Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2012 July 8-31

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Inflationese: Pick Up a New Language Today!

Inflationism can be a tricky religion, and becoming fluent in inflationese can be downright strange. (Because inflation is under control, and doesn’t even exist, and wouldn’t be a threat if it did exist, but is also an omnipotent force that solves all problems, and how can all those claims be true? It's like the consecrated host being both a candy and a gum.)

But if you throw out the baffling logic and reason you developed as a grownup and just go with the flow, you can learn native-or-better inflationese in a few easy sessions. 

The first thing to know is that inflationese is more than a mere cognate language of 21st-century English. It's even older than 21st-century English, and it inflects nearly every phrase in our language. Consider the rich inflationese prose in the ostensibly pro-buyer article "Traditional 'rules' of homebuying return: Buyers can balance the bargain hunt with realistic expectations." by U.S. News & World Report's Rachel Koning Beals. 

Under the old paradigm, our ancestors might have asked, "How can you trust an article where the title uses scare quotes to undermine the article's claim?" Those fools in old-time hats and coats might also have assumed a journalist advising buyers would consider price inflation something her readers want to avoid. 

But Koning Beals is so gracefully attuned to the higher purpose of inflation that even as a friend of the buyer she advises only deference to the seller's position, debt-fueled purchases, presumption of price increases, and avoidance of "hardball." Some nuggets: 

There may be wiggle room with seller concessions — covering closing costs, tossing in repair credits — entering into a prospective deal armed with local-market knowledge and respectful consideration of the seller's position can go a long way toward getting a great deal on a great property.

Semantics are important: Ask, "How flexible are they on the price?" Avoid: "How much less will they take?" 

Save yourself and all involved the delay and headache of financial surprises by researching your own credit report. 

[P]laying hardball with lowball offers that are out of sync with comparable local sales can be time-consuming. Time can mean money.

Short sales, foreclosed properties or rent-to-own dwellings shouldn't be ruled out [but] may take more time and involve more financial hoops...

Price isn't all that matters; find out how long properties are staying on the market, on average. 

[N]egotiations [are] back and have been for a few years. Gone — in most markets — are the bidding wars where would-be buyers didn't stand a chance unless they came in above the asking price from the start. Ironically, tough competition has cropped up in some instances, thanks to the weak housing market. 

[An overpriced local market may be] good for your long-term investment, but it also means the seller has a pricing advantage at the outset and couldn't care less about macro-pricing trends. Competition may be tight...

Cash, and the prospect that the buyer might in time be committed to pay his or her mortgage off in cash, gets little mention. To Koning Beals, money is mostly a token used to lock in the deal: 

Buyers may also have to put up "earnest" or "good faith" money, which is essentially a deposit before moving into the offer/contract phase.

Inflationese is a dynamic language that turns words (supply, demand) into non-words and ideas (deflation) into non-ideas. But by recreating the immersion environment you can learn inflationese with the same ease you had when you were a baby and first learned to talk.

Ed Regis on Resilience

A new book attempts to show how individuals, institutions, communities, economies, and ecosystems can attain resilience and bounce back from adversity. But as Ed Regis points out, there's no theory, schema, principle, or set of principles here that explains resilience. Instead we get a lot of pretentious rhetoric and the chestnut concepts of game theory.

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Baylen Linnekin on Fighting for the Right to Follow the Paleo Diet

In the United States many regulations and policies steer people toward certain dietary practices and away from others—nearly always with the backing of some powerful, entrenched, monied interest and nearly always for no good reason whatsoever. For instance, writes Baylen Linnekin, government subsidies pay farmers to produce some foods in lieu of others. Think corn, soy, dairy, and sugar. The latest example comes from North Carolina, where state officials say one man’s blog, which promotes the “paleo” diet, runs afoul of North Carolina laws requiring a license to dispense anything the state considers dietary advice. Linnekin explains why the government has no business interfering with our dietary practices.

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TSA Denies Deaf Man's Stolen Candy Claim; Deaf Man Disappears From Internet

The Transporation Security Administration claims that security camera footage from the Louisville airport refutes claims made by a deaf man that he was mocked and made to give up candy in his bag while flying out of Louisville after a National Association of the Deaf conference. 

The young man, who has not released his name, claimed in a Tumblr post last week that TSA agents in Louisville laughed at him and several other deaf travelers, called him "fucking deafie," and refused to allow him to go through security with candy in his bag (the young man claims that officers said he could donate the candy to the "USO," then ate it in front of him). 

In a post published Friday at The TSA Blog, Blogger Bob (a public affairs officer) writes that 

When TSA found out the NAD conference was coming to Louisville, TSA reached out to NAD and other members of its disability coalition while Transportation Security Officers at SDF received additional training on screening deaf passengers from local experts in the field.
SDF is a smaller airport with only one checkpoint, which is monitored by security cameras. Our officers are aware that screening operations are constantly under video surveillance.
After a review of the video, TSA found no footage that matches the information in the blog post, such as Officers removing food during any bag search and eating it, or anything to indicate that they were pointing at and ridiculing a passenger.
In general, candy is not a prohibited item, and would only warrant additional screening if it alarmed. TSA does not donate surrendered food and drink items for health and safety reasons.

The original Tumblr account on which the anecdote was posted, teaandtheatre.tumblr.com, has been deactivated. After the TSA rebutted the story, the young man sent a note to Boing Boing, which was the first major outlet to pick up the story, asking that they take their post down and respect his privacy. Boing Boing took down his picture.

A commenter on Reason claims that the young man retracted his claim on a new blog, but that alleged new blog--idontlikeattention.tumblr.com--has already been taken offline. 

In the days since this story went viral, several people have pointed out that "deafie" is a term used largely, and mostly, by deaf people. UrbandDictionary (which is by no means authoritative) defines it as "acceptable slang used within the deaf community." On the one hand, it's peculiar that a TSA agent would employ this unique and obscure (to the unimpaired) word as a slur. Or maybe the TSA's prep for the NAD conference had the unintended consequence of expanding the vocabulary of a particularly nasty agent. 

With the young man refusing to respond to questions, it's difficult to sort this out. 

Houston Police Kill Unarmed Man, Allegedly Took Witness' Cellphone When She Tried to Record

On July 9, Houston police fatally shot Rufino Lara. Police are asking media and citizens to hold onto their opinions until the investigation is completed, but in the meantime we do know that two witnesses (one of whom, a 14-year-old boy, didn't know Lara) are disputing police officers' account of the confrontation.

According to the Houston Chronicle: 

Houston Police Department officials said Rufino Lara refused officer J. McGowan's commands in Spanish and English to stop when she spotted him walking away while she was investigating an assault Monday afternoon. He kept one of his hands tucked under his shirt, police said. When he turned around suddenly with his hand still under his shirt, McGowan shot him once, killing him, police said.

Florida Ruvio, a family friend, bumped into Lara on his way back from a liquor store near the 7000 block of Bissonnet near Fondren in southwest Houston. Lara told her that some men were chasing him with a knife and asked her to call police.

When two officers arrived to investigate the assault report, they approached Lara, asking him to stop and put his hands up.

"They were speaking to him in English only," Ruvio said at a news conference

In an all-too-familiar detail, there are also reports that a cellphone with which Ruvio attempted to film the aftermath of the shooting was taken from her. Police have not released the video, if it still exists or if it show anything relevant. However, the theft of the phone provoked harsh criticism from the Texas branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Via Carlos Miller's Photography is Not a Crime, the Texas ACLU's official statement included:

"It's a shame we can't see the video the witness reportedly tried to make," ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke stated in a press release.

"Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland has asked for the public to withhold judgment about the shooting. The right of Texans to record police activity in a manner that does not interfere with police work is an important protection against abuses of power by the government. The behavior of some members of the local police department might be less suspect if officers showed more respect for the Constitution, and, in this instance, the First Amendment."

It's early yet, but the differing accounts are problematic, especially with the accusation that the phone was taken. (The 14-year-old also says he saw Lara with his back against the wall and his hands up).

And in general, it's always particularly disturbing when the person who called for help from police is the one who ends up dead.

A few days ago, a CBS affiliate in Dallas reported that the Texas ACLU is also interested in a SmartPhone app (developed in New Jersey) that helps citizens covertly record police stops, saying it should be be nice and legal in the state, since Texas is a one party-consent state when it comes to recording. (As opposed to, say, Illinois and their two-party consent mandate, which has provoked many a Reason-covered horror story.)

“It appears to be the same basic principle that you can record a conversation in most states in which you’re participating,” explained [Dallas attorney John] Teakell.

What makes this app different from a simple camera phone is that the app disappears from the screen when activated, so that it can’t be switched off by a police officer. The recordings are then stored in an area of the phone that most officers would have trouble finding or deleting. From there, the recordings can be automatically uploaded to a secure ACLU server as a back-up.

Though it's hard to know if this app would have been any use to Rufino Lara or the woman who tried to help document the circumstances of his death, (cops can still break or grab a phone in the middle of recording and such) every little bit of tech helps when one side of has the ability to use legal deadly force. 

Reason on the war on cameras, and ReasonTV on the same, as well as camera and new media in the Kelly Thomas case

FBI: Zimmerman Not Racist, Occupy Riot in L.A., Anybody Serious About the Deficit?: P.M. Links

  • A new FBI report indicates that there is no evidence that George Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin was motivated by race.
  • The head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Services told a group of high-ranking civil servants that he believes Iran is two years away from building a nuclear bomb.
  • About 200 Occupy movement protesters in Los Angeles clashed with 140 police Thursday night over chalk drawings during the monthly Art Walk gallery event downtown. Participants claimed the protest was over previous arrests of people writing on the sidewalk with chalk. Police confirmed some of the 17 arrested last night were also for drawing on the sidewalk.
  • Digg, once a pioneer in social media story-sharing technology, was sold Thursday for $500,000. It was once valued at $160 million, but suffered from a significant loss of users over the past few years as Twitter and Facebook grew, offering other avenues to share content online with friends.
  • Oakland, Calif., pot dispensary Harborside Health Center is resisting efforts by the federal government to shut down their clinic, and they have the support of community leaders. U.S. Attorney Susan Haag is attempting to seize the center’s property, which also the home of an unrelated security company that could be shut down as well. Oakland’s own city attorney declared Haag’s actions a waste of resources.
  • President Barack Obama declared that Mitt Romney is “not serious” about fighting the deficit if Romney is not willing to let a tax cut for income greater than $250,000 a year lapse. At the same time, the Obama Administration is encouraging states to seek out waivers to loosen the rules of a federal grant welfare-to-work program approved under President Bill Clinton. Is anybody serious about fighting the deficit?
  • 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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Mike Riggs on Kentucky's Marijuana Outlaws

James Higdon's The Cornbread Mafia is a rarity, reports Mike Riggs: It's a book about the drug trade that avoids the handwringing and tearjerking that has come to define modern drug reporting. If anything, Higdon goes too far in praising the outlaws who built the flourishing pot industry based in Marion County, Kentucky.

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Libertarian Lawyers Prompt Missouri to Repeal Controversial Occupational Licensing Law

Tim Sandefur, a senior attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, shares some good news from the state of Missouri:

at the instigation of PLF’s lawsuit, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon signed legislation repealing that state’s oppressive licensing law for moving companies. Under the old law, a person applying for permission to operate a moving company was required to submit to a licensing scheme under which existing moving companies were given the privilege of basically vetoing the application. We challenged that law on behalf of St. Louis entrepreneur Michael Munie, and argued the case in federal district court in April. But in the meantime, state lawmakers passed legislation repealing the law, and this afternoon, Governor Nixon signed that bill, thus opening the road for economic opportunity in the Show Me State.

Good riddance to a bad law.

Reason Writers on RT: Matt Welch Talks About Freedom Fest and Libertarianism

On Thursday, June 12, Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch spent 10 minutes on RT discussing the annual Freedom Fest conference in Las Vegas, and whether libertarian ideas are gaining traction:

In Some Countries Government, Not Banks, Get the Blame

The Occupy Movement likes to market itself as a global awakening, a spontaneous reaction to capitalism’s implicit unfairness and corruption. Of course the movement turned out to be a western oriented whine-fest from those who were middle class enough to have the time and resources to designate themselves the spokespeople of the victims of capitalism.

In North America and Western Europe the Occupy movement’s favorite target is the banks and financial services who supposedly caused the crash of 2007. 

While amongst the whining and bitching middle class that created the Occupy movement it is fashionable to blame banks and financial services for the economic situation, this attitude is far less prevalent that the Occupyers would like you to think.

A recent study from the Pew Research Center shows that ninety-two percent of Indians blame the government for their economic situation, while only seventeen percent blame banks or financial institutions. Ninety one percent of Mexicans and Japanese also claim that the government is the primary or secondary culprit responsible for economic hardship.

From Pew

Among those who think the economy is doing poorly, people in 16 of 21 countries fault their own government, some overwhelmingly so. Particularly angry at their leadership are the Pakistanis (95% blame the government as a primary or secondary culprit), Indians (92%), the Mexicans (91%), the Japanese (91%), the Czechs (91%) and the Poles (90%).

Young people in Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Tunisia, Mexico, Brazil and Japan tend to blame the government. And in Britain, France and the Czech Republic, women are more likely than men to blame the government for the economic crisis.

One of the most revealing parts of the study is the measurements of attitudes towards capitalism across the world. Between 2007 and 2012 the number of people in the United States who believed that the statement “Most people are better off in a free market economy” was either “completely true” or “mostly true” fell from seventy percent to sixty-seven percent. The biggest measured drop in confidence in capitalism was in Italy where confidence in capitalisms ability to make people better off fell from seventy three percent to fifty percent. Surprisingly, one of the only two countries to have an increased confidence in capitalism is socialist-led France. 

While it is not surprising that attitudes towards capitalism have shifted since the 2007 crash, some might be surprised about who is getting the blame for the current economic situation. 

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Step Back Anti-Biotech Propagandists: I Want My Genetically Modified Non-Browning Apples Now!

Nearly every morning I slice and eat an apple with my breakfast. I am particularly fond of Fujis, Galas, and Granny Smiths. Now the New York Times tells me that the some nice Canadian apple growers, Okanagan Specialty Fruits, have developed an improved biotech apple that does not brown when cut. Hooray!

Not so fast say the forces of darkness (or is it brown-ness?)! As the Times reports:

But the U.S. Apple Association, which represents the American apple industry, opposes introduction of the product, as do some other industry organizations. They say that, while they do not believe that the genetic engineering is dangerous, it could undermine the fruit’s image as a healthy and natural food, the one that keeps the doctor away and is as American as, well, apple pie.

“We don’t think it’s in the best interest of the apple industry of the United States to have that product in the marketplace at this time,” said Christian Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, which represents the tree-fruit industry in and around Washington State, which produces about 60 percent of the nation’s apples.

Say what? Who the hell is "We" - I want to try them apples! The would-be growers of these improved apples believe that selling them will expand the market. How? Well, for example, my gym typically has a bowl of whole apples available for the taking, yet very few people actually snag one. As Neal Carter the founder of Okanagan Specialty Fruits observes:

A whole apple is “for many people too big a commitment,” he said. “If you had a bowl of apples at a meeting, people wouldn’t take an apple out of the bowl. But if you had a plate of apple slices, everyone would take a slice.”

I believe that he's right. So why do apple industry lobbyists oppose the new improved varieties? It's not only competitive worries, but also fears that self-appointed anti-biotech propagandists will attack the entire industry. And sure enough the Times hauls out anti-biotechie who acts like a talking snake has just offered her a bite:

Lucy Sharratt, coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, a coalition of groups critical of genetically engineered crops....  said the genetic engineering was “designed to turn the apple into an industrialized product” that could be sold in plastic bags instead of as whole fresh fruit.

And just what nefarious genetic manipulations have the developers used to make this FrankenFruit?

Arctic Apples, which would first be available in the Golden Delicious and Granny Smith varieties, contain a synthetic gene that sharply reduces production of polyphenol oxidase, an enzyme responsible for the browning.

The gene does not come from another species. Rather, it contains DNA sequences from four of the apple’s own genes that govern production of polyphenol oxidase. Putting an extra copy of a gene into a plant can activate a self-defense mechanism known as RNA interference that shuts down both the extra copy and the endogenous gene.

That's right - no new genes added; not that there's anything inherently wrong with adding new genes. And there's no difference in the nutritional value of the improved varieties versus the conventional ones.

That's all very well about their nutritional value, but if the biotech apples don't taste as good or better than their conventional competitors, then it won't matter if they don't brown. In any case, it should not be up to cowering industry lobbyists or lying anti-biotechies to decide whether the new varieties are a good deal or not; in a free market economy the ultimate arbiters should be consumers. I want my biotech apples now!

Reformers Aim To Improve Conditions for Abused Workers at America's Imperial Outposts

One of the easiest ways for a politician to get good press is to go in front of a camera and mumble something about "human trafficking" and "modern slavery." Very often, the planned initiative or legislation targets both abused immigrants forced to work and live in horrendous conditions, as well as people voluntarily engaged in some business, such as the sex trade, that is officially discouraged, making it difficult to gauge the extent of the real problem. So it's interesting to read a report that credibly documents the defrauding, coercion and mistreatment of thousands of laborers by contractors providing services to United States government military and diplomatic outposts around the world. And now there's even legislation to limit the abuses.

The ACLU and the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School compiled Victims of Complacency: The Ongoing Trafficking and Abuse of Third Country Nationals by U.S. Government Contractors (PDF), in which they found:

U.S. Government contractors rely upon some 70,000 TCNs to support U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. To recruit TCNs, contractors use local recruiting agents, who target vulnerable workers—many of whom earn less than $1 per day—in countries like Nepal, India, the Philippines, and Uganda. Many of these agents charge prospective TCNs recruiting fees of between $2,000-5,000, and deceive TCNs about the location or conditions of the work they will perform as well as the wages and benefits they will receive. Agents may promise salaries of $1,000 or more per month, and even recruit workers under the false pretense of job openings at luxury hotels in Dubai or Amman. The exorbitant fees they charge require many TCNs to borrow funds from loan sharks, who often resort to violence and intimidation to recover their investments from TCNs or their families.

In some cases, TCNs do not become aware that they are destined for Iraq or Afghanistan until after they reach transit points in Dubai or Kuwait City, or else upon arrival at the airport in Baghdad or Kandahar. Many TCNs arrive to learn that they will earn as little as $150-275 a month, not the promised $1,000, while others discover that no jobs await them at all. In such situations, some contractors hold TCNs in crowded, dirty warehouses for weeks or even months on end, forbidding them from returning home while at the same time refusing to pay them or let them seek alternative means of employment. All the while, TCNs accrue monthly interest on their debts at rates that can soar as high as 50% per year.

The report cites such incidents as a 2008 protest by Asian workers who had paid more than $2,000 to secure jobs that turned out to be rather lousier than advertised:

About 1,000 Asian men who were hired by a Kuwaiti subcontractor to the U.S. military have been confined for as long as three months in windowless warehouses near the Baghdad airport without money or work.

Najlaa International Catering Services, a subcontractor to KBR, the Texas firm formerly known as Halliburton, hired the men, who are from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. On Tuesday, they protested outside their compound over living conditions.

"It's really dirty," a Sri Lankan man told McClatchy Newspapers, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he still wants to work for Najlaa. "For all of us, there are about 12 toilets and about 10 bathrooms. The food — it's three half-liter (1-pint) bottles of water a day. Bread, cheese and jam for breakfast. Lunch is a small piece of meat, potato and rice. Dinner is rice and dal, but it's not dal," he said, referring to the lentil dish.

Writing just last year for the New Yorker, Sarah Stillman said of such workers:

Many of them recount having been robbed of wages, injured without compensation, subjected to sexual assault, and held in conditions resembling indentured servitude by their subcontractor bosses. Previously unreleased contractor memos, hundreds of interviews, and government documents I obtained during a yearlong investigation confirm many of these claims and reveal other grounds for concern.

So the ACLU/Yale report compiles and  formalizes stories that had been trickling out and suggests remedies that might, hopefully, improve the lot of people working in lousy circumstances on behalf of the U.S. government. In short form, the recommendations are:

1. Prohibit Trafficking, Deceptive Recruiting, Forced Labor and Other Abuses
2. Hold Prime Contractors Responsible for the Recruitment, Hiring, and Treatment
of TCNs
3. Encourage Direct Hire of TCNs by primary contractors
4. Ensure Passport Access
5. Prohibit Exploitative Worker Contracts
6. Require Fair Pay and Time Off
7. Mandate Safe and Habitable Living Conditions
8. Require Medical Care and Insurance under Defense Base Act
9. Facilitate Regular Contact with Home and Family
10. Safeguard the Right of Return

These points all seem perfectly reasonable conditions for contracts with government agencies, with "fair pay" defined as nothing more earth-shattering than "monthly wages equivalent to the amounts specified in their employment contracts." Yes, banning coerced work, paying people what they've been contractually promised and eventually returning them home sounds like a good baseline for treatment of people providing services to the U.S. government.

