors by themselves, you know, That's what surplus military equipment is for.
Back in 2006, California's legislature passed and then-Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the California Global Warming Solutions Act which aims to reduce the Golden State's greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. As I reported earlier this goal would be achieved by a mix of policies including a cap-and-trade carbon market along with a set of complementary measures. Those measures include setting fuel efficiency standards for appliances and buildings, requiring that 33 percent of the state’s energy be produced from renewable sources, setting a low carbon fuel standard for vehicles, and zoning changes to discourage automobile travel, among other new regulations and mandates.
A 2010 study by the California Air Resources Board, the agency in charge of implementing carbon rationing under the Global Warming Solutions Act, reported that its best case analysis estimated that implementing the law would boost California’s employment by 10,000 extra jobs by 2020; its worst case projected 330,000 fewer jobs than there would otherwise have been by 2020.
A new study commissioned by the California Manufacturers and Technology Association finds that that worst case is the likely case. From the press release:
California families will be forced to pay $2,500 annually and lose $900 in earnings per year by 2020 as a result of the California Global Warming Solutions Act, according to a study released today. The costs to families will start to mount immediately in 2013. Losses to employers and the state's economy will be counted in the billions....
The study also shows that by 2020, California will have 262,000 fewer jobs, 5.6 percent less gross state product and $7.4 billion less in annual local and state tax revenues.
These figures were reached based on an "optimistic" scenario, where costs for each policy are assumed to be at the low end of a range of expected costs and the environmental goals are achieved. It assumes plentiful low carbon fuel with limited demand outside of California, 2.5 percent energy efficiency improvements and a significant reduction in vehicle miles traveled.
When less optimistic projections are used, the costs are staggering. In the study's "high case" scenario, families pay $4,500 in annual costs and California receives $38.8 billion less in local and state tax revenues by 2020.
Even in the rosiest of scenarios, the “low case”, families still pay $1,300 in annual costs and California loses $15.8 billion in local and state tax revenues.
Just the sort of economic boost from green energy policies that that a state with nearly 11 percent unemployment needs.
- The US will lose its largest trading partner: The United States exports 184 billion euros to the EU and imports 260 billion euros a year in trade. If the euro collapses the Europeans won’t be making as much, and Americans will have to buy the products typically made by Europeans elsewhere for higher prices. The European auto and technology industries will be hit hard. I for one am keeping a worried and keen eye on the wine and beer industries, which would suffer in a euro collapse despite the millions of Europeans who will turn to the bottle.
- The Fed will act: Central banks in the UK, China, and Europe have already recently engaged in quantitative easing and cut interest rates. Were the euro to collapse, or were Greece to exit the eurozone, the Fed would almost certain engage in some sort of stimulus, further hamstringing the United States’ long term economic prospects.
- The American taxpayer will be asked to bail out Europe: Were the euro to collapse there would be a huge amount of pressure put on the IMF to plug the resulting hole in international trade. American contributions make up close to 18 percent of the IMF’s funds, and American taxpayers would be the ones contributing to a European ‘rescue’. It should hardly be of any reassurance that Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the IMF, has said that, “I can assure you that the IMF will continue to play its part in supporting the efforts made today to address the challenges facing the euro area and to restore growth to its full potential".
- Romney will get elected: A euro collapse will plunge the United States into a more severe economic crisis, and Obama would take much of the blame after Republicans capitalize on the fallout. While free market libertarians might initially relish the President’s defeat in November, Romney would almost certainly do nothing different in response to a euro collapse and he would still engage in his moronic trade war with China and his protectionist agenda.
- You will be next: What is happening in Europe now is happening in slow motion on this side of the Atlantic. No amount of Fed activism will break the laws of economics. If Americans don’t learn quickly from the euro crisis they can look forward to a future of Europeanesque problems and perhaps more frightening, European solutions.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics released yet another weak jobs report this morning, showing that the economy gained just 80,000 jobs in the month of June. That's just a tiny bit better than the May report, and somewhat below market expectations, which had been looking for closer to 95,000 new jobs. It leaves the top-line unemployment figure unchanged at 8.2 percent. Meanwhile, U-6-, the broadest measure of the unmployment rate, actually rose slightly from 14.8 percent in May to 14.9 percent.
It's another month, in other words, in which the positive early labor market signals we glimpsed at the beginning of the year seem to have vanished, and momentum seems to have stalled. Expect lots of spin from both presidential campaigns, but the bottom line is that although the economy isn't getting dramatically worse right now, it's not getting much better either.
A great find from Radley Balko: two very different police recruitment videos.
The first is from Decatur, Georgia (where -- random useless fact alert -- I lived for two years as a toddler):
The second is from Newport Beach, California:
Radley writes, "Let's assume two generic towns that are otherwise mostly similar. One town takes a Newport Beach approach to policing. The other takes a Decatur approach. In which town would you rather live?"
USA Today doesn't like anonymous political speech. In a house editorial today, the paper decries the effects of ruling in cases such as Citizen's United and SpeechNOW that have allowed more money to enter the political arena, especially when reporting requirements don't force disclosure of donors:
Citizens United left the public only one way to protect itself from the rising threat [of more money entering elections]: disclosure. At the federal level, this would be achieved by the Disclose Act, which we opposed two years ago because it exempted a number of powerful interest groups. Today's version, scheduled for Senate debate this month, requires that all groups — social welfare, union and business — to report all expenditures and all donations more than $10,000. Republicans, whose groups are drawing more money so far, are geared up to kill it.
Why is Citizens United so bad? Because
the decision has fostered a whole new era of secrecy. Political strategists on both sides of the aisle have formed non-profit "social welfare" groups to escape disclosure requirements. They have names that convey selfless intentions, such as Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group, or the Patriot Majority USA, a liberal one.
These groups spent $137 million on the 2010 elections. Not surprisingly, one target was veteran Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold— a champion of campaign-finance reform — who lost his seat. Contributions from the Patriot Majority USA, meanwhile, helped save Harry Reid, the Senate's top Democrat, from defeat.
Russ Feingold lost because of money from anonymous donors? And Harry Reid was saved by the same? Please. Shouldn't we be celebrating that two of the best-known senators in the country were forced to, you know, actually compete in races? Why do people get constitutional palpitations when super-incumbents such as Dick Lugar or Orrin Hatch have to break a sweat during primary season, much less a general election? That's a sign the system may just be working finally (that Feingold was the co-author with John McCain of restrictive political speech laws was an ironic cherry on top). USA Today trots out a supposed sob story of a tight congressional race where an incumbent and challenger each spent $2.1 million in a race. But that's bad because the challenger, who got a late-campaign injection of anonymous "outside" money, ended up winning. If South Dakotans are that easily gulled, maybe they shouldn't be allowed to vote in the first place.
In the 2010 Senate race between Feingold and eventual victor Ron Johnson, both candidates spent about $15 million. Independent expenditures broke well in favor of Johnson, who got about $2.3 million in help. Which might considered an equalizer given that Feingold was running for his fourth term.
However pure the intentions of campaign-finance rules, they never fail to tamp down on free speech. For god's sake, the law overturned in Citzens United expressly denied independent groups from mentioning the names of specific candidates within 60 days of a general election! How stupid was that? And a law that could ban the documentary Hillary: The Movie from being offered as a pay-per-view option on cable on the eve of the 2008 Democratic primaries could ban all sorts of speech. That "news organizations" - a.k.a. newspapers that explicitly endorse candidates - always get exempted from laws suppressing political speech hardly helps their credibility on the topic.
Anonymous political speech is at the very heart of the U.S. experience (thanks Publius!). Disclosure rules are inevitably used against politically weak groups (historically, they been used against groups such as the NAACP and the Socialist Workers Party), not against the shadowy-yet-oddly-highly-public billionaire financiers who are constantly invoked as real threats to electoral integrity.
Need more convincing? Watch 3 Reasons Not to Sweat the Citizens United Decision, originally released in February 2010:
You’d think the discipline of genre would be a tonic for Oliver Stone, quelling his well-known artistic demons. You’d think. But don’t think that going into Savages, Ollie’s oddly off-the-beat new movie. It’s a bloody drug-war story, set in California and Mexico, and it gets underway with style and energy; but as Kurt Loder reports, clouds of narrative confusion begin to gather early on, and at the end they blot out the sky.View this article
- Mitt Romney’s fundraising figures are hitting his net worth territory; the presidential candidate and the RNC raised a combined $100 million in June. The Obama campaign has not released its fundraising total yet but it raised less than the Romney campaign in May.
- In Mexico, the ruling party’s candidate has joined the leftist candidate Andres Lopez Obrador in questioning the just finished presidential campaign. Stopping short of challenging the legitimacy of the vote, she complained of campaign spending violations. Apparently Mexicans came out to grocery stores in droves after the election to cash in gift cards that allegedly came from the winning candidate’s party.
- An independent investigation in Japan blames government incompetency and cronyism for the disaster at Fukushima, calling it “man made.” According to the report "the direct causes of the accident were all foreseeable prior to March 11, 2011."
- Regulators in London may have been warned about manipulation of the LIBOR rate as early as 2007.
- A state legislator in Louisiana is shocked a bill she supported to provide taxpayer subsidies to religious schools might be used for Muslim schools. “I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school," the Republican legislator said.
- According to this Mother Jones report, there are more than 3,000 times as many UFO sightings as there are cases of credible voter fraud. There are even less instances of super PACs buying an election.
- Researchers suggest even small volcanoes can produce climate change given the right conditions. Ban them!
- Publish something awesome between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012? Learn more about the Bastiat Prize for Journalism.
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Reason.TV: "How Free Markets Will Beat Climate Change: Q&A with UCLA's Matthew Kahn
Former House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi had to pass the Affordable Care Act to find out what was in it. Then, pens Chip Bok, the Supreme Court had to rewrite it.View this article
School workers at New Horizons Middle School in Brooklyn found 10 unopened boxes of air conditioners that no one knew about in a school storage room. That would seem to be good news, since the school's classrooms don't have air conditioning. But city Education Department officials say the school isn't wired for air conditioning.
One-upping GQ's Marc Ambinder, who recently predicted that Barack Obama "will pivot to the drug war" in his second term if he is re-elected, The Daily Beast's James Higdon claims the president already has scaled back the crusade to stop Americans from altering their consciousness in politically disfavored ways. Higdon's evidence: less money in the administration's fiscal year 2013 budget for marijuana-spotting helicopters. Seriously:
Until now, the DEA and state law enforcement could count on the National Guard to fly hundreds of helicopter hours over national forests and other public land, where growers became active following the passage of property-seizure laws in the Reagan years—but the FY13 budget changes that.
The 50-percent cut is not being apportioned evenly across the states—it’s a two-thirds cut in Oregon and a 70-percent cut in Kentucky, while the Southern border states are receiving less severe reductions in funding. It’s essentially a diversion of Defense Department assets away from the interior American marijuana fields to where the national-security risk is greatest: along our Southern border.
Higdon sees this budgetary rejiggering, which by his own admission will have no impact on the amount of marijuana supplied to or consumed by Americans, as a landmark on "the road map to pot decriminalization." That map, he says, "can be found in the executive order President Obama issued on immigration to effectively implement components of the DREAM Act without the help of Congress by ordering his executive branch to de-prioritize enforcement of certain laws." Higdon's implication is that Obama could (as Mike Riggs has suggested) do the same sort of thing with drug policy, using his executive power to make it less aggressively unjust. But that does not mean he will. Here are some facts that suggest he won't: Obama has delivered the opposite of what he promised with respect to medical marijuana, he has not backed any significant drug policy reforms except for reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine powder, he has repeatedly laughed at the very idea of legalizing pot, his administration continues to absurdly insist that marijuana belongs on Schedule I, and he has commuted exactly one of the many drug sentences that he condemned as senselessly draconian before he was elected. Higdon is so desperate to find evidence that Obama is a reformer that he latches onto a remark the president made on Jimmy Fallon' talk show in April: "We’re not going to have legalized weed anytime soon." To Higdon, who calls Ambinder's piece "scantily sourced," that line means Obama is thinking about "breaking the taboo of the marijuana prohibition."
It is telling that Higdon sees Richard Nixon as the embodiment of the war on drugs, saying "President Obama needs to kick Richard Nixon right square in the puss" through "a massive legislative package that returns America to a pre-Nixon posture on pot; flattens the cocaine/crack disparity; eliminates mandatory minimum sentences; re-instates federal parole for nonviolent and victimless crimes; reins in property-seizure laws; grounds the fleet of pot-spotting helicopters; and grants blanket clemency for those currently serving federal prison time for trumped-up marijuana crimes." As I noted last year in connection with what was billed (rather arbitrarily) as the 40th anniversary of Nixon's war on drugs, Nixon, contrary to his reputation, supported a kinder, gentler approach to drug policy that was similar to the recommendations of many contemporary reformers, featuring compassion for addicts, treatment instead of prison, and condemnation of needlessly harsh penalties. Never mind kicking Nixon in the puss. If Obama embraced Nixon's drug policies, that might count as an improvement.
For more on how Obama has disappointed supporters (except for James Higdon) who hoped he would be better on drug policy than his predecessor, see my October Reason cover story.
As expected, the Assembly has approved $5.8 billion to start construction of the Central Valley portion of the state’s high-speed rail project. The vote was 51-27. Oh and the proponents worked to secure the support of Los Angeles and San Francisco legislators by adding another $2 billion to improve light rail in those regions. So in order to try to wrangle support for the $68 billion (estimated) project, they are going to spend even more money, not less.
The state Senate has taken up the bill and may vote tomorrow. As The Sacramento Bee reports, it’s still not clear if there are enough Democratic votes in the Senate to move it forward:
Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Whittier, urged lawmakers to recall the work of previous generations of Californians, who built the state water project and its highway and university systems.
"We have issues, in terms of budget problems," he said. "Does that mean that we stop looking to the future?"
Solyndra, Ener1, Beacon Power, Solar Trust, and and and and now, Nevada Geothermal Power. The Hill is reporting:
Another energy firm backed by the Obama administration appears to be headed toward collapse.
This time it’s a Nevada geothermal company that benefited from a $98.5 million federal loan guarantee that’s in the spotlight.
Auditors for Nevada Geothermal Power have doubts about whether the company can stay afloat, the Washington Times reported Thursday, citing an internal audit of the firm.
The company has racked up $98 million in net losses in the past several years, cannot produce enough cash from current operations after debt-service payments and carries significant debt, the audit said.
Nevada Geothermal Power will hold its annual shareholders meeting on July 24, which will touch on the structure of the firm’s debt regarding the Blue Mountain geothermal power project in Humboldt County, Nev.
That 49.5-megawatt project is what secured the federal loan guarantee in 2010 for the company. The federal government backs 80 percent of the loan.