The End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act of 2012, now under consideration in Congress, would essentially enact what the report recommends. It has a list of sponsors from both sides of the aisle, and appears to be one of those rare situations when the word "bipartisan" shouldn't send you looking for someplace to hide.

Of course, one wonders if engaging in far-flung imperial projects spanning the planet doesn't inherently create situations in which abuse and fraud become not just likely, but inevitable ...

Greg Beato on Eating Bugs

By 2050, the U.N. predicts, our planet will be inhabited by 2 billion more humans. If income and body mass continue their current upward trends, those billions will be richer and fatter than we are. That means they’ll want meat, not grain. They’ll also want seconds. But will 2050’s concentrated agricultural feeding operations—much less its free-range heritage pig farms—be able to produce enough livestock to meet the demand? A growing number of optimistic soothsayers say yes, reports Greg Beato. But only if we expand our definition of livestock to include such underutilized food sources as mealworms, grasshoppers, and Sago grubs.

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Gay French Will Be Able to Get Married in the Crumbling Ruins of Their Home Country

The European country you probably assumed was already recognizing gay marriage will actually begin recognizing gay marriage (and allow gay couples to adopt) in 2013. Via the BBC:

Gays in France make up 6.5% of the electorate, compared with practising Catholics at 4.5%, according to figures released by pollster Ifop.

A survey carried out at the beginning of the year showed 63% of French people are in favour of gay marriage while 56% support gay adoption.

As Reason’s Matthew Feeney pointed out, such forward-thinking does not apply to the nation’s economic planning. The incoming regime also plans to hire more public employees, drastically increases taxes on the rich and raise the minimum wage rather than pursue any sort of austerity measures as Europe’s economy falls apart. So any wealthy gay French might want to keep those weddings a bit modest so as not to draw attention.

Meanwhile, here in the states, Maryland’s new law recognizing same-sex marriage will be put to public vote in November, joining referendums in Washington State and Maine. Gay marriage recognition has yet to survive a public vote in the United States, but shifts in attitudes indicate there may be a different outcome this fall. (And yes, people are still talking about how President Barack Obama’s “evolution” on gay marriage is affecting popular opinion.)

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The Locavore's Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet

"If you take the local food movement to its logical extreme...people who live beyond their local food chain are essentially parasites," explains economic geographer Pierre Desrochers, co-author of the book The Locavore's Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-mile Diet .

Using economic and historical data, Desrochers and his co-author Hiroko Shimizu pick apart the latest food activist trend extolling the benefits of eating local. "If everything was so great when most food was sourced locally centuries ago," asks Desrochers, "why did we go through the trouble of developing a globalized food supply chain in the first place?"

Desrochers sat down with ReasonTV's Nick Gillespie to discuss the book, the benefits of factory farming, and the enduring nature of food activism.

About 5:45 minutes.

Cameras by Jim Epstein and Joshua Swain. Edited by Meredith Bragg.

Go to Reason.tv for downloadable versions and subscribe to ReasonTV’s YouTube Channel to receive automatic updates when new stories go live.

Reason Writers Around Town: Shikha Dalmia on Western Pollyannas who think India will surpass the West

Wriiting from London, Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia notes in her morning column at The Daily that a deep gloom has set in Europe that its glory days are over. Private bank excesses and public-sector legacy costs are poised to drag the continent — and America — down for generations. Only India and China are seen as the rising stars in the global firmament. Their young economies have stalled this year. But they are expected to recover, learn from the West’s mistakes and become economic powerhouses, displacing the West’s global hegemony.

But Dalmia notes that India isn’t going to perch its tricolored flag atop the globe anytime soon for one big reason. "The world’s largest democracy doesn’t have rule of law," she says, "it has the rule of babus, the local term for petty bureaucrats. And so long as they keep challenging India’s entrepreneurs, there isn’t much chance that India will challenge the West."

She describes her own traumatic encounter with the Babu Kings whose bizarre ways turned a simple travel request into a nightmare.

Read the whole thing here.

Steven Greenhut on California’s Food Truck Shakedown

We would all laugh at a man who, sinking in millions of dollars in house payments, car loans, and credit card bills, decided to fix his problem by looking for spare quarters lurking behind the cushions of his sofas. Likewise, we should shake our heads at the way the state of California—with a budget deficit approaching $16 billion and hundreds of billions of dollars in unfunded pension and retiree medical benefits—is stepping up tax collection to help plug a hole caused by its chronic overspending. As Steven Greenhut reports, California food truck owners say the state is handing them tax bills for tens of thousands of dollars based on unrealistic estimates of their taxable sales. To make matters worse, the truck owners say that local police harass them—thanks in part to city officials that don’t like having the trucks around. So much for encouraging economic enterprise.

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Dem Governor on ObamaCare's Medicaid Expansion: “Unlike the federal government, Montana can’t just print money.”

Republican governors aren't the only state executives taking a long, hard look at their options now that the Supreme Court has given them the freedom to opt out of ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion without risking existing federal funds. Democrats running states across the country are wary too. Via The Washington Post: 

While the resistance of Republican governors has dominated the debate over the health-care law following last month’s Supreme Court decision to uphold it, a number of Democratic governors are also quietly voicing concerns about a key provision to expand coverage.

At least seven Democratic governors have been noncommittal about their willingness to go along with expanding their states’ Medicaid programs, the chief means by which the law would extend coverage to millions of Americans with incomes below or near the poverty line.

“Unlike the federal government, Montana can’t just print money,” Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) said in a statement Wednesday. “We have a budget surplus, and we’re going to keep it that way.”

The law would add an estimated 84,000 people to Montana’s Medicaid program, doubling its size, the governor said. Although the federal government would pay the vast majority of the additional costs, Montana’s health department estimates the state’s share would reach $71 million in 2019. 

Part of the problem is that the high court's ruling left a lot of operational questions unanswered, especially about how the program will operate down the line. And so far the Obama administration hasn't exactly been forthcoming with helpful details: 

At least one governor, Democrat Mike Beebe of Arkansas, has also tried contacting the Obama administration directly.

According to spokesman Matt DeCample, Beebe is “leaning toward” the Medicaid expansion, which he said would add between 200,000 and 250,000 Arkansans to the Medicaid rolls in a state whose population is around 3 million. Not only would it bring a significant injection of federal funds to the state, but it would also be a boon to Arkansas hospitals, which are currently treating many poor people for free.

But DeCample said the governor has concerns that there be “state flexibility down the line.” So last week, Beebe asked officials at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services whether, in the event of an unforeseen future fiscal calamity, Arkansas would be able to tighten its eligibility rules and still get the full federal match for those who continued to qualify for its Medicaid program.

To date, Beebe has received no answer.

Obviously there's a signficant political component to the GOP's resistance to the Medicaid expansion. But the wariness of Democratic governors suggests that it's not entirely about team red vs team blue chest thumping. There are important fiscal and administrative issues at stake too. Nor is this new. After Tennessee dramatically expanded its Medicaid program in the mid 1990s, the program quickly threatened to chew up most of the state's budget. And it was a Democrat, Gov. Phil Bredesen, who decided to massively scale back the program rather than risk letting it bankrupt the state. 

"Interrogation Has Been Replaced by Assassination"

On Wednesday, Andrew Sullivan reacted to a critique of Obama's drone war with an argument that the difference between Bush and Obama is "stark," since "there is an end to the torture program." Tom Junod, the author of the original article, replies:

Does this mean Obama is Fantômas? Better not overthink this.I did not -- and do not -- condone the use of torture any more than Sullivan does. But the moral risk of torture is not so different from the moral risk of targeted killing. Indeed, the moral risk of torture provides a template for the moral risk of targeted killing. What was introduced as an option of last resort becomes the option of first resort, then the only option. Sullivan always understood that torture was a temptation, and that the day would come when it was applied not in emergency, "ticking-clock" situations, but as a matter of routine. Well, that day has come, only now with targeted killing, where the option of first resort meets the court of no appeal.

Yes, killing is a part of war, and torture isn't. But what if the the kind of militant who was captured and tortured under Bush is the kind of militant who is simply being killed under President Obama? The Obama Administration vigorously denies this, just as it vigorously denies that it is combating terrorism by practicing a policy of extermination against terrorists. But the numbers -- the thousands killed by drone and raid against the single high-value asset captured and interrogated outside the theater of war in Afghanistan -- tell a story that can't simply be shrugged off. Interrogation has been replaced by assassination.

Moreover, I talked to a source familiar with the targeting process who told me that the people involved in the life-or-death decisions of the Obama administration often do not know the credibility of intelligence sources. This was a highly informed and involved source who, when asked the most essential question -- "how good is the intelligence?" -- paused and finally couldn't answer. In fact, when I raised the question of whether those who were once captured are now being killed, the source suggested that it was the wrong question:

"It's not at all clear that we'd be sending our people into Yemen to capture the people we're targeting. But it's not at all clear that we'd be targeting them if the technology wasn't so advanced. What's happening is that we're using the technology to target people we never would have bothered to capture."

Kurt Loder on Easy Money and The Imposter

Easy Money is a Swedish thriller thick with drug gangs, double crosses, and desperate men grappling for a way out through the bullet storms that beset them all around. Classic crime stuff, writes Kurt Loder, but in this case distinguished by the emotional connections among the characters and a flickering light of moral consciousness.

The Imposter, on the other hand, is a darkly fascinating documentary about Frédéric Bourdin, the human chameleon. In 1997, Bourdin, a 23-year-old French conman, appeared in Spain claiming to be a missing 16-year-old Texas boy, Nicholas Barclay, who had disappeared in San Antonio three years earlier. Although he bore no resemblance to Barclay (and had a pronounced French accent), upon being brought to the U.S. he was happily welcomed into the dysfunctional Barclay family as its vanished son, returned at last.

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A.M. Links: Romney/Rice?, Chinese Company Accused of Selling U.S. Technology to Iran, Asbury Park Overturns Bikini Ban

  • Drudge reports Condoleezza Rice is emerging at the top of Mitt Romney’s veep list. Sarah Palin says Rice would make a great VP pick despite being pro-choice. Juan Williams explained in May why Rice would be a game changer, citing the fact that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are still taking shots at her in their books as an asset.
  • The Obama campaign is ramping up its Bain attack, using a (flawed) report by the Boston Globe to accuse Mitt Romney of either lying to the American people or committing a felony in filings to the SEC. The Romney camp has demanded a retraction from the Globe (denied) and lambasted the Obama campaign official who accused Romney of potentially committing a felony.
  • The FBI is investigating Chinese telecom manufacturer ZTE. The company is accused of selling prohibited U.S. equipment to Iran and obstructing a probe by the Department of Commerce.
  • Meanwhile, Congress is up in arms over the fact that the U.S. team’s Olympic gear by Ralph Lauren was made in China.
  • The United Nations is increasingly relying on mercenaries for security functions, according to a report from the Global Policy Forum, spending $44 million in 2009 and $76 million in 2010 on security contracts.
  • Asbury Park overturned a boardwalk bikini ban on the books since 1953. It hadn’t been enforced in decades but a campaign started to start enforcement again.  
  • Publish something awesome between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012? Learn more about theBastiat Prize for Journalism.

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

Reason.TV: "Randy Barnett: Losing ObamaCare While Preserving the Constitution"

Brickbat: An Unhealthy Development

An employee of South Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services has been accused of transferring the personal information of more than 228,000 Medicaid beneficiaries to his personal email. Christopher Lykes allegedly transferred the names, phone numbers, addresses, birth dates and Medicaid ID numbers of those individuals.

Brickbat Archive

Why Not Let Cops Stop People for Unbuckled Seat Belts?

Yesterday I discovered two things: 1) Israel has a mandatory seat belt law, and 2) like the law in 32 U.S. states, it authorizes primary enforcement, meaning police can pull you over simply for failing to buckle up. Although the experience turned out to be no more than an inconvenience, it illustrates what can happen when the law gives police an all-purpose excuse to detain motorists.

Driving my parents' 1990 Mitsubishi station wagon on Route 1 between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with my wife, two of our daughters, and one of our nieces, I was puzzled to see a police car with flashing lights pull up alongside us. I knew I hadn't been speeding or made any illegal maneuvers, and I wasn't even sure the cops were targeting me until they announced it over their P.A. speaker. The officer who approached on the passenger side accused us of letting our daughters (who are 6 and 9) ride with their seat belts unfastened. When we pointed out that both had their belts on, he said that was because we had fastened them after we were pulled over. What had actually happened, I discovered, was that my wife, riding in the back seat, had unfastened her belt while half asleep because she was having trouble breathing, then refastened it as the cop approached our car. Seeing my Texas driver's license, the officer asked for my passport, which I had left back in Jerusalem at my brother's house. "So how do I know you're really an American?" the officer said. Um, because I have a Texas driver's license? Also: Why does it matter? After initially threatening to take all of us to the nearest police station until the question of our citizenship could be sorted out, he decided to let us go with a lecture about the importance of seat belts after confirming that we had in fact arrived in Israel on June 8, although it's not clear why he deemed that better evidence of my nationality than my driver's license.

Why did it matter whether we were American? Presumably because we could then be excused for not knowing that "Israeli law requires the use of seat belts for all occupants of a motor vehicle," as the U.S. State Department helpfully explains here. In Texas, by contrast, adults are free to travel unrestrained in the back seat. Given the possibility of dual citizenship, of course, neither my Texas driver's license nor my U.S. passport proves that I am not also an Israeli, fully knowledgeable of the relevant law but recklessly choosing to disregard it. Perhaps my crappy Hebrew saved us.

In any event, although Israel's law applies to adults as well as children, the cop's avowed concern was that our kids were bouncing around in the back seat, ready to fly through the windshield in the event of a collision. He stopped us based on a suspicion that the children were not wearing seat belts—a suspicion that proved to be unfounded. Thus does primary enforcement of seat belt laws provide an excuse for stopping anyone at any time, especially since the cop can always claim you buckled your belt only after you saw him. And once you've been pulled over, there are further opportunities for harassment investigation, such as vehicle searches based on an odor the officer claims to have smelled, a drug dog's alleged "signal,"  or your "consent" to a "request" from an armed agent of the state who has the power to deprive you of your freedom. A search might not even be necessary if the cop claims to have seen something suspicious "in plain sight."

Assuming you're not carrying anything that justifies detaining you further, in some states, including Texas, you can be arrested (and maybe, if you're lucky, strip-searched!) simply for driving with your seat belt unbuckled—a violation that rests entirely on an officer's word. In Arizona, you can be detained based on suspicion that you are in the country illegally, an authority that is apt to disproportionately affect people with dark skin and foreign accents (which is why the Supreme Court, in rejecting a Supremacy Clause challenge to this provision, left open the possibility of a challenge based on the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause). Elsewhere police might decide to confiscate your cash, jewelry, or car based on a hunch that it is connected to drug dealing in some way—a hunch you then have to disprove through a process that probably will cost more than the property is worth. 

These are some of the consequences that flow from a policy of protecting people from their own lack of care by letting police stop them for not wearing seat belts. Back in 2005, when I wrote a feature story for Reason about seat belt and motorcycle helmet laws, I asked an advocate of primary enforcement about the possibility of such unintended consequences:

As states move toward primary enforcement (which the transportation bill signed by President Bush in August encourages them to do with a promise of extra highway money), seat belt laws may arouse more resentment and concern, especially since traffic stops can lead to further hassles, such as interrogation and examinations by drug-sniffing dogs. Fear of racially tinged police harassment was the main reason New Jersey, the second state to adopt a seat belt law, did not follow New York's lead in allowing primary enforcement, and most states copied the New Jersey model. "Do I think racial profiling is an issue?" says MADD's Chuck Hurley, who lobbied for stricter seat belt laws when he worked at the National Safety Council. "Yes, I do." But Hurley doubts primary enforcement of seat belt laws will noticeably worsen the problem, and he argues that it makes sense as a matter of consistency: If you can be pulled over for a broken tail light, why not for failing to buckle up? One answer is that the broken tail light poses a potential hazard to others, while the unbuckled seat belt does not. But unless they want to repeal existing seat belt requirements, says Hurley, politicians who oppose primary enforcement are left to argue, rather implausibly, that it's "the Maginot Line between enough government and too much government."

Yet even those who see nothing wrong with requiring motorists to wear seat belts may reasonably perceive a distinct risk from letting cops use that policy as yet another excuse to mess with people.

Ron Paul: The War Against His Delegates, and Against His Importance

GQ focuses on the Republican Party's shoddy treatment and eventual booting of elected delegates from Massachusetts for the crime of supporting Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). Highlights:

as enterprising Paul supporters in several states have discovered...Paulites [can] run for—and win—those [delegate] slots, so long as they pledge to vote for Romney on the first ballot. [Ed] Rombach and his cohorts formed what they called the Liberty Slate, and wouldn't you know it, they won 35 of the state's 54 openings. In many cases they beat out party big shots like Kerry Healey, Romney's lieutenant governor and an advisor on his campaign. Each of the Paul delegates had pledged to uphold the rules and vote for Romney on the first ballot. 

All good, right? Americans getting involved in the process and following the rules to enliven and strengthen our democracy? Yes?

No. Several weeks after the caucuses, all of the winning Liberty Slate delegates got letters in the mail from the state Republican party, demanding they sign an enclosed affidavit, swearing "under pain and penalty of perjury" to vote for Romney at the convention. Signed, notarized copies were to be returned to party headquarters by a date and time certain. The Paulites didn't like the smell of this: Mass GOP had never required an affidavit before, nor had anyone mentioned one at the caucuses. And the wording of the document seemed overly severe. What if Romney for some reason were to drop out before August? Would the Liberty Delegates then be perjuring themselves by voting for someone else? They long ago accepted that Ron Paul won't be president—Rombach actually used those words with me— and their goals for Tampa were more modest. They wanted to contribute to the visibility of the Paul minority and support the addition of platform planks concerning Paul's top issues, the Fed and undeclared wars. The affidavit exercise seemed beside the point.

In the end, most of them decided to return instead a "Liberty Affirmation," making the same pledge but without Romney's name in it. Some returned both versions. Some were late with the delivery. In June, 17 of the 35 Liberty Delegates, including an 18-year-old who'd edged out two former gubernatorial candidates for his spot, were informed by mail that they were being tossed. No going to Tampa. No being part of the process. No further explanation. Going in their place were the next-highest vote-getters—including Kerry Healey and others from the establishment crowd.

Who is to blame?

When I asked the Romney campaign why the 17 delegates had been rejected, they referred me to the Massachusetts Republican Party. But the party, in a statement from the Allocation Committee chairman, says it was the Romney campaign's decision to bounce the 17 Paul supporters: 

"Governor Romney's campaign, through its representative on the Allocation Committee, made the decision not to certify certain delegates and alternate delegates who were unwilling to sign and return on time the affidavit sent out by the Allocation Committee affirming that they would cast their vote for Governor Romney at the National Convention in Tampa," the statement reads. It concludes with the committee's agreement that the dispute over affidavits constituted "'just cause' for not being certified as national delegates."

The state party spokesman would not address the fact that the affidavit requirement had come out of nowhere, and weeks late. Nor would he explain, on the record, how the decision been made to force those 35 delegates, already pledged to Romney, to make yet another commitment. The most I could glean was some dark hinting about the Liberty delegates' online histories—Facebook and blog posts—as proof that they couldn't be trusted to vote for Romney, despite their verbal pledge at the caucuses.

Previous blogging from me on Paul's (now stymied) delegate success in Massachusetts.

*The lefty-media-bias watchers at Newsbusters, meanwhile, are annoyed with Rachel Maddow for talking about a not-much-talked about topic: the rising opposition Ron Paul movement in the GOP, and the possibility of him winning outright the delegation from Nebraska. (I blogged about what that means the other day.) While it remains to be seen, of course, how much impact they will end up having--and Tampa will only be the beginning of that story, not the end--I think it's Newsbusters rather than Maddow who are evading reality here by ignoring the importance of Paul and his supporters. (Newsbusters implication that Maddow is saying or imagining Paul will actually win the nomination is their own warping of reality, not hers.)