Some readers inclined to schadenfreude might be interested in a nice round up by my colleague Tim Cavanaugh of failed Obama administration green energy boondoggles.
Lots of countries, including many in Europe, are adopting laws that make it a criminal offense for a person to make fun of another person's religion. Just how dangerously stupid this can be is illustrated by the case of Sanal Edamaruku, who is being sued for debunking a "miracle" at a Roman Catholic church in Mumbai, India. Apparently, the local priest and enthusiatic laity were claiming that water dripping from the feet of a statue of Jesus was a divine miracle.
With the consent of the church authorities Edamaruku investigated the miracle and found that the water was actually being diverted from a clogged washroom drain eventually dripping through a nail hole at the base of the statue. Miracle debunkers are rarely popular, and it proved to be true in this case. Instead of thanking Edamaruku for his hygienic discovery, two Catholic lay organizations are seeking his arrest and trial under Section 295A of the Indian Penal code:
Whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as a insult to their religion, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
Interesting notion that alerting people to the fact that their holy water was in fact sewage somehow constitutes criminal "defilement."
Our entire July 2012 issue is now available online. Don’t miss Matt Welch on how American politics is getting dumber even as fiscal catastrophe looms, Damon Root on how the libertarian legal movement helped put ObamaCare on trial, Greg Beato on the Internet vs. the NEA, and Brian Doherty on Ron Paul’s Clone Army, plus our complete Citings and Briefly Noted Sections, the Artifact, and much more.
Former Reason staffer and current contributing editor Michael C. Moynihan (Reason archive here) is subbing for Jennifer Rubin over at the Wash Post's Right Turn blog this week.
He's already blogged about a statue to Che Guevara in Ireland, Syria's torture archipelago, Chris Rock's shakey grasp of U.S. history, and Kurt Andersen's ham-fisted case that libertarianism is the trouble with everything. And it's only Thursday (though it feels like Saturday)! Moynihan informs me that he'll be at Right Turn through July 13.
In New York, the latest plan to fight obesity involves creating outdoor playgrounds for adults. The New York Times explains: “The adult playground concept is borrowed from China and parts of Europe, where outdoor fitness areas for adults have become as routine as high-fiber diets or vitamin D supplements in preventive care, particularly for older people.” So let’s recap: $13 cigarettes, a ban on 20-ounce sodas, calorie counts on fast food menus, a war on salt and large, luxurious bike lanes throughout the five boroughs. In my experience — and I have had many, many conversations about these subjects with fellow Brooklynites — these are all developments welcomed by the people lamenting the ”gentrification” of Brooklyn and the “Disneyfication” of Times Square). If only we could recreate Serpico’s New York, but without all that dangerous high-fructose corn syrup.
Bonus: For those who romanticize the more “authentic” Times Square of the ’70s and ’80s, this sort of thing happened in broad daylight back in the “good old days” (from the fascinating Charlie Ahearn film, “Doin’ Time in Times Square”).
Buzzfeed reports today on what it says is the planned launch of a fresh campaign for the forces aligned with Ron Paul: Internet freedom.
When Paul's spokesman Jesse Benton was scrambling to end the "Paul drops out" stories triggered by their own announcement in mid-May, he stressed that one of their three primary goals in Republican Party platform influence was "internet freedom" without giving more specifics, as I blogged at the time. Now, those specifics seem worked out, as Buzzfeed reports.
From them, with comments:
Kentucky senator Rand and his father Ron Paul, who has not yet formally conceded the Republican presidential nomination, will throw their weight behind a new online manifesto set to be released today by the Paul-founded Campaign for Liberty. The new push, Paul aides say, will in some ways displace what has been their movement's long-running top priority, shutting down the Federal Reserve Bank. The move is an attempt to stake a libertarian claim to a central public issue of the next decade, and to move from the esoteric terrain of high finance to the everyday world of cable modems and Facebook.
Worth noting that that "esoteric terrain" was an amazing success for the Paul movement, taking one of his pet concerns that no one cared about for decades and getting it into a bill out of the House, a best-selling book, and a national movement. I told the story of that success in this November 2009 Reason feature, "Fed Up."
The manifesto, obtained yesterday by BuzzFeed, is titled "The Technology Revolution" and lays out an argument — in doomsday tones —for keeping the government entirely out of regulating anything online, and for leaving the private sector to shape the new online space.
That entire document can be read here:
"The revolution is occurring around the world," it reads. "It is occurring in the private sector, not the public sector. It is occurring despite wrongheaded attempts by governments to micromanage markets through disastrous industrial policy. And it is driven by the Internet, the single greatest catalyst in history for individual liberty and free markets."
The manifesto quotes Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises and attacks not just the federal government, but also progressive groups that have called for similar measures to keep the Internet largely unregulated: "Today, the road to tyranny is being paved by a collectivist-Industrial complex -- a dangerous brew of wealthy, international NGO's, progressive do-gooders, corporate cronies and sympathetic political elites."
The manifesto lays out five specific battles with government regulation and with liberals who state their goal of online liberty in similar terms, but who view corporate encroachment as a more immediate risk. The Paul manifesto seeks to rein in anti-trust actions against companies in new industries; to stop attempts to impose "Net Neutrality" rules on broadband providers; to prevent government control of online infrastructure; to broaden private control of the wireless spectrum, and shore up "private property rights on the Internet."
The Pauls also take a stand for the growing industry known (and widely criticized) as "big data."
They deride the notion that "private sector data collection practices must be scrutinized and tightly regulated inthe name of 'protecting consumers,' at the same time as government’s warrantless surveillance and collection of private citizens’ Internet data has dramatically increased."
This campaign is supposed to help guarantee an intense and dedicated grassroots effort will have something specific to focus on after Tampa in August:
"We are going to bring to this project the same kind of intensity, resources and energy we brought to the Fed Audit," said one Paul adviser.
The document will serve as a conservative counterpoint to a Declaration of Internet Freedomreleased this week by the left-leaning group Free Press, though the two share some goals. The earlier document was signed by groups including the American Civil Liberties Union as well as Internet companies such as Mozilla, and it backs a government role in maintaining what it sees as a level playing field for consumers.
This is also a new stage for what supporters refer to as the Ron Paul Revolution, and a way to make sure that Ron Paul's followers stay on board with the movement after the congressman's retirement from the House of Representatives. Paul supporters are already Internet-savvy, frequently launching digital campaigns of their own, and skew young. And the new cause gives his son Rand an easier way to connect with them, given that his relationship with his father's supporters has often been fraught.
Internet freedom, Paul insiders say, is going to be Rand's end-the-Fed.
While both Pauls have always been for all sorts of freedom, a specific emphasis on the Internet has never heretofore dominated either of their public statements. With Peter Thiel, founder of the controversial "big data" company Panantir, having made a $2.6 million investment in the (somewhat feckless in the end) superPAC "Endorse Liberty" during campaign season, perhaps the Paul machine sees this as a cause that can energize both grassroots and big money.
Erik Kain at Forbes also writes about this high-tech move by the Pauls, and isn't thrilled about how they are trying to stake distinct ground from the "Declaration of Internet Freedom" crew:
I’ve always had a soft spot for Ron Paul, even though he’s far more conservative and far more libertarian than I am. I have a soft spot for internet freedom as well, and have written about the various threats to that freedom at one time or another.
But I’m a little irked by some of the language of this document, truth be told, even though I’m always happy to see more people up in arms about things like internet censorship.
I’ve argued before that what this country really needs is a Civil Liberties Caucus in congress – not a right-leaning or left-leaning one, either. We need people like Ron Wyden on the left and Ron Paul on the right, even though they may not agree on everything, who are willing to go up against civil-liberty-quashing laws and attempts at censorship...
In other words, the last thing we need is one group of civil liberties advocates calling the other group “internet collectivists.” The stakes are too high. The number of elected officials who even care about blocking a bill like SOPA is frighteningly small to begin with....
So here’s a question for both members of the right and the left (and libertarians!) who care about internet freedom: is it worth setting aside your differences just a little bit and working against a common enemy? Is ideological purity more important than results? Where does principle leave off and pragmatism begin?
Because, quite frankly, I don’t care if you’re a collectivist or if you’re John Galt.
If you want to stop censorship and rein in an increasingly intrusive anti-piracy regime, that’s all I care about. That and the results.'
UPDATE: Timothy Lee at Ars Technica wonders what this campaign will mean for copyright enforcement as a means to crack down on the Internet, and isn't encouraged by what he's seen so far:
we were surprised to see the document denounce the "Internet collectivist" view that "what is considered to be in the public domain should be greatly expanded."....
In a Thursday interview, Campaign for Liberty spokesman Matt Hawes assured Ars that the organization did not intend to endorse today's long copyright terms. "We think the public domain is a terrific part of the Internet," he told us. Rather, he said, the group was worried that "Internet collectivists" would use the phrase "public domain" as "code for getting the government more involved" in copyright issues.
Still, it would be nice for the organization to take a clearer stance against Hollywood-backed copyright legislation that threatens Internet freedom. Ron Paul was an early SOPA opponent, but SOPA is hardly the only example of bad copyright legislation....
More importantly, Congress has already enacted copyright legislation that threatens Internet freedom. Perhaps the most alarming example is the 2008 PRO-IP Act, which gives the federal government the power to seize domain names, servers, and other assets of Internet companies without proving their owners have committed any crime...
My new book on the Paul movement, Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.
"My unsexy bumper sticker for adapting to climate change," says UCLA Professor of Economics, the Environment, and Public Affairs Matthew Kahn, "is 'Give free markets a chance!'"
Kahn, the author of Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future , argues that "well-meaning government actions" designed to combat the effects of global warming need to be scrutinized more than they have been. Despite the hostility to markets and economic development shared by many green activists, Kahn says that "free-market capitalism" provides the most flexible - and most progressive - solution to environmental issues. Climate change is coming, he avers, and raising the urban poor's standard of living and generating new technological innovations will do far more to improve things than top-down attempts to control energy use and consumption patterns.
About 7 minutes. Produced by Sharif Matar.
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New rules that would have limited federal aid to career-training programs at for-profit colleges were set to go into effect on Sunday. A judge killed the regulations at the last minute, declaring on Saturday that the product of a two-year Department of Education rulemaking process was “arbitrary and capricious.” He was right, writes Managing Editor Katherine Mangu-Ward, but the rules are far from the only thing that is arbitrary and/or capricious about federal higher education subsidies.View this article
- Small businesses and the service sector fueled job growth in June, with the private sector adding 176,000 jobs overall, says payroll-processor, ADP. You see? It's "fine" after all!
- WikiLeaks published more than two million emails from Syrian political figures, ministries and associated companies, dating from 2006 to 2012. Julian Assange said, "The material is embarrassing to Syria, but it is also embarrassing to Syria’s opponents."
- Romney and Obama are ... Yeah. Still deadlocked. Flip a coin. Actually, Ann Romney says her husband is eyeing a woman as a running mate. For her sake, let's hope she heard him clearly.
- Iran's announced plans to build a nuclear-powered submarine have complicated matters for D.C. Do sword-rattling politicians push for war over Iran's enriching fuel for the sub? Or should they continue to call for war over the country's ambitions to build nuclear weapons? It's a quandary.
- Matthew Swaye and Christina Gonzalez, a New York City couple who film police making infamous stop-and-frisk searches, are featured in a "wanted"-style poster produced and disseminated by the NYPD's Intelligence Division. The poster labels them as "professional agitators." The two have been arrested in the past for civil disobedience, but there are no warrants out for them.
- Across the country, localities have turned fines and fees into revenue-raising mechanisms for courts and cops, and farmed out collection to private companies that are authorized to jail delinquents and charge them for the privilege. Why, yes! A mess has ensued.
- In Virginia, the Newport News Sheriff's Office illegally seized hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cash and merchandise from Jayson Mickle, who owns three tobacco shops. Despite a court order, the cops have yet to return it all.
- Tens of thousands of Americans could lose their Internet service Monday unless they check their computers for malware that may have infected their machines last year. The malware took over those computers, and the FBI is poised to shut down servers put in place to keep affected systems online after the hackers were busted.
- Journalists, bloggers, and writers from around the world are invited to enter the 2012 Bastiat Prize for Journalism, which will honor commentary, analysis, and reporting that best demonstrates the importance of freedom and its underlying institutions.
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Interesting and very long Associated Press story, via the Alton Telegraph, in which I'm quoted, that takes a very optimistic view of the prospects of a resurgence of libertarian thought in the Republican Party and American politics and culture in general. While the specifics the author cites are true enough, from Ron Paulite takeovers of various state Republican Parties to an inchoate sense of weariness with pointless nannyism, I vacillate myself in how much hope I place on them.
That said, some highlights:
In its annual governance survey conducted last fall, Gallup found that a record-high 81 percent of Americans were dissatisfied with the way the country was being governed. There were increases, too, in the responses to questions that gauge a more libertarian-view of governance: A record 49 percent said they believed government posed "an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens"; 57 percent believed the federal government had too much power; and 56 percent said they would be willing to pay less in taxes and accept fewer services (a position advocated during the campaign by Paul).
But do we really need numbers to confirm the strong libertarian-like streak running through the nation of late? Instead, just look to the rise of the tea party with its smaller-government, "back-off" mantra. Or take in some of the signs posted along U.S. roads these days, like this one outside of Wickenburg, Ariz.: "Choose Freedom. Stop Obamacare." Or consider the backlash after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed banning large servings of sugary sodas.
The libertarian message is especially attractive to younger Americans who are war-weary, socially liberal and skeptical of government interference in their lives. They've grown up paying into Medicare and Social Security but hearing - endlessly - that they're unlikely to receive the benefits of those programs. They see many government initiatives as unnecessary evils, and believe social issues such as abortion and gay marriage are matters of personal choice not political debate.
Many pondered why Ron Paul, at 76 years old, attracted throngs of 20-somethings to his rallies and, according to exit polls, consistently won the 18-29 age bracket early in primary season in states such as New Hampshire and Iowa.
Twenty-six-year-old Alexander McCobin has a response for that: "This is the most libertarian generation that's ever existed, and it's because libertarianism is just correct."
Four years ago, McCobin co-founded the group Students For Liberty, which now has some 780 affiliates...
In a 2010 paper, Cato concluded that libertarians "are increasingly a swing vote ... a bigger share of the electorate than the much discussed 'soccer moms' of the 1990s or 'NASCAR dads' of the early 2000s, and bigger than many of the micro-targeted groups pursued by political strategists in the 2004 and 2008 elections."
Many of these voters would describe themselves as independents, a group that both candidates desperately need in order to win, said Samples. The libertarian view of limited government and free market economics usually pushes these voters toward Republican candidates, even if their social views are more in line with the Democratic Party.
But as the Cato study pointed out, such voters are not firmly committed to either of the two major parties...
....this is neither a passing fad nor a "Ron Paul phenomenon" that will fade once he's gone from the scene. [Nevada Paul supporters and GOP activists Carl and Richard Bunce] see hope in other up-and-coming libertarian-leaning Republicans: Justin Amash, a Michigan congressman seeking re-election whom Reason magazine christened "the next Ron Paul"; Kurt Bills, a Minnesota state representative who is running for U.S. Senate; and, of course, Rand Paul.
"Everything we've done up to this point is based on ideas. ... It carries on well past Congressman Paul," said Carl Bunce. "Hopefully we'll start to bring more voters to bear into the Republican Party - all those apathetic voters that were like myself."
When that happens, he said, "our ideas of liberty and freedom will persist."
For more on the general trends this story discusses, see both my new book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired and the out-in-paperback classic by my Reason colleagues Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie, The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America.
Take a note: Voters apparently have a dim view of being coerced into raising taxes.
A Field Poll of California voters finds that a majority of them – both Democratic and Republican – do not like the way Gov. Jerry Brown is triggering cuts to education in the fall if a tax initiative fails to pass in November. Via the Associated Press:
Nearly three-quarters of California voters oppose the automatic, midyear spending reductions that would balance the state budget if a November ballot initiative to raise taxes fails, according to a new Field Poll.
Seventy-two percent of registered voters, including wide majorities of Democrats and Republicans, oppose the measure, a central part of California's recently enacted budget, according to the poll.
The budget relies on $8.5 billion in revenue from Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to raise the state sales tax and income taxes on California's highest earners, and it threatens to cut education spending if the initiative fails.
Opposition to the so-called "trigger cuts" is greatest among Democrats -- 79 percent -- but 68 percent of independent voters and 65 percent of Republicans also oppose it, according to the poll.
The reason, poll director Mark DiCamillo explains, is because education spending in California is actually popular. That Brown triggered the cuts specifically to foster grudging support of the tax increase seems fairly apparent to voters.
Less apparent to voters is the problem of California’s growing budget deficit: According to the Field Poll, 37 percent of voters say Brown’s budget cuts go too far, up from 27 percent last year (even though, if the tax passes, education funding will be increased (pdf) by 14 percent). Take a load of this final quote, which perfectly encapsulates this struggle in a nutshell:
Among those worried for the state is Mary Hildebrand, a retired elementary school teacher from Manteca. The 80-year-old Republican opposes raising taxes, but she also opposes the use of trigger cuts. "I don't see what can be cut, either," she said. "We hired people to figure those things out. They should be working on it."
Don’t raise taxes but don’t cut anything. What happened to those people we hired to figure out how to fix the deficit without raising taxes or cutting anything (like my pension)? Where are those smart government elites who will figure it all out for us?
Another Field Poll question takes a look at whether Brown’s high-speed rail proposal (initial bonds for which may be voted on tomorrow) threatens the passage of the tax increase. The answer is: yes. Via The Sacramento Bee:
A fifth of likely voters who support Brown's proposal to raise taxes say they would be less likely to support it if the Legislature appropriates money for high-speed rail, the Field Poll found.
Lawmakers are expected to act on the $68 billion project today or Friday. Fifty-six percent of likely voters oppose the project, according to the poll.
"Here you have an unpopular, multibillion-dollar long-term project kind of rearing its head in the middle of this budget-cutting," poll director Mark DiCamillo said. "It undercuts that whole message, and that's really what's jeopardizing the Brown measure."
As I’ve mentioned before, the attack ads against the tax increase are going to be brutal come the fall if that train is funded. I’ve been looking to see if there is any growing will out there to try to recall Gov. Brown as yet, but the most I’ve discovered are a couple of Facebook pages with not that many likes.
What could be worse than bypassing the messy process of imposing taxes to instead use fines and court fees as revenue-generating tools so that people are penalized for exactly the wrong reasons? How about then leveraging the efficiency of private firms to collect those fines and fees, and levy more of their own, so that you're deputizing for-profit companies to wield the coercive power of the state, but largely divorced from those vestigial legal restraints and constitutional concerns that hobble the state itself?
The New York Times tells a woeful tale "about the mushrooming of fines and fees levied by money-starved towns across the country and the for-profit businesses that administer the system. The result is that growing numbers of poor people, like Ms. Ray, are ending up jailed and in debt for minor infractions." The system is a lot like the old-fashioned practice of tax-farming, under which favored private businesses would purchase from the state the right to collect taxes, keeping whatever they could shake loose above what they'd forked over for the privilege. The practice wasn't exactly popular, since the tax farmers had every incentive to twist arms and pad bills to make sure they at least broke even (and they generally did much better).
But the current practice is, in some ways worse, since the "tax farmers" aren't collecting official taxes — they're gathering up minor fines and fees that most local governments can't be bothered to collect themselves, and which were never intended for raising revenue. The "Ms. Ray" of Childersburg, Alabama, mentioned above, "was handed over to a private probation company and jailed" after failing to pay a fine for speeding and having her license revoked — because, she claims, she was told the wrong date for the court appearance (an error that produces lots of hits if you Google it). The original $179 speeding ticket turned into a budget-busting $1,500 whopper. Even after being tossed in the can she was "charged an additional fee for each day behind bars."
Like Ms. Ray, the other people mentioned by the Times aren't necessarily flawless innocents. There's a man who fell behind on child support payments, another who was fined for public drunkenness ... After the fees and fines tallied up to levels that these already cash-strapped individuals couldn't afford, they found themselves in modern debtors prison.
These fees and fines add up, first of all, because the folks imposing them are directly benefiting from them.
Stephen B. Bright, president of the Southern Center for Human Rights, who teaches at Yale Law School, said courts were increasingly using fees “for such things as the retirement funds for various court officials, law enforcement functions such as police training and crime laboratories, victim assistance programs and even the court’s computer system.” He added, “In one county in Pennsylvania, 26 different fees totaling $2,500 are assessed in addition to the fine.”
Officials can get away with this, the Conference of State Court Administrators said in a recent report (PDF) on the growing phenomenon of courts turning into revenue generators, because:
Most courts agree that court costs imposed in criminal proceedings must bear a reasonable
relationship to the expenses of prosecution ...
This line of cases generally holds that as long as a criminal assessment is reasonably related to the costs of administering the criminal justice system, its imposition will not render the courts ”tax gatherers” in violation of the separation of powers doctrine, and that costs may be imposed without a precise relationship to the actual cost of the particular
So courts are supposed to benefit from any fees they impose, which creates an incentive to rack 'em up, And that's before the modern tax farmers add "enrollment fees" and their own regular charges.
Theoretically, defendants in these cases, which involve misdemeanors, are entitled to legal counsel, but informing them of that right and delivering such representation doesn't seem to be a hugely pressing priority for anybody involved.
The end result is an old-fashioned mercantilist or modern corporatist (everything old is new again!) crony system of powerful officials and favored companies teaming up to milk people who have limited resources with which to resist.
More than two decades ago economics scholars noted that when incomes begin to rise pollution gets worse - until it doesn't. Income and pollution data from around the world have revealed that there are various per capita income thresholds at which air and water pollutants begin to decline. This discovery has been dubbed the Environmental Kuznets Curve. See stylized example below.
In other words, economic growth correlates with a cleaner natural environment, i.e., richer becomes cleaner. The folks who put together the doomsaying The Limits to Growth back in 1972 concluded that if humans were somehow able to overcome all other "limits" finally pollution would do us all in. It turns out that they were making this exponentialist prediction just as a wealthier United States was reaching the per capita income thresholds at which citizens begin to demand better environmental quality.
In today's New York Times there is an interesting article reporting the growing success of China's environmental movement against increased pollution. Massive local protests managed to stop a copper smelter from being built. This is not an isolated incident:
In a country infamous for its polluted air and water, the protests were only the latest in a series of large, sometimes violent demonstrations that appear to be having some success in pushing China to impose more stringent safeguards on new manufacturing and mining projects.
“The standards for environmental protection are higher and higher, from the public and also from the government,” said Zhao Zhangyuan, a retired environmental protection official who has successfully campaigned for the last several years to block the construction of a large trash incinerator in a prosperous Beijing neighborhood.
Even as Chinese people demonstrate an increasing willingness to challenge local authorities, financial penalties are on the rise for Chinese companies and their owners who plan projects perceived as hazardous.
The reductions in pollution are not automatic, but result from a public that demands that the trade-offs between income growth and environmental quality be shifted. As University of California, San Diego economist Richard Carson observes the explanations for the relationship between higher incomes producing lower levels of pollution...
...revolve around good government, effective regulation, and diffusion of technological change. These factors tend to be related in a diffuse manner with higher income and suggest it is likely, but not inevitable, that a society will choose to reduce pollution levels as it becomes wealthier.
Likely, but not inevitable? Whether or not China slides down the EKC toward less pollution will depend in large measure on the government becoming more transparent and responsive.
Dorian Brooks had no choice but to let officers walk all over him—literally.
“I felt 300 pounds on my neck,” Brooks told reporters at NBC Los Angeles. Brooks, a volunteer employee at THC Downtown Collective, a Long Beach, CA medical marijuana dispensary, was arrested June 19 during a police raid of the pot shop. Footage from the dispensary’s security camera reveals a brutal bust, including cops walking on Brooks’ back and standing on his neck, while officers prepare to handcuff the suspect. “I just felt violated and disrespected,” said the 28-year-old volunteer, one of five arrested in the raid. “We got beat up and arrested for a citation that’s equivalent to someone jaywalking.”
Brooks filed a lawsuit against the Long Beach PD this week, claiming the police used unnecessary violence in the raid, on top of destroying property and evidence. Surveillance videos show an undercover cop smashing the store’s video camera with a metal rod, while post-raid footage reveals complete destruction, with knocked over cabinets, boxes and files strewn across the floor.
Although police admit the dispensary was compliant with California state law, Long Beach PD said the raid was ordered because the store was operating without a city permit. The attorney for Dorian Brooks, however, argued that the city of Long Beach denied owners a permit, and makes it increasingly difficult for dispensaries like THC Downtown Collective to get one.
More news on medical marijuana here.
Footage from the June 19 raid:
In case you are happy, here's something that should make you sad: The taxpayer-funded website for Let's Move!, the signature project of First Lady Michelle Obama that's designed to get a nation of junior lard-asses off the couch (I was reminded of the program's existence thanks to a PSA on Nicktoons).
From the site's Fun Ways to Break Up TV Time entry:
... Quiet time for reading and homework is fine, but you should limit time spent watching TV, playing video games or surfing the web so you have more time to play!
If you’re going to watch TV or play computer games, break it up! Pause the game. Make commercial breaks Let’s Move! breaks. Here are some active and fun ideas:
- Jumping jacks
- Racing up and down the stairs
- Jogging in place
- Active house chores
- Come up with your own activities and share them with friends and family
I realize that the budget for the Let's Move! site is a rounding error on the backside of a pimple on the backside of the guy who cleans a Pershing Missile and all that, but simply because something is relatively cheap doesn't mean it should be given a free pass. Maybe it's the fact that we just celebrated the nation's birthday, or that it's like 100 degrees everywhere that matters to me, or that a million people are without electricity, or that my blood sugar is spiking or dropping (must...do...jumping...jacks...) or that I can't shake the feeling today is Saturday and so resent being stuck at work. Did I mention it's like 100 degrees?
But in the wake of record-setting deficits (that show no sign of ending any time soon) and idiot screeds about how individualism is a cancer on the body politic and two major-party presidential candidates who stink on ice worse than the Columbus Blue Jackets, well, stuff like Let's Move! (is the exclamation point really necessary?) just fills my heart with more sadness than the saddest song and the stiffest codeine-laced cough syrup I can imagine.
Read Greg Beato's classic exhumation of President Kennedy's cortisone-addled response to news that Swiss kids were in better shape than American tubbos back in the early 1960s.
The East African country of Somalia has not had an internationally recognized government since that of Siad Barre collapsed in 1991. Since then, a number of statelets have arisen across the country, most notably that of Somaliland. More than a decade of internecine conflict in the former capital of Mogadishu followed the collapse of the government. A transitional federal government was formed in 2004, with a president and a prime minister and all the trappings of a central government.
In 2006, the Islamic Courts Union (a Sharia confederacy of sorts) took control of much of the southern part of the country, including Mogadishu, ousting the transitional government’s forces. The extremist youth wing of the ICU, Al-Shabab, piqued American interests and set the stage for renewed U.S. involvement when Ethiopia intervened in Somalia, backed by the African Union and U.S. air power, to help the transitional government push back into Mogadishu. In 2007, the transitional government’s president, a former army colonel, was able to enter Mogadishu for the first time as president.
In 2009, a former ICU leader was elected president of the transitional government, yielding a declaration of war from the by then fully radicalized Al-Shabab (the group formally joined Al-Qaeda this year). In his war powers report to Congress last month, President Obama acknowledged for the first time U.S. military operations in Somalia, something that had previously been reported by the Washington Post, going back at least a year.
And now, a local Somali radio report indicates a burgeoning security state apparatus in Somalia. From RBC Radio:
The largest mass arrest operation ever in Mogadishu has been launched today by the national security agency and the police forces of Somalia’s transitional government searching Al Shabaab members, RBC Radio reports.
The operation which started early on Thursday morning continued until the afternoon as more than 3,000 people were arrested, the National Security Agency NSA confirmed…
“This morning as we were going out to the school a uniformed forces came to our house they arrested two brothers of mine.” Asha Ibrahim Jibril, a resident in Huriwa district told RBC Radio.
She complained that most of those arrested were teenagers who have no links to Al-Shabaab but the NSA officials rejected to comment on the allegations of indiscriminate jailing.
More Reason on Somalia
Is ObamaCare’s mandate a tax or a penalty? The Obama administration, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and (maybe) Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts all agree that the answer is: yes.
Over the weekend, top Romney campaign adviser Eric Ferhnstrom told MSNBC that the former governor of Massachusetts, who pushed for a state-based mandate in his own 2006 health care overhaul, agrees with the president that the mandate is a penalty and not a tax. Two days later, Romney offered a correction, telling CBS that "the Supreme Court has spoken, and while I agreed with the dissent, that's taken over by the fact that the majority of the court said it's a tax, and therefore it is a tax. They have spoken. There's no way around that." Romney has described the Massachusetts mandate he signed into law as an “incentive.”