One of Maddow's recent Paul bits:

In other Paul news, his former campaign press maven Gary Howard is hired by the RNC, pissing off both Paulites and anti-Paulites; and Cincinnati-based Fox TV reporter Ben Swann thinks by some interpretations Paul already has the control of five state's delegations he needs to be officially nominated from the floor.

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

Rejoice, Californians! The High-Speed Rail Vote Shows the System Working!

Sure, the decision to commit billions of dollars to the first leg of a high-speed rail project in rural California may bankrupt the state, but the important thing is that legislature operated in a functional manner!

This is the bizarre theme of Los Angeles Times political columnist George Skelton in Thursday’s paper. “Sure you drove off a cliff, but you kept your hands on the wheel at ten and two and you weren’t speeding!”

That’s not a direct quote. But this is:

We're talking about functional versus dysfunctional, leadership versus ineptitude — a system that is running smoothly rather than broken.

We're not necessarily talking about a desired policy result. Sometimes you lose. (If you're a California Republican, you usually do in Sacramento.)

Interesting how he wants to argue that “running smoothly” is the opposite of “broken.” In our alleged two-party system, one party has so little power in California that it is isn’t even a speedbump in the way of the other party doing whatever it wants in the legislature. The only checks on the Democratic Party are other Democrats who are worried about their own electoral future. That’s a pretty smooth system all right, and completely, utterly broken.

Skelton talks us through the sausage-making of the vote, showing how smoothly Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic leaders promised whatever the hell they needed to promise in order to wrangle state senators’ votes for the project. Here are some examples of that smooth system:

The fourth Democratic opponent, Sen. Fran Pavley of Agoura Hills, was given a pass. She's in a tight reelection race in a newly redrawn district where the bullet train isn't particularly popular. So she was allowed to quietly vote "no" without any repercussion in the Capitol. …

Sen. Louis Correa (D-Santa Ana) wanted assurances that Orange County wouldn't be punished in future bullet train funding because of local tea-party opposition to the project. Brown assured him. …

Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Chino) cast the 21st vote that officially put the bill over the top. Roads were deteriorating in her district, she complained. So the Brown administration promised to prioritize some for repair. Also, Steinberg got a promise from Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers union, to quietly help Negrete McLeod with Latinos in her congressional race.

How nice of the Capitol to give Pavley permission to actually represent the wishes of her voters rather than what Brown wanted. The system truly does work!

Green Party: It Still Exists!

The New York Times gives extended attention (for I'm guessing the last time this electoral season) to the Green Party's likely nominee, Jill Stein, who in an interesting coincidence already ran up against (and failed to beat) Mitt Romney in the Massachusetts 2002 gubernatorial race. 

It is the typical third party candidate profile--no one's heard of her! She just might "cost Obama the election" in a swing state like Ohio! She has some interesting ideas whose actual effect on policy we won't bother to think about hard since we're only covering her for a lark! 

Her core policies, as reported by the Times:

Ms. Stein says she emphasizes issues like ecological sustainability, racial and gender equality, and economic justice. The centerpiece of her platform is a Green New Deal, a twist on the Roosevelt-era programs intended to stimulate job growth and the depressed economy. It could be paid for by ending the presence of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the campaign says, and by eliminating waste in the health care system. Beyond that, Ms. Stein favors a progressive income tax that would raise rates on the wealthy.

An analysis of the potential appeal of a candidate to Obama's left would have been an opportunity to get serious about why many progressives are, or should be, dissatisfied with President Obama on issues like war and civil liberties (a topic covered at Reason here, here, and here) but alas Stein herself seems uninterested in front and centering such issues.

David Weigel at Slate hits the piece for what he sees as analytical errors concerning Ralph Nader (the man whom many, and the Times, think put the party on the map with his 2000 run and gave it whatever prominence and success it had, Weigel thinks in fact was its ruination by his decision to run totally independent in '04 and '08) and fact errors (the Times said Stein would be the first Green to win federal matching funds, when Cynthia McKinney did in '08).  (Thanks to commenter Mo for pointing out that Weigel corrected his correction--the funds McKinney received were not "federal matching funds.")

I blogged in February on Rosanne Barr's now aborted plan to win the Green Party nomination.

David Harsanyi on Why a Tax Hike Would Accomplish Nothing

President Obama—and nearly all media coverage of the decade-old tax cuts—continues to discuss the "cost" of tax cuts as if Washington had first dibs on your money. Is the president arguing that the base line of spending includes all wealth and that anything the Internal Revenue Service doesn't take is something we have to "pay" for? If not, then government spending is the only thing that really costs us. Sometimes the cost is worthwhile; mostly it isn't.

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Vice Writer Is Okay With the New Generation of Libertarians, Possibly Because His Friends Are Libertarian

Over at Vice, the highly Reason-y topic of libertarian kids today gets a respectful treatment from writer Vinnie Rotondaro. But Rotondaro's choice of talking about — and including photos of — his two good buddies (both gents) and discussing how cool they are for several grafs before mentioning their libertarianness is interesting. It seems clear that Rotondaro was trying to avoid assumptions of socially inept Ron Paul worshipping basement dwellers (somebody get a cryptozoologist to find these fabled beasts, but never mind...). He in fact he pretty much says as much:

Most people, when they think of a libertarian, picture some kind of outsider, a weirdo—a lip-smacking Texas fireworks salesman in a ten-gallon hat, or someone like that sloshed constitutionalist whose DUI arrest video went viral last year. I’ve often heard liberals write libertarians off as “idiots.” But Danny and Matt are two of my best friends, and they aren’t idiots. They’re smart, thoughtful guys. I don’t exactly agree with their politics, but I understand where they’re coming from. Both voted for Obama in 2008. Now they can’t stand him. But they’re not so keen on Romney or the political right, either. Danny and Matt are fed up with everything, the whole political system.

“I see shenanigans,” Danny told me. “As an American, and even going back historically, being a Virginian—part of a legacy of people who stand up to power—I think the reality is that the government can’t solve our problems at this point.”

Matt, remarking on the federal government’s appetite for spending, said, “It’s like we have this plate full of food, and it’s just an enormous plate. It’s obscenely huge. We’re never going to finish it. But we just keep adding to it and piling on.”

While both of these complaints are standard republican talking points, Danny and Matt differ from the average GOP member in that neither is socially conservative.

“I think conservatives went to shit with Jerry Farewell and the Moral Majority,” says Matt.

And, they aren’t into war.

First, let's take a moment to appreciate the descriptor: "a lip-smacking Texas fireworks salesman in a ten gallon hat." Even as a slur against libertarians (imagined or otherwise), well, it is much lovelier than "Ayn Rand! Robber barons! Monocles! Kochtopus!" And again, I waited for the expected scorn for libertarianism, but it didn't come. Even the comments are a mixed bag, with some enthusiastic fans of libertarianism, and others claiming that it's a philosophy for the prosperous and the pale-skinned.

To underline his thesis, Rotondaro drops a link to a Harvard Institute of Politics Poll about how kids today really are embracing more economic freedom, while generally being the more chill on gay  marriage and marijuana than their boomer parents.

A few lines further, the Reason Foundation's polling director Emily Ekins makes an appearance:

Where political reality could break down, she says, is over social issues. Ekins tracked self-identified conservatives under the age of 35 on social, fiscal and foreign policy issues using data dating back to 2004. Over time, they remained fiscally conservative, but grew more and more socially liberal – a classic libertarian mix. And if the precepts of political science have anything to say about it, she says, it looks as though they’ll stay that way.

“If people do change over time,” Ekins explained, “they tend to become more economically conservative. But that’s typically not the case with social issues. So what we've seen is something like a permanent shift, starting now, over social issues.”
 
If Republicans want to get those votes, she said, they’ll need to soften their stance on social conservatism. If Democrats want them, conversely, “they’ll have to clamp down on being so economically liberal."

Bottom line, one party or the other will need to change the way it does business.

Here's hoping, of course. But in general it's nice to once again see libertarianism treated as a legitimate political option, not just a "look at these weirdos" trendpiece...Even if Rotondaro's beginning part smacks a little of trying to hard to prove an opposite point, that is, libertarians! They're moderately handsome dudes who do sporty stuff! But hell, they're also friends of the non-libertarian author. So much for political bubbles and social media echo chambers spelling our doom, maybe. 

Go check out the Reason-Rupe poll archives here. For a good look at just why the kids might be gettin' all liberty-minded, check out Nick Gillespie's latest, "The Real Class Warfare is Baby Boomers vs. Younger Americans."

And, there's this book on the subject of an exciting new future of libertarianism, you might have heard of it...

UFOs over the UK

The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense released 6,700 pages worth of UFO related documents today. The documents span a period of 43 years; the Ministry’s UFO program (DI55) closed in 2009. The Ministry of Defense says it was not, of course, looking to substantiate the extraterrestrial origins of any unidentified flying object but only to assess the possible threats to national security such objects might pose. This file includes a DI55 intelligence officer explaining in 1979 that actual visits to “an insignificant planet” like Earth by extraterrestrials “would probably not occur more than once in a thousand years or so, even if one assumes that every intelligent community made say 10 launches a year,” concluding that the “thousands of visits in the last decade or so are far too large to be credible.”

The program’s secrecy, though, spurred conspiracy theories about what the government was hiding about UFOs. Today’s disclosures suggest not much. In fact, many of the more recent documents involve the Ministry of Defense debunking claims by so-called ufologists. The 50th anniversary of the Roswell incident, probably the most famous of alleged alien encounters on Earth, especially, prompted interested in the British government’s work. This file, for example, contains a letter from one ufologist, Nick Redfern, who urged then Prime Minister Tony Blair to release the government’s UFO documents. Redfern wrote to Blair:

Regardless of one’s opinions as to whether or not elements of the British Government and military are actively participating in a ‘cover-up’ of UFO data, I would urge you to consider making available for public scrutiny all of the many and varied UFO reports and associated data compiled by the Government which is currently withheld. To date, those files which have been released cover the period 1950-1968. I would urge those files covering the period 1969-1998 be declassified – if only to allay the very real rumours pointing towards an official cover-up of data.

The files present a pretty compelling case against unnecessary government secrecy. The files make the British government’s UFO work appear mundane and even boiler-plate; they’re only sexy because they were once classified. One of the files even contains a 1997 response to an inquiry about whether the CIA or the U.S. government shared any information on Roswell with the British:

[A] search of all existing UAP files showed no record of any meetings/briefings with the CIA, or any other agency. Similarly we have no data on the alleged "Roswell Incident" or any "crashed UFO incidents in the UK."

...In short DI 55 has no records of any UAP/UFO "crashes" in either the UK or US and have never, a [sic] far as we can tell from existing files, received and [sic] briefs from any US agencies, including the CIA."

Jesse Walker wrote about the UK’s UFO files for Reason back in 2006, when the UK declassified other documents that pointed to the existence of DI55.

Highlights of the file contents are here. There are many UFO sightings among the files, none substantiated as extraterrestrial in origin. If you do find something interesting in the lengthy files, let us know in the comments!

Should the Supreme Court Defer to Congress and Uphold the Defense of Marriage Act?

Writing at The New Yorker, Richard Socarides reviews Chief Justice John Roberts’ recent vote to uphold Obamacare and suggests that Roberts might be willing to side with his liberal colleagues on another hot button issue that is soon to reach the Supreme Court: gay marriage. As Socarides sees it:

in these marquee gay-rights cases facing the Court next term—as American public opinion, especially among young people, shifts rapidly towards greater equality—Roberts may find the very kind of “legacy” issues around which he has shown a willingness to break with his more conservatives colleagues. Put another way, these cases will help define what freedom and equality look like in America, perhaps for decades. Will Roberts want to be on the losing side of history?

One of the marquee cases he refers to stems from the May ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit which struck down several provisions from the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Paul Clement, the Republican lawyer representing the House of Representatives in its legal defense of that law, has asked the Supreme Court to take up the case, and it’s very likely the Court will do so in its upcoming term.

So let’s assume DOMA will be the first gay rights case to reach the Roberts Court. Is Socarides’ right that the chief justice will again show "a willingness to break with his more conservative colleagues"?

I wouldn’t bet on it—at least not if we take Roberts at his word. Remember that Roberts framed his vote upholding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as an exercise of judicial restraint, writing in his opinion, “It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.” I don't see why Roberts wouldn't rely on that same principle and vote to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act. Both Obamacare and DOMA are duly-enacted federal laws, after all.

If you cheered the chief's ruling on health care, don't be shocked when he grants the same deferential treatment to a federal law you don't like.

Anthony Randazzo on the Fed’s Harmful Monetary Policy

While most coverage of the Federal Reserve has focused on the question of whether there is more room for monetary stimulus to continue aiding the economy, writes Anthony Randazzo, we’ve failed to ask a more fundamental question: Is the current monetary policy paradigm actually helping economic growth? As Randazzo explains, from a long-term perspective, the Fed is currently doing more harm than good.

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When Romney Left Bain Questioned, Penn State Hid Sandusky, Hackers Hit Yahoo: P.M. Links

  • The political scandal of the day is over when Mitt Romney actually stopped working for Bain. Was it 2002 or 1999? Romney has said 1999, but The Boston Globe (which ended up in hot water of its own for failing to attribute information from Mother Jones and Talking Points Memo used in its story) contends that SEC filings show Romney still with Bain until 2002. The Romney campaign says the story is wrong and is sticking with 1999.
  • Developers of a new laser scanning system process claim it can read people down to the molecule, able to find traces of drugs and gunpowder on their bodies and can even tell what’s going on inside them. The Department of Homeland Security is interested, the anonymously written Gizmodo piece claims, so that should add some more fun at the airport. (h/t to Hit and Run profiteer Underpants Gnome)
  • A 267-page FBI report concludes that Penn State officials, including late football coach Joe Paterno, conspired to cover up accusations of child sexual abuse against Jerry Sandusky beginning as far back as 1998. Paterno’s family Thursday insisted that he did not know Sandusky was a sexual predator and did not attempt to block any investigations.
  • Orthodox rabbis in Europe are calling on German Jews to defy a court ruling branding circumcision as a criminal act and continue circumcising newborn males.
  • A data breach at Yahoo allowed hackers to download the names and passwords of about 400,000 users. The hackers, called D33Ds Co., posted the data online to expose Yahoo’s vulnerabilities.
  • Congress is considering legislation that could possibly allow the prosecution of journalists who report information coming from leaks in the federal government.
  • 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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The Science is Settled: New Tree Ring Study Finds Roman Period Likely Warmer Than Today

Today appears to be global warming day here at Hit & Run. As some astute H&R commenters have noted, Nature Climate Change has just published a new study by German climate researchers that peers deep into the entrails (OK the heartwood) of Scandinavian trees to figure out how temperatures have trended since the 2nd century BC.

The abstract of the article, Orbital Forcing of Tree Ring Data, sums up:

Solar insolation changes, resulting from long-term oscillations of orbital configurations, are an important driver of Holocene climate. The forcing is substantial over the past 2,000 years, up to four times as large as the 1.6 W m−2 net anthropogenic forcing since 1750, but the trend varies considerably over time, space and with season. Using numerous high-latitude proxy records, slow orbital changes have recently been shownto gradually force boreal summer temperature cooling over the common era. Here, we present new evidence based on maximum latewood density data from northern Scandinavia, indicating that this cooling trend was stronger (−0.31 °C per 1,000 years, ±0.03 °C) than previously reported, and demonstrate that this signature is missing in published tree-ring proxy records. The long-term trend now revealed in maximum latewood density data is in line with coupled general circulation models, indicating albedo-driven feedback mechanisms and substantial summer cooling over the past two millennia in northern boreal and Arctic latitudes. These findings, together with the missing orbital signature in published dendrochronological records, suggest that large-scale near-surface air-temperature reconstructions relying on tree-ring data may underestimate pre-instrumental temperatures including warmth during Medieval and Roman times.

This graph summarizes their findings:

"This figure we calculated may not seem particularly significant," says [Jan] Esper [one of the researchers], "however, it is also not negligible when compared to global warming, which up to now has been less than 1°C. Our results suggest that the large-scale climate reconstruction shown by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) likely underestimate this long-term cooling trend over the past few millennia."

The folks over at RealClimate welcome the new results but suggest that other reconstructions of tree ring data outside of the northern latitudes will find that orbital forcing (sunlight hitting the surface) actually has a far smaller effect on the global temperature trend than that reported in the new study. University of Pennsylvania climatologist Michael Mann (the creator of the "hockey-stick" which did not find evidence for a significant Medieval Waming period) tells The New Scientist: "The implications of this study are vastly overstated by the authors."

Time will tell if that is so.

French Fight Back Against California Foie Gras Ban

Ok, so Californians don't actually eat all that much foie gras. And French people don't drink that much California wine, relatively speaking. But that has hasn't stopped one pate-eating ami of food lovers everywhere from taking a stand for what he believes is right. Here's Philippe Martin, the president of the general council of Gers:

“I call on all the restaurants in France that sell Californian wine to stop doing so in a show of solidarity for our foie gras makers and, more broadly, for all food makers,”

Martin was spurred to anger by the ban on the sale of fatty goose and duck liver that took effect in the Golden State on July 1. The tirade wasn't exactly selfless: Gers produces two-thirds of the foie gras consumed worldwide, about 16,000 tons. 

But Martin deserves praise for self-awareness (“This won’t have severe impact on the Gers region trade balance, let alone the French trade, or the California trade balance," Martin told Bloomberg Week.) and also for proposing a voluntary boycott.

The last time the U.S. and France got their culottes (or should I say bobettes?) in a bunch about the trade balance between the two countries, President George W. Bush wound up threatening to bar Roquefort cheese and—you guessed it—foie gras from the U.S. of A.

A Libertarian Argues for a Carbon Tax

I posted earlier today an item about a recent meeting held at the think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, between conservative and progressive policy wonks to talk about a carbon tax as way to address the problem of man-made global warming. The Competitive Enterprise Institute's Myron Ebell decried any discussion by conservatives of a carbon tax as "political poison."

Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Adler (who is former CEI staffer and a friend) emailed to remind me that some libertarians are concerned about the property rights implications of man-made global warming and how to redress the damage being caused to third parties by emitting carbon dioxide. Back in May, over at the Altantic Monthly blog, Adler wrote:

My argument is that the same general principles that lead libertarians and conservatives to call for greater protection of property rights should lead them to call for greater attention to the most likely effects of climate change.  It is a well recognized principle of common law that if company A is flooding the land of person B, it is irrelevant whether company A generates lots of economic prosperity for the local community (including B).  A's action would still violate B's property rights, and B would be entitled to relief of some sort.  By the same token, if the land of a farmer in Bangladesh is flooded, due in measurable and provable part to human-induced climate change, why would he be any less entitled to redress than a farmer who has his land flooded by his neighbor's land-use changes? Property rights should not be sacrificed as part of some utilitarian calculus.  Libertarians readily accept this principle when government planners violate property rights in the name of economic development (see e.g., Kelo v. New London).  Yet they seem to abandon their commitment to property rights when it comes to global warming.

I readily recognize that there is, as yet, no international mechanism that adjudicate warming-based disputes, and I am quite sympathetic to those who believe any international entity capable of adjudicating such disputes would do more harm than good, but this does not negate the principle that global warming is, as best we can tell, likely to cause harms that should be addressed.  The question is how to do it.

Adler goes on to discuss various policy proposals including R&D prizes for developing low-carbon energy technologies, the removal of regulatory barriers for deploying new energy production technologies, and the development of markets, say in water, to enable people to adapt more easily to climate change. He then argues for a carbon tax:

I believe the United States should adopt a revenue-neutral carbon tax, much like that suggested by NASA's James Hansen.  Specifically, the federal government should impose a price on carbon that is fully rebated to taxpayers on a per capita basis.  This would, in effect, shift the incidence of federal taxes away from income and labor and onto energy consumption and offset some of the potential regressivity of a carbon tax.  For conservatives who have long supported shifting from an income tax to a sales or consumption tax, and oppose increasing the federal tax burden, this should be a no brainer.  If fully rebated, there is no need to worry about whether the government will put the resulting revenues to good use, but the tax would provide a significant incentive to reduce carbon energy use.  Further, a carbon tax would be more transparent and less vulnerable to rent-seeking and special interest mischief than equivalent cap-and-trade schemes and would also be easier to account for within the global trading system.  All this means a revenue-neutral carbon tax could be easier to enact than cap-and-trade.  And as for a broader theoretical justification, if the global atmosphere is a global commons owned by us all, why should not those who use this commons to dispose of their carbon emissions pay a user fee to compensate those who are affected.