Obama administration press secretary Jay Carney, meanwhile, recently told reporters that that ObamaCare’s mandate was not a tax. President Obama said the same thing in 2009. But in a Supreme Court brief signed by Obama administration Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the administration insisted that “the minimum coverage provision” — a.k.a. the mandate — “is valid not only as a tax in its own right, but also as an adjunct to the income tax,” and also argued that just because Congress called it a penalty in the law’s text, that doesn’t mean it’s not a tax. “The suggestion that Congress disavowed its taxing power is insupportable,” says the administration brief. “Congress placed the minimum coverage provision in the Internal Revenue Code” and “gave the IRS enforcement power over it.” It also compared the provision to other “taxing measures” used to expand health insurance, saying that the Constitution “permits Congress to impose a ‘[t]ax on individuals without acceptable health care coverage,’” and noted that multiple members of Congress defended the law as a tax during debates.
And if Salon’s report from an anonymous source inside the Supreme Court is accurate, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote both the majority opinion declaring that the mandate was justifiable under the tax power but also the first three quarters of the dissent, which argues that the mandate is not a valid exercise of the tax power. Roberts' signed majority ruling explains that "the most straightforward reading of the mandate is that it commands individuals to purchase insurance. After all, it states that individuals 'shall' maintain health insurance." And then the law imposes a penalty if they do not. But the Chief Justice's opinion disregards the most straightforward reading and rules that it's valid under the tax power anyway. The dissent, on the other hand, notes that the Supreme Court has "never held that any exaction imposed for violation of the law is an exercise of Congress’ taxing power—even when the statute calls it a tax, much less when (as here) the statute repeatedly calls it a penalty.”
So here was have each of the parties acting according to their respective characters: In early drafts of the law, Congress initially described the mandate as a tax, but eventually stripped that language and framed the mandate as a penalty when the provision was passed. The administration publicly declares that it’s a penalty now, after arguing in court that it’s a valid exercise of the tax power. But the Supreme Court has ruled that it’s technically viable only as a tax, despite agreeing that that’s not really what Congress meant. And the Romney campaign has flipped its position in the less than a week because that’s what the Republican party seems to want to hear.
The part of the mandate that resembles a tax is not the penalty on those who do not comply but the requirement that everyone "shall" mantain coverage. Think of it this way: There's little important difference between 1) the government requiring health insurers to provide health coverage and using revenue collected from a new tax to pay those insurers and 2) the government alternatively requiring individuals to pay health insurers directly for their services. There is precedent for this view: When scoring Bill Clinton's 1994 health reform proposal, the Congressional Budget Office counted private health insurance premiums paid under the law as government revenue, and added the cost of those premiums to the bill's total tab.
Does it really matter, though, whether the mandate is labeled a tax or a penalty? What matters most is what it actually does: Give the federal government the power to create commerce in order to regulate it by mandating purchase of a private product. It's a bad policy and worse legal precedent no matter what you call it.
Daniel McCarthy at American Conservative backhandedly and ironically thanks Todd Purdum at Vanity Fair on behalf of the bullshit artistes of the modern Republican Party, who manage to create a phony market differentiation by pretending to be the party of shrinking government.
In the stylized but phony Kabuki theater of American politics, the Dems and their town cryers such as Purdum pretend to believe that the Republicans are or will shrink the state, since that belief helps (supposedly) energize the Dems base to come out against the GOP even as the lie energizes the GOP's own base. But no matter who wins elections, big government wins.
As McCarthy notes, the Republicans have:
convinced panicky liberals...that the GOP really is a radically right-wing party hellbent on rolling back the welfare state and shattering the status quo. You would never imagine such a thing from looking at the record of the most recent Republican president — who added a prescription drug benefit to Medicare and did not, in fact, “privatize” Social Security — but it’s thrilling for liberals to pretend they’re about to be ravished, and it serves the GOP well to be thought of as a party of change and, for Americans who want smaller government, hope.
Why do so few outlets call attention to the obvious: that the GOP out of power campaigns as one thing — a party of cut-government-to-the-bone libertarians (God-fearing libertarians, of course) — but once in power practices a feed-the-base style of welfare politics little different from what the Democrats once perfected? Military budgets, particularly for bases in the South, are subsidies, and whatever Marvin Olasky may have intended with his talk about compassionate conservatism, in practice Bush’s faith-based initiatives were a way to channel federal money to religious organizations, rewarding Republican churches and aspiring to buy off urban ones (which received the lion’s share of the funds). Medicare Part D was explicitly aimed at shoring up the senior vote for the party. The GOP campaigns on a get-government-off-our-backs platform because Democrats are ideologically resistant to taking that line, but in practice both parties are the party of big government. You cannot look at their governing records and come to any other conclusion.
McCarthy does praise Purdum for noting another trend in national politics: the seeming death of lively and active regional interests in Congress, which means:
the old dams and harbors of our politics have been broken down — as Americans have been disaggregated from their localities and recombined in a national mass — allowing ideological currents to sweep freely from end to end of the country.
I have written in the past on the failure of the conservative movement, in the Republican Party or out of it, to actually achieve conservative political goals, all the while growing in reputation with the failure. See this March 2009 review essay for one example.
And, with 66.2 percent of votes cast ... (drum roll please) ... Oh, I gave it away in the title, didn't I? Anyway, yes, High Desert Barbecue wins Book of the Month for July 2012 at Freedom Book Club (click the video there for the announcement). That's right, my wildly irreverent, authority-baiting "tale of suspense, pyromania and sexual tension" has won the nod from voters and book club members, and will also be eligible for consideration as Book of the Year. And, since I'm shameless, I'll point out that Freedom Book Club asks that you "[b]uy the book that wins the vote the first week of the month" with hopes of driving sales to the point that the book hits best-seller charts at Amazon and elsewhere, and so gains wider attention. You can do so here or find more options here.
The reason that Freedom Book Club does this, of course, is to disseminate pro-freedom ideas with the hope that they become part of the wider culture — to acknowledge that, culturally speaking, "we're soaking in it" and to change the nature of the marinade. As the excellent arts-and-culture Website Ars Gratia Libertatis argues:
Believers in free markets and limited government are currently beset on all sides by a popular culture that glorifies collectivism, wealth redistribution and “social justice” and outright attacks or denigrates capitalism, individual rights and wealth.
Culture is the primordial ooze out of which political beliefs are born. This is why a culture that sees individual rights as subjective to the collective good will vote for politicians that believe in wealth redistribution. The culture that views unfettered free markets as harmful and exploitative will vote for more state control and regulation time after time. And so on.
To reverse the political tide of statism, it is necessary to shift the deeper cultural understanding of free markets, the primacy of the individual and to eloquently paint the horror of an encroaching, paternalistic government.
We think focusing on popular culture and entertainment can help to start that process. Stories are an incredibly powerful way to convey ideas and persuade other people. A sympathetic protagonist with a deeply held conviction in the free market allows one to feel, at an emotional level, that he is right.
Perhaps stories, paintings and verse are not enough to shift perception. But they may just be crucial, and we have to try.
I don't think that High Desert Barbecue is a world-changer by itself, but I had fun writing it. People tell me that they enjoy reading it. If it succeeds and helps to encourage other writers, artists and the like who share a preference for choice over the whip, for individualism over the hive, the world may just shift a little bit toward a respect for personal freedom.
If there was any recent political decision more opaque than Supreme Court Justice John Roberts' tortured-if-fascinating majority decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, it might be German Chancellor Angela Merkel's sign-off Friday on a 120-billion Euro "growth pact" that will effectively insulate Italy and Spain from their own high borrowing costs by injecting money directly into their banks from a new European bailout fund. As Reuters delicately phrased it, "Agreed in Brussels, the details of how this new authority will work, what powers it will have and which banks it will supervise remain murky." As Matt Welch observes, these two compromises share an enormous commonality: They both find a way to ratify the status quo in favor of statism, while putting off the hard decisions that are being foisted upon policymakers by the nonpartisan cruelty of welfare-state mathematics.View this article
Corrected: Leone was convicted of 4 of the 24 charges, not 20.
Here’s video of New York resident Robert Leone, 31 at the time, getting the tar beaten out of him by Pennsylvania State Police for not pulling over for police investigating a hit-and-run:
The incident took place in March 2010. It’s getting a lot more publicity now with the release of the video and because Leone is filing a federal suit against the Pennsylvania State Police.
The video is very long. Unfortunately narrator Larry Hohol thinks we need a lot more set up and explanation than perhaps is necessary at times.
Some important time stamps:
- 6:30: The actual dashboard video of the stop and the beating that takes place as they get Leone out of his car. What is claimed (but not visible) is that an officer parked his patrol car in such a way that Leone couldn’t exit the driver’s side as commanded by police. He is allegedly Tasered through the sunroof of his car, and the subsequent arrest and beating is mostly obscured from the dash cam by Leone’s passenger-side door. During the arrest, an officer breaks his hand from punching Leone. Leone is charged with assault for this.
- 15:00: Leone is dragged next to the patrol car with the web cam but off-camera. There it sounds as though he is struck again several times by an officer. The officer then accuses Leone of spitting on him. He is apparently hogtied and put in the back of the police car. An ambulance called to the scene takes the officer who broke his hand rather than Leone. Leone is brought to the hospital by police for treatment. Hohol claims Leone asked the nurse for help. Police then ordered the nurse to leave and Hohol says they beat Leone again. Police and prosecutors said the Leone attempted to punch an officer while being treated at the hospital.
- 23:00: Back at the patrol station, officers attempt to have Leone arraigned via Internet. When Leone asks the magistrate for help, Hohol said officers disconnected the computer. Leone was allegedly beaten yet again and brought back to the hospital. The officers claimed he was resisting. Hohol shows another medical report indicating that Leone couldn’t even remember what had happened or how he ended up back at the hospital and showing injuries to his back and the back of his legs.
Ultimately, Leone was convicted of only 20 4 of the 24 counts leveled against him. The rest were either dismissed, withdrawn or Leone was found not guilty (including the charge of driving under the influence). He was convicted of the initial hit-and-run that prompted the pursuit, attempting to elude police, resisting arrest (for the officer’s broken hand) and assault for the incident at the hospital. He was sentenced to up to four years in jail.
Hohol’s video misses some important components of the case that the Birmingham, N.Y., Press & Sun-Bulletin documents:
During the 15-mile chase through Bradford County, Pa., Leone drove erratically, crossing into the opposite side of the road at times, as officers pursued him with sirens and lights activated. According to witness testimony and a police accident report, officers began pursuing Leone after he side-swiped another car at an intersection and did not stop.
Leone allegedly had more than 19 times the therapeutic level of amphetamines in his system and a near-empty bottle of legally prescribed Adderall -- used to treat hyperactivity disorder -- in his system at the time he was apprehended, court documents and blood test results show.
Hohol claims in his video that Leone was never tested for drugs. Leone is bipolar and had been prescribed Adderall by a psychiatrist.
Whatever the truth of the case, the Hohol’s video has gone semi-viral, prompting protests in Towanda, Pa., where the stop took place.
Is there no one in charge at the Department of Close Readings? The Wall Street Journal, which today recalls an instance in which an odd movie reference from Supreme Court Justice John Roberts may have foreshadowed his eventual decision to uphold ObamaCare, has either stumbled onto a weirdly telling anecdote the Chief Justice or slow-news-week SCOTUS Kremlinology has gotten completely out of hand. Here's the story, which took place on May 16 at the Supreme Court musicale, which is apparently "an annual event where prominent musicians serenade the justices":
When the concert ended, Chief Justice Roberts rose to offer parting words. After the customary thanks to the participants, however, he pivoted to a seeming non-sequitur, noting that Justice Ginsburg had scheduled the event on what he deemed an auspicious date, the 83rd anniversary of the first Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood.
The top prize, he recalled, had gone to “Wings,” a semi-silent film about World War I flying aces. The chief justice relayed the rarely-screened picture’s plot in remarkable detail. The story involves two American flyboys, Jack (Charles “Buddy” Rogers) and David (Richard Arlen), hometown pals in a kind of love triangle with Mary, an ambulance driver played by Clara Bow.
The climactic sequence, the chief justice recounted, sees David shot down behind enemy lines. Surviving the crash, he steals a German plane and flies it toward the American base — only to be spotted by his Jack, then hell-bent on making the Jerries pay for downing his buddy. Not realizing it’s David in the enemy cockpit, Jack shoots down the German plane, killing David. Jack will carry forever his guilt for the tragic error.
Despite Chief Justice Roberts’s affection for cinema, the apparently random disquisition left many who had come to hear Brahms mystified. Yet the chief justice clearly wanted his audience — including seven of his eight colleagues — to reflect on this narrative wholly unrelated to the musical program.
At the reception that followed, a Wall Street Journal correspondent suggested that there must be a hidden meaning — an allegory, perhaps, for shifting alliances in the health care case, then under deliberation. The correspondent speculated that the address could indicate that a justice who typically votes in lockstep with another — like, say, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito – somehow had been forced to adopt the enemy’s trappings, apparently switching sides in their war to make the world “safe for democracy.”
It's a stretch for sure. But given that justices are used to arguing with each other indirectly through their questions during oral arguments, it doesn't strike me as entirely impossible that John Roberts was planting a clue, if only for the other justices.
Journalists, bloggers, and writers from around the world are invited to enter the 2012 Bastiat Prize for Journalism, which will honor commentary, analysis, and reporting that best demonstrates the importance of freedom and its underlying institutions.
The 2012 Bastiat Prize winner receives $10,000, second-place earns $5,000, and third-place takes home $1,000.
The prize is named for classical liberal essayist Frédéric Bastiat, whose writings on free markets, economics and individual rights remain a touchstone in libertarian thought.
“Frédéric Bastiat’s work has stood the test of time,” said Julian Morris, vice president of the Reason Foundation, who has developed and managed the Bastiat Prize over the past decade. “The Bastiat Prize recognizes and rewards those who, like Bastiat, eloquently deploy wit, eloquence and originality to make compelling arguments for freedom and challenge the encroachment of the state.”
All work published in print or online between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012 is eligible for submission. Entries must be received by August 1, 2012. The winner of the Bastiat Prize will be announced at a gala dinner in New York City on November 8, 2012.
The complete rules and entry forms are available online here.
Previous winners of the Bastiat Prize include Virginia Postrel (Bloomberg), Tom Easton (The Economist), Mary Anastasia O’Grady (The Wall Street Journal), Tim Harford (The Financial Times), and Amit Varma (Mint). The entries of previous winners are available on the Bastiat Prize website.
Founded by International Policy Network in 2002, the Bastiat Prize is now awarded by Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website, Reason magazine, and ReasonTV. Employees of Reason Foundation, regular columnists, and past winners of cash awards for the Bastiat Prize are not eligible. For more information and online entry forms, go here.
Since progressives want government to run health care, let's look at what government management did to K-12 education. While most every other service in life has gotten better and cheaper, American education remains stagnant. Spending has tripled! Why no improvement? Because K-12 education is a virtual government monopoly, writes John Stossel, and monopolies don't improve.View this article
There's been a new development in the Andrew Joseph Dennehy case. If you don't remember who Dennehy is, read on:
The suspect accused of opening fire outside the Tulsa County Courthouse is not fit for trial, according to a mental health evaluator....