Adler is no fool. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Gary Johnson Supporters Plan Protest at CNN Headquarters in Atlanta

Frustrated that Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Gary Johnson isn't getting more coverage from CNN, Johnson's supporters are planning to protest outside the network's headquarters next week. 

An email from Chris Hill, who volunteers* for the Johnson campaign in Florida, says that "supporters of Gov. Johnson—and folks who just believe in fairness—are gathering at CNN Headquarters in Atlanta to let the network know that voters deserve the chance to learn that there is another choice in November besides President Obama and Gov. Romney." 

The protest will be held on July 15 and 16. 

More from that email: 

This isn’t just about Gov. Johnson. And it isn’t just about CNN. If the major media organizations across the country don’t even include Governor Johnson in their polls, much less their coverage, millions of Americans who are ready for a third choice in 2012 will be robbed of their opportunity to be heard.

We want to let CNN – and all the other networks – know that we will not be shut out.

Join us in Atlanta July 15-16!  Then support our Twitter Bomb on July 16th at 11 a.m. EDT by using the following Hashtag: #BlackoutCNN.

For details, carpooling options, and everything else you need to know about our “protest”, visit: CNN Protest For Fair Coverage of Governor Johnson.  

This is like a flashback to last summer, when Johnson attacked the major networks in various interviews for ignoring him. To be fair: Back then he was one of a dozen GOP candidates; now, he's the candidate for the third largest political party in the country.

*Hill is not paid by the Johnson campaign, in case that wasn't clear.

Europeans Apparently Don't Like Paying Sky-High Cigarette Taxes

Europe appears to be on a bit of a roll, tax-wise, these days. The other day we heard about Greeks' impressive tax-dodging skills; today we learn that Europeans, overall, don't want to pay sky-high taxes on cigarettes. Government officials scold their subjects for failing to live up to their obligations, but maybe the real lesson here is that people can only be squeezed so hard before they look for relief wherever it might be found.

From the New York Times:

For years, law enforcement officers and smugglers have played cat and mouse in Europe, where contraband cigarettes are stashed in everything from furniture shipments to loads of Christmas trees. But Europe’s four-year-old economic crisis is expanding the black market for cigarettes, robbing European Union nations of valuable revenue and drawing in a new class of smugglers.

The Times quotes a British judge lecturing a blind man who was caught with a horde of 200,000 smuggled cigarettes.

“You are 61 years old, and apart from a sentence in your youth for cannabis possession, you have remained law abiding for the last 40 years,” Judge David Tremberg lectured him in court, issuing a curfew and a fine of about $1,000. “At a time when the public purse is at breaking point, this business robs the country of much-needed finances.”

Indeed, the impact of lost tax revenues is enormous, especially since the European Union is partly financed by customs duties, 75 percent of which are passed to the bloc by its member nations.

The lost tax revenues are pretty significant. In Andalusia, "contraband cigarettes commanded 20 percent of the market," while in Ireland "smugglers are robust competitors with legal cigarette companies, reaching more than 17 percent." Overall, smuggled cigarettes are estimated to account for 10 percent of the European market, costing governments "1 billion euros missing in the E.U. budget and up to 9 billion euros missing in the member states."

Why, one wonders, would perfectly nice European people not just smuggle untaxed cigarettes, but also purchase them from smugglers, costing their hard-working government officials "much-needed finances" that would otherwise help them balance those oh-so-tattered budgets? Hmmm ...

“I sell a pack for 9.20 euros, while they can get one for 3.20,” about $7.30 less, Mr. Gilsenan [a Dublin shopkeeper] said, noting that his sales declined 40 percent in the last four years and resulted in layoffs of two employees. Since then, he and other shopkeepers have formed a group called Retailers Against Smuggling that is pressing for higher penalties for smugglers.

A peak at European tobacco tax rates (PDF) shows that the cheapest place to buy cigarettes in the EU is Luxembourg, where taxes make up 61.11 percent of the tax inclusive retail selling price per pack, or 70.12 percent of the weighted average price per pack, depending on how you want to calculate it. By contrast, Americans pay an average (PDF) $1.49 in state taxes per pack of cigarettes, wth an average price per pack of $5.97 (not counting local taxes). Despite lower tax rates than Europeans pay, the U.S. still has plenty of cigarette smuggling, with the National Center for Policy Analysis pointing out in 2002:

The growth of cigarette smuggling is a key reason why cigarette tax revenues are not keeping pace with tax increases. Between 1992 and 2000, the average state cigarette tax rate increased 64 percent while gross state tax revenues rose only 35 percent. [See Figure II.] The apparent fall in smoking rates over this period was not nearly enough to account for the revenue shortfall. This suggests that states expecting higher revenues from recent cigarette tax increases may never see them.

USA Today explicitly stated the cause and effect last year:

A recent wave of state tobacco tax increases, designed to pump revenue into cash-strapped local governments, is inspiring an increasingly dangerous cigarette smuggling industry where big profits lure violent criminal gangs and drug traffickers into the booming illegal market, according to law enforcement officials and court records.

Who knew that if you tried to tax people beyond their willingness to pay, they'd look for alternatives that allow them to escape high taxes? It's a revelation.

At least, it's a revelation to government officials who see the little people as nothing more than milking cows for "much-needed finances."

What to Do About Zombies at the Polls?

After writing a short piece Monday about the Justice Department attempting to block the implementation of a fairly strict voter ID law in Texas, J. Christian Adams, who is writing about (and supporting) the law for PJ Media, tweeted me. I had watched a video from Project Veritas that purported to show problems with voter impersonation at the polls. I had found it a bit wanting, and Adams directed me to watch the two other videos he said showed more problems with potential poll fraud.

The first, which I had heard of but had not watched, involved James O'Keefe posing as Attorney General Eric Holder at his voting location and successfully being offered a ballot. While clever and amusing, the video still is not a compelling illustration of a need for voter ID, because the impersonation of unwitting living voters is not an achievable strategy for electoral fraud. The risk of discovery is incredibly high as the day goes on. How many voters would need to discover that somebody had already voted under their name at a precinct before people realized something was going terribly wrong? An attempt to actually alter a vote through this method could make a huge and very public mess of things, but I cannot imagine a circumstance where the widespread impersonation of living voters could ever actually work.

The second video, showing reporters being offered ballots after posing as people in New Hampshire who are actually dead, is more compelling, in part because it’s a kind of fraud that actually happens and has the potential to succeed. After all, these victims of impersonation aren’t going to show up at the polls later in the day:

But to me, voter ID is putting the burden on the citizen for terrible management of voter rolls by the government. It’s forcing individuals to have to pay -- either with money or with time or with both -- for government bureaucracy’s inability to collect, collate and manage information efficiently to remove people from the voter rolls when they don’t belong there. (But of course, attempts to do so also become ridiculously politicized. It’s apparently racist just to make sure the people on the rolls are legitimate voters.)

Voter ID laws are like DUI checkpoints: It’s government expressing both its power and its laziness. It’s not tackling the underlying problem and instead creating more burdens for its citizens to express their rights. A quick check online shows fake IDs available for around $135. Assuming a party or candidate wishing to engage in fraud isn’t able to get the costs down through other means, it may be too pricy to attempt to game the system for a general election. But for a smaller primary or municipal election, getting fake IDs into the hands of these fake voters will not be as much of a problem.

Here’s a thought exercise: Why the hell do we even still have polling locations anyway? Do we really even need them anymore?

A Conservative-Progressive Carbon Tax Plot?

Representatives from the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and a number of environmentalist activist groups met behind closed doors yesterday apparently for the fifth time to plot the imposition of a carbon tax as a way to address man-made global warming, claims the Competitive Enterprise Institute's (CEI) director of energy and global warming policy Myron Ebell. In a post to a conservative listserv Ebell asserted:

From 1:30-5 PM on Wednesday, the American Enterprise Institute hosted a hitherto secret meeting to discuss how to enact a carbon tax in a lame duck session this fall or perhaps in the 113th Congress....

We defeated capntrade in 2009-10 by convincing the American public that it was really capntax. Twenty-odd House Democrats who voted for Waxman-Markey lost their seats. The Democratic Senate refused to take it up. It’s political poison, so naturally the more brain-dead parts of the Republican and big business establishment have decided how clever it would be to resurrect the carbon tax and push it as an alternative to regulation. I don’t notice anything in the AEI agenda about repealing the greenhouse gas emissions standards as part of the deal. Why don’t we do that first? Then we can talk about alternative policies—if any.

Also, note the idea that a deal could be done so that a carbon tax would be offset by reductions in other taxes and would therefore be revenue neutral. There are multiple problems with the idea of revenue neutrality. First, it never works. A new tax will quickly be raised. Second, the poorer people are, the higher the percentage of their income that goes for energy. Poor people already don’t pay much or any income tax. So a consumption tax offset by, for example, cuts in the corporate income tax rate, would be highly regressive. Third, the only way a carbon tax would reduce fossil fuel consumption and thus greenhouse gas emissions is if it’s set quite high. And the only way a carbon tax will raise much revenue is if it’s set quite high. Thus they must be advocating European levels of taxation. Say $5 dollars a gallon of gasoline. Roughly $500 per ton of coal (which is currently selling for $65 a ton at most).

We must kill this incredibly harmful idea as quickly as possible.

The agenda supplied by Ebell indicated that the first session of the meeting was devoted to an "Update on posture of key constituencies." The first panel apparently looked at Congressional Republicans, Romney and Business Leaders with the aim of "Detoxifying climate policy for conservatives." Listed discussants were AEI's Kevin Hassett; Dave Jenkins, Vice President of Government and Political Affairs at ConservAmerica; and Eli Lehrer, President of the R Street Institute.

A second panel reviewed the stands of various Progressive/Social Justice groups and included discussants, Danielle Deane, Director of Energy and Environment Program, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; Tyson SlocumDirector of Energy Program, Public Citizen; and Chad Stone, Chief Economist, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The third panel focused on the views of Economists and Deficit Hawks. Discussants were listed as Autumn Hannah, Senior Program Director, Taxpayers for Common Sense; Aparna Mathur, AEI resident scholar; Diane Lim Rogers, chief economist, Concord Coalition; Rob Shapiro, ex- U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs under President Bill Clinton and currently chairman of the U.S. Climate Task Force.

The second session listed on the agenda was devoted to "Framing and Selling a Carbon Pollution Tax."  Kevin Curtis, Program Director of Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and Board member of the Climate Action Network offered initial thoughts on a post-election public opinion and education campaign. Next, prominent DC lobbyist and former Democratic member of Congress Tom Downey evidently talked about building bipartisan support for a carbon tax proposal and navigating the Ways and Means process in Congress. The final panel consisted of Ian Parry, Technical Assistance Advisor in the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department; Rob Williams, Senior Fellow and Director, Academic Programs at Resources for the Future;  and Adele Morris, Policy Director for the Climate and Energy Economics Project at the Brookings Institution. They talked about honing the case for a carbon pollution tax. 

I reached out to AEI for a reaction, and AEI Director of Public Affairs Veronique Rodman offered this official response:

In recent years, AEI has been accused of being both in the pocket of energy companies and organizing to advocate a carbon tax.  Neither is true.  AEI has been, and will continue to be, an intellectually curious place, where products aren’t influenced by interested parties, and ideas from all are welcome in seeking solutions for difficult public policy problems.

Rodman also explained that AEI has absolutely no institutional position with regard to a carbon tax. She added that AEI scholars have the intellectual freedom to explore whatever public policy ideas that they find of interest.

On its face, there is nothing wrong with people of good will who disagree about the scope and urgency of a public policy problem getting together to talk about their differences and how they might be bridged. Among other things, Ebell is expressing a generalized fear held by some conservatives that progressives will dupe clueless well-meaning conservatives into meeting them halfway and then turn around and demand more concessions.

Ebell is certainly right that the new and highly inefficient greenhouse gas emissions restrictions being imposed by the EPA should be repealed. But assuming that man-made global warming is or will become a significant problem, how might it be addressed? I review four options in my 2009 article, What's the Best Way to Handle Future Climate Change? They are: cap-and-trade; a carbon tax; techno-solutions; and economic growth. At the end of that article, I conclude:

...it is surely not unreasonable to argue that if one wants to help future generations deal with climate change, the best policies would be those that encourage rapid economic growth. This would endow future generations with the wealth and superior technologies that could be used to handle whatever comes at them including climate change. In other words, one could argue that, in order to truly address the problem of climate change, responsible policy makers ... should select courses of action that move humanity from a slow growth trajectory to a high growth trajectory, especially for the poorest developing countries.

Finally, perhaps one additional item might be included on a future AEI agenda: Is Government Action Worse than Climate Change?

For more of CEI's take on the contretemps go here.

Mitt Romney vs. Free Stuff

When Mitt Romney spoke to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People yesterday morning, the biggest crowd reaction came when he promised to repeal ObamaCare. The crowd booed loudly. The Romney campaign shrugged it off, and, when asked about the boos, Romney reportedly told a group of donors later that evening that "if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy — more free stuff."

That's pretty rich coming from the same politician who worked so hard to sign ObamaCare's state-driven model into law while serving as the governor of Massachusetts, who has promised never to cut Medicare and has repeatedly criticized President Obama for doing the same, and whose party passed a massive unfunded Medicare prescription drug program that gives new federal benefits to the nation's wealthiest age cohort.

You could argue that Romney's political career is based mostly on the provision of "free stuff" from the government. Romney's biggest single accomplishment in Massachusetts was giving the state's residents the exact same free stuff he's now criticizing President Obama for giving the nation. Of course, it won't be free at the federal level, and it wasn't free for Massachusetts: In 2012, the state will devote 54 percent of its budget to health care, more than any other state. As an official from the state's Executive Office for Administration and Finance warned last year, the growth of health costs "threaten the very viability of government" within the state. "We’re on a path that if we continue...government will end up doing nothing more than providing health insurance, which obviously is not an acceptable result." Romney, of course, continues to defend the (not) free stuff he gave Bay State residents. Anyone who actually wants to vote against free stuff is going to have a tough time. 

Roderick T. Long on Remaking Marriage

The Arizona State University philosopher Elizabeth Brake believes that marriage should not be restricted to opposite-sex couples, or indeed to couples at all. Indeed, she argues, it constitutes unjust discrimination to restrict marriage to romantic or sexual relationships: The social and legal status of marriage should be available to consenting "caring relationships" of all kinds. Roderick T. Long considers her case.

View this article

Steve Chapman on How Afghanistan Has Gone From Bad to Worse

This year, 176 American military personnel have been killed, bringing the total to more than 2,000 dead and 15,000 wounded. At the current rate, 2012 will be the third bloodiest year of the war. We have also lavished upward of half a trillion dollars on the effort at a time when we are not exactly flush with revenue. All our sacrifices, writes Steve Chapman, appear to be in vain. Afghan civilian casualties tripled between 2006 and this year.

View this article

President Obama: Not Being Outspent or Outraised By Romney

In his State of the Union address this year, President Obama lamented "the corrosive influence of money in politics." These days he seems more worried that there's not enough money in his own political campaign.

Over the last few weeks, the Obama reelection team has sent multiple fundraising emails warning that the president will be outspent."I will be outspent," warns the subject line of two separate emails address from the president. Another email from an Obama campaign staffer touches on the real fear: "If we're drastically outspent, there's a very good chance we will lose to Mitt Romney."

That's not a problem they have to worry too much about right now. Washington Examiner columnist Tim Carney ran the rest of the numbers and found that so far, the Obama has outraised and outspent Romney on every front: The Obama campaign has raised and spent more than Romney's; the Democratic National Committee has raised and spent more than its Repeublican counterpart; even the terrible no-good "outside groups" — the Super PACs, the 527s, and others — have spent more in support of Obama than Romney, according to Carney's own count. He reports:

Obama's campaign has raised $326 million to Romney's $227 million, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission and the campaign's own reports of its June fundraising. That's a 44 percent lead for Obama.

...Obama actually leads Romney in spending by more than 40 percent, according to the latest data -- about $148 million to $104 million (this does not include June spending, which has not yet been reported). And Obama's margin is understated because much of Romney's spending was fighting off GOP primary rivals. Money spent attacking Newt Gingrich doesn't help Romney beat Obama.

Campaigns are only part of the story. When Obama or Romney do their $40,000-a-plate fundraisers, most of that money goes to the DNC and the RNC, respectively. The DNC has outraised the RNC $210 million to $187 million and outspent it by more than 50 percent -- $175 million to $113 million, according to FEC data.

...Outside groups have reported $23.5 million attacking Romney, compared with only $11.3 million attacking Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, or CRP. While that $23.5 million against Romney includes some of Gingrich's and Santorum's attacks, more than $18 million of it is liberal money by my reckoning.

With a $105 million haul, Romney beat Obama's $71 million June tally. But overall, the totals look like this (graphic via The Examiner):

Maybe Obama is just worried that Romney will break Obama's own campaign spending record from 2008, when he "obliterated" the fundraising and spending of his presidential rival, John McCain. 

Where Incomes Are High and Prices Are Low

Where do Americans earn the highest effective incomes -- that is, the highest incomes once you adjust for the local cost of living? Joel Kotkin and Mark Schill ran the numbers, and this is what they found:

In first place is Houston, where the average annual wage in 2011 was $59,838, eighth highest in the nation. What puts Houston at the top of the list is the region’s relatively low cost of living, which includes such things as consumer prices and services, utilities and transportation costs and, most importantly, housing prices: The ratio of the median home price to median annual household income in Houston is only 2.9, remarkably low for such a dynamic urban region; in San Francisco a house goes for 6.7 times the median local household income....

Most of the rest of the top 10 are relatively buoyant economies with relatively low costs of living. These include Dallas-Fort Worth (fifth), Charlotte, N.C. (sixth), Cincinnati (seventh), Austin, Texas (eighth), and Columbus, Ohio (10th). These areas all also have housing affordability rates below 3.0 except for Austin, which clocks in at 3.5. Similar situations down the list include such mid-sized cities as Nashville, (11th), St.Louis (12th), Pittsburgh, (13th), Denver (15th) and New Orleans (16th).

One major surprise is the metro area in third place: Detroit-Warren-Livonia, Mich. This can be explained by the relatively high wages paid in the resurgent auto industry and, as we have reported earlier, a huge surge in well-paying STEM (science, technology, engineering and math-related) jobs. Combine this with some of the most affordable housing in the nation and sizable reductions in unemployment -- down 5% in Michigan over the past two years, the largest such drop in the nation. This longtime sad sack region has reason to feel hopeful.

The only expensive areas where incomes were high enough to overcome the steep prices and vault the cities into the top 10 were Silicon Valley (in second place) and Seattle (in ninth). Boston came in 32nd, San Francisco landed at 39th, New York finished 41st, and Los Angeles is 46th.

Randy Barnett: Losing ObamaCare While Preserving the Constitution

“We won in our effort to preserve the Constitution and, in fact, we moved the ball in a more positive direction,” says Georgetown Law's Randy Barnett, one of the legal architects behind the constitutional challenge to ObamaCare.

Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion in the 5-to-4 decision upheld ObamaCare's individual mandate as an exercise of Congress’ tax powers, while simultaneously rejecting the Obama administration’s sweeping assertion of federal power under the Commerce Clause. Barnett argues that the chief justice “substituted a less dangerous tax power for a far more dangerous Commerce Clause power." Had the Supreme Court accepted the government’s theory of the Commerce Clause, Barnett explains, Congress would have had the power "to do anything it wants with respect to the economy."

A professor of legal theory at Georgetown University Law Center and the author of nine books, including Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty (2004), Barnett represented the National Federation of Independent Business in its challenge to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Reason Senior Editor Damon Root recently sat down with Barnett to discuss the ObamaCare decision, the “echo chamber” of liberal academia, and whether the Constitution is consistent with libertarian principles.

Approximately 33 minutes.

Shot by Jim Epstein and Joshua Swain, and edited by Epstein.

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

Cops Visit Man's Family to Tell Them He's Been Murdered, End Up Shooting Family's Dog

Hours after Ricky Ellberbe was found dead in an alley in Henrico County, Virginia, officers sent to inform his family of his death shot and killed the family dog.  

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports

The unidentified officer and a detective had arrived at the home to notify family members that [Ricky] Ellerbe had been killed. His body was discovered shortly after 6 a.m. Wednesday, face down near an alley.

The pitbull ran from the backyard of the home toward at least one officer, who pulled his weapon and shot the dog in the home's front yard, according to Ellerbe's sister, Latoya.

"They had told me my brother was dead and I'd come out back to cry on the porch and Tiger must have heard them. He ran into the front yard and the officer shot him," LaToya Ellerbe said.

Police were not immediately available to comment Wednesday and had not publicly identified Ellerbe as the shooting victim.

Family members said Ellerbe had walked from his home to the all-night 360 Express Mart on Mechanicsville Turnpike sometime after midnight and never returned.

Nannie Ellerbe wiped away tears a few feet from where police hauled away the lifeless body of Tiger and eight blocks from where the medical examiner's office hauled away her son.

"I can't bring myself to go over there and look," she said of the crime scene.

Via Radley Balko. 

New Poll: Romney as Consultant-in-Chief

In a new Washington Post/ABC News poll presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama are in a virtual tie at 47 percent each. Yet about a quarter of likely voters say they may change their minds, even more so among Romney voters. Votes for Romney are less certain, enthusiastic, and are largely seen as a protest vote against the president. Fifty-nine percent of Romney's supporter say they are voting against Obama, whereas 74 of Obama's supporter are voting for Obama. About a quarter of Romney voters are “less enthusiastic” about their vote choice and quarter say they may change their vote.

Given tenuous support for Romney, one might expect Obama to clearly lead. Yet, majorities disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy (54 percent), health care (52 percent), and immigration (62 percent). Likewise a majority says the economy will play a significant role in presidential vote choice, a plurality (42 percent) agrees regarding health care, and another plurality (36 percent) say the federal budget deficit is extremely important. Pluralities also trust Romney over Obama in handling the economy (49 percent), and the budget deficit (52 percent). In terms of the salient issues people care most about, Americans view Romney as the more policy-competent of the two.

Yet Obama is considered the more focused and relatable candidate. Pluralities perceive him to have a better understanding of people’s economic problems (50 percent), a clearer economic plan (43 percent), view him as a stronger leader (47 percent), more likely to stand up for what he believes in (48 percent) and ultimately more likeable (63 percent). These numbers suggest that people relate better to Obama and would probably prefer to have him over for dinner rather than Romney.

These data indicate Obama should be leading in the polls, yet he’s in a virtual tie with his opponent. Perhaps, in today’s difficult economy, Romney’s consultant-in-chief persona outweighs Obama’s resolve and neighborly likability.

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

Tightening the Rules on Oxycontin Pushes Abusers and Pain Sufferers Toward More Dangerous Drugs

"The most unexpected, and probably detrimental, effect of the abuse-deterrent formulation was that it contributed to a huge surge in the use of heroin," reads a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine, written by researchers at the University of Washington: 

"We're now seeing reports from across the country of large quantities of heroin appearing in suburbs and rural areas. Unable to use OxyContin easily, which was a very popular drug in suburban and rural areas, drug abusers who prefer snorting or IV drug administration now have shifted either to more potent opioids, if they can find them, or to heroin."

Since the researchers started gathering data from patients admitted to drug treatment centers, the number of users who selected OxyContin as their primary drug of abuse has decreased from 35.6 percent of respondents before the release of the abuse-deterrent formulation to 12.8 percent now.

When users answered a question about which opioid they used to get high "in the past 30 days at least once," OxyContin fell from 47.4 percent of respondents to 30 percent. During the same time period, reported use of heroin nearly doubled.

In addition to answering a confidential questionnaire when admitted to a drug treatment program, more than 125 of the study subjects also agreed to longer phone interviews during which they discussed their drug use and the impact of the new OxyContin formulation on their individual choices.

"When we asked if they had stopped using OxyContin, the normal response was 'yes,'" Cicero says. "And then when we asked about what drug they were using now, most said something like: 'Because of the decreased availability of OxyContin, I switched to heroin.'"

Jacob Sullum wrote about this phenomenon last year, when Ohio reported that its OxyContin diversion efforts had made the pills more expensive, and thus heroin more alluring.  

And because prescribing Oxy is tantamount to inviting a DEA audit, doctors are prescribing methadone more often, which accumulates in the system over time and can depress breathing. As a result, deaths from methadone are on the rise, says a new report from the Centers for Disease Control: 

Increased use of methadone since 1999 might have been prompted by growing costs of treating pain with opioids and increasing reports of abuse of other, more expensive, extended-release opioids (1). Overdose reports and interventions by FDA and DEA might have resulted in declines in the amount of methadone distributed and methadone-related fatal overdoses in 2008, although the number of methadone prescriptions did not decline. The parallel trends in the amount of methadone distributed for use as a pain reliever and in the methadone mortality rate are consistent with methadone prescribed as a pain reliever being the primary determinant of methadone mortality rates (1,3).

Data suggest that some of the current uses of methadone for pain might be inappropriate. According to an analysis conducted by FDA, the most common diagnoses associated with methadone use for pain in 2009 were musculoskeletal problems (such as back pain and arthritis) (46%), headaches (17%), cancer (11%), and trauma (5%). Most methadone prescriptions were written by primary care providers or mid-level practitioners (e.g., nurse practitioners) rather than pain specialists. Nearly a third of prescriptions appear to have been dispensed to patients with no opioid prescriptions in the previous month (i.e., opioid-naïve patients) (10).

A.M. Links: Navy Sending Underwater Drones to Persian Gulf, Pyramid Destruction Buzz a Hoax, Sort of, Fifth Moon For Pluto

  • The United States Navy is sending unmanned underwater craft (underwater drones?) to boost its capability to prevent Iran from closing the Strait of Hormuz as negotiations over its nuclear program continue.
  • The House voted to repeal ObamaCare last night, the 33rd vote the body’s taken on the law. Maybe they’re doing it now so they don’t have to next year?
  • Elizabeth Warren is outraising Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race. By Obama-logic that makes her the bad guy in that race right?
  • The tweet that apparently got the recent story that Islamists wanted to destroy the pyramids in Egypt going was actually a hoax. But the story’s not. It probably got as much play as it did because Islamists were very recently seen wrecking historical sites in Timbuktu. And the nose of the Sphinx was actually most likely destroyed by a Sufi Muslim fanatic in 1378 after he caught local peasants praying to the Sphinx as a God. And, of course, the suggestion to destroy the pyramids has come up in Egypt before, with some sharia law backing it.
  • An Israeli company is developing a medicinal form of marijuana that can relieve certain symptoms but won’t get you high. Buzz kill.
  • New York City wants to convert public pay phones into free WiFi hotspots. It will start with ten in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.
  • NASA’s Hubble Telescope found a fifth moon for Pluto, but if it’s not technically a planet, can it have moons? Apparently.
  • Publish something awesome between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012? Learn more about the Bastiat Prize for Journalism.

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

Reason.TV: "Killing California's Costly Death Penalty"

Andrew Napolitano on Why the Roberts Ruling on Obamacare Signals a Turning Point

Imagine Thomas Jefferson being told what to eat or stopped and frisked on a whim. And then imagine the Supreme Court telling him that he must pay a tax if he fails to comport his personal private behavior as Congress—which doesn't believe in privacy or personal freedom—commands. Here is how you can tell that these are bad days for freedom, writes Andrew Napolitano: Does the government need your permission to violate your rights, or do you need the government's permission to exercise them? The answer is painfully obvious.

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Brickbat: Is That an Eiffel Tower in Your Pocket

Months of investigation by several different French law enforcement agencies have resulted in the arrests of a woman, her husband and her son for selling souvenirs without a license. Officials seized 13 tons of miniature Eiffel Towers in the case.

Gabriel G. Nahas, Who Warned Us to Keep Off the Grass, RIP

Say what you will about Gabriel G. Nahas, the anti-pot crusader who died late last month at the age of 92, but give him this: He seemed utterly sincere in his belief that marijuana and other drugs posed an intolerable threat to health, productivity, and social order. The author of books such as Marihuana: Deceptive Weed (1973) and Keep Off the Grass (1976), the Egyptian-born physician formed his opinion of cannabis early in life, as I note in my book Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use:

[Nahas] seemed to blame hashish for his native country's decline during the last millenium. "The appearance of cannabis products in the Middle East," he wrote in his 1976 book Keep Off the Grass, "did coincide with a long period of decline during which Egypt fell from the status of a major power to the position of an agrarian slave state." In the same book, Nahas describes a childhood incident that shaped his attitude toward cannabis. On his way to school in Alexandria when he was about 8, Nahas would sometimes pass "a man sprawled on the sidewalk, apparently sleeping in the blazing sun." In response to Nahas’s questions, his father informed him, "The man is a hashishat, an unfortunate individual who is addicted to a drug called hashish. He is sleeping there because the drug has dulled his mind and sapped his energy."

But Nahas' status as pot prohibitionists' favorite marijuana expert depended less on his speculation about the plant's role in the decline of civilizations than on his alarming claims about its effects on the human body. In 1974, when Sen. James Eastland (D-Miss.) convened hearings on the "marijuana-hashish epidemic" with the avowed purpose of countering the "good press" that pot had been receiving, Nahas led a group of researchers who testified that marijuana may cause lung damage, birth defects, genetic abnormalities, shrinkage of the brain, impairment of the immune system, reduction in testosterone levels, and sterility. With the exception of lung damage related to smoking (which is not a serious risk for occasional users and can be avoided through oral ingestion or the use of vaporizers), all of these alleged hazards proved to be exaggerated or unfounded.

Much of the research cited in the Eastland hearings was heavily criticized soon after it appeared. Some of it was laughably bad, with skewed samples and no control groups. Despite the poor quality of the studies, anti-marijuana activists continued to cite them. "Those papers, and the ideas they brought forth, are at the heart of the anti-marijuana movement today," the pharmacologist John P. Morgan told me in 1993. "Nahas generated what was clearly a morally based counter-reform movement, but he did a very efficient job of saying that he was actually conducting a toxicological, scientific assessment."

There is a lesson here for contemporary debates, not only about drug policy but also about "public health" paternalism and efforts to suppress morally controversial industries such as gambling, pornography, and prostitution. Moralists have learned to speak in scientific language, but they remain moralists at heart. That is not to say that Nahas was faking it; as I said, he seems to have genuinely believed he was telling important truths to a public blithely unaware of the Deceptive Weed's medical hazards. But that belief was driven by a deeper conviction. As The New York Times puts it, Nahas "saw his antidrug campaign as nothing less than a continuation of the fight against totalitarianism, which for him began during World War II as a decorated leader of the French Resistance; like totalitarianism, he believed, drugs enslaved the mind."

I never met Nahas, but a few years ago I spoke with his wife, Marilyn, while researching a piece for Reason about a widely cited factoid that I traced to his 1989 book Cocaine: The Great White Plague. She was very gracious even when I made it clear that I was writing about a questionable claim propagated by her husband. She explained that he was too ill for an interview and tried as best she could to answer my questions. I almost felt bad about writing the article, but after it appeared she called to say she thought I had done a good job, although she was not crazy about Matt Welch's column in the same issue, which she deemed glib and unsubtle. (Sorry, Matt!) The encounter was a welcome reminder that the political opponents we tend to demonize are real human beings, usually telling what they believe to be the truth in the service of goals they consider noble. Although reformers have long viewed Nahas as a leading villain in the drama of the drug war, he was a hero in the fight against the Nazis, a demonstrably courageous man with strong convictions that were sadly mistaken.

More on Nahas from The Fix and Drug Watch International.

CelebStoner, which says Nahas "will not be missed," credits him with authoring the "gateway" theory, although the claim that marijuana use leads to "harder" drugs such as heroin goes back at least to the early '50s, when it was endorsed by Federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner Harry Anslinger (who had previously rejected the notion). Nahas did promote the idea, however, and it remains a staple of anti-pot propaganda, even though it implicitly concedes that marijuana itself is not that bad. More on the gateway theory here.

Milos Forman: Obama's No Iron-Curtain Socialist and Socialism Has No Human Face

Writing in The New York Times, the Czech film director Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, The People vs. Larry Flynt, etc.) makes some salient points about politics:

I hear the word “socialist” being tossed around by the likes of Rick Perry,Newt GingrichRick SantorumSean HannityRush Limbaugh and others. President Obama, they warn, is a socialist. The critics cry, “Obamacare is socialism!” They falsely equate Western European-style socialism, and its government provision of social insurance and health care, with Marxist-Leninist totalitarianism. It offends me, and cheapens the experience of millions who lived, and continue to live, under brutal forms of socialism....

Marx believed that we could wipe out social inequities and Lenin tested those ideas on the Soviet Union. It was his dream to create a classless society. But reality set in, as it always does. And the results were devastating. Blood flowed through Russia’s streets. The Soviet elite usurped all privileges; sycophants were allowed some and the plebes none. The entire Eastern bloc, including Czechoslovakia, followed miserably.

I’m not sure Americans today appreciate quite how predatory socialism was. It was not — as Mr. Obama’s detractors suggest — merely a government so centralized and bloated that it hobbled private enterprise: it was a spoils system that killed off everything, all in the name of “social justice.”

Forman's parents were killed at Auschwitz, that crucible of national socialism, so he knows right-wing and left-wing forms of socialism with a terrifying intimacy. I think he's right to draw a distinction between Soviet-style communism (still around in some parts of the world) and social-democratic governments that prevail in many parts of old and new Europe and elsewhere. And I think he's empirically right that "perfect social justice" can never be attained and that "social harmony" is the best we should hope for. Social harmony - I assume he means peaceful coexistence, the sort of tolerance and pluralism that we hold up as an ideal at Reason - is not simply a more attainable goal, it's a better one precisely because it allows for differences of opinion and lifestyle.

And I suspect that many of Forman's liberal and progressive readers will simply gloss over this point he makes:

It’s fair to question whether the federal government should have expanded powers: America, to its credit, has debated this since its birth.

Or put another way: Obama (or Nixon or Bush or whomever) doesn't have to be the worst ruler in the history of the world in order for you to take issue with their vision of the good society.

I'm less taken by Forman's orchestra metaphor: 

In an orchestra, the different players and instruments perform together, in support of an overall melody.

Today, our democracy, a miraculous gathering of diverse players, desperately needs such unity. If all participants play fair and strive for the common good, we can achieve a harmony that eluded the doctrinaire socialist projects. But if just one section, or even one player, is out of tune, the music will disintegrate into cacophony.

It seems to me that's what's always been relatively remarkable about the United States, especially since the end of World War II and the Cold War, is that we don't feel a need to be part of an orchestra. Walt Whitman memorably heard America singing "varied carols"; there's simply no need to be reading the same sheet of music. For all the rancor and worries about gridlock and the lack of ability to get shit done, the 21st century has seen massive undertakings such as the creation of two new major health-care entitlements, two decades-long wars, the passage of terribly transformative legislation such as The Patriot Act, and on.

Like culture in general - which has benefited from a technological and attitudinal deregulation - political battles and elections are more hard-fought because more not fewer people can get in the game now. In this sense, the passion of contemporary politics (remarkably non-violent, too, despite all those phoney-baloney warnings about tea party mobs and all that) is a sign that Americans are still making glorious, discordant, woefully off-key music.

New at Reason: Nick Gillespie on the Baby Boom Versus Younger Americans

Hey kids, writes Nick Gillespie:

Take a break from getting yet another tattoo on your ass bone or your nipples pierced already! And STFU about the 1 Percent vs. the 99 Percent.

You're not getting screwed by billionaires and plutocrats. You're getting screwed by Mom and Dad.

Systematically and in all sorts of ways. Old people are doing everything possible to rob you of your money, your future, your dignity, and your freedom.

View this article

Mitt Romney Can Win the Veepstakes by Picking an Earlier Version of Himself

As speculation intensifies about who GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney will pick to be his running mate, I believe I have determined the ideal vice presidential candidate for the former Massachusetts governor: Romney should travel back in time and pick an earlier version of himself.

This would provide policy balance and specifics to a campaign that's been criticized for being hazy about its governing plans. It would give Romney the advantage of sharing a ticket with someone who, while similar in outlook and character, has substantially different policy views on a variety of issues, including gun rights, immigration, and abortion, as well as someone who has been more supportive of federal stimulus spending and taking action in response to global warming. 

It would also help Romney reach beyond the typical GOP base. Running with a past version of himself would create an opportunity for Romney to reach out to skeptical Northeast moderates by pairing him with someone who has a demonstrated ability to pass bipartisan legislation in one of the most liberal states in the nation—even on issues that Democrats usually own, like health care. 

One possible downside with this strategy is that with two Romneys on the ticket, Romney might contradict himself. But that's a existing liability, and Romney's campaign has already become quite adept at dismissing or igniring charges of flip-flopping. This wouldn't be anything new. 

Putting a past version of Romney on the ticket would ensure a certain level of personal familiarity, which is important for a candidate who is known for not liking surprises. Indeed, it would fit in nicely with the way Romney's campaign operation is already run: Picking a past version of himself would help limit competition for the limelight, keeping the campaign's focus squarely on Romney, who is reported to be quite wary of media attention for any other individuals involved with the campaign. And it would allow Romney to continue to be the sole, undisputed boss of the Romney brand and the campaign operation. As Politico's Maggie Haberman pointed out in June, Mitt Romney's top political adviser is Mitt Romney. Who better, then, to fill out the ticket? The matchup even has a nice ring to it: Romney-Romney 2012.

Sheldon Richman on the Government’s Economic Impotency

It should finally have dawned on the American people that the politicians who presume to guide the economy have no bloody idea what they’re doing. We’re long past the time when knowledge of economics was required to see that the government is impotent when it comes to creating economic recovery. If you want evidence of that impotence, writes Sheldon Richman, just look around.

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Romney Booed by NAACP, Russia Restricts Internet, Where Is Jesse Jackson Jr.?: P.M. Links

  • Mitt Romney’s speech at an NAACP convention prompted boos when he pledged to repeal ObamaCare and told attendees he was the candidate who would make life better for the African-American community.
  • Because some California public employee contracts don’t put any caps on the amount of vacation or sick leave time that can be accrued and then cashed out, retiring police chiefs in the state are getting final paychecks in the hundreds of thousands when they retire. Downey’s former police chief earned $594,000 in 2009 after cashing out more than 3,300 hours of unused leave.
  • The president of Florida A&M University resigned today in the fallout of a marching band hazing incident that left a drum major dead. Eleven band members face felony hazing charges, and the victim’s family is suing the university.
  • The Russian Parliament passed a law today allowing the government to impose restrictions on the Internet. While introduced as a typical “for the children” law to curb sites devoted to pedophilia and drug use, opponents are concerned that the quickly-drawn-up law would be misused on behalf of authorities. Given that Russia is drastically increasing its fines for violating protest laws and seeks to make slander a criminal act, why would anybody think the rules would be abused?
  • House Democrats are urging the family of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Chicago, to explain the circumstances of Jackson’s mysterious, unexplained month-long medical leave. Jackson’s wife, Sandi, said she hopes doctors will release details soon. Jackson’s office had said he was being treated for exhaustion but later said that Jackson’s condition was “more serious than [they] thought” and will require extended treatment, without explaining what the condition was.
  • Actress Roseanne Barr will not be appearing on the presidential ticket of the Green Party. On Twitter she wished the party luck and then said, “The green party has never been interested in anything I have to say.”
  • 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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House Obamacare Repeal Passes

It won't make any difference to your insurance premiums, which will go up; or to the individual mandate tax, which you will have to pay; or to the quality of U.S. health care, which will decline. 

But the House of Representatives has voted to repeal ObamaCare (live C-SPAN coverage). The Republican-controlled body will symbolically do what all the laws of the land were unable to do — prevent President Obama's ill-conceived and scandalously adopted law from making life in this country suck even more. 

Five Democrats joined the repeal vote: Dan Boren (Okla.), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Larry Kissell (N.C.), Mike Ross (Ark.),  and one I couldn't hear (maybe Pennsylvania's Tim Holden?). 

Media reactions: 

ABC's John Parkinson says this is the 33rd attempt to repeal since the original law was passed in a sordid backstairs intrigue on a Saturday night. 

Hoo-larious funmaker Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (that's what old-timers used to call a newspaper) says the Republicans are stabbing a voodoo doll. (Racist!) 

And from the land of the fantastically efficient National Health Service, the Guardian's Thomas Rogan calls it an empty gesture

353-Day Probe Exonerates BART Cop Who Shot Transient 25 Seconds After Showing up at Platform

James Crowell, an officer with BART that apparently now works for the FBI, was cleared in the shooting of a homeless man, Charles Hill, at the Civic Center platform in San Francisco last year.  The transient was holding a knife which he threw at Crowell. The shooting came two years after Oscar Grant was shot and killed by a BART officer who accidentally pulled for his gun when he meant to use his Taser. Crowell was not armed with a Taser, though all BART officers will be getting them soon, among the “127 policy changes recommended by an independent auditor,” the Bay City News reports, adding that 27 were completed at the time of the Hill shooting

The fate of those reforms? From the Bay City News:

“They are changing,” said Lynette Sweet, a BART board member who has been critical of the department in the past.