Dennehy told [psychologist Curtis] Grundy he feared Freemasons and the Illuminati, in conjunction with Satan, were trying to harm [him] and his parents. "They work for [Satan]," Dennehy was quoted in official competency evaluation documents.
As recently as a year ago, a conspiracy theorist opening fire at a government building would have inspired a wave of warnings about "violent political rhetoric." But Dennehy doesn't seem to have sparked the reaction inspired by, say, John Bedell. Is this just an outlier, or is it a sign that the media panic is over?
New York Times reporter Eduardo Porter has a terrific column, Numbers Tell of Failure in Drug War, excoriating the stupidity and tragedy of the War on Drugs in the July 4 issue. Here are just a few tidbits:
When policy makers in Washington worry about Mexico these days, they think in terms of a handful of numbers: Mexico’s 19,500 hectares devoted to poppy cultivation for heroin; its 17,500 hectares growing cannabis; the 95 percent of American cocaine imports brought by Mexican cartels through Mexico and Central America.
They are thinking about the wrong numbers. If there is one number that embodies the seemingly intractable challenge imposed by the illegal drug trade on the relationship between the United States and Mexico, it is $177.26. That is the retail price, according to Drug Enforcement Administration data, of one gram of pure cocaine from your typical local pusher. That is 74 percent cheaper than it was 30 years ago.
This number contains pretty much all you need to evaluate the Mexican and American governments’ “war” to eradicate illegal drugs from the streets of the United States. They would do well to heed its message. What it says is that the struggle on which they have spent billions of dollars and lost tens of thousands of lives over the last four decades has failed. ...
...conceived to eradicate the illegal drug market, the war on drugs cannot be won. Once they understand this, the Mexican and American governments may consider refocusing their strategies to take aim at what really matters: the health and security of their citizens, communities and nations.
Prices match supply with demand. If the supply of an illicit drug were to fall, say because the Drug Enforcement Administration stopped it from reaching the nation’s shores, we should expect its price to go up.
That is not what happened with cocaine. Despite billions spent on measures from spraying coca fields high in the Andes to jailing local dealers in Miami or Washington, a gram of cocaine cost about 16 percent less last year than it did in 2001. The drop is similar for heroin and methamphetamine. The only drug that has not experienced a significant fall in price is marijuana.
And it’s not as if we’ve lost our taste for the stuff, either. About 40 percent of high school seniors admit to having taken some illegal drug in the last year — up from 30 percent two decades ago, according to the Monitoring the Future survey, financed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The use of hard drugs, meanwhile, has remained roughly stable over the last two decades, rising by a few percentage points in the 1990s and declining by a few percentage points over the last decade, with consumption patterns moving from one drug to another according to fashion and ease of purchase.....
Jeffrey Miron, an economist at Harvard who studies drug policy closely, has suggested that legalizing all illicit drugs would produce net benefits to the United States of some $65 billion a year, mostly by cutting public spending on enforcement as well as through reduced crime and corruption.
Go read the whole article. Of course, Reason has been against the War on Drugs for, oh say, ever since it began publicaton nearly 50 years ago. Go here for Reason's extensive archive on the asininity of the War on Drugs.
Former Spy-editor-turned-novelist-and-serioso-public-radio-dj Kurt Andersen bemoaned "the downside of liberty" in yesterday's New York Times. In high baby boomer dudgeon (Wikipedia says he was born in 1954), Andersen manages to blame the emergence of casual Fridays and runaway public pensions on - what else! - libertarianism run amok:
“Do your own thing” is not so different than “every man for himself.” If it feels good, do it, whether that means smoking weed and watching porn and never wearing a necktie, retiring at 50 with a six-figure public pension and refusing modest gun regulation, or moving your factories overseas and letting commercial banks become financial speculators. The self-absorbed “Me” Decade, having expanded during the ’80s and ’90s from personal life to encompass the political economy, will soon be the “Me” Half-Century.
People on the political right have blamed the late ’60s for what they loathe about contemporary life — anything-goes sexuality, cultural coarseness, multiculturalism. And people on the left buy into that, seeing only the ’60s legacies of freedom that they define as progress. But what the left and right respectively love and hate are mostly flip sides of the same libertarian coin minted around 1967. Thanks to the ’60s, we are all shamelessly selfish.
If this is what passes for meaningful social analysis by our graybeards, we are about to enter a North Korea-style famine when it comes to sage wisdom. Note that Andersen dates the current trend line to 1967 (the boomer touchstone year of Sgt. Pepper's when we could at long last hear colors and smell sounds and yadda yadda!) and rummages through his junk-drawer of complaints (declines in necktie wearing, public-sector worker getting titanium-plated benefits, globalized trade, increasing gun rights) to paint a dire picture of a "Me Half-Century."
Please, majorities of Americans favor pot legalization and gay marriage - this is selfish or a problem how exactly? "Moving factories overseas" somehow contributed to the single-biggest economic boom in any of our lifetimes by facilitating job-producing trade that lead to levels of employment unthinkable in the 1970s. For all the Gotham-centric invocations of firearm fears, violent crimes are at recorded lows. And the problem with the financial crisis wasn't that commercial banks became "financial speculators" - it was that the folks in charge knew all along that their pals in Washington would bail them out. Gay Pride parades and my disinterest in wearing collared shirts had very little to do with that.
There's a world of difference between, say, actually deregulating airline ticket prices (everybody won on that one, as even Ralph Nader, who helped make it happen, would attest) and rigging taxpayer-financed retirements and private-sector bailouts. And as much as I always recoiled from Marlo Thomas' Free to Be... franchise, lifestyle liberation has very little to answer for other than some bad concept albums.
If Andersen can get past his phobia of libertarians, he would do well to read up on public-choice economics, which predicts perfectly precisely what happened in the fall of 2008 and provides a road map to a different, effective form of regulation (otherwise known as eating their losses). But don't you see, Andersen would retort, that capitalists are more free than ever "to indulge their own animal spirits with fewer and fewer fetters in the forms of regulation, taxes or social opprobrium"? Except for the record number of regulations passed during the George W. Bush years, he might be on to something.
That mantle actually belongs to the main beneficiaries of today's pervasive generational warfare, in which relatively wealthy seniors are pickpocketing relatively poor younger workers via a Social Security program that is already paying negative returns on worker contributions to people retiring in 2010. As for Medicare, the other great age-based entitlement, it's bankrupting the country largely because everybody gets more benefits than they put in. That's why it's the single-largest driver of federal spending and highly unlikely to survive long enough for any of us under 50 to share in the ill-gotten booty.
As a late boomer (I was born in 1963), I grew up in a world that was by high school already teeming with sanctimonious authority figures drawn from the counterculture. They couldn't seem to get through a simple conversation without bemoaning the fate of the world and being preachier than a George Harrison solo record. Andersen inhabits that role fully, chewing the scenery like a post-Godfather Al Pacino:
Jefferson wrote that our tendencies toward selfishness where liberty and our pursuit of happiness lead us require “correctives which are supplied by education” and by “the moralist, the preacher, and legislator.”
On this Independence Day, I’m doing my small preacherly bit.
Didn't God die in like 1966? Next time you put on the collar, padre, please at least take a couple of minutes to collect your thoughts, check the data, and swap out the fat-tip Sharpie for a fine-point pen.
Nick Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv and the co-author with Matt Welch of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America, now out in paperback with a new foreword.
Angela Merkel has been called a Nazi in Greece, but she didn't let that inhibit her. Nor did it silence the German fans, who jeered at the Greeks, "Without Angie, you wouldn't be here!" Apparently, writes Steve Chapman, their fiscal restraint and economic health have imbued Germans with a bit more pride and even assertiveness. The flag is no longer invisible. In a spectacle brought on by the European soccer championship, reports The Economist magazine, "the entire country is swathed in black, red and gold."View this article
- Mitt Romney’s made up his mind, he says the Obamacare penalty is a tax. The presidential candidate overrode a chief advisor who, agreeing in part with the White House, said the penalty was not a tax several days earlier.
- The European Parliament roundly rejected the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, an international agreement on internet controls signed by several countries including the United States. Will ACTA pass in the United States? President Obama maintains he doesn’t need Congressional approval for the deal.
- A Roman Catholic priest in Peru was arrested at an anti-mining protest for “organizing meetings,” which is banned since a state of emergency was put in place to prevent protests at the country’s largest mining project. The priest alleged through Twitter that police assaulted him at the station and the government says a prosecutor will investigate.
- No power yesterday? George Washington didn’t have air conditioning either.
- Deadline reports a secret deal negotiated by Ari Emanuel (Rahm’s brother) for an HBO Roger Ailes movie, based on an upcoming book, that would be produced by the hosts of Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. Right.
- New observational data suggests a good portion of the process of planet formation might take two years or less.
- Scientists aren’t positive the boson they found is a Higgs, but already contentiousness is expected over who might be awarded the Nobel for it. Just give it to Barack Obama.
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Reason.TV: "James V. DeLong on Ending "Big SIS" (The Special Interest State)
The reasoning underlying the 5 to 4 majority opinion is the Supreme Court's unprecedented pronouncement that Congress' power to tax is unlimited. The majority, writes Judge Andrew Napolitano, held that the extraction of thousands of dollars per year by the IRS from individuals who do not have health insurance is not a fine, not a punishment, not a payment for government-provided health insurance, not a shared responsibility—all of which the statute says it is—but rather is an inducement in the form of a tax.View this article
Parents of students at England's Gartocham Primary School were excited to learn that Alan Bell, the chief starter of the London Olympics, would be firing his starter's pistol for races at the school's annual sports day. Local health and safety officials were not excited. They banned Bell from firing the pistol, saying it could frighten the children.
If drugs didn't drive Rudy Eugene to gnaw off Ronald Poppo's face, asks Yale neurologist Steven Novella, what did? Initially, he says, "I felt the most plausible hypothesis for this bizarre and violent behavior was drugs, especially given that Eugene had no history of violence." (That last part is not accurate; see below.) Although toxicological tests found no evidence that Eugene had consumed any drug other than marijuana, Novella raises the possibility that he "did use a street drug that triggered an acute psychotic episode," noting that "the toxicology can only test for known substances." He admits "it's hard to prove that Eugene did not have an unknown drug in his system." Novella even suggests that Eugene may have had "an atypical response to marijuana (which can rarely occur)." Well, yes, that's what atypical means, but does it make sense to blame Eugene's ghoulish assault on any drug, whether marijuana or "bath salts," when people who use that drug almost never behave this way? After all, Eugene's crime was an international sensation precisely because it was so unusual. It cannot possibly be explained by citing factors that Eugene had in common with millions of other people who never behave violently, let alone eat anyone's face.
There is a similar problem with Novella's favored theory, which is that Eugene had "a psychotic disorder":
Those with schizophrenia, for example, can have episodes of rapid and severe worsening where they have a "psychotic break" and can engage in extreme bizarre and violent behavior. Such psychotic episodes can be spontaneous or triggered, by going off of anti-psychotic medication, using recreational drugs, or a psychological stressor.
As those cans suggest, Eugene's behavior was atypical even among people diagnosed with schizophrenia, most of whom are not violent, let alone cannibalistically so. In any case, Novella concedes, interviews with people who knew Eugene reveal "no discussion of any significant psychiatric history or diagnosis, and no prior episodes of violence, hallucinations, delusions, or psychotic breaks." Furthermore, Eugene was 31, "which is a little old for a first episode."
Why not examine Eugene's brain for evidence of schizophrenia? Because there is no such definitive biological test—no way to conclusively confirm or disconfirm Novella's "psychotic disorder" hypothesis, unless psychotic is just a name for the mental state of a person who strips naked, swings from a light post, scatters Bible pages, and eats a homeless man's face. Loony or crazy would do just as well, and neither counts as a scientific explanation.
"The cause of the Causeway Killer's...behavior may never be known," Novella concludes, "but I think I covered all the plausible possibilities above. Of course there are an unlimited number of implausible possibilities—alien mind control, an unknown zombie virus, demonic possession, evil fairies, vampirism, etc." (He does not mention the possibility of a voodoo curse.) Novella, of course, considers these explanations ridiculously unscientific because they are unfalsifiable. But so are Novella's proposed explanations: an unknown drug that by definition cannot be detected or an unverifiable mental disorder that cannot be traced to a brain abnormality observable in an autopsy.
It is not quite true, by the way, that Eugene had "no history of violence." He was arrested for battery at age 16, and in 2004 police were called to his mother's house because he was wrecking the place, shoving her, and threatening to kill her. They used a Taser to subdue him after he refused to leave. This altercation surely is easier to comprehend than Eugene's grisly, unprovoked attack on Poppo, but a history of violence is, not surprisingly, a good predictor of future violence. That does not mean it is a good explanation, since we don't exactly know what makes some people more violent than others to begin with. We surely don't have a satisfying explanation for the sort of violence that generates international news coverage precisely because it is so bizarre.
[Thanks to Mark Sletten for the tip.]
Writing in the New York Daily News, Senior Editor Jacob Sullum asks why Mayor Michael Bloomberg's beverage regulations are limited to soft drinks. What about the hard stuff? Alcohol, Sullum notes, adds not just calories but myriad other hazards.
More and more children are being arrested and charged with criminal offenses for behavior that used to earn them detention—or less. Twelve-year-old Sarah Bustamantes was arrested at Fulmore Middle School in Austin, Texas, a while back because she sprayed perfume on herself after being told, “you smell.” According to a study of the Texas educational system, more than 1,000 pupils have been hauled into court for offenses as minor as "making an unreasonable noise." You might think: Well, that’s Texas for you; they’re old-school down there. But, writes A. Barton Hinkle, it’s the same story in many parts of the country.View this article
Frederick Douglass' 1852 fiery speech "What to the slave is the Fourth of July?" remains intensely relevant to contempoary debates over American Exceptionalism, says Nick Gillespie. Where today's conservatives recoil from any criticism of the nation's past and present and liberals indulge in never-ending apology tours, "Douglass was able to place America...in an international context [and] to recognize that embracing freedom and liberty is a process that will continue to unfold and expand (or contract) over time." He continues to offer a compass for a country hurtling through history.View this article
The Supreme Court decision upholding the health-insurance mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has an Alice-in-Wonderland feel to it, writes Sheldon Richman. Chief Justice John Roberts’s opinion holds that the penalty for not complying with the mandate is both a tax and not a tax—depending on the question.View this article
EconomicFreedom.org's Sean Malone posts a timely video starring Reason columnist and Keep Food Legal honcho Baylen Linnekin that explains why the freedom of assembly was enshrined in the Constitution's First Amendment.
And how early patriots took advantage of coffee houses and taverns to meet and discuss the sorts of activities that led to the writing of the Declaration of Independence.
Take a look at "Lagers for Liberty."
Bonus: Linnekin is guest-blogging over former Reasoner Radley Balko's must-read site The Agitator. Check it out, whydontcha?
- Physicists have observed the so-called God particle. A video that seemed to indicate that had been earlier pulled by the CERN laboratory.
- Hillary Clinton said she was sorry for the death of two dozen soldiers in a November air strike and that apparently was enough to get Pakistan to reopen the border to NATO supplies.
- Police raided Nicholas Sarkozy’s home and offices related to the former French president in a campaign finance investigation involving money from a L’Oreal heiress.
- A Santa Ana councilman faces more than a dozen felony charges related to alleged sexual abuse of city employees.
- A Kansas City police officer is charged with corruption for allegedly forcing women to have sex with him in exchange for not arresting them.
- Hey look, the Pittsburgh Pirates are tied for first in the NL Central.
- Jaws and the Black Widow will be among those facing off at the annual Fourth of July Nathan’s hot dog eating contest on Coney Island today. Happy birthday America.
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Reason.TV: "James V. DeLong on Ending "Big SIS" (The Special Interest State)
On June 18, the New York Yankees beat the Atlanta Braves, 6-2. That same day in Washington, D.C., former Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens beat the federal government. After five years, and despite the tireless efforts of 93 deputized bureaucrats and $3 million in taxpayer sweat, Clemens was acquitted of perjury charges that stemmed from his testimony about steroid use. Eight years after President Bush criticized steroid use in baseball, writes Rob Bibelhauser, fans and liberty lovers alike are damn tired of Washington's steroid witch hunt.View this article
Last week supporters and opponents of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act anxiously awaited the Supreme Court's ruling on the law's individual health insurance mandate. Imagine their surprise, writes Senior Editor Jacob Sullum, when the Court announced that there is no individual health insurance mandate.View this article
Davenport, Iowa, residents Mack and Merla Covey said they were surprised to see strangers in their yard removing a teepee and other items. It turns out the strangers were city workers removing "debris" a neighbor had complained about. The Coveys say the teepee was actually a religious item, a place where they held spiritual ceremonies. Alderman Bill Boom said the city sent a notice to the Coveys to remove the items but it was sent to the wrong address.
On Monday, Scott Shackford warned critics of the war on drugs not to expect much from Mexico's president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Peña Nieto, like the other two leading presidential candidates, promised voters a change of course aimed at reducing the violence that has left some 50,000 people dead since the outgoing president, Felipe Calderón, began his anti-drug crackdown at the end of 2006. But at the same time, Peña Nieto reassured U.S. officials that he would continue to enthusiastically participate in the vain struggle to stop Americans from obtaining the psychoactive substances they want. Yesterday, in an interview with PBS, he sent a somewhat different signal, saying:
I'm in favor of opening a new debate in the strategy in the way we fight drug trafficking. It is quite clear that after several years of this fight against drug trafficking, we have more drug consumption, drug use and drug trafficking. That means we are not moving in the right direction. Things are not working.
I'm not saying we should legalize. But we should debate in Congress, in the hemisphere and especially the U.S. should participate in this broad debate.
Peña Nieto sounds a little more open to legalization than President Obama, who when he isn't laughing at the very idea calls it "an entirely legitimate topic for debate" but not a policy he would ever seriously consider. Peña Nieto's remarks take on added significance in the context of other Latin American leaders' weariness with the drug war and support for reforms such as decriminalization of possession and even legal distribution of marijuana (albeit through government-run outlets). But let's not get carried away. Calderón himself made similar noises a couple of years ago, and so did his predecessor, Vicente Fox, who as president supported decriminalization of possession (a stingy version of which was enacted under Calderón) and after leaving office went further, saying full legalization should be considered. These rumblings are significant but won't have much impact unless Latin American politicians are prepared to defy the U.S. government's pushy prohibitionists or (even less likely) those prohibitionists reconsider their never-ending, always-failing crusade for a drug-free society.
More on the Mexican drug war here.
[Thanks to Tom Angell at LEAP for the tip.]
The Obama campaign wants to hear from its supporters again. According to a campaign e-mail from Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, the last survey revealed that 20% of Obama supporters were “healthcare professionals.” Among the questions in this survey:
Please rate the importance of the following as reasons to support this campaign:
President Obama fights for the causes I believe in…
This election should be decided by everyday Americans, not by special-interest and super PAC spending…
Mitt Romney's policies would be disastrous for our country…
We need to finish what we started in 2008…
I feel a personal connection to President Obama
Police officers in Lake Charles, Louisiana shot and killed a family dog named Monkey while chasing a suspect, according to an online petition calling for the police department to fully investigate the incident.
According to the local NBC affiliate KPLC:
It happened yesterday at a house on Hodges Street in Lake Charles where the dog named "Monkey" was allegedly shot multiple times.
The shooting reportedly occurred when the dog began barking at police who were chasing some suspects.
Lake Charles Police spokesman Mark Kraus says they are investigating the shooting.
And from the petition:
"Monkey" was more than a pet she was as close to a family member as anyone or anything could be. Monkey was shot by a Lake Charles Police Officer or Officers. She was shot multiple times after she ran out a gate that was left open by a suspect being chased by the officers. Now our beloved monkey is gone because she was considered a potential threat to the officers. If anyone knew monkey they know she was not any threat to anything.
UPDATE: Details of the police chase from KPLC, via commenter Jerry
Two views of the storms and high temperatures that have wreaked havoc on the east coast of the U.S.A.
First up: Middlebury College Schumann Distinguished Scholar Bill McKibben plunges his Swiftian sword into the breasts of global warming skeptics:
Please don’t sweat the 2,132 new high temperature marks in June—remember, climate change is a hoax. The first to figure this out was Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, who in fact called it “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” apparently topping even the staged moon landing. But others have been catching on. Speaker of the House John Boehner pointed out that the idea that carbon dioxide is “harmful to the environment is almost comical.” The always cautious Mitt Romney scoffed at any damage too: “Scientists will figure that out ten, twenty, fifty years from now,” he said during the primaries...
An absurd number of catastrophes kept happening at the same time, just like in the best disaster films. On Friday, for instance, Washington set all-time heat records (one observer described it as like “being in a giant wet mouth, except six degrees warmer”), and then shortly after dinner a storm for the ages blew through—first there was five minutes of high wind, blowing dust and debris (and tumbleweeds? surely some tumbleweeds), followed by an explosive display of thunder and lightning that left millions without power...
But if Senator Inhofe is right, we can all relax. It looks real, but it isn’t—it’s just nature trying to compete with James Cameron. So please don’t shout fire in the global 3-D theater. Stay cool. And get a big tub of popcorn—in this epic disaster flick we’re not even close to the finale.
Meanwhile, Breitbart.com's Joel B. Pollak faults the media for not subjecting President Obama to the same scrutiny it applied to George W. Bush after Hurricane Katrina:
With much of the East Coast still struggling to recover from recent storms that cut power to millions of residents during a heat wave, President Barack Obama is wrapping up a comfortable vacation in Camp David. He was not too busy to visit the scene of wildfires in swing-state Colorado--and make some fundraising calls from Air Force One en route--but he somehow could not muster the strength to address the state of emergency closer to home.
Twenty-two people have died, and residents around Washington, DC are struggling to navigate roads whose signals have not worked for days. If not for the July 4th week, the disruption would have been even worse. But President Obama has left the messy job of handling the emergency to state and local officials. Damage that has been described as "worse than some hurricanes" has not moved Obama to interrupt his air-conditioned holiday.
This dereliction of duty is not happening in distant New Orleans, but right in the heart of the nation's media and political center. Yet the mainstream media has not bothered to comment on Obama's absence. As for the Obama campaign itself, it hawked t-shirts to "keep cool" while the Romney campaign actually took the disaster seriously, organizing a drive for donations of basic necessities to stranded residents, such as canned food and water.
Both arguments seem pretty opportunistic to me. All respect to Kanye, but the post-Katrina criticism of Bush was cheap. Touring disaster areas is what governors are for — and judging by states I've lived in I can't recall the presence of George Pataki or Christy Whitman or tireless firetruck chaser Arnold Schwarzenegger making much practical difference during times of sorrow.
Nor do I think anybody who's been without air conditioning in Prince George's County or displaced by wildfire in Colorado getting much relief from McKibben's suggestions about nixing Arctic drilling or kiboshing the Keystone XL pipeline. According to one skeptical study, deaths from natural disasters have been declining [pdf] since the 1920s. According to National Weather Service [pdf], U.S. weather fatalities are up in some categories and down in others. Is McKibben comfortable saying the lethality of the environment is increasing? Is the well-being of humans even the point?
Washington University sociologist Mark Rank slices and dices income mobility data from 1968 to 2009 to find that 85 percent of Americans will experience income insecurity before they reach age 60. On the other hand, nearly 77 percent of Americans will have lived in a household earning more than $100,000 for at least one year, and 21 percent will have enjoyed living in households earning $250,000 for at least one year. Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey trawls the data for insights about your chances of economic success or failure or both.View this article
- Mitt Romney and Barack Obama agree with one another, and disagree with the Supreme Court, that the money people will have to pay for not satisfying the requirements of the new health care law is a penalty, not a tax. Republican veep prospect Chris Christie says the court is right and it's a tax. Well, that clears things up.
- The federal government admits to spending $11 billion in an often-leaky effort to protect its secrets. That's double what it spent a decade ago, and doesn't include its super-secret costs to shield really secret secrets.
- You wish you protected your money from the government as well as Mitt Romney has protected his.
- Having been targeted by their new, socialist government, high-income French citizens are poised to enjoy a comfortable tax-exile status in neighboring Switzerland, and the Swiss quietly encourage the exodus.
- The Syrian government runs "an archipelago" of 27 torture centers as part of its fight to survive a popular uprising against authoritarian rule, says Human Rights Watch.
- The victory in Mexico's presidential election of Enrique Peña Nieto and his Institutional Revolutionary Party hasn't exactly thrilled the many Mexicans who fled to the U.S. to escape that party's authoritarian and corrupt policies.
- Why does France so often seem a little ... soft? Because the entire country's supply of tough was channeled to Count Robert de la Rochefoucauld. The one-time parachuting secret agent who escaped execution at the hands of the Nazis, twice, then was kicked out of Indochina for being too gung-ho, has died at the age of 88 — after, rumor has it, kicking the Angel of Death in the nuts. (HT Brian Combs)
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“And baby makes three” may need an update.
California legislators are considering giving judges the leeway to declare more than two adults as the legal parents of a child. The Sacramento Bee explains SB 1476, introduced by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco:
Under Leno's bill, if three or more people who acted as parents could not agree on custody, visitation and child support, a judge could split those things up among them.
SB 1476 is not meant to expand the definition of who can qualify as a parent, only to eliminate the limit of two per child.
Under current law, a parent can be a man who signs a voluntary declaration of paternity, for example. It also can be a man who was married and living with a child's mother, or who took a baby into his home and represented the infant as his own.
Leno's bill, which has passed the Senate and is now in the Assembly, would apply equally to men or women, and to straight or gay couples.
The bill was inspired by a court case involving a child with two moms. When one mom was sent to prison and the other mom ended up in the hospital, the child’s biological father stepped forward and offered to take care of her. But the law currently states that a child can only have two parents, regardless of gender combination. Instead the child was taken by the state, according to MSNBC.
The religious right “traditional values” response is as expected: “blah blah NO GAY MARRIAGE blah blah,” even though the law could also come into play in complex heterosexual relationships.
Other objectors are more concerned that allowing for a third (or more) legally recognized parent could cause a whole host of other legal problems:
Opponents counter that the issue is complex and that allowing multiple parents in one section of law inevitably raises questions that could spark litigation in other sections.
Tax deductions, citizenship, probate, public assistance, school notifications and Social Security rights all can be affected by determinations of parenthood, notes the Association of Certified Family Law Specialists.
"This bill, in our opinion, if passed, will cause significant unintended consequences," said Diane Wasznicky, the group's president and a family law attorney in Sacramento.
Assemblyman Donald Wagner, an Irvine Republican who opposes SB 1476, noted it could spark litigation, say, in a case of a wrongful death of a child with four potential parents and determining who has a claim.
Karen Anderson, of the California Protective Parents Association, said the legislation could result in a child being bounced among multiple adults in a bitter family breakup.
"It's hard enough for children to be split up two ways, much less multiple ways," she said.
Well, that’s the first time I’ve seen lawyers complain that a new law might result in them getting more work.
Did Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts write both the majority ruling and the dissenting opinion in the ObamaCare case? Earlier this week, CBS News reported that Roberts switched his vote late in the process after initially voting against the law's individual mandate, writing the majority opinion and saving the law in the process.
Now, at Salon, law professor Paul Campos writes that sources inside the high court tell him that a substantial portion of the final dissenting opinion signed jointly by Justices Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito was in fact initially drafted inside John Roberts' chambers:
My source insists that “most of the material in the first three quarters of the joint dissent was drafted in Chief Justice Roberts’ chambers in April and May.” Only the last portion of what eventually became the joint dissent was drafted without any participation by the chief justice.
This source insists that the claim that the joint dissent was drafted from scratch in June is flatly untrue. Furthermore, the source characterizes claims by Crawford’s sources that “the fact that the joint dissent doesn’t mention [sic] Roberts’ majority … was a signal the conservatives no longer wished to engage in debate with him” as “pure propagandistic spin,” meant to explain away the awkward fact that while the first 46 pages of the joint dissent never even mention Roberts’ opinion for the court (this is surely the first time in the court’s history that a dissent has gone on for 13,000 words before getting around to mentioning that it is, in fact, dissenting), the last 19 pages do so repeatedly.
The twist ending that no one expected!
In a recent Open Neurology Journal article, four University of California at San Diego researchers review the evidence concerning marijuana's medical utility and conclude that its continued classification as a Schedule I drug is "not tenable." The authors, led by psychiatrist Igor Grant, who directs the University of California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, examined studies involving smoked and vaporized marijuana as well as synthetic THC capsules (such as Marinol) and extracts such as Sativex, an oral spray that has been approved in several countries and is undergoing Phase III trials in the United States. They note that "control of nausea and vomiting and the promotion of weight gain in chronic inanition are already licensed uses of oral THC" and that "recent research indicates that cannabis may also be effective in the treatment of painful peripheral neuropathy and muscle spasticity from conditions such as multiple sclerosis." In light of this evidence, they say, it is plainly unjustified to keep marijuana on Schedule I, supposedly reserved for drugs with "a high potential for abuse" and "no currently accepted medical use" that cannot be used safely, even under medical supervision:
The classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug as well as the continuing controversy as to whether or not cannabis is of medical value are obstacles to medical progress in this area. Based on evidence currently available the Schedule I classification is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking. It is true cannabis has some abuse potential, but its profile more closely resembles drugs in Schedule III (where codeine and dronabinol [synthetic THC] are listed). The continuing conflict between scientific evidence and political ideology will hopefully be reconciled in a judicious manner.