Sweet described a recent incident in which BART officers disarmed another knife-wielding individual without the use of weapons…
But other reform efforts have come under criticism. Joel Keller, a member of BART's board of directors, fumed at a recent meeting about the lack of reports from the Citizen Review Board. After the Grant shooting, BART established the police oversight board and hired an independent police auditor.

“It’s mind-boggling to me that we went through this lengthy process. We set up very simple to follow directions with the assistance of the community that came out of a tragedy,” Keller said at a recent meeting. "It's now a year and a half later, and we have not seen one thing in writing about what they're doing whether they're handling complaints or whether they're doing investigations."

The independent police auditor – and by extension the Citizen Review Board – has opened two investigations and is handling two appeals related to complaints about officer misconduct.

But no one filed a formal complaint about the Hill shooting, according to Smith, the independent police auditor. That means his office won’t have the formal authority to recommend discipline...

[Despite public protests, a]ccording to the review board's rules, a complaint must be filed by a victim, witness, or a parent or guardian of the victim.

"We are a complaint-driven office with regard to officer-involved shootings," Smith said.

Radley Balko, now with the Huffington Post, defended the involuntary manslaughter conviction received by the cop who shot and killed Grant.

Surveillance video of the Charles Hill shooting:

DEA Quietly Builds Its Network of License Plate Scanners

The Drug Enforcement Agency's scheme, along with two Utah sheriffs, to station license plate scanners along I-15 may have foundered under a hail of you-gotta-be-kidding-me raining down from state residents displeased over the prospect of their movements being casually monitored and stored away, but automotive privacy isn't exactly secure. First of all, dozens of local law Utah enforcement agencies, along with the Utah Highway Patrol and the Tax Commission, quietly adopted the nosy devices long before anybody got upset about the DEA's high-profile move. And second ... well ... the DEA just moved its sights south, to the border, and built on an existing network of cameras in at least four states with no muss or fuss.

Reports the Salt Lake Tribune:

Even before the DEA request, southwestern Utah had a concentration of license plate scanners. The St. George Police Department has its own scanner, while other police forces in that county are on a list of agencies that can borrow a car from the Utah State Tax Commission equipped with scanners. The drug task force that covers Iron and Garfield counties also has a license plate scanner it has used to build cases against people suspected of growing marijuana on public lands.

A Salt Lake Tribune review identified 47 police departments and county sheriffs who use license plate scanners or have permission to borrow the Tax Commission scanner cars. Statewide agencies, including the Utah Highway Patrol, also use the scanners.

The most extensive use of scanners is at BYU, where perhaps every license plate that rolls onto campus is documented.

I guess that will teach the DEA. Next time, they'll just install the cameras quietly so as not to upset the locals.

Whoops! Next time already happened. Reports CaliforniaWatch:

Clusters of what at first appear to be surveillance cameras have begun turning up in recent months on the Southwest border, and while some of the machines are merely surveillance cameras, others are specialized recognition devices that automatically capture license-plate numbers and the geographic location of everyone who passes by, plus the date and time.

The DEA confirms that the devices have been deployed in Arizona, California, Texas and New Mexico. It has plans to introduce them farther inside the United States.

Special Agent Ramona Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the DEA’s Phoenix division, said the information collected by the devices is stored for up to two years and can be shared with other federal agencies and local police. She declined to say how many have been installed or where, citing safety concerns.

The "plans to introduce them farther inside the United States" illustrate a point I made not long ago, that "technology has progressed to the point where having identifying data fastened in plain view on a vehicle almost inevitably subjects us to tracking." As the network of cameras grows and becomes interconnected — and the DEA's Chief of Operations Thomas M. Harrigan testified (PDF) last year that "DEA and CBP are currently working together in order to merge existing CBP LPRs at the points of entry with DEA’s LPR Initiative" — it's going to become increasingly difficult to travel with any degree of anonymity. The ACLU's Jay Stanley told CaliforniaWatch, "I think over time, we have to expect that they’ll become more and more dense, to the point where they might be the equivalent of being tracked by GPS."

It's worth noting that the photo above, and other photos of camera installations, were taken by Terrence Bressi, an Arizona resident who started the Checkpoint USA blog to document his legal battle with the Tohono O'odham Police Department as well as the federal government over his arrest at a suspicionless roadblock operated as a joint fishing expedition by the locals, Immigration and Customs. He has since won his case and been awarded $210,000 — 3,451 days after the incident. Not surprisingly, he's a bit critical of government conduct in the border region, and its overall treatment of citizens.

I wonder if there are any stars next to his name in that license plate database.

ObamaCare's Medicaid Expansion and the Myth of 'Free' Federal Money

When the Supreme Court ruled in June that states could decline to participate in ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion, the White House dismissed the idea that any state would actually choose this option. But earlier this week, Texas' Republican Governor, Rick Perry became the sixth state governor to announce that his administration would not participate in ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion. I suspect he won't be the last. In addition to the six states that have already indicated they won't participate, a handful of others are leaning toward saying no

This has resulted in a lot of predictable grumbling and head scratching. The federal government will pay for a full 100 percent of newly eligible Medicaid beneficiaries for the first three years of the expansion, and 90 percent of the cost after that. "When it comes to Medicaid, the states don't appear to be on the hook for very much money," according to a report at NPR. Sarah Kliff at The Washington Post describes the Medicaid expansion this way: "States get loads of free money to pay their residents’ health-care bills." What state would be so stupid as to turn down free money? 

Maybe because it's not free? Indeed, according to Matt Salo of the National Association of State Budget Directors, the idea that the money is somehow free is "a big lie." Not only do states have to pick up some of the technical costs of administering the Medicaid expansion, including setting up the databases and computer networks to coordinate Medicaid with any state health exchange, they're also responsible for new enrollees who already qualify for benefits but have yet to take them.

That's because the law only provides 100 percent funding for the "newly eligible." Right now, however, there are an estimated 10-12 million individuals who qualify for Medicaid benefits but aren't enrolled. As a result of the expansion and the law's health andate, many of those individuals are expected to enroll. As I noted back in my 2010 magazine feature on state-driven resistance to ObamaCare, this is known as the "woodwork effect," and it could cost states a bundle—as much as $12 billion by 2020. 

And that's in addition to the costs incurred starting in 2017 when the federal government will no longer pay for 100 percent of the newly eligible. Even though the federal government will still be paying 90 percent of the cost for those individuals, the state share will add a substantial burden to many state budgets. Indiana, Florida, California, and North Dakota are all looking at more than a billion dollars in total extra Medicaid costs between 2014, when the expansion is scheduled to kick in, and 2020. Texas alone would face an estimated $27 billion in addition costs by 2023. 

The fiscal burden of Medicaid, already the largest budget item in many states, is only part of the issue. Doctors are also wary of the program as well, and in Texas and other states, they are increasingly refusing to participate. According to a Sunday Associated Press report

Only 31 percent of Texas doctors said they were accepting new patients who rely on Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled, in the survey provided to The Associated Press on Sunday. In 2010, the last time the survey was taken, 42 percent of doctors accepted new Medicaid patients. In 2000, that number was 67 percent.

In addition, most states operate their Medicaid programs under one or more waivers, and those waivers have to be approved by the administration. Much of the waiver approval process happens behind closed doors, but it's likely that at least some states will use the threat of opting out as leverage in waiver negotiations.

In the long term, most and perhaps all states may end up participating in the Medicaid expansion, possibly after negotiating for waivers that allow them to participate on more preferable terms. But in the meantime, any states that do choose to opt out will provide useful comparisons with states that chose to participate, and allow us to see whether free federal Medicaid money is actually such a great deal for state budgets. 

Isn't It a Shame the Less Well-to-Do Can't Afford to Have Their Relatives Kidnapped By the State Over Their Consumption Choices?

A horrible Ohio law that allows family members to send adults against their will into "substance treatment" gets written up in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, which focuses on the sad, sad plight of those who can't afford to have their relatives kidnapped for "treatment":

An Ohio law that allows families to force a loved one into addiction treatment has been used only once since it went into effect in March.

Though the law is new, it has created debate about whether involuntary treatment will work and if the law is unfair because it is only available to families who can afford to foot the bill....

The law roughly mirrors a similar measure passed in Kentucky eight years ago after 23-year-oldMatthew "Casey" Wethington died of a heroin overdose.....Ohio's law differs from the one passed in Kentucky. Ohio's law requires family members to sign an up-front agreement that they will pay the total bill for treatment and give the court a deposit for half of the amount.

...the conversation often ends once the costs, often thousands of dollars, are explained....

Oh, the costs of having a "loved one" kidnapped! They can be onerous. But might there be any...other issues worth thinking about with this law?

Another debate is giving a court the authority to force a person to get treatment they may not want, which could be challenged as a civil rights violation.  

Sounds like that debate was already settled in Ohio and Kentucky: it's cool!

In Ohio, a probate judge or magistrate is supposed to decide whether a person is a danger, with the opinion of a doctor or treatment professional, when possible.

But the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities chose not to support the law because of concerns about how those decisions would be made and whether they impinged upon civil liberties.

Denihan, whose agency is required to provide the probate court with a list of local agencies that have agreed to treat people committed by the court, said the law also runs counter to a central tenet of addiction recovery -- that it be voluntary.

"Locking up and forcing people to be treated is challenging," he said, noting that most treatment facilities are not secure. "They have to want to be there."

Language from the law itself:

Requires the probate court, upon receipt of a petition and the payment of the appropriate filing fee, if any, to examine the petitioner under oath as to the contents of the petition and requires the court to take certain specified actions if, after reviewing the allegations contained in the petition and examining the petitioner under oath, it appears to the probate court that there is probable cause to believe the respondent may reasonably benefit from treatment, including scheduling and conducting a hearing to determine if there is clear and convincing evidence that the respondent may reasonably benefit from treatment for alcohol and other drug abuse.

Provides that if the probate court finds by clear and convincing evidence upon completion of the hearing that the respondent may reasonably benefit from treatment, the court may order the treatment after considering the qualified health professional's recommendations for treatment that have been submitted to the court. Requires the court, if it orders the treatment, to order the treatment be provided through a certified alcohol and drug addiction program or by certain licensed individuals.

That's right--a "certified alcohol and drug addiction program or...licensed individuals." Only they are qualified to be the keepers against-their-will of an adult whose choices have bedeviled their families, so there's really nothing to be worried about. As Thomas Szasz once wrote, and I paraphrase, the so-called problems of those the state wants to lock up for psychiatric issues are sometimes only a problem to other people--they are often a solution to the person making the choices others disapprove of.

Tim Cavanaugh on How Rail Screws the Poor

To spend billions on infrastructure and end up with fewer people using mass transit is an absurd result, yet as Tim Cavanaugh reports, that’s precisely what’s happening in Los Angeles, where the LA Country Metropolitan Transit Authority is pushing a costly and unnecessary light-rail line while simultaneously reducing bus service. Why would a public transit authority want to reduce its number of paying customers while adding expensive, inflexible capacity that is destined to be severely underused?

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Illinois Politicians Can’t Handle Handing Out Scholarships Without Being Crooked

Illinois is on the verge of abolishing its legislative scholarship program, a program where state legislators hand out two scholarships a year toward state-sponsored colleges and universities.  Said the sponsor of the bill that banned it, Fred Crespo, a Democrat: “This program has been around for like, a hundred years. Maybe back then it was good public policy… Right now I fail to see any public policy value in the way that this program existed.” 

So what happened? What else, corruption! Federal prosecutors are trying to find out if one Democrat, Annazette Collins, defeated in a primary earlier this year, handed out scholarships as favors to campaign donors. The legislators couldn’t be trusted to hand out scholarships to residents in their district or even to provide the basic level of accountability that would prevent such an obvious fraud.  The website for the program even helpfully notes not to bother asking the Board of Education for an application.

Crespo also rightly pointed out that the scholarship program helped drive up the cost of tuition for other students, as most government interventions into higher education is bound to do. Congress of course last week passed a continuation of an artificially suppressed interest rate on student loans, just part and parcel of federal efforts to drive tuition up.

Reason on student loans

Nick Gillespie Talking Public Sector Employees with Mike Huckabee at 2.30pm ET

I'll be on former governor and presidential candidate - and current Fox News host - Mike Huckabee's nationally syndicated radio show today around 2.30pm ET today.

The topic will be whether we need more cops, firemen, and teachers, and whether public-sector employment gooses the economy. For background, check out my June 22 article, "Should we hire even more teachers, cops, and firemen?" Spoiler alert: The answer is no, whether you want better services or for the economy to get moving again.

To find a station near you, go MikeHuckabee.com or listen along online at San Francisco's powerhouse KSFO station.

San Bernardino Files for Bankruptcy; Staff Had Been Concealing Deficit Spending for Years

San Bernardino will be the third California city to file for bankruptcy in less than a month. The city faces a $45 million budget deficit, half of which is unfunded liabilities in retirement, workers’ compensation, and general liability accounts. The city drew in $78 million in revenue for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

San Bernardino City Council voted 4-2 in favor of filing Chapter 9 bankruptcy Tuesday night. The most surprising little detail (and one that seems to be getting lost in all the numbers) came from City Attorney James F. Penman, who told City Council that it had been getting falsified budget numbers for years. Via The Sun (San Bernardino):

Penman also said at the meeting that for 13 of the last 16 years, the council had been given falsified budget documents. Those documents said the city was in the black when, in fact, it had been deficit spending, he said.

That period covers the tenure of multiple city managers and sets of elected officials, but it predates Acting City Manager Andrea Travis-Miller and Finance Director Jason Simpson, whom he said discovered the discrepancy.

Travis-Miller’s report (pdf) for City Council showed that city reported starting the 2011-12 fiscal year with $2 million in the general fund when in fact it was already $1 million in the hole. The city has already cut staff by 20 percent and had negotiated a $10 million concession from employees that is about to expire:

Unfortunately, the decline in taxable sales and property values over the last several years has resulted in revenue losses of $10 to $16 million annually. Additionally, previously negotiated compensation reductions will sunset at the conclusion of fiscal year 2011-12 creating an increase in salaries and benefits of $10 million effective July 1, 2012, and increased costs in future years as merit increases resume. Beginning in FY 2012-13, expenditures are projected to exceed revenues by $45 million and absent any changes to improve revenues and reduce expenditures, the City will face increasing annual deficits. The City’s financial constraints are compounded with the depletion of all General Fund reserves, which were as high as $19 million in 2001, and failure to fund long-term liabilities.

San Bernardino (population 210,000) joins Stockton and Mammoth Lakes in recent bankruptcy announcements.

In other related California news, a new Field Poll shows state voters have mixed feelings about public employee pension reform.  Significant majorities support raising the retirement age and placing a cap on benefits. A small majority, however, opposed limited collective bargaining rights for public sector workers. But as Reason Foundation Director of Polling Emily Ekins has noted, describing collective bargaining as a “right” in polling questions can significantly alter the results.

Chuck Schumer Brags About Banning Already Banned Drugs; Time Claims He Also Banned Every Conceivable Substitute

This week President Obama signed the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act, which includes the new ban on two chemicals used in speed substitutes sold as "bath salts." I say "new," but the stimulants covered by the law, mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), were already illegal under an "emergency" ban announced by the Drug Enforcement Administration last year. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) nevertheless brags about banning them again:

Schumer successfully fought to include three bills relating to synthetic substances—S. 409 (Bath Salts), S. 605 (Synthetic Marijuana) and S. 839 (Synthetic Hallucinogens)—as part of the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act....

"President Obama's swift approval of this federal ban is the final nail in the coffin for the legal sale of bath salts in smoke shops and convenient [sic] stores in New York State and throughout the rest of the country," said Schumer. "This law will close loopholes that have allowed manufacturers to circumvent local and state bans and ensure that you cannot simply cross state lines to find these deadly bath salts."  

None of that is true, since 1) mephedrone and MDPV were already covered by the DEA's ban, which the agency had the authority to make permanent, and 2) there are lots of other synthetic stimulants that can be used to make bath salts. Time's Patience Haggin nevertheless falls for Schumer's boast, claiming "the new ban is the first to be enacted on a federal level, meaning it covers the online and interstate sale of bath salts," thereby addressing "one of the biggest weaknesses of prior local bans."

Haggin goes even further than Schumer, asserting that his law "prohibits not only the compounds currently identified as 'bath salts,' but also outlaws similar compounds that may be produced in the future." She says that "in addition to the identified compounds, the law also prohibits other any [sic] synthetics that may have different chemical formulas but produce the same effects." Later she reiterates that "the bill also prohibits 'analogues' of the banned compounds—compounds that may differ slightly in their chemical makeup but produce very similar reactions in users." Hence "when new compounds (which have most likely already been created by drug designers) hit the market, drug enforcement agents will be able to crack down on them under the same law, without the need for new legislation."

But the bill—which never mentions "analogues" (or "analogs," except in the FDA part, which refers to "recombinant analogs" of "plasma products")—includes no such provision, at least with respect to bath salts. It does impose a general ban on "cannabimimetic agents," in addition to 15 specifically listed ingredients used in synthetic marijuana, which may be the source of Haggin's confusion. If it were true that the law prevented bath salt manufacturers from staying one step ahead of the government "by slightly altering the chemical formula to create a compound that may be only a few molecules different but delivers the same high," as Haggin asserts, the DEA's complaints about the law's limited reach would make no sense.

Speaking of making no sense, Haggin's article begins promisingly enough, asking, "Is our long zombie cannibal bath salt apocalypse finally over?" Despite that seemingly jocular opening, she is deadly serious, reporting in the very next sentence that bath salts "have been implicated in a slew of grisly attacks in recent months." In the second-to-last paragraph, Haggin concedes that "the first and most famous attack reported as part of the 'zombie bath salt' craze was revealed last week [two weeks ago, but never mind] to be unrelated to the designer drug" when "a toxicology report on the perpetrator, Rudy Eugene, found that the attacker had no synthetic compounds (only marijuana) in his system." Still, "experts say there is no doubt that the drug is dangerous," since it "has been linked to other attacks and is known to produce violent reactions."

Which experts? For that matter, which drug? After all, as Haggin emphasizes, bath salts may include any of myriad active ingredients. And could Haggin educate the reader by describing some of these "other attacks," presumably by people who, unlike Eugene, actually consumed bath salts? Although she claims to have "a slew" of examples, somehow she cannot part with even one.

I have a suggestion for Time's editors that could spare them a lot of embarrassment: Never let anyone but Maia Szalavitz write about drugs for you. 

More on bath salts here.

John Stossel on Why We're Always Just One Massive Spending Bill Away From Restoring Prosperity

Last year, Congress agreed to $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts, unless politicians find other things to cut. They didn't, of course. So now, with so-called sequestration looming in January, panic has set in. Even the new "fiscally responsible" Republicans vote against cutting Energy Department handouts to companies like Solyndra and subsidies to sugar producers.

Many claim that any cut in military spending will weaken America and increase unemployment. It's another demonstration of the politicians' addiction to spending -- and how we are complicit. "One more infrastructure bill" or "this jobs plan" will jumpstart the economy, writes Johns Stossel, and then we'll kick our spending addiction once and for all.

But we don't. 

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Video Shows San Antonio Cop Beating a Handcuffed Pregnant Woman [UPDATED]

San Antonio cops attempting to arrest a 22-year-old pregnant woman on a prostitution warrant claim they had to use force because she fought back. But a cell phone video obtained by FOX News in San Antonio shows two officers penning down a screaming woman in handcuffs while a third officer slugs her repeatedly. 

FOX interviewed San Antonio Chief of Police William McManus about the arrest. McManus defended the officers and said the woman's size--she stands just over five feet tall, and weighs just over 120--doesn't make a difference. When FOX offered to show McManus the video that contradicts his claim that the officers used justifiable force, McManus said he didn't need to watch it because "what's on the video, my understanding is that's what the officer reported." 

Watch the video here (warning, the screaming is horrendous): 

Via Reddit

UPDATE: "Sources tell Fox San Antonio that Rios underwent a routine pregnancy test, and that she was never pregnant. Chief William McManus says he's seen the video of his officers hitting Rios, but he says his officers did everything by the book."

Betraying the Arab Spring (Slum Clearance Edition)

The Egyptian counterrevolution could claim some victims soon in Cairo's central slum:

A few years ago, [neighborhood resident Hammad Arabi] says, businessman Naguib Sawiris was offering between LE3,000 and LE6,000 a square meter, but residents wouldn't accept the deal. They are well aware of the land's real value, and know that unless they get it, they won't be able to move even remotely nearby. Many residents are able to produce very old documents indicating ownership or prove that they have established rights to be there.

But, days after the dissolution of Parliament, departure from the shacks seems to be mandatory. The Cairo Governorate issued a decree that ordered police to evict the shack-dwellers from their homes. There is no indication, as yet, of how residents may be re-housed, although Heba Khalil of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights believes there will be an attempt to relocate residents to the remote outskirts of the city.

"It's normal that they wouldn't tell the people in advance of the eviction. They don't get asked where they want to go. Once such an order is in place, the police could turn up any day, and that's it." In the past, such evictions have taken place within a month of the order being issued, but the current volatile circumstances may delay its implementation.

David Frum: Government Was Better When it Could Make Sweetheart Deals and Kill People in Absolute Secrecy

Newsweek's David Frum hocked a wet one in the eye of transparency advocates during CNN's OutFront on Tuesday. The segment, which featured Politifact's Bill Adair, Roland Martin, and CNN host Tom Foreman, was ostensibly about whether President Obama's failure to meet his transparency promises disqualified him from attacking Romney for doing business with the Swiss. 

Let's begin the transcript with Frum's entrance: 

David Frum: I'm a big believer in government accountability, but transparency is the most overrated concept in government.

It doesn't do what you want it to do, it's usually not desirable, it breeds cynicism. And of course, it's counter-productive.

Tom Foreman: I'm a voter, I want to know who the president's sitting down with.

Frum: You think you do, but you don't really. What you want is an effective administration that delivers positive results, and that means the president needs to have some privacy for his deliberation.

Think about the publishing of the visitor logs. What does that mean in practical terms? The president wants to hear somebody's point of view, or maybe he doesn't even want to hear that person's point of view, but he grants them the courtesy of a visit. Now it's published. Now he has to invite six other people whose points of view he also doesn't want to hear. We waste his time, and the way we get around it is we meet at the Starbucks across the street. 

The bit about Starbucks is a reference to the Obama administration's practice of meeting lobbyists at coffee joints near the White House grounds in order to get around the disclosure requirements established by...the Obama administration.

Frum is right that transparency hasn't exactly stopped government officials from doing bad things, anymore than lobbying disclosure requirements have stopped special interests from gorging themselves in Washington. In fact, I'd argue that by exposing the ubiquity of shady dealing in Washington, the transparency movement has normalized shady dealing. 

But Frum seems to think that transparency advocates have somehow brought Washington to a stand-still (as if that were a bad thing). This is not true, and Frum fails to mention a single policy he'd like to see enacted that is currently being held up by the evil forces of sunlight (once the greatest disinfectant, now only so-so). 

But wait! There's more! 

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Killing California's Costly Death Penalty

Is the death penalty too expensive and ineffective to keep? 

This November, California voters will have the chance to decide on that question by voting for or against a ballot initiative called SAFE (Savings Accountability Full Enforcement), which would replace the death penalty with life without possibility of parole as the state's maximum punishment.

Putting the moral issues of the death penatly aside, SAFE proponents argue that California's death penalty is costly to taxpayers and broken beyond repair. 

“Over the last 32 years its cost California tax payers about 4 billion dollars to have the death penalty, and over that period only 13 executions have been carried out,” says LMU Law Professor Paula Mitchell.

Mitchell's study, "Rethinking the Death Penalty in California," shows that once the death penalty comes into play for a case, the legal costs skyrocket to an extra $134 million dollars per year, well above the cost to implement life without possibility of parole. Death penalty cases require more attorneys, more experts, and an automatic review by the California Supreme Court, making it a seemingly endless process. 

“The average time on death row is now approaching 30 years,” says former San Quentin Death Row Warden Jeanne Woodford. “So we have more inmates on death row who have died by natural causes or by suicide.”

Opponents of SAFE, such as Legal Director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation Kent Scheidegger, say California simply needs to streamline its system to emulate the process in states like Virginia. 

“We need to speed up the review process. We are currently spending far more than we need in both time and resources reviewing claims that have absolutely nothing to do with whether the guy committed the murder or not.” Scheidegger says.

Yet advocates for SAFE say that this would be a dangerous move, not to mention extremely costly. Mitchell argues that it would cost an extra $100 million per year to reform the existing system.

“And one of the dangers of this idea that we should just hurry and speed things up is that it could result in cases where someone who isn’t guilty or didn’t have a fair trial is being executed,” Mitchell says.

About 7 minutes.

Written and Produced by Tracy Oppenheimer. Field producer is Zach Weissmueller.

Go to Reason.tv for downloadable versions and subscribe to ReasonTV’s YouTube Channel to receive automatic updates when new stories go live.

Why Yesteryear's Economic Policy is Failing: Decades of Gov't Debt, Spending, & Monetary Expansion

Over at The Wash Post, columnist Robert Samuelson helpfully lays out why economic policy seems incapable of bringing us out of the Great Recession or Great Slowdown or whatever we want to call at least the past 40-odd months of glorious hope and change. And it's worth reminding ourselves that from both basic Keynesian and monetarist stimulus angles, we should have seen more than a few phony "green shoots" by now. It's not as if the Treasury and the Fed haven't been stimulating things like porn-star fluffers, after all. Instead, what might be called the Stimulatarians of the Right (monetarists) and of the Left (Keynesians) argue that we haven't created or spent enough money yet.

Samuelson follows up on the insights of his terrific post-war economic history, The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath, to argue that "we are still paying the price for the greatest blunder in domestic policy since World War II." For many decades - and most important, the decades during which both classic monetarist and Keynesian theory was first developed - governments hewed pretty much to balanced budgets. That hasn't been the case for decades and, says Samuelson, it helps explain why those theories seem ineffective now. They were developed for significantly different circumstances. Specifically, in worlds in which the government hadn't long been engaged in massive borrowing sprees or years-long actions to keep interests rates plainly below what any vaguely market would have delivered. As a result, even if those theories were accurate in explaining past situations (a big if in the case of Keynesianism), this time it's different, like going on a cocaine bender after a week on the town.

Snippet:

Political leaders and average Americans noticed that continuous deficits did no great economic harm. Neither, of course, did they do much good, but their charm was “something for nothing.” Politicians could spend more and tax less. This appealed to both parties and the public. Since 1961, the federal government has balanced its budget only five times. Arguably, only one of these (1969) resulted from policy; the other four (1998-2001) stemmed heavily from the surging tax revenue of the then-economic boom.

We are now facing the consequences of all these permissive deficits. The recovery is lackluster. Economic growth creeps along at 2 percent annually or less. Unemployment has exceeded 8 percent for 41 months. But economic policy seems ineffective. Since late 2008, the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates low. And budget deficits are enormous, about $5.5 trillion since 2008....

It didn't have to be this way:

Imagine that the country had adhered to its balanced-budget tradition before the crisis. Some deficits would have remained, but the cumulative debt would have been much lower: plausibly between 10 percent and 20 percent of GDP. There would have been more room for expansion. Balancing the budget might even have forced Congress to face the costs of an aging society.

Read the whole thing here.

ReasonTV interviewed Samuelson about The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath in 2008:

Drafting Millions, What Wouldn't it Solve? Asks New York Times Op-Ed

Ah, it's that time again: Time for a brief spasm of serious chin-clutching about bringing back the draft or at least some kind of National Service for all these layabout youths.

The most bullshit allies for anti-war folks are without a doubt those who claim that a draft would deal a great blow to U.S. imperialism, because if every 18-to-25-year-old was in peril, wars could not be as easily ignored. This notion popped up in again in yesterday's New York Times in an op-ed by Thomas E. Ricks headlined "Let's Draft Our Kids." Yes, our kids. The collective kids... who are also aged 18 or older.

But this isn't new, of course. Throughout the dark days of Bush, (mostly) Democrats, most notably Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) (who just will not stop trying to draft everybody even though his bill failed 402-2 in 2004. Not to mention, the draft wasn't terribly popular even on the brink of war with Iraq) seemed convinced that conscription would prevent more mistakes like Iraq, and — in classic lefty fashion where equality of misery is the answer — prevent the poor and members of minorities from carrying the heavy burden of American empire. 

But what if we didn't have a volunteer army! What if we just drafted everyone, men and women both? Well, writes Ricks, formerly with The Wall-Street Journal and currently with Center for a New American Security, that would be great for reasons like former commander of U.S. and Allied forces Gen. Stanley McChrystal wants to, and because it would make stuff better.

Writes Ricks:

Unlike Europeans, Americans still seem determined to maintain a serious military force, so we need to think about how to pay for it and staff it by creating a draft that is better and more equitable than the Vietnam-era conscription system.

Here are two good points buried in bizarro-world conclusions. Yes, America could lose some budget weight if it got rid of its many overseas adventures (though defense spending is of course less than what is spent on Medicare and Social Security's combined today), but the solution to that dollar problem is not institute a system that drags millions more into the armed forces. That's fiscally dubious and, even more to the point, totally unethical.

And yes, the draft during Vietnam wasn't "equitable" what with the exceptions for college obviously benefiting those who wanted to or could afford to attend college. But these problems pale in comparison to the fact that that war killed 60,000 Americans and something like 2 million Vietnamese. 

To put it another way, if a serial killer was only targeting men, would anyone start advocating that the killer target women as well, to make things fair? Yes, the draft throughout history was terrible and unfair for men, but the solution to demographically skewed evil is not to level the evil playing field and make it all fair. 

So, what about the completely reprehensible violation of individual rights that a draft — somewhere between indentured servitude and slavery — fundamentally entails? 

Well, Ricks has options for you, three of 'em.

Some could choose 18 months of military service with low pay but excellent post-service benefits, including free college tuition. These conscripts would not be deployed but could perform tasks currently outsourced at great cost to the Pentagon: paperwork, painting barracks, mowing lawns, driving generals around, and generally doing lower-skills tasks so professional soldiers don’t have to. If they want to stay, they could move into the professional force and receive weapons training, higher pay and better benefits.

Those who don’t want to serve in the army could perform civilian national service for a slightly longer period and equally low pay — teaching in low-income areas, cleaning parks, rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, or aiding the elderly. After two years, they would receive similar benefits like tuition aid.

Because lord knows nobody would help old people or teach in low income areas or e speak to people who are different without the Selective Service mandating it and making it more bureaucratic. Still, Ricks isn't done, liberty-lovers get a shout-out:

And libertarians who object to a draft could opt out. Those who declined to help Uncle Sam would in return pledge to ask nothing from him — no Medicare, no subsidized college loans and no mortgage guarantees. Those who want minimal government can have it.

Props for sneaking in a strangely freedom-friendly suggestion underneath some really awful nonsense, but it's not enough. An opt-out would be great, but instead of, say, a slow rolling back of social services, making people choose between joining the army and getting any government help at all? What about roads? Can these army-hating libertarians use the roads? Or any parks? Or schools? There are a million questions and strings that would come with such an epic change in government and society that would come with this sytem so easily suggested in an op-ed.

Ricks' logic is particularly frustrating because he is occasionally half right. Yep, "America has already witnessed far less benign forms of conscription." It was called Vietnam, Korea, World War II, World War I, and the Civil War. You know, back when we had a draft and were building up the American empire of which Ricks supposedly sort of disapproves. 

Ricks is not being laughed out the media for this suggestion, though most aren't fully jumping on board. Adam Weinstein over at Mother Jones is disappointingly okay with Ricks' suggestions. He says they're "worthy of serious consideration."  Matt Yglesias at Slate scorns the suggestion, noting that raising taxes would be a lot easier way to save government money; but still thinks that a draft is sometimes acceptable. And of course, nobody — nobody — loves the idea of National Service more than perennial Reason favorite David Brooks.

No stranger to the notion that most people care more about budgets than killing or not killing folks abroad, Ricks swears this invitation for still more bureaucracy in American life would save money because:

This program would cost billions of dollars. But it also would save billions, especially if implemented broadly and imaginatively. One reason our relatively small military is hugely expensive is that all of today’s volunteer soldiers are paid well; they often have spouses and children who require housing and medical care....

Similarly, some of the civilian service programs would help save the government money: Taking food to an elderly shut-in might keep that person from having to move into a nursing home. It would be fairly cheap to house conscript soldiers on closed military bases. Housing civilian service members would be more expensive, but imaginative use of existing assets could save money. For example, V.A. hospitals might have space.

The pool of cheap labor available to the federal government would broadly lower its current personnel costs and its pension obligations — especially if the law told federal managers to use the civilian service as much as possible, and wherever plausible. The government could also make this cheap labor available to states and cities. Imagine how many local parks could be cleaned and how much could be saved if a few hundred New York City school custodians were 19, energetic and making $15,000 plus room and board, instead of 50, tired and making $106,329, the top base salary for the city’s public school custodians, before overtime.

Again, the real problem of overpaid public workers can only be solved by conscripting 19-year-olds to be janitors, with, we have to assume, some entirely new massive bureaucratic measures put in place to make the whole thing run smoothly. And on a more individual basic, if at age 19 I had been drafted to clean up New York City parks, rest assured I would not be "energetic" about my task.

Not to mention, as Richard Cohen at The Washington Post reminds us, the Andrews Sisters ain't gonna sing stirring songs about janitors. Cleaning just doesn't have the same propaganda spark as killing:

It is not possible to take (steal?) 18 months of a young person’s life so that he or she performs such menial task. No one is going to write patriotic music for such tasks, no movies will be made — “I Drove for the General,” “Top Broom,” etc. — and young people are not going to put up with it. Instead of college or vocational training or merely searching for the perfect wave, the government is going to compel janitorial duties.

Both Gen. McChrystal and Ricks, and other advocates for the draft, try to have it both ways; military might and more. Ricks wants a grand new service program that would solve domestic problems, McChrystal wants a "shared experience of service" because "It's not whether they go build roads and parks or that sort of thing. It's what you put inside them, because once you have contributed to something, you have a slightly different view of it."

Ricks wraps up his article with a ghastly appeal to authority mixed with unconvincing anti-war bleeting:

But most of all, having a draft might, as General McChrystal said, make Americans think more carefully before going to war. Imagine the savings — in blood, tears and national treasure — if we had thought twice about whether we really wanted to invade Iraq.

It's a compelling argument that if more people felt the sting of war, so easily ignorable for most Americans, that war would become less likely. Public outrage over Vietnam being motivated by the threat of the draft is one obvious example, but even with a draft, that war lasted more than a decade. A lot of people could die for the hopes that the public would be outraged fast enough to stop the war.

Certainly if warmongering politicians feared for their kids, they might try a little harder to avoid invading another country, but as libertarian consultant Stephen P. Gordon, who served in the Army for ten years, told Reason over email, "If McChrystal thinks that every citizen will be taking the same risk as we consider going to war, he’s sadly mistaken. Somehow the rich and the elite will find a loophole; historically they always do."

Not only are men like Ricks, McChrystal, Brooks, and Rangel willing to sacrifice the freedom and maybe the principles and lives of millions of youths, who apparently are communal U.S. property even after they reach the age of majority, but they want to use these men and women to build some delusional picture of mandatory civic coziness that does not and should not exist.

[Addendum] The awesome John Glaser over at Antiwar.com said it better and briefer, hence my strike-through text above. The draft is slavery, period.

84 Percent of Americans Are Richer than Their Parents Were at the Same Age

So says a new study just released by the Pew Center's Income Mobility Project, Pursuing the American Dream: Income Mobility Across the Generations. The report further notes that "across all levels of the income distribution, this generation is doing better than the one that came before it."

Other interesting insights from the study:

Ninety-three percent of Americans whose parents were in the bottom fifth of the income ladder and 88 percent of those whose parents were in the middle quintile exceed their parents’ family income as adults.

Fifty percent of Americans have greater wealth than their parents did at the same age.

Seventy-two percent of Americans whose parents were in the bottom fifth of the wealth ladder and 55 percent of those whose parents were in the middle quintile exceed their parents’ family wealth as adults.

Forty-three percent of Americans raised in the bottom quintile remain stuck in the bottom as adults, and 70 percent remain below the middle. Forty percent raised in the top quintile remain at the top as adults, and 63 percent remain above the middle.

Only 4 percent of those raised in the bottom quintile make it all the way to the top as adults, confirming that the “rags-to-riches” story is more often found in Hollywood than in reality. Similarly, just 8 percent of those raised in the top quintile fall all the way to the bottom.

In my column, You Have an 85 Percent Chance of Being Poor, I noted that Washington University sociologist Mark Rank cited research showing that 67 percent of kids are making more than their parents did. So what's the difference between that number and the new higher Pew research 84 percent figure? Without going into detail, the Pew figure controls for family size whereas the earlier one did not.

The Pew report notes that while kids in general are richer than their parents, lots of them are not moving up to a different rung on the economic ladder. What's going on? 

The rungs of the income ladder have widened during the past generation, reflecting economic growth at all levels, but especially at the top. Median income in the bottom income quintile increased by 74 percent between the two generations, compared with 126 percent in the top income quintile. The difference between the size of the rungs between the two generations means that while the vast majority of Americans exceeded their parents’ family incomes, the extent of that increase—particularly at the bottom—was not always enough to move them to a different rung of the income ladder.

OK. so most folks got richer than their parents. What about the future. It's been woe-are-the-kids for at least a generation. Back in 1980, Newsweek reported:

And no longer do Americans share the great expectations of generations past. For the first time, public-opinion polls show that the average U.S. citizen is not at all sure that his children's lot will be better than – or even as good as – his own.

Since 1992, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has been asking: Do you feel confident or not confident that life for our children's generation will be better than it has been for us?" Only once did even a plurality suggest that Americans believe that their children would be better off. That was in December, 2001 with a 49 percent confident and 47 percent not confident.

The latest poll result was from May of this year: 30 percent were confident the kids will be better off and 63 percent were not so confident.

As Thomas Macaulay asked in 1830: “On what principle is it, that when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?”

Good question.

See Reason TV's terrific interview about income mobility with Brookings Institution scholar Scott Winship. As Winship observes: "You can be concerned that there's not enough [economic] mobility or enough opportunity, but you don't have to also believe that things are getting worse."

A. Barton Hinkle on the Wealth of Similarities Between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama

Under different circumstances, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney could very well be the best of pals. Take foreign policy: Both Obama and Romney espouse the centrist approach of the diplomatic, academic, and think-tank establishment. On the budget and taxes, Romney and Obama are—again—different mostly at the margins. As for health care, conservative pundit Tucker Carlson put it best: "There are only two people in world history who have signed individual mandates into law. One is the president, [and] the other’s the guy running against him." 

The real split, writes A. Barton Hinkle, is to be found not so much between the two big-government candidates themselves as in the electorate. 

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Spain Announces Unpopular Spending Cuts

The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has broken a campaign pledge and announced cuts and tax hikes in a bid to cut sixty five billion euros over two and a half years from the public budget. The bailout for Spanish banks that was finalized yesterday is conditional on a reduction of public spending. While EU officials have welcomed the move, Spanish workers are protesting in Madrid.  

Although Spain did not get into its current situation by overspending, it is facing problems that are in many ways worse than Greece’s. Unemployment in Spain is at close to twenty five percent, while youth unemployment is over fifty one percent. These numbers are broadly comparable to Greece’s unemployment numbers. However, unlike Greece, Spain is Europe’s fourth largest economy. If the latest bailout, spending cuts, and tax increases cannot reassure the markets quickly the euro may collapse sooner than many expected.

Daniel Hannan, a Member of the European Parliament for Southeast England, laid out how crucial Spain is in the euro-crisis:

Spain was always likely to be where the issue would be settled for good or ill. 

Remember that, of the 17 eurozone members, only five are net budget contributors: Austria, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Of these, Finland and the Netherlands are strongly objecting to funding bailouts unconditionally, and you can see their point. It's not just the robbing-Pieter-to-pay-Paulo objection. It's that every previous bailout has failed. If the problem was artificially cheap credit, argue politicians in these countries, surely the solution can't be more cheap credit.

There are still those that warn against cuts in spending, arguing that such measures will increase unemployment. The International Labour Organization, an agency run out of the UN, has warned that ‘austerity’ could see as many as 4.5 million more jobs being lost. ILO director-general Juan Somavia warned that:

Unless targeted measures are taken to increase real economy investments, the economic crisis will deepen and the employment recovery will never take off.

In other words, more cash is needed, and quickly.

Unfortunately it seems that the voices of those like Hannan are a minority, while the sentiments of Somavia and others seems to be in a loud majority, especially if the protests in Madrid are anything to go by. 