Hopefully! "Government-Sponsored Study Destroys DEA's Classification of Marijuana," Stephen Webster excitedly declares at The Raw Story, referring to state funding for Grant et al.'s research review. But the DEA's classification of marijuana has been destroyed so many times I've lost count. Twenty-four years ago, an administrative law judge, responding to a legal challenge initiated in 1972, recommended that marijuana be taken off Schedule I, calling it "one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man." DEA Administrator John Lawn overruled him in a decision that was upheld by a federal appeals court in 1994. All of Lawn's successors have taken the same position in response to petitions asking them to reschedule marijuana.
Still, surely an administration whose drug policy watchwords are science and compassion will finally reclassify marijuana in a way that more accurately reflects its hazards and potential benefits. Or maybe not. Last year, as I noted in the October issue of Reason and as Paul Armentano of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws reminds us, the Obama administration "formally denied a nine-year-old administrative petition filed by NORML and a coalition of public interest organizations calling on the agency to initiate hearings to reassess the present classification of marijuana." Michele Leonhart, Obama's choice to head the DEA, is so committed to anti-pot orthodoxy that she'd rather look like an idiot in front of Congress than concede that marijuana is less dangerous than any other drug. Oh, well. Maybe in the second term.
Do Republicans care about health policy at all? Not really, at least judging by the party’s twenty-plus year history of erratic and contradictory interest in health care legislation. That's basically the point that both Jonathan Chait and Josh Barro make in separate pieces today, and also part of the point I tried to make a few weeks ago when I argued that GOP support for the individual mandate was never terribly strong.
Republican legislators weren’t actually interested in health policy, but they were interested in saying they had a health policy. That’s why a number of them nodded along when the Heritage foundation proposed the individual mandate. For the most part, Republican interest in health policy coincided neatly with political convenience. Republicans opposed Clinton’s health care plan because they thought it was politically advantageous. They whipped votes in favor of an unpaid-for expansion of Medicare drug coverage in large part because they didn’t want Democrats to get credit for having passed something similar (it helped that their version was approved by the pharmaceutical industry). And during the years when they controlled the White House and both houses in Congress, they didn’t pursue structural reforms to the existing Medicare entitlement or the larger health insurance market because they didn’t see a political advantage in doing so. When Mitt Romney passed a health policy overhaul in Massachusetts, a number of Republican legislators voiced their support—not because they cared about the details of the plan, but because they thought it would check off the health policy box, and because they thought there was a political advantage in wielding the plan against Democrats.
However, there have always been pockets of GOP support for doing something about health care, or at least for being seen to do something. Which is why I think Chait is at least misleading when he writes that “Republicans have never appropriated any money to cover the uninsured.” Rather than look at appropriations, it’s better to look at whether Republican legislators have ever voted for plans that expanded health insurance coverage. And at both the federal and the state level, some Republicans have. Republicans have voted to create state-managed high risk insurance pools. And in the late 1990s, GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch helped create the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Many of his fellow Republicans voted for the bill that created it. In 2007, Republicans reauthorized the program by voice vote, and in 2009, 40 House Republicans and nine Senate Republicans joined Democrats to support extending and expanding the program—an expansion that President Bush had opposed but that President Obama signed into law.For at least the last two decades, health policy has not been a core part of the Republican party’s identity. Taking advantage of health policy debates to score short-term political points has. Which is why, despite early promises to have an ObamaCare alternative ready by the summer, Republicans on Capitol Hill gave up working on a legislative alternative. Overall, the party’s elected official care more about the political advantage of opposing ObamaCare than they do about sinking effort and political capital into crafting workable legislative alternatives.
But even the SCHIP votes show how weak GOP support has historically for any particular health policy idea: A majority of Republicans voted in favor of the legislation that created the program when they thought there was a political advantage to doing so, and a little over a decade later, a majority of Republicans voted against it.
I would like to think that the last few years, during which it has been impossible for GOP legislators to avoid thinking about health policy, have changed things somewhat. Clearly there are a handful of GOP elected officials with wonkier backgrounds—people like Rep. Paul Ryan and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal—who do care about the details of health policy. But there's no larger party effort to either craft plans or do the long-term work of building the coalitions to support them. The party's House and Senate leadership are sticking with a strictly political message of opposing the current president's policies and the party's presidential candidate seems content to run on non-specific Obama opposition fake policy plans. Which is why I remain skeptical. If the bulk of the GOP cared about health care policy, as opposed to health care politics, they would have shown it by now.
On today's airing of the Fox News show The Five (more info), the hosts will discuss what led a dozen postal strikers to go on a four-day hunger strike last week.
ReasonTV caught up with the famished real-world Newmans and Cliff Klavins as they were about to enter the halls of Congress to plead their case to be let out of a 2006 arrangement. That law, The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, says that the Postal Service must fully fund its health and retirement accounts to the tune of more than $5 billion a year until 2017, which understandably cuts into the post office's declining cash flow. The law also made various changes to how postal rates are set and a variety of other lesser issues.
What the postal workers and their supporters typically fail to acknowledge is that the law also relieved the Postal Service of paying some $27 billion in pension benefits that were attributable to employees' military service. And that the bill passed the Senate unaminously on a voice vote and with 410 votes in the House of Representatives. This wasn't partisan legislation, that's for sure, but an attempt to clean up the bad finances of a major operation. For more on how the changes affected government spending, go here.
Here's the original writeup for the ReasonTV vid, "Gandhi, Mandela, and...Mailmen?":
Almost a dozen current and retired Postal Service workers (out of a current workforce of more than 550,000) are staging a four-day hunger strike - just one day longer than the average First Class letter takes to be delivered across the country - to call attention to what they say is a plot to destroy the United States Postal Service.
From June 25 through June 28, the strikers were in Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress to change a 2006 law that forces the Post Office to "pre-fund" health-care and retirement by billions of dollars a year. Despite a 21-percent decline in mail volume over the past four years and labor costs that are far higher than competitors such as UPS and FEDEX, the strikers say it's the mandate, not a hidebound way of doing business, that's stamping out the Postal Service's future.
ReasonTV caught up with the hunger strikers on the steps of the Cannon Building in Washington.
Approximately 3 minutes.
Produced by Jim Epstein and Nick Gillespie.
Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress is willing to ask what The New York Times might have maybe been hinting at: Was Justice Clarence Thomas one of the unnamed sources who told CBS reporter Jan Crawford that Chief Justice John Roberts switched his vote on the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate?
As evidence, Millhiser points to two paragraphs buried deep in a Times story by Adam Liptak:
But the possibility that conservatives had victory within reach only to lose it seemed to infuriate some of them. The CBS News report, attributed to two sources with “specific knowledge of the deliberations,” appeared to give voice to the frustrations of people associated with the court’s conservative wing. It was written by Jan Crawford, whose 2007 book, “Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court,” was warmly received by conservatives.
In a 2009 interview on C-Span, Justice Thomas singled her out as a favorite reporter. “There are wonderful people out here who do a good job — do a fantastic job — like Jan Greenburg,” Justice Thomas said, referring to Ms. Crawford by her married name at the time.
Millhiser’s post looks at Crawford’s history of defending Thomas, but admits it’s the evidence is a bit circumstantial:
None of this, of course, proves conclusively that Thomas is one of Crawford’s two sources. But it does demonstrate that the two of them have a strong working relationship based on mutual admiration for each other. If Thomas were looking to leak confidential information to a member of the Supreme Court press, it is likely that he would choose the one reporter he has publicly revealed to be his favorite. The fact that that reporter is a well-regarded conservative journalist who also works for a high profile outlet is gravy.
It is a bit intriguing that Liptak included that praise from Thomas in a story that focuses on Roberts’ decision and otherwise has very little to do with Thomas. It stands out as odd and a bit suggestive.
More Reason on Justice Thomas here.
Sgt. German Bosque of the Opa-locka Police Department in South Florida has been suspended, fired, and reinstated a combination of nearly two dozen times over the last 20 years for stealing drugs, possessing counterfeit cash, brutalizing suspects and bystanders, lying, insubordination, sexual assault, and various asundry other crimes. Today, reports the Miami Herald, Bosque is once again suspended and collecting $60,000 a year because his own chief of police cannot fire him:
Opa-locka has the dubious distinction of employing the cop who can’t be fired. Though the city keeps on trying.
Sgt. German Bosque of the Opa-locka Police Department has been disciplined, suspended, fined and sent home with pay more than any officer in the state.
He has been accused of cracking the head of a handcuffed suspect, beating juveniles, hiding drugs in his police car, stealing from suspects, defying direct orders and lying and falsifying police reports. He once called in sick to take a vacation to Cancún and has engaged in a rash of unauthorized police chases, including one in which four people were killed.
Arrested and jailed three times, Bosque, 48, has been fired at least six times. Now under suspension pending yet another investigation into misconduct, Bosque stays home and collects his $60,000-a-year paycheck for doing nothing.
Before he was ever hired in Opa-locka 19 years ago, Bosque, whose nickname is GB, was tossed out of the police academy twice and fired from two police departments. Each time he has faced trouble he has been reinstated with back pay. He boldly brags about his ability to work a law enforcement system that allows bad cops to keep their certification even in the face of criminal charges.
“He is a time bomb that has now exploded,” said Opa-locka Police Chief Cheryl Cason.
Make sure and read the whole story, which is absolutely appalling.
Update: Melanie beat me to it.
Rabbi David Wolpe says exorcism of demons is a talent not restricted to gentiles:
Anyone who spends time with rabbinic literature (or, for that matter, with the stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer) is familiar with demons. Jewish demons, like their counterparts in other traditions, like to inhabit people or simply upend them from time to time. Not only are there many discussions of demons in rabbinic literature, but also, as a result of demonic activity, there are many spells directed against them, as where there are demons, there must be defenses and antidotes. Some demons are granted names. (Ashmedai, from the book of Tobit, is among the most notable. He is the king of demons, and in the Talmud, King Solomon tricked him into helping with the construction of the Temple.) And there are endless discussions of their activities and depredations.
Exorcism reached a peak in the mystical community of 16th century Safed. The scholar J.H. Chajes has translated several accounts of spirit possession in Safed. One, in which a man named Samuel Zafrati entered a woman, involved Hayyim Vital, the principle disciple of the Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria. He asked the spirit, “How can we be sure your name is Samuel Zafrati?” and the spirit, through the woman, accurately recounted all the details of the man’s life. “Then we recognized, all those present, that the spirit was the speaker.”
The Los Angeles Jewish Journal's news hook for this think piece seems to be the opening of a stage version of The Exorcist at the Geffen Playhouse ("[W]hile the play is set in the world of Catholicism, its themes should also resonate for Jews and other non-Catholics"), with Brooke Shields as Regan's mother and Richard Chamberlain as Lancaster Merrin. But Wolpe makes the most of the assignment:
The most eminent scholars of the time, Isaac Luria, Shlomo Alkabetz, Joseph Karo, Hayyim Vital and others were involved in exorcisms. Some were possessed themselves, like Karo, whose Maggid Mishna took hold of him and dictated, but such possession could on occasion be benevolent. The point is that this was not restricted to a fringe or the untutored; the world was rife with spirits.
Are such stories merely a quaint remnant of an earlier age? In 1999 in Dimona (a name whose origin is from Joshua 21, not from the seeming cognate “demon”), a widowed mother of eight claimed that her deceased husband had entered her body. Although several rabbis refused her an exorcism, one, Rabbi David Basri, head of the Shalom Yeshiva in Jerusalem, was equal to the task. Over the objections of many notable rabbis — and on Israeli national television — he performed the exorcism, apparently successfully.
For a while after this incident, there was a spate of claims of possession in Israel, but the wave abated.
Michael W. Cuneo's great and highly recommended book American Exorcism, which had the satanic luck to hit the shelves on September 11, 2001, does not as I recall touch on Jewish exorcisms, but just to prove that Hollywood can both create and satisfy demand, Sam Raimi has a Jewish exorcism movie coming out this fall.
American Exorcism does, however, explore a very rich market in non-Catholic casting out of demons. Evangelicals have established complex and durable networks of demon hunters, and they provide services to people believed to be possessed by demons both transgressive and reactionary. The devils expelled include a demon of homosexuality, but also one of racism and another of anti-Semitism. And while I don't have a copy of the book handy, one demon-chaser's explanation for his interest strikes me as absolutely true:
When he found Jesus, this man went back and read the original New Testament text, only to find that Jesus does not cast out demons once or twice, and he doesn't cast out demons occasionally or casually. He casts out demons constantly, on practically every other page of the New Testament narrative. If you believe in the biblical Jesus, you'd better believe in demons, is all I'm saying
Wolpe notes that the Old Testament is also full of dybbuks:
“The spirit of God departed from Saul and an evil spirit of God tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, ‘Behold now, an evil spirit of God is tormenting you. Let our Lord command your servants, who are before you, to seek out a man, who knows how to play the lyre, and when the evil spirit of God is upon you, he will play with his hand and all will be well.” (I Samuel 16:14-16)
When David, who was then summoned, played music for Saul, it did indeed cure him, at least temporarily. So if this was an exorcism — a matter debated in the sources — then King David was the first recorded exorcist. It gives the profession a noble pedigree, at least.
What was notable in teaching this incident to my Torah class was that not a single member of the class was tempted to interpret this as anything but an internal event in Saul — that is, not an external spirit that afflicted him but a mental disturbance. Although exorcisms are a radical example, we have turned religious experience into a neurological datum: visions are hysteria, trances mania, and prophesies seizures. A desacralized world is more devastating to demons than any exorcist.
Watch the full exorcism episode of Soap, in which either Susan Harris or Soap or exorcism jumped the shark.
Yet another pack of school officials has discovered that the current panic over "bullying" provides a handy pretext for punishing mouthy students who irritate them. In Middletown, New Jersey — hometown of our own Nick Gillespie — graduating Middletown High School South senior class presidents Eric Dominach and Mike Sebastiano were denied their diplomas and warned that some mild chop-busting in their graduation speech may have violated anti-bullying guidelines and warranted a formal investigation. The two are raising a ruckus and demanding apologies, but they're not the only people to be bullied by anti-bullying laws.