Prohibition Is an Awful Flop; We Like It: The Mexican Edition

In my column today, I argue that last week's presidential election results in Mexico, where the candidate of President Felipe Calderon's National Action Party (PAN) finished a distant third, reflect growing disenchantment with the war on drugs. I did not have the space to discuss polling data that back up that claim, which are, I have to admit, mixed and somewhat puzzling. Last year, for instance, a Gallup poll found that Mexicans were less likely to feel safe walking alone at night than they had been in 2007, one year into Calderon's military crackdown on the drug cartels, even though they were also less likely to report gang activity or drug trafficking in their neighborhoods. The percentages expressing confidence in the national government, the military, and the police fell from 2007 to 2011, with the police seeing the biggest drop in confidence.

In the Citizenship, Democracy, and Drug-Related Violence Survey, also conducted last year, 54 percent of respondents "somewhat" or "entirely" approved of "the government's actions in fighting drug trafficking." At the same time, 53 percent said the government was not "winning the war on drugs," while an additional 18 percent said it was "neither winning nor losing," and 3 percent expressed no opinion. In other words, only a quarter of respondents thought "the government's actions in fighting drug trafficking" (of which a majority approved) were meeting with success. People living in states with higher levels of violence were more likely both to support the government's anti-drug efforts and to think they were working. That correlation is counterintuitive if you see prohibition and its enforcement as the main sources of the "drug-related" violence, which has claimed more than 50,000 lives since Calderon launched his crackdown in December 2006. But if you blame the violence on drug trafficking, overlooking the government-created environment in which it operates, you might welcome a bigger military presence and its promise of security.

Reassuringly, large majorities of respondents, no matter where they lived, rejected suggestions that "it is necessary to lose some rights and freedoms to fight drug traffic," that "government should use physical abuse to obtain information from people [suspected] of belonging to drug cartels," and that the government should "arrest people even if there is no evidence against them." But the respondents also overwhelmingly rejected the idea of electing candidates who would make peace with the cartels, with most preferring "candidates that fight drug cartels even if it generates more violence and insecurity."

That last finding makes the election of Enrique Pena Nieto, the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), even more striking, since drug warriors feared that he would revert to PRI tradition by turning a blind eye to trafficking in exchange for less violence. Then again, all three leading presidential candidates, including PAN's, promised that controlling violence, as opposed to catching traffickers or seizing drugs, would be their top law enforcement priority. All three also said they would take the army out of the fight, replacing it with specially trained police officers.

If everyone had not taken the latter position, it might be considered politically courageous, given that Mexican voters put more trust in the military than in politicians, the courts, or the notoriously corrupt and abusive police. In fact, a survey conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project a few months before the presidential election found that 80 percent of Mexicans supported "using the Mexican army to fight drug traffickers." That's not so surprising when you consider that 73 percent said the military was having a "very good" or "somewhat good" influence on "the way things are going in Mexico"; the corresponding rating was 65 percent for the national government, 60 percent for the media, 57 percent for Calderon, 44 percent for the court system, and 38 percent for the police.

While Calderon's continuing popularity could be interpreted to mean that most Mexicans do not blame him for the appalling violence that has accompanied his war against the cartels, other results from the same survey indicated that Mexicans were ready for a change, even if it meant returning to power the party that dictatorially dominated the country's politics for its first 71 years. Sixty-three percent of respondents were "dissatisfied with the way things are going," while 75 percent deemed "drug cartel-related violence in places like Ciudad Juarez" a "very big problem." Seventy-four percent said the same things about "human rights violations by the [highly trusted!] military and the police," while "crime" was rated a "very big problem" by 73 percent. None of the other issues mentioned in the survey broke 70 percent, although "corrupt political leaders" (69 percent), "illegal drugs" (68 percent), and "economic problems" (ditto) came close.

The most directly relevant part of the survey vis-à-vis the election, of course, was the section asking about respondents' opinions of the candidates. Fifty-seven percent had a "very favorable" or "somewhat favorable" opinion of Pena Nieto (who was one percentage point less popular than Calderon), compared to 36 percent for PAN nominee Josefina Vazquez Mota and 34 percent for Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the candidate of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution. The election results were 38 percent for Pena Nieto, 32 percent for Lopez Obrador, and 25 percent for Vazquez Mota. In other words, 70 percent of voters rejected Calderon's party, even as 58 percent continued to take a favorable view of him personally. It seems to me that Calderon's bloody drug war, well-intentioned but disastrous, helps explain this apparent contradiction, given the survey respondents' strong concerns about prohibition-related violence (even if they did not identify it as such) and their overwhelming view that the current approach to drugs is not working.

A.M. Links: Russia Sends Warships to Syria, Tax Liens Causing “Second Foreclosure Crisis,” Web’s First Photo Turning 20

  • Russia wants the United Nations’ mission to continue in Syria. "There is no mention of Chapter 7 [in the Russian draft] and that's a matter of principle for us because we believe the special envoy is doing a commendable job," Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Alexander Pankin said. Chapter 7 would open the possibility of sanctions and military action. Russia holds a veto vote on the Security Council. Eleven Russian warships, meanwhile, are headed to Syria, and some will dock at the Russian naval base there.
  • The city of Fullerton, California won’t say whether the now former cop charged with the beating death of Kelly Thomas was fired or resigned; he left the city’s employment July 3rd. The other officer charged remains on unpaid leave and four other cops who participated in the beating but remain uncharged are on paid vacation. The city won’t talk about the results of an internal investigation either.
  • The National Consumer Law Center says foreclosures caused by tax liens sometimes as low as $400 are causing a “second foreclosure crisis.”
  • The comedian Daniel Tosh apologized on Twitter, while disputing the details, to a woman who described getting offended over rape jokes and then being the subject of one before running out on a performance of his at the Laugh Factory. The club manager disputes the account too, saying the woman stayed until the end and misunderstood Tosh’s act. Though I imagine lots of women run away from Tosh.
  • Katie Holmes apparently used a burner to get the conversation started with her lawyers about divorcing Tom Cruise without the actor finding out. A divorce settlement was reportedly finalized yesterday, and Holmes is to retain custody of their child, Suri.
  • The National League won last night’s all-star game, winning for the 3rd time in the ten years since the game began to determine World Series home field advantage.
  • The story of the World Wide Web’s first uploaded photo.

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

"Damon Root: On the Conservative vs. Libertarian Take on the U.S. Constitution"

 

Reason Writers on TV: Brian Doherty on RT Talking the Future of the Ron Paul Revolution

I appeared (via Skype) yesterday on the RT network to discuss the Nebraska state convention, the possibility of Paul's victory there and a Republican National Convention floor speech, and why the Ron Paul Revolution (read my new book about it!) will outlive the career of the politician Ron Paul:

Jacob Sullum on Mexico's Elections and Drug War Dissent

Early last year, when the death toll from Mexican President Felipe Calderon's crackdown on the cartels stood at 35,000 or so, Michele Leonhart, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, told reporters in Cancun "the unfortunate level of violence is a sign of success in the fight against drugs." Senior Editor Jacob Sullum says the results of last week's presidential election, in which the candidate of Calderon's National Action Party finished a distant third, suggest Mexican voters are no longer buying that counterintuitive argument, if they ever did.

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Ronald Bailey on the Brave New World of Predictive Policing

Researchers at UCLA claim to have developed computer programs that can predict not whom will commit a crime, but at what locations they are likely to occur. Police in Los Angeles say that the computer program has reduced property crimes by 13 percent. Is it a short step from here to the dystopias of Minority Report and Person of InterestReason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey ponders some of the liberty implications of predictive policing.

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Houston Student Detained for 12 Hours After Warning Drivers of Speed Trap

About two weeks ago, Natalie Plummer was riding her bike home from the grocery store when she noticed Houston police officers pulling over alleged speeders. “I felt like he was just pulling random cars over,” Plummer told ABC News-Houston. So the college student pulls over, scribbles on her paper grocery bag a sign that warns drivers of the speed trap ahead, and posts up on the side of the street, letting people know cops were looking for speeders.

“I was simply warning citizens of a situation ahead,” Plummer said.

Houston cops didn’t quite see it that way. Just a few minutes after holding up her public service announcement, an officer drove over to Plummer, jumped out of the car and grabbed on to her backpack. “[The officer] started pulling on my backpack and started pulling me around and said ‘give me that, give me that,’” Plummer told reporters, referring to her paper bag warning. Within a few minutes, the woman was under arrest for obstructing justice—a charge the officer told her could get up to five years in prison.

Plummer was detained in a Houston jail for twelve hours after the incident. Her charge was later changed to walking in the roadway where sidewalks are provided, a misdemeanor that Plummer claims is just bogus. “[I stayed] on the sidewalk the entire time,” she said.

The Houston Police Department insists the arrest was a valid one. “It is an arrestable offense,” the Houston PD spokesperson told KPLCtv. “It was the officer’s decision to arrest her.”

Deadly Hug Shooting Under Review, Obama Also Outsources, Doctors on Lance Armstrong’s Team Banned: P.M. Links

  • The case of the deadly hug in Detroit is under further investigation. Firearm experts say they don’t see how a properly holstered gun on an off-duty police officer could have accidentally discharged during a party, killing a 24-year-old woman who was hugging the officer from behind.
  • In today's Obomney news: Gov. Mitt Romney is attempting to turn the tables on the “outsourcing” attacks levied by President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign. Romney called Obama the “outsourcer in chief” for putting money into energy companies that manufacture products outside the United States.
  • The International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague has handed down its first sentence, giving Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga 14 years in prison for using child soldiers in his civil war rebel army.
  • Two doctors and a trainer who worked with Lance Armstrong on the United States Postal Service racing team have received lifetime bans from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for alleged violations. The agency claims the three developed and administered performance-enhancing drugs to riders. Armstrong still faces the possibility of losing his Tour de France titles.
  • Arati Prabhakar, who worked for the venture capitalists behind Solyndra, has been named chief of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It’s not clear whether she was directly involved with Solyndra.
  • Egypt’s high court and military is sticking to the decision to disband the nation’s parliament, even as President Mohamed Morsy (of the Muslim Brotherhood) reconvened it for less than an hour Tuesday. Crowds gathered to support Morsy, but the protests were peaceful.
  • According to a government report, firms being paid tens of millions of dollars to track down Medicare fraud often have financial connections or are doing business with the very companies they’re being asked to investigate. The study found nearly 2,000 potential conflicts of interest.
  • 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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Cop Roughed Up Ex-Nun Visiting Nursing Home, Lawsuit Alleges

A 76-year-old former nun says she was roughed up by Columbus Police after refusing to leave a nursing home she was visiting, according to a federal lawsuit she filed.  The woman, Elizabeth Bormann, had driven 540 miles to visit a 96-year-old friend at the nursing clinic, but when she got there she found out the man’s legal guardian had removed her from the list of approved guests. She insisted she wouldn’t leave until she could tell her friend herself she was removed from the list. From the local TV station, ABC6:

Police say the removal was a response to a series of scams perpetrated by multiple women that had cost the man more than $500,000. 
Investigators do not suspect Bormann of involvement in the scams…

Columbus Police Officer Theodis N. Turner, III was dispatched to the nursing home, where he instructed Bormann to leave the facility. 

That, according to Bormann, is when the situation became violent.

"He said to me, 'I've had enough of you,' and he charged into me, basically, and somehow or the other, charged into my side, took my arm.  It all happened so fast.

"Before I know it, I was down on my knees and then, of course, I urinated, and I started a little crying, and pretty much I was just stunned.

"I was humiliated. I do believe that I've become a victim. It just was such a surprise and such a shock."

The police account:

[Police spokesman Sgt. Rich] Weiner tells ABC 6 Investigates a witness filled out a statement for police, saying the officer gave Bormann every opportunity to avoid handcuffs, but that "she resisted him the whole time."

Officer Turner tells a similar story in his official action-response report, which he was required to complete due to his admitted use of force.

In the report, Turner wrote that Bormann was not responding to commands, refusing to move, pulling away, and wrestling with the officer, prompting him to physically place her on the ground.

The officer called for back-up and a female officer arrived:

Bormann claims that Officer Turner eventually called for backup, and a female officer soon arrived, then sarcastically asked, "Now this is why you call for backup?"

That female officer removed the handcuffs and issued a criminal trespassing ticket to Bormann.  She was not arrested, but Bormann later pleaded guilty and paid a fine for the misdemeanor charge.

Bormann is not disputing the trespassing charge, but claims lasting physical injuries and a violation of her civil rights in the encounter with the officer. Police say Bormann never filed a complaint with the department before filing the lawsuit, so did not investigate the officer's admitted use of force.

Reason on police brutality

Gotta Be the Shoes: Virginia Postrel on Taking Material and Commercial Culture Seriously

Great col by former Reason head Virginia Postrel about new research on the social significance of footwear:

Shoes have...long defined the border between luxury and necessity. Too many or too expensive, and they invite condemnation as an indulgence; too few, or the wrong kind, and they symbolize poverty and shame. Think of Imelda Marcos -- or the current divorce dispute between hedge-fund honcho Daniel Shak and his poker-playing ex-wife Beth Shak over her 1,200 pairs of designer shoes -- versus “barefoot and pregnant.” Tracing the shifts in footwear norms reveals patterns in economic development, class structure, manufacturing technology, sex roles, even international relations.

Postrel runs through a number of recent articles and books about shoes and their meanings. It's all very interesting in and of itself, but her point is larger:

How do we understand life in a commercial, consumer-oriented society? Academic traditionalists and hard- headed advocates of “practical” research often dismiss scholarship on material culture, including shoes, as frivolous nonsense. So they leave thinking about questions like why people buy shoes and what they mean in people’s lives to Marxists, Freudians and others who decry commercial culture, treat consumers as powerless dupes or, at best, reduce every “unnecessary” purchase to some form of status competition.

The result is a desiccated understanding of history and culture. In an academic article, Sherlock decries “the postmodern tendency to fetishise the shoe, both in the Marxian (commodity fetish) and Freudian (psycho-sexual) sense, for what it ‘stands’ for rather than what it is.” Even when they contain an element of truth, such theories are as simplistic and misleading as the claim that ankle boots indicate an overly aggressive personality. Commercial culture -- our culture -- deserves better.

Read the whole thing.

Read her Reason archive here.

Greeks Are Good at Dodging Taxes, But the Greek Government Is Better at Spending

Riffing off a new research paper, Justin Lahart at the Wall Street Journal has some interesting data on the truly vast, indeed, awe-inspiring degree of tax evasion that Greeks have accomplished in recent years. Even more impressive, if the Greek government had scooped up every euro it coveted, it would still be broke.

Writes Lahart:

Armed with data from one of Greece’s ten largest banks, economists Nikolaos Artavanis, Adair Morse and Margarita Tsoutsoura recently set themselves to the task. The banks, with tens of thousands of customers across the country, provided loan and credit-card application and performance data. That not only gave the economists access to self-reported incomes, but also allowed them to infer the banks’ estimates of true incomes — which are likely closer to the mark.

The economists’ conservatively estimate that in 2009 some €28 billion in income went unreported. Taxed at 40%, that equates to €11.2 billion — nearly a third of Greece’s budget deficit.

Why hasn’t Greece done more to stop tax evasion? The economists were also able to identify the top tax-evading occupations — doctors and engineers ranked highest — and found they were heavily represented in Parliament.

Not mentioned in the article, but buried in the paper itself is the datum that "We fi…nd that on average the true income of self-employed is 1.92 times their reported income." So Greeks with the means to do so are underreporting their income by almost half.

Predictably, Brad Plumer, writing in Ezra Klein's little romper room for the criminally insane at the Washington Post, blames much of the world's economic woes on these tax-averse nibblers of grilled octopus.

The euro crisis first started roaring in late 2009, when auditors inside the newly elected Greek government discovered that the country had a much—much—bigger deficit than anyone realized. ...

But why did Greece have such a massive budget deficit in the first place? One factor (among many) was rampant tax evasion, which had starved the Greek government of funds.

But remember Lahart's point above that uncollected Greek taxes represent "nearly a third of Greece’s budget deficit." That means, if the Greek government had collected every bit of that evasive lucre, it still would have overspent by roughly €20 billion. Even if we accept Plumer's seeming assumption that government spending levels are fixed by natural law, and it's up to us mere mortals to keep up, Athens would still be circling the drain if its subjects were the most compliant feeders-of-the-beast to ever live.

Under the circumstances, stashing as much cash as possible out of sight of the ruling lunatics sounds like the equivalent of hiding the bottle from a falling-down drunk. And if the earners of that money benefited in the process of trying to dry out the state, so much the better.

You can read the full paper here (PDF).

Reason Writers on Fox Business: Matt Welch Defends Swiss Bank Accounts

This morning I appeared on Fox Business Network's Markets Now program to discuss why having a Swiss bank account is a good deal less unseemly than millionaires passing legislation that gratuitously screws over the non-wealthy. About three minutes:

Read my two bits on the topic from this morning here and here.

Drone Code of Conduct Says and Accomplishes Nothing

Last Thursday, the US Army demonstrated a sensor system for the Grey Eagle drone that would allow drone controllers to detect and avoid other aircraft. According to Ars Technica, this is all part of the plan to have Army drones in US airspace by 2014.

As the fear of intentional drone surveillance and flights in domestic air space inch closer and closer toward reality (the Air Force can already spy you "accidentally," and the Mexican border has been guarded by drones for months), the Associate for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an organization that represents the drone industry, created a code of conduct for drone flights on July 5. This is all part of an effort to guide the FAA’s drone licensing regulations, which are currently in development.

While the code of conduct is well-meaning, its vacant platitudes offer little in the way of actionable suggestions for policy. Individual pledges include:

“We will respect the rights of other users of the airspace.”

“We will respect the privacy of individuals.”

“We will respect the concerns of the public as they relate to unmanned aircraft operations.”

The code concludes with the hope that every component of the drone industry will embrace this code.

It is at least good to know that the drone industry has heard the public concern about drone flights in domestic airspace, but a pledge offers no real privacy protection. 

It is a stretch to think that the same federal government that gave us the PATRIOT Act, the TSA, and the indiscriminate drone attacks on civilians in the Middle East would even think twice about violating domestic privacy rights. So at the very least, the AUVSI could still come up with some suggestions a little ballsier than the ones proposed.

Why not address issues like surveillance by proposing protective legislation? If it's serious about privacy, then the drone industry needs to take a real stand. It has an actual say in what direction drone activity takes, after all.

Find ReasonTV's coverage of drones here.

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The Conservative vs. Libertarian Take on the U.S. Constitution

"We're seeing profound disagreements among conservative legal activists over what the Constitution means," explains Reason Magazine Editor Damon Root. "One of the things we are seeing are conservatives and libertarians disagreeing."

In a new video created by the New York based nonprofit 92nd Street Y, Root argues that where traditional conservatives prefer a powerful state built to preserve settled norms, libertarians are more aggressive in striking down laws that infringe on personal freedom. "There is a small island of government power and it's surrounded by a sea of individual rights. That's the libertarian view and I think that is the correct view."

Approx. 2:40 minutes

For more on this topic, read Conservatives v. Libertarians: The Debate Over Judicial Activism Divides Former Allies (Reason, July 2010). To receive automatic updates when new stories go live subscribe to ReasonTV's YouTube Channel.

The Supreme Court and the 2012 Election

Writing at The Wall Street Journal, the Goldwater Institute’s Clint Bolick crunches the numbers and explains why the outcome of the 2012 presidential election is likely to have a major impact on the future of the Supreme Court:

The court's conservative majority so far has endured for 21 years, since Justice Clarence Thomas replaced Thurgood Marshall. Since then, there have been six appointments to the court. None, however, has affected the court's balance, with two conservatives replacing conservatives and four liberals replacing liberals.

That may be about to change. Three justices—liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg and conservatives Antonin Scalia and Justice Kennedy—will reach their 80s during the next presidential administration. So whoever wins in November likely will have the chance either to reinforce the conservative majority, or to alter the court's balance for the first time in nearly a generation.....

A Republican president may spend like a drunken sailor or destroy capitalism in order to save it, and a Democrat may bail out Wall Street and fail to bring the troops home. But they will never disappoint their respective bases on Supreme Court nominations.

All of this underscores that in terms of lasting importance, the power to control Supreme Court nominations is the grand prize in the coming presidential election. Long after Barack Obama and Mitt Romney fade in our memories, the Supreme Court justices one of them appoints will still be rendering the rulings that determine the future course of our nation.

Read the whole story here.