From the Asbury Park Press:
Dominach and Sebastiano say Principal Patrick Rinella asked them before graduation to delete parts of the speech, including a reference to the school’s “50 other vice principals’’ — a joke about the school having multiple vice principals. The seniors also were asked to delete a gibe about the difficulty they had trying to get into the National Honor Society, despite stellar grades.
But the teens restored those and other comments at the last minute and kept in jokes about classmates they say the district had never attempted to censor. The speech also included a comment about a fellow student who taught them how to fight and another who “never shut up.” That student, they say, had been voted “Most Talkative” in school-sanctioned class elections.
When Dominach and Sebastiano went to the high school to pick up their diplomas June 18 with the rest of their classmates, they were told the documents would be withheld. The next day the families were told all students and staff named would be interviewed to determine whether they felt bullied, and whether charges might be filed, the families said, though no one had filed a complaint.
“Our speech didn’t justify that outcome. We knew our speech didn’t offend anyone,” Sebastiano said. “We thought it was unfair.”
“I was very surprised,” said Eric Dominach, an honor student who will major in engineering at Rutgers University in fall. “We wanted the speech to leave a memorable mark on our four years and just bring enjoyment to all the students who graduated. … (District officials) just didn’t want it to be funny, I guess, or for us to state obvious facts about our school and the things we had to go through.”
The district held the diplomas until June 20, just before a Board of Education meeting at which parents and students had been planning to protest.
by prohibiting speech that "has the effect of insulting or demeaning any student or group of students" in such a way as to "substantially disrupt or interfere with the orderly operation of the institution," New Jersey has in effect sanctioned the "heckler's veto." If the College Republicans were to stage a disruptive sit-in because the College Democrats had harshly criticized them for being Republicans, New Jersey's law would subject the Democrats to punishment for the Republicans' disruption. In other words, New Jersey has incentivized overreaction to any perceived insult, since the "victim's" disruption of the orderly operation of the school automatically shifts the blame to the speaker.
What FIRE didn't say is that the law also incentivizes speech-averse officials to go hunting for the hecklers' veto, by seeking out somebody — anybody — who can claim to be offended. That's usually not too challenging a task, so it's a minor miracle that Dominach and Sebastiano weren't ultimately confronted with thin-skinned "victims."
New Jersey's law was actually ruled unconstitutional in January — as a violation of state provisions regarding unfunded mandates, rather than free speech protections. Lawmakers promptly responded by funding the muzzle-friendly monstrosity. That's a shame, because the state law not only defines a remarkably vague range of speech as harassment and bullying, but it also makes such behavior punishable "whether it be a single incident or a series of incidents," and both "in school and off school premises" meaning it's pretty damned easy to run afoul of the statute, if somebody wants you to.
In using an anti-bullying law as a cudgel against students who direct unwelcome criticism their way, Middletown officials join colleagues elsewhere, including San Francisco. Anti-bullying laws have turned out to be empowering tools for educrats.
But they're really the only ones being empowered. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Reason's Nick Gillespie writes that, while bullying sucks, the modern bullying panic is a load of hysterical crap:
Despite the rare and tragic cases that rightly command our attention and outrage, the data show that things are, in fact, getting better for kids. When it comes to school violence, the numbers are particularly encouraging. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 1995 and 2009, the percentage of students who reported "being afraid of attack or harm at school" declined to 4% from 12%. Over the same period, the victimization rate per 1,000 students declined fivefold.
Dominach and Sebastiano appear to be winning their battle in Midletown, since they're now demanding an apology from school officials. But speech-suppressing anti-bullying laws remain in place in New Jersey and elsewhere.
The new French Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, has given a speech to the French National Assembly to outline the socialist government’s debt reduction plan. Ayrault did reduce the growth forecasts, and emphasized the huge debt France had accumulated between 2007 and 2011. Despite France’s debt and the ever-worsening euro crisis Ayrault refused to consider austerity saying:
I'm calling for a national effort. But I refuse austerity
The following proposals aim to put France back on the path to fiscal stability, something that will require savings of 10 billion euros this year, and 33 billion euros next year, all while trying to limit the impact of the euro crisis.
- Hire more public workers: Hollande and his government are committed to hiring 150,000 new public workers including teachers and police. During the election campaign Hollande pledged to hire more public sector workers, a promise he seems intent on keeping.
- Tax the rich: Those earning more than 1 million euros a year will enjoy an income tax of 75 percent, a rate that makes the Buffet Rule look reasonable. The move has already seen many French millionaires moving assets abroad. Quite who is going to pay the salaries of the 150,000 new public sector workers if there is a mass exodus of the wealthy from France remains unclear.
- Raise the minimum wage: Hollande has raised the minimum wage, however many French unions don’t think that the raise was high enough. Evidently a post-tax take home salary of 1,118 euros a month (a 2 percent increase) is not enough for public sector workers who work 35 hour weeks, have access to free healthcare, and retire at sixty-two.
France’s shift to the left is the most prominent impediment to any hint of hope in this euro fiasco. Progress within the European Union only typically occurs when Germany and France are in agreement. Germany is being slowly bullied into closer fiscal union and pooled debt. With the left in Europe calling the shots the policies adopted to solve the euro crisis will probably look increasingly French as it continues.
Would it shock you to hear that presidents play politics with disaster relief? Current law gives them enormous power to do so, and it seems they don't try very hard to resist the temptation. The 1988 Stafford Disaster Relief Act authorized the president to issue disaster declarations virtually at will, writes Gene Healy. And research shows that they use this power with an eye toward re-election.View this article
Did Chief Justice John Roberts switch sides in the ObamaCare case, voting originally to strike down the individual mandate for exceeding Congress’ powers under the Commerce Clause, only to change his mind later and vote to uphold the mandate as a legitimate exercise of Congress’ taxing power? There’s some evidence that he did. If that is indeed what happened, why did he do it?
Like my colleague Peter Suderman, I find it difficult to believe that the chief justice changed his tune because he was worried about what The New York Times or some other liberal outlet would say about him. Roberts is no fool. He knows perfectly well that any new fans he acquired last week will evaporate the moment he casts a more conservative vote in a future case.
And it’s not like the chief’s decision came as a total surprise. There was always the distinct possibility he would uphold the mandate and frame his vote as an act of judicial restraint.
In my view, Roberts most likely had a divided mind on the case from the start. On the one hand he clearly found the government’s unprecedented theory of Commerce Clause power to be constitutionally defective, yet on the other hand he couldn’t shake his belief that ObamaCare was entitled to significant deference by the federal courts. So he split the difference and justified his decision by falling back on well-worn arguments in favor of judicial restraint, including an admiring nod to the Court’s most famous proponent of deference, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, plus a none-too-subtle suggestion that disgruntled conservatives take their complaints to the ballot box. As Roberts put it, “It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”
The Cato Institute’s Ilya Shapiro describes Roberts’ position as “judicial pacifism,” and I think that’s exactly right. Rather than acting as a check on the other branches of government—which is what the Supreme Court should always do—Roberts’ act of deference gave Congress and the White House the benefit of the doubt.
For a nice summary of why that approach is wrong, look no further than the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which voted to strike down the individual mandate last year. “When Congress oversteps [the Commerce Clause’s] outer limits,” the 11th Circuit declared, “the Constitution requires judicial engagement, not judicial abdication.”
He punched a 14-year-old in the face. He faked sick to take a weeklong vacation in Cancun. An inspection of his car revealed a bag of cocaine, several crack pipes and an empty Smirnoff vodka bottle. Four years later, he was promoted to sergeant.
Meet Sgt. German Bosque, the South Florida cop who "just can’t stay fired."
In his two decades working for the Opa-locka, Florida police department, he has been the subject of 40 investigations by internal affairs detectives, reports The Miami Herald. Outside the department, he’s earned quite the record: three arrests, six firings, and two expulsions from the police academy. And in May 2012, the Opa-locka PD suspended him once again, this time for letting a reporter ride in his squad car without permission. So where’s Bosque now? According to his attorney, Bosque’s at home, “sleeping late and watching telenovelas and Cops reruns.” Oh yeah, and getting paid $60,000 a year to do it.
Despite an impressive criminal record and his latest suspension, Bosque maintains that he’s on the positive end of the good cop/bad cop spectrum. “I’m an excellent police officer but I break the rules,” he told The Herald. Hard to argue with that coming from a man who in August 2000 told a teenager, “I am the law, if I feel like it right now I can fuck you up and no one will say anything about it.” Charming.
Here's a few of Bosque's greatest hits, as reported by The Herald:
May 22, 1998: Bosque calls in sick for work, claiming food poisioning. Takes a vacation in Cancun, Mexico.
Sept. 5, 1999: Excessive force accusations filed against Bosque by a man who claims the officer kicked and punched him repeatedly while handcuff. Police authorities reportedly took no action on the case.
Jan. 19, 2004: Suspended for 45 days after beating a handcuffed suspect into a pulp. According to The Herald, "The victim was beaten until bloody and there was blood spilled all over the station house floor."
July 22, 2004: The Herald reports that Bosque was "accused of fondling a corrections officer in his squad car." But he was not punished. Why? According to investigators, "the woman involved admitted she refused to say 'no.'"
Jan. 24, 2011: Promoted to sergeant.
More on crooked cops here.
The actor Andy Griffith - known for roles such as Sheriff Andy Taylor in The Andy Griffith Show and the title character in Matlock - is dead at the age of 86.
Though best known for comic work, his career as an actor included films such as No Time for Sergeants and 1957's A Face in the Crowd, the sort of diatribe about the negative potential of televsion that Hollywood studios churn out with regularity. Griffith is absolutely wonderful as "Lonesome" Rhodes, a con man drifter who eventually rises to prominence as a television-show host with the apparent ability to turn elections (you know he's a nut job when he inveighs against Social Security!). Undone by his own arrogance and moral hypocrisy, Rhodes suffers a (temporary) career collapse when a rant about how dumb his viewers are goes out over the airwaves. It's a great performance, though the movie tells us more about how the film industry worried about the rival TV business than anything about mass media.
According to Wikipedia, when it came to politics, Griffith mostly pushed Democratic candidates; he stumped for Obama in 2008 and cut ads in favor of both the Affordable Care Act and Medicare. But in 2009, Jesse Walker hipped Reason readers to a take on Sheriff Andy Taylor that figured the lawman as the exemplar of the night-watchman state.
Headline tip: @stevesilberman
"Obamacare is not, as one judge says, a national solution to a problem," argues James V. DeLong. "It's 2,000 pages...of special-interest-written law."
As such, it exemplifies what DeLong, a long-time Washington insider who has worked for many think tanks and government agencies, denounces as "Big SIS" or the "special-interest state." In his scathing - and utterly convincing - new book, Ending Big SIS and Renewing the American Republic, Reason Contributing Editor DeLong traces how "the political system creates economic advantages for special interests and then demands that part of the profits be fed back into the political system, where they are used to enhance the power of the political incumbents."
Whether the topic is defense spending, agricultural subsidies, health care, or the financial sector, DeLong documents the pervasive rot at the core of Washington's way of doing business - and provides ideas for cutting Big SIS down to size.
About 6 minutes. Produced by Joshua Swain. Interview by Nick Gillespie. Camera by Meredith Bragg, Jim Epstein, and Swain.
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A Florida judge has ordered a new trial for Ronald Thompson, the 65-year-old disabled veteran who was sentenced to 20 years in prison under Florida's mandatory minimum law after firing two warning shots to scare off a gang of teenagers. In the meantime, the judge wants Thompson, who has already served three years of his 20 year sentence, released from prison.
Thompson's story exemplifies just how awful mandatory minimum laws can be. In 2009, he was visiting an elderly friend at her daughter's home when the woman's 17-year-old grandson arrived. The boy's mother instructed her mother (Thompson's friend) not to let the teenager, who had a history of violence, into the house. Along with three other friends, the boy tried to force his way past his grandmother into the home. Thompson, fearing for his friend's safety, fired two warning shots into the ground.
State Attorney Angela Corey charged Thompson with four counts of aggravated assault. What happened next was a nightmare for the disabled veteran:
He turned down a three-year plea offer, believing that, due to his failing health, he would be dead in three years. Mr. Thompson has diabetes, high blood pressure, and he'd had a heart attack. He also believed that if a jury heard all the facts they'd acquit him, particularly in light of the grandson’s history of violence toward his grandmother.
Thompson was convicted. However, the sentencing judge in his case, Judge John Skinner, refused to impose the 20-year mandatory minimum required by Florida’s 10-20-Life law, calling the sentence unconstitutional and a "crime in itself." Judge Skinner imposed a three-year mandatory minimum instead. The prosecutor appealed the sentence and the appeals court overturned Judge Skinner's sentence, ruling that the 20-year mandatory minimum must be imposed.
Since his incarceration, Mr. Thompson’s health has continued to deteriorate. He is apparently nearly blind, seeing only shadows. He walks with a cane and has had prostate surgery and surgery to remove two tumors from his face. He continues to struggle with diabetes and high blood pressure, neither of which is under control. Mr. Thompson’s sister has seen the current state of his health and doesn’t expect him to live longer than six months if he remains in prison.
In her monthly letter to supporters, Families Against Mandatory Minimums founder Julie Stewart reports that a judge threw out Thompson's sentence on June 26. "This is an incredible case that highlights everything that is wrong with mandatory minimum sentences in general," she writes, "and Florida's mandatory 10-20-life sentences for gun violations, in particular."
It’s usually not a good idea to pull the pin out of a grenade in the middle of a meeting. But as Katherine Mangu-Ward explains, this resin and sterling silver replica of a Soviet F1 hand grenade isn’t ordinary ordnance. Designed to instantly and anonymously publicize what’s going on in closed-door meetings or other secret confabs, the hardware-stuffed Transparency Grenade releases a burst of data when activated.View this article
The filmmakers behind the new Spider-Man reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, have added an adjective, but not much else. Perhaps they should have called it The Repetitive Spider-Man? Reason Senior Editor Peter Suerman reviews the summer superhero do-over:
There are a handful of minor changes from the original: Spider-Man’s love interest is no longer Mary Jane Watson but Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), whose father (a wonderfully cranky Denis Leary) is a police officer pursuing Spider-Man for vigilantism. Peter Parker’s parents are briefly involved, and Spider-Man’s guiding principle, “with great power comes great responsibility,” has been awkwardly rewritten into a clunkier variant: “If you can do good things for other people, you have a moral obligation to do those things. Not choice — responsibility.”
Indeed, the movie is essentially a lesser rewrite, like a VHS copy degraded by duplication. Aside from a few rearranged plot points, there are few new ideas to be found: Like Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin from “Spider-Man,” Mr. Ifans‘ Lizard is a sympathetic villain who carries out arguments with himself. Even a final stirring moment in which New York’s residents come to the hero’s aid is lifted almost directly from the original.
Read the whole thing in The Washington Times.